Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Diary

I had hoped that by now I would have read enough to make another book post, but I haven't, due to several distractions. We had a rare string of four nights in a row with good stargazing conditions – the best in nearly a year – and I wanted to take advantage of them. I've been looking at objects such as M2, M5, M13, M27, M31, NGC 6207, NGC 6960, Burnham 1, and lots of other multiple star systems. Although it would have been possible to see several planets this summer, I didn't bother with my large telescope, because it is hard to find a place in the yard with a good view to the south, and they are close to the horizon, which is hazy. I prefer to view planets on my smaller refractor on the rear deck, and it is difficult to situate the Dobsonian there. The season is moving along, and if you stay up late enough you can already see M42, one of the most interesting objects in the night sky.

Perhaps further explanation is needed for my interest in stargazing, since I seem to be the only person I know who likes it. I do it partly for aesthetics, because many of the objects are attractive natural phenomena, and partly for knowledge, because, after all, most of the universe is out there, not here. And I like operating precision equipment. Other stargazers have different motivations from mine. Some are more socially motivated, and star parties are popular throughout the world. Others are even more interested in tinkering than I am, and when they find out how hard it is to see things well they take up astrophotography, which can occupy a technically-oriented person indefinitely. With newer cameras, long exposure times and new software it is possible to produce images that show far more detail than one can see with the naked eye even under ideal viewing conditions. There is also a competitive aspect to stargazing, which often centers around – you guessed it – who has the largest telescope. In stargazing culture, all of these motivations get scrambled up by the commercial element, which emphasizes product over knowledge. Many stargazers seem to have a checklist mentality; they want the right equipment so that they can go down a list and check off what they've seen, whether or not they know what the objects are. I prefer to at least have some astronomical understanding of what I'm looking at. The universe is a large place, and even many of the known objects are not well understood.

In other news, William the cat is improving over time. He was a little wild at first and is gradually becoming better adjusted. This is an excellent house for a cat, since there is space to run around, an old basement with crickets, and chipmunks, birds and rabbits to watch outside. The chipmunks seem to enjoy taunting him by standing right in front of him, separated only by a screen. He has a high level of energy which we hope will gradually subside.

The tomato crop turned out well, and we are at the point of giving them away. I've done more watering than ever before due to the lack of rain, but the absence of rain also meant a reduction in fungus, which has left the plants healthier than they usually are by now.

We continue to follow politics, but I'd rather not think about it. My unavoidable conclusion is that presidents are never up to the task, and in fact the U.S. seems to have had a series of mediocre presidents following FDR. Even in FDR's case there was a certain amount of luck involved in the sense that he held office during real crises that obviously required strong actions. In my opinion, if you exclude climate change and mass extinctions, there has been no serious disaster facing the U.S. since World War II, and, if anything, the greatest disaster since then has been American foreign policy. Arguably, China has produced the best leaders in recent years: Deng Xiaoping and now Xi Jinping. It is unfortunate that the whole world has become trapped in a vicious cycle of economic competition. A better solution may lie in the communist regimes that are willing to play the game for a while, rather than Europe and the U.S., where the current system originated. If you could take the corruption out of communism and improve the decision-making of its leaders, it might well provide a system of governance far more appropriate for mankind than the one in which we live today.

On my next post I'll be back to de Beauvoir.

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