My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mars is Coming!!!

This is by Joe Rao of

You've probably heard that line before – no doubt fairly recently, thanks to a bogus e-mail that unfortunately received wide circulation on the Internet this summer with promises of Mars being as big as the full moon.

But this fact is absolutely true: Mars, the only planet whose surface we can see in any detail from the Earth, is now moving toward the best viewing position it will provide to us until the year 2014. Planet watchers have already begun readying their telescopes.

If you haven't seen it, it will be well worth looking for the red planet next week, even though you'll have to wait until after midnight to see it well.

Mars is currently midway between the zodiacal constellations of Taurus, the Bull and Gemini, the Twins and during this week it will rise shortly before 11 p.m. local daylight time. There is certainly no mistaking it once it comes up over the east-northeast horizon. Presently shining like a pumpkin-hued, zero magnitude star, Mars is currently tied for fifth place (with Vega) among the 21 brightest stars.

But as it continues to approach our Earth in the coming weeks and months, Mars will only be getting brighter: it will surpass Sirius, the brightest star in the sky by Dec. 9 and during the latter half of December it will even almost match Jupiter in brilliance.

Late next Wednesday night (or more precisely, early on Thursday morning), Mars will hover about 7-degrees above and to the right of the last quarter moon as they rise above the east-northeast horizon (your clenched fist held at arm's length is roughly 10-degrees in width). As you will see for yourself, the so-called "Red Planet" actually will appear closer to a yellow-orange tint – the same color of a dry desert under a high sun.

How close?

Every 26 months, or so, Earth makes a close approach to Mars, as our smaller, swifter orbit "overtakes" Mars around the sun. Because both the orbits of Mars and Earth are mildly elliptical, some close approaches between the two planets are closer than others.

This current apparition of Mars will be nowhere near as spectacular as the oft-referred approach of August 2003 when the planet came closer to Earth than it had in nearly 60,000-years.

Rather, on this upcoming occasion, Mars will come closest to Earth on the evening of December 18th (at around 6:46 p.m. Eastern Standard Time).

The planet will then lie 54.8 million miles (88.2 million kilometers) from Earth as measured from center to center. Mars will arrive at opposition to the sun (rising at sunset, setting at sunrise) six days later on Christmas Eve, December 24th.

How big?

That recent Martian e-mail message – a hyperbole which was widely circulated for a fourth consecutive year – lead people to believe, with liberal use of exclamation marks, that on Aug. 27, Mars would appear as bright as (or as large as) that night's full moon in the night sky. The subject header urged viewers to prepare to view "Two Full Moons."

It was amazing (and a little disturbing) to see just how many people actually believed that Mars could loom so large in our sky. But the truth is that even when at its absolute closest possible approach to Earth, Mars can appear no larger than 1/72 as big as the moon; to the unaided eye it would appear as nothing more than an extremely bright, non-twinkling star.

When it comes closest to Earth on December 18th of this year, Mars' apparent disk diameter will be equal to 15.9 arc seconds. To get an idea of just how large this is, wait until darkness falls this week and if you have a telescope, check out Jupiter, gleaming in the southwestern sky; it'll appear about 35 arc seconds across.

In contrast, Mars' disk will appear less than half as big as Jupiter's when the Red Planet comes closest to Earth later this year. While this may sound small, keep in mind that this is still atypically large for Mars. In fact, from November 30th through Jan. 5, 2008, Mars' apparent size will be larger than at any time until April 2014. Around the time that Mars is closest, amateurs with telescopes as small as 4-inches and magnifying above 120-power should be able to make out some dusky markings on the small yellow-orange disk, and perhaps the bright white polar cap.

Size isn't everything

From Dec. 15 through Dec. 29, Mars will blaze at magnitude -1.6, a bit brighter than Sirius, but just slightly inferior to Jupiter. Mars will still be positioned between Taurus and Gemini, at a rather high declination of about +27-degrees.

So almost as if to compensate for its relatively small apparent size, Mars will literally soar in the night sky of late-December.

When it reaches its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time, its altitude will be 70-degrees at Seattle, 76-degrees for New York, and an exceptional 83-degrees at Los Angeles. Meanwhile, amateur and professional astronomers stationed in southern Texas and central Florida will see Mars pass directly, or very nearly overhead!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Military Creditability For Sale

Something happened this last week that was both sad and unfortunate. David Petraeus, the four star general and commander of the War in Iraq, testified before the Senate in the hope that he could persuade the public at large that the latest war strategies would soon yield acceptable results. Now the unfortunate part of this event is not that the that current plan still incorrectly assumes that the Iraqi people want the Democracy and will put apart their divide to allow it to flourish, it’s that when the plan ultimately fails the military will take yet another blow to its creditability.

Remember back to April of 2002, when then Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council about the specific locations and quantities of the Weapons of Mass Destruction? The vast majority of his creditability came not from his position, but from the fact that he was a solider. Though we did not know the specifics of his 30 year military career that spanned from a Second Lieutenant all the way to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we knew that it was heroic, noble, and done at great personal sacrifice for the country. In time we learned that the things that he were not true. Our belief in him, and in creditability of the military, slipped.

Fast forward to the present, as we are still digesting General Petraeus’ testimony and we see that General was put in the same fateful position as the previous Secretary of State: trade himself for the mission. Once a solider always a solider. And just as a solider will throw himself on a grenade to save his unit, the officer will throw himself on a report to save his superiors. This belief in always giving yourself to the call of your country should never be abused by anyone in a higher position. Our soldiers, whether it is a grunt in the field or a four star general, deserve to be treated with the honor and dignity that they deserve.

The United States turns a sad page in our history the day that we cannot look to our enlisted men and women and immediately see them with the assumed creditability that they deserve to have. So in time, when the Iraq War has finally ended and we have a chance to look back on those soldiers who represented the military to the public, we will mourn their loss of their creditability, trust, and honor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ahoy You Rumsoaked Scallywags

It be the 19th of September, National Talk Like a Pirate Day, and I’m here to tell the lot of you that you be keelhauled for mutiny if you don’t participate in this here holiday. Where else are you going to get the change to let your inhibitions take over that crusty exterior you’ve put up against the world? So let your true rebellious self shine through and make civility and proper English walk the plank.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Decide My Fate

As someone who teaches for a living at a couple different universities, I have a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to social norms. I am almost expected to be slightly eclectic and/or eccentric. Unfortunately, I'm about as jeans and t-shirt as you can be. So that is why I have decided to let you nice people out there in internetland vote on something simple and easy.

I am at the point where I need a haircut and would like a yes or no vote as to whether or not I should just let it grow long. So what do you think? I will go with whichever side has the most votes. Please respond to this blog to cast your vote.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Happy Constitution Day - Whatever that means...

I love my country just as much as any person and consider myself a true scholar in American history (not to mention that I am working on a PhD in US Public Policy), but forced patriotism has always seemed very undemocratic to me. So I was not surprised to read the following in today’s paper:

A study being released Monday (9/11/07) by a foundation that focuses on journalism and the First Amendment found that 51 percent of high school students questioned had not heard of the day when they are required by law to learn about the Constitution. The occasion is usually observed on or around Sept. 17, the day the document was adopted in 1787.

The new holiday, enacted in 2004, seems to completely miss the point of the Constitution. Simply celebrating the document does absolutely nothing to further the understanding of it. And if anything, it discourages conversation and research into it because students believe that they are getting enough of it by celebrating and discussing it for one day. It’s a single day where the lesson plan changes, some interesting facts are trotted out, and we all give thanks for our Fore Fathers. Blah. Just one more thing the students can ignore now and while later claiming that they were schooled in it.

Just compare Constitution Day with Easter. I bet you that just about anyone can give you a decent one sentence description of either, but can they actually give you any details about the holiday? I would hazard to guess that if you quizzed them they would have more questions then answers. I can almost see it now: Where did the “Easter Bunny” come from? What rights does the First Amendment really give us? Ahhhhhh?

Why doesn’t celebrating these holidays inspire us to ask more questions? It’s because we’re too busy celebrating the holiday through their commercialism and associated marketing. Nothing cheapens the memory of something quite like an inspired marketing department.

If you feel you must, go ahead and celebrate your Constitution Day as your school, civic group, or local representatives say that you should. But know this, every time that you tune in to see how wonderful our country is I’ll be sitting here rolling my eyes because I know that it is one less person who will ever understand what it truly means. Don’t believe me, quick tell me what the 9th amendment is and why it is important… .now tell me why the Easter bunny gives out chocolate.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reality is Frequently Inaccurate

I am by no means an expert at transcendentalism, existentialism, logical positivism, rationalism, or most any other philosophical ism -- although I do have a bit of experience in hedonism.

That being said, a little background may be in order. The conscious experiences that you have are known as a phenomenological reality. And those of you who have studied your Descartes know that you exist because you know you exist. So the question now, as it has always been, is whether or not you can trust your phenomenological reality as the truth or is your belief in your that reality simply makes it true to you.

It is said that reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. It is that persistent illusion perpetrated by your mind to get you through the day.

We all need to believe a basic core set of ideas in order to live: Gravity works, bacon is delicious, and if you wander out into a busy intersection at rush hour you will be hit by a bus. The big ones are easy to understand. They are basic and the need to believe them is primitive and simple. You follow them to survive. Where my questioning of reality comes in is in the small things -- mostly because they are easier to argue with at this point.

