Tuesday, February 28, 2006

DaVinci Code Controversy Update on International Pancake Day.

Thanks to the quirks going on with the Blogger site, I had to bail out on this portion of what would have been a larger post on this International Pancake Day. What's that? You didn't know it was International Pancake Day? Neither did I until my new friend, GypsyQueen informed me of such by way of her new blog What the Bleep?

At any rate, it seems as though the problems have been solved, so here is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the latest DaVinci Code controversy. Today, it appears that the court hearing the case has taken my position, namely that there are many sources for the images found in Dan Brown’s best selling novel. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

LONDON - Britain's High Court was plunged into the arcane world of Templars, Merovingians and characters such as Pepin the Fat as lawyers argued Tuesday over the genesis of the mega-selling thriller "The Da Vinci Code."

A lawyer for the novel's publisher said ideas about the life and legacy of Jesus Christ that two writers claim were stolen for Dan Brown's blockbuster are so general that they are not protected by copyright, and that many key themes of their book are not in "The Da Vinci Code."

"We say that's fatal to their case," said John Baldwin, lawyer for publisher Random House. They say that Brown "appropriated the architecture" of their book, which explores theories that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, that the couple had a child and that the bloodline survives.

Laying out his opening arguments, Baldwin said that the claim by Baigent and Leigh "relates to and seeks to monopolize ideas at such a high level of generality that they are not protected by copyright. "A lot of the points are in a lot of other sources," he said.

Brown's mystical thriller follows fictional professor Robert Langdon as he investigates the murder of an elderly member of an ancient society that guards dark secrets about the quest for the Holy Grail and the story of Jesus.

The book's mix of code-breaking, art history, religion and mystical lore has won millions of fans around the world, but has also endured plenty of controversy, including criticism from the Catholic church, ridicule from scholars and a previous copyright lawsuit that was decided in favor of Brown.

Baldwin said many important themes of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" are not featured in "The Da Vinci Code," particularly the idea that a secretive order called the Priory of Sion, linked to the medieval Knights Templar, seeks to restore Jesus' descendants — the Merovingian dynasty — to the thrones of Europe. Among their enemies in the book is Pepin the Fat, a seventh-century official.

Similarly, the idea that Jesus' crucifixion was faked "is an important element of their book" that "forms no part of 'The Da Vinci Code.'" In Brown's book, Jesus does not survive the crucifixion. Brown said Monday that questioning Christ's death and resurrection "undermines the very heart of Christian belief."

The claimants say they developed the idea that Jesus fathered a royal bloodline from medieval documents including the "Dossiers Secrets," found in France's national library in Paris. The theme was taken up by the authors of many other books, including Brown's.

And there you have it. Not to repeat myself, but there are a lot of books out there that contain the information found in both Brown's novel and in Baigent and Lincoln's book. It's just a matter of overlapping subject matter.

I find this subject endlessly fascinating because, although I was raised Catholic I am not particularly religious, though I do consider myself to be somewhat spiritual. Anyway, I also like to think of myself as a keen student of history, so when books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and others like it were published, I devoured them. These books made me re-read the Bible, and suddenly, passages that, on their collective faces seemed odd and downright contradictory, snapped into focus.

Was Jesus married? And was Mary Magdalene his wife? Did he sire a family? Was that family smuggled into Europe? If these questions don't make you wonder a little bit about what Christianity has been teaching for 2,000 years, then nothing will.

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Lost Civilization Uncovered in Indonesia?

A team of scientists has found what it believes to be the remnants of a lost Indonesian civilization that was wiped out by a catastrophic volcanic eruption in 1815. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. - Scientists have found what they believe are traces of the lost Indonesian civilization of Tambora, which was wiped out in 1815 by the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history.

Mount Tambora's cataclysmic eruption on April 10, 1815, buried the inhabitants of Sumbawa Island under searing ash, gas and rock and is blamed for an estimated 88,000 deaths. The eruption was at least four times more powerful than Mount Krakatoa's in 1883.

Guided by ground-penetrating radar, U.S. and Indonesian researchers recently dug in a gully where locals had found ceramics and bones. They unearthed the remains of a thatch house, pottery, bronze and the carbonized bones of two people, all in a layer of sediment dating to the eruption.

University of Rhode Island volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson, the leader of the expedition, estimated that 10,000 people lived in the town when the volcano erupted in a blast that dwarfed the one that buried the Roman town of Pompeii.

The eruption shot 400 million tons of sulfuric gases into the atmosphere, causing global cooling and creating what historians call "The Year Without a Summer." Farms in Maine suffered crop-killing frosts in June, July and August. In France and Germany, grape and corn crops died, or the harvests were delayed.

