Sunday, October 25, 2020

Dawn of the Republican Zombies


A few years back a famous science communicator about lost his shit when during a podcast someone asked a question about zombies. I'm not a big fan of this particular science communicator since he tends to dwell on pop culture more than actual science and when he does stay on subject, like astrophysics, he explains things like you would to a first grader.

Now I understood this science person's frustration, undead zombies were the pop cultural darlings of that time with several hit television shows, a couple of movies, and numerous books being published. There were even survivalist clubs being formed to “prepare” for a zombie apocalypse. Which to their sane members were more role-playing game organizations than an actual end-of-the-world groups.

The problem though is that undead zombies do exist in a fashion. Not literally with half-decayed, reanimated corpses roaming the country looking to bite the living, but rather politically in the form of Republican conservatism.

While Barry Goldwater is considered the grandfather of modern conservatism, like most I'd have to say Ronald Reagan was its father. Being overly kind here, but Reagan's election to the presidency in 1980 was an answer to the perceived accesses of liberalism and the failure to get tough with communism. Truth be told, while I am exceedingly liberal in most respects, I do feel that during the 1970's liberalism itself lost its way. In short and simple terms, I believe liberalism as a movement was suffering from all the shocks and terrible events that occurred during that time.

It was everything from the JFK assassination, LBJ's insistence to increase our presence in Vietnam, riots and civil unrest throughout the nation, the assassination of Martin Luther King and RFK, to the radical left's abandonment of Hubert Humphrey in 1968. The end result was a disorientated and exhausted movement that as usual with politicians, became more about acquiring power and holding onto it. Sure, there were plenty of examples of liberal politicians doing their jobs, but in the face of news reports of “welfare mothers” dropping more babies for bigger government checks and expensive and ridiculous pork barrel projects, the election of 1980 seemed a natural reaction.

Here's the paradox though, initially this empowered Republican conservatism portrayed itself as having the moral high ground. Back in the 1980's, they claimed to be defenders of faith, morals, fiscal responsibility, and the rightful protectors of American liberties. And today, nothing shows the zombification of Republican conservatism than how the majority has thrown their support behind an individual who has literally betrayed every one of those principles.

Before entering politics, conservatism's Orange Messiah openly displayed a lifestyle that made a mockery of both legitimate faith and morals. Each of his marriages ended because of affairs with the next woman who would become his next wife. Then we have his extracurricular activities with numerous porn stars. Never one to be outdone by some Arkansas huckster, Orange Messiah also faces numerous accusations of sexual abuse and outright rape. The truly bizarre thing is that he's on tape clearly bragging about getting away with those types of actions and laughing about it.

As for his promise to balance the federal budget in his first term, the budget deficit shot back through the White House roof long before the pandemic appeared. In his last year in office President Obama had brought down the federal deficit considerably, only to have the Orange Messiah pass a tax cut through the Republican-controlled houses of Congress that jacked it back up to a trillion dollars a year.

I'm not the type to blame the mainstream media for anything, the men and women who work in that field have a difficult job in the sane, normal times of American politics. But the Black Guy wasn't comfortable in his post-presidency life when all talk of the federal budget deficit dropped off the nightly news. Now with the pandemic, Orange Messiah and his spineless acolytes casually toss around trillions of dollars without even mentioning the deficit. Doesn't anyone else remember several United States senators losing their shit over President Obama wanting to spend extra money to provide disaster relief to people here in the United States? Those elephant bitches whined that President Obama would have to transfer funds from other agencies and departments to pay such actions that helped Americans!

To a certain extent all those hypocrisies are standard practices, even in sane times. Neither political party has never been free from corruption and lets me honest here, a certain level of backroom negotiations and under the table deals are required to grease the wheels of government. But since the dawn of the Reagan Revolution these compromises have only snowballed and become less the exceptions and more the rule.

Perhaps the best example of the undead zombie nature of Republican conservatism is how it willingly consorts with our international enemies and adversaries. It's unbelievable but in a lot of ways Republicans have gone from the party of national security to having many of it members depending on our enemies to run interference for them in elections. I honest to God wish Reagan could come back for a couple of days just to see his reaction to the Orange Messiah dropping his pants and bend over so Putin could get his satisfaction.

The most dangerous example of Republican zombification has to be the talk of civil war coming from adherents to the Orange Messiah. Internet videos abound of deadly earnest militia types that say any defeat of Trump at the polls is fake and that they will fight. These people openly brag about taking to the streets and spilling blood of those they hate. I've talked to these people and there is an awful glee in their statements akin to a child hoping Santa fulfills his or her wishes. They have bought far too many guns and ammo for it all just to gather dust in some cabinet.

Republican conservatism is no longer a living political philosophy but a bankrupt, conspiratorial cult whose majority of member are abject racists. For the rich and powerful conservatism is now just an excuse to protect their interests at the expense of everyone else. For the uneducated, conservatism is cover for their ancient bigotries and unwillingness to adapt to a changing world. It's easier for them to whine about the good old days and plan their dark, action movie-inspired fantasies than try to adjust to the demands of this era.

I'd like to say zombie Republican conservatives are just a fanciful and ridiculous creation of my bored mind. But in truth they are a real danger looking for any reason to spill American blood this November.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

News From Venus


 Not being a fan of Russia or anything else associated with those assholes, I cynically laughed a few weeks back when the chief of the Russian space program staked a claim on the planet Venus. It's just another in a long list of nationalistic posturings by Russia wanting to bolster its confidence and global street cred. For example a few years back guys in a deep diving Russian submersible planted a tiny version of their national flag on the seafloor directly under the North Pole ice sheet. The Russian press release went on about that accomplishment being equal setting foot on the moon.

“We think that Venus is a Russian planet, so we shouldn't lag behind.” Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space corporation, Rocosmos said about an upcoming mission to the hellhole planet. Why the love of a planet encased in an atmosphere of carbon dioxide where it rains sulfuric acid and the surface temperature can melt lead?

Well giving the devil its due, Russia is the only country that landed a working probe on the surface and was able to take pictures. Now the downside is also true in that Russia is batting next to zero getting any of their other probes to Mars, a much more interesting and “habitable” place. And while they did get some impressive firsts in the early days of manned space flight, their plans to get to the moon literally blew up on the launchpad so many times, the Soviets pulled a Chernobyl-level classification on their efforts that lasted to well after the fall of communism. So “claiming” Venus sort of makes sense for a people who have only limited success beyond the moon and never left eighteenth-century imperialism behind.

Understand I'm not here to cast shade on the Russians. Truth be told I find Americans almost as equally obnoxious and ignorant with the United States only saving grace being that we haven't quite fallen into the authoritarian trap Russian finds itself. There's still a chance we Americans could pull our collective heads out of our asses and and be decent citizens of this planet.

Given the conditions on Venus my interest in the planet was pretty nonexistent. Now there is talk among planetary science types that as “recently” as seven-hundred-million years ago Venus might have had Earth-like conditions including oceans of liquid water. But something went sideways and its atmosphere became increasingly warmed by the greenhouse effect to the point global temperatures went critical and the water boiled away.

Over the decades a bunch of science fiction authors have wrote about terraforming the planet back to something livable. But to the best of my meager knowledge most scientific estimates of the Goldilocks Zone -the region of the solar system where liquid water could exist under certain conditions- puts Venus beyond the inner edge. Meaning to me at least that Venus is a total write off for manned exploration and settlement.

Well, shit got weird on September 14 of this year when scientists at two different radio telescope sites detected the compound phosphine in Venus's atmosphere about fifty-five kilometers above the surface. Turns out phosphine is a possible signature of life on other planets because anaerobic bacteria here on Earth produce phosphine as part of their biological processes.

In short, anaerobic organisms do NOT require oxygen for growth and may react negatively to the presence of it in their environment. Which is good for any possible bacteria-like organisms floating high up in the atmosphere of Venus because the planet has only tiny trace amounts. No, anaerobic bacteria are not some speculative or rare lifeform, in fact humans have quite of lot of the little buggers living in their gastrointestinal tract. When they get uppity humans can develop such illnesses at appendicitis, diverticulitis, or perforations of the bowel.

For the unenlightened individuals among us who like border walls, they're may be potentially alien invaders living in your gut. Let's see your deranged orange messiah build a wall and deport them back to their shithole birthplace.

Back on a serious note, the reason the astrobiology types are even mentioning anaerobic processes being responsible for the presence of phosphine is because Venus's harsh environment would normally break it apart. So some source is obviously replenishing the phosphine and while here on Earth that would mean bacteria, the possibility of it being something other than life can't be ruled out. However, we have no idea what non-biological process might account for the supply of phosphine. Obviously, further observations and even mission to Venus will be required to determine what exactly is going on in the clouds of Venus.

Going back to the days when the conditions on Venus was discovered, serious science types speculated even then about lifeforms floating in the clouds well above the hellish regions close to the surface. Somewhere around fifty-five kilometers above the surface of the planet temperatures fall to more livable levels. The sulfuric acid rain Venus is also famous for occurs below that level as well.

So incredibly, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that we could have a complex biosphere in the clouds of Venus. One scientist even speculated about jellyfish-like creatures lazily drifting in wind doing their own jellyfish-like things.

It also has to be mentioned that given the relative closeness of Venus, and Mars for that matter, any life found on those planets could have originated any of the others. That goes for Earth as well, meaning that life here might have sprung up on the other two and due to a volcanic eruption or massive impact threw life-bearing rocks into space that eventually fell to the surface. From there that primitive life did what all life does and eat, reproduce, and spread out.

Venus is not the only planet in our solar system where life might be floating in the clouds. In Carl Sagan's original Cosmos television series back in the 1980s, he speculated on lifeforms living in the clouds of Jupiter. But I believe he admitted that such a thing was highly unlikely given the chaotic and harsh conditions believed to exist in that environment.

More to the point back in the 1980s, the most accepted opinion was that the rest of our solar system was completely devoid of life. Since then there is considerable evidence to suggest that the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, the underground regions of Mars, and now Venus have a strong chance to harbor lifeforms. If I had my way, and a couple of trillion dollars within easy reach, we would be finding out as fast as possible. 



"Venus is a Russian Planet-- Say the Russians" September 18, 2020

"Life on Venus? Scientists Hunt for the Truth" October 2, 2020 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Latter-Day Prometheus - See Fan Fiction


From space the Earth looks beautiful, the blue of the oceans the green of the forests and the browns of the deserts all teem with life. But I find myself circling the world of my birth seeing it as a graveyard. I arrived home to find the greater mass of humanity having been killed in a plague that my instruments and sensors tell me happened over six-hundred years ago after my recruitment into the Cohort.

From a population that must have peaked at over eight-billion human souls before the plague, my sensors say there is only a little under ninety-million people now scratching out a near neolithic existence on the surface. After analyzing my findings, the simulations I've run suggest that the human population more than likely dropped to around two-million at its lowest point.

I came home believing I'd find my species having expanded out into the solar system. That given what the Cohort had judged as Homo sapiens probable technological growth rate, that humanity by now should have primitive starships running between the Sol system and several of the nearby stars with planets that could easily be colonized.

Instead, I find my species on the edge of extinction with no way to protect itself from what fate or circumstance might throw their way. Any number of events could occur and end all hopes for humanity eventually reaching its potential.

My Cohort training comes into effect and I send dozens of sensor pods down to the surface to try and find out what happened. As the pods descend into the atmosphere, they release billions of tiny sensors no bigger than motes of dust. These instruments would float on the wind and embed themselves on anything they touched. This included all living things and especially human bodies. In the span of days I would have a comprehensive genetic analysis on everything living.

The results come back as expected but they are horrifying nonetheless. It was a virus that destroyed civilization by killing billions all across the planet. No surprise there, but what was unexpected was that of those very few that survived the initial outbreak it burned out the visual centers of their brains leaving them blind. Worse yet, the virus was still active and is passed from mother to child. Except for the possible but rare mutant immune to the virus, the entire human race on Earth is totally blind.

The sensor dust I released is also able to record video and audio signals. With that data I am able to determine that a sight-less culture has naturally emerged among the various survivor communities. Something that could easily be predicted but the as with everything else involving my species it gets complicated. In all these blind cultures the very concept of sight is something akin to myth. In others, namely the North American continent, the blindness is considered a punishment from God for Man's sins.

From this video and audio data, I learn that fanatical groups of religious zealots scour the countryside looking people who might be sighted. The similarities to hunting for witches in North America and Europe are haunting. My sensors collect video of people having been burned at the stake.

Curing this virus-imposed blindness isn't a problem, my medical systems can analyze and develop a safe cure in a few weeks. Synthesizing the counter-virus and deploying it across the planet could be done with the dust sensors. Adults humans wouldn't regain their sight, but young children and everyone born after deployment of the cure would would be able to see.

The problem is all these blind cultures, especially the religious ones. Thousands would die at the hands of the fearful believers in God's wrath, especially the children born to sight.

It is a conundrum my Cohort mentor, Janai, would find funny in a cosmic way. It reminds me of a situation we found ourselves in just a few years ago in another part of the galaxy.


Janai found me on the shore of one of the lakes of liquid mercury the Sgrang use to breed their young. The Sgrang are a species composed largely of mercury and other elements housed in a silicon/carbon matrix and require exacting conditions for successful reproduction. Out of trillions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, their home world was incredibly unique. It had evolved a hydrogen/nitrogen atmosphere, something quite rare by itself, but what really set it apart was its geology. The planet was improbably rich in heavy metals all the way up to uranium and other heavy elements that didn't exist on Earth.

The evolution of life on the Sgrang home world took advantage of both the heavy metals and its above average vulcanism. So much that when the Sgrang realized one of their neighboring stars would go supernova they called for the Cohort to help them find another planet to live. The coming supernova, less than three lightyears away, would utterly sterilize their world.

The conditions on the Sgrang home world didn't allow either Janai nor myself to set foot on the surface. The Cohort had environmental suits that could stand the incredible pressure and heat, but it simply wasn't worth the risk. Instead our minds were linked to mechanical avatars allowing us to interact with the Sgrang. Beings that looked like stone caterpillars with spikes of clear crystals for eyes covering their bodies.

“Has the council come up with any ideas on where the Sgrang can go?” I ask after turning towards the ridiculous looking mechanical cephalopod standing beside my equally weird looking humanoid form.

Despite her extremely alien shape, both mechanical on the surface and biological up on the orbiting starship Janai chuckles just like a human. “The council is dumbfounded, twenty-million worlds extensively cataloged in this section of the galaxy alone and none meet the requirements. The planetary vulcanism isn't a problem, it's the Sgrang elemental composition. None of the known worlds have quite the exact composition, most have too little of the heavier elements. Too much and the young Sgrang emerge from the lakes of mercury without the normal mental capacity.”

“Has the ship contacted the Cohort Motherbases, maybe one of the central libraries knows of worlds in the one of the smaller satellite galaxies like the Large Magellanic Cloud or even all the way to Andromeda?” I ask my mentor as I watch Janai dip one of her ten tentacles in the mercury lake.

Unlike the fictional interstellar governments from the science fiction I read and watched on Earth, the Cohort is not based inside the galaxy. The Cohort mainly existed on gigantic bases built out in the intergalactic void. Most advanced intelligent species consider galaxies insanely dangerous places with all sorts of disasters ready to befall any lifeforms unwilling to think beyond the surface of their home mud balls.

Membership in the Cohort, something humans would not be ready for probably a millennium, required a mass relocation to one of those bases. The benefits included technology originally developed by the Elder Races and exposure of cultures of hundreds of other species. Living condition are idyllic on the residential Dyson Spheres with the extremes of planetary weather carefully controlled. Plus each member species gets living space of about the surface area of ten Earths. As long as the members behave like rational beings and control their numbers, everyone get along quite well. Plus evacuating the planetary home worlds gives evolution a chance to proceed allowing near intelligent-species to make the jump to full sentience.

After a long silence Janai finally gives her answer. “ The council is purposing a different solution.”

“What other solution is there besides seeding the Sgrang on another world?”

“Ah, my young protege, you need to stop thinking so three dimensional.” Jania says in her soft voice that usually means I'm about to get a lecture.

After she tells me her answer it is my turn to be dumbfounded. What the council wants to do violates everything I understood to be right and wrong. Janai reminds me that to be a successful Cohort diplomat I have to reserve the right to change the rules of any game I find myself playing.

I protest, but being the only hairless primate from an insanely primitive planet in the Cohort, I am ignored. At least Janai sees fit to give me several decades to think about the situation. After all, the Sgrang are vital to the science of thirty dimensional physics.

Several days later, Janai is at the main hangar of our starship to see me off for my sabbatical. “Where will you go Jacob Reese?” She asks obviously worried over her sad protege.

“Probably Earth, my dumbass people should well off the planet by now. Who knows, maybe they've crossed the threshold point for initial contact.”

“Remember Jacob,” she says stroking the hair on my head with one of her real tentacles like any concerned mother, “the universe loves to play practical jokes that cross all of spacetime.”


That memory occurs to me as I run the simulations on my ship's main computer. Despite my ship's small size the hyperdrive it uses to cross interstellar space is no different from much larger cousins. Instead of using it to cross distance though, I am forced by the situation on Earth to consider crossing time.

Deploying further dust sensors on Earth allowed me to access century old records sitting on the hardrives of ancient computers rusting away in forgotten facilities. This has allowed me to narrow down the year and month the plague first emerged.

The main purpose for the Cohort's existence has always been to reduce suffering among intelligent species and promote the expansion of life and civilization. And in the case of the Sqrang, that even means going back in time and altering their biochemical evolution just enough so that one of the cataloged worlds meets their requirements.

The science of temporal adaptation is what the Cohort calls it. Being that the Cohort is over two-hundred millions years old means they have plenty of experience in closed-loop time travel.

I am still uncertain though, if I alter time and prevent the plague from occurring I will effectively kill millions of people dooming them to a form of oblivion incomprehensible to most thinking beings. On the other hand, if I introduced the cure now it would almost certainly cause untold bloodshed with the newly emerging sighted people being persecuted by superstitious and religious types. Because if there is one constant in the universe it is backwards ignorant beings believing they know the mind of God.

In the end, saving the billions who perished during the plague and those that would have been born after is my first priority. And yes, I am not blind to the knowledge that my actions are more than a little self-serving. I want the civilization that produced me back probably most of all.

With one touch to the command screen, I bring up the holographic display and input the required codes to initiate temporal travel. I input the destination going back two-years further for a safety measure.

The holographic icon that will activate the hyperdrive floats a few centimeters in front of my hand. Swiping left will begin the operation, to the right will cancel it. My certain falters, I think of all the humans on the surface living and loving, making the best of their lives. Do I have a right to wipe them all way, not even leaving a trace that they ever existed?

Clearing my thoughts, I swipe left sending my ship and myself to that critical pivot point in human history.

Author's notes: Yes, this is a form of fan fiction and yes, my wife and I spend way too much time watching television. Our explorations of the internet entertainment channels and their offerings is embarrassing even in these Covid-dominated months. Still though, it was subscribing to Apple TV that I stumbled across one of their original shows called “See”, staring Jason Moma. The show's premise is essentially what I wrote in my humble story.

A plague sometime this century kills off the vast majority of humans. The survivors, about two-million, are all blind as a result, and so are the children that comes after them. As apocalypse entertainment goes how the producers go about building this blind world is fascinating. The viewer gets incredible hints at the complex cultures and adaptations that would arise if such an event every happened.

Humans are highly adaptable creatures but a state of blindness effecting the entire species is a form of Hell all by itself in my opinion. On the show most humans appear to live in a near neolithic state with any leftover technology akin to sacred religious relics. Even worse, being blind the sun is technically unknown to them and is worshiped and called the “God Flame” for the heat it produces. It goes without saying the survivors have no idea the moon nor stars exist. Leftover metal is called “God Bone” and is highly prized. No, there isn't any evidence that they can produce metal themselves.

My attempt with this story was to create an ethical dilemma for my character. That given the ability to change history and save billions of lives is condemning millions to oblivion less of a crime? I obviously made my choice, I'd like to hear what others think.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Back to Clemson

Of course, just a week into Darth Wiggles arriving at Clemson University it was realized that we hadn't brought everything she needed. More importantly, Wiggles changed her mind and wanted a small refrigerator in her dorm room. So my wife and I ran back up there last weekend to bring her all the items, including her favorite foods from Costco. Thankfully there wasn't a football game last weekend.

My son did a semester at Clemson when he first started college but we never got a chance to walk around the campus. He transferred down to the University of South Carolina to finish he degree. I found the Clemson campus beautiful and wished I could have spent more time just walking around that day.  

Still not very knowledgeable about Clemson, and no, I'm not into college football but this clock tower is apparently famous. 

A bad picture of Wiggles standing next the statue of the guy the university is named after. Yes, we all were wearing masks that day but taking a picture with one on is silly to me.

Just a nice tree.

Late in the afternoon, my wife and I had to head back home. We left Wiggles in her dorm room happily eating Costco chicken dumplings and watching television. This squirrel though saw us off, he was quite upset with all the cars and people walking around his home. When we got back to Columbia I pretty much collapsed on the couch and was still tired the next day. Regular posts will return next Saturday with maybe a quick one in the middle of this week.