Blog going on indefinite hiatus

I am going to take a break from astronomy blogging for an indefinite period of time.

I’m finding that as I’m involved in my new job, while I still do get a charge out of posts like the Big Bang post I did the other day, my heart isn’t 100% in this.

Also, after the deleted post yesterday, I’m just too digusted with the nature of academia at our forefront research institutions (and with Vanderbilt in particular– as anybody who reads this knows, I already bore a fair amount of bitterness towards that institution, and now I have a huge amount of disgust with Vanderbilt’s Physics department). Yes, in the past I got a lot of mileage out of echoing those complaints, and I know that I hit something of a chord because of the response I received. Heck, even to this day news stories get generated in part by my own meta-issues with academia. But the fact is that I’m out of it now, and I’m finding myself really wanting to move on and not remain so mired in the issues that drove me into clinical depression and eventually drove me out of the field. They are not my problem now, and I’m not enough of the crusader type to want to fix the world even though I’ve been booted from it.

I truly do regret having to give up teaching college. Ironically, yesterday when I visited Vanderbilt, I also dropped by the Society of Physics Students meeting, and really enjoyed meeting and saying “hello” to the students. I loved the science, I loved the teaching, and I loved interacting with the students… but the academic politics and the nutty standards of “rigor” that Universities think they are applying wrecked it all. And learning what I learned about the academic politics reminded me that, yes, however wistful I may have been in the interactions with students, I made the right decision by fleeing that environment.

The fact is that my heart just is not in this astronomy blogging gig right now. I have moved on, and I really want to move on. I will make myself unhappy if I continued to be mired in what I was mired in before. And, the fact is that I don’t have enough left over cognitive energy to be making the kinds of astronomy breaking news and pedagogical posts that composed what I think were the best of Galactic Interactions. Astronomy and teaching remain two of my passions, and some day I may try to come back to it. In the the mean time, however, farewell.

It is possible at some point in the future I may change my mind, and want to start blogging again— about astronomy, or about something else. I can’t predict if I’ll ever be able to re-join the family, but in any event I’ll link to it from my personal home page. If for whatever reason you may have some interest in that possibility, periodically check that page, as I’ll assuredly drop a link there to any public blog that I’m doing.

Fine. The post is deleted already.

Commenters convinced me to think twice, and they’re right.

Our system is screwed up. Never shed light on anything, because you’re small and it could hurt you. If a festering wound exists somewhere, just try to get away. Don’t try to point it out. Especially if it’s not your problem any more.

Choose your battles, and let other places that are screwed up stay screwed up.

A lawyer on retainer. Jesus Christ. No, I’m not going to jail, but civil law practically limits the reality of free speech in this fucked up and litigious society.

Protecting celebreties? Or just more creeping censorship?

An hour or so ago I heard a story on NPR about California’s new “Dead Celebrities” law. In a nutshell, it allows the heirs of a celebrity to control the use of that celebrity’s image after said celebrity’s death… even if at the time of the celebrity’s death, the right to bequeath this power didn’t exist.

I always find these sorts of stories depressing, because there is an important perspective that is lost. In the story, we hear that one side of the legal thinks it boils down to one simple question:

“How can a celebrity’s legacy be protected, and who can do that?”

But he’s wrong. There is another simple question we could be asking here:

Are we such a celebrity-obsessed culture that we will give celebrities the power to limit our freedom of expression even from beyond the grave?

To often, in stories about expansion of what is called “intellectual property rights” (i.e. exclusive copyrights, patents, and trademarks), we hear about how it’s “property,” and how violation of these things is theft. Very, very, rarely do we hear the fact that these things are also limitations on freedom of expression.. Indeed, the conflict this NPR story focuses on is entitled “Whose Property?”, and the other side of the lawsuit is a guy who wants to continue to profit by selling licensing rights to his father’s photographs:

“It’s against the Constitution to take away someone’s property,” Greene said. “Somebody can’t come in and take away your property. You own it. Your father, let’s say, composed a piece of music. Now, all of a sudden, someone else is going to come in and say, ‘We’re going to take over your rights.’ I beg your pardon?”

Here, the side against this expression-squelching law has completely accepted the notion that “intellectual property” is just like other forms of property.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have copyrights or trademarks at all. I am saying, however, that the very terms of the debate stilt the debate towards copyright maximalism, and ever expanding copyright restrictions and terms… and that we have lost sight of the fact that copyright is a sacrifice of our freedom of expression, and its benefits need to be evaluated against that sacrifice.

Let us suppose this California law becomes the standard, a federal law or widely adopted amongst all the states. Now suppose that 50 years from now somebody writes an article entitled “Where It All Went Wrong” about early 21st century American presidential politics, and wanted to include the following image (which I grabbed from the US Dept. of State website):


To do so, the article’s author would have to get permission from four estates: the estate of G. W. Bush, the estate of D. Cheney, the estate of C. Rice, and the estate of the photographer.

Does this sound to you like the legal landscape of a society that values freedom of expression?

Supernovae: the source of cosmic rays

Astronomers have long assumed that supernovae are the source of at least most of the cosmic rays that hit Earth.

Woah, slow down… cosmic rays? Right, you hear the term all the time, but do you really know what they are? They are charged particles that rain down on Earth from space. Really! Kinda cool, huh? There are charged particles— mostly protons, or hydrogen nuclei, but with some heavier ions mixed in— smacking into our atmosphere all the time. Some of them have extremely high energies, higher energies than those to which we can accelerate particles in our best particle physics accelerators. Of course, the very highest energy cosmic rays are the rarest.

Thanks to a recent study by the Chandra Space Telescope, we have direct confirmation of the model that cosmic rays are produced in supernovae.

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