Can the solar system become polluted?

The image is not of the Vesta asteroid. There weren’t any good false-color images of Vesta, so I used Eros instead.

So, the Dawn spacecraft is going through its warm-up routine on its way to Vesta and then on to Ceres. I am pretty excited to see the images that it sends back. The asteroid belt is one of the least studied regions of our solar system and there’s really no telling what might be there.

One can only imagine what could possibly be harvested from them. Both in knowledge and resources. So the question is, assuming the technology can be developed to exploit natural resources in asteroids and on other planets (say, Mars) what would our responsibility be with respect to environmental concerns. Certainly the safety and health of workers would be vital. Space is pretty harsh and unforgiving. But what about, say, emissions? Is there any concern whatsoever that venting noxious fumes into space could ever become a problem?

The reason I wonder is the fact that in the early twentieth century, when gasoline was pennies for the gallon and largely unregulated (they put lead in the stuff), we had no idea what the possible ramifications that massive use of fossil fuels might be. And of course, there are still holdouts. The thing of it is, it still took a long time before people realized the possible problems associated with it. 1975 was the first year that catalytic converters were installed in motor vehicles on a regular basis. And it wasn’t until the nineties before the trend of global warming was even noticed.

And so the question: what are our environmental responsibilities when it comes to outer space? I use the Koch Brothers as a prime example of environmental irresponsibility, but they are not the only major offenders. The first consideration would be size. Space is a hell of a lot bigger than our atmosphere. If we were to pump out billions of tons of CO2 directly into the the deep of space, it would disperse pretty quickly and become nearly undetectable in very short order. But does this fact absolve us of responsibility?

We know that the immediate area around our planet has become pretty crowded with like a bajillion satellites and the odd space station. Indeed, it is increasingly becoming a problem.

But when it comes to space as a whole? I mean, the Earth itself (and the space around it) could fit inside the sun about a million times. The distance between the Earth and the sun is like 198 million miles. We are talking about unimaginably vast distances just in our own stellar neighborhood. At first glance, it seems perfectly reasonable to say that our insignificant species cannot possibly fill that up with pollution.

However, the universe being what it is, it is nearly impossible to predict the future. We cannot predict with any reasonable amount of certainty what sorts of technology might be developed. What sorts of knowledge we might uncover. Let’s say, for instance, that a real warp drive technology were developed. It’s not that far-fetched. Indeed, it’s theoretically possible. Developments are being made all the time when it comes to methods of warping space. At least for very small particles.

But what if the theory could be made reality on a larger scale. We have no idea what the result of common usage of such technology might be. Space is elastic, we know, but the elastic bands on any pair of boxer shorts eventually wears out. We don’t know if the same is true of space’s elasticity.

And then, perhaps we might consider the remote possibility that humans manage to harness a realistic and affordable form of faster-than-light travel and begin to colonize solar systems other than our own. Let’s say we find earth-like, habitable planets out there and begin to build cities on them. These planets would not be our home and we would, for all intents and purposes, be defined as an invasive species. What are our responsibilities when it comes to environmental concerns on extraterrestrial colonies where there is actually an ecosystem.

Space might be too big for us to affect in any real way, but we have shown that we are very good at changing the face of a single planet. What sorts of aliens are we likely to be? Are we the peaceful aliens who expand and inhabit but do not destroy, like in Star Trek? Or are we the destroyers, using resources and casting entire worlds aside as soon as they are spent, like in Independence Day?

Guten Tag.

Too Young for the Old Folks’ Home

A week or so ago, Republican Representative Martin Harty, a nonagenarian from New Hampshire (!) said something that might have been funny if it had been said by a drunken college student being ironic at a house party or at a bar. However, I’m fairly certain that a sober phone conversation with a constituent is not the proper forum to suggest that sending “defective” people to Siberia is a good idea. And, of course, to later refuse to apologize for such comments is even more hilarious. And forget morals for a second. Would Russia even approve of this? Is it even plausible fiscally? Logistically? We could just as easily stick all the defectives in a huge freezer or grind them up into soylent green patties. It seriously is the ramblings of an old cranky bastard that has no business playing at politics. He really needs to just get back to his penny candy and his Price is Right.

But it got me thinking. Not about eugenics. But about Mars exploration. I think it was back in November that a couple of scientists suggested the money-saving space exploration strategy of sending astronauts in their sixties to Mars on a one-way trip. The logic is fairly straightforward. A one-way trip would cut costs by something like 80%. The idea of sending older folks to Mars is the fact that a mission to colonize Mars would almost certainly dramatically reduce a person’s life expectancy. Therefore, goes the argument, the only logical thing to do is to send fit, healthy and sane folks in their sixties. These are fogies who have theoretically had a full and happy life.

