The Watering Hole, Monday, June 6, 2016: Can American Democracy Actually Work?

I want to believe. I want to believe that democracy can work in America. But can it? Can it really?

Although it was originally posted more than two years ago on Alternet, Raw Story reprinted an article that makes me wonder. It seems humans will believe what they want to believe, facts be damned. People who thought there were WMDs in Iraq clung to that misperception even harder when shown an article correcting that story. People who thought President George W. Bush banned ALL stem cell research still believed that even when told only a partial ban was put in effect. (No new stem cell lines could be created for research, but research was allowed to continue using the 60+ lines then in existence. Which isn’t nearly enough.) These were examples making conservatives look bad, but political leaning has nothing to do with it. It’s true of all humans, regardless of political philosophies. Facts simply don’t matter. But Education does. If you’re taught the truth about things when you’re younger, you’re less likely to believe false things when you get older. Kids grow up believing what their parents teach them to believe, which is fine if the parents aren’t complete idiots. But if they are, by the time kids enter the public education system they’re already off to a bad start. It would help if schools were allowed to teach actual critical thinking skills, as people would learn how to verify new information and not just accept it because it confirms what they already believe. But as the study shows, that seems to be the essence of the problem. We do not seem to be wired to process information this way. At least, according to how the scientist interpreted the results. There was no measure beforehand of how well the participants could use critical thinking skills, and therefore may have had pre-conceived ideas (however false) but couldn’t process the new information in a way that would make them change their opinion. Hence, the tendency to cling harder to what they previously believed to be true.

Religion may also be responsible for much of this. And not just Christianity, but organized religion of any kind. Particularly in America, we have a lot of people who claim religion is important in their lives, but who don’t even know basic facts about their own religion as well as atheists and agnostics do. But the areas in America where religion is least important are also the areas where literacy rates tend to be higher. Religion requires no critical thinking, and discourages questioning what one is told to be the truth. And while there have been men (almost entirely) who were allowed to explore questions about faith, their answers were heavily censored and only allowed publication if approved by the religious leaders. In other words, not a lot of objectivity, and essentially just an addition to what people are being told to believe. The approved philosophical writings were used to justify why what you were being told is the truth, which is what the study seemed to indicate happens even with so-called smarter people. People still believe what they want to believe and use their reasoning to justify it afterwards. The problem is, there are way too many people in this country who believe provably false things like the Sun revolves around the Earth, and a large percentage who don’t know the Universe began with some kind of large explosion (as opposed to being brought into existence as is). Even more frightening is that more than half do not understand or believe in Evolution. How many times have you heard someone (often a religious conservative) say, “If we’re descended from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” (Evolution doesn’t say all monkeys turned into humans. Evolution says humans and monkeys share a common ancestor.) If you can’t start with the most basic of factually correct information, how can you possibly make a well-reasoned decision on which direction to take our country? If you think voting for someone who actually believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old is going to solve our nation’s problems, then you’re one of the problems.

As I said before, Education can help, especially when started at an early age. As soon as children learn there are natural explanations for the way the Universe works (even if we don’t fully understand them yet), and that it’s not all attributable to an impossible Being with severely psychotic tendencies who kills at a whim, there is hope for Democracy in this country. And a better life for all, too. Studies have shown that elsewhere in the world, the highest standards of living tend to be found in the least religious countries, and the poorest in the most religious. America seems to be the exception. We have both a higher-than-average standard of living and yet are among the more religious countries in the world. But that will change if more Americans grow up believing nonsense before they are taught to think for themselves. Otherwise we just end up with another generation that doesn’t have enough sense to realize someone like Donald Trump is too ignorant and unqualified to run this country. And because he loves the poorly-educated, he’ll create more because they love him so much. And the Great Experiment known as America will have finally failed.

Please don’t let anyone you know vote for Donald Trump. You’ll just be voting for the end of America.

This is our daily open thread. feel free to discuss whatever you wish. Just don’t vote for Donald Trump.

