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May 22, 2008

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By Zach Mitcham

Light years from the porch
If you were fired into the sky at the fastest speed mankind has ever achieved in space, it would take you 60,000 years to reach the next closest star system.
I love that kind of stuff, the vast distance of space kind of talk, the fact that the light from some stars at night took many millions of years to reach our eyes.
The idea of a “light year” is baffling. The distance a beam of light travels in one year totals roughly 5.9 trillion miles. A recently discovered galaxy was determined to be roughly 11.4 billion light years away. Okay, so that’s 11.4 billion by 5.9 trillion miles. That would be a mighty long ride in a stinky metal tube of fire.
I sometimes surf the Internet looking for various space oddities (not the David Bowie kind). I particularly like things that show an unbelievable stretch in scale, like the fact that over one million Earths could fit on the sun.
Here are a few other space facts that I stumbled across and found pretty interesting.
Did you know?
•The Milky Way Galaxy is about 150,000 light-years across.
•Our moon has only one eightieth the mass of the Earth.
•The largest mountain in the Solar System is Olympus Mons on Mars. At a height of over 26 km (16 miles), it is nearly three times taller than Mt. Everest.
•The Sun looks 1,600 times fainter from Pluto than it does from the Earth.
•The elements Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen — all crucial to life — are found in roughly the same proportions in comets and human beings.
•If you attempted to count all the stars in a galaxy at a rate of one every second it would take around 3,000 years to count them all.
•If you shouted in space, even if someone was right next to you, they wouldn’t be able to hear you.
•The surface, or photosphere, of the sun is about 10,000° Fahrenheit.
I’m always sucked into any television show about space — actual space that is, not science fiction. I don’t have any desire to learn Klingon.
But I’ll watch “The Right Stuff” anytime it’s on. I like the section of the movie devoted to testing the astronauts, those sleep-deprived guys locked in a neon-lit room, the one fellow going crazy as the horns honk, or the long walk down the hall during the bladder control tests. I’ve only heard a sonic boom a couple of times in my life. But I’m sure when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier that first time, he scared some folks with that man-made thunder. I like that scene in the movie, too.
Sometimes people will talk about how man will one day colonize the moon or Mars or some other land in space. That doesn’t excite me. No, it just sounds bleak. Just think of all the mundane stuff that would be complicated by the spacesuit, like fixing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I’d never want to put on a spacesuit and be propelled upward by an explosion into that darkness where there’s nothing to breathe.
No, I’m content to stay on this planet, sit on the porch and look up at night.
I always enjoy those nights when the stars are crisp, and they truly have a greater luster in Madison County than where I grew up.
It’s weird how contemplating the heavens keeps you grounded. But I believe it does.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. Contact him at

By Frank Gillispie

Need to get parties out of politics
Georgia has had a long history of one-party politics. In the past, the real elections in the state were not in November. It was all over by the summer because the winner of the Democratic Primary was assured the office.
Now a lot of you think that has changed. We now have two parties. In fact, the Republicans are now the dominant party in Georgia. But that is not true statewide. Georgia is still a one party state on the local level. Except that each party has its areas of dominance.
For example: In the Athens area, Democrats have undisputed control of Athens/Clarke County while the Republicans dominate the surrounding counties. In Athens, 10 Democrats qualified for 11 positions. Not one Republican qualified there. In Barrow County, 23 Republicans found their way onto the ballot to only three Democrats. Nineteen Republicans qualified in Jackson County, but not one Democrat showed up. Twenty five Republicans and one Democrat are seeking office in Oconee County.
The Democrats are showing a bit more life in Madison and Oglethorpe counties. Seven Democrats and twelve Republicans are on the Oglethorpe County ballot. But three of the seven Democrats are seeking the same office. In Madison County, 18 Republicans and six Democrats qualified. Five of the six Democrats are long-term politicians seeking to retain or return to office. Only one is a first-time office seeker.
Another difference is the number of offices being contested. In Athens/Clarke only in one of 10 positions do the voters have a choice. While we in Madison County will choose between competing office seekers in all but four offices. There are three candidates for chairman, two for District One Commissioner, three each in District Two, Four and Five. One Republican and one Democrat are seeking the Tax Commissioners seat, and there are two Democrats and three Republicans who want to be sheriff.
I am happy that we in Madison County have a choice this year in the primaries, and that some of the choices will extend to the general election in November. I am still disturbed by the structure of the primaries, specifically the fact that they are conducted and paid for by the state and county governments. A primary is a device used by political parties to choose their candidates for the general election. I can find nothing in the Georgia Constitution that authorizes the state to conduct or finance these primaries. They should be entirely controlled and financed the parties that benefit from them.
My other problem with the system is the difficulty of other candidates obtaining ballot access. Unless you run in one of the two primaries, Democratic or Republican, you have very little chance of getting on the General Election ballot. If you want to represent the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, any of the other minor parties, or run as an independent, the process of getting on the ballot is so exhausting that you have no money or energy left to conduct a reasonable campaign.
We need to get the government and political parties out of politics and let us select our representatives from among our neighbors without engaging in partisan wrangling. That is the only way we will ever get back to “Government by the People.”
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is His website can be accessed at


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