Thursday, August 31, 2006


Given the nature of my last post, I feel some responsibility to not abruptly go back to the mindless silliness I so enjoy writing about. I do know that there is a degree to which "this is my blog and I can do whatever I want," but there it just feels awkward to me to go straight from the sublime to the banal.

Anyway, I was actually thinking about what the two have in common. What does a patient committing suicide have to do with dogs driving cars and monkeys drinking beer? Besides the fact that be-bopping back and forth is consistent with the title of this blog, I think there is some connection between the serious and silly. We need them both.

The serious things, such as the death of a patient or a tribute to my father, are what real life is made of. We have experiences, both hard and happy, which plow through the hard soil of our life and leave our emotions raw. We hurt and/or smile with them while they turn us over and leave us different for their intervention in our lives. We learn more from the hard stuff and need to spend time being thankful for the real good stuff. I don't think the goal is to escape the bad stuff, it is to experience them and harvest whatever fruit we can from them.

On the other hand, the silly stuff I so enjoy (and so have many of you) is the joy of life. We need to sit and smile. We need to be able to sit and laugh at what is funny in life. There are so many serious things that at times we feel we can't also laugh. There are inappropriate times to laugh - you don't giggle at a funeral - but I think we equally miss the boat when we hang on to the seriousness too long and don't see the joy - and there is much of that. I go from a room where a person is depressed and troubled to a room with a smiley 6-month old baby. Both are real life and both bring different good things with them.

I think it is a lot like the accelerator and brakes on a car. The humor is the accelerator - that which moves us and lifts us, while the difficult things are the brakes. You cannot have a car without either. A life lived in just laughter is shallow, while a life lived without it is pathetic. I choose to do both and see great reward in it.

It has been very satisfying to see so many new visitors here enjoying this blog. I will continue to move from topic to topic, digging out whatever humor or serious message I can from them. I hope I continue to entertain and make people laugh (that is what we class-clowns live for, don't you know), but I never want to appear to take life too lightly. Both are parts of life I would not want to do without.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The shortness of life

Warning! Those of you expecting a goofy and silly post, this is not one (in fact it is quite serious).

My nurse cried. He was one of our favorite patients. He missed his appointment today, and since that was not his nature, I called to see what was up. I got his son on the phone who told me, "He's dead. He shot himself on Sunday." I couldn't believe it and confirmed that this was, in fact, the right number. He left a note saying he was tired of being sick all of the time and he was sorry to do it this way.

The thing is, he would have been one of the last patients I would expect to do something like this. He was in his 70's and had been fairly sick over the past week, but I was doing what I could to get him better. He had multiple long-term illnesses, including diabetes, but they were generally well-controlled. He was very fond of me and especially my nurse. He seemed to truly enjoy talking and would make me laugh with some wry comment when he came in.

We first won him over when he transferred care from another doctor. He was surprised at how aggressively we went after his diabetes, but felt so much better for it that I had won a lifelong patient. Then we were able to get him his medications for free through patient assistance programs. After that, he started sending his friends (mostly women) to me to be their doctor. He was well-loved by the ladies, but not in a sensual way - they seemed to have a genuine affection for him. That affection is what we too felt for him.

He spoke slowly and with a gentleman's southern drawl. He was known to my staff by his first name, and he was one of those patients I was always happy to see. He gave us absolutely no warning about what was going on inside of his head. When I saw him last week I was concerned about his health, but he never told me how he was feeling.

This abrupt ending makes me take stock of my actions. I do my best to spend enough time with my patients, but tend to get behind and have to hurry to not get any later. I try to listen to what they are really saying (as the famous saying among doctors goes: the patient will always tell you what is wrong with them - you just need to listen to what they are really saying). I try to practice by that rule and listen to what they are really trying to tell me. Yet I get caught up in the rush, the phone calls, the drug-seeking patients, the anxious mothers, and the pile of forms that I have put off filling out. I am trying to manage their diseases by evidence - getting their numbers just right and making sure they have gone to the right specialists. That's good care, right?

There are other distractions too. I spend (too much) time blogging and reading blogs. I go around giving talks to doctors about computers. I am the senior partner of a business, so we have all of the financial headaches to worry about. Dare I leave out the fact that I have a wife and four kids at home who need me? Life is busy. Life is busy.

So what does it mean in this context that I laid my hands on a man who later in the week committed suicide? I was one of the last people to physically touch him while he was alive. Did I miss anything? I don't really think so. He wouldn't have wanted me to worry about him. But I am glad for all of the time I did spend with him. I am glad that I got to enjoy him as a person for the time he was on this earth. I am glad I was one of the good things in his life. I am strangely glad that I knew him enough to be so saddened by his abrupt end.

There will be no funeral. There will be no good-bye. We just have the memory of this gentle southern man who kept it all inside. Maybe I could have done differently, but I won't go there. I can't go there and keep from going crazy. I got to add more to his life than most did. I need to carry that fact into the exam room tomorrow when I see other patients. Yes, there is a lot to do. But there is really no greater honor to be allowed to serve these people. I can't forget that. We all can't forget that.

Good-bye, Jimmy. Thanks.

Dogs and Cars don't mix

To follow a previous theme:

A woman in Hohhot, the capital of north China's Inner Mongolia region, crashed her car while giving her dog a driving lesson, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday.

No injuries were reported although both vehicles were slightly damaged, it said.

The woman, identified only be her surname, Li, said her dog "was fond of crouching on the steering wheel and often watched her drive," according to Xinhua.

"She thought she would let the dog 'have a try' while she operated the accelerator and brake," the report said. "They did not make it far before crashing into an oncoming car."

Xinhua did not say what kind of dog or vehicles were involved but Li paid for repairs.

For those of you who have followed my blog (my deepest sympathies - talk to your psychiatrist about that one), you may notice the similarity between this story and some of my previous stories. There was one where a Dog backed a car into a lady getting her mail. There was one where a 5-year old German kid drove a Mercedes. Finally, there was a kid in Michigan who conspired with an infant to drive an Escalae. Some of you may mention my frequent references to Pluto as well and would say that I am somehow obsessed...but I deny that completely.

There is a pattern emerging. Two kids drove fancy cars and did surprisingly well, while two dogs ended up crashing. The lesson? If you are in a pinch, let your toddler drive before your dog. In fact, we may even want to consider lowering the legal driving age with the success of toddler driving. I would be dead against any suggestions, however, that we change the species requirement for drivers license.

So let me address this story. First, there is the name of the town: Hohhot. I think Ypsilanti has nothing to worry about with cities out there with names like this. Although I have been told that some like it Hohhot (sorry about that one). I also like the last line: Xinhua did not say what kind of dog or vehicles were involved but Li paid for repairs. What, were they going to make the dog pay for the repairs? I would certainly suggest that the dog get a job and pay back Ms. Li for his incompetent driving.

Finally, let me say that up to now I believed that all Chinese people were highly intelligent. I have never met one otherwise. This story is absolute proof that there are really stupid Chinese people as well. I wonder if Ms. Li knows if Mercury is the planet closest to the sun?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Stupid Americans

This is both amazing and not suprising:

Three quarters of Americans can correctly identify two of Snow White's seven dwarfs while only a quarter can name two Supreme Court Justices, according to a poll on pop culture released on Monday.

According to the poll by Zogby International, commissioned by the makers of a new online game on pop culture called "Gold Rush," 57 percent of Americans could identify J.K. Rowling's fictional boy wizard as Harry Potter, while only 50 percent could name the British prime minister, Tony Blair.

The pollsters spoke to 1,213 people across the United States. The results had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

Just over 60 percent of respondents were able to name Bart as Homer's son on the television show "The Simpsons," while only 20.5 percent were able to name one of the ancient Greek poet Homer's epic poems, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."

Asked what planet Superman was from, 60 percent named the fictional planet Krypton, while only 37 percent knew that Mercury is the planet closest to the sun.

Respondents were far more familiar with the Three Stooges -- Larry, Curly and Moe -- than the three branches of the U.S. government -- judicial, executive and legislative. Seventy-four percent identified the former, 42 percent the latter.

Twice as many people (23 percent) were able to identify the most recent winner of the television talent show "American Idol," Taylor Hicks, as were able to name the Supreme Court Justice confirmed in January 2006, Samuel Alito (11 percent).

A couple of thoughts here. First, I read this and ask myself, "do I know these things?" I think that the simple fact that more press time and water-cooler talk was given to Taylor Hicks than Samuel Alito makes that one not at all surprising. Second, I would probably take some exception to this if I was a Supreme Court justice, being compared to the Seven Dwarfs. Third, I think it would be a good idea to re-name the three branches of government to Larry, Moe, and Curly. I think it fits. Finally, I wonder if they had asked about Pluto instead of Mercury people would have done better. It is, after all, named after a Disney character. This supports my idea that all the planets should be named after Disney Characters! I mean, come on, Roman gods??!!

Another interesting article:

A woman stole $2.3 million (1.2 million pounds) from her employers and spent the money on lottery tickets, buying as much as $6,000 worth of tickets a day in a bid to hit the jackpot, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Annie Donnelly, 38, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to stealing the money over 3 1/2 years from her employer, Great South Bay Surgical Associates, where she was a bookkeeper.

She was spending about $6,000 on lottery tickets a day, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office said. It was not clear how much, if any, she won.

"I don't think I'll ever see anyone spend that much money again," said a shop assistant named Shawn, who works at the MK Cards Gifts and Cellphones store in Ronkonkoma, New York, where Donnelly bought her tickets. Contacted by telephone, he declined to give his last name.

Donnelly, who lives in Farmingville, New York, a New York City suburb on Long Island, faces at least four years in prison and could serve as many as 12 years after pleading guilty to grand larceny, the district attorney's spokeswoman said.

Donnelly did not post bail and remains in custody. Sentencing is on September 20.

Donnelly was caught after several business checks bounced, raising the suspicions of her employers.

The New York Lottery gives about 56 percent of its revenues in prizes, and a third of its revenues, or $2.2 billion in fiscal 2005 to 2006, to education in the state. The rest goes to commissions, fees, and other expenses.

Now, I want to know why someone would steal over $1 Million and buy lottery tickets? What, was she hoping to become a millionaire?? Who would put a person so dumb in a position where they could embezzle that kind of money?

Amazing, truly amazing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto is DEAD!!!!!

It breaks my heart, but here is the newest Pluto news:

Pluto was stripped of its status as a planet on Thursday when astronomers from around the world redefined it as a "dwarf planet," leaving just eight major planets in the solar system.

With one vote, toys and models of the solar system became instantly obsolete, forcing teachers and publishers to scramble to update textbooks and lessons used in classrooms for decades.

"Pluto is dead," Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology bluntly told reporters on a teleconference.

Discovered in 1930 by the American Clyde Tombaugh, the icy rock of Pluto has traditionally been considered the ninth planet, farthest from the sun in the solar system.

However, the definition of a planet, approved after a heated debate among 2,500 scientists from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) meeting in Prague, drew a clear distinction between Pluto and the other eight planets.

The need to define what is a planet was driven by technological advances enabling astronomers to look further into space and measure more precisely the size of celestial bodies.

"This is all about the advancement of science changing our thinking as we get more information," said Richard Binzel, professor of Planetary Sciences at The Massachusetts of Technology and a member of the planet definition committee.

"The significance is that new discoveries and new science have told us that there is something different about Pluto from the other eight planets and as science learns more information, we get new results and new considerations."

I think that maybe this may quell the fighting in the middle east. The furor over Pluto is well-synchronized with the latest Middle East troubles. I think the Israelis were in the pro-Pluto camp, while the Hezbollah fighters were in the anti. This should settle it once and for all.

The question I have is the idea of "dwarf planets." While I don't mind dwarfs, there are a lot better mythical little-people to name planets after. Hobbits, gnomes, and sprites come to my mind as much better options. They could rename Pluto as Frodo and Xena as Pippin. I wonder if the Disney contingency wanted to push the dwarf idea since they would be losing Pluto as a planet. I bet there was some behind the scenes wrangling that came up with this compromise. We will know that for sure if the dwarf planets start being named "Sleepy" and "Doc." Then the conspiracy will be plain for all to see.

