Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later

Posted by Mike Merritt in Rambling on | No Comments

Well, I was going to write a long-winded entry about Katrina, but I think this guy’s entry pretty much sums it up for me. Small amount of profanity, so be warned.

I think the screw-ups are not limited to the federal government, as much as some people would like to think. There were problems from all levels of government, including the hundreds of NO buses sitting there doing nothing. Apparently, Nagin says there were no drivers, but surely, some of the buses could have been rounded up?

Another side I’m a bit angry at are these people who think they’re made of steel and can survive every hurricane. Do they not read? This thing was predicted to land as a Cat 5. It ended up being a Cat 4, but regardless, no matter how strong your leeves are, if you can get out, GET OUT. That should not be a question for these kinds of storms.

Katrina also showed that racism indeed in still rampant in that part of the country. The amount of stories I read by black citizens who were barred (mostly by police) from leaving the city is astonishing. I meant to post up a link to a recent story citing the reason the authorities didn’t allow some people to leave because they feared crime in other neighborhoods, but I’m having trouble finding it now. I’ll post it up next time, since I’ll hopefully have found it by then. Apart from any during-Katrina immorality, the city’s Lower 9th Ward, among other sections, still has yet to be rebuilt, meaning thousands are stranded in other cities…still! A year later!

So I’m not viewing all this in a pessimistic way, at least the resolve of those who have returned to NOLA couldn’t be shattered by the hurricane. It is good that the historic city was not completely lost in the storm. I have hope that it will return to its former prosperity, albeit gradually (even if I do think that remaining on that pile of sand is not too wise for what could happen in the not-too-distant future if another storm hits).

 

The Grand New Planet Definition

Posted by Mike Merritt in Science on | No Comments

I had meant to post this entry yesterday, but didn’t find the time to do so.

So, the definition of planets has, for the first time, been explicitly defined, and Pluto has lost its status as a planet. I’ll give a short explanation for those who didn’t follow the progress of the past week in the astronomy world.

As you might know, the debate has been raging on for years as to whether or not Pluto is or is not a planet. It’s eccentric orbit, more oval than round, on a different plane than the other planets, and passing through the orbit of another planet (Neptune), things none of the other planets have in common. Then there is the fact that is so much unlike the other planets, with a very thin atmosphere. That, and not much seems to be known about its innards, whether or not it has a mantle or a core. It shares much more with the other objects in the Kuiper Belt than with the planets.

I thought I was always so right. Then I found out that Mercury is much closer to the Moon or Pluto than I had originally though. However, at least with Mercury, we know it has the features of a planet.

So, after the discovery of objects such as 2003 UB313, astronomers apparently decided that now was the time to decide how to define a planet, and whether or not Pluto should retain that status. The first definition they came up with was very controversial, and as I’ve already made an entire entry about it, I won’t go into it anymore here.

Well, it would appear that the scientists who study planet composition were responsible for the first definition. The people who study planety movement didn’t like it, so they were somehow able to get their own definition on the table. You can see the Wikipedia article for more on the second draft of the resolution, but here is the definition in its final form:

The IAU…resolves that planets and other bodies in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:

(1) A “planet” [1] is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

(2) A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape [2], (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

(3) All other objects [3] except satellites orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as “Small Solar System Bodies”.

Well, this effectively clears out Pluto, Sedna, 2003 UB313, and any others that were considered and puts them in a different status called “dwarf planets.” I’m happy about that, however, I do agree with those who say the whole “clearing the neighborhood” is a bit vague. It also may compel scientists to disqualify a planet from another solar system that is perfectly capable of supporting humans, if something happens to be in the way of its orbit. So, I would agree that the definition still needs some fleshing out.

Now, I know I said this was going to be a more philosophical entry, but Stargate SG-1 rings, and I’m off to New York City this weekend. So, this is an entry in progress, but I put it up now for you to see. Have a good weekend. Many pictures when I return!

 

The Grand ‘Ol Planet Plu…Oh, wait…

Posted by Mike Merritt in Science on | No Comments

Ha ha! No sooner do I submit my last entry than I switch to the news sites and see this news:

Astronomers meeting in the Czech capital have voted to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.

So, it is done. I also believe they’ve voted on the actual definition, but I’ll wait a bit to make sure. Full entry later on!

 

The Grand ‘Ol Planet Proposal

Posted by Mike Merritt in Science on | No Comments

Well, today is a huge day for astronomy. It may very well render all the astronomy books currently being ordered by schools and college students around the world as obsolete, even before they’re used. For those not caught in the whole debate, a final proposal has been submitted for vote this afternoon:

A planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

A dwarf planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

All other objects orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as “Small Solar System Bodies”.

A separate resolution will be voted on to decide whether Pluto should be included as a “dwarf planet.” Now, while this doesn’t tail exactly with my suggestions from a few days ago, I consider it compatible enough to work. It effectively (if voted in this way) stops Pluto and those others from being one of the big, major planets. Although I don’t know what “clearing the neighborhood” means, it seems likely that it will be explained in the coming days, if this resolution passes.

I don’t have much more to say about it at the moment. Later today, I’ll have my analysis of what the decision means for society and the future if the resolution passes. If not, I’ll have to see what I’ll write about once I know more information.

 

Tonight’s Special: Polygamy

Posted by Mike Merritt in Society on | No Comments

I should have known, when I saw the CNN article referenced in the last entry, that the subject of polygamy would be brought up again by the media. Sure enough, CNN’s Anderson Cooper has a whole special on his show tonight about it. Of course, you can’t speak polygamy without somehow including fugitive Warren Jeffs, so he brought in a guy to give an update on the situation.

Must have been precognition that prompted me to write my last entry. Somehow, I must have known somebody was going to cover it this Monday night. Thus, it had to happen.

That is all.

 

Polygamy the Next Big Rights Movement?

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics, Religion, Society on | 3 Comments

Update: I should probably have made it a little clearer that I do not support polygamy people like Warren Jeffs, who force people into it. If polygamy is to be accepted, it must be a consensual relationship between adults.

Ever since a series of articles and news stories flooded the media earlier this year about fugitive polygamy cult leader Warren Jeffs, I’ve noticed an increasing number of articles about polygamy and those seeking to have it supported by society (U.S. society, anyway). I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but then I noticed this article tonight.

CNN has an story about a recent polygamy rally in Utah. The main idea is that children of polygamists were speaking out to have their lifestyle supported by the Utah government, and how they are living happy and free lives. One quote in particular caught my attention:

We are not brainwashed, mistreated, neglected, malnourished, illiterate, defective or dysfunctional,” 17-year-old Jessica said. “My brothers and sisters are freethinking, independent people: some who have chosen this lifestyle, while others have branched out to a diversity of religions.

This appears to be a defense either directly or indirectly related to the flood of media attention on Jeffs. For those who don’t know, Warren Jeffs is currently on the run from authorities for committing statutory rape and conspiracy to commit such an act. Jeffs is the self-appointed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the major religious sect in the U.S. practicing polygamy. Major polygamist communities tend to be clustered out west, especially in Hildale, Utah.

I believe that the attention on Jeffs has definitely brought about some more negative feelings toward something that has been already viewed highly immoral by many. This rally seems to be the polygamists’ and their childrens’ way of trying to reach out to the community around them. However, this may only be the start. One rotton apple can spoil it for the bunch, as they say. I forsee more functions of this type in the future, as polygamists try to get their lifestyle accepted, especially in places like Utah, where it’s illegal.

It definitely has some parallels to the on-going gay-rights movement. A group of people trying to get their lifestyle accepted amongst a sea of people who may or may not accept it. It would definitely be an uphill battle, perhaps moreso than gay rights. This one may be man and women, but here we have multiple woman or multiple men, depending on exactly what type is practiced. I can definitely see how even some in the gay community would be averse to this, a double-whammy, whereas gays only have to battle against heterosexuals for the most part.

Whatever the eventual outcome, these movements seem to go in waves, with the major actions separated by about 40 years or so (yes, I counted). The women civil rights movement in the 20s, the black civil rights movement in the 60s, and now the gay civil rights movement in the 2000s. Will the polygamists have to wait until the 2040’s for their movement? Only time will tell, but I’m guessing they will be the next major social rights movement. I can’t really think of another group that might be up for rallying for their civil rights, so the polygamists naturally seem to be the next (you can correct me in the comments if you wish). So, where am I on this? Well, I can hardly support the gay right movement without supporting their lifestyle, at least from afar. Neither I’d get involved in, but neither I particularly have problems accepting as a way people can live.

What are your views? I invite you to comment, but remember, no attacks.

 

Blogography

Posted by Mike Merritt in Websites on | No Comments

Time for some more plugging. Just found this guy out. He has some pretty awesome entries for the few I’vew read so far, and he loves to travel! Well, so I’m guessing, given the huge amount of places he seems to have visited. Check it out. It’s definitely going into the list at your right!

 

Survey Says…

Posted by Mike Merritt in Dymersion on | No Comments

Well, it appears that Google Analytics has finally begun to track Dymersion. Here’s some interesting first-week stats I’ve found:

Search Terms
Well, nothing too outrageous, but here’s a couple I found interesting: camera poses (2 visitors), profiling (1 visitor), and humorous independence day speeches (1 visitor). Camera poses are obviously my entries about Molly. Seems that someone read my entry about racial profiling in airports. Then there’s the first one, which obviously relates to my Independence Day 2006 series. How someone got to my site while trying to find speeches that are funny is beyond me.

Sources of Traffic
Well, nothing here was all too surprising. Most were direct, all of which were probably me…turns out the filter I had in Analytics wasn’t working. So, I’ve updated it for my real IP. It’ll stop everyone in the house from being counted, but I’m not too worried about that, since they probably don’t visit, anyway. Most visits were from invisionpower.com, which is not surprising, especially if many are me. A couple were from my school’s Facebook site, though with the revelation of the unworking filter, maybe not so good.

It’s a little easier to determine which visits are not mine when I view them from a geographical perspective…seven visits from the UK, probably some of the people at invisionpower.com, five from Canada, again, probably from invisionpower.com or Invisionize, and even a couple from India and Thailand of all places.

Analytics also tracks the ISP people hail from…35 from Cox Communications are probably all mine, there’s also a healthy number from Comast, AOL, and SBC. But, here’s the interesting part…a couple visits were from the U.S. House of Representatives Info Systems department, and from NASA. You guys working on the job? 😉

Any way, just a quick update. As the site goes on, I intend to keep an eye, and see where people are coming from, and why they might be coming here. To all those who have visited Dymersion, thank you! And thank you for fully reinforcing my faith in the site. Feel free to comment!

 

The Grand ‘Ol Planet Debate

Posted by Mike Merritt in Science on | No Comments

Well, thought I might chime in on the whole “What is the definition of a planet?” debate. I know what I’m about to say here is going to be highly controversial, so please bear with me.

I’m a bit appalled about this uproar over defining the characteristics of a planet. It seems to me, that in an effort to save Pluto’s status as a planet, the International Astronomical Union has come up with the strangest definition:

A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet.

Say what? Does that mean that every round rock, gas, or iceball out there that orbits the sun is now a planet? That could be just the case. Under the definition, recently discovered 2003 UB313, Ceres (formerly a very spherical astroid) and Charon (formerly Pluto’s own moon) now become planets. Had enough? Well, perhaps not the IAU, either. There’s more…rocks like Sedna, 2005_FY9, and even what I’d consider the least likely of the top candidates, 2003_EL61, could also be considered planets sometimes in the future.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but Pluto has always been a mystery to me, ever since I learned the names of the planets. Why is this icy rock with a very thin atmosphere considered a planet? Because it’s round and goes around the sun? Well, so does the moon (which also has a very thin atmosphere), but under the new definition, we’re still considering it a moon. So, I’m sure some of you might say, “Ok, but it’s spherical in nature, has gravity, and all that. It can’t be just an astroid or something else.” Fine, fair enough, you got me. So, what does all this tell me? Failed planet. Something that was going to potenitally form into a planet or a moon, but something happened where either a true atmosphere never formed, or it was blown away millions of years ago.

