Category Archives: Points of Information

The Crab Nebula erupts with flares six days

In mid-April the Crab Nebula erupted for six days, repeatedly emitting the most powerful flares ever recorded from the supernova remnant.

Scientists think the flares occur as the intense magnetic field near the pulsar undergoes sudden restructuring. Such changes can accelerate particles like electrons to velocities near the speed of light. As these high-speed electrons interact with the magnetic field, they emit gamma rays.

To account for the observed emission, scientists say the electrons must have energies 100 times greater than can be achieved in any particle accelerator on Earth. This makes them the highest-energy electrons known to be associated with any galactic source. Based on the rise and fall of gamma rays during the April outbursts, scientists estimate that the size of the emitting region must be comparable in size to the solar system.

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Did a fungal infection kill forty percent of the world’s amphibians?

Did a fungal infection kill forty percent of the world’s amphibians?

The above article outlines an intriguing solution to this mysterious die-off. Sadly, the article also makes a silly effort to link everything to climate change, without justification. Pay attention to the former and ignore the latter.

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State Department report on religious freedom in Afghanistan: Deteriorating

A State Department report on religious freedom in Afghanistan: deteriorating. Two quotes from the report:

Respect for religious freedom deteriorated during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals. Residual effects of years of jihad against the USSR, civil strife, Taliban rule, popular suspicion regarding outside influence and the motivations of foreigners, and still weak democratic institutions remained serious obstacles. There were cases of harassment, occasional violence, and inflammatory public statements made by members of parliament and television programming against religious minorities, particularly Christians, and Muslims who were perceived as not respecting Islamic strictures. Negative societal opinion and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Afghan converts to Christianity. The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.

and

The right to change one’s religion was not respected either in law or in practice. Muslims who converted to Christianity risked losing their marriage, rejection from their family and village, and loss of jobs. Following the May 2010 suspension of two NGOs on suspicion of proselytizing, some parliamentarians advocated violent responses toward the alleged apostates, including public execution. [emphasis mine]

This report actually came out in November, 2010, but I hadn’t known of it until now. It is worth reading. Though there are clearly some positive signs, overall the state of religious freedom in Afghanistan appears abysmal.

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Data leaks from particle hunters raise questions about controlling scientific secrecy

Recent data leaks from particle hunters is now raising questions among physicists about the question of controlling scientific secrecy. To me, the most significant quote from the article was this:

“Should leakers or bloggers be punished for making early findings public?

That this question is even asked by someone in the science field is disturbing. Though the leaks might be annoying and counter to the agreements the scientists signed when they joined these various projects, I wonder how the author expects such punishment to be administrated. And who would do it? And should such punishment apply to everyone, or just to the participating scientists?

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Pakistan cuts off nine foreign satellite news channels

Pakistan has cut off nine foreign satellite news channels, including the BBC, Voice of America, CNN, Fox,, NBC, CNS, IBN, Sky News, and Al Jazeera.

[Information Minister Firdous Aashiq Awan] said that certain violations had been observed in the past week’s coverage of the Abbottabad operation to kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. “They were spitting venom against Pakistan,” said the information minister.

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“Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt-limit increase.”

I like the sound of this: “Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt-limit increase.”

Also this: “We should be talking about cuts of trillions, not just billions. They should be actual cuts and program reforms, not broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future.”

And this: “And to those who contend that the economy is too weak to take on the challenge of entitlement reform — I would simply say, you’ve got it backwards. The truth is that making fundamental reforms to these programs would be good for the economy — and good for the next generation.”

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FAA slow to ramp up its role in regulating human space travel

The FAA: slow to ramp up in its role of regulating human space travel.

This ain’t good. It also is not a surprise. The only real question is whether the government bureaucrats at the FAA will get out of the way of those who are really trying to do the work.

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