Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Meteorite

Hat tip: Laodicea.

Among the hills a meteorite
Lies huge; and moss has overgrown,
And wind and rain with touches light
Made soft, the contours of the stone.

Thus easily can Earth digest
A cinder of sidereal fire,
And make her translunary guest
The native of an English shire.

Nor is it strange these wanderers
Find in her lap their fitting place,
For every particle that's hers
Came at the first from outer space.

All that is Earth has once been sky;
Down from the sun of old she came,
Or from some star that travelled by
Too close to his entangling flame.

Hence, if belated drops yet fall
From heaven, on these her plastic power
Still works as once it worked on all
The glad rush of the golden shower.

C S Lewis

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Astronomy Photoblogging

These are two photos of the aurorae over Ohio in October or November, 2003. The green emission was visible to the eye as a pale haze, almost colorless, while the red was entirely invisible. Imagine my surprise when I had the film developed and discovered that half the sky was lit up in a brilliant red curtain!

The rods and cones in the eye are responsible for the different scenes perceived by our eyes and a camera. Our eyes are tuned to respond best to the yellow (or yellow-green, I think I've heard) part of the visible spectrum, and we are less sensitive to the red. So if there are equal numbers of red and yellow photons hitting your eye, you will see the yellow as brighter than the red. Camera film is more sensitive to red light than our eyes are, so it showed up nicely on the pictures.

Also note the blinking lights of airplanes I caught in both of these pictures. The first image (with the broad green cloud) was 30 sec., while the other was 45 sec. or so.

My First Photoblogging!

Blogger has just started up the ability to add photos to your blog, free of charge. Unfortunately, this does not support the Mac version of Internet Explorer, so I'm switching to Safari for this. Yes, yes, I can hear y'all mumbling that I should have done that a long time ago...

This is a timed exposure of the fireworks over the duck pond in Alcoa, Tennessee, a night or two before Independence Day this year. In keeping with Instapundit's discussion of his equipment, I'll say that I used a 35 mm SLR film camera, a Nikon N65. It has a nice infrared remote control for the shutter, so I don't have to touch the shutter release on these timed shots and make the camera shake.

Issues of Christian unity

Frederica Mathewes-Green has a useful article in last Friday's Opinion Journal on talks and debates on unity between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

I say it is a "useful" article because of how she lays out some issues involved, from both perspectives. She is an Orthodox who appears to be leaning to the Roman Catholic side of the argument. But I disagree with the underlying attitude of the argument she puts forward.

I think it is great for all of us Christians to be able to cooperate with each other on the kinds of things a Christian voice is needed--cultural issues, moral problems, standing up to radical Islamists, and so on--but...(did you see that "but" coming, too?)...I see no need to merge any demoninations.

The whole discussion strikes me as an irrelevant (irrelevant at best, but possibly dangerous) bureaucratic exercise. There are, today, thousands (I am sure) of separate Christian denominations around the world. To see the Great Goal of Christianity to be the merging of these separate administrative bureaucracies into One Unified Hierarchy seems to me one of the last things people ought to waste their energies on. We can get along perfectly well as Christians in our separate churches.

In fact, I guarantee that we can get along better in our separate churches, with our freedom to believe differently. As it is now, dissent over the proper interpretation of scripture is something that can be safely debated between different churches, without danger of one interpretation being forced on everybody. United [giggle!--ed.] Methodists can't excommunicate Southern Baptists, and the Roman Catholics can refuse to believe in predestination without endangering the souls of Presbyterians. This is the kind of arrangement that works best. It goes hand in hand with a free society.

I think it's great for different denominations to have arrangements that recognize each others' clergy, though. That see each other as legitimate. That's the kind of interdenominational unity that is important.

It is an odd mindset that thinks the bureaucracy is the really important thing.

"Honey, would you move the capsule out of the driveway?"

I just saw on Fox News that the space station astronauts (By the way, could we please come up with a name for that station? And not that stupid "International Space Station" or the even worse "Space Station Alpha." I'm still mad that they dropped "Freedom" so the Commie Chinese wouldn't be offended. Grr.) are moving the attached Soyuz space capsule from one end of the station to another, to give them some room for a space walk.

I missed the first half of the report, so I might have that wrong. I got the impression that the capsule was blocking some spot that they wanted to get to in the space walk. It's impressive that we have a station big enough that we can simply move the parts around. And I get this image of it being a space version of moving the car in the driveway, so you can get some work done in that spot.

