Sunday, November 29, 2020

Arecibo-- A Disastrous Loss to Science and Humanity



Arecibo in better days

When news footage of the disastrous 2019 fire at Norte-Dame cathedral made worldwide news I was sadden and shock like most people. Setting aside its religious significance, Norte-Dame is an important part of our common human heritage, something that needs to be rebuilt and preserved for as long as possible. I'd say the same for the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt and Central America, Stonehenge, the Parthenon of Athens, or any other historically important structure.

So it was a bit of gut punch that I recently learned the giant radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico has suffered through catastrophic failures of two of its main support cables and will be permanently closed. The remaining cables are still holding up the 900-ton scientific package platform that over the years helped detect numerous near-Earth asteroids, the first exoplanets, and other phenomena. Back in 1974 astronomers even used Arecibo to send a coherent and intentional message into deep space in hopes an alien civilization on some distant star might hear it.

Built in 1963, the Arecibo telescope has undergone numerous upgrades and continuous maintenance but appears that simple time and climate got the best of it. However a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in 2014 and Hurricane Maria in 2017 were sure to have pushed the aging structure closer to the breaking point.

It's damn tragic that such an important scientific instrument that lead to many groundbreaking discoveries will now be abandoned. Just Arecibo's work on detecting near-Earth asteroids and the dangers they pose to the planet and human civilization should be enough to have it rebuilt. Excuse me, but I do feel losing Arecibo is akin to the fire in Norte-Dame. In many ways I feel Arecibo was a scientific cathedral that instead of bringing us closer to God, helped humans understand the nature of the universe we live. 


The Arecibo message sent out in 1974.


Legendary Arecibo Telescope Will Close Forever, and Scientists Are Reeling: Scientific American

November 19, 2020

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Smooth Criminal


 There is a long sordid history of why I hate the subdivision I find myself living. Yes, it was a mistake to purchase a home among the collection of arrogant and stuck up individuals my family and I do our best to ignore but you know the deal with hindsight.

Now the issues with the neighbors are all my fault. And they revolve around my attitude and practices dealing with lawn care and maintenance on the house. I do not obsess over the greenness of my grass, nor really the composition of the chlorophyll-using plant species that live within my territory. In other words my yard has a multitude of weeds and I am fine with that. Making matters worse, it was only at the beginning of last spring that I had my irrigation pump replaced after it burned up two-years ago.

The first year it was down we had a decent level of rain that kept it within bounds. But the following year I know my neighbors were cussing me up a storm. Because while all their yards were a heavily chemically-induced emerald green, mine had that post-apocalyptic brown, black, and gray color from lack of water. See, in 2019 I was coming off my near death experiences with my heart and lawn care for me and my family just wasn't on the radar.

And honestly another reason my neighbors don't like me is because I simply do not fit into their expectations of being a proper southern suburban gentlemen. My first and most radical thought crime is my politics, since I'm an Obama-loving, Hillary voting, tree-hugging liberal. From that standpoint alone, it's a wonder my kids had any friends at all during their school years. From my observations, the natives here get so extreme Ronald Reagan wouldn't pass the current Republican acceptance test.

The vehicle I drive is also and issue because all manly men here are required own a truck along the Ford F-150-class are larger. Smaller trucks like a Ford Ranger are passable but are snickered at by the big boys. My only transportation is a mid-sized sedan so I'm already suspect even if the natives don't see my “Riding with Biden” bumper sticker.

Understand, my wife does believe I generally overreact and regularly tells me I'm the problem but a couple of nights ago she had to side with me. Strangely enough, on this particular incident, I wasn't the asshole, it was my cat. But first a little background on suburban geopolitical situation.

While good fences make good neighbors, having a row of Leyland cypress trees lining the entirety of the section between my backyard and that of my neighbors was pretty much heaven. With the those trees, the neighbors could have their pools parties and I could sit out on my deck and read without either of us knowing of the others existence.

But the Leyland got old and started dying and a couple of tropical storms later several had fallen over while others were leaning threatening to smash the fence or either of the storage houses in the backyards. So I'm forced to have the trees removed and now both that neighboring family and mine do our best not look like we're gawking at the other when outside.

Here's the general scenario from my point of view; say I have a fantastic book that I can't put down and decide to go outside and read so I can enjoy the sunlight and fresh air. As I open up my book to delve back into a universe with starships, ancient alien civilizations, and rogue AI's, I discover the neighbors are having a pool party. Something one of the previous owners installed a few years ago.

Since my deck is about two feet above ground level those neighbors can easily see me. Given the locals suspicious nature, they assume I'm outside trying to catch a glimpse of the moms sunbathing while their kids play in the water. Sound easily echos off the houses so I catch more than half of their conversation with one mom asking about the tall, weird looking guy sitting on his deck.

I stay outside on the deck just long enough to act like I didn't hear that. Not long later, I excuse myself by acting like my cell phone vibrated and go back inside to take the call.

Since that awkward spring afternoon right after we had the Leylands removed, I am quite circumspect about when I go sit on my deck. I harbor no hard feelings to the neighbors, I did go outside while they were hanging out in the pool and honestly, my sudden appearance was probably unsettling. See, over the years many people have commented that my natural, neutral resting expression looks a lot like a pissed off Clint Eastwood about to ask some street punk if he feels lucky. This mainly comes from the fact that I find most people ridiculous idiots but that statement expands the scope of this essay far beyond what I intend.

So now that were brought up to the present a couple of night ago my furry buddy, Knox the Cat, was throwing a fit to get outside. It was a work night for me, I was tired, and didn't want to spend the last thirty minutes or so before I went to bed dealing with feline whining. I open the door leading to the deck and let him slip outside. During that brief moment, I catch a glimpse of the neighbors sitting on their own deck. I really couldn't tell what they were doing, and as you might be able to surmise I didn't really care.

I return to my nightly routine of making lunch for the next day as well as loading the dishwasher and sweeping the kitchen floor. Several minutes later I hear Knox making strange sounds at the same door I let him out. Without thinking I let him back inside only to see he had something large in his mouth.

Now it is quite common for Knox to bring home a live bird or the occasional baby rabbit. Almost always this will then mean I have to make a twenty-minute drive to the nearest wild animal rescue center to drop off the hapless animal.

With Knox running around with something in his mouth the usual household panic erupts. My wife runs off to the bedroom, slamming the door to avoid the predatory horror. I in turn chase the cat in a desperate attempt to save his prey. When I finally catch the damn cat, I find his prize is not a live bird but one that had been deep fried, probably twelve herds and spices.

Knox somehow has a fried chicken drumstick, and after I take it away I discover its still warm and fresh. Naturally, I have no idea where Knox obtained a piece of Colonel Sander's finest, and he sure as Hell wouldn't tell me even if he could. At that moment, I had one pissed off cat who didn't understand why I was taking away his prize. The answer to that question came to the front door about ten minutes later.

Before the knock at the door, I toss the drumstick and return to prepping for the next work day. My wife emerges from the bedroom and takes a seat in front of the television. I'm in the bedroom when I hear the knock from the front door. I let my wife deal with the person and whatever their business might be.

Being on the other end of the house, I didn't catch the conversation between my wife and the visitor. But since there wasn't any yelling or screams for my help , I didn't think much of it. That is until my wife comes into the bedroom to tell me the visitor was the backyard neighbor come to complain that Knox the Cat had crashed their dinner.

From what my wife told me that group's attention was diverted just enough for Knox to jump onto the picnic table and grab the drumstick he brought home. In the process of Knox's escape, he apparently made a mess of the table items and, if I understood correctly, knocked over a pitcher of tea and the gravy for the mashed potatoes.

I asked my wife if the neighbors wanted some sort of apology or payment for the feline damages. She said no, and made like the neighbor weren't “too upset.” Of course, given my biases, the neighbor was being diplomatic and was probably highly pissed.

So now Knox the Cat is essentially permanently grounded, or at least until the sore butts have a chance to cool down. Since the weather is getting colder in a week or so I'll let my smooth criminal slip back outside. There will be far less of a chance that he could crash any outside dinner parties.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Nomad Feet: Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve

Last Saturday, I escaped the suburban prison camp for a day trip down to the coast. When I left Columbia I didn't have a destination but halfway down to Charleston I decided to hit the Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve. It was formed in the 1930's from the merger of Colonial-era Sea Cloud Plantation and Bleak Hall Plantation located on Edisto Island. The property went to the state in 1977 as a wildlife preserve and was opened to the public in 2008. The drive down was long, especially after arriving at the entrance. This picture is of the dirt road leading down to the beach area.

Once you arrive at the parking area, there is about a half-mile walk down to the beach. This causeway with the marsh on either side was beautiful. Another thing that made it paradise was the complete absence of human-made sound. The only thing I could hear was the sound of the surf, the rustle of the marsh and some birds. It was heaven, especially after what seemed to be countless months of political advertisement on the television. 

A section of the marsh. You can't see them but numerous hermit crabs were living out their lives in the mud.

First view of the beach. Unfortunately someone stepped into the frame. 

I arrived about an hour after the preserve opened and while I wasn't the first person there, the beach was mostly deserted. Being "undeveloped" the beach is littered with fallen trees.

I actually took a selfie where I was smiling but didn't include it because it would ruin my stern visage.

It was a beautiful day. The tide was near high tide and since this was my first visit, I didn't wander that far sense over concerns that I might get cut off by the incoming water.

All told, I was there about an hour and I was surprised how warm it got that morning.

As you might have noticed, there is a huge number of large shells on the beach. This is because of the $450 dollar fine if caught taking any off the beach. Instead, previous visitors seem to like to display them on some of the fallen trees. 

When I was a kid Pawleys Island had a similar number of shells on the beach. But that was way before it became such a well visited location. Tourists and resident kept taking home conch shells to the point it ruined the ecosystem. 

I took my time heading back to the car. More people began showing up and I didn't want my first impression ruined.

Could have sat at this spot for hours. When I do return I will bring a comfortable chair.

Another look at the marsh.


Tried to catch this conch shell against the ocean. The lighting was wrong so I didn't waste anymore effort. My camera isn't really the type for taking such difficult pictures. 

Final shot, another collection of shells bleaching in the sun. Botany Bay is one of the finest examples of South Carolina in its raw, unspoiled form. I usually don't speak highly of this state, but when it does things right you have to point it out. Wish I could saw the same about its politicians. Speaking of which, give them half a chance and they'll have this small piece of paradise carved up with condos on the beach and oil rigs drilling out in the water. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Hoping for Better Days


Okay, yesterday was a great day! Pennsylvania finally turned blue, sending Biden over 270 electoral votes needed and mostly ending the nightmare we've been living with since November 2016. Yeah, President-elect Biden's inauguration isn't until January 20th but we've made it this far. I'm hoping the White House staff has enough backbone and sense to begin limiting the Orange Buffoon's power.

My hope and good humor has its limits though. We didn't take the senate and lost seats in the House. This probably means next to no major reforms or programs are going to be approved. That means no extra judges for the Supreme Court, nor bringing the Green New Deal to life.

There is already noise from the radical Progressives about “being left out to dry” by the mainstream Democrats. I agree with a lot of their ideas but getting them enacted is going to require a lot of time and work.

And even funnier, Mitt Romney was on NBC's Meet the Press this morning mouthing off about how this election proved most Americans are actually quite conservative. So in other words, they're going to be bitching about the federal deficit right after Biden takes the oath of office. Not a single word from them about the deficit the entire time OB is in office destroying the country and siding with our enemies. But with a President Biden in office all those roaches will be scurrying about on every news show and ranting about fiscal doom.

Still though, the tumor will be removed and maybe a President Biden will be able to build some political bridges. One can hope and dream for better, saner days.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A True FUBAR Moment For the United States



Yeah, I'm going to clearly spell it out for any smirking, low-brow, semi-literate, misinformed right-winger who might still occasionally read my humble ramblings. As of this moment I am a nervous wreck over the upcoming election. Because this is a true turning point in history, not too dissimilar from when the Roman Republic fell ushering in the age of the Caesars.

I view the Orange Buffoon getting another four years occupying the White House as the death knell of not only American democracy but of the country itself. No exaggeration, no hyperbole, no overly dramatic acting like you might see on a bad television drama. For me the United States of America will be officially over, it will definitely go on in name for a few more decades with carefully choreographed elections that always end in with some handpicked chump taking office. Whether that is an actual Orange Buffoon family member or someone handpicked by the reigning dynasty I have no idea.

Truthfully it will probably be a little of both, it is common knowledge that both Don Jr. and Ivanka want to be president. And since both of the Buffoon's preferred offspring feel they occupy the same privileged status as their father, them running for president is a near certainty. With another four years to further fuck-over American politics I see them easily “winning” elections in the same manner as the North Korean trolls with margins close to ninety percent. But just to keep the facade of legitimacy, I figure they'll throw in a few no-name placeholders every now and then to keep the Oval Office warm.

The best example of this practice is when Dmitry Medvedev “won” the Russian presidency after Putin served two terms, which meant he couldn't constitutionally run again. At the end of Medvedev's term, where Putin served as Prime Minister, Dmitry graciously stepped aside so Putin could return to the post. Now with recent Russian electoral reforms, Putin will probably rule Russia until the day he dies. A reasonably informed and rational person will remember that several years ago the Orange Buffoon said he admired how China had went to a lifetime presidency, and that he hoped the United States might try such an idea.

Now I understand why Trump is your guy, because dim-witted and incurious folks can't be bothered to actually try and figure out the our complicated world. That the Buffoon makes things sound simple and easy to overcome. Well, you guys also love how he sticks it to libtards with his manly persona. But mainly I think its because Trump hates the people and groups you right-wingers despise. Trump can make a mockery of everything you claim to be about like morals and fiscal responsibility and being respected by the world and you guys and gals cheer mindlessly along.

It still surprises me how easily Trump supporters shook off the “pussy grabbing” video and the clear evidence that he was balling a porn star while his third wife was pregnant. That's unparalleled moral hypocrisy, especially for the evangelicals who claim a special, direct relationship with God. In a way the whining about budget deficits during the Obama years is even more ridiculous. The black guy inherits a fiscal disaster and doesn't catch a minute of slack from the self-appointed watchdogs of the federal budget, the loudmouth Tea Baggers. But Trump takes office, passes a massive tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the wealth elites which sends the federal budget back into trillion dollar deficits-- years BEFORE the pandemic-- and the Tea Baggers are no where to be found.

The darkly funniest item is the utter delusion you right-wingers share about being respected in the world because of Trump. If only you dim-witted imbeciles could watch a news source not devoted to third-grade level propaganda. The world is laughing at Trump, not just a few ungrateful allies but our enemies as well. Worse yet, we are pitied by the world for Trump's criminal mishandling of the pandemic. I'll write it again just to be clear, to the rest of the world Trump is a joke.

The scariest thing in all this is Trump's goading of outright violence between Americans. You right-wingers have been talking about civil war at least since President Obama won his first term. You slack dick pansies parade around in public carrying tricked out assault weapons but have the insane gall to believe it will be the liberals who start the blood flowing in the streets. Then again you brag to each other about how its your side that possess all the weapons and how taking out the libtards and other troublesome groups will be a piece of cake.

So yeah, this coming Tuesday and the following days will be a nerve racking bitch for me. While the vast majority of the polls suggest Joe Biden will be the next president you guys clearly aren't playing by the normal rules. But if the Orange Buffoon pulls a electoral rabbit out of a hat, or simply steals the election I believe things will be far worse.