Monthly Archives: August 2014

Life Discovered In Space?

Maybe, maybe not.

There have been seeming credible reports on the Internet that sea plankton has been found on the windows of the International Space Station, plankton that wasn't there at takeoff.

So say some Russians.  But not the official ones:

“Results of the experiment are absolutely unique. We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface. This should be studied further,” chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission Vladimir Solovyev told Russia’s state-ownedITAR-TASS news agency.

The Russian report also seems to infer that the plankton finding and other previous surveys indicate such organisms can survive and even grow outside the space station, despite having to contend with being blasted by radiation from the sun and lacking the basic life support system found in Earth.

“Results of the scope of scientific experiments which had been conducted for a quite long time were summed up in the previous year, confirming that some organisms can live on the surface of the International Space Station (ISS) for years amid factors of a space flight, such as zero gravity, temperature conditions and hard cosmic radiation. Several surveys proved that these organisms can even develop.”

But all this seems to be news to NASA.

“As far as we’re concerned, we haven’t heard any official reports from our Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) colleagues that they’ve found sea plankton,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot told Space.com. “What they’re actually looking for is residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts. That’s what they were taking samples for. I don’t know where all the sea plankton talk is coming from.”

NASA scientists report that it’s possible the reported sea plankton could be a contaminant that hitched a ride from Earth when the space station modules were launched. Previous research has also found that certain tiny species — known as extremophiles — can survive in space and other harsh environments. Just today, new research is being published in the journal Nature that documents the discovery of microbes living beneath a half mile of Antarctic ice without any access to sun or wind.

If the cosmonauts truly did discover sea plankton hanging out in space, it could have interesting new implications for how we view life’s compatibility with the rugged environment that is space; or it might just mean that plankton is a lot tougher than previously expected.

So… maybe yes maybe no, but pretty amazing if yes.

Very happy with the Emmys so far. Yay, Sarah Silverman!

Thank you Tropical Storm #Christobal for deciding to veer north and not ruin my beach week. #beachweek

DC weekend begins! #dcweekend

Officer Go-Fuck-Yourself

I swear.  These must be the dumbest cops alive.  I mean, don't they realize the complaint against them is that they are too quick on the draw?  That they are failures as cops by drawing high-powered guns on unarmed civilians?

Yet, this cop goes right ahead and does it.  In front of cameras.  And then he points his gun at the cameramen!  

 

Fortunately he was suspended for this:

A suburban St. Louis police officer who threatened to kill media members as he pointed his high-powered rifle at a group of people filming Tuesday night’s protests in Ferguson, Mo., has been suspended after video of the incident went viral Wednesday.

The unidentified St. Ann, Mo. police officer, who told one man his name was “go f— yourself,” has been “relieved of duty and suspended indefinitely” for his “inappropriate” actions, the St. Louis County Police Department said in a statement to Mashable.

In the minute-long video clip, the portly, bald police officer is seen pointing his semi-automatic assault rifle at crowds of people walking along a Ferguson street just before midnight Tuesday.

RIP Don Pardo

He was on my short list dead pool, but not my competitive list.

But I remember him well from Season 1 of Saturday Night Live.  Hard to believe he announced that show every year except one.  Even after he retired to Arizona in 2006, he still did the SNL intro.  Amazing.

Brown Shot Six Times

… and it looks like the fatal shots were the last two, which hit him on the top of the head.  Apparently, while falling forward.  NOT at close range.

The New York Times has the details.

Meanwhile last night… another night of clashes.  Although law enforcement is better (the Missouri State Police are not provoking lawlessness like the St. Louis County Police), we still see the remnants of the earlier bad law enforcement.  The people don't feel like the police are there to protect and serve them.

Yeah. One of them more than the other.

Live-tweeting Michael Brown’s Killing

Kid was watching and tweeting….

Let it load… start at bottom

 

Michael Brown Implicated In Cigar Robbery

This morning, police identified Darren Wilson as the cop who fatally shot Michael Brown.

They also released surveillance photos showing Michael Brown shoplifting some cigars and man-handling the store owner.  This all took place hours before the shooting.

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I'm not sure this changes the issue (although I know for many bigots, this is all they need).

Brown was an unarmed black man who shoplifted.  If the eyewitness accounts are true, he was shot while disengaged from a police officer, with his hands up.