The civilization on Sumbawa Island has intrigued researchers ever since Dutch and British explorers visited in the early 1800s and were surprised to hear a language that did not sound like any other spoken in Indonesia, Sigurdsson said. Some scholars believe the language more closely resembled those spoken in Indochina. But not long after Westerners first encountered Tambora, the society was destroyed.

"The explosion wiped out the language. That's how big it was," Sigurdsson said. "But we're trying to get these people to speak again, by digging."

The big question, to me at least, is how did a people whose language was similar to those spoken in Indochina get to Sumbawa Island? A good bet would be that they sailed there. Men like Thor Heyerdahl have demonstrated that ancient navigation wasn't just a possibility, it was pretty much a certainty. So the next biggest question would be, were these people descendants of the ancient navigators who criss-crossed the South Pacific, or were they more recent immigrants who came there before the age of European exploration? The answer will be an interesting one either way.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Don Knotts, Darren McGavin and Dennis Weaver in their final takes. New DaVinci Code Controversy.

Last Take for Three 70s Actors

This weekend was not a good one for actors. Mayberry Deputy Don Knotts, Night Stalker reporter Darren McGavin and McCloud hero Dennis Weaver all passed away, taking with them a mix of good memories from their collective careers.

Don Knotts had a high, squeaky voice that was made to be parodied, as I did when, in a flash of brilliance, envisioned Knotts, rather than Samuel L. Jackson as the hit man Jules in Pulp Fiction. Try not to laugh when you picture Knotts throwing down in the apartment where Frank Whalley is intimidated into giving up his Big Kahuna burger and Sprite just before the infamous "What! That don't sound like no country I ever heard of! They speak English in what?" scene.

Weaver was the cowboy hat wearing McCloud, and the subject of one of the worst jokes ever by a colleague of mine. Here goes: Hugh Hefner is hosting one of his parties at the Playboy Mansion. All the 70s celebs are in attendance. The theme is a costume party based on a current or most famous role. At one point, Hugh, for some reason, decides to sit on Dennis Weaver's lap. Weaver is dressed as McCloud. A drunken Peter Falk, as Columbo, staggers past, and, offended at the sight of Hef in his robe sitting on an uncomfortable Weaver's lap, and says: "Hey Hugh, get off of McCloud!" Okay, stop moaning, you'll wake the neighbors...

Finally, Darren McGavin, for those who remember him as the impossibly old father in Billy Madison, or the foul-mouthed dad in A Christmas Story, you'd do well to remember him as the intrepid reporter who drive Simon Oakland batshit crazy every week on The Night Stalker. That show was a timeless collection of stories about the weird and wacky in which Karl Kolchack (McGavin) managed to wiggle in and out of trouble to get stories that could never be printed because they were so unbelievable. The Night Stalker and Rod Serling's Night Gallery were two of the best shows on TV for an imaginative kid in the mid-70s, and I don't see anything on TV today that comes close to what these programs provided.

Farewell TV icons. You'll be missed.

New DaVinci Code Controversy

Dan Brown's international best-selling novel "The DaVinci Code" is stirring up more controversy. This time, it is the object of a lawsuit brought by the authors of the cult classic "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" because the authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh maintain that Brown basically cribbed from their work to produce much of what appears in his novel. Yahoo News AP Wire excerpt:

LONDON - It's the latest twist for the mega-selling conspiracy thriller "The Da Vinci Code": a lawsuit against the book's publisher for breach of copyright that could taint the novel and delay the much-anticipated movie version.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of the 1982 nonfiction book "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," are suing publisher Random House, Inc. over the allegation that parts of their work formed the basis of Dan Brown's novel, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains high on best seller lists nearly three years after publication.

If the writers succeed in securing an injunction to bar the use of their material, they could hold up the scheduled May 19 release of "The Da Vinci Code" film, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard.

Brown, who rarely speaks to the media, sat attentively before a judge in London's High Court, a short walk from Temple Church, the place of worship founded by the Knights Templar, which figures in his novel. A New Hampshire native who still lives in his home state and has been working on a new novel, Brown is expected to give evidence here next week.

Brown, was "interested in taking, and took, short cuts rather than doing any of the work himself," Jonathan Rayner James, lawyer for Baigent and Leigh, told the court.

Baigent, born in New Zealand, and Leigh, originally from the United States, are suing Random House, which also published their book. The company denies the claim and chief executive Gail Rebuck said in a statement that she believed the lawsuit was without merit.

Both books hinge on the theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a child, and that blood line survives to this day. The earlier book set out the notion that Christ did not die on the cross but lived later in France.

James said his case was not attempting to "stultify creative endeavor," or to claim a monopoly on ideas or historical debate, but to prove that Brown had "relied heavily" on the earlier work, published in Britain in 1982 and the following year in the United States.

Though it does not relate to theft of specific sections of text, the case involves the alleged appropriation of themes and ideas from the earlier work, James said.

Phrases used in both books to describe arguments that Jesus had been married showed similarities, James said. He told the court Brown's work also appeared to reproduce "unusual and unlikely" connections between historical and religious figures set out in the earlier work.

"This is not an idea that I would ever have found appealing. Being raised a Christian and having sung in my Church choir for 15 years, I'm well aware that Christ's crucifixion is the very core of the Christian faith," Brown told reporters outside the courtroom, referring to the argument in the 1982 book that Christ had not died.

Brown has denied claims that he reproduced sections of argument from the 1982 book and said he disputes the proposition it makes that Jesus did not die on the cross. "Suggesting a married Jesus is one thing, but questioning the Resurrection undermines the very heart of Christian belief," Brown said in a statement released to reporters.

Having read both books, I can see obvious similarities in the works. I also own several other books such as James, the Brother of Jesus by Robert Eisenman, as well as several others (if you're curious, leave a comment and I'll expand on this theme), mostly having to do with the Knights Templar, that propose similar scenarios to those presented in the works in question in this case.

I'm no expert in this subject, but I think, based on my own research into this fascinating subject, that there is more than enough information to go around for everyone, and to think that Brown relied upon one source for his inspiration is a bit of a reach.

So, unless Baignet and Lincoln have solid evidence to support their claim, I don't see how this case can proceed. What is certain, is that this case will absolutely result in a sales boon for both books.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ramses II Statues Found in Egypt.

Statues, perhaps of Egyptian Pharoah Ramses II, have been uncovered at a site close to Cairo according to an announcement made today. Yahoo News Rueters excerpt:

CAIRO (Reuters) - Statues weighing up to five tonnes and thought to be of one of ancient Egypt's greatest pharaohs, Ramses II, have been found northeast of Cairo, Egypt's Supreme Antiquities Council said in a statement on Sunday.

Ramses II ruled Egypt from 1304 to 1237 BC, and presided over an era of great military expansion, erecting statues and temples to himself all over Egypt. He is traditionally believed to be the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Moses.

"Many parts of red granite statues were found, the most important of which had features close to Ramses II ... The statue needs some restoration and weighs between four and five tonnes," the statement quoted the Council's Zahi Hawass as saying. A royal head weighing two to three tonnes and a seated 5.1 meter (16.7 foot) statue were also found, with cartouches, or royal name signs, of Ramses II on the side of the seated statue.

The discoveries were made at a sun temple northeast of Cairo in ancient Heliopolis, a region known in ancient times for sun worship and where the Council says a calendar based on the solar year was invented.

There seems to be no end to the wonders of that magnificent civilization to be found in the desert sands. How many more fantastic items wait to be unearthed in this region of the world? There are many theories about the various artifacts that have been found, some of which point to an even older and more advanced civilization than previously thought. I don't have the time or space to address all of these in this post, but will attempt to do so in upcoming posts.

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Port Operations: Latest News.

Here is the latest development in the story about the operations of six U.S. shipping ports to be taken over by a UAE-based company. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Sunday it will accept an extraordinary offer by a United Arab Emirates-based company to submit to a second — and broader — U.S. review of potential security risks in its deal to take over significant operations at six leading American ports. The plan averts an impending political showdown.

The Treasury Department said in a statement it will promptly begin the review once the company formally files a request for one. It said the same government panel that earlier investigated the deal but found no reason for national security concerns will reconsider it.

In six pages of documents sent earlier in the day to the White House, Dubai-based DP World asked for a 45-day investigation of plans to run shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

The announcement means the White House likely won't face a revolt by fellow Republicans when lawmakers return Monday from a weeklong break. A united Republican Party can assert that its leaders — both in Congress and at the White House — have taken additional steps to protect national security.

Which is complete and utter bullshit. Sure the idea that the Republicans, even the ones who, until this development occurred, will now fall into line behind Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy is not that far fetched a notion, but to think, and actually believe that the citizenry will look upon this deal as being good for American security is delusional at best. Apparently the governors of the states, or the mayors of the cities affected are suddenly supposed to say "Oh good, a review period, well, we have nothing to worry about..." Don't count on it.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Santana Concert to Commemorate 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Postponed.

