Saturday, July 23, 2016

Space Tech: Near-term and far-reaching, including ... Phobos!

Less than a month from now I'll be back on duty with NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (on the External Council of advisers.) The next NIAC symposium, August 20 in Raleigh NC, is open to the public, by the way. And with that in mind - while seeking escape from loony Earthly politics) let's turn our attention skyward!

Arthur C. Clarke's famous novel, Rendezvous with Rama, depicted an alien starship hurtling through the solar system, which humans mistake for an asteroid, before discovering that it is something much more puzzling...

Now NIAC is working with Made in Space on Project RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata). This long-term proposal is looking into the feasibility of turning asteroid fragments into AI-powered spacecraft. These  'flying mining stations' could then be directed to more accessible orbital locations in order to efficiently access the minerals within. For more details, see Made in Space cofounder Jason Dunn's article, How We Want to Turn Asteroids into Spacecraft. 

The Benford boys give an interview about proposals to create starships for interstellar travel, during the lifetimes of some of you. On the podcast show, "From Here to the Stars," Jim Benford explains what kinds of beam-driven sailing vessels might be possible fairly soon. 

Puzzled by the purported "EM Drive"? I'm a skeptic, but some of the ideas proposed - to wriggle around measly quibbles like conservation of momentum - are indeed clever. Guys should write sci fi!

Some bold envisioning from Popular Science's Spaceship Design Contest winners!

The United Arab Emirates plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to Mars. They hope it will be the first probe created by an Islamic country to reach the red planet. They will work together with NASA. 

== Closer to Earth ==

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace is building a giant airplane in the Mojave Desert for carrying rockets to 35,000 feet adding to their oomph into space.  It has twin fuselages - most of a 747 would feet in between them - joined across the top by a massive wing, more than 1 hundred meters across.  Howard Hughes eat it.

Two cannibalized 747s make up much of the working portions, including cockpit and engines. Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites has experience with twin fuselaged aircraft. They built for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic the much smaller but also dual-hulled White Knight Two, the mothership used to launch a small suborbital vehicle carrying passengers. With a rocket attached, Allen's aircraft will weigh 1.3 million pounds, equal to a fully loaded giant Airbus A380. Possible rollout next year.

Interesting article on some of NASA’s forthcoming  series of “X-plane” test beds for new aviation technologies.  In June, while participating in NIAC meetings, I also spoke at the DC meeting of the AIAA on a panel about the “Future of Military Aviation,” where I pointed out how many decades it has been since the public got to see something ground-breaking out of any of the top secret "skunk works" research centers.  

Video: ride the SpaceX first stage back down to a barge landing!  Okay coolness just popped up a notch. This time a camera onboard recorded Elon's fourth successful rocket re-landing and the time-lapse video is nothing less than amazing.  

You are a member of a species doing stuff like this! 

After an initial failure, NASA inflated the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, an essential tech for human-crewed spaceflight. And we are on our way to 2016 being as terrific a year for our outward progress as fantastic-2015 was.

The venerable Hubble Space Telescope is doing so well that NASA has extended its science mission until 2021, even after the James Webb Telescope is launched in 2018.

A detailed update on flying cars(!) which seem about to launch (at last) into their golden age. One company – run by the non-Brin other owner of Google – seems to have real legs. 

A fascinating article on how we seem to be creeping ever closer to a dangerous possibility of war in space, as depicted in P.W. Singer and August Cole’s novel Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.  I suspect that one of NASA’s long range programs may be partly inspired by a need for deep protection of assets, out there. 

== Resources from Phobos or the moon? ==

I’ve long believed that the Russians are right about Phobos… that the larger moon of Mars is one of the most valuable sites in the solar system. Ideally situated to serve as a logistics hub for visiting the Red Planet, it would offer a radiation-shielded base for humans and a supply and refueling center.  The capstone would be if Phobos has a lot of volatile deposits – ideally water. If so, then In Situ Resource Utilization or ISRU could multiply its value ten-fold, allowing us to ship Mars landers empty and fuel them with locally made propellants. (After landing, they could then top off from ISRU auto-factories pre-set on the Martian surface.) Eliminating fuel and life support water from the transport loop would make Mars trips viable.

Hence finding out more about Phobos is vital!  Yet, the failure of the Russian GRUNT mission left a void in this department. Are there volatiles? We thought so, when reflectance data suggested Phobos might be a carbonaceous chondritic asteroid, but orbital considerations make that seem almost impossible.  See where it’s now thought the Mars satellites formed from material blown off the planet by some long ago impact which, I fear, might mean they are as dry as our bone-dead moon. Alack.

== We drag $%#! politics into everything... ==

There is a mythology going around that, even if the Republican Party is waging outright war against most kinds of science, at least they like space! Indeed, GOP led Congresses have given NASA small increases, over the years. 

But this is misleading. Both President Bush and the Boehner-Ryan Congresses yanked the money back by commanding earmarks for very specific and spectacularly useless endeavors.

Take the Constellation programa lavish effort to simply re-create Apollo and go back to the moon, achieving no forward-purpose, whatsoever. Since there was no major new funding, this meant stealing from every other realm in NASA, especially technological development programs... the seed corn for our real future in space.  These were slashed ferociously.

When the Obama Administration canceled that loony-lunar boondoggle, it seemed the money might be spent on actual missions to explore the cosmos.  Instead, Congress in 2010 imposed a restoration of core elements of Constellation, called the Space Launch System (SLS), resurrecting many Space Shuttle components for a system without any mission on the near or intermediate horizons. The GOP-run House and Senate have since imposed increases in the SLS budget, mostly at the expense of science missions.  

All of this against a backdrop of success in the Obama endeavor to spin off and commercialize orbital launch services to private companies like SpaceX, which are developing capabilities at a vastly quicker rate.  

So the Senate is telling NASA to hurry up and build a rocket for which it has no real use for human exploration in the 2020s. Unfortunately, once the rocket is built, the expenses don't end. Ground crews must be kept ready, supply lines kept open, and contractors taken care of. These fixed costs can be enormous. For the space shuttle, those costs amounted to about $2.5 billion annually—whether the vehicle flew or not…” reports Eric Berger in Ars Technica.  So much for the  party that opposes government boondoggles.  Though part of it is pure pork: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), wants SLS because it is managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. And MSFC has been Instrumental for 30 years in  systematically preventing humans from getting into space.

== Mining Asteroids ==

Recall I mentioned countries helping companies prepare for the new space gold rush? Luxembourg is partnering with California-based Deep Space Industries to produce a spacecraft that will test many features necessary for asteroid mining. The module, known as Prospector X, will consist of three coupled cube satellites, or cube-sats. (This article is mistaken on the dimensions.) 

And a bigger dog wants this bone, too. “Asteroid mining was taken a step closer to reality last year when President Barack Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law, allowing companies to keep what they take from outer space, and Luxembourg says it plans to enact a similar legal framework.” 

Interesting article about Nathan Myhrvold meddling in asteroid studies... a good read. Once the chief technologist at Microsoft, Dr. Myhrvold claims research from several NASA and other instruments has misjudged the albedo and thus the size of many asteroids. Created quite a stir... and check out the rebuttals.

A new book by Michael K. Shepard, Asteroids: Relics of Ancient Time, delves into the science and importance of asteroids and meteorites, how these relics provide clues to the origins and evolution of the solar system. Shepard looks at the spacecraft that have begun to provide stunning close-up views of asteroids, giving us insight into the valuable minerals that groups such as Planetary ResourcesDeep Space Industries and Made in Space seek to access in the near future. 

June 30 was Asteroid Day - a global awareness campaign to emphasize the importance of monitoring asteroids that could pose potential hazards to Earth. This is the goal of B612's Sentinel Mission - an infrared space telescope that would catalog and track Earth-crossing asteroids. 

And finally...

Much of Mongolia lacks street addresses, so the government commissioned a British startup to overhaul its postal system. What3Words has generated a three word identifier to each 9 square meter plot of the planet. You can locate the White House at Engine.Doors.Cubs. One of the words in my own new address? Spaceship. 

A fascinatingly frank discussion of “periods in space.” 

