May 5th, 2006

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Good Morning!!

It is an eight finger day. No thumbs are needed to count the remaining days, and in three hours,  only seven fingers will rise for the count. Yay!!

I seem to be obsessed with William Stafford right now, and I think if one is to be obsessed,  he is the one.

I am using these words of his to rationalize again putting an editorial from the NY times here, another one on Bush ignoring the constitution. We need to stay aware.

William Stafford wrote on July 31, 1985

Our world is a deluge of news. "Information" drowns us, and what we need to know or to keep in mind gets lost, not through repression by authority but by our own inability to sort out what comes at us, and to link parts to their pattern of significance.

Some news ought to be repeated, reminded, headlined often; and just as a truck backing up on a job has a repeating horn, so an alarm needs to sound - not that it's news when a truck backs up, but  that it continues to be a danger when it does so.

So, here it is.  The New York Times speaks again. 
Veto? Who Needs a Veto?

Published: May 5, 2006

One of the abiding curiosities of the Bush administration is that after more than five years in office, the president has yet to issue a veto. No one since Thomas Jefferson has stayed in the White House this long without rejecting a single act of Congress. Some people attribute this to the Republicans' control of the House and the Senate, and others to Mr. Bush's reluctance to expend political capital on anything but tax cuts for the wealthy and the war in Iraq. Now, thanks to a recent article in The Boston Globe, we have a better answer.

President Bush doesn't bother with vetoes; he simply declares his intention not to enforce anything he dislikes. Charlie Savage at The Globe reported recently that Mr. Bush had issued more than 750 "presidential signing statements" declaring he wouldn't do what the laws required. Perhaps the most infamous was the one in which he stated that he did not really feel bound by the Congressional ban on the torture of prisoners.

In this area, as in so many others, Mr. Bush has decided not to take the open, forthright constitutional path. He signed some of the laws in question with great fanfare, then quietly registered his intention to ignore them. He placed his imperial vision of the presidency over the will of America's elected lawmakers. And as usual, the Republican majority in Congress simply looked the other way.

Many of the signing statements reject efforts to curb Mr. Bush's out-of-control sense of his powers in combating terrorism. In March, after frequent pious declarations of his commitment to protecting civil liberties, Mr. Bush issued a signing statement that said he would not obey a new law requiring the Justice Department to report on how the F.B.I. is using the Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers if he decided that such reporting could impair national security or executive branch operations.

In another case, the president said he would not instruct the military to follow a law barring it from storing illegally obtained intelligence about Americans. Now we know, of course, that Mr. Bush had already authorized the National Security Agency, which is run by the Pentagon, to violate the law by eavesdropping on Americans' conversations and reading Americans' e-mail without getting warrants.

We know from this sort of bitter experience that the president is not simply expressing philosophical reservations about how a particular law may affect the war on terror. The signing statements are not even all about national security. Mr. Bush is not willing to enforce a law protecting employees of nuclear-related agencies if they report misdeeds to Congress. In another case, he said he would not turn over scientific information "uncensored and without delay" when Congress needed it. (Remember the altered environmental reports?)

Mr. Bush also demurred from following a law forbidding the Defense Department to censor the legal advice of military lawyers. (Remember the ones who objected to the torture-is-legal policy?) Instead, his signing statement said military lawyers are bound to agree with political appointees at the Justice Department and the Pentagon.

The founding fathers never conceived of anything like a signing statement. The idea was cooked up by Edwin Meese III, when he was the attorney general for Ronald Reagan, to expand presidential powers. He was helped by a young lawyer who was a true believer in the unitary presidency, a euphemism for an autocratic executive branch that ignores Congress and the courts. Unhappily, that lawyer, Samuel Alito Jr., is now on the Supreme Court.

Since the Reagan era, other presidents have issued signing statements to explain how they interpreted a law for the purpose of enforcing it, or to register narrow constitutional concerns. But none have done it as profligately as Mr. Bush. (His father issued about 232 in four years, and Bill Clinton 140 in eight years.) And none have used it so clearly to make the president the interpreter of a law's intent, instead of Congress, and the arbiter of constitutionality, instead of the courts.