Would it not be simpler to define a planet this way? Well, at first glance, this might scrub Pluto off the list, along with the other rocks being considered, but not necessarily. What about two categories, so we’re not kidding anybody: Major Planet and Failed Planet. Group all the gaseous-type planets (like the big 8) in the first group. Then put all the rocks that have a spherical (none of this oblong stuff) that are rock or rock and partially ice into the second group. You could even further divide the two groups if you want. Here’s two of my proposed defintions. The first would be highly controversial (because of Pluto), and the second not so much:

1. A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet, and (c) has an atmosphere thicker than [arbitrary number here].

2. A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a spherical or bulged spherical shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet. A planet shall be classifed into Major Planets or those that possess an atmosphere thicker than [number], and Failed Planets or those that do not possess an atmosphere or possess and atmosphere thinner than [number].

There, two definitions that might work. The first obviously gets rid of anything without an true atmosphere, and the second keeps Pluto and any astroid field and Kuiper Belt object that comes our way, but further clarifies how they’re labelled. Both kinds could also be Plutons, a planet that takes more than 200 Earth years to orbit the sun, and has a highly elliptical orbit.

I don’t know, it’s just always been hard for me to see Pluto as a planet in the first place (other than the fact the textbooks said so), and all this seems merely to be a compromise between those who’d like to see Pluto stay and those who’d like it gone. Is Pluto or these other considered objects a planet? Only you can decide. On a last note, I will boycott whoever supports the promotion of things like 2003_EL61 to a planet. That is a weird shaped rock, NOT a planet. I mean, look at its satellites. Those are not anywhere near spherical. At least Pluto/Charon, and 2003 UB313 have spherical moons.

 

Unwarrented Wiretapping Illegal Says Detroit Judge

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics on | No Comments

Ever since the story broke on the existance of unwarrented wire tapping, there have been a variety of opinions on the subject, from outright disgust that the government would spy on Americans (and those who might like to use it for less than ethical purposes) to those who say that the program is essential for nation security and the War on Terror.

So, when the story broke today that a Detroit judge rules thd unwarranted version as illegal, I was quite happy. I’m all for using technology to root out and eliminate terrorists threats, and I’ve never had a problem with the War on Terror in principle, because it’s a good principle. However, the ability to wiretap anywhere for any or no reason is not a good thing. We are a country of law and due process, and everybody should respect that, including the President. I do understand that the wiretapping is for overseas calls to suspected terrorists, but I don’t think the oft-used excuse of “they’re not U.S. citizens, anyway,” is a pile of crap, to put it bluntly. We call ourselves democratic, and a free nations, so we must show a good example.

Now, what to do if this becomes illegal permanently? Well, easy answer, and it’s only four letters: FISA! There is a court set up specifically for this kind of thing, and FISA is it. Worried about national security? Well, no worries when the court is secret, so that nobody will ever see what the warrants are about. So, what’s the problem? Intelligence officals, and others, have said that procuring a warrant takes too long, especially when terrorists move fast. Well, fine then. Do your wiretapping, but you still have to submit a warrant at some point. On O’Reilly a few days ago, an interviewee suggested this very thing, that you can do your wiretapping, but you have submit the warrant request later. She didn’t get into specifics, though. So, I say no more than two weeks from the time of the wiretap should the warrant request be made.

I mean, come on, about what is the government really worrying? According to the Wikipedia article on the FISA Court, five out of 18,765 warrants were rejected. Five! So, I think the government having to get a warrant (just like everyone else in security) can only be a good thing. It creates record of action (even if classified), and stops what I see as a dangerous precedent. While I don’t agree with all depictions of the President as some evil tyrannical authoritarian, that’s not to say a furute President won’t be. If this precedent stays through the next Presidents, what is to stop a future chief executive from claiming terrorism as justification for spying with warrants, while really using it to spy on a political opponent. Spying has happened before (Nixon, anyone?), and I don’t doubt it’ll happen again. So…review. Getting useful information on terrorists is good, but warrentless wiretaps are bad. Solution? Wiretap, then submit your request within two weeks, because really, it’s bound to be accepted, anyway.

 

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