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  • Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

    Happy thought

    Posted by TM Lutas on 25th July 2016 (All posts by )

    Once in awhile, you see a gem of an internet comment that justifies taking the time to dive in. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the hope and prayer of us all. Buddygonzo wishes that going forward we will all have “common sense email control”.

    Buddygonzo just won the Internet for today

    Posted in Humor, Miscellaneous, National Security, Politics | 13 Comments »

    Clinton Comey?

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 5th July 2016 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — questions relating to the ongoing CBz discussion, FBI Kills Rule of Law — Refuses to Indict Hillary Over Her E-mails — with a side dish of Tzipi Livni ]
    .

    Ckinton Comey
    photo credit: Greg Nash via The Hill

    I’ll be socratic here, asking questions to illuminate my hunches.

    **

    I’m seldom fully convinced by anything that comes from the left and reads the way I’d expect the left to read, and seldom convinced by anything that comes from the right and reads the way I’d expect the right to read, so I don’t take the left’s assertions downplaying H Clinton’s security behavior with reflex belief, and on the whole I’m inclined to follow John Schindler, who — both as an ex-NSA analyst and as a regular at The Observer — takes a very hard line on Clinton’s security behavior, writing just a couple of weeks ago under the title, The Coming Constitutional Crisis Over Hillary Clinton’s EmailGate.

    I also follow War on the Rocks, though, and was struck a while back by a post there from Mark Stout, drawing some interesting distinctions in line with its subtitle, “A former intelligence analyst who worked at both the CIA and the State Department explains how different approaches to classifying information sits at the heart of the scandal that threatens to undo Hillary Clinton.”

    Which does somewhat complicate matters, while somewhat helping us understand them.

    **

    I’m neither an American nor a lawyer, and as someone who is generally inclined more to bridge-building than to taking sides in any case, I don’t feel qualified to debate the Comey-Clinton affair – but was interested to see emptywheel’s Marcy Wheeler, whom I take to be leftish, coming out today describing Comey’s decision as an “improper public prosecutorial opinion”. She writes:

    Understand, though: with Sterling and Drake, DOJ decided they were disloyal to the US, and then used their alleged mishandling of classified information as proof that they were disloyal to the US ..Ultimately, it involves arbitrary decisions about who is disloyal to the US, and from that a determination that the crime of mishandling classified information occurred.

    Comey, in turn, seems to have made it pretty clear that “Secretary Clinton or her colleagues“ were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” – specifically:

    .. seven email chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received.  These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending emails about those matters and receiving emails from others about the same matters.

    **

    Is there, in your views, special treatment in this matter for persons of high rank present here?

    livni

    And out of curiosity, if so, do you see a similar case of special treatment for persons of high rank over in the UK, known to be substantially less Israel-friendly than the US, where Scotland Yard wanted to question Tzipi Livni about alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza under her watch as Foreign Minister, and “after diplomatic talks” Livni was “granted special diplomatic immunity”?

    **

    On the one hand, I don’t like show-trials, trials-by-press, banana courts or mob justice, and far prefer just laws justly applied – and on the other, I can understand that the scrutiny those in high office find themselves under can render them legally vulnerable in ways that may unduly influence their decision-making – and justice may be platonically blind, but is not always uniformly applied in practice. Such, it seems to me, is the human dilemma.

    What say you?

    Posted in Britain, Current Events, Elections, Israel, Law, Miscellaneous, National Security, Politics, USA | 19 Comments »

    FBI Kills Rule of Law — Refuses to Indict Hillary Over Her E-mails

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 5th July 2016 (All posts by )

    FBI Director James Comey today in a Washington DC news conference confirmed what many have suspected.

    The Rule of Law in America is now strictly a political football for those who are in power.

    The FBI has refused to indict ex-Sec of State Hillary Clinton for multiple clear violations of Federal law by hosting an unsecured e-mail server with classified data off-site from the State Department.  A server that was know to have been hacked by most of America’s foreign enemies.

    Gatewaypundit has many of the details here —

    FBI Director Comey: We Found Hillary “Work Related” Emails That Were Not Turned Over to FBI – But Recommend NO CHARGES FIled

     

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Law, Law Enforcement, Leftism, Miscellaneous, Political Philosophy, Politics | 26 Comments »

    D-Day, June 6th 1944, Plus 72 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 6th June 2016 (All posts by )

    To commemorate D-Day, here is a current view of Omaha Beach from Wikipedia —

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omaha_Beach#/media/File:Omaha_Beach_Nowadays.jpg

    And here are a pair of columns I’ve written previously on D-Day in 2014 and 2013.

    This is a review of three very good books on D-Day —

    History Friday — Books to Read for the D-Day 70th Anniversary
    6th June 2014

    And this column is about the sacrifices of British Royal Air Force early warning radar unit, the 1st Echelon of 21 Base Defence Sector, that landed at the Les Moulins Draw, on Omaha Beach, Normandy about 5:30pm on 6 June 1944.

    Royal Air Force at Omaha Beach
    6th June 2013

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    Russia’s Long Road to the Middle East

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 29th May 2016 (All posts by )

    An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (not behind paywall).

    What caught my eye was this:

    While the U.S. backed Arab monarchies and Israel, the Soviets sided with leftist regimes in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya and South Yemen, which became the Arab world’s only Marxist state.

    Hmm…. what else do these places have in common? Is what is going on over there as much the death throes of communism as the birth of radical islamism? We can see what is happening in Venezuela. Cuba may be able to minimize the effects if it can find a way to generate the tourism and other industries Puerto Rico has not. North Korea will be worst. But the entire Soviet Bloc has not fallen, only the European part.

    Further,

    Russia was too busy trying to prevent the breakup of its own rump post-Soviet state, bloodied by separatist uprisings in Chechnya and other Muslim regions. Mr. Putin successfully pacified those borderlands

    Well, if Russia created the problem, and Russia has demonstrated that it can fix the problem, what is the matter with allowing Russia to do so?