Like many of Mr. Bush's other imperial excesses, this one serves no legitimate purpose. Congress is run by a solid and iron-fisted Republican majority. And there is actually a system for the president to object to a law: he vetoes it, and Congress then has a chance to override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

That process was good enough for 42 other presidents. But it has the disadvantage of leaving the chief executive bound by his oath of office to abide by the result. This president seems determined not to play by any rules other than the ones of his own making. And that includes the Constitution.
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Cinco de Mayo!!

It is a day to celebrate!! From

The holiday of Cinco De Mayo, The 5th Of May, commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862. It is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the Mexican state capital city of Puebla and throughout the state of Puebla, with some recognition in other parts of the Mexico, and especially in U.S. cities with a significant Mexican population. It is not, as many people think, Mexico's Independence Day, which is actually September 16.

I think we should all celebrate with Margaritas and tortillas. It works for me!
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More celebrating!! Stardust Day!!

Stardust Memories

Op-ed article in the NY Times today -
Published: May 5, 2006

Forum: Space and the Cosmos

HOW often do we get to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of anything? Younger readers may live to mark the millennium of the Battle of Hastings on Oct. 14, 2066, but surely none of us will be around on June 15, 2215, to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of King John placing his seal on the document that became the Magna Carta.

This week, however, marks the millennium of a significant event for astronomers. On May 1, 1006, a new star suddenly appeared in the southern constellation Lupus, the wolf. Within a few days it brightened and became what was probably the brightest star ever witnessed in recorded human history — an event that astronomers today recognize as a supernova, the cataclysmic explosion that marks the death of a massive star.

The true cause of such celestial events was not clear in 1006, and their interpretation was the province of court astronomers, who served as astrologers as well. One of these was Zhou Keming, who wisely declared that the star's brilliance and golden color were portents of good fortune for the land where it appears — and received a promotion from the Chinese emperor.

Observers throughout the world recorded this dramatic event. In the Middle East and Africa, astronomers in Antioch, Alexandria, Cairo and Baghdad compared it with Venus, and even with the Moon, in brightness.

At the Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland, where the star could barely be seen over the southern Alpine horizon, chroniclers nevertheless described it as the most significant event of the year: "a star of unusual magnitude, shimmering the extreme south, beyond all the constellations." And the Japanese poet Fujiwara Teika two centuries later celebrated the fame of the "great guest star" in his "Diary of the Clear Moon."

Aided by historical records, modern astronomers have identified what remains of the 1006 supernova today — a faint shell of gas about 7,000 light-years away. While we cannot be certain just how bright it appeared 1,000 years ago, opinion is virtually unanimous that no other star in recorded history was as bright.

Readers with reasonably dark skies can get an idea of how bright the star would have appeared in 1006 by a simple comparison. The brightest object (after the Moon) in the current evening sky is the planet Jupiter, low in the southeast. Just below it, by about the width of a finger held at arm's length, is a relatively faint star. At its brightest, the 1006 supernova would have been as much brighter than Jupiter as Jupiter is compared with that faint star.

It would have been bright enough to read by (for those few who could read in the 11th century) and could be seen even in daytime for weeks. Like all supernovae, it gradually faded, but remained visible for at least two and a half years, according to Chinese records.

Certainly these are rare events; the most recent in our own Milky Way galaxy to have been unquestionably visible to the naked eye was in 1604, just five years before Galileo first trained his telescope on the heavens. The only supernova since 1604 bright enough to be seen without a telescope was one visible to observers in the Southern Hemisphere in February 1987. It occurred not in the Milky Way, however, but about 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, our nearest neighbor galaxy.

Humans have particular reason to celebrate this anniversary. Within a supernova's fires of destruction are forged chemical elements that may eventually be incorporated into new stars, and planets and their inhabitants. Us, for instance. Most of the atoms in our bodies — the oxygen we breathe, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our hemoglobin — all stem from supernovae that occurred billions of years ago. And so, on the 1,000th anniversary of this stellar event, you might take a moment to get in touch with your cosmic roots and reflect that we are, in a very real sense, children of the stars.

Frank Winkler is a professor of physics at Middlebury College.
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thoughts -

I return home between radiation and horses, so I am less tired than I was last week. I want to be fresh for the experience.

I open the windows so the plants can see in. I love how they peer in at me. They seem especially curious this morning. I gave them an extra dose of water, as I can tell they like me to water them personally rather than using the automatic sprinkler system. I understand. Imagine if the machine could set me up for radiation, instead of having two people checking and re-checking to make sure all is right. Twice, they put a rubber bib on me, and tuck it under my chin. It is very sweet.

Today, felt a bit odd, as I now have only one more of the "big guys." I found myself lying there, remembering this journey that began last September. Now, I soon return to "normal." What does that mean? Was all of this normal? Can I stay present now to my moods and needs? Will I know, and say when I feel tired without the excuse of chemo and radiation?

When I was in chemo, Steve and I stopped going to movies and public venues where I would be exposed to germs. We didn't really change that when chemo ended. There was nothing to tell us now it is okay to be out with the sneezers and coughers. Now, I sit with that. In 11 days from this moment, I am "free." I can get on an airplane and fly. How odd. I feel excitement, and, also, a feeling that such an experience is totally new. I feel I have never flown before, and, it is true. I have never flown as I am now. I notice I am sitting straighter today. Possibility is beginning to brew in me.

Emily Dickinson wrote, "The possible's slow fuse is lit, by the imagination. "

My imagination, like my hair, is coming back to life.

All, in radiation world, think I no longer need a hat, so I am considering unveiling at the stable today, though it is so cold right now, I may need a hat for warmth, and, if not that, for sun. It is amazing what hair does. It is so useful, just like eyelashes and eyebrows. I am so happy to have mine back.

Pause now, and tap your head and hair with Love Pats!! Tap! Tap! Say thank you each day.

Today, when Kirk fed the fish at radiation, he pointed out that the shark has lost one of his dorsal fins. He can only swim to the left now. Maybe that is an omen for the next election. We don't know what happened. He is a shark and the other fish in the tank are prey. He should be the strong one. What happens in the night? The lights are on an automatic timer and they go out at night. Hmmmm!

I remember when we spent the night in the Monterey Bay aquarium. It was fascinating to see the fish at play when the people are not there staring in. The octopus came to life. He no longer felt the need to be what we expect an octopus to be, a rather silent player in the aquarium world. But, at night, well, just imagine what you would do with all those arms in the privacy of the night sea.

I read today about the amazing John Cage's musical creation in Halberstadt, Germany. I excerpt from an article by Oliver Hartung in the NY Times.

HALBERSTADT, Germany, May 4 — If you miss Friday's musical happening at St. Burchardi Church in this eastern German town, no worries. There is always 2008. And the next year. And the one after that.

"It doesn't sound like Beethoven," said Rainer Neugebauer, a member of the foundation behind the performance, scheduled to last 639 years.

In fact, you have about six more centuries to hear developments in the work being performed, a version of a composition by John Cage called "As Slow as Possible." A group of musicians and town boosters has given the title a ridiculously extreme interpretation, by stretching the performance to 639 years.

Like the imperceptible movement of a glacier, a chord change was planned for Friday. Two pipes were to be removed from the rudimentary organ (which is being built as the piece goes on, with pipes added and subtracted as needed), eliminating a pair of E's. Cage devotees, musicians and the curious have trickled in to Halberstadt, a town about two and a half hours southwest of Berlin by train known as the birthplace of canned hot dogs and home to a collection of 18,000 stuffed birds.

"In these times, acceleration spoils everything," said Heinz-Klaus Metzger, a prominent musicologist whose chance comments at an organ conference nine years ago sparked the project. "To begin a performance with the perspective of more than a half-millennium — it's just a kind of negation of the lifestyle of today."

The only limitations on the length of the performance are the durability of the organ and the will of future generations.

For anyone keeping records, the performance is probably already the world's longest, even though it has barely begun. The organ's bellows began their whoosh on Sept. 5, 2001, on what would have been Cage's 89th birthday. But nothing was heard because the musical arrangement begins with a rest — of 20 months. It was only on Feb. 5, 2003, that the first chord, two G sharps and a B in between, was struck. Notes are sounding or ceasing once or twice a year — sometimes at even longer intervals — always on the fifth day of the month, to honor Cage, who died in 1992.

There are eight movements, and Cage specified that at least one be repeated. Each movement lasts roughly 71 years, just four years shy of the life expectancy of the average German male. There is no need to wait for the end of a movement for late seating: St. Burchardi is open six days a week, and the notes have been sounding continuously.

A whine can be faintly hard outside the front door of the church, a 1,000-year-old building that was once part of a Cistercian monastery and served as a pigsty when Halberstadt was a neglected industrial town in East Germany.

A cool blast of air comes through the open door, and the sound grows louder. After one spends some time within the bare stone walls, the urge to hum in unison proves irresistible. An electric bellows — about the size of three double beds in a row — sits in the left transept. Underground piping brings air to the organ in the right transept, which at this point is a wooden frame with six pipes. Small weights hold down wooden tabs: the keys. A plexiglass case muffles the sound. Neighbors complained that they could not sleep after the first notes sounded.

The place attracts people seeking a peaceful moment or communion with Cage's spirit. One student from the Juilliard School asked to spend a night in the church, said Georg Bandarau, the town's marketing director and manager of the Cage project. A Canadian writer who is going blind and making journeys to experience his other senses arrived Thursday.

The project's spirit is firmly in keeping with the proclivities of Cage, whose works pushed the boundaries of music and sought to meld life and art. One of his cardinal principles was to give the performer wide leeway. His most famous work may be "4' 33" " — in which the performer or performers sit silently for 4 minutes 33 seconds. Some consider him as much a philosopher as a musician.

Indeed, the Cage organ project is part serious musical endeavor, part intellectual exercise and part tourist attraction, the sort of thing that happens when the local worthies of a European town join with ambitious artists. And it has come to mean different things to different people.

The article continues with different opinions and responses to the project.

William Stafford wrote on December 28, 1986, "Which country will the U.S. invade this year?"

I read that Americans are sicker than we should be. I think it is challenging health-wise to live in a country that proclaims itself saintly, and then, does so many "bad" things. I think the conflict is hard on us. We, my family, continue to look at places we might move, but this is home, and I don't believe in running away, and yet, I do feel sorrow and pain, on what is done with my tax dollars, on what is done in my name.

I know I need to live in a way of acceptance, appeasement, and movement toward soft change, while also accepting that all is fine as it is. In Rosen, each person we come to, each person who comes to us, is "perfect." There is nothing wrong with them, and maybe there might be room for more breath, aliveness, consciousness, touch. It is like that, I suppose. I come to this country I love with ever more love, even as I hope to open up windows so I can see more, and more can see in, like my beloved plant friends. May I peer out and allow peering in, and may we breathe together in rhythms and harmonies of peace. May this be so! We have time. John Cage tells us so. Breathe! Appease!
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Perks -

The mass media was not interested in covering Stephen Colbert's lambasting of Bush and them, for being little chickadees hiding in trees, not that chickadees hide, but this column gives me hope that the media are still paying attention. I do not understand why PG&E executive needs a private jet. My electric pole has been seriously leaning for years, and yet, there seems to be no hurry on fixing that. Surely they can plan far enough ahead to get to the next big golf game and fly commercial. They can do that for the Super Bowl too.

Executives at PG&E hoping to fly in style
David Lazarus

Friday, May 5, 2006

PG&E wants a new plane for its execs to fly around in. And the San Francisco utility wants you to pay for it.

The $25 million purchase is buried deep within mounds of paperwork submitted by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to state regulators for what it intends to charge customers over the next few years.

