Solar System Map: Surprisingly deceptive

What’s wrong with this illustration of the planets in our solar system?            »

For one thing, it suggests that the planets line up for photos on the same solar ray, just like baby ducks in a row. That’s a pretty rare occurrence—perhaps once in several billion years. In fact, Pluto doesn’t even orbit on the same plane as the planets. Its orbit is tilted 17 degrees. So, forget it lining up with anything, except on rare occasions, when it crosses the equatorial plane. On that day, you might get it to line up with one or two planets.

But what about scale? Space is so vast. Perhaps our solar system looks like this ↓

No such luck! Stars and planets do not fill a significant volume of the void. They are lonely specs in the great enveloping cosmic dark.* Space is mostly filled with—well—space! Lots and lots of it. In fact, if Pluto and our own moon were represented by just a single pixel on your computer screen, you wouldn’t see anything around it. Even if you daisy chain a few hundred computer screens, you will not discern the outer planets. They are just too far away.

Josh Worth has created an interactive map of our solar system. For convenience, it also assumes that planets are lined up like ducks. But the relative sizes and distance between planets are accurate. Prepare to change your view of the cosmos…

1/7 the way to Pluto. I enlarged Jupiter’s moons. On a full-screen view, they are barely visible.

Just swipe your finger from the right edge of the screen to move away from the sun. Despite a fascinating experience (and many cute, provocative Easter eggs hidden between the planets), few readers swipe all the way out to Pluto and the author credits. On my high-resolution monitor, it requires more than a thousand swipes. Imagine if the Moon had been more than 1 pixel…It would take a long, long time! I would rather go out to dinner and a movie. But I urge you to travel at least to Jupiter. At 1/7 of the trip to Pluto, it should take less than 5 minutes.

On this scale, you won’t see the 1½ or 2 million asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. They aren’t large enough to merit a pixel. As Josh states, “Most space charts leave out the most significant part – all the space.” (an Easter egg at 1.12 billion km on the map).


* I borrowed this phrase from my former Cornell professor, Carl Sagan. He uses it in Pale Blue Dot [timestamp 2:14.]. This video tribute became a touchstone in my life; even more than having Sagan as a professor and mentor.

If you view it, be sure to also view Consider Again, Sagan’s follow-up in the video below. It is a thought-provoking observation of human-chauvinism throughout history—even among ancient Greeks. Carl isn’t the first atheist, of course. But he is eloquent in describing mankind’s ego trip: The delusion of a privileged place in the universe, or the religious depiction of God and his relationship with our species.

Related:

Credit:  ▪ Josh Worth and Sachin Gadhave who offers an illustrative answer at Quora.com


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Friends at odds with ideology?

At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…


Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…

If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.

So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.

Let me offer an example:

I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations).  Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.

Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.

As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:

  • I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
  • I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
  • I think about all the people who view the world as he does

After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.

Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends anyone who drank or smoked. I even refused to socialize with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.

In those days, I was referred to as being “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!

In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.


I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.

I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.

21st Century Gender Sterotyping? Not so Fast!

Jennifer Wright (@JenAshleyWright) kicked up a firestorm last week, when she tweeted a photo of two side-by-side magazines on a newsstand. The contrast between cover features of Boys’ Life -vs- Girls’ Life is startling. With characteristic sarcastic wit, she tweeted:

“Why are you feminists always complaining?
We treat boys and girls exactly the same.”

For those who are reading this without the image below, the current issue of these magazines calls out to readers like this:

  • Boys: Would you like to build and fly the next generation of jet fighters?
  • Girls: What on Earth can you do with your hair and nails this weekend?

Boy'sLife-vs-Girl'sLife

The difference between these covers suggests that the respective magazine editors are pushing 19th century aspirations onto the next generation of women. It’s a reminder of the differences in the way we perceive the sexes. But does this contrast present a fair and balanced comparison?

Certainly, there is work to do—but, the stark difference between these magazine covers may not point to a societal ill in the way that seems to jump off the screen.

  1. Despite similar titles, these magazines have very different audiences and goals. I doubt that Girls’ Life is aimed at the broader demographics of Boys’ Life. The subscriber base evolved to target the girls of Toddlers and Tiaras. I am exaggerating by pointing to a narrow demographic, of course! but it sells to girls who already aspire to be future homemakers, or who simply have the fashion obsession that is still the hallmark of many preteen girls.
  2. Unlike boys, girls really do have more options for viewing their future and their careers. Feminism and technological/political empowerment is not yet universal or even universally embraced. Some families, particularly among the south, among religious conservatives, and among hard-hat towns dependent upon muscles and mining, still promote the notion of TFRs onto the next generation (traditionally female roles). Right or wrong, it brings us to point #3…
  3. It’s clear that there is a stark difference between covers: “How can I build a jet fighter?” -vs- “What will I do with my hair tonight?” But, it is all too easy to assume that we understand cause-and-effect. That is, the difference is likely to be a reaction to market forces, rather than the publisher’s attempt to shape desires. One cannot find fault with delivering content based on consumer demand.

If you tell me that there are plenty of girls that hope to build or fly a jet fighter, I will nod in agreement. But if you tell me that there is an equal fraction of boys who obsess over their nails, hair and the color of a blouse, I will wonder if we live on the same planet.

My teenage daughter is clearly in the former group: She imagines, asks tough questions, builds, tears down, and then builds a better gizmo from scratch. She codes Android apps and creates massive murals for the local shopping mall. But, some girls care about classic ‘girly’ things, at least during their early years. And here’s a surprise…

Many of these gilrly girls exhibit just as much technical proficiency and self-confidence as their empowered peers. They are assertive, independent, financially savvy, and aware of their equal political and career footings. Helen-Gurley-Brown-vintageYet, many of us feminists bristle at the thought of a female child who obsesses about their hair and nails (at least to the point of subscribing to a magazine in that venue). In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive.

So, can I still call myself a feminist in the mold of Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem? Perhaps not. I am more likely to identify with a less militant Helen Gurley Brown. She was all about empowerment and sexual equality. Yet, somehow, she avoided pushing the sexes to be completely indistinguishable and androgynous.

Do you disagree? Do you think that I exhibit a Luddite attitude that is at the core of a chauvinistic society? Don’t just let it grate on you—Be a Wild Duck! Leave a comment.

~Ellery

I won’t Put Lipstick on a Pig (but Tony did!)

Last year, an Op-Ed in my personal Blog, AWildDuck.com, caught the attention of a retired US politician. His staff contacted me, due to an editorial that was highly critical of his colleague (a younger politician who still holds office). Fearing an angry reader with clout, I was preparing to defend my position and my First Amendment freedoms, when the bigwig pulled the phone away from his assistant—and made me an offer.

He didn’t want me to retract the article about his colleague. In fact, he thought that the current US Senator was a bigger putz than I had portrayed. Instead, he wanted me to write his kiss-and-tell memoirs—

open_book-s

I was born in a house my father built…

a book that was guaranteed to be filled with all sorts of juicy revelations. I was ecstatic! This was a dream job—precisely the reason that I started the Blog: to land a string of high-dollar writing gigs.

His lawyers contacted me. We exchanged documents. I signed an NDA and provided writing samples in several different styles. His family and aides analyzed my writing for plagiarism, geographic or anachronistic idioms, and for level and clarity. Within the week, he hired me as his ghostwriter.

I began writing under the name of a well-known, national politician. During interviews, I was in awe of this internationally known historical figure, who—in the sunset of life—chose me as his personal conduit to history. Although I could not tell my family who was this important figure, my teenage daughter figured it out, based on overhearing my side of several interviews. She was sworn to secrecy.

Trump-backside-s

“I put lipstick on a pig…I feel deep remorse.” —Illustration: J. Jaén

After three months, and several drafts of the first chapters, I backed out of the project and returned a sizable pile of cash. I was unable to apply my passion and zeal to this man’s shocking opinions and nuggets of “wisdom”, even though my name would not appear on the book. I just couldn’t bring myself to rephrase what he said in interviews and what appeared in his notes…

It’s unclear whether my employer had changed in his golden years, or if—perhaps—a racist misogynist was smoldering under the surface all these years.

Perhaps most surprising, for me, is that he had publicly championed women’s rights throughout an illustrious career, yet—at least today—he secretly feels that our country’s ills are a direct result of gains in women’s jobs, pay, education, rights and reproductive freedom. He wanted me to explain that empowerment of women during the 60s and 70s effectively castrated men both at home and on the job. He earnestly believes that the best place for a women is in the kitchen or the bedroom. He can barely tolerate a woman in the workplace, so long as she is a nurse or secretary or school teacher.

Today, I came across a similar story in The New Yorker. But this one has a very different ending. In this case, the ghostwriter completed the book, only to be filled with remorse!


Tony Schwartz,is the ghostwriter behind Donald Trump’s 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal. It is among the most successful business books in publishing history. Unlike me, he did not back out his gig. He is an excellent wordsmith, and—just like a good speech writer—he wove his compelling art for Donald Trump.

Tonight, Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination for the highest office in our land. But, Tony Schwartz regrets “putting lipstick on a pig”. (Editor’s Note: I really like the metaphor!). Tony’s skillful pen made Trump look astute, insightful, savvy and successful. And it created an impression that hoodwinked the Republican nomination.

lipstick_on_a_pig

Mr. Trump’s Star of David

“I didn’t do it. I didn’t mean it…We thought it was the star
of a an iconic Sheriff’s badge. Only crooked Hillary or the
liberal media would interpret it as an Anti-Semitic tweet.”

 

No, it’s not a quote from Mr. Trump. It is a mash-up of responses from his deputies and spin-meisters on CNN. They were responding to trump-tweetthis graphic, issued from their leader’s personal and infamous Twitter account.

The great thing about using proxies to do your dirty work, is that you can throw whatever you want toward the wall, and then disavow whatever doesn’t stick.

Along with name-calling and race baiting, it’s what six year olds do best in a sandbox. Later, when they become teens, they mature into slashing tires, throwing Molotov cocktails or electing bigots to the white house.

This is what a Sheriff’s star looks like, Mr. Trump. It has 5, 6 or 7 points. Those with 6 points always have balls at the vertices—especially, Sheriff-5-6-7if it constructed from two equilateral triangles. A Star of David is not an iconic Sheriff’s star.

When used to frame text, graphjic artists and layout editors almost always choose a 7-pointed star, because it maximizes text area. A Star of David is made of two overlapping, equilateral triangles. Although it can portray other things, the shape is fairly distinctive because of its simplicity. There are no balls at the vertices.

According to the FBI, 57% of hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jews, while only 16% target Muslims. Your tweet plays to the haters. You know it. Believe me, Mr. Trump, you know it!

As a leading candidate for political office, you most certainly have a sense of your audience and how words and images are likely to be interpreted. star-of-davidYou cannot play dumb with the rest of Americans. But in the event that you are, in fact, clueless, your naïveté or indifference is almost as dangerous as the hate that most Americans suspect of you.

The bottom line is that divisiveness, marginalization and intolerance are the hallmarks of a weak, thin-skinned bully. They have no place in politics and are not compatible with secular government or the democratic process.


Ellery is rarely a political pundit. But he has written about Donald Trump before:

Do you have a right to view an ISIS Kill List?

According to The Clarion Project, a political information bureau that warns westerners of the growing threat from radical Islam, ISIS has published a ‘kill list’ that includes the names, addresses and emails of 15,000 Americans.

Clarion_300So far, this is interesting news, but it is not really new. I found ISIS, Hezbollah and Al-Qaida kill lists going back at least 8 years. This 2012 bulletin complains that NBC would not release the names contained on a kill list.

A kill list is newsworthy, and the Clarion article is interesting—but the article has more “facts” with which the publisher wishes to generate mob frenzy…

  • It explains that 4,000 of the names on the Kill List have been leaked by hackers
  • It echos a report by Circa News that the FBI has decided to not inform citizens that they are on the ISIS kill list.

In a clear effort to whip up and direct audience indignation, it asks readers to take a one-question poll. Which answer would you choose?

  1. I have a right to know if I am on an ISIS kill list
  2. I do not need to know if my name is on the ISIS kill list.
    The FBI can protect me without my knowing

Let’s ignore, for a moment, that the editorial comment appended to answer #2 involves a misleading assumption (i.e. that your safety is related to inclusion on the list and that you need or would be the focus of FBI protection). Even before this cheap tactical mis-direction, I am frustrated with the sleazy promotional and shock tactics of The Clarion Project (formerly, stopradicalislam.org).

Muslim Imam, orders the destruction of Christian churches

This a pity—because the Clarion Project also creates and distributes valuable educational literature. For a few years, they were the credible standard in defining and issuing warnings about the dangers of radical Islam—especially as it is seeded and spread from within. The Clarion Project also produces terrific “wake-up” videos and documentary evidence about life under Sharia law and the shocking intolerance, misogyny and disrespect for human rights that characterize ISIS. It highlights the brutal tactics that emerge when regional governments are controlled by religious zealots. Like any repressive dictatorship, ISIS rules through fear instilled by bands of roaming thugs and by turning everyone into snitches.*

But the Kill List Poll points to a growing trend at Clarion. Four years ago, I objected to Meira Svirsky’s inflammatory report that criticizes a DOJ official for refusing to answer a complex and subtle question with a Yes-or-No response. The Clarion Project has a critical and noble goal. But pushing the emotional hot buttons of an audience by over simplifying or vilifying subtleties undermines the entire organization. In the end, it only demonstrates that they are bullies. And just like Donald Trump, bullying plays only to mobs. It is no the way to win hearts and minds.

My Answer to the Poll

  • I do not need to know if my name is on the ISIS kill list

Rationale

Both ISIS leaders and radical clerics have repeatedly declared that *all* Americans, American allies, Jews and non-believers may be killed on the spot or taken as sex slaves to pleasure suicide bombers and Jihadist soldiers. quranThey state that doing this fulfills Jihad and prophecy and is sanctioned by the Holy Qur’an. With this in mind, I feel that the poll options are political, selfish and offensive. It assumes that readers are idiots…

The multiple choice answers are incomplete and misleading. Of course, Americans have a right to know if they are on a kill list—and, in fact, we already know. We are all on that list!

About Radical Islam

The warning bell at the heart of Clarion journalism is an alarm that must be heard—very loudly. Radical Islam is a cancer and not just figuratively. It exhibits all earmarks of a spreading pathogen that invades and attaches itself to its neighbors while building offensive outposts far from the region that it started. It has not yet been contained and excised. It presents a significant ongoing threat to our safety, our health and our wealth.

~Ellery Davies


* I could illustrate my point with photos of men being burned in a cage, the abduction of preteen school girls from their homes (they were given to soldiers), a child slitting the throat of captives, or a women having her nose cut off because she was raped by a stranger. After all, in the twisted world of radical Islam, anyone who is different, unique gay, Christian, or not in agreement with the local Imam is to be tortured and killed.

But I can similarly point to even this comparatively mild video. It shows a Turkish music store under attack last week (June 2016), because a group of thugs suspects that the band signing autographs represents secular hedonism—or that that fans in the store might be consuming alcohol during Ramadan.

NC House Bill 2. Ignorance? No. Intolerance? Yes!

Indiana Governor Mike Pence must be breathing a bit easier right now. It was just a year ago that his zealous support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act threatened to undermine every business sector in the state,

Of course, that was a year ago. Governor Pence has signed legislation that revises the law to prevent potential discrimination. Although the revised law doesn’t outlaw LGBT discrimination, the stench around Indiana lawmakers has abated because a year has passed since the glare of a media spotlight. Now, the spotlight is focusing on North Carolina, where House Bill 2 is threatening that state’s fiscal health.

For Indiana, the rebellion was led by sports teams, including national gatherings like NASCAR. With North Carolina, it is led by musicians and, of course, business. In just the past two weeks a slew of venues was cancelled or sidelined, including concerts by Bruce SpringsteenPearl JamMaroon 5 and Itzhak Perlman.

Business and enterprise has a slightly longer time horizon than concert bookings, but the handwriting is on the wall: PayPal withdrew plans for a new Charlotte operations center because it opposes the law; the center would have created more than 400 jobs for the city. Deutsche Bank froze plans to add 250 jobs.

How bad is the public backlash? The Charlotte Observer reports that House Bill 2 could cost the state 5 billion dollars. That billion with a ‘B’.

North Carolina House Bill 2

Yes. This is the bill that thumbs its nose at the Obama administration after the White House issued guidance on common sense gender policies in public restrooms, especially in public schools, where it threatened the withdrawal of federal funds.

I won’t pretend that the issue is black & white. After all, a frequently repeated argument asserts that this ruling (or clarification of Title 9, as the White House characterizes it) permits a pervert to enter a girl’s bathroom by dressing as a woman or claiming to be transgendered, and that such entry poses a threat to children. The argument sounds reasonable—at least, that is, until you think about it for 10 seconds.

To illustrate my own take on the “Bathroom Bill”, I will support the common sense rights of transgendered individuals in using facilities that match their gender (as opposed to their birth sex)—by countering the arguments espoused by this angry, bipolar transphobic who is yelling his opinions at a Target store. He may be more vocal on the issue, but his logic is identical to every argument for shutting down Title 9 protections.

Caleb is the WildDuck reader who referred me to this video. He  exclaimed “Look at this ignorant nut and how a shopper takes him on,” This is my response to Caleb and anyone who is sitting on the fence about LGBT self determination…


Although you and I both disagree with the shouter in this video, Caleb, the term “ignorant” is not my first choice to describe this guy. I think that he is either a nut case, or he is off medication. But let’s consider his key argument: He claims that men can dress as women and take pictures of children in a kid’s bathroom.

  • I have not seen a kid’s-only bathroom—not even at Target. And so, I think that he is referring to the women’s bathroom.
  • There has always been the potential for a man to dress as a women and slip into a women’s bathroom. If the guy looks passable as a girl (whether transgendered or not), this activity cannot be easily prevented by Target or by turning back the transgender/Title 9 interpretation. After all, no one checks identity or gender when a customer ducks into a bathroom.
  • A pervert can just as easily take pictures of little boys. Just as with homosexual clergy, the proclivity to ogle little boys may be more common then it is with girls.
  • If a child is young (i.e. if she is defenseless), a parent or bigger sibling is generally in the bathroom too. When parent is with child, there may be a stranger taking covert photos, but who the h*ll cares? He doesn’t pose a threat—and he is more likely to be identified and reported.                                 [continue below photo]

hb2civilrightsviolation0505

For all of these reasons, an inclusive and tolerant Title 9 interpretation is reasonable. The people who oppose tolerance are those who hate the idea that transgendered people exist (or worse: want them to be “cured”) . They oppose rights for personal and religious reasons. But, religion and exclusion have no place in government policy.

I admit that I paused to reflect on this issue—and a closely related issue regarding public school funding last week. But my reflection was brief. SNL-RFRA-sTransgendered individuals aren’t hurting anyone, nor damaging the fabric of society. Moreover, the opportunity to photograph kids in a bathroom is not increased by permitting individuals to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. That few people are likely to even know that their gender differs from their birth anatomy, makes this issue a red herring.

A Wild Duck Analysis

The fervent zeal to turn back transgender guidance is based on religion, hate, ignorance or intolerance. These traits have no place in government. It can be difficult to separate our fears from our better judgement, but these traits must never influence the law. Each member of society deserves civil rights. Congregate with whomever you wish, but our community laws should not attempt to repress benign behavior.

RelatedBad for Business:Laws that Bully LGBT

Ellery Davies is a recovering homophobic. Fortunately, recovery started
decades before Indiana and North Carolina stuck their heads in the sand.