Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kepler Project Finds Earth-Comparable Planet In Star's Habitable Zone

Via ellroon (again!), we read, spellbound, as NASA informs us of the Kepler mission's first "hit" of exactly the sort everyone hoped it would make... not exactly a new event (almost a year old, in fact), but I just noticed it:
Using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the "habitable zone" -- the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.

While planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, they are all at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth and understanding their makeup is challenging. Kepler-186f is more reminiscent of Earth.

"The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds."

Hot-damn! First we discovered a planet orbiting around another star. Then over the years we found hundreds of planets of different fundamental types orbiting around many stars. Now we're seeing something not too different from Earth, though many particulars are not yet known.

I always knew this day would come; what I didn't know is that the discovery would be made within my lifetime... 

(For interested parties, NASA offers some simple explanations about how Kepler accomplishes the detection of exoplanets. And please view visuals on the linked sites; I can't do them justice here with my self-imposed file size limits.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Wisconsin Republican: Weekends For Me, None For Thee!

To be fair, I must say that not every state has a law requiring all businesses, or businesses over a certain size, etc., to give employees a weekend day off. But Wisconsin is currently such a state.

Wisconsin Republicans want to change that. Why? It's bound to be an unpopular change. I suppose it's "anything to stiff a union" ...

The Republican state senator sponsoring the bill is named Van Wanggaard. If he pushes this bill through, he damned well better guard it; someone whose weekend he trashed might well go after it with a stick, or worse...

One Person's Collection Of Favorite Terry Pratchett Quotes

Via the indispensable Avedon, we have BuzzFeed staff writer Kaye Toal's illustrated personal collection of her favorite quotes from the late (sob!) Sir Terry Pratchett. See how many of them correspond with your own; realize once again the depth of Pratchett's human understanding and his unparalleled and indefatigable ability to express that understanding in words meaningful to everyone.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why Is Papa Pizza A Republican?

Paul Krugman has an answer of sorts, and I suppose it's plausible, though the whole notion that pizza is partisan strikes me as... ahem... un-American. (Except pizza from Papa John's, of course... now that's partisan... RWNJ-partisan! [CORRECTION: Pizza Hut is even MORE Republican than Papa John's!])

Here's Krugman:
No, really. A recent Bloomberg report noted that major pizza companies have become intensely, aggressively partisan. Pizza Hut gives a remarkable 99 percent of its money to Republicans. Other industry players serve Democrats a somewhat larger slice of the pie (sorry, couldn’t help myself), but, over all, the politics of pizza these days resemble those of, say, coal or tobacco. ...

I'd be willing to bet that if you assessed the pizza Americans eat according to a single categorization, pizza shop or grocery store, you could still detect the partisan difference. Most of the pizza I eat is from the grocer. These days, who can afford to order a fancy pizza out? Republicans, that's who! (YMMV. Just an opinion.)

Loretta Lynch Confirmation Held Up... And Held Up... And...

... held up, by the GOP, of course. Pretty much everyone admits she is well-qualified and will be confirmed if she ever gets a vote in the Senate.

At this point, according to President Obama (heard here on CNN), her nomination has been held up "longer than the five previous attorney general nominees combined" [note: Yahoo! News says seven, not five] delayed each time on an issue completely unrelated either to Lynch herself or to the Attorney General's office, each issue deliberately introduced by the GOP to prevent any advancement of the confirmation process.

Maybe this is politics as usual.

Or maybe this is further evidence that today's GOP is incapable of governing.


Apparently it's a short list, and this, from Bruce Schneier, didn't make it:
Last May, we learned that the NSA intercepts equipment being shipped around the world and installs eavesdropping implants. There were photos of NSA employees opening up a Cisco box. Cisco's CEO John Chambers personally complained to President Obama about this practice, which is not exactly a selling point for Cisco equipment abroad. Der Spiegel published the more complete document, along with a broader story, in January of this year:


Now Cisco is taking matters into its own hands, offering to ship equipment to fake addresses in an effort to avoid NSA interception.

Wassamatter, NSA guys; you not competent to collect what you want without physically installing sh!t on the router while you have it in your clammy hands?

I know no one gives a fv<k whether I approve of any given NSA activity, but c'mon, this is outside the pale. I find myself really tempted to violate Godwin's Law on this one...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

‘New’ Sherlock Holmes Story By Conan Doyle Found After 80 Years

No beating about the bush: it can be read here.

This sort of thing is not unprecedented. Like many authors in the days before authors were owned by publishers and kept confined in stables like race horses, one of the most effective charitable gestures a well-known author could make was to write and contribute his or her own story, using the author's own (in)famous character(s), indirectly urging the reader to participate in that same charity. In this case, Conan Doyle was trying to save an old bridge in Selkirk. The story contains many local references, most of which are beyond my reach, but you may be sure the gentleman reaching for his purse to contribute would have known them all.

Conan Doyle
Conan Doyle wrote enough such stories that I have run across and read one before, but it was in a dead-tree source which I cannot put my hand on at the moment. If I run across another, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, enjoy this one.

H/T ellroon, who finds and points us to a wealth of interesting things!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gaaaack! Cough Not Worst Ever, But Bad Enough...

This is truly unpleasant. Stella or I (I don't know which yet) will pick up one of my regular meds, not a cough med but one of my ongoing prescriptions, by Sun. at the latest; meanwhile, I feel like a bucket of warm spit. I got little if any sleep last night due to this cough. It's raining, again, not the worst I've ever seen, but enough to inconvenience us. Sometimes the good Dog just doesn't want you to get out of bed, and like a fool, I ignored her and did that anyway. Now I'd better go empty the spit bucket. Don't expect a lot of blogging today, or tomorrow. Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Boy Howdy, Are Tom Engelhardt And Crew Thought‑Provoking Lately...

Start with the moment's topmost post, Tomgram: Engelhardt, Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country?, and read straight through at least Nan Levinson's cheekily titled sub-post, The Big Dick School of American Patriotism And What We Make of It. Have you read it? Now tell me: does something feel out of balance, and I don't mean the prose?

Let me be clear: I admire Engelhardt and other authors on his site greatly. But in our era, the out-of-balance sensation is sure to afflict any sensible writer, and they are not exceptions to that rule. Now pardon me for a few minutes; I need to have my brain washed... I need water; please hand me a Glass.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Community Cold

Stella has had one version of it for over a week; she got it from literally half her coworkers and brought it home to me. I've had it for 3-4 days, the version that is mostly a head cold and a sore throat... yucky and unpleasant, but not life-threatening.

At night, I have adequate concentration to read novels, news and blogs, but not to follow anything complex or to write anything of much substance; don't expect any intellectual tours de force from me this week. I've successfully read a not unduly challenging private eye novel and had rather less success facing some of Noam Chomsky's oeuvre for the first time... and I do want to give Chomsky his due; IMHO he deserves my close attention.

Beyond that, my intake has been confined mostly to PBS Kids, probably entertaining because I don't have kids, PBS or otherwise.

I'll check in occasionally, but don't expect any great works from me until I stop drowning in my own fluids and rasping every word I speak.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cassini Spacecraft Notes Saturn Moon May Support Life In Its Subsurface Ocean

Andrew Coates at Juan Cole's Informed Comment:

Saturn’s moon Enceladus has an Ocean, Geysers and maybe Life

The Cassini mission that has investigated Saturn since 2004 has revealed much about the giant planet and its many moons. Perhaps most tantalising is the discovery that the moon Enceladus is the source of strong geysers ejecting plumes of water and ice.

A new study of Cassini data published in Nature by Hsiang-Wen Hsu and colleagues reveals these plumes are laced with grains of sand. This indicates that hydrothermal activity may be at work in Enceladus’ sub-surface ocean, and propels this tiny moon into the extremely exclusive club of locations that could harbour life.

The club’s only current member is Earth, of course – although it’s very possible that Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, is, like Enceladus, also a candidate. What they have in common is that they host liquid oceans of salty water that exists in contact with a rocky, silicate seabed from which the oceans can absorb complex minerals and elements.


Cool! There's still no certainty, but as recently as a decade ago, I'd have put my money on "Earth alone" as the home of life in our Solar System. Now we have several possibilities. Enceladus was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel; between that long history and the Cassini mission, there is basis for some credible speculation about how it works, subsurface ocean and all. Here's a diagram of one of the models of its cryovolcanism (click for larger image):

Even if this tiny moon doesn't support life, its name could serve to advise you what to order if it's your very first trip to a Mexican restaurant...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

‘CISA Isn't About Cybersecurity, It's About Surveillance’

It seems these days that no bad bill that's been killed (*cough* CISPA *cough*) stays dead, and these undead bills, in this case transparently renamed CISA, stalk the halls of Congress looking to give America's law enforcement entities surveillance powers over its citizens, powers unheard of in the entire history of the Republic. Here's some of what you need to know, from
This bill as it stands is condemned by every one of these experts, yet is under consideration now by the Senate Select Committee. If CISA should pass and be signed into law, at least... at the very least... your Fourth Amendment rights will lie dead in the street, trampled by the forces who believe every American should be subject to surveillance, everywhere s/he goes, in every activity, at any time.

How little difference one letter makes!
How does that sound to you? Right... me too. Please read the linked articles and then HOWL to Congress, for all the good it will do...

Alzheimer's Disease: Possible Breakthrough Treatment — Ultrasound

If you have a family member who suffers Alzheimer's disease, you know firsthand how devastating the condition is to the sufferer and his/her family. Even as one who never for a moment contemplated a career in medicine, I spent many hours attempting to read medical journal articles on Alzheimer's research published between about 1986 and 1990, the year my mother died of this relentless destroyer of the human brain. At the time, no one, medical professional or otherwise, had any idea that 25 years later medical science still would not have a sufficiently clear understanding of the nature of the disease to undertake to use available techniques to treat it, let alone cure it.

Fast-forward past 25 years of Alzheimer's research and many hopeful but failed attempts at finding effective treatment... it's been a bleak quarter century for families like mine, especially those families in which there are indications of a genetic component, a family connection, in the propagation of the disease.

Finally (we can hope it's "finally"), Walter Einenkel at Kos points out an article in The Guardian detailing how researchers at University of Queensland in Brisbane undertook a wholly new approach, using ultrasound to break up the tangles of plaques in the brain that are a primary manifestation of Alzheimer's. So far, tests have been done only in mice, but the resulting improvement in function in most of the treated mice is very promising. One problem in many previous attempts at drug-based treatments is the blood-brain barrier, which is apparently no barrier to sound waves.

(I was already having difficulty sleeping tonight; now I know I may as well give up... at least for a change it's good news keeping me awake!)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rev. Franklin Graham Employs Aggie Pistol

There is no version of the Far-Right Rev. Franklin Graham's argument here that does not point, like the infamous Aggie pistol, right back at the Rev. himself. Brendan James at TPM:
The Rev. Franklin Graham on Wednesday hypothesized that President Obama's hesitancy to fight the Islamic State terror group was because Obama's mother "must have been a Muslim."

In a clip flagged by Right Wing Watch, the son of renowned pastor Rev. Billy Graham spoke to Family Research Council head Tony Perkins in a radio interview.

"His mother must have been a Muslim," Graham said. "We don't know that, but she married two Muslim men, so there must have been something there."

"And the framework that the President has growing up, his influences in his life, was that of Islam," he added.

Aggie pistol
OK. Let's accept the Rev. Graham's stated opinion at face value, and render the quotation just a teensy bit different for the sake of argument:
President Barack Obama on Wednesday hypothesized that Rev. Franklin Graham's eagerness to fight the Islamic State terror group was because Graham's father "must have been a radical Christian fundamentalist."

[etc. ad nauseam]
Sauce for the goose and the gander, eh? D'ya think Billy just shifted a bit in his grave when his son let fly with that? [CORRECTION: per Mustang Bobby in comments, Billy is still alive. According to Wikipedia, he is 96.]

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I'm A Little Busy Here...

... with household duties, medical matters, feeding cats, herding cats, etc., all things that cannot be put off but are nonetheless not paid work. Have patience,please; I haven't forgotten the blog.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My State Rep, A Republican, Says Women Will Die If Texas Lege Renders Cancer Screening Unavailable By Forcing Planned Parenthood Clinics To Close

Sarah Davis
It is hardly news that the Texas GOP has made repeated attempts to impose the harshest strictures on women's health clinics that offer abortion in Texas, such as Planned Parenthood, no matter what other essential medical services those clinics offer women. It is news (from Tara Culp‑Ressler at Think Progress, March 10) that a Republican legislator has come out in opposition to her party's attempts to kill women by denying them high-quality cancer screening in an attempt to deny them constitutionally protected access to abortion.

That legislator, State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-TX134), represents my district.

I have long since taken a solemn vow not to vote for any Republican unless Abraham Lincoln rises from the grave and runs in a district in which I am registered to vote. At least Lege elections are in even-numbered years, so I have some time to think about this race.

The problem, of course, is not what Rep. Davis would do independently; rather, it's what she could be pressured into doing along with her party. And the R-dominated Texas Lege, under a new, presumably ideologically driven Repub governor, could make laws that could literally kill women by the thousands, and GOPers in the Lege have not been shy about attempting those very laws.

I have often wished for an active pro-choice or at least pro-women's-rights movement within the GOP. All that proves is that one should be careful what s/he wishes for!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Saturday, March 7, 2015

18 Years — Cause For Celebration

 As of today, Stella and I have been an "item" for 18 years. This Lichtenstein-like work shows "Stella," but with all due respect to people who love their kids, the woman depicted here expresses (sarcastically) an attitude for both of us. Search the Web for "forgot to have children" and you'll learn how very many people feel that way!

We plan a splendid meal (probably at Vietopia), a walk in a park (weather permitting) and... our signature activity for most such celebrations... a trip to a bookstore!

Static Pages (About, Quotes, etc.)

No Police Like H•lmes