Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Eight is Enough

[My column in the Sunday magazine.]

I get a lot of press releases from science journals. By scanning the headlines of new scientific research, I can become sufficiently conversant about the latest findings that my friends regard me as basically a scientist myself. I may start wearing a lab coat. In my experience, you just have to throw around a few phrases like "chronosynclastic infundibulum" and people will practically ask you, on the spot, to do brain surgery on them.

What people don't realize is that, even by frenetically scanning headlines, it's impossible to keep track of everything that's going on. Science doesn't just march onward, it sprints in all directions, and reverses itself and stands on its head. It finds out the answers to questions no one has ever bothered to ask. In recent weeks, scientists announced that bees have a sophisticated sense of time, and can estimate intervals. So no one need wonder about that anymore.

They've decided that dragonflies hover over asphalt roads because they mistake them for stagnant rivers. There are scientists trying to figure out whether elephants really run, or merely lumber along at a fast pace. They're debating a claim in the journal Nature that "living plants emit the greenhouse gas methane." (Predictable: Someone's blaming global warming on plants. Killer trees. Flowers that fart.) Now, they're reconfiguring the solar system. Many of us were alarmed by the resolution proposed this summer by the Planet Definition Committee of the International Astronomical Union:

"If the proposed Resolution is passed, the 12 planets in our Solar System will be Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon and 2003 UB313."

Frankly, it seemed rather late for astronomers to decide there's a planet between Mars and Jupiter. You would think they would have noticed it before. Until now, the only thing between Mars and Jupiter was the Asteroid Belt. When our astronauts fly through the Asteroid Belt they have to dodge and weave through giant rocks and sometimes blast one to smithereens with their phasers. The more asteroids they destroy, the more points they get. These are known, scientific facts and, barring actual complaints, it's hard to see why they have to change.

Apparently, there were astronomers on the committee who believed that one asteroid, Ceres, was really a planet, though this seemed a bit like deciding that, upon further investigation, cows are reptiles.

Planet nominee Charon used to be considered a moon of Pluto. But some were surmising that Charon and Pluto are a double-planet system, doing a tango. Obviously it would be better to drop the last letter in Charon and add an exclamation point, so we could recite the planets and end with arms

thrust saucily in the air: ". . . Neptune! Pluto! Charo!" (Under-40 readers: Refers to exuberant, ultra-big-haired Hispanic celebrity of the 1970s, not seen since. Though perhaps we've found her! ) Obviously it is not necessary to heap derision on a planet named 2003 UB313, which no doubt hides on the edge of the solar system out of embarrassment.

I am relieved to say that, after debate so intense it caused their beanie propellers to spin spontaneously, the astronomers finally got a grip, barring the planetary system to newcomers. Disturbingly, however, the panel also left poor Pluto out in the cold, declaring it a non-planet. A true planet, the union ruled, must be able to clear its orbital path of other objects. Unfortunately, Pluto has that bully Neptune next door.

Pluto's demotion is part of the larger phenomenon of Science Changing Its Mind. Physicists are building a giant accelerator near Geneva for smashing particles together. They're searching for something called the Higgs particle, which is believed to give matter its "mass."

Here's the strange part: Some scientists would rather not find it. They'd rather find something else. Why? Because that would be more interesting! It'd put a bounce in everyone's step to find out they'd been barking up the wrong tree.

Here's a quote from a press release about scientists who say that spacecraft inexplicably speed up when they pass by planets: "Maybe," says a scientist, "the laws of gravity need reworking."

They've worked fine so far! But, no, they have to be reworked, tweaked, the equations altered, as part of the scientific quest to show that everything we know is wrong.

Preparing for the inevitable, everything in this column is hereby retracted.

By Joel Achenbach  |  September 10, 2006; 7:39 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Believing is Seeing (Part 61 in a Series)
Next: Five Years Later


//In my experience, you just have to throw around a few phrases like "chronosynclastic infundibulum" and people will practically ask you, on the spot, to do brain surgery on them.//

Can also serve as a great pick-up line. As in "Wanna do some chronosynclastic infundibulum with me? I'll remove my lab coat!"

Posted by: superfrenchie | September 10, 2006 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Pat, did not walk this morning, look for an update tomorrow if God is willing. TBG, PLS, I've prayed for you this morning, and everyone here, I do hope all is well with you this morning. I'm in the process of throwing on some clothes to go out the door this morning. On my way to church. Sunday school and morning service. Going to give God and the virgin's son, Jesus, some of my time. Hope you do the same.

It's hard to keep up with the health news much less those other categories of science. Even in health, things change on a daily basis. Can't take much confidence in too much that goes on in health. I was surprise to learn that even flowers have the gas problem. It's hard to do a piece without methdane(sp?).

Hope your weekend is going well, and your family is fine. Get some rest, give God some of your time, tell your family you love them, and know that God loves you so much more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 10, 2006 8:15 AM | Report abuse

"All new ideas are wacky until they become accepted, and then suddenly they become conservative and orthodox . . . in the beginning, every new application, and especially any new idea that's coming off from the side, will appear as wacky. And then someone will get a Nobel Prize, and it's not wacky anymore. Which is not to say that all new ideas are equally valid, because some of the wacky ideas coming in are in fact quite wacky. And it's only through the passage of time and in the value of science, which is to continually confirm whether the idea is true or not, where we get a sense of what is likely to be true versus what is likely to be a fantasy."