Which leads me to my want of a special day of discovery. I have been wondering if it was possible to set my mind aside for a day and convince myself that after the scope of basic phenomenological reality I could turn off that programming and see the world differently. Seeing things anew is the hallmark of creativeness, ingenuity, and imagination. So we must all be able to do this at some level. If I could just find a way to reroute for awhile (yes, without drugs), I should be able to understand things differently.

The problem is, I have no idea where to start….

Friday, September 14, 2007

Toga, Toga, Toga!

The Greeks and the Romans ruled the Western part of the Earth for over 5,000 years and knew a great deal about how to run a country efficiently with ever increasing technology and constants advancements. They went through a similar period of time where they too became economically comfortable and that translated into every aspect of life. Luxuries were on the rise in the middle class, with each generation rising to become comparatively better than the last. Eventually, they all ended up in reasonable comfort wearing togas and sandals.

This, I predict, is where we are headed. Just in my short lifetime I have seen the average person become increasing comfortable with the world around them. Everything has become more efficient, more potent, and works to aid us in our contentment. To mirror this change it is now fashionable for world leaders to wear suits without ties, offices have gone to “business casual”, and it is socially acceptable to wear flip-flops to just about anywhere.

To continue this path into the future, we can predict societies that will follow this trend towards comfort and ease of clothing. Eventually proper work attire for our world leaders will become jeans and a t-shirt, sweat-suits will be acceptable to wear a wedding, and the rest of us will probably just wander about our daily lives in pajamas. The next step to this devolution of clothing is to realize what the Greeks and Romans new long along -- togas and sandals are all you need. Yes, it will become acceptable for the most powerful and respected people in the world to show themselves in public wearing nothing but a sheet and two pieces of plastic strapped to their feet.

I for one will be pleased when this happens. Too long have I worried about trying to match my shoes with my pants and trying to pick out what ties go with what suit jacket. Instead, I will look forward to just choosing a clean toga and whatever sandals I trip over on the way to the bathroom. And in order to encourage this advancement in comfort over civil decency, I hope to inspire each of you to follow my lead, buck the curve, and go strait to the inevitable by wearing nothing but togas and sandals from here on out. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Entry for September 11, 2007

I think that we all love the individuals in the military. The sheer courage to prove that you will die in the name of our country is the highest level of patriotism and citizenry imaginable. That is why it pisses me off so much when our leaders make choices that obviously are not worth the weight of those lives. Sacrifice should come equally from the Citizenry and the State.

This is anger is compounded when our elected representatives refuse to admit their mistakes and adapt their policies. George Washington is by far the most experienced at learning from his mistakes as he lost almost every battle he was ever in, floundered in his personal life, and killed thousands in vain attempts at the impossible. This was a man who failed and always picked himself back up, learned what he could, and tried to move forward in a different way. That process is why he was ultimately successful and our most beloved president.

Now to wish that our current President George would be like our first President George would be fruitless. Instead, what I would like is a way to help our current president see that the direction in which he is heading is not one that will lead towards success at a cost that the American people are willing to spend. We will not win the war in Iraq, it was not worth the lives spent, it is not redemption for past atrocities as we know it is not in any way connected with its original intention, and it has become yet another situation in which our leadership has failed to learn from past mistakes.

I spent this 9-11 doing the little part that I could to understand who we are and how we fit into the world. I started my day by grading end of semester papers and this evening I reread several of my favorite history books. What I refused to do was tune into the nonstop TV coverage of that horrible day's events because I know that my current mourning comes not for the lives lost, but for the lives we still have yet to loose before a more responsible leadership steps forward to reclaim our country in the name of those who still offer to lay down their lives for the sake of ours. Honor isn't about making the right choices; it's about dealing with the consequences of the bad ones.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bill O’Reilly is Not Hitler

Lately I’ve been hearing more and more individuals drawing parallels from Bill O’Reilly to Hitler or the Nazi Party. This is both untrue and unfair. Hitler’s party killed 5 million Jews, caused one of the largest wars this world has ever seen, and left a scar on several generations. O’Reilly hosts a TV show where he voices his opinion about current news events. To think that someone who is on TV and speaks his mind is in any way equal to the level of Hitler is pure bullshit.

So why do people claim that O'Reilly is that bad? Basically it comes down to the fact that they don’t like what he is saying, but don’t have enough of an argument or intellect to convince anyone else that he is actually that bad. It is their way of telling the world that they just aren’t smart enough smart enough to make O’Reilly’s comments as evil as they seem them. So anytime you head anyone claiming that someone is “like Hitler”, “like the Nazi Party”, or even “like the Ku Klux Klan”, just know that they are a dimwitted person desperately trying to make you believe something that is not true. People who compare anyone to Hitler are so filled with hate that they want to destroy our very constitution so that they could ban free speech that they do not agree with. These are the true people who hate our country and our way of life.