Monday, April 30, 2007

Chimeras, coydogs and a really strange chimp

Humans have always been fascinated by chimeras, a combination of animals into one creature. Ancient civilizations frequently depicted them. A "chimera" is actually one particular imaginary creature that has lent its name to the whole concept. Some chimeras are actually real, but are offspring of two closely related animals, at least from the same genus. More likely they are hybrids, which is a similar concoction, the technical difference between the two involves cells and zygotes and all that fun stuff, not important here. Real of imagined, these animals are often quite interesting. With no attempt to be comprehensive, we start with some ancient imaginary creatures and move on later to the ones that you can actually go see.

Chimera. Why not start with the prototype. A chimera is a creation of the ancient Greeks, and is part lion, part goat and part dragon (sometimes part snake). It seems to me that the feline part is the strongest of the three, as in most images you see, the monster seems to be headed wherever the lion leads. You sort of have to feel sorry for the goat, whose head is planted smack in the middle of the snake and lion parts. Being part dragon, it breathed fire and terrorized the humans living nearby it. According to myth, it was killed by Bellerophon, a Greek hero riding on the back of another “chimera” named Pegasus.

Pegasus. A Greek myth whose name and image is still familiar to us thanks to the many companies that have adopted him as their mascot, from Mobil Oil to an Icelandic film company. One of the more popular mythological creatures (probably because he didn’t eat people), even Shakespeare gave him a mention in Henry IV.

Pegasus’ mother was another chimera known as Medusa, the original “Yo momma is so ugly . . . “ girl, whose hair was made of snakes. She was so ugly that whoever looked upon her was turned to stone, and she is found in several Greek myths.

It seems like Pegasus is part bird and part horse, despite his snaky mother. The horse part comes from his father in some myths, Poseidon, god of the sea, and for some strange reason, also horses.

Unicorn. Speaking of horses, probably the other most popular legendary chimera is the Unicorn, which is also part horse and part – what? Legend doesn’t really tell us. Narwhale, swordfish, rhino? It may not seem like a true chimera, just a horse with a horn, but it is. The unicorn traditionally has a goat’s beard and a lion’s tail. There are, however, numerous versions of the beast, which we learned about from the Greeks, and which they believed actually existed in far off India.

The medieval unicorns are the ones most familiar to us. The Cloisters, a medieval monastery, which improbably sits on the Northern tip of Manhattan, has a collection of tapestries, made a few years after Columbus first sailed the ocean blue, that are spectacular. The various tapestries contain depictions of over a 100 different plant varieties, most of which have actually been identified. Weaved from the threads of several different materials, the tapestries are, in a sense, more astonishing than many famous paintings, which were probably a lot easier to create.

The name unicorn appears in the Bible, but not until the King James version in the early 1600s, which used the Latin for “single horn” in place of some other creature whose name they could not readily translate. Medieval unicorns are famously susceptible to virgins (not real surprising given the giant phallic symbol on its head) who can easily capture them and lull them to sleep. Although imaginary, it is not hard to see how unicorns were conceived by man, given the domesticity of horses, and the existence of such creatures as rhinos, oryx (an antelope which when viewed from its side looks like a unicorn) and narwhales, all of which probably contributed to the legend.

We could go on to centaurs -- half horse, half man, and the sphinx, the monolithic lion with a human face that sits on the same plain as the Egyptian pyramids. These two creations, along with the others, probably round out the hall of fame of "chimeras," although there were many others. The above creatures are all imaginary. But there are real chimeras or hybrids, which are also interesting, if not quite so exotic. Scientists have even created a sheep/goat, or "geep", in the 1980s in a controlled experiment, which not surprisingly, they named “Chimera”. However, the "dat" (half dog/half cat) was a 70s hoax. For the sake of accuracy, the following are technically hybrids, rather than actual chimeras.

Coydogs. I had never heard of these animals until I was in my thirties, and given my intense interest in animals when I was younger, arrogantly refused to believe that they were real. I was assured by a young lady from upstate that they were real, all right. She was correct.
A coydog is the offspring of a male coyote and a female dog. There are dogotes, in which case the male is the dog, but female coyotes spend such a short time in heat, it rarely happens that they are in a dog’s company at the right time.

Coydogs are often bred by humans, but some are wild, which can be a little scary. Take this scenario described from a backwoods website (www.mackmoon.com):

“My brother-in-law, who is an avid hunter, tells me these dogs will come in and attack a human, although I've yet to see it. (I actually hope I don't see it.) I've heard of one hunter who prefers to climb a tree and sleep in the woods if it gets too late, because he feels safer there, than out wandering around when the coy dog come out. That's a scary thought, considering the man has a gun with him, and lots of hunting trophies hanging on the walls of his home. I heard a farmer say that the coy dog will come out and eat mice from behind the tractor often while he is tedding hay in his field. I heard them kill a beagle one day... that was the most awful thing I've ever heard while living out here. It made me scream. Needless to say, there is a spooky feeling that comes with these animals... Whether it is myth or real, it keeps you thinking. Do you really want to allow small children to go out and play in the forest without supervision? You might not give it a second thought if you have not heard a pack of dogs for yourself. After hearing these dogs do their war cry, likely you will think twice about it, at the very least.

Two nights ago, we had our turn at a visit with these wild critters. Steve took the dog outside, and they were hanging out there. All of a sudden, Steve and our dog had two packs of dogs howling at them, one on each side of them. Steve said they were so close, he could hear them breathing. You really have to hear them to imagine the feeling this can send through your soul. It really does make the hair rise on the back of your neck. Steve brought the dog in, who was feeling a bit confused by the whole thing, and headed out again, this time with a weapon, just in case he needed it. By the time he got back out there, they were gone.”

Oh, they are real all right. In some states breeding coydogs is illegal, as it is with wolfdogs (http://www.wolfdogalliance.org/legislation/statelaws.html). Frankly, they scare the hell out of me. Although coyotes are found all over North America, they shy away from people, and usually only attack small animals, ocassionally biting a human. But, once you mix them with another animal, you can't count on the behavior being the same. To mix a coyote's speed (no dog can match them and even a thourougbred for only a short time) and cunning with a dog's often larger size and lack of fear of humans, sounds like a dangerous combination.

Ligers and Tigons. These are combinations of Tigers and Lions. If it is a male lion, it’s a liger, the reverse a tigon; and they are similar although tigons are more likely to be fertile than ligers. The liger has a showing of both stripes and large size, and a lion's spots (typical of young lions), tail, and, in males, a mane. They also roar like lions. The most interesting thing about these creatures is that they are HUGE, as if prehistoric. A liger may be twice the size of the already huge siberian tiger, which is the largest cat born in the wild. One theory has it that because of the combination of species the growth hormone never quite turns off in them, or at least not for a long time. Despite their enormous size, they move as stealthily as other cats.

Fortunately for natives of Africa and Asia, these cats are probably only found in captivity, as lion and tiger ranges do not normally meet in the wild, having different habitats.

Then there is Oliver the "humanzee". I recently saw a documentary about Oliver and sneered all the way through it. Although it looked convincing, I couldn't buy the half chimp, half man story line. Come on. Then I did some research and saw that Oliver really exists, is still alive, and quite a story.

Oliver was found in the wild in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). His original owners, the Bergers, found him to be quite an interesting chimp or possibly, half chimp. He had a very human looking face, although partially as a result of having his teeth removed, which flattened his face a bit. But he was also bald on top like a man might be, and looked like a very hairy old grandfather. His behavior was also suspect. He insisted on almost always walking like a human, in a way other chimps simply can’t, or at least not for very long. It was his stride that especially interested me, more so than his human like face. He did seem like a man walking in a monkey suit.

According to his owners, Oliver did not smell like other chimps, and was not liked by them. He much preferred watching tv with the family than monkeying around. His powers of comprehension and concentration also made him seem somewhere between human and chimp. As his owner explained, if you showed another chimp how to load a wheelbarrow, as soon as you turned around, it would be up a tree. Oliver would take the wheelbarrow to where they pointed, and calmly fill it.

In fact, Oliver became almost another member of the family until his teens, when he started showing an unhealthy sexual interest in Mrs. Berger. He was already a media favorite and was sold off to a New York lawyer. He has had several owners since then, went through many sad years in captivity and now lives in a home for chimps.

No one knew if Oliver was just a chimp, a mutant of some type, or the product of some bizarre mating of Tarzan and Cheetah (Cheetah and Jane seemed less likely). Eventually, one of his owners got the bright idea of doing a dna test on him in 1996 and Oliver . . .

turns out to be just a chimp who walks, looks and acts like a man. Not quite as exciting, but still, there is something about Oliver that is just different, and if you get a chance to see a documentary about him, you will at least be charmed. He is not a chimera, but despite my knee jerk cynicism, I am kind of sorry they did the test. Even sceptics can dream.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Democratic Candidate Debate on April 26, 2007

Learned some things tonight. First, this sort of light and quick format, with no attempt to have every candidate answer every question, with a strong host cutting off the candidates, is a good way to run things, particularly if you have so many contenders for time.

Most presidential presentation: I was surprised that Hillary carried herself so well. She seemed . . . mature and not willing to say just anything to win the debate. Richardson, who I'm biased towards, next. Obama was not bad, although he wandered off during the allies question.

Most hurt by a question: John Edwards looked like he took a blow from the question about his $400 haircut. I like the fact that Edwards will concede just about anything bad about himself -- here, that he has a privileged lifestyle. But, it was a punishing question and immediately brought to mind the youtube video of him combing his hair to the sounds of "I feel pretty".

Biggest mistake: Obama rambling on about Nato and not naming Israel as one of our best allies. Given his name and the rumors about his upbringing, that was a softball he could have hammered, and didn't.

Next biggest mistake. Edwards, who seemed left out for a long period of time, was asked who his moral leader was. He looked up for a long time, and then listed god and everyone in his family as his guiding lights. Should have said Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt -- I don't care. Why was his first answer -- his Lord -- less strange or cloying than when Bush said Jesus was his favorite philosopher? These guys should be ready for that question after seeing Dukakis and Bush handle it poorly in past years.

Worst job: Mike Gravel. Just being old and surly doesn't get the job done. You got the feeling that he would have been calling Ralph Nader a right wing nut, if he were on the stage with him.

Best answer: The verbose Joe Biden, being asked if he could assure Americans that he was not a human gaffe maching, said "Yes" and shut up. I suspect he was ready for that one.

Best tactic: Kucinic, by being the odd man out whenever raised hands were called for, drew questions from Brian Williams, the host.

Biggest dud: That's Dodd. Nothing personal, but he has zero electricity. He looks the part, but doesn't walk or talk it.

Most passionate: Kucinic. He has vision. Not one I, or I think most Americans share, but vision. I think he believes it's a nicer world than it is. Gravel is too surly to win that one, although he obviously has passion too.

Biggest lesson for me: I will not likely vote for any of them if they don't convince me that they recognize the threat of Iran and global terrorism. Giuliani just got ripped for saying the Democrats would put us back on defensive. I don't want to vote for Giuliani (see my earlier posting on why not) but boy, he sure seemed right tonight. However much Iraq has blown up in our face, doesn't mean we should pack the armed forces in crates.

Biggest disappointment: Richardson. I still like him, but I was disappointed by his call for a conference on Iraq including Iran and Syria. I have no problem talking with them, but I would not include them in any group with us where some concensus is required. He also shows himself more liberal than I would like, but then again, McCain, my favorite on the right, has leaned too far that way for my tastes too. They understand that you have to win the nomination first before you win the election. We hate that, but it is a fact of life.

Best point.: Biden. He is right that Iraq should have been divided up into three parts. I have felt that way since 2004. The Kurds deserve it. If the Sunnis and Shias want a country, they should prove it.

Biggest kiss ass: Also Biden. Kissed Hillary's ass once, and Bill's another time.

Best and only prop: Dennis Kucinic holding up a pocket Constitution published by the Cato Institute. I carry a copy around too sometimes. Pretty sure I never whipped it out in an argument.

Biggest plus: Brian Williams makes up a little for his horrible interview of Ahmadinejad this past year. Good job.

Who should find other things to do? Gravel, immediately. Dodd, definitely. Biden, did not do bad, but still doesn't have a shot. Kucinic, of course, but he is entertaining. He's this year's Sharpton. Richardson, really needed to impress here, and did not. However, I still like him for VP nominee. Biden seems to be aiming for that post under Clinton -- but two Northeastern Senators on a ticket? I don't think so, if they want any shot in the rest of the country outside of the two coasts. Richardson can hang in a while, but his play for the top spot dimmed even more tonight. Edwards showed little, I thought fared poorly, but he has enough standing to hang in their with the two big dogs also, at least for a little while.

Besides, I'd like to know how many people watched this anyway.

The new and improved Miss Malaprop

I am the Boswell to the greatest malaprop artist since Norm Crosby died (“What? He’s still alive? He was actually in a movie this year? Sorry Norm). . . the greatest malaprop artist since Gracie Allen.

Crosby was good. Gracie Allen was hysterical. Miss Malaprop herself is, of course, fictional. But the artist we shall call “P” is the greatest of them all. She is always spontaneous and brilliant. While reading these pithy statements or conversations you may believe that they were planned made up. I can only promise that they were not.

I admit to my own failing in endeavoring to record these gems, as far too often I have promised myself I would write them down, and forgotten, eventually losing the memory. Sadly, those words have been lost to the ages.

P used to get mad when I would share these babies with other people, but has come, over time, to see them as I do, a reflection of one of the most charming parts of her personality (to me the most charming). Although she may cringe at seeing some of them in print, I am sure she will forgive me. I just believe in my heart that these sparkling words should not be lost to the ages, and that this is the place to record them.

I use the term “malapropism” very loosely here to cover all types of misspeaking, although there is actually a more specific definition for the word. P has three types which she frequently makes. The first is the mixed or fractured metaphor, the second is the mixed up word and the third, the curious conversation.

Here are samples of her classic work which I have succeeded in recording:

The mixed or fractured metaphor:
The genius here is that the metaphor attempted is often so close to the original that although you know something is wrong, it takes a few seconds before you can figure it out. So as not to strain your minds while you read for pleasure, I’ll put the correct phrase in parentheses.

“Can you name that whistle” (. . . name that tune)

“I need this like I need a hole in the wall” (. . . like a hole in the head)

“I hit her right on the head with a nail with that one” (. . . hit the nail on the head)

“There he was, big as lightning” (. . . big as life)

“He really gets under my nail” (. . . under my skin)

“I wouldn’t do that for all of China” (. . . for all the tea in China)

“He was wired for stress” (“wired for sound”).

And the granddaddy of them all . . .

“You have to be careful at crosswalks because Presbyterians have the right of way” (If you don’t know it should be “pedestrian” instead of “Presbyterian,” you need to read slower).

The substituted word:

“Poor guy couldn’t sleep. He has sominesia” (. . . insomnia).

“That is one asslong light” (. . . long ass . . . ).

“They have an asskissing house” (. . . ass kicking . . .).

The curious conversation:

All I can say about these conversations is that I swear they are true. She is called “P” below and I am “D”.

The Great Columbus
(over the telephone)
P: “I have to help my daughter with a Columbus Day assignment. Can you tell me something about Columbus?”
D: “Sure. In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
P: “That’s not right. You mean 1942.”
D: “1942? Your father was alive in 1942. You think he was first mate?”
P (sound of her flipping through her daughter’s textbook): “Oh, right. Okay, so now give me one word about Columbus”
D: “Ummm, India”
P: “What has that to do with anything?”
D: “You know, Columbus didn’t know he was discovering America. He thought he found a fast route to India.”
P: “America?! He didn’t discover America. He discovered Spain.”
D: “You are positive you went to school, right?
P: (with great certainty) “THIS I’m sure of. (sounds of more flipping through the textbook). Oh, right. "

Batter Up
(at a restaurant)
D: “Come on. Let’s get going so we can catch the end of the seventh game.”
P: “Good. I hate to miss the World Series. I love the Yankees.”
D: “Stop. You don’t know anything about baseball.”
P: “Oh, really. Ask me anything about the Yankees.”
D: “Okay, name one Yankee.”
P: “Uhhhhh . . . Reggie Jackson?”
D: “He retired like 15 years ago.”
P: “Ask me something about baseball then.”
D: “All right. How many innings in a game?”
P: “This you are not going to get me on – there are three quarters.” (Even if she had said four quarters, it's still, a beaut).

Religion
P: “I pretty much finished my Christmas shopping. I only have David left.”
D: “You mean me?”
P: “No. David and Goliath”
D: “I’m surprised you know who David and Goliath are.”
P: “Of course I do (said with derision).
D: “So, who was Goliath?”
P: (In her most mocking voice) “Heeeee’s a dawwwg.” (If you don’t know the animated Davey and Goliath, you will draw a blank here).

AAAdriannnnn!
(After watching the movie Ali)
P: “So, do you think that Ali would be in the condition he is in today if he wasn’t hit in the head so many times?”
D: “I don’t know. He has Parkinson’s disease, which is what they say makes him like that, but there are lot’s of fighters who became permanently brain damaged from getting hit too much.
P: (after thinking a bit) “I saw Rocky on tv the other day. He still looks pretty good after all his fights.”
D: (after using all my strength to resist commenting, and failing) “You do realize that Sylvester Stallone is an actor who plays a boxer named Rocky in movies, don’t you?”
P: (after a similar long pause during which I could here the gears turning). "Right, right. He’s an actor.”

Miscellaneous:

Two of my favorites are hard to categorize. The first one was during a stressful first week at a new job, where she must have been distracted, because she really doesn’t generally have a problem with arithmetic. Still, it was a classic.

(on the telephone –the first sentence is her question, the second sentence her own answer).
“Quick -- what is three quarters? One half?”

The second one is a homily, given while on vacation in Maine at a restaurant. I must have mentioned Jesus somehow, which led to this succinct biography by her:

“Jesus was born. He lived and he died. And when he was re-erected, he said that he would protect us – in times of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.”

There are others, too hard to put in writing as the verbalization or presentation was everything – mixing up Howard Hughes and Howard Cosell, Mussolini as a great conductor, the continent of Ireland, the Earth happily revolving around the moon, and many more which are now lost to us, thanks to my lack of preservation, like so many great works of art or literature consigned to a flames or the bottom of the sea. Still, it’s better to have some of Beethoven’s works, than none.

Reading these again, I know she will be itching to tell you that last week when the refrigerator was delivered and couldn’t get it in the kitchen, that I forgot I had a large back door; that I sometimes put my shirts on inside out; that I got lost three times in one day -- and these things are all true. My good friend who sometimes comments here as “Bear” (you might not be able to tell he’s a friend when you read the comments) would want to tell you that when we were young I once lost my shirt while walking to his house, and did not know what the slit in men’s underwear was for until he and his mother told me when I was 25. All that is true too. But I have a blog, and right now, they don’t. But anyone who wants to make fun of my mushy mind in a comment, is welcome to do so here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

How the Left Blew the Partial Birth Abortion Case

They could have won, but they lost. The pro-choice crowd, which fought and lost the most recent battle, should know they could have won. No one in the media will talk about it, because it just seems too technical to them. But it's really not that complicated.

The Supreme Court of the United States came out this week with its decision as to whether the federal law banning certain partial birth abortions (Gonzales v. Carhart) was constitutional. Although the law is called the Partial Birth Abortion Act it actually bans only what is known as intact dilation and extraction (D&E), as opposed to standard D&E, another type of partial birth abortion.

Here’s the difference. In standard dilation and extraction, the most common procedure in the second trimester, the cervix is dilated, the physician enters pulls the fetus out, usually ripping it apart. This often requires going back in multiple times to get all the pieces.

In intact D&E the body is pulled out whole or nearly whole, and the skull pierced or crushed so that it can be pulled out.

I don’t know why intact D&E is more horrific to people than standard D&E. As someone said to me once when we were arguing about the psychological differences, if any, between male and female rape – how flat can you pound a rock? They are both hoirrific. Nevertheless, activists have targeted intact D&E since the federal act banning it was passed in 2003.

Whatever your views on abortion in general there is a much better chance that you have less favorable feeling about partial birth abortion. In January 2003, before the act was passed, a survey by CNN/USA Today/Gallup showed that 70% of those surveyed favored outlawing partial birth abortion unless it was necessary to save the mother’s life. Later that year they repeated the survey minus the exception for the mother’s life. Not much difference as
68 % still favored outlawing it. That’s relatively consistent with many other polls.

So the question before the court wasn’t whether abortions in general should be legal under Roe v. Wade or the case that further defined the law surrounding abortions, which we will just call Casey. It’s whether the new law, banning this certain type of partial birth abortion was an undue burden on a woman’s pre-viability right to an abortion , which is the standard Casey used.

Casey also got rid of Roe’s three trimester approach and just held that before the fetus was viable out of the womb, abortion could not be barred, but once it was viable the state’s interest in the fetus’ life was increased, and restrictions could be had.

Cases have previously come before the court to determine whether certain restrictions, like requiring minors to notify their parents, or a 24 hour waiting period, or Nebraska’s partial birth abortion ban, were undue burdens or not. There have been varied results. However, Nebraska’s law was shot down not because it was an undue burden but because it did not have an exception for the mother’s life and health.

Unlike the Nebraska law, the new federal law has an exception for a women’s life but not her health. Anti-abortion activists claim that their really is no risk to the women’s health that would be abated by having this procedure. So congress found. So the Supreme Court substantially agreed. Disagree if you like. It’s not what I am after here.

The Supreme Court majority held that the law was not unconstitutional. The opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy, who now, with Justice O’Connor gone, is the ultimate swing vote. However, his vote is consistent with his vote in the Nebraska case, where he dissented. Justice Ginsberg wrote the dissent for herself and the other three justices who joined her.

Naturally, much is being made of the fact that Justice Samuel Alito, who replaced O’Connor, voted with the majority here. This is precisely what the pro-choice crowd was afraid of. They are certain that Roe/Casey is endangered.

What interests me, and what the media has ignored, is that the plaintiffs probably had one, possibly two votes from a very surprising place. But they blew it.

Let me explain. Congress can not simply make any law that it wants. It is given certain powers in the constitution (Article 1, section 8, if you care). Those powers have been greatly expanded over the last two centuries due to what’s known as the necessary and proper clause (which we will skip here) and the expansion of what is known as the commerce clause (which is what we are talking about).

The commerce clause allows the federal government to make laws involving interstate commerce. Overtime, that has gone from what seems like interstate commerce to everyone, to cover things that seem like they have nothing to do with interstate commerce. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that anything that even indirectly affected interstate commerce or which made it easier to regulate it was covered.

Sometimes it seems the federal government can, through this avenue, do whatever it wants. Still, the court has drawn some lines. For example, the court has said that federal laws controlling gun free zones around schools, or the Violence Against Women Act were found to have nothing to do with interstate commerce at all. None of those cases were about whether they were good laws or not, but whether it was the state’s business or the federal government’s business to regulate these matters.

So, now to the nub of things. Who might have voted to strike down this law and gladden the hearts of pro-choiceniks everywhere. The answer is, those two liberal bugaboos, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, two very conservative judges who believe that Roe v. Wade and Casey were totally wrong and overturned.

So, why would I suggest they might have voted against the law. Here’s why. They practically said so. Thomas wrote in his one paragraph concurring opinion as follows:

“ I join the Court's opinion because it accurately applies current jurisprudence, including Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey. . . I write separately to reiterate my view that the Court's abortion jurisprudence, including Casey and Roe v. Wade . . . has no basis in the Constitution. . . I also note that whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court. The parties did not raise or brief that issue; it is outside the question presented; and the lower courts did not address it. . . .”

Just as arguing that Roe v. Wade is not good law is important to these two judges, they have also made strong arguments that the court has used the commerce clause to allow the federal government to greatly overreach its constitutional limits, more Thomas than even Scalia.

In this case, it seems almost impossible for anyone to argue that regulating the procedure in an abortion could affect interstate commerce. Possibly, and only because the commerce clause’s reach has been so greatly stretched, if the law called for a total ban on abortions, it might be argued that abortions decrease interstate markets, as far fetched as even that seems.

But this particular law actually does not ban any abortions. It just tells doctors that they can’t use a certain procedure. There cannot possible be any connection to the interstate commerce clause.

Even if you want to argue that the judges always find a way to do whatever they want, Thomas and Scalia have suggested that they would not do so here and that would be virtually perfectly consistent with Thomas' past opinions and most of Scalia's. Neither he nor Scalia likes the idea of the federal government sticking their neck in where it doesn’t belong, possibly as much as they dislike Roe v. Wade.

Thomas and Scalia together with the five dissenters makes six. Apparently, the plaintiffs’ counsel dropped the ball on this, so gung ho were they on the usual firebrand abortion issues, they missed the commerce clause route.

