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Comment Re:When will he be arrested? (Score 1) 666

The fact that lower speeds are safer doesn't mean that lower speed limits are safer, because speed limits have very little effect on the speed people actually drive. In the famous federal study "Effects of Raising and Lowering Speed Limits on Selected Roadway Sections" (Publication No. FHWA-RD-92-084), speed limits were raised and lowered by up to 20 mi/h, and the change in average speed was never larger than 1.5 mi/h.

Comment Re:world before Snowden and after, - B.S. & A. (Score 1) 247

There has been much debate over what sort of man (and/or divine being) the historical Jesus was, but this idea that he was a purely fictional creation has no credence among scholars of the period. For a treatment of the subject at length, read Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart Ehrman (a very distinguished, religiously agnostic professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the author of the leading introductory textbook on the New Testament).

Comment Re:The Big Issue with Galileo (Score 1) 206

The 1615 proceedings are not those that led to Galileo's house arrest and the ban on publication of all of his works. The reasons for that can be read in Galileo's sentence, which can be found on pages 287–291 of Finocchiaro's The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History. The Inquisition, noting that Galileo was previously denounced in 1615 for "holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world and motionless and the earth moves even with diurnal motion", goes on to conclude that "That the sun is the center of the world and motionless is a proposition which is philosophically absurd and false, and formally heretical, for being explicitly contrary to Holy Scripture". Furthermore, a general prohibition of heliocentric works was added to the Index of Forbidden Books, and was not removed until 1758; the works of Copernicus and Galileo specifically were removed in 1835.

I've tried to see the Church's side of things, but it turned out their side was that Galileo was a heretic, and his heresy was saying that the Sun doesn't move like it says in the Bible. Whatever Galileo may have done to rub people the wrong way, that is the root of the issue in the cardinals' own words, and Pope John Paul II was quite right when he called the matter a "tragica reciproca incomprensione" caused by theologians "traspo[nente] indebitamente nel campo della dottrina della fede una questione di fatto appartenente alla ricerca scientifica."

Comment Re:let me unpack this for you (Score 1) 440

Read that article carefully. It doesn't say "the models" have failed—it contrasts novel near-term models with "conventional climate projections", which are made on scales of decades rather than years and are of proven reliability. The radiation balance of the Earth is still positive, and even if not as much of the energy is going into the surface and atmosphere as some scientists have predicted, ocean temperatures show that the world is indeed getting much warmer. Both forcings and feedbacks are up, up, up, and we are in record-breaking territory right now, with every decade that goes by becoming the hottest decade on record. Anyone who thinks we don't have a problem is deluding themselves.

Comment Re:They're just getting a head start on Obamacare. (Score 1) 365

Actually, ignorance of the law is a valid defence for U.S. federal tax crimes, a rare exception to this principle. In Cheek v. United States, a tax protester had his conviction overturned because the jury had been instructed that a belief that one is not breaking the law only negates willfulness if that belief is reasonable. Of course, he owed his taxes with penalties whether he was convicted or not, and he was convicted anyway upon retrial.

Comment Re:Aah That's Clever! (Score 1) 114

There's some interesting history behind the Board of Longitude. It was formed in 1714 to judge prizes of up to £20,000 for a reliable method of determining longitude at sea (this was the scientific problem of the day, comparable to the modern search for a cure for cancer or theory of everything). In the early days, the board was flooded with crank proposals, and the commissioners' duties consisted of individually writing letters of rejection. When John 'Longitude' Harrison arrived in London in 1730 with plans for a clock that could keep accurate time at sea, the Board of Longitude, though it had been in existence for more than fifteen years, kept no headquarters and had never held a meeting. He sought out one of the board's most famous members, Edmond Halley, at the Royal Observatory.

Halley knew that longitude could be determined from the time if a sufficiently reliable clock could be built, but that was a big 'if'. Not exactly qualified to judge Harrison's ideas, he sent him to the country's leading clockmaker, George Graham. Harrison went to see Graham in the morning; Graham invited him to stay to dinner and finally sent him off with a generous loan with no interest and no hurry to pay it back. Harrison took five years to build the sea clock, which performed beautifully on a test run to Lisbon, and he had every right to demand the test run to the West Indies required to claim the prize, but one person was unhappy with the clock: Harrison. He could build one even more accurate, he thought. And he could make it smaller. All he asked was £500 for further R&D.

Harrison finally became satisfied with his clocks in the 1760s, around the same time that the lunar distance method became practical; the methods were widely used in conjunction until the price of marine chronometers came down. The Board of Longitude stuck around as publisher of the The Nautical Almanac—of which you've found the first edition—and was finally dissolved in 1828.

Incidentally, Harrison's clocks were the subject of a memorable simile by Lord Byron, in Don Juan:

Oh! She was perfect, past all parallel—
    Of any modern female saint's comparison;
So far above the cunning powers of hell,
    Her guardian angel had given up his garrison;
Even her minutest motions went as well
    As those of the best time-piece made by Harrison.

Comment Re:Reminds me of a cartoon (Score 1) 251

The idea is that the value of gold is very stable, with its price only climbing because of the ever-falling value of fiat currency, so pricing goods in a quantity of gold will give an idea of the real value. You often hear such things from people who want to return to the gold standard. For example, "the stock market might have gone up 200% in nominal terms, but if you price it in gold, it's still just one-eighth of an ounce."

Comment Re:The internet, where religion comes to die (Score 1) 191

Wishful thinking. Plenty of people see sceptical arguments on the Internet and are not convinced, and some people even still convert to religion rather than away from it. Predictions that atheism or deism will soon conquer superstition throughout the civilised world have been a "year of Linux on the desktop" thing for centuries—think of Nietzsche's famous pronouncement that "God is dead!" But this seems about as likely as conquering the presumption that atheism is "obvious" and nobody who gives the question thought will come to a different conclusion. Loudmouth "philosophers" like Richard Dawkins have made a lot of noise in the last ten years, but there's no reason to see any more significance in this than in 19th Century crowds flocking to hear Robert Ingersoll, or H. L. Mencken's ridicule of belief in the pages of the American Mercury.

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