Oh, that panel on the future of military aviation at the AIAA conference in DC in June? You can watch it here. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Revisiting Adam Smith... and surprising trends in modern capitalism

For a decade I have been urging that we need to revive a conversation about Adam Smith, who was anything but the promoter of ruthless laissez-faire that today’s right proclaims. In the last year or so, especially on sites like Evonomics, ever-more economists and scholars have been gathering around this idea -- showing how Smith understood essentials – e.g. that aristocracy and oligarchy have always been the great enemies of open and creative markets. Now an academic work parses Smith in detail, showing that this Founder of our western enlightenment experiment was not values-averse or even values-neutral in his descriptions of healthy capitalism. See: Will the Real A. Smith Please Stand Up, by Matthias P. Huhn and Claus Dierksmeier in the Journal of Business Ethics.

This re-examination of Smith is long overdue. And our era’s oligarchs need this tonic more than anyone. For if they fail to understand the real Adam Smith – along with the moderate, benign Rooseveltean reset that made markets fair and productive for a generation – then they risk seeing another pair of names rising louder in our percept. Marx and Robespierre.

Among those rediscovering Smith, take this article from Evonomics: “Market Capitalism is Broken: Why Adam Smith Would be Outraged by Modern Finance,” interviewing CNN global economics correspondent Rana Foroohar about her book: Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business. 

Today Adam Smith would clearly be a democrat. No social-darwinist or laissez-faire fool, Smith reminds us that competition that is unregulated is always, always spoiled by cheaters. (The party of cheaters has no right to sully his name by even speaking it.) 

Republicans: study about Smith. See why capitalism and market enterprise – which generated our vast wealth – are top victims of the monstrous oligarchs who have hijacked your movement. 

Libertarians: relearn that ‘competition’ should be your keyword and not slavish propertarianism!  As for bureaucrats, while dangerous (I freely admit!) they have never ever been as awful enemies of freedom as feudal oligarchs were. And are.

More? Smith was the First Liberal! You are right that the flagrant-horrid surge of cheating must be stopped... but accept also that enterprise and competitive markets made the wealth that enabled us to do so much for people. Democratic administrations always (always!) do better with the economy.  Learn to brag about that.

Oh, as part of this huge trend... just released: Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? Swedish journalist Katrine Mar├žal looks at women's often overlooked ‘invisible hand’ in the economy. She aptly deals not only with matters of justice but economic contradictions.  Like why does the GDP go down when an industrialist marries his housekeeper? See it reviewed in The New Republic

== Modern Banking ==

In 2015 IBM joined Intel, Cisco, the London Stock Exchange Group, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and others to form Hyperledger,an open source, blockchain-based project inspired by Bitcoin that the companies hope will one day provide a more secure and reliable way of trading stocks and other assets.

Goldman Sachs is entering retail consumer banking by letting even poor folks with just $1 open small accounts that will not (they say) be bled to death with nickel and dime charges. You can open a 401(k) even if you have credit card debt. Quite a shift for a 147 year old investment house known for catering to oligarchs. And at first sight there are potential benefits to Goldman (new customers and a better public image?) as well as the nation. Indeed, helping the poor to get clean bank accounts where they can cash their pay and evade the payday loan parasite industry is a goal that’s getting a lot of attention. 

Which is in part a reason to view this cynically. Goldman machers know that it’s likely that the next president and Congress will pay much closer heed to this problem.  There is talk of restoring the Post Office’s former ability to serve as a last resort bank of basic needs – like depositing social security checks and paychecks -- the way it did for many years, and most European and Japanese postal offices still do.  Combine this with ATM access and autopayments, and much of the tension would go out of life for those folks. (Throw in more education in schools about simple financial wisdom and debt avoidance.)

The crux? These guys at Goldman are clever. Seeing that writing on the wall, they are moving on an opportunity and perhaps may limit the extent of Democratic banking reforms.

Oh, and now this. Should you even use paper checks, anymore? Or give others your bank account and routing number? Even though it moves much more money than all of the credit card companies combined, the system the U.S. uses to transfer cash in and out of bank accounts – the Automated Clearing House, or ACH – is in many ways less secure than the credit card system.

== Do nothing Congress ==

Let's not mince words. The last five GOP-led Congresses were packs of lazy-worthless do-nothings, who did not even strive to advance any conservative agendas. (Other than trillion$ wars and ripoffs of the middle class.) Well, they do one other thing well.  Sabotage governance. Doing everything in their power to make “inferior government service” a self-fulfilled prophecy.

“In fiscal terms, there's no earthly reason for Congress to be stingy with Social Security's administrative budget. The money comes out of workers' payroll taxes and the system's other revenue, not from the general treasury. The Social Security Administration is one of the government’s most efficient agencies, with a core administrative budget of 0.7% of benefits.” -- writes Michael Hiltzik  in the Los Angeles Times. 

Number one on the goppers’ hit list, the IRS. Since no one will step up and defend that agency, despite it being absolutely essential that the nerdy accountants do their jobs well.  The chief beneficiaries of slashes in the IRS budget? Top 0.001 percenters. Of course.

The latest figures on developed economies show the United States is in far better shape than other countries. Of course the American consumer has hauled the world out of four big recessions (arguably six). But the fact that we are doing so again, after the calamitously huge one of 2007, speaks well for the vigor and dynamism of Americans… and poorly for all the cynics who keep moaning and spewing pessimism.

"Output has surpassed its pre-crisis peak by 10 percent, robust private-sector employment gains have sharply reduced unemployment, and fiscal sustainability has been largely restored,” reports Marilyn Geewax on NPR News. The upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy included these points: the unemployment rate of 4.7 percent is back to pre-recession levels; the gender wage gap is at a record low; inflation is down; the financial sector is more stable; and more people have health care insurance. Oh and although governments and corporations (especially the latter) have added debt, middle class Americans have continued to de-leverage. Household debt burdens have gone down.

(See how the infamous US federal deficit accelerates or decelerates with almost perfect correlation to which party occupies the White House.)

But the study also concluded many problems have worsened: income inequality has widened; gains in educational performance have slowed; entrepreneurship is down; productivity is declining; and public infrastructure spending is inadequate.  (Fault for the latter is clear: had the GOP Congress not blocked infrastructure bills, our recovery would have been much stronger and faster… which is of course why they blocked infrastructure spending.  Remember who to blame as 14,000 bridges teeter and corrode.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Rising wages and politics outside of Cleveland!

Amid the Cleveland Carnival -- with six (count-em) speakers named Trump, and Duck Dynasty stars replacing AWOL former presidents and statesmen, onstage -- I think it best to take some steps back from Ohio and give this week's political posting a wider perspective. I'll offer a final riff on Donald Trump at the end of this essay. But first --

Wages are rising... almost the last piece in the longest economic recovery since the 1950s.  The U.S. economy gets a bad rap these days, despite the fact that it’s doing better than almost every other economy that went through a financial crisis in 2007-2008. With very low unemployment and historically low inflation.

Also  the pace of health-care cost growth has also slowed. For years skyrocketing health-care costs gobbled up a larger share of workers’ total compensation, crowding out wage growth. This is exactly what the ACA promised and its detractors declared to be impossible. Do factual outcomes and predictions matter?

Add to this the fact that entrepreneurial startups, small businesses and innovation, all economic drivers, always-always-always do much better across democratic administrations.

So what is toking so much anger, down below, that even the Fox-Beck-watching confeds know something is deeply wrong? 
Both Sanders and Trump channel rage over rapaciously greedy insider-manipulators.  Sanders points to facts, like skyrocketing wealth inequality, propelled by Supply Side gushers fed into oligarchic maws, approaching levels not seen since 1789 France. 

On the right? Gifted svengalis know they have to point fingers at somebody rich and powerful. And so they choose...

== Blame it all on George Soros! ==

Purportedly “libertarian” newsletterist David Galland has been posting jeremiads putting the entire blame for the world’s refugee crisis - as well as the 2008 bank collapse and every other 21st Century calamity - on George Soros

Well, why not? The party of oligarchy can sense a rising revulsion toward aristocratic rule embedded in American DNA. So pick a symbolic scapegoat oligarch. A democrat! Soros.

Fine, but there must be a core rationalization. Something to make Soros seem equal to Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, the Kochs, The Waltons, Wall Street and the Saudi Royal House, combined! How do you pump one man to loom as the archetype rich (and Jewish) manipulator?  Beck, Fox, Limbaugh and Hannity all parroted the same line:

"Here's a man who single-handedly toppled EIGHT FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS!" 

In fact, Soros had help topping those governments. But yes! Let there's truth to this assertion. Soros was largely involved in sending those governments that he despised crashing down.  Only... do nodding dittoheads ever... even once... lift their heads to ask Beck or Limbaugh or Hannity: "Say, Sean... WHICH foreign governments did that vile manipulator-commie George Soros topple? 
(Actually, the number isn't eight. It is ten.)

The human quality of curiosity is suppressed by the insane War on Science. Still... repeat after me: "Which foreign governments do almost all the right wing shouters credit George Soros with toppling?"

Now you see the Lobotomization Explanation for Donald Trump, since the long vanished days of minds like Goldwater and Buckley. Not one member of the Fox-Beck-Breitbart-Drudge Nuremberg rally lifts his head to ask inconvenient questions.

Are you ready for the list?  
Let’s have a drum roll… or scroll spaces to make you work for it.



 "Which foreign governments do the entire right wing establishment credit George Soros with toppling?"

The communist dictatorship of Hungary.
The communist dictatorship of Poland
The communist dictatorship of Czechoslovakia
The communist dictatorship of Romania
The communist dictatorship of Bulgaria
The communist dictatorship of Estonia
The communist dictatorship of Latvia
The communist dictatorship of Lithuania

Add in Ukraine, whose loss from the Russian sphere of influence drove Vladimir Putin to a frenzy. Sure, the Russian press credits a diabolically clever and Machiavellian-aggressive Barack Obama for that immense, strategic loss, which vastly overshadows the later, minor-and-expected claw-back of Russian-speaking Crimea and Donbass. But I am willing to toss some credit back in time, to Soros.

Make it explicit. Glen Beck and all those other right wing mavens officially credit terrifying leftist George Soros with the 
toppling of the Iron Curtain, liberating hundreds of millions and the victorious end of the Cold War. That is explicitly and exactly what they have been saying for more than twenty years, absolutely relying on their followers never to ask any details.

Huh.  I thought it was that other liberal (compared to today’s GOP) Ronald Reagan! In fact, they both share equal credit with Michail Gorbachev and with architect of the West’s overall plan of calm containment - George Marshall.  (With Jimmy Carter deserving more of an assist cred than you’d believe!)
Look, the crux here is not who actually tore down the wall. 

No, ask why do Fox/Beck/Limbaugh followers never poke at a tsunami of ironies, contradictions and outright lies? The answer is “cultural”… the same reason a million confederates marched to fight and die for their slaveholding plantation lords. It's the recurring American tragedy and it has no solution except for the Blue Union to just keep on winning and moving us into the future.

As you watch the farce in Cleveland, oh, pity Barry Goldwater. spinning 6000 RPM in his grave.
== A final look at DT ==

Among the more interesting attempts to decrypt the Donald Trump phenomenon is this well-written, informative and amusing piece contending that it’s all a way to reinvigorate the money-making Trump brand.  

Do I agree we are witnessing a scam campaign or ‘scampaign’? Naw.  Still the author does connect some dots, like the way radio svanarolas have milked elderly white audiences ever since John Bircher paranoia jockeys in the 1950s. In The New Republic, Jeet Heer writes:

“The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican “war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies….” and “an entire class of Republican politicians, including Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, used mailing lists built up in their presidential campaigns to sell dubious products afterward.”  

Including a “breakthrough” remedy for erectile dysfunction. Yipe. At least Bush and Cheney robbed us the old-fashioned way.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Marvels of the Cosmos: Our 2nd moon! And Juno! A cosmic 'crunch"?

Hey Jupiter!  We’re baaa-aack!  Launched in August of 2011, NASA's Juno spacecraft arrived near the largest planet in the solar system on July 4th. Juno will enter a difficult polar orbit, measuring Jupiter's water content, mapping its magnetic fields, fierce radiation storms and searching for signs of a solid core, passing as close as 5,000 km above Jupiter's cloud tops. (That should be AWESOME!)  Its final maneuver.... will be a suicidal plunge into Jupiter's dense atmosphere. 

== Solar System Marvels ==

A mini moon for Earth? A second “moon,”asteroid 2016 HO3, is currently locked into “a century old little dance” with Earth, an elliptical orbit between 38 and 100 times the distance of our planet’s primary moon.  Don’t get too excited. It’s teensy. NASA says it’s larger than 120 feet (36.5 metres) across, but no more than 300 feet (91 metres) wide, and will orbit for many more centuries to come.  Though that may make it ideal for our first harvesting mission! Interestingly, its dimensions are that of a small starship.

So kewl! Another Curiosity rover selfie, along the alien slopes of Mt Sharp, on Mars.

See the latest stunning high-resolution images of Pluto's surface sent back from NASA's New Horizons mission after its closest approach in 2015. The photo to the left shows rugged highlands bordering hummocky cratered uplands and smooth uncratered ice plains, indicating much more complex geology than expected for this dwarf planet. What a change from our previous images of Pluto -- merely an indistinct dot of light. Now we can view details such as ice volcanoes towering miles over the surface. 

This is fun: see these new full-color spinnable maps of Pluto and Charon. Explore the geography and named features of these worlds. Approaching Pluto: This NASA video, assembled from New Horizons images, shows what it would be like to approach and swoop down toward Pluto, landing on its icy plains. 

More evidence that Pluto has an ice-roofed ocean? New Horizon's probe recorded deep cracks marking Pluto's surface. That leads researchers to conclude that something, perhaps heat radiating from radioactive elements in the dwarf planet's core, is keeping the ocean on Pluto wet. 

Phil Plait at his best, explaining why Cassini’s discovery of 36 fast-moving dust particles is such a big deal. Interstellar travellers!  Sayeth Phil: “we have tasted the stars.  You can fault humanity for a lot of ills, but sometimes, when we reach beyond ourselves, when we yearn to understand the Universe, we can truly be a wonderful species.”

Earth's twin - Venus has sulfuric acid rainstorms and surface temperatures to melt lead. No lander there has lasted even an hour as electronics soon fry. (At NIAC we have funded a small effort to develop a lander whose lonic and movement and even data-recording would all be mechanical-analog and wind-powered.) Now it seems that Venus has got a monstrous electric wind that appears to have helped strip all the water out of the atmosphere.

At NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program (I am on the external council),  we have funded a number of provocative concepts for exploring asteroids or Venus of Europa. Look up the next NIAC Symposium August 23-25 in Raleigh North Carolina. The meetings are open to the public! (With RSVP.)

== Marvels of the Cosmos ==

A reborn universe... Could the vision of Poul Anderson and Frank Tipler (in Tau Zero and The Physics of Immortality) come back?  Might the universe undergo a collapse and a “bounce-back,” allowing us to evade the need for a truly bottomless singularity or even inflation? (Or the heat death of endless dissipation discussed by Freeman Dyson?) This kind of "bounce" is bizarre on many levels and I admit I don’t routinely operate at this “high church” end of physics… though I understand enough to ask good questions.  This article and others glide past a number of vexing points… like how today’s accelerating expansion - propelled by Dark Energy - ever slows down enough to contract!  Still… fascinating.

The Cosmic Web: Mysterious Architecture of the Universe, by Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard Gott, takes an in-depth look at the latest theories of cosmology, as well as growing evidence for the superstructure of the cosmos, which appears to consist of clusters of galaxies strung in an immense cosmic web. Mind boggling!

(And you San Diegans! I will be on stage again this August with astrophysicists Brian Keating and Andrew Friedman for another "evening with the Three Physicists." (Not tenors, though we are amigos.) This time re Mathematics and the Mid of God. Ooooooh! hosted by UCSD's new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift.) Register to attend.

Meanwhile... Researchers have observed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light… a cataclysm of stellar destruction followed by the launch of polar jets, occurring over several months.

Tycho supernova remnant
A spectacular image from rapidly advancing astronomy - a vastly better view of the expanding and ongoing Tycho supernova.  But don’t stop there. Go on to the Chandra X-Ray site to see amazing closeups and the story of an unlucky star that was too close when the Tycho blew up! In fact, it seems likely the companion star “caused” the supernova.

Magnificent scientific art... Out of this world: Why the most important art today is made in space. This article from The Guardian reflects on the grandeur of astronomic images - such as the magnificent Pillars of Creation and others from the Hubble Space Telescope - that have reshaped our understanding of the cosmos, and might be considered some of the finest art of our generation. "Great art should fill us with a new vision of the world - indeed the cosmos - and our place in it," writes Jonathan Jones.

Indeed, I have elsewhere maintained the the most important works of visual art were the images of the atom bomb mushroom cloud and the Earth as a blue oasis, seen from space. These images changed us!  

Can you think of another (hypothetical) image that would do the same? Jar us into taking meaningful steps toward growing up?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Handicapping D. Trump's Friday pick... and more election rambling...

LATE NEWS - it seems all media have agreed that D Trump will announce Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate.  The following is still an appraisal of the factors DT must have (or should have) taken into account.  Whether or not picking Pence is a wise move on Trump's part has little to do with whether Pence will help get more voters to support the ticket (he won't.) What simmers below is which group has "deep leverage" with Pence -- the Murdochian party masters or Trump himself. If it is the former, then Pence is likely to betray Trump, either before the election... if they are losing badly... or after, if (GF!) they win.

As a writer of thrillers and sci fi, I would envision DT asking his finalists "are you willing to tell me something embarrassingly scandalous that I could then hold over you, to guarantee your good behavior?" (Or go into the next room for pictures.)  Do you find that "sensationalist"? Really? Knowing how eager Pence was, for the pick... and how determined Trump is, to avoid betrayal? ....

Back to the main posting.


First... here's your run-down on those chosen to speak at the GOP convention in Cleveland, including SIX people named "Trump."  An entire evening will be devoted to Benghazi, despite there having been ten much worse terrorism lapses (one of them giga) under President GW Bush. (Can you name them? Ah, what a difference constant drum-beating can do, for memory!) And there will be an entire evening devoted to the sexual misadventures of Bill Clinton! Ah, like Donald can preach. 

So much for policy emphasis and the high road.

Okay but on to the Veep Derby. So the news reports that Trump has narrowed the field to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, with the bookies surging on Pence.  I earlier used Gingrich as a strawman for comparison against Trump's highly unusual set of needs. Gingrich was the felow who fit every important category, including the vital one of not being likely to betray Trump before the election, or to serve as "impeachment bait" after.

Christie also fits, but DT knows that Christie will not do him a scintilla's good on the campaign.  Pence and Sessions are wholly-owned shills of Rupert Murdoch useless politically but above-all, sure to betray Trump at first chance, before or after the election. Guaranteed. Though Pence is a master-flatterer...

Following up on Gingrich. He has strong positives from DT's point of view, and a couple even from yours! Yes, Newt upped culture war in his time... OTOH he supports space and writes sci fi! 

And Newt paused in culture war for one year to be the only GOP congressional leader since 1980 to actually negotiate in good faith with a DP president, getting some real bills passed. Sure, the Hastert/DeLay (both now convicted criminals) +Boehner/Ryan cabal punished Gingrich severely for daring to actually try to govern a bit.  But that gives him a grudge... which in turn makes him potentially attractive to Trump!  It means Newt won't be tempted - when the election goes sour - to betray Donald. Or to help impeach him if (GF!) they win.

Finally, lest we forget, Gingrich's Contract With America was one of the most brilliant maneuvers in US politics in living memory. I keep urging the Dems to do something like it!  Moreover, the "Contract" was only 2/3 hypocrisy and theater.  The other 1/3 was at least sincere stuff, if not my top priorities. (And Newt's participation in the banishing of the House's Office of Technology Assessment - in my mind - consigns him to a special place for traitors. Still, at least he's not uniformly a useless, dogmatic traitor. Give him that.)

If DT chooses NG you can bet Gingrich will flounce a new Contract on us, reprising his glory days!  A pity because the dems then won't use the tactic... and I deeply believe they should.

No, Newt fits every single check box for Trump... except obsolete ones like "ticket balancing".  Which is why I am betting Trump'll swing in another direction altogether!  Longshot: a regular female GOP governor, one firmly in Roger Ailes' and Rupert Murdoch's pocket. Or else... sigh... the master-flatterer Pence. Why? Alas for The Donald. Because I do not think he thinks things through.

== Perspective! ==

Renowned UC Berkeley cognition professor George Lakoff suggests that the deep down difference between progressives and conservatives has little to do with so-called “left vs right” - not when open and fair markets do vastly better under democrats and they even do more deregulating. Instead, he offers evidence that the difference can be understood in terms of of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative). See Lakoff's book: Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.

I have my own hypotheses having to do with a streak of Romanticism that runs through portions of American life and psych back to the Confederacy and beyond.  And recent advances in brain science also seem to apply. Still, as usual, Lakoff’s insights are worth reading. Even if you disagree, you’ll blink several times and go huh!

== HC and BS ==

22 years of Clinton bashing-and-accusations and the most relentless scrutiny -- amounting to $100 million dollars plus -- ever focused on a couple - including when G.W. Bush focused every resource he could apply as president, seeking to finding a smoking-gun, even diverting agents from anti-terror duties, during the 6 months before 9/11. And after all that?  Dis is all dey got? See: Republicans' Benghazi goose chase comes up empty. If you were scrutinized and accused for 22 years by screamers spending $100 million dollars+, who came up with zero actionable evidence - nada, nothing, zip - might you demand the bastards either put up or shut up?

Here’s the growing list of big-name Republicans supporting Hillary Clinton. It includes Richard Armitage, Henry Paulson, Brent Scowcroft, former George W. Bush administration officials who have announced that they are supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016. Many prominent businessfolk are endorsing Hillary Clinton.Take Jim Cicconi, the senior executive vice president at AT&T. He served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and donated $10,000 last year to Jeb Bush's Right to Rise superPAC. But he says he's voting for Hillary Clinton in November.”  Cicconi says: "Hillary Clinton is experienced, qualified, and will make a fine President. The alternative, I fear, would set our Nation on a very dark path."

Alas this will do little good. It will convince many Bernites that HC is selling them out.  When in fact what it reflects is not just disgust with Donald Trump but a rising realization among smart businessforlk that 30 years of GOP mythologies like Supply Side “Economics” are threatening to kill the (middle class) goose that lays their golden eggs. The smartest – the tech billionaires and Warren Buffett – have known this for ages and are almost all (excepting some libertarians) democrats.  For fellows like Cicconi to wise-up took a shock. A slap across the face called Donald.  Interesting article.

And no, Bernie fans, all it means is that people can see there are no “sides” to a sinking lifeboat. Smart business types are realizing what Joe Kennedy did, when he “betrayed” the other moguls and supported FDR: “I’d rather sacrifice half my wealth to help raise the middle class than lose all of it and maybe my life, to revolution.”

Bernie Sanders just pointed the way to what he’ll be doing, till the November election… stumping for democratic candidates for Congress and even state offices, using his star power to draw young folks into political engagement and action, in some ways even more essential than the presidency, since today’s Congress is the most lazy and worthless in the last century. This is how Bernites can change the nation and world - and learn skills for their next rounds.  

I've long held that disappointed Sandersites can change the world by concentrating on Congressional races. Opportunities abound. 


Dems used to run hopelessly lefty cases against my own local congressman, the notorious dogmatist, feudalist and cheater Darrell Issa (49th CA Congressional District). What a dumb idea. Most GOP reps are from districts whose voters are inherently at least a bit conservative. So Dems should in such districts run not a Santa Monica liberal but a DNC-style moderate who likes science, believes in equal rights and climate change and limiting money in politics... but maybe is a bit stronger on defense and free enterprise than a lefty might like!  BFD. Go for the win.

Have a look at this guy running against Issa now! Central casting could not have done better. Doug Applegate: A retired Marine colonel and prosecutor... who also pledges to work for "good-paying jobs, affordable college, and fighting for the middle class." ... also "gender pay and healthcare equality.... End Wall Street’s bribery of Congress...a fully integrated renewable energy program... supporting the 2013 bipartisan immigration bill, and ending the Hastert rule...Americans have the right to sustainable farming and the right to know what's in the water and GMO food we eat..."

And you'd sniff at such a fellow because he's a former member of the U.S. officer corps? The 3rd best-educated clade in American life? Grow up! All we need is forty of these folks and Paul Ryan can go boohoo.  The nation's business will be done again.

And sure, then yell and argue with this fellow over your differences. Watch. He'll yell back and argue... and buy a round and negotiate with you.  Like a grownup.

Be grownups too. The republic needs them, desperately.  So do the planet and our grandchildren. And hopes.