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 15 Comments »

    Texas Fracking and the Death of Big Oil

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 15th May 2016 (All posts by )

    It isn’t often you see the death of a major worldwide industry. Last week I saw the death of the “Big Oil” economic model. It just died at the hands of Texas oil frackers who have developed a new “disruptive technology” that has made obsolete all the pillars of technology underpinning large, vertically integrated oil companies. More importantly, the same is true of all the petro-states that nationalized Big Oil’s assets in the 1960s to make all the state oil companies around the world today.

    I found this out doing my day job last week as a Defense Department quality auditor visiting a mid-sized oil service company diversifying into federal contracts. The meeting was about issues with the contract they won and touched on others they have bid on. As a side bar at lunch the following points about their main business came up:

    1. Oil field spending has died. Rig count in the USA is the lowest it has been since 1940.
     
    2. One oil rig controller company these folks worked with saw a year over year drop of 72% in its business.
     
    3. Another company they supplied had their “Cap-X” budget drop from ~$400 million for 2015-2016 to little over $30 million for 2016-2017.
     
    4. One drilling company they supplied went from 120(+) new wells last year to _12_ this year.
     
    5. This supplier sold a lot of copper tubing for “frack-log” drilling. That is the drilling of holes in good oil-bearing rock without fracking rock for oil immediately — and here is the new part — to take advantage of a new long-flow fracking technique.

    While most of the points above are due to the Saudis’ oil price war on Texas frackers. An ex-Big Oil geologist I know put it this way —

    The entire reason for the price drop was because the Saudis wanted to destroy fracking in the United States in order to keep us dependent upon them in order to keep them getting a free defense. The Saudis will have to diversify and start spending money on defense before the price goes back up, or they will be in serious trouble.

    The technique in Point #5 above marks another “fracking revolution” that is of growing importance to the USA. This new fracking energy revolution will upend the world order as we know it. Political winds willing, America may well be a net hydrocarbon exporter in five to eight years.

    Explaining why that is requires some background in Texas oil fracking.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Miscellaneous, National Security | 42 Comments »

    Misdirection

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 15th May 2016 (All posts by )

    I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why the burning social question of the moment has to do with transgender persons and bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities, both those for the convenience of the public and those dedicated for the use of school children. First and foremost, I will not believe that there can be all that many genuine transgender persons of any age wandering around, outside of a few very limited locations; very few and those who have not taken the plunge entirely would, I believe, not be all that damned flamboyant about it. It is remotely possible that I might have been in a public facility at the same time as an undecided or a totally committed transgender and been unaware of it, but frankly, I believe that my personal chances of having done so and knowing about it are about on par with my chances of being abducted by aliens.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Miscellaneous | 27 Comments »

    April Showers

    Posted by Grurray on 29th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Yesterday, the GDP figures were released for the first quarter of the year, and they showed that the economy is flatlining. We grew at only a pitiful 0.5%. Much of it was caused by a huge decline in business investment, which saw the biggest monthly drop since the recession.

    This is mostly blamed on the troubles in the oil and gas industry, but output in other areas of the economy also showed weakness. Factory orders dropped and have remained flat the past several months. Car sales plummeted 2.1% last month, their biggest drop in a year. With gas prices low this is the one thing we should see rising. The car industry stumbling means there may be some other underlying problems.

    The conventional wisdom, on the other hand, views this as just a blip. The winter season in the post-recession era has usually been the weakest time of year only to be followed by a rebound into the rest of the year. The exception was 2012 where the high hopes at the start gave way to the rising probability of an Obama reelection. The economic shock spread during the year, and the traditional holiday hangover came a little early in the wake of the electoral wreckage. This year, with the jobs market expected to stay strong and the Fed signaling it will put the brakes on further interest rate increases, the economy is seen bouncing back as the rough waters give way to the calm port.

    It may very well turn out that way for all I know. My crystal ball has been a little foggy lately, so I wouldn’t venture a guess either way. However, there may be some other causes for concern further down the road. This week the McKinsey Institute just issued a research report on the stock market, ominously titled, Diminishing returns: Why investors may need to lower their expectations. In it they provide a detailed analysis of why the next 30 years will see lower stock market returns than the previous few decades.

    Now admittedly, most analysts’ forecast for the next 30 days can usually be attributed to luck. A forecast for the next 30 years probably isn’t something you want to bet the whole farm on. A small corner of the barn maybe, but I would save the rest of the homestead to see how things actually unfold.

    The report lays out in detail why the oversized returns between 1985 and 2015 were possible, and the reasons they say are because of four factors: low interest rates, low inflation, high productivity from technological advances, and favorable demographics from emerging markets entering the global economy. Nothing controversial there. The first three elements increased profit margins, and the last one provided cash influxes, which kept interest rates low, which in turn increased the others. Virtuous cycle – wash, rinse, repeat. They also include some calculations, but the self-evidence is apparent enough.

    The wrench in the works is going to be the fact that those elements won’t have the effect that they once had. Interest rates are already rock bottom, and in some cases even below that. Squeezing more out of low yields is going to be tougher and tougher. In 1980 inflation was 13% and interest rates were 20%. Now they’re currently at 1.6% and 0.5% respectively. There’s nowhere to go but up. Sideways is always a possibility, but we’re still in the same boat. That won’t drive future growth either like it once did.

    Demographic growth may still hold up. There’s still a whole lot of world out there with the potential to drive a modern global economy. The question is will they be capable of replicating what we saw in the recent past with hundreds of millions of Chinese rising out of the Maoist ashes and into the middle class? Any new emerging markets will have a lot more work to do. The report points out that the countries with the largest economies have seen slowing population growth, and that will continue to decelerate

    In Western Europe, aging is more striking than in the United States. In France, for example, the share of the working-age population is expected to decline from 63 percent to 58 percent over the next 20 years. In Germany, the fertility rate has exceeded replacement rate in only seven of the past 50 years. Employment has already peaked in Germany, and its labor pool could shrink by up to one-third by 2064. Until the 2015 influx of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, the German population was expected to shrink by as much as 0.3 percent per year over the next 20 years.

    Germany has decided to address their demographic collapse by welcoming in an unproductive culture. Either way they haven’t much left to contribute in preventing the forecasted shortfall.

