A Visual Tour of Earth Meteor Impacts

Considering all the recent fun involving asteroids and meteors, I thought it would apropos to show a visual history of major impact structures around the world to answer the question: Are we “due”? In fact, we’re never due, in the same way a die is never due to roll a three. So in the same […]

Considering all the recent fun involving asteroids and meteors, I thought it would apropos to show a visual history of major impact structures around the world to answer the question: Are we “due”?

In fact, we’re never due, in the same way a die is never due to roll a three. So in the same sense, we’re always due. And we have been as long as the Earth has existed. This interactive chart I made shows 51 impact structures that have been identified over the past 750 million years, each of which left a crater at least 20 kilometers across. The size of the circle represents the size of the crater. For reference, the largest included in this dataset is the Shiva impact structure in Asia, 500 kilometers across, from an impact event 500 million years ago.

I cut it off at 750 million years because the data gets really sketchy at that age. Impact structures are harder to find the older they are, and the more erosion has taken place. Even after 250 million years, you can see that it thins out.

Since this dataset is limited only to 20+ km craters, it represents only a tiny fraction of impacts that would produce global climactic catastrophe. Even craters as small as 1 km represented impacts that almost certainly would have resulted in years of cold, enough to dramatically affect species populations.

It’s worthwhile to note that I found it difficult to correlate crater size (which I’m reporting here) with the object’s size, known extinction events, estimated megatons of the impact, and popular object fragments. A list of known strikes from the geological record may not match up very well to this list, nor would a list of meteorite fragments. We don’t know where a lot of big ones hit as their craters are underground. There’s a lot we don’t know, and crater size is dependent upon speed, angle, mass, and type of object (rocky, metallic, or a comet). So take this as an incomplete history, but a history that is — nevertheless — of strikes that all had potential to be planet killers.

Data: David Rajmon’s Impact Database

Chart: Highcharts

New Release: “Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?”

Daniel Loxton announces the release of his two-chapter exploration into the roots, founding principles, and purpose of scientific skepticism, Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?

DOWNLOAD Why Is There a Skeptical Movement? (PDF)

DOWNLOAD Why Is There a Skeptical Movement? (PDF)

Following on the themes of my previous post (riffing on Steve Novella’s recent debunking of some of the oldest clichés about scientific skepticism) I’m pleased to announce that the Skeptics Society released my latest project  yesterday in our eSkeptic newsletter:

For over twenty years, the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine have labored at the forefront of the skeptical movement—constantly experimenting, often pushing the boundaries, but always circling back to the heart of the skeptical tradition. …

This week, we’re pleased to present Daniel Loxton’s challenging and provocative new project, “Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?” (PDF). Almost two years in the writing, these two meticulously-researched chapter-length explorations dig deeply into the roots, founding principles, and purpose of scientific skepticism.

It’s a whopper (almost 24,000 words, counting the endnotes) and a labor of love. I hope you enjoy it!

DOWNLOAD “Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?” PDF

L’affaire des caporaux de Souain

In 1915, four French corporals were shot at a farm in Suippes for refusing to advance out of their trenches through the carnage of a World War I no man’s land. It was not only Corporals Theophile Maupas, Louis Lefoulon, … Continue reading

In 1915, four French corporals were shot at a farm in Suippes for refusing to advance out of their trenches through the carnage of a World War I no man’s land.

It was not only Corporals Theophile Maupas, Louis Lefoulon, Louis Girard and Lucien Lechat who had refused. The entire 21st Company of the 336th Infantry regiment, exhausted and already decimated by combat, was ordered over the trench at dawn on March 10.

Under withering machine gun fire, and with French artillery carelessly dropping shells just in front of their own lines, the 21st stayed put. Frantic to force the advance, the French commander ordered artillery to drive the troops ahead by shelling his own trenches — an order the artillerists refused to carry out unless someone put it in writing.

“ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCH-YARD”

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood.

Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Yet e’en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d Muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E’en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
E’en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th’ unhonour’d dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, —

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

‘There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

‘Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross’d in hopeless love.

‘One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

‘The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,-
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.’
The Epitaph
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melacholy marked him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode
(There they alike in trembling hope repose),
The bosom of his Father and his God.

By Thomas Gray (1716-71).

Click to view slideshow.

L’Aisne demande à la République de reconnaître les soldats fusillés pour l’exemple de 14-18

Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb.[1] Set during World War I, the film stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, the commanding officer of French soldiers who refused to continue a suicidal attack. Dax attempts to defend them against a charge of cowardice in a court-martial.

Cobb’s novel had no title when it was finished, so the publisher held a contest. The winning entry came from the ninth stanza of the famous Thomas Gray poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard“.[2]

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Paths of Glory is based loosely on the true story of four French soldiers during World War I, under General Géraud Réveilhac, executed for mutiny in Souain, France; their families sued, and while the executions were ruled unfair, two of the families received one franc each, while the others received nothing. The novel is about the French execution of innocent men to strengthen others’ resolve to fight. The French Army did carry out military executions for cowardice, as did all the other major participants. However, a significant point in the film is the practice of selecting individuals at random and executing them as a punishment for the sins of the whole group. This is similar to the Roman practice of decimation, which was rarely used by the French Army in World War I

Conspiracy theory sickos

If you thought the “9/11 Truthers” were crazy, get a load of these crackpots who claim that the Obama Administration plotted the Sandy Hook massacre as a means of pushing gun control!

We’re all familiar with the crazy ideas of the “9/11 Truthers”, who claim that the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were a great conspiracy by the Bush Administration to push their agenda and get public support for invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The entire topic has consumed many blogs on this site, and whole issues of Skeptic magazine, and need not be rehashed here. The simplest retort to the “9/11 Truthers” is the gross incompetence of the Bush Administration, and the fact that they couldn’t get their act together on things we know they were doing. Yet the supposed “Bush conspiracy” worked like a charm (except for the passengers of Flight 93 crashing their plane when they overpowered the hijackers), and not a single leak from all those people allegedly involved in that Byzantine plot has ever emerged. Given how many leaks have occurred since those events on many other failed Bush and CIA policies, it’s impossible to believe that they managed to keep this big a conspiracy secret for over 12 years now.

The same goes in Britain for the “7/7″ bombings of several buses and other sites in downtown London; there is a clique of conspiracy nuts mainly in England who could be called the “7/7 Truthers”. For the same reasons, they claim the “7/7″ bombings were orchestrated by the British government, even though they did not have the motive of Bush and Cheney to push the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. There are actually a wide range of other bizarre conspiracy advocates out there, and they all seem to form a large, poorly organized group of paranoid conspiracy nuts who believe that the U.N./Trilateral Commission/ Illuminati/ Freemasons/whatever big organization is out to get us, with their “black helicopters” and secret sleeper cells, ready to take power in the U.S. when the signal comes.

If that wasn’t crazy and paranoid enough, guess what? There is a whole gang of even crazier people out there who believe that the Obama Administration orchestrated the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre! Yeah, you read that right.  And what is the supposed motivation for arranging this elaborate conspiracy to perform such a heinous act? Allegedly, the Administration wanted a national outcry over a massacre so they could push for gun control. The Obama Administration, which has avoided the gun issue like the plague both during the campaigns and during its first four years, suddenly decided to go after our guns. This at a time when it already faces more than enough political challenges with the debt ceiling, the immigration issue, and so many other important topics on its agenda that are better uses of its post-election capital in a government prone to stalemate due to the GOP hold over the House. In fact, a lot of political commentators have remarked that the gun control issue is poorly timed for Obama, distracting the voters from issues he had planned to push after the inauguration, and expending a lot of political capital he needs elsewhere. Only in the mind of a gun crazy/conspiracy nut does this make any sense, but then these people already are scared of the U.N., the Trilateral Commission, and the “black helicopters”.

Their evidence for this bizarre notion? They claim that one of the little girls killed in Sandy Hook is still alive! As explained by Alex Seitz-Wald:

The girl in question is Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old who was shot multiple times and killed at Sandy Hook. But for conspiracy theorists, the tears her family shed at her funeral, the moving eulogy from Utah’s governor, and the entire shooting spree are fake. Welcome to the world where Sandy Hook didn’t really happen.

There are dozens of websites, blog posts and YouTube videos extolling the Emilie Parker hoax theory. If you Google her name, the very first result is a post mocking her father for crying at a press conference after the shooting. One popular video, which already has 134,000 views, was made by the producers of a popular 9/11 Truther film. “Just as the movie ‘Operation Terror’ shows the 9/11 attacks were a made-for-TV event, so too were the mass shootings … There can be no doubt that Sandy Hook was a staged event,” the narrator intones. He goes on to say that the adults who participated in the media coverage of the shootings “should be prosecuted as accessories after the fact in a mass murder” — i.e., the parents whose children were murdered in the massacre should be thrown in prison.

The crux of the theory is a photograph of Parker’s sister sitting on President Obama’s lap when he visited with the victims’ families. The girl is wearing the same dress Emilie wore in a pre-shooting photograph of the family shared with media, so she must be Emilie, alive and well. “BAM! I cannot believe how idiot these people are [sic]… That’s her,” one YouTuber exclaims as he watches the two images superimposed on each other. (Apparently missed by these crack investigators is the possibility that the sister wore Emilie’s dress and that they look alike because they are sisters, after all.)

