Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Sheep at the Wheel

Lyrics to Machine Guns and Jesus Christ

Would you think that I was weak
If I turned the other cheek
I’m not about to wait and see

They’re just the same as
We figured out where the blame should be
This is gonna hurt you more than me

Truth is we’re selling lies
Machine Guns and Jesus Christ
It’s true we’re telling lies
No love lost for you tonight

Grab the gun under my bed
It’s just for self-defence
I can’t believe what I just did

Car bombings far away,
But God’s on our side, we say.
When children die, he looks the other way?

Truth is we’re selling lies
Machine Guns and Jesus Christ
It’s true we’re telling lies
No love lost for you tonight

War on terror, war on drugs
War on people just because of
War on terror, war on drugs
War on people just because of your
War on terror war on drugs
War on people just because of a
War on Terror, War on Drugs

Truth for truth and lie for lie
Machine Guns and Jesus Christ
Truth is we’re selling lies
No love lost for you and I

We’re on terror, we’re on drugs
Step in line with the jack-boot thugs
We’re on terror, we’re on drugs
Manufactured by the cops

Written by A Sheep at the Wheel
© 2006 A Sheep at the Wheel. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Stargazing

Another month, another chance to experience the awe of the heavens.  (Yes, Virginia, atheists experience awe - sheesh.)

SkyTips: September 2014

Clearing the Gaps
Dark gaps separate the rings of Saturn in this 2009 image from the Cassini spacecraft. The gaps are cleared by the gravitational influence of small moons. (One of those moons, Epimetheus, casts a long shadow across the rings - the dark vertical streak at bottom center.)

Stargazing Summary
With summer’s luminaries dropping from view, a new season opens up in the evening sky. Pegasus slides into view in the east shortly after night falls, marked by the Great Square. The constellations that form the “celestial sea” — Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, and others with a watery theme — flow across the south during the night. The Milky Way arches high overhead during the evening, putting on a grand display from sites with dark skies.

Radio Program Highlights
If you want to start hearing the StarDate program in your area, you can request a station to carry our program by emailing the request to

September 1-7: War! World War II started 75 years ago this week, and many astronomers played a role in the war. We’ll talk about astronomy and the war, and we’ll have details on some beautiful sights in the weekend sky.

September 8-14: The Flying Horse. Pegasus climbs high across the sky on September evenings, and we’ll talk about some of its more interesting features, including some nearby newborn stars and a family of ancient stars. Join us for Pegasus and more.

September 15-21: Moon Meanderings. The Moon passes several bright stars and planets this week, including Jupiter, the heart of the lion, and the little dog, and we’ll have details. We’ll also talk about the next wave of explorers at Mars.

September 22-28: Biggest of the Big. All stars are big, but some are enormous — monsters that are big enough to span a solar system. We’ll talk about some of these giants, including one that’s getting ready for its final act. Join us for this and more.

September 29-30: Near and Far. We’ll “move” the supergiant star that’s at the heart of the scorpion close to home this week, and offer up a time capsule from 27,000 years ago. Join us for Antares, the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, and much more.

September program schedule »

Hear StarDate every day on more than 300 radio stations nationwide. Find an affiliate »

This Month in StarDate Magazine
Our September/October issue brings you a submarine for Saturn's moon Titan, a testbed for growing food on Mars, and an a huge new space telescope on the cheap — all projects NASA is studying for the coming decades. Be sure to check out our feature story "I Spy the Future."

Subscribe today

Special Viewing Nights
Looking for a different telescope experience from what's offered at our regular Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evening public Star Parties? We have a number of 36" programs in September with many passes still available: September 13, 16, 19, 23, 26, and 27. There are also 36" programs in October with some availability: October 14, 21, 24, and 25, as well as quite a few in November: November 11, 14, 15, 21, and 22. While the October 82" programs are sold out already (and there are no September dates), there are still plenty of openings on the November 82" programs: November 18 and 19. 

Schedules and booking info »

News from the Observatory
Celebrate our Anniversary Online
As our 75th anniversary year comes to a conclusion, there are still ways to celebrate with us online. You can share your stories and photos of visits to McDonald via our interactive blog, check out a timeline of our history, and watch a bevy of videos in our multimedia gallery.

Find out more »

Get Social with us
Keep up with all the news and video from McDonald Observatory on all your favorite social media platforms. "Like" us on Facebook, "follow" us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Like us on Facebook: McDonald Observatory | StarDate 

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About SkyTips
SkyTips is a monthly email newsletter for visitors to McDonald Observatory and StarDate Online. Each issue features stargazing highlights, upcoming StarDate radio program descriptions, and other news. Please feel free to forward this newsletter to your friends and family.

SkyTips is a publication of the University of Texas McDonald Observatory Education and Outreach Office, 2609 University Ave. A2100, Austin, TX 78712. Reproduction of SkyTips content is permitted with proper credit given to McDonald Observatory.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Houston Votes

So, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott appears deeply involved in Republican efforts to suppress the vote.  Details of a 2010 raid on Houston Votes are just now being released, but it appears most of the records have been destroyed.  

A Republican involved in voter suppression?  Is it hot in Houston in the summertime?

Abbott’s Houston raid didn’t end with arrests, but shut down voter drive

On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.

The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.


A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.

The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.

The previously unreported 2010 raid coincided with agitation by a local tea party group and Lewis’ testimony in the trial of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Lewis had filed a complaint against DeLay that, in large part, led to his indictment on corruption charges.

Friday, August 29, 2014


What Are Those Strange Things You See Floating In Your Eye?

Have you ever noticed a strange little worm-like speck drifting aimlessly about in your field of vision? These annoying little squiggly lines, or “cobwebs,” are called floaters and are experienced by around 70% of people. So what are they?
Floaters are actually shadows cast by objects suspended in the clear, gel-like substance that makes up the majority of the eye’s interior. This substance is called vitreous and helps to maintain the eye’s round shape. After passing through the lens, focused light has to pass through the vitreous in order to reach the retina at the back of the eye. It’s mostly composed of water but also contains proteins and various other substances.
Floaters are normally merely proteins of the vitreous gel that have clumped together. These stringy clusters of proteins block light and therefore cast a shadow on the retina. These floaters usually appear as transparent circles or tadpoles and stay permanently in your eye.
Sometimes, small hemorrhages in the eye can cause floaters as red blood cells enter the vitreous. This can occur if the gel pulls on blood vessels located in the retina. These floaters might take on a smoky appearance and disappear as the blood is absorbed.
Lastly, floaters can be caused by shrinkage of the vitreous gel that occurs naturally as we age. As the vitreous pulls away from the retina, bits of debris can enter the gel and become floaters. These usually look like cobwebs.
Floaters are particularly pronounced if you gaze at something particularly bright, such as a piece of white paper or a blue sky. You’ll notice that they move as your eyes move and appear to zoom across your eye as you try to look at them directly.
Floaters are usually just an annoyance that people get used to, but sometimes they can hamper vision and therefore require surgery. This procedure involves removing the vitreous and replacing it with a saline liquid. 
I Fucking Love Science

Thursday, August 28, 2014

cynical genius?

I think Obama gives the Republicans too much credit, as usual.  Cynical, yes.  Genius?  Only in the ironic tense.  

NEWPORT R.I. — Obama, raising money for Democratic candidates as Republicans aim to take over the Senate in the fall, on Friday blamed some Republicans for a calculated effort to undermine faith in government by opposing policy compromises.

"There has been a certain cynical genius to what some of these folks have done," Obama said at the second of three fundraisers he attended.

"What they’ve realized is, if we don’t get anything done, then people are going to get cynical about government and its possibilities of doing good for everybody," he said in Purchase, New York. "And since they don’t believe in government, that’s a pretty good thing." 

I expect to hear strong denials soon from the Republicans, "We are NOT geniuses!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

10 weed myths

Public attitudes about marijuana here in the U.S. have turned around quickly.  Almost as fast as the attitudes about same-sex marriage.  This gives hope to other issues, such as atheist rights in America, or immigration.  

Top 10 Myths About Marijuana

from ProgressTexas

No, it absolutely is not. No one has died from marijuana, unlike alcohol. This myth is particularly annoying because it creates other myths - including the gateway myth, addressed below.

MYTH: We Need More Studies About the Impact of Marijuana 
Numbers don't lie - check out the facts about marijuana studies, and about death totals, for yourself.
Vaporizers. Edibles. Capsules. There are many ways to ingest marijuana. Yet the myth continues every time a TV station covers a marijuana story with B-roll of people smoking massive blunts - instead of a medical patient taking a capsule.
There is no link to lung cancer in light or moderate users - and in fact, some studies show that medical marijuana may even protect against cancer. Here's a nice summary of 20 medical studies finding that marijuana can help fight brain, breast, lung, prostate, blood, oral, liver, and pancreatic cancer.
The exact opposite, actually, according to raw data from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Check this out from the Washington Post, "Since marijuana legalization, highway fatalities in Colorado are at near-historic lows."

5. MYTH: Marijuana Has No Legitimate Medical Purpose
Recently, Dr. Sanjay Gupta doubled-down on medical marijuana due to its positive health impacts. We've written about the impact of medical marijuana on the health of Texas before. Even the American Cancer Society recognizes its positive impacts and wants the U.S. to stop classifying marijuana as a dangerous drug that lacks a safe medical purpose so there can be more medical research and advances.
4. MYTH: Marijuana Regulation Increases Crime Rates
We've also covered this one before - an incredible study by Dr. Robert Morris of UT Dallas examined crime data for homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft. Examining 16 years of crime data across all 50 states, "none of the seven crime types increased with the legalization of medical marijuana." Government data from Denver from the first six months of 2014 found the same trend.
3.  MYTH: Marijuana Regulation Increases Teen Use
There's plenty of existing research that refutes the myth. We know that pot use among teens has dropped in Colorado this year. The most recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students." (WSJ: "Don't Blame Legal Medical Marijuana for Increased Teen Use"

MYTH: Marijuana is a Gateway Drug
"Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide." - NY Times, July 2014. The NY Times took this position for good reason - alcohol, not marijuana, is the gateway drug. And if you want to read some history about it, this is a handy guide
1.  MYTH: Texas Will Never Pass Marijuana Laws
In a University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll, 77% of Texas voters support some form of marijuana regulation. A separate PPP poll from 2013 found that a majority of Texans support all kinds of marijuana regulation. Rick Perry and Wendy Davis support decriminalization (Abbott doesn't). One of the only things the U.S. House of Representatives showed bipartisan agreement on, in 2014, was a law telling the DEA to stop raiding medical marijuana shops in states where it is legal. Earlier this year, we endorsed medical marijuana and continue to promote an honest conversation on marijuana regulation in Texas.

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