Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Category: Science Page 2 of 10

Trump shows us his space junk

Hey kids! Vote for your favorite Space Force logo and win a prize! Prizes like a chance – slim, but still a chance – for you and your family’s survival in the event of an intergalactic showdown between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys!

“Space is a warfighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea,” President Donald Trump said last March in a speech at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. “We may even have a Space Force … because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space. I said: ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force.’ And I was not really serious. And then I said: ‘What a great idea! Maybe we’ll have to do that.’”

And that’s how momentous decisions are made. “I was not really serious… What a great idea!” Yet Trump’s announcement this week that he is ordering the creation a new arm of the American military to fight our future space wars has been roundly ridiculed, and deservedly so. Ridiculed not only by late-night TV comedians, but by military experts, including generals with serious scowls on their faces. That’s quite a range of mockery.

Vice President Mike Pence chimed in to defend our defense, calling for America to dominate outer space. Dominate! “Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces,” he said, “to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people and to our nation.”

We must protect our satellites, Pence said, from Russian and Chinese aggression. And I assume this means our military architects must hit the drafting boards to design menacing-looking space ships to defend our GPS signals and the colonies that we will establish as we venture to far-flung planets whose gravity is so powerful that carbon molecules falling through their atmospheres are squeezed into rains of diamonds. If there are riches to be mined, America must have them.

Impressionable children, the ones who will have to deal with the consequences of these actions, can be won over early with the ideas of cool-looking Space Force uniforms. And the emails from the Trump For President in 2020 campaign office calling for a vote on your favorite of six Space Force logos.

But most of us are not impressionable children. Our Darth Vader leadership needs to understand that the cosmos is not just the 21st-century version of Columbus sailing to the West Indians and writing in his journals that Europeans have to keep coming back, because there are plenty of native people there to be enslaved. There is accepted international space law. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 outlaws nuclear weapons and prevents any country from claiming ownership of the moon or any planet, reserving them for peaceful purposes. It has been signed by 107 countries, including the U.S. and Russia. Another 23, including China, agreed to the treaty after the closing of the signing period.

Of course, the world has taken note of the Trump administration’s disregard for any signed treaty it decides was a “bad deal.” So maybe The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has been rendered irrelevant by Presidential Whim. “What a great idea!”

Despite the combative attitudes of the United States and Russia, our scientists and their scientists are already working together on the International Space Station. While Putin and Trump are exerting their malevolence on the planet, science and cooler heads are at work high overhead.

Robert Heinlein’s future was Starship Troopers. We don’t want that. We need to be working in the other direction. All of this outer-space ambition is coming from an administration that can’t get things done closer to home, like putting hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico back together, or getting clean water to the people of Flint, Michigan.

The Space Force won’t happen. Trump can’t just sign an executive order to make it happen; the last time a new arm of the military was created was 1947 and the U.S. Air Force. That was done by Congress, not President Truman. And who pays for it? In searching the internet, I stumbled on this comforting and amusing logic in a Pentagon in-house journal, Defense AT&L Magazine, a piece written by Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward:

In the Star Wars universe, robots are self-aware, every ship has its own gravity, Jedi Knights use the Force, tiny green Muppets are formidable warriors and a piece of junk like the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But even the florid imagination of George Lucas could not envision a project like the Death Star coming in on time, on budget.

It is craziness – a Space Force, building a wall between the United States and Mexico – designed as distraction. Whether he’s targeting immigrants, Democrats, the media, the FBI, the CIA or his own cabinet, Trump is running out of Bad Guys to distract us from what’s going on: The most corrupt U.S. presidential administration, a gang of grifters, is going down. Because when this is all done, it’ll be worse than Watergate.

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The Persistence of Memory

The Jane Mutiny celebrates The Beatles at WXXI. Photo by Sandy Embury Gianniny.

 
Connie Deming was playing at the Little Café Saturday night when a stranger came up to me. “I loved your stuff,” he said, and handed me a glass of wine. That’s been happening a lot since I got laid off by the local newspaper on Sept. 16. It seems like half the city is trying to get me drunk.

But I’m pleased they remember.

I’ve been writing a lot. Reading. Cooking. Doing laundry. Getting my web site updated. And going out. At Connie’s show that night, My Friend Bob told me about how he was walking through his living room while his granddaughter was watching television. Supergirl was on. Supergirl, Bob noted, has pierced ears: “How do you pierce Supergirl’s ears?” And yes, Bob’s right. If you’re aware of the Super family genes, bullets bounce off of these people. So how do you poke a hole in Supergirl’s ear lobe?

How could the writers of the show not remember that? Bob did. And he’s not even a fan.

WXXI was putting on a Beatles celebration later that night, showing the documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, followed by a half-hour live broadcast of the Rochester band The Jane Mutiny playing Beatles songs. “Across the Universe,” “Hey Jude” and a nice version of “Blackbird” that was hard to categorize; a little pop, a little R&B, a little soul. Everyone at the studio was remembering The Beatles, who haven’t been a band since 1970. My Friend Ken was talking about how he’d been going through some things at his mother’s house and found his old Beatles bubble-gum cards. He seemed a little more excited about it than a middle-aged man should be.

Mom’s been visiting this past week. I picked her up in Cleveland and, on the drive to Rochester, slipped a CD into the player. It was a new release, Triptych, a singer doing old songs with a big band. Mom loved it. She wanted to buy the record. All week she’s been talking about it, except she can’t ever remember the singer’s name. “Who’s my new favorite guy?” she keeps asking.

“Bob Dylan, Mom.”

She’s 88 years old, and doing pretty well. But we have some odd moments. When she visits, Fox News is off limits. I’m dismayed at how those people have distorted the worldview of this otherwise nice old lady, although she does seem to have finally accepted the news that Barack Obama was not born in Kenya. When Mom’s brain is not cluttered up with weird conspiracy theories, she does display an unexpected ability to recall ancient facts.

“Remember that little girl who disappeared in Cleveland?”

“No. Recently?”

“A while ago. Beverly Potts.”

I fired up the Google. And there she was, dozens of posts about Beverly Potts. Wikipedia, even:

Beverly Rose Potts (born April 15, 1941) was an American girl from Cleveland, Ohio, who in 1951 became the subject of a famous missing persons case when she disappeared only a few blocks from her home, after attending a show in a nearby park. She has never been found and her disappearance remains unsolved.

Mom can’t keep Bob Dylan’s name straight, but she remembers the name of a little girl who disappeared 66 years ago.

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Living a fantasy life can be a killer

Richard Martinez had an easy excuse if he had fallen into an absolute, sobbing despondency;  his 20-year-old son had been murdered in a shooting and stabbing spree last weekend in California. Instead, Martinez was a mix of appropriate emotion and room-silencing coherence as he spoke to a gathering of reporters. I have never heard the case for gun control stated so fiercely and eloquently:

“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness; we don’t have to live like this?’ Too many have died. We should say to ourselves: not one more.”

And when the cable news cameras move on to the next ratings-handy tragedy, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre will emerge from his dark world and continue to proclaim: “The best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

It’s an empty catch phrase. As are the words of lunatic Republican icon Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, who wrote in an open letter to the families of the shooting victims, “your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

So I guess we’ll all just have to bite the bullet. To underline the national paralysis brought on by our inaction, we only have to turn to this headline from the satirical web site The Onion:

“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

This most-recent giant tragedy (remembering that every day there are hundreds of small tragedies) reminds us that Americans live in in the midst of arrogant, self-absorbed fantasies. Not just the socially inept, woman-hating rich kid who went on the Santa Barbara killing spree. But all across this country, where technology and education allows us access to the truth, too many of groups choose to embrace dangerous nonsense.

Climate-change deniers. There’s a figure tossed around that 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are altering our planet in ways that endanger not just polar bears, but civilization. Now it seems that 97 percent estimate is incorrect. With the release last week of the more studies on what’s happening to the polar ice caps, glaciers and whatever indicator you care to measure, it’s now virtually impossible to find a reputable scientist who isn’t alarmed by the data. So where are the climate deniers getting their supporting facts from?

Critics of Cosmos. After each week of the acclaimed TV science series, The Flat-Brain Society issues a statement decrying some comment by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Rushing to the defense of their literal interpretation of the Bible that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Or refuting the contention that evolution is not just a theory, but an actual scientific process, like breathing. To combat science, common sense, and what lies plainly before anyone’s eyes, they quote the Bible. That’s all they have, a book of stories passed down from generations of unknown men wandering the desert for a few centuries.

The Supreme Court. In upholding the right of Michigan institutions to ban laws implementing affirmative action earlier this year, the Supreme Court majority flat-out said that racism no longer exists in the United States. And then the gods, who entertain themselves by watching our amusing displays of hypocrisy, promptly sent us the news-ready racists Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling. Bundy, an Arizona rancher, quickly became a spokesman for anti-government goons, who seem to think a man can pay no heed to the law if he has enough guns. What a world that would be! The side with the most guns wins! It’s a Wild West fantasy. And we have to wonder what fantasy the other NBA team owners were living in as they ignored the previous, well-documented racist acts by Sterling, the owner of the LA Clippers.

Birthers and other conspiracies. There is a birth certificate. There is a notice in the 1961 Honolulu Advertiser and The Honolulu Star-Bulletin announcing the birth of baby Barack Hussein Obama. Why won’t the birthers go away? And who are these people who insist the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre never happened? Or 9/11 was an inside job? Or continue to chase Benghazi? Or still insist that the IRS supposedly targeted conservative groups for investigation, when the evidence clearly shows otherwise. The ill-informed cadre of fantasy players breast feeding these bogus babies does not care how hurtful those insane conspiracies are to the families of the victims, Or how much time and money is wasted by public officials when they could be addressing real issues.

How about giving us a scandal that’s not a fantasy? Ben Carson, regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party, actually welcomed news of the Veteran’s Administration scandal, a true scandal, where administrators were found to have falsified records that showed wounded soldiers were forced to endure excessively long waits before treatment. “I think what’s happening with the veterans is a gift from God,” Carson said, explaining that the VA revelations cast light on the dangers of socialized medicine. Anyone else want to live in a universe where God tortures wounded soldiers to make a political point?

The news media. Why don’t we fact check anymore? When someone says that raising the minimum wage will hurt the economy, why isn’t that statement immediately rebuked with studies by the majority of reputable economists who dispute that myth? Why is someone allowed to make the claim that American values are pro-gun, pro-life and anti-gay marriage, when polls show that most Americans think otherwise?

She’s not a doctor, but she could play one on TV. How is it that actors such as Alicia Silverstone and Jenny McCarthy can campaign against getting your child vaccinated, because they think those medicines will expose him or her to autism? They’re not doctors. And doctors don’t believe you should skip your kid’s vaccinations.

Maybe it’s the Internet that feeds these fantasies. I’m not so sure we’re too far past the days since the Cath0lic church would put a man to death for believing that the Earth revolved around the sun.

You may think it doesn’t matter that all of these folks are peddling fantasies. But Congressman John Boehner said something interesting yesterday: “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”

He’s not qualified. Yet he has control of how we’re dealing with the problem.

Climate change, gun violence, racism, the economy and health all need to be addressed in a serious manner. Because living in a fantasy world is actually a very dangerous place to be.

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