Land of Counterpane

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June 26, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Mayors and CEOs and Governors, Oh My!

How has the Divider-in-Chief managed to unite 3 state governor’s, 30 mayor’s, over 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses? By putting ‘America First’ and not caring about the rest of the planet’s well being and reneging on our participation in the Paris Climate Accord! This is such an abysmal abandonment of America’s responsibility (after all, we are the second biggest contributor to CO2 levels in the world) that others in positions of relative power are ready to step in to fill the vacuum left by President Tyrannosaurus Rex.

So far this group has not created a moniker for itself, while former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is coordinating the effort, reports the New York Times. “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” he said, adding that cities, states and corporations could achieve, or even surpass the pledge of the Obama administration. The United States is required to continue reporting its emissions for now, as a formal withdrawal cannot take place for several years (during which we had better figure out how to get the oil-backed greedy politicians out and the real human beings back in to our elected offices). Hopefully this is just the first of many more local and state level leaders to join this important move towards true ‘homeland security’ – an Earth with air we can breath and water we can drink!

And so while der Trumpenfuhrer has mastered branding himself (even while walking away from multiple business bankruptcies) he is going to find that ‘branding’ America as a standalone island becoming ‘great again’ all by itself is not going to work. Bankrupting an entire country’s reputation in the world is not something you can bail on and recover in a lifetime. Just like the manufacturing jobs that left, never to return (despite Trump’s PT Barnum promises to the contrary), America’s leadership role will slip away, allowing other more Earth-aware, science believing nations to fill the void. This is not something that a state such as California whose GDP is sixth in the world or Mayors who see the effect of climate change on their cities (Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Atlanta to name a few) want to happen.

According to the online resource SustainLane Government, Oakland, California is at the head of the class in meeting California’s mandate of 20 percent of electricity purchases to come from renewable origns by 2020. In fact, Oakland leads the US in green energy by drawing 17% of its electrical power from sources such as solar, geothermal and wind turbines.

In fact, most of the actual decisions that create climate action are made locally so if these actors remain committed to the Paris accord the goals can be reached, according to Bloomberg. For instance, the state of Washington, California, and New York, have adopted a cap on carbon pollution, invested in growing clean energy jobs and subsidizes electric vehicle purchases. Significantly, much of California’s booming economy is in the clean energy field and it risks losing out on this growing business sector to China if we follow President “Job Creator’s” lead and step away from being competitive in the world’s market.

California governor Jerry Brown discusses green technologies, innovation, and trade with Chinese President Xi.

And it isn’t just generous planet-hugging empathy that is motivating the CEO’s and Governors. These ‘American’ corporations do business all over the world, and if they piss off their overseas customers too much they risk losing enough business to put them out of the game. So while some corporations still have CEO’s on the ‘I can’t hear you unless you are singing my praises’ Presidential Advisory panels hoping against all apparent logic to make a difference, some, like Elon Musk, have called it a day and left. I can’t help but feel that this time around cutting loose the usual channels of power and talking with China (as California governor Jerry Brown did last week) is actually the more safe and sane approach. (If you had told me this in the seventies when we were just normalizing relations with China I would have thought you had lost your mind…but then haven’t we all these days, if only by reading the daily news!) – Elizabeth McMahon

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Of Musk and Men

High tech tycoon Elon Musk unveiled his Red Planet survivalist manifesto last week, claiming that a million-person Martian urban center complete with ‘iron foundries and pizza joints’ could be achieved within 50 years, reports the Telegraph. According to the billionaire SpaceX impresario who published his Mars-civilization-for-dummies in the journal New Space, earthlings would need an escape rout from Earth to avoid a ‘Doomsday event’ and our ‘eventual extinction.’  “I think there are really two fundamental paths. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction. The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planetary species,” he said.

Musk estimates that the first wave of “colonists” could be sent to Mars in a decade, and explained that it would take between 40 and 100 years to transport enough people to populate a city on the Red Planet. Sounding more like an intergalactic Spring Break, rather than a perilous migration of humankind to another world, Musk describes the journey:

It has got to be really fun and exciting. It cannot feel cramped and boring. Therefore the crew compartment or the occupant compartment is set up so that you can do zero-gravity games. You can float around. There will be movies, lecture halls, cabins and a restaurant. It will be really fun to go. You are going to have a great time.