National Review space cruise

Well, not yet, but I like the idea:


...inspired by the advice of the avuncular Paul Johnson, will be on sale on the first National Review High Atmosphere Cruise aboard the Space Shuttle. Also available: Doric and Ionic columns carved by Victor Davis Hanson, Jay Nordlinger's "Piano Concerto #1 in Honor of a Free Cuba," K-Lo fronting the reconstituted Duran Duran for her version of "Hungry Like the Wolf," and a part on Warren Bell's final Hollywood sitcom, "Everybody Doesn't Love Stalin." Act now! Be the first to book your trip! You'll only need three weeks of training on how to survive in zero-G gravity!

Does being an astrophysicist give me a leg up on "applying" for this cruise, like it does for the astronaut corps?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Shuttle launch delayed

Yeah, yeah, I'm late on this. Saw on Fox News that the delay was from a failure in a fuel leak sensor (I think I'm repeating this correctly). I haven't seen the 4:00 press release, but they had a source telling them at 3:00 or so that Monday would be the earliest launch date now. I'm curious why Monday--how long to fix it? Specifics of the Space Station orbit? After all, they have to wait for the Station to pass over Cape Canaveral in order to be able to dock, and that doesn't happen every orbit. The spacecraft orbits precess, relative to a map of the Earth.

Well, we'll just see...

Shuttle launch not delayed

I'm still hearing on the radio that we're set for 3:51 PM today. Apparently they've fixed the tile damage that happened yesterday or decided it was minor. Fox News is starting their coverage at 3:00 PM.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Space Shuttle damaged

I just saw from Drudge that the Space Shuttle Discovery has been damaged on the pad. According to the AP,

[...] a window cover fell off the shuttle and damaged thermal tiles near the tail. But the space agency said it probably could fix the problem in time for Wednesday's launch.

Now, the plastic/foam cover hit the cover over one of the Orbital Maneuvering Engines. These are not the big engines that power the ship during launch, easily visible sticking out below the ship on the pad. Instead, these are smaller nozzles that turn the ship while it's in space, in lieu of using ailerons and the rudder. I'm not sure how far back this spot is, but if it's not a leading edge surface, I expect it's not as critical as the damage that led to Columbia's crash in 2003. And of course, they're going to fix it. I hope we're still on for tomorrow...

The last I saw a launch time specified, it was 3:51 PM EDT, Wednesday. Let's keep an eye on that.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Thoughts on the Kelo decision--an angle that hasn't been mentioned

Like most everybody else, it seems, I am mad about the US Supreme Court's recent Kelo vs. New London decision on eminent domain. Before I get to my full-throated rant, let me first add one caveat to how some of my fellow conservatives (and liberals, too, for that matter) are interpreting this. That is, that this decision did not establish that the government can condemn your property. It has always been able to condemn it, at least under certain circumstances. But the US Constitution presumes eminent domain is done for "public use," and this decision so widened the meaning of "use" to mean "benefit" that now pretty much any excuse could fall within the boundaries. Just keep in mind that this decision didn't create the power of eminent domain--it expanded the situations under which it can be done.

OK, now on to my own thoughts. Well, they still have to pay you for the land, keep in mind. In practice, though, the value they'll reimburse you for it might be well below what it's worth. Or what it would be worth if you didn't have the government announcing they're going to condemn it. Still, they have to pay you, and they have to get that money from somewhere, which is to say, from tax money.

Here's where things get interesting with Kelo. In the past, the government could not condemn the land of person A to give it to person B. It had to be for "public use," generally meaning government property--a courthouse, a road, a fort, a park... There were a few exceptions (I was about to link to a great article from last week on the history of "public use" at, but it's not online anymore. Nuts.), but just a few.

The fact that (aside from these exceptions) the condemned land had to be held by the government meant that the government would have to come up with its own money to pay for it. Simple enough. So if you're dealing with a county or city government with limited resources, the cost alone might be an impediment to their ambitions. If they really need that road, maybe they'll have the support to spend the money. But a vanity project is going to be tougher to pull off, purely as a matter of expense.

Now, however, the court has essentially allowed the government to transfer title from A to B. "A" still has to be compensated, but that can be taken from the money "B" will pay the government for it. The money no longer has to come out of the government's pocket! Expense is not a barrier any more, as long as there is a private group who wants (and is willing to pay for) the land.

So while in the past, if a city wanted to level an inconvenient neighborhood and put something else on it, they'd have to scrounge up the money to do so, now they just have to find a developer willing to buy. Problem solved.

