Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rare Cosmic Visitor, Lulin

We had a special visitor from space on Tuesday night, Feb 24th.

Spotted in 2007 by a student at China's Sun Yat-Sen University, "Lulin" is a green-colored two-tailed comet that made its closest approach to Earth (38million miles) on Tuesday night. Because the student used data provided by the Lulin Observatory in Taiwan, the Chinese are calling it The Comet Of Cooperation.

What else happened Tuesday Night? Oh yeah, President Obama addressed the Congress, Supreme Court Justices, Joint Chiefs of Staff and We the People. It was a pretty impressive speech. ... but I doubt Lulin traveled all that way to hear a speech.

Maybe Lulin swung in from the far outer reaches of our solar system just to have a closer look at us? We might look pretty strange from her perspective. I wonder if she was impressed that our warm little blue planet is getting warmer every year now. I wonder if she noticed the missing chunks of protective ozone and oceanic dead zones. Did she associate the dominant primate species with that odd assortment of space junk orbiting our orb? Could she sense the Singularity rumored to live in Earth's core? Did we seem terribly beautiful or beautifully terrible?

[Nat Geo photo of Comet Lulin as it passed overhead on Tuesday, framed by trees in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park]

Some Comet Facts: Scientists think Lulin is on its first pass by our sun and don't expect it to ever come back our way, which makes it a very rare visitor indeed. New comets still have the ices they were born with. Once a comet has been around the sun a few times (such as Halley's), it has lost much of its original ice. A pristine comet like Lulin is still full of ices that have been largely unchanged since the solar system formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

As she exits our neighborhood of space on her route back towards her cold dark home, Lulin will be much thinner, having dropped about 800-gallons of melted ice per second as she swung by our sun. Sounds like a weight loss program I might be interested in!

ps, click here for info on seeing Lulin yourself over the next few nights. Or here is just one of many pages of Lulin photos people are submitting from all over the world. Here is an easy vid of how to find it; all you need is a clear sky and good pair of binoculars.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Walrus Wisdom? (see special update: Gift for You)

Lennon image credit: painting by artist Jeff Ham.

I tend to think that somewhere in my life I certainly must've seen or heard every possible thing The Beatles ever sang or wrote or said. Obviously that is not true, for I've never heard this interview with John and his classic observations of war and peace (5-minutes):

"In 1969, a 14-year-old Beatle fanatic named Jerry Levitan, armed with a reel-to-reel tape deck, snuck into John Lennon's hotel room in Toronto and convinced John to do an interview about peace. Using the original interview recording as the soundtrack, director Josh Raskin has woven a visual narrative which tenderly romances Lennon's every word in a cascading flood of multipronged animation. Raskin marries the terrifyingly genius pen work of James Braithwaite with digital illustration by Alex Kurina, resulting in a spell-binding vessel for Lennon's boundless wit, and timeless message."

I love that John always took the time to talk seriously with the many earnest young people who found him and asked questions!

Why don't short films like this get nominated for Oscars?

ps, I don't know if it was meant as an inside joke, but I think the vid is misnamed. There's a Beatles song where John says, "here's another clue for you all -- the walrus was Paul." Oh well, it's still a great interview vid.

*****Walrus Update: Spadoman explains the Walrus reference in comments!

*****SPECIAL UPDATE: If you liked the interview vid above, you'll want to see "U.S. versus John Lennon", a 2006 documentary focusing on the time in Lennon's life when he transformed from a musician into an antiwar activist. Watch this short YouTube trailer (2-minutes). If you liked that ...

*****SPECIAL UPDATE #2: click here to watch the whole 100-minute documentary. If you're a Lennon/Peace Fan, this is my gift to you!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time is not on our side

Did TIME's 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis have you tearing your hair out? ***

Not enough emphasis on some people, too much emphasis on others, and too many obscure ringers?

Well then, read David Fiderer's excellent analysis of TIME's "muddle-headed narrative" and see where and how they got it wrong!

And if that doesn't make you question the prevailing mantra that it's really all OUR fault (yes, according to Time, WE THE PEOPLE are in the Top 5, with no mention of Republican Tax Cuts or the Republican Congress), then I hope you watched PBS Frontline "Inside the Meltdown" this week.

If you missed it, click here to watch it online (you have to scroll down to their TV box to start it; if you don't have an hour, just mouse over the meltdown timeline below the TV box for quickie summaries).

Frontline kind of answered a question I've been wondering for some time about why Bear Stearns was bailed out but Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail thus bringing down the whole house of cards. As I suspected, the top people at Lehman Brothers were not favored by the Bush Administration. In particular, Henry Paulson had a longtime antagonsim for Lehman CEO Richard Fuld.

So, ummm .... could it possibly be that Hank's hard-on for Dick F. brought down the world's economy? We are so screwed ...

