Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I never got to meet Clyde Tombaugh. I know someone who did though. By all accounts he was a nice and thoughtful man. Clyde Tombaugh died back in 1997 thinking he had discovered a planet, Pluto. Recently the International Astronomical Union (IAU) changed all that. They redefined Pluto. Pluto is now a dwarf planet. It has Ceres, the largest known asteroid, and 2003 UB313 , affectionately nicknamed “Xena”, to keep it company.

Now don’t feel too bad for old Clyde because he lost his planet. Rather it’s quite remarkable that his discovery helped us discover a whole new class of objects, these dwarf planets. As we discover more objects in the Kupier Disk and the Oort Cloud we shall more than likely discover many more of these dwarf planets.

Never mind that the term, dwarf planet, really sucks. Couldn’t they have come up with something a lot cooler than dwarf planet? What happened to planetoid? Now there’s a name a nerd can love! Dwarf planet sounds like they just gave up. The stress of deciding that the solar system was now eight planets instead of nine was just too much. Getting a name out of these people was going to be like pulling teeth. So we got dwarf planet. Maybe if they are going to call the dwarf planets we should limit their number to seven and rename them; Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful, Sleepy and Dopey. But, I digress.

Also what’s going to happen to pneumonic device used to learn the planet’s names? You know it, “My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas”. What’s is going to be now, “My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Noodles”? What kid wants noodles instead of nine pizzas? Oh the humanity!

What about the wonderful Nine Planets Web site? Will they change their domain name?

I don’t mean to seem as if I am making light of these exciting times. We live in extraordinary times. Of course most people are far more worried about a ten-year-old murder case in Colorado than things like this. The first observation of dark matter isn’t even a blip on the media’s radar. But a wedding video of some psycho who likes little girls playing guitar at a wedding is all over it. People who wonder why our schools are failing need to only investigate the media’s priorities to understand.

Rest in Peace Clyde Tombaugh. Your diligence in discovering Pluto has helped lead us into new and exciting times. I just hope more than a few science lovers notice.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A couple days ago George Bush said, rather emphatically I might add, that as long as he is president we would have troops in Iraq. We won’t leave until the mission is accomplished. Never mind I seem to recall something with an aircraft carrier and a big “Mission Accomplished” sign. Never mind that the plans for and the conditions that would signal victory in Iraq are only slightly more vague than the ending of The Blair Witch Project. Never mind that the reasons we invaded Iraq to begin with have changed over time. Never mind we’ve been in Iraq for about as long as were in World War II. Never mind how our handling of the war in Iraq has damaged the United States in the eyes of the world. Never mind the potential crises with Iran and North Korea. Never mind how overworked our military is in Iraq or how few people want to volunteer for military service.

On Hardball tonight Van Taylor, a Republican from Texas who's running for a seat in the House, and Paul Hackett who’s not running for anything because the silly Democrats told him not to, were discussing the war in Iraq. Both are Iraq war veterans. Hackett thinks it’s a bad idea. Taylor is all for it. Never mind that when the host of Hardball, Chris Matthews, pressed Taylor on issues about the Iraq War that Taylor had no real answers. Never mind that Taylor spewed the same talking points we’ve been hearing for years in regards to Iraq. Never mind that nothing ever gets said that really has any importance on these shows so I don’t know why I bother.

Tonight it was reported that eleven of the suspected terrorists in Britain were indicted today. Two of them have been released and the rest are in jail. Never mind that the British media, the Internet and some American media outlets have been skeptical about how advanced and dangerous this alleged terror cell was. Never mind that the demonstrations of the liquid bombs they were going to use were slightly impressive than the Diet Coke and Mentos concoctions that people use to make a big mess in their driveways. Never mind that the United States wanted them arrested not the British who actually were conducting this investigation. Never mind that these terror plots always seem to get reveled when it is politically convenient.

Jon Benet Ramsey’s alleged killer was extradited today, oh never mind.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hey kids! No this is not the long form piece I mentioned earlier, it’s coming. Please be patient. Instead it’s a help to some people that I know that would like to write their ideas down but are apprehensive. A good many of these are ideas are not my own. I got them from the wonderful On Writing by Stephen King. If you have any interest in being a better writer, it is a good read.

My first piece of advice is since you will be writing non-fiction it to make sure that your facts are correct. If Ann Coulter has taught us nothing else it is not all writers bother to fact check. You should. Factual errors make your argument weak if not completely invalid. So get those facts right.

Now onto the writing itself, but I ask you to remember these are but suggestions. If you have a different method you like then go right ahead. I’m just trying to help the more timid writers out.

First step is to write the rough draft. You should write everything that comes to mind. Do not edit yourself. Write like there’s no tomorrow. You need to get all your ideas out there. Remember this is but the rough draft so it’s ok to be long-winded. Do not worry about grammar and whatnot at this stage. That comes later. One little suggestion here is to write the first word that comes to mind. Do not get obsessed with your word choice or crack open a thesaurus. You just need to need to write what comes out naturally. An honest writer beats one with a complicated vocabulary any day.

Now that you have several hundred words if not well over a thousand you need to save the article and put it aside. Let the article just sit there and walk away from it for a while. You might wait a few hours or even a day or two. Just clear your mind from the heat of writing passion and collect your thoughts.

Now read it. It’s time for the second draft. A rule of thumb is the second draft equals the first draft minus ten percent. So go through it with a fine-toothed comb. Now is the time to worry about grammar and such. Now is also the time to make it as concise as you feel comfortable with it being. If you’re writing for the local paper now is a good time to take a word count. Most newspapers have word limits on editorials. So now is the time to make sure it conforms to whatever guidelines there are.

Now that you’ve hacked your baby down to size, it’s time for final revisions. This is a good place to let someone else read it. Another viewpoint can be very helpful in making sure what you are writing is clear.

Oh for those of you who have crappy grammar, like I do. Just go to Google and type in the rule your looking for like, “book titles quotations or italics” and it will bring up many sites that have the answer you need.

Now take it up to the local paper and wait for your fifteen minutes of fame. It wasn’t that hard now was it?

Of course if it’s a fairly short piece, like this one, you could just do what did. Sit down and write it one fell swoop. If I can do it so can you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It’s been a while since I posted anything. So in lieu of any long form post like the previous post I shall now just throw a few ideas out there. I am starting work on another longer post though. Which was oddly enough inspired by a conservative blog. For whatever reasons the woman who writes this blog was listing various things. Well one of the lists was “Things you don’t understand”. The first thing she listed was pacifism. As always I am here to help. So I shall do my best to explain pacifism, to anyone who wants to read it. Hopefully I can knock it out in about a week.

Anyway on with the random scattered thoughts.

Lamont vs. Lieberman: I’ve opposed the war in Iraq from it’s beginning. I’m pretty far left on the political spectrum. That being said I really don’t give a damn about whether or not Joe Lieberman is in the Senate or not. My problem rather was with this whole political battle was that it played out like a mob hit. Joe went against what the members of his party wanted. Well the Senate Democrats have voted for very un-liberal things like the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act almost unanimously over the last 5 years, but let’s not weight down this pathetic little episode with the facts shall we? Anyway so Joe defies his little party so they get rid of him. Now as far as I know Joe never woke up with a horse’s head in his bed. But he did lose a primary election, which is quite rare for an incumbent senator. So apparently you defy the party and you go down in flames. This bothers me greatly. I don’t like this blind loyalty nonsense from either party.

So here’s a suggestion. Let’s just abolish political parties all together. Let’s make them illegal. Let’s see what all these people who want this power really have going for themselves. There will be no more talking points and the party to back you for an election. Just the candidate and their ideas will be on display. You think that this is a radical idea? Well George Washington didn’t want political parties to form either. He thought that would cause too much division in the young republic. Do you want to argue with George Washington? I swear the man was right about everything. If you don’t believe that go read his farewell address.

