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Updated: 08/24/06

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by Neal Stephenson



Thursday, 24 August, 2006

And just like that, Pluto has been demoted.


Oh, not that Pluto. The one hanging out at the far end of our solar system.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of "dwarf planets," similar to what long have been termed "minor planets." The definition also lays out a third class of lesser objects that orbit the sun ó "small solar system bodies," a term that will apply to numerous asteroids, comets and other natural satellites.

One day you're a planet, the next day, you're a rock. I'm sure somewhere there's a lawyer somewhere trying to figure out how to sue someone over this.

Cousin Jody wrote and suggested that we put some password protection on Mom's Blog's genealogy pages. I thought that was a brilliant idea, so I fiddled around and I think I've done it. Mom's front page will still be available, but all the family tree information, photos, and anniversary pages are now password protected. If you'd like to have access to those pages, just write to me or Mom and if we like you, we'll let you have it.

[Thanks, Jody.]

Apparently cow stories are not the only things that come in threes. Since I mentioned animal rights activists yesterday, here are your PETA tidbits for today.

1. Peta is urging the Los Angeles Sheriff's department to put suspected, er, whatever he is, John Mark Karr on a "non-violent" diet:

Los Angeles - "Regardless of his guilt or innocence, please donít let Mr. Karr be responsible for the death of even one more living being," urges PETA in a letter sent this morning to Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, who has taken custody of confessed JonBenet Ramsey killer John Mark Karr. PETA was prompted to write the letter in response to reports of Karrís taste for foie gras and other foods involving violence against animals.

"While officials investigate Mr. Karrís confession, he should not be allowed to continue to support such egregious cruelty to farmed animals," says PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich. "As you know, many violent criminals, including Jeffrey Dahmer and Timothy McVeigh, started out as animal abusers, and itís been found that many serial killers have a background history of torturing animals. Feeding inmates bean burritos rather than baby back ribs might just help break the cycle of violence."

Who knew that's what it would take? Hezbollah? Iran? North Korea? Let's just pelt them with bean burritos.

2. Two of the three PETA people who legally changed their names to websites have gone back to their original names:

[Christopher] Garnett, an animal rights activist who gave up his given name to become "Kentucky fried cruelty.com," was one of three workers at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who changed their names to PETA Web sites. Two have now returned to their given names.

"I think maybe its time had come and gone," said Karin Robertson, formerly known as "Goveg.com" until last month.

Robertson led the way, changing her name in March 2003 to get people focused on animal rights and vegetarianism.

Back then, she remembered thinking, "It will be just weird and quirky enough. It will be a lighthearted way to get the message out."

She got a driver's license with her new name on it and tucked her court papers in her wallet just in case. It worked: Web traffic to the site shot up, as did requests for vegetarian starter kits.

Her success inspired others. Last fall, Garnett and Brandi Valladolid went to the courthouse and, with the stroke of a judge's pen, became "Kentucky fried cruelty.com" and "Ringling beats animals.com."

[Yeah, "No billboards on cows.com" has a nice ring to it.]

Yellow Bear decided to stay put yesterday - still lounging around the Master Bedroom. I'm sure he'll be all over the house next week - maybe we can put some sort of GPS device on him to monitor his travels while we're gone. Yes indeed, vacation begins tomorrow. We have our shots, our passports, our bags packed . . . well, no, not really, since we're just going down to the shore for a week. But we will not be at work.

["And there was much rejoicing."]


[Only 7,188 more needed for our Wine Cellar Wall.]

Quote du jour:

"Man makes a great fuss about this planet which is only a ballbearing in the hub of the universe."

Christopher Morley (1890 - 1957) US novelist, journalist

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