Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Waging war against Gaia…

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

I’m expecting a bloodbath in the EPA, NASA, NOAA and possibly other agencies as Mr. Trump wages war on the environment. Many employees there are civil service, but that might not stop Il Duce AKA Narcissus le Grand—he’ll just close down the agencies if he wants to get rid of them. The EPA, NASA, and NOAA are where many of those “bad scientists” can be found who disagree with the GOP claim that climate control and taking care of the environment have low priority. Narcissus le Grand even believes global warming is a hoax.

What’s driving all this is Trump’s desire to end all environmental regulations so that companies, his included, can pollute and destroy the environment as much as they want, a particularly virulent and dangerous example of capitalism without controls. Even now, they ship high-tech toxic waste and other crap to places like Bangladesh. Il Duce and his minions probably think it would be cheaper just to dump it somewhere in the U.S. How ‘bout not doing it at all?!

Disasters like that BP oil well in the Gulf, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, poisoning wells and water supplies—those kinds of things are just part of doing business, according to Trump and his cronies. He names Pruitt to head the EPA and one of the gnome’s first public acts is to deny the role of CO2 in global warming. C’mon!

Many scientists are worried. A week before Il Duce’s inauguration, more than 250 volunteers met at UPenn for a two-day binge of downloading climate data and storing it on independent servers. “If you don’t want to do anything about climate change,” said Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, “you are in a stronger position if you get rid of the data.” Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center of Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “With a president who doesn’t respect scientific information, one abuse could be data mysteriously disappearing from websites, or government scientific websites may suddenly have misinformation.” Most of the data that was saved was from NOAA, EPA, DoE, and NASA.

One of those infamous executive orders from Narcissus le Grand could restrict data access from outside the U.S. Trump’s evil minions are already talking about clamping down on the internet and allowing service providers to have multi-tier systems—that’s been on the GOP hit list for some time. And shortly after the inauguration, Trump ordered the EPA to delete climate change pages from the EPA’s website, but he then backtracked on that order when the roars of protest became deafening. The order for EPA scientists and other agencies’ scientists not to post on social media or communicate with reporters still stands, though. Inside the agencies that do climate-related research, Goldman says “morale is low. People are scared.” Scared for their jobs, because Il Duce likes to fire people who disagree with him!

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Post-mortem of a speech to Congress…

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

In some dilating time machine or Mr. Trump’s parallel universe, ages have passed since he gave that speech to Congress. In real life, it was only a week ago—can you believe it? Everything he said is meaningless now, so dissecting that rambling rhetoric of a delusional man is anti-climactic. But let’s do it anyway because the president left the Twitter-sphere long enough to sound presidential and hide his narcissistic psychosis.

It’s curious that the media, after the president declared them to be the “enemy of the American people,” fell all over themselves to state that his “state of the union” (read: state of Trump’s parellel universe, that one that circulates among the dark energy and matter of his mind) set a new tone. Il Duce was even called presidential because he sounded presidential. But not for me—he’s not my president! He never will be my president, and isn’t the president of a majority of the American people.

What I heard was empty rhetoric reminiscent of Goebbels’s 1930’s propaganda in Germany—in other words, fascistic spin and appeal to populism playing on the fears of good Americans. His handlers, Bannon, Conway, and Miller, who take turns at the puppet strings—yes, he’s a marionette, even stringing himself along—carefully planned this atrocious display. If it was some crazy attempt to reach across the aisle, Dems won’t buy the snake oil from this charlatan, and didn’t—the thumbs-down from the Dem women in white were refreshing and evidence for their general mood—Trump the misogynist is women’s rights worst enemy. Narcissus the Wonderful shows no concern about women’s issues—we know he sees them only as objects—and on abortion, he’s as much a right-wing bigot as they come.

Let’s consider a few points. On trade, Trump might have sounded a wee bit like Sanders. There’s a huuuuge difference, though. Both men were born in Brooklyn, but the two are light years apart—Trump might actually live in one of those other multiverses where his marionette strings are tangled with those of general string theory. In particular, where Bernie was an earnest and honest champion for the working class, Il Duce doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about their plight—it’s all just show. He follows the time-tested fascist strategy of pretending to do so, of course—that’s how Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini came to power in the 1930s! U.S. workers should be wary about buying anything from this snake-oil salesman. Pay attention to his false promises at your own risk!

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Apocalypse redux…

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Redux = brought back, revived. We’re talking about the apocalypse again. Apocalypse is the event. While a dystopian society can cause it or be its aftermath, post-apocalyptic is reserved for the aftermath. There is a resurgence in these themes now. Everyone knows the reason: what’s happening in the U.S. right now as well as across the world has frightening parallels with 1930’s Germany, Italy, and Spain as well as with the darkest days of the Cold War. There’s nothing religious about this apocalypse.

Most dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic tales in the past were associated with the two world wars or the Communist threat. Brave New World was dystopian; Ape and Essence was post-apocalyptic. Even The Time Machine was post-apocalyptic. 1984 and Animal Farm were dystopian. Later sci-fi novels like Not This August were post-apocalyptic. Many classics can be found in these subgenres. Many soon-to-be classics like Wool are too. They all are warnings about what could happen. It’s common that interest in books and movies in these subgenres reflect troubled times in the world.

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the world. As that hand on the Doomsday Clock inches toward midnight, these sci-fi subgenres become more popular. Some readers ignore them, burying their heads in the sand by reading schmaltzy romances and fluffy adventures that avoid most serious themes of any type. Which group is right? Beats me. I just tell stories. If one of them comes out apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, so be it. Almost all my stories have serious themes, though, but not all of them are in the aforementioned subgenres.

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Is nuclear power off the table?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

In my forthcoming novel, Gaia and the Goliaths, #7 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” Detective Castilblanco considers some of the pros and cons about nuclear power. The novel’s main theme involves climate and environmental issues, pro-environmental activism, and attacks on the environment waged by corporations and their political sycophants.  Russia, known for its lack of concern about the environment and the Chernobyl disaster, plays an important role too. These issues are current ones now, considering the new U.S. administration that will invade Washington D.C.

Mr. Trump and his cabinet choices will probably set back any progress we’ve made on environmental issues, except for states like California that are far more progressive than Washington, and there are plenty of willing accomplices for Trump’s team in the GOP-dominated Congress. The new president thinks global warming is a hoax and climate control isn’t necessary. But questionable actions have been taken by Dems too. There is a general consensus among politicians that nuclear power is bad, so let’s get rid of it.

For example, Governor Cuomo of New York has championed the closing of the Indian Head power plant on the Hudson, mentioned in my novel, without having any viable alternative for replacing the power the plant generates. Many European countries depend on nuclear power, as does Japan. Is it dirty energy? Are nuclear power plants accidents waiting to happen? Have politicians created a Frankenstein monster in order to win votes from environmental activists?

First, let’s state for the record what affects global warming and is bad for the climate, namely fossil fuels. Presumably Cuomo, who has no technical background and is apparently channeling Van Helsing in his pursuit of nuclear energy as an evil vampire, will replace Indian Head’s power output with coal-burning or natural gas power plants. Those are worse for the environment. We need to reduce the carbon footprint, not augment it. Any environmental campaign must be anti-fossil fuels because there is no way to use them that won’t damage the environment. Period.

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Irish Stew #56…

Monday, December 12th, 2016

[It’s been awhile. I use this potpourri of news when I want to make a lot of mini-op-eds about current affairs—hence the name. Or, if you like, my Irish temper blows, and then I stew. Because I already had a political op-ed set for tomorrow about the healthcare crisis, I decided to pair this with “Monday Words of Wisdom” and clear my writing to-do list a wee bit. Let’s go to it…]

International

More Saudi duplicity. I’ve often railed against the duplicitous Saudis in this blog. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Here’s yet another example of their duplicity: while we’ve been fighting the Taliban, among others, in Afghanistan for years, the Saudis have been playing both sides, but more in support of the Taliban! To quote a recent Times article: “Saudi Arabia is critical [in Afghanistan] because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.” Was Machiavelli a Saudi? They represent the primary source for destabilization in the Middle East and are indirectly (if not directly) responsible for countless tortures and murders of innocents. They are NOT our friends.

Taiwan calling. This is one case where government intervention was required—lots of it! During the election, Trump bloviated a lot about his loathing of the People’s Republic of China (like many communist naming inventions, it’s not a republic and certainly doesn’t belong to the people). He took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president. Big deal! Irony?  Obama can call a brutal and murdering dictator in Cuba and Trump is criticized for accepting a call from a democratically elected leader?

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Cosmological distances…

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Some excitement was caused recently by the announcement of an E-type exoplanet, Proxima b, a planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple-star system (Alpha A is a G-type star like the sun, while B is a K-type star, but both are much brighter than Proxima). That system is about 4.3 light-years from Earth, or 40.14 trillion kilometers. (Conversion lesson: convert to statute miles.) The size of the Milky Way is about 100, 000 light-years, so Proxima is right around the corner. Right? Wrong! Even distances in our galaxy are “huuuuge,” to borrow a word abused by two recent presidential candidates and the SNL comics.

More excitement was caused by the report from scientists at the RATAN-600 radio telescope at Zelenchukskaya in Russia. They detected a strong signal apparently originating in the direction of the G-type star HD 1611595, known to have one warm Neptune-like planet (40-day orbit). This star is 94 light-years away. The Russian report to the SETI committee was made without many details.  The star might have rocky E-type planets too, so many UFO-ET enthusiasts and sci-fi addicts are in a frenzy, spurred on by the meaning of the acronym—“Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.” While some other Russian scientists wrote the whole thing off as terrestrial interference (covering their butts?), the scientific jury is still out (comments updating this are welcome).  95 light-years is many times 4, of course, but still small in comparison relative to galactic distance markers—4 is a walk to your neighborhood convenience store; 95 is a short car ride to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

Let’s counter some knee-jerk reactions to these reports first. Coincidentally, SETI has a new focus on red dwarf stars. They can live billions of years longer than G-type stars, where SETI’s emphasis has traditionally been, because we know at least one G-type star, ours, has an intelligent civilization (although “intelligent” might be a questionable word to use sometimes). That extra stellar lifespan might allow a red dwarf like Proxima Centauri to be home to an ancient civilization far advanced beyond ours (and actually be intelligent?). The hurdles are enormous, though, for any kind of life in such a system, because livable E-type planets would have to orbit the parent star so closely that they would be tidally locked, one face always turned toward the star. That means life as we know it could only exist in that transition zone between eternal day and eternal night.

The second report is a bit more difficult to put down in this way: an E-type planet could exist farther out from HD 1611595 and have life. Without knowing the details of the signal (I only know it’s strong), one can’t use it to mark the source as being intelligent. If it were narrowband, seemingly coded, and beamed directly at us (how could they know to do that when radio had just been invented on Earth 90 years ago?), you might have something. But consider this: one scientist estimates that ten-to-the-thirtieth (one followed by thirty zeroes) watts would be needed to broadcast this signal if omnidirectional (i.e. not specifically aimed at us), and ten-to-the-fifteenth watts if beamed directly. The first corresponds to a Kardashev Type II civilization, one that harnesses all energy emitted by its sun (Dyson sphere?—that’s physicist Freeman Dyson, not my author-friend Scott Dyson); the second to Type I, a civilization that “only” harnesses all the energy falling on its planet.

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Common sense in a nonsensical world…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

If your perception about U.S. policies is that they don’t make sense, you are correct—most of the time they don’t. Not necessarily in order of importance, here’s why: First, the courts are stuck in the 19th century because the laws are. Second, American foreign policy is still based on the credo that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Third, the people running everything, the super-rich, don’t give a rat’s ass whether things are done right, as long as they get richer. I could go on, but you get the idea. Sure, problems in the 21st century are complex, but incompetent people and institutional resistance to change for the better make them more so.  My definition of conservative: someone who’s so satisfied with what they have that they don’t want any change. There’s a place for that attitude, but not in the three points I mentioned.

I’ve suffered in my life with both types of judicial systems, English and Roman. In the first, precedents are given weight so that there’s continuity to “justice” (the meaning given to that word could be a fourth problem–just ask the innocent victims of gun violence or those who think Hillary Clinton should be in jail). In the second, the system inherited from the Romans and popular in Latin countries, you can do anything the law doesn’t specifically prohibit (that’s why those countries’ constitutions, if they have one, are so long).  Both are unwieldy. The first practically precludes adapting to changing times, a conservative’s delight. For example, the internet was invented in 1983 (ARPANET) and only assumed something resembling today’s chaos in 1990—let’s give it thirty years. Adding to that the fact that most justices and juries (formed from users, not techies) have no tech background at all, you can see that the justice system can’t possibly make informed decisions about scientific and technical issues most of the time.

Roman justice has a similar problem. Its laws tend to be more “written in stone,” so new science and technologies occur without any control whatsoever. It’s impossible to prohibit something when it hasn’t even been invented yet, and when it is, it might be too late to prohibit it. Progress occurs so fast nowadays that neither judicial system can keep up. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of that, human nature being what it is. Common sense tells me that technical regulatory boards are called for to keep pace with the progresses in science and technology—groups of high-tech “philosopher kings” in the sense of Plato, incorruptible individuals serving limited terms. Again, given human nature, that word “incorruptible” is key. Do such individuals exist? But there’s no doubt the current system is broken and must be fixed.

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Reasonable people thinking unreasonably…

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

If you think the world is going mad, it is. That’s another way of saying people are crazy. The recent Pokemon Go craze is just the tip of the iceberg. Like that minions game on the iPhone, I thought Pokemon Go was harmless until people started walking in front of trucks, getting robbed by thieves or molested by perverts, and in general looking like actors auditioning for The Walking Dead. Not so harmless are some of the other things occurring as reasonable people think unreasonably or believe things not based on fact.

Nancy Reagan believed in astrology; many people do. They believe the zodiac signs determine their personal fates; Nancy Reagan used them to advise Ronnie about global affairs! People hold similar beliefs about Tarot cards, séances, and palm readings. Some people would never own a black cat or walk under a ladder. All these superstitious beliefs have zero science behind them. It is amazing that our science and technology have come this far with all these nuts around. Even so-called scientists can believe really stupid things. It’s embarrassing. Despite the pics from ISS and imaging satellites, there are still people who think that the Earth is flat and the center of the Universe. And I’m talking about otherwise sensible people, not primitive tribe members in Africa, Australia, or South America.

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Irish Stew #55…

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

International

Saudi duplicity. The Kingdom has an agenda. They try to pretend they’re friends, but they push a 6th century version of Islam just as much as ISIS. Most of the al Qaeda murderers who plotted 9/11 were Saudi, and the Saudi government helped them, not to mention the training in the Saudi’s religious schools that teaches young men to hate the West. They are also trying to radicalize Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo and those in the old Islamic USSR countries. Their agenda is clear: time travel back to that 6th century caliphate. And you thought ISIS was the problem?

This last weekend, the government finally released the full 28 pages of the 9/11 report originally deemed TOP SECRET because they embarrassed our “Saudi friends” (with friends like that, who needs enemies?). I downloaded a copy and will peruse it in detail. At first glance, it seems nebulous and full of doublespeak, par for the course when it comes to national security. Here’s a quote from the Times article describing it: “Subsequent investigations…pursued the leads described…and found that many had no basis in fact.” Pox on the Times for bad reporting. What investigations? Do we have access? Many, but some did. Which ones? Really bad reporting. And people wonder why we have conspiracy theories! It’s only paranoia if it’s…you finish the phrase.

BREXIT and the new PM. Looks like the Brits have to live with their choices. I found it amusing the story about a town that had voted Labour for many decades voting to leave the EU in spite of that party’s pleas. Both Sanders and Trump here in the U.S. tapped into similar sentiments, but Hillary is still supporting TPP because Wall Street does.

I don’t expect the new PM to last long, although both Labour and Conservative parties should be walking the halls of Parliament like Lady Macbeth—they have blood on their hands, but Macbeth has already died. “Double, double, toil and trouble, pot boil and cauldron bubble….” British politics is more like a pressure cooker now.

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Where are they?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Most sci-fi readers and writers are familiar with the Fermi paradox, summarized by the question in the title, and the associated Drake equation that tried to resolve it. For those who are not, let me review that history first before going on to discuss a different take on the Drake equation that I found interesting.

The Fermi paradox first appears in my sci-fi books in the second book of the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy.” In Sing a Samba Galactica, Earth colonists on New Haven, an E-type planet in the 82 Eridani system, have evidence for some local ETs and try to figure out how to communicate with them. Here’s the excerpt:

***

They had an informal meeting in the bachelors’ dining area.  Takahashi watched as Malenkov, ever the showman, pinged his beer mug with a laser pointer and then stood on top of a chair.

“At Los Alamos, in 1950,” he began, in his best orator’s voice, “the great Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York, as well as other physicists working on the atomic bomb project, this provocative question:  If life is so common in the universe, where are they?”

Malenkov waited for some chuckles to subside, gulped some beer, and continued.

“Fermi noted there are plenty of stars older than our sun.  If life were so plentiful, it would have begun on planets around these stars billions of years before it began on Earth.  In that case, shouldn’t Earth have been visited or colonized by a race much older than our own?  Even with slow means of space travel like what we used to come to New Haven, a civilization with a will to homestead could settle a large fraction of the galaxy in a million years or so.”

Malenkov looked out at his audience.  Takahashi, sitting in the cafeteria’s front row, smiled at him.  So which one of us is Holmes and which one Watson?

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