The possibilities of social engineering seem unlimited now. Others have commented that churches are inviting targets, as they pay no property taxes. Having anything else on the land would be a "benefit" to the city, under the Kelo logic. So we'll have our model city kick out all churches and synagogues.

What next? Farmland. Yeah, I know--all you city slickers think there are no farms within cities, anyway. Not always true, although it's not extensive. And we could use this little exercise with a model county, for that matter, so bear with me. Farmland is often assessed at a very low fraction of its value for property tax purposes, we 'll get rid of the farmers, next.

Poor neighborhoods come after that. Low property values, and do you really want these poor people around, acting like parasites on society if they don't have jobs or pay taxes, but they use public services? (I'm using Communist terms here sarcastically, of course.) Raze their homes and bring in the rich, or at least middle-class.

Come to think of it, businesses are better for the city's tax base than people of any economic level at all. What do people really contribute, themselves? Property taxes. That's it (unless you're in one of those unfortunate cities with an income tax). And people sap up that tax money like crazy! Schools are a huge expense, and you've got residential water and garbage services... Businesses don't have kids to put in school, and their water and garbage use is, I suspect, smaller than the houses they would replace.

So clear out the people all together! Dynamite their houses, bulldoze the smoking ruins, and put in a lot of industry, quirky coffee shops, and interesting little specialty stores with cute names. A city full of nothing but businesses! It's perfect! The people can live out in the county (or the next county--better) and still work in your stores and pay your sales taxes. But they won't burden you with kids and schools and their paying those lower tax rates and such.


To be honest, I had grown up thinking that Gatlinburg, Tenn., a town the next county over from me, was just this. An entire city with only businesses and no people. I was probably in high school before I found out that anybody actually lived there!

Movie review Monday

Terrorist bombings in London, a hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast, and what do I choose to write about after my hiatus? Movies.

Sorry, it's just that I didn't think my opinions would contribute anything original or particularly enlightening to the discussions of the London attacks. What I have to say is being said by countless others on our side. And I preferred to read what others had written about them.

What's gotten me motivated this morning, though, was seeing Disney's "Brother Bear" the other day. I used to make a point of seeing all of the Disney animated movies at the theater, and I did, from whichever one followed "The Little Mermaid" (saw that first on tape, freshman year of college), to maybe past "Pocahontas." "Atlantis," too, come to think of it.

The first few of these were great. Disney's return to its strengths after years and years (Decades, maybe?? Was the last of the old ones "Robin Hood"?) of neglecting animation. "The Little Mermaid" was wonderful and made a real impression on me and all of my friends back in college, after it was out on tape. We were watching it all the time and had the soundtrack memorized.

"Beauty and the Beast" had a slightly annoying feminist subplot at the beginning--the dumb-as-a-brick Gaston with the whole "women shouldn't read!" bit seems a lame Hollywood caricature of the supposedly typical, insensitive male. (And thinking of Gaston, that scene where he dances around the pub and fires off several shots to show what a man he is? You can't fire a muzzle-loading flintlock as a semi-automatic, as he does there. Those three shots would have taken him at least a full minute to get off. I know, I know--it's a cartoon...still...) But aside from this, it was still a great movie.

"Aladdin" didn't have any politics to it, that I could tell (thank goodness!). And aside from that, it was a great movie. I didn't mind the anachronisms with the Genie's lines, and Robin Williams was great in the role. Some divergence from the 1001 Arabian Nights, but that's fine. The story has long had a life of its own in the West, anyway. Well-done.

"Pocahontas" I really wanted to see, for family history reasons. What I got was a lot of anti-white, politically-correct tripe that made me cringe so hard I was having to grip the cupholders to keep from verbalizing my disgust. And I'm part Indian, at that. I still enjoyed many parts of the movie, but there were just so many the-white-man-is-evil scenes in there, that it grates on me, even now. That, and the big plot hole on language. Couldn't they at least have come up with a pretext for having Pocahontas learn English really, really fast? She's fluent the instant she meets a white man! And one other thing is minor, but it stands out to a mountain boy like me: rivers don't fork going downstream! Unless you're hitting an island, that is. OK, that, and the mystery of exactly which mountain range is on the southern Virginia coastline...

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame"...(sigh). There's the anti-religious angle, but for all I remember, maybe that's in Hugo's book. Not sure. Then the changing of the ending... Well, they did that to "Mermaid," too, but here it just seemed more blatant. And I think you have more leeway to play around with fairy tales, which are folklore and therefore often have a lot of variants, anyway. Seminal works of literature, however, are harder to justify changing from tragedy to semi-comedy. Still, it wasn't enough to keep me from having a good time at this movie.

"Atlantis" was a little cheap for Disney. Not cheaply-drawn, I'd say, but a cheap plot. Magic crystals powering a society? Come on, that's a cliche of bad Japanese cartoons. Really bad ones. Disney's fantasies have tended to be better grounded in their pretexts. Drawn from elements of legends and myths that are, if not plausible as reality, at least don't seem wildly out of place.

"Hercules"--not bad. Nice touch with the Muses, too. Well-done as a Greek chorus. It showed some education on the part of the writing team. Huge contrast with "Atlantis."

I'll skip lightly over most of the straight-to-video sequels they've spent most of their time making in the past few years. They're never as good as the originals, either in the drawing or the plot, and it usually shows. I rarely object to a movie sequel at all, unlike a lot of professional critics. Sequels have been made since the beginning of Hollywood, and I like seeing the characters I enjoy coming back to the screen. But having a sequel to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" just seems corny. Forget the fact that at the end of the book, he throws himself from the church and dies. I object really on the grounds that it doesn't work. Detective movies are perfect for sequels--our hero takes on another case. Similarly superhero movies and cop movies. Lots of action/adventure movies lend themselves to this. I've been eagerly waiting the fourth "Indiana Jones" film for years, now. Some comedies work that way, too--National Lampoon did a good job with the first three "Vacation" movies with Chevy Chase. The family goes on a different whacky vacation in each.

But "Hunchback" was centered on the characters and their interrelationships (as I remember it). If that's completely explored in the novel/first movie, then you wind up taking the characters as-is in the sequel and putting them (without their complexities) into some cheesy plot device that doesn't take advantage of their characteristics. Well, not that you have to do this, but for some reason it seems to happen an awfully lot. As a result, the sequel seems dull and artificial. Even the sequel to Pocahontas, which is at least loosely based on historical facts, fails. Probably second-rate writers are too blame, though. The jokes were simply too goofy and unbelievable, for one thing. Too contrived.

"Mulan" was fun to watch (avoiding the feminist angle, here), but while the sequel, the creatively-named "Mulan II," is unusually well-made for a Disney sequel, it has one of the worst "moral" lessons I've seen in a kids' movie. "Follow your heart." That's it. Have other duties, morals, loyalties, etc.? Hey, follow your heart, man. I could see telling kids to be guided by their head, by compassion, by morality... But this squishy, un-thought-out "follow your heart" doesn't mean anything but "do whatever you feel like." I think there's a line in there about "my duty is to my heart." What does that mean? Duty is the thing that makes you act despite your self-interest! Ugh!

OK, on to the movie that inspired this post: "Brother Bear." I thought this might be a little PC on the Indian angle, but it's not. It's prehistoric; no racial clashes. Just man and nature. Rather, the problem is that it has a weird view on the classic "man vs. nature" theme. It takes nature's side. First, it has prehistoric Indians, probably one of the Eskimo-related tribes (I say "Indians" because I think this was supposed to be in Alaska or the northern Canadian Rockies, a few thousand years ago, but there might be other places with similar populations and geographies, like any non-flat parts of northern Siberia) making unrealistic comments about not killing animals. Bear kills your brother. So you want to hunt the bear. An animal you hunt for food and skins already. And your other brother tells you it would be immoral to kill the bear? No, he wouldn't. These Indians were not modern, crystal-worshipping, New Age vegetarians from Los Angeles. Secondly, after you're changed into a bear after killing your prey, you roam among them and learn that bears are more human and kind than humans are? And you decide you'd rather stay a bear, when you have the chance to change back?

This is actually a more insidious philosophy to put into kids' heads than the don't-kill-the-bear thing is. The movie really does present all the bears as inherently good, kind, friendly, and harmless. Humans are portrayed as both good and bad, but it's the bad side that gets more screen time. A really dumb lesson, here.

Is there any hope Disney will go back to the early-1990s style plots any time soon?

Space Shuttle to Launch Wednesday

Well, the post title says it. I haven't read the articles yet for any details, but I will be covering NASA's vaunted "Return to Space" this week. I'm looking forward to it, but I just hope we don't condemn the Shuttle to space station ferry service. Rather, I want it to go back into action to conduct a manned mission to repair and service the Hubble Space Telescope. We've been waiting for SM4 (did I count right?), Servicing Mission 4(?), for years, now. Hubble's dealing with the looming loss of another gyroscope, and this time it will actually degrade the image quality. So let's scrap this robotic mission solution and get a man up there with a wrench.

To misappropriate Michael Ledeen, "Faster, please!"