    McKinsey does hold out hope for some technological breakthroughs which could pick up the slack in productivity. Whatever it may be, they say it will need to have a bigger impact than the previous computer and internet revolutions because of the other headwinds. The best scenario would be in some combination with fast growing emerging market or industry. The problem with that happening is now that taxes and regulation are increasing, companies involved in fast growing sectors will tend to want to stay private, so equity returns will be elusive for only a select few.

    Interestingly, one sector highlighted that will benefit from higher interest rates is insurance companies. The era of low to zero interest rates has made it difficult for them to make any money on annuities. Their annuities pay out guaranteed yields to customers, but ZIRP and NIRP keep profits low. Fixed income annuities in which insurers bear most of the risk will benefit from higher yields.

    However, variable annuities where the customers share the risk have more exposure to equities, so they would be vulnerable to the lower growth/lower returns environment. Providers of variable annuities along with other asset managers will need to adjust their investment strategies:

    To confront this, asset managers may have to rethink their investment offerings. One option would be for them to include more alternative assets such as infrastructure and hedge funds in the portfolios they manage. Such alternative assets already account for about 15 percent of assets under management globally today.

    To chase returns, investors will be forced into riskier assets, possibly with dubious intentions, i.e. government boondoggles otherwise known as shovel ready infrastructure projects. We may already be seeing something like this with the imminent government takeover of financial advisors

    The Department of Labor dealt a bit of a surprise blow to fixed indexed annuities in the final iteration of its rule, issued Wednesday, by lumping the annuities into a more complex and costly regulatory regime than they have presently, representing an about-face from the department’s original proposal.

    Just like Obamacare pushes out the small to medium firms that can provide much needed innovation in order to capture the market, the new DOL fiduciary rules will push out small to medium sized advisors to replace them with automated puppets that will be programed to herd investors into investing in government programs.

    There’s a good reason the Obama Administration is currently fighting so hard to keep these rules. It’s a template for taking over other industries. And with that it’s another impediment to productivity growth and innovation which reinforces the grim forecast of diminishing returns by McKinsey.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Miscellaneous, Politics | 7 Comments »

    Revisiting “Belgium — The Failed State in the Heart of Europe”

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 4th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Jim Hoft over at Gateway Pundit has a guest post by Drieu Godefridi that is essentially a follow up to my March 24th, 2016 “Belgium — The Failed State in the Heart of Europe” piece.

    It is unsurprisingly titled “Guest Post: More Terrorist Attacks Likely in Failed State of Belgium.”

    Please go give Jim Hoft’s site some “linkie love” while checking out the full post, but before you go, this portion of that post bears immediate and close reading —

    It is thus obvious that the Belgian government is in a shambolic state at every level, from the local to the federal, and from the executive branch to the judiciary.
     
    Of course none of this would have been possible without the policy, in place now for 30 years, to open Belgian citizenship — and the borders — to hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. This open invitation has been extended mainly to Muslim countries, instigating the creation, ex nihilo, of huge Muslim communities in the cities of Brussels, Antwerp and every other Belgian city. Radicalized or not, fundamentalist of not, peaceful or not, these communities tend, in Belgium as anywhere else, to impose their political-religious credo.
     
    A study by the WZB Social Science Center (Berlin), published last year in the “Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies”, indicates that half the Muslims in Belgium, France and Austria are fundamentalists, i.e. they think that Muslims should return to the roots of their faith; that there is only one interpretation of the Koran; and that Muslim law should supercede civil (or common) law, (“Religious Fundamentalism and Hostility against Out-groups. A Comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western Europe”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 41, N°1, 33-57). This Weltanschauung (or concept of the world) is irreconcilable with the rudiments of our Western civilization, or for that matter any society which is not strictly Islamic. To assert that Islam—which is much more than simply a religion—has nothing to do with the current spate of terrorist attacks in Europe is a psychotic denial of reality.

    Denial of reality is at the heart of the “European Union” project, which has Brussels as its capital.

    That is why the “Belgium — The Failed State at the Heart of Europe” meme is spreading. It is obvious to all this will not end well…but end it will.

    And its passing will be marked with fire and blood.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, Europe, Miscellaneous, National Security, Politics, Terrorism | 24 Comments »

    Another step for Craig Venter.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 24th March 2016 (All posts by )

    cell

    I have previously posted about Venter’s work with synthetic organisms.

    While I was digesting this new material, Craig Venter was making the Gene VII book obsolete. He set up a new company to compete with the Human Genome Project The result is well described in The Genome War by James Shreeve who was given access to Venter but less to the government funded project. This year, Venter’s autobiography was published and his plans for the future are described.

    The links are at the original article which is from 2007.

    Now, his group has progressed to a synthetic bacterium.

    Using the first synthetic cell, Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 (created by this same team in 2010), JCVI-syn3.0 was developed through a design, build, and test process using genes from JCVI-syn1.0. The new minimal synthetic cell contains 531,560 base pairs and just 473 genes, making it the smallest genome of any organism that can be grown in laboratory media. Of these genes 149 are of unknown biological function. By comparison the first synthetic cell, M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 has 1.08 million base pairs and 901 genes.

    A paper describing this research is being published in the March 25th print version of the journal Science by lead authors Clyde A. Hutchison, III, Ph.D. and Ray-Yuan Chuang, Ph.D., senior author J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., and senior team of Hamilton O. Smith, MD, Daniel G. Gibson, Ph.D., and John I. Glass, Ph.D.

    This is huge news and will take years to develop.

    The most surprising result of their work—and perhaps the most sobering one for the rest of the field: The team still doesn’t understand what 31 percent of the essential genes do in even the simplest organism, to say nothing of a human genome. It’s a development Venter called “very humbling.”

    “We are probably at the 1 percent level in understanding the human genome,” said Clyde Hutchison III, a distinguished professor at the Venter Institute.

    That lack of knowledge isn’t standing in the way of entrepreneurs. Biology has been “hot and heavy” since the development of a molecular tool that makes gene editing easy, Hutchison explained. Scientists might be able to remove disease-causing genes or even determine a baby’s eye color. This technology, known as CRISPR/Cas-9, has alarmed many inside and outside the research community, who fear it may be used on the human genome before its effects are understood, with unforeseen results.

