Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why the rising star of Sarah Palin troubles us

This post is directed at fans of Sarah Palin (if there are any amongst my readers!). It may help you to understand why the rest of us are so appalled at her success. I've tried to think objectively about why I find her rising star disturbing.

It is not because she is "folksy", which I suspect is a big aspect of her appeal. Nor does it have anything to do with her being a working mom--many of us admire the ability to balance work and family. No, it is because of her overt incompetence and shallowness. After having just lived through the worst presidency of modern times, that of Geroge W. Bush, where decisions were made on a political basis without regard for competence ("heck of a job Brownie") and as if the world were black and white, it is disturbing that another politician with very limited knowledge and ideological blinders could gain such popularity. It is also disheartening to have such a polarizing figure rise in prominence now. Whatever you think of President Obama, he has made an effort to restore thoughtful dialogue to our national debates. We can disagree, but let us not disagree with the gleeful venom of Sarah Palin.

Whatever you think about Sarah Palin's politics, or her ability to raise children while working, or whatever you perceive as positive, please recognize that she is not fit to be President of the United States. I don't know if she really believes what she says, or she is just an opportunist, but the scariest thing is that her ambitions seem to greatly exceed her abilities.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Trip to Hawaii Big Island

I attended a conference in Hawaii held jointly by an American and a Japanese physics society. Where else are you going to hold it? It was an incredible trip. This post is about the stuff I did before, after and during breaks in the conference. Here's the list of places I went on the Big Island:

• Waipio valley
• Akaka falls
• Kiluea caldera & lava fields
• Inside the Keck observatory atop Mauna Kea
• Kohala waterfall hike
• Underwater in a sub near Kailua-Kona

I was staying in Waikaloa Village on the west coast of the Big Island. Here is a sunset from a restaurant there:

Here is a dolphin in their lagoon:

A colleague and I drove around the island past gorgeous Waipio valley,

stopped at Akaka falls, the tallest in Hawaii,

and Halema'uma'u crater (big circle) inside the Kiluea caldera (huge circle that goes beyond the edge of the photo):

The sulfur dioxide streaming up with the steam made the air quality poor, and several areas were shut down. Nothing grows in the caldera. Lava flows underneath it via a lava tube to the sea. We went on the lava field at night, and you can make out the lava in the distance (as close as one is allowed to go):

Then several of us took a trip to the top of Mauna Kea, which from sea floor to summit is the tallest mountain in the world. Here are the twin domes of the Keck observatory, the most powerful in the world. Their main mirrors are 10m (30ft) in diameter! (the mountain way in the distance is Haleakala on Maui)

We were honored to receive a tour from a friend of a friend of the inside. This is the secondary mirror of one of the telescopes. You can see the dome opening in the background.

The main mirror is hard to see. It is the honeycomb structure just to the left of the blue girders (the pipes which seem to be on it are actually a reflection):

Then I went on a waterfall hike (the water was cold!)

and finally a submarine trip off the coast of Kailua-Kona: