…totally cracks me up. Here is her essay On Being Asian, from which I quote:

Another issue I have is that I forget that I AM ASIAN. Seriously. I forget that I don’t look like you other white people. Maybe that’s why I hate dealing with immigrant Asians because they always ask the same questions: “Are you Chinese? You’re not? Because you look Chinese!” I never know what to say. Is there a blood test that I can take to find out? The other question is always: “Are you married to a white man?” (Yes.) I don’t know why the questions are always the same. Is there some kind of Asian Adoptee survey going on that I don’t know about? Because if there is? I’VE ALREADY TAKEN IT.


Moyers interviews Jon Stewart

This is a great interview with Jon Stewart by Bill Moyers on PBS. Watch it, but here is small tidbit for you.

JON STEWART: But war that hasn’t affected us here, in the way that you would imagine a five-year war would affect a country. I think that’s why they’re so really — here’s the disconnect. It’s sort of this odd and I’ve always had this problem with the rationality of it. That the President says, “We are in the fight for a way of life. This is the greatest battle of our generation, and of the generations to come. “And, so what I’m going to do is you know, Iraq has to be won, or our way of life ends, and our children and our children’s children all suffer. So, what I’m gonna do is send 10,000 more troops to Baghdad.”

So, there’s a disconnect there between — you’re telling me this is fight of our generation, and you’re going to increase troops by 10 percent. And that’s gonna do it. I’m sure what he would like to do is send 400,000 more troops there, but he can’t, because he doesn’t have them. And the way to get that would be to institute a draft. And the minute you do that, suddenly the country’s not so damn busy anymore. And then they really fight back, and then the whole thing falls apart. So, they have a really delicate balance to walk between keeping us relatively fearful, but not so fearful that we stop what we’re doing and really examine how it is that they’ve been waging this.

Moyers interviews Jon Stewart

Congress to Bush: Yeah, we know.

What Congress is (hopefully) saying to Bush:

Yes, Mr. President, we know you disagree with us. We don’t give a shit. Your leadership has been abysmal, your judgment has been poor, your Vice President has been completely fucking wrong on everything he has said for years now. Your credibility is shit. We no longer think you are the man to handle the job. So, you can either cooperate with our agenda, which the American people completely support, or we can up the ante a bit and impeach your incompetent ass. Choose.

Congress to Bush: Yeah, we know.

Astronomy Matters

(It’s Astronomy Day today and on that theme I’m posting a little essay I wrote years ago describing my interest in astronomy.)

To tell you the truth, people are not that surprised that I am interested in astronomy. I think all people find astronomy fascinating. After all, it is the true nature of the universe. All of our world views have to take into account the vastness of the universe, the enormous time scales and distances and the seemingly insignificant and relatively instantaneous event that we call our lives. The universe is more strange and awesome than we can imagine. People use the word “astronomical” in their everyday lexicon to mean, in many cases, unimaginably immense. To me the question is not why are people interested in astronomy, but why aren’t all people?

It is interesting that for many people to contemplate the universe brings them face to face with God. They feel that this is God’s creation. I don’t think they are wrong but, like Carl Sagan, I tend to want to save a step. Rather than leaving the question “who created God” unanswerable, I choose to leave the question “who created the universe” unanswerable. To me, studying the universe does not reveal the mystery of God, it reveals the capabilities of human beings. We have learned so very much about things that we can never touch and can barely see. The science of astronomy is a story of the undaunted brilliance of people with a passion to understand. This is my passion: to understand the universe. I may never contribute one significant thing to the science. I’m sure my name will never appear in a text book or on a comet. But I will understand, and I’ll understand the hard stuff, too. Quantum mechanics and relativity are not by any means beyond our reach. Astrophysics is not beyond our reach. Any person can understand these things if they truly desire to.

My story begins, like many, when I was a young child with a telescope. It was a cheap telescope and gave me more frustration than pleasure, but it was the start of looking up. Later in life I felt my passion returning and a gift from my then girlfriend (now wife) of a 4.5″ Newtonian reflector got me on my way. I started as many do looking at Messier objects and reading every astronomy book I could get my hands on. I learned the constellations, how to recognize the planets and how to find many galaxies, clusters and nebulae with my first telescope.

For me, though, I was not getting enough photons. Objects do not look in telescopes like they look in photographs. Most are dim, fuzzy blobs that are barely visible. My next step was taking pictures of astronomical objects with a common camera. You can take some great pictures of some great objects with a common camera. This method of photography is called “piggy back” because you attach your camera to a telescope and use the telescope to keep the camera pointed at the object as the earth turns, a process called guiding. The camera uses its own lens and is not coupled to the optical system of the telescope.

The next step was using a camera attached to the telescope optically, which is called “prime-focus”. Here the telescope acts as the lens of your camera. This gives you much more light due to the larger nature of the telescope aperture, which in turn gives you better resolution of fine details. Prime-focus photography is much more difficult that piggy-back photography, but the results are stunning.

As I started to take more and better pictures of this freaky universe, I felt myself reaching a bit of a wall. The process of taking these pictures is enjoyable and exacting, but is not astronomy in the actual definition of the word. I wasn’t really studying or researching anything, I was just taking pretty pictures. I still love imaging and I consider it a great thing, because it brings the universe home to us in a way we can share with people. But my understanding of astronomy was not progressing. I felt it was time to start getting ready to study astronomy in the true sense of the word, and this means learning the language of astronomy, which is mathematics. To that end, I started taking classes at the University of Minnesota. I have a degree in music and needless to say, we did not study a lot of heavy math and physics in music school. I have started to take Calculus and Physics courses. More on that here.