    If he does another public seminar, I hope my friend Bradley can get me a ticket. I am now reading Lewin’s Genes XI, although he seems to be no longer the editor.

    I hope I can wade through it. Sometimes, as knowledge progresses, it becomes simpler. I hope so.

    “These cells would be a very, very useful chassis for many industrial applications, from medicine to biochemicals, biofuels, nutrition, and agriculture,” said Dan Gibson, a top scientist at both Venter’s research institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics Inc. Ultimately, the group wants to understand the tiny genetic framework well enough to use it as a biological foundation for more complex organisms that could address many of the world’s ills. Once each essential gene’s function is identified, scientists can build an effective computer model of it; from there, they can simulate how best to go about “adding pathways for the production of useful products,” they wrote.

    I will be following this story closely, if I can only understand it.

    Posted in Book Notes, Miscellaneous, Science | 5 Comments »

    Belgium — The Failed State in the Heart of Europe

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 24th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Today in Europe, in the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist attacks, a dark truth stands reveled about the nature of the Belgian state. Belgium is a failed state at the heart of Europe…and much of the rest of Europe is following.

    Belgium quite literally lacks the military means to enforce the sovereignty of the Belgian state in the Muslim neighborhood of Molenbeek in Brussels, the Belgian Capitol.

    The following is via John R. Schindler of The UK Observer:

    Europe Is Again at War

    We should expect more guerrilla-like attacks like Brussels yesterday: moderate in scale, relatively easy to plan and execute against soft targets, and utterly terrifying to the public. At some point, angry Europeans, fed up with their supine politi1cal class, will begin to strike back, and that’s when the really terrifying scenarios come into play. European security services worry deeply about the next Anders Breivik targeting not fellow Europeans, but Muslim migrants. “We’re just one Baruch Goldstein away from all-out war,” explained a senior EU terrorism official, citing the American-born Israeli terrorist, fed up with Palestinian violence, who walked into a Hebron mosque in 1994, guns blazing, and murdered 29 innocent Muslims.

    When that violence comes, a practically disarmed Europe will be all but powerless to stop it. To take the case of Belgium, at the Cold War’s end a generation ago, its army had seven brigades with 18 infantry battalions, plus some 30 more battalions in the reserve. Today, Belgium’s army has only two brigades and six infantry battalions, some 3,000 bayonets in all. That tiny force would have trouble exerting control over even one bumptious Brussels neighborhood in the event of serious crisis.

    Thanks to Belgium’s sovereignty collapse, Europe is now in the throws of an emerging decade plus Muslim insurgency spreading from Brussels

    …while E.U. Security Forces supporting the Belgians are more concerned with repressing local predominantly white citizens from striking back at terrorist inclined Muslim migrants than dealing with the Muslim problem to begin with.

    And it gets worse, with hundreds if not thousands of trained terrorists arriving with the multi-million person Muslim Migrant wave that German Prime Minister Frau Merkel kicked off in 2015. The EU faces a situation where it will see a ‘major’ (Charles Hebdo, Paris, Brussels class) EU terrorist incident every 60 to 180 days for the foreseeable future. This leaves aside the worse than American urban ghetto crime and sexual assault rates these illegal Muslim migrants are now inflicting on EU citizens.

    NB: The EU is now no longer tourist friendly, with all the economic fall out that means.

    The political corruption — and ethnic tensions between the Dutch speaking Flems and French speaking Walloons — that dominates the Belgian state make it impossible to remedy the Muslim insurgency there.

    Nothing short of Belgian territorial partition between France and Germany can bring effective enough military governance to end the Muslim Insurgency in Brussels.

    Given that awful reality, Donald Trump’s idea of reducing America’s role in NATO (Or perhaps even getting out of NATO all together?) is the best thing the USA can do.

    Both Vietnam’s and Shia Iraq’s lessons for America’s citizens are that it is a futile waste of American lives and treasure to try and protect people who don’t have either the will nor the means to protect themselves.

    Posted in Current Events, Europe, France, Germany, History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, Terrorism | 89 Comments »

    When will we win?

    Posted by Grurray on 23rd March 2016 (All posts by )

    From some recent readings on the Vietnam War

    A bitter little story made the rounds during the closing days of the Vietnam war:
     
    When the Nixon Administration took over in 1969 all the data on North Vietnam and on the United States was fed into a Pentagon computer – population, gross national product, manufacturing capability, number of tanks, ships, and aircraft, size of the armed forces, and the like.
     
    The computer was then asked When will we win?
     
    It took only a moment to give the answer: ‘You won in 1964!’

    Posted in Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, Politics, War and Peace | 14 Comments »

    Terror Is Glamour as War is Game

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by )

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the necessary simultaneity of temporal and eternal perspectives ]
    .

    quote-terror-is-glamour-salman-rushdie

    **

    First as to glamour -– it may help to reflect that glamour, our word, comes not from Vogue but from the same origins as grammar (referring to languages) and grimoire (a book of spells, spelling also being a matter of language), and means something along the lines of “luminous illusion”. If we say terror is glamour, then, we mean that it “casts a spell” — and thus creates an appealing, indeed compelling, mirage. It lies, then, in the realm of magic, image, imagination, so ably delineated by Ioan Couliano in his great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

    The best of contemporary advertising draws on precisely the same Renaissance principles of persuasion — principles of extraordinary power which we nowadays tend to dismiss as “magical thinking”.

    **

    Thus Virginia Postrel, in Terror Is Glamour:

    Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows. All invite us to imagine escape and transformation.

    Postrel continues:

    From Achilles and Alexander to “national greatness,” the glamour of battle is remarkably persistent. So is the glamour of martyrdom, as any trip through a Western museum or perusal of a Lives of the Saints (or its Protestant equivalent) will demonstrate. Nor is martyrdom’s appeal to Christians merely historical, as Eliza Griswold reported in this 2007 TNR piece.
    .
    Glamour appeals to our desires, whatever they may be, and Jihadi glamour offers something for everyone: from historical importance to union with God, not to mention riches and beautiful women.

    Postrel then quotes Egyptian cleric Hazem Sallah Abu Isma’il, indicating that the “beautiful women” in question are “black-eyed virgins” from a world conceptually above our own:

    If one of these virgins were to descend to this world, her light would extinguish the light of the sun and the moon. That’s how beautiful she is.

