Is Rush Limbaugh Insensitive?

If the title of this post, read in a surprised voice, is not even remotely funny, then perhaps your time might be better spent elsewhere on the internet. It’s not that I don’t want people to see things from my point of view, it’s just that I don’t know make that happen. What I mean is, no matter how many political discussions I have had (a lot), I am fairly certain that I have never, in all of my considerable years (30), actually convinced anyone of anything. And no matter how many political discussions I have, there is always this little voice in the back of my mind that says, in its own little way, “Could this other person, with whom I disagree, actually be right?” And then I have to go over all of my logic again just to make sure. And then I always settle into that little groove on the political spectrum that would properly be labeled “Ridiculously Liberal.” And then I wipe the sweat from my brow.

The point is, I don’t know that conservatives ever suffer from self-doubt. As an educated liberal, I assume this is because conservatives, as a rule, suffer from a sort of megalomania that stems from a political ideology based on selfishness, steeped in a religion that is just vague enough to make that seem like it’s a good thing. I do. Suffer from self-doubt, that is.

For what it’s worth.

So….Rush Limbaugh. Yeah, that guy. He said some stuff this week. And it was stupid and insensitive. I honestly don’t think there’s any arguing the point. His defense that he was actually mocking Diane Sawyer is actually very telling, in that it actually is a defensive tactic. Seeing as how a)it’s a lie: He was, in fact, making fun of Japanese people recycling in the face of adversity–watch the video again if you don’t believe me and b)he is pretty much the biggest prick in the world this side of Scott Walker and Glenn Beck. (Again, if this offends you, re-read the first sentence of the post and carefully consider whether you want to even bother leaving me a message in the comments section)

And so, seeing Rush on the defense can only be an unqualified “good.”

When I set out to write a post today, I didn’t have any particular thing in mind and, indeed, I had wanted to write about this and this. And honestly, there’s nothing less offensive than particle physics. Or is there?

I wonder if anyone might find the revelation that space might not actually be infinitely divisible offensive (see one of the above links to sciencedaily–really super neat stuff!). And therein lies the crux of the matter. Rush Limbaugh thinks that the Prius is stupid. This is based on the dubious logic that “nobody wants a Prius.” Obviously this is not true because I think it would be cool to have a Prius. And so what’s the real reason that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t like the Prius? I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only thing that actually motivates conservatives in Congress and on Fox News (et al), is liberals. They hate things specifically because liberals like them. If I said, “Man, I hate stubbing my toe,” I have this theory that there is a conservative somewhere that is so bullheaded that he (or she) would immediately go and kick a boulder, just to show how fun it can be.

It’s interesting to note the relationship between Limbaugh’s view of the tragic tsunami in Japan and subsequent nuclear catastrophe and the conservative view of, say, the Big Bang. He actually believes that his god did this. Like on purpose. Who worships a god that does jerkish stuff like that? The thing is, conservatives look at the world and require it to be intelligible. They look at Big Bang Theory and see that it’s based on various conjectures which are, in turn based on a considerable amount of available evidence and then read their Bibles and say, “No way, I can’t deal with that kind of uncertainty. God did it.” But the fact of the matter is, we don’t know all of the details and ins and outs of the Big Bang because, hey, it happened like 13 billion years ago. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast a week ago.

What anti-science conservatives don’t seem to understand is that uncertainty about the universe doesn’t bother scientists. They are completely untroubled by the fact that the Big Bang is, at its most fundamental, a well-educated guess. They do not lose sleep over it. Not knowing the “why” of earthquakes/tsunamis/hurricanes, doesn’t bother atheists. We can look at it and say, “That’s nature. That’s life. It’s a terrible thing, though, so I’ll donate some money to help people pick up their lives.” A conservative will look at it as a an event that occurred as the result of someone’s conscious decision. And as a result of that, they find themselves in the precarious position of either a)believing in a god that is supposed to be infinitely loving but also has a sadistic and sociopathic streak or b)having to find a good reason why the eastern seaboard of Japan ought to have been demolished by a tsunami. God did it, therefore it must be justified.

Either way I find it unfathomable.

If you’ve read all this way, and have the inclination, the Red Cross is doing some very good things in the world today. Also, space might not be infinitely divisible (WTF? I know, right?) and also great strides are being made in the field of quantum condensates (super cool, if you know what I mean).

domo arigato

On Rescuing Reporters and Accurate Language in Astronomy

clinton_vs_kim_jong

I imagine the recent negotiations to have gone something like this. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I like to imagine that Uncle Bill threatened Kim Jong Il with a Roman spatha.

I for one am glad that Bill Clinton gets a little attention. He gets to be the goddamned hero for once. And you know what? Despite everything that anyone says, the right thing happened. Two innocent women were freed from a very bleak future.

This is vitally important. It is not possible to see this as a bad thing unless you are a terrible person.

So anyway, NASA has released an image that was captured by the Spitzer telescope. I like Spitzer and I am a huge fan of the things that we get to see because of Spitzer. And this new image is not a disappointment. It’s an interesting spiral galaxy with a strange eye-shaped structure at its center. I think the most notable feature, however, is smaller galaxy that appears to caught up in orbit around the larger galaxy’s nucleus. It makes a lot of sense from a physics standpoint. The moon orbits Earth which orbits the sun which orbits our own galactic center. Why not have larger, binary galaxies? All around pretty sweet.

The thing that I wanted to focus on, however, is not the image itself, but rather, the language used to describe the image. And exerpt:

  • “The ring around the black hole is bursting with new star formation. An inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy is causing the ring to light up with new stars.”

I know that I’m not the first person to point this out, but if we want to be perfectly accurate with our language and consider that this galaxy in the image is about 50-million light-years away, shouldn’t the above quotation be phrased more like this:

  • “The ring around the black hole was bursting with new star formation. An inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy was causing the ring to light up with new stars.”

I mean, really. The image is of the state of that galaxy fifty million years ago. I’m not an astronomer, but I am a linguist. When astronomers discuss these things, do they use past-tense language? I’m really curious about this, because it seems to me that by using simpler language to ease communication, then some information is lost in the discussion. By using present tense, you must make the (to be fair, usually accurate) assumption that the reader understands that “is” actually means “was the case fifty million years ago.”

On the one hand, I’m curious about the type of language that professional astronomers use. On the other, I feel like I ought to lobby for the use of accurate language when describing celestial objects like distant galaxies.

Perhaps the most viable solution would be to take Rush Limbaugh, freeze him, stick him in a pod and launch him to that other galaxy so that he can report back to us about what it’s doing. With any luck, we’ll miss and he’ll be lost in the inconceivably vast void between galaxies forever.

Would it be easier to just send him to North Korea where he would be forced to do hard labor for ten years?

Singen Sie mich adieu.