Friday, December 24, 2004

Gloria in excelsis Deo

"Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis." So goes the ancient translation into Latin of Luke 2,14 used in the hymnus angelicus at the Christmas liturgy of the 4th century. For centuries now it has been sung in churches almost every Sunday, but it still belongs especially to Christmas.

The classic translation of this verse into English is "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of goodwill." While this translation is not inaccurate, it is in my opinion misleading. You see, before I knew any Latin, I had thought that the adjective "highest" modified an implied noun like "degree", so that the first clause meant something like, "Let glory of the highest degree be given to God". Now I see that the adjective "excelsis" modifies a plural noun, and that it refers either to high people or high places, so "in excelsis" either means "among the high [heavenly hosts]" or "in the high [heavens]." Since there is an implied parallelism with "in terra", the phrase seems to refer to high places rather than people, so a less misleading, though less literal, translation might be, "Let glory belong to God in the high heavens, and let peace belong to men of goodwill on earth."

Note that I supplied a verb phrase "Let ... belong" which is not explicit in the Latin. This is because in Latin the verb "esse" is commonly left out of sentences and clauses where it is clearly implied. While "esse" is usually translated into English as "to be", when its predicate is in the dative, as it is with "Deo" and "hominibus", it means "to belong to". So the Latin has "est" or "sit" invisibly inserted into the two clauses, and these should be translated as "belongs to" or "let ... belong to".

In English, when you leave a verb out of a sentence like this, that verb is strongly implied to be in the subjunctive mood. In Latin, it can also be in the subjunctive mood, but it is more likely to be in the indicative. In other words, the Latin could just as easily mean, "Glory belongs to God in the high heavens, and peace belongs to men of goodwill on earth."

So which translation is the right one? Since it could be either subjunctive or indicative, and since the author did not bother to explicitly state the verb, we can assume that he did not consider the distinction to be significant. In other words, both are right. The angels are expressing a wish that has already been fulfilled or is being fulfilled or whose fulfillment is inevitable.

This deliberate vagueness was exploited even more effectively by Saint Jerome in the 5th century, when he revised the Latin translation of Luke in his Vulgate. He did not follow the old hymn, but wrote, "Gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis." We have "hominibus" changed to "in hominibus"; our second dative has become an ablative. This is significant; it drops us down to one implied "esse" from two. Now both the glory and the peace belong to God. "To God belongs glory among the most high and, on earth, peace among men of goodwill."

I have translated the two phrases "in altissimis" and "in hominibus" as modifying "gloria" and "pax" respectively, but both phrases may just as well modify "Deo", as in the paraphrase, "Glory and peace belong to God [who dwells] among the most high and [now] on earth among men of goodwill."

Emmanuel. God is with us. Merry Christmas.

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.

Domine Fili Unigenite, Jesu Christe, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu: in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Leap year trivia

It is a bit unseemly of me to be posting these words on the Ides of November, some nine months past their relevance. But better late than never. And 2004 is not yet over, so here are my thoughts on the matter of leap years, and on the very odd month of February.

There are many who say that to make up for the deficit in our 365-day long year, we add a day to the end of February during each bissextile year, or leap year, as it is more commonly known. But those who say this are not quite right, although they are right enough for government work. What actually happens is that we *insert* a day before the 24th day of February, which then becomes the 25th, the 25th being bumped up to the 26th, and so on.

"Well so what?" you immediately ask, since you are not a fool. "Whether you insert a day or add a day is functionally equivalent. There is absolutely no distinguishing between the two!" And for most of us, that is true. But if you belong to the Parish of Blessed Mark Barkworth, whose feast is on the 27th of February, then every leap year you would celebrate your patron's solemnity on the 28th instead.

I did say this was trivia.

If you are among the roughly 1 in 97 people to have been born in the last 5 days of February in a non-leap year, then every leap year your birthday falls one day later than most people would expect. Does this mean that you are obligated to write didactic missives explaining their error to everyone who wishes you a happy birthday one day early? Of course you would be, except you should not violate the spirit of charity. No, it is far better to kindly accept the blessings and gifts of your generous well-wishers, and then to quietly celebrate your birthday a second time with your friends among the illuminati who understand the subtleties of the Roman calendar.

If you are lucky enough to be among the roughly 1 in 292 people whose birthday was in the last 5 days of February in a leap year, then three out of four years you would celebrate your authentic convivium the day before your vulgar one.

Understanding this insertion eliminates the anguish of how to celebrate the birthdays of our children who were so "unfortunate" as to have been born on February 29th. We now understand that there is no misfortune at all; their birthdays fall on the 28th in most years, and on the 29th only in leap years. The problem does not exist; it is a mere figment of our ignorance.

"But wait," it dawns on you, "the poor souls born on the 24th of February during a leap year, they are the ones robbed of 75% of their birthdays!" Not at all. But to understand why not, we must look at the Roman calendar in a new way. Or rather, in an old way, in the same way that the ancient Romans did.

We all know that the calendar we use today is nearly identical to the one used by the caesars, and so we can fool ourselves into thinking we understand their approach to it better than we actually do. The most prominent difference in outlook between us and the ancients was their custom of counting *down* their days to Calends, Nones, and Ides.

Every Roman month has Ides, which are the thirteenth day of that month (or the fifteenth for March, May, July, and October) and Nones, which are the fifth day (or the seventh, for the four months mentioned above), and Calends, which are always the first day of the month. So the Ides of March are the fifteenth of March. The fourteenth of March is the 2nd Ides (or more usually "pridie Idus", the Eve of Ides), the thirteenth is 3rd Ides, the twelfth is 4th Ides, and so on until you reach the Nones on the seventh of March. The sixth is the Eve of Nones, the fifth is 3rd Nones, and so on until the second of the month is 6th Nones. Finally, the first day of the month is the Calends of March.

This means that the feast of Blessed Mark Barkworth, mentioned above, falls on the 3rd Calends of March. Yes, that's right, it is in the month of February, but it is called the 3rd Calends of March ("tertio Calendas Martii" in Latin). It seems confusing, but it is surprising how quickly you can get used to counting down the days like this. It is a habit appropriate to a forward-looking people.

So in the year 708 A.U.C, Gaius Julius Caesar decreed that starting that year and for every fourth year thereafter the 6th Calends of March were to be counted twice ("bis" in Latin). Keeping in mind that Romans counted days down, we see that the first 6th Calends of March in a leap year are the twenty-fifth day of February, and the second 6th Calends of March are the twenty-fourth. The second 6th Calends are thus referred to as the bissextile day, from "bis sexto Calendas", or "twice 6th Calends". It is this bissextile day that makes our leap year.

So if you were born on the bissextile day, then your birthday is the 6th Calends of March, which falls every year on the 24th day of February, and in leap years it falls on the 25th as well. Far from unfortunate, you! Rather than losing 75% of your birthdays, you are actually increasing them by 25%!

Now, sometimes charity must take a back seat to Truth. If you were born upon the 6th Calends of March, whether it were in a bissextile year or not, it obviously behooves you to write before the next leap year to all your closest and wealthiest friends and make sure that they understand the intricacies of our Roman calendar and the implications thereof. You must not be too subtle about it, and you certainly must not tolerate ignorance!

And let me be the first to wish you a happy birthday. And many more.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

At midnight (appropriately enough), I finished reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Wow.

This is simply an amazing book. One of the blurbs on the back cover calls it "the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years." I'm used to seeing all kinds of exaggerated praise heaped upon books by their own covers, but I'll seriously have to consider this one.

I first heard about the book on NPR, in an interview with the author, Susanna Clarke. It is inevitably to be compared with the Harry Potter novels, which I have all avidly read, myself. And indeed, it is set in England, among magicians.

But there is nothing else really in common. Jonathan Strange is set in the first two decades of the 19th century, in an England that considers magic to be a perfectly commonplace pursuit to be engaged in by aristocratic gentlemen. Of course, they are all theoretical magicians...no one has actually gotten the magic to work for three hundred years, and practical magicians are unknown. But why?

And then one day, a man arrives who seems ready to restore the Tradition of English Magic.

Yet it is worth comparing this book with the Hary Potter novels, if only because you'll be thinking about them as you read it. The all-pervading magic in both of them is unlike what you find in other books, after all.

I think that comparing Jonathan Strange to Harry Potter is like comparing Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Lewis and Tolkien had an underlying Christianity, whether in the general morality or (in the case of Lewis) in the form of explicit Christian symbols. Lewis wrote Chronicles of Narnia for children (of course, he wrote much more for adults, but I'm thinking of Narnia, here), and it makes for easy reading, though one filled with deeper meanings. Tolkien, on the other hand, writes of a darker, sterner world. It's much slower reading, and it's not designed for bedtime stories (nonetheless, a friend of mine was read The Lord of the Rings for bedtime stories...). I don't mean to slight Lewis to praise Tolkien; I'm concentrating on their styles (not their substance) and the feelings it evokes in the reader.

The Harry Potter books were immediately engaging to me. They're easy to read, and while I was writing my dissertation, I would get to bed about 2 or 3 AM and immediately read them for an hour or more. When I started reading Jonathan Strange, it took me longer to get into it, and I was immediately struck by the stern, severe tone of it. But I gradually was dragged deeper in, and by this past day, I was totally absorbed.

It's hard to say which of these has had the greater influence on me. I judge a book or movie most by how long I'm pondering it after I finish. And I think I'll still be thinking of the consequences of the ideas of this book for years.

This is almost an alternative history (a genre of which I'm very fond), but not in the usual way. It's an England which reveres a Tradition of English Magic. It's a national heritage, even if it has lain dormant for centuries. A practical magician working for Wellington in the battles agains Napoleon is considered perfectly appropriate, although a novel idea. It's a novel with footnotes. It's a novel which makes very good use of footnotes! They sometimes go on for a page or two, and they're as fascinating to read as the text. By the end of the book, you'll be able to recite by heart the names of the great English magicians of the past and their fairy servants. You'll know the supposed folksongs that refer to the magic of the legendary King of Northern England. And you might almost think that you'd heard them once, as a kid, as nursery rhymes.

Susanna Clarke has done a wonderful job of...demystifying magic, of making it seem like a part of normal life. Which has the effect of giving you an unsettlingly surreal feeling, when you stop to think about it.

I'll write more on this later. The Methodism that appears in the book is worth discussing.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Munchkin coroner on Yassir Arafat

A friend and I have been trading movie and TV lines that were appropriate for Arafat's long "illness," when we kept hearing conflicting reports as to whether he was dead or alive.

The most obvious were from

Monty Python's "Holy Grail": "I'm not dead yet! I think I'll go for a walk."

Monty Python's "dead parrot" sketch: "It's not dead. It's resting."

and

Saturday Night Live: "Generalissimo Francisco Franco...is still dead!"

I just thought of another one, from "The Wizard of Oz":

As Coroner, I must aver,
I thoroughly examined her,
And she's not only MERELY dead,
She's really most SINCERELY dead.

Feds want black bozes in cars

Fox News is reporting that the Feds want car manufacturers to install black box data recorders in all new cars. The proponents keep talking about how it would be so wonderful to have this data to understand how crashes happen. I'm sure it would. But you don't have the right to force the citizens to collect it or turn it over to you.

Thankfully, a lot of groups have privacy concerns over this and are saying so.

Why doesn't anybody insist on just enforcing the Constitution's 10th Amendment? Designing the manufacture (note I didn't say the interstate sale) of cars is not one of the powers delegated to Congress by Article I, Section 8. Therefore, Congress cannot pass such a law. Therefore the Executive branch agencies cannot require this.

Arrgghhhh!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

DEAD!

Arafat finally kicked the bucket. The BBC is breaking the news right now (as of about 11:10 PM EST); I'm listening online, while finishing up a late night at the office.

Now who? And where's the missing billion?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

My anticipation builds...

I just received the following e-mail from NASA:



Date: Tue, 9 Nov 2004 17:16:55 -0500 (EST)
From: GDMS Auto Mail <***@***.gsfc.nasa.gov>
To: ***

Subject: GDMS Document Release

A new revision to 547-PG-5330.1.1, FASTENER INSPECTION TEST PLAN has been released. You have received this notification because the document is on your GDMS Working Documents List.



Oh. My. Gosh! My glee can hardly be contained! The fastener inspection test plan?? The new one is out?!!!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Kerry to speak at 1 PM

Concession speech, presumably. He's already called Bush to concede, according to Fox.

Kerry concedes

Fox News is just now reporting that Kerry has called Bush to concede. The Bush team is waiting to let Kerry's camp make the formal announcement.

Electoral Calculus

What happened? When I went to bed early morning November 3, 2004, Bush had gotten 269 votes, enough to at least tie. Now I wake up, and it's November 3, 2000. Ugh.

OK, I'm sitting down with Opinion Journal's Electoral College Calculator. I wonder--since Fox has Bush at 269 with Ohio (20 votes), is it likely we'll wind up with this election in the House? Hmmm...

First of all, let's see where we are, safely: With Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin undecided, Bush:Kerry is 249:242. I'm combining the undecided state list from Fox News (watching it right now) and Yahoo. If Bush really does take Ohio, its 20 electoral votes put Bush up to 269, which means Kerry can do no better than tie, which would send us to the House.

If Kerry got Ohio:

That would make the electoral ratio be 249:262 (I'll put all of these as Bush:Kerry from here on out). Kerry would still have to win either Wisconsin or at least two of NV, NM, and IA.

How might the election be thrown to the House?

1) Kerry takes Ohio and Iowa. Bush takes Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.

2) Bush takes Ohio. Kerry takes Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Where are we, really? Looking just at two outlets, Fox and Yahoo, it seems that they agree on New Mexico and Iowa as still undecided. Yahoo has Nevada for Bush and Wisconsin for Kerry. Fox has Ohio for Bush. Combining those results, it's 274:252. Bush has won without a vote in the House.

I'm almost disappointed. I like seeing unusual Constitutional situations put into use. On the other hand, that would probably make the left cry "Illegitimate!" for another four years, but with Bush winning 51% of the national popular vote, this would be a hollow claim, by their own standards.

Ohio called for Bush!

Fox News has just called Ohio for Bush. This puts the electoral college at 266:211 for Bush, as FNC has it tabulated. With Alaska expected to be won, as well, that would put Bush at 269, just one vote shy of an outright win. As much as I'd be fascinated to see this election thrown to the House (just to watch details of the Constitution at work), I'll sleep better with him winning that magic 270 votes.

Return of the Solid South!

With Florida being called for Bush, we are securely back to the days of the Solid South, now flipped so that it's the Republicans who are the favored party. Heh, heh...my great-grandfather would enjoy the joke.

Was Maryland ever a solidly Democratic state in the days when the Dems were the conservatives? Maryland was (is? Hard to say, now.) Southern, Confederate. They had the votes to secede, but Lincoln sent the troops in to prevent the legislature from voting. These days, it's Democratic in the latte-sipping mould. I suspect it has a lot to do with the permanent camp-followers living around the Federal District, the same bunch that has changed the politics of Northern Virginia.

Of course, I enjoyed living as a Federal camp-follower in Maryland's D.C. suburbs, myself...

Anyway, it's interesting to see two elections in a row in which the Democrats have finally made the change into a regional, not a national, party. Hmmm...sounds like I'm quoting Zell Miller. Not that I mind.

But if the Democrats have turned into a regional party, wouldn't the Republicans be the same? Well, a fair question. The Democrats are a party of the borders; the margins. Large population areas on the (Atlantic & Pacific) coasts, plus states on or near the Canadian border. More or less. The Republicans technically fall into a region, as well. (The region of where the Democrats ain't!) But the Republican region is physically much larger. It's the South, the West (up to the Rockies), and much of the Mid-West (however that's defined).

So if we Southerners wanted to secede again, we're finally realigned, politically.

UPDATE:

I really should explain that line about my great-grandfather enjoying the joke. He was, of course, the son of a Confederate soldier and a Democrat like nearly every other Southerner of his generation. These were the days of the Solid South, in which no Southern state sent a single electoral vote for a Republican. But by the mid-20th century, the parties had pretty much finished their political realignment, with the Republicans becoming the conservative party and the Democrats the liberal one. We Southerners are naturally conservative, of course, but that also means we're also resistant to changing party affiliation when the parties change. That's why we've spent the second half of the 20th century with a lot of conservative Democrats who were nearly indistinguishable from the new generation of Republicans in their political beliefs.

My great-grandfather, interestingly, picked up on the trends fairly early on. Wasn't 1960 the first election in which cracks appeared in the Solid South? He started voting for Republicans before most of the rest of the South did. My dad, two generations below him, was younger and quicker to change, going for Republicans about the same time. But interestingly, my grandparents held on to the Democrats for a long, long time, up into my own lifetime.

Anyway, the man would have enjoyed today's results.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

European election observers

Go. Home.

The International Herald Tribune has a smirky little article entitled "Global monitors find faults." (Link via Drudge.) I've posted on this topic before, but this article has gotten me angry all over again at this insult to American sovereignty. And shame on the State Department for even inviting them.

Some of the pearls of wisdom from our Great White Fathers Across the Sea:



"To be honest, monitoring elections in Serbia a few months ago was much simpler"..."They have one national election law and use the paper ballots I really prefer over any other system." --Konrad Olszewski, Poland


"Our presence is not meant as a criticism."

"Unlike almost every other country in the world, there is not one national election today."..."The decentralized system means that rules vary widely county by county, so there are actually more than 13,000 elections today."

[Good. We're not a centralized Leviathan state. We have popular sovereignty and local rule. Dictatorships are so much easier, aren't they, Mr. Gould? --Ed.]

The United States is also nearly unique in lacking a unified voter registration system or national identity card, Gould said... [Again. Good. --Ed.]

--Ron Gould, Canada


...voting procedures being used in the extremely close contest fell short in many ways of the best global practices.

...no other country had such a complex national election system.

--Article


And a Democratic poll observer, of course, is quoted having some encouragement for this bunch of would-be colonialists. On the other hand, I am enthused to see this closing comment in the article:

Not everyone agrees. Jeff Miller, a Republican congressman from Florida, considers the monitors an insult and has publicly urged them to leave. "Get on the next plane out of the United States to go monitor an election somewhere else, like Afghanistan," he said.


Yes! Good for Mr. Miller! And to the OSCE, I say, "%&#*@@!!," "^&*!," and "Go home and oppress your own colonies!" :)

Hawai'i and missile defense

I'm not going to place any bets on Bush winning Hawaii tonight, even though I'm encouraged by those recent polls showing him slightly ahead of Kerry there. But the fact that Bush is even close is intriguing to me, and I've been trying to figure out why he is doing even this well in such a liberal state.

