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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Thursday, October 08, 2015
Approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will be complicated by presidential election year politics
Obama opposition to lifting the oil and gas export ban inexplicable
According to a Wednesday story in The Hill, the Obama administration has issued a formal veto threat against a measure that would lift the 40-year-old oil export ban. The ban, which was imposed in the wake of the first Arab oil embargo, is judged by most analysts to be obsolete. Thanks to the fracking boom and the advent of advanced drilling technologies, domestic oil and gas producers are awash in the product that could be sold overseas. The White House, however, believes that such a policy move would interfere with its drive to end fossil fuels and switch to a “non-carbon based” economy based on solar, wind, and other renewables.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Google Lunar XPrize Israeli team SpaceIL gets confirmed launch contract
Thus far, only three countries have landed payloads on the moon, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Now, according to a Wednesday announcement by the Google Lunar X Prize, an unlikely fourth country, the state of Israel, may well be the fourth. Team SpaceIL, the Israeli team that is pursuing the prize for the first private group to land on the moon, is the first competitor to be officially certified as having a launch contract. Other teams, such as Moon Express, have announced launch contracts, but have yet to have them confirmed.
Ted Cruz turns up the heat on Sierra Club head concerning global warming
As the Dallas Morning News reported on Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for president of the United States, took time out from the campaign trail to conduct hearings on the subject of how government regulations hurt the poor. The economic impact of regulations is a chronic but somewhat under reported problem. Government agencies tend to ignore how much compliance to regulations costs. Cruz was performing a public service by attempting to shed some light on the issue. That his effort might also benefit the case for his being elected president would be a happy side effect, from his point of view.
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
A remarkable number of people think 'The Martian' is based on a true story
“The Martian” is a smash hit movie that made $100 million worldwide during its first weekend. The science and engineering depicted was, with certain notable exceptions, near perfect. The cinematography and special effects were so well done that one could almost imagine that Ridley Scott sent Matt Damon and a film crew to Mars to shoot the movie. In fact, perhaps the film was a little too good. Tuesday, Buzzfeed took a stroll through social media and discovered that many people think that “The Martian” is based on a true story.
Story suggests that Joe Biden is using his son's death for political advantage
When Maureen Dowd first revealed that Beau Biden’s dying wish was that his father, Vice President Joe Biden, run for president, the stumble bum, gaffe-prone image of “Uncle Joe” underwent a transformation to that of a bereaved father who had been set on a path of destiny by his beloved son. But Politico revealed on Tuesday that the source of Dowd’s information was the vice president himself. The news suggests another, less edifying image of Biden, as a cold, calculating politician who is willing to use his dead son as a prop for his political ambitions.
SpaceX's Elon Musk proposes more than doubling NASA's budget
A little over a year ago, SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell mused that a lot of space political arguments, primarily over commercial space vs. space exploration, would simply go away if NASA’s budget were just increased to between $23 billion and $25 billion a year. Monday, according to Tech Insider, Shotwell’s boss, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, opined that the space agency’s budget ought to be more than doubled, to about one percent of the federal budget. That would raise NASA from $18.5 billion a year to just shy of $40 billion a year.
Democrats push for 'common sense gun laws' with confiscation the ultimate goal
In the wake of the massacre of Christian students at an Oregon community college, Democrats have started one of their periodic quixotic pushes for more “common sense guns laws.” The New York Times reported on Monday that former secretary of state and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is mulling using “executive action” to close the so-called gun-show loophole, thus circumnavigating Congress. In the meantime, as Politico reports, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is pushing for more stringent background checks, something he was unable to accomplish when Democrats controlled the Senate.
Monday, October 05, 2015
Rush Limbaugh says the left was against space exploration before it was for it
On his Monday broadcast, Rush Limbaugh made his latest attempt to clarify his musings about water on Mars and its relationship to claims of global warming and the perfidy of the left. Limbaugh made an interesting observation about the attitude that liberals have toward voyages to Mars and space exploration in general. The conservative radio talker suggested that the left has been against spending money on space exploration before they were for it. As it turns out, Limbaugh was right about the first part of the statement, but on a somewhat shakier ground on the second part. The political history of space is fascinating, though somewhat more complicated than the left vs. right ideological struggle.
Hillary Clinton has calculated on-air meltdown over Benghazi, email server
Contrition does not come naturally to Hillary Clinton. So, when faced with mounting damning evidence about the mishandling of classified information on her private email server, the presidential candidate went on the attack. According to Business Insider, Clinton appeared on a Monday segment on the Today Show and, while being interviewed by Savannah Gutherie, had a calculated, on-air meltdown.
NASA picks five Discovery mission candidates, two to Venus, three to asteroids
According to a Monday story in Space Daily, NASA has narrowed down the candidates for the next Discovery class planetary mission to five candidates. Two of the missions would focus on the planet Venus and three on asteroids. The space agency intends to select one or two of the proposed missions within the next year for a possible launch in 2020.
Sunday, October 04, 2015
'The Martian' depicts a Hollywood version of NASA
The Martian, the hit film starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an American astronaut marooned on the planet Mars, opened Friday. While watching it, one gets the distinct impression that between now and the time the movie takes place, perhaps 30 years hence, the American government has been more generous to NASA than it has been since the glory days of Apollo. One reaches this conclusion not just because of the size and scope of the Hermes, the ship that travels to and from Mars, but of all the new construction that seems to have taken place at the Johnson Spaceflight Center south of Houston.
Augustus Sol Invictus, Senate candidate, belongs to a cult and sacrificed a goat
Every election cycle features some bizarre candidates whose beliefs and actions raise more than a few eyebrows. A Libertarian candidate for the United States Senate in Florida, going by the name of Augustus Sol Invictus, is the sort who makes Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seem positively mainstream. His candidacy has caused the head of the Florida Libertarian Party, Adrian Wyllie, to resign and eschew politics altogether, according to a Saturday story in the Daily Beast. Invictus, a criminal defense attorney, practicing in Florida, follows a cult that involves Egyptian deities and witchcraft, having once sacrificed a goat in a ritual. Once suspects that he has lost the animals rights vote.
Saturday, October 03, 2015
Elon Musk scheme to give Mars two extra suns may have come from Arthur C. Clarke
A little while ago, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk got into trouble when he proposed, as a quick way to terraform Mars, exploding nuclear bombs on the Red Planet’s poles. The idea was that the bombs would heat up the frozen carbon dioxide at the poles, covering Mars with greenhouse gasses that would in due course heat up the planet. Of course, the scheme would also render Mars uninhabitable by spreading radioactive fallout. Friday, according to Mashable, Musk clarified his scheme.
The woman who had herself deliberately blinded because of a mental disorder
Channel 5 News in Raleigh, North Carolina reported on Thursday about a woman name Jewel Shuping who had herself deliberately blinded by having drain cleaning poured into her eyes. She apparently suffers from a rare disorder called Body Integrity Identity Disorder that causes perfectly able people to want to become disabled. The desire is said to be all consuming and has caused people to want to amputate healthy limbs and even have their spinal cords severed.
Friday, October 02, 2015
Journey to Mars lies through the moon
Moon Express signs launch contract for possible first private lunar landing
According to a Thursday story in Space.com, Moon Express, one of the leading contestants in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, has made a giant leap toward its goal of being the first private group to land on the moon. The company has signed a contract with Rocket Lab, a new launch company based in New Zealand, for five launches of its upcoming Electron rocket. The first two launches will take place in 2017 and will be attempts to land the MX-1 lander on the lunar surface in time to win the prize by the current deadline by the end of that year.
Obama on Oregon school shooting 'Well, this is something we should politicize'
The bodies of the dead victims of the Umpqua Community College had not grown cold and the surgeries of the wounded not yet completed on Thursday when President Barack Obama strode before the cameras and used the occasion to demand “common sense gun safety laws.” While noting that some might wonder on the seemliness of his using yet another tragedy to advance a political issue, the president actually said, “Well, this is something we should politicize.” That statement, in a nutshell, is the sound bite of the Obama presidency.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
NASA's New Horizons shows Pluto's moon Charon is a strange, new world
NASA's New Horizons has returned a stunning series of images of Pluto, the dwarf planet that resides on the edge of the solar system, revealing a strange new world of ice mountains and glaciers of frozen nitrogen. NASA released images of Pluto’s largest moon. Charon on Thursday. Scientists expected a plain ball of rock pockmarked with craters. What they saw was anything but plain and monotonous.
Emails reveal how Hillary Clinton was against gay rights before she was for them
That Hillary Clinton is among the many liberals whose views on same-sex marriage has “evolved” is already well known, as CNN once noted. However, the National Review on Wednesday, mining the gold that resides in the Clinton email server, found a nugget from 2011. It seems that some State Department bureaucrats wanted to change the terms “father” and “mother” on passport applications to “parent 1” and “parent 2.” The change was meant to accommodate those people who grew up in a family with same-sex parents. Hillary, by all accounts, hit the roof.
The real first mission to Mars will not be like 'The Martian' but that is ok
In his review of one of the most anticipated films of this century, The Martian, which was published on Wednesday, the Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger had some complaints. The film depicts a mission to Mars that is almost entirely all NASA, just like the Apollo missions to the moon. He suggests that a real human mission to Mars, taking place about 20 or so years from now, will look very different than the one depicted in the movie. He may be right or wrong, the reason being that it is very hard to predict not only how technology will develop in the next couple of decades, but also the twists and turns of politics.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Teamsters reject Hillary Clinton, may support Donald Trump
As the International Business Times reported on Wednesday, the Teamsters Union has decided to withhold its endorsement of Hillary Clinton. The Teamsters leaders are irate at Ms. Clinton’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and her unwillingness to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Teamsters’ representatives will be meeting with other candidates, including it is rumored Donald Trump, who has dealt with trade unions in the course of his various business enterprises.
The case for going to Phobos before going to Mars
The current NASA thinking concerning the Journey to Mars program envisions a visit to the Martian moon Phobos in the early 2030s before attempting a landing on the Martian surface in the late 2030s, as Popular Mechanics noted on Wednesday. The idea of a practice run that takes astronauts almost but not quite to Mars is similar to what the space agency did during the 1960s Apollo program. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 each orbited the moon but did not land on it before the Apollo 11 mission went all the way to the lunar surface, fulfilling President John. F. Kennedy’s challenge.
As his presidential campaign falters, Rand Paul lashes out at Ted Cruz
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a presidential candidate, lashed out at his fellow senator and rival for the presidency, Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas on Tuesday, according to Roll Call. Paul suggested that Cruz is “pretty much done for in the Senate” due to his often fiery rhetoric calling into question the honor of Senate Republican leaders such as Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Cruz has not been happy with what he sees as nefarious behavior by McConnell and others over spending bills and other issues.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Is Rush Limbaugh a 'Mars water truther?'
Monday, when Rush Limbaugh mused about the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars he as he is want to do, attempted to tie it in with an Earthly political issue, in this case, climate change. Limbaugh suggested that someone would attempt to make a relationship between water on Mars and the idea that global warming is threatening the Earth. Naturally, some parts of the media leaped upon what Rush said with both feet, despite the fact that the conservative radio talking tried to clarify his position on Tuesday.
Donald Trump tax reform plan receives both praise and criticism
Thus far, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been based on his boasts about his ability to get things done better than other politicians as well as vicious attacks on some of his opponents and members of the media. However, with a view to attempt to flesh out what a Trump Administration would actually do, he released his tax reform plan on Monday. Like most plans coming from the conservative side of the spectrum, it cuts personal income tax rates in exchange for eliminating a great many deductions. The plan has received qualified praise from Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and harsh criticism from the left-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice.