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News Dump: The NRA, the UN, Voter Fraud and Exoplanets

Some things that I read about today:

  • The UN has said that Israel must withdraw all of its settlements from the West Bank or face the International Criminal Court.
  • A former RIAA executive, responsible for their litigation heavy policies is now #2 at the US Copyright Office.
  • The sabre rattling between Syria and Israel is getting intense.
  • Mother Jones has debunked some of the NRA’s favorite gun “facts”.
  • The NRA of 2013 is having an argument with the NRA of 1999.
  • The Alberta Tories apparently took a whole lot of illegal donations.
  • Scientific American has a great map showing global water risks (flood and drought)
  • British Banks are in trouble again.
  • A US anti-voter fraud activist has been arrested for voter fraud.
  • The US Cancer death rate is down 20% since 1991.
  • An architecture student has designed a drone proof city.
  • Rush Limbaugh says Cubans, unlike Mexicans, are hard workers.
  • A Missouri high school has instituted mandatory hair-follicle drug testing.
  • We may soon be able to create detailed maps of distant exoplanets. 
  • Chances are that no one will ask secretary of defense nominee Chuch Hegel about that orphanage in Vietnam.

‘Gay’ Dogs, Homophobia and Stupid Rednecks

By now you have probably heard about the dog owner in Tennessee who found his dog humping another male and sent him to a shelter to be euthanized because he was gay. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League says that the incident proves that being gay is a “bonus” (because the dog was rescued, not because it was sentenced to death for being gay.) You’ve probably also heard that the dog was saved and taken in by a new, more tolerant (or at least less ignorant) owner.

The incident goes to show the levels of ignorance and intolerance that are present in parts of the United States (and I’m sure other countries too). The immediate “It’s gay, kill it” reaction should be enough for a court to force you into mandatory therapy. In the U.S. though, especially in parts of the south, it might get you elected to public office.

The reality though is that dogs are not gay, they aren’t ‘straight’ either. Male dogs have intercourse with female dogs (sans foreplay) as a response to chemical signals sent by the female. If neither dog is fixed this may result in reproduction. It is unclear whether the dogs are aware of this. Dogs also hump things, this is not a sexual act it is a sign of dominance.

From Stanley Coren, Ph.D, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia writing for Psychology Today:

“You can see that mounting behavior can be relatively independent of sexual intentions by watching the behavior of very young puppies. Well before they have reached puberty (which comes at about 6 to 8 months of age) they are already showing this kind of activity. Mounting in puppies appears shortly after they begin walking and appears when they start playing with each other. It is a socially significant behavior, not a sexual one. For young puppies, mounting is one of the earliest opportunities for learning about their physical abilities and their social potential. It basically represents an expression of dominance. The stronger, more authoritative puppy will mount its more submissive brothers and sisters simply to display leadership and dominance. These behaviors will then carry on into adulthood, with the significance being power and control, not sex.”

According to Coren even getting a dog fixed will, generally, not cure humping behavior. The dog in Tennessee was not trying to express sexual attraction or a romantic interest in the other dog, he was not expressing his sexual identity, he was trying to assert his social position. Dogs have done this since long before they were domesticated by people.

As ridiculous as the story is, it does serve as a great example of the level of intolerance and ignorance present in the right wing of American politics. In the case of the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, if we credit him with being literate, then we also have to call it willful and deliberate ignorance. It is little wonder that social conservatism, which requires ignorance to support its positions, is falling out of favor.

Why Is Canada Paying for Religion in Prisons at all?

The Harper government caused a bit of controversy recently when they decided not to renew the contracts of 49 part time prison chaplains. The problem, one that will likely lead to law suits against the government, is that 18 of Canada’s 19 non-Christian prison chaplains were on that part time list.

For the government the optics on this are terrible. For those looking for hidden agendas it looks like Harper, who recently introduced measures that are sure to dramatically increase the prison population, now wants to insure that they are Christian prisons. This is, no doubt, similar to the arguments that will be made in the courts by religious minorities.

For me though the issue raises an entirely separate concern: In response to critics the government claims that the existing full time chaplains will coordinate the efforts of 2,500 volunteers who currently help to provide religious services to inmates of all faiths.

My question is, why is the government paying for any chaplains of any faith, especially if 2,500 volunteers are ready to help out?

I am sure that there are those in our prisons who could benefit from faith. Making people behave in a certain way when they feel no natural compunction to do so is one of the primary purposes for religion. In the ancient history of humanity, leaders (who knew little of science themselves) needed a way to get an uneducated population to behave themselves. The story that this life is a test which will earn you eternal reward or damnation was, when it was believed, an effective deterrent to violence, theft or rebellion. Assuming that many of the more violent inmates also have limited education, a dash of god could be effective in a few cases. Even that proposition though is debatable given that the majority of inmates already identify themselves as Christian (57%) or at least religious (68%).

As I understand it though, religious freedom should not mean that the government will pay for it. It is a somewhat awkward position for me. I have little patience for people who whine about having to pay for the arts and culture or programs for the poor. Apparently this is my turn to play the role of disgruntled taxpayer. Why is the government funding the religious habits of convicted felons, particularly when there is an army of volunteers ready to do the job. Why not allow religious groups to pay for the “spiritual rehabilitation” of their members? Wouldn’t government dollars be better spent on qualified professionals who can diagnose, evaluate and treat inmates instead of paying someone to pray with them?

