Money for nothing

Turkey is demanding $15 billion to let the us use it’s bases in a war with Iraq, a country where some polls show that 94% of the people in Turkey are opposed to this war. The U.S. counter-offer is $6 billion. Meanwhile, our public services such as fire departments, public schools, transportation, arts endowments, and welfare are all grossly under-funded.

We are giving billions of dollars to a country that doesn’t want it, and shortchanging our own people in the process. This is completely moronic. I think that money could be better spent elsewhere.

Time to fix my double bass

Yes, it is time to fix the behemoth and start practicing again. We just did our taxes and, lo and behold, I can finally afford these repairs. I take it in on Monday for the evaluation. I am indeed quite psyched about this. It has been at least a year and a half since I practiced, and several years since I practiced regularly. But I have been looking forward to this operation since I got the damn bass back in 1993 and I have been itching to practice for a long long time. Thankfully since I don’t need to make a living off that thing anymore, I can just focus on playing only what I want to. I think I’ll work up the Misek Sonata again, get going on the Hindemith Sonata, the Smandl Gradus Ad Nauseum book, and of course my Bach Suite #3.

Most of all, I am psyched because Yingwen has her grand piano and we can jam.

Stargazing

I had a quite awesome ride this evening on my mountain bike. I ride almost every night after work, but this ride seemed almost transcendental for some reason – I can’t explain the feeling exactly, but maybe you’ll get it. The air was crisp and perfectly still after a rain, and the clouds had parted to reveal a gorgeous star-lit sky. The constellations were in excellent position for the ride home, like they were arranged somehow by hand. The Pleadies and Taurus were almost directly overhead, followed by a very bright Orion and Canis Major directly in front of me. Sirius shined almost perfectly over the trail, and I could almost see a faint glow from the brightness of the star cast on the road like moonglow. Just to the left were the Cassiopeia constellation and what looked like Jupiter. I haven’t kept track of any orbits in maybe 10 years, so it might as well have been Saturn or Mars, but my hunch stands on calling it Jupiter for now.

This all made me recall how I first became interested in astronomy in the first place. I remember one evening when I was maybe 12 or 13, looking up at what I would later find out was the Sword in Orion’s Belt, and noticing that something was odd about one of the stars in there. It looked fuzzy, and my first thought was that my eyes were getting screwy. So I borrowed my aunt’s field binoculars to see if I could get a better look. Well that made it look even fuzzier, but at least I proved to myself that the other stars still looked nice and crisp while this one looked like somebody stuck their thumb on the canvas. I would always keep an eye on that thing when I could at night, and left it at that for a while until I was given a rather decent telescope a year or two later as a birthday present from my grandmother. Well the first thing I did was go out and try to find that star, and when I trained the 4.5″ Newtonian reflector on it, I was absolutely amazed at what I was seeing. It was a whole freakin’ cloud of what looked like glowing smoke and clusters of stars all over the place. The thing looked like it was moving. It was the Great Nebula in Orion, M42, and I felt like freakin’ Galileo. So my whole thing from then on was like, “So what the hell else is up there?” Some question, indeed…

Later on I would find myself spending night after night looking through the telescope. I found a nice star chart made of heavy card stock and bound loosely so it would fold well, and a red penlight so I wouldn’t ruin my night vision. I’d take that thing everywhere, anywhere there was a dark sky; from my backyard or the foothills of Mt. Diablo to the hills north of Cloverdale, the Mendocino Coast, and the Rouge River Valley in southern Oregon. I was intent on accomplishing two things: 1. finding objects with nothing more than a finder scope and a newtonian tripod mount, and 2, finding out what the heck it was and what made it tick. I went through most of the easier Messier objects, a few galaxies and globular clusters, several nebula, a comet, and all the planets from Mercury to Neptune. Spotting Uranus and Neptune was tricky, but I think I caught their positions.

I sucked up every book I could on the subject, from Asimov’s Tragedy of the Moon to Hawking’s Brief History of Time. My favorite research project was in my college statistics class, where my buddy and I decided to to a statistical analysis on correlation between star color and age. I will never forget staying up all night typing it out and cutting and pasting illustrations into the final document the night before it was due with no sleep and the pure power of Jolt Cola. That and my American History final essay on the Challenger ripping apart were perhaps my two best pieces of work in college before switching to the music major. I had subscriptions to Astronomy Magazine and Sky and Telescope, and would scan them for whatever was the hot event that month: comet appearances, planetary alignments, stars passing between the craters of the dark side of the moon, whatever…

I think I’m writing this down now so that I don’t forget for myself how cool all this crap really is. I used to have this ridiculous daily routine: Ride the mountain bike first thing in the morning, practice the double bass all day, look at the sky at night. Rinse, lather, and repeat. That was a lot of fun…

War is not the only answer

In a response to global anti-war protests which involved millions of people, the Bush administration today is saying that they won’t back down on their position to dethrone Saddam Hussein. Despite public opinion, alternative courses of action, potential negative repercussions, and pure logic, Bush seems intent on proceeding with an invasion of Iraq.

The motivation for the USA to invade Iraq at this juncture is widely viewed with skepticism, despite the White House Administration’s best propaganda efforts. During the first Gulf War, there was at least some support for military action because another country was invaded, and the USA was clearly acting as part of a global UN-led coalition that had fairly strong global public support.

However, the current course of action represents a preemptive strike, and as such, can never be viewed entirely as morally correct. Preemptive strikes historically tend to be attributed to the bad guys, and once you engage in a preemptive strike, no matter what, you become the aggressor. To reason that we have to invade Iraq because of 10 years of UN non-compliance and because their leader is a bully just seems ridiculous. Attack us and yes, please let’s counter the attack with force and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Without a clear act of war against the USA, the reason to invade Iraq just doesn’t float. The perception is that the White House is drumming up accusations and instilling public fear to gain support for this invasion, but there are ulterior motives. Is it a coincidence that Bush and Cheney come from major oil cartel backgrounds and that Iraq holds some of the largest oil reserves in the world? Whether or not this is the true underlying motivation, the whole thing just stinks because of it. Because of these facts, the world will perceive it as an action to grab Iraq’s oil fields no matter what we do or say.

I contend that we, the USA, should not be the global police force just because we have the most weapons and the most money, and the long-term negative implications of a preemtive strike far outweigh any perceived short-term benefits. We should act as a good international citizen and participate in peacekeeping as needed, and not become the global overlords that decide when and decide what is right and what is wrong all by ourselves. Iraq is far away from here, and I for one have little interest in going to war with them over the current accusations. I don’t see an imminent attack coming from Iraq, nor do I see with any concrete proof any ability for them to do so. Furthermore, since this is such an unpopular case for war with so many tainted implications linking war to control of oil, we should not be the country leading the effort to unseat this brutal dictator. Leave that to the UN and the countries in the Middle East that are directly affected by Iraq. Let’s focus on our own problems that affect us more directly, such as the failing economy, rising budget deficits, unemployment, fixing our broken education system, figuring out a way to keep North Korea from launching nukes at us, and finding the terrorists that are responsible for 9/11 and all the other recent acts of terror against the USA.