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, and The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper.

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Sunday, February 01, 2015
The day the space shuttle Columbia died

My experience of the space shuttle Columbia disaster took place in my den on an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon. The TV was tuned to the news, which was going to broadcast the landing of the shuttle mission STS 107.

Also A 1996 Plan to Use NASA’s Oldest Orbiter to Make Money on the Moon

Saturday, January 31, 2015
Poll shows that anti-vaccinators tend to be hip, rich millennials in California

Hot Air reported on Friday that a poll just released revealed that the subgroup most likely to oppose having children vaccinated against diseases such as the measles are millennials, the same age group that has been so fervent in their support of President Obama. The Hill adds that the so-called anti-vaccination movement has resulted in a measles epidemic that started at Disneyland of all places and has started to spread to afflict over a 100 children.

Ted Cruz demands answers on Obama political hit on Netanyahu

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas wondered on Saturday in the pages of Breitbart whether or not President Obama was directly involved in the intervention by Obama campaign operatives in the Israeli elections for the purpose of deposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is particularly interested in knowing whether American taxpayer money is being used to fund that campaign. Cruz suggests that given the history of Obama’s animosity toward Netanyahu, the answer to both questions is probably yes.

NASA looking at nuclear thermal rockets to explore the solar system

Officially, NASA has been charged with sending astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Toward that end, according to a Friday story in Universe Today, space agency engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center are looking at an old concept for interplanetary travel, nuclear thermal engines. However, some doubts have been expressed whether NASA will be granted the budget to develop such engines.

HBO to produce 'Lewis and Clark' miniseries

The Hollywood Reporter revealed on Friday that HBO will begin filming a six-hour miniseries based on the Stephen Ambrose book “Undaunted Courage” that told the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Casey Affleck will play Meriwether Lewis, and Matthias Schoenaerts will play William Clark, the two Army officers who led the Corps of Discovery that explored the American West in the first decade of the 19th Century. The project has been in the works for quite some time.

Friday, January 30, 2015
New poll numbers raises questions about Hillary Clinton's political viability

Hot Air reported Friday on the results of a Pew Poll taken about Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. The results are horrible for both the candidate in particular and the Democratic Party in general. While Clinton still leads a number of leading Republican candidates, the margin is in single digits. She does not poll above 50 percent in any matchup. Moreover, her favorable/unfavorable ratings have her under water.

Congratulations to the Fight for Space film makers for reaching the goal on their final Kickstarter campaign.

Mitt Romney lets the presidential cup pass from his lips

The National Journal reported on Friday that 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced to a group of supporters in a conference call that he has decided to let the presidential cup pass from his lips. Romney’s decision to not run for a third time makes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush the front runner, such as it is, in the Republican race and the great moderate hope of the establishment wing of the party. That doesn’t mean that Romney thinks it should be so, according to Hot Air. Romney is having dinner with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the other great moderate hope.

Obama reveals $215 million precision medicine initiative

As the National Journal reminds us, one of the parts of the president’s State of the Union speech that has been passed over, mainly because it was not controversial, was Obama’s initiative to jump-start research into a “precision medicine.” Precision medicine involves tailoring treatments to a patient’s genetic makeup, making them more effective. According to a Friday story in the Hill, the president will propose $215 million in new spending to develop more treatments.

Senate passes bipartisan Keystone XL pipeline bill, defying Obama veto threat

What a difference an election makes. As the Washington Times reported, the Senate passed the Keystone XL pipeline authorization bill Thursday on a bipartisan basis Nine Democrats joined the Republicans in voting for the measure. After Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada had been deposed as Senate Majority Leader, the way was opened to passing legislation. The Republican majority even allowed amendments to be considered, though few passed. Actually moving legislation had been a rare occurrence during the first six years of the Obama administration.

Thursday, January 29, 2015
White House rebrands Taliban terrorists as 'armed insurgency'

Townhall reported on Thursday that Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, during a White House briefing, tried to suggest that the Taliban is not a terrorist group. They are, instead, an “armed insurgency,” according to the White House official. Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education, has not as of this writing commented.

Castro demands Obama give back Gitmo, pay reparations

When President Obama decided to “normalize” relations with Cuba, proposing the end the 50 year old economic embargo, the move set up a debate over how to best deal with the communist dictatorship residing 90 miles off of America’s shores. The debate has occurred even between Republicans, with Cuban-American Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio coming out against and libertarian-minded Sen. Rand Paul supporting the move. However, according to a Wednesday story in the Associated Press, Cuban dictator Raul Castro has a number of demands that seem designed more to humiliate Obama than to forge a sensible deal.

'The Americans' starts season three with more Cold War eighties spy intrigue

As the Hollywood Reporter revealed, “The Americans,” the FX series about a couple of deep-cover Soviet agents attempting to bring down the United States during the Reagan 1980s, started its third season on Wednesday night. The episode finds Philip and Elizabeth having to deal with the unique job pressures of being spies. In the meantime, Stan, their unwitting FBI neighbor, has some personal problems of his own involving his failed marriage and his Russian mistress he betrayed and who is now looking at execution for treason back in Moscow.

Obama drops scheme to tax middle class 529 college savings accounts

The Washington Examiner reported on Thursday that the Obama administration has decided to drop its scheme to tax 539 college savings accounts, a part of its “soak the rich” scheme that somehow hit the middle class. The administration claimed that it was “good policy” but had to be dropped in order to avoid a “distraction.” Indeed, Republicans had pounced on the scheme to loot the tax-free savings accounts that millions of American families depend upon to save for college.

NASA safety panel raises concern about commercial crew, space exploration plan

According to a Wednesday story in Space Policy Online, both NASA’s commercial crew program and its space exploration program came under direct criticism in the annual report by the space agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). The panel hit the commercial crew program for a lack of transparency that prevented it from offering an “informed opinion” on the safety of commercial spacecraft such the SpaceX Dragon and the Boeing CST-100. It also raised concerned about the “lack of a well-defined mission” for NASA’s space exploration program.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Australian researchers may have found a cure for peanut allergies

According to the Mayo Clinic, peanut allegories are one of the more common food allergies, especially in children. Symptoms for people with the condition who are exposed to peanuts range from mild irritation to death by anaphylaxis shock. Some people with the allergy cannot tolerate even the tiniest amount of peanuts, even particles that can be breathed in. People with the condition are in constant peril of their lives. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Wednesday that a group of Australian researchers may have found a cure for peanut allergies.

Seattle hands out the red tag of shame for residents who fail to recycle compost

According to a Monday story on NPR, the city of Seattle has just enacted one of the stranger recycling laws in the country. While many communities now provide a separate garbage bin for recycle materials, such as paper, plastic, and metal, Seattle, like San Francisco and Vancouver, also require a separate bin for compost material, such as food and yard waste. However, Seattle is undertaking to enforce this regulation in a bizarre way. If a regular garbage bin is found to have more than 10 percent of compostable waste, it will have a red ribbon of shame attached to it. Eventually, homeowners will be fined for violations.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Death of the Space Shuttle Challenger

I remember quite clearly the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded. I was driving back to my office from lunch when the news came over the radio. I almost drove off the road before I gathered myself, pulled over, and listened to the news. The rest of the day was trying to get some modicum of work done, while slipping away to watch the coverage on TV and the awful images of the Challenger becoming a fireball, over and over, like a rewind in a horrible dream.

Links detected between anti-fracking groups and the Russian government

A Tuesday investigative piece published in the Washington Free Beacon suggests a link between environmental groups campaigning against hydraulic fracking and Russian oil interests. In seems that a shadowy Bermudian company that has tied to Russian oil executives has funneled millions of dollars to environmentalists who are seeking to shut fracking operations down in the United States. This news suggests that environmentalists are working, perhaps unwittingly, as agents of the Russian government.

Millie Brady cast as Ayla in Lifetime Channel's 'Clan of the Cave Bear'

Deadline Hollywood reported on Monday that Millie Brady, who will also appear in the upcoming “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” has been cast in the role of Ayla for the pilot in the proposed Lifetime Channel series version of Jean Auel’s “Clan of the Cave Bear” book series. The series depicts the prehistoric adventures of an ancestor of modern humans, a girl named Ayla, who is orphaned and adopted by a clan of Neanderthal. The pilot is being produced by Ron Howard and Brian Glazer, among others.

Monday, January 26, 2015
Obama operatives in Israel to defeat Netanyahu in upcoming elections

One of the complaints the Obama administration has concerning Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech before a joint session of Congress is that it would tend to raise his profile in advance of upcoming elections in Israel. But, as Breitbart reported on Monday, a group of Obama campaign operatives have arrived in the Jewish state to defeat Netanyahu’s bid to remain prime minister. One can surmise that is what the unnamed Obama administration official, whom some have identified as Obama consigliere Valarie Jarrett, who said, “remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

NASA commercial crew space flight test schedule announced for 2016, 2017

According to a Monday story in Reuters, NASA and the space agency’s two commercial spaceflight partners, SpaceX and Boeing, have announced a schedule for the first American crewed spaceflights since the space shuttle last flew in 2011. SpaceX will fly an unpiloted test of its Dragon vehicle in 2016, to be followed by the first piloted flight in early 2017. Boeing will conduct an unpiloted flight of its CST-100 in April 2017 to be followed by a piloted flight in July 2017. The space agency hopes to start regularly scheduled commercial space flights to the International Space Station in December 2017.

Private moon race competitors awarded milestone prizes

The Google Lunar XPrize Foundation announced Monday that several of the competitors in the private moon race have been awarded milestone prizes totaling about $5.25 million. American teams Astrobotic and Moon Express and Indian team Team Indus were awarded landing prizes of $1 million each. Astrobotic, Japanese team Hakuto, and German team Part Time Scientists won mobility prizes of $500,000 each. Astrobotic, Moon Express, and Part Time Scientists won imaging prizes of $250,000 each.

'The Throne of Saturn' was part space adventure part political polemic

The news that Allen Drury's novels are being reprinted can only be welcome, even though they were very much a product of the Cold War era during which they were written. Drury is best known for the first volume of his Washington series, “Advice and Consent,” which was made into a movie in the early 1960s. But one book that has not yet been reprinted, but ought to, is “The Throne of Saturn,” Drury’s science fiction space novel. The novel counts as alternate history now but was future history when it came out in 1970, the year after the first moon landing.

Cruz, Rubio, and Paul agree on domestic issues, clash on foreign policy at forum

Sunday night, the three Republican senators most mentioned as possible presidential candidates met in a panel discussion covering various domestic and foreign policy issues, according to the Washington Post. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky met at a forum sponsored by Freedom Partners, a group run by the Koch brothers, moderated by ABC News’ Jonathon Karl. The forum was private but was live streamed for the media.

Sunday, January 25, 2015
Bill Maher confesses that he is terrified of Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas has earned a singular honor once reserved for movie villains, according to a Friday story on Breitbart TV. Bill Maher laid into the possible Republican presidential candidates on his HBO political rant show. He had little good to say about any of them, but he reserved a special sort of ire, on the level of what he has used for Sarah Palin, for Cruz. Putting it simply, the bad boy of pay for view cable is deathly afraid of the junior senator from Texas.

Pundits wonder what Palin meant by being 'seriously interested' in 2016 run

According to the Washington Post, former Alaska governor, former vice presidential candidate, and current most powerful female politician on the planet Sarah Palin reiterated her statement that she was “seriously interested” in running for president in 2016 at the Saturday Iowa Freedom Summit. She does not feel compelled to officially announce anytime soon and has shown no signs of doing the preliminary work of ramping up a campaign. Palin’s hinting at a presidential run has pundits wondering why she really means.

Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Rick Perry shine at Iowa Freedom Summit

The Iowa Freedom Summit, seen by many as the all but official kickoff of the Republican 2016 primary contest, took place on Saturday in Des Moines. Almost every conceivable Republican candidate, with the exception of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul were in attendance. Hot Air suggested that the big winners of the event were Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss. aims to set NASA back on a course to the moon

Another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, intends to push for NASA to return astronauts to the lunar surface, reports a Saturday story in the Hattiesburg American. Palazzo is the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee that oversees NASA. Palazzo’s stance is in direct conflict with President Obama’s stated policy of bypassing the moon in favor of sending astronauts to an asteroid and then Mars. As the Verge recently noted, Palazzo’s announcement represents rising Republican discontent against the Asteroid Redirect Mission and an impending push back toward the moon. The scientific community shares that discontent, believing that the ARM has no value either for the study of asteroids or as a precursor for a Mars mission.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A-10 Warthog striking at ISIS even as Obama budget cutters take aim at the plane

The A-10 Warthog was first deployed decades ago to help blunt a Soviet armored invasion of Europe. The ground attack aircraft never, thankfully had to fulfill that role. However, it has done excellent service in the wars the United States has fought, including Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to a Friday story in Investors’ Business Daily, the venerable attack plane has been quietly deployed in the current air campaign against ISIS and is so effective that the terrorists have learned to fear its onset. So, naturally, Obama’s Defense Department wants to scrap the A-10 in favor of the F-35, a newer plane that will not be ready for a ground attack role for some years.

Marco Rubio tells staff to get ready for battle in a 2016 presidential run

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida may not have officially announced for president, However, according to a Friday story in the Washington Times, he has told his staff to proceed as if her were running for president, a move that most in the media constitutes the next best thing. He has already hired a top Republican fundraiser named Anna Rogers, currently working for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, for his political action committee. Rogers would be the financial director of Rubio’s campaign for the presidency if and when he officially decided to run.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Obama State Department wants Disney to make 'Frozen' spinoff on climate change

It seems that the Obama State Department is getting into pitching movies. According to a Friday story in the Hill, Robert Papp, the State Department’s envoy to the Arctic, recently met with an executive at Disney to pitch an idea for a spinoff or perhaps a sequel to the smash hit animated film “Frozen.” Papp’s idea was to create a movie highlighting the effects of global warming or climate change in the Arctic, particularly the plight of polar bears as the ice cap continues to melt. Disney was decidedly cool to the idea.

Obama White House in rage cycle over Netanyahu visit

Ben Shapiro’s Truth Revolt reported on Friday that the Obama administration is in full rage cycle over the scheduled visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress. The meltdown has become so intense, that an unnamed Obama official made a bone-chilling threat against Netanyahu and, by implication, the State of Israel. “There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly, and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency and that there will be a price.”