Archive | November, 2013

FF Podcast (Audio) 023: Is the Filipino Spirit Waterproof?

FF Podcast (Audio) 023: Is the Filipino Spirit Waterproof?

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This week, we talk about inspirational Filipino memes during times of crisis and the response of Filipinos to tragedies.

This was recorded on November 16, 2013 as part of our live all-day webshow to raise funds for Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) relief.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media0 Comments

FF Podcast 023: Is the Filipino Spirit Waterproof?

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 12.46.55 PM 2

This week, we talk about inspirational Filipino memes during times of crisis and the response of Filipinos to tragedies.

This was recorded on November 16, 2013 as part of our live all-day webshow to raise funds for Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) relief.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Society, Video0 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Meetup: Sunday, Dec. 1 at Moshi Moshi, Katipunan

893571_10152062696783982_1862875719_oLocation: Moshi Moshi, Regis Center Katipunan
Date: Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm
Google Map: http://goo.gl/eEjqTd

Topics:

1) The Boundaries of Feminism http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/21/despite-what-you-think-miley-cyrus-and-rihanna-are-feminists.html
2) Self and Selfies http://skepchick.org/2013/11/selfies/ and http://mashable.com/2013/02/15/social-media-and-the-selfie/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link
3) ShallowShaming (shaming people who go through plastic surgery, use whitening products, take selfies, don’t read, watch shallow shows, etc.)
4) Shaming Selfishness http://omg.yahoo.com/blogs/celeb-news/kim-kardashian-latest-charity-move-incites-fury-174603145.html
5) Shaming Pseudoscientists http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115533/rupert-sheldrake-fools-bbc-deepak-chopra
6) Raunchy Topic of the ‘A’ Week

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome, and admission is free.
* Early birds get to play board/video/party games with the group.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.

RSVP Here

Posted in Meetup1 Comment

Freddie Aguilar and Special Rights for Muslims

Freddie Aguilar and Special Rights for Muslims

The matter of 60-year-old musician Freddie Aguilar’s marriage to his 16-year-old girlfriend has courted a firestorm of both defenders and critics. Indeed, the knee-jerk reaction to an intimate relationship with such an age gap would often be disgust. Granted, such initial feelings are seldom rational, given their strong emotional motivation. What Aguilar defenders seem to miss, however, is that there is much more cause for concern here than just the private relationship of a public figure. Exempting themselves from secular Philippine law, Aguilar has decided to convert to Islam, despite describing himself as a “born-again Catholic,” to marry his underage girlfriend.

Negative reactions to Aguilar are commonly rebuffed by pointing out the shallow and tabloid nature of the issue. This defense is only supported by the crass and insipid nature of Aguilar critics painting him as a pedophile or a “dirty old man.” Both apologists for Aguilar and his detractors completely miss the far more nefarious implications of Aguilar’s marriage.

However simplistic it may be, Philippine law requires that marriage involve persons aged 18 and above. Given this, Aguilar and his lover have chosen to enjoy the special laws and privileges given to Filipino Muslims by Ferdinand Marcos’ Presidential Decree 1083—the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines.

This special law so deeply controverts the Constitution’s principle of secularism that it overbearingly points out that “The provisions of this Code shall be applicable only to Muslims and nothing herein shall be construed to operate to the prejudice of a non-Muslim.” Not only that, should any conflicts (such as those regarding marriage and divorce) arise between secular law and this special law, the Code shall prevail and that secular laws should be “liberally construed” in order to accomplish the provisions of the Code. The Code establishes special Shari’a courts that are appointed to adjudicate and mete out the appropriate punishment for violations of Islamic laws, as recognized by the Code. Between a Constitution that declares that “No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights” and a law that literally requires belief in Islam, something has to give. Unsurprisingly, in the good old Republic of the Philippines, religious privilege wins out.

Among other provisions, the Code also includes the sexist decree—a belief shared by Catholic opponents of the RH Law—that it is the male in a heterosexual marriage that must exercise authority over the family: “In case of disagreement, the father’s decision shall prevail unless there is a judicial order to the contrary.”

