Review: Being Small

hammy & val

Hamish K.

Thanks to the data sent back by the probe Kepler, NASA scientists calculate that only 3% of all stars in the known universe could be accompanied by life-sustaining planets.  On Earth the totality of living matter is 0.00000001% of the mass of the planet.  This means that probably only one millionth of one billionth of one percent of the universe is living matter.  Which makes us pretty insignificant.   In that sentence the word “pretty” is an understatement.

It also seems that we can almost see to the edge of the known universe.  That is, to the point where the edge of the energy from the Big Bang has reached.  After that you can’t see anything because light hasn’t got there yet.  If we were somehow able to see this edge, this moment between nothing and something, wouldn’t we be watching the “divine spark” as it were, the chemical foundation of matter?

Which sounds wonderful except that it is at this point my brain starts to ache like it does sometimes when I look at an Escher picture.  Some card trick is being performed with existence that stops my brain from working, and makes me want to go and listen to Wham! or read The Hungry Caterpillar.  Although both of these can also confuse me.  How did I not understand that George was gay until I was in my twenties, and how exactly does a caterpillar turn into a butterfly?

Validity O.

“Terrorists want media attention, so we give it to them. Unsafe industries don’t want media attention — so we give that to them.”

Ken Ward Jr.

A few posts ago I complained how much more coverage the Boston bombing got compared to bombings in Iraq in the same day.  Some American journalists have been noting the coverage difference between Boston and the Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14.

The plant had 1,350 times the legally allowed amount of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, yet hadn’t informed the Department of Homeland Security of the danger. Likewise, the fertilizer plant did not have sprinklers, shut-off valves, fire alarms or legally required blast walls, all of which could have prevented the catastrophic damage done. And there was little chance that regulators would learn about the problems without the company reporting them: Not only had the Occupational Safety and Health Administration not inspected the plant since 1985 but also, because of underfunding, OSHA can inspect plants like the one in West on average only once every 129 years.

Washington Post

In the same article by Mike Elk he quotes a politician who explains the different coverage as a choice TV has between showing: “CSI/Mission Impossible vs. [a] PBS documentary.”   That is probably true, but you have to wonder about Ken Ward’s quote.

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