Day By Day

Thursday, January 07, 2010

This Day In History

Today is "Old Rock Day" -- really, that's what they say. Trying to figure out just what that meant led me down some interesting pathways. We don't appreciate the extent to which old rocks affect our lives.

"She Who Must Not Be Named" wasn't puzzled at all. She reminded me immediately that precious stones are old rocks..., really old rocks, and diamonds [hint, hint] are really, really old rocks. For a while the best I could come up with were the flat smooth stones I used to collect from stream beds up on the ridge because they made perfect skipping stones. Then I thought of my grandfather's arrowhead collection that fascinated me as a boy, but none of those were an adequate response to the jewelry observation. "She" collected rocks as a kid and apparently still does -- really old rocks. Then I thought of fossils and then of geological formations. Two fascinating and useful sciences, paleontology and geology both dedicated to studying old rocks. "She" pointed out that fossils are often used in pieces of jewelry [She can get a bit single-minded when certain subjects arise]. Then I thought, "this is coal country" and coal is old rocks upon which the region's economy once depended. That led her to observe that really, really old coal sometimes turns into diamonds.


So, observe "Old Rock Day" any way you wish, and be warned the most appropriate way might involve giving an old rock to someone near and dear to you, assuming of course that you can find an nice piece of anthracite. That shouldn't be hard here in "Coal Country". Boy is "She" going to be surprised!

On this date in 1610 Galileo Galilei turned a telescope to the skies and discovered that the planet Jupiter was accompanied by "three fixed stars, totally invisible by their smallness". He further noted that the stars seemed to be in a line that bisected Jupiter. Hmmm, that's odd. His curiosity piqued, Galileo observed Jupiter time and again over the next few days and noted that the "stars" were not fixed, rather they moved in ways that could only be explained if they were satellites revolving around the planet. Following the logic of these observations and others led Galileo to assert that the Copernican [heliocentric], rather than the widely accepted Aristotelian [geocentric] model of the cosmos was correct. His advocacy of the heliocentric model led to conflict with the teachings of the Church and eventually to his celebrated trial for heresy.

Cheap moralists have tried to portray this as a simple confrontation between scientific enlightenment and oppressive superstition, but the reality of the situation was far more complex. You can read a nice summary of the current state of academic understanding regarding Galileo's trial for heresy and the context in which it took place in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [here]. By all means do so. The Church was by no means the villain that secularist polemicists make it out to be, and Galileo seems to have acted stupidly and provocatively on a number of occasions and, to be honest, he was wrong about some important things like tidal motion.

By the way, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that at any time during or after the trial Galileo ever uttered the famous phrase "...yet it moves". That is secularist mythologizing.

And while we are on the subject of trials, on this date in 1999 the Senate trial of impeached president William Jefferson Clinton started.

And on this day in 1800 Millard Fillmore was born.

And on this day in 2004 Brad officially dumped Jennifer for Angie.

And a "Happy Birthday" to Katie Couric -- she doesn't look bad for 53 -- and no that is not a sexist remark. It's an entirely appropriate observation when commenting on a person whose chief function in life is to sit in front of a camera, smile pretty for the audience, and read a script prepared by a production team.