Monday, April 16, 2018

Why this "war" is different. Plus the dark "Z" vision. And our path out of all this.



== On the International Front ==

Vladimir Putin recently showed the world what he claimed was footage of a new, nuclear-fueled missile, purportedly capable of evading anti-aircraft defenses and traveling “indefinitely.” Let’s put aside the “nuclear-fueled missile” aspect for now. (That concept was abandoned by the U.S. in 1964, as stunningly dangerous and filthy.) What we need to remember is that it has historically been the role of underdogs to innovate, while the smug, central kingdom ("chung-kuo") wallows dangerously in assumptions centered on the past. 

That has not been the way for the U.S. military and protector caste, for 70 years. Starting with George Marshall, the U.S. Officer Corps has followed a dictum to "innovate every year, as if you lost the last war." A tradition that held sway - and kept the planet's best (if highly imperfect) era of general peace - till recently.

Which brings up the Syrian War - a quagmire with no plan, no stated goals or plausible exit strategy, except to set up a much bigger struggle, with Iran.  No, I won't go into any of that. Instead, let's zoom in upon the highly suspicious Trump-ordered missile attacks on Syrian government assets -- both last week's pounding of purported gas weapon facilities and bombardment of the Shayrat  airbase, half a year ago. 

The earlier of these two "forceful lessons" involved the U.S. firing 59 missiles at a replacement cost of about $100 million. Did the Shayrat lesson work? Did the Assad regime start behaving better, as Trump predicted they would? Did it deter Assad from gassing and bombarding his own people? 

What deterrence? Warned hours in advance, the regime and their sponsor-ally evacuated any important assets, while stationing sensor arrays along the missiles’ flight paths and testing electronic countermeasures in a controlled experiment. (Reports suggest many Tomahawks veered off course.) Thousands of Tomahawk puzzle pieces were subsequently gathered — e.g. sensitive circuits used for maneuver and radar evasion.

This month's teaching was even worse. Warned a week in advance, adversaries had time to set up every possible sensor and electronics countermeasure to test out on U.S. hardware. Only this time, the USAF was told to use its new, next-generation standoff missile, giving the Russians a perfect setup for monitoring every aspect of its performance, plus a zillion parts to sweep up and examine. A textbook intelligence coup. 

Who were the net winners and losers from this set-piece, potemkin “punishment”? While any one episode can be attributed to stupidity, over malicious treason, the cumulative effects add up to a daily litany of betrayals, whose sum is beyond dispute. Always remember Goldfinger’s Law: 

“Once, may be happenstance, Mr. Bond. Twice, may be coincidence. But three or more times is enemy action.”

* Add to Goldfinger's Law the Tucker-Shrugger Rule. What would have been your reaction, had Obama done this?

== Our core methods for revival ==

Watch this video on how easy it is to alter results on paperless electronic voting machines. This entertaining vid shows such a hack in action… with a surprise endorsement you’d never expect, at the end! What the creators never mention - alas - is that nearly all of the paperless and easily-hacked e-voting machine makers are former Republican Party operatives. And the paperless, easily-cheated systems are prevalently found in red states. Hm, I wonder why. If you went back ten or even five years ago, you'd probably find me and maybe 5 other people howling about voting machines without paper audit trails. I'm relieved it's now getting traction. We are fighting for our lives.


So, is there a path out of phase 8 of the American Civil War? Let me reiterate two proposals that would take one page, each, yet possibly save America and the world. If we had a majority in Congress that cared about such things.

1) Last week NPR published this excellent piece describing how the Inspectors General work to keep government honest, and how important they are.  My simple, almost cost-free, one-page reform - Free the Inspectors General -  would release them to be truly powerful for the national (and world) good.

And the other proposal, some of you have seen here before...