The Watering hole, Saturday, May 7, 2016: Who You Calling a God?

I want to talk about something that’s important to me and I know that along the way I’m going to greatly offend a significant portion of you wonderful people reading this. And even if it isn’t what I say that you’ll find offensive, I’m sure some of you won’t like the way I say it. But as the closing song in “Night Shift” (sung by Rod Stewart) goes, “That’s What Blogs Are For.” I am atheist. I do not believe in the existence of gods. To be clear, I do not believe in the existence of gods as they have been portrayed in most religions, entertainment depictions, and writings known to many. I don’t believe the set of gods worshiped by the ancient Romans and Greeks actually existed. Ever. Nor do I believe the “One True God” worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims actually existed. Ever. Nor do I believe any of the other gods worshiped by billions of other people throughout human history actually existed. Ever. I do not believe that the Universe was created by some kind of sentient being, often, and for purposes of this discussion, referred to as “God.” I also do not believe that a Universe without God means we got “something from nothing.” People who say that do not understand the Big Bang theory. It wasn’t “nothing,” it was a hot, almost infinitely dense singularity that exploded, expanded outward, and eventually formed what we often think of as the “Universe.” And when I refer to “the Universe,” I am specifically referring to the Matter and Energy that directly resulted from the Big Bang event that created “our” Universe. I have reason to think there are things out there unrelated to our Big Bang, but I’ll eventually get into that in a later post. My point is simply that there is a scientific explanation for how things came to be (the Big Bang event being just one possible part of it; other scientific theories exist), and that there doesn’t need to be anything like a god to explain it all.

This may surprise some of your Christian relatives and friends, but in many other religions, the Creation of the Universe is explained in completely different ways. And what your Bible taught you is but just one of many thousands of unproven, and impossible to prove, explanations for how we came to be here. And it is no more valid than any of the others, no matter who told you otherwise. Because just like all the others, it relies completely on Faith and the cognitive dissonance needed to reject all the Science that says otherwise. It’s going to sound like I’m picking on Christians in this piece but remember a few things: I’m an American living in America. The vast majority of people I interact with believe one or another version of Christian thought. And whether or not they want to believe this, their set of beliefs about Creationism are just as much nonsense as your deity-based explanation for how we got here. But having grown up here, Christianity is the religion to which I’ve most been subjected, so I’m going to use it more than most others. But this is supposed to be more about gods in general.

Do I believe gods exist? No. Not the kinds of gods you’re thinking of. But being an ardent fan of sci-fi, especially of Star Trek, I believe there are many life forms throughout all of the universe (not just the Milky Way Galaxy), and that many of them reached different levels of Evolution far beyond our own. These creatures may be able to manipulate matter and energy simply with their own thoughts and could even bring into existence something like a Big Bang event that could eventually lead to people like you and me. (But not Trump supporters.) The important thing is that even if such beings do exist, I maintain that they would be NOTHING like the God described in the Bible (or any other deity-based religion.) And I certainly don’t believe they designed and created human beings. The human beings you see walking around today are the result of billions of years of Evolution, not the result of some being with great powers wishing us into existence, just as we are today. I mean, it’s pretty obvious we humans have genetic flaws, and remnants of body parts serving little or no purpose. Are you seriously going to say we were designed to get diseases from microscopic viruses we can’t see, and which seem to have no purpose for existence but to kill? By design? Really? That makes sense to you? A perfect being should be able to do better than we humans.

So, while I will agree that it’s possible there are sentient life forms capable of manipulating matter and energy, I don’t believe any of them could be confused for the God of the King James Bible, which can’t realistically exist. If he’s responsible for all Life on Earth, then he created horrible things that can’t be justified. And if He only meant to create Life here on Earth, then what purpose to the other stars in the Universe serve, or the other planets in our own solar system, for that matter? American Christians, particularly Conservative Christians, are often discouraged from asking too many questions about the religious stories they were taught as children. Dad says it’s true, so it’s true. And they never seem to want to question it because if it turns out Dad’s wrong about God, what else is he wrong about? And soon, Dad begins to lose his authority over his children, and they go off and learn truths about the world he’d rather they never learn. Which might not happen if he didn’t choose to lie to his children about the existence of God in the first place. It’s okay to be honest and tell them that we’re not here because some strange, sadistic, schizophrenic sociopath created us on a whim, then killed most of us when he didn’t like how we turned out, but that we’re here simply because the conditions necessary for life forms such as ourselves to evolve existed here and in few other places. Yes, it is random chance. No, there really isn’t any reason why we’re here. Does that mean Life has no purpose? Well, if you’re willing to accept the fact that we’re not here for any special reason, then your life’s purpose can be what you want it to be (within the acceptable norms of Society.) You want to help people less fortunate than yourself? Good for you. If you’re lazy, like me, you can help them by paying your taxes and letting the government do the heavy lifting. That’s what programs that help the poor are there to do. You can tell Republicans don’t want to help their fellow human beings. They’re more interested in helping those that have already helped themselves to more than their fair share.

Open thread. Have fun.

The Watering Hole,Tuesday April 12, 2016 – Environmental News and Food Politics

Six to 10 million years ago: Ice-free summers at the North Pole

Finally, Republicans can tout real science that global warming is not a man-made event. It happened before millions of years ago.

See, it happened before, when man was not around in sufficient numbers to eff things up.

Open thread.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 4, 2016: How Both Sides Get Political Debate Wrong

Political discourse in this country has sunk to a depth I feared we would one day reach, and it shows no signs of rising again anytime soon. We no longer talk about issues starting from a common point of view. Liberals and Conservatives don’t agree on what role our government should have, so any discussion about what it should do is really pointless if we don’t know from where the other guy is starting. According to George Lakoff, where Liberals would see the nation through the Nurturing Parent model, Conservatives would tend to see it as the Strict Father. When you screw up, should the government find an appropriate punishment for your wrongdoing and sit you down and explain why what you did was wrong, with discussions on how to be a better person afterwards, with the goal of making you want to choose to be a better person, or should it just spank you in the ass, lock you in your room without supper, and let you out after so much time has passed saying, “Next time’ll be worse”? Who should be deciding what our government does? People who believe in doing what’s best for all of us, or people who think only certain people should get preferential treatment? We all agree in equality for all, we just don’t necessarily agree on how important that is, or to exactly what “equality for all” refers. We agree in Justice and Fairness, but we don’t agree on how important those morals should be. If we say everybody should participate in discussing Society’s problems, shouldn’t we make sure everybody agrees on exactly what the problems are that we are discussing? Are you talking about the two faces staring at each other? Or are you talking about the candlestick in between them? Both of you see a problem. but what is the problem you both see? There are many differences in the way the brains of Liberals and Conservatives process information. To find a common solution, we must first have common ground. I’m not really sure how that’s possible, but I do know our discussions aren’t getting us anywhere because it’s clear we don’t see the world and the problems within in the same way.


angry trumpbernies birdieAccording to one study, people right-of-center politically spend more time looking at unpleasant images, and people left-of-center politically spend more time looking at pleasant images.

“We report evidence that individual-level variation in people’s physiological and attentional responses to aversive and appetitive stimuli are correlated with broad political orientations. Specifically, we find that greater orientation to aversive stimuli tends to be associated with right-of-centre and greater orientation to appetitive (pleasing) stimuli with left-of-centre political inclinations.”