A concert commemorating the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and featuring Guitar God Carlos Santana (see my posts on Guitar Stuff), has been postponed due to fundraising problems. Perhaps my good friend Miss Templeton can tear herself away from our mutual interest in getting the Giants to change the name of Pac-Bell/3Com Park to Lefty O'Doul Stadium long enough to apply some local pressure to make sure that this postponement is a short one. KESQ News excerpt:

A free concert by Santana planned as part of centennial commemorations of the earthquake that shook San Francisco in 1906 was postponed because organizers couldn't raise enough money.

Santana was going to play for free at the April 22nd concert, but other costs drove the price tag above 1.5 million dollars.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said yesterday that efforts to raise funds faltered because sponsors wanted to focus on earthquake preparedness rather than a concert.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Port Operations: Another Perspective.

Thanks to Ken Kaniff for alerting me to the following Washington Post article written by Harold Meyerson yesterday. Excerpt:

We're selling our harbors to an Arab government. Our biggest Internet companies are complicit in the Chinese government's censorship of information and suppression of dissidents. Welcome to American capitalism in the age of globalization.

Here the market rules. National security and freedom of speech are all well and good, but they are distinctly secondary concerns when they bump up against our highest national purpose, which is maximizing shareholder value.

Meyerson goes on to outline some of the business practices in which the U.S. has engaged with other countries, and notes, not without some irony, that some of these nations conduct themselves in ways that are the direct opposite of the notions of freedom and democracy that we claim to promote. Sadly, Meyerson notes, that is now just the price of doing business these days.

But, as Mr. Kaniff pointed out, this issue "is at the nexus of national security and trade policy". As such, it is forcing people, or should be forcing people, to examine both subjects to see where the lines blur/intersect. How does free trade affect national security? Is there a calculus to show an acceptable amount of risk for doing business on an international stage? These are questions that must be considered, but I fear this administration would either never have thought about them in this light, or, simply would have ignored them completely if these notions had been brought to their collective attention.

I have a feeling that this may be a political ploy of some type to see how many Republicans fall in line with the President as opposed to how many oppose him. Likewise for the Democrats. The 2006 mid-term elections are closing in, and, if, as I suspect, a majority of Americans do not want this transaction to succeed, then the fate of legislators for both parties will likely depend on where they stand on this issue. That may be obvious to some, but I think it may very well be a hidden variable in the equation that makes up this deal.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rumsfeld: The Lying Will Continue...

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the fact that the U.S. program of lying to the Iraqi people about what is passing for progress in that nation, as it tries to emerge from the chaos we have introduced, will continue, most likely indefinitely. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the Pentagon is reviewing its practice of paying to plant stories in the Iraqi news media, withdrawing his earlier claim that it had been stopped.

Rumsfeld told reporters he was mistaken in the earlier assertion. "I don't have knowledge as to whether it's been stopped. I do have knowledge it was put under review. I was correctly informed. And I just misstated
(lied about) the facts," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing.

Rumsfeld had said in a speech in New York last Friday and in a television interview the same day that the controversial practice had been stopped.

He said that Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, was reviewing the practice. Previously, Casey has said he saw no reason to stop it.

Of course there is no reason to stop it. Why would we want to let the truth about the insurgency that Deadeye Dickhead Cheney claimed was in its “last throes” come out as it is really happening? Just when you thought that the self-granted title of "most ethical administration ever" couldn't become more of a joke, these criminal swine surprise us by finding even lower depths in which to sink.

Rumsfeld also addressed mixed signals coming from Iraqi leaders over the type of government they'd like to eventually see take shape in Iraq. "Iraqis are going through a political process," Rumsfeld said. "Until they agree on who their new leadership should be, you're going to see a lot of public statements by a lot of people ... reflecting a lot of different views."

Iraqi political parties have run into major obstacles in talks on a new national unity government. Any major delay would be a setback to U.S. hopes for a significant reduction in troop levels this year.

Rumsfeld also said he had no problems with a deal permitting a United Arab Emirates company to take over operations at six major U.S. seaports, a plan that has encountered stiff political opposition in Congress. He called the UAE a good military partner in the war on terror.

Well, he’s half right about the partnership part. The UAE is a good business partner of the Bush family and it’s many sycophants.

"Nothing changes with respect to security under the contract. The Coast Guard is in charge of security, not the corporation," Rumsfeld said.

Right. And I bet Rummy has a nice bridge he'd like to put up for sale on EBay while he's at it. Can someone please remind me again why we had to impeach Bill Clinton? Just asking…

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Monday, February 20, 2006

UAE Company Tapped to Operate Six Major U.S. Ports.

