27 May 2005

Septentrional - Ursa Major

While the focus of this log is mostly political, occasionally I indulge other interests, including unusual connections, where one thing leads to another.

I had occasion today to comment to my father, who was offering me several unusual words for use as my “words for the day,” on the word "Septentrional," a more or less interchangeable term with "boreal." "Septentrional" refers to the Seven Stars of Ursa Major (aka "Septentrion"), which dominates the skies of the North. I have been unable to find a truly comparable term linking the regions of the South with some prominent feature of the Southern Sky. "*Argonavital," "Magellanic," or even "Crucial" come to mind, but none of them has any pedigree, and the last one has obvious drawbacks in that it already has other meanings.

It’s a not-too-well known fact that the Sun and its planets are located in a somewhat enriched region of the Milky Way Galaxy, from the point of view of stellar populations and especially prevalence of bright stars in the vicinity. At least part of the reason for this is that the Sun happens to be in the midst of a slowly dissolving star cluster, the Ursa Major Stream or “Moving Group.”

The seven chief stars of Ursa Major (“The Big Dipper,”) and some of the other stars of the constellation, to which could be added Sirius, are the main members of a real star cluster in space, noticeable from any given direction for a distance of at least a couple of hundred light years. You may notice, from the inclusion of Sirius, which is something like 50 degrees of arc across the sky, that the Sun is actually inside this loose association of stars, but it is not a member of it. These are relatively young stars, having formed together from a protostellar nebula something like 150 million years ago, since which time they have been gradually drifting apart, and the cluster losing coherence as the stars "evaporate" into the general stream of stars in the galactic plane. The Sun, in its normal streaming orbit around the Galaxy, just drifted on in to their region.

Probably most stars in the galaxy are somewhere near something prominent like a group of bright stars, but this feature (usually called nowadays the "Ursa Major Moving Group" or “Ursa Major Stream,” and consisting of about 100 stars, most of them dimmer than the Sun), is the most prominent nearby feature for us. 30 or 40 million years ago, the Sun was nowhere near these stars, as it peregrinated on its 250 million year galactic orbit.

Compared to the bright stars of Orion's Belt, which are much younger, brighter, and farther away, this little cluster isn't much, and wouldn't gain any special notice from even 300 light years away.

Septentrional, incidentally, was one of those obscure words which turned up in James Joyce's Ulysses, to titillate the verbophiles of the Literary World.

For more information about Ursa Major as a real feature in nearby space, see this, from which the following is an exceprt:

Many other stars scattered all over the sky share a common space motion with the UMa cluster. And like the cluster the most massive, hence brightest, stars have evolved to the subgiant and even giant phases. One hundred or so stars have been accepted as members of the UMa stream, as it is called. Spanning a few hundred light years of space, it's much too big to be a cluster proper. As these stars are seen in all directions, we are obviously passing through the stream. The spectral types give stellar ages similar to that of the cluster, and this together with the space motions suggests a common origin about 150 million years ago -- just over half a galactic rotation. This age is about midway, ratio-wise, between the youngest and oldest star clusters (one million to 10 billion years).

It seems that the usual antonym for "septentrional" is "meridional." This word, however, doesn't refer to a celestial feature in the South, but to the noonday sun:
1. Of or relating to meridians or a meridian.
2. Located in the south; southern.
3. Of or characteristic of southern areas or people.

An inhabitant of a southern region, especially the south of France.

[Middle English, pertaining to the sun's position at noon, from Old French meridionel, southern, from Late Latin meridionalis, from Latin meridianus, of midday, southern. ]

Why the noonday sun is associated with the South is a bit unclear to me.

Neo-Goldwater Conservatives v. Bush

See Bullmoose's interesting comments on the re-emergence of old fashioned conservative Republicans à la Barry Goldwater, who are very uncomfortable both with the big-government, fiscally irresponsible, and plutocratic tendencies, as well as the theocratic leanings, of the current administration.

Unlikely these folks will vote for a Democrat in a general election, but they very well might split the Republicans enough to enable the whole climate of politics in this country to finally shift away from its current dismal course.

26 May 2005

Common Ground: Fiscal Conservatism and Liberalism

Many fiscal conservatives, like the Cunnning Realist, are sounding more like liberals than like the "Radical Conservatives," (as Robert Reich calls them), who rule Washington these days. It seems the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are becoming increasingly inaccurate and irrelevant as labels for people's political persuasions. See avowedly-conservative columnist David Brooks's piece in today’s New York Times, in which he talks about an emerging alliance between "liberals" like U2's Bono, and evangelical Christians on the issue of poverty amelioration.

