Every 5th Star

600px-Milky_Way_Galaxy

Artist conception of the Milky Way as viewed from some distance away.

New research, based on the recently defunct Kepler Telescope, estimates there are 40 billion planets in our Milky Way galaxy that are habitable. Habitable is defined as about earth sized and in the habitable zone, where water can be a liquid.

The New York Time’s has one of the better articles on this. Check it out here: Planet Search Suggests Many Are Earth-like.

If you ask me where I feel closest to God, it’s looking at the night sky. Awe and Amazement. The two emotions I think are most appropriate when thinking about the infinite. Now there is something to add to this feeling. These numbers suggest that on average, every fifth star I see has a planet that can support life processes. That is it’s warm enough for liquid water, and the right size to hold an atmosphere but not be crushingly big.

Don’t let your imagination run too fast just yet. That could easily mean nothing more than single cell organizes. After all there is the Fermi Paradox that should caution anyway from leaping too far ahead.

Men Slow Down For Sex

An LA Times article entitled Walk this way: Men slow down when sex is at stake is interesting science but slowing down for sex isn’t the surprise. It’s that men speed up with other men!

Thinking About Presidential Democracies

It’s one of the most important things in my mental life to challenge what I believe, to double check, test, and try new things and ways in my life. So the second big USA government shutdown in my lifetime had me reading the following Washington Post articles:

The Shutdown Is The Constitution’s Fault
Thirteen Reasons Washington Is Failing
Is America A Bubble

The gist of these suggest presidential democracies, such as the USA has, do not have high survival rates. It’s claimed the US and Chile were the only long term survivors and Chile gave up on it a couple decades ago. The final article is about how US bonds, and the country in general may be in a bubble. Given my experience of 2008, I’m feeling even less comfortable the way our government is going.

The Most Amazing Sun Video I’ve Ever Seen

Check it out. This is the most amazing video I’ve ever seen of the sun. Be sure to check the size of the Earth compared to the size of the flare at 1:20.

Turbulent Ambiguity Essay #1: Color My World

I was walking about Portland, Oregon several years ago when I realized I’d had a familiar feeling in an unfamiliar place. The familiar feeling was a let down, but in the most positive way to take that expression. It was like the moment when I open the car door, having arrived at my favorite spot in the world, a place of pine trees, mountain air, no electricity, and quiet. When the pine scented air in drawn in with my first breath my whole body seems to relax, I feel like I’m at home.

So here was a bit of that feeling in a major west coast city and the cause was seeing so many races and types of humans. That’s when I realized that my desire for variety, for newness and change included the human realm. Coming from the very white and mid-western cities of Nebraska, I was relieved to find something else.

My first big encounter with the vagaries of race was at an international fair with the university I was attending. There was an attractive coed there from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). We struck up a conversation about how she was friends with a foreign exchange student who had attended my high school, and Arthur C Clark who had taken up permanent residence in Ceylon. The conversation ended though as I mentioned something about her being black in America at the time. Her skin color was as dark as fresh ground coffee and yet she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was as Caucasian as I was. Clearly I had hit a nerve and I was embarrassed about it. I thought about her comments and, as is my way, checked into them. Of course she was right. Her lips were thin, the hair not kinky but long and straight, and we shared the Indo-European language group. We were close cousins in the scheme of things. Clearly I needed to think bigger and look for the nuances and ambiguities.

A few years later I was touring the Smithsonian museums. A few things I remember: Peruvian tar pots (how could one ignore them?), a stump of a large tree shot clean through by the metal flying through a Civil War battlefield, Washington’s campaign tent, and a wall that had a world map and faces of people from the different regions. So many variations of race were represented on that wall one merging into another. It was clear that so many characteristics  are just a spectrum of probabilities across the map. I stared at it a good long while to try to understand it’s patterns.

Science tells us that this is due to balancing vitamin D with skin cancers and other diseases. Getting the balance right is a strong evolutionary driver for selecting skin color. And it can happen quickly, in terms of evolution and may relate to the switch to farming and increased grains in the diet. (See the Wikipedia summary on Human Skin Color.)

Firefly, a science fiction TV/show offers a glimpse of a world where transportation and living on many planets has mixed this all up. Besides the horses, six shooters, cannibalistic spacefarers, and spaceships, the colors and cultures are so interesting. It includes swearing in Mandarin, I think it’s mandarin anyway. I don’t live in one of the frontier towns they visit, but diversity of Kansas City is a relief. We have a grocery store near our home which caters to the Hispanic part of our community, sort of what I imagine a Safeway in Mexico to be like. Their just made flour and corn tortillas come out of the machines there ready to be pickup up, and cactus and mangoes are standard in the produce aisles. There’s always a smile there and people are happy to tell me what to do with the new culinary treats.

I like the place and the feelings of possibility in KC.

Nuke the Thanksgiving Turkey, Really

Thunderbolt Siren

Thunderbolt Siren

October 22nd, 1962. Two memories are bonded together on this day. The first is sitting around a table in the basement of our church, First St. Paul’s Lutheran. I’m with my fellow Cub Scouts looking at knots on a big plywood board and struggling to do the intricate patterns with the help of Mr. Goldenstein. It was sort of a leader and the twelve little apostles moment.

The other memory is coming home from the meeting for supper. It is after dark since daylight savings time wouldn’t be used for another four years. Opening the door to our dimly lit living room I find aunt Verna and mom are watching the president talking in shades of fuzzy greys and whites about Cuba and missiles. They hardly seemed to notice me.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“We may be going to war with Russia.” they say with a mix of anger, disgust, and worry. I was almost ten years old hearing something I only vaguely understood. Continue reading

Buddhism in Seven Words

Everything changes.
Everything is connected.
Pay attention.