In a move that I hope will make Bush supporters wake up to the fact that he is owned and operated by the Saudi Arabians, the Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy regime has tapped a company owned by the United Arab Emerates (UAE) to operate six major United States ports. Yahoo News AP Wire story:

WASHINGTON - Two Republican governors on Monday questioned a Bush administration decision allowing an Arab-owned company to operate six major U. S. ports, saying they may try to cancel lease arrangements at ports in their states.

New York Gov. George Pataki and Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich voiced doubts about the acquisition of a British company that has been running the U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates.

The British company, Peninsular and Oriental, runs major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

"Ensuring the security of New York's port operations is paramount and I am very concerned with the purchase of Peninsular & Oriental Steam by Dubai Ports World," Pataki said in a news release. "I have directed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore all legal options that may be available to them in regards to this transaction," said the New York governor, who is still in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy.

Ehrlich, concerned about security at the Port of Baltimore, said Monday he is "very troubled" that Maryland officials got no advance notice before the Bush administration approved an Arab company's takeover of the operations at the six ports. "We needed to know before this was a done deal, given the state of where we are concerning security," Ehrlich told reporters in the State House rotunda in Annapolis. The state of Maryland is considering its options, up to and including voiding the contract for the Port of Baltimore, Ehrlich said, adding: "We have a lot of discretion in the contract."

Pataki is also asking the federal government to "share all critical relevant information made available to the Council on Foreign Investment during the course of the review of the purchase," a reference to the federal panel that approved the deal. New York's legal options could include canceling the lease for operation, effectively shutting out Dubai Ports World from port activities. P&O signed a 30-year lease with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2000 to operate the Port Newark Container Terminal.

The governors are the latest elected officials from both parties to complain about the deal. House Homeland Security
chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., has been one of the most vocal, saying secret assurances obtained by the government don't go far enough to protect the nation's seaports.

Democratic New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez joined the chorus of complaints on Monday. "We wouldn't turn over our customs service or our border patrol to a foreign government," Menendez said during a Monday news conference in Newark. "We shouldn't turn over the ports of the United States, either." Menendez said he and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., will introduce legislation prohibiting the sale of port operations to foreign governments. Bush administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have defended the decision.

During a stop Monday in Birmingham, Ala., Gonzales said the administration had a "very extensive process" for reviewing such transactions that "takes into account matters of national security, takes into account concerns about port security."

Critics have cited the UAE's history as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In addition, they contend the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

Frustration about the ports takeover put two Maryland gubernatorial candidates on the same side of an issue. During a campaign stop in Bladensburg, Md., Monday, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley was adamant that the operations of his city's port not be turned over to the Arab-owned company. "I believe that President's Bush's decision to turn over the operations of any American port is reckless," said O'Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Ehrlich in the Maryland governor's race. "We are not going to turn over the Port of Baltimore to a foreign government."

The fact that the biggest noise-makers are Republicans means two things: 1. That the Democrats are still too chickenshit to attack a chief executive who is both extremely unpopular AND uneffective, and 2. That the Bush Administration's chickens may finally be coming home to roost.

Just to give you an idea of how big a fuck-up this is for Prez FSF, my Dad, a staunch conservative and Bush supporter, wondered aloud this weekend at his 72nd birthday dinner, whether Bush had lost his frigging mind. Since it was Dad's birthday I let the remark pass and simply took in the moment. Is the realization that our President is a bumbling idiot who is wholly owned and operated by the House of Saud finally dawning on Dad? Maybe not, but at least the fact that there is some doubt on that side is good enough for me.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Recurrent Nova Brightens in Ophiuchus.

Now that the skies have cleared somewhat after this weekend's snowstorm, there is something interesting happening in the early morning skies. A recurrent nova has brightened to naked-eye visibility in the constellation Ophiuchus. Sky and Telescope excerpt:

For first time in 21 years, the famous recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi has erupted into naked-eye visibility.

As late as February 10, 2006, the star was still magnitude 11.0, where it spends most of its time with only minor fluctuations. But on the morning of February 13th it was reported shining at magnitude 4.8. The outburst was discovered at February 12.8 Universal Time by Kiyotaka Kanai and Hiroaki Narumi in Japan, who estimated it to be magnitude 4.5 at the time.

RS Oph is located in eastern Ophiuchus near Serpens Cauda. This part of the sky is moderately well up in the southeast just before the first light of dawn. The star lies at right ascension 17h 50.2m, declination –6° 43' (equinox 2000.0).

RS Ophiuchi, like other cataclysmic variable stars, is a close binary. A red giant of spectral type M2 is spilling gas onto a small, dense, blue companion star. The hot blue star erupted in 1898, 1933, 1958, 1967, and 1985, and it may also have had an outburst in 1945.

