Sunday, July 31, 2005

Kitt Peak/Kartchner Caverns

The weekend was a rousing success. We stayed the night in Tucson and took day trips to Kartchner Caverns and the Kitt Peak Observatories. (click on any images to get larger picture)

Our first visit was to the Caverns on Saturday. Sorry, but we have no pictures from that trip ... but for a good reason. Kartchner Caverns are what you call a "living cave" and as such, they work very hard to not mess with the conditions of the cave. They make sure that it maintains its 99% humidity through the use of double-air locks that you travel through and misters that add humidity to the air. Additionally, they try to keep as much extra light (for ex. cameras) out of the cave as possible so that photosynthesis doesn't occur with any organisms that may have accidentally been carried in. They've done a really good job here of maintaining a nice balance between allowing people to see it and keeping the cave pristine. I did scan a few postcards just so you get an idea of how it looks inside. The structures are fantastic.



Sunday was as fun as Saturday. We drove about an hour out of Tucson to Kitt Peak, home of the largest group of astronomical observatories in the world (23 of them). I've wanted to visit Kitt Peak for 20 years but never took the time. It exceeded my expectations. We toured 3 of the observatories ... the rest are closed to visitors because they have active research going on. The three that are open also do research but they've partititioned them off so there is no interference. And the visiting hours, 9-4, obviously don't interfere with the times that an astronomer would be using them.



This is a view of the 3.5 meter telescope, WIYN Observatory (completed in 1994)which is owned and operated by U of Wisconsin, Indian U, Yale, and National Optical Astronomy Observatories. It's octagon shaped to minimize the effects of temperature differences in air currents. These air currents severely degrade astronomical images.



The first one that we toured was the 2.1 meter telescope. It is the center telescope in the following picture:



This is the main part of the telescope ... with the mirror being in the middle structure:



We next toured the National Solar Observatory. It has the obvious distinction of being the only optical telescope on the mountain that operates during the day (there are two radio telescopes).



This is a view from within the observatory looking up through the diagonal structure:



The last observatory we toured was the 4.1 meter Mayall telescope (the largest mirror of any of the telescopes):



These are views from the observation decks 4 stories up with in that telescope:



And from within the room outside the telescope itself:



As you can tell by the previous pictures of Alex and the following one, he had a great time also:





P.S. Many thanks to E & J for watching Duchess and making this weekend possible.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Darn rain

You would think that rain would be the last thing we would have to worry about in AZ, but it's looking like we are going to get rained out of camping for the 2nd straight weekend. But it will not deter us from getting the hell out of dodge anyway. Many thanks to Isabella and GWB, respectively, for their camping recipes:

  • "you can always grill veggies: eggplant, zucchini, portabello mushrooms, along with shrimp or fresh-caught fish. Baste with a good quality olive oil, s&p and some fresh minced herbs. It's simple but delicious. Good luck."
    # posted by Isabella di Pesto
  • One Skillet Meals - Great White Bear

We will attempt camping again next week and use their recipes.

In the meantime, there is a good chance we are going to do a day trip to Tucson and partake of some of the high-country entertainment there:

Monday, July 25, 2005

HR 525

A client of mine who is a realtor forwarded me an e-mail from NAR (National Association of Realtors) that touts HR 525. This bill, in true Orwellian fashion, is called "The Small Business Health Fairness Act". An excerpt from the e-mail:

  • "Dear ...,

    This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will consider HR 525, "The Small Business Health Fairness Act." You have told us health care insurance is important to you. Now's the time to let the U.S. House of Representatives know.

    Here's what you must do: Write your Representative and urge him or her to vote for H.R. 525. As a small business person, it is imperative that Congress hear from you as soon as possible."

It's typical how it is posed ... they frame the issue through the use of it's name "fairness" and by appealing to your "small business person" ethics. What they don't tell you is that if this bill is passed, it would allow rabid anti-union associations to sell plans that bypass state mandates like financial solvency and benefit mandates. Several studies have shown that it would drop as much as a million people off of insurance and would raise rates for 80 percent of small businesses.

“Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2005”

House Committee Approves Association Health Plans

It's funny to look at the list of co-sponsors. Of 135, only 10 were Democrats. As Deep Throat would say, "follow the money". A key Republican ally, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), stands to gain $100 million annually if this plan is enacted.

I'm sure my friend has no idea what this bill means but just blindly passed it on because, like most Republicans, she assumed that everyone else is a Republican. And also typical of most of the right, she will blindly swallow whatever talking point or "action" chain letter that is forwarded to her.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Wilson 4

You know what they say, "All politics is local". Usually, when you're talking about Arizona, those politics aren't anything to brag about. Evan Mecham and the MLK holiday, Fife Symington, Prop 200, the Minutemen. etc. are perfect examples of the corruption and xenophobia all too prevalent here. And when I decided to write an entry about the Wilson 4, I was afraid I was going to have to add yet another rant. But thanks to an intelligent judge, these innocent kids were saved from an unjust deportation.

Judge throws out deportation case against 'Wilson 4'

These four former high school kids from Arizona were on a trip to Niagara Falls in Canada in 2002 and were detained for questioning by U.S. Federal agents who made moronic statements like, "Maybe in Arizona you don't stand out, but here in Buffalo, you do," and "Look, don't send your illegals to New York." The four were brought into the country illegally when they were toddlers but all of them graduated from high school and three are either enrolled or have graduated from college. They shouldn't be punished for the sins of their parents and for a government that doesn't really want to have any meaningful immigration reform.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

It's NOT over!

Great article by Murray Waas at the American Prospect:

An Unlikely Story

The gist of the story is that Rove's alibis, or lack thereof, are getting him in hot water with the investigators because it proves that he mislead the FBI.

This whole affair may get to the point where the event that started it becomes trivial because the deception and cover-up afterwards exceeds it. What does that remind you of?

To all those talking heads and right wing bloggers who say "It's Over" because that's what the word on high said (talking points) ... wishful thinking. As Mark Wahlberg says in the Italian Job, "It's over when I say it's over".

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep." - Gandhi

Monday, July 18, 2005

"What the hell is going on here?"

It's good to see that they're keeping the pressure on:

White House Press Briefing

... and they are actually catching the administration when it tries to spin something or re-frame it. While Bush tried to give the impression that he was reiterating a pledge of 2 years ago to fire whoever who was responsible, he was actually changing the wording from "leaker" to those who "committed a crime". And the press actually noticed the difference.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Reaganomics ... still B.S.

For those righties that were all tickled by the recent announcement that tax revenues had increased despite Bush's tax cuts ... and your assumption of that meaning the tax cuts were the cause, think again:

"Reaganomics" Still Wrong

Friday, July 15, 2005

Movie Reviews

I'm no Roger Ebert, but here's my humble take on a few of the movies that I've seen lately:


Crash - the best movie that we've seen this year. It addresses racism without being preachy. It shows that even those of us who don't consider ourselves racist still do and say things that betray our prejudices. Many of these prejudices are institutional. All races have prejudices against other races. Its non-linear story-telling and ensemble casting is like what I would imagine you would get from smashing a Robert Altman film into Magnolia. The cast is great. I believe it's probably the best thing Brendan Fraser has done outside of Gods and Monsters. It's certainly the best dramatic role that Sandra Bullock has done. Don Cheadle ... what can I say? This man is at the top of his game and I'd be hard-pressed to name a better American actor right now. Fresh off of Hotel Rwanda, he hits another one out of the park. The movie's directed by Paul Haggis, who wrote Million Dollar Baby. That's a pretty good track record for Haggis. Both movies are outstanding. Grade: A+

Finding Neverland - the story of the writer of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie. This is another great example of how Johnny Depp inhabits any role he takes. It's the story of how the people around the writer inspired the characters in Peter Pan. It rides the line between fantasy and reality, much like you feel the real Barrie must have in his life. Outstanding performances besides Depp's: Kate Winslet. I have a thing for all the modern British period piece actresses: Winslet, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, etc. Plus, the child actor Freddie Highmore (soon to be seen in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with co-star Depp) is fantastic. I believe him and Dakota Fanning are the great child actors of this generation. Certainly puts putzes like Jake Lloyd to shame. Grade: B

Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith - easily the best of the "new" Star Wars movies. While not coming up to the standard of the original and Empire Strikes Back, it does well in abandoning the cuteness of Phantom Menace and the painful romantic dialogue of Attack of the Clones. Writing and direction of dialogue scenes ... never a strong point of Lucas ... is shoved to the background and fantastic action and special effects are brought forward. I believe the movie does a good job of tying the end of the new movies into the beginning of the original Star Wars. No outstanding acting to mention except to say that Ewan McGregor, as always, is the best in anything he is in. He successfully channels the ghost of Sir Alec Guinness. Grade: B-

War of the Worlds - I went into this with, perhaps, unrealistic expectations. A classic story, a brilliant director, and an actor who, despite his other faults, usually stars in entertaining movies. And I had really liked Cruise and Spielberg's previous collaboration in Minority Report. Not to say this is a terrible movie ... it is not. It's just that it disappoints in many areas. It's partially hamstrung by the limitations of the original story which had an implausible ending. But more of the problem is tied to character development. I don't know if it's because I was projecting too much of Cruise's real life on to his character, but I never was able to identify or sympathize with the character. Dakota Fanning does well with the poorly written role she inhabits as the daughter. The older brother ... sorry don't know the name of the actor ... is not well written. His actions just don't seem to fit and are not well justified. The special effects are fine and Spielberg stays with the design of the robots as intended by H.G. Wells. The cinematography, as always, is done by Janusz Kaminski. I love his work. He favors a smoky, filtered feel to most of his movies and that is entirely appropriate in things like Schindler's List, A.I., Minority Report, etc. but I think it doesn't feel right in War of the Worlds. Grade: C

Batman Begins - the best popcorn movie that we've seen this summer and it rivals the Spiderman movies for best comic adaptation. Great casting in Christian Bale as Batman. If any of you ever get a chance to see American Psycho, rent it. It's one f**cked-up movie but gives an insight into the acting skills of Bale. I love movies where you don't know if you're supposed to root for the protagonist or not. But back to Batman ... a good reinvention of the character away from the excesses of Burton and Schumaker. This Batman is much more grounded in reality and they do a good job of establishing how he becomes who he is. Supporting roles for Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson and one of my all-time favorites, Gary Oldman. In what is a very understated role for him, he does a great job as detective (and later to be commissioner) Gordon. The director does a good job of not making the special effects the focus of the movie and uses them sparingly. Grade: B+

The Sea Inside - the winner of the best foreign film Oscar this last year. A fantastic movie! It's the "life story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 30-year campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity." Javier Bardem is in the starring role. One would think that you would have difficulty expressing the different emotions and nuances of this character when you can only move your head (Sampedro was a quadriplegic) but Bardem does an amazing job. He has more acting ability above the shoulders that most of Hollywood have in the entire bodies. Regardless of how you feel about euthanasia, I believe you can get something from this film. And it certainly allows you to get a fresh perspective on contemporary cases like Terry Schiavo. Grade: A

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If any of you want, post your top 10 movies of all time in the comments to this post.
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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hypocrite of the Day

Oh , how we love those funny Republicans:

Dick Armey’s Hypocrisy on CIA Leak Case

It's so easy to go through life when you have no memory, no conscience, no honesty, no ethics, etc.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Hockey's Back!!

My hockey deprived friends will finally be able take the shotgun out of their mouths:

The NHL is back

I'm very excited about it too. We moved into our new house a year ago but because of the season being cancelled, we have never been able to take advantage of our close proximity to the Glendale arena (1 mile) ... walking distance. So any of you out of town hockey fans that find yourself in the Valley some day, let me know and we'll treat you to a Coyotes tailgate and game.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Milkbone Underwear

If you want a good chuckle, you HAVE to catch a video clip or transript of Monday's White House Press Corps briefing. It was some funny shit.

It was a shock to see that the Washington press weren't complete invertebrates. Somehow the ghosts of Woodward and Bernstein inhabited their bodies for a few glorious minutes and they all remembered what the press is actually there for.

For a few seconds there, I almost felt sorry for Scott McClellan ... but I got over it. It was like the great philosopher Norm (of Cheers fame) said, "It's a dog-eat-dog world and I'm wearing milkbone underwear". Well, today, McClellan was wearing the milkbone underwear. Witnessing him mining the depths of Orwellian doublespeak went beyond humorous into ludicrous.

You have to wonder if the combination of this and the Downing Street Memo may be the straws that broke the camel's back. We can only hope.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

What I Believe

Nietzsche, Einstein, Gandhi, MLK, JFK, Kubrick, and Hawking, respectively


Who I Am

- I come from a long line of hard-working Midwesterners, mostly farmers. German primarily. Each with an independent streak and impatience that alternatively makes us gypsies (my dad), volunteers(my grandfather in the Peace Corps ... in his 60's!) or entrepreneurs(myself). I was the first one to ever graduate from college.

- I grew from a sci-fi reading, new wave listening nerd in high school to a philosophy reading, industrial listening nerd in college. I'm now a combination of both with a mix-in of political reading and jazz listening.

- I believe that you are not necessarily the views and opinions of your parents (or shouldn't be). You appreciate their love, their sacrifice, their ethics but ultimately we all have to be our own person.

- I'm a contrarian. I'm not afraid to be the dissenting view, the devil's advocate. I like making people examine why they believe the way they do.

On Heroes:

- I'm not into hero worship but I believe in the power of words ... the thoughts they represent. These people affected me because of what they said: Gandhi, MLK, JFK, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Biko, Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking

On Movies, Music, Pop Culture:

- I believe that Kubrick is the best director ever. His movies, especially, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and Doctor Strangelove are among the most brilliant, observant and timeless movies ever. And they influenced me profoundly.

- I believe that all good music, books, movies, etc. must say something about the human condition or society. Some of the books that influenced me: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, All the President's Men by Woodward and Bernstein. All of them read by me when I was still in high school but they are as relevant now as they were then.

- I believe that all good humor is political and ironic in nature: from Python to Jon Stewart. That is why many on the right don't find it funny. They don't understand they are the subject of the satire.

On Sports:

- With all due respect to Mark ... I believe that baseball is the one true sport. And Bull Durham is the best sports movie ever.

On Politics/Society:

- I believe that people are inherently good, but as they say in the Italian Job, "I trust everyone, I just don't trust the devil inside them."

- I believe that people will defy their own self-interest. My parents are 60, uninsured, with no retirement plan, yet will still vote Republican.

- I believe that too many people are afraid to question authority, afraid to think for themselves. People want to believe in something and will take as gospel (pun intended) anything that is said to them. Politics is being preached in our churches. Religion is being preached to us by our politicians.

- I believe that this country's current level of patriotism is jingoism. Blind nationalism is a scary path. I believe that questioning your government is not only a right but is patriotic.

- I believe in the Age of Reason, that the Enlightenment and the principles it brought forth are a pretty good starting point for any society.

- I believe in the Bill of Rights.

- I believe in a liberal arts education. An appreciation of the arts and music is essential to enlightened thought.

- I believe that racism is the product of ignorance. Of all things, racism is the one that I fathom the least and the one that I will absolutely not suffer by anyone.

- I believe that we are in a time of "gee-shucks, proud-to-be-a-redneck ... a stage of vague American values and anti-intellectual pride." And it starts at the top.

- I believe that apathy is the biggest threat to a free society. A forum where dissenting opinions can compete on equal ground is better than one where the "run-away bride" and Michael Jackson take time away from Iraq and Darfur.

On Religion:

- I consider myself a humanist, an agnostic, a thinker. My grandfather is very religious. My parents, for a time, were mildy so while I was being raised. But at no point was I a believer. A skeptic at age 5 and a trouble-maker in bible class, my curiosity and inquisitiveness precluded me from any future involvment in organized (or otherwise) religion. I respect and appreciate Native American spirituality ... but not in the godliness sense, but rather in its appreciation and harmony of nature.

- E.M. Forster: "I do not believe in Belief ... Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and Science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy - they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long ... Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible."

- I believe, like Nietzsche, that "Christianity teaches men how to die but not how to live".

In General:

- I believe that the unexamined life is not worth living. So many of us walk around in a haze ... blessed with not the slightest lick of self-awareness.

- I believe in personal responsibility.

To quote E.M. Forster again:

"The above are the reflections of an individualist and a liberal who has found liberalism crumbling beneath him and at first felt ashamed. Then, looking around, he decided there was no special reason for shame, since other people, whatever they felt, were equally insecure. And as for individualism - there seems no way of getting off this, even if one wanted to ... The memory of birth and the expectation of death always lurk within the human being, making him separate from his fellows and consequently capable of intercourse with them. Naked I came into the world, naked I shall go out of it! And a very good thing too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its colour."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London

"We will fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here" -- George W. Bush



So how's that working out for you George and Tony? I suggest you read Imperial Hubris. Asses!

Our heart-felt sympathies go out to those who died, were hurt, and their families in the London bombings.

Nice post on dailykos that shows that terrorist attacks have increased under Bush ... not decreased.

But we've raised our alert level to orange. That's the Bush answer to terrorism ... stupid friggin' color coding. You'd have to think the $300 billion wasted in Iraq could have been used instead to actually protect us.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Heard Museum

Phoenix is blessed with one of the preeminent Native American Museums in the world, the Heard Museum. It had been a couple of years since I was last there and the weekend of Independence day seemed like an oddly fitting time to take a trip there. The museum encompasses ancient to modern, common to artistic, educational to whimsical. It's one of my favorite museums.



While not a fan of the politics of one of Arizona's favorite sons, Barry Goldwater, I admired his candor and his talented photography of the rural areas of our state:



I was especially taken with the work of an artist I had not heard of before, Hector Ruiz:


In the first photo, notice the inset photo of the oil derrick. This was on the back side of the sculpture. The artist is not trying to hide his disdain the for the imperial hubris of our president. And that is definitely Dubya in the Slim Pickens role.

In the second picture, George is again the star but the corporatization of our society is the focus. It's not surprising that some see a parallel between the way in which we treated our indigenous people and the way in which we seek to Americanize the rest of the world.

This Americanization has been carried out throughout our past. Just one example was the forced schooling of Native Americans. The same ignorance that allowed us to assume that they would be better off if we made them abandon their religion, their land, and their language is being carried out today. We assume that people around the world are just waiting for us to "free" them ... that the free market is the answer to all ills.



If any of you ever get the chance to check out the Heard Museum, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Paul Harvey

Great post by my new buddy Mark at The Great White Bear:

What do Karl Rove and Paul Harvey have in common?

Patriotism

I wanted to be timely and post something about the 4th. Something that wouldn't be cynical ... because that's how this president makes me feel. And something that wouldn't be jingoistic ... like every bit of dimestore "git-r-done" patriotism that you see on a magnetic ribbon or bumper sticker. But I couldn't say it any better than one of the few good writers that our local paper, the Arizona Republic, has ... E.J. Montini:

Back when we celebrated the red, white and green

Have a great 4th of July and honor what this country is really about, not what some politician tells you is patriotic. For a reminder, check out Isabella's great post at:

Our Founding Fathers

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Rove-Plame

This is potentially huge if it is true:

MSNBC Analyst Says Cooper Documents Reveal Karl Rove as Source in Plame Case

It would be about time that we sent "Bush's Brain" packing.