PG&E says it needs a new aircraft by early next year because its current plane, a Dornier 328 turboprop, is becoming more difficult to maintain. At $25 million, the new aircraft will almost certainly be a jet, but the utility hasn't yet specified.

"The primary purpose of the aircraft is to provide transportation for personnel within the PG&E service area and such other destinations as necessary to meet utility objectives," PG&E informed regulators.

It also said the new plane will help meet federal requirements for officials of PG&E's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to be where they're supposed to be in the event of an emergency.

"The aircraft must be replaced for reasons of safety, reliability and increasing cost of parts and service," the utility explained.

It said the plane's manufacturer "is no longer in business," and that this means "the ability to procure spare parts and required maintenance services is declining, becoming costly, and will not exist in the future."

The California Public Utilities Commission was scheduled to hold hearings in San Luis Obispo on Thursday to hear reactions to PG&E's proposed rate increase, which would raise the typical residential customer's monthly bill by about a dollar. A final decision on the increase is expected by the end of the year.

John Nelson, a PG&E spokesman, said the utility's 32-seat Dornier 328, which is based in Oakland, is far from the epitome of a plush corporate aircraft -- not least because it has propellers rather than jets.

"Comfort is not a word that leaps to mind," he said of flying in PG&E's plane.

What word does?


The Dornier 328 was originally manufactured in Germany by Fairchild Dornier. The aircraft, designed for regional flights, has been in use worldwide since 1991.

PG&E is technically correct when it says the manufacturer of the Dornier 328 is no longer in business. Fairchild Dornier filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and subsequently sold its 328 program to AvCraft Aviation of Virginia.

Responsibility for servicing the aircraft was given to AvCraft Aerospace, a German subsidiary of the Virginia company. It filed for bankruptcy last year.

But service for Dornier 328s is still readily available. A European company, 328 Support Services, has acquired AvCraft Aerospace's resources and continues to provide both maintenance and spare parts.

In the United States, a South Carolina company called AvCraft Support Services, which was formerly affiliated with AvCraft Aviation, also offers support and maintenance for the estimated 125 Dornier planes still in use around the world.

Mike Hill, general manager of AvCraft Support Services, described PG&E's regulatory filing as "not the entire truth."

"I've got six 328s undergoing repairs right now," he told me. "I see plenty of people who are buying these planes and putting them back in service.

"To say that there's no support for this aircraft and no spare parts, that's stretching it a bit," Hill said. "I've got a hangar full of activity."

He said the vast majority of parts for the Dornier 328 are nonproprietary and can be obtained from a variety of manufacturers. He also said service for the aircraft likely will be offered for many years to come.

"These aircraft were designed to fly well in excess of 50,000 hours," Hill said. "If you take care of them, the 328s can have long lives. These things can last 30 or 40 years, no problem."

PG&E's Nelson said the utility's Dornier has flown just 5,280 hours and made 6,843 landings since it was manufactured in 1994. Federal Aviation Administration records show that the plane went into service in November of that year.

Nelson said the utility didn't intend to mislead regulators by depicting its plane as being all but unable to secure parts and service.

"The language isn't meant to imply that there's no parts or service at any price," he said. "We just believe it makes more business sense to replace the aircraft."

In its filing, PG&E broadly described its need for an aircraft that can fly "within PG&E's service area and (to) such other destinations as necessary to meet utility objectives."

What might such other destinations be? One example was offered on Jan. 26, 2003. On that day, a Sunday, PG&E used its Dornier 328 to fly some of its top execs and a dozen business partners to the Super Bowl in San Diego.

A utility spokesman told me at the time that this was an example of "customer-relationship management." PG&E says shareholders reimburse the utility any time the plane is used for such purposes.

In any case, it's clear that PG&E wants its execs and business partners to travel in greater style and comfort. So what kind of ride will $25 million get you?

Jay Mesinger, whose Colorado firm is one of the nation's leading brokers of corporate aircraft sales, said PG&E obviously didn't just pull that figure out of the air. He said $25 million is the going price for several of the most common corporate jets on the market.

Most likely, Mesinger speculated, PG&E is looking at the Bombardier Challenger 605, which seats five to 12 passengers; the Dassault Falcon 2000EX, which seats eight; or the Embraer Legacy 600, which seats 10.

The Web sites for each of these planes show spacious cabins with wide leather seats, thick carpets and wood trim.

"You're going to be very comfortable," Mesinger said. "You're going to be in the most comfortable, safe and efficient ride that there is."

Would a chief exec ever go back to flying commercial once he gets a taste of a private jet?

Mesinger laughed. "Not if he can help it."
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Ripple, and feel the tides -

Titan, one of Saturn's moons has dunes, rippling dunes, and scientists don't know what they are made of. The dunes are evidence of winds and tides generated by the gravity of Saturn. This is exciting news!

Here are some excerpts from the article by David Perlman, the SF Chronicle Science Editor.

Scientists have puzzled over the startling features they've found on Titan ever since the European Space Agency's Huygens probe parachuted to a safe landing on the moon's dark orange surface last year.

The Huygens probe's brief life on Titan's surface -- and the powerful cameras and radar eyes aboard the Cassini spacecraft far above -- have revealed persistent rainfalls of liquid methane; flash floods of organic compounds filling rivers, creeks and drainage channels; eroding rocks of water ice; a porous, crusty surface; and hills of unknown composition rising above the shorelines of what may be vast basins of methane.

But now the Cassini-Huygens science team is baffled by the latest discovery on Titan by radar astronomers: the rippling dunes that at the very least provide unambiguous evidence that gentle winds are blowing steadily across the satellite's surface while tides generated by the gravity of its parent planet Saturn are also molding the surface.

The radar images gathered during Cassini's recent flights past the planet's enigmatic moon reveal wind-blown dune fields hundreds of yards wide and more than 1,000 miles long -- most of them near Titan's equator.

The images show clear evidence that the parallel rows upon rows of dunes bend around small mountains and rock formations as they drift across the moon's equatorial surface from northeast to southwest -- in the same way sand dunes on Earth's deserts bend around obstacles in their path.

The ridges of the dunes, according to the radar data, may be up to 150 yards high, and have a striking resemblance to the parallel dunes of sand that cover vast desert areas of Namibia, the Sahara and the fabled Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, of Saudi Arabia.

Although the Huygens probe encountered winds up to 250 mph as it descended for 700 miles in free fall from its berth aboard Cassini, as it neared Titan's surface its parachute deployed and the probe drifted gently under a breeze no greater than 1 mph as it neared the surface.

That same gentle wind speed is what appears to be forming the dunes of Titan, according to Lorenz and his colleagues, and from their radar data they infer that the dunes have actually circumnavigated the moon's surface many times during the billions of years since Saturn and its dozens of moons first formed.

"The morphology of these beautiful features, familiar to us from terrestrial arid regions, is a comforting sign that even though the environment and working materials on Titan are exotic, the physical processes that shape Titan's surface can be understood and studied here on Earth," Lorenz and his colleagues wrote in their Science report.

Other scientists on the Cassini-Huygens mission were equally impressed.

"It shows again and again that Titan is not at all what we'd thought it would be," said Christopher McKay, an astrophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View who recently returned from studying a vast dune field in North Africa's Sahara Desert in order to compare them to dunes known to exist on Mars.

"When Huygens was built," McKay said Thursday, "it was built like a boat to float on a Titan sea, but now we have a desert, and what we'd thought would be a surface of gooey organic stuff now turns out to be dry and wind-blown. It's a real surprise."

To Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team and senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., the discovery of Titan's dunes "is one of the most spectacular things that's been discovered in the Saturn system."

"It's telling us that the surface winds are blowing consistently, that tides are a significant influence, and that the dune material has to be really dry -- although we'll still be struggling to learn just what it's made of. "We still have a major puzzle about its composition, although it all looks so magical, and so much like the deserts here on Earth."