Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Monday, August 21, 2006

All My Exes Live on Dwarf Planets

It's hard to say definitively what's important. Family, career, politics, wealth, religion, social activism, tomatoes, health, sports, entertainment, science, status anxiety (a phrase I recently picked up from a friend) all figure into our daily lives somehow and how much each matters is more or less an individual decision. As a general rule, I try to avoid telling people they have misplaced priorities, as it would be quite easy for them to point out a few of mine, but some people are so infuriatingly ignorant, it's difficult to keep my mouth shut at times.

Take the case of poor ex-planet Pluto. Demoted this week in a bitter fight among astronomers over the definition of a planet, Pluto for the time being holds the rather paltry status of "dwarf planet", along with Ceres, a relatively tiny object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and a not officially named object--some refer to it as "Xena"-- even more distant than Pluto and discovered in 2003. Pluto, officially a planet since Clyde Tombaugh found it in 1930, was thought to be considerably larger upon its initial discovery, but in 1978 a moon was observed. Turned out Pluto was so miniscule and distant astronomers had failed to distinguish Pluto itself from its even smaller satellite and assumed Pluto, moon (called Charon) and all the space in between were one object. In fact, as a very young child, I learned Mercury, not Pluto, was the solar system's smallest planet.

I mention this to emphasize that I am, in fact, one of those geeks who enjoys planetary astronomy. This latest debate over Pluto's status is more amusing than rankling to me, as it seems more a battle of nomenclature and definitions than anything scientifically riveting. Nevertheless, I follow it because the world of science changes so rapidly and I like to remain up to date on subjects that interest me. I'll be the first to admit it's an academic topic and not, pardon the pun, planet-shattering.

However, during a recent lunch engagement with a moderate sized group of mostly casual friends, I was forced to endure a full fifteen minutes of Big Brother talk. Remarks as to the appearance of certain Big Brother participants, their annoying habits, their skills or lack of them, and some of those conversing seemed to possess an awful lot of rancor over a bunch of sad sack twits willing to jettison their self-respect not even for money, but for the faint hope of it. Not long thereafter, I breezily brought up the subject of the recently scorned Pluto, which incited a fair number of angrily apathetic comments like "who cares?" and "why are they wasting all this money on it?" and "now they'll have to change all the textbooks."

I kept quiet, but I'll have to admit I was fairly disappointed and a bit perturbed. It's true the debate over Pluto may not be on par with the highest achievements of astronomy, like those of Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein and Hubble, but I must say I consider it far more important than the emptyheaded hijinx of Big Brother contestants. Perhaps there's a bit of elitist in me, or maybe there's just a bit of ignoramus in them. Possibly both. But I couldn't help but wonder if these same dismissive attitudes were prevalent in the past.

When it became well-established and accepted that the sun did not revolve around the Earth, were there legions of naysayers lamenting the fact that all the textbooks of the day had to be changed, that the discovery was a waste of resources and none of it was important anyway? It seems a pretty childish reaction to new information. Deny and dismiss. Dismiss and deny. But as Earth, Wind and Fire--only one of which is a legitimate planet--say, "That's the way of the world."

Questionable Sources

Columnist Cal Thomas asserts that 1 in 12 illegal immigrants has a criminal record. How exactly can that be known? You'd think all their names were on a list somewhere.

Columnist Roland Martin, an admitted reality television fan, asks rhetorically why more African-Americans don't try out for reality shows. Roland, please, Black Americans are proving they're smarter than the rest of us in this respect. Don't mess it up!

Finally, a USA Today column promised to offer several ways of "fixing" the Emmys. I think only one way is needed: get rid of them! I can fix the Grammys this same way.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

La La La La La

August 14, 2006 as I write. I began a similar entry on the first of August, but encountered delays. This notation appears merely to inform readers of the date above that I cannot, in fact, see the future.

It's been weeks since I've written anything. The reasons for this are duller than even blog enthusiasts are accustomed to enduring, but to commemorate my return, I've decided to deny any problems exist in the world. There is no Hezbollah (this might, in fact, be true because no one can seem to agree on how the organization spells its name, a strong indicator of fictitious entities). There was no vast terrorist conspiracy uncovered on August 10, 2006. And let's hope there aren't legions of talking heads still asking the rhetorical and unanswerable question: how safe are we? We aren't completely safe, we've never been completely safe at any point in human history and most of the time we don't know we're not safe until we're dead, dying or injured. Can you dig it?

