Monday, November 29, 2010

Horse Latitudes

I was in a parade last week. For Thanksgiving I cooked a turkey, dressing, gravy, which le Huque pronounced to be "a poem." Fixed a toilet. Weather-stripped a door.

Beyond that, not much else.

My Mom died in September, something many of you reading this already know. If not, well, she did, and now you know. Consequently, the wind has left my sails.

With Thanksgiving behind me, I can feel the mighty suck of the Christmas vortex, so in the coming couple weeks I'll be busy with all that hoopla. Lights. Tree. Presents. I enjoy that stuff, I really do. So that will, very soon, pull me out of these horse latitudes (allegedly that part of the ocean where the wind goes dead, and the sailors must throw horses overboard to lighten the load; almost certainly an apocryphal etymology, from what I've read this morning, as they would have eaten the horses rather than drowned them).

I'll spend what little down time I can find with a blanket and a comfortable chair and China Mieville.

Have a happy holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Though Space Worms Would Be Cool

No. Not bacteria. Not a herd of space worms. This a field of sand dunes in Proctor Crater on Mars. The dark bits are the dunes, blowing over the lighter rock beneath. Each one is about a football field wide.

For more cool, geeky details, go to the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

And have a pleasant Thanksgiving. If you are reading this, you must have access to a computer. And electricity. Alotta people don't. So be thankful, dammit.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bipolar Galactic Wind

When I was a kid I read somewhere that there were bubbles of anti-matter above and below the galactic plane. I thought about that for years, conjured up the image in my head when I was bored, or when stargazing. I don't think anyone believes there is anti-matter there anymore. No matter. The image remained.

And then last week there on the internet was a replica of that very image I've been carrying for decades, as if they had crept into my dreams and stolen it from the folds of my brain. An X-ray map of the sky revealed giant bubbles of plasma in the exact same spots my anti-matter bubbles were, coming from the poles of a black hole in the center of the galaxy. Perhaps scientists are more humble than they used to be, as they now freely admit they have no idea what it is. They have named it, though. They're calling it a "Bipolar Galactic Wind." What a gloriously evocative phrase.

Right there with Io Plasma Torus. Fun to say. Go ahead. Say it. I'll wait.

The Io Plasma Torus is, sadly, a doughnut of plasma, not a bubble. But still pretty cool.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Get Well Soon

Cassini, the hardest working probe in show business, is sick. It went into safe mode last week just before it was to do a close fly-by of Saturn's moon Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system, and the only one with an atmosphere. There are supposed to be lakes of liquid methane down there, and maybe critters as well (the conspiracy buffs on Coast to Coast believe Cassini isn't broken at all, but rather the scapegoat in a massive cover-up).

Not to worry. Cassini has gone into safe mode six times before, and came out fine each time. Plus, 53 other fly-bys of Titan scheduled.

The JPL says, "The spacecraft is very tolerant of error. It'd be hard to break it."

Menwhile, here's a gorgeous picture of Saturn and the rings Cassini took in healthier days, a tumble of light and shadow, spheres and rings. The triangular slab of shadow is the shadow of Saturn itself, so the sun must be off to the lower left, well out of the frame.

Thanks to Bad Astronomy for the pic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's a Hard World for Little Things

There's a great article in Slate today about one of my favorite movies of all time, "Night of the Hunter." If you've seen it, you remember it. Robert Mitchum as "Preacher." HATE tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, LOVE tattooed on the knuckes of the other. He's come to town hunting for $10,000 in stolen loot.

The only movie Charles Laughton ever directed. Pauline Kael called it "one of the most frightening films ever made." I love the scene below; if the Preacher sees the world as a battle between good and evil, then think of this scene as a duet between the dueling natures of Christianity.

That's Lillian Gish in the chair, holding the shotgun. Make sure and watch the end, with the owl and the bunny, and that killer last line.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Nothing says "well-adjusted" like a chalk drawing of a dead girl with X's for eyes and the words "You're going to die" right next to it.

Except, of course, this. A positive role model for the girls.


Our front door. Note the cardboard tombstone. And the skulls and bones drawn on the steps.

The family that flays together, stays together.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween and the Decline of Democracy

There are fewer trick-or-treaters every year, and have been since I was a child and the apocryphal razor-blade-in-the-apple story began making the rounds. Jump cut to the present and our fear-based media cycle (terrorists! pedophiles! immigrants! flesh-eating bacteria! gay marriage! socialist president!) and you've got parents driving their kids to the mall for pre-wrapped candies and exhortations to consume! consume! consume! before being driven home and ushered into the house through the garage door so they don't ever have to meet the neighbors.

The result: the decline of community, the decline of democracy, a landscape where we stay in our homes, our children locked indoors, listening to the news on television telling us how scary it is out there.

Look outside. No kids in the park. No one riding bikes. No hide and seek til the streetlights come on. No pick-up wiffle-ball games.

Look in the paper. Voters driven to the polls by fear and anger. No one interested in dialogue, community. Us versus them. Throw the bastards out. Arrest the immigrants. Keep your hands off my paycheck.

See a connection?