Monthly Archives: April 2011

John Browning, part 4

An evening pause: The last part of “The Guns of John Browning” from Tales of the Gun.

The documentary correctly honors Browning for the quality of his designs and workmanship. To me, it is more important to honor him for making the weapons that allowed the United States to defend freedom in the twentieth century. Without these tools in the hands of our soldiers, the wars would have been longer and many more lives would have been lost. And worse, the fascists and Nazis and dictators might have won.

As George Bernard Shaw wrote in Major Barbara, “The people must have power.”

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Are astronomers finally going to push for a replacement for Hubble?

Astronomers are considering the merger two space missions to create a new optical/ultraviolet space telescope. The mission would be designed to do both deep cosmology and exoplanet observations.

The two communities would both like to see a 4–8-metre telescope in space that would cost in excess of $5 billion. “Our interests are basically aligned,” says [Jim Kasting, a planetary scientist at Pennsylvania State University]. Such a mission would compete for top billing in the next decadal survey of astronomy by the US National Academy of Sciences, due in 2020.

This story is big news, as it indicates two things. First, the 2010 Decadal Survey, released in August 2010, is almost certainly a bust. The budget problems at NASA as well as a general lack of enthusiasm among astronomers and the public for its recommendations mean that the big space missions it proposed will almost certainly not be built.
» Read more

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The Hudson River School

An evening pause: Four minutes of paintings by artists from the Hudson River School.

Anyone who has ever hiked along or sailed on the Hudson River knows it to be one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, a quiet wide river winding south nestled between lush green hills. In the 19th century American artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt among others were inspired by this beauty to paint some of the world’s greatest landscapes. If you can find the time, go to a museum that has some of these paintings and see them in person. They show us the majesty of the universe.

Update: Unfortunately, the video that I had originally embedded here disappeared from youtube last night. Here is the work of Alfred Bierstadt, set to the Connie Dover’s “Who will comfort me?”

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Japan’s tsunami waves top historic heights

Japan’s tsunami in March produced the largest waves in history.

Some waves grew to more than 100 feet high, breaking historic records, as they squeezed between fingers of land surrounding port towns.

To me, however, this is the biggest takeaway:

Although terrible, the preliminary estimate also finds a better-than 92% survival rate for people living in coastal towns hit by the waves, Bourgeois says. “In that sense, given the magnitude of the unexpectedly large earthquake, things could have been even worse,” she says.

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Past House GOP Tactic Proves Useless to Democrats

A past House GOP parliamentary tactic is proving useless to Democrats.

This article is instructive in giving a sense of where the political winds are strongest. The Republicans stand firm, because they feel the public will support them in their votes. The Democrats, meanwhile, caved frequently in the last Congress out of fear of losing the next election, a fear that was proven justified.

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