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Since I'm up at about 5:00 AM every morning to prepare for work, I have the opportunity to see this. Ophiuchus is a large constellation that lies just north of Scorpius, and, as it lies along the Milky Way, it contains dozens of deep-sky objects like globular clusters and planetary nebulae (as well as six stars that lie within 20 light-years of our Solar System--four of which are Sun-like in size and temperature). Now, this recurrent nova will bear watching to see if it continues to brighten.

This sort of thing happened a few years ago when Delta Scorpii brightened from magnitude 2.3 to 1.7, nearly to the point of being a first-magnitude star. It does not appear that RS Ophiuchi will get quite that bright, but it is still a significant event to monitor.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Terrible Weekend.

Sorry for the delay in blogging, but, aside from the gaps in the latter half of every week that occur because of my bowling league activities, this weekend saw the worst day I've experienced in a long time with the death of my dog on Saturday.

Foxy was a 12-year-old Pomeranian, and was the sweetest, funniest and smartest dog I've owned (I've also owned a German Shepherd/Collie named Silky, who was damned smart as well, and who lived 13 great years, and a black Labrador Retriever named Samson who only made it two years before dying of epilepsy). She had been struggling with bad health for the past few months, and was on medication for a hacking cough. It was during the administration of said medication that she had a seizure and went limp in my arms. I thought she was dying, or dead, so I bundled her up and rushed her to the veternarian, who, surprisingly, detected a faint heartbeat, but was unable to bring her back.

I just finished getting rid of the foot-and-a-half of snow that the Nor'easter dumped on us, and, rather than sour my mood as such snowstorms usually do, this one helped, at least for a few hours, to take my mind off of the horrible events of yesterday. I'll try to round up some pics to scan and try to post to this blog.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sure He's Gone, But A Thousand More Will Line Up to Take His Place...

This piece about TUBH (Typical Unqualified Bush Hack) George Duetsch, who resigned from his appointment as NASA's Director of Dumbing Down when it was revealed that he lied about his college education. Well, that and the fact that he's an ass monkey. Story courtesy of the gang at Sadly No!:

George C. Deutsch, the young presidential appointee at NASA who told public affairs workers to limit reporters' access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned yesterday, agency officials said.

Mr. Deutsch's resignation came on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his resume on file at the agency asserted.

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I missed my chance to get in on this when the original story about this moron first surfaced. So Mr. Deutsch decided to lump the Big Bang in with the discredited, dubious, messy "theory" of Evolution. He also attempted to silence one of NASA's climate experts. Wanna bet he's an Intelligent Design freak? Someone ought to tell him that faking one's college credentials on a resume isn't the swiftest of career moves. I wonder if he also lied during his interviews for the job the way Alito did in 1985, and again just recently?

Sadly No! called this story "Maybe He Can Get a Job at Brownie's Disaster Consulting Firm". That nails it right in the head. This administration is an incompetent and aggressively stupid collection of clowns, and anyone who continues to support it should be ashamed and embarrassed. Now, watch this drive!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Science Tuesday Three-Pack: Lost World in Indonesia. Headless Sphinx Found in Italy. New Evidence for Global Warming?

Okay folks, we have a lot of ground to cover on what was a productive session of web surfing. Below, for your inspection, are three science stories that should provide plenty of ice-breaking lines at your next party.

First up is a story about a "Lost World" that a group of scientists stumbled upon in a remote part of Indonesia:

Lost World Uncovered in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Soon after scientists landed by helicopter in the mist-shrouded mountains of one of Indonesia's most remote provinces, they stumbled on a primitive egg-laying mammal that simply allowed itself to be picked up and brought to their field camp.

Describing a "Lost World" — apparently never visited by humans — members of the team said Tuesday they also saw large mammals that have been hunted to near-extinction elsewhere and discovered dozens of exotic new species of frogs, butterflies and palms.

"We've only scratched the surface," said Bruce Beehler, a co-leader of the month-long trip to the Foja Mountains, an area in the eastern province of Papua with roughly 2 million acres of pristine tropical forest. "There was not a single trail, no sign of civilization, no sign of even local communities ever having been there," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

Two headmen from the Kwerba and Papasena tribes, the customary landowners of the mountain range, accompanied the expedition, and "they were as astounded as we were at how isolated it was," Beehler said. "As far as they knew, neither of their clans had ever been to the area."

The scientists said they discovered 20 frog species — including a microhylid frog less than a half-inch long — four new butterfly species, and at least five new types of palms. Among their most memorable experiences were their encounters with the Long-beaked Echidna, members of the primitive egg-laying group of mammals called the Monotremes, which twice allowed themselves to be picked up and brought to the scientists' camp for observation.