The thing of it is, people will want to do this. You will never be short on volunteers for something like this. Even after you filter out the crazies, you’re still going to have a fairly sizable pool from which to draw colonists from. It’s interesting because word on the street is that this is NASA’s idea. This is not NASA’s idea. NASA is not endorsing this idea and is not planning on utilizing this idea. At least for the time being.

Honestly, I don’t understand what the holdup is. Here’s my problem: Kennedy lit a fire under our collective asses with his address challenging us to put a man on the moon. America’s best and brightest teamed up to not just win the space race, but to annihilate the competition. Kennedy threw down the gauntlet in 1961. There were human footprints on the fucking moon in 1969.

Since then, NASA has become an agglomeration of bureaucrats. The adventurous spirit is lost and little by little the US has lost her resolve to do anything even remotely as badass as walking on the moon. I mean, seriously. Obama’s “Sputnik Moment” is just to, what? Get everyone internet access? Really? I’ve had internet access since 1995 (ish). This is not a Sputnik Moment, nor an analogous Apollo Response. It is just a pledge to invest in the infrastructure of a (very possibly) doomed planet.

The question that I think is vital here is essentially this: When is the US going to do something boner-inducing again?

And I know that there are people out there who will claim that we simply don’t have the money. Well, I’m here to tell you that we do have the money. Oodles of it. And there’s one easy way to get our hands on it.

And so, here’s my thinking: we have to get to Mars because it’s the coolest thing imaginable at this point in time. The only way to do it and make it affordable is to turn Mars into Shady Acres Retirement Village. So let’s do it. Let’s embrace this idea wholeheartedly. I mean, if this is a moral imperative (which I would argue it is, what with the precarious situation of having all our eggs in, you know, just the one basket), and there is only one way to accomplish it, then why wouldn’t we just do that thing?

Oldsters on Mars. Hell, you don’t need eccentric billionaires to fund the damned thing. You just need hidden cameras and a distribution deal with MTV. This would be the most brilliant reality TV ever. Watching a handful of old fogies slip inexorably toward dementia and how the others deal with that (on Mars!!) would be like the TV event of…well…forever.

I’d start a petition to get this thing going, but what’s the point?

Also, in the picture, can you guess who the old man with the gun is? That’s right. It’s William S. Burroughs.

Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft

Is Rush Limbaugh Insensitive?

If the title of this post, read in a surprised voice, is not even remotely funny, then perhaps your time might be better spent elsewhere on the internet. It’s not that I don’t want people to see things from my point of view, it’s just that I don’t know make that happen. What I mean is, no matter how many political discussions I have had (a lot), I am fairly certain that I have never, in all of my considerable years (30), actually convinced anyone of anything. And no matter how many political discussions I have, there is always this little voice in the back of my mind that says, in its own little way, “Could this other person, with whom I disagree, actually be right?” And then I have to go over all of my logic again just to make sure. And then I always settle into that little groove on the political spectrum that would properly be labeled “Ridiculously Liberal.” And then I wipe the sweat from my brow.

The point is, I don’t know that conservatives ever suffer from self-doubt. As an educated liberal, I assume this is because conservatives, as a rule, suffer from a sort of megalomania that stems from a political ideology based on selfishness, steeped in a religion that is just vague enough to make that seem like it’s a good thing. I do. Suffer from self-doubt, that is.

For what it’s worth.

So….Rush Limbaugh. Yeah, that guy. He said some stuff this week. And it was stupid and insensitive. I honestly don’t think there’s any arguing the point. His defense that he was actually mocking Diane Sawyer is actually very telling, in that it actually is a defensive tactic. Seeing as how a)it’s a lie: He was, in fact, making fun of Japanese people recycling in the face of adversity–watch the video again if you don’t believe me and b)he is pretty much the biggest prick in the world this side of Scott Walker and Glenn Beck. (Again, if this offends you, re-read the first sentence of the post and carefully consider whether you want to even bother leaving me a message in the comments section)

And so, seeing Rush on the defense can only be an unqualified “good.”

When I set out to write a post today, I didn’t have any particular thing in mind and, indeed, I had wanted to write about this and this. And honestly, there’s nothing less offensive than particle physics. Or is there?

I wonder if anyone might find the revelation that space might not actually be infinitely divisible offensive (see one of the above links to sciencedaily–really super neat stuff!). And therein lies the crux of the matter. Rush Limbaugh thinks that the Prius is stupid. This is based on the dubious logic that “nobody wants a Prius.” Obviously this is not true because I think it would be cool to have a Prius. And so what’s the real reason that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t like the Prius? I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only thing that actually motivates conservatives in Congress and on Fox News (et al), is liberals. They hate things specifically because liberals like them. If I said, “Man, I hate stubbing my toe,” I have this theory that there is a conservative somewhere that is so bullheaded that he (or she) would immediately go and kick a boulder, just to show how fun it can be.

It’s interesting to note the relationship between Limbaugh’s view of the tragic tsunami in Japan and subsequent nuclear catastrophe and the conservative view of, say, the Big Bang. He actually believes that his god did this. Like on purpose. Who worships a god that does jerkish stuff like that? The thing is, conservatives look at the world and require it to be intelligible. They look at Big Bang Theory and see that it’s based on various conjectures which are, in turn based on a considerable amount of available evidence and then read their Bibles and say, “No way, I can’t deal with that kind of uncertainty. God did it.” But the fact of the matter is, we don’t know all of the details and ins and outs of the Big Bang because, hey, it happened like 13 billion years ago. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast a week ago.

What anti-science conservatives don’t seem to understand is that uncertainty about the universe doesn’t bother scientists. They are completely untroubled by the fact that the Big Bang is, at its most fundamental, a well-educated guess. They do not lose sleep over it. Not knowing the “why” of earthquakes/tsunamis/hurricanes, doesn’t bother atheists. We can look at it and say, “That’s nature. That’s life. It’s a terrible thing, though, so I’ll donate some money to help people pick up their lives.” A conservative will look at it as a an event that occurred as the result of someone’s conscious decision. And as a result of that, they find themselves in the precarious position of either a)believing in a god that is supposed to be infinitely loving but also has a sadistic and sociopathic streak or b)having to find a good reason why the eastern seaboard of Japan ought to have been demolished by a tsunami. God did it, therefore it must be justified.

Either way I find it unfathomable.

If you’ve read all this way, and have the inclination, the Red Cross is doing some very good things in the world today. Also, space might not be infinitely divisible (WTF? I know, right?) and also great strides are being made in the field of quantum condensates (super cool, if you know what I mean).

domo arigato

Scott Walker has sold us out to Cthulhu

In light of shameful recent events, it has come to my attention that there is a much deeper and more disturbing situation going on here.

I was discussing this situation with a friend last night (likely about the time that the GOP senators in WI were illegally passing their sociopathic bill) and he made the claim that people like the Koch (Cock) Brothers are most likely satanists. He made it very clear that he was not joking. The Koch Brothers (and indeed, much of the Tea Party libertarian movement) do not, if you look at the evidence, exhibit a sincere desire to help America get back on its feet. Indeed, almost everything that they have attempted to do has been a direct attack on people with little or not hope of balancing budgets or getting the economy on track. Let me rephrase: Everything that they have done has been designed to hurt people. They have done nothing whatsoever to help people get back on their feet and make this country a better place to live.

Not very christian of them. Indeed, as my friend argued, this is exactly the sort of behavior that a satanist would engage in. A real satanist would go to church every Sunday. They would couch almost all of their rhetoric in almost the exact same ways that Scott Walker has, and respond to prank phone calls in the same way as well.

And so, I must politely disagree with my friend. You see, I think that this whole thing is a deviously subtle plot from the Old One, Dread Cthulhu! Think about it. Koch Industries has a long record of ecological disregard. They want to destroy people’s spirits, take away their rights, and sell them toilet paper and napkins.

Isn’t this exactly the sort of behavior that you’d expect from a cult to Cthulhu? Look at it from a strategic standpoint. Do they honestly expect this whole ploy to strip collective bargaining rights is going to work? The political climate is not quite right for it. Indeed, public opinion is just conservative enough that this whole thing is guaranteed only to sow the seeds of chaos and dissent and create unrest. That’s not the sort of New World Order that a satanic cult would endorse. No, no. Either this is a serious tactical blunder (I refuse to believe they are that stupid), or their intention was to create chaos and disorder all along! Think about it, the Koch Brothers are up in their castle keep, chanting dissonant, vulgar prayers to their god of destruction, glorying in the cries of the protesters. This is what they want! The state troopers are moving into the capital and forcefully removing protesters.

Is it only a matter of time before riots break out? Chaos and disorder, my friends, is all that this whole thing has managed to create. And so you have to ask yourself. What’s more likely? That Scott Walker, Rupert Murdoch, and the Koch Brothers are part of a vast cult to Cthulhu, which has successfully managed to deflect the very real and justified anger of the Tea Party at public unions and social programs in order to create widespread panic, confusion, chaos and the death of the American dream? Or that people are actually this evil, nasty, bigoted, disturbed, sociopathic, and (in the Tea Party’s case) stupid, that they would deliberately target public unions, NPR, and Planned Parenthood in a misguided effort to create a society governed by paternal ethics and a corporate oligarchy/police state?

Which is more likely? Hmmm?

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn