Oregon should invade Salem

The full-blown attack of the Gaza strip by Israel is like the state of Oregon staging a full-scale military attack with their National Guard units against Salem for its bank bombings, if Salem was an autonomous region instead of the capital of Oregon. While Israel would be fully justified in doing something in response to the rocket attacks from the Gaza strip, this particular response seems to be a huge overreaction.

The funny thing, if such things can be funny, is that Israel's actions end up proving those responsible for the rocket attacks right, just as those responsible for the rocket attacks end up justifying Israel's actions. Perhaps the leadership of Israel and Hamas want the other side to inflict as much damage as possible on their own side so they get the justification to wreak as much havoc as they want on the other side. Whatever the case may actually be, it certainly feels like the leadership of both sides have wanted violence for a long time.

What makes things worse is that I'm not sure if there really is anything that Israel could do to promote peace, although the current military attack certainly feels like it would just make things worse.

Diamonds from the sky, death on the ground

Layer of sediment with nanometer sized diamonds
Layer of sediment with nanometer sized diamond

Diamond dust has been found in sediments across North America from 13,000 years ago. It's not much of a find in terms of riches: rather, it's an indication of what may have happened 13,000 years ago. This is about the time that many large animals went extinct and the Clovis people declined, along with a start of a 1,300 year long ice age.

The discovery of diamond dust lends support to the theory that there may have been a comet that hit North America 13,000 years ago and caused widespread devastation. Diamond is merely carbon arranged in a certain crystalline lattice formed by high temperatures and pressures. For diamond dust to be found in a single layer of sediment, the most likely explanation is that the impact of a carbon-rich comet compressed carbon into diamonds. The presence of elements such as iridium in the same layer of sediment is another piece of evidence supporting the comet impact theory.

Some scientists are skeptical about the evidence supporting the comet impact theory, however, so it still might be the case that the mass extinctions 13,000 years ago were purely due to terrestrial causes. Still, it doesn't stop me from worrying time to time about a comet wreaking terrible havoc on our puny human civilization.

Rick Warren at the inauguration

Like many other people, I'm not happy about the invitation of Rick Warren to give the invocation at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration. Never mind the more general unease of giving a religious oath for government office, which I think is wrong but will grudgingly accept for the sake of tradition, but Rick Warren has been very active in opposing civil rights for homosexuals. It's one thing to oppose the granting of rights to a minority group, which is bad enough, but it's a disgrace to take rights away. In fact, it's a disgrace that a majority of Californian voters decided to take away rights by approving Proposition 8. Anyways, it's troubling that Barack Obama would give someone like Rick Warren a central role in his inauguration.

I'm going to take a wait and see attitude to the invitation before I ultimately determine how to think about the whole affair, though. I'm really hoping that Obama is doing this to throw a huge symbolic bone to the religious right so that he wouldn't have to offer substantive bones, in which case of course he wouldn't be able to explain his real reasons for inviting Rick Warren. However, this is really just wishful thinking, so I still consider efforts to have Rick Warren uninvited to be worthy causes, even if I wouldn't personally participate.

A New Year

It is now the year 2009, at least according to Coordinated Universal Time, the time against all other local time zones are measured against. The funny thing about Coordinated Universal Time, besides being abbreviated as UTC because of the French, is that even this is a compromise between an incredibly accurate clock and time keeping for practical use. Atomic clocks are the most accurate clocks of all, but a lot of us live according to the day-night cycle due to the Earth's rotation, and the Earth is slowing down by the tiniest bit every year because of tidal friction with the Moon. So leap seconds need to be added to Coordinated Universal Time every few years, and one was added right before the new year started.

The year 2009 is also the year that George W. Bush will no longer be president of the United States of America. This has got to be cause for a small celebration, although it would have been so much better if he didn't cause so much degradation in the United States' diplomatic and economic standing in the first place.

And this is also the International Year of Astronomy, which will launch a flurry of astronomical activity reaching to the public, among them 10-minute podcasts every single day of the year from 365 Days of Astronomy.

Oh, and before I forget: Happy New Year!