Archive for December, 2011

Merry Christmas to all my readers! My wife thought this photo looked like a “Moon bridge to the stars.” :O) So I decided to share it as part of my Christmas greeting:

7:53 AM CST 12-20-11 (13:53 UT), 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow. Click for larger view.

This article was originally published in the West Douglas County Record on December 15, 2011:

I almost made it through 2011 without noting a very important anniversary: this year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, first published in 1611. The King James Bible has been called “the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language”, “the most important book in English religion and culture”, and “the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world.” Even National Geographic magazine has featured the King James Version in its latest issue. Recently a group of over 100 members of churches in Perry, Georgia, took turns reading the entire King James Bible from beginning to end in 76 hours, reading in 30-minute shifts between December 1 and December 4, 2011. I will celebrate the anniversary of the King James Version by quoting Luke 2:8-14 from it, just as Linus does in “A Charlie Brown Christmas:”

“‘8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'”

“…And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”


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As I promised in a post last November 8th, I am finally beginning a project of examining some of the key, convoluted arguments in Zeitgeist: the Movie. It will take awhile to unravel, but it will be unravelled indeed when I’m through with it. Please be patient, as I will be doing this in little bits, and I don’t know how long it’ll take, or in how many parts. And I won’t be discussing points in the order presented in the film. As when untangling tangled yarn, the first knot at which I pick is not necessarily at the end of the strand, nor at the deepest part of the knot.

The original movie as well as subsequent movies may be accessed at the Zeitgeist Film Series Gateway, along with Source Guides, which comprise transcripts of the films with extensive annotations designed to explain and defend the assertions in the movies. Here’s the link:

The original 2007 movie is in three parts, Part I arguing that teaching about Jesus found in Christianity are derived from various sources in ancient religion, tradition, and astrology; Part II arguing that the US Government had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, and may have perpetrated the attacks; and Part III asserting connections between several wars, the Federal Reserve Bank, and “international bankers,” but since I have not watched Part III I will make no further comment.

My chief attention will be to part I, but here are two comments on Part II. Here is a YouTube excerpt from Part II, along with a transcript from the Source Guide, of a section which includes a rapid-fire montage of members of the George W. Bush Administration repeatedly using the word “terrorism,” etc.:

[Terrorism: 1) systematic use of terror, manifesting itself in violence or intimidation, for generating fear.]
“Armed with knives. Armed with chemical, biological; nuclear weapons. Fanatics. Terrorists. September 11th. September 11th. Killers. September 11th. Terrorists. Terrorists. Al Qaeda. Terrorists. Nuclear weapons. Terror. 9/11. Terror. Terror. Terror. Evil.”
“September 11th. September 11th. The terrorists. War and danger. September 11th. Terrorism. Global terrorism. Terrorism. Terrorist. Terrorist. Terrorist. Terrorist. Terrorist. The terrorists. Terrorists. Terrorists. Terrorism. September 11th. Global terrorism. Terrorism. Terrorism. Terrorists. September 11th. World terrorism. Terrorists. Terrorism. September 11th. Global Terrorism.
“September the 11th. Terrorist. Terrorist. Terrorist. Terrorist. Terrorist. Weapons of mass destruction. September the 11th. September the 11th. Terrorists. The evil terrorists. Terrorists. Terrorists know.”
-“Terrorism. The words are hypnotically repeated. Terrorism. Terrorist. Terrorist threat. And of course, believe-to-be-linked-to-al-Qaeda. But, it’s the so-called War on Terrorism that’s in our faces practically 24/7 as the inescapable focus of our existence.”

This section includes 38 uses of “terror,” “terrorist,” or “terrorism,” in most cases just the single word alone, with no clue as to the context. Indeed, to isolate a single word is the consummate act of taking something out of context, though I suppose it could be topped by isolating a single syllable or letter from that word. Furthermore, the argument here is that the words are being “hypnotically repeated,” but let me point out some simple math: Since the movie came out in 2007, let’s say that each of these mini sound bites came from a period of about 1600 days between September 11, 2001, until the early months of 2006. In order to produce all 38 “hypnotically repeated” uses of “terror” and its variants, members of the Bush Administration would have had to use the words only once every 42 days, which is not remarkable. The Bush Administration did not bring “terrorism” into public discourse. I’m approaching 47, nearly old enough now to qualify as a primary source for oral history of “the old days.” For example, I remember when Watergate was current news, though admittedly as a kid the part I remember most lucidly was the daily mention of H.R. Haldeman, whose name I could never get used to, since to my juvenile ears the initials H.R. already belonged to Mr. Pufnstuf.

