Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Signs and portents

I haven't been paying attention to the astronomy websites recently so it took Alex's mentioning it for me to realize that Jupiter is not only very bright in the sky right now but it's actually brighter than it has been since 1968. Checking a couple of astronomy websites just now I found that Jupiter will reach opposition tonight (September 21st) at midnight. "Opposition" is when an outer planet is closest to Earth. Jupiter comes into opposition with Earth about every 13 months (as Earth catches up with Jupiter since it goes around the Sun much quicker). This is an especially close opposition because Jupiter is just now getting toward the closest it ever comes to the Sun in it's oval orbit.

So, if you want to see Jupiter shining brighter than you will see it for a very long time, go out after 9:00 PM or so and look in the Southeastern sky anytime over the next few weeks. Because Jupiter is so far away it's brightness won't change very fast as it moves away from it's closest approach.

Keep this in perspective. Jupiter will seem to be a very bright star (brighter than anything else that's ever in the sky except the Sun, the Moon and Venus); but it will not be anywhere near as bright as the Moon. As an added treat, tomorrow (September 22nd) the full moon will be very close to Jupiter in the sky, and, as an added treat Uranus (I just learned at space.com) will be even closer to Jupiter than the Moon will be (just above it in the sky). If you have a good pair of binoculars this is one of the (very few) easy times to find Uranus since it's so close to Jupiter in the sky.

Enough of astronomy stuff. I have a lot of other stuff to write about our trip up to the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts this past weekend; but I'm typing this on our old home computer because my laptop is acting up and I'm not very patient when writing at this computer, so I'll just present the highlights:

We spent a good bit of time with Alex and Christina, of course. And we met an Indian fellow who is now an Australian. The Indian fellow wore a bad wig; but he was interesting because he's at Harvard right now finishing up his second Ph. D. in International Relations, specializing in the Law of War. I found it surprising that he seemed to be so lacking in technical knowledge about nuclear weapons technology even though nuclear proliferation is a big deal in International Relations, perhaps the biggest deal of all in the long run.

At church on Sunday with Alex and Christina we met a soon to be Harvard Professor of BioPhysics and his wife. If we hadn't talked to them I would have guessed them both to be high school students of perhaps college freshmen. Increasingly everybody under about forty looks like a child to me. They were really nice folks.

We stayed at a nice bed and breakfast place in Cambridge called the Bed and Muffin. Go figure, the place laid out a workable continental style breakfast; but surprisingly there were no muffins. It should perhaps more accurately be named the Bed and No Muffin.

If Seinfeld was still doing his show he could make a nice half hour comedy about that, and the Australian Indian fellow with the bad wig, and the stereotypical New England Liberal woman who was at the no muffin breakfast when we met him. To help us understand where in the world he was from he mentioned that we might have heard of Crocodile Dundee. She in her turn (or perhaps it was her husband) mentioned Rupert Murdoch after breathlessly relating that she thinks Sarah Palin may be becoming less popular with all but the Fox News set. I thought about mentioning that Linda and I watch Bill O'Reilly fairly regularly; but I didn't want to court the risk of having the woman drop dead of apoplexy.

After taking leave of Alex and Christina on Sunday afternoon we drove to western Massachusetts where we had a very nice walk around Stockbridge which is a very picturesque town that happens to have the tallest wood framed church steeple in New England, or so it claims. It was a pretty tall steeple, if a bit warped, on top of a very large United Church of Christ built in the 1880's. The church, all made of wood, badly needs scraping and painting. I'll bet that's going to be a very expensive job.

After staying at a Super 8 motel in Stockbridge, which did have muffins as part of it's continental breakfast, we headed off to tour Naum Keag, a large summer cottage built by a lawyer named Choate who led the successful fight against the first attempt to implement an Income Tax in the 1911 or so. According to the tour guide this Choate correctly predicted that the original Income Tax would be ruled unconstitutional and that a constitutional amendment would be necessary to implement an income tax. That amendment, the 19th was eventually passed and ratified in 1919 (I think). A valuable man. If it hadn't been for Choate and his holding back of the "progressive" tide, the country might well be ten more years advanced toward a state of utter perdition.

Choate built a modest little 49 room summer cottage with his law earnings. After he died his daughter spent the next forty or so years spending her inheritance on very nice gardens around it. An interesting place, sort of a time capsule of upper upper middle class life in the Gilded Age when the glitterati summered in the Berkshires to get away from the heat of the cities.

According to the tour guide, Choate's oldest son died of apoplexy when he was in his late teens. He was home from college for the summer and mentioned one evening at dinner that he had a headache. Fifteen minutes later he was dead. Choate's second son attended a couple of years of college and then went off his rocker and ended up institutionalized for the rest of his life. His oldest daughter died of some sort of intestinal problem in her late 20's.

Linda wonders if the maiden daughter, the tour guide called her Miss Mabel, poisoned her three older siblings to get the house. If so Miss Mabel missed on the youngest son, who lived to go on and have a law career himself, according to the tour guide. Maybe Miss Mabel could never get him to try her muffins.

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