Space Farce Open Thread: To the MOON, Alice!

All the real billionaires, the Big Swinging Dicks, get to go on the TV and talk about their mighty throbbing rockets. Donny Dollhands thinks he ought to be able to grift his very own (no doubt Trump-branded, gilt-painted) bunch of rockets out of a grateful nation… and his will be the only ones carrying NUCKALAR BOMBS, suckitlibs!

Fortunately, our American armed forces have some experience with slow-walking “demands” from temporary autocrats, so I think we’ll see the first Trump Rocket unveiled on approximately the twelfth of Never. Per the Washington Post:

Trump has floated this idea before — in March, he said he initially conceived it as a joke — but has offered few details about how the Space Force would operate. Several experts noted that an act of Congress is required to establish a new branch of the military.

Trump said Monday that the branch would be “separate but equal” from the Air Force and that Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would oversee its creation.

“It is not enough to have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space,” Trump said, adding that he didn’t want to see “China and other countries leading us.”

Dunford’s staff acknowledged Trump’s comments in a statement Monday afternoon, pledging to work closely with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s office, other Defense Department officials and Congress to “implement the President’s guidance.”

“Space is a warfighting domain, so it is vital that our military maintains its dominance and competitive advantage in that domain,” the statement said.

And a spokeswoman for Mattis said in a statement that Pentagon officials “understand” the guidance.

“Our Policy Board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy,” Dana White said without elaborating. “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”



Saturday Night Techno-Smut Interesting Read: “Are We Ready for Robot Sex?” [NSFW, Obviously]

Everyone who’s witnessed (or been) a toddler with a security toy, or a middle-aged man with his dream vehicle (bike, car, boat) already knows: When there are people-shaped robots, people will anthromophocize / individualize them. And when there are people involved, of course sometimes there will be sex, but also there will romanticization. From NYMag:

Henry is six feet tall, with six-pack abs and the customer’s choice of penis. He’s just a prototype at the moment — you can’t buy him — but the two female models Realbotix developed alongside Henry will ship this summer. So far, there have been 50 preorders at $12,000 apiece. Henry, Harmony, and Solana have sturdy silicone bodies, and once they’re synced up to a corresponding app, they can give compliments, recite poetry, tell jokes, and seduce.

Or at least, this is the general idea. The easy fantasy of what a sex robot might be — indistinguishable from an actual human, except hotter and prepared to fulfill any desire — is far from the current reality. Henry, if we’re being cruel, is essentially a high-quality dildo attached to a fancy mannequin with a Bluetooth speaker in his head. But the gulf between what we imagine and what’s possible makes sex robots the perfect vehicle for pondering our sexual and technological future. We might not wake up with sex robots in our beds tomorrow, but right now they’re an irresistible thought experiment. Since making my date with Henry, he’s become my favorite dinner-party topic…
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Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Bidding Wars

I hope this viewing party is well stocked, because if I know corgis, their temporary “royal” will most definitely pit one admirer against another for a share of doggy attention.
 
Speaking of bidding wars…

To update a notorious quote from a certain Senate Majority Leader for the age of social media: If these Repubs insist on fornicating pigs, we can at least make them own it. Per Ars Techica:

The US Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday, May 16 on whether to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules.

Republican senators were hoping to avoid the vote, but Democrats are using a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to force the full Senate to vote. The CRA resolution would nullify the FCC’s December 2017 vote to deregulate broadband and kill net neutrality rules and would prevent the FCC from taking similar actions in the future.

“By passing my CRA resolution to put net neutrality back on the books, we can send a clear message to American families that we support them, not the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies,” Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said in an announcement today.

Republicans are pushing for weaker broadband regulations and have tried to discourage Democrats from pursuing the CRA vote…

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced last week that his repeal of net neutrality rules will take effect on June 11.

There are 50 senators, including one Republican, who have pledged to vote to prevent the net neutrality repeal. That may be enough to get the resolution through the Senate Wednesday because of the cancer-related absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Democrats face longer odds in the House, where Republicans hold a 236-193 majority. President Trump could veto the resolution if it makes it through both chambers of Congress.

Congress isn’t the only obstacle in the way of Pai’s net neutrality repeal. The FCC must defend the repeal in court against a lawsuit filed by about three dozen entities, including Democratic state attorneys general, consumer advocacy groups, and tech companies…



Breaking News Open Thread: The Chinese Space Station Has Crashed “Safely”

Another April Fools Day prank failed!

A Chinese space station the size of a school bus re-entered Earth’s atmosphere at about 5:16 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday, scattering its remaining pieces over the southern Pacific Ocean, according to the United States’ Joint Force Space Component Command.

The demise of the station, Tiangong-1, became apparent when radar stations no longer detected it passing overhead. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries; the likelihood that pieces would land on someone was small, but not zero.

The station may have landed northwest of Tahiti, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said on Twitter. That location is north of the Spacecraft Cemetery, an isolated region in the Pacific Ocean where space debris has frequently landed…

Okay, the jokes were irresistable — imagine the story some ‘lucky’ individual would’ve had to tell if they became the second person in history known to have been hit by falling space garbage. But then, as the Washington Post pointed out, “It’s not supposed to happen like this”:

There are no laws that govern the movement of objects in space, says Holger Krag, the head of the Space Debris Office at the European Space Agency. The only international law that applies to space objects is the Liability Convention, which was reached by the U.N. General Assembly in 1971. It says that when something falls out of space and lands on the ground, the country where that object originated is absolutely liable for any damage it causes.