You read it here first.

Random Questions

Just some things that I have wondered. Some things have bothered me for a long time, others for a shorter time. If you have answers, please let me know.
  1. What does it mean to have "the living daylight" scared out of you. Why would you have daylight in you, and how could it be living? Why would being scared make it come out of you? It seems odd that there are other things that can be scared out of you, such as hell and feces, and these things have nothing to do with either living or daylight.
  2. Who invented the expression, "it takes one to know one?" This is completely false. There are plenty of people who I know who are totally different. I know women, but that does not make me a woman. It just seems like this expression should never be used.
  3. Does "clarifying shampoo" really clarify your hair? Is your hair unclear prior to using it? Is it blurry, or just kind of look like a single hair all blended into one? And why do they recommend using conditioner and other hair products after using it?
  4. Why did God make slugs? He must have some purpose for them, but I don't know it. It just seems that slugs' sole purpose is to give a good definition to the term "gross."

  5. Did they ever put acid on the inside of golf balls? When I was a kid, that is what I was told, and it scared me. If so, why would they do that?
  6. Why is it impolite to pick your nose? The finger is the perfect size for the nostril, and it only seems natural to use it there. It is my hunch that nearly 100% of people use it for such purposes. Why can't we all just be honest and pick with impunity?
  7. Why are toenails and fingernails called "nails?" Is it because they can be pointy at times?
  8. Why is it that whenever I hear the song "The Chicken Dance" it goes through my head for the rest of the day? This happened to me this morning I hate that song, oh do I ever hate it.
  9. When will people realize that precious moments are the agents of hell? They must be destroyed or we will all suffer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Losing your patients

In a recent post, a fellow doctor talked about the difficulty one feels when a patient leaves your practice to see another doctor. I strongly sympatize with the emotion he felt, since it has happened to me plenty as well (not too often, though - I don't want you to get the wrong impression!). No matter how good of a job you do, someone is going to be dissatisfied and not everyone is going to be happy with the job you did.

The truth is, I tell patients that once they lose their trust in me as a doctor (or any doctor, for that matter), then they should seek another physician. What physicians sell to their patients is trust. The patient trusts that the physician will seek to do what is medically best for them. They look to us to "worry more than they do," knowing what to be concerned about and when to become alarmed. The more patients feel that we are doing this, the more satisfied they are with the care we give.

It always bothers me when patients apologize for coming in. They feel that they are wasting my time with their problem. Their child, for instance, has a fever and is irritable and they wonder if they have an ear infection. When I look and see that it is not, then the parents feel they shouldn't have brought the child in. But my job is to do exactly this. This is why they pay me. How would they know if they should be worried if they don't come in to ask me. I think this is one of the keys to keeping patients satisfied. You need to respect their fears and address them. When a person has abdominal pain, they worry about appendicitis. When they have bad headaches, they worry about brain tumors. If they come in out of that fear, even if unfounded, I need to make sure that I have thought about that problem and usually I try to address it clearly.

The hard part is that some patients/parents have a hard time communicating what exactly they want. I do my best to get this from them, but am not always successful. I try to do my best, but there are times that the patient and me just don't communicate on the same level. As a doctor, you usually blame yourself, as it is in our nature to want our patients to like us and think we are a good doctor. When that does not happen, it is very important to find a new physician.

To you patients out there: don't feel bad when you change doctors. You need to find someone you can communicate with. Most physicians can sense when you don't trust what they are saying and as long as an attempt is made to communicate, it may be the best for everyone that you find a new physician. After all, who is paying who? It is your money, and if you are not satisfied with what you are getting for it, you should go somewhere that you feel it is well-spent.

Still, I would rather just make everyone happy...


Monday, August 21, 2006

Another kid driver

Yet another child a Mercedes!

Police investigating a complaint about a van disrupting morning traffic on Monday in the German city of Goettingen were surprised to discover a 5-year-old boy behind the wheel.

"He was seemingly intent on experiencing the daily traffic chaos and simply jumped behind the wheel of his dad's Mercedes Vito and went off to explore," police spokesman said.

