Archive for November, 2018

Thanksgiving

November 22, 2018

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

Well, anyway, the whole mythology surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday,with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north then they had intended,at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so on December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had  brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England.The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be anything very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). 

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

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Cloud City on Venus

November 13, 2018

With a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead, Venus would not seem to be a candidate for manned exploration, but NASA seems to think otherwise, if this article in the Daily Mail is any indication.

Popular science fiction of the early 20th century depicted Venus as some kind of wonderland of pleasantly warm temperatures, forests, swamps and even dinosaurs.

In 1950, the Hayden Planetarium at the American Natural History Museum were soliciting reservations for the first space tourism mission, well before the modern era of Blue Origins, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

All you had to do was supply your address and tick the box for your preferred destination, which included Venus.

Today, Venus is unlikely to be a dream destination for aspiring space tourists.

As revealed by numerous missions in the last few decades, rather than being a paradise, the planet is a hellish world of infernal temperatures, a corrosive toxic atmosphere and crushing pressures at the surface.

Despite this, NASA is currently working on a conceptual manned mission to Venus, named the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept – (HAVOC).

But how is such a mission even possible? Temperatures on the planet’s surface (about 460°C) are in fact hotter than Mercury, even though Venus is roughly double the distance from the sun.

This is higher than the melting point of many metals including bismuth and lead, which may even fall as ‘snow’ onto the higher mountain peaks.

The surface is a barren rocky landscape consisting of vast plains of basaltic rock dotted with volcanic features, and several continent-scale mountainous regions.

It is also geologically young, having undergone catastrophic resurfacing events.

Such extreme events are caused by the build up of heat below the surface, eventually causing it to melt, release heat and re-solidify.

Certainly a scary prospect for any visitors.

Luckily, the idea behind NASA’s new mission is not to land people on the inhospitable surface, but to use the dense atmosphere as a base for exploration.

No actual date for a HAVOC type mission has been publicly announced yet.

This mission is a long term plan and will rely on small test missions to be successful first.

Such a mission is actually possible, right now, with current technology. The plan is to use airships which can stay aloft in the upper atmosphere for extended periods of time.

As surprising as it may seem, the upper atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like location in the solar system.

Between altitudes of 50km and 60km, the pressure and temperature can be compared to regions of the Earth’s lower atmosphere.

The atmospheric pressure in the Venusian atmosphere at 55 km is about half that of the pressure at sea level on Earth.

In fact you would be fine without a pressure suit, as this is roughly equivalent to the air pressure you would encounter at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Nor would you need to insulate yourself as the temperature here ranges between 20°C and 30°C.

The atmosphere above this altitude is also dense enough to protect astronauts from ionising radiation from space.

 

HAVOC

 

The greatest disappointment of this space age in which we have learned so much about the planets is that not only is there no life on the other planets but they are all so hostile to life that manned exploration and colonization is going to be much more difficult than the science fiction writers of an earlier age could have imagines. Venus is not the swampy world with dinosaurs they imagined, but a literal inferno. Mars is not the home of an ancient civilization that may be planning to conquer Earth to rejuvenate their dying planet but a small, cold world with a very thin atmosphere. Even other solar systems do not offer much hope. Hot Jupiters seem to be the rule rather than the exception. It is safe to say that the Earth wouldn’t exist it there were a Jupiter in Mercury’s orbit. Nice Earthlike planets seem to be rather rare, though Earth sized planets are not easy to detect.

Well, if it were easy, it wouldn’t worth doing and the fact that colonizing the other planets is more difficult than we might have thought only adds to the glory once we have done it. We really need to establish humanity on other planets. It is never a good idea to carry all one’s eggs in one basket. The sooner we can spread ourselves far and wide across the universe, the better the chances of the long term survival of the species.

I think we ought to take the idea of a floating base for exploration a couple of steps further. Why not floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus? I can imagine a time in which there will be thousands or even millions of people living and working among the clouds of Venus. Perhaps they will be working on terraforming Venus, lowering the planet’s temperature and altering its atmosphere to something breathable. Maybe someday Venus really will be a tropical paradise. In the meantime, living in the clouds will do.

Future Venus colony

 

Personally, though, I’d rather live on Mars.

Midterms 2018: The Results

November 11, 2018

Well, it might have been worse, but it might have been a good deal better. The Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives, as expected, but the Republicans managed to not only maintain their majority in the Senate and even gain a few seats. It seems that neither party really won this contest. Both sides gained a little and lost a little. It could have been worse for the Republicans.

The Democrats gained 34 Congressional seats for certain making the new partisan balance in the House 227 seats held by the Democrats against 200 seats held by the Republicans. there are several elections too close to call just yet, but will probably go to the Democrats just as soon as they “discover” enough uncounted ballot boxes. In the Senate, the Republicans perhaps gained three seat, expanding their majority from 51-47 to 54-44, although their are three elections too close to call and subject to the recounts which somehow always favor the Democratic candidates. It seems that they hardly even bothering to hide their election fraud anymore.

What does this divided government mean for the next two years? I would guess that not very much is going to get done legislatively. Anything passed by one House is likely to be rejected by the other and in this polarized political environment, there is no sign that the Democrats in the House of Representatives are going to be willing to work with the Republicans in the Senate and and like likely to be even less cooperative with President Trump. We are likely to see one investigation after another Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russians and anything else the Democrats can think of to paralyse the government and to delegitimize Trump. I don’t think the Democrats will try to impeach Trump. They might have if they had won the Senate but there is no chance a Republican controlled Senate would convict Trump. Their lunatic base will expect impeachment and it will be interesting to see how the Democratic leadership will explain the absence of any impeachment attempt.

Given that the Senate is going to forestall any attempt by the Democrats in the House to advance some of their more extreme left-wing policies, we can expect more complaints about the undemocratic nature of the Senate, how unfair it is that Rhode Island or Wyoming has exactly as many Senators as California. Every time they lose, the left wants to change the rules. Somehow they are never concerned about how undemocratic the system is when an unelected judge makes rulings that have the effect of laws or overturns the results of a referendum.

Congressional elections weren’t the only elections this year. There were also 36 gubernatorial elections. The Democrats picked up from 7-9 new governorships this year, depending on how two undecided elections are resolved, changing the balance from 33 Republican governors and 16 Democrats to 27-25 Republicans and 23-25 Democrats. The Republicans had more governorships to defend this year.

Of the 99 state legislatures (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.) the Republicans held a total of 67 chambers to the Democrats 32 chambers going into the midterms. The Democrats gained control of just seven chambers making the new balance 62-37. The Democrats still have not recovered from the disastrous Obama years in which they were devastated at the state level. Control of the state is more important than most people think. Even in this age of an overactive federal government, a good many of the laws we live under are created at the state level. Also, in many cases, the state legislatures are responsible for determining Congressional districts, or, gerrymandering. The party that controls the state legislatures has a better chance of controlling the House of Representatives.The state legislatures are also where the parties recruit candidates for higher offices. The Democratic losses over the last decade haven’t helped their chances in gaining those higher offices.

So, all in all, the results of the 2018 midterm elections were mixed. The Democrats made some gains, but not as many as they ought to have. They probably would have done better if not for their turn towards left-wing extremism and tolerance of uncivil and even violent behavior. I hope they will learn their lesson and try to behave more responsibly, but they probably won’t.

Midterms 2018

November 6, 2018

This is it. The 2018 midterm elections are today. Today the voters decide which party will have control of Congress for the next two years. At stake, President Trump’s agenda. If the Democrats manage to get a majority in both houses of Congress, Trump’s agenda will be stalled and his administration subjected to endless investigations, and possibly an attempt at impeachment. A democratic victory will be interpreted by the mainstream media as a rejection of Trump and his policies. A Republican victory will be a vindication of Trump and his policies, though I would hardly expect the mainstream media to acknowledge that.

Historically, the opposition party makes gains during the midterms, sometimes very large gains. In 1994, the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 10 seats in the Senate, giving the Republicans a Congressional majority for the first time in forty years. In 2010 the Republicans won 64 seats in the House and five in the Senate. This doesn’t always happen, though. In 1998, the Democrats gained a few seats even though the Democrat., Bill Clinton was president. This was undoubtedly due to the Republican attempt to impeach Clinton that year. In 2002, the Republicans gained seats due to the aftermath of 9/11.

So, what is going to happen today? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. For whatever it is worth,here are my predictions. It doesn’t look like there is going to be a massive blue wave that is going to sweep the Republicans out of power. It seems likely that the Republicans will maintain their majority in the Senate and may possibly gain a seat or two. The House is less certain. It really could go either way. I think that the Democrats will gain seats in the House, perhaps enough to get a majority. If they do get a majority it will be by the thinnest of margins. We will see how accurate I am. Keep in mind, that I, like nearly everyone else, thought Hilary Clinton would be the president today.

If there is no blue wave, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. They should be confident of a massive victory right now. They had all the advantages going into this election and all they had to do was to be a responsible opposition party and craft a platform that would appeal to the moderates and independents. They could have highlighted Trump’s personality flaws while promoting Trumpian policies on immigration, trade and the economy. Instead, the Democrats decided to go right off the deep end. They decided to cater to their most extreme left wing base and adopt socialist ideas anathema to most Americans in flyover country. They loudly proclaimed the ridiculous meme  Trump was a Hitler clone and we were all in danger of an imminent Fascist dictatorship, while ignoring the simple fact that most Americans are better off than they were two years ago. They have made it clear that they care more about the interests of illegal aliens than American citizens and they have taken the side of millionaire athletes who disrespect the flag. Where Trump says, “Make America Great Again”, they say, “America was never great”.

The Democrats have become the party of the mob, of antifa, of rioting. They have encouraged violence and incivility against their opponents and have tried to censor speech they do not like. Worst of all, they have become the party of the busybodies, the scolds who want to tell the rest of us what size Big Gulps we are allowed to drink, what words we are allowed to use, and generally how we ought to live our lives because we are just ignorant deplorables. Is it any wonder that they are struggling when they should be coasting to victory? Is it at all surprising that groups that have traditionally been strongly democratic are starting to walkaway and exit the Democratic party?

I hope the Republicans win these midterm elections, not just for partisan reasons, but because the Democrats need to be punished for their recent excesses. They need to undergo a period of introspection to understand how and why they have managed to alienate millions of Americans. I don’t think they will, though.  If they do poorly, they will blame it all in Russian collusion or assert the system is rigged and undemocratic, and the old standby, the voters are racists.

 

Brett Kavanaugh and the Witches

November 1, 2018

The next time someone tries to tell me that the Democrats are the Party of Science while Republicans are science-denying, knuckle-dragging, flat earthers, I am just going to show them this article from The Independent.

Witches placed a hex on US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during a protest ritual in New York.

The spell, which was livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday, was also targeted at “all rapists and the patriarchy which emboldens, rewards and protects them”.

Organisers at the Catland occult bookshop in Brooklyn said the hex was as “an act of resistance and resilience” following the controversy over allegations of sexual assault against Mr Kavanaugh.

“He will be the focal point, but by no means the only target, so bring your rage and and all of the axes you’ve got to grind,” the bookshop told its followers.

Directions on how to cast a “stripped-down” version of the spell at home, were also provided on Facebook.

The ingredients included graveyard dirt, coffin nails, a black candle, a broken mirror, and revenge oil.

“Obtain a photo of your enemy,” read the instructions. ”Mark it according to your purposes and write out your curses on it. Dress it with the oil.

“Place the ingredients in the jar and then fill it halfway with water from a thunderstorm, war water, toilet water or vinegar and the rest of the way with your urine. Once finished, seal the jar tightly with the lid.

“Carve the candle with your target’s name, dress it with the oil and then roll it in the graveyard dirt. Melt the bottom of the candle and affix it to the lid of the jar.

The ritual should be repeated every Saturday after nightfall “to exact your curse upon your target”, it is claimed.

It follows three previous rituals to place hexes on Donald Trump last year. Half of the proceeds of the event are to be donated to charity and a second hex is planned for 3 November.

“The harm we want to inflict on Kavanaugh and Trump is that they be exposed and shown for what they are and ousted or at least discredited,” Dakota Bracciale, co-owner of Catland Books, told The Independent.

“On the practical aspect, yes there is spell casting and we are going to curse him and hex him and wish him bad things.

“But on a more important level, this is a coming together of people who recognise this as an important moment in our country.”

Witchcraft in the twenty-first century, really? Where is Cotton Mather when we need him?

Where’s my eye of Newt? How can I put a curse on Kavanaugh without my eye of Newt?

Now, most people reading about this nonsense are probably inclined to smile at the foolishness of witches casting hexes on public figures, but I would take this business more seriously. I do not believe in the efficacy of magic spells and I assume the reader, who is reasonably well-educated does not either. That is not the point. These women do believe that magic works and fully intend to harm their target by supernatural means. I am not sure there is any real difference between trying to harm someone through magic spells or by more conventional methods and I have to wonder if any of these witches would consider physically attacking their target when their witchcraft proves to be ineffective.

I also have to wonder about the effect carrying all that rage has on the spellcaster’s mental state. It cannot be psychologically healthy to have such a strong desire to harm another person. These are probably not mentally healthy people. We don’t prosecute people for witchcraft anymore, but maybe the appropriate authorities should be keeping an eye on these witches.


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