So far, an international space crisis has been avoided because of the good relationship between all of the space nations, including the United States, Russia, Europe and China, to name a few. Plus it helps that 71 percent of Earth is covered in water.

“That’s 71 percent odds that it’s going to go in the drink,” Harrington said. “We’ve been fortunate.”…



Apocalypse Very Soon

Via Alexander C. Kaufman at HuffPo, we learn that the EPA has decided that we’ve all just got to sit back and fry — and like it too, dammit:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday evening sent employees a list of eight approved talking points on climate change from its Office of Public Affairs ― guidelines that promote a message of uncertainty about climate science and gloss over proposed cuts to key adaptation programs.

Here a couple of samples of the new guidance:

“Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner,” one point reads. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

The other states: “While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.”

It’s clear enough what Scott Pruitt’s and Donald Trump’s EPA thinks we should do about the global test-to-destruction experiment on which we are now engaged.  F**k-all.  Hades here we come.
As Eric Levitz at New York magazine reminds us, this actually isn’t the limit of GOP and Trump climate sabotage:

It would be bleak enough if these talking points were an accurate reflection of our government’s position on climate change. “We will do nothing to stop this calamity from happening, but will help you prepare for its onset” isn’t the most uplifting sentiment. But the Trump administration’s actual position on the matter is even worse.

In truth, Scott Pruitt’s EPA is about as opposed to helping communities prepare for climate catastrophe as it is to regulating carbon emissions: Last year, the EPA shut down its climate-adaptation program, and proposed funding cuts* to another initiative dedicated to studying the effects of rising sea levels. [links in the original]

Again, as Levitz points out, unchecked climate change will (and almost certainly has already) kill a lot of people. Which is to say this isn’t garden valley Republican robbery of most of us to serve the interests of our former Secretary of State and his ilk.  Reckless doesn’t begin to describe what the GOP in general and the current administration in particular are doing to the planet, and to Americans’ well being, safety and security.

The climate change debacle is not only down to the United States, of course. But nowhere else has the power that we do to shift international action on this.  We’re doing the opposite, and the FSM knows how high the bill will go.

On that note: top of the evening to the jackals. Open thread, y’all

*Most of the cuts were undone in the omni-budget bill, but if we have a minor respite from environmental despoilation, it’s not thanks to Trump and Pruitt.

Image: D. Howard Hitchcock, Halemaumau, Lake of Fire, 1888



This is Cool

I’m ignoring the disasters in the headlines and think you should too, so here is something super cool:

Anglerfish, with their menacing gape and dangling lure, are among the most curious inhabitants of the deep ocean. Scientists have hardly ever seen them alive in their natural environment. That’s why a new video, captured in the waters around Portugal’s Azores islands, has stunned deep-sea biologists. It shows a fist-size female anglerfish, resplendent with bioluminescent lights and elongated whiskerlike structures projecting outward from her body. And if you look closely, she’s got a mate: A dwarf male is fused to her underside, essentially acting as a permanent sperm provider.

Good work if you can get it.








Of Microbes and Men — and Women and Children

Update: I see I inadvertently bigfooted Adam. (This is the only context in which that statement could be remotely plausible).  But I figure the Jackals can read below, comment, and then, when they get around to it and if interested, read something else. Consider this is a proof-of-concept experiment.

Self-aggrandizement apology.

I’ve got a long piece (by newspaper standards) up now at The Boston Globe:  “The world defeated smallpox.  Why does polio still exist?” (Dead tree version comes out on Sunday.)

What I’m really on about (and I’m on and on and on about it — no one ever accused me of excessive terseness) is what it means when the institutions and norms of collective action erode.

Smallpox eradication can be understood in many frames, but a key one is that it was a Cold War phenomenon.  It was so not just in the sense it occurred over the same years that the Soviet Union and the US maneuvered around the edge of direct, hot conflict, but as a skirmish within the larger competition as well.  Not to be nostalgic for hair-trigger nuclear confrontation, but in a bipolar world in which international institutions could both call on superpower resources and, in essence, play a kind of intermediary role, coalition efforts towards the common good could take place.

That capacity, that ability to play a kind of virtuous game, has degraded over the last several decades, and my story is the long way round to this conclusion:

There were just 22 wild-polio infections worldwide last year, all in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So far in 2018, there have been only two new cases, both in Afghanistan. It’s conceivable that polio incidence may drop to zero before the end of the decade.

If and when that occurs, it will be a monument to the power of public health work. But the question will remain: Why was the end of polio so long in coming? It wasn’t because, after solving smallpox’s riddles, human reason couldn’t solve the problem, or that science or medicine failed. Rather, it was because such achievements exist within history, the way human beings construct our world at any given time.

The history still being made of polio eradication reveals the costs that follow when the ability to pursue common goals degrades within and between nations. Infectious disease, pollution, and conflict itself do not respect borders, not even those of countries that build big, beautiful walls.

That is:  there are so many subtle ways in which Donald Trump and the entire Republican Party are both deluded and dangerous. Infectious disease is one arena where we can see the risks and consequences of their malign folly play out.

There’s one more little story that follows that thought, a tragic one, as you might expect, a kind of foretaste of what happens if we are going to get this kind of thing wrong going forward. Anyway, if you’re interested, check it out  — and if you are so moved, comment there (as well as, or instead of) here.

Image: Anonymous, Christ cures a leper; an apostle holds a garment in front of HimWellcome Collection, undated.