Many Goldwater-style conservatives look at the 30+% growth in Federal spending in this administration, the unprecedented policy- and tax-cut- driven shift of wealth from the middle class to the rich, the fast and loose attitude towards the obligation to tell the public the truth, and the incredibly unrestrained growth in the national debt and annual deficit spending ... and say, “if this is conservative government, I want no part of it.”

At the same time, many liberals have come over the years to realize that a balanced policy, which respects the rights and values of religious people, which recognizes the necessity for incentives to work, and which strives to keep government within the means provided by its revenues, rather than shifting the burden of today's government to future generations, is best. These people are finding fiscal conservatives, who generally believe in the right of privacy and keeping government out of people's private lives, their natural allies.

The war in Iraq, too, is a terribly divisive issue. There are rational reasons for believing it was a good policy, although I do not believe they are right. In fact, this administration misrepresented the reasons for war, and continues to do a very poor job both of managing it and explaining in plain language why they believe it is in America's national interests to continue prosecuting it. Old fashioned conservatives, like
Marshall Wittmann, even if inclined to give the administration some benefit of the doubt, just don't go for the kind of propaganda and double-speak coming out of the administration. No wonder many traditional conservatives are abandoning the Bush radical right-wing movement, and thinking it's time to work with liberals to move the country away from polarity and divisiveness, and towards comity, mutual respect, and a government which can function effectively both in the World and as steward of America's economic and social weal. Here, it seems to me inevitable that history will judge this President's government harshly indeed.

25 May 2005

Rats and the Sinking Ship

Marshall Wittmann comments:

Ralph [Reed] and Grover [Norquist] are claiming that they were completely ignorant of any nefarious doings by their old pal. A curious case of amnesia perhaps. Or are they headed for the tall grass as the feds may be on their tails? In any event, it is not exactly a profile in loyalty. Consider this in today's New York Times,

"As Mr. Abramoff's problems touched Mr. DeLay - the majority leader may face an ethics inquiry over trips arranged by Mr. Abramoff - Mr. Norquist was their most vocal defender. But in recent weeks he has distanced himself from the two men whose success has been so intertwined with his own.

At a gala dinner this month to support Mr. DeLay, Mr. Norquist declined a seat on the dais, despite being listed as a host. He slipped out after a predinner reception, he said later, for a dinner party at his home.

Mr. Abramoff attended his wedding on April 2, yet Mr. Norquist described him as simply a "friend," someone he has lunch or dinner with a few times a year. "I knew him when we were in college," he said. "But there's no business or financial relationship."

Mr. Norquist later elaborated: "I haven't seen that much of him recently, and I don't - and it's mostly because - I'm not shunning him or anything. It's just, I'm busy, he's busy, he's in a different world. He took the path I didn't take, which was to go make money as a consultant, and I decided to build A.T.R."

Really, with the scabrous likes of these two, it seems hardly surprising.

24 May 2005

My e-mail to pabaah.com

I tried to engage these loony toons, but it was no use. An obviously futile venture, I must admit.
To: jonalvy44@hotmail.com
Date: Thursday, May 19, 2005 10:36 am
Subject: My registration on pabaah.com
Dear Mr. Alvarez, [http://pabaah.com]

I was directed to your website by an article in the New York Times, and I mistakenly assumed that, as with most public interest websites, there would be room for a diversity of views. Having observed your "rules," which apparently quite explicitly prohibit any disagreement, I must ask that you delete my registration. I gather that were I to post anything on one of your message boards, I would find myself exiled to oblivion in any case.

If you will accept the challenge to read a few sentences of explanation:

I am an American with pre-Revolutionary antecedents (on my mother's side; the last name is Swiss). I am very proud to call myself a Patriot. I believe in America, not only as my homeland but as an embodiment of the ideal of representative government and guaranteed rights of free expression. These guaranteed rights make our nation stronger, not weaker. Your anti-dissent views are, I believe, anathema to the spirit of the American Revolution, and I find the unwillingness to even consider others' take on things to be characteristic of closed-minded people who really do not really believe in the principles of representative democracy on which our nation was founded. Moreover, I believe that the opinion, espoused everywhere on your webiste, that a man is a traitor because he is a dissident from the policies of his government, is a very betrayal of the spirit of the founding of this country. People holding such views have no legitimate claim to call themselves patriots.

Patriotism is not "supporting our president." It is supporting the ideals on which our nation is based. A patriot's duty to his country is to seek to change that with which he disagrees. If you do not understand this, you do not understand the central idea of America, and I am sorry for you.

I support your right, of course, to boycott entertainers who you think are advancing a political agenda with which you disagree. This is a time-honored form of dissent. But calling such people traitors, and shutting up all dissent in your own forums, is indicative of a profound lack of understanding of what the right to dissent is all about. Calling for the government to prosecute dissenters like Michael Moore, is a frightening and ugly throwback to the worst excesses of 1950s McCarthyism.

Some day, I believe, people will look back on people like you the way post-WWII thinking Americans have tended to look back on the regrettable racist-fascist views of such people as Huey Long, Father Conklin, and Charles Lindbergh. Which is to say, as part of a dark chapter of our history, but not in stream with its main currents.

Thank you.

David Studhalter

Gazpacho and Ensalada de lentejas

Once again, it's summer, and time for gazpacho. If you don't know gazpacho, try it. It's lovely. But don't use the the recipe in Pedro Almodovar's Mujeres al bordo de attaca de nervios... (barbiturates are not an essential ingredient).

Most gazpachos have oil and breadcrumbs, which make them heavy and filling. This one is light and delicious, like liquid salad. Put in ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, if you really want to, but leave out the breadcrumbs. Garnish with croutons if you like bread. Use a mandolin to cut up the vegetables if you have one.

Flexible Gazpacho Andaluz

1½ lb. ripe garden tomatoes, cut in chunks, carefully preserving juices (If all you have is supermarket tomatoes, used canned tomatoes instead, they're riper).
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut up
1 good size cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small onion, peeled and cut into chunks. Sweet onions are nice here.
1 clove garlic, toasted in the jacket in dry skillet, then peeled and minced (optional; or use raw if you don't mind the sharpness of raw garlic)
1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut up into chunks (optional, but it adds a nice fruitiness; pear is good too)
¼ - ½ tsp. tarragon or something similar; basil or marjoram. Not rosemary or sage, they're too distinctive.
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup tomato juice or ice water
1 tsp. sugar (may omit if using apple; substitute 1½ tsp. honey if you want)
2 tbs. wine vinegar, or 3 of rice vinegar (more vinegar to taste)
Few drops worcestershire, if desired

Mix in batches in blender until no big chunks remain, but don't puree. Strain, pushing mixture thru with wooden spoon into large bowl. Stir thoroughly to blend all the batches of different stuff into a unified mixture.

Chill at least 3 hours, better overnight. Keeps several days in refrigerator. Serves 6, but just barely (no room for seconds). Recipe can easily be doubled, if you want to make a lot.

Serve cold in tall bowls if you have them. Set out with small bowls of cut up onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and croutons, if desired, as garnishes. (Traditional in Spain).


A good accompaniment:

Ensalada de lentejas (Spanish Lentil Salad)

2/3 cup of lentils, washed
2 cloves garlic, toasted in the jacket in dry skillet, then peeled and minced
2 cloves
½ tsp. cumin
bay leaf
2 tbs. pimientos, cut into strips
3 tbs. wine vinegar or use rice vinegar
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) 1 small zucchini
½ cup shredded carrots... use more if you like more carrot

Put cloves and bay leaf in a bouquet garni or tea ball. Cover lentils with water at least 2 inches above surface of beans, add salt (about 1 tsp.) and cumin. Bring to boil, cover then cook on low heat until not quite tender, about 30 minutes. At this point, add the zucchini, cut into ½ inch pieces, and re-cover. Continue cooking another 5 min. or so, until lentils are just tender. If not using zucchini, skip this step, and just cook straight through until just tender, about 35 min.

Remove bouquet garni and pour beans into strainer and immediately rinse thoroughly with cold water, until cool.

Add remaining ingredients to lentils in bowl, stir together, add salt and pepper to taste; add other herbs like Ms. Dash if you want to, but not too much. Chill, preferably overnight, as it gets better if the ingredients marinate together for awhile. Serve cold. Serves 4, or 6 if you're giving French-size portions.

These two and a little pasta with pesto or agli oli, and/or bread (such as garlic bread, pan con tomate, or bruschetta) will make a light summer supper.

09 May 2005

Carbon Dioxide and the Climate Change

I'd like to again take the opportunity to highly recommend The New Yorker: Annals of Science: The Climate of Man I, II, and III* by Elizabeth Kolbert, in the April 25, May 2 and May 9 issues. This is pretty clearly the dominant environmental issue of the present decades, and these pieces sound a warning which should compare with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring... except the stakes are far, far higher, and next to nothing is being done about it.
*Pt. III doesn't seem to be online currently, but should be shortly.

08 May 2005

Krugman: The Final Insult

Please see Krugman's piece on how the Bush claim to be indexing social security to benefit the poor at the expense of the rich is ... well, a lie, as well as an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

06 May 2005

This oughtta scare ya

From The New Yorker: Annals of Science: The Climate of Man - II, May 2, 2005:

...By studying Antarctic ice cores, researchers have been able to piece together a record both of the earth's temperature and of the composition of its atmosphere going back four full glacial cycles. (...) What this record shows is that the planet is now nearly as warm as it has been at any point in the last four hundred thousand years. A possible consequence of even a four- or five-degree temperature rise -- on the low end of projections for doubled CO2 -- is that the world will enter a completely new climate regime, one with which modern humans have no prior experience.
A scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put it to me -- only half jokingly -- this way: "It's true that we've had higher CO2 levels before. But, then, of course, we also had dinosaurs."

04 May 2005

Comity and Civility

We proud liberals tend to maintain comity and civility in public discourse a good deal better than our Radical Conservative opponents, but since they've essentially declared war on (almost) everything I believe in, I think it's necessary to call a spade a spade when these people spout dangerous nonsense. I will therefore continue to insult, cajole, and backbite these folks, at least until that scabrous drug-addict hatemonger Rush Limbaugh is off the air for good.

03 May 2005

My e-mail to John Tierney

This is my e-mail to John Tierney re: his April 30 column claiming that Democrats are flummoxed by Bush's "progressive" Social Security gambit.

Mr. Tierney:

As usual, your column is Radical-Conservative nonsense. The most important effect of Bush's deceptive proposal would be cuts in retirement benefits for anybody earning over $20,000 a year. People making median income would be substantially impacted. These are FACTS, which give the lie to any idea that the Bush plan is truly "progressive indexing" rather than an overall, massive cut in benefits for the majority of American wage-earners. As Matthew Yglesias puts it in TPM, "people raising families on salaries in the $30,000-$60,000 range are hardly living high on the hog or setting up trust funds for their kids."

Social Security taxes are capped at $90,000 of payroll income, so the very rich ALREADY pay no more in taxes and receive no more in benefits than do those in the upper tier of the middle class. The very rich are irrelevant to the debate on social security.

The scam of Bush's plan, which you endorse, is simply belied by the inescapable facts. Fortunately, for once, the majority of Americans have their BS detectors set on high, and this crap isn't playing in Peoria.

I wish the Times would find someone other than you to replace old man Safire. At least he was witty.

02 May 2005

My e-mail to Andrew Sullivan.

Andrew Sullivan, who's pretty good lately on social issues and foreign policy, continues his troglodyte politics on bread and butter issues. He posted a virtually content-free support for Bush on social security "indexing," with a gratuitous attack on Paul Krugman (see below). Here's my e-mail to him:
Your pro-Bush comments about means-testing social security are baffling and insubstantial, as is your attack on Paul Krugman, which amounts to nothing but an ad hominem. It should be fairly obvious that the issue of means testing is pretty meaningless without some parameters. There is a huge difference between a means testing regime that cuts benefits for almost everyone (like Bush's proposal) and one that (as an example) would continue social security in its role as minimal old age insurance for most working people while removing or limiting the benefit for those with such abundant resources that they are not needed. Such a scheme, were it to be proposed, might even win some bipartisan support, whereas the Bush plan is so lopsided it clearly will not.

Far more logical, in my view, is the idea of increasing the social security tax to include higher income levels, and capping social security benefits, so that they reach a maximum payout amount based on contemporaneous median income (i.e at the time benefits are paid out, not while the tax is being paid in). There could also be a sliding scale drop off after a certain level of current income, (i.e. retirement actual income, as opposed to wage history), so that those who truly have essentially no need for the benefits would not receive them. Something like this could be engineered to completely remove the fiscal problems the program faces, but this clearly is not anything like the plan Bush advocates, which is, just as clearly, a disguised incremental phase-out of social security for the middle class for purely ideological reasons.

Your attack on Krugman is completely unspecific. His article is clear, and his points have not been refuted in any way by anything you said.

I think as a "big league" commentator and blogger, you should be willing to back up your comments on economic issues with economic analysis of some kind. I've found none in your supposed justification for supporting Bush on this issue. Perhaps economics just isn't your strong suit; if so, perhaps you should spare us your unsupported opinions on these subjects.

Krugman Explains How Bush Plan is Really a "Gut Punch" to the Middle Class

Paul Krugman explains, about as clearly as it's possible to explain, how Bush's "indexing" of social security benefits proposal is really nothing less than an incremental scheme to do away with Social Security for the vast majority of Americans.