Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Flat Daddy

Dear Jeebus, I wish this were a joke:


Maine National Guard members in Iraq and Afghanistan are never far from the thoughts of their loved ones.

But now, thanks to a popular family-support program, they're even closer.

Welcome to the ``Flat Daddy" and ``Flat Mommy" phenomenon, in which life-size cutouts of deployed service members are given by the Maine National Guard to spouses, children, and relatives back home.

The Flat Daddies ride in cars, sit at the dinner table, visit the dentist, and even are brought to confession, according to their significant others on the home front.

``I prop him up in a chair, or sometimes put him on the couch and cover him up with a blanket," said Kay Judkins of Caribou, whose husband, Jim, is a minesweeper mechanic in Afghanistan. ``The cat will curl up on the blanket, and it looks kind of weird. I've tricked several people by that. They think he's home again."

This is disturbing on so many levels. I wonder what Tom Friedman thinks. Of course the best part is taking a cardboard cutout to confession. Pretty impressive that a cardboard cuttout can participate in a sacrament. Of course, I'd like to see how it fares with the sacrament of baptism:

John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

-Matthew 3:4-6

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Another Example of Better Living Through Chemistry

(Image from the excellent site, Plan59)

Some of you know that high cholesterol runs in my family (Thanks, Mom.) Well, my biology is no exception. Everything was great until about a year or so ago when it went off of the charts. Everything was wrong – not enough ‘good’, far too much ‘bad’, and apparently after my doctor did a high-end blood test to get down to the molecular makeup of my blood, it turns out that of 15 or so cholesterol markers or whatnot, I was off-the-charts bad in 13 of them.

My bad rating was 195. And my diet, while not completely perfect, is a damn site better than most – No Mickey D’s, no Doritos, etc. So it wasn’t lifestyle issues as much as bad genes. In the end my Doctor put me on Vytorin, one of those statin drugs. Two months later he did some new bloodwork.

And my bad was down to 100. Pretty amazing stuff. And it has actually been making me rethink my rather negative views of the pharmaceutical and medical industries.

Except that, even though 100 is a very good level, my doctor wants it down to a super human 70 or less, which according to some of the latest studies would reverse any damage the two years of high cholesterol may have done, eventually allowing me to live forever, or at least longer than any of you suckers.

Or so that’s the theory at least.

So he’s adding monstrous doses of Niacin to the mix. The side effects include flushing of the skin, which means that for the next several days I’ll be turning beet-red on a regular basis. I love how the side effects pamphlets they hand out with drugs always say that the benefits of the drug outweigh any side effects, otherwise the doctor wouldn’t have prescribed them, so chin-up.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday Planet Blogging

The week’s biggest story, surpassing even a revival of the Jon Benet Ramsey murder, was of course the demotion of Pluto from the exalted ranks of planetary status. Personally I feel that a true definition of planets should only include four – Neptune (the smallest), Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter. Seriously, it’s a major step down from Neptune to the next largest mote of rock orbiting the sun, which would be Earth – less than 1/17th the mass of Neptune.

But if we insist on such a geocentric mode of looking at our solar system, allowing our humble home-rock to be lumped into the same category of object as Jupiter (100 times the mass of Earth and with 62 moons so far discovered, only 38 of which have been named), we will of course end up with absurdities such as whether or not a slightly smaller lump of stones (Pluto is actually a quadrinary system of four rocks orbiting each other) is also a planet.

But what the whole event reminds me of is my fascination as a younger lad with the earlier planetary battle that took place back in the 19th century. (As both of my parents are astronomers, my youthful fascinations tended towards the astronomically geeky). As a kid my favorite solar system object was Ceres, which had the honor of being considered a planet for over 50 years, before it, too, got unceremoniously booted from the club.

Ceres was discovered in 1801, by Giuseppe Piazzi, and it was assumed to be the ‘missing’ planet that the Titius-Bode law said should exist between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It was deemed to be a planet, given a planetary symbol and remained so even after the discovery of Pallas, Juno and Vesta – the next three objects discovered that would ultimately deemed to be asteroids.

In 1828, the book, ‘First Steps to Astronomy and Geography’, lists the planets as "Eleven: Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Vesta, Juno, Ceres, Pallas, Jupiter, Saturn, and Herschel." Herschel was the name used for Uranus for several years after the Astronomer Hershel discovered the planet.

This remained until 1847 when a whole slew of new asteroids was discovered, bringing the number up to 15. Still, even until the 1850s, by which point the number of known asteroids rose past 100, the first 4 asteroids discovered were referred to as planets, avoiding the term ‘minor planets’ until different national astronomical journals slowly adopted the new terminology. Ceres and the other three were viewed as both planets and asteroids until the time of the American Civil War. Unlike with Pluto their status changed not with a bang, but a whimper.

I always felt more affinity for a tiny rock like Ceres than Pluto, as it is much closer to our own tiny rock. It always seemed more accessible and more exotic to me, especially since no one paid any attention to it in our science classes. It was sort of like having your own planet nearby that no one else was aware of

Pretty pathetic, huh?

On June 20, 2007, NASA hopefully launches the Dawn Mission, a probe that will visit two of these former planets, Vesta in 2011, and Ceres in 2015.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Signs of the Apocalypse

From the July 27th Economist:

According to the National Police Agency, which oversees the industry, the Japanese collectively spend some 30 trillion Yen ($260 Billion) a year playing pachinko and its upstart cousin, pachislot – roughly equal to spending on health care. Borrowing money to pay pachislot is thought to account for almost half of consumer debt.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Monday Cat Blogging

A good series of kitty shots to keep you all going this week, courtesy of Kathy's new digital camera. I'll be posting more later, but in the meantime if you are jonesing for some new blog reading, you can always head on over to the new blog being run by Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador to the United States. The politics is to be expected, but it has a series of interesting posts on different Syrian Artists. From Jonathan Schwarz at This Modern World.