Tours on Kitt Peak
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Kitt Peak Solar Telescope

There are three set tours: at 10, 1130, and 130. We've seen the 130 (4m telescope) a couple times because we were too late for the others. This time we decided to see the first two.

That meant getting our act together for an early start. Kitt Peak is 45 miles from Green Valley, but through Tucson and then west on the Ajo highway. We allowed a couple hours. There was a border guard blockade who slowed all cars down to 15 mph. What could they hope to see at that speed? Did they have high-speed license plate scanners? I opened my eyes wide so that the guards could see they were blue ...

We made it to Kitt Peak with 10 minutes to spare for the first tour, the solar telescope. The guides on these tours are well informed and articulate, taking questions on anything from astronomy to quantum mechanics to nuclear chemistry. It made me wish I could remember my college science sources a little better. There's always one loudmouth amateur scientist in the crowd who tries to stump the guide. Sometimes it's me. The Solar telescope tour included a shielded look at the sun and its solar flares through a small conventional telescope.

It was windy. Very windy. Over 40 mph, which was enough to cancel that night's telescope program. Our picnic lunch was a bust -- we ate it in the car because of the high wind. A guide noted that it's often windy on Kitt Peak. I asked if tourists ever got blown over the edge. He said yes -- the record was one who got blown back to Green Valley in only two bounces, covering the 45 miles in 20 minutes.

Kurt looks at the sun
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Kitt Peak
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Kitt Peak

The main attraction in southern Arizona, for us, is Kitt Peak. No, we'd never heard of it before, either. It's a 7000' high mountain in the Tohono O'odham nation. At the top are located 26 observatories/telescopes. Daily, there are tours of three of the observatories -- always the same three.

There is a night observatory program by reservation, and all-night study. We've gone to the night observatory twice. Just as well we didn't try this time -- it was canceled for weather (high wind). For the observatory program, you stay on the mountain after closing time, get a box dinner, and view selected celestial objects through a 16" telescope with about 20 other people. It is remarkably cold on top of the mountain. Still, it's fun and worthwhile.

Kitt Peak
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Farewell to Arizona?
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Kitt Peak from Ajo Hwy
Some years ago my parents bought a house in the retirement community of Green Valley, Arizona. They would spend winters in Arizona, and we were invited to visit them there. I had my misgivings. A retirement home? It could be nice spending a week reading by the pool in January, but it didn't sound like it had much else to offer.

Our latest trip there, in mid April, may be the last. Over the years I found that the weather in southern Arizona during the winter was often not warm enough to lie by the pool. But we have found a number of places we've become genuinely fond of. I'll spend the next week or so showing some of them.
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Cartoons for Relucant Famulus
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Relucant Famulus 74 is now out -- on paper, anyway. Below are my illos this this issue. They go with "Kentuckiana VII" by Alfred Byrd. concerning the Civil War in Kentucky.

My apologies for the low quality of the thumbnails. Yes I know they're illegible -- you have to click on them to be able to read them. The originals are around 4000x3000 pixels. LJ seems to have a way to change the thumbnail focus, but I haven't been able to get it to work yet. I guess the trick is to bang the rocks together.

In the first illo, a confederate soldier burst into a house and expected to be fed. The lady of the house fed him a faceful of scalding water.



The article concerns itself with militias and home guards of both sides. But nobody ever asks the horses for their political views.

KE_famulus_2010-03b.gif

In another incident ... well, I think this one speaks for itself. Tom used it as the title piece for the article.

ke_famulus_2010-03c.gif
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Recent Theater: Working
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BGSU Working

Unless you’re a hardcore Broadway fan, you’ve probably never heard of Working, the musicalization of Studs Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. I don’t think it gets many productions, since the original production closed after 25 performances.

We saw it at Bowling Green State University. A good production — better than you’d expect for $12 general seating tickets in a small theater on a college campus. Spare scenery and props, which were appropriate for the style of show; a four-piece band, and a capable cast.

This is a show where the book is more interesting than the music. The songs are by Stephen Schwartz (the original adapter and director), Mary Rodgers, James Taylor, and three others. The songs are listenable late 70s soft rock; nothing too remarkable. That being the case, I have to wonder why this show is a musical. The vignettes hold together without the songs. The music may add some emotion, but not cohesion.

The book is a collection of vignettes about working people, from the managerial to the menial. They are by turns poignant or humorous; Terkel’s original title exactly sums them up. Despite the show’s short initial run in 1978, it had enough of a following to gain a PBS production in 1982. That production added several new songs and added/deleted some vignettes reflecting the changing workforce. For example, the stories include cubicle drones and a telephone solicitor, while deleting the paperboy and typewriter. The car-park attendant, the program pamphlet added, has been in and out of various productions; at Bowling Green he was in. Some stories seem even more current than 1982 — notably the young college graduate who is super-keen on making a quick buck in financial markets (and to hell with the rest of the world). There was also a post 9/11 solider that was clearly a recent addition; not sure if the addition was Schwartz’s or added locally.

The ironworker who opens and closes the show was a standout. A Joe Lunchbox character with a surprisingly strong voice — brought to mind the surprising Stevedore with the operatic voice at the start of On the Town.

Working brings to mind one other musical: Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. Both include vignettes of the lives of ordinary, if archetypical, working people. The difference is that Blitzstein’s show came with a pointed political message.

A widowed retiree is depicted as a man with a shallow and empty existence. Somewhat stereotypical; I guess you can justify the depiction on the grounds that once you’re retired, this is what you can become if you don’t make an effort to be active and involved. I have to think this character led a similarly shallow life before retirement, though. In any case, his dramatic role is to say, “You think your job is awful? Look at the alternative!”

The jobs portrayed in Bowling Green: CEO, school teacher, market checker, bagboy, migrant workers, meter man, housewife, prostitute, political fundraiser, mill worker, mason, trucker, operator, receptionist, phone solicitor, waitress (with a production number that was the best musical piece in the show), retiree, fireman, soldier, cleaning woman.

Voltaire’s conclusion at the end of Candide was “Work then without disputing … it is the only way to render life supportable.” Another famous conclusion holds that Arbeit Macht Frei. The Terkel/Schwartz musical leans toward that conclusion,  recognizing work as an inevitable reality. The character that’s missing is Scrooge McDuck.

A local review: http://www.sent-trib.com/trib/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12692:bgsu-theatre-production-of-qworkingq-opens-tonight-&catid=55:arts&Itemid=144

 


Terra Cotta Warriors
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I recently spent a couple days in Washington, DC, attending two concurrent conferences. That kept me pretty busy, between workshops, receptions, and meetings on the Hill. But there’s always worthwhile sightseeing to do; the Smithsonian, which is endless, if nothing else.

On Wednesday the 24th of February, I managed a brief tour of part of the new National Museum of the American Indian near Capitol Hill. Not my first choice, but my traveling companion was tired of walking, and everything at the Smithsonian is interesting. We had less than an hour before needing to go to the airport. We restricted ourselves to the 4th floor, which featured historical exhibits of many Native American peoples. The emphasis is telling the story of Indians — apparently “Native American” isn’t quite as politically correct as it once was — from their own point of view. Here I can conveniently drop back into my own detached Schleswig-Holstein heritage — my paternal grandfather didn't come to this continent until 1905 — and safely view the conflict between Europeans and Indians in the third person.

Terra_Cotta_Warrior

But what I wanted to talk about …

Was at the National Geographic Museum. About eight blocks from the hotel, there was no way I could pass up the exhibit of Terra Cotta Warriors from the Qin dynasty. I’ll refer you to the website for details, but you may recall that thousands of life-sized terra cotta statues were unearthed in the 1970s near the tomb of an early Chinese emperor. To date, the whole site has not been excavated.

The exhibit was not large, consisting of perhaps 20 diverse and well-selected statues. The exhibit took about 90 minutes. Recognizing that most of us Americans know little of Chinese history or culture, much of the exhibit provided background, details, and artifacts of the period. Well worth seeing. It’s just the sort of thing to remind you why we have a capital city. Exhibits like this never get anywhere near Toledo.

In the gift shop: I passed up the $50 coffee table exhibit book for a thin picture book that covered pretty much the entire exhibit, with additional text. And also: a British Museum handbook and timeline on the Chinese dynasties — for one who doesn’t know Ming from Han.

 

The National Geographic website has a good video about the exhibit: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/terracottawarriors/.

 

 

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T Rex Cookies
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T Rex Cookies


When I made T. rex cookies for New Years, naturally the household dinosaurs had to come out and investigate.
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What do you REALLY want for Christmas? - Part 1
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Happy holidays to all -- our card is in the next three posts. You can download the whole thing from my website.


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What do you REALLY want for Christmas? - Part 2
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What do you REALLY want for Christmas? - Part 3
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Happy holidays, all. Some of you are also getting the card on paper, the black and white version. This year there's a slight difference in the artwork.
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