During his short journey, the toddler stalled the van several times in the middle of the road and a passer-by alerted police. The boy and the vehicle were returned to his father unharmed.

How do these kids step on the gas and drive? Last I checked 5-year olds were small. How can this happen?? My guess is that there is someone in on the plot with them. Maybe it is a monkey.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Gov't reveals that life itself is eventually fatal

The following is a post I wrote for The Medical Blog Network. If you are interested in things medical, I suggest you visit that site.

Yes, in a government report, people with porphyria who go to bed too late after drinking fluoridated water are going to die. Yes, that is right. All of them.

If I wasn't a doctor, I would think that the most dangerous thing we can do is to be alive. We hear scare stories about just about everything and it makes me very frustrated. Too much sun is dangerous, but not enough will give you rickets. Being married makes you live longer, but marriage is a huge source of stress. Drink water, eat meat, eat vegetables sprayed with dangerous chemicals, drink milk with hormones. All of these will make you die. You will die, yes you will.

So what are we to do with all of this information? It certainly is a danger in the Blogosphere, that any report gets posted as if it is the definitive authority on the subject. People get confused when they hear on the evening news how great Statin drugs are, but then hear that they can "kill your liver." I know that the blogosphere will police itself, but in its wake will be a bunch of confusion.

So here is my advice: don't believe it because it is written somewhere. Don't believe it if a TV anchorman says it. Don't even believe it if you hear it from your doctor. Things like this will either gain evidence or fade in the background. Remember when eggs were dangerous because of all their cholesterol? Now we have learned that the danger is not from eating cholesterol, but saturated fats. Just wait. Don't jump on any bandwagon too soon. To be reliable, something has to have multiple sources saying the same thing. There must be independent studies showing that something is true. Even then, it can turn out to be wrong (as was the case with post-menopausal hormones). Just don't get to riled up about things. Keep cool, and if it goes against the grain, be very careful. Honest, we doctors ARE NOT part of some grand fluoride, Zyprexa, porphyria conspiracy. Nobody is pressuring me to say the things I do. I really think and decide just like the rest of you EVEN THOUGH I AM PART OF THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY.

Just remember, we all die someday. I don't advocate speeding the process up, but I also think that life is too short to spend it worried that you are somehow unknowingly causing great harm to yourself by doing normal things. If that is the case, then we all go down together. Chances are, though, that there is a reason the fringe people are on the fringe.

Of course, if you REALLY want to know what is true, you can always buy Soapware!

The Soapware reference is an inside joke from the TMBN blog. Some Soapware enthusiasts sent a ton of comments to the blog about their medical software. It kind of got obnoxious.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Openness of Patients

It happened again yesterday.

"Gosh doc, you've put on a bunch of weight."

There is no other job where people feel free to say that kind of thing. I have learned to take it in stride, even when my stride is more and more brought down by the cruel force of gravity. Why do people feel they can openly comment on my weight? I think there are several reasons for it. First, they know I have the right to comment on their weight. I am one of the few people who can do it and get away with it. Actually, it is the only place I can do it. I can't comment on my wife's weight. I certainly can't comment on people's weight outside of the office..."well, Susan, it is good to have you over. Gosh, you have gotten way heavier!" Nah, it just wouldn't fly.

The second reason people feel they can comment on my weight is that they know I can take it. I doubt if I was a female doctor they would do it. I also doubt they would do it to a specialist they don't see too often. But when they have been coming to me for a while (for some, over a decade), they get to know me and know that this kind of thing does not bother me. Well, it doesn't bother me too much.

It actually bothers me a little. I am usually caught a little off guard when they say it, and come back with some clever remark like, "yes, I keep getting ambushed by cookies." or something like that. It is nice in a way, because I think they are doing it in kindness - trying to hold me to the same standard that I hold them. I have never felt that anyone meant bad when they said it.

I can't overlook the fact that when they say it, it usually is true. I do need to start eating better and exercising (I actually just got back from the YMCA). I also must point out that they tend to be much quicker to comment when I have lost weight.