In other words, they blew it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Reply to Anonymous

One reader seems to be repeatedly upset at my Jefferson bashing based on his comment to the last post and at least one previous comment. I can assure him that my feelings have little, if anything, to due with any recent biographies, as he suggests. The last two books I can recall reading about Jefferson were both written by self admitted Jeffersonphiles. In fact, I disagree with some recent sentiment that modern scholarship has tried to paint Jefferson in a bad light or that David McCullough’s John Adams biography somehow leapfrogged Adams over Jefferson in the hearts of Americans. It’s just hard for any competent biographer to ignore his many faults, even when they try. I admire Jefferson’s abilities and some of his ideals, but he was a lousy president and an awful, awful vice president. He also gets too much credit for the Declaration of Independence.

I see that time will soon come for a complete posting on “Why I don’t like Thomas Jefferson”. Not what I had in mind this month, but coming sometime in the reasonably near future.

Nor do I accept Anonymous' pronouncement that all VPs plot against their presidents. Not so. I can only put John C. Calhoun in Jefferson's category, but Jefferson runs away with the booby prize. Of course, if you believe Lyndon Johnson was involved in JFK’s assassination, you will disagree.

As to why I did not include Andrew Johnson among the others – in the first part of the blog he would have given away who the list was about. The second part was about my favorite VP’s – AJ is not among them, although I would agree he is a very interesting subject and objectively more interesting in his whole life than the ones I included, some who are best known for dropping dead. However, most of what makes Johnson interesting came after he was president, such as the impeachment trial and related controversies. All that being said, I am not above amending a post to please a righteous reader, and possibly should have included:

“Andrew Johnson – Lincoln ran as a Republican in 1860, but technically as a National Union Party man in 1864 (not to be confused with the Constitutional Union Party of 1860), determined to make a bigger tent out of the party (it soon reverted to the Republican Party). Nominating Johnson was seen as a demonstration of Union solidarity, his being the one Senator from a seceding state who stayed in Congress. Johnson managed to show up drunk on his first day on the job, giving an embarrassing speech before Lincoln stood up to give his famous second inaugural, and he also became the first VP to ascend to the presidency after the president was assassinated.”

Hope all is forgiven and wait for the Jefferson piece, where I will invite “Anonymous” to a blog duel.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Who are these guys?

Here’s a list for you to identify. No googling or yahooing allowed. Give yourself five seconds. If you don’t know right away, it’s unlikely to come to you. What do the following people have in common?

Richard Johnson
George Dallas
William King
William Wheeler
Thomas Hendricks
Levi Morton
Garret Hobart
Charles Fairbanks
Thomas Marshall
Charles Dawes

Give up? They are all former vice presidents of the United States. Of course, I only chose the least well known ones to make it harder. If Spiro Agnew and Al Gore were listed in it you would guess in a second. Even though all of them were “one heart beat away from the presidency,” it’s still akin to asking who lost the World Series in 1916 (the Brooklyn Robins, and I did google that).

These VPs were accomplished politicians in their own right, most of them lawyers, some of them bankers, but not anywhere good enough to make it to the big show. To be honest, their lives are just not all that riveting either. Nevertheless, there are some interesting things about some of them, even if it was dying.

Richard Johnson – During the war of 1812 he supposedly killed the famous Indian chief, Tecumseh in a battle. Johnson also took several slaves for common law wives during his life, making him very unpopular among many politicians, and raised his children as free persons.

William King – Dropped dead pretty much as soon as he got in office. King was actually sworn in while recuperating from illness in Cuba and never got back to the U.S. alive. President Pierce probably didn’t mourn much because his own last surviving son had recently been killed in a train accident before he could even take office. King was rumored to be a homosexual and a lover of James Buchanan, who lived with him for years before Buchanan became president. Don’t ask me. I wasn’t there and it’s very controversial.

Thomas Hendricks – What’s with these VPs and croaking? This one died about 8 months after taking office under Grover Cleveland. Otherwise as interesting as watching someone else’s kid at a third grade dance recital. I added him here to point out how many more VP’s died in office of natural causes than presidents. Only two presidents, but seven VPs.

Garrett Hobart – Yet another one who died in office, but at least he lived a little while and could warm a seat in heaven for his boss, McKinley, who was soon to die in an assassination. McKinley’s death came after he was re-elected with Theodore Roosevelt as his VP instead of the deceased Hobart. It is interesting that had Hobart lived a few more years and been re-nominated, we might not be talking about Teddy or Franklin Roosevelt today.

Thomas Marshall – Will someone tell me why Marshall’s statement “What this country needs is another good 5 cent cigar” became famous? Did someone read to or give to him a list of things the country needs? It's not the funniest or most brilliant thing I ever heard, but you wouldn’t expect great wit from Woodrow Wilson’s VP.

Charles Dawes – He actually won the Nobel Peace Prize while Calvin Coolidge’s VP, for his plan enabling Germany to pay its post WWI reparations to the allies.. No other VP has won it before or after, although three presidents have (T. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter), and former VP Al Gore has been nominated this year.

My favorite VPs:

Aaron Burr – Although the rest are in no particular order, Burr easily gets first place. He killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and was actually indicted in NY and NJ for it while VP. He fled South and continued presiding as VP in the capital. Apparently, you could get away with that back then. He was never tried for the crime, and even returned to NY later in life. Of course, that was also after he was tried for treason a few years after the duel, and while out of office, but he won that one too, infuriating the president he had served under, Thomas Jefferson.

Richard Nixon – While still a candidate, Nixon had to explain taking $18,000 from a fund for his family’s use. He made a speech trying to explain why he did what he took the funds, including his personal financial information. That included talking about a gift of a dog they had received, which his daughter named “Checkers, which became the name of the speech. It was defensive, but actually went over pretty well. Not only did he become VP under Eisenhower, he is the only man in history who was elected to two terms as president and two as vice president. Despite resigning in his second presidential term, he also spent more time as either VP or president than any man in history including FDR. Al Gore would need to be elected to president twice in the future to beat Nixon’s record.

John C. Breckinridge. Served under James Buchanan in the term before the Civil War. He ran for president in a split party, and lost (you know who won). When the Civil War started, he joined the Confederacy in which he was a general and, near the end, Secretary of War.

John Tyler. The first VP who made it to President when the president died (William Henry Harrison dropped off soon after taking office – there campaigning slogan was “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”). He was sometimes called “his accidency.” He insisted that he was president, not just acting president, and the rule stuck, leading much later to an amendment in the U.S. Constitution making that officially the law. When the Civil War started, Tyler, long out of office, was elected to and accepted a seat in the Confederate Congress for Virginia. He died before further staining his former presidency by taking up the seat.

John Nance Garner, who served under FDR, said the VP office "isn't worth a bucket of warm spit." Hard to argue with that unless you are Dick Cheney.

It was pretty much John Adams’ sentiment too, as he wrote to his wife "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." One of the greatest American heroes, he had a miserable and unimportant vice presidency and possibly a more miserable presidency. The Revolution was really his “glory days.”

Henry Wallace, another FDR VP, was the closest thing to a communist that ever served the second highest office. Roosevelt would have stuck with him for his last term, despite his clear socialistic tendencies, if not for political pressure to get rid of him. That’s how we ended up with President Harry S Truman, instead of President Henry Wallace, when FDR died soon after his 4th term began.

Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency in a tax fraud scandal. Mostly, I love his calling the press “nattering nabobs of negativism.” The real credit must go to future New York Times’ treasure, William Safire, then a speech writer in the Nixon Administration, who coined the phrase for him.

Worst VP ever -- I would have to say Thomas Jefferson, who secretly but actively plotted against his boss, John Adams, whose administration he deemed a “reign of witches.” Breckinridge’s and Tyler’s joining the Confederacy may be treasonous, but, at least, were done after they were out of office.

I have already made some predictions as to who will be our VP candidates in 2008. Here are some more predictions despite how early in the game it is:

Democrats Republicans
Bill Richardson (NM)* Duncan Hunter (Calif.)
Mike Huckabee (Ark.)
Michael Steele (Md)*

* My personal preferences

I have already discussed why I think Richardson and Hunter might get the nod in prior posts, and won’t repeat them here, but Huckabee, an Arkansas governor, is a solid, folksy and very congenial conservative from the South who could help a Giuliani by balancing his non-genteel Brooklyn side or help McCain with conservative.

Michael Steele is a very likeable moderate Republican from Maryland, where he was lieutenant governor. He lost his 2006 Senate bid, but fared well in the debate. At least, he impressed me. He may be the best Republican pick overall, at least from a moderate’s perspective, and for the general election Hunter or Huckabee, both seeking the White House, would help McCain or Giuliani more with the far right of their party.

While it is a shame that this might matter, Steele is also black, which, in our wacky world, could be a way for Republicans to keep Democrats from claiming superiority in racial acceptance, should they nominate Obama for president. “Look, we have our black candidate, too.” Whether or not that happens, Steele would be my first choice for the Republicans.

If anyone has other suggestions or predictions, I’d like to hear them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Great Paavo Nurmi



Chances are you never asked yourself who is the greatest runner of all time. When I was young, I was fascinated by a Finnish runner named Paavo Nurmi, and he gets my vote. Of course, they have only had the modern Olympics since 1896 and kept world records from somewhere around then, so “all time” really means a little more than a hundred years.

He was not only an incredible athlete, but he was also a unique individual, which is probably what interested me when I learned about him as a kid.

By the time I was born in 1959, Nurmi was long retired and pretty much forgotten. I have never heard him mentioned by another person land only earned about him from sport books.

He was born in 1897 and died in 1973. He was inspired by the first Finnish star athlete, Hannes Kolehmainen, who competed in the 1912 Olympics soon after the country came into being, but who kept at it for a long time, even winning the 1924 Olympic marathon.

Nurmi’s heyday was the 1920s. He competed in three Olympic games, not a record, but still rare and impressive. In the three games, he ran in twelve events. In three of them he came in second. But the other nine, he won. No one else comes close in track to that record until very recently, nor could they match the diversity of distances he ran. In fact, the only athletes in all sports who have more gold and silver medals than Nurmi in the Olympics are two gymnasts, participating in a sport where there are more medal opportunities.

In the 1920 Olympics Nurmi ran four races, coming in second in the first one, the 5,000 meters (about three miles), pretty much surrendering at the end and jogging it in, thereby losing his first and last Olympic race to a non-Finnish. He easily won the next three events he was in, including the 10,000 meters and two cross-country races (one a team race). In the 10,000 meters, he avenged his defeat in the 5,000 meters, by handily beating the Frenchman, Joseph Guillemot, who had earlier bested him.

In 1923, a non-Olympic year, he became the world record holder in the mile, the 5000 meters and the 10,000 meters (about 6 miles). No one has ever done that again, the mile, a middle distance event, not even being a race that most long distance runners like Nurmi ever compete in or can do so with success.

In 1924 he won 5 gold medals at the Olympics. No track or field athlete has ever matched that in an Olympic year, and very few in more than one. Two of the events, the metric mile (1500 meters) and the 5000, had finals less than two hours apart, some report much less. The 5 gold medals that year made 8 in a row.

Strikingly, he likely would have won 6 that year if given the chance. Although he was the reigning champion in the 10,000 meters, his own country’s officials either wouldn’t let him run because they feared that he would be overcome by the fierce heat that had decimated the other cross-country runners (which Nurmi won) landing many of them in the hospital or because they wanted to give another runner a chance. Furious, Nurmi ran his own shadow 10,000 meters, using his own stop watch and beating the winner’s time. Shortly thereafter, he set the world record in that distance, which lasted many years.

In his last Olympics, the 1928 games, when he had already slowly began to decline he again won the 10,000 meters and 2 silver medals in the 5000 meters and the 3000 meter steeplechase, a race which requires the runner to complete a slightly less than two mile course while jumping over huge hurdles.

His Olympic career was unfortunately cut short by a scandal in 1932. He was accused of receiving more than due expenses in a track meet and thereby becoming a professional, which, at that time, barred competition in the Olympics. Nevertheless, he showed up at the games intending to run and win the marathon, hoping to finish up as his hero, Kolehmainen had at the last Olympic games. The other Olympic competitors begged the officials to let him compete. He was not allowed.

Over the course of his career he set over 20 official world records, many which lasted for years. It is possible, given that many events he set records in are no longer run, and some were unofficial, that he actually set over 50 (the largest number I have read claimed for him includes 29 unofficial indoor records set in America in 1925). Counts differ, and given that they occurred a long time ago, it is difficult to be sure. But the number is so high at a minimum, it doesn’t matter at all.

Nurmi was very popular in America having won nearly every one of 55 scheduled races he competed in here in 1925, dropping out of one of them and losing only in the half mile, which is closer to a sprint, and not an event he would typically run in.

