Discovering the Heavens, Close to Home

Wow – it looks like Dr. Michael Brown at Caltech has discovered a new planet – and one that’s in our solar system!

Some people argue that Pluto should not be considered a planet – there is no clear definition of what constitutes being a planet as opposed to, say, and asteroid.

But a planet Pluto is, as far as most of us agree.

The new object discovered is out in the Kuiper Belt, much further away than Pluto from our Sun. However, it is certainly larger than Pluto and is currently estimated to be 1.5 times as large.

Ah, Palomar – and this with the Samuel Oschin Telescope on a project funded by NASA. I think Dr. Brown will be making his annoucement today from NASA, actually.

The planet’s name is 2003UB313, but I’d imagine it will be renamed. What an interesting job, and incredibly difficult, coming up with the name for a planet.

And we thought we had our little neighborhood all sorted out. 😉

Well then, this is largest object we’ve discovered in our solar system since 1846, when we discovered the planet Neptune.

Oh, I’m excited about going to see the desert stars. Strange saying that. How about, seeing the stars from the desert. Where goes poetry?

It’s Been a While

Today is a very sad day. Almost 300 years ago J. S. Bach was composing some of my favorite music — the music I learned to play when I was a child and continued to play into college and beyond. I suppose considering the structure of his music , it is not surprising that I later turned to information systems , which operate oftentimes in highly complex and interdependent patterns very much like the music Bach was composing so long ago.

Today, July 28, in 1750 Bach died, leaving behind him twenty some children, giant organs, and music that, in today’s predominantly electronic medium in particular, still sounds remarkably fresh.

When you listen to much of the music created after Bach, it seems to me, at least, that a great deal of emphasis was placed upon the emotional and the evocative effects of music upon the psyche and the spirit with far less emphasis upon the intellectual.

It cannot be said that the music of Bach lacks emotional content. On the contrary. Simply because a work of art focuses upon the intellectual does not mean the emotional necessarily must be sacrificed. Sometimes, including such times as the renaissance, or the age of enlightenment, the intellectual was considered a paramount pursuit, at least as important, if not undifferentiated from, the spiritual.

The music of Bach relied and was comprised upon traditional and orderly, mostly predictable structures that were, in large part, meant to convey upon the listeners the steadfast and unchanging nature of god. It was the clockwork of the universe exemplified in sound, and usually a grand and overwhelming sound, produced by some of the most grandiose and overwhelming mechanical creations of the period: the pipe organ.

The pipe organ was an engineering masterpiece. Bach was obsessed with creating works that would challenge the physical capabilities of these gargantuan monstrosities that lived in the churches, for the glory of the almighty.

He gathered children, putting them to work as organic little machines to pump, whole groups of them, laboring away for hours at a time, as he played and composed these elaborate intellectual constructions, even developing a notorious reputation for beating the children who could not keep pumping long enough before he could satisfy his passions.

Anyway, his music did not lack passion. Through oftentimes unbelievably complicated and unusual juxtapositions of themes –themes that were both very simple and not altogether unusual –Bach created music that challenged the most disciplined mind to follow while at the same time he brought the listener to a point of almost pure, intellectualized ecstasy.

This was not for everyone.

Well, to the mundane, it appears that Congress might allow oil companies access to the arctic national wildlife refuge after all, if they pass the upcoming budget reconciliation bill. Apparently it contains a provision allowing large sections of the refuge to be used for drilling.

The National resource defense council has put together a web site making it easy to notify your congressional representatives of your displeasure at this possibility, if displeasure it is you feel.

http://www.nrdcactionfund.org/arcticphotos/photos.asp

This page also lets you send a pretty picture along with their thoughts.

And lastly, another tedious maneuver by the people who find themselves in power, and are by far the minority were all things known, that Supreme Court nominee offered by President Bush, the young Judge John Roberts, of whom so many people know so little about, and whose ambiguity rivals my most trying lovers, though not quite as interestingly.