*** image is Cassandra who was gifted with prophesy. The gift carried a curse that she could only foresee bad things which she was doomed to reveal but no one believed her. ***

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We are all salmon now

So, Wall Street doesn't like THE STIM? I guess they think we should all be good little salmons, swimming upstream, fighting a life-or-death battle against the elements just to keep feeding their greed. It's so rich to hear rich people complaining that too much government money will be spent on things other than them! Tax cuts for the wealthy and riskfree corporate welfare weren't enough?

And what's all this FOX GOP noise that the impending deficit spike is a "generational theft"? They certainly weren't concerned about mortgaging our grandchildren's future to pay for unecessary wars (wars ostensibly fought against terrorism that actually increased the breeding grounds of terrorism)! Do we have to remind them that Mr Ex-VP Cheney said in 2001 that "Reagan proved deficits don't matter"? Most economists, like Paul Krugman, worry that THE STIM is too small.

Why do they keep flapping their lips about Hoover having the right idea, like it would be preferable to do nothing, to sit and watch people suffer and starve (they should know we only do that in regards to African nations)? George Will and other members of the Greedy Old Prick club say that the FDR depression-era programs did not solve The Great Depression, that WWII did. My parents and grandparents would beg to differ!

As the chart below shows, unemployment was decreasing during FDR's first term when he scared the pants off the establishment by instituting such radical programs as Social Security (which earned him the moniker of "class traitor" by his fellow Have-Mores). As unemployment dropped back to 15% (from a high of 25%), FDR's big mistake was to listen to conservatives telling him it was time to slack off big government spending after he won reelection in 1936. The result was unemployment spiking back up again. And what was WWII anyway, if not another massive government spending program .... another STIMULUS, if you will?
Another question that's bothering me is who is fooling whom by calling this economic meltdown "Obama's Depression"? Maybe it's the same people who blamed 911 on Bill Clinton?

Well, those are just some of my questions, as I plow through a busy week. ps, the artist of the bear/salmon painting at the top of this post is Jeff Ham. Some of the homes I'm touring this week are featuring his work.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday Night Valentine Music

Robbie Robertson "Somewhere Down the Crazy River" (4.5 minutes):

Lyrics & Vocal: Robbie Robertson, 1987
Background vocal: Sammy BoDean
Omnichord: Daniel Lanois (I'll save him for another saturday night)
Guitar: Bill Dillon; Bass: Tony Levin; Drums: Manu Katche'

My favorite line: "HANG THE RICH" .....
also, "That VooDoo stuff don't do nothing for me"

Suggested improvement: make the girl a redhead.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chuck and Abe (and Sam)

image credit: Freedom from Religion Foundation

On February 12, 1809, two great men were born, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Each would shape the world, challenging accepted wisdom of the day and influencing generations to follow.

But what do they really have in common, other than a shared birthday 200-years ago? ..... Neither man was religious!

Charles Darwin came to reject religious dogma late in his life, after writing On The Origin of Species (1859). By the time his Descent of Man was published in 1871, he could say ....

"For my part, I would as soon be descended from a baboon as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, treats his wives like slaves, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions."

Darwin's memoirs were published posthumously in 1887 with his controversial views on religion carefully excised. Only in 1958 did Darwin's granddaughter finally agree to publish the original omissions which include this excerpt:

"I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that those who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. This is a most damnable doctrine."

The same thing happened with Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth (link to full 55-pg novella of Satan trying to make sense of The Creator's Pet, Man). It was precluded from publication until some 50-years after his death due to his family's wishes to preserve The Great American Author's lofty perch in the minds of the somewhat less lofty American Public's Belief Structure. Letters from the Earth is usually paired with Twain's The Damned Human Race (link to a short but excellent excerpt) in which he noodles the idea that far from being the Highest Animal or Pinnacle of Creation, humans are in fact the Lowest Animal, and certainly undeserving of any special importance!

Abraham Lincoln was never religious, it seems. Oh sure, he liked to toss around references to "the Almighty" or "Divine Providence", but his closest friends all knew he was strongly rationalist and no fan of conventional religion.

Lincoln's first law partner, John Stuart, observed, "He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard; he shocked me." Colonel James Matheny, Lincoln's one-time political manager, said, "I knew he was an infidel. He attacked the Bible and the New Testament on their inherent contradictions. Sometimes Lincoln bordered on Atheism." David Davis, who rode with Lincoln on the court circuit and later became a Supreme Court Justice said, "He had no faith, in the Christian sense of the term."

Colonel Ward Lamon, author of Life of Abraham Lincoln in 1872, wrote: "Mr Lincoln was never a member of any church ... He showed no sign of that piety which his many biographers ascribe to him. When he went to church at all, he went to mock and came away to mimic ... He consorted with Freethinkers, joined with them in deriding the gospel ... and read Volney and Paine." A lifetime friend of Lincoln who was put in charge of Lincoln's funeral train, Colonel Lamon was a profoundly religious man himself who said he just wanted the historical record to be accurate.