Non-Catholics in the Philippines have long suffered under the tyrannical majority of the Catholic Church and these special rights for Muslims are, ironically, a side effect of this tyranny. While masking as benevolence, these special rights are rooted in the same xenophobic entitlement as the common patronizing expression, “mga kapatid nating Muslim (our Muslim brothers).” This saying paints Muslims automatically separate in any discussion.

Instead of fully recognizing the diversity of religious belief and non-belief, the Philippine state instead split the baby and framed much of our laws under Catholic prejudice, while creating these special exemptions for Muslims—leaving everyone else out of the social contract. This flies in the face of any expectation of justice and the belief, however naive or clichéd, that the law applies to all, or none at all.

The secularist indignation against Aguilar is only inflated by just how insincere Aguilar seems to be in his conversion. It’s bad enough for one religion to enjoy rights not afforded to all Filipinos. Here we have what appears to be the disingenuous and opportunistic exploitation of an already unjust and backward legal system.

Image Credit: Christopher Sundita

Posted in Religion, Secularism, Society2 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 022: What is Freethinking?

FF Podcast (Audio) 022: What is Freethinking?

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This week, we talk about the basics of freethinking and tackle the common misconceptions people have about both Filipino Freethinkers and freethought in general.

This was recorded on November 16, 2013 as part of our live all-day webshow to raise funds for Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) relief.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Secularism0 Comments

FF Podcast 022: What is Freethinking?

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 11.20.50 AM

This week, we talk about the basics of freethinking and tackle the common misconceptions people have about both Filipino Freethinkers and freethought in general.

This was recorded on November 16, 2013 as part of our live all-day webshow to raise funds for Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) relief.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Philosophy, Podcast, Religion, Video0 Comments

Why Our Leaders Should Be Technologists

Digital Art by Richard C. Base

Digital Art by Richard K. Base

If I may venture why our country is in such a dire state, it is because we have a huge lack of leaders who are technologists. Just look at our current crop of leaders: we have mostly lawyers, actors, celebrities and even ex-convicts (as well as convicts-to-be). How our government is run reflects this quite accurately. Go to almost any government office and see.

You will see “lawyers” who make you go around in circles and who burden you with a lot of procedures and requirements to follow. You will see “actors” pretending to work but are actually playing Candy Crush or chatting with their officemates — and yes, this happens even in relief operations in Tacloban as related by a volunteer through her facebook account where she says, “It breaks my heart seeing bottled waters outside the warehouse spread like garbage, rice grains scattered like no one cares, relief boxes literally being dumped by trucks without thinking that whatever inside maybe damage, reliefs outside the warehouse soaked in the rains, and you DSWD staff at the warehouse spending your day talking/chatting/seating while there are a lot of things need to be done ASAP”).

You will see “celebrities” who want to take credit for work done by others, who want their faces and names stamped on projects funded by people’s money. And of course, there are always the ex-convicts and convicts-to-be who are very good at finding ways to line their own pockets.

For the past few years, and particularly in the last decade alone, technologists have been at the forefront of changing how people act, interact and live — and their impact is felt not just in their locality but all over the world. How many people are now dependent on Google, Facebook and Twitter? How many billions and trillions of transactions take place using the internet, cellphones and tablets?

It is clear that the leader of the future, who will have the most influence and impact, should be a technologist. The leader himself may not be a scientist or an engineer per se, but he must have the heart of one. He must be keenly interested in technology and what it can do. Because above all else, a technologist wants only one thing: to solve problems.

And boy, do we have a ton of problems in our country.

How can technology solve our problems? Let me give 3 examples.

