Monthly Archives: December 2010

Kay Ryan

After Zeno (1965)
For my father
by Kay Ryan

When he was
I was.
But I still am
and he is still.

Where is is
when is is was?
I have an is
but where is his?

Now here—
no where:
such a little
fatal pause.

There’s no sense
in past tense.

Editorial: Continuation of a theme.

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Bertolt Brecht

How Fortunate the Man with None
by Bertolt Brecht

You saw sagacious Solomon
You know what came of him,
To him complexities seemed plain.
He cursed the hour that gave birth to him
And saw that everything was vain.
How great and wise was Solomon.
The world however did not wait
But soon observed what followed on.
It’s wisdom that had brought him to this state.
How fortunate the man with none.

You saw courageous Caesar next
You know what he became.
They deified him in his life
Then had him murdered just the same.
And as they raised the fatal knife
How loud he cried: you too my son!
The world however did not wait
But soon observed what followed on.
It’s courage that had brought him to that state.
How fortunate the man with none.

You heard of honest Socrates
The man who never lied:
They weren’t so grateful as you’d think
Instead the rulers fixed to have him tried
And handed him the poisoned drink.
How honest was the people’s noble son.
The world however did not wait
But soon observed what followed on.
It’s honesty that brought him to that state.
How fortunate the man with none.

Here you can see respectable folk
Keeping to God’s own laws.
So far he hasn’t taken heed.
You who sit safe and warm indoors
Help to relieve our bitter need.
How virtuously we had begun.
The world however did not wait
But soon observed what followed on.
It’s fear of god that brought us to that state.
How fortunate the man with none.

from Mother Courage and Her Children (1939)

Editorial: Enjoy this as spoken verse.

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Fernando Botero

Still Life with Watermelon (1974)
The University of Texas at Austin, College of Fine Arts
oil on canvas

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Hatem Omar

A Palestinian man gestures, as smokes is seen from a burning building after an Israeli missile strike in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008. (AP Photo/Hatem Omar). Source here.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Deposition (1602-1604)
Vatican, Pinacoteca
oil on canvas

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eMailing with NASA

Editorial: I recently had this eMail exchange with a Junior ESA/Hubble Public Information Officer from the NASA Education and Public Outreach Department.  This fine officer (‘OU’) has renewed my belief in spending tax dollars on space research if only to keep our infinitesimal brains slightly open to the notion that our dear earth is but a speck of dust floating across an infinite sea.  Go, NASA, go.
—————————————————————–
Dear OU,

I just read and thoroughly enjoyed “A Snowstorm of Distant Galaxies” at this website: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1017a/

It says in the last line of the article that “the field of view of the image is about 3 arcminutes across”.  Can you give me some idea how wide or how narrow a field of view this might be when I’m looking up at the night sky?  For example, does this entire image occupy a tiny portion of the night sky?  To the naked eye does this snowstorm appear as many stars or perhaps less?  In short, I have no point of reference for what an arcminute might be.

Thank you,
CG
New York City
—————————————————————–
Hi CG

Good question!

It’s pretty narrow – the full Moon is about 30 arcminutes across, so if you imagine a square about a tenth of the width and height of the Moon, that’s roughly what’s covered here. What you see in this picture is also very faint (hence the exposure times of 67 and 33 minutes through the different filters) – so it wouldn’t actually be visible as anything at all with the naked eye.

All the best,
OU
München, Germany
—————————————————————–
Hello, OU,

Thank you so much for answering my question. It’s awesome to think that such a tiny piece of the sky can be so full and active and meaningful.

Can I pester you with one more question?  I’ve been looking at the image with my 6-year old daughter and we want to know how NASA even knows which tiny patch of blackness to study?  Meaning, if you are telling us that this little piece of the sky is too faint to see with the naked eye (such that it requires long exposure times), how do you know to point the cameras in that direction (versus all the other tiny black corners of the night sky)?  The size and scale seems overwhelming…

Thanks again,
CG
New York City
—————————————————————–
Hi CG

To a large extent, it’s building on the work of other telescopes. The night sky is not a complete mystery – there are detailed maps of the sky that mean astronomers have a fair idea of what they’re likely to see when we point Hubble in any given direction. (Indeed – when astronomers apply for observing time, they have to say what they’re hoping to observe, and why).

There are a couple of special cases when Hubble has deliberately been pointed at the unknown, though. This picture, for example: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0406a/ (which is also 3 arcminutes across – it’s the standard size of image taken by Hubble’s main camera), was taken deliberately in a completely dark bit of sky with an extremely long exposure (about 280 hours), just to see what it would reveal. Because there was nothing bright there to outshine the very faint, distant galaxies, this spot has given us the deepest view of the cosmos ever.

You’re absolutely right about the sky being an overwhelming size – observing time on Hubble and other major observatories is hugely oversubscribed, and so has to be rationed as a result. There’s no way Hubble could ever study the whole sky in that level of detail.

All the best,
OU
München, Germany

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Dan Chiasson

Father and Son
by Dan Chiasson

Only much later did they see, the two of them,
that, never knowing one another, there was nothing

not to know; that not being to begin with meant
those later, more drastic negations negated nothing;

this was to be the poignant part of it. The nothing
nevertheless would someday end; and the wish–

he wished it in a priory, he wished it in a mall–
was that the ending to this nothing might be,

if not an event, at least not a non-event.
Which, in the end, when it happened, it wasn’t.

November 15, 2010, The New Yorker

Editorial: This…blows…my…mind…for reasons quite meaningful to me.

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