But I digress. I clearly remember terrorism being commonly mentioned in the news as early as the Carter Administration in the late 1970s, so you could probably dig up 38 or so examples of President Carter and others saying the word if you tried hard enough.

The only other comment I’ll make about Part II is that Professor Steven Dutch of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has addressed several features of 9-11 conspiracy theories well at this page:

Nutty 9-11 Physics

Finally, the remainder of this post and all subsquent Zeitgeist-related posts will focus on Part I.

I will start with this excerpt, here quoted from the Source Guide:

26. First of all, the birth sequence is completely astrological. The star in the east is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which, on December 24th, aligns with the three brightest stars in Orion’s Belt. These three bright stars in Orion’s belt are called today what they were called in ancient times: The Three Kings. The Three Kings and the brightest star, Sirius, all point to the place of the sunrise on December 25th. This is why the Three Kings “follow” the star in the east, in order to locate the sunrise—the birth of the sun.

The text above is spoken beginning at about 6:07 here:

Two comments:

1. Sirius is indeed in rough alignment with the three stars of Orion’s belt (or the “Three Kings”) on December 24th, and 25th … and is in exactly the same rough alignment on March 28th … and August 5 … and October 31st … and February 29th … and every single date of the calendar! Stars are not like the planets and Moon, which wander through Earth’s sky, moving in and out of alignment and conjunction. To our eyes they remain fixed in their places in the sky, and because of their immense distance from Earth, it will take many thousands of years before there is any change in their apparent position due to their proper motion. Sirius “on December 24th, aligns with the three brightest stars in Orion’s Belt,” my foot! Sirius is over 8 light years from Earth and is completely unaffected by the arrival of December 24 or any other date in Earth’s year.

2. Speaking of December 24 and 25, there are exactly 0 (zero) verses in the Bible which claim that Jesus was born on December 25. It is entirely a matter of custom and tradition, not of dogma.

I believe I know the basis of the following quote, which I will discuss next time:

The Three Kings and the brightest star, Sirius, all point to the place of the sunrise on December 25th.

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I’m happy to report that here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are beginning to get longer again! The exact minute of the Winter Solstice was at 11:30 PM my local time on 12-21-11, or 5:30 UTC on 12-22-11. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere it was the Summer Solstice. It’s interesting and ironic that the event marking the beginning of winter is the beginning of the very thing that will bring winter to an end, namely, the lengthening of the days.

Anyway, to celebrate the occasion, I photographed Jupiter and the Galilean moons just one minute after the solstice:

11:31 PM CST 12-21-11 (5:31 UT 12-22-11), 25mm eyepiece. Left to right: Callisto, Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede.

Just to make sure I haven’t misled anyone, let me point out that Earth’s solstices have nothing to do with Jupiter. It just happened to be convenient for a photo right then. Jupiter has its own solstices during its long year (nearly 12 Earth years long), but they don’t amount to a hill of beans, since Jupiter’s axial tilt is only 3.13 degrees, compared to Earth’s 23.44 degree tilt.

Saturn is a different story, as its axial tilt is 26.73 degrees, similar to Earth’s, and since its rings are about in line with its equator, they look more “open” from Earth sometimes than other times during its long year of 29 1/2 Earth years. Currently the rings are “opening up” as viewed from Earth, as I’ll show you. First, a rerun of my best Saturn photo, from 3:23 AM CDT 4-14-11 (8:23 UT), with 17mm eyepiece and 2x Barlow (191x magnification):

You can see that the rings look more open in these photos taken this morning:

Above: 7:32 AM CST 12-22-11, 25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow (130x magnification).
Below: 7:37 AM CST 12-22-11, 18mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow (181x magnification).

Here are two views of the thin waning crescent Moon this morning, rather low in my southeastern sky:

Above: 7:24 AM CST 12-22-11 (13:24 UT).
Below: 7:43 AM CST 12-22-11 (13:43 UT). Both with 25mm eyepiece (65x magnification). Click for full-sized view.

All with 8″ reflector telescope and LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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Above: Saturn in the brightening predawn sky, 7:42 AM CST 12-20-11 (13:42 UT). 25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow.
Below: Waning crescent Moon, 7:50 AM CST 12-20-11 (13:50 UT). 25mm eyepiece. Both with 8″ reflector telescope and LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click lunar photo for larger view.

Blessings to all those celebrating Hanukkah! Click for info from Paleojudaica.com.

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8:14 AM CST 12-19-11 (14:14 UT). 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

Today, December 19, 2011, is the tenth anniversary of the USA film release of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I love the original books by J.R.R. Tolkien, and I love Jackson’s film trilogy; rather than being persnickety about the differences between the two, I enjoy them as two distinct though deeply interrelated works.

This film’s premiere in December, 2001, came at a momentous time; the opening “scene” of spoken words over the dark screen resonated in a way the filmmakers could not have planned. Indeed, the world had changed, just three months previously.

In tribute and celebration of “ten years in Middle-Earth,” here is a great documentary of LOTR film score composer Howard Shore rehearsing and performing his Lord of the Rings Symphony with musicians in Montreal, Quebec. At the risk of sounding like I’m gushing, I think Shore’s score is pure genius; I can’t think of a single part of it that I don’t like, or that doesn’t fit the story or the films. One of my “100 things to do before I die” is to be in a performance of Shore’s “LOTR Symphony.” I don’t need any solos, just plunk me down in the cello section and I’ll be on cloud nine. Anyway, here it is, and please note that this documentary is 50 minutes long. A few of my brief comments follow:

Three moments in this documentary that move me the most:

Shortly after 07:40 – The children. The beautiful singing children of Montreal, rehearsing the haunting “Seduction of the Ring” leitmotif. The children.

Beginning at about 23:15, the music of Rohan, Tolkien’s noble Horse-Vikings. The instrument being played beginning at about 24:27 is the Hardingfele, the national folk instrument of Norway. It makes me think of Dad, who wasn’t the most proficient or authentic hardingfele player ever, but none have been more sincere. My two favorite parts of Middle-Earth are the Shire and Rohan. Rohan is like my Dad’s Norwegian-American people; austere, noble, serious yet with a mischievous dry wit not far underneath the surface. The Shire is like my Mom’s mostly Scots-Irish people, more easy-going, jolly, and settled; Mom’s ancestors came to the USA over a century before Dad’s. But both are part of what I am, and I like them both. Anyway, I remember sitting watching TTT in the theatre and wondering as the Rohan theme played, “Could that be the sound of a hardingfele?” Yes, it was! True genius, Mr. Shore, I couldn’t thank you enough!

Beginning about 29:10 – The children again. I found the “Last March of the Ents” in The Two Towers to be one of the most stirring scenes in the entire film trilogy, and when, at about 29:50, a Ron Weasley-like vox warrior takes command of the melody with great conviction, I’m moved to pump my fist in the air and say “yes!”

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Above: Not my most impressive Saturn photo ever, but at least you can see that it’s there & its usual self. 7:13 AM CST 12-18-11 (13:13 UT).
Below: Waning crescent Moon at 7:36 AM CST 12-18-11 (13:36 UT).

Both with 8″ reflector telescope and 25mm eyepiece. I tried a few photos of Mercury and Mars as well, but they really weren’t good enough to show.

Here’s the Light Ship (my dusty, trusty old 8″ reflector) trained on its quarry at 7:39 AM:

Could somebody tell me what kind of nest this is? I suppose Pluto and I walked right by it 200 times this summer and fall, and now in December I spot it! It’s about 3 inches across:

Temperatures have been mild by Minnesota standards, and webfoot traffic on the frozen lake has been pretty steady:

Below: I do believe that Venus is edging out Jupiter for the 2011 “Christmas Star Contest,” even though it’s appearing in the west instead of the east:

5:35 PM.

5:38 PM. You can see how much the twilight has faded in three minutes. T-minus 170 earth days till the Venus transit, by the way.

Below: Jupiter high above the southeastern horizon at 5:39 PM.

LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

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After a week of clouds (and wind, and a little rain, and a few snow flurries), the Solar System has come into view once again, hooray! Be sure to look up to the skies after sunset these days, as Jupiter and Venus are both trying to be the “Star of Bethlehem” for this Advent & Christmas season (I’d say it’s a tie):

Above: Venus shining above neighbors’ Christmas lights in the southwest, 5:31 PM CST 12-17-11, about 127 million miles away, a little over 3 million closer than it was last weekend. T-minus 171 Earth days until the Venus Transit of June 5/6, 2012.

Below: Jupiter and the four Galilean moons, high in the southeastern sky, lined up almost as for a family portrait. 5:22 PM CST 12-17-11 (23:22 UT). From left to right: Ganymede, Io, Jupiter, Europa, Callisto (fainter, but it’s there). 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, both with LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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