Curmudgeons Corner

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, The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, and Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?

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Monday, June 27, 2016
 
NASA considers sending Mars Curiosity in search of water on the Red Planet

As NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover continues its slow but steady trek across the Red Planet’s landscape, space agency scientists are pondering the best way to use the robot to search for water. The one consideration that is causing NASA to consider the matter carefully is the desire not to introduce microbes that might be lurking in the rover to an environment where they might thrive.



 
Supreme Court striking down Texas abortion laws not surprising

The Supreme Court 5 to 3 decision striking down laws in Texas regulating abortion was not surprising. The laws were allegedly geared toward protecting women’s health. Abortion clinics were required to maintain hospital-level standards for out-patient surgery, and doctors who performed abortions had to have admitting privileges at close by hospitals. These standards were impossible for most abortion clinics to meet and thus many would have had to close down had the laws remained in effect. The plaintiffs successfully argued that the laws placed an “undue restriction” on a woman’s right to abortion and thus were unconstitutional under the precedent set by Roe v. Wade.



 
The players in 'Game of Thrones' jockey for the final battle

The following describes the political situation that adheres in Westeros at the end of the current season of “Game of Thrones” and thus contains certain spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.



 
Roland Emmerich's upcoming 'Moonfall' promises to be the mother of all disaster movies

Roland Emmerich’s latest epic film, a sequel to 1996’s smash hit “Independence Day,” may have caused some disappointment, but the global disaster movie director is not slowing down. His next project, “Moonfall,” postulates the moon falling out of its orbit and headed for a collision with Earth. Only a motley crew of misfits will be able to stop the ultimate global catastrophe.



 
Donald Trump cannot deny Ted Cruz a speaking slot at the convention

Donald Trump has threatened to deny Ted Cruz and John Kasich speaking slots at the Republican National Convention unless they endorse him. However, because Cruz won the majority in at least eight states during the primaries, he can just have his name entered in nomination, thus ensuring a speaking slot. What he has to say will largely depend on Trump.



Sunday, June 26, 2016
 
Will the first Hyperloop be built in Russia between China and Europe?

When Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind such companies as SpaceX and Tesla, first proposed the Hyperloop, he envisioned a passenger service between Los Angeles and San Francisco that would take just 35 minutes. By contrast, a car trip between the two cities takes six hours. However, the state government of California is wedding to building a bullet train, often delayed, with skyrocketing costs, instead. The first hyperloop of any length may well be based in Russia.



 
After Brexit will Texas secede from the Union?

The recent vote by the British people to remove Great Britain from the European Union under the Brexit referendum has stirred the passions of secessionists the world over. Other European countries, chafing under the dictates of Brussels, may follow Britain out the door. Then, as the Texas Tribune reports, there is the matter of Texas. Texas, a deep red state, has been at odds with the federal government even before President Barack Obama. Obama’s decidedly hostile attitude toward the Lone Star State and the oil and gas industry and his immigration policies has caused a few people in Texas to wonder whether it might be time for secession and the declaration of a republic again. Former Gov. Rick Perry once joked about breaking Texas away from the Union.



 
President Barack Obama's Keystone XL Pipeline decision may cost Americans $15 billion

When President Barack Obama, after seven years of humming and hawing, decided to withhold his permission for TransCanada to build the Keystone XL Pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to refineries and ports in southeast Texas, the environmental movement scored a major victory. The environmentalists regard all fossil fuels as evil and have a willing ally in the president, who is very keen to develop renewable energy such as wind and solar. The decision may well be a major defeat for American taxpayers as TransCanada has just slapped the United States with a $15 billion lawsuit.



Saturday, June 25, 2016
 
'Launch on Need' is an alternate history about the rescue of Columbia STS 107

“Launch on Need,” a 2010 novel by Daniel Guiteras, is a hidden gem that needs to be more widely read. The premise of the space alternate history novel is that during the flight of Columbia STS-107, NASA engineers took the idea of a foam strike damaging the shuttle orbiter more seriously than they did in real life. NASA orders an unscheduled spacewalk, the result being that the space agency discovers the horrible truth. If Columbia tries to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, the shuttle, and her crew would be doomed. So NASA orders an all but impossible rescue mission, using the space shuttle Atlantis.



 
Tom Delay suggests filing ethics charges against John Lewis, other House Democrats

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, a Texas Republican, is pretty sure he knows what needs to be done to the Democrats who seized the House floor a few days ago for an old fashioned 1960s-style sit in. If he were still operating as “the Hammer” he would have ethics charges filed against them. The current speaker, Paul Ryan, would be well within his rights to do so. Rep John Lewis and company broke the House rules and made a joke of decorum, all in pursuit of abolishing the 2nd Amendment and the due process clause of the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. They need to be punished least the precedence be set that could plunge the House into chaos at any time when a group of members is not getting their way.



Friday, June 24, 2016
 
President Barack Obama given credit for putting Brexit over the top

People on both sides of the Brexit issue are scratching their heads wondering why the British people voted to leave the European Union when the polling suggested that they would vote to remain. Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, was quick to give President Barack Obama the credit for putting the referendum over the top.



 
A modest proposal to combat against mass shootings such as Orlando and San Bernardino

One of the common reactions of mass shooting atrocities such as the one that happened at the Pulse in Orlando is the desire to make sure that insane people such as Omar Mateen do not have access to firearms. Another proposal that always crops up consists of prohibitions on guns that are designated as “assault weapons”, a misnomer because the name is usually given to rifles for their cosmetic appearance rather than any enhanced capability.



 
House Republicans propose tax reform bill

Having tackled the problem of reforming health care reform, the House Republicans have turned their attention to tax reform. Rep. Ken Brady, the current chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has rolled out the details of a tax bill that might pass should the GOP win the presidency and retain control of the House and the Senate.



 
With the Brexit vote Great Britain declares its independence from the European Union

Proving once again that 2016 is a tumultuous year, the British people declared their independence from the European Union in the Brexit referendum. Prime Minister David Cameron, who supported staying in the EU, immediately tendered his resignation. The change of leadership at Number 10 will be only the first of the aftereffects of the decision.



Thursday, June 23, 2016
 
Paul Ryan proposes free market replacement for Obamacare

One of the slams against people who oppose Obamacare, orwellianly named the “Affordable Care Act” is that they have not come up with an alternative. As the National Review reports, House Speaker Paul Ryan has developed that alternative.



 
Supreme Court rules against President Obama in illegal immigration amnesty case

President Barack Obama is not a happy man now that the Supreme Court, by a four to four ruling, decided to let a lower court ruling that he lacked the authority to make four million illegal aliens legal. The president, stymied by Congress in his effort to provide amnesty to illegal immigrants, had decided to make four million illegal aliens legal and provide them work permits with a stroke of a pen. The illegals consisted of parents of children who were born in the United States and illegals who had been brought across the border as children.



 
Axiom Space proposes commercial module for NASA's International Space Station

When the International Space Station, first proposed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, reaches the end of its operational life in 2024, the question will arise what comes next for low Earth orbit activities. A number of proposals have emerged for building a commercial space station, such as the one to be constructed with inflatable modules proposed by Bigelow Aerospace. According to Geek Wire, a former NASA space station manager named Mike Suffredini suggests building a commercial module that would attach to the ISS. When the space station ends, the module will serve as the basis of a commercial space station.



 
House goes in recess as Democrats conduct anti-civil rights sit-in for gun control

A group of House Democrats, led by the venerable civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, took to the House floor and staged a good old fashion 1960s-style sit-in. They demanded that the House conduct a vote for some form of gun control, though a particular bill is not pending. Since the concept now being touted by the left involves denying due process to people on the terrorist watch list and the no-fly list by denying them their 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms, the action constituted the very first anti-civil rights sit-in that has occurred in history. Politico reported that Speaker Paul Ryan has declared the House in recess until July 5th in hopes that the whole thing burns itself out. Also, a “spontaneous” demonstration erupted on the Capitol steps in support of the sit in.



Wednesday, June 22, 2016
 
Austin is conducting sting operations against ride sharing drivers

The tragicomedy surrounding the expulsion of the ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft from Austin, the liberal enclave in red state Texas, proceeds apace. Drunk driving has shot up since the two companies lost a deregulation referendum and were forced to leave the capital of the Lone Star State. With thousands of drivers and tens of thousands of riders who once depended on ride-sharing services in a lurch, a group called Arcade City has tried to fill the void with a person to person site to link up drivers and riders who then negotiate a fare. Of course, according to a Monday story on KVUE, the Austin city government, and the police are on the case.



 
J.K. Rowling accuses Donald Trump of being a fascist in all but name

J.K. Rowling has posted a long winded, but primarily interesting analysis of the Brexit controversy that is currently convulsing Great Britain. She is, not surprisingly, firmly in the “remain” camp of people who want the UK to stay in the European Union. She does take the “remain” faction to task for not selling their position with an optimistic enough story. As a master of the storytelling craft, she should know. Her analysis goes sideways when she touches on the subject of Donald Trump, whom she calls a fascist in all but name. Rowling is rather wide of the mark as many critics of the mercurial real estate tycoon are.



 
Donald Trump lets Hillary Clinton have it in a nationally televised speech

The day after Hillary Clinton wagged her finger at Donald Trump and suggested that he would be too dangerous to be allowed to manage the American economy, Trump responded by using the rhetorical equivalent of bashing her over the head with a chair. His speech, delivered in New York City on nation-wide cable TV, may not be studied next to Cicero’s oration against Cataline. But the speech, read from a teleprompter, was the modern equivalent in its scope and intent.



