A sense of wonder: Incredible planet discovered

28 Aug

I was sitting at lunch a few days ago and there was a (probably) four month old baby sitting with its parents at the table beside me. Normally I’d smile happily and get back to eating like a demon, but there was something about the little one that kept catching my attention. The parents held the baby in turns while chatting and kept it occupied by dangling keys, phones, toys and other stuff in front of it.

Each time it saw something new it let out the most adorable gurgle, shaking with laughter when it got it’s hands on the object. It flailed it around in its hands and generally acted like it had won the lottery with each and every thing they gave it. You probably know the feeling, it’s something we’ve all experienced whether we remember it or not. There’s something very special about seeing a baby get that feeling, because it reminds us of the joy in learning or experiencing something new.

There are a few rare things that fill me with that sense of wonder, and the universe is one of them (haha, I know…nothing big).

Recently a new planet was discovered, a very special planet.

Located in the serpens constellation, it was found orbiting a millisecond pulsar which is a neutron star formed from a supernova (a supernova being the event that destroys a star, condensing its entire mass into a smaller entity which produces the neutron star). If that makes as much sense to you as it does to me, to put it simply it means that the star in the system is a super dense star, sending out a beam of electromagnetic radiation which can only be viewed when it points at earth (like a lighthouse) which gives it the ‘pulsar’ name (…as far as I can tell).

But anyway, that’s not terribly important. If it does catch your interest, pick a few astronomy terms out of thin air, make a good cup of coffee, open up a wikipedia tab and run wild…there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there, although it could take a while to wrap your brain around it.

Anyway, usually there’s another star close to these pulsars, which either collide with or become consumed by one another; stripping them of elements with their intense gravity (on a galactic scale that is, not your average “whoah, that ollie you just flipped was tight” intense).

In this case, there seems to have been another star nearby but it wasn’t consumed fully by the pulsar. Instead, it was stripped bare of everything except for carbon and then gently moved itself out to a safe distance.

But, not before the gravity condensed all of the carbon into the planet itself which means that…

Out there somewhere, there’s a diamond planet. Not in the metaphorical “I’m writing this on an iPhone while standing in a field wearing a tin foil helmet screaming ‘E.T. beam me up to a better place; this world is not worthy!’ ” sense, but in the actual literal sense. Carbon, when put under intense pressure, forms into diamond, and in this case all of the carbon was crushed together and formed one hell of a diamond.

Let that sink in: a planet, which is completely a diamond…just incredible.

(it’s not the middle object; that’s the pulsar. It’s the one orbiting around it, and the blue trail is the electromagnetic radiation pulse…the odd spiral of it is caused by the difference between axial rotation and…something or other else…look it up)

It’s five times the size of earth (fuck you deBeers, just fuck you) but 3,000 times larger than the star it orbits. Now it’s not like somebody has actually sauntered up to the planet and knocked a knuckle on it to check for sure, but the studies done by the Swinburne university of technology in Melbourne Australia suggest that this is what happened. Congratulations to those who took part in the study, that’s some find.

More reading/original article here: http://www.space.com/12731-diamond-alien-planet-discovered-neutron-star.html

Here’s a song with a super backbone to help you process this;)

(if any -or indeed all– facts written here turn out to be wrong and you know how to correct them; post a comment below!)

Words to live by: IF.

13 Aug

I hope noone in the authors estate is gonna get antsy with me for putting this up here. All due respect to them and the man himself.

If you’re not into reading it, jump to the bottom.

IF

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling.

(he forgets an important -to me- line in the first stanza; “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting”, but still it’s a pretty good performance. Seems it’s an important piece to him aswell, seeing as he’s been reciting it off by heart since the seventies)

 

London Riots: Big society gives itself a big pat on the back…

10 Aug

(*for the benefit of those across the seas, the ‘Big society’ initiative was announced a good while ago by David Cameron and the conservative party as a remedy to all of Britain’s woes. It was designed to create a more harmonious society by encouraging people to take an active part in their community…

…It was quickly laughed out of the country when it became depressingly clear that it was nothing more than a nice sounding metaphor for drastic budget cuts and general political fuckery…George Orwell working in conjunction with Douglas Adams and a crate or two of Jameson couldn’t have thought of something more ludicrously twisted.)

