October 31, 2007

Request

We're taking our little ones out tonight for trick-or-treating, and I'd like to make a request in advance to all you residents of our neighborhood: If you intend to welcome kids tonight, please turn your porch light on, and if you don't intend to participate, really, we don't care at all, but please TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF so our kids don't stand there ringing your doorbell for two minutes.

Posted by Observer at 08:24 AM | Comments (3)

October 30, 2007

Alter Ego

I played this game a long time ago as a teenager, and it was actually pretty fun. Gives you a chance to live life differently, see what happens if you make different choices along the way. It was written by a bunch of professional psychologists, if I remember right.

Back when I played on a Mac Plus, it came on four disks, so I knew it was a pretty seriously complex game. Hell, Wizardry only came on one disk. Anyway, someone ported it so that it works in a browser window now.

Posted by Observer at 11:36 PM | Comments (1)

No Bruce

It's always nice to see the ultra-super-duper-liberal communist-Marxist left-wing-fringe media in action, censoring stuff it disagrees with. Gosh, with stuff like this going on, it's a wonder that right-wing opinions ever get any exposure among the general public, isn't it?

(/sarcasm)

Posted by Observer at 05:05 PM | Comments (0)

Perseus

Perseus is one of many children of Zeus in Greek mythology, and he is part of a royal family currently in the Northern and Eastern parts of the sky which includes Andromeda, Cassiopeia and Cepheus. Pegasus and the sea monster, Cetus, also play a role in Perseus' tale, and they are also found nearby in the sky. As I mentioned previously, during October, Perseus can be found in the Northeastern sky by following the long skinny constellation Andromeda down toward the Northeast horizon from the Great Square of Pegasus. Several bright stars in Perseus form an arc known as the Segment of Perseus, and to the right of the arc is Beta Persei, or Algol.

The constellation Perseus is also known as the Champion, and holds the Gorgon's head in one hand, represented by Algol. Algol is an eclipsing binary star, and its "winking" during occasional eclipses, may have made Greek storytellers imagine the baleful eye of the Medusa. According to the mythology, Zeus appeared to Danae, who was imprisoned by her father, and Zeus rained down on her as a shower of gold. There is some speculation that this story is related to the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs every August when the Earth is moving in the general direction of this constellation (and so the meteors appear to originate from this part of the sky).

In the excellent book Star Names by R. H. Allen, he mentions that the story of Perseus and Cetus may have been the foundation for the story of Saint George and the Dragon. In that tale, Saint George rescued a princess from a dragon and captured it. Returning to the village of the princess, he promised them that if they would convert to Christianity, he would slay the dragon for them. They did, and he did. Like all legends, though, this one is probably a retelling of an even older story.

Alpha Persei (Mirphak, Mirfak or sometimes Algenib) is a yellow giant star, the brightest in the binocular-worthy Alpha Persei cluster, a collection of over 50 bright stars within about a 3 degree diameter area. These stars all share the same proper motion, similar to the much larger Sco-Cen Association, and so this is likely a cluster of stars formed long ago from the same giant molecular cloud about 500 light years away. This cluster is right in the plane of the Milky Way (the feet of Perseus are standing on this starry road), so the field is very target-rich for a small telescope on a dark night.

Beta Persei (Algol) is also known as the Demon Star, perhaps the most famous of all eclipsing binaries, about 100 light years away. The name Algol literally comes from a shortened version of the Arabic for the Demon's Head. Ancient astrologers considered this a very unlucky star, which Burnham speculates means that they noticed its variability even in early times. Algol's magnitude dips from about 2.1 to 3.4 for several hours every 3 days or so, a result of a near total eclipse of the primary star by a dimmer companion. Recent studies have revealed the primary to be about a 100 solar mass B star, and the companion a subgiant just a bit larger and more massive than our Sun. The story on this system is very complex and interesting, still with plenty of mysteries to unravel.

Among the deep-sky objects in this part of the sky is M34, a bright open star cluster a few degrees West of Algol near the border with Andromeda, best seen with binoculars or low-power eyepieces (due to the lack of lots of background faint stars). It is about 1400 light years away, so the stars you are seeing here are pretty bright. The whole cluster is fairly young, maybe 100 million years old, so a little older than the Pleiades.

M76 is also called the Little Dumbbell Nebula and is the faintest of all the Messier objects, about 1800 light years away. This is a double-lobed planetary nebula, which has lots of arcs and filaments being thrown off the central star, shown by deeper images. Also present in this part of the sky is the vast California Nebula, about five times larger in length than the diameter of the full moon, it shows up very nicely in deep photographs near the loose Zeta Persei cluster, about 8 degrees North of the Pleiades. I should also mention the reflection nebula NGC 1333, which APOD does a great job with here.

The most commonly observed cluster in Perseus is definitely the Double Cluster, also known as "h and xi Persei". It is about halfway between Perseus and Cassiopeia in the sky, right where the sword hand of Perseus is typically depicted (his other hand holds the Gorgon's head), about 8000 light years distant, barely visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy patch under the best conditions. Burnham considers it strange that Messier never included it in his catalog, and I agree.

The brightest members are all hot supergiants (we can guess sizes of stars by looking at spectral lines, a story for another time), with luminosities nearly 60,000 times that of our Sun, comparable to Rigel. Based on our knowledge of galactic structure, it seems as though the Double Cluster is one of the few objects we can easily observe that exists in the next arm over in our galaxy, moving outward from the direction of the galactic center (over toward Sagittarius, nearly 180 degrees away on the sky).

The clusters are likely not directly linked to one another. One is about 1000 light years more distant than the other and perhaps twice as old, so it is just an alignment coincidence here. The younger of the pair of clusters is probably one of the ten or so youngest clusters of stars in our galaxy.

The final object I'll talk about in this region is extragalactic: Perseus A. It is the brightest of a small galaxy cluster located about 2 degrees East of Algol, about 300 million light years distant. This elliptical galaxy is somewhat distorted in shape and a very bright source of radio emission. It is speculated that we are witnessing a galactic collision, based on the internal motions of different parts of this object. This is a very well-studied object and clearly has a complex story to tell, one we are still trying to piece together.

In sum, with a small telescope and a dark sky, you'll find plenty worth observing in this region of the sky besides Comet Holmes.

Posted by Observer at 04:51 PM | Comments (3)

October 29, 2007

Wingnut Logic

The latest Krugman column points out how stupid is the term "Islamofascist":

Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president — including all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination — have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns. [...]

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t. And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

The thing is, Islam and Fascism do not work well together. The whole idea of Islam, a movement present in many countries, is that the religion should not be subservient to the state. When the needs of the government and the needs of religion differ, religion wins out. Fascism is exactly the opposite. Fascism is oppression through government and corporate entities, not religious entities.

Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.

But they're the biggest threat EVER! Bigger than the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War! Worse than Hitler! That's why we have no choice but to trash the Constitution to fight this War on Terror!

