Film Review:Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 30, 2008

Dear Steve & George,

What is Antares?

May 29, 2008

To head off the questions, since this falls under a speciality of mine, here is a little something about the choice of “Antares” for a middle name.

Tom and Elizabeth are holding in their tradition of giving middle names to their children that are the common names of stars. Their daughter’s middle name is Maia, which is a star in the Pleiades asterism of the constellation Taurus.

Antares is also called Alpha-Scorpii, which is to say it is the brightest star visible with the naked eye in the constellation Scorpius (please don’t leave messages about the boy not being a Scorpio …. this is astronomy, not astrology!)

Antares is normally pretty easy to find, if you know about where to look. It is a massive red star, well over 600 times the size of our own sun (if Antares replaced our sun, the Earth and Mars would both be inside the star; which is to say they would no longer exist). It is also a deep red color (making it a red supergiant). This coloration indicates that the star is relatively cool in external temperature compared to other stars.

I just consulted the star charts, and I’m not sure if this fits into Tom and E.’s thinking, but Antares is in opposition in a little less than three days (that is, the star is opposite the sun in the sky, meaning it is most easily and clearly observed). Just go out around dusk and look to the east …. Scorpius looks kind of like an upside -down or sideways question mark, with three dots instead of one. Check out:

Antares appears near the end of the question mark. Or, using your imagination, if the three dots at the end are the pincers of a scorpion, Antares would be the heart.

Which takes me to why I have always loved the name Antares. While the Greek name here is based on being opposed to the God of War Ares (anti-Ares), the Arab name is far cooler! Kalb al-Akrab: The Scorpion’s Heart! That’s as cool as astronomical names get; a giant red star, right where the heart of a scorpion should be.

Welcome: Howard Antares!

May 29, 2008

My very good friends, Tom and Elizabeth, have had some rough goes of it lately …. their pregnancy has not been the easiest. I am glad to see that there is some good news: they are parents again: Howard Antares was born yesterday, and despite arriving early by C-section was a hefty 9+ pounds! Mother and baby are both well, as is daddy and older sister.

Now that’s some great news!

TOUCHDOWN! (and the crowd goes wild!)

May 26, 2008


Looks like the planetary exploration team at the University of Arizona rolled a couple of sevens.  The Phoenix lander touched down on Mars, and all early signs are green!  While there have now been numerous landings on Mars, after several unsuccessful landings by many nations, this is the first successful landing in a polar region (the north pole) …… where there is ice ….. and maybe signs of former Martian life.  This looks to be an exciting development in exploration, and I cannot wait to see future data come rolling in.


For the record, while 480 million dollars is hardly pocket change, in the annals of space exploration, this is a drop in the bucket for what could prove to be so important a mission.

Falling Down

May 20, 2008

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a week in my life that had such nice little things happen, compounded with utterly worse news.

I guess I’ll start with the bad.

Less bad: it looks like that the federal mediator finally helped hammer out a contract for our school’s teacher’s union, after shenanigans on both sides that have caused a massive delay in the contract being done. We’ve had no contract all year. That sounds like good news. The bad news is it sounds like it isn’t going to be ratified by teachers. Their claim is that the pay raise is well below the current inflation rate (it is). I know that we have teachers who are living on pretty tight budgets, and have long commutes and the increase in food for young families and the rising cost of child day care, but I am sure that they are unaware of the years of bad faith and mistrust these job actions cause ….. in the end, they will get the money they want, they will lose part of the time they could have spent with their families (making up lost school time), they still will not have enough money, and all in the name of “taking a stand” that they can’t win. I’m grateful that I have a job that pays well with good benefits. I guess I am of the minority in this sinking economy.

Unsightly bad: My father recently completed detox after 2-3 years of my mom begging and pleading with him to stop drinking after about 10-12 years of sobriety. He took a weeks vacation, and detoxed. He then celebrated with drinking. My mom left him on Saturday. My sister and her fiance got him to sign a written promise to go to AA and get cleaned up. He signed, and mom came back.

Monday was his first AA meeting. He walked out after five minutes and celebrated by getting drunk. My mom stayed home only because my sister is currently stuck at home, and because she figured that my dad would be dead without a little care. He has reached the point of having seizures, and collapses when trying to stand. Last night, he dislocated a finger, and ended up cutting up his face pretty bad. My mom and sister dealt with him. Today he was driven reluctantly to the hospital, and has been checked in. The doctors are saying that he needs about a month of longterm recovery. We are hoping that he has hit bottom enough to realize that he has no more options. My mom is very emotionally fragile right now, but refuses help. My sister is also pretty frazzled and is staying strong. Had he not been hospitalized, I was going to visit him at work to say good-bye to him, because I wanted to make sure that he knew I wanted nothing to do with him until he was sober.

Oh yeah ….. some good stuff.

My seniors this year have been the best group have ever worked with. We are under two weeks until graduation, and about 90% of them are still working strong! They have great attitudes, and have done everything (as a group) that I have asked. Next week, they will take a national post test for my physics curriculum, and prove that this has been a good year. They are going to knock this out, and I am going to have a very warm summer as a result.

