Monday, August 28, 2006

Sentential Links #63 (The Plutonic Edition)

Some of these deal with the recent decision to strip Pluto of its planetary status (as though the little planet-that-could had been caught doping in an attempt to pack on extra mass so it could maintain its position of planethood). Others deal with other stuff.

:: Just a little refresher: Pluto is smaller than our moon, people!

:: Pluto's been demoted? That's crap! (No, dearie: if it's not Scottish, it's crap. But I get the sentiment.)

(Oh, and congrats to the new Campbell award winner, who unfortunately decided to model the tiara that is now associated with this award, thus making him look like a really creepy televangelist.)

:: If you've been keeping an eye on any of the wire services (or Language Log), you may have noticed that the members of the International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague have been wrangling, Vatican-style, over the definition of the word planet. Judging by the periodic puffs of contradictorily-colored smoke the meeting is emitting, it sounds like they may be getting bogged down in the details. (That's where the Devil is, you know.) Well, defining words involves language, and language is what linguists study, so that means this is a linguistic problem. Let's roll up our sleeves and see what all the trouble is.

:: I submit that scientists own the science, but laypeople own the narrative. And the narrative of the nine planets of the Solar System is rich in mythology (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), serendipity (the discovery of Uranus), mathematical prediction (the discovery of Neptune), and Herculean effort (the discovery of Pluto). It has been enriched that much further by the stunning imagery of every planet except Pluto returned to us by the Mariner, Pioneer, Viking, Magellan, Galileo, and Cassini probes. (Written before the ultimate decision, but still some worthwhile points.)

:: They wanted to base it on measurable scientific factors rather than a human-created, arbitrary dividing line. Unfortunately, what they came up with was a messy slight-of-hand pushed by the anti-Pluto radicals that opens the door to far more problems than it can ever hope to solve. (Read this post for a short synopsis on the new planetary definition's shortcomings.

My own position on this is, well, what is the big deal with considering Pluto a planet? Why does this matter? How will planetary astronomy be set back or advanced by this? I don't get it. And besides, this whole business reminds me that the real physical world is a messy place that can't always be mapped nicely onto a language where the act of creating definitions assumes binary states that may not exist. Anyway, back to the links.

:: If global warming is going on, every day must be warmer than the same day the previous year, every summer must be hotter, every winter must be less cold. There are no statistical effects, and definitely no random component to the weather. "Weather" is also a single unitary phenomenon which can be evaluated by one instrument, a thermometer.

:: When I was a kid, my parents used to play the I Ching once a year.

:: We now rent just about anything. We rent houses and cars. We rent tractors. We rent (to own) computers, TV's and furniture. We rent tillers and banquet halls. We rent like crazy these days. Why not rent a casket?

:: I’m so excited, I think I just Fergied in my pants! (Uhhhh...OK....but congrats on the 100,000th hit, guys!)

More next week. Tune in. Drop out. And stuff.


Anonymous said...

Always an honor to be included.

Sean Meade said...



what Kevin said ;-)

Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

I find it amusing that the anti-Pluto faction is applauding the new definition that kicks Pluto out of the planet club. When people protest, they invariably respond "But Pluto's too small to be a planet!" Yet none of them, as far as I am aware, have offered a specific size that is planet worthy. They argue that Pluto is smaller than our moon, but our moon is only slightly smaller than Mercury. Shouldn't that disqualify Mercury from planethood? And if an Earth-size Kupier Belt object with an irregular orbit is found, is that not a planet as well? I mean, really--this whole affair is a convoluted mess.

Set an arbitrary size limit and be done with it!

Jay Manifold said...

An honor, etc. ;^)