The supporting details to the hoax theory explanation are reminiscent of the arcana of any well-developed conspiracy theory. What about the car? What about the rifle? Why does someone off camera allegedly tell Parker’s father to “read the Card” (as in a cue card) before he goes on CNN? Why is he laughing? Who is the guy running into the woods? Why is there police audio referring to multiple shooters? Why does one boy who survived the shooting tell Dr. Oz it was like “a drill”? Why was the principal quoted by a local paper after she died? Why do some of the parents look like some of the victims of the Aurora shooting — are they “all actors”? All of these questions have simple explanations, but in each case, the theorists have sided more with less likely, but more nefarious possibilities.

One man has taken it upon himself to catalog all of the theories at SandyHookHoax.com. By way of credentials, creator Jay Johnson explains: “I am the only person in the world to solve LOST,” he writes (yes, the TV show).

In an email exchange with Salon, Johnson said he initially “wanted to help the kids express their feelings and memorialize the victims … But then I saw how the local paper interviewed the principal after she was dead, and I realized it was 99% odds another psychological operation that was going on,” he explained.

Noting that he started the website on “12/21/12” he explained, “since I am the New Age Messiah, with my Look Your Heart in the Mirror™ as the new revelation from the Goddess Tefnut, aka Ma’at, of Egypt, I thought the date was significant.”

But the hoax theory has even earned the backing for some presumably more credible sources. James Tracy, a tenured professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University, sparked controversy this week after he wrote a blog post suggesting the parents were “crisis actors.” “While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described,” he wrote.

Websites owned by Alex Jones [yes, the same clown who embarrassed himself in the national media last week with his foaming-at-the-mouth attack on Piers Morgan], the conspiracy theory pundit who helped start the 9/11 Truther movement and has millions of readers, are a virtual one-stop shop for Sandy Hook “false flag” miscellanea. So far, mainstream conservative figures haven’t hopped on board, though Gun Owners of American head Larry Pratt told Jones this summer that he thought there was a good chance the Aurora massacre was perpetrated by government agents.

Then there’s just the downright bizarre subgenre of theories. One posting on the community forum of Jones’ website connects Sandy Hook and Emilie Parker to Satanism, postulating that the school was a “recruiting center” for the Church of Satan. There’s even a low-budget slasher flick called “Sandy Hook Lingerie Party Massacre” — could that be connected?

Whether there is a connection or not, we can count on the Internet’s conspiracy theorists to find one, even if it means denying the legitimacy of the mourning families’ grief.

And if this were not enough, the conspiracy crazies are harassing and threatening Gene Rosen, the Good Samaritan who took in a bunch of the first graders when they fled the school after their teacher was killed, and sheltered them until their families could come find them. This kind, gentle man, who did a simple good deed from the heart, is now being harassed and threatened non-stop by these sick bastards who don’t want to believe any of the truth in this story.

And that is the sickest, most perverted part of it all. Never mind that these crazies are accusing our President and the people who work with him with the cruelest and most outrageous of criminal acts, all based on zero evidence and lots of crazy thinking and false pattern recognition. The President and the Administration can take care of themselves. The real victims in this demented view of the world are the Good Samaritans like Gene Rosen, or the poor families of the victims, who are not only grieving for their very real loss, but are now being accused of being actors, and hoaxers whose children are not really dead. Haven’t they suffered enough? At long last, conspiracy wackos, have you no shame?

What is Special About Language?

Noam Chomsky, a world-renowned linguist, intellectual and political activist lectured at the University of Arizona on Feb. 7, 2012, on “What is Special About Language?” Noam Chomsky is an Institute Professor and a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics … Continue reading

Noam Chomsky, a world-renowned linguist, intellectual and political activist lectured at the University of Arizona on Feb. 7, 2012, on “What is Special About Language?”

Noam Chomsky is an Institute Professor and a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked for more than 50 years. Chomsky, who according to The New York Times is “arguably the most important intellectual alive,” is credited with revolutionizing the field of linguistics by introducing generative grammar and the concept of a universal grammar, which underlies all human language and is based in the innate structure of language. Beyond linguistics, his work has influenced fields such as cognitive science, philosophy, computer science, mathematics, and psychology.

Noam Chomsky has received numerous awards, including the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, the Helmholtz Medal, the Dorothy Eldridge Peacemaker Award, and the Ben Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science. Since the 1960s, Chomsky has been an influential social analyst and critic. He has published numerous books on U.S. foreign and domestic policies, international politics, the media and related subjects. His writings are among the most quoted in today’s world.