Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Heavens Are Shifting

Major news in space this week. We now have a 10th planet, and a lake of water ice has been found in a crater on Mars. Just look to the left! Incredible sight, isn't it? Water does exist on Mars, and that means it's very likely that we might find evidence of old life, or possibly even life living deeper in the soil. (story)

And yes, we do have a 10th planet too! 2003UB313 is it's current name, although a more pronouncable name is being considered. I'll update this when it is named. The body is at least the size of Pluto, though it has a very eccentric orbit at a high angle to the orbital plane of our solar system. It, along with Pluto, are thought to be objects from the Kuiper Belt, which is a sphere of icy, rocky objects at the outer edge of our solar system. Of course, this also calls into question whether objects the size of Pluto and this new object should actually be considered planets. But either way, it's pretty cool, and sobering, to know that there are still things in our own solar system we don't know about yet.

Update: As a point of interest, a few days before, there was an object 70% the size of Pluto found. Many months ago an object 50% the size of Pluto was also found, named Sedna by its discoverers. Wrote Shakespeare: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Update 2: I've been recuse in forgetting to mention that there is much consternation about the status of Pluto and objects similar in size to Pluto, and whethe they should be considered actual 'plantets'. I must say I'm on the side of considering objects like Pluto to not be planets. However, if we are going to consider Pluto a planet simply because it's always been considered as such, then it must be argued that objects bigger than Pluto must be considered planets as well. However, it's also predicted be some that Mars-size objects are lurking out there as well. Now, I'm not sure how easy it is for bodies bigger than Mercury to be knocked into orbits outside of the orbital plane, but I think I good operational definition is to say that planets are bodies large enough to become spherical due to gravity and whose orbits focus around a star and lie in the same plane. Of course, I could be wrong, but given our model of planet formation, it is likely that most planets will originate in the same plane.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Help! I'm drowning in idiocy and ignorance!

I can't believe this. I just can't believe this. How can there be so much idiocy in the world? How can people possibly think like this?

Here's an example, one person's response to the Doonesbury comic I mentioned previously which was posted on Doonesbury's website (
"I was disappointed in today's strip. You place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Bush administration for "causing" the war in Iraq. Reacting to the war already declared on us by terrorists would have been more accurate (or did you forget about 9/11)? Also, did Tony Blair cause London to be bombed by terrorists? There is a war going on, that you can be sure of. But to blame GWB for "causing" it? You're reaching, and I fear it's in the wrong direction."
Or how about this one?
Sir, I know your political leanings are liberal, but in today's strip your humor was lost on me. I find it incredible that you suggest that the President of our country does not care about the soldiers that have given their lives fighting terrorism in Iraq. Sir, have you forgotten about 9-11? Do you want to see that repeated on our soil? I have in the past laughingly looked past your political leanings. Today was too much. I want to continue enjoying your comic strip, but if this keeps up, I'm done. Thanks for all your crazy humor.
Forgive my language, but how in hell can these people possibly think that attacking Iraq had anything to do with 9/11? I mean, they can't be blamed entirely because Bush and Cheney kept saying that they were (or rather, alluding to it enough times to allow people to come to that conclusion theirselves, which is all the more insidious). However, you'd think people would be smart enough to realize that Iraq only now has terrorists because we invaded! And invading Iraq has given terrorist groups a potent recruiting and training tool, one which wasn't there beforehand. If we had stayed out of Iraq and focused on Afgahnistan and al Qaeda, we'd be much safer today. We'd have more money to spend on security, and would be able to devote more resources to tracking down Osama bin Laden and others who were plotting against Western countries. I mean, look, it's one thing to have a conservative ideology, and it's valid to think that way. But it's quite another to be ignorant of the facts and think that 9-11 was linked to Iraq, because that's not conservative, that's just stupid.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

St. Paul's Alumni Day!

As an aside, just keep reading Doonesbury here to get your day-by-day dose of thought about just what's wrong with things today.

Yesterday was St. Paul's School Advanced Studies Program Alumni Day (what a mouthful!). Unfortunately it was extremely hot and humid out, and I was in it for way too long, and probably hadn't been drinking enough water. So for the better part of the last two-thirds of the day, I had a heat headache, and probably getting heat sickness as my stomach wasn't feeling all that settled either; I barely ate any dinner. Luckily though, I ran into my sister's friend Morgan and her friends on the way into the talent show, so I got to hang out with them through that and at the dance later! At the talent show I was able to close my eyes and rest during a few performances, and with the slight breeze created by the huge fan oscillating way up at the front, I started feeling a little better. However, the heat in the dance created by dozens of human bodies was nearly as bad. It felt cool outside at that point, but then there the swarms of mosquitoes were in search-and-suck mode, which made getting some fresh air a risky endeavor. All that, though, was well worth being there and to meet a cool girl, to dance and actually learn that I'm not as bad as I thought, and to get people to swing to "Jump, Jive, and Wail". :-D

On another note, I recommend Philip Pullman's series "His Dark Materials," which starts with the book The Golden Compass. I liked it a lot, and it's a pretty good epic-type adventure with some pretty cool concepts. And I can't leave you without mentioning Harry Potter. I had to bring it up to my sister yesterday, and as such I won't be reading it until mid-August, when she gets back from St. Paul's and the college trip she's taking. But that's alright, I guess I can wait. (*imagines the looks of horror of any Harry Potter fanatics reading this*) But I'll have plenty of time to re-read the series in preparation then.

And on yet another note, I started my unpaid lab job at UNH. It seems to be going alright, but I think I messed up my first experiment... though it's entirely possible that something else didn't work out. But otherwise it seems like it'll be a good way to get out of the house and do something, and it'll be good experience.

And I still need a new title for this whole thing... no one has any ideas?

Friday, July 15, 2005

It's the stem cells. I hear their cries.

If you haven't read it already, check out this Doonesbury comic from last Sunday.

Stem cells hold much promise for many treatments for debilitating diseases, and our country is falling behind in stem cell research. Even if other kinds of stem cells which "don't involve the destruction of an embryo" might be possible, it is ludicrous to categorically rule out stem cell research before it is actually known what is possible.

So many Congressmen who know virtually nothing about a topic think they can talk for hours about morality and ethics and what's good for people. How hypocritical can these people get? "I respect life," they say, " and we must build a culture of life!" Of course by that they mean "We must end abortion! We must protect the life of embryos!" Yet these same people seem to have no qualms with throwing away the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of non-Americans in a war we've been duped into and which has subsequently been bungled so badly. What about their lives? Shouldn't a "culture of life" also mean a "culture of peace"?

There was absolutely no reason we had to go into Iraq when we did. Iraq had little to no connection with al Qaida, unlike Afghanistan, or with 9/11, much less than, say, Saudi Arabia. And we know that Iraq wasn't necessary and was pushed for no other reason than to get rid of Saddam, even though he posed no real threat to us or almost anyone, from leaked documents such as the Downing Street Memo, among other things. Explore that website to find out what it's all about, and tell me you see nothing wrong with it, especially with the changing rhetoric the administration was using. Going to war with Iraq has resulted in a damaged economy at home, instability in the Middle East, and a new training ground and more reasons extremist leaders can give to gain converts to terrorists organizations. All the money we're now spending in Iraq could be going to many better pursuits.

But speaking of abortion, anyone who considers themselves "pro-life" must realize that a full-out ban of abortion will not work. All such a thing would achieve is to push desperate women to illegal clinics or to attempt to perform abortion themselves. This would lead to a very dangerous situation for these women, and for pro-lifers to be taken seriously, they must want to protect these women at least as much as their fetuses.

The goal of pro-lifers should be to reduce the number of abortions, and any pro-choice supporter should recognize this as a noble and ideal goal. To do this, however, not only should options such as adoption be promoted, birth control must be promoted as well. Unfortunately, many pro-lifers also fall on the side of abstinence-only education, which, it is shown, doesn't work effectively enough to protect people when they finally do have sex, even though it is effective in delaying a person's first time. This is why comprehensive sex-ed, emphasizing abstinence but including birth control, is a much better idea. But many pro-lifers basically want to force abstinence on people and then want to punish them for having sex by forcing them to give birth. This is a sad worldview, and it won't help pro-lifers achieve their goal of reducing the number of abortions.

And again, I'll express my believe that that's a goal my fellow pro-choicers should aim for as well. We must make abortion a rare last-choice procedure, and to cultivate that as a common view in our society, promoting birth control and informing about adoption. It should be the woman's choice, but we need to decrease the chances that a woman should have to make that choice, and to let her know, without pushing one or the other, of other choices she has.