Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Category: Science Page 1 of 10

Stylin’ with the Space Force

An acquaintance asked me last week if I’d stopped writing The Critical Mass. No, I said. Just been laying low, absorbed with the new job, visiting my 90-year-old mom in Cleveland, doing laundry.

And, to be quite honest, I had nothing to add to the blogosphere, and in particular the national debate surrounding Trump. Well, “debate” is not the right word for what we’re witnessing. Hundreds of doctors and psychologists have signed letters stating that the president has serious mental issues. Hundreds of lawyers have signed petitions declaring Trump has committed crimes. A national study of almost 200 political scientists concludes that Trump is the worst president ever and forever. Thousands of witnesses have corroborated accounts of Trump lying, assaulting women, cheating his business partners, calling neo-Nazis “very fine people,” referring to Mexican citizens fleeing poverty as rapists, steering government business to his own properties to financially benefit himself, violating campaign finance laws to buy the silence of Playboy models and porn stars with whom he’s had affairs, ordering children to be separated from their parents at our southern border, encouraging supporters at his rallies to physically attack protesters, abolishing environmental protections, evading taxes, asking the FBI to jail reporters, extorting foreign governments in his search of political favors, mocking the physical characteristics of people who question his integrity, spreading bizarre conspiracy theories, obstructing justice, creating fake national emergencies and launching military actions to distract from investigations into his corrupt administration, intimidating witnesses, consorting with murderous dictators in Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, and lying about his golf scores.

There is no “debate.” Trump’s unfitness as a leader is a foregone conclusion.

But I cannot remain silent any longer on this latest outrage. The Space Force uniforms are insane.

To update readers on this sartorial saga, Trump announced early in his presidency that he was creating a sixth branch of the U.S. military, the Space Force, to… well, to fight our space wars. And this week the Space Force moved closer to reality, because we have now seen the Space Force uniforms.

I’m not sure why this announcement took so long, because we’ve been studying various uniform prototypes for decades, with hand-to-hand space combat in mind:

Alas, the Space Force has chosen to fly off in another direction. Surprisingly, our first look at the new outfits this week did not come with Melania strutting down a fashion runway. All we got were a few promo shots of…

Waitaminute! Will our Space Force be duck hunting?

As our brave men and women wrestle evil for control of the stars, they’ll be rocking in what’s called the OCP pattern, or multi-cam. Camouflage intended to hide our troops in jungle terrain, or in the desert, or when they’re walking through airports on their way to what Trump calls “shithole countries.”

The internet, one of the most-cynical inventions in the history of mankind, has already exposed the problem here: Wouldn’t our Space Force be better protected if our fighting men and women wore tunics decorated with stars and planets? If we want to think bigger, perhaps a supernova? Or, going in the other direction, a plain, black outfit? Because, those of us who go out at night and look up have noticed that space is mostly black.

At least the USSF could have picked a camo pattern that’s more cosmic. This one is called “Rhodesian Brushstroke,” and is appropriately spacey:

No, no, no, says the Space Force. Not only is the Space Force to be taken seriously because it has uniforms, but it also has a Twitter account. And someone in the Space Force with access to that presumably top-secret password immediately rushed to the defense of the uniforms with a tweet:

USSF is utilizing current Army/Air Force uniforms, saving costs of designing/producing a new one.

Members will look like their joint counterparts they’ll be working with, on the ground.

Let’s take this official statement at face value. A risky proposition of course, considering the Trump administration is not exactly tethered to reality. Is it “saving costs?” The statement here suggests the Space Force is concerned with a responsible – frugal, even – use of your tax dollars. Great, but the proposed U.S. military budget for 2020 is $718 billion. I think we could safely set aside $1 million to avoid embarrassing our Space Force when it encounters outer-space high society. You know the French Space Force is gonna turn some heads.

More telling, the USSF says these uniforms are intended for “on the ground” members.

OK. The initial Space Force proposal calls for 16,000 personnel. Doing what? Sitting at computer keyboards, gathering intelligence on potential targets launched by North Korea’s space program, marching in parades. How many Space Force people will actually see service in space? Not many, considering the cost to put them up there, and keep them up there. Men and women riding around in space ships, checking inspection stickers on satellites, shooting lasers at threatening aliens, whether they are from Betelgeuse or Mexico, is pure Trumpian fantasy. While we’re waging this Cold War like Slim Pickens riding a nuclear bomb in the final scene from “Dr. Strangelove,” the Russians are infiltrating the internet, creating divisions that are ripping our country to pieces.

When weighing the price tag of launching a nuclear war versus the cost of hacking our elections, the Russians are getting a real bargain.

Wouldn’t those 16,000 new Space Force recruits be put to better use as special agents assigned to fight the internet blitzkrieg that has been launched by Russia? We could even let them keep the same Batman T-shirts they wear when humiliating their Fortnite opponents.

Reality: If the USSF is really concerned with saving costs on designing/producing new uniforms for the brave men and women patrolling the distant, lonely reaches of the exosphere, it could go with real tried-and-true designs. Of which there are probably thousands stored in television and film production warehouses all over Los Angeles. Like these:

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The weekend, at our best, and at our worst

This weekend was us at our best.

At Abilene Bar & Lounge, Watkins & the Rapiers played a happy-hour gig on the deck behind the bar. In the sunshine, as we watched little bubbles floating past the band; it had helpfully supplied those bottles that your kids dip a loop into and blow through. Except, it was adults doing this.

Then, over to The Little Café, where The Jane Mutiny was playing. Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” still resonates after all these years.

Then, back over to Abilene, where local heroes The Hi-Risers reunited for a set that had the entire bar bobbing and weaving and howling. As the band closed with a mostly a cappella version of “Who Wrote the Book of Love?” more people came in through the door. The exciting R&B rockers St. Paul & the Broken Bones had finished their show for a few thousand people at Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Park at Manhattan Square.

That’s just a sampler of what people were hearing Friday night in Rochester.

Maybe you heard about what happened Saturday night in New York City. Blackout. How did people respond? Audiences at Carnegie Hall and shows all across the city – “Hadestown,” “Waitress: A New Musical” and others – spilled out into the sidewalks. As did the actors and musicians, who created impromptu shows right there.

And on the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, Paul McCartney wrapped up his latest tour by bringing out an old pal, Ringo Starr, to help out on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Helter Skelter.” Just another magical moment.

No social media needed. No DVD, no Blu-Ray, no download needed. No cable television news, and the professional shouters. Just people, and live music.

Other amazing stuff happened over the weekend. We’re now into a week-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon.

Music, uniting us. Exploring the universe, together. Yes, this is us at our best.

What else were we seeing over the weekend?

Hundreds of people gathering downtown in Washington Square Park on Friday night for the nationwide “Lights for Liberty” vigil, protesting how we’re locking kids in cages. Separating families. Immigrants packed so tightly in cages that they can’t lie down, and after 40 days of this are locked up in a stench so powerful that government workers at the detention center – we can argue that these are concentration camps – wear face masks. Rounding up people who are here – illegally if you want to call it that – because they are fleeing terror in their home countries, and sending them back to poverty and crime.

On top of this we have a president tweeting that members of Congress who were born in a foreign country – and are now American citizens – should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Trump was tweeting this appalling filth on Saturday when he wasn’t busy tweeting commercials for his golf resorts in Scotland and Ireland.

Our government as a divider.

This is us at our worst. What happened? Where did we go wrong?

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Science is the death of mythology

Today’s big news: A black hole.

That smoke and burnt matter floating around me is: My mind, officially blown.

This morning, an international collaboration of scientists presented the image that it spent two years pursuing. Using a global  arrangement of eight telescopes – they call it the Event Horizon Telescope – the scientists captured an image of a black hole. It is a golden halo around, predictably, a black hole.

A black hole. The Moby-Dick of the universe. The Holy Grail of science fiction, at last unveiled. A world where gravity is so powerful that nothing, not even light, can escape.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” Shep Doeleman, the director of the EHT, said at this morning’s big reveal.

Science did this. Science is what advances the human race.

There was a time when our understanding of the stars and planets was not what we knew, but what we believed. Mythologies. Science is the death of mythologies.

Perhaps you are of the age when you learned in school that there were nine plants in our solar system. Since then, astronomers have identified 3,504 exoplanets – those are planets like Earth, not gas balls like Jupiter – with 53 thought to be potentially habitable.

In the search for the universe’s life-supporting potential, NASA will be sending robots to a comet and Saturn’s moon, Titan, which seems to have a sub-surface ocean. A rover will go to Mars, searching for evidence that life might have once been there.

Maybe we’re just hopeful. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program, commonly called SETI, is an array of radio receivers searching for cosmic radio transmissions; what does a stray sports broadcast from Ursa Major sound like? Of course, our government sees a darker storyline: In 2007, the U.S. Defense Department created a secret agency, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, whose mission was to evaluate Is Something Out There. And, is It armed?

Recently, astronomers released more conclusions drawn from the data sent back to us from Saturn by the Cassini space probe, a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Among their conclusions is the rings of Saturn will begin to disintegrate, the millions of rocks and tiny satellite moons that make up the most beautiful sight in the cosmos sent to their death by the gravitational pull of the planet. Mark your calendar, that’s expected to happen in about 300 million years.

The pace of discovery is astounding. Last week we heard from yet another international team of scientists. Ever notice that scientists have no trouble getting along? They have been mapping the cosmos, and announced that they have found a new rock, a chunk of nickel and iron and other metals. It is what is left of a planet that had orbited a sun that looked much like our own sun. And that sun, what was once a full-fledged sun, ran out of fuel, exploded into a red giant that destroyed the planet, and perhaps others, before collapsing into a white dwarf sun. Now the remains of those two celestial bodies are locked in a death dance so intense that the fractured planet fragment completes an orbit of the cooling dwarf sun in just two hours.

A year on that rock lasts for just two hours. Puts dog years to shame, doesn’t it?

This rock, not incidentally, is 410 light years from Earth. I find it mind blowing that science can tell us such things.

The good news, I guess, is that this rock even survived the apocalyptic explosion of its sun. It gives scientists hope that, when our own sun explodes in 5 or 6 billion years, there might be something left of planet Earth. Our religions, literature, art, architecture, inventions, climate-change deniers, politicians and wars will be gone and forgotten. Our self-destructive mythologies which hold us back – mythologies of race, gender, wealth and fear – will finally be erased. But now there is hope that a chunk of cold rock might remain. And perhaps some civilization that has yet to evolve from tidal-pool protozoa will spot this rock, zipping around its own dwarf star, and ask: “What the hell was that?”

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