Beehler attributed the lack of fear displayed by the long-snouted spine-covered Echidnas (pronounced eh-KID-na) to the fact that they probably had never come into contact with humans. But other animals, like the Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo, an arboreal jungle-dweller previously thought to have been hunted to near-extinction, were much more shy, he said, and quickly disappeared into the dense forest after being spotted.

Though the scientists' findings will have to be published in scientific journals and reviewed by peers before being officially classified as new species, other environmentalists said the discoveries were hardly surprising in a country renowned for its rich biodiversity. "There are many species that have not been identified" in Indonesia, said Chairul Saleh of the World Wildlife Fund, which has made hundreds of its own discoveries in the sprawling archipelago in the last 10 years.

Papua, the scene of a decades-long separatist rebellion that has killed an estimated 100,000 people, is one of Indonesia's most remote regions geographically and politically, and access by foreigners is tightly restricted. The scientists said they needed six permits before they could legally visit the mountains located on the western side of New Guinea island.

Stephen Richards of the South Australia Museum in Adelaide said he and other team members got a glimpse of what the island "was like 50,000 years ago, because there's been no hunting, no impact of transport or anything like that."

Full Story

Imagine the reactions these scientists had when they realized what they had found. Just imagine what else we can find in similarly remote, or overlooked regions of this weird, wonderful planet. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, your time is running out!

Up next is a story from Italy where a headless sphinx and a huge staircase were unearthed in a dig at the villa of the Roman Emperor Hadrian:

Headless Sphinx Found in Italy

TIVOLI, Italy - Archaeologists who have been digging for more than a year at the villa of Roman Emperor Hadrian in Tivoli have unearthed a monumental staircase, a statue of an athlete and what appears to be a headless sphinx.

The findings were presented Tuesday by government officials who described the discoveries as extremely important for understanding the layout of the ruins. The staircase is believed to be the original entrance to the villa, which was built for Hadrian in the 2nd century A.D.

Full Story

The Sphinx, a legacy of ancient Egypt, just goes to show how much influence that culture had on the world. The Romans were famous for assimilating the icons of other peoples' faiths, so to find a sphinx in an emperor's villa isn't such a strange thing.

Batting third is a story about the unseasonably warm January we experienced in most of the United States. Yes, even here, in traditionally frozen New England, we've had a handful of days that saw temperatures reach the mid-50s and low 60s. I'm sure the Republicans reading this will just dismiss this as more "weird science" stuff:

Evidence of Global Warming?

WASHINGTON - Recording the warmest January on record allowed Americans to save on their heating, but like all good things, last month's mildness seems to have been too good to last. The country's average temperature for the month was 39.5 degrees Fahrenheit, 8.5 degrees above average for January, the National Climatic Data Center said Tuesday. The old record for January warmth was 37.3 degrees set in 1953.

On the other hand, while much of the United States was basking in warm weather, parts of Europe and Asia were being battered by bitter cold. Climate details for the rest of the world for January are expected to be available next week.

During the month the jet stream, a strong high-altitude wind that guides weather fronts from west to east, stayed unusually far to the north, keeping the coldest air in Canada and Alaska, the agency said. Keeping that cold air to the north allowed mild Pacific air to moderate temperatures across the contiguous states, leading to the warm conditions.

However, the jet stream is now sliding into a more typical winter pattern, according to the Climate Prediction Center. The February outlook calls for below-normal temperatures in the mid-Atlantic, the Southeast and intermountain West, and above-normal temperatures in the Southwest, the northern Plains and Alaska. Both centers are part of the government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The records go back to 1895 when detailed climate records began being collected. During January, none of the 48 contiguous states had below-average temperatures — and 15 states in the northern Plains, Great Lakes and Midwest had record high temperatures for the month. More than 74 percent of the country was classified as "much above normal" when compared to the 1961-1990 climate normal. The Climate Data Center said that only twice since 1895 has more than 74 percent of the nation had a much above-normal temperature — March 1910 and November 1999.

Full Story

Is it just a coincidence that 1999 was the latest year in which we experienced above-average winter temperatures? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. One thing is certain, we haven't begun to take such a possibility that the planet is warming due to heavy human activity seriously. The clock is ticking...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Post Super Bowl Musings.

Hola Amigos. It's been a while since I blogged at youse, and here is a quick rundown of the news: Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy has submitted
the biggest budget in history. And this guy is the new House of Representatives Majority Leader. And Attorney General Abu Gonzales "explained" why it is necessary for his criminally insane boss to illegally spy on ordinary Americans.

But I’m not here to discuss these matters right now. Instead I’ll focus on a string of email messages that confronted me when I logged in at my wage-slavery containment facility. The first message was sent by a colleague in the technical support center, and it dealt with the recent controversy surrounding the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb on his head. This colleague opined that the Muslim community are A) a bunch of crybabies, B) a bunch of savages, and C) we’d all be better off if Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy would stop being such a thumb-sucking, bed-wetting fairy and bomb the shit out of each and every one of them because of what they did to us on September 11, 2001.

Mr. Colleague copied at least thirty (30) people on this initial message, some of whom I know well, most of whom I either barely know, or don’t know at all. One of the recipients, fed this fresh red meat, replied back with a “HELL YEAH!” style message, which was picked up on by a couple of others who felt the same way, and who added their own twisted twists on the matter, such as "I will not be subservient to their religion", as if that was what was actually at stake.

Mr. Colleague’s son also replied, but his was, in my view, a fairly solid and articulate repudiation of the previous messages. Well that got a reaction from the first respondent who basically came back at Colleague Jr. with an incoherent ad hominem attack.

I dislike this type of communication because it is A) almost never constructive, and B) it distracts one from doing one’s wage-slavery assignments. However, I did reply solely to Colleague Jr. to let him know that he was not alone, and to hang in there, all the while tossing the various thoughts around my head that will eventually make up the meat of this post. But I do feel a need to reply, and what better forum to make my statement than this humble blog.

So, in the immortal words of Jules from Pulp Fiction in the memorable early scene in the apartment, “Well, allow me to RETORT!!!”

Point A from the initial message: To react with outrage at the fact that one’s country is under attack for the flimsiest reasons is NOT being a crybaby, it is stone cold sanity. The insane ones are the ones attacking a nation that had nothing to do with the events of September 11, 2001. The idiotic dream the Bush team sold us about how we would be greeted with flowers and songs has been as far from the grim reality of what has happened as you could possibly get, but somehow, the message has yet to be received by these people.

Point B from the initial message: These "savages" are descended from a people who had a flourishing culture that was miles ahead of its European counterparts in the arts and sciences. They were master architects, and, unlike their opponents in the Crusades, showed much more tolerance for other faiths in the lands they occupied. That is not to say that at times those people did not commit what we would view as atrocities, but rather, to say that on the scale of things, the Crusaders acted with much more savagery and cruelty than their Muslim foes. Example: Beginning in 1209 the Albigensian Crusade was launched to exterminate an entire group of French CHRISTIANS. These were the Cathars, and they were brutally massacred by their fellow countrymen and brothers in Christ, so please, if you want to examine savagery Mr. Colleague, you don’t need to look at the horrors perpetrated by other faiths when the Christian faith has more than enough to go around.

Point C from the initial passage: We attacked a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of September 11, 2001. That fact cannot be repeated often enough. Osama bin Laden is still at large (which is why Abu G was selling his line about the Preznit needing to illegally spy on Americans). Saddam Hussein, while a monster, was OUR monster. We set him up with a shitload of weapons and turned a blind eye to his excesses in savagery because he was fighting Iran. The first Gulf War neutralized him, but that wasn’t good enough after September 11th. Saddam was a diminished, convenient target, and the Fox News crowd got right in line with Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy on his neat little Mesopotamian adventure. Of course, now that he has completely fucked things up in Iraq, that country is now a powder keg. The only reason the people who still support this travesty of war do so is because it makes them feel good to push around someone weaker than themselves. I feel quite certain that, if the positions were reversed, and that if WE were the ones dying by the dozens every day, that this attitude would somehow be a bit different.

There really isn’t much more to add than that. I have no hope of swaying Mr. Colleague, Mr. First Replier, or the others, one of whom is a close friend, that their positions are frighteningly similar to those held in what we would consider fascist regimes. They delight in the use of the ad hominem attack, the empty slogan, the attack on those who even slightly disagree with imperial policy, and a complete and utter distaste for rational analysis. It is almost as if they try to outdo each other to see who can act with the least amount of tolerance to an idea that they find to deviate even one-tenth of one percent from the norm.

I’ve purposely avoided the religious component of this story, because that isn’t really what this story is about. It is about intolerance, pure and simple. And the irony of Coretta Scott King’s death last week only serves to underscore just how little we have advanced in the area of tolerance. For all of America’s supposed enlightenment and sophistication, we still find ourselves far too easily manipulated by ugly little men who pretend to have easy answers about how to deal with the boogeymen they claim are ready to pounce and devour us. I can’t imagine a god or goddess who would look kindly on their creations under such sad conditions.