* * * * * * * * * *

All of which makes me admire Lincoln all the more! Considering the rough times he presided over, he resisted the temptation to frame the Civil War as a mandate from God like many Abolitionists of his day were busily urging. Instead, Lincoln saw it as a moral issue, and his attitude showed that morality is not the sole provence of religion.

I credit Darwin with providing the theory a girl would stumble upon in her 14th year. Once she embraced evolution, everything else made sense, and she was thus given the power and inner strength to remove herself from the arms of the church.

That 14-yr old girl was me! However, the years since then have made me somewhat more tolerant. I now see that my way is not everyone's way. And so I respect other people's belief systems as long as they do not impinge on my or anyone else's rights or freedoms.

HAPPY 200th, CHUCK and ABE!

As for Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), I maintain a lifelong affair of the heart, separated only by time. Who could not love the man who wrote in 1902: "What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin."

Yes folks, I am in still in the throes of tax season woes!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Clyde's religious experience

CLYDE is about 13-yrs old. Don't know for sure because he was a shelter rescue dog. We do know he was well beyond his adolescent years when we adopted him over 5 yrs ago. Two knee surgeries, two tooth removals, and two tumor excisions later, we can say he has definitely NOT been a low-maintenance dog ... but a sweet lovable 60-lb oaf nonetheless.

His deafness probably began about a year ago. He hid it for a long time, but nowadays the only sound he can reliably hear is very loud hand-clapping. If he is not looking at you and you want his attention, you must clap your hands as loud as you can!

It's been ages since Clyde heard the doorbell. He used to go nuts whenever it rang. We had to install a security screen on the front door just so we could answer the door without Clyde charging out from behind, barking, ready to defend the house from potential troublemakers like the UPS man.

That's why what happened this morning has me wondering if Clyde experienced a little miracle.

I was washing breakfast dishes and running the garbage disposal. EK was reading on the couch, still in his PJ's. DING-DONG, the doorbell rang! Not expecting company, I rolled my eyes at EK, giving him the "you can answer it or not, it's your choice" look. So PJ-clad, he reluctantly opened the door to a couple of earnest young people who asked him if he would like to share an encouraging passage of the bible. Oh man, would I have loved to see his face at that moment!

No thanks, says EK as he firmly closes the front door. I give him a sudsy thumbs-up. He resumes reading on the couch. Neither of us were thinking about Clyde.

The next sound we hear is Clyde barreling out of "his" laundry room, dog toenails clacking on the tile floor. It's "his" laundry room because that's where his food and water is. It's a little cave-like room off to the side of the kitchen ... no windows and definitely no view of the front door. He must've been in there drinking water because he'd already eaten his breakfast.

He was huffing ... the sound he makes before barking. He ran right by me at the kitchen sink without even a glance and then straight out through his doggie door ... his exit to the back yard. What's up with Clyde, I wonder. EK, who can see him in the back yard, says he's out there growling and obviously agitated.

So I go outside to satisfy my curiosity. His hackles are up, his fur standing as high as I've ever seen it. He's huffing and puffing, growling and patrolling the back yard, looking for something amiss. Finally he charges over to the wrought-iron gate and begins barking like a maniac. I walk over and observe the bible-readers have found our neighbor. They are standing together in a little clump on the front sidewalk. I cannot hear what they're saying but imagine it is the recitation of that encouraging bible passage they were denied the sharing of at our house.

Good job Clyde, I say. He continues barking. C'mon let's go in, I say. Clyde barks louder, putting his whole body into each bark now. He is not giving up so easily. His fur is still sky-high and he is obviously in guard-dog mode. I decide to let him get it out of his system and walk back into the house. If I strain my neck, I can just see him through the window. He looks like he's attacking the gate, oh no!

I take a closer look. Nope, it seems barking wasn't good enough, and so he has decided to pee through the iron bars of the gate! Now, Clyde is a champion urinator, but even his forceful stream could not reach all the way out to the front sidewalk. Nevertheless, he is quite satisfied with himself because the bible-readers have moved on. Yard guarding is such fun!

He immediately came back in the house, prancing, like he'd done something really important. No more huffing and puffing, no more barking, fur back in place, and looking quite handsome, too. I gave him a big thumb's up! He wagged his tail & smiled in response.

So my question is, why did an old deaf dog suddenly react as if he knew there were strangers outside? He didn't react to the doorbell. He didn't react to EK's brief conversation at the front door. He couldn't have seen, or even smelled, anyone from "his" laundry room. But he somehow got the idea that there were people outside that needed to be taught a lesson about Clyde's territory. Could he have had a temporary miraculous audio event?

Perhaps Clyde is an atheist like EK, or an agnostic like DK, or perhaps he was just not in the mood for an encouraging biblical passage. Knowing how badly dogs are treated in the bible (when mentioned at all, it is usually in "pariah dog" context), perhaps he knew the encouragement would not be to his liking.

For a dog, he's pretty non-dogmatic!