Cool Stuff From Hubble

NGC 6217

NGC 6217

The shuttle astronauts upgraded the Hubble space telescope recently, and their work has really paid some immediate dividends. NASA has released a series of very cool photos from the Hubble telescope, which can be found on NASA’s website.  The new imaging camera on the Hubble telescope is more sensitive to visible light and also allows the telescope to observe and photograph objects in ultraviolet and near-infrared light.

Starstuff in NGC 6302

Starstuff in NGC 6302

The photos include the barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217, which lies more than 6 million light years away, and a particularly evocative picture of the death of a star in planetary nebula NGC 6302, at right. What appears to be the shimmering wings of a stellar butterfly is actually hot gases, blown out of a dying star that was five times the size of the sun and then subjected to ultraviolet radiation. Carl Sagan probably would have called it starstuff. In any case, it is amazing that Hubble can turn out this kind of stunning photographic record of stars, galaxies, and other faraway space phenomena.

The Sun’s slide show presentation of these and other new photos from Hubble –including the way-cool cat’s eye nebula — is highly recommended.

Can It Get Any Worse ?

Well I keep thinking that politics can’t get any worse and to my surprise it keeps getting worse ! In the old days at least our politicians could control their emotions and wait until after the president spoke to unleash their thoughts and feelings, but not last night. Joe Wilson, Congressman from South Carolina went to far, was disrespectful and called the president a liar !

The website linked above clearly shows where House Bill 3200, Section 246 says that no federal payment for undocumented aliens will be made, yet Mr. Wilson got caught up in the moment and yelled “You lie” to the president. The president also touched on a few of the Seven Falsehoods About Healthcare which I found very interesting when clicking on ‘correctly detailed’ in the article. Same old story, when politicians aren’t for something they turn to spreading false statements that cause constituents to be fearful and of course fear brings no change.

As I recall Bob blogged awhile back about one of the Asian legislatures where harsh words blossomed into fighting and he made the statement “that at least that doesn’t happen here “. Maybe its just me, but I suspect that it is only a matter of time until that type of thing does happen here. Oh well, at least C-Spans ratings will improve if it does – ha ha !

Thoughts On The President’s Speech

Kish and I watched the President’s speech on health care to the joint session of Congress last night, and I came away with mixed feelings.

As I listened to the first few sentences of the speech, about economic issues, I wondered why the President was speaking about health care at all.  His speech was given about a year after the collapse of the housing market and Lehman Brothers precipitated  a global economic meltdown, exposed extraordinarily risky investment instruments and behaviors, and helped to bring about huge increases in company failures, bank failures, unemployment, and underemployment on a worldwide scale.  A year later, has anything really been done to try to prevent that kind of crisis from occurring again?  The proposals made earlier this year about new regulatory regimes and agencies have fallen by the wayside, as Congress and the President have focused on health care, health care, and health care.  Why is this so?  For every American who is uninsured and urgently concerned about health care, I expect there are many more who are out of work and frantic about feeding their families and losing their homes.

I don’t understand why the President seems almost obsessed with health care, to the point that he has given dozens of speeches about it and is freely spending his political capital on the issue.  After last night’s speech, I still don’t understand it.  One of the major points of the speech was that politicians from Teddy Roosevelt to Ted Kennedy have been talking about health care for decades and have not been successful in achieving comprehensive reforms; President Obama wants to be “the last President” to make that effort.  I am not sure why that argument is a compelling one.  Indeed, it makes it seem as though President Obama is motivatived in significant part by a desire to put a notch on his belt that eluded many of his predecessors.  Given the state of many government programs — including Medicare, which the President himself indicated is riddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse — I am not sure that the failure to the federal government to enact sweeping programs in the past has necessarily been a bad thing for the country as a whole.

Some other thoughts:

Republicans looked like idiots by shouting out “lie” or otherwise being disruptive during the President’s speech.  It makes them seem petty, immature, and unpatriotic.  A joint session of Congress to listen to a Presidential address is not a place for unseemly rabble-rousing.

It strains credulity to think that a new government program to insure the many current uninsured Americans can be created and run without massive spending and an increase in the deficit.  Too often, we are promised that savings on waste, fraud, and abuse will finance new governmental initiatives.  It never happens, and we end up with a greater federal debt as a result.  I don’t doubt the President’s sincerity in some of his promises, but I just don’t believe it is achievable to do what he proposes to do without either raising taxes or cutting services or care.  His proposals are so contrary to the average American’s experience they are impossible to accept at face value.

Appeals to cooperation and bipartisanship are fine, but when the speech ends they are quickly exposed as a pipe dream.  Kish and I were watching MSNBC and saw Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown describe the Republican Party as on the leash of the insurance companies.  No doubt there was a Republican talking head on some other network saying the Democrats are the captives of unions and trial lawyers.  So much for bipartisanship!

Speeches to joint sessions of Congress are painful to watch because of the repeated “standing ovations” in response to even the most tepid applause lines or otherwise forgettable phrases.  The phony “interruptions by applause” are irritating and, I think, detract from the dignity of the occasion, making it seem instead like some cheap, choreographed political event.

Why in the world would you wear a bright red pants suit to a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress?

Out Of Africa, Much Earlier Than Expected

This article reports on recent archaeological findings that raise interesting questions about accepted theories of human evolution and, in particular, about when human ancestors first moved out of Africa. Paleontologists have discovery ancient human remains — dating back some 1.8 million years — in modern Georgia, near the Caucuses. The remains are significantly smaller in physical size, and brain size, than previously identified Homo Erectus remains, and are by far the oldest proto-human remains found out of Africa.

Previously, the prevailing view was that human ancestors first journeyed out of Africa 1 million years ago and began to colonize the world. This discovery suggests that the human diaspora began much earlier — and may even indicate that there are significant issues about where certain human species actually originated.  The story of human evolution is a fascinating one, and much remains to be discovered and written.