Don’t panic…that’s just a ‘community participation liaison’ coming round to check you’ve done your share of the nations’ tax returns…

Some of the more heartwarming reports to come out of the london riots are those of people gathering together to protect and serve their own community. Yesterday, large groups of people organised themselves on twitter and facebook to clean up the scenes of the riots, showing that even though people were angry enough to destroy, people were also angry enough to rebuild. Heartwarming stuff.

“Gentlemen: TO BROOMS!”

It has only been mentioned in passing, but there have been rumours of people arming themselves and standing guard by their local businesses, ready to chase away anyone that might have an eye for trouble. This is particularly motivating because along with the large chain shops that have been looted, rioters have also targeted small family run cornershops and businesses in what is nothing more than senseless destruction. Tesco? yeah fair enough I can maybe understand that; they’ve got a nationwide organisation to back them up…Mr Singh the friendly man who runs the local chipshop? He’s got nothing more than yesterdays earnings to see him through.

I read a clip in the paper this morning about looters being confronted by a teary eyed woman when they emerged from a local fashion boutique, because the boutique was built and run by one woman who hand made all of the clothes herself. When confronted with this, a lady-looter stood there with a freshly stolen wedding dress draped across her arm looking very sheepish (but, importantly, she didn’t do anything about putting the dress back as far as I know). Heartbreaking stuff.

But wait! People gathered themselves of their own free will with those good old english brooms to clean up the mess! jolly good show, as Boris johnson would say.

Ah…Boris Johnson. Again, for the benefit of those across the seas: The hithchiker’s guide to the galaxy defines Boris Johnson as ‘ a floppy haired being, known to appreciate a glass or two of cucumber sandwiches soaked in Gin, who is so out of touch with his constituency, and the Earth as a whole, that he has been regularly sighted talking to a tree along the A127 dual carriageway, having stopped there for a rest on his way to pick up a mess of cricket bats from Basildon for use in his regular bi-weekly tap-dancing class. It is not known how the cricket bats felt about this, although the tree is said to be surprisingly despondent.

So he turns up to shouts of “Where’s your broom!” from the crowd being carefully kept far enough away from him that they won’t actually notice he’s probably goggle-eyed, and yknow what? he actually gets one and marches down to the crowd. Fair play to him I must say. He gives a speech about how he appreciates their work and effort and how they won’t let these hooligans represent London proper, and that they will all persevere in their efforts to show the world that London can not and should not be defined by that awfully obvious/lazy headline: ‘London’s burning‘.

But, unfortunately, this is where I have to put a dampener on it. I don’t want to, not really, especially with the solid example the people of London are showing in the face of mindless violence and destruction, but I have to say it.

The groups of people who protected local businesses could be described as taking part in the big society….but then again that’s what the police are for. They’re trained, insured and paid for that sort of thing. And of course, the people of london pay taxes so that the police can be trained, insured and paid to do that sort of work.

The groups of people who cleaned up the mess could very well be held up as a prime example of the big society, as I have a feeling they might when the smoke clears…but then again, things like cleaning up the streets are what streetcleaners are for. They’re trained, insured and paid for that sort of thing. And of course, the people of London pay taxes so that they can be trained, insured and paid to do that work.

…like in…some sort of…-oh gosh I’ve forgotten the word-…so..soci…God I’ve completely forgotten it. You know what I’m talking about: Where a nation, through thousands of years of hard work and perseverance, gathers itself together enough to say “Hey! why don’t we all pool our money, so that we can create neat things like a police force, who we can train for that job alone, then we can pay people to clean the streets, cos we don’t want our Janet from number 12 doing it anymore- she’s got a very bad back nowadays especially since the operation and she can’t miss anymore work- and then we can maintain it properly and find a place for everyone and look out for each other so that when people need protecting the police will be there in full force; well trained, insured and paid, and the cleaners too! when there’s a right big mess to clean up they’ll be there: well trained, insured and paid…

A SOCIETY! I knew it…it was there right at the tip of my tongue.

To drastically cut funding to schools, services and society as a whole is taking political fuckery to a completely new level. To then gather round for a press opportunity with the very people you’re fucking over and telling them they’re contribution is valued, is bullshit you could smell from the far end of Baltimore. They make a contribution. Every fucking week. It’s called ‘Taxes’, and you are crippling them with it. Don’t repay them by cutting essential services. Don’t repay them with a jolly good show. Repay them with the services they pay for: Well and fully trained, insured and paid.