-- Dean Radin, Ph.D., in "What the Bleep!? Down the Rabbit Hole: Quantum Edition"

Posted by: Dreamer | September 10, 2006 8:27 AM | Report abuse

"...dragonflies hover over asphalt roads because they mistake them for stagnant rivers." I don't know if this is true, or merely stated by entomological conspiracacy theorists: Some of the first dragonflies had a six foot wingspan, and glided through the air. I know the latter to be true, as gliding came before arthropods' musculature enabled them to flex their exoskeleton and move their wings. I can't recall if there's evidence of the latter, but it sure garners attention.

TBG: I'm sorry to hear the news about your Dad. Your son's note tugged at my emotions. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: jack | September 10, 2006 9:06 AM | Report abuse

TBG, my condolences to you and your family for the loss of your wonderful father

Posted by: newkid | September 10, 2006 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Remember Galen? He was a genius in the field of medicine, who used [the ancient version of] the scientific method to discover all kinds of previously unknown facts about physiology and anatomy. But then after he wrote down what he had learned, his writings were treated as if they were unquestionable, like sacred texts, and unfortunately, some of his conclusions were wrong. Doctors continued to base their treatment on his information for about a thousand years. Oops. The modern system of science is much improved from that, and if it means that scientists "change their minds" all the time, well, that's an indication that we've got the right attitude. Scientific truth is more of a process than a destination.

For that matter, spiritual truth is more a process than a destination, too. Science and religion have way more in common than many people want to admit.


P.S. I saw Charo on tv just last month. (don't ask me what the show was, I only watched her for about 45 seconds.) It was the first time I'd seen her since I used to come home from school (5th grade?) and watch the Merv Griffin show every day. She's alive and well. She may have had, as they say "some work done."

Posted by: kbertocci | September 10, 2006 9:18 AM | Report abuse

TBG, I also give my condolences for the loss of your father.

I find it interesting and really quite lovely that in addition to your own immediate family, you also have, upon this parallel universe, your boodle family upon which to rely. All of us seem to have it, to give and to get. It seems to be the blog not from hell, as so many other blogs seem to be.

Your father has taken his rightful place in your heart and your memories will keep that warm fire going forever.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | September 10, 2006 9:32 AM | Report abuse

TBG, a man could hope for nothing better than to pass quietly with his loving family close by.

You've celebrated him, honored him, loved him, and been with him when his time came.

My best to you and your family at this difficult time, dear.


Posted by: bc | September 10, 2006 9:52 AM | Report abuse

TBG, I am very sorry to hear about your dad's passing. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | September 10, 2006 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Joel: If a true planet has to clear its orbital path of other objects, how does Earth qualify? We've got a pretty good sized moon of our own traveling with us around the Sun.

Posted by: Query | September 10, 2006 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Alas, I fear the minority view, strong as we are, will not be granted our wish that the next planet to be named (and with 2003 UB313, the time is RIGHT) will be known as "Goofy." We've been pushing the idea for a long time but no one listens. Sigh.

Posted by: Jumper | September 10, 2006 11:08 AM | Report abuse

TBG, sorry to hear about your dad dying.

I like Jumper's idea. Although I would hold out for two planets to be discovered and call them Chip n Dale instead, especially if they are at all responsible for disturbances in Pluto's orbit.

And now reality beckons-- I have to take care of my planet-sized dog.

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 10, 2006 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I think someone may have posted this a while ago; it is one of my favorite sonnets.

"DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, 5
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 10
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."
-John Donne

TBG: my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Posted by: tangent | September 10, 2006 11:57 AM | Report abuse

TBG, my condolences on your father's death. He sounds a great person, and what peace knowing his family was around him.

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Speak to me in the easy way you always used,
Put no difference into your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect,
Without the ghost of a shadow in it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you for an interval,
Somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918

Posted by: Stampede | September 10, 2006 1:48 PM | Report abuse


Charo has been on Geico's nauseating commercials many times over the past month. Don't you ever watch TV? Big hair isn't the only thing she has, either.

Posted by: Random Commenter | September 10, 2006 2:18 PM | Report abuse

It probably says something about my weird sense of humor -
but I like the Geico commercials with the celebrities, especially Little Richard and Peter Graves. Better than the gecko (why does he have a Cockney accent?). I would never use Geico as they cancelled me many, many years ago - but their commercials are not bad (I usually flip to another station when commercials come on, so the fact that I've seen these and know what they're for is amazing. Charo looks pretty good.).

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 10, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

TBG, I am so sorry. Remember him in love and laughter.

Posted by: Ivansmom | September 10, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. Cows aren't reptiles? Boy, science has moved faster than I thought.

The Boy agrees that Pluto should have been demoted. He says planets should be bigger. Some of his friends have mixed emotions, though they're all intrigued by the idea of changing planets in midstream -- especially after they'd had to go to the trouble of memorizing NINE. As one remarked recently, this is quite a year for science. They tell me that this year alone, scientists discovered Troy, the Labyrinth at Crete, Noah's Ark in Turkey, and Philip of Macedon's tomb with the skeletons of a mistress and infant. They're eager to see what happens next. I look forward to telling them about the chronosynclastic infundibulum. I think they'll enjoy the idea of being in the past, present and future simultaneously. Especially after we repeal the law of gravity.

Posted by: Ivansmom | September 10, 2006 2:44 PM | Report abuse


My sympathies to you and all of your family. It is good that you have each other at this time.

Posted by: pj | September 10, 2006 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I think my son has a brilliant future in science. He loves to prove people wrong.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 10, 2006 3:30 PM | Report abuse

TBG - I know that this is a horrible time, but I have confidence that you and your family will find peace. You are clearly a tough lady. You hang out here.

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 10, 2006 3:31 PM | Report abuse

mostlylurking - I refuse to insure with Geico because in their radio advertisements they refer to a Gecko as an amphibian, even though it is actually a lizard. I mean, if they can't get the species of their spokescritter right how reliable can they be?

Posted by: RD Padouk | September 10, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I *really* enjoy the Geico ad with Little Richard. He waits qietly until it is time to deliver his line, gives it a typically enthuiastic reading, and then the process repeats until the story is done. He doesn't even get the last line. The customer's satisfied expression is the last action in the commercial. This is an excellent ad campaign.

Posted by: pj | September 10, 2006 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Check out Weingarten's hard-hitting historic journalism into the question of whether W is the worst president ever.

Where DID he dig up those quotes at the end? I'm now wondering if his cover is actually on something unrelated to toilets.

Posted by: Wilbrod | September 10, 2006 4:15 PM | Report abuse

What I want to know is, why did the Geico gecko's accent go from cultured and sophisticated to rough and cockney?

Posted by: Dave-O | September 10, 2006 4:17 PM | Report abuse

TBG, My mom and dad were visiting this weekend and left just moments ago. Reading of your father's passing has touched me deeply in these moments when missing my own dad is strongest.

If souls remain after death, your dad is surley looking at all of you, and is surely saying, I've done good.

Posted by: dr | September 10, 2006 5:05 PM | Report abuse

That is an excellent column by GeneW -
(I had some trouble locating it.)

Yep, I'd say George W is giving them a run for their money. I still can't believe he got re-elected - guess the American voters aren't too bright, either (not to mention the Democrats!).

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 10, 2006 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Tangent, I've always loved that sonnet. In fact, in the instructions for my memorial service I have it listed as a reading. I decided I wanted it as part of the service when I was in college, but it wasn't till after my mom died that I wrote my instructions for the kids. I would like to think I would qualify for Proverbs 31 but I won't be so egotistical as to say that.

Posted by: Slyness | September 10, 2006 6:18 PM | Report abuse

"Eight Is Enough." That's what my girl friend said.

Posted by: RamblingMan | September 10, 2006 6:50 PM | Report abuse

TBG, when I posted my comments this morning I did not realize that your dad had passed. My heart goes out to you and your family. I am so very sorry. Please know that you and your family are in our prayers and that we love you much.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 10, 2006 7:09 PM | Report abuse

TBG, my deepest condolences on his passing. May you and your family find strength in knowing your father meant a lot to so many people he never met.


Posted by: Scottynuke | September 10, 2006 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Playing catch-up again, hopefully for the last time. Should be back to normal, now.

First things first:

TBG, very sorry to hear about your dad. I want to echo bc's 9:52.

I have been following Crane Brinton's posts pretty carefully over the last few days, and have concluded that, despite his bachelor's degree, his master's degree, and the fact that some law school decided to admit him, he still has his head up his a$$, and that there is nothing wrong with the phrase "conspiracy theory" being a pejorative term, which it is. Of the various rebuttals, I think djm's came closest to what I would have said.

ivansmom, do I understand you to mean that until this year, they couldn't find Troy? I thought Schliemann had taken care of that a century ago (I gave him pretty explicit directions to where it was). If it was still lost, then all somebody had to do was ask me. It was still pretty much where it was last time I saw it. Sheesh. (Guy stops ya on the street, asks ya where Troy is, ya tell him go six miles, turn left when ya get to the beach, go two miles, turn inland where those thousand damn shipwrecks are washed up on the shore, and go a mile and you can't miss it--and what does that idiot Schliemann do? I guess he missed it. With some people I guess ya just gotta draw 'em a freakin' picture. Just goes to show what a backelor's, a master's and a law degree are good for if ya don't also have a little common sense.)

Loomis, I knew that wasn't your quote, I was just using it for a pretext to induldge in a little mock umbrage. By the way, I finished Ellroy's "The Black Dahlia" this afternoon on the way up from South/North Carolina. My paperback version (the new one, with the movie promo pix on the cover) includes an "Afterword" Ellroy wrote about the movie version as well as his motivation in writing the novel 20 years ago. Have you read it (the afterword; I know you read the novel)? He sounds extremely pleased with the movie version, and in particular praises director Brian De Palma and Josh Hartnett as the hero (not a very good word, nor is "protagoniist," exactly), Bucky Bleichert. I am now anxious to see the movie. I have some mixed feelings about the novel. On the one hand, I think it was very good; but that being said, I don't think I'd recomment it to "just anybody." It gets awfully bloody as well as perverse, and it isn't for people who like the relatively "tamer" Agatha Christie and Martha Grimes-type mysteries and whodunits. (My wife and my mother when she was alive are/were both mystery readers, but I wouldn't recommend it to either of them--just not their cup of tea.) I haven't read the novel "L.A. Confidential," but saw (and admired) that movie, and have noticed some similarities between the two, among them that Ellroy really appears to hate LA cops, or at least cops from the 1940s and 1950s. The character of Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhardt in the movie TBD) reminds me a lot of Bud White (Russell Crowe) in LAC (at least at first). I think the thing that disturbs me most is that Ellroy made the character of the Dahlia much, much worse in the novel than she was historically (and admits it in the afterward, though for reasons I'm not sure I agree with).

But I will say this: TBD "works" as a whodunit; it has lots of plot twists, some of which you see coming (because an alert reader is supposed to), and some you don't. And he plays fair with clues: everything you need is "there," if you only put it together right. And like LAC, Ellroy kills off major characters at unexpected times--can't say more without ruining anything. (But he had me thinking, OK, this is "The Long Goodbye," by Chandler---only it wasn't.) So yeah, I really enjoyed it. But it ain't gonna be one of the books in Oprah's Book Club, nosirree.

Dreamer, I hate to say it, but Dean Radin's quote at the top of this boodle is full of contradictions and vast overstatements--in short, full of crap: "All new ideas are wacky until they become accepted, and then suddenly they become conservative and orthodox . . . in the beginning, every new application, and especially any new idea that's coming off from the side, will appear as wacky." No, not ALL new ideas are wacky, only some. No, some DO NOT "suddenly" become "conservative and orthodox"; some take a long time to settle in to that role, viz. Darwinism and evolution, death of Ptolemaic universe, germ theory of disease, etc. "Every new application ... will appear as wacky," etc. No; some do, some don't. No, wacky ideas don't suddenly become accepted AFTER the inventor gets the Nobel; rather, it is exactly the other way around. The inventor gets the idea, it takes a while to be proven and widely accepted, and THEN ya get your Nobel Prize. I have not gone through EVERY Nobel Prize in my head, but every single one I'm vaguely familiar with happened the way I described and NONE happened the way Radin described. And he's got a Ph.D. (Brinton, take note.)

In other news, the Jaguars beat the Cowboys, which simple proves there is a god and all's right with the world. (Nothwithstanding the possibility that the Jaguars didn't REALLY win, and it was done with holographic mirrors, and despite the fact that there only APPPEARED to be 50,000 fans in the stadium, they were all in on the conspiracy, and that Dallas really won... for the, ahem, very obvious Texas Connection (need I say more????), who wanted it to LOOK like Dallas lost so they could....oh, never mind.) And McNabb did well. Of course, the BIG showdown will be Oct. 8 (which as it happens is NOT the anniversary of the Reichstag Fire, but IS the anniversary of the day in 1941 when the German Army reached the Sea of Azov and caputured Mariupol!!!!), when the Eagles play the Cowboys in Philadelphia, during which I predict my own beloved Philly fans will establish a never-to-be-repeated record level of booing and boorish behavior when Terrell Owens returns to Philly in a Dallas uniform. All I can say is, they'll need to strip-search every single fan who enters the stadium on that day for disassembled parts of telescopic rifles. If you think The Jackal and his crutch was good, just wait for Oct. 8.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | September 10, 2006 9:40 PM | Report abuse


If you go around dropping phrases like "chronosynclastic infundibulum" into casual conversation, real scientists will ernestly ask you about the crystalline structure of ice-nine and then snicker behind your back.

Posted by: yellojkt | September 10, 2006 10:16 PM | Report abuse

TBG, so sorry to hear about your dad.

I had a message from a good friend in my inbox a while ago. His 18-month old little girl has a brain tumor. I've been crying since I read it. I don't even know what to email back. He'll be here in town for treatments and such. If I tell him to stop by my house, or go see him at the hospital, I don't know what I'll say. What DO you say?

Posted by: a bea c | September 10, 2006 10:30 PM | Report abuse

a bea c,
I think you just hug - and let him know you'll do whatever you can to help. I don't know how people get through something like that - but friends help. (I'm crying too.)

Posted by: mostlylurking | September 10, 2006 10:46 PM | Report abuse

a bea c, do reach out. the worst thing for people going through tough times is to feel like other people are withdrawing from them.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | September 10, 2006 10:54 PM | Report abuse

a bea c, all I can say is that when my husband was in intensive care before he died, I still remember the friends who burst into tears when I told them about it with extra fondness. The only thing is, if your friend is trying to "be strong" and tough (especially in front of the child or for the benefit of other children) you should hold back on the tears and sympathy then so as not to sabotage the veneer of normalcy he's going to be trying to maintain. Good luck.

Posted by: Wheezy | September 10, 2006 11:08 PM | Report abuse

I was just taking faux umbrage at your faux umbrage. *w*

You really have launched into quite a discussion of Ellroy's TBD. Did I not say it was twisted and perverse? I don't read much, if any, crime fiction, but couldn't put it down. Yes, yes, read the afterword. Like you, I would be wary in recommending it to others who don't enjoy a "rough" read.

It's late, and I've just finished watching, with some serious reservations, ABC's "Pathway to 9/11," so won't comment on that until morning, but perhaps tomorrow I can give you, Mudge, a link to a recent Ellroy interview that I'm fairly confident that you'll enjoy reading.

Missed the A&E Cold Case special on TBD on Saturday because we have only basic cable, so saw "Hollywoodland" instead. Eeehhh--*maybe* 5 on a scale of 10.

One other thing of note--Hodel has signed on as an executive producer for his yet-to-be-made BDA New Line Cinema flick. My e-mail to him on Sept. 1 was only several days after the announcement was made about his book-rights-into-movie deal in Variety on Aug. 24. Also, received an e-mail from my Aunt Carol on Saturday and she confirms that Det. Cousin Bill was paired with Hodel for a brief time--a second source for the pairing or connection, if you will, after Hodel mentioned it to me. I also have some interesting material on De Palma about his TBD movie being an "indie."

Posted by: Loomis | September 10, 2006 11:23 PM | Report abuse

TBG, peace be with you and your family. I love to listen to stories from WWII vets. Live stories are becoming more rare as time passes.

Everybody gets to die. My fear is that I'll be left to do it alone. I think your Dad is lucky to be holding hands with nurses and spending time with the people that loved him the most on his last day.

Posted by: Pat | September 11, 2006 4:44 AM | Report abuse

a bea c;

Be there for your friend however you can. Let him take the lead in coversation and listen. If they're traveling a long way, giving him a touch of "home" could be invaluable. He's got a good friend to lean on, obviously. *hug*


'Mudge, you so right about the conspiracy theorists, perjorative intentional. Their points of view all boil down to "prove to me it didn't happen the way I think it did." And of course, you can't prove a negative.

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 11, 2006 7:53 AM | Report abuse

Gotta admire someone who can manage to reference both Kurt Vonnegut AND the former Mrs. Xavier Cugat in one column. Nicely done.

Posted by: Tom Nessinger | September 11, 2006 7:55 AM | Report abuse

These are the same so-called "experts" that told us dinosours were hairless and give us outlandish drawings of what they thought they looked like in such high-brow magazines as National Geographic. Now lately it's oh gosh, dinos had hair and maybe, um, er wings.

And this same league of "experts" told us that bacon caused cancer. And that eggs would give you heart disease. You'd fall over dead if you ate a couple of eggs a day. Gosh, er, um, that ain't true folks.

And don't give away your hard earned money to the American Cancer Society. They'll spend it on lavish meetings and fraudulent expense accounts.

Posted by: yahbut? | September 11, 2006 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Come to think of it, National Geographic hasn't run a mythical "scientifical" rendering of a mythical old-time big foot land rover for a very long time!

And what ever happened to crop circles and flying saucers? That hasn't made the news for eons. When these two "news" stories do come around again -- and they will -- notice that they BOTH come around at the very same time.

Posted by: yahbut? | September 11, 2006 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. I've had the walk, and the lake is certainly a reflection of how I feel this morning. Pat, the lake was wrapped in a gray mist. Light mist near the bank, and deep mist the further back your eyes went. The sky was gray with tints of orange and white trying to peek through. And the trees on the bank looked as if they were wrapped in gray cotton candy, one could barely see the green, just little bits here and there. The lake had small ripples that seem to skip about quickly and the ducks seemed a little disoriented this morning, they were scattered all over the lake.

a bea c, just say what is in your heart, what you feel, that is the best that you can give to your friend. And a hug never hurts.

TBG, still praying for you and family.

I was thinking about 9/11 this morning as I can imagine many of us are, and it came to my mind that the biggest tribute we can give to that day is to remember those who died, and to remember their families. So many of the big media outlets are doing movies or documentary, but is anybody talking to loved ones that are left with that big hole in their heart? That is what I would like to see. How are those families doing, do they know we care deeply for them and how their lives are now? I, for one, don't want to see planes flying into buildings and reliving that horrible nightmare. I watched for two weeks straight when it happened and could not go out my door. I don't want to see it now, it is still much too fresh for me. I would like to see the families of those that lost their lives that day, and to know how they are doing, and to support them and let them know that we love them and they will always hold a special place in our hearts. But to relive that footage, no thanks.

It will be a tough day for most of us, but please know, and believe, that God loves you so much more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 11, 2006 8:24 AM | Report abuse

JA, I would love to have a copy of your book, Captured by Aliens. Is that the correct title? There has been much discussion here about it, and I have never read it, but would like to, and introduce it the children.

Mudge, hope you enjoyed your vacation.

Good morning, Nani and Error Flynn.

Posted by: Cassandra S | September 11, 2006 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Everything gives you cancer...even Joe Jackson knew that...

I know this is a tough day for many in the boodle that experienced things first hand five years ago today. I hope you find peace at some level today and always.

a bea and c: Children's immune systems are quit edifferent than adult's, and the research teams at St. Jude's have come a long way in treating childhood cancers. I'll keep you , your friend and his child in my thoughts,and ask all of you to please do the same for both my aunt and my MIL. Their cancers seem to be metastasizing, yielding a gloomy prognosis. My MIL has new tumors in her lungs and my aunt has yet do discover the nature of her brain tumors, and the protocol for her treatment.

Posted by: jack | September 11, 2006 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Stranger reports it being "spooky grey" in DC this morning.

Posted by: Pat | September 11, 2006 8:47 AM | Report abuse

As usual, I didn't boodle during the weekend. TBG, my sincerest sympathy on your loss. Sorry I'm a bit late.

Mudge, what's your take on the latest theory that the explosion of the volcano at Santorini (AKA, Atlantis) was the cause of the plagues of Egypt leading to the Exodus? Sounded sort of plausible, but I'd like a comment from an eyewitness. Re: Troy, the directions you gave Schleimann were just fine--he got to the right spot. Only problem was that he didn't realize how deep he had to dig. I guess Brad Pitt was too busy canoodling with Angie to bother to help.

Posted by: ebtnut | September 11, 2006 9:05 AM | Report abuse

TBG, I was away from the computer all weekend, I am terribly sorry to hear about your Dad, my thoughts are with you.

a bea c it is OK to say, I don't know what to say, to someone experiencing extreme difficulty. Just having someone to listen is often the most important.

Posted by: dmd | September 11, 2006 9:17 AM | Report abuse

TBG, I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. My prayers are with you and your family.

Pat, it is spooky grey in D.C. And the traffic was miserable - took me almost an hour to go 4 miles this morning. It reminded me of how incredibly congested the traffic was on 9/11. Although I walked home that day, across the 14th St. bridge to my apartment near the Pentagon, which was filling with smoke.

Thank you everyone for your thoughts about my college roommate...she went away with her husband this weekend so I'm hoping she told him. I was a hermit this weekend, holing up in my house with my husband and daughter. Made comfort food like chili and tried to watch a little football to keep my mind off of things.

I hope everyone has a good day, as good a day as can be on 9/11.

Posted by: PLS | September 11, 2006 9:26 AM | Report abuse


You realize, of course, that Crane Briton (any relation to Brandy, I wonder?) will want to know why you're in Portland on this particular day.


Posted by: Scottynuke | September 11, 2006 9:41 AM | Report abuse

TBG, very sorry about your Dad. The photos of him that you posted on your blog are great.

I'm in Portland OR and it's just getting light outside. Walked to the Starbucks at Pioneer Square in the moonlight. I'll post a microkit in a little bit. I want to find the transcript of the Russert-Cheney steel-cage match.

The Times has an editorial today that says, "We have spent the last few years fighting each other with more avidity than we fight the enemy." Meanwhile yesterday's Post says 90 percent of the GOP campaign advertising budget will go toward negative ads and opposition research.

Posted by: Achenbach | September 11, 2006 9:43 AM | Report abuse

And of course, he'll want to know how I knew you were in Portland...

*evil giggle*

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 11, 2006 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Snuke, I'm looking at your 9:49 and it's 9:47 here...

Posted by: slyness | September 11, 2006 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Exactly, slyness... *L*

Posted by: Scottynuke | September 11, 2006 9:53 AM | Report abuse

The weather on the drive to work, today, was cool and damp. A light rain spattered the windshield -- enough to need the wipers, not enough to let them work smoothly. The sky was almost, but not quite, a uniform gray. There was just a hint of lumpiness, of darker and lighter shades among the cloud cover.

One of the most disconcerting things about the remembrances of 9/11 that were posted to the Boodle last week was the weather. I heard about the first plane while driving to work across the Wilson Bridge on a beautiful day. On NPR: "an airplane has crashed into one of the World Train Center towers in New York." The Sun shone brightly, there was a light breeze. The waves on the Potomac sparkled. It couldn't be an accident. I wondered if it were a suicidal fool in a Piper Cub. Someone flew into Baltimore's Memorial Stadium in a light plane, once.

Last week, we had several perfect days. The Sun shone brightly, and light breezes blew. I no longer drive across the Potomac to go to work, so I cannot tell whether the waves sparkled. It would be too much for today to be another perfect day like September 11, 2001.

Posted by: StorytellerTim | September 11, 2006 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Gosh, it started out grey here too, but now the sun is peeking through brightly. With the drought, a rainy day qualifies as "a beautiful day" these days. By the way, Ivansdad answered the "who benefits" question for my drought conspiracy: Dupont, for the desalinization plants, and General Mills, who makes the peanut butter used to placate Pudge, the fish who controls the weather.

a bea c, I'm so sorry. Don't worry about what to say -- I'm sure you won't say the wrong thing, and just being there is important. PLS, Jack, and of course TGB, you're in my thoughts too.

By the way, ALL James Ellroy books are disturbing and a little extreme. I like them, but seldom recommend them to the unsuspecting.

Posted by: Ivansmom | September 11, 2006 10:03 AM | Report abuse

The operative op-ed word of the day is Waziristan. Ahmen Rashid's op-ed "Losing the War on Terror" has now assumed the number one spot, pushing Sebastian Mallaby's op-ed out of op-ed first place on the home page. Several grafs from the middle portion of the opinion piece:

In North and South Waziristan, the tribal regions along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, an alliance of extremist groups that includes al-Qaeda, Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, Central Asians, and Chechens has won a significant victory against the army of Pakistan. The army, which has lost some 800 soldiers in the past three years, has retreated, dismantled its checkpoints, released al-Qaeda prisoners and is now paying large "compensation" sums to the extremists.

This region, considered "terrorism central" by U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, is now a fully operational al-Qaeda base area offering a wide range of services, facilities, and military and explosives training for extremists around the world planning attacks. Waziristan is now a regional magnet. In the past six months up to 1,000 Uzbeks, escaping the crackdown in Uzbekistan after last year's massacre by government security forces in the town of Andijan, have found sanctuary with al-Qaeda in Waziristan.

Paul Krugman at the New York Times, in his op-ed today, "Promises Not Kept," has his sights set clearly on the same piece of real estate in northern Pakistan:

They certainly don't lack for places to stay. Pakistan's government has signed a truce with Islamic militants in North Waziristan, the province where bin Laden is presumed to be hiding. Although the Pakistanis say that this doesn't mean that bin Laden is immune from arrest, their claims aren't very credible.

If Joel is going to tackle the Russert-Cheney steel-cage match, Joel might point out Cheney's deviousness in attacking Russert's credibility and competence as much as the arguments he was attempting to make. If you can't attack the message --or Russert's questions, in this case--then ny all means, attack the messenger. There were an equal number of "I haven't read it" and "I won't commment on it" in Cheney's reponses on "Meet the Press" yesterday morning. Why bother, Little Russ? At least Russert's follow-ups were far better than Williams', Couric's, and Lauer's.

Posted by: Loomis | September 11, 2006 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, up here in the Boston area, 9/11/06, is almost exactly like 9/11/01, in regards to weather. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, warmish, but breezy. Not an accurate reflection of emotions and memories on this day, (I don't really like the term anniversary), when we remember those awful, awful, events of 5 years ago.

Posted by: tangent | September 11, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse


Just checking in and saw this very sad news. You will be in my thoughts this week.


Posted by: Dolphin Michael | September 11, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

SCC: Ahmed, not Ahmen...musta been a Freudian typo.

Posted by: Loomis | September 11, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I started writing this at 8:46 AM, and I'm sitting in the same chair I sat in exactly 5 years ago.

I remember seeing the headline on Washington at around 9:05 AM, and talking about the "accident".

And the long moment of shock when I saw that a second plane hit the second tower, and it was clear that an attack was underway. I became hyperalert, as people do in moments of stress such as those preceding an auto accident, but everything seemed like it was happening in a bad dream. I couldn't stop thinking about my family.

News surfaced of a plane headed towards Washington, and I looked out my window towards the Israeli embassy, just a short distance away on Van Ness street, and wondered if that was going to be a target as well. It wasn't long before announcement that a plane had hit the Pentagon.

When the first tower fell, the office closed up and most of us headed home. After checking with my family, I took a deep breath and went to my car. I live about 40 miles away from where I work, so I tried to beat the traffic jams I expected in the DC area's notorious road and highway system, listening to NPR's coverage of the situation on the radio. The second tower had fallen. They continued talking about the fact that all air traffic in North America was grounded, but that there were possibly planes still in the air and headed towards Washington from the north, in the direction I was heading.

I drove and worried, and continued to watch a gorgeous clear blue sky, wondering if more death was going to drop out of it.

Amazingly, there wasn't much traffic on the roads, and I made some mental notes to secure the house when I got home; take stock of supplies, get in touch with friends and family in NYC and at the Pentagon, etc.

When I turned onto my street, I saw that our new next door neighbors were moving into their house while all this was going on, and the movers were running as fast as they could to drop the furniture and get back to *their* families.

We'd only lived in our new house for a month, and the head of the building company was over to finish a banister, but was drinking coffee and watching TV with my wife. Our toddler was napping, and the two older kids were still at school. The school system said that there would be an early release to try to avoid gridlock in the school parking lots as parents came to retrieve their children. We decided to respect that, resisting an urge to panic.

I watched the video of the towers falling for the first time, and was staggered by the destruction and the loss of life I was watching. I couldn't take much of it, so I went to see who I could get hold of.

The phonelines were jammed, so I tried text messaging some of my friends with my pager. Amazingly, they answered, even those in NYC. I walked outside from the house through the garage into the sunny day, as one friend described his view of Ground Zero the Queensboro Bridge (walking home from Manhattan to Queens) as basically a big cloud of smoke trailing off in the breeze, and the otherworldliness of the towers that were there on his way to work now missing from the skyline.

I live on top of a hill almost directly between Washington and Camp David, and while I was on one of my trips outside to text (I don't get good pager reception in the house) the Big Green Helicopters were flying overhead north to the President's residence in the Maryland hills, escorted by a couple of low-n-slow F-16s, and one swooping around the odd squadron like an angry hornet, a sharp sonic counterpoint to the thunder of the choppers and the leashed fighters.

Pretty soon, the kids came home on the bus, and we explained what we knew about what was going on. We were interrupted by the aerial convoy coming back the other direction.

More phone calls as the lines cleared up, more text messages to find out that none of my friends and family were victims of the attacks.

Under normal conditions on any given night, I can typically see several commercial and private aircraft in the sky at any one time. But as I watched the sun set that evening and the stars came out, there was no sign that man could fly whatsoever. Or if he even should. A perfect, peaceful, tranquil evening in the aether.

But then, another pair of patrolling fighters cut the sky like a pair of blades, the running lights and tearing noise rendering the heavens imperfect.

I went back inside to put the kids to bed, to talk to my wife, friends and family, and wondered what the next day would hold for all of us.


Posted by: bc | September 11, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

bc repost that to the new kit.

Posted by: Achenbach | September 11, 2006 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Lamarck's theory about inheritance of acquired characteristics helped inspire Darwin's theory of evolution. I yam disgustipated to see it dissed by Dooley yesterday, but he's right: No better example of "Science changing its mind" can be found. It's just that nowadays scientists are beginning to suspect there may be something to it.

Take it for what it's worth; this link came up in a discussion on

o Storfer, Miles David. "Myopia, Intelligence, and the Expanding Human Neocortex." _Psycoloquy_ 11.83 (2000): 1. 11 Sept. 2006 .

The writeup is fairly hairy, and I don't understand much of it, but I gather that the rising incidence of nearsightedness, which is genetic, is cited as evidence of "epigenetic inheritance." This means that expression of some genetic characteristics of offspring is conditioned at least partly by their ancestors' experience. In other words, some characteristics may *actually be* acquired much faster than can be explained by Natural Selection acting through time on random mutation.

Other modern public-health "epidemics" suspected of having an epigenetic component are autism and asthma.

Posted by: Entenpfuhl | September 11, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

TBG -- my deepest sympathy on the death of your father. My heart goes out to you.

Posted by: annie | September 11, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Let's try again:

Posted by: Entenpfuhl | September 11, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Gustave Holst's wonderful "The Planets" suite for orchestra, as I recall, does not include Pluto. It hadn't been "discovered" at that time.

Posted by: MusiqueMan | September 11, 2006 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Justice to Xena!!!

Posted by: MxWPFan | September 11, 2006 2:52 PM | Report abuse


I live in Portland. I was wondering where you gave your talk. I'd like to read about it. Hope you enjoyed the Rose City.

Posted by: markwa | September 13, 2006 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Oy, that new definition of a planet, lets not go there.

Ok, screw it, lets start the tirade. First off, the Pope should love it, a universal definition for planet based on heliocentric principles, its the first major backstep towards the ignorant belief that the Earth is the center of the universe.

The phrase you've been hearing thrown around is "hydrostatic equilibrium". A $100 dollar duo meaning there's enough stuff there that it collapses into something roughly round through gravity. This is the terms which defines the lower limit of what makes a planet in terms of size.

The upper limit is defined by the initializing of deuterium fusion, meaning its dense enough to have a nuclear reaction going on inside of it. These objects are somewhere in the neighborhood (the line is a bit blurry) of 12-14 times Jupiter's mass.

Now, to the really rotten crap in the IAU's backdoor definition.

Orbital clearing. This part of the definition basically means whatever the IAU wants it to mean, its heinously ambiguous. Jupiter shares its orbit with over 50,000 asteroids known as Trojans. Similar asteroids have been discovered sharing Neptune's orbit. Several hundred known asteroids impede into Earth's and Mars's orbit. Yet, they claim these asteroids aren't massive enough to warrant consideration because they're so much smaller than the planets.

They're very hung up on making the category of planet something more exclusive than a high roller casino in Vegas. Up to and including using extremely poor scientific reasoning in an effort to shape a definition to match their preconceived notion of what a planet should be, rather than letting the data speak for itself.

Posted by: James Buchanan | September 13, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse


A scientific fable

Once upon a time, there was a rich man named Percival.

He said to his friend Clyde, "Everybody thinks a dog has been knocking things over at the edge of town. If you find the dog, I will give you a big reward."

Clyde looked for a long time, and then pointed to a small furry thing off in the distance. "There's the dog!" he said, and they named the dog Pluto, even though he seemed kind of puny to do much knocking around.

The years went by, and after a while people began to realize that Pluto the dog wasn't like the eight other dogs.

First, he didn't go in the same circles that the other dogs did. He was smaller than anybody thought a dog should be. He didn't knock things over like the other dogs did. In fact, he seemed to have been chased by the other dogs, especially Neptune.

Eventually people learned that Pluto hung around with another furry little thing that people called Charon. Pluto and Charon chased each other around. Charon was only a bit smaller than Pluto, but Charon certainly wasn't a dog.

The years passed, and one day someone spotted another very small furry object at the edge of town. They called her Quaoar the mouse, even though she seemed awfully big and fat for a mouse. Not too much later, another furry object came into view and people called her Sedna the mouse, even though she was even bigger and fatter than Quaoar.

And people began to notice that Pluto the dog looked a lot more like Quaoar and Sedna than he did like the other dogs.

Then people found a furry thing that nobody could put a name on. It was bigger than Pluto and its real name was Discord (Eris), even though its discoverer wanted to name it after a TV show. One wise man decided that Discord must be a cat.

So the people of the town began to argue, because finding Discord meant that they could no longer agree on what was a dog, and what was a cat, and what was a mouse.

Finally, the wise men of the town met together. They listened to the people who thought Pluto was a dog. They listened to the people who thought Pluto was a cat. They listened to the people who thought Pluto was a mouse. They even listened to the people who thought we shouldn't discriminate between dogs and cats and mice and just call every furry thing a mammal. And then they voted and announced their decision.

"Pluto is a cat," they said. "We're sorry that we made a mistake and called Pluto a dog when Clyde found it all those years ago, and we're even sorrier you got used to calling Pluto a dog, when it's really a cat. You can still love Pluto whether you call it a dog, or a cat, or a mouse. But a cat it is and a cat it will remain. Oh, and by the way, Sedna and Quaoar and Eris and even little Ceres are cats too. The rest are all mice."

After the announcement, some of the old people were mad, because they had gotten used to rhymes about the nine dogs and didn't want to change. And some of the schoolchildren were glad, because they now only had to memorize the eight dogs instead of nine. And some of the booksellers were mad, because now all their books that talked about Pluto the ninth dog were outdated. An many of the publishers were glad, because now they could put out new Corrected Editions that had a separate section about Pluto and Charon and the other cats.

Eventually, the arguments died down and most people decided that what the wise men had said was really all for the best. And they all lived happily ever after.


The author is a member of the American Astronomical Society.

Posted by: Gary Heiligman | September 28, 2006 8:59 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company