I knew, though, that it would take me years and years to get to the point where I could study astronomy in the “professional” sense of the world. What could I do in the meantime? It didn’t take much looking to find the answer: study variable stars. It turns out that amateurs like me can make important contributions to science, and learn a lot along the way, by taking measurements of variable stars with a CCD camera. A CCD camera is a special kind of digital camera that is used for astronomy. (CCD means “charge coupled device” and you find them in common digital cameras, camcorders and scanners). There are so many stars in the sky and comparatively little time on “professional” telescopes that professional astronomers can’t really cover all the objects all the time. While some professional astronomers look down their noses at us silly little amateurs with our silly little telescopes, most do not. They appreciate the vast coverage that amateurs are capable of and use our data to correlate observations they make with rare large telescope time. On my research page I have some of the light curves and data that I have gathered. I intend to continue working with the AAVSO, the CBA and other loose-knit collaborations to gather, analyze and publish data on variable stars.

So now you know. Astronomy is the study of the true nature of the universe. It is the most important thing in the world. It is as frivolous as music and as serious as religion. Astronomy matters.

Astronomy Matters

Not quite comfortable with moderation

Teresa over at Making Light has a long post and now a certificate (notably posted over at PZ’s site just now) about how we should all feel free to moderate whoever the hell we want whenever the hell we want.

Now she certainly sounds like a reasonable person and the analogy of a host at a party maintaining some sort of enjoyable environment for the guests and the responsibility of the guests to defer, somewhat, to the host is a good one. I get it.

But something in me still is uncomfortable with it. It is a big, fat license for people to “moderate out” those things that make them uncomfortable. The all-powerful blogger can pick and choose who has a voice and who does not.

You see, I don’t trust people to handle severe criticism well. We all tend to take things personally. We are all convinced of our own good intentions but suspicious of the intentions of our adversaries. This is human nature.

We are all capable of ignoring the assholes. I skip far more blog comments than I read. I’m not convinced I need help choosing which comments to read. While there are obviously trolls and assholes out there, there are also a lot of thin-skinned people, both bloggers and commenters, who get way too emotionally connected to these debates.

I’d personally rather wade through comment noise than miss perhaps provocative posts that made someone uncomfortable. We’re grownups.

I’m not saying that moderation is always bad, but I think our guiding principles should be first about commenting respectfully and secondarily, if at all, encouraging bloggers to delete comments.

Not quite comfortable with moderation

The Supreme Court hurts women

Amy Goodman discusses the recent Supreme Court decision.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “alarming” and “irrational.” She said, “[The ruling] tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.” She later continues, “[It] cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court — and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”

Who has the activist judges now?

The Supreme Court hurts women

Fight Back

We gotta fight back against monsters like the loser who killed the people at Virginia Tech. We have to do this in a few ways:

1. Take them out physically. We don’t need guns to hog pile on these guys. Disarm the mother fucker. 10 guys could have rushed this dude and 8 of them would probably have lived. You can die cowering or you can die fighting. (NOTE: Lord knows, I may die cowering. We can’t predict how we would behave in these situations.)

2. Take out the celebrity. I don’t give a fuck who this asshole was. I don’t need to see him psychoanalyzed on TV all day. I can imagine crazies out there preparing the documents we’ll all pore over after the next crazy mass murder.

3. Have them kill themselves first. I know it is callous and bizarre to say it, but this guy should have committed suicide prior to killing those 32 people, not after. Yes, it would be better to reach him and save him well before that. But when we get to this stage, suicide is better than mass murder. In terms of public policy, I’d rather encourage a few more suicides than a few more mass murders.

#1 above is what I can’t get out of my mind, though. Just like airplane hijackers get mobbed by passengers now, when someone starts shooting like this we have to instantly mob them. The goal of everyone nearby should be to take him out as soon as possible by any means possible.

Fight Back

Uniting and Dividing

The comments to my recent post, Liberal V. Conservative, brought up something that I think a lot about: our roles in these political debates. Are we arguing our side? Or arguing for the truth?

As I said in that post, I believe deeply in “liberal” ideals. I think they are correct. But I still have my own balance of views, some more conservative and some quite liberal. But, in general, my view almost always coincides with the prevailing liberal view.

But, as I wrote about in The Things On Which We Agree, I am very interested, when it comes to policy, to try to look for middle ground. Where do we agree, Right and Left, such that we can move forward with policy?

So I kind of play two roles in my mind. I play the Defender of the Left in the political debate and The Solution Seeker when it comes to policy. The former is the abstract debate about what is right and wrong on the issues and the latter is looking for common ground to get things done when it comes to the matters at hand, right now.

Most of the time, on this blog, I am arguing, debating and trying to persuade. But I am interested (and do address, I think) the areas where we can compromise, find middle ground or find common cause.

I also thinks these two roles are consistent with each other. It’s OK that we kick and scratch and claw in the debate. It is blood sport and that kind of spirited sparring can bring out the issues and challenge ideas. But when the time comes to govern, we have to try to get along.

As I’ve said, Bush sucks at this. He’s been a bastard to the Left. Politics permeates all policy with this White House. It’s embarrassing. The only thing these guys are competent at is grabbing power. They can’t govern.

Compromise, though, cannot mean watered down crap where we hurt them a little and they hurt us a little. We need to make good decisions. That’s hard and we need all viewpoints at the table.

So, to conclude, the Defender of the Left wants to smack you around a bit until you see how wrong you are thinking. People do learn things and people do change their minds. I learn things and I change my mind. I reject failed hypotheses. We can’t be afraid to get our cages rattled. You have to know why you think what you think. You have to show me where my thinking is wrong.

But The Solution Seeker should probably come out more in all of us. In the end, we need to all row at least slightly in the same direction or we go in circles.

Uniting and Dividing