The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The rain in Spain ...

was mainly less than 2 inches, although 3.30 inches fell in the plain at Cordoba.
[From the Tropical Cyclone Report on Hurrican Vince, the first recorded tropical cyclone to hit Iberia]

Thursday, February 09, 2006


You've got to hand it to the Rabbis who divided up the Torah into weekly portions and the portions into aliyot. They really understood dramatic tension; how to keep the customers coming back for more. The classic example is the end of Mikeitz, where Yoseph sends his brothers back home without Binyamin. Cue ominous music. Roll closing credits. Make sure to tune in next week! But, really, for most of the first season-and-a-half ("Beginnings" and "Names"), there's hardly an episode that doesn't end without some dramatic tension or foreshadowing.

Take the second season so far:

Episode 1: Names
Moshe, having seen his first attempt to extract his people from slavery, only to have things go from bad worse, complains to G-d that this wasn't what he signed up for. G-d responds: Just watch me!

Episode 2: Revelation
Despite being wacked with seven horrible plagues, Paro appears to finally relent and agree to let the people go. But, once the hail ends, he hardens his heart again, just as G-d said he would.

Episode 3: Come to Paro
The Jews finally leave Egypt. Moshe gives them some new mitzvahs to keep. Ends on a high note giving closure to this part of the arc.

Episode 4: After Paro Sent Them
Here's an ominous title. This episode finally finishes off the Egyptian part of the story. It ends with a big battle scene and G-d's promise of perpetual war with Amalek.

Coming next week:
Episode 5: The Father-in-Law's Visit

There's a lot less dramatic tension from here on in though, especially in Season 3 ("Calling"). And Season 5 ("Words") is really a beautiful set of speeches that perhaps lose something from being chopped up. But that, perhaps, is a reason for the custom to read the whole thing together on Hoshanah Rabbah night. Nonetheless, would a "Viewer's Guide" not be in order?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Terrorist Booking Agency

Mark Steyn has a review up for Speilberg's latest movie Munich. Comparing the movie to its source he writes
...there’s a short almost parenthetical paragraph in Jonas’s book about the Israeli team arriving in Athens ‘to find the safe house in which they spent that first night filled with Arab terrorists’. In the print version, it’s a booking screw-up which the Israelis turn to their advantage by passing themselves off as Red Army Faction...
So, somewhere there is a travel agency that caters just to terrorists. Call it "Terrorist and Nationalist Travel", or "Bookings On Overseas Missions", or something. Perhaps they even have their own website these days. A sort of terrorist expedia. Let's give them a call and see what services they provide.

Good afternoon, BOOM Travel, how may I help you?

Safe houses? Certainly sir. We have Europe's finest collection of safe houses. We have locations in all the biggest cities. Most at very inconvenient locations for the locals.

Yes, we can arrange for very discreet airport pickup and transportation to the safe house. Will your party all be arriving together?

Separately. Of course, I fully understand. That is not a problem. Just let us know when they'll be arriving and we'll have unremarkable cars and drivers on hand. Are you planning on aquiring weapons locally, or smuggling them in? We can put you in touch with local providers if that would be of assistance.

Yes, we can provide maps and other information. Were you planning on a military or civilian target?

No, we can provide information for both. Price will depend on the target, of course. Now, will you be requiring a translater?

No, that's fine. Take your time to decide on your operational details. Please do try and call well ahead though. If you are planning an operation in peak season, you'd better book well ahead, as our safe houses may be full.

Well, thank you for calling. Just let us know if we can be of further assistance.