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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Saturday, April 30, 2016
Film projects Hollywood could do instead of the Reagan Alzheimer's movie
Will Ferrell’s withdraw on Friday from the Reagan Alzheimer’s comedy project was as smart a move as signing on to the project was a dumb one. But questions remain as to why the movers and shakers in the Hollywood entertainment industry thought that poking fun at a beloved president struggling with dementia was box office gold. The only explanation is that Hollywood is so much in the grip of left-wing political correctness that the entertainment industry has lost touch with not only its audience but with objective reality.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Scientists rule out comets theory for dips in brightness of KIC 8462852
The mystery surrounding KIC 8462852, an F type main sequence star laying in the constellation Cygnus 1,480 light years from Earth, is just getting curiouser and curiouser. The hitherto obscure star burst into the news last year when astronomers noted strange and non-periodic dips in brightness. One theory that explained this phenomenon pointed to an alien megastructure such as a Dyson sphere. Then, scientists concluded that the dips in brightness was likely the result of comets. Now, according to a Wednesday story in Cosmos Up, the comet theory has been ruled out. Scientists are scratching their heads, looking for another natural explanation, not quite willing to suggest that it’s aliens.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
How NASA is aiding the SpaceX flight of the Red Dragon to Mars
The news yesterday that SpaceX is sending the Red Dragon to the Martian surface as early as 2018 has electrified the aerospace world. The mission would constitute the first private mission across interplanetary space. With the Google Lunar X Prize sponsoring private expeditions to the moon, it looks like a new era of commercial space exploration has begun. According NASASpaceflight.com on Thursday, the space agency in involved in the SpaceX mission to a certain extent.
Reaction to the Ted Cruz Carly Fiorina pick ranges from typical to bizarre
While most of the reaction to Wednesday pick of Carly Fiorina by Ted Cruz to be his presidential running mate was positive, certain exceptions cropped up in the media and in political circles. Donald Trump, understandably, mocked the decision. Sen Barbara Boxer, who beat Fiorina in a 2010 senate race, called the Cruz Fiorina ticket “mean and meaner.” Star Trek actor and gay rights activist George Takei compared Cruz and Fiorina to Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix LaStrange from the Harry Potter books. Fox News personality and Trump supporter Eric Bolling speculated that Cruz would drop Fiorina from the ticket in favor of a female Republican governor the moment he wins the nomination.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Lori Garver's self-serving account of her role in the 2008 Obama NASA transition
Lori Garver, like an unquiet ghost, emerged from obscurity with a Tuesday op-ed in Space News on the subject of presidential transitions and NASA. Most of the piece is self-serving, and somewhat one-sided account of her role as the head of the 2008 transition team for President-Elect Obama for the space agency. Nevertheless, the article has some insights that will be useful for whoever handles the transition for the next president, whomever he or she might be.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
The Space Review reviews the book.
Barack Obama's legacy will be America's enduring hatred of big government
Barack Obama will not leave office for another nine months, but already pundits are debating his legacy. Sunday, liberal Washington Post columnist and Obamaphile David Maraniss lauded the presidency’s accomplishments, calling him the left version of Ronald Reagan. Monday, Mark Thiessen agreed that Obama is the anti-Reagan, but suggested strongly that is a bad thing. To put the matter succinctly, the current president has left disaster in his wake that the next person to occupy the Oval Office is going to be hard pressed to fix.
Monday, April 25, 2016
NASA funding ICE concept to explore the oceans on Enceladus
While NASA is firmly fixed on Mars as one of the places in the solar system where life might be discovered, the space agency is already looking at some of the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn as alternate venues of alien life. Europa, orbiting Jupiter, and Enceladus, orbiting Saturn, have ice crusts surrounding oceans, warmed by tidal forces from their home planets, that might harbor life. NASA has already manifested a mission to Europa to take place in the early 2020s. Motherboard noted on Sunday that a project being funded by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program (NAIC) is developing a way to penetrate the ice crust to access the warm water ocean of Enceladus.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Neil deGrasse Tyson embraces intelligent design -- sort of
One of the oddest things ever to come out of a scientist’s mouth was recently uttered by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a celebrity astrophysicist and media personality. According to a Friday story in Business Insider, Dr. Tyson suggested that the universe is likely a computer simulation created by highly advanced aliens. In fact, he thinks the likelihood that we are all living in a form of “the Matrix” which is to say a virtual world “may be very high.” Understandably, Tyson’s view is not widely shared by other scientists.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
The climate change debate takes an ominous, authoritarian turn
Saturday, George Will noted how the climate change debate has taken an ominous, authoritarian turn. 16 state attorneys general, as well as those for the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, have vowed to go after oil companies and even think tanks for what are, in effect, thought crimes. They want to know why they are promulgating the idea that human-caused climate change, which used to be global warming, is either nonexistent or not a problem. Since “the science is settled” the theory goes something nefarious must be going on. The coalition of Democratic law enforcement officials want to get to the bottom of it and mete out punishment.