The one thing that comes to my mind is North Korea. The last I remember, Hawaii and Alaska are the only two states that can already by struck by North Korean nuclear missiles. Bush has been promoting the National Missile Defense program, while I think Kerry's against it. (Maybe I'm assuming, here, but I really suspect Kerry's against NMD.) So with Bush having put together the beginnings of a defense system, Hawaii knows that it has some protection it wouldn't have under Kerry. Of course, once the North Koreans get longer-range missiles, we might all be in the same boat as Hawaii and Alaska. The future can't come quickly enough on the missile defense program.

I haven't heard anybody else talk about NMD and Hawaii this election. Any thoughts?

Cautiously optimistic

I wonder who coined that phrase. It gets sooooo used these days. But I like it. Fox News has Bush:Kerry at 207:144 electors now. Drudge has it at 196:133.

Penna. called for Kerry, Michigan trending Kerry. But Ohio and Florida trending Bush...


Gravity normal, air returning, terror replaced by cautious optimism!

--Futurama


I like that line.

Interestingly, the heavily unionized-Democratic county where I am in Ohio is split almost evenly: Kerry leads Bush 50.0% to 49.7%. Interesting. Maybe it was that whole weather thing...nah.

Car commercials

A quick break from politics tonight. I just saw a Jeep commercial. A volcano erupts. A few seconds later, among the falling "bombs" (I think I've got that term right), a Jeep Cherokee lands in front of the camera, a mile from the volcanic cone. Covered in dust, but undamaged. It flips on its windshield wipers and drives safely off. I got a nice laugh out of it.

Then you see in small print, "Do not attempt." Good grief! Are the lawyers so eager to scare up suits that Jeep feels it has to explain that this scenario is a joke? Do they really believe that some idiot is otherwise going to drive his Jeep up an erupting vocano and ride the explosion back down?! To quote Lucy, "Arrggghhhhh!"

Maybe this is related to politics tonight, after all. After my joking about the air drop of lawyers to Ohio, my dad had to look up that Shakespeare quote: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." (Henry IV, ii, 6) (With apologies to Instapundit, Southern Appeal, and Volokh. We'll consider them off-limits.)

Low cloud cover hurts Democratic post-election strategy

Here in my section of Ohio, the rain appears to have stopped, but we're left with low cloud cover. I'm not sure what the ceiling is tonight, but I think it's too low for the massive air drop of lawyers the Democrats have been planning for this state. I do not think they can fly high enough to safely open the parachutes, nor can they fly above the weather and still see the drop zones.

If I look closely...yes, I think I can make out the search-lights starting up. Is that an air-raid siren I hear?

And as for here...

We've got rain here in Southern Ohio. My conservative but heavily union-Democratic, strongly-partisan section of Southern Ohio. We'll see how it affects the results in this swing state.

Voting and the weather--a critique of the logic

I always hear that rain helps Republicans on election day. Supposedly Democrats are less enthusiastic about voting and are more likely to be discouraged by bad weather. Now, I don't know if this is really true at all, but even supposing it is, I've got a criticism of the conclusions some people draw from it.

I've often heard people turn this around and say that if bad weather helps Republicans, then good weather helps Democrats. Assuming the scenario we put out above, this would not be the case.

Example 1:

In a given state, let's say that you have a population of 100 citizens that has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Without considering the weather, you would expect a pretty evenly split vote.

If it rains on election day, then our "toy model" (a simplified description of how the system works) would say that maybe...40 Democrats go to vote, and 45 Republicans vote. The Republicans win.

On the other hand, if there is clear weather, then 50 Democrats vote and 50 Republicans vote, and you're evenly split. It's not that the Democrats have been helped by the weather, but they simply weren't hurt this time. You're back to the situation you expected without factoring for the weather.

Example 2:

Now, let's suppose that you have another state with 100 citizens, broken down as 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans. Ignoring the weather, you'd expect the Democrats to win the elections.

Now let's throw in a thunderstorm. A larger percentage of Democrats stay home than Republicans, but by how much? Depends on how strong the weather effect is. Republicans normally expect to lose elections, but if Democrats are preferentially discouraged from voting, Republicans might have a chance to win some.

If the weather is good, everybody votes, and the Democrats win. Again, though, it's not that the Democrats are helped by the weather. They're simply left in the situation they would naively expect (that is, without accounting for weather).

Example 3:

And finally, if we have a state of 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats, then the Republicans would expect to win, whether it rains or not. If it rains, the Republicans win by a larger margin. If it's clear and sunny, they win, 55% to 45%.

Conclusion

So even if the weather affects voter turnout the way people assume, it can't be claimed that "good weather helps Democrats." Good weather simply removes a factor from consideration.

Additional points:

And I suspect that it is also untrue that "when election day is sunny, Democrats win elections," which I think I've heard a liberal bragging once. As I've pointed out above, that would only be the case if the Democrats would win the election anyway. Say, if they have more citizens than the Republicans do. Although I've heard it claimed that a slightly higher percentage of the population identifies itself as "Democrat" than "Republican," I don't think this means the same thing.

For one thing, people often vote for the other party. When Reagan won his lanslide 1984 election, you don't think all of his votes came from Republicans, do you? There's a reason we still refer to "Reagan Democrats." In the South, we still have a lot of (mostly older) citizens who are Democrats but who are as conservative as we Southern Republicans are. The Democratic Party used to be the conservative party, after all. Of course, that was a century and a half ago...but some attitudes die hard, especially if you still regard the GOP as the party of invasion and Reconstruction. My great-grandfather was the son of a Confederate States soldier and was, as nearly all of his generation were, a Democrat. But by the time my dad was in college and getting interested in politics, my great-grandfather had started to realize the parties had essentially switched places, and he began voting for Republicans. As did my dad. My grandfather, on the other hand, took a while longer to catch on. Well, maybe these things can skip a generation.

Most of us in the South have decided that the GOP is closer (now) to our beliefs than the modern Democratic Party is, and we vote accordingly. But there are still plenty left who are conservative Democrats and don't show any immediate signs of officially jumping ship, even if they'll vote for Bush in the election.
Think of Zell Miller if you want a good example.

The Republicans control the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Presidency, most state governorships, and I think most state legislatures (these last two from vague memory...I could be wrong). This can not be all a result of the weather! It's because Republicans attract more people than Democrats do, at least at this period in history.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Our third member posts!

Welcome in, Figulus! I was just reviewing the blog today when I saw your Latin post from the other day.

That got me thinking about etymology (not uncommon). A school district in Washington state has banned Halloween parties at school, claiming that depictions of witches (warts, black hats, broomsticks, etc.) are offensive to real "witches."

First of all, these people are only "witches" in the sense that they have tried to revive a pagan British Isles religion called "wicca," which is the origin of the English word for a witch. Now, of course, every society has had the concept of a witch. Prohibitions on witchcraft are in the Old Testament, a thousand years and more before the Middle East had contact with the British Isles. King David wasn't going to see a British "wiccan" but a homegrown Hebrew witch. Hebrew has a different word for the practice (have to look that up), but it all means the same thing.

I say this only to note that "witch" is not synonymous with "wiccan," as many would like to believe.

Now, I just looked up another word on a hunch. It turns out that "wicked" is also derived from "wicca"! So wouldn't any use of the word "wicked" be offensive to so-called "real witches"? Isn't "wicked" inherently politically incorrect?!

I don't actually think there's any problem with "wicked," obviously, but I point this out to try to irritate the PC crowd, who have now gone beyond what I thought rational adults would believe.

To go dutch or welsh on a bet would really be a wicked thing and would definitely get my Irish up. There. I had to use all of those in one sentence.

Figulus: I'll be in town this weekend.

Foreign Poll-Watchers

Saw a cable news story on the foreign poll-watchers being sent over here from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, I think). The OSCE lady they interviewed was very calm, pleasant, and condescending. She explained how their presence will make Americans feel confident that their votes will be properly handled, etc., etc. The reporter filing the story concluded by noting how there are, however, X million voters in this country, but sadly, only 54(?) OSCE poll-watchers to try to cover all of this.

My response to the OSCE "observers"? Get out of my country!!

I am so absolutely furious at them, and I can't use the language I'd like to, considering this is a blog with standards. I'm also angry at the State Department, who invited them in the first place. This is reportedly the first time foreign poll-watchers have been invited in for a Presidential election.

For all of the people out there who think this is a good or even necessary thing for our elections, I would like you to remember that we have American poll watchers at every election. Both parties send their representatives all the time to make sure everything goes fairly. Even in my county, which has almost no liberals, the Democrats manage to scrounge up somebody.

If I saw an OSCE poll watcher where I was voting, I would be so tempted to give him a firm but calm piece of my mind, but I'm a Southerner, and it would probably be outside the bounds of politeness I was reared with. That, and you're not allowed to create a disturbance at a poll. Maybe a quiet remark to please leave. If enough voters expressed their opinions to them, would they get the hint next time? If I were a local election official of either party, I would be doing so in much stronger terms.

William Watkins, over at Southern Appeal, briefly reviews James Webb's Born Fighting about the Scotch-Irish. Dad's just read that, and I'm thinking it must be a genetic reason that I'm so outraged right now. This OSCE action is a blatant violation of American sovereignty (and it's all the worse that the State Department is encouraging it!). We have no voting problems that their presence will avoid, and our American poll watchers are better able to handle things.

We are not some third-world country that doesn't know how to run a democracy, nor a bananna republic with sham elections. And we don't need (and, I presume, don't want) other countries condescendingly "observing" our elections, which the US Consitution places solely under the sovereignty of American citizens.