Conservatives would rather see an angry, war mongering President Trump (see left), where Liberals would prefer a peace-loving, animal friendly President Sanders (see right). It makes me wonder if Conservatives want to see all those images of what our Military Industrial Complex is doing in the Middle East, and that’s why they elect Republicans who talk about more and more bombing ISIS into oblivion, as if ISIS lives in the Middle East alone and that such bombing would not harm any civilian populations. I know we Liberals don’t enjoy seeing such images, but maybe the Conservatives do. Another study has concluded that people who react strongly to disgusting images, such as a picture of someone eating worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative. Or maybe images of war do not bother them enough to want the wars stopped because to Conservatives, images of children being blown up is not as disgusting as it is to us Liberals. There are other key differences that Science has taught us, and understanding them can help us work toward a better solution to the problems of our Society. And, yes, I will freely admit that I omitted the word “together” in there. As you’ll soon see, I’m not entirely sure Conservatives can help us determine what’s in the best interests of all of us.

For one thing, in very general terms, both sides don’t put the same effort into solving the problem. Now, before this continues, let me say that when I speak of these groups in very general terms, unless otherwise specified I’m talking about your average Liberal and average Conservative Citizens. We’re the ones who are supposed to (somehow, it’s never spelled out how) hash out our differences and come to a consensus on how to solve our problems. The question that should be asked of anyone participating is, “How much time are you willing to spend trying to solve the problem?” Reliance on quick, efficient, and “low effort” thought processes yields conservative ideologies, while effortful and deliberate reasoning yields liberal ideologies. (Scott Eidelman, PhD, Christian S. Crandall, PhD, Jeffrey A. Goodman, PhD, and John C. Blanchar, “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism,” Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 2012)

“…[P]olitical conservatism is promoted when people rely on low-effort thinking. When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient; these conditions promote conservative ideology… low-effort thought might promote political conservatism because its concepts are easier to process, and processing fluency increases attitude endorsement….Four studies support our assertion that low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism… Our findings suggest that conservative ways of thinking are basic, normal, and perhaps natural.”

When confronted with a problem, the Conservative reaction is to look for a quick solution, preferably one that has worked in the past. Liberals tend to be more open to trying things that haven’t been tried before. When faced with a conflict, Liberals are more likely than Conservatives to alter their habitual response when cues indicate it is necessary. (David M. Amodio, PhD, John T. Jost, PhD, Sarah L. Master, PhD, and Cindy M. Yee, PhD, “Neurocognitive Correlates of Liberalism and Conservatism,” Nature Neuroscience, Sep. 9, 2007)

“[We] found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern…Our results are consistent with the view that political orientation, in part, reflects individual differences in the functioning of a general mechanism related to cognitive control and self-regulation. Stronger conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with less neurocognitive sensitivity to response conflicts. At the behavioral level, conservatives were also more likely to make errors of commission. Although a liberal orientation was associated with better performance on the response-inhibition task examined here, conservatives would presumably perform better on tasks in which a more fixed response style is optimal.”

Liberals are more open-minded and creative whereas conservatives are more orderly and better organized. (Dana R. Carney, PhD, John T. Jost, PhD, Samuel D. Gosling, PhD, and Jeff Potter, “The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind,” International Society of Political Psychology, Oct. 23, 2008)

“We obtained consistent and converging evidence that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are robust, replicable, and behaviorally significant, especially with respect to social (vs. economic) dimensions of ideology. In general, liberals are more open-minded, creative, curious, and novelty seeking, whereas conservatives are more orderly, conventional, and better organized… A special advantage of our final two studies is that they show personality differences between liberals and conservatives not only on self-report trait measures but also on unobtrusive, nonverbal measures of interaction style and behavioral residue.”

Even if we agree on what the problems are, we have the issue of how best to resolve those problems? Conservatives learn better from negative stimuli than from positive stimuli and are more risk avoidant than liberals. (Natalie J. Shook, PhD, and Russell H. Fazio, PhD, “Political Ideology, Exploration of Novel Stimuli, and Attitude Formation,” Experimental Social Psychology, Apr. 3, 2009)

“In this study, the relations among political ideology, exploratory behavior, and the formation of attitudes toward novel stimuli were explored. Participants played a computer game that required learning whether these stimuli produced positive or negative outcomes. Learning was dependent on participants’ decisions to sample novel stimuli… Political ideology correlated with exploration during the game, with conservatives sampling fewer targets than liberals. Moreover, more conservative individuals exhibited a stronger learning asymmetry, such that they learned negative stimuli better than positive… Relative to liberals, politically conservative individuals pursued a more avoidant strategy to the game…The reluctance to explore that characterizes more politically conservative individuals may protect them from experiencing negative situations, for they are likely to restrict approach to known positives.”

So we have people trying to find new, innovative ways to resolve the problems we continue to have, which is why it’s still necessary to have these discussions, and people who would rather avoid making the problem worse by doing something different (even though what’s being done now continues to not work.) We Liberals want to move toward a better situation for everyone, even if only incrementally, while Conservatives don’t want to upset the status quo. Conservatism is focused on preventing negative outcomes, while liberalism is focused on advancing positive outcomes. (Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, PhD, “To Provide or Protect: Motivational Bases of Political Liberalism and Conservatism,” Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, Aug. 2009)

“Political liberalism and conservatism differ in provide versus protect orientations, specifically providing for group members’ welfare (political Left) and protecting the group from harm (political Right). These reflect the fundamental psychological distinction between approach and avoidance motivation. Conservatism is avoidance based; it is focused on preventing negative outcomes (e.g., societal losses) and seeks to regulate society via inhibition (restraints) in the interests of social order. Liberalism is approach based; it is focused on advancing positive outcomes (e.g., societal gains) and seeks to regulate society via activation (interventions) in the interests of social justice.”

Life is hard. The World is a dangerous place but, unlike Conservatives, I believe it can be made better. It will never be completely safe. Ironically, this is more because of people who are Conservative (with all the aggression that often comes with that) than it is from Liberals (who would rather everybody just get along.) But if things are going to get better, we have to approach things from a new way of thinking. And this is where trying to include everyone in solving society’s problems runs into a problem. We all want Security above all else. Security brings stability, and stability brings comfort. We just want to know what the rules are from day to day. We know that Change is inevitable, and we want to minimize the effects of that change as much as possible. But in order to do that, we have to have a better understanding of what it is we face. Liberals have more tolerance to uncertainty (bigger anterior cingulate cortex), and conservatives have more sensitivity to fear (bigger right amygdala)Ryota Kanai, PhD, Tom Feilden, Colin Firth, and Geraint Rees, PhD,

“In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI [magnetic resonance imaging]. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala…[O]ur findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty. The amygdala has many functions, including fear processing. Individuals with a larger amygdala are more sensitive to fear, which, taken together with our findings, might suggest the testable hypothesis that individuals with larger amagdala are more inclined to integrate conservative views into their belief systems… our finding of an association between anterior cingulate cortex [ACC] may be linked with tolerance to uncertainty. One of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex is to monitor uncertainty and conflicts. Thus it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.”

We often speak of the amygdala being the “fear center” of the brain, as the place where all our fears begin. This is somewhat misleading, and can lead to further confusion. First, it’s important to know that scientists and researchers do not yet have a complete understanding of how the amygdala works, but they’ve been getting better answers with recent research. To put it simply, the amygdala analyzes everything your senses pick up and looks for signs of something that caused you harm the last time you encountered it. It then sends a signal to your prefrontal cortex where the actual analysis takes place. So, if out of the corner of your eye, your brain thinks it sees something like looks like the snake that’s been biting and killing your caveman friends lately, your amygdala will send a signal to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that says, “SNAKE!” It’s up to your PFC to put what it thinks your brain sees in context. Maybe it’s a real snake, or maybe it’s just a dead poisonous snake that Thag thought would be hilarious to put on your rock seat. That Thag is such an asshole. Wait ’til he finds the dead poisonous spider in his bed later. Well, he’ll think it’s dead. But in today’s America (and in other places, too), a Conservative who hears the word “Muslim” immediately associates that with “bad things” and sends the signal to the PFC, where a Liberal would say “Muslim what?” before sending any alarms. A Muslim author? A Muslim comedian? A Muslim surgeon? I’m not hearing anything to get alarmed by yet. There are many authors, comedians, and surgeons who are quite good at what they do. Some of them also happen to be Muslim. That doesn’t automatically make them a danger. Liberals and Conservatives would essentially disagree on what the dangers we face are. How are we ever going to agree on how to confront them, and how best to expend the resources we have? I don’t know. And I’m beginning to wonder if it is even possible.

Daily open thread. Do your thing.

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 29, 2016: Leap of Science Day

Monday, February 29, 2016, marks another nearly-quadrennial observation of the triumph of Science over Faith. Leap Day. The day we add to the calendar to correct for the fact that God didn’t make the Earth go around the Sun in a way that has any relation to how long it takes to spin once on its axis. Nor did God make the Moon orbit the Earth in an even number of days, or in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, which turned out to be the Center of our own Solar System (one of, it turns out, a hundred billion in just this Galaxy) contrary to what those men who had a direct pipeline to the Almighty Creator told everyone was true. Not for nothing, but doesn’t the fact that some otherwise ordinary man who was in charge of a Religion tortured people for not believing something that was scientifically inaccurate and still got to be called “infallible” make you think, even for a second, that maybe their Religion was wrong about other things, too? But I digress. Or not. Now the Moon goes around the Earth 13 times for each revolution of the Earth around the Sun, depending on how you measure them. I thought the number 13 was supposed to be bad. So why would God make our Moon go around the Earth a bad number of times in a year? In fact, assuming God did make our solar system, why make our planet have such a strange orbit? Why not a regular, circular, easily predictable, revolution, with no tilting of the planet and changing of the seasons? And why not start life in the tropics, instead of a desert? And why even bother with the other planets and planetary debris and asteroids if the point of this planet was to support life for the only living things in the universe? If there’s nothing on Mars for us to see, then why would God make Mars for us to see? Or let us name it for an inferior god? Sorry, but the whole Christian Creation Myth makes no more sense than any other cultures’ creation myths. When something doesn’t make sense through Reason, they tell us you have to have Faith. But Faith is just the rejection of Reason, so they are really telling us, “It makes sense if you don’t think about it.” Then why believe it? Why believe something is literally true if it makes no sense when you think about it? Then explain to me why you should threaten peoples’ lives for not believing it? But I digress. Again. Leap Day is a triumph because it was Science, not Religion, which revealed to us our method of keeping track of time needed adjusting if it was to keep in alignment with whichever celestial body was guiding our long term time reckoning. The ancient Egyptians used a much simpler calendar, which they knew needed tweaking every four years. To understand why we do it today, you have to go back to the time when Romulans walked the Earth.

About 2770 years ago, King Romulus, the first king of Rome and leader of the Romulan Empire, which consisted pretty much of just his kingdom, was said to have invented the Roman calendar. Other people were keeping track of time in their own way, so it’s not like he invented the entire concept of the calendar. He just invented the one that would become the basis of the one we use here in America today (and many other places, which are alleged to exist on this planet.) The one that started when winter ended, in a month named for the God of War. Wait, what? You heard that right. King Romulus may not have been entirely sure of what he wanted, but hew knew he wanted his calendar to have ten months. Some historians believe (which means the rest don’t) that the ancient Romans did not believe in fighting wars during the Winter, so the new year began when Winter ended. Which is why they named their first month Martius, after Mars, the God of War. The next month was named Aprilis, though no one’s really sure why. Some think it was really called Aphrilis and was named for Aphrodite. But that would be silly because Aphrodite was the Greek Goddess of Love, not the Roman one, Venus. Others less silly think it was named for the Latin verb Aperire, meaning to open, on account of that’s about the time flowers started opening all over the place. Makes better sense than naming it after another group’s gods. His third month was called Maius, after Maia, the Goddess of growth and plants. The fourth was called Junius, named after Juno, Queen of the Gods and patroness of weddings and marriages. Then King Romulus must have gotten tired because the remaining six months were named after the numbers Five through Ten. Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. Martius, Maius, Quintilis and October would have 31 days, the rest 30. Then they apparently let 61 days and a couple of moons go by before they would begin their new calendar.

