Giant deposits of ice found by Mars orbiter

Scientists led by a University of Texas geologist report that data from an unmanned NASA space probe suggests there’s much more ice on Mars than previously thought.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter…has identified several dirt-covered glaciers — including one that is three times longer than the city of Los Angeles and up to a half-mile thick. The glaciers may be remnants of warmer conditions on the Red Planet…

The Mars Orbiter used radar to examine the Hellas Basin, an ancient asteroid impact region in the planet’s southern hemisphere. The radar signals from the orbiter penetrated the dirt-covered features and were reflected back at velocities consistent with radio waves passing through ice, the scientists said.

The spacecraft also spotted similar sloping formations extending from cliffs in the northern hemisphere.

Makes lots of things possible – yes, including colonization. At least long-term research in place.


Report: U.S. Power, Influence, on the Decline

God bless America.

A government report released Thursday paints an alarming picture of an unstable future for international relations defined by waning American influence, a fragmentation of political power and intensifying struggles for increasingly scarce natural resources….

The report, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” was drafted by the National Intelligence Council….

“Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained,” says the report, which is the fourth in a series from the Intelligence Council.

The report argues that the “international system — as constructed following the second World War — will be almost unrecognizable by 2025 owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalizing economy, an historic transfer of relative wealth and economic power from West to East, and the growing influence of nonstate actors.”

It argues that the world is in the midst of an unprecedented “transfer of global wealth and power” — from West to East — that is being fueled by long-term “increases in oil and commodity prices” along with a gradual shift of manufacturing and certain service industries to Asia.

For years, I’ve chuckled whenever people respond to these sorts of reports with smug statements like, “The U.S. controls one-third of the world’s wealth.” When a nation starts talking about how much it has, rather than what it does, you know that the ship is already turning.

I really don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for the United States. Where would I find the moral high ground to have sympathy? Within our foreign policy? Among our corporate leadership? Our religious institutions?

I think you get my point.

European museum and library site crashes after launching

European culture went digital — but it only lasted a day.

A massive online library and museum project crashed within 24 hours of its launch after millions sought to view treasures collected from museums, national libraries and archives, the European Union said Friday.

“We are doing our utmost to reopen Europeana in a more robust version as soon as possible…We will be back by mid-December.”

The crash was an anticlimax to a heralded launch. The EU blamed overwhelming interest, saying more than 10 million hits per hour late Thursday overburdened the computer system.

Instead of the rich color-and-light texture of a Vermeer painting, there only was a stark black-and-white page, saying: “The Europeana site is temporarily not accessible due to overwhelming interest after its launch.”

The Web site collected some 3 million artifacts — including books, maps, paintings and videos — from some of Europe’s top museums, such as the Louvre in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It will be available in 23 languages including English, French, German and Spanish.

Wouldn’t you think someone would have consulted a site or two that already knows how to roll out a big hit like this? We can all think of the dunderheads who do it wrong. But, there really are some capable people in this cyberworld.

McCain adviser returns to what he does best – lobbying

Daylife/AP Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

Charles R. Black Jr. says he is going back to lobbying after his stint advising 2008 Republican U.S. presidential nominee John McCain on his campaign.

Black is to resume his post as chairman of BKSH and Associates.

“I’m happy to work with good friends and with clients whom I like and respect,” Black told the Washington Times.

Black resigned from BKSH early this year to work full time for McCain after McCain prohibited lobbyists from working on his staff while continuing to be paid by lobbying firms. Black had acknowledged making lobbying telephone calls from McCain’s campaign bus, the Times noted.

Black’s clients at BKSH have included AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways, the Times reported.

[Sudden gasp of disbelief] You mean John McCain wasn’t the maverick candidate?

Watt Now?

Indelible moments and sensations dot our lives like mental sequins. And if you look up to the sky, the carbon atoms used in those moments are still there, each one knocking around with two oxygen buddies, trapping just a little bit of solar heat, forever unavailable in the fossil fuel form that society craves and loathes.

It is not an exaggeration to say that almost all our memories took carbon to make. Whoever invented the famous tag line for cotton growers just had the wrong raw material. Carbon: the fabric of our lives…

We could be using half the energy that we’re using,” says political scientist and energy policy expert Mark Bernstein, managing director of the new USC Energy Institute. Launched earlier this year, the think tank aims to build a community of energy and environmental researchers, expand research and education programs, engage outside companies and agencies, and – perhaps most important – help form good policy.

Such policy will have to fit through a shrinking window. Society had more options in the early 1970s, when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was only around 320 parts per million – somewhat higher than the pre-industrial concentration of roughly 280 ppm. Today, with CO2 levels nearing 390 ppm and growing faster than ever, time is a luxury. Predictions of looming “peak oil” – the point at which global oil production starts to decline – add to the urgency.

This is a bumper-size article. Filled with as many sound ideas as words.

Take the time for a read. Comment if you care to. More important, reflect upon what you may learn here and turn your energies to labor in the vineyards of politics.

Most of those who oppose action for – or even consideration of – sensible energy policy haven’t the studying gene. They rely on the usual foolish prejudice of a nation unaccustomed to self-judgement, self-reliance or responsibility for their policies. At the least, this article provides an outline for study and action.

U.S. Muslims denounce al-Qaida insult to Barack Obama

U.S. Muslim leaders say racially charged statements issued by al-Qaida against U.S. President Barack Obama are “an insult.”

Spiritual leaders of New York City’s black Muslim community have denounced an anti-Obama diatribe issued by al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he said Obama fit the late Malcolm X’s definition of a “house Negro”.

“We find it insulting when anyone speaks for our community instead of giving us the dignity and the honor of speaking for ourselves,” the Muslim leaders said…

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also condemned Zawahiri’s comments in a statement issued on Thursday.

“As Muslims and as Americans, we will never let terrorist groups or terror leaders falsely claim to represent us or our faith,” the statement said. “We once again repudiate al Qaeda’s actions, rhetoric and world view and re-state our condemnation of all forms of terrorism and religious extremism.”

Religious organizations don’t need any defense from freethinkers like me. But, within the climate and context of American racist history, bigotry against Muslims needs to be addressed.

There were enough stupid examples from Republikan nutballs during the election campaign. Doesn’t mean they’re going to slink back into their cesspools of conventional silence afterward.

Mainstream American Muslim organizations have opposed Islamist extremists from the gitgo. Only populist dimwits perpetuate urban myths saying otherwise.

Is the oil industry headed toward more consolidation?

Big Oil is set to spend billions on new exploration in 2009, but in addition to ocean beds thousands of feet below the water’s surface, major producers are surveying the balance sheets of vulnerable companies in the sector.

Major oil companies are sitting on enormous piles of cash after posting record profits in recent quarters, while crumbling stock and crude prices have made many smaller oil and gas companies potential targets…

“You have a lot of smaller producers with a lot of property, but many are constrained right now,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst at Edward Jones. “Then you have the major integrated companies with deep pockets that could potentially buy these reserves at relatively attractive prices. You’re probably going to see this happen as we move through 2009.”

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, said recently it has $37 billion in cash…

The companies themselves typically don’t talk about potential buyouts, saying only that they’re aware of opportunities.

Anyone here have $37 billion in cash? No? I didn’t think so.

Keep clear on the fact that the money doesn’t make you a greedy, thoughtless bastard. It’s what you do with it, how you decide to spend it – that qualifies value judgements.

Award exposes this year’s best authors of the worst sex

Alastair Campbell’s depiction of a gauche sexual encounter in his debut novel All in the Mind has won him a place on the shortlist for the literary world’s most dreaded honour: the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award.

Campbell would join luminaries including Tom Wolfe, AA Gill, Sebastian Faulks and Melvyn Bragg if he wins the award – a plaster foot – on November 25 at London’s aptly named In and Out club. Run by the Literary Review, the bad sex awards were set up by Auberon Waugh “with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels”.

The former spin doctor may take heart from the implication that his debut is an “otherwise sound literary novel”. Campbell of course has some earlier practice in depicting sex, having written pornography for Forum magazine under the pseudonym the Riviera Gigolo early in his career, but a passage set on a bench has catapulted Campbell onto the list: “He wasn’t sure where his penis was in relation to where he wanted it to be, but when her hand curled around it once more, and she pulled him towards her, it felt right,” Campbell writes. “Then as her hand joined the other on his neck and she started making more purring noises, now with little squeals punctuating them, he was pretty sure he was losing his virginity.”

But Campbell’s prose is considerably less purple than some of the other contenders for this year’s prize, including new age novelist Paulo Coelho for his novel Brida, in which the act of sex – on a public footpath – is described as “the moment when Eve was reabsorbed into Adam’s body and the two halves became Creation”.

Fun reading. Including, perhaps, the works referenced, eh?

Earthworms’ underground invasion threatens forest sustainability

Earthworms have long been considered a friend to farmers and home gardeners, playing a vital role in soil quality. However, recent studies have shown that glaciated forests in North America—forests that evolved without native earthworms–now face the invasion of European earthworms from agriculture and fishing.

This underground invasion has compounding impacts on the capacity of the soil to provide nutrients and sequester carbon—an important role as the world faces global climate change.

Prior to colonization, the glaciated areas of North America were devoid of native earthworms. European earthworms were first introduced to U.S. soils when immigrants brought crops from their native lands, harboring earthworm cocoons. Worms made their way to the edges of farmlands and to the forests.

“Gardeners and farmers all appreciate the beneficial effect of earthworms,” says Yoo, “However, there were systems where worms didn’t exist before and, as we have seen with other non-native invasions, there are ecosystem implications…”

Recent studies have shown that forest composition, with earthworm invasion, can change in as little as 30 to 40 years. As early as the 1940s, researchers studied the impact of invasive earthworms on soils, in terms of the soil chemistry and physics; however, it has only been within the last decade that the focus has shifted to the impacts on the entire ecosystem.

No doubt this will amuse those of you who haven’t followed my musings for a long spell; but, this is a favorite topic of mine. Generally, I don’t succeed in convincing people that earthworms are an imported replacement – even though the logic of life underground generally having ceased during glaciation is easily understood.

The topic is fascinating and, honestly, I wonder where this study will lead? Personally, my guess is that forests will accommodate the wiggly additions to the woodscape. They probably did so between previous Ice Ages is my guess.

Now, of course, I have to wander off to investigate that, as well. 🙂

Spiders get their space legs — all eight of them

Two plucky spiders on the international space station have bounced back from a tangled false start to weave amazing new webs in zero gravity.

The orb-weaving spiders were transported to the station aboard NASA’s shuttle Endeavour earlier this week, but initially wove an aimless concoction in their lab enclosure during their first days in weightlessness. But now they’ve taken another stab at weightless web construction.

“We noticed the spiders’ made a symmetrical web,” the space station’s current skipper Michael Fincke radioed to Mission Control today. “It looks beautiful.”

Fincke said he was amazed at how fast the two eight-legged creatures appear to have adapted to living in space.

The spiders are part of an experiment aimed at sparking interest in science among students on Earth. The arachnids are the same kind of spider as “Charlotte” in the children’s book “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White.

I’m certain the spiders don’t even worry too much about budget constraints, space station traffic management or [maybe] what flavor their food may be.

It is pretty cool they figured out how to deal with zero-gravity, though.