OSCE, go back to Europe!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Cliff May nails the Iraqi explosives story

Cliff May's column on the Iraqi explosives story is finally up. He has quotes from people in the right places on this one.

Hypotheses sine fictione

During the matins for today, I ran across the following reading from Wisdom 7:13-14, which made me think of this blog:

[Sapietiam] sine fictione didici, et sine invidia communico, et honestatem illius non abscondo. Infinitus enim thesaurus est hominibus; quo qui usi sunt, participes facti sunt amicitiae Dei...

Which I partially translate as "Without *fictio* I have learnt [wisdom], and without envy do I share, and her diginity I do not hide. For she is to men an unlimited treasure; which those who have enjoyed have taken a share in the friendship of God..."

What reminded me of this blog is simply the word "fictione", which I have left untranslated above. It is the ablative of "Fictio", an abstract noun from the verb whose principle parts are fingo, fingere, finxi, and fictus, which means, literally, to mold something out of clay, to "do pottery". But this verb has also figurative meanings: to feign, to fake, to use guile, to cover up. Its English cognates are indeed "fiction", "feign", and "figure". This is the verb that Newton used when he said, "Hypotheses non fingo." It is this verb he saw when he read chapter 7 of the Wisdom of Solomom, and I have to wonder whether this verse from the Vulgate affected, whether consciously or not, his choice of verb.

If so, he was making a profound theological statement about the making of science, whose wisdom is so different from our everyday wisdom, which is indeed a "Sapientia cum fictione", a wisdom we make up for our own convenience, a wisdom of dullishly painted clay masks, fashioned to cover the truth. We often think of the wisdom of science, the wisdom of Newton, as being very different from the wisdom of revelation, the Wisdom of Solomon. But I doubt Newton would have thought so. To him science, indeed all wisdom without *fictio*, was true participation in the friendship of God.

Who's the Source?

OK, so CBS and the NY Times run with a recycled story that was known a year and a half ago and is being misreported now. (Yes, I mean the Iraqi explosives story.) NBC had a reporter on the scene back in April, 2003, who provides evidence (not proof, but evidence) that the whole thrust of the story is false. The thrust of the story is not that the weapons are missing (that much is clear to everybody) but that it's Bush's fault.

Specifically, so the story goes, it's Bush's fault that he didn't send in enough troops to secure all such weapons sites, to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. That he ignored a direct UN warning to secure this one, specifically.

Except there is evidence the weapons were gone before the end of the war. US troops stopped at the site twice on their way to Baghdad and saw no UN-sealed weapons. Now, it's a big place, and they weren't specifically looking for them, but it's suggestive. Inspectors arrived on the scene a month later (May, 2003, I think), and they were certainly gone by then.

The story has, apparently, been known since that time. Why resurrect it now? Why, it's a week 'til the election, of course. And who placed this story with CBS and the NY Times? Hmmmm...

Cliff May at National Review Online suggests it is somebody close to Mohammed El Baradei, the head of the IAEA, and whom the US is trying to replace with somebody who would take the job seriously. El Baradei is apparently pretty anti-American and doesn't feel much pressure to go after Iran's nuclear program. Undoubtedly a Kerry administration would be much more favorable to El Baradei.

Read Cliff May's posts to The Corner on this, which I've linked to above. He's working on a full column on this topic, which I'm looking forward to.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reuters on the Guardian flap

This is almost as much fun as the CBS forgeries. Reuters has a full story on the Guardian's harrass-an-Ohio-voter campaign, including quotes from Kerry campaigners and other liberals in the US to please stop it before it backfires even worse!

Global Warming Panic Caused by Obscure Mathematical Error?

Well, I don't know that we can conclude that yet, but a friend at NASA passed along this article yesterday that seems to show that the so-called "hockey stick" graph of global temperatures could be artificially created. A flat-out error.

The so-called "hockey stick" graph is a plot of global temperature versus year, stretching back to the Middle Ages. It supposedly shows some slow variations from century to century in the distant past, followed by an alarmingly steep and sudden rise in temperature in the 20th century.

However, we don't have direct temperature records for the world much before this past century, so the temperatures shown for the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment periods, etc., are calculated indirectly, using some other method. Tree rings, for instance. Ice cores. Things like that. Now, these might work well or they might not, and you have to account for the different accuracy they give (as well as any systematic effects), compared with what you get when you look at a thermometer and write down the temperature.

Well, the method that was used to fit the data together when the "hockey stick" graph was made is now suspect. Actually, it's more than just suspect; it creates false trends. If you were to put in random data, with no temperature trend in it, the old method would still show a hockey-stick shape--a sharp rise in 20th century temperatures. Even when you give it fake data that has no such trend!

The MIT Technology Review article gives a simplified discussion of it, but there is a link to the original article. Now, the detailed, scientific article revealing this was submitted to the journal Nature and was refereed but eventually rejected. However, the authors include the referee reports on their website, which apparently show that it was not rejected for any reasons of bad science, but merely because the referee thought it was too technical for Nature and was of limited interest.

I would strongly argue against the "limited interest" reason, but that's Nature's call. I haven't read the referee reports myself, but I'll check them out to make sure this is true.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that there has been no temperature rise over the 20th century, only that we can't tell, based on the earlier studies that claim there was.

It's also a cautionary tale to people using the "Principal Components Analysis" method of analyzing multi-variable data. My current paper is heavy with PCA results, which can be tricky to interpret, so I'd better watch myself.

Americans' Opinions on Foreign Meddling in American Elections

Great bunch of letters on the (UK) Guardian's website concerning the Guardian's call for British subjects to write letters to Ohio voters to advise them how to vote in our presidential election.

I can't repeat many of the choice phrases used in them, out of a respect for decency, but it makes me smile to see it, nonetheless. And I've got to give credit to the Guardian for having the fortitude to print letters critical of their efforts. Yeah, and that "critical of their efforts" phrasing is a severe understatement!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

John Edwards' father

And have you heard about the full story on Edwards' mill-worker father? Edwards keeps invoking his father in his own supposedly poor upbringing. Turns out that his father eventually (I don't know if it was after Edwards had already grown up and left home or not) left that job and owned his *own* mill!

You know, if I had a father with that story, I would be repeating it over and over in the campaign as an example of how people can raise themselves up from (supposed) poverty to wealth in a country this free. Why the heck isn't Edwards doing the same? Maybe it's that Edwards' whole message is that this is a poor, miserable, oppressive country in which nobody can make it, because the evil mill owners across the land keep the people
down.

Why point out that your father put the lie to that image himself?

Edwards' vision of America

By the way, did you catch Edwards' whole assessment of how Americans are doing? He addressed us all in the second person, saying how we know just how poor and miserable we are, bareley eking by in our existences.

Boy, what a sour, depressing attempt at condescension.

VP Debate After-Action Report

I'm changing the subject line from that of the Presidential debate ("Debate Post-Mortem") for good reason: Cheney wiped the floor with Edwards!

Actually, I think Edwards did a decent job, stylistically. I don't think there was as much substance there as Cheney had, but who knows what a liberal would say. Cheney was clear, coherent, in control of the facts, and concise, not throwing in extraneous words that weren't necessary.

So I can imagine the other side thinking that Edwards won, but I'm excited with Cheney's performance.

Now, I didn't get to hear the second half of the debate, which I'm told was more on domestic issues, and in which Edwards did better than the first half. So my opinion is limited by what I saw.

Halliburton, Halliburton, Halliburton: Three mentions that I picked up on, and I was out for half of it, remember.

Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam: Also three mentions of Kerry having served in Vietnam that I picked up on. Did you know Kerry was in Vietnam? I'd never heard...!

On the casuality numbers in Iraq: Oh my goodness--I about thought Cheney was going to walk over and slap Edwards in the face for that "America bears 90%" line. Cheney pointed out that our Iraqi allies(!) bear 40 or 50% of the casualties (I forget which), and Edwards repeatedly refused to acknowledge this. Cheney got righteously indignant on the
Iraqis' behalf! Good for him.

Conclusion: Good job for Cheney, not bad for Edwards (style, at least). Won't matter too many hills of beans on the election, but it might help Bush amongst those who are real political junkies. On the other hand, fewer political junkies are undecided at this point.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Debate Post-Mortem

Actually, that subject line sounds worse than I meant it. I think Kerry
won on style, certainly after the first few questions were out of the way.
At the beginning, Bush was in command of the facts and stuck to them,
while Kerry wandered off into the woods with his irrelevant, rambling
answers.

Then they apparently decided to switch styles. Well, not precisely, but
Kerry expressed himself more articulately, if not necessarily logically,
while Bush sounded too plaintive (I was listening on the radio), stumbled
over his words (not unexpected, and I didn't mind too much), and kept
repeating the same phrases over and over. I didn't like him saying
(again, plaintively), "It's hard work," repeatedly. That's not a
justification on any issue, although you can employ that once or twice in
the context of explaining why our efforts must continue, despite setbacks.

Several times I thought he (Bush) should have ended his statement or rebuttal early, after he'd made his solid points, rather than fill up the rest of his time with words that didn't contribute to the meaning and just distracted from a good answer. If he'd done that, he would have looked a lot better on style, as well.

Just saw this on NRO's Corner:

MY DRINKING GAME [Michael Graham]

I have a fifth of Bushmill's Irish Whiskey that I will down the moment
Bush looks at Kerry and says "Nice tan."

Posted at 10:02 PM

I almost spit out my Coke when I read that just now.

Personally, I was itching for Bush to respond to one of Kerry's Vietnam
references with, "Did you serve in a war somewhere? Was it Vietnam?
Really?! Wow--I'd never known that before!"

I counted FIVE references by Kerry to his Vietnam service, if you don't
count a sixth that was brought up after Lehrer mentioned it first. Five
invocations of Vietnam that had absolutely no relevance, other than to
stick them into the discussion--"I know what it's like to be in a tough
situation. I was in Vietnam..." or something like that.

Conclusion (for now)? I give it to Kerry on style. It's been a long time since I'd had academic debating, and I don't remember how these things were scored. Does the logic of your answer matter? I think Bush had the better answers to the questions, but then, I already agree with him on most of these things.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Da Vinci team next?

Fox News just had John Pike (of Global Security) on, saying that a Canadian team, "Da Vinci," is planning to make their first X-prize flight within a couple of days, I think. I'm not familiar with them, and I'm excited for an American team to win the X-prize, but I'm excited that there's going to be some real competition.

The private manned space industry can only be helped by having active competition within its ranks.

Ansari Cup?

Fox News' William Lajeuness is interviewing Rick ...Somebodyoranother about the X-Prize. The reporter just asked him about suggestions that the group that put up the X-Prize might come up with a regular event--the "Ansari (sp?) Cup," perhaps. Give annual awards for speed and altitude.

This strikes me as an excellent idea. I'm reminded of the early 20th century aviation competitions, which of course are in the minds of the entrepeneurs involved with the X-Prize, as well.

There are some objections that this is all a bad idea, because at some point, somebody's going to die. This strikes me as a frustratingly risk-averse mindset. Of *course* somebody's going to die someday. In the early days of aviation, a *lot* of people died. The early deaths did not prevent people from continuing to work in this field, nor did they destroy the industry. Here we are in the 21st century, taking planes regularly. The industry survived and thrived.

Apogee!

SpaceShipOne is now at the apogee of its flight! I'm watching the Fox camera, which is able to follow it all the way to the top of its flight. Very weird to be able to see a resolved spacecraft while it's actually in space.

It's coming down pretty fast now, getting bigger and bigger in the TV. Wow--the fins are really maneouverable. He's tilting them up by 45 deg., easily, now moving them back to horizontal.

Drop lauch at about 11:15 AM EDT

Fox News is reporting that SpaceShipOne will separate from its mothership, White Knight, at about 11:15 AM EDT.

SpaceShipOne: First X-Prize Launch

Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne has just taken off in the Mojave Desert for the first *qualification* flight for the Ansari X-Prize. His first space flight the other month was just with a one-man crew, while the X-Prize flights require either a three-man crew, or carrying the equivalent weight.


The carrier plane, White Knight, just took off a few minutes ago, and it will do the drop launch about 35-40 minutes from now.


If this is successful, Rutan will need to do repeat this within two weeks to win the prize.


I'll be blogging this to the extent that I can, today.

SpaceShipOne: First X-Prize Launch

Monday, August 30, 2004

Ron Silver at GOP Convention

I missed the actor Ron Silver's speech at the Republican National Convention, but Drudge has a link to the whole text. Boy, that's a good speech. Fiesty, and he's not mincing words on the terrorist war.

Ron Silver's had a reputation as a liberal, but some weeks ago, I heard him on John Bachelor's show on WABC out of New York (AM 770, 10 PM - 1 AM, weeknights) discussing his support for President Bush on the war (terrorism in general and Iraq in particular, I think). I was really surprised, and he might have made some mildly conservative arguments on other topics as well. Tonight, Tony Snow on Fox asked Silver about his politics after the speech, expressing the same surprise I had. Silver said that he still is a liberal on some things, but not on others. I'm trying to remember--did the Democrats have any conservatives speak at their convention? Or Republicans? They had Ron Reagan, but I'm pretty sure he's no Republican. He's certainly not a conservative; that's been known for a long time. The Republicans have so far had former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who is voting for Bush, Ron Silver, a formerly liberal actor, and they'll be getting Sen. Zell Miller, another Democrat voting for Bush. Interesting.

And the whole thing about the moderates being front & center in this convention? Well, as long as they don't compromise on policy in the speeches, I'm happy with them. John McCain did a good job tonight. A mostly serious speech, and it had some rousing moments.

But wow! Rudy Giuliani! I came in just after he started, and it was mesmerizing. This was the best speech I've seen in a long, long time. It was funny, his criticisms of Kerry were lighthearted, and he had the enthusiasm, the passion that I really like to see in a rousing political speech. Wow!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Critique of the 9/11 Commission Report

David Rivkin and Lee Casey have a very long, detailed critique of the 9/11 Commission's report on National Review Online today. I haven't had the chance to read it, but at first glance it seems worthy of printing out for a careful read later.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Not that we're surprised

I watched part of that PBS series, "Wide Angle," last night. They had on a documentary about North Korea, filmed within the country. The film crew got to see a lot of things that no outside film crew had been allowed to before, although they certainly didn't have free rein and were constrained in whom they were allowed to interview.

One thing jumped out at me--in Pyongyang, all of the apartments have the state's radio station (of course, there is only the state's radio station) piped into the kitchen. The residents can turn the volume up or down...but not off.

Does everybody remember their 1984? Everybody had the (2-way) TV in their apartments that they could turn down but never turn off.

Was this also true in the Soviet Union of the late 1940s (when Orwell wrote his book)? I don't mean a 2-way TV, but any TV or radio. Did Soviet subjects have a TV or radio that they couldn't turn off? If not, then either Orwell was frighteningly prophetic, or the Dear Leader actually got some of his ideas from an anti-Communist novel.

Send the Elgin Marbles to Tennessee?

The Social Affairs Unit is a British blog I was just introduced to, through the New Criterion. An intriguing post by Prof. Christie Davies is on there from earlier this week, suggesting that the famed Elgin marbles might be bought from the British Museum and sent to Nashville!

Now, this isn't an agreed-upon plan, but it's been suggested by "Greek-American multi-billionaire Evyenios Papadakis" as a compromise to the fight over possession of the marbles. (For historical background, Elgin took the marbles from the Parthenon in the early 1800s, while Greece was under Ottoman rule. The Greeks want them back, while the British Museum argues they were taken legally and does not want to give them up.) The Greeks want to place the marbles back in the open air Parthenon, and part of the British Museum's argument is that they will quickly degrade in the smoggy Athenian air (although there has been an offer to put them in a sealed room).

Mr. Papadakis toured the American South last year, particularly Alabama and Tennessee, and he was impressed both by the "sophisticated charm of the South" (Social Affair's words, but I appreciate them!)...and Nashville's full-scale replica of the Parthenon (the only such in the world). Ahah! thought he. A relatively smog-free city with a replica of the Parthenon.

I'll let you read the rest. It's a very interesting idea, and the Social Affairs Unit seems to think there's a chance the British Museum would accept the sale. I can't judge for myself, but it would be an exciting opportunity for my state.

On a related tangent, the Parthenon and Centennial Park in Nashville sits on some old family land. Cockrill Springs, where the paddle boats splash around next to the Parthenon, still bears the name of that branch of the family. A family friend is a sculptor and helped her nephew to build the two-storey-tall statue of Athena within the Parthenon, only completed a few years ago (the Parthenon has been there for over a century). I can't remember if the Elgin marbles are recreated within its walls as well, but I'm sure the city would be more than happy to have the originals.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Wars of necessity; honesty

Kerry said, and has said in several speeches lately, that he would never send troops into a war just because we wanted to but only because we needed to.

Well, it sounds good, but I believe there are many cases in which one should not let a strategic situation go so far that it becomes necessary to go to war. In some cases, if you can go to war on your own schedule, rather than on your enemy's, you have the advantage. But if you leave war as only an option of last resort, then you could find yourself in a far more dangerous situation.

Now, let's see... I presume from what Kerry said, that he has opposed all of those recent wars the United States has fought, that we did not have to fight: Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf War.

He might have opposed the Gulf War (I can't remember, but it was a republican in office, after all), but the others were favorites of many liberals. I'd like to look up his voting record on these. We had to fight none of these wars. Let's see if his actions have matched his words...

By the way, he said that as President, he would restore honesty and integrity to the office. Tell the truth. Ugh!--the nerve of that comment, and I don't like the implication that Bush is dishonest in the least (especially coming out of a Clinton defender). But we'll worry about that slam later. The critical thing is his claim of his own honesty.

Let's see: Kerry had, as a young sailor-turned-activist, taken part in this so-called "Winter Soldier Investigation." That's the scheme in which the activists claimed to have interviewed soldiers and recorded incidents of atrocities they perpetrated. Kerry then promulgated these accusations in his testimony before Congress.

Well, some (I don't know the percentage) of these accusations have since been shown to be false. Made up.

OK, now when Kerry testified before Congress, did he know that some of this was false? Was he lying? Was he misleading Congress?

Maybe he thought it was all real. After all, Kerry said he committed atrocities himself. So if he thought it was real, and he believed it when he testified before Congress, should we give him a pass?

After all, Kerry says Bush "mislead us into war!" Hmmm...if Bush believed the evidence of Iraqi WMD, should Bush get the same pass on that that Kerry wants for himself? Hmmm, indeed.

More on criticism=patriotism

I thought of another analogy on this patriotism redefinition. Patriotism is a love of your country. Criticism could be constructive and come from love, but it could also come from hatred.

Think of when one person criticizes another. One could criticize out of a love for the other (mother for child, for instance). You'd probably be able to tell that by the tone of voice.

One could also criticize out of hatred. Enemies criticize each other all of the time. You can tell that by the tone of voice, too.

So criticism by itself is no indication of love, or of patriotism. The motive, often evidenced by the tone of voice and the style of delivery, is what is key.

He should have stopped halfway through

I thought the first half of Kerry's speech was pretty good in its message. Optimistic, vaguely hawkish, undivisive. Encouraging!

But then he realized he was speaking to a crowd of liberals. The second half of the speech got me riled up and yelling at the TV. Didn't do me much good, since he went right on in the same tack. [Oop--here he goes back to Vietnam, somehow on a tangent about race. But the line "all in the same boat" works pretty well.]

Snide. Negative. Divisive.

What in the heck was that crack about not using the Constitution for political purposes?! Just now, I am thinking he might have been trying to refer to the Federal Marriage Amendment, but it's taken me a good 20 minutes to puzzle that one out. If that's what he meant, then I've got to ask him how many of our 27 Amendments have no political ramifications? The only one I can think of offhand might be the 27th itself (Congressional pay-raises), and that's mostly because it took what? 200 years to be ratified?

The very end was pretty bad. Some attempt to redefine "patriotism" to mean any anti-American attitude. Now I think it's perfectly appropriate to criticize the government, the President, the Congress, the courts, or any of it, wartime or peacetime. I'm a good anti-government conservative and think we have no obligation to support what the government does, even if it is in wartime.

But it is not true that criticism is necessarily patriotic. Criticism of your government is patriotism neutral. It will in many cases be unpatriotic.
Patriotism is a love of your country, and there are some on the radical left (probably some on the right, too, although I can't think of an example offhand) who are unpatriotic. This whole criticism=patriotism formula is illogical. One does not imply the other. It's like saying "beach towels = patriotism". It's a non-sequitur.

Kerry served where?!

In the first half of Kerry's speech, I was astonished at the number of times he referred to his military service. Did Bob Dole refer to his this often? I remember him being teased about it in the press in '96. I've got to admire Kerry for volunteering for combat duty, really. I hope I'd have the guts to do the same. I think I would.

It's refreshing to hear how the other Democrats have suddenly gotten such a profound respect for the military and Vietnam veterans especially. Never saw it in the left before now. Let's hope it stays with them from now on, but I really doubt it. Too many on the far Left hate the military with a passion, and they seem to be gaining influence within the Democratic party.

America can do better! Help is on the way!

Kerry's been repeating these two lines in a pretty effective mantra in this section of the speech. Interestingly, the camera (FNC) has cut over to a section of the crowd where they're obligingly holding up pairs of prefab signs with these phrases printed on them. Nicely scripted, but having the signs ready beforehand is too slick for my tastes. No doubt the GOP will have too much slickness in places, too.

USA! USA!

Wow--a chant of "USA! USA! USA!" has just risen up from the Democratic conventioneers. I'm truly surprised. Or would that be questioning their patriotism? And we all know that's what those mean, evil conservatives do to liberals. John Kerry just said so. Or implied so.

Come to think of it, this chant just rose up after Kerry played the patriotism card. Could the Democrats be a touch sensitive about this? Maybe they think there might be something to it, and they'd better cover, quickly? Nah.

Kerry's troop plan

Watching Kerry's acceptance speech. He's finally laying out some tiny bits of what he means by his "smart" plan for winning the war on terrorism. One thing caught my ear: he would add "40,000" troops to the armed forces, "not in Iraq" [emphasis in original]. Really? I thought he'd been harping on the concept (a not unreasonable one) that we were stretched too thinly in Iraq and needed a lot more soldiers there. And he's not going to add troops to Iraq?

Found it!

Here's who armed Iraq (1973-1990):

USSR: 57% (value of weapons transfers in 1990 dollars)

France: 13

China: 12

Czechoslovakia: 7

Poland: 4

Brazil: 2

Egypt: 1

Romania: 1

Denmark: 1

Lybia: 1

USA: 1

[Many other countries follow, at <1% each.]


Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Chart by the Dissident Frogman

It's awful how the United States created Saddam in our own twisted, evil image. Us and those darned warmongering Danes.

Who armed Iraq?

I'm linking this for my own reference at the moment. I'm trying to find an excellent graphic I saw a year ago that had a breakdown of foreign aid to Iraq, by country, over the past few decades. I seem to recall that, contrary to the claims of the Left that "we" created/armed/built/are-responsible-for Hussein's Iraq, American aid was in fact down at the level of Denmark's. And was dwarfed by, I think, France's, China's, and the Soviets'.

Does anybody know where that bar chart was? Saw it somewhere on the internet...

In the meantime, let me post this link to Iraq Watch, which has some relevant material.

Incidentally, this whole train of thought came from Lilek's recent argument with a French magazine reporter.

More on Dan Okrent and the [gasp!] liberal New York Times

Donald Luskin has an interesting column on Dan Okrent and his NYT column admitting the Times has a liberal bias. He's both critical of Okrent for not going far enough and defensive of him, recognizing the potentially precarious position he is in. Okrent has to field reader complaints, but the Times has a pretty liberal readership, and Okrent is said to get even more letters complaining the Times is not liberal enough.

I think Okrent punted in his column the other day, not laying out the problem quite right. Luskin points out some of the other issues that should have been taken into account. But I'm willing to cut Okrent some slack after reading this.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The New York Times is a liberal paper?! I don't believe it...

Daniel Okrent, the New York Times' "Public Editor," has written a column admitting that the Times is liberal. "Of course it is," he begins his article.

Few of us on the Right are surprised, of course. And I say that with my characteristic understatement.

I'm debating whether or not to send this article off to a colleague here at State. This fellow professor told me straight-out last night, "The New York Times is not liberal." Funny how Okrent's first line is the perfect rejoinder.

This came up in the context of a debate on the Iraqi War. He had insisted that the American media had been pro-war, ex ante, including the Times. I think he later backed off of this a little and said that the Times was "vaguely centrist," but I've forgotten some of the discussion now.

Stupid, stupid, stupid... I'm scolding myself, now. When you're at a party of ten college professors, don't get into a discussion on politics! You're one of only two conservatives there, and you're going to be outnumbered. Besides, when was the last time you managed to change a professor's opinions about anything?

I avoided jumping in when the crowd started cooing about how wonderful Farenheit 911 is [insert eye-roll], but what dragged me in was one of them saying in very serious tones how dishonest it was of "the Right" to talk about military casualty rates in Iraq that separated combat casualties from other deaths.

I explained that there is a peacetime casualty rate from things ranging from training accidents to traffic deaths, and that it is proper to separate the causes of death when discussing this. I don't think I got through. By the end of it, he was coming up with very specific scenarios involving bent cotter pins on live grenades that somehow only go off accidentally in war zones. Weird. And then the segue into the solidly Right-wing media...

In case any of you were wondering, this is one of the reasons I don't put my full name out in public on this blog. I figure, why let a tenure committee do a Google search and get into a political debate where it doesn't belong?

Of course, since last night, some of them have at least an inkling that I'm not a Fellow Traveller...

Monday, July 19, 2004

Space Telescope Director not to try for another term

The Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope, had an all-hands meeting on Friday. Director Steve Beckwith announced some results from the National Academies advisory report on the Hubble Servicing Mission ideas (don't rule out a manned shuttle mission) and then dropped a bombshell--he's not going to seek a renewal of his term as director.

Nobody asked any questions after this--there was something of a stunned silence, I'm told--and the rest of the day involved a lot of office gossip about the reasons for this. The weekly "Director's sherry" that afternoon was interesting...

I see that the Baltimore Sun has beaten me to putting this report in print. I'll look up the link later.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

New report on Hubble repair project

The American Astronomical Society just sent out this e-mail to its members. The National Academies (formerly the National Academy of Sciences--I worked for them, but I still haven't gotten used to the name change) has issued a report on the proposed Hubble robotic servicing mission. Apparently, they think that important decisions on the feasability are probably at least a year in the waiting. I'm hopeful, but we'll see how this all goes.

I'm reproducing the e-mail below in its entirety, including the link to the full National Academies report.


Subject: AAS Informational Email 2004-11



National Academy Releases HST Servicing Interim Report



Summary: The Committee on the Assessment of Options for
Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope delivered
an interim report, allowed under the charter of the
committee, to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe on
July 13, 2004.



The interim report 1) recognizes the importance of the
Hubble Space Telescope scientifically and that a servicing
mission will enable significant scientific returns, 2) the
proposed robotic servicing mission will be challenging and
requires significant effort to accomplish and 3) key
decisions on whether such a robotic servicing mission is
possible or not cannot currently be made and will likely
not be able to be made for at least a year.



The full report is available online at the AAS web pages:




http://www.aas.org/policy/InterimHSTReport.pdf




Impact: This interim report is likely to have two major
impacts and could have a secondary, but important third
impact. The first is that a robotic servicing mission can
now be officially viewed as valuable for the science
results that a serviced Hubble can provide. The second is
that whether to undertake such a mission cannot be decided
due to technical issues for at least a year. A secondary
impact that the report may have is that significant
investments in the technical aspects of a servicing mission
can now be made by NASA, in addition to the current level
of effort being pursued.



AAS members are encouraged to share the report with their
Representatives and Senators so they can remain fully
informed on this important issue.



