Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What?...Just, What???

I'm having one of those seriously WTF moments, so please bear with me.

Today on my Facebook, one of my acquaintances there posted that they had become aware of a bumper sticker that asked those who read it to "pray for Obama" and then offered the Old Testament verse, Psalms 109:8, which reads,

Let his days be few, And let another take his office.

Some might find that innocuous, just asking for prayer that the president be out of office after not being there very much longer.

However, I wonder how many would still be comfortable with that sentiment if they saw that verse in its context. The verse starts out with the Psalmist, traditionally David according to the dedication at the beginning of the chapter, complaining that the "wicked" and the "deceitful" had spoken against him, have "rewarded me evil for good, And hatred for my love", and then launches into quite the tirade:

6 Set a wicked man over him,
And let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is judged, let him be found guilty,
And let his prayer become sin.
8 Let his days be few,
And let another take his office.
9 Let his children be fatherless,
And his wife a widow.
10 Let his children continually be vagabonds, and beg;
Let them seek their bread also from their desolate places.
11 Let the creditor seize all that he has,
And let strangers plunder his labor.
12 Let there be none to extend mercy to him,
Nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
13 Let his posterity be cut off,
And in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

Clearly, the implication...no, not even implication, but overt call...is for the death of the "wicked" and "deceitful" person he is complaining about. By implication, that bumper sticker is calling for the death of the president, and for the ruin of his entire family, both now and in the future.

Aside from the violence called down on his family, which seems a bit like overkill to me; isn't it considered treason to call for the death of the president? Certainly, there were those during the time of Bush.2 who considered it treason to even criticize the president, let alone threaten him.

But the Psalmist doesn't stop there; he continues on:

14 Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15 Let them be continually before the LORD,
That He may cut off the memory of them from the earth;
16 Because he did not remember to show mercy,
But persecuted the poor and needy man,
That he might even slay the broken in heart.
17 As he loved cursing, so let it come to him;
As he did not delight in blessing, so let it be far from him.
18 As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment,
So let it enter his body like water,
And like oil into his bones.
19 Let it be to him like the garment which covers him,
And for a belt with which he girds himself continually.
20 Let this be the LORD’s reward to my accusers,
And to those who speak evil against my person.*


I did not vote for George W. Bush as president, and I did not support the majority of his policies. However, I never, ever prayed for his death. I hoped that he would have a nice, long, happy retirement as soon as he could legally be removed from office, and wasn't as hesitant as some to consider that he might have committed an impeachable offense. But I did not wish him harm, nor did I wish harm or unhappiness to his family, to his ancestors or to his descendants.

I find it incredibly disrespectful for people who portray themselves as Christians to call, even in this passive-aggressive way, for the death of the sitting president. I would find it incredibly disrespectful for anyone of any faith, or of no faith at all, to do so. But I was raised to believe that Christians are better than that. I don't believe that most Christians would do that.

So, I guess my question here is, What the hell is wrong with this (hopefully) small subset of people, that they feel entitled to wish for...no, advocate that people actively pray for...the death of someone who they don't agree with? I don't agree with a lot of people, but I don't wish any of them dead.

However, that post is going to be removed from my Facebook feed, because I cannot let such a sentiment remain on my Facebook page. I suppose that, arguably, under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the person who posted that has a right to do so. I, however, do not violate that person's speech rights by not facilitating dissemination of her speech.

Additionally, I'm going to have to seriously consider whether I can keep the individual who posted it on as a Facebook friend.

*This translation, by the way, is the New King James Version, which I found at biblegateway.com.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Proving once again that I am, indeed, a geek...

As part of a continuing effort to get a blog centered on history and related topics started, I've been writing some sample posts to try to figure out exactly how I want to approach the new blog.

I started out with the idea that it would be a simple "On this day..." sort of exercise, but I've pretty much decided that the approach is a) too limiting of what I'm aiming to do and b) way too overdone. I'd like to remain open to doing that sort of entry on a regular but not constant basis, but I want it to be more, as well. So, the blog is not ready to go live yet. On the other hand, I've had some interesting experiences in reading and writing the sample posts.

For example, I that today is the fifth anniversary of the demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. I thought that would be an interesting event to note, and decided to take a quick look to see if I could find out about the story behind the event. What ensued was two-and-a-half or three hours really interesting (to me, anyway) research and the writing of a blog post summarizing what I'd learned.

I had fun with it. I don't want it to go to waste, but since the new blog is not ready to unleash on the world just yet, I thought I'd share it here.

And so, this is what I learned about Pluto, dwarf planets and the International Astronomical Union:

One of the things I most love about history, and about historical events, is that it is possible to start with one event and end up roaming around in any subject area imaginable.

Take the redefinition of the term "planet". On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is the internationally recognized body given the authority to assign designations to astronomical bodies, redefined - or rather, created an official definition of - the term. Apparently, there hadn't been an official definition previous to this time. By codifing a definion, they read Pluto out of the nine planets of our solar system and into the newly designated classification of "dwarf planet".

I intended to take a quick look to see exactly what that definition was, how a planet differs from a dwarf planet, and why they (perhaps that should be "they") decided that Pluto was not one but the other. It should have taken fifteen or twenty minutes, tops, not least because the Internet is a wonderful thing.

Right? Well, not really. I learned in the course of a couple of hours of research that the redefinition is not as universally accepted as the IAU would have the world think. I also found out some things about the outer reaches of the solar system that are just amazing, and that the picture of that part of our galactic neighborhood is much different from that I learned about as a child entranced by the very idea of outer space.

To begin with, while it seems at first glance as if the category of dwarf planet was engineered mostly to have something to call Pluto once it was removed from the list of planets, it turns out that there are other objects in the category, and that Pluto isn't even the most massive of the four largest of its new kind. It turns out that there are a lot of things and a lot more complexity than was thought to the region beyond Neptune, now the outermost planet since the demotion of Pluto, and that small planet-like objects in that region are called Trans-Neptunian objects. There are, according to some sources, up to 1,200 of these objects. I also discovered that this region beyond Neptune is made up of three areas, which overlap to at least a certain degree.

There is the Kuiper belt, which is similar to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter but twenty times as wide and twenty to two hundred times as massive as the asteroid belt. It extends from the orbit of Neptune to about 55 astronomical units (AU). An astronomical unit, in case you missed science class that day, is the rough distance between the Earth and the Sun, more or less 93 million miles. Then there is the scattered disc, which overlaps and lies beyond the Kuiper belt, which stretches from around 30 to 35 AU from the Sun to well beyond 100 AU from the Sun and reaches well above and well below the plane of the ecliptic, the plane on which the planets orbit around the Sun.

Beyond the scattered disc is the Oort Cloud, which is still a hypothetical construct since there have been no confirmed direct observations of it. The Oort cloud probably reaches out to around 50,000 AU from the Sun, nearly a light year out and almost a quarter of the way to Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, although some estimates put its outer edge as far as 100,000 to 200,000 AU out. That's a very long way. The objects in the Oort cloud are only loosely bound to the solar system and can be affected by the gravitational influence of passing stars and of the galaxy itself. The objects in this region are mostly icy and likely came into being much nearer the Sun but were scattered by gravitational interaction with the outer, giant planets. It is believed that most long-period comets originate in either the scattered disc or the Oort Cloud.

All of which is very interesting, but I set out to find out about Pluto and why it is no longer considered a planet. Pluto was discovered, officially speaking, on February 18, 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, from images taken on January 23 and January 29, 1930 at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, although it had been seen in other astronomical images at least sixteen times previously, beginning in 1909 at Yerkes Observatory. It was named for the Greek god of the underworld on March 24, 1930.

Because Pluto is so far away, coming as close as just less than 30 AU but going as far away as just less than 49 AU from the Sun, it is difficult to study. It is known that Pluto has four satellites that orbit very near the planet. In fact, its largest moon, Charon, is so large and close (the two are only 12,200 miles apart, less than the distance between London, in the UK, and Sydney, Australia), that the two have been described as a dwarf double planet. Pluto's diameter is about 66 percent that of Earth's Moon and it has a thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. Some fuzzy photos of Pluto have been taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, but astronomers will have to wait for a clearer view when NASA's New Horzons mission, which was launched on January 19, 2006, makes its closest approach on July 14, 2015. As an intereting aside, some of discoverer Clyde Tombaugh's ashes are aboard the New Horizon probe.

Again, all very interesting. Still, the point, spurred by the notation of the IAU's new definition of "planet" on this day five years ago, was to find out why Pluto is no longer considered a planet. Well, here's the thing. A resolution by the IAU said that in order to be a planet, an astronomical body must be in orbit around the Sun (or, I assume, a sun). It must be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force. And, it must have cleared the neighborhood around its orbit of other interplanetary debris. The third item in the definition is the sticking point where Pluto is concerned. It is slightly more complicated than that, but this is a history blog, not a science blog, all appearences to the contrary today.

As I mentioned up-post, at the same time that the IAU created its new definition of a planet, it also created a definition of dwarf planets, which is essentially the same thing as a planet, except that a dwarf planet has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit of debris. And so that is what Pluto is considered to be now, a dwarf planet. This despite the fact that another of the four largest dwarf planets in the solar system, Haumea, which was named for the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, is not spherical (item number one of the definition of a planet or a dwarf planet), but is shapred more like an American football. Which leads me to believe, if I might be allowed an opinion, that there is something wrong with the definitions.

Apparently, not even everyone in the astronomical community agrees that Pluto is not a planet. After a conference at Johns Hopkins University on August 14 - 16, 2008, a report was released stating that scientists could not come to a consensus regarding the definition of a planet. Well, they get to have an opinion, even if you and I don't, but there was also a certain amount of controversy among the public when Pluto was read out of the list of planets. I know, when I heard about it, my reaction was something like, "Hey, wait a minute..." And if asked how many planets there are, I still automatically answer, "Nine."

So, you see, you can attempt to find out about one particular event in history and end up learning about astronomy. Or geology, or mathematics, or biology, or politics, or construction, or business. Or, really, anything. And that is a good thing, I think. Certainly, I learned a few things I didn't know as I researched today's post.

I promise, this blog won't turn into Your Daily Science Lesson. But some things are just too interesting not to follow up on.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When Dinosarus Walked the Earth (or something)...

Well, that's it. Another birthday come and nearly gone (I've still got an hour and eight minutes until it's over, as I write this).

I suppose I'm of an age when I should really stop celebrating my birthdays, or even acknowledging them. After all, as of today, I can officially order from the Senior menu at Denny's. And some people would probably tell me that I really need to start being secretive about my age, so better not to mention birthdays at all.


I like birthdays, my own and other people's. Any excuse for a party is fine with me. Not that I had a party this year. Which is also fine. I did get a free lunch (again, at Denny's; did you know that if you go in on your birthday and show your ID to prove that it really is your birthday, you can get a free Grand Slam breakfast?). And I knitted with friends. And I got lots of birthday greetings on Facebook, greetings from at least three continents.

And I don't have a problem with admitting my age. (I'm 55 now, for those of you who don't know the Denny's menu.) I got here honestly, and it would be fairly stupid not to admit to it. It also means that I've seen a few things, and that I remember some things that are only history (maybe even ancient history) to younger generations.

So, you know, I don't mind saying that when I was born, Dwight Eisenhower was president, no one had been into outer space, and there were only 48 states. I saw Nikita Khrushchev's train when he visited the United States in the late 1950s. I heard tests of the rocket engines that took astronauts to the moon (the test facility was on a mountain across the valley from where I grew up). I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and where I was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

And, damn it, I've earned every gray hair in my head.

So what if I'm now the age my grandmother was when I was born? I'm having much more fun, on the whole, that I ever did when I was in my 20s.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Getting older? Yes. Growing up? Not if I can help it...

I hate those, "Oh, my God, I'm old" moments. Like the one I just had over on Facebook.

Although I suppose it's appropriate, since tomorrow is my birthday.

One of my friends posted on Facebook, talking about a co-worker of hers who made a comment to the effect that Enya shouldn't be called a "New Age" artist becuase she had records come out in the 90s, and that's old.

My response was:

Your co-worker makes the 90s sound like so long ago. Sheesh, I remember the first time the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show. I was only 7 years old. Closest thing to a religious experience I've ever had. No, really.

And it's the truth. I was 7 years old in February, 1964, when the Beatles first came to the United States and appeared on the Sullivan show. I had already gone to bed. There was school the next day, and my bedtime at that age was 7:30 p.m. on school nights. But my parents were watching the show, and suddenly I heard this wonderful noise coming from the living room. I had to get up and see what it was.

It was amazing, was what it was. I'd never heard anything like it, and I liked what I heard and what I saw. A lot. Changed my life. I was not kidding when I said it was the closest thing to a religious experience I've ever had. Starting the next day, when my friends were running home after school to watch cartoons, I was running home to watch to local versions of American Bandstand. There were a couple of them in the Los Angeles area that came on every afternoon.

What can I say. I was a precocious kid, anyway, and that music was infectious. That Sunday evening and the days following gave me a love of music that I retain to this day.

So, anyway. Now I feel old. Just because someone on Facebook knowns someone who thinks that something from the 90s is old. Ah, well. You're only as old as you feel, and if its too loud, you're too old. Honestly, I have days where it is too loud, and I am too old.

But there are those other days, the ones where there's no such thing as loud enough if the right song is playing. I may be getting older, but I refuse...simply refuse...to grow up.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's that time of year...

I've finally figured out one of the things that has had me in a bad mood recently. Besides the dismal work situation, that is.

It's time for school to start. My roommate goes back to teaching tomorrow; the local CSU campus also goes back tomorrow, the local community college has been in session for a week already, and a good friend starts her first semester of upper division work at Cal on Thursday. And I'm jealous.

I always loved school. Well, I didn't like the homework sometimes, and the tests, and junior high and high school were a rocky time for me (isn't it for everyone?). But the whole school thing? I love it.

Of course, when I was in school, we never started this early. The first day of school was always the Monday closest to the 15th of September, and the last day of school was the Wednesday closest to the 15th of June. But still, every year I get nostalgic about the ritual that surrounds going back to school for another year.

I never liked going shopping for school clothes; I've never been into the fashion thing, not then and not now. But shopping for school supplies? Heaven. Organizing those supplies for classes? In other areas, I've never been that organized a person, but for school, I was always the most organized student in the room.

And the best part? Going down to the school the weekend before classes started was always a highlight. In elementary school, the class lists would be posted on the front doors of the main building on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, and especially when I went to the school just around the corner from my house, I'd start checking at about noon on Friday to see if they were up yet. I just couldn't wait to see who my teacher would be and which of my friends would be in my class that year.

In junior high and high school, it was a little different. Some years we had to wait until the first morning of school to see what our schedules would be; other years, first-period classes would be posted over the weekend, and then we would get our schedules once we got to that class on Monday morning.

Yes. I know. We've established here before that I am a geek. Why would I be any different about school?

So, anyway...it seems like nearly everyone I know is going back to school but me, and this makes me sad. I'll get over it once the year has progressed far enough that people are complaining about homework and exams...either taking them or making them up...but for now, I miss the excitement of going back to school.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Various and sundry on a Friday afternoon...

Yikes. It's been a month again since I've posted.

After that spate of posts in the middle of July, I thought I was back to writing on a regular basis (or at least on as regular a basis as I've ever posted here). But not so much, apparently.

And, it isn't as if I haven't had the time to post something. I was without transportation except for my feet and the bus for the entire month of July, and then a couple of weeks ago, my work hours were cut back drastically. This is not good news, considering that fact that the unemployment rate in my area is over 16 percent. So, I've been trying to figure out how to get some new revenue streams going, with not much success so far. At least, with school starting, I can get out there in the next couple of weeks and try to drum up some tutoring business.

I think that might be part of why I haven't been posting much. My paying gig involves writing news on the finance markets...stocks, oil, and metals, mostly...and it's just all so depressing that I just haven't felt like doing much of anything much of the time. I don't care what the politicians have been trying to sell, the economy is not getting any better, nor is it likely to for the forseeable future.

I did see, in relation to this, that Michelle Bachmann is out on the campaign trail claiming that if she is elected president, she'll make sure that the price of gasoline goes back down to $2 per gallon. Yeah, right. Anyone who believes that she - or any president - has the power to do that, deserveds her as president. And Rick Perry called Ben Bernanke (he's the head of the Federal Reserve) a traitor for his monetary policy.

Come on, kids. It's over a year until the general election. Can we at least save the character assassination and pie-in-the-sky promises until after Christmas?

This is probably another reason I haven't been writing here much. I tend to get snarky at the least provocation these days. Maybe it's the weather, although we've actually had a milder-than-normal summer here in Central California. It hasn't been cool by any means, but we also haven't had nearly as many as 100-degree plus days as we usually do (something I hope continues for the rest of the summer). So, you know, if this is climate change, it's at least changing for the slightly better around here.

At least I've been doing something productive this summer, hatching plans for some writing ventures that I think might have potential and knitting some things for donation to a local shelter once the weather gets cooler. It might not get as cold here as it does in some parts for the country and the world during the winter, but there are people who will need scarves and stuff to keep them warm. And, when a good friend's yarn shop closed last year (has it been that long?), I took home a lot of the donation yarn people had given her to make things for a local charity. I'd been wondering what to do with it all until I decided one day that scarves are quick and easy to knit, and giving them away would uphold the purpose the people who had donated the yarn had in mind for it.

So. That's my summer so far. Snark and knitting (and you don't know just how well those two things get along until you've spend some time on Ravelry - go Google it if you don't know what it is) and trying not to get to depressed by work and the things I write about there. How's yours been so far?