    Yet as Postrel comments, “glamour proves perishable”:

    As Rushdie suggests, of course, glamour always leaves something out, in this case the literally gory details of the act .. Either aspirations change, entropy and boredom set in, or the audience learns too much, destroying the mystery and grace on which glamour’s beautiful illusion depends.

    She concludes with a significant question and preliminary response:

    How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.

    That may seem like CVE 101, but the deeper our understanding of magic, imagination, image — and hence the power of glamour — the deeper our understanding of the deep problem that CVE presents will become.

    **

    Next we turn to Richard Fernandez, writing in A Bellyful of War, picking up the themes of war’s attraction, and the carnage its glamour omits from mention, and tying both to the notions of war as game and war as brutal reality:

    William Tecumseh Sherman understood what many modern theorists have forgotten: war can be attractive to young men for as long as long as it remains a game. War in small doses is supremely thrilling, even glamorous. It is peace which can be routine and boring.
    .
    And so it goes until war stops being a game and the going gets really rough. “Its glory is all moonshine,” said Sherman. “It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” To Sherman a “bellyful of war” was ironically the psychological foundation of generational peace.

    Not only is that last sentence a profound statement worthy of the contemplation of all who love peace – it is also far more subtly convincing than the old Strategic Air Command motto, Peace is Our Profession, which sounds more like one of Rochefoucauld’s tributes that vice pays to virtue than anything, and yet is presumably intended to convey the same insight.

    **

    Finally we have Plotinus, for whom – in a manner richly echoed by Shakespeare — life itself is a dream, a play, a sport, a game:

    Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing. All this is the doing of man knowing no more than to live the lower and outer life, and never perceiving that, in his weeping and in his graver doings alike, he is but at play; to handle austere matters austerely is reserved for the thoughtful: the other kind of man is himself a futility. Those incapable of thinking gravely read gravity into frivolities which correspond to their own frivolous Nature. Anyone that joins in their trifling and so comes to look on life with their eyes must understand that by lending himself to such idleness he has laid aside his own character. If Socrates himself takes part in the trifling, he trifles in the outer Socrates.

    Plotinus is correct, I would suggest, sub specie aeternitatis, just as is Sherman sub specie incarnationis — and it is the role of the artist to hold both visions, trivial and eternal, as Koestler suggests.

    **

    I am again grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration and the one on Getting Deeper into Koestler which preceded it.

    Posted in Advertising, International Affairs, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Getting deeper into Koestler

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — on creativity at the intersection of the fleeting and the eternal ]
    .

    centaur skeleton
    Centaur, displayed in the International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ

    **

    You know Lao Tzu’s “uncarved wood” (pu) — and Spencer Brown’s “Mark” or “first distinction? It is hard to speak of “the one and the many” without language itself favoring the many, the one being “one” and the many “another”. The Greek phrase “Before Abraham was, I am” attributed to Christ may be as close as we get.

    The “uncarved wood” is not some definite -– named and thus defined -– “one” -– it is also “raw silk” (su), the simple -– the natural way or stream, from which things have not yet been separated out by naming.

    There is delight, however, both in one becoming two and thus many, in the making of distinctions and naming of names, and no less in two (or the many) becoming one, in the resolution of paradox, the release of tension, peace after strife. In human terms, there is joy in both solo and collaborative achievement.

    What better, then, than the perfect fit between disparate entities?

    I have written often enough about Arthur Koestler and the place where two disparate spheres of thought link up — the centaur links horse and man in an indissoluble unity — there’s no question here of dismounting after a ride, giving the horse a rub down and some feed, then retiring to the verandah for a whiskey…

    The mythological aha! we get from the centaur displayed in the museum hinges on the fit of horse and human skeletons, the perfection with which disparates are joined.

    **

    Thus far, whenever I’ve discussed Koestler‘s notion of bisociation, I’ve focused on the sense that it liea at the heart of creativity. Koestler himself takes it deeper. Here’s Nicholas Vajifdar, in a review titled Summing Up Arthur Koestler’s Janus: A Summing Up:

    Koestler .. asserts that there are two planes of existence, the trivial and the tragic. The trivial plane is the stage for paying bills, shopping, working. Most of life takes place on the trivial plane. But sometimes we’re swept up into the tragic plane, usually due to some catastrophe, and everything becomes glazed with an awful significance. From the point of view of the tragic plane, the trivial plane is empty and frivolous; from the point of view of the trivial plane, the tragic plane is embarrassing and overwrought. Once we’ve moved from one plane to the other, we forget why we could have felt the way we used to.

    That’s not just any old distinction between two realms, that’s the one Koestler himself prioritizes. And following his basic principle that a creative spark is lit when two disparate “planes of ideas” intersect, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Vajifdar continuing:

    “The highest form of human creativity,” Koestler writes, “is the endeavor to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted — or cursed — with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity…”

    William Blake made a similar observation in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, writing:

    Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

    Finally, Vajifdar tells us why he finds Koestler’s definition of art maybe the best he’s ever read:

    What I value in this definition of creativity is its emphasis on the subjective being of those who experience the work of art or scientific theory, a surer gauge than cataloguing formal properties or whether it's "interesting." Art has always seemed like a kind of sober drunkenness, or drunken sobriety. Most people probably have wondered whether the feelings they felt while drunk were more or less real than their sober feelings. Koestlerian art joins these seemingly irreconcilable feelings together.

    Let’s just go one step further. In Promise and Fulfilment – Palestine 1917-1949, Koestler specifically singles out this intersection as an aspect of the experience of warfare:

    This intense and perverse peace, superimposed on scenes of flesh-tearing and eardrum-splitting violence, is an archetype of war-experience. Grass never smells sweeter than in a dug-out during a bombardment when one’s face is buried in the earth. What soldier has not seen that caterpillar crawling along a crack in the bark of the tree behind which he took cover, and pursuing its climb undisturbed by the spattering of his tommy-gun? This intersecting of the tragic and the trivial planes of existence has always obsessed me in the Spanish Civil War, during the collapse of France, in the London blitz.

    **

    I am grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration, and that on the glamour of war which will follow it.

    Posted in Advertising, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Culture, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, War and Peace | 2 Comments »

    Lest We Forget What This Election is About

    Posted by Ginny on 5th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Yesterday, clicking through an Instapundit post, you would find here the source for their “quote of the day,”

    A couple of years ago, [socialist Venezuela’s] then-minister of education admitted that the aim of the regime’s policies was ‘not to take the people out of poverty so they become middle class and then turn into escuálidos’ (a derogatory term to denote opposition members). In other words, the government wanted grateful, dependent voters, not prosperous Venezuelans.”

    Not surprisingly this was followed by the ever useful Reynolds’ reference to the Rainmakers: “They’ll turn us all into beggars ’cause they’re easier to please.

    Anyone who listens to Sanders arguing medical service is a right hasn’t thought twice about Perry’s argument – that access is far more important than insurance and far more likely to produce good medicine. And Hillary’s arguments are more of the same, of course, but she’s already in the doddering, grasping, authoritarian stage of the Castros. Sanders hasn’t had the power before – we just suspect what he will do with it; we know what she will.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Education, Elections, Miscellaneous, Politics | 13 Comments »

    Toward Financial Independence

    Posted by Nathaniel T. Lauterbach on 28th February 2016 (All posts by )

    I commented in this post about the consumerist fog that in which I was living as a middle-rank American military officer, and my desire to “fix” or improve my situation by taking command of my finances.

    How did we do it?

    It was simple, but not easy.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous, Personal Finance, Personal Narrative, Taxes | 14 Comments »

    Who is giving Apple legal advice?

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 27th February 2016 (All posts by )

    The government is asking Apple to give it the password to Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone and iCloud account. Apple is refusing to do so based on its First Amendment rights. This seems to me to be a very weak argument. Just ask Judith Miller. And there really is very little difference. Apple will have to spend $100,000 to comply and all Judith Miller needed to do was name a source. But Apple’s case involves a national security threat to each and every American whereas Judith Miller’s involved only an implausible threat to Valerie Plame who chose to garner all kinds of media attention thereafter. If there were a safe deposit box the government wanted opened, it would go to a court and get an order for the bank to drill the locks out so that the box could be removed. The bank would comply. Apple will lose.

    And if Apple does not lose, the matter will go, as its pleading requests and as it may, even if it loses, now that Apple has made such a ruckus, from the fairly rational precincts of the judiciary to the fully irrational floor of the Congress. Let’s suppose that before legislation is completed there is another domestic terror incident in the US and the terrorist used an Apple iPhone. What kind of legislation would Apple get after that? While not yet widely known, Apple has likely put a back door into every Chinese iPhone via a Chinese designed chip added to the iPhone at China’s insistence for phones sold in the PRC. If this is confirmed, Congress would go even more non-linear.

    And what other things might the government do if Apple were to prevail? Well, in the extreme it could ask GCHQ or some other foreign service to crack the iPhone in general. No device is uncrackable. It could also signal the Chinese that it would not be aggressive in pursuing IP violations by China in the case of Apple products. Apple is refusing to cooperate with its government in the first responsibility of that government, to protect its citizens. There would be consequences. Is it really good legal advice to let your client take such risks?

    Apple should have quietly cut a deal with the government that would offer its customers the maximum security and quietly complied with court orders until a truly offensive order was received. Barring that, Apple would have a far better argument saying that ordering it to break its phones would lower their value to customers, lowering Apple’s revenues, and lowering Apple’s market cap. This would constitute an uncompensated taking by the Federal government of enormous monetary value from every Apple shareholder for which Apple should be compensated.

    With existing technology, you have no privacy. Products are in development that will allow retailers to know how long you look at an item on a shelf, if you pick it up, if you return it to the shelf, how long you look at it and if you buy it. And if you wear an iWatch or other wearable, it will know how much your pulse and bp increased at each step of engagement. If you use gmail, as almost everyone seems to, Google knows the content of every email you send and receive. Who is more likely to release or resell your email, Google or the FBI? The Silicon Valley forces lining up against the government are the most probable threat to what you think is your privacy. It’s been almost 20 years since Scott McNealy said “You’ve got no privacy. Get over it.”

    Apple will be made out to be protecting the ability of terrorists to communicate in secret. We are at war with these terrorists. They will kill any of us where ever they can. Article III, section 3 of the Constitution states,”Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” That sounds a lot like what Apple is seeking to do under protection of the first amendment’s emanations and penumbras.

    Tim Cook is engaging in the same kind of magical thinking that has dominated the boomer elite and led to so many tragedies for the last 24 years. Losing wars has consequences.

    Posted in Advertising, China, Civil Liberties, Current Events, Miscellaneous, Politics, Privacy, Tech | 60 Comments »

    A Transition of Moral Cultures?

    Posted by David Foster on 20th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Jonathan Haidt summarizes a paper (by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning) which may help explain some of the dynamics now manifesting themselves on college campuses and even in the larger society.  In brief:  prior to the 18th and 19th century, most Western societies were cultures of honor, in which people were expected to avenge insults on their own–and would lose social respect and position should they fail to do so.  The West then transitioned to cultures of dignity, in which “people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it.  They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transitions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means.  There’s no more dueling.”  The spirit of this type of culture could be summarized by the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

    Campbell and Manning assert that this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But the difference, Haidt explains is this:

    “But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized.”  Campbell and Manning distinguish the three culture types as follows:

    “Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all. Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.”

    I had read something about this model a couple of months ago, and was reminded of it by a discussion at Bookworm Room.  She described a scene of insanity at Rutgers “university,” in which students were so traumatized by a speech given by Milo Yiannopoulos that “students and faculty members held a wound-licking gathering at a cultural center on campus, where students described “feeling scared, hurt, and discriminated against.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Miscellaneous, USA | 15 Comments »

    Tap Dancing to Mozart

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 14th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Not Possible? Ridiculous you say? I thought so too, until I saw this.

    More of Melinda Sullivan below, in a very different venue…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

    Without Churchill, India’s Famine Would Have Been Worse

    Posted by Grurray on 12th February 2016 (All posts by )

    There’s been quite a bit of clamor going on the past week about Winston Churchill. First Marc Andreessen made a rather poorly received joke about Indian anti-colonialism on Twitter a few days ago. Then, in last night’s Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders referenced Churchill as a foreign leader to be emulated.

    I’m an avid follower of Andreeson. He tossed out a flippant comment, probably without giving it much thought, and inadvertently got caught in the middle of a hornet’s nest. I’m certainly no fan of Bernie Sanders’ socialist proposals, but I do appreciate his point of view. He made a good point about Winston Churchill. It’s something unfortunately not shared by others in his party.

    In response to these two events, the left wing camp has been working overtime to consign the legacy of Churchill to history’s dustbin, and one of their preferred vehicles has been the Bengal famine of 1943. The hipster-Jacobins at Vox.com have written a piece documenting Churchill’s supposed war crimes including his alleged complicity in the famine. They’re all based on rumor, heresay, quotes taken out of context, and statements by political and personal rivals. If you feel like diving into the pseudo-journalistic dumpster you can go search for it, but I’m not going to give it any more attention than it deserves, which is very little.

    What I will provide is the Churchill Centre’s rebuttal.

    When the War Cabinet became fully aware of the extent of the famine, on 24 September 1943, it agreed to send 200,000 tons of grain to India by the end of the year. Far from seeking to starve India, Churchill and his cabinet sought every way to alleviate the suffering without undermining the war effort. The war—not starving Indians or beating them into submission—remained the principal concern.

    The greatest irony of all is that it was Churchill who appointed, in October 1943, the viceroy who would halt the famine in its tracks: General Archibald Wavell immediately commandeered the army to move rice and grain from areas where it was plentiful to where it was not, and begged Churchill to send what help he could. On 14 February 1944 Churchill called an emergency meeting of the War Cabinet to see if a way to send more aid could be found that would not wreck plans for the coming Normandy invasion. “I will certainly help you all I can,” Churchill telegraphed Wavell on the 14th, “but you must not ask the impossible.”

    I would hope that faith and reason would lead us to see through the falsehoods of leftist revisionists. Sadly, most people now are being fed the biases of the “Explainer Journalism” view of the world, so the record needs to be set straight.

    Posted in History, Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Air and Space Reading

    Posted by Grurray on 3rd February 2016 (All posts by )

    Some things I’ve been perusing lately concerning aeronautics and aerospace

    The WW2 flying wing decades ahead of it’s time

    Flying wing designs gained some credence in the 1950s, mostly due to the efforts of Jack Northrop, who had been inspired by seeing some of the Horten’s sports gliders in the 1930s. The captured Ho 229 may also have encouraged him. Northrop’s unsuccessful YB-35 flying wing bomber design of the late 1940s, was hamstrung by massive vibration problems caused by the propeller-driven engines, showing that the Hortens were right to have used jets in the Ho 229. Northrop’s later jet-propelled YB-49 design used jet engines, and while it never went into service, it paved the way for the company’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber decades later, a design which certainly shares some physical similarities with the Ho 229.

    When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages

    Out of 4,063 pilots, not a single airman fit within the average range on all 10 dimensions. One pilot might have a longer-than-average arm length, but a shorter-than-average leg length. Another pilot might have a big chest but small hips. Even more astonishing, Daniels discovered that if you picked out just three of the ten dimensions of size — say, neck circumference, thigh circumference and wrist circumference — less than 3.5 per cent of pilots would be average sized on all three dimensions. Daniels’s findings were clear and incontrovertible. There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

    The A-10 lives to fly another day

    It’s a striking about-face from just a couple years ago when they were saying the A-10 was obsolete. Then again, they’ve been saying that for 30 years. The obsolescence of close air support in general has always been just around the corner for the past 70 years. Since now the A-10 won’t be allowed to phase out completely until a CAS replacement is ready, we need to start planning for the Warthog 2.0

    According to Sprey, the A-10 is by far the most survivable aircraft for the low-altitude, low-speed CAS mission. But almost every aspect of the A-10 can be vastly improved using modern materials and construction techniques. However, The key to producing a new warplane quickly, on time and to budget is to use the best existing technology rather than trying to invent entirely new hardware and software.

    The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia

    As with every other task involved with the rescue, there was no room for error, and there would be no second chances. Atlantis would be launched with an all-veteran crew, with selection for the mission biased heavily toward astronauts who demonstrated fast adaptation to microgravity (there was no time to be space-sick) and high aptitude at EVA and rendezvous. The report names no names, but it does indicate that an assessment revealed a pool of nine EVA candidates, seven command candidates, and seven pilot candidates available in January 2003 whom NASA felt could have undertaken the mission.

    Which brings us to one of the all time great movies about the space program

    You’re damn right they are! Know what they accomplished living up there in a tin can for five months? Because of men like these, we’ve taken the first step off this little planet. The moon trip was a walk around the block. We’re going to the stars, to other worlds, other civilizations. Men will be killed in this effort just as they’re killed in cars and airplanes……and bars and…

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 20 Comments »

    Walter Russell Mead: Rethinking the Development of the Liberal, Capitalist World Order

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 2nd February 2016 (All posts by )

    Wherein he discusses America’s secret plan for global domination…

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 12 Comments »

    Breaking Things Down and Building Them Up

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 26th January 2016 (All posts by )

    First some demolition:

    There’s actually a lot more going here than meets the eye. First, a structural model of the building is created. Buildings and bridges are overbuilt, such that the structure is capable of supporting considerably more load than it’s actually required to hold. This allows for minor failures to occur during the construction and life of the building without it collapsing. Once the model is built, they determine what support members may be removed without collapsing the structure, taking it from a safety factor of 1.5 (50% stronger than necessary) to 1 (just strong enough to stand). The analysis is carried out or overseen by structural engineers.

    Next, charges are laid on some support members, like columns and beams, but not others. The idea is to leave parts of the building connected by steel girders to parts that will fall so they get pulled in that direction and fall on top of the pile. Gravity does the actual demolition, the charges just break the supports.

    Finally, the charges are detonated in a careful sequence. First are a series of weakening charges that remove the 50% of support safety margin, then the building is collapsed from bottom to top and (usually) from the center outwards to the periphery, with the back and sides being pulled into the center debris pile.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Miscellaneous, Tech | 11 Comments »

    Two Types of Law

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 25th January 2016 (All posts by )

    1. The law that applies you.
    2.The law that doesn’t apply to the politically connected.

    Interesting to me that despite breaking many federal laws regarding the removal and handling of fetuses, no one has brought charges against Planned Parenthood. However, those filming the breaking of the law are being charged.

    Grand jury indicts 2 behind Planned Parenthood videos

    I guess their political connection aren’t up to snuff.

    And this, from Glenn Reynolds:
    Forecast of distrust with a chance of revolution

    “Then there’s the official lawlessness. The IRS, hiding from investigations that it targeted Tea Party groups, keeps “accidentally” destroying hard drives. Hillary’s emails also keep mysteriously disappearing, and now the State Department has used the blizzard as an excuse for not producing court-ordered emails, though it’s known about the order for months. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former attorney general Michael Mukasey says that Hillary should face criminal charges, but who really expects that? She’s politically untouchable, which says bad things about the rule of law.”

    The ‘elite’ break whatever laws they wish and laugh in your face, as do politically connected people and organizations like PP. Assuming a Republican wins the next presidential election, will there be an accounting? Should there be? Of what sort? What would reestablish the Rule of Law among the political elite?

    Related: Immigrant Mob Attacks French Family

    “The mob can be seen hurling objects at the family before one of the men within the house emerges with an air rifle to ward them off. The man was later taken into custody by police, but has been released while the regional prosecutor considers whether to pursue a case against him.”

    Note who got arrested and who did not.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 18 Comments »

    Amateur Astronomy

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 23rd January 2016 (All posts by )

    Astro

    I first got interested in astronomy when I was a child. Visiting one of my father’s brothers and his wife one night with my family, I got bored and amused myself playing pool in their basement. Bored with even that, I rifled a bookcase and found a book on the Messier Objects. I remember being sprawled on the floor fascinated that such things even existed, much less we had photos of them taken through telescopes. Being prior to the Voyager missions, even the planets were still grainy, poorly resolved objects, so this was a great revelation to me. These days, anyone with access to the internet can view the photo catalogs from the HST, the Spitzer IR Telescope, as well as images from the great European and American observatories.

    Charles Messier was 14 in 1744 when a six-tailed comet made an appearance in the skies over France. Fascinated, he spent the rest of his life searching for comets and in the process stumbled onto lots of objects that, in crude 18th century telescopes, might at first be mistaken for one, having that same hazy, glowing look that a comet has. Angry that he kept wasting valuable comet hunting time tracking fuzzy little clouds of light that never moved, all of which were then called nebula (cloud or mist), he resolved to start recording their positions on the sky and making the list, now known as Messier’s Catalog, available to others for their convenience.

    Ironically, the objects in Messier’s list of nebulae turned out to be far more interesting than comets. As telescopes improved in optical quality and got larger, those nebulae got resolved into spiral galaxies, elliptical galaxies, faint open star clusters, globular star clusters now known to be in orbit around our galaxy, clouds of hydrogen and oxygen in which UV light from nearby stars excites them to fluoresce, and the glowing remnants of recent supernova explosions.

    For those interested in exploring the sky on their own, the first piece of equipment you should own is binoculars, preferably 7×50 or 10×50, and a book that teaches you to find your way around the sky. You cannot do better than start with 365 Starry Nights. The author, Chet Raymo, is Professor Emeritus of Physics at Stonehill College and the author of a dozen books. He is also an artist, a naturalist and a religious scientist who believes there’s both beauty and purpose to life and the universe. The book assumes it’s been received as a Christmas present, and begins with a view of the night sky as seen from the northern hemisphere on January 1st. He explains what you’re seeing through beautifully rendered diagrams of the stars, explains how to find other things in relation to those constellations, then describes some interesting objects inside each one. Each night a little more detail is added and the diagrams slowly change with the seasons. It’s probably the most beautiful, poetic, yet informed and useful book on navigating and understanding the night sky I’ve ever seen.

    A very nice set of basic but good quality binoculars can be purchased online at Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. This $100 pair of 7×50 binoculars have BAK-4 glass in their prisms and multicoated optics. They’re an excellent yet inexpensive instrument for going beyond naked-eye viewing but still offering wide field views of star clusters, the Milky Way, and brighter Messier Objects. Orion has a stellar reputation for customer service and, being owned and run by amatuer atronomers, will gladly work with a beginner and make recommendations or work to resolve equipment problems.

    Two other basic pieces of relatively high quality yet affordable entry level equipment are an 8″ or 10″ dobsonian reflector and/or a 3″-4″ refractor. Both are easy to set up, easy to use, and can provide hours of fun. Of the two, you will always get more bang for the buck with a reflector simply because they are easier to produce, both optically and mechanically. That said, a high quality refractor provides very crisp, high contrast images and are generally smaller and more portable. You milage may vary.

    10″ “Go-To” Dobsonian Telescope

    Celestron Omni XLT 102 Refractor Telescope

    Orion ED80T CF

    Some excellent books for a the backyard astronomer include Nightwatch, a general introduction to amatuer astronomy and equipment and Turn Left at Orion a book that concentrates on helping you locate objects for binoculars and small telescopes.

    Years ago, my youngest daughter and I traveled through Arizona and Utah together. If you never been under desert skies at night you’ve never seen a night sky in all its splendor. The Milky Way is a stream of stars from horizon to horizon, like a river of sparkling light overhead. In and around the Milky Way, stars are so dense it’s almost impossible to pick out constellations, simply because so many stars normally washed out into the background are brilliantly visible. Nebulae and star clusters are visible to the naked eye and are spectacular in binoculars. We spent several nights parked out in the wilderness sky watching from the back of our Jeep Cherokee while Jewel played on the CD player inside. That same daughter and I spent a wonderful night near Gettysburg watching a Perseid meteor shower from my Mustang convertible. Astronomy is something you can certainly enjoy alone, but it’s even better if you can find someone to share it with.

    The Deep Sky Videos channel from the astronomers at University of Nottingham.

    NASA’s Great Observatories

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »