Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.
Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, and The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper.
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Friday, May 22, 2015
India ends Russian space partnership and will land on the moon alone
The Russian space program has been beset with a number of accidents and delays, calling into question its long term viability. That fact seems to have been a factor in India’s decision to pull out of a partnership with Russia for a mission to the moon. Previously, India was scheduled to launch a Russian lander on one of its rockets and send it to the lunar South Pole. Now, according to a Thursday story in Russia and India Report, India will go it alone, building its own lander to touch down on the lunar surface within the next few years.
Czech reality show takes a family back to the Nazi occupation
The more high-brow sorts of reality shows involve taking a group of people, sometimes a family, into a period in history and see how they cope. Examples of this subset of the genre include “The 1900 House” and “The Colonial House.” The viewer was invited to have fun watching people having to cope without modern conveniences while wearing quaint costumes. The Associated Press reported on Friday that a reality show in the Czech Republic, entitled “A Vacation in the Protectorate,” is going to take a family back to the days of the Nazi occupation and see how they cope with privation and the ever present threat of the Gestapo.
Obama says that an Iranian nuclear bomb would 'have my name on it'
According to a wide-ranging Thursday interview in the Atlantic focusing on the Middle East, President Obama hotly defended his impending nuclear deal with Iran. He said, “Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this.” The apparent hit to Obama’s legacy may be of cold comfort to Israel and the nearby Arab states who would be threatened with nuclear annihilation by a nuclear-armed Iran. Combine nuclear weapons with a missile or the terrorist infrastructure necessary to infiltrate a bomb into an American city, the United States would be threatened as well.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Ted Cruz shut down gay question, asks reporter if he hates Christians
It is no secret that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for president of the United States, opposes same-sex marriage. His stance is more nuanced than many people will recognize since he opposes the reinstitution of the Defense of Marriage Act that President Clinton signed into law. He would leave the matter up to the states and opposed a possible Supreme Court decision that would overturn state laws that ban same-sex marriage. According to a Wednesday story in Real Clear Politics, Cruz was at a campaign stop in Beaumont, Texas when he was ambushed by a local reporter who peppered him with questions on same-sex marriage and gay rights in general.
Will the first astronauts on Mars raise a flag of Earth over the Red Planet?
Do we need a world flag to plant on Mars when astronauts eventually reach the Red Planet? That is the position of Oskar Pernefeldt of the Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, who has designed what he calls a flag for Planet Earth, as reported by Wired UK on Tuesday. However, despite media accounts to the contrary, NASA is not directly involved in the flag project. It is still the official policy of the space agency that when Americans land on Mars, sometime in the 2030s as currently scheduled, they raise the Stars and Stripes over the Martian surface, just like the Apollo astronauts did on the moon decades ago.
PETA demands that Britain's oldest pub 'Ye Olde Fighting Cockes' change its name
PETA or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is nothing if not diligent in ferreting out even a hint of abuse against the other species with whom we share this planet. In that spirit, the UK Express reported on Thursday that the UK branch of the animal rights group has focused its attention on a 1400 year old pub in St. Albans in Hertfordshire. The pub’s name has been “Ye Olde Fighting Cockes” since 1872, during a time when cock fighting was still common. PETA has invited the pub to change its name to “Ye Olde Clever Cocks” to celebrate the intelligence and sensitivity of chickens.
How Alan Grayson may end Democrats' hopes of retaking the Senate
With Marco Rubio preparing to leave the Senate, no matter what happens with his 2016 run for the presidency, Democrats are keen to grab his Florida seat. The Rubio seat is crucial for retaking the Senate. However, as Politico reported on Wednesday, one man may stand in the way of fulfilling that dream. His name is Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, and he is threatening to run for that Senate seat against the preferred candidate of the Democratic establishment, Rep. Patrick Murphy. The National Journal even compares Grayson to Todd Akin.
In Neal Stephenson's 'Seveneves' a hard rain falls after the moon blows up
The beginning of “Seveneves,” the novel by Neal Stephenson that was published on Tuesday, is nothing if not on a grand scale. The moon not so much blows up as it starts to come apart. Scientists on Earth soon determine that human civilization has about two years to live before the “hard rain” begins to bombard the planet’s surface, reducing it to molten slag. So, in the blockbuster film style, humanity proceeds to build space habitats to allow a last remnant of humanity to ride out the apocalypse that is due to last about five thousand years.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Secret Air Force X-37B shuttle carries NASA and other experiments into space
The United States Air Force’s X-37B lifted off on Wednesday on board at Atlas V for an orbital mission of an unknown duration, NASASpaceFlight reported. The previous three missions lasted each for some months, the third one for nearly two years. The fourth mission, besides carrying secret Air Force experiments in its cargo bay, is also carrying a NASA payload and a number of small satellites from private and government organizations.
NASA satellite data suggests the polar ice caps are not shrinking
The global warming controversy has created as much heat as the Earth is alleged to be warming as a result. The latest wrinkle in the “settled science” involves whether or not the polar ice caps are receding or not. Recent news stories, including one from the Washington Post, reports that an Antarctic ice shelf is on the verge of collapse, largely due to warming water in the region. At the same time Forbes reported on Tuesday, citing NASA satellite data, that the extent of the polar ice caps have largely remained unchanged since 1979.
Obama White House affects unconcern on ISIS taking Ramadi in Iraq
As ISIS overran Ramadi, raising its black flag over the Iraqi provincial capital, starting the summary executions and the mass rapes, the Obama administration affected an air of unconcern, according to a Tuesday story in the Washington Free Beacon. The White House maintains the claim that “overall” the strategy against ISIS has been a success. In other words, to quote the hapless ROTC student at the end of “Animal House,” the party line is, “Remain calm. All is well.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
House NASA bill to fund Ocean Worlds Exploration Program
The House appropriators delivered the details of their proposed 2016 NASA budget on Tuesday. The reaction depends on the perspective of who was reacting. The Earth Science community is not very happy because the budget cuts $250 million from President Obama’s request for its priority. The budget also cuts the same amount from the commercial crew program, unwise in the opinion of many considering the current woes besetting the Russian space program upon which the world depends to access the International Space Station. However, the Planetary Science community is ecstatic. Not only does the House bill provide $140 million toward a mission to Europa to be launched in the early 2020s, but also has a line item for the Ocean Worlds Exploration Program.
About that rape scene in 'Game of Thrones'
“Game of Thrones” rarely fails to shock, filled as it is with atrocity porn. However, the brutal rape of Sansa Stark at the hands of the psychotic Ramsey Bolton at the end of Sunday’s episode seems to have crossed the line for many people. It is not like people haven’t been raped and worse before. Remember the Red Wedding, the beheading of Eddard Stark, and the castration and torture of Theon Greyjoy. But, Sansa is an innocent girl, though she has been getting progressively less naïve as the series has proceeded.
Lindsey Graham says the Iraq War was not a mistake
Sen. Lindsey Graham will shortly become the latest of many Republicans to announce for the presidency. Naturally, he was given the question Monday on CNN that is being used as a gotcha for all Republican candidates. Knowing what we know now, was it a mistake for President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003? Both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, for different reasons, have stumbled over the answer. However politically motivated the what if is, it has some relevance with ISIS having taken Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, and is currently driving all before it. Graham’s answer was illuminating and nuanced.
China plans to land on the far side of the moon by 2020
According to a Tuesday story in Quartz, the Chinese have decided to land the Chang’e 4 probe on the far side of the moon. Chang’e 4 is a backup probe to the Chang’e 3, which landed on the lunar surface in December 2013 and carried a rover called Yutu. Because the spacecraft will have to be reconfigured, its scheduled launch will be delayed until sometime before 2020, likely after the Chang’e 5 sample return mission which is currently scheduled to launch in 2017.
With the ban on fracking bans, Texas touches off a debate
The Associated Press reported on Monday that the state of Texas has passed a law that prohibits local governments from prohibiting hydraulic fracking and other oil and gas drilling activities opposed by environmentalists. The law was passed in response to a ban by the town of Denton, near Dallas, to ban fracking last November. The law has touched off a debate among conservatives on the clash between local government authority and private property rights. Conservatives value both principles, but they seem to be in conflict in this case.
Just when all hope was lost, Joe Biden may ride to the rescue of the Democrats
When a presidential administration begins to wind down after two terms in office, usually the vice president is the front runner for his or her party’s nomination. Such was the case for George H. W. Bush in 1988 and Al Gore in 2000, But, 2016 is not going to be an ordinary year. Even with the scandals that swirl about her, slime on an epic scale, Hillary Clinton is still dominate among Democrats. Joe Biden, the current vice president, is a walking, talking gaffe machine. Still, as Eleanor Cliff pointed out on Tuesday in the Daily Beast, a small, but fervent Draft Joe Biden exists.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Elian Gonzales wants to come to America, though only as a tourist
The Elian Gonzalez affair is widely considered one of the worst atrocities committed by the Clinton administration, involving as it does the forcible removal by gun point of a little Cuban refugee boy from his American relatives and his delivery back to Cuba to the custody of his father. The picture of little Elian, his eyes widened with terror, at federal agents waved guns at him and his American family is an iconic image of the Clinton era. Now, ABC News reported on Monday that the now adult Gonzales would like to return to the United States, but of course, perhaps in recognition of who still rules the country he is in, only as a tourist.
In the 'Mad Men' finale Don Draper finally gets what he needs
“Mad Men,” that TV series about 1960s advertising men and the women who loved them came to a conclusion on Sunday. The show spanned a tumultuous decade from the approval of the birth control pill in 1960s to the beginning of the hedonistic decade of the 1970s. Along the way, Don Draper found out that his life was meaningless, and other characters such as Joan, Peggy, Roger, and Peter won and lost and won again in both love and business. Ironically, the episode ended with the “What the World Wants Today” ad that featured young people of all races, colors, and creeds singing the praises of coca cola.
Hillary Clinton called 'Bride of Frankenfood' by science denying Iowa Democrats
Hillary Clinton, former senator and secretary of state and past and current presidential candidate, has another problem, according to a Sunday story in the Washington Times. Because of her ties to Monsanto and her support for GMOs, genetically modified organisms, she is facing an open revolt by science denying Iowa Democrats. To compound her difficulties, it is unclear whether Ms. Clinton’s stance is motivated by sound science or the fact that Monsanto has been very generous to the Clinton Foundation. In any case, anti-GMO environmentalists are calling her the “Bride of Frankenfood.”
Sunday, May 17, 2015
The George Stephanopoulos scandal just got worse
Ever since George Stephanopoulos, a former and likely current consigliere to the Clinton family, who works as a TV talking head for ABC News, revealed that he had given $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, a debate has raged over the seemliness of a reporter who maintains his former political ties. The debate just went up another level, thanks to the Saturday revelations by author Peter Schweizer that Stephanopoulos’ involvement with the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative goes beyond just writing checks. For Schweizer, whose book “Clinton Cash,” has laid bare the graft and corruption that swirls about Clintonworld, the revelation is revenge in the form of a dish served cold.
The Vortex is a wind energy turbine with no spinning blades
A lot of people have seen those vast wind energy farms with rotating blades dotting the landscape. However, according to a Friday story in Wired, those kind of wind turbines are about to have some competition. A Spanish company called Vortex Bladeless is developing wind turbines that do not involve spinning pinwheels turning electric generators. These turbines harvest wind power by taking advantage of a phenomenon known as vorticity, ordinarily the bane of builders and architects.
NASA announces the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge for moon and Mars bases
Space policy experts are still arguing where American astronauts should go once they venture into deep space. However, there is widespread agreement that once they get there they should be prepared to stay for longer than just a few hours or days, as was the case during the Apollo missions to the moon. Taking all the material to set up habitats, the astronauts’ homes away from home, would tend to be expensive. Toward the end of lowering the cost of long duration space travel, NASA announced on Saturday the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, in partnership with America Makes, as part of the ongoing Centennial Challenge program.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Bureaucracy and litigation stymies desalination in California
The Wall Street Journal on Friday described how California’s water shortages have been exacerbated by environmental regulation, bureaucratic foot-dragging, and endless litigation. These conditions have held up the construction of desalination plants that many consider crucial to securing long term access to water in what was once known as the Golden State. By contrast, the state of Israel has finally not only secured lasting water supplies, thanks to the construction of desalination plants, but will soon start to export the commodity to its parched Arab neighbors.
American special operators kill ISIS leader, capture wife, liberate Yazidi slave
The BBC reported on Saturday that American special operators raided Al Amr in Eastern Syria and killed an ISIS commander named Abu Sayyaf, who was in charge of the Islamic State’s captured oil fields. They captured his wife, Um Sayyaf, and liberated a young Yazidi woman who was being kept as a slave. During the firefight, at least 40 ISIS fighters were killed. No American servicemen were killed during the operation.
Friday, May 15, 2015
Hillary Clinton promises to pack Supreme Court with anti-free speech justices
Most occupants of the Oval Office claim that they have no litmus test when they nominate judges, especially Supreme Court justices, even though more often than not they’re pretending. According to s Thursday story in the Washington Post, former senator and secretary of state and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has promised to drop that pretense. Besides the obvious litmus test of maintaining the Roe v. Wade guarantee of a woman’s right to an abortion, Clinton told a group of donors that one litmus test for any Supreme Court nominee will be that they overturn the Citizens United decision.