  1. Garbage. Do you know that there are some European countries who have solved their garbage problems to the point that they have to import garbage from other countries because they have none left to burn for their own use? On April 30, 2013, The New York Times reported that the City of Oslo in Norway has developed a way to convert “household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests” to heat and electricity. Other cities in Sweden, Austria and Germany are also building such plants.Can you imagine what this one technology alone can do for our country? Where is the Philippine delegation to Oslo to study this? At the very least, even if we find the technology too expensive or impractical, we can work out some sort of deal to export our garbage to them. That would be a win-win situation.
  2. Prosthetics. Traditional prosthetics are prohibitively expensive. People who lose a hand, foot, nose or any other body part may find it economically impossible to replace these. A prosthetic hand that can grab things, for example, would cost somewhere between US$20,000 to US$30,000 (around PHP1M or more).However, we have an already existing technology called a 3D Printer which is changing the game in prosthetics. The Huffington Post recently ran a story about a dad who used a 3D printer to print a prosthetic hand for his son who was born without a left hand. His estimated cost was around US$2,000 for the printer and around US$10 for the materials (total cost of around PHP100,000). The plans and schematics for the hand were downloaded free. The Guardian UK also published an article about affordable prosthetic facial parts that can be generated by 3D printing instead of the more traditional and expensive method of making a cast and mold. A traditional prosthetic nose, for example, might cost P200,000 but a 3D printed one would only cost P20,000. That costs even less than an iPhone. Now, what if we had 3D Printers in every public hospital? How many more of our poor, disabled countrymen would now be able to afford prosthetics? How many lives would benefit? They might even be fit for some jobs now instead of being reduced to begging in the streets. Hello, Mayors and Congressmen. Are you paying attention?
  3. Water. The recent devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda showed how precious and important water is in the affected areas. However, water is also heavy, bulky and difficult to transport. Since around 2009, a British company call Lifesaver Systems (which is currently actively involved in disaster relief for the Philippines) has developed portable water containers with built-in filters that are so fine that you can literally fill the container with filthy, muddy water and it will produce clean, drinkable water.Those in calamity-stricken areas no longer need to wait for bottled water to arrive. They can simply use the container and get water from the nearest river (or any water source, no matter how dirty). A video demo shows the company’s CEO mixing a tank of river water with mud, sewage and garbage. He then takes a pitcher of the foul mixture and puts it in a Lifesaver Bottle. He pumps the bottle a few times, opens the top and pours clean water in a glass that he then drinks himself. Perhaps, instead of spending millions on election paraphernalia, our leaders could instead invest in these life-saving technologies. After all, nobody (except you and your relatives — and not all of them, mind you) really wants to see your smug faces splattered all over our walls, streets and lampposts, and the best preparation for disaster is innovative planning and willful action not some pretty speech on national television.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Freethinking Me.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. You may email him at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Posted in Science, Society0 Comments

Anti-RH Church Leaders Blame Calamities on RH

Tacloban_Typhoon_Haiyan_2013-11-13Why would God let calamity hit a predominantly Catholic country? “God is not the cause of the suffering,” answers Father Bacaltos, a Tacloban parish priest. “God cannot prevent this. This is the work of nature.”

Many Catholics would agree that nature, not God, is to blame for this tragedy. But for some leaders of the Catholic Church, the Reproductive Health (RH) law is to blame. Which leaders? Well, what a coincidence: the ones who are most vocal against RH.

Here’s Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who campaigned against “Team Patay” through tarps, reminding us that rather than Nature’s random acts, calamities like Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan) are God’s reminders. He adds that when we continue to oppose God through the RH Law, we put our lives in danger:

 What happens to us — earthquakes, floods, storms — are reminders.We are reminded to never forget life… Even our life is in the hands of God so we better make it meaningful… Let us not forget him. We remove Him, for example, in this [RH] law that goes against His will. So when we oppose God, we are in danger.” [some parts translated]

And here’s Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, an anti-RH voice in mainstream media since 2010, explaining why Typhoon Pablo was no coincidence:

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or it’s because the Lord is trying to tell us that if you talk about that [the then RH bill] seriously it’s like there’s a message saying that many difficulties happen to us… especially since we [the Catholic Church] don’t want the bill deliberated hurriedly and secretly so that it is passed.” [translated]

Finally, here’s Father Melvin Castro, who frequently heads anti-RH contingents during demonstrations and vigils, blaming the RH Bill for the heavy rains of “Habagat:”

Although we would not give other meaning to it, nonetheless God speaks through his creation as well. Nature tells us to respect the natural course of things.

If I researched further back in time, I’d probably find even more Church leaders who blamed calamities on God (or the people who disobey God, depending on how you look at it). And something tells me it’s only a matter of time before some distasteful CBCP leader does it again.

But there are priests, like Father Bacaltos, who are more tactful, more humble, and it’s Catholic leaders like these that I continue to respect. As Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, said:

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do to their fellows, because it always coincides with their own desires.

***

image source: Trocaire

Posted in Religion, RH Bill8 Comments

What You Need To Know About Comet ISON

In the coming days, stargazer the world over are swooning like fanboys and fangirls over the arrival and surprising intensification of Comet ISON. In this article, we will give some of the reasons why astronomers all around the world are geeking out over the comet. We will also give some tips that will be helpful in hunting for this celebrity comet.

 

Comet ISON is virgin stuff

Comet ISON was discovered by amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novitchonok using telescopes run by the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON). According to calculations of its orbit, Comet ISON is a “dynamically new” comet. This means that this visit to the inner Solar System is Comet ISON’s first, and probably also its last.

The Oort Cloud

The Oort Cloud. [Photo credit: solarsystem.nasa.gov]

This makes planetary astronomers jizz in their pants because closely studying a first time visitor to the inner Solar System is a chance to peer into the origin of the Solar System itself. Some comets, for example the famous Halley’s Comet, are periodic comets. This means they periodically shuttle between the Kuiper Belt, that region beyond Neptune’s orbit to which Pluto belongs, and the inner Solar System. Thus, periodic comets are used to getting baked by the Sun’s heat and radiation. Dynamically new comets like Comet ISON, on the other hand, are former denizens of the part of the Solar System called the Oort Cloud. The icy bodies that form the Oort Cloud are believed to be remnants from the formation of the Solar System some 4.6 billion years ago. As Comet ISON approaches the Sun, the stuff it is made of will be exposed to the Sun’s heat and radiation for the very first time ever since the Solar System’s formation, so the gas and dust it will release can tell us about what kinds of stuff there were around during the time of the planets’ formation.

 

Comet ISON will live life dangerously by grazing the Sun

Comets have very eccentric, that is elongated, elliptical orbits. This explains why they are sometimes very far from the Sun and also sometimes very near it. A class of comets called sungrazers put the mythical Icarus to shame by getting so close to the Sun that the star’s tremendous gravitational field starts to tear at them. Many of these sungrazing comets do not survive their close approach to the Sun in one piece. Of the sungrazers that bite the dust, some evaporate completely while others dive into the Sun. Others still break into several large pieces that, taken as a team, put on a spectacular show. One good example is the Comet Ikeya-Seki, a sungrazing comet that broke into three to five large pieces as it approached the Sun. Comet Ikeya-Seki is considered one of the brightest comets of the previous century, reaching a brightness that made it visible in the sky even during noon. Like Comet Ikeya-Seki (which graced the sky on 1965) and the dazzling Comet Lovejoy (which put on a show last 2011), Comet ISON is also a sungrazer.

A sungrazer comet. [Photo credit: wikimedia.org]

The sungrazing Comet Lovejoy of 2011. [Photo credit: wikimedia.org]

An orbiting body’s closest approach to the Sun is called its perihelion. Comet ISON will reach perihelion this 28th of November. During this time, it will be three times closer to the Sun than Mercury ever gets.

Sungrazer comets always put space geeks on the edge of their seats because it is so hard to predict whether a sungrazer will survive its perihelion. Many astronomers think that Comet ISON’s prospects for survival are high, but until the 28th of November the jury is still out.

Aside from glancing off the Sun, Comet ISON has one additional claim to fame of being unique among sungrazers. Most sungrazers belong to a family called the Kreutz Sungrazers, a family of dangerously living comets that have related orbits and are believed to be fragments of the same parent comet. Both Comet Ikeya-Seki and Comet Lovejoy, as well as many other famous sungrazers, belong to the Kreutz family. Comet ISON is not part of this gang.

 

Comet ISON’s story is always a cliffhanger

The closer a comet gets to the Sun the brighter it shines, reflecting the most light from the Sun when it’s near perihelion; like nearly everything in the Solar System, comets do not produce much of their light, but instead merely reflect the Sun’s. It is therefore not surprising that sungrazers have the potential to be really bright, a fact illustrated by Comet Ikeya-Seki and Comet Lovejoy.

This lead some writers to prematurely hail Comet ISON as “the comet of the century”. Early this year, it became clear that this is certainly an exaggeration. This lead some astronomers to swing to the opposite side of the optimism spectrum by predicting that Comet ISON will be a dud.

Astronomers are not new to comets that do not perform as was initially hoped. The most famous example was the Comet Kohoutek of 1973. Kohoutek was considered an astronomical PR disaster because of the hype that grew around it and the subsequent lackluster performance. Some astronomers fear that Comet ISON might be a Kohoutek Part II.

Comet Kohoutek did not live up to the hype. [Photo credit:  Photo credit: light-headed.com]

Comet Kohoutek did not live up to the hype. [Photo credit: Photo credit: light-headed.com]

Well guest what, in recent nights Comet ISON surprised everyone by suddenly brightening! It still is not as bright as previous optimistic estimates predicted, but recent developments also give the lie to the pessimists’ projections. In other words, Comet ISON is frustrating most attempts to divine its maximum brightness.

What was just said is not an indication that astronomers are clueless but rather an illustration of the amazing variety of comets; there are just so many kinds of comets that it’s very difficult to predict the behavior of the next comet based on the behavior of its predecessors. This lead the great comet hunter David H. Levy, of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fame, to famously say, “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.”

 

That’s all fine and good, but where in the freakin’ sky do I find this cat?

Right now there are three requirements if you want to see Comet ISON. First, you must wake up really early, around 5 in the morning. Second, you must look for the constellations Virgo and Libra. If you don’t know how to find these faint constellations, fear not. If you look toward the easter horizon at the early hours of the morning, you will be inevitably looking at these two constellations. The third requirement is a modest pair of binoculars. As of this writing, Comet ISON is already barely visible to the naked eyes on a dark sky. Using a pair of binoculars allows you to see Comet ISON as a faint smudge with a distinct tail.

The screenshot shown below is from the freeware Stellarium, a free software that you can download from this link. In the screenshot Comet ISON is indicated by its official name, C/2012 S1 (ISON). The position shown would be the spot where Comet ISON can be found at around 5:15 AM on November 23 in Manila.

Where to find Comet ISON this Saturday morning. (Screenshot courtesy of Stellarium.)

Where to find Comet ISON this Saturday morning. (Screenshot courtesy of Stellarium.)

 

As the date of perihelion approaches, Comet ISON will move farther from the location of Mars in the constellation Leo and towards the center of Virgo, to the direction of the Sun.

 

Do I need to buy expensive telescopes just to see this thing soon?

Fortunately, you don’t have to. As of this writing, Comet ISON is bright enough to been seen through a modest pair of binoculars, and its getting brighter and brighter by the hour. Many stargazers have even noted that the comet is visible via the naked eye in dark locations, and it might intensify further to be visible even in urban vantage points! If this prediction proves accurate, Comet ISON will probably put on a good show after its perihelion next week and further into December.

At any rate, Comet ISON’s claims to fame are enough to make it a comet worthy of intense observation. Whether it will be among the brighter comets of recent years or a modest naked-eye comet, Comet ISON will be among the most closely observed comets in history, and everyone is invited to join in this celebration of human curiosity.

A November 17 photo of Comet ISON taken by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger. Note that the comet's beautiful and long tail is still too faint to be seen with any detail via naked-eye observation. [Photo credit: Michael Jäger]

A November 17 photo of Comet ISON taken by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger. Note that the comet’s beautiful and long tail is still too faint to be seen with any detail via naked-eye observation. [Photo credit: Michael Jäger. Photo taken from nbcnews.com article on Comet ISON.]

Posted in Science0 Comments

FF Fundraiser Done; Plans for the Next One

FF-Fundraiser-Poster-v-for-wordpressTo everyone who made the Filipino Freethinkers Fundraiser possible, thank you:

  • to those who helped organize and run the event
  • to those who watched, however briefly
  • to those who stayed with us the whole day
  • to those who donated and pledged to donate even more

For our first live online event, it wasn’t bad at all: We were online for 18 hours and logged over P60,000 in donations over two days (the Saturday webathon and the Sunday meetup).

As we’ve explained, the donations went directly to the participants’ chosen charitable organizations — usually the Philippine Red Cross.

The interview with Daniel Dennett is already up on our YouTube channel, and we’re currently working on the others — an interview with Reina Reyes about the need for Science literacy, and a virtual tour of the LHC at CERN with Andre David.

Videos of the these and other webathon conversations will be available on our YouTube channel soon, but you can already visit our Twitch channel for the unedited broadcasts.

In the following weeks, we’ll continue to remind everyone that there’s still a long way to go before the Yolanda relief effort is over. The next FF Fundraiser is already in the works, and we’re glad to report that we already have a line-up of guests we’re sure you’ll enjoy:

  • Dan Ariely
  • Darrel Ray
  • DJ Grothe
  • Edwina Rogers
  • Greta Cristina
  • Hemant Mehta
  • Maggie Ardiente
  • Michael Shermer
  • Peter Boghossian
  • Rebecca Watson
  • Richard Wade
  • Russell Blackford

We’re still coordinating time slots with them, which is tough because of time zone differences and their busy schedules.

We’ll keep you updated as we work out the details, but until then, please remember to do what you can to help — be aware and raise awareness, volunteer and support the volunteers, donate and encourage donations. Let’s show everyone the difference our two hands working can make.

Posted in Organization0 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 021: Microwave Storms and Criticism During Crises

FF Podcast (Audio) 021: Microwave Storms and Criticism During Crises

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This week we talk about the conspiracy theory that microwaves were used to generate the devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Then, we discuss when it’s okay to criticize in times of crisis.

Join us on our live webshow on November 16, 2013. 10 AM to 8 PM (GMT +8). Help raise funds for relief efforts for victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Science, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 021: Microwave Storms and Criticism During Crises

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 11.24.00 AM

This week we talk about the conspiracy theory that microwaves were used to generate the devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Then, we discuss when it’s okay to criticize in times of crisis.

Join us on our live webshow on November 16, 2013. 10 AM to 8 PM (GMT +8). Help raise funds for relief efforts for victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Science, Society, Video0 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Livestream and Meetup for a Cause

FF-Fundraiser-Poster-v-for-wordpress

yolanda-01

The super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) left in its wake thousands dead, injured, and missing. Even more have lost their homes and lost contact with family members. Estimates of damage in the agricultural sector alone are almost 4 billion Pesos. Victims of Haiyan in Visayas and neighboring regions are in need of food and drinking water, among many other necessities.

Filipino Freethinkers urges everyone that can help to give what they can. On Saturday, November 16, 2013, we will be live streaming a show, hosted by FF President Red Tani, to get the freethinking community in the Philippines and in the world to raise funds to support those affected by this horrific tragedy. The show will be available on Twitch as well as our site.

From 10 AM to 8 PM, we will be aggregating pledges donated directly to the Philippine Red Cross, either online, bank deposit, or through SMS via Smart or Globe. Donors will receive a tracking number from the Red Cross and we encourage freethinkers around the world to tell us how much they donated. We will also be counting donations by freethinkers to other charities of their choice, such as the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center.

Donors of any amount will get a shout out during the live broadcast.

Donors of P1,000 and above will get to have their topic of choice (not necessarily typhoon/relief related) discussed live by FF. Freethinkers can donate even before the live show. Email us the charity, the amount donated, and the tracking number (if available) at [email protected] and we will add it to the tally. You can also message us through Facebook or join the conversation on Twitter using #FFFundraiser as the hashtag. Share with us how you and others can help.

Join us on November 16, 10 AM to 8 PM live on Ustream. Help our fellow Filipinos in this time of crisis.

About Philippine Red Cross: The Philippine Red Cross is a secular charitable institution that “endeavors to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever and whenever it is found.”

About Citizens’ Disaster Response Center: The Citizens’ Disaster Response Center is a secular non-governmental organization that promotes “community-based disaster management in the Philippines.” It has been chosen by the American humanist charity Foundation Beyond Belief as its recipient of $10,000 in support of relief efforts in the Philippines.

On Sunday, November 17, 2013, we will be hosting a regularly scheduled meetup at the Episcopalian Holy Trinity Church.

Location: Holy Trinity Church, 48 Mckinley Road, Forbes Park, Makati
Date: Sunday, November 17, 2013
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm
Google Map: http://goo.gl/wCMAl

Topics
– Effective Altruism
– Looting During Disasters

During the meetup, we will also be coordinating donations from FF members. We will be donating these contributions to the Philippine Red Cross. Material donations will be delivered to LBC, which the Red Cross will also receive. Please note, though, that charities have items such as old clothes in excess.

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Microwave Storms: Full Of Hot Air

There have been conspiracy theories going around suggesting that Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), which wreaked havoc in central Philippines last week, was man-made. This writer is not pertaining to scientifically sound speculations that Typhoon Yolanda’s unprecedented strength might be due in part to the effects of climate change, but rather to grossly outlandish claims that the super typhoon was caused by powerful electromagnetic beams that were released by human-made machines.

While these conspiracy theories should be easy to dismiss and do not deserve a lengthy rebuttal, what with the need for lending a helping hand to the survivors and all, it is unfortunate that such speculations were recently given media airtime as if they were somehow in the same league as sound scientific hypotheses. As such, a quick debunking is in order.

The following list is far from exhaustive, and is only meant as an illustration that the conspiracy theories are wrong by orders of magnitude. That said, here are some reasons why Super Typhoon Yolanda could not have been caused by microwave beams emitted by human machines.

Sorry fellow Red Alert fans, but not yet. [Image credit: forgeforums.com]

Sorry fellow Red Alert fans, but not yet. [Image credit: forgeforums.com]

1. Making clouds is like boiling tons of water.

To make a storm, you need clouds, lots of clouds. Since clouds are masses of condensed water vapor, you need to convert a lot of water (sea water, in particular) into water vapor. This is not an easy task, as water is a substance with an unusually high heat capacity and latent heat of vaporization. Translated in everyday language, this means that water is really, really hard to vaporize. Making large clouds thus requires a gargantuan amount of energy. Dozens of storms can form over warm oceans only because their source of power is no other than the Sun, which produces energy via nuclear fusion.

In science, a Fermi estimate is an order of magnitude approximation of a certain quantity. What follows is a Fermi estimate of the amount of energy required to produce a storm-sized cloud system. For a storm that rains down 300 mm of water on the central Philippines alone, this totals to approximately 56 billion tons of water. Now let us assume the temperature of seawater in the central Pacific to be evaporated is 30°C. The amount of heat required to convert 56 billion tons of seawater into water vapor, around 39 trillion kW-h of energy, is more than 500 times the energy consumed in the entire Philippines in the year 2012. In order to produce this amount of energy in a month (assuming it takes a month to create a typhoon), about 39 thousand nuclear power plants must simultaneously operate! According to the World Nuclear Association, there are only “435 operable civil nuclear power nuclear reactors around the world, with a further 72 under construction.

Peter Tyson of PBS Nova has this to say about the power of storms: “The total energy released through cloud and rain formation in an average hurricane is equivalent to 200 times the worldwide electrical generating capacity.” Just image if we are able to harness even just a fraction of this energy for the improvement of human lives.

The swirling vortex of clouds and wind that was Typhoon Haiyan. [Photo credit: theguardian.com]

The swirling vortex of clouds and wind that was Typhoon Haiyan. [Photo credit: theguardian.com]

2. Making rain is not cheap. 

Contrary to the popular joke, off-key singing is not enough to make it rain. Cloud seeding, the technique of dropping crystals into pre-existing clouds to cause rain, is expensive and difficult. Using data from the United Nations Environment Programme, the average cost of seeding is around $1.5/cu m/ha/season (this cost was in 1985). This places the Fermi estimate of the cost of seeding an entire storm at around $ 1.5 billion billion. This value is more than 140 thousand times the number of US dollars in the entire world as of July 2013, which, according to the Federal Reserve, was $ 10.5 trillion.

 

3. Storm formation involves planet-wide chains of cause and effect.

Even if you have the required amount of rain clouds, gathering all those clouds into a spinning, swirling vortex that is a storm is no easy task. Certainly, it is not a task that can be accomplished by manipulating a portion of the Earth only. The development of a typhoon might seem local at first sight, but scientists have known for decades now that storm formation involves complex interactions between a region and its neighbors over long periods of time. This is why the initial stages in the formation of a storm usually happens far from where it will first be spotted as a low pressure area or tropical depression. It is for this reason that scientists studying hurricanes in the Atlantic also study air circulation patterns in west-central Africa, and those who monitor typhoons in the Pacific also concern themselves with atmospheric conditions over China and Siberia.

The very, very tangled web of global air currents. (And that is NOT even the entire picture.) [Image credit: go.grolier.com]

The very, very tangled web of global air currents. (And that is NOT even the entire picture.) [Image credit: go.grolier.com]

The interconnectedness of the Earth’s climate systems means that one cannot isolate the north central Pacific and manipulate only its climate by releasing supposed EM beams in the vicinity of a low pressure area, as what the conspiracy theories will have us believe. We are still a long way from having the technology that will allow us to control weather in the macroscale, but from what we do know, future attempts to manipulate the weather must be global and not local in scope. (One way in which we humans affect, although not manipulate, the climate on a global scale is our inadvertent and uncontrolled changing of the climate through an enhanced greenhouse effect.)

 

4. The energy of the storm winds is immense.

Even if we ignore the many physical errors involved in supposing that a beam of microwave radiation can make a cloud system spin, the math of the energies involved simply does not add up.  Ignoring the stupendous amount of energy required to produce the storm clouds (see Item 1), the kinetic energy of the winds in an average storm amounts to about 36 billion kW-h per day. If, for the sake of argument, we pretend that a microwave pulse can produce a vortex in a low pressure area, the required force exerted by the beam would be equivalent to the force exerted by 25 simultaneous nuclear explosions per day. That is something no global conspiracy can hide.

"Let me unleash the power of a dozen nuclear bombs on you." [Image credit: Marvel Enterprises.]

“Let me unleash the power of a dozen nuclear bombs on you.” [Image credit: Marvel Enterprises.]

5. Coincidence is not causation.

Videos showing the emission of several microwave beams in the north Pacific region around the time of Typhoon Haiyan’s formation simply confuse coincidence with causation. The emission of electromagnetic beams around the same time and area as the formation of a typhoon in no way implies that the storm was caused by the beams. This is neither rocket science nor climate science, it’s just basic science.

 

Back to basics

As this writer noted in a previous article, Typhoon Yolanda reminds us that when it comes to our dealings with the natural world, we should all go back to basics. After all, an appreciation of the scales involved and the basics of scientific reasoning are not just handy in battling nutty conspiracy theories, they also can, and should, be used to save lives in the future. Now that we have this nonsense out of the way, it’s time to talk about solid science in order to mitigate the effects of future natural catastrophes.

 

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