The democratic leader of the senate, senator Harry Reid, has pieced together an idea with the help of some other senators to enlist the aid of ” we the people ” to come up with questions for this man during his senate confirmation hearings. It seems that much of our leadership is just as confused as we are regarding his historic interpretive positions and wouldn’t mind some help. If nothing else, the liberal people are concerned that many conservative groups welcome this nomination and hold this man in high regard. Apparently, that to some people is reason enough to resist his lifelong elevation to our highest court. Personally, I know little about this man and would not be unhappy to learn more, which does not seem to be what the white house would like. Thankfully they have decided to cooperate with requests for more information about judge John Roberts past by allowing access to at least some documentation of his past work history.

It seems to me that any time we consider a person for any position it is usually wise to find out all we can about them before hiring them. It seems even more important when this person is being considered for a position from which he cannot be fired and has long term and far reaching consequences for us all.

If you would like to submit questions to Senator Harry Reid and his friends, you can do so at their site:

http://democrats.senate.gov/askroberts

The Supreme Court has the last word on issues that impact all of our lives. It is the institution that we rely on to uphold fairness and justice and protect American values.

Judge John G. Roberts has been nominated to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. Americans are curious about where he stands on the issues that will impact their lives like the environment, their right to privacy, corporate and business practices, the education of their children, the health care of their families and their civil rights.

As Senators, we believe it shouldn’t only be Senators that get to ask the questions this time around. We want the American people to have a voice. We want to know what you care about the most. Help us let the Judiciary Committee know the questions that are on every American’s mind.

Thank you for your help!

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski
Sen. Barbara Boxer
Sen. Patty Murray
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu
Sen. Debbie Stabenow
Sen. Maria Cantwell
Sen. Hillary Clinton

Who Gives a Shit and is Smart – I Love Him

Yes, I am a Doctor Who fan. I ran across my first episode of it by accident on KCTS 9, the public television station, in my first year of college. Sunday nights, I, and one other friend, the only other friend who appreciated it, watched it religiously. It was a staggering departure from the science fiction television I had grown up with, dulled in spirit and wonderment. Doctor Who operated on plane above all else, catalyzing my initial dive into physics and remains to this day one of my fundamental coping mechanisms when dealing with the absurdities of our existence.

Doctor Who, the longest running science fiction series, first aired back in 1963 on BBC television – before I was born. The last episode aired in 1989. Until recently.

The series has started filming again. I have tried explaining to people who know nothing of Doctor Who the reasons I love it so, and even few science fiction fans I know can appreciate the earlier episodes. But this has not lessened my excitement. It even shocks me how excited I have been to learn of a television show’s return.

It may be because Doctor Who lives outside the normal constraints of space and time, and I perhaps felt a kinship in this, where so much of the world is always caught up in their silly little things. But it’s not just that. Intelligence, compassion, determination, flying by the seat of his pants, ignoring needless restrictions, a genuine passion for exploration and an indomidable curiosity for all things….

The world is not like that. The people of the world like things – gathering them, hording them, building barriers and walls, procreating, consuming, spending their time in frivolous amusements. Most are very, very mentally lazy. They are content without the passion for understanding. People who do have a passion for understanding and exploration more often than not are viewed as a little freakish. But Doctor Who is perfectly content being freakish, simply because thinking such a thing is meaningless.

So I have been watching the new episodes, and the first season has ended. They were not disappointing. It has left me wanting more, and I’ll be waiting until Christmas. I wouldn’t normally write about such a thing, but I had to, considering the last issue I wrote about, the father beating his son to death because he thought he was gay.

So this now becomes an ode to Captain Jack. The Doctor and his companion Rose, whom he picked up on Earth, befriending her during an invasion the Doctor was silently thwarting, ended up traveling back in time to London during the bombings by Nazi Germany. Captain Jack was a con man from Earth’s far distant future who had also arrived to salvage, sell and pawn off a crashed alien space ship, but the ship had brought with it crazy effects upon the populace that were spreading.

I was amazed when Captain Jack, who was impersonating a Royal Airforce Officer, spoke to a fellow officer, complimenting him on his bum. Captain Jack later meets Rose, the Doctor’s companion, saving her life, and they have an intensely romantic encounter. Still later, the companions need to distract this RAF officer who earlier Captain Jack had complimented, and Rose was going to go down to do it. But Jack stopped her, saying that he’d be the better one for the job – which shocked Rose until the Doctor explained to her that Earth during Captain Jack’s time was all about mostly going out and having fun in the universe.

