19 May 2011


VIE PRIVEE. Which is French for "private life," the preservation of which occupies a much different space in France than in the U.S. For instance, when prominent French individuals (notably men) engage in numerous extramarital affairs, it is not a liability, but rather an impulse to be expected, and perhaps even admired as evidence of virility. In the more puritanical (and hypocritical?) U.S., when word of an affair leaks, the adulterer becomes the object of revulsion and ridicule.

Hence the divide between the responses of the French and of Americans to the news earlier this week that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had been arrested for sexual assault and the attempted rape of a hotel chambermaid in New York City. When TV images showing Strauss-Kahn appearing for his court arraignment unshaven, with no tie, and handcuffed, the French were shocked, then furious. No one in a French court would have been treated in this fashion. Initially, French public opinion was sympathetic to the alleged assailant. It was only with the passage of days, and with more information revealed about the victim, a widowed woman from Guinea who is raising a teenage daughter, that the French began to reconsider, and to shift their support toward her.

The PBS Newshour aired an informative segment on this phenomenon last night. You will find the video, and a printed transcript, here.

ORPHAN PLANETS. NASA has announced the discovery of "a new class of Jupiter-size planets floating alone in the dark of space, away from the light [and gravitational influence] of a star. These lone worlds are probably outcasts from developing planetary systems, and they could be twice as numerous as the stars themselves .... these worlds are thought to be at least as common as planets that orbit stars. This adds up to hundreds of billions of lone planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone .... The survey is not sensitive to planets smaller than Jupiter and Saturn, but theories suggest lower-mass planets like Earth should be ejected from their stars more often. As a result, they are thought to be more common than free-floating Jupiters."

This is why I love science. Just when we think we understand what the cosmos is made up of, and how it works, along comes a new discovery which alters the map entirely. Space -- a cold, boundless vaccuum populated by galaxies, nebulae, solar systems of stars and planets, comets, asteroids, black holes, dark matter, and now orphan planets which outnumber the stars themselves. I can't wait to see what we discover next. You can read the NASA report which explains how planets become disassociated from their parent stars here.

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