Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Bringer of Not Particularly Old Age

Where did I just read that little things can strike you more sharply and surprisingly than big things? I haven't given much thought in recent years either to the downgrading of Pluto to non-planet status or to the relentless passage of time, but both peculiarly snapped to the front of my mind at Burgerville this evening. Burgerville's a regional chain of fast food restaurants committed to using seasonal, regional ingredients to make a product about two-thirds of the way closer to actual food than the Double Whopper. I almost never eat fast food for dinner anymore but I was at work for longer than expected due to fixing some automated website feature tests that, werewolf-like, only fail at night due to the vagaries of time zones -- trying to write any date-sensitive code quickly aligns me with the prairie-dwellers of the mid-nineteenth century who so hated the incursion of railroad time into their towns; seriously, it's Satan's spawn, this synchronization of everyone's clocks. And having fixed them (at least for the time being, for who knows what tomorrow will bring, once it's the same day as it is in Greenwich again) I decided to reward myself, you know, by doing something terrible for my body. Terrible yet regional and seasonal.

Actually I picked up a spicy bean burger and a small sweet potato fries, which don't sound too vicious. Anyway, on the counter there were a few crayons and printed coloring-book-type sheets of paper, presumably for bored children. The sheet's a picture of the solar system (not to scale, of course; that would take too much black crayon) with a jumble for each of the planet's names -- "NTAURS" for Saturn; "CURRYME" for Mercury, which just made me wish I were eating at East India Company instead. All pretty standard, marginally educational fare, but what grabbed me is that Pluto is not on the sheet:

I explained this to Kyle later and she was completely unmoved by Pluto's absence, on account of it not being a planet anymore, but in the moment I had this odd reaction of, "Huh, when I was a kid Pluto would have been on there. Guess kids aren't learning about Pluto anymore." And, with that, a strange and disproportionate sense that things do in fact change.

Meanwhile, as you can see, the copy that I took home with me to scan already had Jupiter colored in, albeit completely wrong; I don't know what it looks like but I'd say Uranus at best. So the lesson here, children, is always finish the jumble before you start coloring, otherwise you'll have no idea how you should fill in that circle. Although honestly, given the level of detail, I think that was probably done by an adult, or at least someone old enough to know better. Maybe it's a pathological aspect of my personality but I just can't imagine coloring in Jupiter without actually trying to make it look like Jupiter. There's already so much junk science out there as it is.

There's more to say about this picture, such as why it says "Asteroid Belt" instead of "ROIDETAS LETB" or what the crap are those squiggly lines, but perhaps there's little more worth saying. The bean burger, incidentally, is a pretty delicious item, and sweet potato fries are an awesome sweet/savory vector for one of nature's alleged superfoods. Not maximally good for you but not actually so terrible after all.


Blogger Don said...

So what I'm hearing you say is that you've decided that the fast food (which, given the description, sounds very much unlike fast food anyhow) wasn't actually so bad for you in the end because it tasted good?

11/04/2010 11:28 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

I wouldn’t say I was completely unmoved. Perhaps I am just a bigger Neil deGrasse Tyson fan and I have therefore already contemplated the rise and fall of Pluto.

I think the squiggly lines are supposed to represent the Milky Way.

11/04/2010 6:33 PM  
Blogger nate said...

Don, on rereading it I see that is indeed what I wrote. Since that attitude is a big part of What's Wrong With America I withdraw the statement. What I meant to express that while the food was bad for me, it didn't feel like it was being bad to me, if that's a meaningful distinction to draw. And it is fast food, much closer in spirit to a Wendy's than a Steak 'n Shake. I was going to quip "the food is semi-competently served up by indifferent teens and everything" but I'm not sure that actually differentiates it from a Steak 'n Shake now that I think of it.

Kyle, those squigglies representing the Milky Way would just raise more questions. Mostly I remained concerned that the inner line, whatever it represents, runs straight through the center of planet Earth...

11/04/2010 9:52 PM  
Blogger Laurel Kornfeld said...

Please do not accept the controversial demotion of Pluto, which was done by only four percent of the International Astronomical Union, most of whom are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they attain a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning they are large enough for their own gravity to pull them into a round shape. This is a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. Pluto meets this criterion and is therefore a planet. Using this broader definition gives our solar system 13 planets and counting: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. At the very least, you should note that there is an ongoing debate rather than portraying one side as fact when it is only one interpretation of fact. You should explain to Kyle that the debate is ongoing. Even Tyson agrees this is the case.

11/12/2010 1:46 AM  

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