Honestly, I couldn’t believe this development in the story – it was all handled so naturally and without pretense. There were no stereotypes, no oddness or strangeness, just matter-of-fact-ness. Leave it to Doctor Who, I suppose, of all things, to bring to television something utterly new – the completely without prejudice or stereotype representation of a guy who likes guys and girls, equally well, or as Captain Jack says, it’s all about how good you feel.

This swashbuckler travels with the Doctor and Rose until the last episode, flirting and saying nice things about everyone. Normally the Doctor’s companions do not show much physical affection toward the Doctor, let alone a male companion. I was dumbfounded. Astonished. So incredibly happy and inspired by this most natural and utterly without bias portrayal.

So my hat’s off to this new Doctor Who series, being created and broadcast in a time of darkness where nameless threats and lies exist so prevalently and men beat their children to death thinking they might be gay. How petty and ludicrous we can be.

Here is a voice which says, there is so much yet to see! There is so much yet to learn, and to experience! There is so much we can be!!

The BBC rocks. As does the actor, John Barrowman.


Captain Jack finds himself transported to a fashion boutique, not knowing yet that it’s a voyeuristic television show.


Robots dress him in the latest fashions as the masses watch on TV – everyone watches everything on TV, and the shows do not always have happy endings for the people. “Your ratings just went up,” he jokes.


Jack decides against some of the more extreme fasion makeovers.


Captain Jack tries to get some of the citizenry to help fight off the Daleks with him, with little success.


Leaving them, fighting to keep Daleks at bay to buy them time. Saying goodbye to Rose.


Saying goodbye to the Doctor.


A farewell kiss to both.


Doesn’t think he’ll see them again.


Watching, just as he’s about to be killed.


Later.


The smart, swashbuckling, con-man lover from the future.

Father Kills Son Before He Likes Dick

I used to hang out with this self-proclaimed straight guy a while back, and we’d screw around sexually. What the hell, eh? When you’re horny you’re horny.

Actually, I’ve been in that situation with quite a few self-proclaimed straight guys.

But this one hated himself for liking it.

I asked him once, since he had kids, what would you tell one of your kids if they turned out to be gay? Are you going to raise them to think that it’s wrong?

He said, he thought it was wrong, and that’s what he was going to teach them. I gave him so much “benefit of the doubt”…

It didn’t matter to him that he hated himself for the way he was. And it didn’t matter to him if his children hated themselves for the way they were. He would pass along his fucked up neurosis without hesitation. He would encourage more self-loathing in the world, more deception, and more pain for others.

I just ran across an article at gay.com telling the true story of a man who believed his 3 year old son might be gay.

He beat him to death over time, hoping to toughen him up. He didn’t want him to grow up to be queer. It was very important to him.

The child’s brain was physically bruised – not just mentally.

In some small justice, the Tampa Tribune reports that Ronnie Paris Jr, the boy’s father, was just convicted of second degree murder. He could receive a life sentence. His wife is charged with child neglect for not doing anything to stop the abuse.

Ironically, there were many times when I felt like pounding this straight guy’s face in, myself.

This whole thing spins off into so many tangents of absurdity and tragedy that I can’t even being to write anything about it. It would probably take a lifetime of writing.

I’ll just leave it at, dumb, stupid fuck.

Sexy, Terrifying Forces

He’s a rare man, who manages to overcome so many obstacles, the greatest of which are within himself, to achieve a place in our nation’s Special Forces. I’ve had the privilege of knowing several of these men over the years, and knowing two of them before they even entered into military training.

It is easy to think of all military combat personnel as ruthless, goal-seeking automatons, directed and commanded by their superiors. But these are not stupid men – not in the least.

They are very intelligent. You cannot achieve acceptance into our Special Forces by simply obeying rules, or just being very determined. It is only a caliber of person who achieves this, someone who has as much fortitude of mind, as body. Someone who is inordinately disciplined and motivated toward utter self-control.

They are far from emotionless – and are, in fact, some of the most passionate people I’ve met. They often have a love and respect for their fellow men, demonstrated outwardly in a way that few men can, that places them literally on a whole new plain of love, loyalty and self-sacrifice.

However, there is no doubt that the repetitive and regimented disciplines they have passed through over their years leaves is mark upon them. The intellect is more often than not very sharp, yet narrow in its focus. A vast amount of knowledge and understanding lives within, yet it is constrained within their purpose – and those few who have a broader experience of the intellectual, particularly in the humanities, find themselves always caught within their own internal struggles of reconciliation.

There really is no going back from such a thing, once you’re there. Like many things we imagine we want, when have them, we find ourselves transformed and caught up — one more evolution in our unfolding story within this world, and no returning to the innocence of childhood.

These men are generally not easy to disturb, yet swift to judge. Doubt is a weakness, even a killer.

There is an old saying, the more you learn, the less you know. Among the wise, a man without doubt appears a fool.

Yet this are exceptionally intelligent men. I was just doing my job. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

I don’t mean that in any way to disparage.

These are the radically exceptional men in our armed forces – the tiniest tip of the great iceberg.

When I first visited Rome, my first impresson was how close men were to each other, physically. I was not ready for it. It made even me uncomfortable.

My second impression was after walking out of the train station, this long before any terrorist scare, and seeing, as I walked down these ancient streets, men in military uniforms, carrying semi-automatic weaponry, guarding many, many buildings, and even just on the street.

The throngs of people moved around them, going on with their daily business of working, shopping, dining, and romancing. But to me, they were a bizarre and powerful juxtoposition – a harkening back to the earlier fascist mentality of Rome. Or perhaps it was just my ignorance in the greater depth and intricacies of Roman history.

Nevertheless, being an American, and even having lived in England, I was not accustomed to having armed military personnel standing guard in the periphery of my vision as I sat down to have coffee with a friend, or simply read a book.

So it is with interest that I read a recent Department of Defense document entitled “Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support”.

The DoD is considering ways to increase its presence and effectiveness in our “homeland”. Historically, we Americans have an aversion to such things, as demonstrated not only in the Constitution, but subsequent law, such as the Posse Comitatus Act.

In particular, the Posse Comitatus Act severely limits the use of our national armed forces for any domestic purpose, and even specifically targets the unlawfulness of using armed forces to promote an industry. However, it, and some other laws, do allow armed forces to be used domestically for such things as putting down insurrection or responding quickly to sudden disasters or attacks.

HR 1986 recently passed the House of Representatives which exapands upon the authorized use of our federal military forces within our borders. It still specifically limits the role of military forces in search and seizure and in trials of civilians. Some Senate versions of similar legislation interestingly authorize the use of unmanned drones for use on domestic soil.

We all are aware of the growing chatter around the continued erosion of our Constitutional rights. Prior to the destruction of the World Trade Center, we always seemed to err on the side of allowing us freedoms whenever a question of intent or interpretation was raised in an aspect of the Constitution. This is no longer true. Interpretation is beginning to cut along the side of the People rather than the State. This is justified because We the People now live in fear and danger, and the State protects us.

In the DoD document, under Core Capabilities, Tier 3, they say the following:

If circumstances warrant, the President or the Secretary of Defense may direct military forces and assets to intercept and defeat threats on US Territory. When conducting land defense missions on US territory, DoD does so as a core, warfighting mission, fulfilling the Commander in Chief’s Constitutional obligation to defend the nation. To fulfill this responsibility, DoD will ensure the availability of appropriately sized, trained, equipped, and ready forces.

It is encouraging that they see the Constitution as important. It is reassuring to know that someone is looking out for you. I have had a taste of what it’s like putting your life on the line for someone else. I have also seen how some men can feel so much better about themselves (superficially) by dominating something.

I love when we can put our money into research and development, and particularly into education – in the broadest sense. Then again, I have been lied to many times, not only about facts, but about motives. I have information withheld from me (for my own good).

But like I was saying, I have a lot of respect for these Special Forces guys. I have a lot of respect for people who hold honor in high regard – not just speaking it, or following any set of rules, but honor – a very personal thing, that paradoxically is meaningless without other people around you.

In many ways it is the difference between doing what you are supposed to do versus what you ought to do. That also can cut both ways, and emphasizes the importance of education and critical thinking, not to mention, strength of character.

I have to also wonder, in all this that we’re doing, why it is, that we are. What has brought us to this point? What are we really doing to solve things, to diffuse tensions, and to reach understandings. Or is that just the naivite of idealism?

At what point do we stop to realize that we’re all standing here now, being pulled to the common center of mass, that is the warping of space and time?