Saturday, August 28, 2010

Moth's Wings

Our dear friend Karin introduced us to this song and we are ever grateful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we listen to it non-stop. It's always someone's request in the car, usually followed by backseat demands from Mar "Ah-nen" (again) or Owen "Please just ONE more time".

Here's a little impromptu jam over pbj sandwiches.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Freedom of...

One of the most important time periods of my life was the summer I spent in England with my family back in the early 90's. I was about 14 years old and my father went to England on a sort of "UK tour," for lack of a better term. The Brits, they loved Pastor Johnson and his family. It was a great trip.

One of my favorite stops among the many cities we visited was Bradford. When I say this to people who have been to England, they invariably scrunch up their faces and ask, "Really, Bradford?" But I loved that place. We stayed with a really kind family in a gigantic house up on a hill. I became close friends with one of the sons, Richard. I looked up to him because he was 3 years older than me and had a driver's license. He looked up to me because I was a genuine American...from California!

Memory is a funny thing. I have only vague, fuzzy outlines of much of my time in Bradford. I remember bombing down the long driveway as a passenger in the family's Ford, Richard pretending to be a Rally driver. I remember his awesome collection of Legos. I remember the friends I made at the Bradford church where my Dad spent several weeks preaching. I remember feeling a bit like a rock star.

But one of my sharpest memories is from a car ride to the church one morning. The mother, whose name I can't recall, was chatting happily until we drove past a gigantic mosque. I remember the gold domes and the strange-looking spires. And I'll never forget what she said: "We rebuke that building in the name of Jesus! Dear lord, please destroy that building. Make those walls crumble down!"

I have sharp memories of that moment. I recall being absolutely shocked. I remember wondering what would happen to the people inside the building if the lady's prayers had suddenly been answered. What a shame it would be to destroy such a pretty building. Where did that nice lady go? Looking back on it now, I feel pretty nauseous.

I don't tell this story as a knock against Christians or any faith in particular. I tell this story as one of my clearest memories of encountering bigotry. Just raw hatred. That it was one of the otherwise kindest Christians I ever met makes it all the more scary. People are capable of harboring some really vile stuff while living perfectly normal lives in every other respect. I think that's what I find so scary about it. Anyone can wish for the violent destruction of a building just because of its inhabitants and how different those people are from us.

These days I'm filled with the same sickening, helpless feelings when I read about the protests against the Cordoba Center in New York City. If you haven't heard about this so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and the protests against it, then be glad this is the first you've heard about it. Basically, there's a right-wing movement against the building of a Islamic recreational center that has been deemed "too close to the hallowed ground of the 9/11 attacks." Wow, where to start?

The arguments against building the Cordoba Center are so weak, so full of holes and so ridiculous that it makes my head spin. The counterarguments are so straight-forward that they shouldn't need to be enumerated. Hello, Constitution? However, the news media loves confrontation. Nothing sells commercial spots like unthinking, overly emotional people screaming at each other. I've so been hoping this whole thing would blow over. Sadly it won't, stoked as it is by all of the media attention.

This morning I read this story about a new viral video that shows just how ugly the ground zero protests are becoming. The video shows a protest rally at the building site. A man who looks a bit too Muslim walks through and is accosted by the crowd, who calls him a coward, among other things. The flustered man, who turns out to be a carpenter, yells back at the crowd to let them know that they don't have any idea who he is. The crowd doesn't care. Mob mentality takes over. Security steps in. Ignorance holds sway.

I'm so bummed by this whole thing. And it's likely to get worse before it gets better.

Imagine this happening in a slightly different setting. Recall 15 years ago when a different terrorist attack took place. An ideologue from a fringe religious group called the Christian Identity parked a moving van full of explosives next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, set a timer and walked away. The blast killed 168 people, including many children in a nearby day care center. It was a disgusting, vile, cowardly act carried out by a religious, anti-American extremist.