UPDATE:  Aaaand we learn that police officer, Darren Wilson, wasn't even aware of the robbery when he confronted and killed Brown.

Suicide – Brave Or Cowardly?

A person from my past had issues.  She was diagnosed with Bipolar I, which they don't diagnose unless you have psychotic episodes, which she claimed to have had.  I never witnessed any (I don't think); in fact, what I witnessed mostly was the depressive side of her bipolarity, which included a suicide attempt or two.

In that depressive state, we would often talk about her situation (sometimes, it seemed like that was all we talked about), and she would occasionally talk matter-of-factly about killing herself, listing the people who would be "better off" if she wasn't alive (including her daughter).  Her rationale made no sense, but… that's the nature of the being bipolar: the perceptions of a bipolar person are usually wrong, even when (especially when) they feel so so right to the bipolar person.  When you are bipolar, you can't trust how you feel.  Which must be very difficult.

One of arguments she liked to make was that committing suicide was a very brave thing to do.  I didn't take a contrary position, although I know what she was responding to — that old chestnut you often hear that people who commit suicide are "cowardly".  They are afraid to face their difficulties, the myth goes, so they do the "cowardly" thing by ending it all.  My ex's point was just the opposite: it takes chutzpah, gonads, bravery to end it all.

i am reminded of those conversations now that question had been raised again in the public conscience, in light of the recent and tragic Robin Williams suicide.  Was Robin Williams cowardly for "checking out"?  

My answer is the same as always.  Of course he wasn't cowardly.  But I wouldn't agree to call him brave.  Not everything that happens falls on that scale.  He was sick.  His depression had control over him.  He couldn't help it.  So the answer is "neither" and the debate itself is silly.

The same goes for the question of whether suicide is "selfish".  Yes, of course suicide is selfish, but not in the perjorative sense that we usually mean when we say "selfish". After all, depression is selfish — is there ever a time when a person is more self-indulgent and self-involved than when he or she is depressed?  So of COURSE a person attempting suicide is selfish — he/she is in pain.  Just as much pain as if shot with a bullet.  

But all you can say is that they were "selfish", then you are missing the larger point.  What MADE them selfish?  It's NOT a character flaw, but more likely (and certainly in the case of Robin Williams), a mental illness known as depression or bipolar disorder or something along those lines.  The selfishness is incidental to the illness.  Calling them selfish, even if it happens to be true, only serves to malign and stigmatize those with a mental disorder.  It's turning a sickness into a callous act of blaming the victim.

Why do that?

*facepalm* The worst PD in the country. shar.es/1njuAH

Oh, like that’s ONLY going to happen in the L.A. production. ift.tt/1qaAp1g

No Question. The Ferguson Police Are Thugs

I've withheld writing about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.  For those distracted by other news stories, Michael Brown was to start college this week. Instead, his parents are planning his funeral. On August 9th, Mr Brown was shot several times and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, a suburb near St Louis, Missouri. The police say the black 18-year-old attacked the officer and tried to grab his gun. A friend who was with Mr Brown says that on the contrary, he was unarmed and had his hands up in the air.

I've withheld writing about it because for the same reason I withheld writing (for a while) about Treyvon Martin: we just don't know enough facts.  Right now, we still don't know much.  The FBI is investigating the Ferguson shooting, and the Justice Department is looking into the possibility that Mr Brown’s civil rights were violated.  Those are good things.

Another eyewitness stepped forward yesterday — Tiffany Mitchell (age 27) — and I found her retelling of the account to be credible and consistent.

 

According to her, Brown was shot in cold blood, while his hands were raised.

Still, we can't be sure.

But the eyewitness accounts aren't the only thing we can look at.  We can get a sense of the truth by looking at the context.  And if the past few days are any indication, it seems that the Ferguson MO police department has a tendency to Rambo up unnecessarily.  This picture fromj the Times tells it all:

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Yesterday, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was reportedly arrested along with Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post for failing to exit a McDonalds. According to Lowery's Twitter account, the two were "assaulted and arrested" because "officers decided we weren't leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them." No charges were filed.

There are also accounts and video of the Ferguson police dispensing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at a peaceful (albeit angry) protest.  Pointing high-power military rifles at peaceful protesters.  Deliberate targeting of journalists with tear gas.

 

What's going on?

Well, part of the problem is bad training.  This is a small town police department, not skilled in dealing with situations like this.  

Secondly, the police department has toys, and they are itching to use them.  Since 1996, "the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program." Then the equipment was intended to help fight the war on drugs. With that much firepower in the hands of local police, it was only a matter of time before they began to be used in such obscene excess against Americans.

Ex police chief Joseph McNamara addressed this dynamic in this op-ed:

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on "officer safety" and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York's highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today. Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy and we owe support to those who protect us. On the other hand, this isn't Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort.

"If you build it, they will use it".

If the Ferguson Police department's defense is that its officers showed restraint where Michael Brown is concerned, they have just blown that argument to bits.  These guys have no restraint in them, as last night showed.  

As the New Yorker correspondent wrote this morning:

What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind of municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.

Now Ms Becall. Another great figure. Literally. RIP. ift.tt/1Acd1aZ

RIP Robin Williams

The mental illness of depression claims another.  The irony of someone so gifted in humor could be felled by depression.  This is how I'll remember him:

 

As for the nature of his death, let me borrow the thoughts of another blogger on what suicide isn't

But I felt compelled to write this article because like any mental illness-related accident or death, there by the grace of God go I. And it’s not only in poor taste to deride a man who by all accounts, was going though severe depression at the time of his death, it’s also just plain wrong. Suicide isn’t “giving up” or “giving in.” Suicide is a terrible decision made by someone whose pain is so great that they can no longer hold it, and feel they have no other option in life but to end it. It’s a decision you can’t take back, and a decision that will affect your friends and family forever. It is not taken lightly.

Losing a person to suicide may feel like a waste. And I think it’s fair to react to it that way, especially in the first hard days of grief. For someone looking in, it does seem like a waste—especially in the case of Williams, who was a brilliantly funny man and a talented actor. But imagine, if you will, feeling so desperate, so desolate, so incredibly sad and hurt that you honestly cannot see a way out. The feelings leading to suicide are the darkest a human mind can fathom. It’s like being shut into a dark tunnel with no point of light to guide your way. You can hear voices on the outside, but the walls are too thick to get in. And feeling like it’s closing in, like there’s no way out—well, suicide, for that person, is a blessed release. Life, however, is never wasted. Williams did things in his life that touched people to their core. It is a sad, sad loss, but it is not a waste.

Suicide is not a weak decision. It is a decision that takes an incredible amount of strength to make, actually. Someone isn’t weak if they end their life. They are desperate. There is a difference. It’s okay to feel angry at the person for dying. It’s okay to question, to rail against the forces that caused this. But it isn’t weakness. Mental illness isn’t weakness. It’s a disease, a pervasive, sometimes awful disease. The person doesn’t deserve anger and skepticism forever. They deserve compassion. Their family deserves compassion.

Ending a life is incredibly, incredibly tragic. It represents a lost battle with mental illness. In that, it is no different than cancer, or diabetes, or a heart attack. Where it is different is that suicide is a choice. Whether it is the right or wrong choice for that person is solely the business of that person who commits suicide. But for the family left behind, it is devastating.

Don’t rail against Robin Williams, or anyone else, for committing suicide (if indeed, that is the cause of his death). Instead, reach out. Let people know you’re there for them. Find a crisis line in your area to call if you are feeling desperate and like you want to do something you can’t take back. Support the family and friends left behind in the best way you can. Let the people you love know that you love them and that you are thinking about them. Let them know that they are not alone.

Robin Williams taught me innumerable things about how to reach out to people and bring out the best in them. Through his characters, he taught me to seize the day, to make them laugh, to find everyone’s sense of humour, to be a friend. I will miss his work and his bright light in the world. I am so sorry that he felt like there was no other option. I send my love and my compassion to his family.

What You Get At Palin’s $10-Per-Month Subscription Website

Seriously, this is what you get.  I guess she's a comedian now.  I guess.

 

“We believe”? Wait, I thought fast food joints, hurh. Don’t you guys think that they’re like of the Devil or somethin’ I was… Liberals, you want to send those evil employees who would dare work at a fast food joint then ya just don’t believe in, thought you wanted to, I dunno, send them to Purgatory or somethin’ so they all go VEGAN and, uh, wages and picket lines I dunno they’re not often discussed in Purgatory, are they? I dunno why are you even worried about fast food wages because …

Is she drunk?

Got to come down against the editorial and Mary Haglund (although, I’ll still eat there because, while I disagre… ift.tt/1sm0Kw6