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Since I Never Get the Last Word


Wednesday, August 30, 2006
This Only Seems Consistent

During the 45 years of my working life, - a period I refer to as my opus futurus - I continually reminded supervisors, employers, customers, and my partner that if they were to read my contract, nowhere would they discover a requirement for consistency. In fact, it became a favorite mantra: consistency is not in the contract.

I may have read a bit of Ralph Waldo Emerson in high school; if so, I have conveniently forgotten it. But, today, I discovered the dear man must have been a fellow traveler. I now know that he was the genius who penned in his Essays, First Series published in 1841 the law: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. It’s as if he reached a century into the future and implanted the notion in myconsciousness on the day of my birth. I did improve it a bit for the old guy. I deleted the totally frivolous and unnecessary ‘foolish’ from the text and adopted the whole thing into my sixth law.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-08-30 08:21:13


Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Important Line of Investigation for Evolutionaries

Watched a humorous commercial recently that invoked the infamous “pull my finger” routine which set me to wondering how long that has been around. To the commercial’s credit, in a nice role-reversal, a young woman employs the phrase.

I was comfortable that this routine, pull my finger, began before my birth as I heard it countless times as a boy, from relatives, friends, and complete strangers.

It turns out that the phrase has been around at least since the mid-1800s because Charles Dickens seems to have used it in Martin Chuzzlewit, a novel he published that in 1843-1844. I’d suspect that Charlie didn’t make it up himself, so it must have been around for some time before he began writing.

Do you suppose this is a relic of our pre-historic past? Perhaps a line of inquiry could be developed watching monkeys in situ to see if the custom can be found among them. If so, imagine the uproar in the fundamentalist communities over such a discovery. Wouldn’t this prove once and for all we share a common ancestor, one who liked to have his nephews pull his finger?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-08-29 08:50:16


Saturday, August 26, 2006
Pluto Needs a Press Agent

The early returns on Pluto’s demotion are interesting for anyone reading the tea leaves. The gamut runs from reasoned reporting to utterly astounding analogies. On a sports show I was watching, the absence of one particular player from a U.S. football team – he’s moved on to another team – was compared to the ‘absence of Pluto.” These particular analysts were not sufficiently erudite to complete their analogy with words such as “absence of Pluto from the pantheon of planets;’ no, they were content to say – at least three times within fifteen seconds – the “absence of Pluto.”

Bill Kummer, writing in The Globe and Mail of Ontario: ” Like Pluto, the Baltimore oriole was once consigned to oblivion by scientists, only to be restored to its status as a separate species a few years later. The baseball team, however, has never recovered from the trauma. One hopes that Mickey Mouse's dog fares better.” Evidently, being named a dwarf planet constitutes astronomical oblivion.

For more thoughtful reporting, a New York Times article quoted Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York: “Counting planets is not an interesting exercise to me, I’m happy however they choose to define it. It doesn’t really make any difference to me.” Dr. Tyson said the continuing preoccupation with what the public and schoolchildren would think about this was a concern and a troubling precedent. “I don’t know any other science that says about its frontier, ‘I wonder what the public thinks.’ The frontier should move in whatever way it needs to move.”

Sure, he can say things like that butus bean counters look at the voting numbers to observe that less than 25% of the IAU voted on the proposition. That same NY Times article reported: “The final voting came from about 400 to 500 of the 2,400 astronomers who were registered at the meeting of the International Astronomical in Prague. Many of the astronomers, Dr. Pasachoff explained, had already left, thinking there would be nothing but dry resolutions to decide in the union’s final assembly.” Ah Hah! If this is not the grounds for a libel trial on behalf of Pluto, one is hard put to identify what would be. This, in the opinion of this blogger, constitutes planetary bias of the most disturbing sort. Where is Mel Gibson when a conspiracy is finally identified worth shouting about? I ask you that., huh?

As a final thought, why is it that the IAU – well, less than 25% of the IAU – decided to call Pluto a dwarf planet. The last time that astronomersrethought a planet – again, according to the good old NY Times - the asteroid Ceres was hailed as the eighth planet when it was first discovered in 1801 by Giovanni Piazzi floating in the space between Mars and Jupiter. It remained a “planet” for about half a century until the discovery of more and more things like it in the same part of space led astronomers to dub them asteroids. Now that’s a fine name: asteroids. Has sound and fury to it. Not like “dwarf planets” at all. And these less-than-25% IAU guys had the opportunity, too. There was a proposal on the table to call the objects they wanted to classify dwarf planets as Plutonians. A one word name with marketing panache but would they use it? Nope. They let their prejudice against poor old Pluto carry the day. Dwarf planet, indeed!

Defenders of the planet Pluito, arise! Do the politically correct thing: demand a recount.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-08-26 09:56:01


Thursday, August 24, 2006
Size Doesn't Matter

Do you have any conception of the difficulty of trying to write about the size of planets with the Women of Sci-Fi floating at the top of your screen? Well, I'm a better person than that so I shall "endeavor to persevere."

According to http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060824/ap_on_sc/planet_mutiny_11, Pluto has ceased being a planet. This gives me pause. It seems very muich like the oft previously recounted tale of my grammar school years and the ultimate fate of "ain't." The establishment labored long and hard to remove 'ain't' from my vocabulary with no success and, because I am at heart a magnaminous man, I declined to return to the school with the issue of Webster's Dictionary that first included the word in its listings shouting my triumph. The phrase "ain't ain't in the dictionary" no longer applied.

The establishment may wish Pluto become a dwarf planet; ithe IAUmay have the full force of intelligent, educated rationale behind its stand but I predict - someone please make a note of this prediction - that half a century from now Pluto will still be a planet. There are simply too many fundamentalist believers to let go of a prized possession. It would be like trying to remove Lexa Doig from the 2007 calendar....errr, skip that, I am not looking at that ad.

No matter what theIAU thinks, size doesn't matter. What matters is that the accuracy of mathin predicting orbits told us where to look for Pluto in the first place. With that crowning achievement behind it, even though the math must have been incomplete because it didn't tell us to look for the other flotsam at that distance, we cannot go back to where we were before with just 8 planets. That is so.....so....medieval.

I know Robert Williams has undoubtedly more to say on this topic but before he can take a scientific approach, I beat him to it with this populist approach now safely on the record. As scientists are prone to write in their theses: nah na nah na naah na!

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-08-24 11:25:34


Monday, August 21, 2006
Theology 999

Working on a story about the lesser known and not-at-all-known Olympians jogged my memory of a short story in Galaxy(?) magazine of long ago, the plot of which included the notion that paper clips represented an alien life form, one of whose major traits was that they reproduce seemingly endlessly in a drawer. The next stage of the alien development was wire clothes hangers that also seem to reproducewithout end in closets. There was a third and final stage, adulthood, but I forget what it was. If any who happen to peruse this blog remember or have any clue as to how that story ended, let me know, please.

What has that to do with Olympians? Consider Maia. Other than producing Hermes, how did she earn her living as a goddess? Well, she might have been goddess of paper clips-to-come or puppy dogs or cirrus clouds. We just don’t know. If there was a Maia available to produce Hermes, there must have been a whole bunch of gods and goddesses who never made it to the big stage, sort of like Scott Adams’ Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light. Somebody ought to tell their stories, don’t you think?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-08-21 08:34:59


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