Yesterday, one of my classes presented me with a gift. They had t-shirts made with my face on one side, and several humorous quotes on the back (properly attributed to the speaker …. only some of which were me). I was touched …. and in the middle of the chaos, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Really modern mythology – Iron Man

May 9, 2008

Yes …. the family is not doing well, and my White Sox, despite taking 2-of-3 from the Twinkies are still unable to hit out of a paper bag. So for my sanity, I write on a topic I have been contemplating for some time, tied to a long awaited film I hope to see soon.

M. Night Shyamalan proposes, in his film Unbreakable, the fictitious premise that the heroes of mythology (Hercules, Gilgamesh, Jason, Hector, Ajax, etc) were more real than people think ….. that in fact the stories were exaggerated, but that there are people who walk the Earth, gifted of special super-human abilities, and that these people were the basis of the great mythological legends that were the basis of so much human culture.

Of course, in the modern world, these stories are not much more than bed time stories that occasionally interest your odd psychologist looking for archetypes in the supposed collective unconsciousness that some think we share.

Some believe (as was pointed out in Shyamalan’s film) that the super heroes of comic books have become the modern equivalent of heroes from mythology. Certainly, we have yet to find a temple to Aquaman anywhere, and I don’t see Batman requiring a yearly sacrifice of 20 virgins, but nonetheless, these stories, short of not always holding up the highest standards of the literati, are the stories that come the closest to mirroring the stories of King Arthur or of the Iliad.

In that sense, when you think about it, most superheroes share something with their ancient bretheren (and sisteren). That is, their powers were a gift (and/or a curse) that they had no choice in receiving …. the powers of the man of steel were gifted from his homeworld of Krypton …..Captain America ….gifted powers from a super soldier serum which he did not know the outcome of …… Peter Parker ….. gifted from the random bite of a radioactive spider ….. even Bruce Wayne’s plight was a curse on him by the murderer of his parents …. something he had no choice in witnessing as a child, and which left him scarred to go into the night to defend others from such an outcome.

Then there is Tony Stark.

Stark never got nothing from no one …… except the several billion dollar empire that (in some versions) were gifted from his father. You could also say that his tremendous creative and intellectual powers were a genetic gift from this parents, but that’s nothing superhuman …… Howard Hughes was rich and creative. He might have dressed up as a super hero, but no one would call him one.

Iron Man, Tony Stark’s alter identity is truly an unique hero for our times in that his superpowers are the most attainable: a combination of wealth and ingenuity. He cannot see through walls, but he can create a mechanism that will permit him to see infrared through walls. He cannot fly, but can create a machine that will permit him to. He has no super strength, but he has a suit of armor armed with enough missiles and other weapons that make up for the lack of strength.

Just think – from ancient mythology, was there ever a hero whose ability was his own ingenuity? One might say Archimedes ….. but he was real! One would find it amazing to see in the pantheon of some ancient religion a hero who owned the biggest home in the city-state, and who used only the power of his mind to build the needed mechanisms to hunt down evil.

Aside from his down-to-earth powers, one also sees a more modern source tale. All heroes in mythology have their “call to adventure” …. whether it is to eternally avenge the murder of their parents, or to fulfill an uncle’s dying admonition; to use “great power with great responsibility”; this is often an artificially or externally imposed call.

Tony Stark was a weapons manufacturer ….. a war profiteer ….. considering his original appearance was in the height of Vietnam, one was to wonder that his creators were taking a gamble in introducing such a character. One day, he sees the that his creations are being abused …. used for evil. Most playboys would call a news conference and announce new safety measures to control distribution, then go hit the beach with a few surf bunnies. Not Stark! He decides to take direct control of the situation. He isn’t hiring an army to go stop his weapons from being abused. He makes himself into that army. His calling his internal. He had hundreds of options at his disposal to solve this problem. He chose the oddest .. direct involvement to take fullest responsibility.

And thus a new hero is born …. one that more closely resembles a fictional Oskar Schindler …. a hero that does not represent “truth, justice, and the American way” …. not a green archetypal juggernaut who represents the dangers of unchecked science ….. but a hero representing ….

corporate responsibility???!!!

At the end of the day ….. we really would not want most superheroes around …. consider Superman …. a real Superman would be attacking the Capitol Building or White House and hauling out politicians by the giant net full as often as any real menace ….. while there are times we wish a vigilante batman would appear, we know deep down that vigilantes are always more trouble than they are worth. But a corporate billionaire taking on the responsibility that we wish every corporation would take on?

I guarantee that no myth system from any ancient culture ever had such a hero, and while we needn’t wish these corporate leaders would don suits of mechanized armor, they could take a lesson from this hero.

Mom & Dad

May 5, 2008

I received a call this evening …. not one of those calls you want to get.

Dad is in the hospital … alcohol rehab ….again. His drinking, after over a decade of sobriety, restarted some time ago ….. his job and his mother, my grandmother, dying horribly in front of him was likely a culprit.

To say the least, mom has been shielding me from much of it. I only found out today about the seizures and the injuries. To top it off, mom has now been diagnosed as a depressive, and is going on more medication.

Dad has demanded that no one communicate with him until he gets out. To be honest, I have no idea as to their actual conditions, because I can never be sure that mom (or dad) is being totally open with their conditions. I wish I could pass on more information, but this is all I have.