Going To Mars

I read this morning that NASA has a plan to get to Mars in 20 years. (1) If it takes 20 years, they will probably land at Elon’s third DragonPort and freshen up a bit at the local SpaceX hotel. (2) But that’s not the point. Once on Mars and cleaned up after the long trip, when those intrepid NASA explorers take a Model Y out for a run in the circumplanetary desert they will have no water, no trees, no animals, no oxygen, and a thin CO2 atmosphere in which to suffocate should their breathable air bottles spring leaks.

Which is to say, why bother? Our new EPA chief may be able to recreate this environment on Earth in less than 20 years and save a lot of money.

-George-

  1. https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/journey-to-mars-next-steps-20151008_508.pdf
  2. http://www.space.com/34234-spacex-mars-colony-plan-by-the-numbers.html

Ad Blockers

Several of the web sources I like to use to stay up on current affairs in politics and technology have recently started blocking access to those who use ad blockers. I’ve been able to stay connected to my domains of interest by finding alternate sources (not alternate facts), or by twiddling a few browser knobs.

It seems to me that, to name two, all The New York Times and The Inquirer have done is to chase folks away from their own shops. They have reduced their own potential reader bases while doing nothing to fix their core problem. I’d love to see some numbers that say differently.

Here’s the thing, like many ad blocker users, I don’t use an ad blocker to block ads. That’s right. I use an ad blocker to block connections to web sites that I do not trust, and to block scripts that have nothing to do with a media company’s delivery of news and everything to do with increasingly shady ways of taking personal information from me.

For example, if The New York Times and The Inquirer would serve their own ads from their own domains, if those ads did not pop up and dance in front of the content I am trying to read, if they did not run sleazy little programs to sift through my browser’s internal electronic garbage can, I would look at them without complaint, with boredom perhaps, but not complaint. You know, like I do with the old fashioned paper newspaper I get every day.

It’s time to look behind you, guys and gals, because your view of the future looks pretty grim.

-George-

Healthcare For Lemmings

The present discussion about health care legislation is embarrassing. It really is. The Republican proposal is so ill-conceived, so ill-constructed, and so pointless that it really merits no discussion. But that does not matter to its sponsors. The only thing that matters to them is getting rid of that “disastrous” Obamacare that just might be the beginning of a just and effective national healthcare system that just might improve the general welfare of the people in the United States. Perhaps they have they not read the Preamble to the Constitution they purport to protect. (1)

The right has become consumed by a narrow and brittle ideology. Logic and reason hold no sway there, certainly not the CBO. It’s now the domain of alternate facts and of a juvenile Randian philosophy which is just as screwed up in its own way as was Lenin’s communism. And, for the time being, the traditional left seems unable to define and articulate its guiding principles. For the terms of two Democratic presidents the party has been unable to deflect the wave of ideological lemmings on the right, so those critters are about to carry us all over a cliff to an economic, cultural, and environmental crash from which recovery will require decades. That is, unless we do something different to scatter the mob.

That something different is to form a government of the people —  to declare our independence. What a novel idea. I cannot believe that all the people in this country can be neatly sorted into Republican and Democratic camps. What each of us must do is to recognize that this underlying two-party system reality is the root cause of our oscillating extremes of governmental disfunction and growing national division. Each of us needs to start voting for whatever party or person winds one’s own clock, to close our ears to the ideologs, to chart our own course, and to consciously try to block absolute majorities in Congress, in state assemblies, and in city councils. We need diversity in government to force compromise, to force rationality that cannot exist within an intellectual climate dominated by dogma and absolute power. Let’s put away political “holy” books and flags and use our heads — for a change.

-George-

  1. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It’s Not The Source, It’s The Truth That Counts

On Meet The Press today, Senator Cotton, R-AR, said “far down the road” to the possible appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian contacts by Trump staffers before Trump became President. He warned that all we have are anonymous sources, and anonymous sources cannot always be trusted. (1)

True, Senator Cotton, not always, but often anonymous sources are the only way to uncover corruption in government. Do you think we can rely upon Mr. Trump and his friends to tell us the truth? How’s that been going for you? Perhaps like the truth from Richard Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover? We must also remember that these are dangerous times for truth-seekers. Trump’s reflexive action is to divert attention from the subject of stories that illuminate his illegal or ill-considered activities by discrediting or demeaning the sources. It is harder to discredit an unknown source. You can’t call “Pocahontas” or “so-called” on a shadow.  Sometimes anonymity is the only crack one can squeeze truth through, often because the source’s livelihood or even life is at risk.

Sometimes the methods used to expose the truth must be as illegal as the subject of a story itself. Sometimes, it’s that important.