___________________________________________________________



Mailed to US members from aas.org at 4:00pm

14 July 2004


New report on Hubble repair project

The American Astronomical Society just sent out this e-mail to its members. The National Academies (formerly the National Academy of Sciences--I worked for them, but I still haven't gotten used to the name change) has issued a report on the proposed Hubble robotic servicing mission. Apparently, they think that important decisions on the feasability are probably at least a year in the waiting. I'm hopeful, but we'll see how this all goes.

I'm reproducing the e-mail below in its entirety, including the link to the full National Academies report.


Subject: AAS Informational Email 2004-11



National Academy Releases HST Servicing Interim Report



Summary: The Committee on the Assessment of Options for
Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope delivered
an interim report, allowed under the charter of the
committee, to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe on
July 13, 2004.



The interim report 1) recognizes the importance of the
Hubble Space Telescope scientifically and that a servicing
mission will enable significant scientific returns, 2) the
proposed robotic servicing mission will be challenging and
requires significant effort to accomplish and 3) key
decisions on whether such a robotic servicing mission is
possible or not cannot currently be made and will likely
not be able to be made for at least a year.



The full report is available online at the AAS web pages:




http://www.aas.org/policy/InterimHSTReport.pdf




Impact: This interim report is likely to have two major
impacts and could have a secondary, but important third
impact. The first is that a robotic servicing mission can
now be officially viewed as valuable for the science
results that a serviced Hubble can provide. The second is
that whether to undertake such a mission cannot be decided
due to technical issues for at least a year. A secondary
impact that the report may have is that significant
investments in the technical aspects of a servicing mission
can now be made by NASA, in addition to the current level
of effort being pursued.



AAS members are encouraged to share the report with their
Representatives and Senators so they can remain fully
informed on this important issue.



___________________________________________________________



Mailed to US members from aas.org at 4:00pm

14 July 2004


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Anti-Communists and Anti-Anti-Communists

Went over to the (nearly-)local Borders bookstore this weekend and saw some great classics out on the front display tables, under a sign, "Summer Reading." Ahh, The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, One Hundred Years of Solitude, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the like. Good choices (I've read all of the above except for 100 Years...), and I like that they're pushing, in large part, the greats of 20th century English-language literature.

I flipped through 1894 and saw the brief description of Orwell in the front fly sheets. A lot about his social and political attitudes, but without any mention of his anti-Communism. Hmmm... Then I saw new introduction by Thomas Pynchon. Skimmed the first part of it, hoping to find some insights into Orwell as a leading left-wing anti-Communist of his time.

Nope. Oh, Pynchon mentions anti-Communism, all right, but only to disparage it. Apparently, only the simplistic (I think that was his word) read Animal Farm and 1984 as embodying anti-Communist ideas. The right wing in the US, having already decided in their stupid-minded way that 1984 was against Stalin, the Soviet Union, and Communism in general, tried their best to read Animal Farm in the same way. How ignorant of them! When in fact, it was they who behaved in the way lampooned in the book, with their pavlovian reactions to Communist buzzwords and symbols. Imagining a so-called "threat" of worldwide Communist expansion abroad and spies and plants at home...

What profound nonsense. I put down the book angrily at that point, mad that Pynchon could actually use 1984, of all books, as a chance to attack those who, like Orwell himself, correctly saw the threat to freedom that Communism represented.

I wonder what Orwell himself would say about this. It's not quite "War is Peace," or "Slavery is Freedom," but it gets me mumbling that it's coming close to that point.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Euro-Palestine?

Jay Nordlinger brings up a chilling political campaign poster in today's "Impromptus":

"Vote Euro-Palestine: Peace in Europe depends on justice in the Middle East."

This sounds like an open threat to the Europeans. Or am I missing something? OK, they've got high levels of Middle Eastern immigration, and now there are enough in place to make a threat like this plausible.

But think about this for a second: what is the threat? Violence breaking out across Europe? Burning synagogues (those that haven't been burned already, let's say)? Killing Jews? Killing Christians? Terrorism?

This is a political campaign! Could you imagine such a threat being made in an American campaign?! That wouldn't be tolerated. I'm reminded of the "No justice, no peace!" slogans from the Los Angeles riots of 1992(?), but those weren't part of an election campaign, except as they were roundly slammed by leading politicians. Wasn't that Clinton's Sister Souljah moment, in fact?

On the other hand, maybe "Euro-Palestine" is too small for anybody in Europe to have either noticed them or taken anything they say seriously. Maybe Nordlinger just stumbled across one of the few posters they managed to plaster up.

Maybe.

Herman Wouk is back!

I had a weather delay when flying out to Denver the other day for the American Astronomical Society conference, so I poked around the bookstore in the Cincinnati airport and noticed a new novel by Herman Wouk, A Hole In Texas. I'm a fan of Wouk's, although I'd never read any of his books before, only seeing the movie versions--The Caine Mutiny (Humphrey Bogart!), "The Winds of War," and "War and Rememberance," the latter two as TV miniseries back in the '80s.

And I was excited to see that his novels in the 90s, The Hope, and The Glory, both dealt with Israel. But I never picked them up--all in good time.

I worried at first that the title was some kind of political commentary. No! Far from it; the "hole" in reference is the tunnel left by the cancelled Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in 1993. The novel takes place today, with the premise that the Chinese discover the Higgs boson. Out of the blue. This isn't a spoiler--it tells you that much on the dust jacket.

The Higgs boson is a theorized particle that explains the existence of mass. The confirmation of its existence or non-existence would be a very, very big deal. For those who don't remember, after spending billions of dollars on the SSC and actually starting construction (including digging the infamous hole), Congress abruptly pulled the rug from under the project in 1993, costing a few billion(?) more. I actually worked on the SSC as an undergraduate in the summer of 1993, helping design a particle detector that would have gone on the project (not a detector that would have looked for the Higgs boson, though). I can't remember if I started before the funding was cut or not, but it happened right about that time.

The novel's main character is a former particle physicist, cut loose from the SSC, who is now working on the Terrestrial Planet Finder, a space telescope project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs. (This is a real project, by the way.) A furor erupts over the Chinese discovery, and our hero is caught up in the middle of it. NASA management is worried about budget priorities. Personalities conflict. Science spills into politics and international intrigue. Scandal erupts.

It's a great novel. I need to read Wouk's others to see how it compares (Mom said it is very different), but I enjoyed it and was impressed by the little details. A comment made about the lone American car at a Beverly Hills party, for instance ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume!").

He gets the physics right. His brother (to whom the book is dedicated) is a Ph.D. in physics, Caltech, class of '42. Hmmm...Manhattan Project? A lot of those young Caltech physics doctors of that era worked on it. I'd be really curious to know if Wouk's brother did, too.

I'm eager to write a review of it in some physics journal or science magazine. Need to get more of a background on Wouk's writing, first.

Professors' office door decorations

School's out! School's out!! And I can finally...catch up on paperwork. Nuts. But luckily my travel expense reports are about finished, the one student who needs to make up the final should show up at 10 AM tomorrow, and my key request form should be quick to do (I need a decent printer in my own office; it's a pain to run down to the computer lab, which is often locked.). The travel expense reports are intimidating sometimes, and after this month's American Astronomical Society conference in Denver, I almost wound up needing to spend $200 out of pocket. If they're this limiting on my travel budget when I'm not even staying in a hotel (thank goodness I've got friends to stay with), I can only wonder how far short I'll be when I go to a conference in Germany next year.



Tenerife. I want to go to a conference in Tenerife for once.



On to the topic of this post (This post is increasingly like a Simpson's episode, where the main story follows fifteen minutes of red herrings. Sometimes literally.). Daniel Drezler asks what North American professors are sticking on their office doors. I've added mine to the comments there, which I'll elaborate upon here.



My door: sign with office hours and a scribble from a student saying "We love Dr. Hamilton!" (I got a big head over that one and left it up).

The abstract from my latest conference submission (good ole' State is not the biggest research instution, so this seems a bigger deal).

A poster of Chandra X-ray Telescope images, entitled, "Seeing the Universe in a Whole New Light." A Jewish friend at Goddard had that poster on her door with the everything below the title covered over by war-on-terrorism-related political cartoons. One that brought tears to my eyes was of the inside of a pillbox or bunker. Uncle Sam is racing up to the gun ports with his submachine gun ready, and a man labeled "Israel," already in position, is saying, "Welcome, brother!"


Reminds me (the poster, not Ilana's cartoon)--I need to go on and get moving on that x-ray astronomy research. Data analysis awaits!


Cartoons--"When Astronomers Collide." This is a Joy of Tech one, with astronomers angrily debating whether Sedna is a planet (see link below). My favorite quote, "You're all just a bunch of planet bigots!" Also, two strips of Day by Day. One on late nights at the office and the other on Mars.


Oh--and excerpts from the "Tea Club" Quote Board from back at Goddard Space Flight Center www.smart.net/~kmukai/tclub/quotes2002.html (I'm the "Tim" there; also see the 2003 Quote Board for some more of my quotes.). Very inside humor. My students laugh occasionally but they don't really get the references. Definitely not the references. Check it out for yourself and see why.

Antenovias

Apropos of Eugene Volokh's post on men whose best friends are women, I've got to put myself in that category as well. I'm in a rather unusual subset of it, though, in that my best friends are generally my ex-girlfriends. (Thankfully, no bad break-ups, ever.) In fact, my most recent ex and I were instant-messaging a few weeks ago when she said she didn't like the sound of "ex-girlfriend," that it had bad connotations. Too harsh, in most people's minds.