Yes, Iran is a threat. Yes, Al Qaeda is a threat. Let's elect a competent government to address these threats, not a fear-mongering warlike government to throw fuel on the fire.

Posted by Observer at 10:56 PM | Comments (3)

October 28, 2007

Comet Holmes

The current big news in Astronomy picked the next constellation I should cover: the Greek hero Perseus. Today, rather than talking about Perseus itself, I'll talk about the famous comet within Perseus. Next time, I'll go into the history and mythology of this constellation, as well as the interesting sights to see in this region of the sky.

During Fall evenings, Perseus rises shortly after sunset and can be found in the Northeastern sky below Cassiopeia. If you can find the Great Square of Pegasus high in the Eastern sky, following the long thin triangle made by the trailing stars of Andromeda down to your left toward the horizon, and that will guide you to the familiar curve of three stars known as the Segment of Perseus, the most easily recognizable asterism within the constellation.

If you follow the path of Andromeda starting with Alpheratz, the star in the bottom left corner of Pegasus as you look toward the East, down through Mirach and then Almaak, the fourth star in that equally-spaced curve is Mirphak (sometimes called Algenib in error in some star charts). From there, drop a couple of finger-widths (held at arms length) straight down toward the horizon, and you'll be looking at Comet Holmes, a short-period comet that a few days ago underwent a dramatic outburst, increasing in brightness by a factor of over a million to a magnitude of 2.5, just a touch fainter than the two brightest stars in Perseus, Mirphak and Algol.

According to this sky chart, it looks like the comet will remain within Perseus for the next five months or so on a retrograde loop. This happens because Earth is passing it by as we orbit the Sun a bit faster. During the time of its outburst, it will be getting closer and closer to Mirphak/Algenib, getting less than half a degree away (the angular size of the full moon in the sky) during November 19-20, so these instructions should help you find it while it is bright.

With binoculars or a low-power telescope, the coma of this comet is easily visible surrounding the bright yellow nucleus. This comet was originally discovered in 1892 following a similar outburst, and it was very bright for the three weeks following the outburst, with another outburst occurring about 75 days after the first brightening. Thanks to my brother-in-law Phil for forwarding me that information, by the way.

According to the full story of the history of this comet, it has a rather complicated orbit thanks to frequent perturbations by Jupiter and Saturn, so after its initial outburst/discovery, it was found twice more in 1899 and 1906, but it was very difficult to track. Not only had the comet returned to a very faint state with a small coma, its orbit was just too difficult to calculate. It was lost for all intents and purposes until Brian Marsden, a famous researcher of minor planets and comets, used a computer to accurately predict its orbit in 1963.

The comet was "rediscovered" thanks to Marsden's work in 1964 and has been observed on every return trip since. Now, it seems the comet has undergone another outburst, and so it should be visible to the naked eye for at least the next few weeks. The orientation isn't too favorable for a long tail to be seen. The tail is mostly behind the nucleus, and the comet is moving slowly away from the Sun (and from us), having passed through its perihelion point recently, so what little tail we see will appear stubby.

Based on the orbital chart, Holmes always stays between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, so it is a rare spectacle to see such a comet get very bright as seen from Earth.

Posted by Observer at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2007

PhD

I'm probably the last former grad student in the world to "discover" this cool comic about life as a grad student. I wasted a good long while going through the archives. Not great, but definitely moments of truth/brilliance mixed in there.

Posted by Observer at 10:23 PM | Comments (2)

October 26, 2007

Department of Making Shit Up

Apparently, FEMA has learned a very important lesson from its failure to properly respond to Katrina: When there is a big crisis, don't let actual reporters ask questions. Just hold a fake press conference instead, with loyal staffers pretending to be reporters.

Heckuva job!

Posted by Observer at 01:22 PM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2007

Traffic Problem

Now that Bush has apparently snarled traffic and interfered with the ability of California fire refugees to return home for hours so that he could squeeze in a photo op, we'll see nonstop coverage of this on CNN and Fox. And I'm sure it'll become part of the national mythology on Bush, just like Clinton's expensive Air Force One haircut supposedly held up flights at LAX years ago, which is still mentioned today by the ultra-super-duper-liberal New York Times any chance it gets.

Yeah. That'll happen.

Posted by Observer at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

Survivor Talk!

Well, it seems that 20% of my readership approves of Survivor posts, so I will be like President Bush and treat that as a mandate to post about Survivor. If you don't like it, then you are in league with the terrorists and should just leave the country and go live in Iraq.

This season makes you wonder just how much of the planning in the game is done up-front. How much is pre-determined by the producers, and how much do they just let events take their course? The season started with assigned teams (Fei Long and Zhan Hu) living in a hot forest during the summer on the shore of a gigantic Chinese lake. From the beginning, it was clear that Fei Long was the stronger team. They had the strongest three guys and arguably the strongest two women (one big lunch lady who says she is a black belt and a couple of fairly athletic younger women, either one of which could probably beat anyone in Zhan Hu).

All of the challenges except for one so far have been largely based on brute strength, and so not surprisingly, the stronger team (Fei Long) has been dominating, and the Zhan Hu tribe is severely outnumbered. On last week's show, the two teams were each allowed to take control of the two strongest members (their choice) of the opposing tribe. This meant that Fei Long's two strongest guys (Aaron and James) were now part of the weakling loser tribe.

The three people left in that tribe decided to throw their immunity challenge, which meant they went to tribal council and threw off one of the strong guys originally from Fei Long. They plan to do the same in the episode that's coming tonight, but I don't know if they'll actually be able to carry that out. What if the other side realizes what's going on?

The goal of the weaklings is that, by picking off the two strongest original members of Fei Long, the tribe numbers will be down to 5-5 (they were outnumbered 7-5 before this stunt). Usually, when the numbers get whittled down from the original 16-18 to 10, the tribes merge and it becomes a game of individual survival. In practice, the original tribes will often just maintain their original alliances and pick off the tribe with a numbers disadvantage.

By going into the merge 5-5, the weakling tribe will have a chance. In the event of a tie, there is a tiebreaker challenge, and so if the weaklings win that, they'll have the numbers for the next four weeks and will be able to systematically eliminate all the members of the strongest tribe despite hardly ever winning any challenges at all.

The Survivor producers say that always game it out before it all starts, that they don't make adjustments to the rules on the fly. Doing so might provoke a lawsuit or something from the losers, I guess, so they have to say that. But I wonder...

It's always fun to watch the unpredictable human drama. The only downside of reality shows like this for the networks is that the audience for repeats is vanishingly small. The unpredictability is what makes the show entertaining. I get more laughs per hour watching Survivor than just about any sitcom, barring a never-before-seen Seinfeld (if such a thing exists). And there is always plenty to talk about strategy-wise after the show.

Posted by Observer at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2007

9/11 Didn't Change This

The whole deal with telecom immunity is a crazy issue to me. Glenn Greenwald and his guest posters have been covering this extensively for the past week or two, so you can go there if you need a primer.

Basically, the various communications companies were asked by the government to break the law, to eavesdrop on communications without a warrant in the name of stopping terrorism. The problem I have with that is that there was no need to do this without a warrant. We have a process for fast-tracking eavesdropping warrants. It is called the FISA court. You can even retroactively get a warrant 72 hours later if it is an emergency.

So we are left to guess why the government asked these companies to break the law. The easiest guess is that they used this power to spy on political enemies in addition to terrorists. That would fit the m.o. of these guys. Maybe they're doing data-mining, which technically violates our privacy but is part of a broad and effective intelligence-gathering strategy that makes warrants unworkable, but why is this suddenly necessary? What's more is that one company (Qwest) refused, and the government started punitive actions against them.

Is this scary yet?

So now the government is asking Congress to retroactively grant immunity to these companies for breaking the law at the request of the Bush administration. Most seem ready to go along with it, for reasons which are very difficult to understand. Why do we need such unprecedented invasions of privacy? Is the threat so great? Greater than during the Cold War, when we were on the verge of nuclear annihilation? Back then, warrants worked just fine, I guess.

We are supposed to believe that 9/11 changed everything, and that's why we need to do all this. Okay, then why did the Bush administration start asking the companies to break the law and do warrantless wiretapping well before 9/11?

How can you be a living, breathing, thinking Republican and not wonder about these same things? These people whose one common trait is an intense dislike and distrust of all things government are willing to give the government all the power in the world it wants if they just hear the word "terrorist".

I don't get it. At all.

Posted by Observer at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

Super Geek

Ok, I admit this is bad, but I've been listening to the best of a few of the Survivor podcasts out there for 4-5 weeks now. These are people who basically do a "post-game" after every episode of the show for about an hour, and then they have an interview with the loser (they can get the interview because the podcast has on the order of thousands of listeners), and then they have a listener feedback show. On that show, you can leave your comment with them, and if it passes muster as interesting and better than the rest, they'll read it "on the air".

I submitted a comment to the show last week and it made the podcast, and I was excited. I never said I wasn't nerdy, you know. I've restrained myself from doing "Survivor" recaps here on the blog because I don't think anyone of the five regular readers watches the show anyway. The podcast gives me an outlet.

Posted by Observer at 08:37 PM | Comments (3)

October 23, 2007

Motivational RPG Posters

Stumbled upon this while avoiding work today. Lots of very funny posters (mixed in with many not-so-funny) for gamers young and old. Okay, mostly old.

Posted by Observer at 03:56 PM | Comments (1)

October 21, 2007

Halftime

This is like the Buffalo game, where everything that could go wrong is going wrong. Unlike Buffalo, I am not very confident about the outcome at this point. I'm not convinced the defense will stop Minnesota in the second half nearly enough, and if Romo isn't healthy or they have to trot out Brad Johnson, I fear for our offense. The best we can hope for is a nailbiter that we pull out 28-27 or something.

If I had to make a prediction at this point, I'd say Minnesota wins 31-24. Sucks to go into the bye week with three relatively poor games in a row. But if Romo gets over whatever he just got hurt by and we get our defensive starters back, then I'm still pretty positive about the part of the schedule where we have to go through our very tough division.

Update: Very happy to be wrong about the defense. Dallas wins 24-14, after trailing 14-7 at halftime. Offense was a bit anemic, but I think they did what they needed to do to win. If they had needed to run it up a little bit, I think they were capable of more. Glad we have a bye week now to rest up for the Eagles.

Despite the mixed play of the Eagles this year, they are always to be dreaded and feared, especially on the road. And in other news, the NFC East is pretty stout this season, 13-5 against everyone else outside the division. If we can get through the division 5-1 or 4-2, I think we'd have to be happy in the end. We're already 1-0 thanks to the huge win in week 1 over the Giants.

Posted by Observer at 04:39 PM | Comments (0)

One Man's Trash...

Michelle gathered a big laundry basket full of random stuff accumulated on the floor of the three downstairs living areas. Lots of books, papers, shoes, socks and assorted stuff, including little 4-year-old D*niel's Cars movie sandals. She put it on the kitchen floor and announced to all kids present: "I just picked up all of this crap from the rooms downstairs. I hope none of it belongs to any of you because it's going in the trash pretty soon!"

D*niel got a look of panic on his face, "My sandals aren't crap, Mom!"

Took a few minutes to calm him down and convince him that he wasn't losing them. He went into the shoe rack in the pantry and not only put his sandals away but cleaned up and organized everything he could reach so mommy wouldn't throw it away. Nothing like a healthy fear of mommy to keep a boy in line.

Posted by Observer at 12:55 PM | Comments (1)

October 20, 2007

Photo

Michelle's blog (top of my sidebar) now has a current family photo. I thought it turned out pretty well, all things considered. Tough to get that many moving parts working for a photo.

Posted by Observer at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

Why We Care

Bob Somerby has been doing a great job these past 8+ years reporting on the war on liberalism being waged by the traditional media, and his analysis is centered on how the traditional media (NOT the right wing) was instrumental in propagating false and harmful narratives about Gore during the 2000 election (Earth tones! Exaggerator! Grew up in a posh hotel! Claimed to invent the Internet! Love Canal!).

Why bother with this history? Because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and already, the traditional media is doing their damnedest to start the same process with Hillary Clinton, part of an ongoing war against the Clintons carried out by the traditional media, thanks to the prodding of wingnuts.

Posted by Observer at 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2007

Minnesota

Going to be a fun game to watch on Sunday. Minnesota comes to Dallas with their stout rushing game and a shitty quarterback. It'll be interesting to see if the Cowboys put eight guys in the box to stop the run. Can a really bad QB exploit our secondary? If Eli Manning could do it, I think anyone can, so I'm a little worried about that aspect of it.

But I'm still not really concerned about our offense, so I think we can outscore just about anyone. Put me down for a 38-24 Cowboys win. If we can actually stop their running game, it might be a lot worse than that.

Tomorrow, I have to take C*dy to his soccer game. Going to be all kinds of hot (nearly 90), but this is apparently the last couple of hot days of the year. We finally get a big front through sometime Sunday, and we're supposed to be in the 60's after that for highs. We had it really easy this summer compared to the average heat, so no complaints.

Posted by Observer at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2007

Randi

I tuned in for my Randi Rhodes podcasts this week only to find there were guest hosts. Sorry, both of them sucked. Not only is Randi a very quick wit and great with opposing callers (doesn't let them dumb ones go on and on like so many liberal hosts do), she has a great comedy writing team. Every show has one or two truly funny bits about the news of the day.

Anyway, Randi was off because Sunday evening she either got mugged or she fainted or had too much to drink or something. When she stepped outside of a pub to have a smoke (in other news, you have to go outside a pub to smoke??), she fell or got knocked over, she doesn't remember which, and her face and mouth got messed up pretty bad. She came back today and got right back into the fray, and she was definitely missed. Glad she's on the mend.

We need people like her on the teevee.

Posted by Observer at 10:11 PM | Comments (5)

October 17, 2007

Simple But Very Cool

I was messing around with various menus on my Ipod the other day, and in the Extras menu is a thing called "Notes". The little instructions said it is an editable file. Sure enough, if I mount the Ipod and double-click on its little icon, I see three folders: Calendars, Contacts and Notes.

Opening the notes folder, I find that I can create text files in there, and they show up under that menu on my Ipod. I can dump whatever text I want in there. Too bad I can't insert little images, but oh well. It works great as little crib sheet that I can scroll through with the click wheel, especially when it is dark because of the lit screen. I used it tonight for a presentation, making a list of everything I wanted to talk about, and it was perfect, even a useful little light source when I needed it.

I'm going to have to dump our little address book contacts into my Ipod for sure. I never thought to use it as a sort of PDA, but it makes sense.

Posted by Observer at 11:30 PM | Comments (1)

Pegasus

Ok, time for another constellation. Today, I want to talk about the constellation Pegasus, which is very prominent (nearly overhead toward the SE) during evenings in October. The constellation is featured in this month's Hubble Site review of the sky, and their take on it as a baseball diamond is actually pretty amusing.

Pegasus is most easily found by looking for the Great Square asterism (sometimes referred to as the bowl of the Autumn Dipper). The square consists of the three brightest stars in Pegasus plus the brightest star in Andromeda. Third brightest (but still called alpha due to inaccuracy in the original rankings) is Markab (saddle) in the SW corner of the square. This star is a little over 100 light years away (for reference, the nearest star is just over 4 light years away, so this is still kind of in the neighborhood) and very massive with a luminosity of 100 times that of our Sun.

Beta Pegasi is called Scheat (foreleg), a red giant that is slowly pulsating as many large stars do. Scheat appaers to have two faint companions when viewed through a telescope and was once thought to be a binary pair with at least one of them, but the objects do not share the same proper motion through the sky over the years and so are likely unrelated. Gamma is Algenib (wing), another very intrinsically bright star a few hundred light years away.

As Burnham tells it, the most common legend is that Pegasus was born from the blood of the medusa after it was slain by Perseus. He was never the steed of Perseus and wasn't present at the rescue of Andromeda by Perseus, according to the original myths. Instead, he was the steed of the Greek hero Bellerophon, who had many adventures with Pegasus. Once, when Bellerophon tried to fly Pegasus up to Mount Olympus, Pegasus threw him off, kililng him.

Among the notable deep sky objects in Pegasus are NGC 1 and 2, the first two objects in Dreyer's New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars. They are ordered in sequence by increasing Right Ascension, and these two have the smallest, being closest longitudinally to the Vernal Equinox. Think of Right Ascension like Celestial Longitude. The prime meridian runs through the North and South Celestial Poles and passes through the position of the Sun on the day of the vernal equinox, just like the prime meridian on Earth passes through Greenwich, England, and we measure celestial longitude (right ascension) starting at zero from that line of reference.

Also present is NGC 7331, a galaxy very similar to our own Milky Way. Just half a degree away toward the SSW of this beautiful object is Stephan's Quintet. This is an apparent cluster of galaxies. I say apparent because four of the members are roughly the same, but the fifth has a hugely different velocity, yet they all seem connected by tidal tails, so there is either a coincidence or something very odd dynamically going on with this system. Perhaps it is a cluster in the process of being disrupted.

Another very nice object is the globular cluster M15, only about 35,000 light years away (that's close for a globular), visible with binoculars from a dark location. It is very dense in the center, which makes it easy to see, the third brightest globular cluster in the sky. A good target for those just starting out with amateur astronomy since you can probably spot it through your telescope's finder scope and just center it more easily than most deep sky objects.

The first extrasolar planet discovered with the Doppler wobble technique was found orbiting 51 Pegasi, an otherwise unremarkable looking star. This sun-like star's unseen companion has a minimum mass of about half that of Jupiter, and its orbital distance is amazingly close (only about 5 million miles, which is much closer than Mercury's distance to our Sun). As we have discovered more and more systems like this one, we've had to rethink our ideas about how planets form out of disks of gas and dust (a story for another time).

There are also a couple of interesting binaries here. First, is U Pegasi (no link, this is all from Burnham), a pair of sun-like stars orbiting each other at a distance of a mere 1.2 million miles. They are likely so close that they share a common envelope or are at least exchanging mass periodically, which would account for the strange variations in the orbital period of this system. Who knows how the tremendous tidal forces these objects must exert on one another are affecting the interior structure and changing the evolutionary path?

There is also IK Pegasi, which is a bright A-class star with a massive white dwarf companion. When the A-star (similar to Altair in mass and size but further away and so much dimmer) ultimately expands to become a red giant, it will begin dumping mass onto the white dwarf, which means the white dwarf may collapse and explode if its Chandrasekhar Limit is overcome by the constant additions of mass. It is probable that the A-star was originally more sunlike but grew by adding mass dumped onto it from what is now the white dwarf companion back when the companion evolved off the main sequence.

Right now, this system is about 150 light years away from the Earth, but by the time it may eventually go supernova, it will have migrated much further away thanks to the flow of traffic in the galactic disk near the Sun.

Posted by Observer at 07:46 AM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2007

Time to Choose

More Iraq veterans write about the war:

While our generals pursue a strategy dependent on peace breaking out, the Iraqis prepare for their war -- and our servicemen and women, and their families, continue to suffer.

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.

As Atrios says, these are probably just "phony soldiers". Right?

Posted by Observer at 01:26 PM | Comments (0)

Dizziness

I woke up yesterday morning with extreme dizziness. The whole world was rapidly tilting to one side, and I couldn't keep my balance standing up. I had to sit slowly up over the course of about a half hour before I could finally stand up, and even then, I was fairly nauseated. The feeling gradually got better through the day.

The consensus among older people we both know was that I had an inner ear infection, and that's what the Doc in the Box said. So now I'm on Antiv*rt, which is a prescription Dram*mine-type medicine with supposedly fewer side effects. I took one last night and didn't feel any different. I woke up in the night and figured I'd pop another one because it had been about 6-7 hours, and I wanted to make sure I was okay when I woke up.

Well, I woke up without much dizziness at all, but I was sure draggin' ass. I ended up falling back to sleep while poor M*chelle was rushing around getting the little ones ready for weekday school. I eventually came in to work, but I'm still incredibly drowsy even now, and it has been eight hours since I took the 2nd pill. I'm definitely going to have to hold off on taking any more of this stuff unless I absolutely have to.

Fortunately for my classes yesterday, I was able to give an exam in one and show films in two others, so I didn't have to be coherent. After my last class, I tried to call M*chelle's cell from my office. Beep-boop-boop, ring ring, and I'm listening on my office phone when the cell phone in my pocket starts to vibrate. I figured M*chelle must be calling me at the same time, but I looked at the phone and saw a different but familiar number. Couldn't quite place it, so I answered.

"Hello? Hello?" I could hear myself echoing. I had just called my own cell phone, picked it up and answered without even realizing. That's how my brain was working yesterday, so I was in no shape to be teaching scientific concepts.

Posted by Observer at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2007

A Ways to Go

I would've been happier if we could've managed another 7 to 10 points. The defensive score made it seem more competitive than it was. I hope by the end of the season we have a defense capable of stopping such a potent offense.

I'm afraid, though, that as good as we may be over the next few years, we are getting good at a time when a dynasty equivalent to the early 90's Cowboys essentially rules the league. And whichever of the Colts or Patriots comes out of the AFC (like with the Cowboys/49ers vs the Bills), we're going to be 8-10 point dogs if we make it to the end.

I hope this doesn't lead to a letdown next week vs Minnesota.

Posted by Observer at 06:43 PM | Comments (1)

Minor Revision

Huge mistake by New England not to try to get the ball down the field to end the 2nd half with 46 seconds and two timeouts left. They could have easily gotten a couple of 25 yarders over the middle and set up for a field goal and maybe even taken a shot at given Randy Moss a chance to catch an alley-oop deep. I can't believe they just killed the clock.

Stopping the Patriots at the start of the 2nd half is enormously important. They're just killing us on 3rd down, which is normally what the Cowboys do to people. I still think the Patriots are good for about 34 points, but the Cowboys got that defensive score and are starting to put it together offensively. And they're always better in the 2nd half, so I think they have a chance now to outscore New England.

I expect this will end close, 41-38 or something, and either team could win it now. Maybe it'll be one of those "last team with the ball wins" games. I really thought this would be a bit more defensive like when the Colts visited us last year and got beat, but New England's offense is just too damned good for that. And so is Romo.

Doesn't matter much who wins or loses, I just want it competitive, and it is (at the moment). That means being the best team in the NFC won't be a meaningless exercise this year. If we can get through the playoffs, we'll have a chance at winning the Super Bowl, I think. Still will take a lot of luck to get to that point, but I'm excited we're so competitive now with the best in the league, and I don't think we're due to lose any major pieces for the next few years. I have no doubt Jerry Jones will pay Romo whatever he asks, and Jones also takes very good care of linemen on both sides.

Not much more you can ask for as a fan.

Posted by Observer at 04:57 PM | Comments (0)

Prediction Time

I guess I'm a little late with this, but my mind hasn't changed halfway through the first quarter. I think the Dallas defense can't keep track of New England, but I think Romo will have a good game. I pick Dallas to score 24 points. New England will probably score about 34 or so.

If the Dallas defense goes crazy and even gets a turnover or two and prevents Moss from beating us deep, we could hold them to 20 or 23 points and win, but I'm very doubtful of that.

Posted by Observer at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2007

Health Care History

Tom Tomorrow has linked up a history of about a dozen cartoons related to health-care stretching back sixteen years. As he says, it is kind of depressing to see that we've been having this exact same debate for that long and moving nowhere in terms of informing the population or initiating any kind of meaningful political change.

It seems really simple to me. Our health insurance system as it stands is simply a way of transferring money from the government to the insurance industry. Why do we have to have insurance companies as a middle man?

We have already made the decision as a society that we aren't going to let people just die if they can't pay. We'll give them inferior service, sure, but we won't let them die. Even if they don't have insurance, the emergency room is always available, and whatever they can't pay, the taxpayers pick up the tab.

Given that we have made that (good) decision as a society, why not organize a sane way to pay for it that will reduce the incentive that makes people utilize the (very expensive) ER for primary care when they should be seeing a doctor they have a relationship with regularly?

If anything good comes out of the Iraq War, it will be a complete and total veto-proof sweeping of both houses of Congress and the Presidency of Republicans (and some of the bad Democrats, too, like the ones who voted for the credit card company written bankruptcy bill last year) so we can get some long overdue problems fixed, like the health care system and our crumbling infrastructure, not to mention all of the regressive taxes.

Posted by Observer at 10:42 PM | Comments (1)

October 12, 2007

Streak

I've been working at the same University for going on 11 years now, and I've never had to cancel any classes before due to illness. I think I only cancelled class one time when Daniel was born. The streak ended today. I was wiped out. I probably have the same bug that Daniel had, but thankfully, I'm not barfing my guts out. Just really tired and sore and out of it because I can't get on a regular sleep schedule.

I hope it passes. Daniel got over it quick, within 24 hours. Oh, and the little guy made us very proud this week when he showed us his new writing ability. He can copy train names out of his Thomas book and write them on his chalkboard. Very readable, and he did it all on his own (well, they've been working on it at school). M*chelle has the photo if you click on her blog in my sidebar.

Posted by Observer at 10:32 PM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2007

Heaven

I have to say, OOTS made me laugh today. That guy has RPG heaven all figured out.

Posted by Observer at 09:09 PM | Comments (0)

Qwest

Kagro X over at Daily Kos has the full history of what Qwest has gone through since 2001 when they refused to play ball with the administration and tap its customers' phones. He ties all the threads together better than any major traditional media outlet I've seen. Very educational. Go read it.

Posted by Observer at 08:31 PM | Comments (0)

Squish

Been asleep for a little over an hour when our 4-year-old Daniel opens the door and comes in to the bedroom. "Mom? Dad? I think Diego needs a washdown. I had to let out a little bit of throwup."

He walks to my side of the bed holding out his big Diego doll he got for Xmas (sleeps with it and a big Clifford doll every night and has breakfast with them every morning). I hold out my hand a little defensively and grab hold of the Diego doll.

Squish.

He had puked everywhere. Diego and Clifford were covered, his bed was a complete strip-and-redo. The hard part was quietly stripping and remaking the bed with Michelle's help without waking up the little 17-month-old Ben asleep in his crib five feet away.

Daniel was feeling ok afterwards (but you always bounce back a little after a good vomit), but he's been showing signs of feeling bad for a few days now, starting with a very cranky attitude on Monday and Tuesday, then a hoarse voice today. We were thinking possible ear infection, now who knows? Could be a long night for the little fella and a doctor trip tomorrow.

It may be time to call in a grandma reinforcement Friday so we can both go to work in case little Daniel is sick.

Posted by Observer at 01:12 AM | Comments (1)

October 10, 2007

Lawyering Up

So it looks like now that Alberto "I Don't Recall" Gonzales is out as Attorney General, he's hiring a high powered defense attorney to keep him out of hot water over all the stupid stuff he did while holding office. Of course, since the Justice Department mostly hired graduates of the very prestigious Regent University law school run by Pat Robertson, I'm sure he must have hired one of those fourth tier lawyers to represent him.

No? Huh.

Turns out Gonzales' attorney graduated from a normal law school (Antioch) with a good reputation.

Can you believe these clowns? Hiring a bunch of religious nut cases for America, but when the chips are down, they hire someone who is actually competent for themselves. Just goes to show how much they really believe the philosophy they espouse.

Do you think the wingnuts are even paying attention? I mean, shouldn't they be outraged that the Justice Department isn't hiring the best it can hire?

Posted by Observer at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

Good Democrats

Firedoglake reminds us of what real leaders sound like. Try to imagine a wingnut Congressperson or personality making such a passionate, eloquent, informed argument about the constitution. The subject is a new version of the FISA bill, which regards what wiretapping is legal, what oversight is needed, whether a warrant is needed, etc.:

Our history as a country has taught us that we cannot permit any executive to have unchecked, secret powers to invade the secret and private lives of American citizens. We face serious challenges and threats. But as stated by no less than Justice O’Connor…former Justice O’Connor…hardly a firebreathing radical, quote: “We have long since made clear, that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”

The substitute amendment is little more than the Administration’s request for unchecked powers, free of any meaningful scrutiny and oversight, and it must be denied. The gentleman from Texas says that the American people trust the intelligence professionals. Yes, they do. And so do I: I trust the intelligence professionals to do everything possible to gather the necessary intelligence.

We must trust the courts to protect our liberties. We do not trust the intelligence professionals to protect our liberties — that’s not their prime focus. We need both intelligence and liberty. We need both intelligence professionals gathering the intelligence, and courts safeguarding our liberties. That is why the Constitution establishes a system of checks and balances.

The Protect America Act forgot about the second half of that equation. They forgot about allowing the courts to protect our liberty. The substitute amendment continues that forgetfulness. The bill before us restores that American tradition — so that we can gather all the intelligence we need. Because we are indeed in a serious conflict and we must have that intelligence. But we must have court supervision to make sure that that intelligence is gathered in a manner consistent with the Constitution, with our laws, and with our liberties.

That is the essence of this bill, and the essence of the reason why this amendment must be rejected.

Let me add a word in response to the ranking member’s comments on retroactive immunity. When he said that when companies cooperate in protecting us, they should not be subjected to politically motivated lawsuits. Well, no one should be subject to politically motivated lawsuits. But it’s up to the courts to decide if a lawsuit is politically motivated, or frivolous, or meritorious. That’s why we have courts — that’s their job.

It is not our job…as a Congress, to decide that a telecommunications company…uh…was patriotically cooperating in a lawful endeavor to help the war on terror or was engaged in a criminal conspiracy with a lawless administration to violate our liberties and violate our laws. That’s not our job — that’s the job of a court. And if some people believe that they broke the law, that the administration broke the law, that a telecommunications company broke the law, they should sue. And the court should throw them out of court if they don’t have the evidence to prove that the law was broken, and should grant them damages if if the law was broken. That’s why we have courts.

And those courts making those decisions are our only protection from any administration — not necessarily this one — from any executive having untrammelled power over our liberties and violating our liberties, and pressuring private companies to conspire with them to violate our liberties and our laws. Because courts offer us protection against that, we must let the process work itself through, let the courts decide whether these companies, or some of them, were acting patriotically, with nobility and legally, or if they were breaking the law. That’s the court’s function, we should not usurp the court’s function by granting retroactive immunity…

As Atrios has pointed out, the quest by the Bush administration to allow retroactive immunity for telecom companies that cooperated with warrantless wiretapes indicates that the administration knows that crimes were committed and isn't doing anything about it. That's actually a crime, too.

But since when has a silly thing like criminality stopped the Bush administration?

Posted by Observer at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

Filler

Guess I posted that last one twice, and it is easier to just do this than to delete it.

Posted by Observer at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2007

Two Stories

Two stories that I've been following today in the blogosphere: First, there's a 12-year-old kid who made some contribution to the Democratic response to a Bush speech, criticizing Bush and the Republicans for blocking the extra funding for children's health insurance. This apparently makes the kid and his family "fair game" for some hard hitting political opposition research.

How nice.

Isn't that what happened to Valerie Plame?

Anyway, Digby has a good summary of the whole story. Wingnuts are trying to portray these parents who are wishing they had better health insurance as some kind of "welfare cheats", rich people who are unnecessarily getting government funding. As it turns out, this appears to be a pretty solidly middle class family that simply couldn't afford health insurance and has struggled with bills ever since their kid got a brain injury.

The real story here is that such a thing happens all the time in America, which is the whole point of liberals wanting universal health care. So many bankruptcies are caused by huge medical bills not covered by insurance. Of course, the most recent response by Congress, some Dems included, was to penalize people who declare bankruptcy. That was a nice gift to the credit card companies from the Congress, I thought.

Another story that is in various papers this morning is the revelation that the Bush administration, in its hurry to publicize a new bin Laden video to put fear into the hearts of the people, compromised the source of a private company that collects intelligence on terrorism and sells it to various countries.

Aside from my HUGE SHOCK that the Bush administration would place politics above national security considerations, my main reaction was: how is it that this lady's company apparently manages to regularly scoop the CIA in getting information about terrorists?

Posted by Observer at 04:52 PM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2007

Stacked Deck

By my count, the refs fucked Dallas over three times in the final 20 seconds, Romo turned the ball over six times, we allowed a kickoff return for a TD, and we still won.

I was wrong about the offense getting back on track (gave the ball up two more times), but I wasn't wrong about the defense not allowing anything else. If Buffalo's offense could've put anything together tonight, we wouldn't have been able to steal the win at the end.

Fuckup #1: Clear, CLEAR pass interference on the extra point attempt. The guy on TO had his back to the ball and hands on the receiver. That's an automatic flag. Automatic.

Fuckup #2: How in the hell are they allowed to review the TO catch at the 25 yard line after another play (the spike to stop the clock with one second) has already been run? What in the hell?!?

Fuckup #3: They are NOT supposed to allow the last half-second time out right before the snap. Didn't matter. Our rookie kicker has ice in his veins, and he was so money tonight.

The good thing is that our defense appears capable of winning games for us (or at least giving us a chance). Our offense also appears capable of scoring 20+ points even when they are completely inept.

I hope hope hope that Romo just had one of those early-Brett-Favre growing experience games. The alternative is that defenses have figured him out somehow and will start picking him off a lot more. If that latter is true, the expectations for this season are going to have to take a couple of giant steps backwards, but I am still very happy with Romo in the long run. He will overcome this kind of game.

A win is a win, right? What is it with Dallas and Monday night games? They always seem to have totally wild-ass finishes.

Oh, and to be clear: that game was an absolute blast to watch. Even if we hadn't won, it was a crazy fun game. If we had lost, I'd be a lot madder at the refs. I still want an explanation for all three of those fuckups.

Posted by Observer at 11:05 PM | Comments (8)

Prediction

For the record, the Cowboys are down at the half, but that little field goal at the end was a big momentum shifter going into the half. Despite throwing four ugly interceptions in the first half (and we all knew he had at least one game or one half like this in him, just glad it wasn't against a good team or we'd be down 30), I'm confident the Cowboys are going to win this something like 31-20.

I just don't see Buffalo (at least the offense) scoring more than maybe another field goal, and the Cowboys are going to get it together and figure out what the Buffalo secondary is doing during the half. Romo has earned a LOT of slack.

Get it out of your system, and let's get this game taken care of, then we can start prepping for a possible Super Bowl preview next week.

Posted by Observer at 09:08 PM | Comments (1)

An Honest Republican?

Glenn Greenwald pointed me to this interesting post by longtime Republican and two-time Bush voter John Cole, who has the following to say about the current disintegrating state of the Republican party, starting with a reference to idiots like Jonah Goldberg, who are quick to question the patriotism of anyone who opposes the Iraq War:

For starters, people got tired of being associated with these drooling retards. Then, when they realized that these drooling retards had ideological allies running the show in the Bush administration and then began to experience their idiotic policies, they moved from disgusted to outright hostile.

Like me. It had nothing to do with Burke [departures from the supposed "original" philosophy of conservatism], and everything to do with what the party had become. A bunch of bedwetting, loudmouth, corrupt, hypocritical, and incompetent boobs with a mean streak a mile long and no sense of fair play or proportion.

Seriously- what does the current Republican party stand for? Permanent war, fear, the nanny state, big spending, torture, execution on demand, complete paranoia regarding the media, control over your body, denial of evolution and outright rejection of science, AND ZOMG THEY ARE GONNA MAKE US WEAR BURKHAS, all the while demanding that in order to be a good American I have to spend most of every damned day condemning half my fellow Americans as terrorist appeasers.

And that isn’t even getting into the COMPLETE and TOTAL corruption of our political processes at every level. The shit is really going to hit the fan after we vote these jackasses out of power in 2008.

Screw them. I got out. They can have their party. I will vote for Democrats and little L libertarians and isolationists until the crazy people aren’t running the GOP. The threat of higher taxes in the short term isn’t enough to keep me from voting out crazy people and voting for sane people with whom I merely disagree regarding policy. Hillarycare doesn’t scare me as much as Frank Gaffney having a line to the person with the nuclear football or Dobson and company crafting domestic policy.

That is why the Republican party is in shambles. The majority of us have decided that the movers and shakers in the GOP and the blogospheric right are certified lunatics who, in a decent and sane society, we would have in controlled environments in rocking chairs under shade trees for most of the day, wheeled in at night for tapioca pudding and some karaoke.

I think this is why a lot of Republicans in Congress are retiring. They see the 2008 handwriting on the wall, and the easiest way to get out of the way with dignity is to pretend you really, really want to spend more time with your family. Better that than switch parties and go through all that nonsense like what happened to Jeffords in Vermont when he switched to Independent a few years ago.

Posted by Observer at 12:16 PM | Comments (1)

October 07, 2007

Three Sets

I got to play poker last night for the first time in quite a while. The only down-side to the night was TMO - Too Much Omaha. I think we spent half the night playing Hi-Lo Omaha, which I really don't like to play. The odds are just too hard to figure, but it was host's call. I probably ended the night up 20 or 40 just counting the Omaha games because of one hand where I had A223, and the board was something like 2566J. It was a big pot, and I had the nut low, but my boat was beaten.

The three main hands involved me flopping sets. The first one I played really stupid. 47 unsuited in the big blind, and the flop was 77T. I reraised my brother to make sure he also had a 7, then on the turn (blank), I went all-in, putting him on 78 or 7J, trying to convince him I had 7A or a higher kicker. Well, he turned over two tens, so I was down 100.

I fought back with about four pots where I flopped top pair and chased everyone off or had an overpair (99 with a 843 flop or 88 with a 6-3-2 flop), and I was actually up about 30 at one point. On consecutive hands, I then got KK, flopped a set of Kings, but there were two spades on the board. I bet the pot and got one caller, and another spade came off. I checked, and he went all-in, so I assumed he had hit his flush.

He hadn't, but it turned out he would've hit an inside straight draw if I had stayed in, so I saved myself about 60 there. On the next hand, I had 66, and the flop came 6-4-2 two spades. I bet pot-and-a-half and got everyone to fold this time. Unfortunately, I chased off a flush draw and a guy with a pair of fours. The turn would've been another four, making spades for one person and trips for another and a boat for me, and I might've tripled up.

In the end, I was down 40, and it was a fun night. Could've been better if I had played my trip 7's smarter and given my brother a chance to prove he had me beat before I went all-in.

Posted by Observer at 09:32 AM | Comments (1)

October 05, 2007

Selective Stupidity

I forget where I read this today, but it kinda made things click for me when I saw it. You are undoubtedly familiar with Bushisms thanks to examples like "You're working hard to put food on your family," and "Childrens do learn."

If you watch much of Bush in press availabilities, he is almost always tongue-tied when he is trying to pretend to care about something that he really just doesn't give a damn about. The one subject where Bush practices almost perfect, formal grammar is when he is talking about punishing criminals or terrorists. He can't even talk straight about the general strategy of the war in Iraq or big-picture policies like whether we should torture or what have you, but if you ask him to describe some kind of violent act or give details about how tough and strong our response to terrorists will be, you can tell his imagination gets fired up and he really regains his focus.

I'm not talking about some special-needs 7th grader here. I'm talking about the president of our country. The whole family just has a history of being detached from reality, a real "Let them eat cake" vibe. Remember Bush, Sr. with "Message: I Care"? Or Babs, who thought the Katrina refugees had it so great living in the Astrodome?

I think this is part of why people like me truly dislike the man himself, not just his stupid policies. He doesn't deserve the greatness of the office he holds. I think a lot of people felt that way about Clinton after the Lewinsky thing came out. It wasn't that it was a big deal so much as he somehow denigrated the office. In the big picture, I'd rather have a competent guy getting a blow-job once in a while compared to what we have now, but really, can't we just have a competent guy who can make everyone proud again, even (grudgingly) the party that's out of power?

I'm not sure which candidate in the current field I feel best about, but I hope whatever Democrat comes out of the mix, it is someone I can not only tolerate but have a little pride in. Do any Republicans really, honestly, in their heart of hearts feel *proud* of this president? I can't imagine how detached from reality you'd have to be to feel that way.

Posted by Observer at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2007

1984

Tim Robbins was on the Randi Rhodes show yesterday and read a bit from Orwell's "1984", and I thought I'd reproduce below some of the passage he read. I've taken the liberty of inserting a few more paragraph breaks for readability:

The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of DOUBLETHINK, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. At present, when few human beings even have enough to eat, this problem is obviously not urgent, and it might not have become so, even if no artificial processes of destruction had been at work. [...]

From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations. And in fact, without being used for any such purpose, but by a sort of automatic process—by producing wealth which it was sometimes impossible not to distribute—the machine did raise the living standards of the average human being very greatly over a period of about fifty years at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.

But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction—indeed, in some sense was the destruction—of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared.

If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which WEALTH, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while POWER remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away.

In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. To return to the agricultural past, as some thinkers about the beginning of the twentieth century dreamed of doing, was not a practicable solution. It conflicted with the tendency towards mechanization which had become quasi-instinctive throughout almost the whole world, and moreover, any country which remained industrially backward was helpless in a military sense and was bound to be dominated, directly or indirectly, by its more advanced rivals.

Nor was it a satisfactory solution to keep the masses in poverty by restricting the output of goods. This happened to a great extent during the final phase of capitalism, roughly between 1920 and 1940. The economy of many countries was allowed to stagnate, land went out of cultivation, capital equipment was not added to, great blocks of the population were prevented from working and kept half alive by State charity. But this, too, entailed military weakness, and since the privations it inflicted were obviously unnecessary, it made opposition inevitable. The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed.

A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another. [...]

War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself.

Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.

The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of DOUBLETHINK. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world.

All members of the Inner Party believe in this coming conquest as an article of faith. It is to be achieved either by gradually acquiring more and more territory and so building up an overwhelming preponderance of power, or by the discovery of some new and unanswerable weapon. The search for new weapons continues unceasingly, and is one of the very few remaining activities in which the inventive or speculative type of mind can find any outlet.

Posted by Observer at 10:28 PM | Comments (4)

October 03, 2007

Sagittarius

I really enjoyed writing the blog entry a while back about Scorpius, even though it took a fair bit of research. I would like to continue with a series of posts about different constellations relying on many of the same sources that helped me before. So today, I will talk about the constellation Sagittarius.

At one of the two intersections of the ecliptic plane and the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, Sagittarius always has something interesting to look at, including frequent occultations of objects by planets. The three brightest stars in Sagittarius are Rukbat (knee of the archer), Arkab (achilles tendon) and Al Nasl (the point of the arrow). The bow of Sagittarius is aimed toward Antares, the heart of the Scorpion.

In most mythologies, Sagittarius is an archer and/or a centaur. In the Babylonian mythos, Sagittarius was the god of war. In the Chinese tradition, this constellation is the tiger. There are a couple of asterisms here, the most famous of which is the teapot, a collection of eight bright stars visible from within cities. There is also the Milk Dipper, which is just the teapot minus the rightmost three stars in the teapot (the spout). The Dipper is metaphorically dipping into the Milky Way.

Many Messier objects lie in this direction, including two of the best: the three-part Trifid Nebula (M 20) and the spectacular Lagoon Nebula (M 8). Shown here as part of the same field of view, the distances to these two objects are close enough together that it is probably not a coincidence. They are likely two bright regions on the front edge of a much larger cloud complex in that region of the sky.

Also nearby, just above the teapot, is M 22, perhaps the closest (10,000 light years) globular cluster to us and the third brightest in the sky behind the two I mentioned previously in Scorpius (47 Tuc and Omega Cen). Burnham describes this by quoting Tolkien: "It was as if a globe had been filled with moonlight and hung before them in a net woven of the glint of frosty stars."

Other objects of note in this constellation include Upsilon Sagittarii, a very odd double-star system with a strange spectrum (seems to indicate a star with lots of metals but very little hydrogen compared to other stars). It is a binary system, and one of the two stars is an A-class star (part of the OBAFGKM sequence). As a learned astronomer once told me in graduate school, there is no such thing as a "normal" A-star. They all are peculiar in some way, it seems.

Also present, of course, is Sgr A, the object at the galactic center. Thought to be a supermassive black hole with surrounding material emitting lots of radio energy, this is well-studied despite the incredible amount of obscuring dust along the line of sight to it. Because of all of this obscuring material, it is hard to get information on the galactic center region in shorter wavelengths like visible light. Just south of the galactic center, though, there is a little pathway that seems to cut through the intervening material, and this is called Baade's Window, after the astronomer who discovered it. The location is shown in this helpful image.

Also very difficult to see in this direction is the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy, the 2nd closest companion galaxy to our own (even closer than the Magellanic Clouds!). As you might imagine, this is very difficult to observe through all the muck of the disk of the Milky Way! Of course, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

On a dark night, few things are prettier in the sky that the band of the Milky Way galaxy gracefully arcing over your head. Stretching this evening from low in the Southwestern sky in Sagittarius to Northeast through Cassiopeia, you can see it very well in good sky conditions, well outside of cities. Burnham quoted an anoymous Chinese poet about the Milky Way: "Look now upon the River of Heaven, Sky-Road of the Immortals, White with the star-frost of a billion years..."

Posted by Observer at 03:06 PM | Comments (1)

October 02, 2007

How to Pay

Atrios made a point this morning about all those times politicians are asked to describe their new program and then, the natural follow-up, how they are going to pay for it:

Literally ever story about legislation or proposed legislation contains an aside about how the person "plans to pay for it" or an aside saying that they didn't say how they were going to pay for it.

Every policy except war, of course.

Republicans want the Boy King to have his little vanity war? Ok, let them impose a tax that averages around $1000 per year for every man, woman and child in the United States. I mean, that's the cost of the war, right?

You think people might care more and the media might report a little more on war profiteering if we were paying right now instead of just putting it on the national credit card?

Better yet, have a line on the 1040 for operations in Afghanistan and another line for operations in Iraq. A line for each military action, you know, that directly pays for the additional budget for that action in that fiscal year.

We'd become a nation of moonbat peace-loving hippies in a fucking hurry, I bet.

Posted by Observer at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)

October 01, 2007

Thud

The Rangers finished their 2007 with a dull thud, getting swept in Seattle to ensure last place in the AL West again. 9 games better than the Double A's. 6 games better than the perennially hapless Royals. 19 games worse than the Angels.

The only consolation is that I know Big Republican Asshole Tom Hicks likes losing like I like sucking on lemons. He gets the last laugh, though, because he made a truckload of money this year not only on ballpark revenues and the TV contract but also on the appreciation in value of the team. I'm sure he'll use that profit to improve the payroll ... among his household staff, certainly not for the Rangers.

I really need to pick another major league team to root for. I'd cheer for Seattle, but they're never on the teevee and most of their games are too late to watch. I'd never want to cheer for a cursed East Coast team, and it has to be American League (and decent). What does that leave me with, Chicago and Detroit? (shudder) The only two teams in the majors with worse owners than Hicks. Maybe Cleveland, but how can anyone from outside of Cleveland possibly cheer for Cleveland?

This is why we love our football in Ranger country. The words "mathematical elimination" don't enter our vocabulary, usually, until the very end of the season instead of with two months to go.

Posted by Observer at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)