Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Great Debate

I'm going to go off topic in this post and recommend that anyone reading this take the opportunity to follow a fascinating conference occurring this week from Thursday to Saturday, a conference I am honored to have been invited to take part in--the Great Planet Debate at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland (interesting choice of locations for this event).

The Great Planet Debate, which will discuss "Science as Process" in the context of the ongoing controversy over how to define a planet, can be found at . For people in a town like Highland Park, people who take pride in being part of an intellectual, university community, this conference promises to be a fascinating discussion of how we know what we know and how we define the terms we use.

The planet definition issue, especially as it relates to the status of Pluto, is of special personal interest to me. As those who receive my email newsletter might be aware, I have long had a personal interest in astronomy and always include dates and times of solstices, equinoxes, and even locally visible eclipses in my messages. Several month ago on this blog, I urged readers to consider buying an excellent CD called "A Tribute to Clyde Tombaugh and the New Horizons Mission" as a holiday gift for friends and family members.

There is a personal note here: Although I did not know it then, August 24, 2006 changed my life forever. It began as an ordinary fourth Thursday, which meant it was a Food Pantry day. Only later did I find out that in Prague, in the Czech Republic, four percent of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) had voted in a highly controversial manner to create a new, linguistically nonsensical planet definition, one that, as everyone now knows, excluded Pluto.

Naturally, as a writer, I am interested in words, phrases, and definitions. Campaigns often use take these out of context and use them to mean something entirely different than what they were originally intended to mean. As a writer interested in astronomy, I found this decision outrageous and began a blog about it, which was intended to be a one-time deal.

What happened next was a testament to the power of the Internet. I began to receive requests from all over the world to write articles and further blog entries about this issue. After the 2007 Highland Park primary, even more people who had seen my writing and wanted support statements for Pluto contacted me with opportunities to write advocating Pluto's official reinstatement as a planet.

It has been a long, exciting, wonderful learning experience over the last two years. I have learned much, not just about Pluto and the solar system, but about all aspects of astronomy. I have met many wonderful, amazing people, a breath of fresh air in a political climate where opponents have spread the most vicious lies and personal attacks about me, where even a rabbi had the gall to falsely refer to me as "sick" at a public event two days before the 2005 primary.

So while I learned much about the solar system, I also learned that there are kind, accepting, welcoming, non-judgmental people who will not look down on someone for not making a lot of money or holding a high level position. These are the people organizing the Great Planet Debate, and they have given me the tremendous honor of doing a public presentation at this event. The topic of my presentation is, "Planet Definition Is Important."

The organizers of the conference, Dr. Mark Sykes and Dr. Hal Weaver, have opened it to the public because they respect rather than look down on public opinion, because they want to hear your input, our input. What an amazing example of a truly open process.

I especially hope the people who have most maligned those of us who oppose this administration with lies, for example, the claim that I lack leadership skills; those who have tried to force disappointment and setbacks down my throat when these were never my authentic experience; those who have tried to force an elitist vision down this town's throat writing out the businesses they don't like and using the most deplorable practices to enact that vision, take time to find out what a genuine, open process really is. I also hope they find out how wrong their negative attacks on me are.

Some political leaders in this town seem to think they are still in junior high and are trying to recapture their youth by creating a clique, in group versus out group situation. If they want to do this, fine, but don't even think of choosing me as the one to exclude. The organizers of the Great Planet Debate have proven my opponents' unjust assessment of my abilities wrong. I am proud to be a national speaker, and I will not put up with being the victim of the mayor's politics of personal destruction. And yes, Helen, the status of Pluto is important to me, so take your "holding down a job" nonsense (I do have one in spite of your false Internet claims) far beyond the orbit of Pluto and deep into the Kuiper Belt where it belongs.

As I leave for the Great Planet Debate, I want to thank all the wonderful people who have been with me throughout this journey, especially Dr. Alan Stern, Dr. Hal Weaver, and Dr. Mark Sykes, who have continually stood up for Pluto and have valued the input and contributions of all who have offered them.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, "a planet is a planet, no matter how small." Pluto is a planet, and this conference will seek to undo the mess created two years earlier by the IAU. Exclusion, whenever it is done with the agenda of isolating one specific object or person for no reason than someone's personal agenda, is always wrong. This conference will be a summer educational experience that no one should miss.

For anyone interested in this fascinating discussion, I will be blogging about the conference on my other site, .