Today marathons in Finland and America (Wisconsin) are named for the “Flying Finn” who curiously ran with a stopwatch in his hand, having little competition from other runners. He also has an asteroid named for him, as well as streets in Finland. Finland has also put his picture on a bank note.

The secret to Nurmi’s success was, in his word, devotion. He developed a systematic cross-training including calisthenics, walking and running. Where others ran slow at first and then sprinted hard, he would set a fast but workable pace for the whole race, aided by the stop watch he routinely carried, sometimes sprinting if he needed to at the very end. He rarely did. Although this sounds pretty simple and common sense, no one really did it before him.

Reportedly, he trained on black bread and dried fish. Almost a robotic running machine, he showed little interest in other runners or the media, which is probably a good part of the reason you haven’t heard of him.

Just to compare him with another runner who probably would deserve to stand in the same track with Nurmi, standing out as a heroic figure among the many great runners who have competed in the last century or so, Jesse Owens.

Owens was also a magnificent athlete. On one afternoon in 1935 he set four world records, in about an hour, including the 100 yard dash (tying the record), the 220 yard dash, the long jump and the 220 yard hurdles.

In the glaring spotlight of being a black athlete competing at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany under the glare of Hitler Owens won 4 gold medals, the next highest total for a track and field athlete after Nurmi in one Olympics until Carl Lewis did it.


Head to head, Owens set or tied 6 world records, Nurmi set 22 officially, and many more unofficially.

Owens won four gold medals in one Olympics. Nurmi won 5 in one Olympics and 4 more in two others plus 4 silver medals.

Owens Olympic medals and records were all within 120 yards distance of the others, from 100 yards to 220 yards (including the 220 yard hurdles) as well as the long jump. Nurmi won Olympic medals and set world records ranging from a metric mile to metric 12 miles (20,000 meters), an astonishing range. Nor was his metric mile record a fluke. It stood eight years. He held the 5000 meter record for ten years, breaking it once himself while he held it.

Whether he would have won the 1932 marathon were he allowed to compete his speculation, but he insisted he would have won by 5 minutes, and he’s got a lot of credibility.

Or compare Nurmi with an incredible Moroccan runner, about whom an article on the internet states as follows: “Considered by many track and field experts to be the most versatile runner who has ever lived, the Moroccan Said Aouita holds the current world record in five running events: the 1,500, 2,000, 3,000, and 5,000 meters and the two miles. He is also a two-time Olympic medalist who captured the gold in the 5,000 meters at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and the bronze in the 800 meters at the 1988 Games in Seoul.”

No disrespect to Said Aouita, whom I have rooted for heavily, but his sensational records and versatility pales in comparison to Nurmi, whose records spanned from 1,500 meters to 20,000 meters.

Carl Lewis should get more than a mention here too, as in four Olympic games, he tied Nurmi with 9 Gold medals, but only 1 silver, whereas Nurmi had two more than him, and did it in only three Olympics. Like Owens, Lewis’ medals were all at sprints and the long jump.

A long distance runner from Australia named Ron Clarke set an incredible 17 world records, probably only overshadowed by Nurmi, but never won in the Olympic games.

None of the above is to disparage Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis Said Aouita or Ron Clarke, some of the greatest athletes of all time. But we even remember Owens, who ran in the 1930s, and we don’t remember Nurmi very much (outside of Finland, of course).

We should. He was amazing.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Rooting for Pluto

If you were upset last year when a group of scientists demoted Pluto to a minor planet (now known as object number 134340, for crying out loud), you are in good company.

Minor planet status is like being sent to the minor leagues. Of course, sometimes a player is sent down, performs well, and gets booted back upstairs. New Mexico has led the nation by having a day of celebration for Pluto, probably as a reaction to the seemingly less than scientific demotion.

Pluto, the planet, is named for the Roman god of the underworld, a sort of early form of Satan, but not the earliest. Scientist like conventions when they categorize anything, and they also like naming things after other things from the classical world, maybe because it helps them remember them. We have named all the planets after Roman gods or similar beings, like so:

Mercury – god of travel and messenger of the gods
Venus – Goddess of love
Mars – God of War
Jupiter –King of the gods. He defeated his father, whose name was -
Saturn – A titan - the titans were giants who preceded and parented the gods
Uranus – Saturn’s dad and grandfather of many of the gods
Neptune – Jupiter’s brother
Pluto – Another brother of Jupiter

Now, Saturn cut off his father, Uranus’, genitals and Jupiter overthrew Saturn, who did, after all, try and eat him along with his brothers and sisters. Fun group. Zeus got the kingdom of the sky, Poseidon, the seas, and poor Pluto got stuck with the underworld.

Unlike the devil in our modern culture, Pluto doesn’t go around stealing souls, he just keeps the spirits in the underworld once they get there.

His being named for a distant planet is probably appropriate as he was one of the most distant of the gods in a mythological sense. Most of the gods play active roles in tales about them, starring roles, if you like, but Pluto usually only played a background character when he was visited by various heroes: Hercules, Orpheus, Odysseus and Aeneas. Even in the one important myth in which he seems to be key, where he kidnaps the beautiful goddess, Persephone (actually his niece, but ancient gods were very incestuous), he does not play that much of a part in the story, which is really about Persephone and her mother. Basically, in most of the stories, Pluto just lets folks know if they can go back upstairs or not.

At least he was rich. Being the lord of the underworld gave him title to all those valuable underground minerals. Of course, being a deity, you have to wonder why he would need wealth.

The name for the distant and cold planet, Pluto, was actually suggested by an 11 year old girl named Venetia Burney whose father happened to know an Oxford Astronomer. Go figure. I believe she is still alive.

Pluto’s home, Hades (which is the Greek name for Pluto), can be approached through caverns or holes in the earth. It is guarded by Cerebus, a giant three headed dog, just like Fluffy in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. You also have to cross the River Styx on a Ferry to there, run by the ferryman, Charon (whose name became that of Pluto’s largest moon). Visitors seem to go to Hades with little harm although it is not possible to leave without Pluto’s say so.

It is difficult to understand why Walt Disney named one of his characters after Pluto, although his animated dog appeared in film the same year Pluto was discovered. He’s not evil or scary, although he’s no Goofy.

Pluto has also appeared in Marvel Comic books, which uses a lot of ancient deities as super heroes or villains, as a very powerful and evil character. Pluto also gives his name to a strange element that can be the explosive material in nuclear bombs. The connection may be that as a result of the element, many would die and go to Hades.