2) ... would create a national advisory council of sages, starting with the ex-presidents and former Supreme Court justices etc., which could help us to both set up nonpartisan ways to check facts. And, if the right language (one sentence!) were inserted, it would help us all to sleep at night, by using the Constitution's own prescribed method. It would also give our officers a place to appeal any insane orders. No amendment would be needed! Just a simple majority Congressional Resolution.

One pagers. One would restore confidence in our institutions. The other could let us sleep at night.

But over the long run, we can only end this civil war by winning the most important front -- the outright and open campaign of hatred toward every single American profession that deals in facts.

== The War on Science ==

Read how explicit the War on Science has become. The Greatest Generation (when America was 'great') invested in the thing that won wars, refuted injustices, quintupled our wealth and made us a dazzling-fun civilization -- science. Their favorite person - after FDR - was Jonas Salk.

Left out of this disturbing article? Starting with Truman, every president listened closely to his science adviser... till Trump left the post empty and eviscerated OSTP. The GOP in Congress had already killed their own Offict of Technology Assessment, for daring to sometimes say: "Um, sirs, that's not exactly true."

Next in their sights, the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, IRS auditors, and anyone else who might hold a skyrocketing oligarchy accountable. 

Seriously, you know some decent Republicans who can blink and shake their heads in denial over all this. We must each take responsibility for just one or two such. Take their hands off their ears and eyes. Persuade them to take their hands off their mouths.

There are anti-science loons on the far-left, too! Concede the point! But that is a fringe, while hatred of smartypants nerds who know stuff is now the core catechism of the entire mad-right.

Fighting back for our kids, we need to nominate scientists and fact-people and retired officers in every red state assembly district, every city council.

Or doctors: Okay, this is the best thing I've seen. It is better even than that Marine F-18 pilot major and mother of two. Yes, even better than her. Make this doctor your archetype. Calm, reasonable and moderate and utterly militant about calm-adult, fact-using moderation in a nation of grownups. (Okay, alas. Alas, he lost his primary. Still, keep at it!)

== A Time Traveling Putin? ==

The topic never came up, during our recent trip to Russia. (And yes, it was amazing; we made good friends and look forward to future visits.) Still, their leader is the central planner of our current crisis of resurgent feudalism. So -- let's heed what he says.

If Vladimir Putin was given a chance to go back in time and change one thing in Russia’s history, it would have been the collapse of the Soviet Union, the president told a media forum, in Kaliningrad. Putin, who famously called the dissolution of the USSR the greatest geopolitical tragedy of 20th century, said he would have prevented its collapse if given the power to alter one thing in the past.

Okay, look, I’ve said it before, I actually respect Vladimir Putin a lot.  He’s not the master international chess-player the the adoring American right portrays in their endless, unctuous praise of the former KGB colonel. Loss of the Ukraine was a blow vastly worse than any of his counter-nibbles in Crimea, the Donbass and Syria. (Though if Trump wages war on Iran, it will be checkmate on the West.) Anyway, he plays to his strengths well, including the Russian tradition of exquisite spycraft.

Moreover, I blame him far less, for the collapse of the brief, 1990s liberal democratic experiment in Russia, than I blame George H.W. Bush — yes, senior — who sent over “advisers” to help President Boris Yeltsin distribute state assets to the populace.  Those advisers made sure it was done in a way best-guaranteed to ensure that all assets would soon be held by a few score oligarch-billionaires and their secret western backers. In other words, the Bush family has been a calamity for the West of untold proportions, yet to be exceeded even by the Trumps.

I do not blame Putin, personally, for choosing a hierarchical system - akin to the one he was raised under. Sure, the current nomenklatura wear Russian Orthodox crosses instead of hammer-and-sickle pins, but many are the very same guys. And it’s not their fault that we have millions of idiots who fall for that ploy of symbolism. (I am reminded of Christopher Walken’s character, in 'Blast From The Past,' who chuckles in admiration that the Soviet Politburo has actually succeeded in persuading the west “that it’s over.”)  They figured out how to help re-ignite our civil war and make alliance with the Confederacy against America. You’ve got to respect such feral ruthlessness.

Which brings us back to Putin’s statement in Kaliningrad, that he would bring back the Soviet Union, if he could. Really? Then why not start with the Communist Party, which was the religion of your youth and the core raison d’etre for the USSR, in the first place? 

Well, in answer, it occurs to me that the current Russian oligarchs have effectively re-assembled all of the old, Soviet state enterprises in their personal, monopolistic cartels. All you’d need to do is replace (or rename) maybe a hundred “billionaires” with Leninist committees and voila - instant Soviet restoration! Well, without the post-WWII empire.

But give-em time! The comintern may be wearing a potemkin mask - as Walken's character assured - but it sure looks more effective than ever. Meanwhile, the Supply Siders and neo-fascists in the West are doing something I would never have thought possible... reviving Karl Marx! Who is now selling more copies than at any point in 30 years.

That's one path.... There's another, described in Vladimir Sorokin's incredible novel that I read during our trip: "The Day of the Oprichnik." It portrays not a re-coalescence of communism, but a restoration of Russian traditionalism under a supremely powerful (and tech-enhanced) revived Orthodoxy and Romanov Czar. 

No, this isn't over. We still live in interesting times.

And so now we'll conclude with the scariest vision of all.

== Dark Scenarios ==

Everyone - especially Robert Mueller - needs to watch the chilling 1969 film "Z" by Costa-Gravas. Especially the startling and terrifyingly pertinent last 4 minutes. I mean it. Just spreading the meme of reviving this one forgotten classic may do more than anything else, to help prevent it from coming true in the next year or so.

We've been warned. Now you have been. This film resonates powerfully with the Mueller Investigation. As a Greek jurist probes a political murder, he strips away masks worn by the mighty... with terrible consequences. Watch it! Spread word about worrisome memes like this one. 

Or the terms "Reichstag Fire." Or "Gleiwitz Incident." Or "Tonkin Gulf Incident." Or "Wag the Dog."

Yes, in our case the normal 'worrisome parties' - the state security agencies - appear actually to be on our side! But those sincere professionals (maligned by the confederate machine as "deep state" enemies") are often (I know from experience) surprisingly naive.

Twenty years ago (I can prove it) I warned folks at certain "agencies" that international rivals who see their power diminish in open, international affairs often turn to traditional, surreptitious means that go back thousands of years. They turn to: 

(1) using targeted propaganda and agitprop to incite divisions within their opponent, 

(2) suborn high members of the leading nation's leadership caste. 

I have slides from 1998, predicting these two methods would be used against us. Agency officials snorted that I was talking "science fiction," when instead I was citing 6000 years of history.

Today? I am invited all over to show those slides (and many others.) Now that our great and mostly (mostly) beneficent Pax is tottering and teetering from those and other unexpected failure modes. 

Hey. They weren't "unexpected" in the deep, planning basements of the jealous, angry feudalists of the world. They know what brought down past empires - and especially what brought down history's few enlightenment renaissances. They study history - even if we don't.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Science Updates: from Consciousness to CRISPR

Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff have long pursued a concept – not exactly a model – of consciousness that’s based on a notion that quantum effects take place along tiny rods called microtubules that are vital structural elements inside most living cells. These rods are everywhere, but especially in neurons, and some experiments suggest that perhaps a kind of entanglement might happen along their length. 

It's not laughable! Much stronger evidence supports the existence of quantum activity in the chlorophyll molecule that plants use to convert sunlight into stored chemical energy. This article offers details on the Penrose-Hameroff notion. (I watched-heard them both at a Consciousness Debate, held at the home of Irwin Jacobs, three months ago. I spoke with Penrose, several times, about his clever re-scaling explanation for how Big Bangs fit into a cyclical cosmos.)

I suspect they are about half-right about there being some quantum effects inside neurons. Even that much would be amazing, and would imply that it may take a lot more than a Moore's Law doubling of flip-flops to emulate human consciousness. See also their latest book Consciousness and the Universe: Quantum Physics, Evolution, Brain and Mind.

== Contemplating the stuff we're made of ==

Might genetic meddling in actual humans be a little harder than to recent hopeful/terrifying press reports led us to believe? Our immune systems may be formidable. 

The CRISPR–Cas9 system, which functions as a genetic scissors and tape for editing DNA, is generally derived from either Staphylococcus aureusor Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Most people have been exposed to staph or strep by the time they reach adulthood, which their bodies are likely to remember and may mount an immune attack when re-exposed to them….  Or worse, it could trigger the kind of immune storm that killed a young gene therapy patient named Jesse Gelsinger in 1999, derailing the field for more than a decade.

A new study showed that it is possible to recreate DNA using information from living descendants. Which may empower fellows like George Church to give us back mammoths... then dinosaurs... then maybe (as in Existence)... Neandethals?

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the very first algorithm that monitors patient vitals to predict potentially lethal events hours before they could have occurred.

If You Had a Human Head Transplant, Would You Still Be You?  A topic actually explored in The Organ Bank Farm, a novel by the under-rated science fiction author John Boyd. Jim Cheetham has an answer that’s +1. 'It's a body transplant. Does that make it an easier question?'

== Ain't Nature a kick? ==

If true, this is… wow. “In the first recorded instance of fire being used by animals other than humans, three Australian birds of prey species have been seen carrying burning twigs to set new blazes…” offering “…evidence that birds are very good at “generating innovative solutions to foraging problems.”

A fascinating and erudite article asks whether humans have some in-built morality, an ancient question with light shed by recent science.

Why Males Are Biology's Riskier Sex: This article explains some of the fantastic amounts that reproductive biologists have learned lately about sperm, eggs, mutations and how those mutations are contributed vs. age by mothers and fathers. 

Fascinating. Vertebrate animals apparently use a basic information-processing system that derives from genes that infected some ancestor via a virus. That transmission and retention isn’t unusual – large fractions of our genome apparently come from viruses. But this article describes one of a myriad info-processing functions that we never knew about, till recently. When a synapse fires, it apparently triggers an RNA messenger to enfold itself into a protective capsid and travel to some adjacent neuron, where… well, this is way complicated and not easily emulated via binary flipflops and Moore’s Law.

Adding this blue dye to standard malaria treatments seems to reduce the chance new mosquitoes will pick up and vector the disease. 

== But human stupidity clings and claws at us ==

Alas, sometime SciFi gets it too right: Remember the lurid sci fi flick THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW? Its frenzied-fun premise was based on a real fear... now apparently coming true, as ocean circulation in the Atlantic has plunged to its lowest level in 1600 years.

Meanwhile... Coral bleaching has accelerated to a clip at which established reefs can no longer keep up. Part of it comes from pollution and warming waters, but also ocean acidification.  

And the last of those three has special significance. Oh, talk about ocean acidification. Speak the phase aloud... because you’ll find that members of the Climate Denialist Cult always shout “squirrel!” or run away, when they hear those two words. Because:

(1) anyone can go to the shore and measure it for themselves; it’s happening, and serious. And...

(2) there are no possible alternative excuses – the way the cultists try to blame the sun for global warming. Ocean acidification comes from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, put there by humans. Period. And those who are aiding the villains waging war on science are now as culpable – and should be as financially liable – as the Koch Brothers and their petro-sheik and oil-boyar allies.

But then... the fact people keep coming up with... hope!

== Future Tech ==

thin membrane made of graphene, called “Graphair,” which can make dirty water clean enough to drink after just a single pass through. Consumption of contaminated drinking water can transmit a number of diarrheal diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio, as well as many parasites, like giardia. In water-stressed areas that also have limited access to medical care, diarrheal illnesses can be life-threatening. The next steps for the team will be to connect with industry partners who can help them scale Graphair up for practical use.

A DARPA-funded prosthetic neural system has made progress toward improving memory by writing codes into the hippocampus of human subjects via electrodes implanted in the brain.

MIT's Media Lab has severed ties to startup Nectome which offered digital immortality to individuals through brain uploading - seeking to embalm brains while preserving the neural connections.

A new approach to 3D imagery that’s different – using lasers to push a speck of dust around to form genuine three-dimensional object views. I doubt you can apply the term "hologram."

Elon Musk's latest venture: Solar Roof tiles - made of tempered glass, promise to be durable and cost effective (with an "infinity" warranty) and power generation lasting 30 years.

Even more advance is a concept that uses the heat of solar panels to distill and purify water, while cooling the cells to make them more efficient. Built-in batteries store power for night and outages. (Something lacking in the million solar homes we have, today.)

Need more memory? Next generation optical disc storage offers 10 terabyte capacity and six century lifespan. Gimme!  Seriously. Send me a sample and (if it works) I'll tout it loudly!

And finally...Lasers so powerful they might rip apart raw vacuum? It’s actually quite plausible.  Hey, didn't I predict that in....

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cryptocurrencies, stock buybacks, regulations... they are counting on you being bored!

== Cryptocurrencies ==

Coin mining (prime number factoring) operations are now using as much electricity as the Republic of Ireland.

In the last 5 months I’ve joined the advisory boards of FIVE ICOs, or Initial Coin Offerings, learning far more about blockchain and “tokens” than I ever really wanted to know. I’ve had to point out things that some of these bright fellow never thought-of. Like some important ways to stay out of jail.

Oh, then there’s this: Bitcoin “tape-washing” by the top 1000 Bitcoin owners (40%) of all coins) lets them boost price simply by selling to each other, luring in suckers.

Do I believe in Adam Smith and the power of flat-fair-open-competitive-creative markets?  You bet! 

Has the magic ever, ever, ever - even once - happened on this planet without regulatory frameworks to stymie cheating? Not once. Ever. 

Lefties are fools to ignore the creative power of competition. Righties are jibbering insane to ignore 6000 years of history wrought by market-ruining cheaters. 

Adam Smith would be a moderate, pro-enterprise democrat, today.

== Stock Buybacks ==

Under the Greatest Generation (when America was 'great') this was illegal. Almost a $trillion will be spent on Stock Buybacks in 2018, rewarding the top 1% but especially the CEO caste, who thus trivially get their stock-price-tied incentive bonuses, without increasing actual value of the company one cent. The tax cut's shills said this would stimulate investment in R&D, productive capital, infrastructure and new jobs. Those could have been incentivized in the bill. But as in all previous Supply Side scams, it never happens. Instead we get:

1. Shortened ROI (Return on Investment) horizons, from the traditional 5 years down now to 5 weeks!

2. Less investment in R&D, productive capital, infrastructure and new jobs. Yes, these go down every single time the GOP has its way.

3. Steeply falling Money Velocity. (Exactly what Adam Smith said happens, when the rentier aristocracy hogs all the money. More on this, in a future posting.)

4. Skyrocketing wealth disparity.

5. Decisions on our economic destiny made by an ever-narrowing caste of delusional, conniving, incestuously conspiratorial, secretive oligarchs, demolishing any hint of the flat-fair-open-creative competition that both Hayek and Keynes agreed to be the core essential of market enterprise.

An interesting aspect to this! John Mauldin points out that there are some LIBERAL constituencies who benefit. Pension funds do great in this environment, and they certainly qualify as "rent-seeking" centers of money-slowing investment. Pension funds are indeed, fellow culprits in almost-zeroing money velocity. Only, unlike oligarchs, they cannot cash-out when the market has peaked. Their benefit is brief.

Note also that a minority of those investors benefiting from all of this hate what's happening. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and most of the tech zillionaires will take this free money being shoved at them. But they vote and demand better policies that might actually no good for civilization and the republic. They know this is how feudalism returns, and the renaissance (that made them successful) ends.

== On Regulation ==

Ironic that Friedrich Hayek is generally dismissed as an apologist for elimination of all market regulation, yet the liberal (leaning-Keynesian) economics site - Evonomics - explores Hayek’s views on both market theory and evolution with considerable respect. (Evonomics is also the one place, online, that most often studies and lauds Adam Smith!)

In this conversation, several leaders in both economic theory and evolution start by praising Hayek’s revelations that markets are about information and how over-regulation is inherently fraught with errors that stymie the crowd- and open-sourced wisdom of markets.

Alas, Hayek thereupon was lured to the opposite extreme, as his arguments were used to justify elimination of regulations that kept markets flat-open-fair and competitive. If 500,000 civil servants are too narrow a clade to allocate economic resources well, then how is an incestuous, conniving-secretive and conspiratorially greedy CEO caste of golf buddies supposed to be more wise?

Hayek’s criticisms of socialism applied cogently to Leninist regimes, but as these scholars point out, they’re much less meaningful when aimed at Norway. Hayek’s greatest failing? His inability to refer to the other great enemy of market enterprise, feudalism, which wrecked far more nations and economies than poor, dumb socialism could ever dream of.

A flawed and stupid system that wrought hell in 99% of past cultures, feudalism is rooted in human temptation to cheat, and it appears to be roaring back. And the shills who work for the lords are - alas - really good at oversimplifying and misquoting Friedrich Hayek.


== Rising Corporate Profits ==

Why have corporate profits (and hence dividends to the owner caste) skyrocketed and stayed high across 25 years, while wages stagnate? Economist Jonathan Tapper makes it clear in an appraisal that’s circulated widely by John Mauldin, a conservative newsletter guy who knows something’s gone wrong with the branch that has taken over U.S. conservatism. 


“Something has indeed gone very wrong with capitalism. In a competitive market, if a company is making a lot of money, other companies will get excited by the prospects of high profits and will enter the industry and compete. Eventually margins decline as more competitors fight each other. That is how dynamic, capitalist economies should be. Something is profoundly broken with capitalism if corporate profit margins do not revert to the historical mean. 

“Rising industrial concentration is a powerful reason why profits don’t mean revert and a powerful explanation for the imbalance between corporations and workers. Workers in many industries have fewer choices of employer, and when industries are monopolists or oligopolists, they have significant market power versus their employees…. The Economist found that over the fifteen-year period from 1997 to 2012 two-thirds of American industries were more concentrated in the hands of a few firms.” 

Let me add that monopoly or duopoly is a reason most profits aren’t plowed back into R&D and production (as Supply Siders always promised.) Because these CEOs don’t fear new rivals, so they might as well grab the profits for themselves, rather than invest.

Tapper continues: “In a monopoly, there is only one seller, while in a monopsony, there is only one buyer. The extreme example of a monopsony is a coal town in West Virginia, where the only buyer of labor is the coal company. Large parts of America are dominated by monopsonies.” 

The trend is far worse in rural America, which puts a real fear into the confederate masters, because at any moment the voters in those areas might start to see through the propaganda that “liberals, unions, scientists and government” are responsible for all your problems; so never, ever look over here at plutocrats!” This plan is anchored in the notion that folks will reliably and always forget their own parents were union men and women, who supported anti-trust laws and whose favorite living person was Franklin Roosevelt.

Tapper continues: “In the U.S. CEO pay has exploded. From 1978 to 2013, CEO compensation adjusted for inflation increased 937%. By contrast, the average worker’s income grew by a pathetic 10% over the same period.”  He documents the plummet in union strength, even as the right’s media portrays unions as villains against poor, virtuous CEOs.

Sign up to receive chapters in Tapper’s growing book The Myth of Capitalism

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Space news! Loyal robots, cool simulations... and water, water everywhere?


SPACE  is like politics these days. So much happening that you can't keep up. Only with the difference that most space news elevates the spirit and makes you realize how wonderful we can be.

Last week Cheryl and I visited the greatest relic of the Soviet Period, in Moscow -- yes even finer than their wonderful subway/metro stations. The Cosmonauts Museum and the awesome Monument to the Conquerors of Space.  Yes, they did some things well.

== But looking ahead... ==

Okay, you've all seen it. Still, seriously watch again SpaceX launch the Falcon Heavy. The simultaneous double-landing is even better.  But the view of Elon's roadster in space... okay you've all seen it.  Watch it again, whevever you're about to give up on us.

Almost as cool… The largest simulation of the cosmos is a first of its kind, a billion light-year-across universe-scale model, producing more than 500 terabytes of simulation data, and suggesting how black holes affect the distribution of the ever-elusive dark matter throughout galaxies. A stunning video, too.

We are a mighty, scientific civilization. Applying heart and tons of brains, we saved the ozone layer and every species of whale and are wiping out polio - competence portrayed in stunning beauty by this panorama from Mars, showing our loyal robot’s five year journey up a towering mountain, making huge discoveries along the way.


These steps forward are accompanied by danger signals all around. But they show abilities we could apply to every other crisis, if lunatics of the farthest-left and entire-right weren’t determined to trash our confidence as a logical, fact-using, problem-solving people.

While the epic journey of the Curiosity rover across Gale Crater and then up the slopes of Mt. Sharp has us enthralled (those with spirit in our hearts) - let’s recall there’s another faithful little robot on the Red Planet. I was on the committee that chose the names “Spirit” and “Opportunity” from proposals by school kids, and Opportunity is still eking her way along on measly-aging solar cells after 5000 (long) Martian days, or “sols.”  Bear in mind the rover was only built to run for about three months, and it's now been exploring Mars for just over ten years. But so far, systems look good, and there's lots of science ahead.

“Opportunity will be exploring Perseverance Valley, a shallow channel running down the inside slope of the western rim of Endeavor Crater. Scientists want to understand whether flowing water or blowing wind carved the valley in the side of the crater, and they want to understand when that process began.” The rover has covered about 28 miles since 2004, in short bursts, always seeking a stopping place tilted so its panels can soak in the sun.

And yes, I know you are already doing this. And my finger-wagging about the vital importance of optimism can get nearly 0.00000001% as tedious as the endless litanies of gloom, out there. Still, repeat it again and again, until maybe some confidence and pride bubbles forth: “I am a member of a species, civilization and nation that are competent – and cool -- enough to do stuff like this.”

== Outward into our solar system ==

A revolutionary satellite concept could give us a close view of the mysterious Martian moon Phobos. Funded by NIAC - NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (I’m on the external advisory council) - PHLOTE would “float” above Phobos, which I have long thought one of the most valuable sites in the solar system. If it finds volatiles like water ice, near the surface, then in-situ propellant production and water for life support could slash the cost of any expeditions to the surface of the red planet, and teach us plenty about accessing and using asteroidal resources. All of which is so vastly more likely to pay off for us than joining a crowd of wannabes in a silly race to plant more footprints on the dusty and (for now) useless Moon we see above Earth.

Still, if you want to hear all sides, come to the International Space Development Conference, or SpaceDev (ISDC 2018), near LAX on May 27. There will be a debate! Robert Zubrin speaking up for Mars, Brad Blair for the Moon, Al Globus for free space, and me? I'll stand for the destination desired by most tech zillionaires and nearly all scientists and anyone who wants us to get rich enough out there to turn Earth into a garden. Asteroids.

== Details! ==

It's nearly the fiftieth anniversary of the first landing of humans on the lunar surface.  Only 12 astronauts have stood on the moon and gazed back upon the orb of their home planet. How did this perspective change their worldview? A topic explored in the newly released The Earth Gazers: On Seeing Ourselves, by Christopher Potter, which examines the path of the far-seeing visionaries that pushed incrementally toward those brave first steps on lunar soil.

The SETI Institute and the Mars Institute announced today the discovery of small pits in a large crater near the North Pole of the Moon, which may be entrances to an underground network of lava tubes. The pits were identified through analysis of imaging data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). If water ice is present, these potential lava tube entrances or “skylights” might allow future explorers easier access to subsurface ice, and therefore water, than if they had to excavate the gritty ice-rich “regolith” (surface rubble) at the actual lunar poles.  The new pits were identified on the northeastern floor of Philolaus Crater, a large, 43 mile (70 km)-diameter impact crater located at 72.1oN, 32.4oW, about 340 miles (550 km) from the North Pole of the Moon, on the lunar near side.

The new discovery opens an exciting prospect: potentially much easier access to - and extraction of - lunar polar ice. Three factors could help: 1) skylights and lava tubes could provide more direct access to the very cold polar underground, alleviating the need to excavate vast amounts of lunar regolith; 2) if ice is present inside the lava tubes – which is not yet known - it could be in the form of massive ice formations as often occur in cold lava tubes on Earth – instead of mixed-in within lunar grit, and 3) solar power would be available nearby, just outside each skylight.” Could be cool, in every sense and at NIAC we've funded some innovative ways to explore such tubes.

Still, all will depend on how much ice there is. Copious gigatons? Then I'll change my mind about prioritizing moon settlement. If mere megatons? Then that water belongs to our descendants who will need it there, and not squandering it to make rocket fuel when there is vastly more (teratons, maybe) in them thar rocks out there. Listen to the visionaries who dream of heading out there....in The Space Barons, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos, by Christian Davenport.

Still... the moon serves as grist for science fiction plots. Try Andy Weir's Artemis, Ian McDonald's Luna, David Pedreira's Gunpowder Moon, Stephen Baxter's Moonseed, among many other lunar tales.

== From Mars to Asteroids ==

Circling back around.

Ice on Mars? At least in the higher latitudes, it sure appears to be so. Highlands that have eroded edges are revealing what appear to be thick layers of pretty clear and pure frozen water, improving prospects for ISRU or “in-situ resource utilization,” though at least as much of a difference might be made if there’s also ISRU usable ice reserves on Phobos.

Still, blatantly, the wealth is...

More on asteroid mining… and how the Falcon Heavy and New Glenn might greatly expand the number of potential targets. And how this terrifies the old resource oligarchs on Earth. Let's suppose the asteroid miners win. Huzzah! Only... does this portend a New Oligarchy, out there, like in all the clichéd space operas?

A joint India-Japan lunar mission is just the tip of growing cooperation between the two nations in a wide range of projects that have an obvious, geopolitical underpinning.

Bigelow – the inflatable space station company – is exploring a variety of options, including one in lunar orbit.

We were just in the Arctic, as docents for a tour group, explaining to them the aurorae... and one question came up...

Are we due for a magnetic field flip?  North and south magnetic poles tend to flip over the course of the planet's history. For the past 20 million years, the pattern of pole reversals take place every 200,000 to 300,000 years. The last time a full reversal took place was approximately 780,000 ya.  The fields extend more than 10 Earth radii, or 63.7 million meters, out into space on the side facing the Sun extending all the way to the Moon's orbit at 384.4 million meters on the opposite side.  When this happens, weakened fields can no longer protect us from solar radiation and cosmic rays. Fortunately the flip process only lasts a few centuries generally.  But one more reason to maintain a watchful and scientific and science fiction loving civilization.

And...

Kilopower small nuclear reactors for space. NASA is investing heavily in this.

There's lots more, and I'm looking forward to the NIAC meeting in DC, in June. We are wonders. Believe it, and we can accomplish anything.