A quick look at Google Maps reveals that there are two Christian churches less than a block away in either direction: The First Church and St. Joseph's cathedral. What if someone protested those churches, complaining that they were built "too close to hallowed ground"? Would anyone in America take the protests seriously? Would anyone expect the churches to relocate just because some fringe radical who associated himself with Christianity carried out a terrorist attack nearby? I sure hope not! I would certainly hope that people on either side of the political divide would step in and remind the dim-witted protesters that A) one person is not representative of a group of millions and B) we live in a country that provides constitutional protection for people of all religions. I seriously doubt that certain former vice presidential candidates would be weighing in on the side of the protesters via Twitter. Well, maybe not...

It is clear to me that there's nothing serious about the "ground zero mosque" protests. At best it's just a bunch of emotionally damaged people who left their thinking caps at home, egged on by cynical politicians. At worse, and sadly most likely, it's just a bunch of bigots who need a target for their hatred and intolerance.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

happy happenings

Seems like the big events just keep coming! In the last few weeks:

1. Owen turned 5. Woah, it still seems like we were just bringing him home!

2. Marcus started speaking in two & three word phrases "bye-bye daddy" "tank you mama", "hi owie", "mama back home" and, naturally, "NO! MINE!"

3. Owen started Spanish summer school & can now count to 29 without help. He loves to surprise us with new vocabulary and recently told me "Yo pongo el liston en mi cinturon." (I put the ribbon around my waist). Yesterday he drew a self portrait during his quiet time (in lieu of napping) and wrote "Yo me llamo Owen". Mid-September, he'll be in Kindergarten in a Spanish immersion program at a public school in our neighborhood. We're so excited for this!

4. Nonna Marie has come to visit and spends plenty of time drawing with Owen, reading to Marcus and cleaning the kitchen (she lives for the opportunity to clean our fridge ;)). We've done a fair share of treasure hunting at local antique stores & found some serious gems! We spent a day at Huntington Library and Gardens, and exploring the Chinese, Japanese and children's gardens as well as a few art gallaries.

5. Owen's beginning soccer session ended and I'm hoping we'll be able to get a spot on an AYSO team this fall. We missed the registration because I had no idea you needed to sign up for that stuff in April!

6. Marcus is 2! We celebrated with a trip to Travel Town, train ride & BBQ with good friends and family and yummy cupcakes!

Newly discovered planet has ability to make grown adults giggle like 10-year-olds

I was hoping the science aspect of my latest planet discoveries would catch on in the news and popular science magazines. And the science did pretty much stand on its own and and got some good play. But it turns out I also had a lowest-common-denominator aspect built into the press release. One of the planets is named 24 Sex c. Hehe. It's one Sex c planet (cue slide whistle).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Back in the News!

My collaborators and I recently discovered a pair of exoplanet pairs. Each pair orbits a subgiant star, or a "retired A star" as I've taken to calling them. And each pair is pretty special in that the planets are interacting with eachother because they are close enough to (strongly) feel each other's gravitational tugs, in addition to the tug of their parent stars.

One of the pairs, cleverly named HD200964b and HD200964c, are extremely close to one another. Astronomers like to quantify the closeness of planets (and moons) by the ratio of their orbital periods. The HD200964 planetary system has a period ratio of 4:3---the outer planet completes 3 orbits for every 4 orbits of the inner planet. The precise ratio of periods---exactly 4 to 3, as opposed to say 4.5 to 2.7---is no accident. The only way for the planets to get along is for them to do the old 4-to-3 step, a precise set of dance moves that allows them to stay stable over long periods of time. Otherwise, one of the planets would most likely have been ejected from the system long ago. The other pair of planets orbits a star somewhat more romantically named 24 Sextanis, and they do the two-step; the outer planet completes one orbit for every 2 orbits of the inner planet.

Caltech put out a press release for the new discoveries, which got picked up by a few news outlets. Most are Astronomy-related publications, but I am in Google news!

Check it out!

The paper is on the arXiv preprint server if you'd like to get the straight dope on the system.