Friday, January 14, 2005

First Images From Amazing Huygens!

To me it looks like Huygens landed on a cobble-strewn tidal flat! Where are the seaweed and the crabs, the fishing boats and the puffy clouds?

And those valleys, morphologically stubby, usually signify sapping of some sort (with runoff not principally from 'rainfall'), but sapping of what from what is unclear. I thought it was too warm for liquid methane: am I wrong? Ethane or propane, anyone? Porous ice filled with liquid hydrocarbons? When, or does, it rain?

There's some signs of wind erosion too, from the photos last July. What is the role of the wind in shaping the landscape? Is wind more important than rain (unlike Earth)? What are the Saturnian tides like? Does the slow rotation rate make a difference?

And why does it look like the fluids flow away from the 'ocean', rather than into it? Doesn't look like a delta to me (unlike what others have said): more like a decaying a highland area, but am I wrong? Is the 'bedrock' turning rotten from years of sapping, with some fluids flowing in, and others flowing out?

Such a great place to land - so lucky that the area is a transitional zone, and not just one type or the other, not just 'land' or 'ocean'! I always thought the pictures from last July showing the general Huygens landing area vicinity on Titan looked suspiciously like the Mediterranean, with the actual landing spot somewhere in Greece. Here we are in a new cradle of civilization!
It's Not Funny! It's Not Funny! It's Not! Not!

Well, maybe a little bit! (sent by Deborah):

Ignorant Stories

Well, blast it all, my five stories didn't make it onto B3ta's 'Best' page this week. I had fun with the contest, though. B3ta's Question of the Week was:
What astonishingly stupid stuff have you overheard people saying? Tell us, and tell the world.
Here were my five stories (two previously blogged):
  • Rear View Mirror A friend once stated he never uses his rear view mirrors when he drives: he's interested only in where he's going, not where he's been. Same fellow never used a lamp when bicycling at night. Cracked his skull on a similarly-clueless bicyclist coming from the other way.
  • Take a Shower Stayed overnight at the old Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, once a magnet for the dense. The shower was governed by a big dial: rotate left for hot, right for cold. But how to turn the shower on? No helpful hints. Many frantic calls later, half of hotel management helped me PULL the sticky dial away from the wall. No surprise they finally blew the place up.
  • Why Don't Slot Machines Yield More Jackpots? For every slot machine on the casino floor, there is a doppelganger machine hidden above the ceiling, manned by a casino employee, whose job is to fight your crafty spins and keep you from becoming a millionaire (so says a friend, and I believe her).
  • Being Retarded When I was but 19, I lived briefly in Englewood, Colorado, USA, a suburb of Denver. If I missed the first bus to work, I caught the second bus, which numerous retarded people also caught on their way to their work. It was a loopy good time, singing songs and sharing stories with these civil folk. One weekend in downtown Denver, quite by accident, I ran into several of my retarded friends, who were busy talking to a businessman. My friends immediately pulled me into the conversation. The businessman assumed that if I already knew these folks, then I must be retarded too. None of my carefully-worded statements shook his considered judgment - he simply responded, in a slow sing-song voice: "So, do you go to a workshop every day too?" It's nice being slow!
  • Miniaturization
    A co-worker (male) was explaining the swift turnover of computer technology to the wide-eyed new employee (female): "Ah, you're too young to remember the era of the eight-inch dics."

Cautious Optimism

Huygens appears to have made it onto Titan! The first priority is apparently downloading data, first to Cassini and then to Earth, but maybe later today we'll get to see some images!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Huygens Powers Up

A few minutes before ten o'clock this evening.
Michigan Fog Crash

Sigh. I need to update my list again. Accidents are happening faster than I can log them.

Here's a recitation of some historic fog crashes.
A Rabbit's Work is Never Done

Cloudy says it's hard to be police rabbit.

Evidence of dark, dusty, coarse-haired Pomeranians everywhere!

And the gate-keeping duties. Makes you sneeze. Whew!
The Corruption of Academia

The illness keeps metastasizing. I remember arriving at the University of Utah in 1989, just after its reputation had been effectively destroyed by the 'Discovery of Cold Fusion.' It was clear the university's luckless administrators didn't learn much by their humiliation (although I heard them joke about it privately): the bloodsuckers just kept scouring the campus looking for projects, old and new, to puff up for patents. Arizona State and Univ. of Arizona hadn't been much better than U of U: just luckier.

Administrators and politicians push campuses too hard! Education is education: it won't pay for itself! Open your wallet and get over it!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Prodigal Woman

So Evita Peron had a role in six movies in about nine years? Sluggish rise that ultimately became meteoric!
Where I'd Like To Be Buried

Except that I'm not a parishioner of San Ysidro Church, or *gasp!* even a Catholic. It's just that I rode past here every single school day on the yellow school bus for, what, 12 years or so?
Let Sauron & Saruman Be Sauron & Saruman

Regarding who is going to lead these Salvador Option death squads, I second funnyman Colin Quinn, and blogger Jesus' General:

He's got a haircut, he's rested, he's written a mountain of bad poetry, did a bit of spider-hole gardening, probably even read Stephen Ambrose's 3-volume biography of Nixon: time to open the jailhouse door and let Saddam be Saddam!

And while we're letting Saddam go free, there's no reason to get too worked up about Osama bin Laden....too much trouble, really.
If Rats Are Multilingual

(From Celia's brother's blog) What about Pomeranians - or lop-eared rabbits?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Death Squad Reliability

I hadn't thought of it, but it's a good point nonetheless: who says the unreliable Iraqi troops that could well staff our Salvadoran Option death squads won't use their skills against our own?
The Advance of American Fascism

An excellent description of the problem.
Huygens Descent - January 14th

The day that some of our most talented and patient space scientists have been waiting for, for decades really, and certainly since launch seven years ago, finally arrives on Friday: Huygens plunges through Titan's atmosphere, and lands on the surface! What will it find? I wonder if I have the fortitude to stay up all night? It's supposed to land at 4 a.m. PST (ouch). I know SOME folks in Pasadena will stay up all night, though!
Bev's Review of Evita

Is out! As annoying and distracting as that little emblem is that keeps flashing up on the corner of the back-stage screen, I kind of like it...there is a certain alienating quality about it, as if the moment is being recorded for posterity - the moment is not just for the living alone. My understanding is that Steve figured out how to make it go away, though......
"Grapes of Warth" Watch

"I think my voice is going Hayward."
Party at the Expense of D.C. Security

Via Talking Points Memo, today's story in the Washington Post:
D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.

Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years -- money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.


A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the District, agreed with the mayor's stance. He called the Bush administration's position "simply not acceptable."

"It's an unfunded mandate of the most odious kind. How can the District be asked to take funds from important homeland security projects to pay for this instead?" said Davis spokesman David Marin.

The region has earmarked federal homeland security funds for such priorities as increasing hospital capacity, equipping firefighters with protective gear and building transit system command centers.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Armstrong Williams

Come, on, this is killing me.....who else is on the payroll?

Hailing from the land of the Abanakis, Wampum found this marvelous quote by Armstrong Williams, in 1992:

My father had only a third grade education, but he taught me what I think is the most important principle in business: You don't make money unless you help other people make money.

Zbigniew Brzezinski

...A great deal of what is happening thus far in American Foreign Policy has been influenced by the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Now I would like to say very briefly that in my view, that war which was a war of choice is already a serious moral set back to the United States. A moral set back both in how we started, how it was justified, and because of some of the egregious incidents that have accompanied this proceeding. The moral costs to the United States are high. It's a political setback.

The United States has never been involved in an intervention in its entire history like it is today. It is also a military set back. "Mission Accomplished" are words that many in this administration want to forget.

While our ultimate objectives are very ambitious we will never achieve democracy and stability without being willing to commit 500,000 troops, spend $200 billion a year, probably have a draft, and have some form of war compensation.

As a society, we are not prepared to do that. It does tell you something. The Soviet Union could have won the war in Afghanistan too had it been prepared to do its equivalent of what I just mentioned. But even the Soviet Union was not prepared to do that because there comes a point in the life of a nation when such sacrifices are not justified. . .and only time will tell if the United States is facing a moment of wisdom, or is resigned to cultural decay. This certainly is the challenge.

Chlorine Accident at Graniteville, SC

From Walt, in Aiken, SC:

You’ve probably seen the news story about the train wreck at Graniteville, South Carolina last Thursday (January 6), which killed 9, injured several hundred, and forced the evacuation of 5400 people. The wreck occurred 6 miles from our house.

Graniteville is a small town very close to Aiken; there is only about 1 mile of undeveloped land between the two municipalities. Looking at a map, one would be tempted to call Graniteville a suburb of Aiken. However, it has an independent history, and it is very different from Aiken. Aiken was a vacation resort for much of its history, but Graniteville was and is a company town, built to support the Avondale textile mill. About half of the acreage of Graniteville is given over to a sprawling complex of textile factories owned by the Avondale Company, which makes denim. Surrounding and between the factories are neighborhoods of shotgun houses and other small dwellings; mostly about 100 years old, and perhaps 800 square feet in size. The place reminds me of Albuquerque’s barrio; however, its inhabitants are mostly low-income whites – pizza delivery guys, etc. I walk my dog Maggie over there sometimes, because they have a canal dating from 1845, and many of the small yards have dogs who Maggie can meet.