 
Nevada Democratic Convention Requires Police Presence Due to Angry Crowds or One Reason Hillary is in Trouble


 
Sen Jeanne Shaheen says bad things about AR-15 owners doing 'bad things'

The Washington Times reported that Sen Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, a stated that Americans are buying the AR-15 to “do bad things” suggesting that the popular semiautomatic rifle’s primary purpose is to murder people. She also falsely stated that Omar Mateen used an AR-15 to commit murder and mayhem at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In fact, Mateen used a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle, a similar firearm. Finally, the senator suggested that the AR-15 is the equivalent of a fully automatic AK-47. The AR-15 is a semiautomatic, meaning that it fires a single bullet for each squeeze of the trigger and not many bullets at a time.



 
Russian hack of DNC computer files means that Hillary Clinton has been compromised

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the Democratic National Committee computer files have been hacked by Russian intelligence services, either civilian or military, with a view of influencing the 2016 elections. The Russians have acquired a great deal of sensitive internal information, especially about Hillary Clinton. Added to what Russian intelligence doubtless knows about Clinton from the hack of her unsecured email service, it has to have an unprecedented amount of information about the former secretary of state, a woman who would become president of the United States.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016
 
The Daily Kos has come out in favor of a return to the moon

A recent article “Why Not the Moon?” is a well written argument for why humans should return to the lunar surface, covering the scientific, commercial, and political reasons for such an effort. The most eyebrow-raising fact surrounding the article is that it was published in the Daily Kos, a far left political blog.

Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?


 
European Space Agency proposes space base between Earth and the moon

According to the UK Telegraph, the European Space Agency took the occasion of the return of three crew members from the International Space Station, including British astronaut Major Tim Peake, to announce the idea of creating a four-person space base between Earth and the moon. Presumably such a facility would be located at one of the Lagrange points where the gravities of the two celestial bodies cancel one another out. The base could be deployed within a decade if the member states of the ESA fund the thing. Major Peake immediately volunteered for the crew of the base.



 
How Michael Steven Sandford almost changed history by killing Donald Trump

Recently, at a Donald Trump rally in Los Vegas, a disturbed 19-year-old named Michael Steven Sandford tried to take a weapon from a police officer and use it to shoot the presidential candidate dead. The idea had a certain cleverness because it would have meant that Sandford would not have had to take a firearm through layers of security to get at Trump. The idea was, however, quite insane, not only in regards to its likelihood of success but from the attempt to change the political process through deadly violence.



 
As gun control fails in the Senate, Sen. Chris Murphy says GOP wants to sell guns to ISIS

When, inevitably, four “common sense” gun control measures went down in flames on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Chris Murphy, whose filibuster forced the votes to begin with, decided to react with a typical lack of grace. According to the Washington Post. He accused Republicans of wanting to sell weapons to ISIS. American gun owners, who were the actual targets of the legislation, are not going to be too happy with the comparison.



 
Is someone plotting to replace Donald Trump with Paul Ryan?

Is someone plotting to dump Donald Trump in favor of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan? Hot Air reports that an outfit called Opinion Access is polling a Ryan vs. Clinton race. Such an effort suggest that someone is afraid that Trump is the nominee that he would blow it and lose by a landslide. Trump has certainly not covered himself with glory in the weeks since Ted Cruz conceded. However, in most polls he is just six points behind Clinton, a testimony to how unpopular and dysfunctional the presumed Democratic nominee. Also, by giving Corey Lewandowski the royal order of the boot at campaign manager, Team Trump has signed that it realizes it is in trouble and is seeking to put the campaign under adult supervision.



Monday, June 20, 2016
 
Obama Justice Department releases unredacted Omar Mateen 911 transcript after all

When Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the transcript of the 911 call that Omar Mateen made from the inside of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando would have all mentions of terms like “ISIS”, “jihad”, “Islam”, and “Allah” redacted, more than a few eyebrows rose across the country. The consensus opinion was that the Obama administration was so anxious not to view the massacre as terrorism that it would censor a document that clearly demonstrated otherwise. Fortunately, as Hot Air reported, saner heads have prevailed, and the unredacted transcript has been released.



 
Blue Origin launches and lands the New Shepard rocket ship for the fourth time

Sunday, June 19, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket ship into the clear blue skies over Texas. The crew capsule separated from the launch vehicle and ascended to a height of 100 kilometers. The launch vehicle descended back to Earth and touched down using its engines. The crew capsule tested an emergency situation in which one of the parachutes failed to deploy. It too landed, firing retro rockets at the last minute. The spacecraft displayed a wobble that likely would have been hard for any passengers who might have been inside of it, but the landing was survivable.



 
New book recounts racist and bigoted language used by Hillary and Bill Clinton

Bill and Hillary Clinton, as in common with most on the left, trade on the notion of how friendly they are to ethnic minorities and, conversely, how sexist, racist, homophobic, and bigoted their Republican opponents allegedly are. But a new book by Dolly Kyle, a childhood friend of Bill Clinton’s who grew up to be one of his many mistresses, presents a far uglier portrait of the Clintons dating back from their days in Arkansas. It seems that both said things back in the 1970s and 1980s that would be career killing for any other public official.



 
An old NASA Apollo hand weighs in on robots vs. humans and the moon vs. Mars

The whole humans vs. robots to explore space controversy would seem to have been settled in favor of both by the famous British Astronomical Society of about 12 years ago. However, as Ars Technica pointed out on Sunday, none other than Chris Kraft, the venerable NASA flight director from the Apollo program, has raised the question again, providing a twist by throwing in the Moon vs. Mars issue into the mix.



 
Wall Street vetoes Elizabeth Warren as Hillary Clinton's running mate

One of the things that Hillary Clinton could do to appease the far left of her party would be to select one of their number as her vice presidential running mate. If that person is not Bernie Sanders, the far left would be perfectly happy with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. However, as Politico reports, Clinton is not likely to select the firebrand senator with pretensions to Native American ancestry. Politico notes that one constituency that Clinton values far more than actual voters, Wall Street, has warned her that she can have Warren as a running mate or their campaign contributions, but not both.



Sunday, June 19, 2016
 
As Marco Rubio reenters the Florida Senate race, gun control vs. terrorism is the issue

Now that Marco Rubio has decided that he would like to remain in the Senate, after all, the Democrats who would like to replace him have decided to express their extreme displeasure. Rep. Patrick Murphy called him one of the “most homophobic senators in this country.” Rep. Alan Greyson has declared himself to be “unafraid” of the “attack puppy” meaning Rubio. However, the Senate race is likely to turn on the terrorists vs. guns issues. Murphy went on to decry Rubio for being allegedly in the pocket of the National Rifle Association.



 
Letters from the father of President Barack Obama discovered in an old archive

The New York Times reported that an archivist has stumbled across a file of letters from a Kenyan student named Barack Obama Sr. at the Schomburg Center for Research for Black Culture in Harlem. The letters have been offered to be read by the man’s more famous son and namesake, who happens to be president of the United States, but he has thus far declined the offer. Perhaps Barack Obama Jr. will read the letters when he leaves office. The reluctance is illuminating considering the history of the man whose college career at the University of Hawaii and his affair with a fellow student, Ann Dunham, changed the course of world history.



Saturday, June 18, 2016
 
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders prepare for a clash over Israel policy

The Hill newspaper reports that the Hillary Clinton campaign and Bernie Sanders supporters are getting ready for a dust-up over Middle East policy. The Sanders camp would like to see decidedly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian language inserted into the Democratic platform. Clinton is skittish about this move, believing that it might alienate Jewish voters whom she needs to be elected president.



 
Donald Trump charges Hillary Clinton with wanting to change America into Venezuela

At a rally in the Woodlands, a community north of Houston, Texas, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of plotting to turn the United States into a larger scale version of Venezuela. The accusation represents the second part of Trump’s political strategy, along with the issue of terrorism and guns. When he sticks to that approach and not goes off on tangents about Hispanic judges, Trump becomes a potent candidate.



 

A Passion for Glory is a screenplay depicting the early life of a Roman soldier and statesman named Caius Julius Caesar and the love story involving his first wife, Cornelia. Most people with a passing familiarity with Roman history know how Caesar conquered Gaul, crossed the Rubicon, and was eventually assassinated. Most do not know how, when still a teenager, Caesar defied the most powerful leader in the Roman Republic, a man named Sulla who had already demonstrated his capacity for murder, to keep from divorcing his wife. Nor do they know of his early battles, his capture by pirates, and how his marriage ended in tragedy. The screenplay, which remains unproduced, will have some familiar characters. Besides Caesar, historical figures such as Pompey and Cicero make appearances. Some characters are of the author’s imagination. The story is true, with details embellished for dramatic effect, of the rise of one of the most famous men in history and of the woman he loved long before he bestrode the world, as Shakespeare said, like a colossus.

'A Passion for Glory' is a screenplay about the early life of Julius Caesar



 
Donald Trump refers to Omar Mateen as a 'son of a b----'

Donald Trump, addressing a rally in the Woodlands, a community north of Houston, Texas, was not coy when the subject turned to the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando by an Islamist terrorist. He referred to Omar Mateen as a “son of a b----“ and suggested that had some of the club patrons had concealed carry firearms, the atrocity would have had a different ending, a dead terrorist and a lot less dead and maimed innocents. Trump declined to mention his flirtation with allowing the government to restrict gun purchases for some on terror watch lists. Instead, he took pains to tout his endorsement by the National Rifle Association.