Roman gods and their myths are essentially borrowed from the Greeks with some name changes. Here’s what we would be calling the planets if we used their Greek names with only Earth and Uranus not changing:

Mercury – Hermes
Venus – Aphrodite
Mars – Ares
Jupiter – Zeus
Saturn – Cronus
Neptune – Poseidon
Pluto – Hades

The Greek names may seem odder, but only because you are just used to the Latin ones.

Pluto is usually the farthest planet from the Sun. It takes nearly two and a half centuries to complete its orbit of the Sun, something Earth does in, obviously, a year. Pluto is also not always the furthest planet away. In fact, from between 1979 to 1999, Pluto, with its highly elliptical orbit, has been closer to the Sun than Neptune. But it is still really far away. At its closest point from the Sun, it is closing on three billion (that’s billion) miles away. The Earth is only, at its farthest, 98 million (that’s million) miles from the Sun.

If that is hard to picture, look at it this way. At its closest point, Pluto is roughly 26 times as far from the Sun as the Earth is at its farthest point. If we use the farthest points for both of them, it is closer to 50 times as far away.

The definition of a planet, according to the International Astronomical Union last year is, stripped of the jargon, that it is roughly round, orbits the Sun and has cleared its orbit of other objects.

A dwarf planet is round, orbits the Sun, but hasn’t cleared its orbit of other object and is not a moon. Pluto, along with two other objects, Eris and Ceres are presently the only ones so designated. Ceres was actually discovered over 200 years ago, long before Pluto.

The official argument by scientists who have voted (if there is a vote, it’s not science) Pluto to be a minor planet, rather than a regular old planet is that it has not cleared its orbit of other objects, but they are probably more influenced by its diminutive size and very elliptical orbit (which is more like asteroids and comets and less like a planet). It’s hard to believe that if Pluto was Jupiter’s size, anyone would care if it did not clear its orbit.

In fact, that happens to be the case because Pluto has not cleared its orbit of other objects, but then again, neither has Neptune, Earth, Mars and Jupiter according to a NASA scientist, Alan Stern.

Another object, not even considered a minor planet, that some scientists compare Pluto to is Sedna, out in what’s known as the Kuiper Belt where countless small bodies of rock or ice orbit the Sun at extreme distances. Sedna, can be as far away as nearly 942 times earth’s orbit (or 19 times Pluto’s). Try as they might, it seems a great stretch to seriously compare Sedna to Pluto.

Here’s another way to look at it.

If the Sun is on the 50 yard line of a football field, and the Earth is orbiting about on the forty yard line (about ten million miles per yard), then Pluto would be somewhere around four football field away. That’s pretty far. But, Sedna would be about 80 something football fields away, or, in other words, a few miles away.

Again, using Sedna as a comparison, if the earth’s orbit looks like a almost rounded pea, and Pluto’s orbit looks like a chicken egg, Sedna’s orbit would look like a two foot long by two inch wide loop of string. Again, there is no real comparison. Besides, it takes 12,000 years for Sedna to circle the Sun. Do we really want to compare Pluto with an object that has not been around the Sun since way before recorded history?

The minor planet Ceres (Roman goddess of vegetation and Persephone’s mom) which was once considered a planet, because it is round and larger than most of the other asteroids which are its neighbors in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. However, it has no moon of its own and is far smaller than Pluto, whereas Sedna is roughly the same size as Pluto and has its own moon.

It’s not that the scientists have it all wrong, it’s just that it can’t be made right. There is too much variation among these few objects.

All planets have unique qualities in orbits, moons, rings, physical make up and so on. Although the smallest of the planets, Pluto is still roughly half the size of Mercury. Like most planets, Pluto has its own moons. Mercury and Venus have no moons at all although they are a little larger than Pluto. But no one would suggest they were not planets. Pluto has 3 moons while the Earth has only one.

There is no systematic order to it all. The Earth, mid-sized for a planet, is somehow the densest, with tiny Mercury next. Neptune has 11 moons but the much larger Jupiter has a couple dozen, depending on how you count them, and Saturn over fifty. Four planets have rings, most notably Saturn, and the rest don’t.

While it is true that Jupiter and Saturn each have a moon bigger than Pluto, those moons are also bigger than Mercury, which everyone believes is a planet.

Pluto is supposedly rock and ice. You can’t argue that being part ice disqualifies it as a planet, because Jupiter, by far the largest planet, is made primarily of gas, as are all the other largest planets to some extent.

Here’s the sale pitch. Stop the nonsense (does anyone remember Susan Powter). Pluto has been a planet and has been since its discovery nearly 80 years ago. Scientists shouldn’t be wasting time re-categorizing celestial objects when the standards are so arbitrary and there is such great variance and inconsistency between all the planets, particularly where there is such popular support.

In one sense, there is no such thing as a planet, except that we call it that. In time, if the textbooks decide to go along with the minor planet status, they might change popular perceptions as the school children exposed to it age. I hope not. It would be like saying February isn’t really a month because it is only 28 days long or this isn’t a solar system because there is only one star (apparently a minority situation).

Popular culture has a greater claim when there is nothing real at stake. It’s like when they say glass is not really a solid but a liquid. Oh, please. To any lay person, it’s a solid with some characteristics of liquid. And Pluto is a planet with some characteristics of a Kuiper Belt object. That doesn’t make it not a planet. Period.

Here’s my personal bet. In my lifetime, there will be another vote, and Pluto will be back on the island. The criteria they use should not be so mechanical, with precise definitions. It should have a number of factors, any one which could knock it out of contention, but does not necessarily do so. That could include shape, size as well as type and length of its orbit. Having cleared its orbit should not be a factor. It makes not sense.

The only other object I would even consider for the honor of full planet would be Eris, which was originally nick-named Xena for a while when it was discovered a few years ago. It was Eris' discovery which triggered the renewed interest in defining what a planet is.

Ceres appears to be a tiny bit bigger than Pluto and has its own tiny moon. Sounds like a planet. It travels up to twice as far away from the Sun than Pluto, which might disqualify it for some, although sometimes it’s closer. But it’s so arbitrary, I won’t post a blog in opposition if they included it or not. What would they say if it turned out to have intelligent life? What would they say if it turned out to be all ice, and melted.

But Pluto should be in the club. Besides, if the Greeks and Romans (and Marvel Comics) had it right, we will all be in Pluto’s grasp when it’s our time to go, and then I wouldn’t want to be one of the scientists who disrespected him.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .