Farewell to Cassini

In the early hours of September 15 (EDT), the Cassini probe will break apart and burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Launched in October of 1997, it entered orbit around the ringed giant on July 1, 2004. A complex dance amongst the moons and rings revealed many surprises. The moon Enceladus has an ocean of water under its icy shell. Titan has lakes of methane, and an atmosphere of hydrocarbons that contains complex molecules that just might be able to combine into lifelike assemblages. The rings are a far more dynamic and interesting place than we imagined.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2017/09/cassini-saturn-nasa-3d-grand-tour/#preamble

The probe is deliberately being destroyed so as to avoid possible contamination of Enceladus and Titan.

It’s a bittersweet ending for the scientists on the program, many of whom were there from the planning stages in the 1980s.

“It’s been part of my life for so long, this spacecraft, it’s going to be a shock to have this happen,” said Thomas Burk, a JPL engineer. Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist, said, “Our families have gotten to know each other, in some cases our children have grown up together, and now in the final two weeks we’re sharing the end of this incredible mission.”

By the time you read this, Cassini will have passed the “point of no return”, taken its final photographs, and sent its collected store of data back home. About 12 hours after that, the onboard computers will have reconfigured for real-time data transmission. It will attempt to send back information on temperature and the composition of the atmosphere for as long as it can. But eventually, there won’t be any fuel left to stabilize the craft as it shudders and tumbles in the upper atmosphere. Cassini will heat up; parts of it will break off. The main body of the craft will explode. As NASA spokesperson Preston Dyches has said, “We’re going out in a blaze of glory.”

The next big planetary science effort is the Europa Clipper, which will launch in the 2020s. Its goal is to investigate Jupiter’s ice moon. There’s nothing else in the works for the outer solar system. Given that it takes about a decade of planning just to get a mission off the ground (literally), trips to the outer Solar System are for the next generations to enjoy.

Yes, we all know there are more important things to spend our money on here on Earth. And we’re not giving up on Mars at all. But it’s still a sad sign to know that an era of exploration is coming to an end, with no plans at all to return to those farthest shores.

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On Confederate Memorials

There’s a lot of talk lately about removing Confederate monuments and other symbols of that lost cause. Before we all get crazy, let’s have some guidelines as to what is and isn’t acceptable, OK?

STATUES AND MONUMENTS:

Is it in a cemetery? – It stays.
Is it a memorial honoring local people who died in the Civil War? – It stays.

Addendum, 8/18/17:

Is it a generic memorial to the Confederate war dead? – If possible, change the inscription so it honors all war dead. If not, replace the entire thing.
Is it a marker indicating the location of a battle or other important incident? – Replace it with one with better wording.

Is it a statue of a person with clear ties (he was born or lived much of his life there) to the area? – Leave it up to the local citizens.
Is it at a battlefield or some other location that is of clear importance in the person’s life? – It can stay. Probably.
Is it in a place with no connection at all to the person? – Take it down.

NOTE: No matter how much you may want to take it down yourself, leave that to the professionals. Vandalism is never to be condoned. If you absolutely cannot leave the statue alone, try something non-damaging. Stick a white “surrender” flag in its hand. Hang a sign saying “I’m a Loser” on it. Be creative! Just don’t damage it.

BUILDINGS AND FACILITIES:

Does the building have a function that is related to the person? Like a fort or military institute? – It can stay, but it would be better to rename it after someone more appropriate.
Is it named after a person with ties to the local area? – It’s probably best to rename it for someone else with local ties, but it’s not urgent.
Is it named after someone with no connection at all to the locale? – Rename it as soon as convenient.

PLACES (Streets and communities):

Was the person born there or very nearby? – It can stay; it’s probably not worth the cost of changing it.
Does the person have no ties at all to the area? – Change it as soon as there’s funds available for all the new signage.

NOTE: A lot of these removals and name changes are going to cost money. If you really want to make the change, offer to pay for it. And come up with the new name.

 

Festina Lente

Now that a Special Counsel has been appointed, the cries of “Impeach!” have died down a bit. Having the president out of the country playing with a palantir helps, too. We can all stop, catch our breath, and consider just what it is we are asking for with an impeachment.

You can look up the details of the impeachment process and history just as easily as I can, so I’ll leave that to you.

However, given the situation in Congress, and that Vice President Mike Pence may be caught up in the scandal, it’s worth it for the liberals / Democrats to come up with a long-term strategy. Something other than a simple “Get Trump out as soon as possible” plan.

Should Trump be removed from office, VP Pence becomes President, and he gets to nominate someone to take over as VP. That person must be confirmed by a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress before taking office. Although they are fractured, the Republicans still control both the House and Senate at the present time. It should be considered highly likely that they will force the selection of someone easily pliable, and able to help push through their agenda. The same outcome would happen if Pence is forced out first, and Trump (guided by the GOP) gets to “nominate” a replacement.

If Trump *and* Pence are both run out on the same rail, then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan becomes Acting President – and everything goes bonkers. The Constitution gives absolutely no guidelines on what happens then. Are special elections held right away? What powers does he have? Who takes his place in the House? Who becomes Acting VP? Whatever happens, the Republicans still control Congress, so they will basically have all the cards in this situation.

Arguably the best thing for the Democrats to do would be to let the investigation proceed and the evidence accumulate until the 2018 mid-term elections (Note that it took a year after the first try at a resolution of impeachment before Nixon finally resigned). They can then use the scandal – and the prospect of impeachment – as the driving issue in the campaign. Don’t give the Republicans time to recover and regroup. If they aren’t totally inept, the Democrats should be able to take control of the House. And with a little luck, the Senate as well. That will put them in a great position to control the agenda for the remaining two years, and set them up well for the 2020 election.

In the meantime, they can be the principled opposition, and block everything evil that Trump and the GOP try to do. While it’s tempting to kick Trump out as soon as possible, we probably don’t want to leave his enablers in power. Let Trump and the GOP destroy themselves while continuing to mitigate the damage. It won’t be easy to keep the radical left (the ones chanting “Lock him up!”) in line, but if patience helps get rid of the worst / most reactionary elements in the GOP, it will be worth it in the end.

Unless, of course, Trump’s offenses are shown to be so egregious that we cannot afford to keep him in office one day longer.

 

#Resist

In Defense of James Comey

One could say it was all the fault of Loretta Lynch.

As Attorney General, she should have known better than to have a private meeting – no matter how brief – with Bill Clinton when she was in the middle of overseeing an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

But she blew it, and had to pass the buck to FBI Director James Comey.

Under normal circumstances, Comey would have wrapped up the investigation and handed everything over to Lynch, along with a recommendation, for her to make the final decision. But now, Comey was thrust into the limelight. He, in effect, would have to make the final decision as to whether or not to bring any indictments on Clinton.
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The First Hundred Days

Ever since FDR became president – and had to push through a lot of things right away as the economy was in free fall, the “first hundred days” of a presidency has become a sort of “meme” for the press. It really is an arbitrary point; it just happens to be a nice round number that sounds better than “three months”. There’s also the idea of a “honeymoon” period, where the new president can ride the wave of popularity that won him the election to trade some of that free political capital on advancing his agenda and fulfilling a campaign promise or two.

It isn’t really fair to judge a presidency on what amounts to a mere seven percent of a full term. And a lot can change in the country and the world over four years. But it is fair to use it as an estimate, a sort of “probationary period”, of what sort of person is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And if the White House staff itself is fully on board with the “100 days” idea, then it’s fair to judge them on it.

So, what have we got?

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On Funding the Arts and Sciences

Donald Trump recently announced his proposed budget, and among all the draconian cuts to many small but very beneficial programs, there are the usual cuts demanded by conservatives to arts programs (The National Endowment for the Arts, et al.), and drastic cuts to various science agencies.

I’m not going to get into the many cost-benefit arguments that get tossed around; rather, I’d like to look at another aspect.

Why do these programs get Federal funding anyway?

Let me make my case with two arguments – one literary, and one historical. The former covers the Arts, the latter the Sciences.

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The Resistance Must Be Branded

During the Second World War, Free French forces and the French Resistance adopted the Cross of Lorraine as their symbol. The famous “peace sign” was first used as a logo for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 50s. The “Black Power” movement of the 60s used the traditional raised fist (a black one, naturally) as a symbol. Women’s Liberation used the fist as well, but put it inside the circle and cross symbol that normally signified women or females. The “Gay Pride” movement chose a rainbow flag to rally around. Earlier this year, millions of women around the world wore pink knit hats to unite the hundreds of marches into one single rally.

If the many different factions that oppose Trump and Trumpism are going to ever unite, they are going to need some sort of sign or symbol to link them together.

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Fighting the Good Fight

Seems that like the woman in the back at that Obama rally, everyone is “Fired Up! Ready to Go!

Hundreds of thousands of people have been attending rallies and demonstrations and protests. Congressional phones have been clogged with calls. And it’s been working. The House gave up on its plan to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics thanks to public outrage. Other House plans have been put on the back burner. Presidential appointments are facing a much tougher road to confirmation than expected. Members of the House of Representatives recently had a meeting to talk about how do deal with angry constituents when they go back home to their districts.

This is all very good, but one must keep up the pressure.

A few things to keep in mind….
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Do We Give Him a Chance?

The thought has been bandied about that we should be a little lenient with our new President, especially since he has no political experience at all, and we should actually see what his policies are once he’s in office and not on the campaign trail.

New presidents usually get a “honeymoon” period of a few months while they settle in to office and the new Congress gets used to working together. They get to coast a little on the wave of optimism that swept them into office, and spend the political capital they earned on the campaign trail on pushing through the key items in their agenda.

But our new president takes office with historically awful approval ratings after an extremely close and contentious election, with clouds of scandal lurking over him.

Do we still give him a chance to at least try to be a good president?

Well…..

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Finishing Off 2016

Lately I’ve been reading occasional comments about how we should just trash all of 2016 as being a horrible, no good, very bad year. What with all the celebrities and pop culture icons dying, and all that. These complaints started appearing around the middle of November…. Interesting, to say the least…..

But anyway, we keep making this same complaint every year. That this past year was the absolute worst, and we need a global Do-Over. What a depressing hellhole we must be living in, if each succeding year is worse than all the ones before!

Look, there are a couple of things that I wish had turned out differently. A president-elect who actually showed a real interest in doing the job, for one.

But if you throw the entire year onto the trash heap, you throw out a couple of things that we really should keep.

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