And once you get to Mars, the merriment doesn’t stop, says Musk. “It would be quite fun to be on Mars because you would have gravity that is about 37 per cent of that of Earth, so you would be able to lift heavy things and bound around.”

In addition to “iron foundries and pizza joints,” Musk envisions there will be methane plants on the Martian surface to provide fuel for rockets schlepping to and from Earth, a route he predicts will only take as few as 30 days (one way) in the future.

So, aside from the obvious questions like who/how will the million astro-squatters be selected, what they will breathe for air once they reach the Red Planet, and who will pull the short straw to build and work the foundries and methane plants, Musk’s dream of a Martian metropolis eerily reminds one of a cosmic groundhog day in which we tote our dirty laundry to the next unwrecked planet only to eventually slip on the same evolutionary banana peel that’s brought us to the edge of extinction here on Earth, thus truly becoming a multi-planetary species of wandering locusts dooming everything in its path.

It’s a Small World After All

In a less dumbed-down version of “stop the world, we want to get off,” famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking recently called for leading countries to unite in sending astronauts to the Moon by 2020 where they would complete a lunar base within 30 years, and also send humans to Mars by 2025, according to the BBC. Presenting his thoughts at the science and the arts Starmus Festival in Norway, the real-life Mr. Peabody communicated that he hoped such a shared endeavor would re-ignite a new sense of purpose for humanity as well as “unite competitive nations in a single goal, to face the common challenge for us all,” and “stimulate interest in other areas, such as astrophysics and cosmology.”

European Space Agency lunar base concept.

While not diminishing the need to also address Earth-bound crises such as a greenhouse gas apocalypse (unlike, he said, Donald Trump, “who may just have taken the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen.”), the renown physicist implored, “We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”

Star-Crossed Warriors

Believing the Pentagon is dragging its feet regarding America’s military readiness in space, key members of the US House Armed Services Committee have formally submitted proposed language to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for the creation of a dedicated “Space Corps,” by January 1, 2019 – a role traditionally held by the Air Force. “We are convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee for Strategic Forces, and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the subcommittee’s ranking member, in a joint statement. “Thus, Congress has to step in.”

The new Space Corps would be led by its own chief of staff, and would answer to the civilian secretary of the Air Force, who, interestingly, is pushing back on the proposed new military entity. Secretary Heather Wilson said on Wednesday that she opposes the Space Corps, complaining that “The Pentagon is complicated enough. We’re trying to simplify. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart and cost more money.’ Congressional champions of the idea, who are pig-biting mad at Wilson’s cold shoulder, argue that the creation of a space fighting branch is essential in protecting America’s network of communications and navigation satellites from weapons developed by nations such as China or Russia.

Little Engines That Could

Prometheus engine concept.

Under a similar theme of cheap and recyclable rocket motors, the European Space Agency and Airbus Safran Launchers (to be renamed ArianeGroup on July1) inked a deal last week to cook up a low-cost, reusable liquid oxygen/methane rocket engine dubbed “Prometheus” to go online after 2030 that will be made with the use of 3D printers to keep costs dow to around $1.1 million, reports the New York Times. “The commercial market – at least the European one – is asking for reliability, on-time delivery and cost, and we have to find the best way to answer these market expectations,” Safran’s CEO, Alain Charmeau, told Reuters. Charmeau noted that in particular, the expected boom in driverless cars and their need to have data transmitted to them globally, will increase the demand for communications satellites – and therefore rockets to launch them.

 Goin’ Postal

The US Postal Service last week released a special stamp commemorating this August 21st’s total solar eclipse that will cut a 70-mile shadow through 14 states from South Carolina to Oregon. The collector’s dream features a pic taken by retired NASA astrophysicist and solar eclipse guru Fred Espenak, and boasts the first-ever use of thermochromic ink on a postage sticker, allowing the image to morph when the heat of a thumb or fingers presses the surface.  (The underlying thermal-triggered Moon image, transforms to the classic lunar occultation shot once the surface cools.) For fanciers who want to preserve the longevity of their philatelic gem, the USPS is selling a special envelope for a nominal fee. And for those who want to do more than just ogle at literally a postage-stamp sized version of this year’s astronomical event, click here for the best spots to view the celestial show.

F Goop

NASA last week tossed a penalty flag on claims that a miracle healing patch being hawked on Gwyneth Paltrow’s putridly pretentious “Goop” website is made with the same high tech wizardry employed to monitor astronauts’ health in space. Sold alongside such scientifically-sound products as vitamin supplements for women named “Balls in the Air,” and “The Mother Lode,”  the “Body Vibes” wearable stickers claimed to “promote healing” and to “rebalance” the body’s  “energy frequency” with the “same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut’s vitals” via “bio-frequency” resonating with one’s “natural energy field.” So, before you can say, “Houston, we have a problem,” Gizmodo’s Rae Paoletta contacted space agency reps who reported that spacesuits “do not have any conductive carbon material lining.” In addition, a former chief NASA scientist, not surprisingly, added, “What a load of BS this is.” Goop on its part distanced itself from the fray, issuing the standard “we don’t formally endorse the advice and recommendations of overpriced crap that’s sold our our site” statement, while the Body Vibes dudes threw a company engineer and distributor under the bus, saying that it was all just a miscommunication between the two. According to Vox, the company, however, still stands by its wonder patch, saying that “the origins of the material do not [in] anyway impact the efficacy of our product.” Goop on the other hand has removed the controversial claims, awaiting further verification, and Gwyneth is, well you know the saying, “in space no one can hear you scream.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Repeal and Replace

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June 12, 2017

By Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Hell or High Water

Donald Trump’s actions leading up to and including him pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Change accord to further extend America’s greenhouse-gas frat party triggered several  impeachable offenses,  charges a Huffington Post op-ed piece last week written by Marjorie Cohn, Professor Emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Quoting the Constitution as providing for impeachment of a president when he commits “High Crimes” and misdemeanors, Cohn argues that such infractions don’t necessarily have to include conduct punishable by criminal law. In fact, Cohn says that Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist No. 65 writes that misdeeds can be impeachable if they “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust,” and “are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Therefore, Cohn argues, Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate deal is an impeachable, political offense since “he acted in  concert with 22 Republican senators, who collectively receive $10,694,284 in contributions from the coal and oil industries” and who “put their own political and economic interests above the safety, security and indeed survival of the American people and the entire planet.” Particularly egregious, Cohn notes, is that Trump’s new energy policies stumble far short of the Obama administration’s promise under the Climate Change deal to reduce carbon emissions 26 to 29 percent by 2025, while the second most polluting country on the planet will now at best cut greenhouse gas exhalations by 15 to 19 percent below 2005 levels.

In addition, Cohn charges that Trump’s conduct falls under “the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Continuing, she explains:

No individual embodies the trust of the public more than the president, who is elected by the people. When the people choose their president, they are entrusting that person with their security, well-being and survival. The voters trust the president to act in their best interests and protect them from harm. By withdrawing from the climate agreement, Trump is violating the trust that “We the People” have placed in him.

Finally, again quoting Hamilton, Cohn states that our Gasball-in-Chief deserves an impeachment nod for resulting “injuries done immediately to the society itself,” from the continuing contribution America will make as a gargantuan polluter to the Earth and ignoring the overwhelming red flags showing that we’re on the verge of a catastrophic life-ending epoch in our planet’s history. Punctuating this point, Cohn quotes Dahr Jamail’s analysis for Truthout, in which he reports, “Scientists have said that the U.S. withdrawal [from the climate accord] could add up to 3 billion tons of CO

2 into the atmosphere on an annual basis.” Further, Jamail adds, the anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) “is now recreating the conditions that caused the worst mass extinction event on Earth, the Permian mass extinction that took place approximately 250 million years ago and annihilated 90 percent of life.” Such “dramatic oceanic warming and acidification” he explains, “were key components of this extinction event, and these conditions align with what we are seeing today.”

I don’t know about you, but all this makes Trump’s arguably impeachable Comey/Flynn/Russia shenanigans look like running a stop sign, instead of a head-on collision of planetary proportions.

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Shooting the Moon

SpaceX founder Elon Musk dropped a tantalizing tidbit last week regarding the launch-ready timeline of the private space venture’s newest “Falcon Heavy” rocket. According to a tweet, Musk boasted that all elements of the  230-foot-tall booster “should be at the Cape [Canaveral] in two to three months, so launch should happen a month after that,” bringing Musk’s goal of blasting a private mission to the Moon by the end of 2018 one step closer. While most experts believe the gazillionaire entrepreneur is biting off more than he can chew, Musk is the first to admit he might be a bit overzealous: “We will probably fly something really silly on Falcon Heavy because it is quite a high-risk mission,” Musk said in March after the successful  SES-10 mission launch, which was the first to recycle a Falcon 9 booster. The high-tech mogul has yet to announce what that “silly payload” might be, however his firm one time launched a big wheel of cheese into orbit.  (And may we suggest a pink-frosted doughnut with sprinkles?)

The New Stuff

NASA has picked a new crop of 12 astronaut candidates from a record-breaking pool of more than 18,300 hopefuls. “You are the 12 who made it through, you have joined the elites, you are the best of us,” VP Mike Pence said at a ceremony introducing the new recruits last Wednesday. “These are 12 men and women whose personal excellence and whose personal courage will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery.” In an NPR interview, spacefarer-in-training Jasmin Moghbeli, who will start her cosmic bootcamp at Johnson Space Center in Houston this August, spoke about what it takes to be selected for the final frontier (hint, hint – seven of the 12 rookies are military officers): “Start looking into science, technology, engineering, math, those kinds of fields,” the German-born, New York native explained, adding, “But whatever you do, love it.”

Making It Count

According to math wiz Carl DeVito, any attempted communication between Earthlings and intelligent ETs should be based on a shared “exo-arthimetic” language. DeVito, who is an emeritus faculty in the mathematics department at the University of Arizona in Tucson, has proposed such a universal numeric lingo, and recently detailed his concepts at the Astrobiology Science Conference held in April. According to DeVito, since mathematics is such an integral part of our humanity from science to the arts, such a system would have a high probability of being understood – or even familiar – to alien civilizations. For a more detailed explanation, click this NBC article by Leonard David of Space.com.

To The Wonder

Take a 2017 space sojourn with the spectacular video below created with recent fly-by photos of Jupiter by NASA’s state-of-the-art Juno probe. Produced by German mathematician Gerald Eichstaedt, who spent 60 hours stitching 36 stunning Juno pix, and London animator Sean Doran, who, according to Wired, took 12 hours smoothing and enhancing the clip’s 2,400 frames before adding the Ligeti’s Requiem soundtrack used in Stanley Kubriick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Blast into the Past

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June 5, 2017

By Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Editor’s Note: Please forgive our truncated issue this week as we continue to find our bearings following the loss of Kate Woods late last month. Many thanks for your patience! – Agnett Bonwitt

Orange is the New Stupid

Mission Accomplished: Donald Trump congratulates EPA Scott Pruitt for his assistance in the America First, Earth Last decision.

Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster! Donald Trump has officially placed planet Earth along side his cryptozoological menagerie of U.S. enemies following his baloney-fueled, fact-free Rose Garden speech last week in which he brashly declared that the second most polluting country in the world will ditch the multinational 2015 Paris Climate accord.

US to accompany Syria and Nicaragua as the three nations not part of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord.

In addition to widening the chasm of disapproval between him, the majority of Americans, and most of the world, Cheetohead-in-Chief’s “decision” also managed to alienate blue blood corporate CEOs, high-tech moguls, and even mega carbon-rich energy companies like ExxonMobil, who collectively believe the historic anti-climate change deal is actually good for America. Seems like the only ones now standing by the burnt-sienna Veruca Salt are his hard-core sycophants and followers, employees, and the cheering hyenas that make up the Billionaires Cabinet Club.

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson.

 

Joining dozens of executives taking umbrage at Trump’s pronouncement, British gazillionaire and Virgin Galactic chief Richard Branson told CNN that “history will treat Trump incredibly unkindly for the message that he sent to the world,” adding that “It just makes so many of us literally want to cry when for some bizarre reason the president of America decides to make such a catastrophic decision.” Challenging the Trump’s claim that rejecting the Paris deal could save 2.7 million U.S. jobs, Branson countered that “Hundreds of thousands of jobs could have been created in the clean energy sector if he had given it his support.” (Also – fun fact – according to the New York Times, China is canceling plans to  build more than 100 coal-fired power plants, and, according to CBS, in turn will spend $361 billion on renewable energy by 2020 which it says should create 13 million new jobs.)

Space X’s Elon Musk (left)

Space X head Elon Musk finally reached the end of his rope and quit his position on two of Trump’s business advisory boards, tweeting, “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”

Former Vice President Al Gore.

On the somewhat bright side of a loser loses all game, the world seems ready to treat Baby Man the only way one can deal with a narcissistic megalomaniac – that is by ignoring him. Former Vice President Al Gore on Sunday told CNN that while Trump’s decision to exit the Paris accord was a “reckless” choice that “undermines America’s standing in the world,” U.S. business leaders and governors will step up and reduce carbon emissions with or without our feckless leader. A newly recharged Barak Obama, who brokered the Paris deal, also chimed in as he shamed our chief executive and his cronies by basically explaining “we don’t need you”:

The nations that remain in the Paris agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created.  I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack.  But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.

And the list goes on with nations and people doubling down on their commitment to the success of what is one of the last best chances that life on this Earth can survive beyond this century. Even Pittsburgh, PA, which was used as an unwilling prop in last week’s “America first at all costs” overture, cried foul on Trump via its mayor Bill Peduto when he tweeted, “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

Hopefully the best of these intentions will garner fruition before it’s too late, and we see Donald Trump, instead of our home planet, forced down the garbage chute of history.

And finally, a salvo from original “Star Trek” alumni George Takei, who answered Trump’s question when the rest of the world will “start laughing at us as a country” for joining the nearly 200-member Paris accord:

Donald asks “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us?”

Literally, the moment you were elected.

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Primordial Soup Mix

In what NASA is touting as a breakthrough in its search for past life on other planets, the agency announced last week that the Curiosity Mars Rover has provided an “unprecedented” amount of detail about conditions of an ancient lake that filled Gale Crater over three billion years ago in which different types of microbes could have existed simultaneously. “These were very different, co-existing environments in the same lake,” said Joel Hurowitz of Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, lead scribe of a report of the findings published in the June 2 edition of the journal Science. Significantly, NASA’s Martian freebooter determined that the primordial basin was stratified much like what is found on our planet, allowing for oxygen-rich conditions to occur in shallow water and oxygen-deficient characteristics in deep parts. “This type of oxidant stratification is a common feature of lakes on Earth, and now we’ve found it on Mars,” said Hurowitz. “The diversity of environments in this Martian lake would have provided multiple opportunities for different types of microbes to survive, including those that thrive in oxidant-rich conditions, those that thrive in oxidant-poor conditions, and those that inhabit the interface between those settings.”

Visitors to a Small Planet

Robert Bigelow speaks with 60 Minutes’ Lara Logan. Bigelow Aerospace’s first inflatable human-rated habitat was launched last year, and his currently attached to the International Space Station.

On a recent 60-Minutes interview, Robert Bigelow, real estate tycoon and founder of the space habitat firm Bigelow Aerospace, threw a curve at reporter Lara Logan when he all but showed up for the segment wearing a tin foil hat and admitted that he believes that aliens have definitely visited Earth. Bigelow is such a true believer, in fact, that he admitted to dropping “millions and millions and millions” studying UFOs, and bragged that he probably has “spent more as an individual than anybody else in the United Sates has ever spent on this subject.” According to The Verge, Bigelow first caught the extraterrestrial bug when his grandparents had a close encounter outside Las Vegas. “It really sped up and came right into their face and filled up the entire windshield of the car,” he said, adding that “it took off at a right angle and shot off into the distance,” he explained.  Bigelow himself claims to have had run-ins with other worldly beings, but refused to divulge any details. (60 Minutes did confirm that the mogul receives UFO reports from the FAA via another company he owns, and has had an alien illustration splashed along the side of Bigelow Aerospace’s  headquarters in  Las Vegas.)

And finally, the Apartment King told Logan he wasn’t going to be ridiculed into backing down on his convictions that ETs are “right under our noses”:

Lara Logan: Is it risky for you to say in public that you believe in UFOs and aliens?

Robert Bigelow: I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.

Lara Logan: You don’t worry that some people will say, “Did you hear that guy, he sounds like he’s crazy”?

Robert Bigelow: I don’t care.

Lara Logan: Why not?

Robert Bigelow: It’s not gonna make a difference. It’s not gonna change reality of what I know.

Lara Logan: Do you imagine that in our space travels we will encounter other forms of intelligent life?

Robert Bigelow: You don’t have to go anywhere.

Lara Logan: You can find it here? Where exactly?

Robert Bigelow: It’s just like right under people’s noses. Oh my gosh. Wow.

Well, at least Bigelow doesn’t believe climate change is a hoax cooked up by the Chinese.

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