(I am not in any way trying to imply that the people who did the good things that they did shouldn’t have. I am inspired by the things they are doing for their city.I am trying to imply- no sorry; I’m saying– that if the governments had actually focused on actively making society better, rather than just throwing everything in the air and hoping for the best, maybe they would have been in a better position to deal with the reasons and ramifications of the riots)

London Riots: don’t be misled by the debate

9 Aug

With the london riots, there has come the inevitable debate between sides as to the cause of the situation. Both sides have already begun wading into the argument with their own particular brand of special.

(Credit for the pic goes to whatever photographer who took it. I got it from breakingnews.ie, but it’s probably an agency copy. Apologies to the owner if you take offence at me using it, do let me know)

I heard a conversation last night on the BBC news channel between ( I think, not sure if I remember correctly) Ken livingstone the ex-mayor of London and the newsanchor. Livingstone, was quick to highlight the massive unemployment, bleak education prospects and huge cuts to youth services that had a hand in laying the foundations for such violence and destruction, and then the cuts to the police force and emergency services that had a big hand in denying them their ability to tackle the situation and do their job right. The newsanchor was quick to condemn this point of view, saying that we could not dismiss simple hooliganism because the people commiting it had no jobs: to do that would be giving them a free ride, which is true…to a point.

While I agree with both sides of the debate, I do lean towards the sociological explanation a little bit more, for this very simple reason:

To persistently say the London riots have been caused by simple hooliganism and thuggery -and nothing else-, is like saying the East African famine has been caused because the people there don’t have enough tomatoes. Sure it’s a part of the problem, but to hold it up as the absolute only reason the situation is as it is? well…that’s just ridiculous. There are a lot of other parts of the jigsaw that need to fit correctly before that particular piece fits*.

*Whether a person should learn morals, ethics and principles as soon as possible or only when they are financially and socially stable enough to tackle those big subjects is an interesting question, one that I don’t know the answer to.

The opportunism many people have displayed in looting businesses during the riots is most definitely a point of self control and personal responsibility, but quite a lot of the people involved need basic foundations before they can start worrying about the ethical remifications of their actions. When a kid of fifteen sees a louis vuitton shop bared open for anyone to waltz away with an armful of goodies, they’re not gonna think “Well shucks, I better wonder a minute about what my actions will do to my community and society”, they’re gonna think “Well fuck this innit, I’m stuck on the dole and want something nice to give my ma…louis vittin never done nothing for me, why should I care bout him”.

But, to only focus on these two points of view is a mistake (and to only agree with one side an even bigger one). A lot of the destruction can probably be put down to simple mob mentality and the fact that when you’re wandering round the empty streets looking at it with fresh young eyes- eyes that scream “Hang on a sec…the world isn’t as efficiently well ordered as we’ve been led to believe…I can do anything I want!”- you’ve got a tendency to go crazy and follow the crowd.

The crowd, which is made up of mainly your friends and peers. Single yourself out by not taking part, and there could be a lot more serious repurcussions than a few weeks in a juvenile detention centre. You could be cast out from your group for not manning up.

I should stress that I am not in any way condoning or agreeing with this mentality. There’s a huge difference between agreeing with something, and understanding it.

I read a pretty interesting quote this morning in the paper. I can’t remember it properly, but it was something to the effect of “It’s not about what you do anymore, it’s about what you buy…We’ve got a generation of kids raised on consumerism going wild out there…”

Yes, the riots are based on an excess of aggression, destruction, a wildly skewed sense of entitlement on the rioters part and an an unhealthy disregard for people’s safety. It’s stupid to leave it at that though and forget about investigating the underlying causes. Economic depression, unemployment, lack of services, discrimination, lack of opportunities, apathy. (And of course, there’s the underlying causes for the length of time it has taken the emergency services to react properly to the disorder: massive budget cuts made to the public services). These are all parts of the jigsaw: each one needed to make sense of the next. To hold one single piece up and blame the whole ugly picture on it and it alone is a horrifically small minded mistake.

Captain America: This is the logic we’re teaching now? really?!

8 Aug

I haven’t seen the film yet, so no spoilers ahead. I know admitting this might render my argument completely invalid, but I highly doubt that seeing as it’s near impossible to hide a shakespearean tragedy underneath a punchy blockbuster. Yes, it happens in the comics, but almost never in films which are hoping to rake it in at the box office by aiming themselves at the widest marketshare possible.

There’s one line in the trailer that caught my attention. It’s an innocent, shy little line that can easily pass unnoticed. But, unfortunately, it’s the basis for pretty much the entire films logic.¬† I should tell you now that I hesitate to apply the same logic to the comics, because I do love me some Captain A. He’s a legend…I don’t want to think about it too much just yet to be honest, i don’t think I’d like it.

After Steve Rogers asks doctor Abraham Erskine, the doctor who will transform him with the super soldier serum he has created, “Why me?” The good doctor replies:

“Because weak men, know the value of strength…know the value of power”

It’s a tight argument, one I agree with to a point. I don’t agree with the implication of it though, an implication that shines through once you take into account the rest of the setup.

Steve rogers is chosen for the super soldier programme because he has repeatedly applied to join the war effort but been denied because he is physically inadequate. He doesn’t have half the muscle mass the other men have and, in the film, he’s actually ridiculously exaggerated. In the comics he’s just an average guy with a bit of an underdeveloped body but in the film he looks a malnourished child who has to grapple with gravity itself to gather enough air to breathe.

Anyway, you’ve probably seen the scene: Scrawny guy steps into a machine then steps out of the machine a hulk of a man, ready to fight for his country.

Now, my (first) problem is this: All those other guys, the odd million or so who succesfully got into the army, didn’t start off looking like Adonis. (for the sake of argument I’m gonna deny historical accuracy and ignore the fact that most of those who enlisted were nothing more than average joes who played a season or two of highschool football). They all toned themselves up through sweat and hardwork. They put in the hours working on their fitness, and it paid off. They got in by virtue of that work they put in.

But it’s not okay to give them the super soldier serum because they “Won’t know the value of strength”? Oh I’m calling that one. I’m calling that one straight up. They’ve decided to improve themselves, probably gone through a hell of a lot of heartbreak for it, and they won’t know the value of strength just because…well, damn, I dunno: just, because! Because they said so! Because!!!1!

But the kicker, and the thing that has me really worried for the state of the world, is that the implication is this:

You can bestow great power and strength on a weak but intelligent, morally strong, courageous, humble, respectful, honourable and benevolent person, but you can not bestow these virtues on a person who’s already strong and powerful.

This is the lesson we’re teaching people: If you’re strong, muscular, or if you can be described in any way near the label ‘jock’, you’re finished, we can’t teach you anything. You just keep on keeping on. No no, it’s okay, don’t worry about it. You’ve got great power and strength, but don’t you worry your little head about the essential virtues which, throughout history, have been used to keep the powerful in check and the warrior class aligned on the side of justice and righteousness. We threw those out the window with the 80’s, so just chill: you’re all good.

I’ve been scratching myself to think of a tribe of warriors in Western history that could illustrate my point properly, but none quite come up to scratch. The spartans, although they’ve gotten a good reputation in the past few years, were a crazy bunch. Sure, they pushed themselves to the pinnacle of the art of war, but they denied themselves a lot of virtues along the way that makes a good warrior. The greeks, although not in the same class as the spartans, were much the same.

The vikings, although they had a great reputation for courage and bravery, were a little bit too keen on rape and pillage to be held up as perfect examples of the warrior pinnacle. Native americans were pretty close I think, but I don’t know enough to say definitively.

No, for a good example of what a warrior should be we have to look East. The samurai in japan and the warrior class (shaolin monks, if you must…but there was a lot more to chinese warfar than the monks) in China lived by a strictly defined set of virtues and principles that kept them in check throughout their life.

Granted that didn’t stop them from getting into fights and wars the same as anyone else, but my point is that when being trained in martial arts and warfare, they weren’t simply taught how to fight, maim and kill. They were taught how to live humbly, with honour, courage, benevolence and a host of other virtues drilled into them. No matter who you were or what size you were, you were taught the same as everyone else. If you were¬† a weak little shrimp you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. If you were a seven foot powerhouse, you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. There was no distinction, or rather -ignorant presumption, made on someone. If they wanted to learn, they would learn both sides of the coin, not just the one which they already knew.

Sure, weak men know the value of strength and power, but who’s to say we can’t teach strong men the same?! Why can a weak man be given incredible power and strength, but a strong man not be given incredible humility and perspective?…it saddens me to know that this corrosive mentality running through society is, and will be, met with a simple “hey, that’s just the way it is” mentality.

Anyway; if your interest has been sparked by the idea of a complete person then I suggest you read ‘hagakure’ or the ‘Tao te ching’. Both were read furiously by ancient warriors in the East to help them gain a complete understanding of themselves, the world and how best to live in it.

(oh, and I’d turn this one up…those first few bars are just beautiful;)

Doc of the day: Assault in the ring

6 Aug

I saw this a while ago, and must say it’s really something. The basic story covered is one of a fixed fight between two relatively unknown boxers way back in the day, but the bigger picture is an incredible insight into the people involved’s lives, motivations, regrets and -unbelievably in one case- lack of them, and a host of other nuances that probably won’t be seen on first look.

The documentary follows Luis Resto and his journey to understand, deal with and ultimately accept his past and the effect it’s had on his own life and everyone else involved. Even if you know or care nothing about boxing, it’s worth the viewing just to observe the people involved. Personally I love people watching; trying to understand people’s reactions, their behaviour and reasons behind, and this film is complete with a host of interesting characters.

Be warned though; there are some graphic images of violence and unsavoury characters, who may or may not have your blood boiling.

Have a look of you get a chance, it’s an incredible story. First part below. Can’t link the playlist for full viewing in youtube, but search for ‘assault luis resto 1/2/3/etc…’ and you should find it easily enough.

 

Back on the horse

6 Aug

Okay okay okay, stop fucking around and write something…

It being a few weeks since I’ve posted anything, my heightened blogging ego demands that I tell you why, so that I can rest assured that all breaths being held have been exhaled and you are safe and sound in the knowledge that I’m okay…

Meh, it’s good to take a break sometimes. There were reasons, mainly that I was busy, but to be honest it’s always good to take a break.The funny thing about writing stuff, is that with each passing day I didn’t write anything there was more to write about. Soured relationships between family members being gently cleared over a cup of tea. The hacking scandal (I refuse to add the suffix ‘-gate’ to any and all groundbreaking news stories: It’s lazy, stupid, and nonsensical) and the funny but completely overblown sidestory that Rupert Murdochs wife was a stone cold brawler.

The incredible turnaround completed by nearly everyone in the media and public spheres when it was revealed that the Norwegian mass murderer was not, as thought/presumed ignorantly, a rabid muslim but a blue eyed christian was something that had me itching to write. But, I decided against writing a four page discourse on the use of language in the influencing of public perception for fear it would flag me up with it’s excessive use of danger words, intelligence and mockery. So, instead of a riveting commentary, you’ll have to do with a simple question:

Did you notice the complete absence of the label ‘terrorist’ when it came out that the killer was not a muslim? Gone was talk of ‘hate’, ‘jihad’ and all discussion of ‘why do Muslims hate Norway?!’, in came talk of ‘lunacy’ and sombre examinations of what could push such a person to do carry out such horrible actions…I have not witnessed such an amazing turnaround since Debbie did Dallas.

hmm….methinks those words will get me flagged anyway. SO, to persuade any g-man/scanning software snooping my page for evidence of violent tendencies that I didn’t mean the words written above to be taken as agreement with awful, horrific beliefs, here’s a pic for you. Hopefully, in the good old ‘short and punchy statement of being’ spirit of the internet (which, let’s be honest here is just fucking unbelievable…here we are with access to the world’s combined knowledge/experience and we’re defined by 140 characters or less and our humble contribution to the Lolcat meme) it will convince you that I did not, I repeat did not, write them cos I’m in any way sympathetic to senseless violence and in fact I’m just a harmless cuddlebunny. Anyway; have a good day G-man, have a good day.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder (Absence, or Absinthe? not sure…more hands-on research needed), in more ways than the saying intends.

Here’s hoping that this post can dispel that terrible nonfeeling you get when you’re struggling to put words to thoughts. Although the fact that I half wrote this last night, then rambled away to watch Mad Max 2 with a nice cup of tea doesn’t bode well. We’ll see. I’ve got a damn good cup of coffee, so there might be a flurry coming. Either way I apologise for the nonsense contained herein; you deserve better.