Merry Solstice

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Sunrise on the Winter Solstice
Sunrise on Winter Solstice. Photo by Steffe.

Today is when the rises and sets at its most south­erly extreme, mark­ing the shortest day for observ­ers in the Northern Hemisphere, and the longest day observ­ers in the Southern Hemisphere. There’s a nice photo mosaic of it today at Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Archaeology in Europe and The Megalithic Portal both point to stor­ies about a rep­lica of the pre­his­toric circle at Goseck, Germany, being opened for the occa­sion.

Closer to home, Tom Goskar of Past Thinking is at Stonehenge for the sol­stice. He points out a new album on Flickr with pho­to­graphs from today. Well worth a look as some of them are very atmo­spheric. I’m quite jeal­ous. Tom notes that attend­ing the sun­rise really was above and bey­ond the call of duty as no-one cur­rently sug­gests there was a sig­ni­fic­ant sun­rise align­ment for midwinter.

In some ways this is a little odd. Recent work at the nearby henge of Durrington Walls would favour a mid­winter sun­rise align­ment. If there is a mid­winter sig­ni­fic­ance to Stonehenge then it would, in con­trast, be an align­ment on the set­ting sun. If you approach the monu­ment from the Avenue as the sun set then, if there’s clear enough weather, you’d see the sun set behind Stonehenge.

There have been pig bones found near Durrington Walls recent which have also sug­ges­ted a winter fest­ival at the site. This appeals to me from a social point of view, as people tend to look more act­ively for divine help when things are going badly. But being able to point to data and ask why they were killing an awful lot of pig in winter gives you a bit more to go on than a nice feeling.

Though I don’t frown on feel­ing nice, so Happy Yuletide to those who cel­eb­rate it, Bona Saturnalia to oth­ers, Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to any­one I missed.

Not over in Dover

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Scopes Trial
Evolution on Trial. Photo uploaded by Candlemaker.

More or less every­where I read is cel­eb­rat­ing the vic­tory at Dover. It’s being inter­preted as a crush­ing defeat for the Intelligent Design lobby. When the judge calls you ‘inane’ it’s hard to put a pos­it­ive spin on it. Nevertheless it seems to me that the decision has caught both sides off-guard.

It clearly sur­prised the Discovery Institute. Their press release fol­low­ing the decision is, to be char­it­able, poor:

The Dover decision is an attempt by an act­iv­ist fed­eral judge to stop the spread of a sci­entific idea and even to pre­vent cri­ti­cism of Darwinian evol­u­tion through government-imposed cen­sor­ship rather than open debate, and it won’t work,” said Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute

Press Release from the Discovery Institute.

…which clearly showed he hadn’t read the rul­ing. Or else hadn’t the wit to come up with a bet­ter line of argu­ment after the (George W. Bush appoin­ted) Judge Jones stated:

Those who dis­agree with our hold­ing will likely mark it as the product of an act­iv­ist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is mani­festly not an act­iv­ist court,”

Say what you like about the Discovery Institute, but they do do a good line in obfus­ca­tion. Their response looks like it was whipped up in a panic. How did they mis­read the case so badly?
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