Friday, April 22, 2016
From last year but still relevant Earth Day, a holiday of misery and death, invented by Ira Einhorn, a murderer
Defense of NASA's Space Launch System gets vehement pushback
Noting the curious controversy over NASA’s planned heavy lift Space Launch System, Josh Barret wrote an analysis of the argument and a full-throated defense of the SLS in Space Alabama on Thursday. The piece, which is well worth reading for anyone who follows the intersection between space and politics, is a point by point refutation of the arguments offered by SLS critics. Naturally, some of those critics are not taking things well.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
What if the Apollo program had dominated the 1970s 'like a bloodless war?'
Forbes posed an interesting question on Thursday, what if NASA had continued its lunar program? The idea for the alternate history is that the space agency, perhaps instead of developing the space shuttle, continued to fly Apollo voyages to the moon beyond the Apollo 17 mission that took place in December 1972. In our history, people have not been back to the moon since, even though two presidents who happen to be named George Bush attempted to start space exploration programs that would have begun with a return to the moon. In any case, had the 1970s had been dominated by Apollo “like a bloodless war” to coin the phrase by Arthur C. Clarke, a number of things about the moon would have been discovered earlier and might have led to the building of a lunar colony in the 20th Century.
Conservatives embrace Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill
One of the surprising aspects of the announcement that Andrew Jackson, the American president and victor of the Battle of New Orleans, would be replaced on the 20 dollar bill with Harriet Tubman, the African-American abolitionist figure, is how enthusiastically conservatives are embracing the idea as Red State did on Thursday. The trope is that Jackson was a founder of the Democratic Party, a slave owner, and a perpetrator of the Trail of Tears, the ethnic cleansing of the American southeast of Native Americans.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Has the 'impossible' EM drive being tested by NASA finally been explained?
The EM drive, the so-called “impossible” space drive that uses no propellant, has roiled the aerospace world for the past several years, ever since it was proposed by British aerospace engineer Robert Shawyer. In essence, the claim advanced by Shawyer and others is that if you bounced microwaves in a truncated cone, thrust would be produced out the open end. Most scientists have snorted at the idea, noting correctly that such a thing would violate physical laws. However, organizations as prestigious as NASA have replicated the same results, that prototypes of the EM drive produces thrust. How does one reconcile the experimental results with the apparent scientific impossibility? Wednesday, MIT Technology Review suggested a reason why.
How 'New York values' and anti-Texas bigotry explains Ted Cruz's primary defeat
The crushing defeat of Ted Cruz in the New York Primary on Tuesday by Donald Trump can be explained by “New York values.” It’s not just the jibe by Cruz that rankled New Yorkers. As the Houston Press noted some time ago, some outsiders, especially New Yorkers, hate Texas and people who come from the Lone Star State. That hatred is based partly on perceived Texan behavior (the tendency toward braggadocio), objective facts (Texas is too hot) and misconceptions (Texas has no culture.) Considering the anti-Texas bigotry that exists in New York, Cruz had no chance.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Reusable rockets will make SpaceX very profitable
SpaceX has accomplished remarkable things, including landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle twice, once on land and once at sea on a drone barge. But the failure or success of any commercial enterprise, whether it launches rockets or makes hamburgers, is how profitable it is. If a corporation doesn’t earn money, it will sooner or later be forced to cease operations. How profitable is SpaceX? The Motley Fool reported on Sunday that the private launch company is pretty profitable while able to provide services to customers at a much lower price than its main competitors, United Launch Alliance, and Airbus Safari Launchers.
Monday, April 18, 2016
As Donald Trump continues to whine Ted Cruz continues to win delegates
As the New York Times stated Sunday, Donald Trump and his minions continue to complain that the delegate selection process is “rigged” and that he refuses to exploit the system. The admission that Trump is deliberately losing is curious for someone who has boasted for decades as being the master of “the art of the deal.” Politico reported that the Trump campaign continues to be massacred by the true master of the art of the political deal, Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz continues to rack up delegates at various state conventions.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Hillary Clinton rakes in money in Hollywood while Bernie Sanders supporters rage
Hillary Clinton visited Los Angeles Saturday for a $33,400 a person fund raiser hosted by George and Amal Clooney, the second such in as many days. She had a Friday night fundraiser with the cream of Silicon Valley elites. In any case, Bernie Sanders supporters made much of Clinton’s hobnobbing with the Hollywood glitterati, tossing dollar bills at her motorcade while blasting “Hail to the Chief” and “We’re in the Money” and heckling her at public events, jeering that she is both “guilty” and “evil.”
Saturday, April 16, 2016
Real world experience suggests that Ted Cruz can bring back prosperity
Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is not thinking small when it comes to his campaign promises. He is telling one and all that his economic plan, based on a flat tax, regulatory relief, and spending cuts, will jump start the economy and wrought five percent growth for a decade or more. The explosion of growth would create millions of jobs and close the budget deficit. Opinions, naturally, vary on this supposition. Friday, for instance, Business Insider suggested that Cruz cannot possibly guarantee that kind of sustained economic growth because no American president can. In the global economy, a slowdown in China or an oil shock in the Middle East could derail the best-laid plans made in the White House.
Friday, April 15, 2016
The post mortems of the Donald Trump campaign have begun
The Republican primary season is not even over yet, and Donald Trump seems poised to do very well in New York and a number of other northeastern states, but already the media is starting to do post mortems on his campaign. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York described on Thursday where Trump went wrong. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson wonders if Trump is sabotaging himself.
About that shocking death on 'The Blacklist'
Of course, people are blaming “Game of Thrones” for that shocking, unexpected death on Thursday’s episode of “The Blacklist.” The HBO fantasy series kills off main characters with the wild abandon of a Viking berserker. Truth to tell, characters have been dying on episodic television for decades. Usually, the victim is the partner or the girlfriend of the main character and the death if milked for the maximum amount of angst and sorrow. Even “The Walking Dead,” another show known for its carnage, has not wiped out too many of its principal characters.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders yell at each other during a debate
According to a Thursday story in Politico, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders engaged in a two-hour shouting match that was labeled as a presidential debate. Sanders tore into Clinton on her vote authorizing the Iraq War, her support of trade deals, and money she has taken from Wall Street banks. Clinton shot back at Sanders over guns and suggested that he was a racist for criticizing President Barack Obama. Sanders returned by accusing Clinton of racism for the 1990s era “super predator” comment and of flip-flopping on the minimum wage and fracking.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Chantal just got her contributor's copies for One Thousand Words for War which will be out early next month. Be sure to buy a copy or three,
Should the next president avoid a new space initiative or create a Space Dept?
The arguments for what would constitute a post Obama space program are starting to rise to a crescendo. Some of the suggestions being bandied about have become decidedly odd. Wednesday, for example, the Planetary Society suggests that the next president avoid making any new space initiative for fear it would become a partisan football. The suggestion caused Keith Cowing at NASA Watch to accuse the space advocacy organization of trying to undermine human space flight, especially the Journey to Mars. In the meantime, Madhu Thangavelu advocated the creation of a cabinet level Department of Space, the better to coordinate NASA, international, and commercial space activities.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
A science journalist looks at NASA at the end of the Obama era
As the political season grinds on, the post-mortems on various policies started by the Obama administration are finding their way into the media. One of the more interesting of these is entitled “Make Mars great again: Can the 2016 election save NASA’s Journey to Mars?” by Ars Technica by Eric Berger, published Tuesday. The title is a cheeky reference to a well-known slogan by presidential candidate Donald Trump. The lengthy article gets a lot right about the state of Obama space policy, but a lot wrong as well.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Bigelow Aerospace & United Launch Alliance to build first private space station
Monday, the day after the SpaceX Dragon delivered the BEAM prototype expandable module to the International Space Station, Bigelow Aerospace, and United Launch Alliance announced a new business alliance. If all goes well, two larger modules, the B330, will be launched on board an Atlas V into low Earth orbit in 2020. Each module, either separately or docked together, would constitute the first private space station. However, precise details are still to be worked out. The B330 is 20 times larger than the BEAM, which is being made ready to be attached to the ISS and is about 30 percent of the entire volume of NASA’s space station.
Monday, April 11, 2016
State attorneys general going after 'climate change deniers' guilty of a felony
Monday, University of Tennessee Law professor Glenn Reynolds took note of the efforts of a number of state attorneys general to go after oil companies and other organizations that have been accused of being “climate change deniers.” Professor Reynolds suggests that these public officials, all Democrats, are guilty of a felony for attempting to deprive their targets of their first amendment rights.
SpaceX Dragon delivers Bigelow expandable module to NASA's ISS
Sunday, a couple of days after a launch that included the landing and recovery of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon cargo ship arrived at the International Space Staation and was berthed using a robot manipulator arm. An expandable module provided by Bigelow Aerospace was included in the cargo ship. Shortly the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be attached to the ISS. The BEAM will be filled with air and expanded, providing a new room for the space station. For the next two years, the module will be tested to see how well it retains air and shields against radiation. Astronauts will enter the BEAM from time to time to collect measurements and swap out sensors.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Ted Cruz grabs more delegates in Colorado, South Carolina, Iowa, and Indiana
Sen Ted Cruz has Donald Trump’s attention entirely fixed on New York, a state where the mercurial real estate tycoon has a significant lead in the polls and certain inherent advantages. But, as Politico reported on Saturday, Cruz is trouncing Trump in delegate selection contests in Colorado and South Carolina. Cruz has also swept the delegate selection process in Iowa and looks to grab most of the delegates in Indiana. These victories will assure that Cruz will win the nomination on the second ballot if, as most suspect, no one has enough delegates to win on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Saturday, April 09, 2016
SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 then lands the first stage at sea
Friday the launch company SpaceX achieved another space first. After a number of failed attempts, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, having separated from the rest of the launch vehicle, descended and soft landed on a drone ship off the Florida shore in the Atlantic Ocean. Previous landing attempts had resulted in the destruction of the first stage. A SpaceX crew plans to board the drone-ship to secure the first stage in preparation for bringing it back for inspection. If all goes well, the first stage may be reused as early as this summer.
Friday, April 08, 2016
Ted Cruz courts the New York Orthodox Jewish vote in hunt for delegates
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for president, is courting the Orthodox Jewish vote in New York City as a means of picking up delegates in a state where he is very behind in the polls. For that purpose, he visited a traditional matzah factory in Brooklyn on Thursday. Politico also mentioned how Cruz, a Southern Baptist, showed respect to a rabbi by finishing his lunch that contained bacon before meeting him. Rabbi Zev Reichman, who runs a New Jersey synagogue and a program director at Manhattan’s Yeshiva University, was duly impressed by this show of respect. Reichman is now helping Cruz with outreach to the New York Orthodox Jewish community.
Thursday, April 07, 2016
The Wall Street Journal piece A Giant Lunar Leap For Private Enterprise is now out.
Related reading. Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?
Bill Clinton accuses Black Lives Matter of not caring about black lives
Former President Bill Clinton was addressing a group of supporters of his wife Hillary’s run for the presidency on Thursay when, according to the Hill Newspaper, a group of Black Lives Matter protestors started to heckle him. At issue was the 1994 crime bill than some of the protestors blame for the mass incarceration of African American men. Finally, Mr. Clinton lost patience and diverted from his stump speech, declaring, "You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”
Just as a heads up, the Wall Street Journal is publishing a piece of mine about the Google Lunar X Prize and a possible commercial return to the moon. I'll have a link when it becomes available, though it is likely to be behind a paywall. Of course the dead tree version will be available everywhere.
Update: Got an email that it has been bumped to a later date to make room for breaking news.
Update 2: Running Friday. Bumped.
Can Rudy Giuliani help Ted Cruz outperform the polls in New York?
As the Wall Street Journal noted on Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, fresh off of his victory in the Wisconsin Primary, faces daunting odds in New York, where Donald Trump enjoys a crushing 52 percent support in the latest polls as opposed to Cruz’s 17 percent. Undaunted, Cruz made a campaign stop in the Bronx where he faced thin crowds of supporters and a number of hecklers. The “New York values” jibe still rankles among many New Yorkers. However, Cruz may have a secret weapon. He is due to meet with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Thursday.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
Ted Cruz's Wisconsin victory assures his nomination and election as president
When the history of the 2016 presidential election is written, Sen Ted Cruz’s Tuesday victory in the Wisconsin Primary will be noted as the day when the senator from Texas assured his nomination and possibly his election as president. Cruz seems to have made that assessment during his victory speech when he said that the primary victory was a “turning point.” The Trump campaign also appeared to recognize that victory was slipping away when it issued a bizarre statement that accused the Cruz campaign of colluding with super PACs, a violation of federal election law, without any evidence to back it up.
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
Trump supporters make death threats against Megyn Kelly and Michelle Fields
One of the most disturbing aspects of Donald Trump’s fan base is the tendency on the part of individual members of it to make death threats against their favorite candidate’s perceived enemies. Yahoo TV reported on Monday that Fox News’s Megyn Kelly has received numerous anonymous death threats and expressed the fear that someone would try to harm her in front of her children. Red State adds that Michelle Fields, the former Breitbart reporter whose manhandling by Trump’s campaign manager had become the subject of a criminal case in Florida, has also received death threats.
Monday, April 04, 2016
Bernie Sanders once implied private charities should be taken over by the state
Sunday the sharp-eyed folks at Powerline noticed an obscure story in the New York Times from 1981 that recounted something then Mayor of Burlington, Vermont Bernie Sanders had to say about private charities. The event was the kickoff for the 40th annual Chittenden County United Way fund-raising drive. Sanders was a guest speaker along with then Vermont Gov. Richard Snelling. Sanders stated that he didn’t believe in charities, suggesting that the government should take over their function in delivering social services.
Ted Cruz may have grabbed the lion's share of delegates from North Dakota
While all eyes are fixed on Wisconsin, whose primary will be held on Tuesday, Ted Cruz out organized Donald Trump in North Dakota and seemed to have taken 18 of the 25 delegates from that state according to a Sunday story in Politico. Indeed, the Cruz campaign site is crowing that Cruz has been “declared the winner” at the North Dakota state convention where the delegates were selected. However, because of the state’s arcane rules which declare the delegates officially do not have to name who they support, Cruz will not know for sure which ones he actually has until the balloting begins at the Republican National Convention. Several “Cruz” delegates have stated that they merely lean toward the senator from Texas or are anti-Trump.
Sunday, April 03, 2016
Could space be used as an issue in the presidential elections?
New book suggests Obama missed a chance to remove Assad from power in Syria
Blue Origin launches and lands the New Shepard for a third time
Blue Origin, the space launch company owned by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, performed the unprecedented feat of launching and then landing its New Shepard rocketship a third time Saturday at its Texas test facility. The rocket has already flown in November and then again in January. New Shepard will be tested several more times before human space flights start in 2017 to be followed by commercial flights in 2018. Blue Origin has leaped into the lead in the race for the first space tourism company, ahead of Virgin Galactic and XCOR.
Saturday, April 02, 2016
Why Barack Obama is just as alarming as Donald Trump on nuclear weapons
One of the more alarming aspects of the Donald Trump for President Campaign has been the candidate’s opinions on the use of nuclear weapons. Trump bantered with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS and in Europe, presumably against Russian aggression, though with the Donald one cannot be certain. He has also suggested that South Korea and Japan be given nuclear weapons in response to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. As the New York Times reported on Friday, Trump’s musings allowed President Barack Obama to attack the Republican frontrunner’s knowledge of nuclear issues specifically and foreign policy in general.
Friday, April 01, 2016
Hillary Clinton snapping at a Greenpeace activist reveals deeper problems
On paper, Hillary Clinton is riding high. She is far and away ahead of her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the delegate count and seems to be all but a lock to be her party’s standard-bearer in the general election. However, she still appears to be on edge, as CBS News reported on Friday when she snapped at a Greenpeace activist who accused her of being in the pocket of Big Oil. It turns out that some deep-seated problems are weighing on Clinton’s mind.
Informed sources state that businessman Donald Trump is preparing to withdraw from the race for president of the United States. In a deal with Sen. Ted Cruz and a group of highly connected Republican businessmen, Trump will instead form a new corporation called Trump Lunar Real Estate that will have the goal of economically developing the moon. The deal is said to have been brokered by Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter and a past advocate of returning Americans to the moon. Part of the deal, which clears a path for Cruz to win the Republican nomination outright, would involve the Texas senator, upon becoming president, ordering NASA to form a joint venture with Trump Moon, as the company is being called informally, to return astronauts to the moon by 2022. When asked about the deal, a Trump spokesman said, “Hey, there have been 44 presidents of the United States. This thing is going to be the greatest real estate deal in history.” Mitt Romney, rumored to be one of the Republican businessmen who have invested $10 billion in the venture, was not available for comment. Trump is said to have been inspired by reading a book entitled Why is it so hard to go back to the Moon? which he praised as being “The Art of the Deal” for the 21st Century.