Israel and Hezbollah: Here’s the scariest thing that has come out of this awful conflict. Hezbollah is now promising to help rebuild damaged Lebanese properties. They will apparently do this with some financial backing from Syria and Iran. Let me say this in plain terms. If our president is as intent on spreading democracy and freedom as he says. Then his first priority right now should be to back the UN to go in and rebuild the damage in Lebanon. If the Lebanese people see Hezbollah as this benevolent benefactor who cares about them while the US and Israel are the aggressors. Then we have lost badly in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East.

Liquid Bombs in the Sky: First go read this article. This whole episode strikes me as political. Bush and Blair’s war is going to Hell in a hand basket and miraculously another threat appears. I know I sound awfully crass but this administration has a history of using the threat of terrorism as a diversion. I doubt this is much different. Like the article said those guys were on watch lists their chances of bordering a plane were minimal at best. So where’s the threat? Ten years ago the band Rage Against the Machine released their CD, Evil Empire. On it was a song was a song titled “Vietnow”, whose refrain contained the phrase, “Fear is your only God.” They were prophets I swear.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I’m pro-life. I’m not really pro-life in the sense that it is used in current American political vocabulary. I’m a bit broader reaching than most of those people. I think if you are to even consider calling yourself pro-life you have to defend all life not just those lives, which have yet to be born. If you’re going to get in a rage over abortions and stem cell research, you better get enraged about the humiliatingly high infant mortality rate. If you’re going to protest the anniversary of Roe v Wade, then you ought protest every incident of capital punishment. If you’re going to have chutzpah to call yourself pro-life then you ought to defend all life without prejudice. To not be concerned with all life is hypocritical. I think there a few issues that really ought to concern anyone who wants to label themselves as pro-life. Granted I will not talk about all issues but these are crucial.

The issues that are most important to pro-life, in my opinion, are abortion, capital punishment, gun control, poverty, human rights and war. Some of these are quality of life issues for sure. But of what sense is it to hold life as sacred and then expect people to live a miserable life devoid of any comfort and security?

I’ve said it before; abortion has become a political litmus test. If you favor keeping it legal you are a liberal, if you opposes it you are conservative. I know these stereotypes do not hold in the real world but that’s the stereotype and we’re stuck with it. Both sides use incendiary language to describe their opponents, which I will not waste my time with here. Both sides are very passionate about the issue. It’s shame really because most polling data shows the country as centrists on the issue. They want some restrictions but by no means want it outlawed entirely.

So where do I stand on the issue? I will admit I don’t like abortion. I find it an ugly solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancy. That being said I do not want it outlawed. If I am to be serious about holding all life as sacred I must also hold the life of the pregnant woman as sacred. If we were to outlaw abortion she would have to get illegal abortions that may not be safe and put her own life in danger. This is unacceptable. So what does a guy sitting on the fence do about this issue? We need to solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies. If were up to me we would do a number of things.
One is national health care with access to free birth control including Plan B or the morning after pill. More birth control equals less pregnant women and that means less abortions.
Also along with national health care there would be increased minimum wages and guaranteed maternity leaves. Less financial burden on the mothers means more of them are going to carry the pregnancy to term because the child won’t be a financial burden.
There would be actual honest sex education in schools. None of this abstinence only teaching. Abstinence is the most effective birth control to be sure and should be included as an alternative. But, since I sincerely doubt kids will stop having sex anytime soon, we must prepare them for what can possibly happen.

I absolutely oppose capital punishment. I will not support the execution of anyone no matter what crime they have committed. Capital punishment is more about vengeance than justice. What justice is there in taking a life? What if the courts accidentally convicted an innocent man? Can you think of a more heinous act than killing an innocent man?

Don’t even use that old “eye for an eye” argument on me either. “Eye for an eye” was a call for fair punishment not to even the score. Punishments at the time that was written were extremely harsh. So an “eye for an eye” was just a call for fairness. Isn’t locking someone away for the rest of their lives in some brutal hellhole that passes for a prison punishment enough?

Also note that Canada, Mexico, most of Central America and all of Western Europe have abolished the death penalty. Russia still has it, but has not used it in ten years. So why the United States so far behind the rest of its contemporaries? Why are we in the same class as Middle Eastern countries that still have the death penalty and also horrible human rights records? Shouldn’t we be doing better than the countries we point the finger at so often as being evil?

On to the issue of gun control, this is a more derisive issue than it needs to be. I’m not quite idealistic enough to think our nation will ever disarm. But there a lot of changes that if made would help curb gun violence. I’m willing to allow for guns for hunting and even some self-defense. But our nation is armed to the teeth and it’s not helping us in any way.
Outlaw assault weapons: They’re called assault weapons for a reason. No citizen has any business with semi or fully automatic weapons. They have no hunting value so out they go.
Outlaw concealed weapons: Some states have laws allowing you to carry a concealed weapon if you get a license to do so. Why? Are we that fearful? Do we really need a bunch of people running around with concealed weapons? No we don’t. Concealed weapons laws are just more macho nonsense.
End these laws that allow for lethal force if you feel threatened: Florida and Colorado currently have laws that allow citizens to use lethal force if they feel threatened. In most other states your live has to be in obvious danger. Again is more needless fear mongering and needs to be stopped.
Stricter licensing for gun ownership: You have to have a license to drive and get married so it would seem logical you need one to own a gun. Or is that way too logical?
Stricter sentencing for crimes committed with guns: I know so far most of what I have suggested has only affected the gun owning average citizen. So I threw this in to not seem unfair and imbalanced. But I do think there should be fairly severe penalties for crimes committed with guns. Let’s keep these armed criminals behind bars.

Gandhi once called poverty the worst form of violence. He was understating it a bit. The fact we live in a world that could feed and house everyone but doesn’t is criminal. No one should be denied the most basic of human needs. Everyone should have access to food, shelter and medicine. There is no good reason why people should be denied these things. All arguments for people not having them all boil down to greed and ignorance. For one nation to have food rotting in warehouses while in another children starve is morally repulsive. If we are to ignore the most basic needs of people we will never find peace or justice.

Human rights ought to be inalienable. By human rights I mean those things that are essential to the people’s well being and happiness: food, shelter, medicine, education, the right to property and freedom. If we are to hold life as sacred and worthy of our protection, then shouldn’t we also be equally passionate about those things that make life better? To only hold the state of being alive as important and to have no concern for the quality of life people live is hypocritical. To bemoan the destruction of a frozen embryo for medical research but not to worry about the millions of children living in poverty in the United States is sickening. For someone to be blindly passionate about the over one million abortions that take place in the United States but yet that same person remains silent about the staggeringly high infant mortality rate in the United States is also hypocritical. The infant mortality rate in the United States is about 6.4 deaths per 1000 live births. This rate is higher than Cuba’s, a country we have crippled with economic sanctions over the years. It is simply not enough to worry about that life which you deem innocent and nothing else.

As Edwin Starr once sang, “War. What is it good for? Absolutely Nothing!” I am a pacifist. I oppose war. It’s that simple. War at it’s best is necessary evil. Even that most glorious of wars, World War II, was by no means unavoidable or as glorious as some would like you to believe. Yes, stopping European fascism and Japanese imperialism was necessary. The 20 million dead Soviets, the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, none of these horror stories is especially inspiring. The result was good, but the means to get there were humbling to say the least. I know someone reading this is about to snap. I know someone reading this is thinking, “He can’t speak ill of WWII! That’s sacrilege!” I bear no malice against the men who fought so bravely in that war or any war for that matter. But I feel it imperative that we as a human race lose our taste for war. General Sherman said that, “War is Hell”. There is little glory in war other than surviving it.

Isaac Asimov once said that, “Violence is the diplomacy of the incompetent.” Unless we advance as a human race past the need to violence to solve our conflicts I fear the worst. As we keep developing more terrible weapons we might be the very means that causes out own end.

I write these thoughts because they are my own. I am not trying to win an election or start a political party. Though they are vaguely similar to some Catholic teachings I took influence from many sources. I do not write them for my own ego. Though I must confess that writing is therapeutic. I write them because I think that this the way to a better world for all people, not just Americans or Catholics or the wealthy or whoever. We will never move forward as a human race until we all do it together.