-George-

  1. http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/sen-cotton-don-t-give-credit-to-anonymous-sources-885218371908

Three-Year-Old Revokes Rule

We’ve had an interesting week or so in Washington. First, on February 17th Donald Trump signed legislation revoking the Stream Protection Rule (1) which helped protect streams from coal strip mine pollution. This, he thinks, is an important part of putting miners back to work digging the coal no one wants. (2) At ThinkProgress, Joe Romm has a 2014 piece in which he references Paul Krugman’s take on miner unemployment. Automation has taken those jobs and they are not coming back. (3) As I see it, the non-rule we now have might best be called the “Shit Non-Rule” because it basically says it’s OK to shit in your neighbor’s backyard and let the neighbor pay the costs of cleanup. It’s the American way.

Then, today our non-elected (4) leader decided that news agencies that don’t tell it like he sees it can expect access problems. My first thought is that this action is much like that of a three-year-old who won’t let a friend on the outs come to their birthday party, and that really says a lot about the dangerous character that sits in the Oval Office these days. Upon reflection, I think the excluded news agencies really just missed out on an alternate fact presentation. Maybe they could have made better use of their time chatting and drinking coffee around a table at Starbucks instead of listening to a 3-year-old having a tantrum. We’ll see what excuse pops up, or who gets blamed. I don’t think this will last. Not like the Shit Non-Rule.

-George-

  1. http://www.register-herald.com/news/trump-signs-repeal-of-clean-stream-law/article_26881efd-6eef-56b0-8810-ccfb72e9a63c.html
  2. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=29472
  3. https://thinkprogress.org/krugman-in-the-real-war-on-coal-the-mining-industry-won-and-workers-lost-4c3d1e3e89f
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2016
    By votes cast: Trump-62,985,106 Clinton-65,853,625

A Flawed Democracy

I read in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index 2016” (1) this morning that the United States is now a “flawed democracy”. Of course, we knew that. It’s been that way for a while. But this is a new (January) formal ranking from a respected source. On page 4, the Index says that the country has dropped to its new ranking because :

“Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies. Yet surveys by Pew, Gallup and other polling agencies have confirmed that public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the US.” (page 4)

Then, in trying to understand this discontent the Index notes:

That, “The parallels between the June 2016 Brexit vote and the outcome of the November 8th US election are manifold. In both cases, the electorate defied the political establishment.” (page 12)

And that, “Donald Trump’s victory was stunning because it was achieved in the face of the unremitting hostility of the entire political establishment.” (page 12)

I’ll grant that confidence in the US government is low, maybe historically in some modern sense, although I would say that it was certainly lower during the Civil War Period. The reasons why this might be so are another matter, but certainly relate to a constant stream of propaganda from nearly evangelical radio and TV personalities and from what we might now call alternative news outlets or entertainment channels masquerading as news outlets.

I’ll grant that there are some similarities between the Brexit vote and the US presidential election, chiefly that both outcomes were incomprehensible disasters, but there was certainly a massive output of propaganda and “alternate facts” during the campaigns.

The Economist missed the boat on the third point. I’ll not grant that Trump won the US Presidential election. He absolutely did not. He lost it by 62,985,106 to 65,853,625. (2) That is, 2,868,159 US citizen’s votes were simply, publicly, and legally not counted, tossed out. At least in the Brexit vote, the people’s votes added up to the numbers required to create the head-spinningly silly result. In the US, our medieval Electoral College, even further hamstrung by individual state rules prohibiting electors use of the power of reason granted them in the Constitution, over-ruled the people and handed the Presidency to the clear loser of the popular vote. In what kind of a democracy is this permitted to happen? A flawed one.

So, while The Economist called the end result right, it missed what I think is the key point of justification completely. If your vote does not count, you do not have a democracy – regardless of what a country’s constitution says. To my mind, one’s confidence in the government comes way down the list in ranking democracies.

-George-

  1. http://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=DemocracyIndex2016
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2016

A Renewable Energy Project

Fortune reported in January (1) that U.S. solar workers now outnumber coal miners by a factor of two, and that good jobs in solar are growing rapidly. That’s good news, and probably a good sign that Trump’s promise to put coal miners back to work is not going to amount to much more than a little hot air. Literally. Because of market forces. If I were a miner, I think I’d happily trade my hole in the ground (2) (3) for a bright sunny day. The Fortune article points out that solar is still a small piece of the energy pie in this country, but also relates how some forward-thinking fossil fuel energy companies are beginning to move into solar as economics improve, as they should. The handwriting is on the wall – er, on the roof.

ktownsolar

The picture above was taken during a walk in Kaiserslautern, Germany in late January. You can see our shadows at the bottom. It’s hard to find a roof in the frame that is not covered with solar photo-voltaic panels. This area is primarily industrial, but on the left are apartments and their garages. On the train rides we took in Germany, we noted widespread deployment of solar on private residences and businesses. We saw many wind turbine installations, as well. According to The Guardian (4),nearly 90% of the European energy sources added in 2016 were renewable. Over half of those were from wind, but that’s still a lot of solar.

In the United States we don’t have the government policies to encourage development of renewable energy sources as the Europeans do. But we do have common sense, and as individuals we can do what some utilities are doing, as Sharon and I are doing.

Sharon and I are presently designing a Zero Energy Ready (5) rated house for construction in a “New Urbanism” community (6). Our architect calls it the Ecohouse. We call it our Legacy House. It will be solar photo-voltaic and grid, with no fossil fuel on the lot. The grid connection will be wind offset, as it is at our present house. Construction should start in June. It is the right thing to do for us, our family, and our community. It should be a lot of fun. There will be more about the project here as the real work begins. Much to do.

-George-

  1. http://fortune.com/2015/01/16/solar-jobs-report-2014/
  2. A figure of speech. Most coal mining in the United States is surface mining.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_mining
  3. (Added in edit 01/05/2017)
    http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/05/news/economy/donald-trump-coal-jobs/index.html
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/09/new-energy-europe-renewable-sources-2016
  5. https://energy.gov/eere/buildings/zero-energy-ready-home
  6. http://www.evansfarmliving.com

Killing The Peaceseekers

On February 3, according to the Christian Science Monitor (1), Marquette County Republican Party Secretary Dan Adamini expressed his unhappiness with raucous liberal demonstrations at the University of California at Berkeley in a series of social media rants containing the following texts:

“One bullet stops a lot of thuggery”

“They do it because they know there are no consequences yet.”

“I’m thinking another Kent State might be the only solution.”

There is no place in a democratic government for Mr. Adamini.  He had to go, and in the wake of the outcry over his posts he resigned on February 8th (2). There is no place for language like his in civil human discourse at any place in our country, not among ourselves, not from our radio and TV personalities, not from politicians. Beyond that, it is important to understand that demonstrations just may occur because people are concerned about issues, and they become raucous and even violent when the consequences no longer frighten them, not because there are no consequences. Not because they are thugs, but because the situation is so intolerable that not to act is a worse alternative.

I wrote an article about Kent State in 2009 for a collection of short essays. I have included it at the end of this post. Kent State should wrench all our hearts.

-George-

  1. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2017/0206/Republican-official-Dan-Adamini-apologizes-after-calling-for-another-Kent-State
  2. http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/michigan/2017/02/08/gop-official-resigns-kent-state-tweet/97668394/

Edited to note Adamini resignation, February 12, 2017, 15:46

Continue reading “Killing The Peaceseekers”

Kaffeerösterei

coffeeshop1

There is a delightful Kaffeerösterei in Kaiserslautern (1). Of all the places we went on our recent trip, it will be one of our favorite memories. Our apartment was just across the street on the second floor. We could look down into the shop and the happy scene within.

The Kaffeerösterei is a simple, authentic, and cozy neighborhood coffee shop with a bustling local clientele. They serve great German coffee and delicious pastries. I could live on the banana kuchen. The photo in this post shows an apfel kuchen. We tried to get there every day when in “K-town”.

It is important to quality of life to have peaceful community gathering places where ideas, news, and smiles can be exchanged, where hands can be held, and where local business can be nurtured. Starbucks, with no offense, is not the Kaffeerösterei. It lacks the authentic neighborhood feel. It’s plastic, loud, and rushed, and your coffee and pastry do not arrive at your table of friends on a tray carried by someone who knows who you are. Now that we are at home, it is going to be one of our tasks to find (or recreate) that experience.

-George-

http://www.kaffeeroesterei-kaiserslautern.de/

Coronation

We returned to Ohio from a month in Germany on Monday. It was good to be away from the United States during the craziness of Donald Trump’s coronation. But, that craziness inspired my wife and me to become more active in the United States’ political process. The first thing we did Tuesday morning was to join the ACLU. The first thing I (writing like this is personal) did was to crank up this blog. Writing will help me solidify my ideas, and assure that they have at least some potential exposure. If we do nothing in the face of advancing tyranny, if we do not speak out, we are complicit.

I referred to Trump’s “coronation” above. Coronations were what happened after European colleges of electors (1) chose their kings. We saw electors’ tombs in some of the German churches and cathedrals we toured. For the second time in the 21st century, the United States has as President a person rejected by the people, but selected by a college of electors. So, coronation, I think, not inauguration is the proper term. But whatever we call the ceremonial installation of Mr. Trump as President of the United States, it did not come about through a democratic process (one person, one vote).

There is much to do to ensure that Presidents of the United States are democratically elected and somewhere early in that project stands ridding ourselves of our Electoral College.

-George-

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_college