Moon Express to deliver MoonLight Lunar Laser Ranging experiment to the moon
Moon Express announced on Friday that it has entered into an agreement with The National Laboratories of Frascati (INFN-LNF) and the University of Maryland to deliver a series of laser range finding arrays to the lunar surface. These arrays will be included in the first four missions Moon Express will conduct to the moon. MoonLight, as the arrays are called, are similar to arrays that were left on the lunar surface by the Apollo astronauts. The total cost will be $24 million, which will be split between the academic partnership and Moon Express.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott favors wet rub barbecue, outrage ensues
Texans argue about a lot of things, including political issues such as education, healthcare and, of course, illegal immigration. But nothing gets the denizens of the Lone Star State exercised more, with the possible exception of football, than barbecue, more specifically the wet rub vs. dry rub question. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently came down on the wet rub side of the controversy. Thursday, the San Antonio Current pretty much proposed revoking the governor’s Texas citizenship for this heresy. “Everyone knows” that real barbecue does not need sauce. It is all in the smoking technique.
Greenpeace says binge watch 'Game of Thrones' and you destroy the planet
The old lament goes something like this. “Why is it that everything I enjoy is either illegal, immoral or fattening?” It seems now we now we have to add a fourth, “and causes global warming.” That is the conclusion of a new report by Greenpeace, according to a Thursday piece in Wired. The Internet revolution, which involves everything from surfing the Web, to streaming live video, to the writing and reading of this piece, takes a lot of energy to produce, both at data centers and at the home. Energy used to enjoy the convenience of the Internet is more often than not produced by evil, fossil fuels, which in turn causes global warming.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Now President Obama is accused of being a 'climate change denier'
When the Obama administration approved an application for Royal Dutch Shell to start drilling in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska, the environmental lobby was outraged. Bill McKibben, who teaches environmental studies at Middlebury College and is the founder of something called something called 350.org, which seeks to build a climate change movement, took to the pages of the New York Times Tuesday and basically called the president a climate change “denier.” The label is usually reserved for conservatives and others, including climate scientists, who doubt the theory of human caused global warming.
ABC's George Stephanopoulos admits he gave money to the Clinton Foundation
Politico revealed on Thursday that George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC’s “This Week,” confessed that he contributed a total of $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 2013 and 2014. Despite the obvious conflict of interest that this admission contains, the network has declined to take any punitive action and has accepted his apology. This lack of action is despite the fact that Stephanopoulos conducted a contentious interview with Peter Schweizer, the author of the book “Clinton Cash,” which revealed the corruption and graft surrounding the activities of the Clinton Foundation.
Northrop Grumman envisions a Venus plane for NASA's New Frontiers program
The announcement of NASA’s next New Frontiers mission competition won’t take place until 2016. However, according to a Wednesday story in Space.com, Northrop Grumman is already pushing a concept called the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, essentially an airplane that would fly through the upper atmosphere of Venus for at least a year. The concept has never been tried before, on any planet but has the virtue of being able to explore at least part of the second planet from the sun.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Barack Obama fends off sexism charge over attacks on Elizabeth Warren
The civil war that has broken out between President Obama and Senate Democrats in the wake of the blocking of the trade bill has taken on a nasty, personal aspect, according to a Wednesday story by the Washington Examiner. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio accused the president of sexism, if not outright misogyny, for criticizing Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, an opponent of free trade. The theory is that Warren is a woman, and thus the president ought not to call her out for opposing one of his priorities. The White House demands an apology.
Conspiracy theory explains why Republicans are 'gutting' Earth science
A Tuesday post on a blog carried on the NPR website posits an interesting conspiracy theory surrounding the efforts of Congressional Republicans to transfer some money from NASA’s Earth Science account to fund space exploration. The effort is a plot to stop efforts to combat human caused global warming by cutting off funding for studying the 'settled science' of global warming. As with most conspiracy theories, it tends to fall apart on close examination.
Space policy experts mull regulating lunar and asteroid mining
You know that asteroid and lunar mining has become respectable when panels of experts start to mull over the question of how to regulate it. A Wednesday article in ZME Science reported on how the question was raised at the annual convention of Canada’s Institute of Mining. The problem is that few people have hitherto thought of how private business in space should be regulated and how private property should be defined and defended