So I coined the pseudo-Spanish "antenovia," from "novia anterior," which would literally mean "former girlfriend," if I'm not misusing "anterior." I was looking for something in Italian (seems appropriate for dating words), but I really don't know the language.



Anway, now I want to popularize the word. It should be used with friendly connotations. The kind of ex-girlfriend who gives you (good) dating advice over the phone in a long, rambling, late-night conversation. This particular antenovia is, in fact, the one I turned to a lot when Beth died. Beth also fit the antenovia mold, for that matter.



So I encourage everybody--go out there and spread the term!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Back from partes incognitae

OK, I'm back to posting. I've been in a mood since Beth died, and I still am, honestly. But I might as well get back to normal life. And blogging. Blogging isn't exactly normal life... for most of us, anyway...

By the way, did I get the declension right above? Nuts--"from" would be the equivalent of "ex," so I shouldn't have used the nominative... [Fade to incoherent Latin mumbling]

Sunday, April 18, 2004

From last night's Futurama

"Please, Fry--I don't know how to teach. I'm a professor!"

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Planetary debates

Great cartoon from "The Joy of Tech" recently. Especially funny to me because it closely tracks a discussion co-blogger Jeff (a planetary astronomer) and I had two weeks ago.

The background you need on this one is that an object, named Sedna, has been discovered orbiting the Sun, far beyond Pluto. Sedna's about 3/4 of Pluto's size, but that's pretty big for a minor planet. Probably an ice-ball, like most trans-Neptune objects, but it's red. There had been some debate as to whether to consider it a minor planet or a regular ol' planet. Now, it's almost certainly going to be considered only a minor planet, but this got some of the "Pluto's not a real planet, either!" crowd animated again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Rep. Davy Crockett, Constitutionalist

Excellent article by the Wall Street Journal's John Fund on Davy Crockett's insistence on limited government and following the Constitution. Man, I wish we could vote for him to represent us today!

As a Tennesseean, I've a fondness for him, anyway, but this really makes a strong case for him as a Congressman. I have always gotten a satisfied laugh out of his famous statement to his former constituents (after being narrowly voted out of Congress),

You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.

I've long been looking for a chance to use this line. ...except I'm not going to Texas anytime soon, and I don't have any reason to tell anyone to go to hades just now. Ahh, someday, someday...

Monday, April 12, 2004

Right Wing Watch

Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch is being watched himself by the ever-vigilant eagle-eyes at Right Wing Watch, apparently because he spoke at the 2004 Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C.
As Spencer himself admits,


I will never forget the day that Right Wingers crashed martini-laden golf carts into the Pentagon and World Trade Centers, all the while shouting "Reagan Akhbar! We will make your buildings as flat as your taxes!"


Serious subject but good satire. I'm getting a decent laugh out of imagining that scene...

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Motivations

Didn't get much practical work accomplished yesterday, although I was able to straighten out what I don't understand about a statistical test I'm using in this paper I've been writing for...over a year, anyway. I'm less and less convinced this portion of the paper is useful, and I'd rather cut it out.

In the midst of trying to concentrate on the calculation, I kept getting distracted by the 3 1/2 tons of loose papers and Post-it notes forming tough layers of sediment on top of my desk and, in fact, all over the floor. Travel reimbursement forms from the AAS conference in January are still waiting to be submitted, and the receipts are separated by type...also on the floor, sharing some real estate with a couple of 4" telescopes that should be taken down, since I haven't used them in months.

It's amazing, when there's work to be done, how clean my office gets! I stayed here for a few hours after everyone else had left, straightening things up. It worked, and now I can finally concentrate on that paper...if I ever get off the internet.

More on caffeine

Just to add on to what I posted below, the nearest Starbucks is over an hour's drive away, but it's often worth it for the white chocolate mocha they have. That's my regular cup whenever I go in there, now. I'm afraid I must fit into Professor Mendelsohn's "Marc Antony" category.

Of course, there's the local shop right next to campus, and they do a good job, so I'm fairly regular, there. But I've not found a comparable white mocha anywhere else.

Caffeine in higher education

I was alerted to this via friends back at NASA/Goddard. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education has a funny...and somewhat frightening...look at the use of caffeine among professors. And it's not just coffee that makes an appearance, but lots of Diet Coke, as well.

The author got the idea from The Volokh Conspiracy, where our conspirators have been debating the awakening potentialities of Diet Coke vs. regular Coke and coffee for a while, now.

I feel like I'm barely even in the minor leagues, compared to these guys! Read for yourself.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Sad news

Sorry I've been AWOL on the blog, folks. Laziness. And I'm afraid my first post since the hiatus isn't a cheerful one.

My former girlfriend, Dr. Beth Holmes, died suddenly on Tuesday from a congenital heart problem. She was a fellow astrophysicist, a post-doc at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. She was 30 years old.

I'm going to her funeral and viewing Sunday and Monday. I'm sure this isn't going to be easy.

I'll be back with more to write in the very near future.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Mars, the angry, red, squishy planet?

So NASA is supposed to make a "major announcement" about Mars today! The speculation is that it's water, or evidence of past water.

A friend says that last week, they (yes, the ubiquitous "they") dug a trench with the rover's wheels and found the soil "sticky," like beach sand. And Space.com had an interview with a PI from the Viking project, who says that early morning images of the rover tracks show "high reflectivity," as if water had seeped up (and frozen, of course) overnight.

Of course, we'll know for sure what they're thinking in a few hours...

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!

So Aristide has been overthrown twice, now. Is that some kind of a world record?

I'm actually asking--is there any other national leader who has ever been overthrown twice, by coup, rebellion, or whatnot? Historically or in the modern world? And I don't mean through legal means, like losing an election or being impeached and kicked out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Privatize the Hubble?!

Dennis E. Powell suggests this in National Review Online today. The concept of putting together a private foundation to fund HST (Hubble Space Telescope) operations is interesting in principle, and I believe that the Keck Observatory in Hawaii is private, funded with oil money.

But Powell's prescription has a serious flaw:

The U.S. government could sign over the pink slip on Hubble to the foundation, which would then set about the task of raising money to keep it aloft. How? Donations certainly would figure in: a few bucks from private individuals, perhaps some corporate money. While the majority of the telescope's images could continue to be freely available to everyone, there could be user fees charged to those for whom particular pictures are taken, as, say, part of a research project. Grants have been written for far-less-worthy projects.


First of all, I think he misunderstands that, with the exception of calibration work, all of the images taken by the Hubble are done as part of research projects. There are a few collaborations, such as the Hubble Deep Field projects, which release the raw data almost immediately. But all of the rest of Hubble's observations are proprietary for 12 months (occasionally for other lengths of time).

Secondly, and more importantly, the idea of charging user fees would not work well at all. The reason is that when an astronomer has his HST observing proposal accepted by the Space Telescope Science Institute (which operates HST), Space Telescope pays him a research grant to analyze his data. There is no (or there would be extremely little) grant money out there that could be used for paying Space Telescope to use HST; rather, the grant money flows the other way.

All of the other observatories, whether they are space-based (like HST or Chandra) or ground-based (like the Keck or Gemini) work the same way. If they let you use the telescope, they pay you to analyze the data.

This is generally your year's salary, sometimes multiple years' salary. A number of astrophysicists (including a lot of "contractors" at NASA) are paid by nothing else but what their observing proposals bring in for them. For others who are professors (ahem!), they're paid to teach, so any any time they spend on research must again come out of grant money, which is paid by the observatories. A large research university might have some amount of start-up money to fund a professor's research until he can get a grant, but that's limited. For those who work for NASA itself (which might even be a minority at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where I recently worked), with civil service jobs, charging user fees to them means it comes straight out of the government's pocket, anyway. And for those of us contractors who were pure researchers funded by agencies like the National Research Council and others, well again, the user fees are usually going to come out of the government's pocket. No savings to the taxpayer.

The idea of more private money going into astrophysics is one I'd like to see happen, but it would have to be set up to pay the astrophysicists, rather than to charge them.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

New Theory on Egyptian Pyramid

The pyramids are incredible structures built many thousands of years ago in Egypt. Theories on how/why they were built range from aliens, as large tombs for the pharoah (allowing the spirit to travel through the sky), to the Top 10 List, to the new theory, burial mounds surrounded by walls.

The pyramids may have developed from building walls around the burial mounds of pharaohs.

Guenter Dreyer, director of the German Archaeological Institute
in Cairo, said he based his theory on similarities between Egypt's
first pyramid, built at Saqqara south of Cairo for the Pharaoh Zozer
in about 2650 BC, and the structure of the tomb of one of his
immediate predecessors.

The earliest pyramid, the Saqqara pyramid built by Zozer, (also known as the Step Pyramid) actually began as a flat mound about 25 feet high built over the burial chamber of the pharaoh. But the predecessor of Zozer, Khasekhemwy, actually had a burial mound in the center of his complex, and surrounded it by a wall. In fact, it's thought that Zozer just married the two, providing a wall touching the burial mound. This of course would hide the mound, which introduced doubt that the king could ascend. In order to rectify the situation, a smaller mound would be placed on top of the burial mound, and a wall around it, etc creating the Step Pyramid look that Saqqara has today. Dreyer considers it the intermediary step (no pun intended) between the mastabas (burial mounds) and the classical pyramids.

For more information on Egyptian pyramids, try this national geographic site.