My initial reaction was that the Harper governments decision was discriminatory and that the decision should be reversed. However, after looking at the issue a little more closely and hearing the governments defense, it is clear that the discriminatory action should be fixed by going further and doing away with the prison chaplain program altogether.

See and Hear the Earth in Brand New Ways

There is little doubt that the Earth is the most interesting thing within, at least, 5 light years of your present location. It has the greatest diversity of ecosystems and life (as we know it). It is mostly harmless and whether or not it has intelligent life is debatable. Nonetheless, it remains the only thing that you might stop and look at for very long if you were a space traveller passing through this solar system.

Today a new time-lapse video (via Blastr) taken on the International Space Station gives you an idea what the Earth would look like if you did a low-orbit flyover:

Earlier this week an audio recording was released of the radio waves coming from Earth’s radiation belts.

“…it’s known as “chorus.” Chorus is the term used to describe the audio version of radio signals emitted by plasma waves as they travel through the belts.

“This is what the radiation belts would sound like to a human being if we had radio antennas for ears,” Kletzing said.

Radio operators have been able to hear low-quality versions of chorus for years, but this is the first time such high-powered instrumentation has captured the sound.”

So the next time you are staring at the stars in awe and wonder, remember that you are standing on the most interesting thing in the immediate vicinity, look down a little more often!

Trial of Butler Sheds Interesting Light on Papal Priorities

Anyone remember the Catholic child sex abuse scandals? It seemed to involve hundreds of priests and church officials and thousands of children worldwide. For many years the response of the Vatican, and other branches of the Church was to sweep it under the rug; to hide the problem and, when necessary, move the offending priest or official to a new job. There was counseling, in some cases, but the perpetrators were always forgiven and never charged with crimes (not by the Church at any rate).

Compare that to the case of Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s former butler, who is currently on trail and facing up to four years in prison. His crime? Stealing documents from the Pope. The documents exposed infighting and corruption within the Vatican and were a general embarassment to Pope Benedict. For his part, Gabriele still considers himself a devout Catholic and says he leaked the documents “because he wanted to expose the “evil and corruption” in the church to help put it back on the right path.

So, if you abuse or assault children, the Church will forgive your human frailty and look the other way, but if you embarrass the Pope you can expect arrest, trial, torture (reportedly) and imprisonment. It’s good to know that an organization that considers itself, essentially, God’s representatives on Earth, has its priorities straight.

Planetary Resources Space Mining Company Now Hiring

Technically they’re not ‘hiring’ so much as looking for interns and no actual mining is going to happen until, at least, the end of the decade. It is true though that the plan is to mine asteroids and the company is looking for students who want to be a part of the dream.

Planetary Resources, a company whose investors include filmmaker James Cameron and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, plans to use robots to find and mine asteroids in or near our solar system.

The requirements for these (paid co-op) internships are not small, among other things you have to be willing to relocate to Bellevue, WA, you need to be a university junior or senior who is qualified to work in the United States, has an GPA of 3.2 or higher. Specifically you need to be getting good grades in a subject such as engineering, computer science or physics but it is still exciting (if you have any nerd in you at all) that you can now apply for a job with an asteroid mining company.

If you think you have what it takes, click here to view the full posting.

Why Is US Federal Government Trying to Create Terrorists?

An article in Rolling Stone documents the efforts of US federal law enforcement to turn Occupy protesters into terrorists. Is it an attempt to discredit the Occupy movement or are they just trying to justify exorbitant anti-terror budgets?

Read the full article at RolllingStone.com:

“The government has a responsibility to prevent harm,” says former FBI counterterrorism agent Michael German, now the senior policy counsel for the ACLU. “What they’re doing instead is manufacturing threatening events.”

That’s just how it went down in Cleveland, where the defendants started out as disoriented young men wrestling with alienation, identity issues and your typical bucket of adolescent angst. They were malleable, ripe for some outside influence to coax them onto a new path. That catalyst could have come in the form of a friend, a family member or a cause. Instead, the government sent an informant.

And not just any informant, but a smooth-talking ex-con – an incorrigible lawbreaker who racked up even more criminal charges while on the federal payroll.”

Free Online: The Alfred Hitchcock Classic You’ve Probably Never Seen

Alfred Hitchcok’s Charade should have been one of his best known films. The mystery thriller starred Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy, it was directed by Stanley Donen (On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Blame it on the Rain) with music by Henry Mancini (the Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Victor Victoria). Sound good? Unfortunately, due to a copyright error the film went into the public domain the moment it was released. The studio took two aspirin, had a stiff drink and wandered away from the project forever.

As Openculture explains it:

“It seems that pre-1978 United States copyright law absolutely required you to include some sort of mark on your work indicating your intent to claim copyright at all — ©, for instance — and in Charade‘s case, Universal Pictures seemed to have just sort of forgotten about it.”

You can watch it for free, right now and even download a copy if you like.