Loonies that they were, the Romulan calendar was based on the phases of the Moon. Now if the point of having a calendar is to tell when you when it’s time to plant the crops, you’re going to run into problems basing it on the phases of the moon. Here’s why:

The orbit of the Moon around the Earth is not an easy process. The Moon makes a complete orbit around the Earth approximately once every 28 days. This means that the Moon orbits the Earth around 13 times in a year. The complex part pops up because there are several ways to consider a complete orbit of the Moon, but the two most familiar are: the “sidereal month” being the time it takes to make a complete orbit with respect to the stars, about 27.3 days; and the “synodic month” being the time it takes to reach the same phase, about 29.5 days. These differ because in the meantime the Earth and Moon have both orbited some distance around the Sun.

“Phase” is the way to describe the relative position of any object that moves in a cyclical form. The phase of the Moon is measured in degrees, from 0 (zero) to 360 (three hundred and sixty).

It doesn’t take long before a lunar-based calendar gets, to use the technically correct scientific term, out of whack. And that happened to the Romulan calendar. Each of its months had day markers that fell on the first new moon, the days of the half moons, and the days of the full moon. The new moon marked the first day of the month and was called the Calends. The Ides fell on the full moon, and the Nones were eight days before the Ides. Events were documented according to how many days they happened before or after these markers. This calendar really didn’t work because it didn’t align very well with the seasons, so about fifty years later, King Numa Pompilius, decided to make some changes. He added Januarius and Februarius to the beginning of the year, rather than to the end. This meant the months named for their position in the year no longer matched. I’m sure that bothered a lot of people. It bothers me to this day. And it still didn’t work. They even had a system where someone (not necessarily the emperor) would add an extra month, called an intercalary month, to try to get the calendar in line with the seasons. Finally, Julius Caesar (inventor of the Orange Julius and, later in his career, a successful Las Vegas casino magnate) did away with intercalary months, renamed Quintilis after himself, and borrowed the idea of the Leap Year from the Egyptians, whom he was fucking on the side. Some final adjustments were added by a subsequent ruler, Augustus, who took the liberty of renaming Sextilis after himself. Who knows? If Rome hadn’t fallen when it did, the months of September through December might be called something else by now.

The Gregorian Calendar we use today was based on Pope Gregory’s dislike of the idea that Easter was always shifting around on the calendar, so he made some more adjustments that included the fact that while there would be a Leap Year every four years, there wouldn’t be in years divisible by 100 (such as 1700, 1800 and 1900) unless they were also divisible by 400 (2000). Then he decided to take eleven days out of the calendar to make everything line up better. The official change in the colonies happened in 1752. George Washington was actually born Feb 11, 1732 under the Julian Calendar. When the switch to the Gregorian was made, Washington simply changed his birthday to the familiar Feb 22, 1732. Some people, perhaps those who believed God really did have a book in which He wrote your date of birth and death, thought they were suddenly moved eleven days closer to their date of death (as determined by God’s Little Black Book.) This was nonsense, of course, because everyone knew God was using the Mayan Calendar and we were all going to die in 2012. So even though the motivation to change the calendar was based on Religion, we can thank Science that there was a rational, logical, objectively justifiable reason to add a Leap Day, and not because God told somebody to do it.

This is our once-every-four-years thread. But you can still feel free to discuss what you want.

Sunday Roast: Happy Birthday, Pale Blue Dot!

I’m only a day late, but it’s been 25 years (yesterday) since the famous photo was taken by Voyager 1.

I don’t know about all y’all, but every time I hear Carl Sagan talking about “the only home we’ve ever known,” I weep like a baby.  It’s so hopeful, but, at the same time, it’s a severe reality check.

This is our daily open thread — Remember, we’re all in this together.