Such is the life of a doctor. It has it's ups and downs, but I would not trade it for another job.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Making friends with your patients

I had a bad start to the day today. My computer was messing up and my son just suddenly flew off the handle with my wife. Things just seemed to be conspiring to make me irritated. Then the first few patients of the day this morning were folks I had taken care of for the better part of 12 years. They are both diabetics with whom I have gone through a lot in their lives. I have to say, it was good to see both of them and it really picked up my spirits.

As a doctor, you have to stay a certain distance from your patience emotionally. If you get to close you start to lose the objectivity that they are coming to you for. You have to be able to look for bad stuff in people you like (I just diagnosed a woman this morning with metastatic cancer in her back). Yet I have found that this line gets more and more fuzzy as you practice for more time. You definitely enjoy the company of some of your patients. It is very satisfying to feel that you have been a significant part of their life, and a positive one at that. Maybe I am just getting more sentimental as I grow older (which I definitely am), but I am enjoying this aspect to my practice more and more.

I have gotten so that I routinely hug my little old ladies at the end of the visit (the ones I have seen for a while) and it really brightens their faces. The physical touch that is not "professional" but instead one of genuine affection/friendship is very well received. I think it aids in the healing process. The same is true for playing with the children. I have this thing where I pick up their arm and say, "Uh,oh, what is that there?" and I start tickling them under the arm. This makes them appreciate coming to the doctor more and hence more willing to trust me. Plus, it is just plain fun.

Of course, their are limits to this. I don't hug anyone under 55 and don't tickle anyone over 10. What is funny or nice in one situation can get you arrested in another. But I am not sure I would want to practice if I did not have the chance to have this personal relationship with my patients. It is often therapeutic for me as well.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A plutonic update

The phones are ringing off the hook. The latest Pluto news.

There goes the solar system.

Once an elite society of nine lordly bodies of rock, ice and gas, our solar system would grow to at least 12 members under a new definition of a planet proposed Tuesday by the International Astronomical Union.

The core of the definition? Planets are round. And they orbit a star.

The proposal was hammered out after two years of intense debate among leading experts of the IAU, which is the sole authority on Earth for naming celestial objects.

"We now have a new way to put the solar system together," said Richard Binzel, a member of the IAU executive committee that drafted the definition. "We think this definition is reasonable."

The proposal will be voted on next week by the group's general assembly, which is meeting in Prague, Czech Republic. Binzel, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he was "optimistic" the definition would be approved.

The new list of round planets would consist of one recently discovered object beyond the orbit of Pluto named UB313, as well as two bodies that previously were rejected for planetary status: Pluto's moon Charon and Ceres, the largest member of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Charon and Pluto would become the solar system's first double-planet, meaning they twirl around each other but neither dominates.

They would become part of a new subclass of planets called "plutons," defined by the fact that their orbits around the sun take at least 200 years. Dozens more plutons could be added after the objects are more thoroughly reviewed by the IAU.

Ceres also would get a new designation as the sole member of a subclass called "dwarf planets."

Gibor Basri, chairman of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the IAU for coming up with a reasonable definition that could help quell the stubborn arguments over what makes a planet, a debate provoked by critics who questioned tiny Pluto's status as a planet.

"I feel that they have made the most rational and scientific choices," he said. "It does mean some adjustment for the public."

But the definition has riled some astronomers.

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the strongest critics of the new solar-system lineup is the man who discovered one of the proposed new planets, astronomer Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology. He called the decision an "odd solution."

"In my book, the word planet was special. I liked it back when planets meant something other than: It's round," he said.

Brown said he had counted 53 objects that appeared to meet the proposed definition of a planet.

It's an open question how the new definition will be received by the general public, which grew up with mobiles of the nine-planet solar system in their bedrooms, and learning mnemonic devices to memorize the planets, such as My-Very-Excellent-Mother-Just-Served-Us-Nine-Pizzas.

The debate over what is and is not a planet was forced on the astronomical union by the recent discoveries of a new roster of Kuiper Belt objects orbiting as far as 9 billion miles from the sun.

Among the numerous objects, Brown identified one in 2005 — UB313 (he nicknamed it Xena) — that appeared larger than Pluto, which has a diameter of 1,400 miles.

The discoveries by Brown and astronomers at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona made it clear that the small, icy world of Pluto, discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, was hardly unique.

Something had to be done.

Many scientists advocated demoting Pluto, which would have left eight planets: the four inner rocky worlds of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, and the four outer gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

It was a simple approach, and one that Brown himself favored. "A gutsy move would be to bite the bullet and say that Pluto should never have been called a planet," he said.

In the end, the IAU took a slightly more nuanced approach.

Its proposal reads: "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."

The IAU estimates that a planet would have to be at least 480 miles in diameter to have the necessary mass to form itself into a round shape.

"Our goal was to find a scientific basis for a new definition of planet, and we chose gravity as the determining factor," Binzel said. "Nature decides whether or not an object is a planet."

Hmmm...53 planets. That would take a long mnemonic. I was happy that they quoted me on the mom serving pizzas (although they got it wrong). This really has me losing serious sleep. How in the WORLD are our kids going to learn the names of 53 planets?? One of them is going to be named XENA, for PETE's SAKE.

We should have guessed that planets would be a growth industry. My cousin told me last month, "Rob, invest in planets. I have some inside information from Prague that there are some BIG things in the works." Well stupid me, I stayed away from this tip and now look what has happened! I think this news alone got the Dow Jones shooting up to record highs. I mean, how many days are new planets added to the roster?

Maybe now that this is settled they can get to renaming Uranus (no not yours, the planet). It is just EMBARRASSINGNG to say. Especially when you say things like "Uranus has rings around it" or "Uranus has a methane gas atmosphere" or worst of all, "NASA just sent a probe to Uranus." I don't even like to think about that stuff.

So I can see us when we are old, talking to the grandchildren, "Yeah, I remember when there were only NINE planets. We even thought we would lose good ol' Pluto one day, but then all heck broke loose and they just let any ol' round rock become a planet. All this riff-raff in the solar system these days. It used to be that being a planet was something special, but not anymore!" I can't wait to bore my grandchildren with that one.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Thoughts on Pluto

This has upset me:

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has gathered in Prague to finally settle a matter of galactic import: whether Pluto is in fact a planet or should be relegated to the second division of Kuiper Belt Objects and similar detritus.

Astonomers have to date failed dismally to agree what exactly constitutes a planet, as demonstrated by last year's Xena controversy which saw stargazers claim they'd discovered the solar system's tenth full-fat planet, while others used the opportunity to call for Pluto and Xena's classification as minor planets.

The matter may soon be settled once and for all, The Detroit Free Press reports, as the IAU is scheduled to "consider a resolution that defines a planet". The committee writing the resolution is maintaining a stony silence as to what it will finally recommend, but whatever it decides will inevitably cause a rumpus in either the pro or con Pluto camps.

Steve Maran, author of Astronomy for Dummies told the The Detroit Free Press: "This is such a hot issue. They never rule on things like this. There's a lot more to it than science," alluding to the fact that Pluto is the only planet discovered by an American.

Indeed, the US has a soft spot for Pluto, and any attempt to downgrade its status will certainly upset large numbers of fanatical schoolkids such as those who in 2000 bombarded the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York with "hate mail" after it omitted the planet from a solar system exhibit.

Robert Williams, a vice president of the International Astronomical Union who's "deeply involved in the deliberations on Pluto", admitted: "My niece said to me, 'Are you going to demote Pluto?'."

Williams did, nonetheless, show his icy scientific cool with: "If that's the way it is, that's what we do. It's not written in stone anywhere there's got to be a numerable number of planets. If it upsets schoolchildren, I regret that."
So when is a planet not a planet? I understand the idea of there being a standard definition of planets (as Pluto is apparently very small compared to even Mercury), but this demotion of an entire planet has me wondering about the egos of these scientists. They hold a whole planet in an un-natural balance, with hordes of plutonians waiting to see if they will remain planet dwellers. It has got to be a power rush to be one of those who determine a planets worthiness of planethood.

So what if this goes to their head? What if they demote Rhode Island so it is no longer a state (after all, it isn't even an island). Liechtenstein would be removed from the ranks of countries as well. Small towns such as Belvidere, Nebraska (Pop. 98) would have to also be worried that they may be demoted by these power-mongers.

Personally, I think that we should think of demoting some small things. Chihuahuas, for instance, should be demoted to rodent status. The Cooper Mini should be demoted to go-cart status. Precious Moments figurines should just be gathered up and napalmed (not because they are small, I just have that fantasy).

Why doesn't this conference deal with the more pressing planetary problem: the name of the 7th planet, Uranus. It is embarrassing to say that planet, regardless of where you put the accent. It either talks about a part of the body we just don't want to discuss, or it talks about a bodily function that lives in the same neighborhood. They need to change this name to something much less embarrassing. Xena is the name of the other possible planet (see above) and was actually named after the TV character. Why not? Pluto is named after a Disney character! They could change the name of Uranus to Seinfeld or Bob Barker.

Well, one thing that would be really bothered by this demotion of Pluto from planethood would be the catchy song I learned when I was in school: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizza Pies. The point was to teach us the planets' names in order. Without Pluto, our mother would have to serve us Nothing. Now that would make kids sad.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bachelor no more

My family has been gone for the past 2+ weeks (since I got back from Mississippi), leaving me to fend for myself. They were up at my wife's parents' cottage in northern Michigan. They do it every summer, and I have made it up there every couple of years.

Being all alone has had its advantages. When I get home from work I don't have to follow any agenda but my own - although I did keep fairly busy with work around the house and work-related stuff. The quiet is also nice.

But now it will be back to the "happy chaos" of 4 kids, wife, dog all back in my life and I am glad for it. While they do make my life more complicated, they make it much more full. Families are a workshop where you get to love other people. I am not using the word "love" as an emotion, I am using it as an action. When I come home tired after work, my tendency is to want to relax and focus on myself. With family at home I am forced to look outside of myself, meeting their needs ahead of my own. That is what family is about, to a great degree. I get much more out of life because of my ability to give, especially to those who depend on me. I lose a lot of control of my life, but gain much more than I lose.

By the way, it does seem like my son changed a fair amount from his trip to Mississippi. My wife told me he was much more helpful this past week. I was wondering if he had caught some sort of brain virus or if he was possessed. Nope, just more secure with life, I guess.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Walker, Hungarian Bridge

Here's a good one for you...

A new bridge in Hungary could be named after Hollywood action movie actor Chuck Norris unless the trend turns in an Internet vote organized by the Economy Ministry.

Votes for the "Chuck Norris Bridge" had attracted 8,725 votes or 11 percent by Tuesday morning, just ahead of those cast in favor of naming it after Hungarian humorist Geza Hofi and three times more than for Szent Istvan, founder of the state.

Votes can be cast until September 8 on the Web site, where people have put forward more than 500 nominations including Bud Spencer and Bob Marley, as well as names referring to construction delays such as "It Will Never Happen Bridge."

A government committee will review the three winning names, as well as other proposals put forward by local governments, cartographers, linguists and other experts. The bridge over the Danube north of Budapest is due to open in 2008.

Well, a bridge named after Chuck. Very nice. Are they still smoking opium over there? Something has caused them to become insane en masse. Well, I would suggest some other characters they might want to consider:
  1. Pee-Wee Herman - Maybe name a jail after him.
  2. Gumby and Pokey - I think the parliament building may sound very good named after them.
  3. Captain Kangaroo - I am not sure, but there would have to be a door with a lot of little doors on it (only will make sense if you remember the show).
  4. David Hasselhoff - Maybe a bowling alley named after him.
  5. Fabio - Great name for a town square - think about it: "Fabio Square." It has a nice ring to it.
  6. Dora the Explorer - Actually there is a section in Afghanistan called Tora Bora - which should have Dora's name attached to it somehow. Or maybe she could go on a hunt for Osama!
  7. Kenny G - I think it should be a garbage dump named after him. Either that or some place where people get real nauseated.
  8. Yanni - same as Kenny G.
  9. The Laundress - Well, maybe just rename the Capitol after her. She is famous, after all.