At 2:40am on Thursday, a 42-car freight train traveling 49 mph collided with a parked train on a siding. It appears that the parked train’s crew failed to set the switch correctly. Several cars carrying chemicals ruptured, including a tanker with 90 tons of liquefied chlorine. The cloud surrounded a textile factory with about 30 people working the night shift, and entered the plant’s ventilation system. The factory has a real fast ventilation system because they use a lot of flammable and toxic solvents. About two dozen Avondale employees ran through the cloud to their cars, but 6 employees didn’t make it and died at the scene, including the supervisor who stayed to see everybody out and to shut off the machines. Three others were killed: a truck driver sleeping in his cab, a guy in a neighboring house, and the train engineer. About 300 people sought medical treatment, about 5 of whom remain in critical condition today. Five thousand were evacuated; many were not able to take their clothes, medicines, or pets. Observers in helicopters could see lots of dead dogs in the yards. As of today – Monday night, 4 days later, residents have not yet returned to their homes. The coal supply in the Avondale boilerhouse caught fire; yesterday it had not yet been brought under control – chlorine supports combustion.

In addition to killing and hurting people and animals, the chlorine also corroded everything exposed to it. Survivors say their wedding rings turned black as they ran through the cloud. The Graniteville Fire Department got their trucks corroded and trashed from the fumes. I imagine many of the residents got their vehicles & houses messed up.

It seems that the Norfolk & Southern railroad is completely at fault here. Just two months ago, five Avondale employees were killed trying to beat a train to the crossing, only two blocks from where last week’s accident occurred. After that incident –even though it was the car driver’s fault – the county government tried to get the railroad to slow their trains down from 50 mph to 25 mph when going through Graniteville. As you might imagine in a 150-year old mill town, buildings sit very close to each other, and close to the railroad too. The railroad declined to slow the trains down, saying “We have not received any request to slow down”; a perhaps contemptuous response.

This time, only two months later, one would hope that the railroad would be generous to the impacted population. So they offered $300 checks to the evacuated people – most of whom are low-income and who live from paycheck to paycheck. The checks had a printed section saying that by signing the check, the payee waives any additional compensation claims against Norfolk & Southern deriving from the accident in Graniteville on 1/6/05. How nice of them.

Marc's Reply:

Here are some descriptions of the Graniteville accident.

Railroads have been sneakier of late regarding safety issues. Unfortunately the NY Times charges for this stuff, but here is one cost-free version of a recent article, plus part of the three-part series last July, where Bogdanich from the NY Times went after Union Pacific:

Back in 1989-1990, for a U of U fog-seeding project, I visited the Salt Lake City Sewage Treatment Plant on a regular basis. I remember the care they took with chlorine safety. They explained that if the alarms ever sounded, we were to run like bats out of hell, and don't dare breathe and don't dare stop. That always worried me, especially if exits were blocked, or if the wind wasn't favorable. Plus all those folks in the Jordan River Valley below!

This sounds like a worst-case calamity. Poor nighttime dispersion. Many people nearby asleep or in an inconvenient position to flee. No applicable safety drill. Large amount of chlorine. Best for the affected folks NOT to cash those checks, and instead file lawsuits. What a calamity!
My Leather Jacket is Back From Las Vegas

But (courtesy of Gabe) not without a harrowing journey in cyberspace first:

Jacket worn by Loser
Owned by Marc Valdez, Failed California Gubernatorial Candidate
Interested? Contact Sinclair Media.

This jacket sucks!
-Right-wing guy

Girly Men only vear this jacket! Ve vear 'North Face' in Salzburg, and Sacramento too!
-Arnold something or other

Hey, this jacket's pretty neat! It probably fits.
-Roseanne Barr

I have a lot in common with Mr. Valdez. It tells me a lot about the common circumstances that enables all of us, no matter what our situations that provides a certain amount of respect for our common individualities to show that we're ready to pass on the gauntlet... (Microphone taken away)
-Senator John Kerry

I'll buy it, but it is really out of date, and needs some restructuring - like that other thingy I am working on...what's it called?
-President George W. Bush

American Monster

Exhibit One: Charles Graner. (Exhibit Two, actually: Rush Limbaugh is Exhibit One, for promoting this angle of defense).
Martian Heiligenschein

All about the shadow of Spirit's 'head' in Image 20 of the MER Top 25 images (25 raw image picks) there is a startlingly-clear dry heiligenschein (the shiny halo). Interestingly, the heilgenschein is displaced slightly upwards from the anti-solar point (which lies directly behind Spirit's head). Is that displacement just an accident, due to the presence of a cluster of better-reflecting rocks on the surface just above the shadow of Spirit's head, or is something else going on?

Are there crystals on the surface of some sort (platy crystals....feldspar maybe?) that are refracting sunlight to some extent, or are there maybe little spheres of some crystalline material on the surface?

There even seems to be a heiligenschein streak trending off to the upper right of the image. Why is that there? The apparent orientation of the rocks is horizontal (they lie on their sides), not vertical, and not trending to the upper right of the image. So why not a horizontal heiligenschein? Is the heiligenschein established just by the accident of the distribution of the rocks on the surface? Why? Why? Why?

(reference: Robert Greenler's Rainbows, Halos, and Glories, 1991 reprint, p. 146-149).

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Searchlight of the Solar System

Saturn's moon Iapetus has a bright hemisphere and a dark hemisphere, quite unlike those of any other body in the solar system. Arthur C. Clarke used Iapetus in his book "2001: A Space Odyssey" as a cosmic signal to alert humanity to a superior intelligence's presence (the movie moved the setting to Jupiter, however, because Saturn is just so far away). New pictures from space probe Cassini are provoking renewed debate about what the light and dark sides are made of!
The Salvador Option

It doesn't matter whether the U.S. opts for the "Salvador Option" in Iraq, or not. People forget that what drove the Salvadoran opposition to the negotiation table in 1992 wasn't the U.S. sponsored death squads of the 1980's: instead, it was the implosion of the U.S.S.R., and the loss of weaponry and international support (mostly from a suddenly impoverished Cuba) that resulted. Just as important was the sudden lack of interest of the U.S. in continuing to sponsor its side of the war. Suddenly faced with fickle sponsors, the Salvadoran combatants decided to lay down arms and start politicking again.

Employing the "Salvadoran Option" in Iraq won't work: Kurdish and Shiite hit men don't know their way around the Sunni areas that well. Even if they are successful at their assassinations, that violence just inflames the next round of civil war payback. The whole point, after all, is to quell the fighting, not start another round. There is still a lot of stashed weaponry and money, and plenty of willing recruits, to continue the war, even if Syrian and Saudi connections are broken.

Sponsorship issues are not in play. We are fighting a colonial-style guerilla war against a well-armed native insurgency. To avoid yet more humiliation for America in Iraq, and help avoid an Iraqi civil war, when it comes to the "Salvador Option," our forces have to say: "just fuhgeddaboutit!"
Inconsistent Conservative Carpers

Regarding the U.S.'s incursion in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld was real canny about keeping the troop number low: the necessary price for Congress giving the green light of war, and for blunting domestic opposition. Rumsfeld and the rest of the Vulcans are so well-insulated from Iraqi realities, however, that they'll never approve a serious increase the number of troops. They have trouble just establishing who their enemy is. They don't learn: they prefer to strike out blindly in righteous rage.

Kevin Drum is right about the inconsistency of conservative critiques (Fred Kagan, Andrew Sullivan, etc.) of Rumsfeld's continued low-troop-level stubbornness. Be that as it may. I have no qualms about impaling conservatives on the horns of their dilemma. Live by hubris and ignorance, die by hubris and ignorance. Couldn't happen to a more-deserving bunch.
Shell Game

So entitlements get the ax (how did NSF get in there?), but everything else runs out-of-control? The big problems are with everything else (e.g., foolish tax cuts), however. It'll be fun to watch the Republicans make these unpopular cuts and try to bamboozle the sorry chumps they call their constituents, while the top income brackets make out like bandits!
George Will, Scourge of Old Age

Prudent Bolshevik George Will goes for broke in his support for careless, malicious Social Security radicalism:
But surely it is prudent to assume the need, and reasonable to rejoice in the opportunity, to restructure a program that was designed during the Depression, when there was excessive pessimism about the prospects for American capitalism and there were more than 40 workers for every retiree.

The political problem is this: Even if the future were knowable and we knew that the Social Security solvency problem actually is smaller than Bush assumes, he would still favor reform involving personal accounts funded by a portion of payroll taxes. He believes such reform would be conducive to civic virtue, as conservatives understand that -- individualism, self-reliance, limited government.

Private accounts do mean self-reliance. Today, you can't outlive your Social Security benefits. With private accounts and long life spans, you are likely to do so. Soon it'll be time to get your bed-ridden, 98-year-old ass back into the work force.
American Fascism Settles In

From American Prospect:
[T]his administration’s belief that it could, without so much as giving notice to Congress and on no greater legal authority than the contrived judgment of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, break any convention on how we conduct a war is shocking and unconstitutional. If the Pentagon did indeed advise that "authority to set aside the laws is 'inherent in the president,'" as The Wall Street Journal reported, then the administration -- our next attorney general included -- apparently believes that there are no "applicable laws" in this country, not for those who work in the executive branch of the government.

... The U.S. Constitution makes it clear that Congress "make[s] Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" and "Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water." Not the president, not the Justice or Defense Departments, not the White House counsel. The Congress.

Yet in total secrecy, the president -- with the best legal advice of his counsel Alberto Gonzales -- decided that, if he wanted to, he could do just that. He could overthrow the Constitution and circumvent Congress without so much as a word.