The underground gets ready

One bright afternoon in early January, on a beach in Southern California, a young woman spread what looked like a very strange picnic across an orange polka-dot towel: A mason jar. A rubber stopper with two holes. A syringe without a needle. A coil of aquarium tubing and a one-way valve. A plastic speculum. Several individually wrapped sterile cannulas—thin tubes designed to be inserted into the body—which resembled long soda straws. And, finally, a three-dimensional scale model of the female reproductive system…

Ellie snugged the rubber stopper into the mason jar. She snipped the aquarium tubing into a pair of foot-long segments and attached the valve to the syringe’s plastic tip. In less than 10 minutes, Ellie had finished the project: a simple abortion device. It looked like a cross between an at-home beer-brewing kit and a seventh-grade science experiment…

I had read about such devices before. But watching the scene on the beach towel brought history into focus with startling clarity: Women did this the last time abortion was illegal.

For Ellie, the Del-Em was more symbolic than pragmatic—an amulet from the past to carry into an uncertain future. After all, pharmaceuticals can now be used to end pregnancies in the first trimester, when more than 90 percent of legal abortions occur. (Almost 99 percent of abortions occur within the first 20 weeks.) There are also modern, mass-produced manual vacuum-aspiration devices for doing what the Del-Em does. Community providers have talked about stockpiling such supplies in case Roe falls…

Given the uncertainties, she suggested, it couldn’t hurt to have a do-it-yourself tool like the Del-Em. “Just knowing the people who came before you had other ways of managing these things, not necessarily through a doctor or condoned by a government—there’s something really powerful in that,” she said.

Nothing new about some portion of your life kept ready to deal with corrupt politics, politicians with the ethical standards of criminals. RTFA, folks. You may need it as reference, some day.

ISS transiting the Sun


Wang Letian

It’s not uncommon to spot the International Space Station as a light moving across the sky just after sunset or before sunrise, when the Sun’s light reflects off it. The view you see here, though, is far from common. Chinese astrophotographer Wang Letian used a solar telescope and specialized camera to capture this series of photos, combined into a single image of the ISS passing in front of the Sun. You can see several gaseous prominences around the edge of the Sun as well as a dark sunspot.

A labor of love. Unique beauty the result.

Text describing the photo is from the Planetary Society newsletter, The Downlink.

US Ends Anti-Satellite Missile Tests — Asks Everyone Else to Join In

The United States will no longer conduct anti-satellite tests, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Monday. With this declaration, the country seeks to establish a new norm for responsible behavior in space.

“We have consistently condemned these tests and called them reckless, but that is not enough,” Harris said. “Today we are going further. I am pleased to announce that as of today, the United States commits not to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing. Simply put: These tests are dangerous, and we will not conduct them. We are the first nation to make such a commitment. And I call on all nations to join us.”

Harris made her comments on Monday evening during a visit to Vandenberg Space Force Base, the preeminent launch site on the West Coast of the United States. During her speech, Harris said the US government will work with other nations to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space, noting that ending such tests would benefit all nations and help to preserve the environment of low Earth orbit.

Surely, no one will be cynical enough to gainsay that Uncle Sugar must have figured out some other, more efficient means of accomplishing the same goal. Incapacitating other nations’ satellites at will. Eh?

If Elon Musk owns TWITTER, he can snoop on the world!


Jim Watson/AFP

Elon Musk’s plans to privatize Twitter have spurred concern among privacy experts and social media researchers, including one former Harvard professor who told The Washington Post that having one person in control of the social platform “is a disaster” for user privacy.

The former professor and author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Shoshana Zuboff, said huge ad revenues and unregulated data collection about user behavior have changed the social media industry, which now holds incredible sway over real-world events…

Putting that power in the hands of a single person, she said, would be “incompatible with democracy.”

“There are simply no checks and balances from any internal or external force,” Zuboff told The Washington Post.

Do you trust Elon Musk?

Cripes, I don’t trust any president, any Congress, probably no one who’s paid to be a full-time politician. OTOH, I’m still out here even though the official government yoyos also have the FBI, NSA, CIA. The whole alphabet soup of snoops! Probably means I’m not enough of a gadfly.

Birds aren’t real, eh?


Madeline Houston/Birds Aren’t Real

In early 2017, Peter McIndoe, now 23, was studying psychology at the University of Arkansas, and visiting friends in Memphis, Tennessee. He tells me this over Zoom from the US west coast, and has the most arresting face – wide-eyed, curious and intense, like the lead singer of an indie band, or a young monk. “This was right after the Donald Trump election, and things were really tense. I remember people walking around saying they felt as if they were in a movie. Things felt so unstable.”

It was the weekend of simultaneous Women’s Marches across the US (indeed, the world), and McIndoe looked out of the window and noticed “counterprotesters, who were older, bigger white men. They were clear aggravators. They were encroaching on something that was not their event, they had no business being there.” Added to that, “it felt like chaos, because the world felt like chaos”…

I just thought: ‘I should write a sign that has nothing to do with what is going on.’ An absurdist statement to bring to the equation.” … That statement was “birds aren’t real”. As he stood with the counterprotesters, and they asked what his sign meant, he improvised. He said he was part of a movement that had been around for 50 years, and was originally started to save American birds, but had failed. The “deep state” had destroyed them all, and replaced them with surveillance drones. Every bird you see is actually a tiny feathered robot watching you…

…It’s a made-up conspiracy theory that is just realistic enough, as conspiracies go, to convince QAnon supporters that birds aren’t real, but has just enough satirical flags that generation Z recognises immediately what is going on. It’s a conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy, a little aneurysm of reality and mockery in the bloodstream of the mad pizzagate-style theories that animate the “alt-right”.

Way too sophisticated for today’s version of the John Birch Society. Today’s neo-fascists would follow Trump over the edge of the flat earth-ideology they accept as part of the fightback against “liberal plotters” against “True Republicans” like Trump.

Spacewalkers photographed from Earth

During the spacewalk of the two astronauts Raja Chari and Matthias Maurer the International Space Station appeared shortly after sunset in the bright evening sky over Germany. This image of the ISS pass was taken on March 23, 2022 under good seeing conditions through my C11 EdgeHD telescope from the hometown of ESA astronaut Dr. Matthias Maurer. … It’s probably the first ground based picture showing two spacewalkers on the ISS at the same time.

Excerpt from post at Dr. Sebastian Voltmer’s website spaceweather.com.