Life on Mars

I read some interesting news in the Telegraph on the search for extraterrestrial life.

Prof John Parnell, 55, has co-written a theory with Dr Joseph Michalski, a planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum, that suggests they have discovered the best signs of life in the huge McLaughlin Crater on the surface of Mars.

The document, published today in Nature Geoscience journal, describes how they assessed the crater, created by a meteorite which smashed into the surface of Mars, flinging up rocks from miles below.

The rocks appear to be made up of clays and minerals which have been altered by water – the essential element to support life.

Speaking from his laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, geochemist Prof Parnell said: “We could be so close to discovering if there is, or was, life on Mars.

“We know from studies that a substantial proportion of all life on Earth is also in the subsurface and by studying the McLaughlin Crater we can see similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars thanks to observations on the rocks brought up by the meteorite strike.

“There can be no life on the surface of Mars because it is bathed in radiation and it’s completely frozen. However, life in the sub surface would be protected from that.

“And there is no reason why there isn’t bacteria or other microbes that were or still are living in the small cracks well below the surface of Mars.

“One of the other things we have discussed in our paper is that this bacteria could be living off hydrogen, which is exactly the same as what microbes beneath the surface of the Earth are doing too.

“Unfortunately, we won’t find any evidence of animals as the most complex life you might get in the sub surface would be fungi.

“But fungi aren’t even that far removed from plants and animals, so I think you could say that life on Mars could be complex, but small.”

I think that any life on,or in, Mars is likely to be very simple, perhaps similar to bacteria, assuming that there is any at all. We are going to actually go there and look specifically for life. Fortunately, that may be the next step.

Prof Parnell reckons that although the next mission to Mars will have a drill to examine possibilities of life beneath the surface of Mars, he says his new study suggests looking around the edges of craters would be easier and more beneficial.

He said: “What we’re really doing is emphasising that if we are going to explore for life on Mars, we need to go beneath the surface. So we need to find an approach beneath the surface.

“One approach to do that might be to drill and indeed the next European mission to Mars will have a drill on it, but that will only go down about two metres.

“And although drilling two metres on Earth would be a fantastic technological achievement, it’s only really scratching the surface.

I think they meant to write Mars instead of Earth.

“So the alternative is to use what nature has done for us and that’s why we are are particularly interested in the McLaughlin Crater that we have investigated in our paper.

“Because when a meteor lands, it excavates a big hole in the ground and throws rocks from the bottom of the hole outside the crater to where we could conceivably go and sample them.”

And while the craters on Mars may uncover secrets about the planet’s possibility of supporting life, Prof Parnell also revealed the results could show us how life on Earth began.

He said: “It’s very easy to draw parallels between what Mars looks like and what the early Earth might have looked like, because the rocks on Earth that we see now have been recycled a lot in ways that they have not been recycled on Mars.

“Mars has not had things like erosion and shifting of mountain ranges to destroy vital evidence from the past.

“So studying meteorite craters of Mars may well actually give us an indication to how life on Earth began.

“Although we all live on the surface of Earth, life did not originate here, but actually in the sub surface.

“It was only when life had taken hold below the surface that it gradually expanded and came up to the surface.

“In fact, there’s so much life below the surface of our planet that we are actually the unusual ones living above it.”

This sounds a lot like The Deep Hot Biosphere.


Stuck a Feather in His Cap

The lyrics to the song don’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Yankee Doodle went to town

A-riding on his pony

Stuck a feather in his cap

And called it macaroni

Why would Yankee Doodle stick a feather in his cap and call it macaroni? A hat with a feather stuck in it hardly resembles a plate of pasta. Actually the word macaroni in the song is eighteenth century slang meaning the sort of man who spent a more time worrying about clothes and fashion than about more manly pursuits, in other words, the sort of man who would later be called a fop or dandy, or in the twenty-first century, a metrosexual.

It was the custom of the eighteenth century for young British men of wealth or the nobility to go on a grand tour after finishing their formal education. They would travel around Europe visiting France, Austria, Italy, etc. The idea was to give these future leaders of Britain a bit of polish and culture, to acquaint them with other countries, to view great works of art, and so on. Since these were young noblemen, it is likely that they spent more time in taverns and brothels than in museums, but it was still a nice idea.

In their travels the young men would pick up the latest styles and fashions from France or Italy and bring them home. To those Englishmen who had to stay at home and to the exasperated fathers of the stylish young men who paid for the trip, these fashions seemed outlandish and even a little bit effeminate. Since they also brought the exotic Italian dish known a macaroni back with them, they were derisively called macaronis.

MacaroniWould you want your son to come back looking like that?

Would you want your son to come back looking like that?

Before the French and Indian War, the English had largely neglected their colonies in North America. Previous wars between the English and French had largely been fought with colonial militias and the Indian allies of the two kingdoms. The French and Indian War, or the Seven Years’ War developed into a worldwide conflict, in many ways it was the first real world war. For the first time, Great Britain deployed large numbers of British regular soldiers, or redcoats to fight in North America. These regular soldiers from the mother country tended to despise the colonists, or Yankees, as unsophisticated yokels. As far as they were concerned, one of these rubes might well think having a feather in his cap was the height of fashion, making him a macaroni.

The British regulars also felt contempt towards the colonial militias thinking them, with some justice, as untrained, undisciplined braggarts likely to run away at the first exchange of gun fire. To mock the pretensions of the militiamen, the redcoats sang Yankee Doodle,a song attributed to a British army surgeon named Doctor Richard Shuckburgh. Here are the complete lyrics.

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni’.

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

Fath’r and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.


And there we saw a thousand men
As rich as Squire David,
And what they wasted every day,
I wish it could be saved.


The ‘lasses they eat it every day,
Would keep a house a winter;
They have so much, that I’ll be bound,
They eat it when they’ve mind ter.


And there I see a swamping gun
Large as a log of maple,
Upon a deuced little cart,
A load for father’s cattle.


And every time they shoot it off,
It takes a horn of powder,
and makes a noise like father’s gun,
Only a nation louder.


I went as nigh to one myself
As ‘Siah’s inderpinning;
And father went as nigh again,
I thought the deuce was in him.


Cousin Simon grew so bold,
I thought he would have cocked it;
It scared me so I shrinked it off
And hung by father’s pocket.


And Cap’n Davis had a gun,
He kind of clapt his hand on’t
And stuck a crooked stabbing iron
Upon the little end on’t


And there I see a pumpkin shell
As big as mother’s bason,
And every time they touched it off
They scampered like the nation.


I see a little barrel too,
The heads were made of leather;
They knocked on it with little clubs
And called the folks together.


And there was Cap’n Washington,
And gentle folks about him;
They say he’s grown so ‘tarnal proud
He will not ride without em’.


He got him on his meeting clothes,
Upon a slapping stallion;
He sat the world along in rows,
In hundreds and in millions.


The flaming ribbons in his hat,
They looked so tearing fine, ah,
I wanted dreadfully to get
To give to my Jemima.


I see another snarl of men
A digging graves they told me,
So ‘tarnal long, so ‘tarnal deep,
They ‘tended they should hold me.


It scared me so, I hooked it off,
Nor stopped, as I remember,
Nor turned about till I got home,
Locked up in mother’s chamber.


During the Revolutionary War, the Americans in the Continental Army had adopted Yankee Doodle as their own anthem and by the time they played it at the British surrender at Yorktown, the song had become detestable in the ears of the Redcoats.

I wonder, though whether the condescension shown by the British soldiers towards the colonial militia wasn’t one of the ultimate causes of the War of Independence. The French and Indian War must have been the first time many of the colonists had been exposed to the sort of disdain that many on the mother country felt for the colonials and I am sure they didn’t like it. This was certainly the case with George Washington. He had commanded a regiment from Virginia during the war. He felt a certain pride in the men he had led and trained and he resented the way in which the British officers dismissed them. During the war, Washington had applied for a commission in the regular army. Although he was uneducated and lacked connections he felt that his experience in combat proved his worth. The British commanders rejected his application in particularly humiliating terms, making it obvious than no mere colonial could get a commission. Maybe the humiliation still stung when Washington accepted the job of Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.

Organizing for Action

I have been invited to participate in a grassroots organization to help President Obama get his agenda passed. I feel so privileged.

David —

I’m Jon Carson, the new executive director of Organizing for Action.

I hope you’re as excited as I am for this new organization, and for what our grassroots movement can accomplish in the next four years.

If you haven’t already, you should check out this short video First Lady Michelle Obama recorded about our organization, and then say you’re on board.

Just a little bit about me. I’m a Wisconsin guy, and I grew up on a farm in the western part of the state. In 2007, I joined Barack Obama’s campaign and served as the national field director. After the election, I went to work for the President in the White House, most recently in the Office of Public Engagement.

That brings me to now, when very soon, my family and I will be moving back to Chicago as I start this new role with all of you.

I first joined the President’s campaign because I was inspired by his belief that ordinary people have the power to change our country if we work together to get it done — and that belief will be at the core of this new organization as it unfolds.

And the way we’ll get it done can be summed up in one word: local.

That means each city or region will have its own OFA chapter, and you’ll decide the issues your community cares about most, the work you want to do to make progress on them, and the kind of support you’ll need to get it done.

At a neighborhood and regional level, OFA members will grow their local chapters, bringing in new leaders and helping train a new generation of volunteers and organizers to help fight for the issues at stake.

There’ll be times when we pull together at the national level to get President Obama’s back on passing major legislation, like reducing gun violence or immigration reform. And we’ll all work to help transform Washington from the outside while strengthening our economy and creating jobs.

But for the most part, the direction our work takes will be completely in your hands — with the support of this organization behind you every step of the way.

In the next few weeks and months, I’ll be asking for your input on putting together an OFA plan for 2013, we’ll be holding online briefings about the issues we want to tackle, and we’ll start organizing on those issues as they’re debated in D.C.

But for right now, I just want to say thanks and welcome. There’s a lot to be done, without a doubt — and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of OFA with you.

Take a look at the video the First Lady recorded this week, and go ahead — say you’re in:

I’ll be in touch soon.



Jon Carson
Executive Director
Organizing for Action

If you thought the campaign was over last November, than you are about to be seriously disappointed. The campaign never ends nowadays, and I guess we never get a break from politics anymore. I wonder though, what kind of grassroots organization is run out of the White House? Isn’t this better described as astroturfing?



God’s Fury, England’s Fire

Cover of "God's Fury, England's Fire: A N...
Cover via Amazon

The English Civil Wars, which were fought  from 1642-1649 were every bit as significant event in English History as the American Civil War was in the history of the United States. It is often said that the American Civil War was a fight of brother against brother. This was not true except perhaps in the border states. The English Civil War really could be a fight between brothers. There were few consistent patterns which determined which side any one individual might take. Even in regions that were solidly in favor of the king or Parliament, there were those who supported the other side.

Indeed, the English Civil War could be considered the first of the modern revolutions that have changed the world, predating the French Revolution by a century and a half. This war, which began as a dispute over King Charles’s royal prerogatives to rule and raise money without the consent of Parliament, and over questions involving the extent of the Reformation over the Anglican Church, became, once shots were fired, a war to determine how England, and to some extent Scotland and Ireland, were to be governed. Was the king to rule by divine right or did the people, through Parliament possess the sovereignty?

As the war continued, positions hardened and became more radical. By the end of the decade, the Levellers were calling for the end of the class system and something like a modern idea of democracy. There are arguments over how much freedom of conscience should be granted for dissenting religious views, and just what were the dissentients, the ones who favored the traditional forms of worship and the authority of bishops, the Presbyterians, or the Independents? By the end of the war, Charles I had been executed and England became a republic. Even though the English Commonwealth only lasted until 1660 and ended with the restoration of King Charles II, the English Civil Wars had a lasting effect on the political development of Britain and ultimately led the way to Britain’s modern constitution.

Michael Braddick’s God’s Fury, England’s Fire is a comprehensive history of the English Civil War and the crises that preceded it. Braddick explores in detail the issues and factions which led to the breakdown of England’s political system in the years preceding the war. While this is a history of a war, Braddick seems less interested in the military history, which he does cover more than adequately, than in the ideas raised by the war. He spends quite a lot of space describing the arguments raised by the writers of pamphlets from differing factions and the role of public opinion in determining the positions held by more prominent actors in the struggles. (The fact that the decreasing cost of printing made it more possible for more people to put their opinions out into the marketplace of ideas was one of the factors that made the kingdom harder to control.) Braddick also tries, with some success, to give an idea of what the war was like from the perspective of individual soldiers and the villages where much of the fighting took place.

God’s Fury, England’s Fire should not be, perhaps the first book to read about the English Civil War but it is indispensable in learning about the issues over which the combatants fought.