But this is good news. Chew on it for a while just so you can forget the World War III forecasts and other indicators of doom that the rest of the media enjoys imposing on you.

At the end of last month, the citizens of Congo went to the polls for the first time since 1960. Known as the Belgian Congo for much of the Twentieth Century, President Joseph D. Mobutu changed the name to Zaire and changed his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko. Shortly after his death in 1997, it was rechristened Congo. A nation of vast natural resources, but also turmoil and poverty for as long as most of us can remember, Congo is by no means a stable and placid locale today, but the July 30 election went reasonably well and perhaps a legitimate, popularly elected government can help quell what might best be described as "mini-wars" taking place in various parts of this enormous country. Among the 32 candidates for President, the frontrunners are incumbent Joseph Kabange Kabila, who took office following the assasination of his father, Laurent, and millionaire Jean Pierre Bemba. Harvard-educated Oscar Kashala is something of a dark horse candidate, and the man with far and away the best name is 60 year old economist Pierre Pay Pay. Results should be determined by the end of August.

Elsewhere in Africa, Ghana and the United States signed the Millenium Challenge Compact late last month, providing nearly 550 million US dollars in aid. By no means a wealthy nation, Ghana has nevertheless managed to avoid the bloodshed and bitter conflict many of its neighbors have recently experienced. The agreement aims to promote economic growth and it is hoped Ghana's most destitute citizens will benefit from plans to focus on rural agriculture, community development initiatives and transportation improvements. For now, it's mostly talk, but at least it's good talk.

You want more? According to the Indianapolis Star--my hometown paper and one that loses no opportunity to report and sensationalize bad news--race relations in the city of Indianapolis are improving. Not in a dramatic, earthshaking sort of way, but slowly and deliberately, which is perhaps the only way such things can occur. Indianapolis does not have a history of high-profile, dramatic racial antagonism, more of a slow, dull backwardness and heavy doses of denial. For example, the city lucked out on April 4, 1968, the night Martin Luther King was assasinated. Robert Kennedy, who in two months would be murdered himself, happened to be in town to deliver a speech. When news of Dr. King's assasination arrived, Kennedy made an impassioned plea for restraint and reflection that was largely heeded. This certainly can't be considered the sole reason there were no large-scale riots in Indianapolis the night of Dr. King's murder--as there were in most major US cities--but it's one of them. Of course, some seized this story as evidence black citizens in Indianapolis were perfectly content with the current state of affairs and not disillusioned and angry like they were in much of the rest of the country. Very funny.

Still, according to polls recently conducted in the city, it appears black and white citizens share a good deal in common and get along with one another reasonably well. I regret referring anyone to the Indianapolis Star to read the particulars, but I'm not going to parrot their statistics, either.

It's Funny Because It's True

1. I have a witness for this one. While passing the Indiana School for the Blind, I read a message on their sign outside the gates: Welcome Back Students, it said. Seriously.

2. Observed outside a garden supply shop: Japanese Beatles Are Here. Beatles? You mean, John-san, Paul-san, George-san and Ringo-san. Those in the business of plants and gardening ought to at least know the difference between beetles and Beatles. Strawberry fields forever...

3. At one of my previous jobs, employees grew weary of Canadian Geese and their generally noisome behavior. They swam in the retention pond and nested among the shrubs and bushes near the building. To combat this nuisance, someone somewhere (management, I presume) got the bright idea of building fences. Fences. Vast lengths of bright orange, plastic fencing were erected around the perimeter of the building and the retention pond. Sadly, this plan was ineffective. Geese, as it turns out, not only have wings that enable them to fly right over fences, but they are also notoriously scornful of property rights. They not only dismissed the hint they weren't wanted there by the presence of the fences, but would not even have obeyed "No Trespassing" signs had they been posted.

See, there is good news. In Africa, at home, and perhaps best of all, you, dear reader, are not nearly as stupid as most people. Take solace in that. And I'll just keep sitting here with my hands over my ears, denying the existence of Hezbollah.