Friday, February 10, 2006

Meanwhile, on Mars...

The twin Mars rovers are still at it. The Spirit rover's just arrived at a weird area dubbed "Home Plate", which looks very different from the usual (and rather boring, to my untrained eyes) Gusev Crater terrain. Sounds like nobody yet has a clear idea of what caused all these layered rocks, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here's the latest Mars Express image release, showing some funky tectonic pits and other features. Unlike their NASA counterparts, ESA researchers don't release a lot of images to the public, so any image release is a moderate-to-big occasion. ESA's still new at the whole PR game, I guess.

Meanwhile, on Earth, researchers studying a Martian meteorite have again put forth the idea there might once have been microscopic life on Mars. Something to do with veins of carbon-rich material in the meteorite. At least one of the team members was involved with the famous and still-disputed 1996 report about a different Martian meteorite. Another team member once headed the ill-fated Beagle2 project. So I don't know what to think about this. I don't really like the idea that the whole rationale for exploring Mars stands or falls solely on whether the planet ever had any microbes. People are always claiming another crucial piece of evidence for a discovery that, it's intimated, is just around the corner. And 20 years from now it'll probably still be just around the corner, and people will still be finding "crucial" bits of evidence. Do that long enough, and Congress (and the public) will start to think they're just funding a big con game. I mean, keep it on the list of things you'd like to investigate, but reserve the top couple of spots on the list for things you know actually exist, like, say, the solar system's biggest volcanoes, for example. The public loves volcanoes. Look at all the traffic the Mt. St. Helens webcam gets.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on Earth, fresh off getting fired from NASA, that slimeball George Deutsch is whining about how he's the real victim of the Big Bang Memo debacle:

"What you do have is hearsay coming from a handful of people who have clear partisan ties and they are really coming after me as a Bush appointee," he told radio station WTAW.

"I was an easy target. I was low-hanging fruit."

Un-freaking-believable, but not at all surprising. If you needed any more evidence that the guy's a total partisan apparatchik, here it is. It all boils down to partisan politics for him. In his mind, he was martyred by the hordes of commie Bush-haters, purely because of his unlimited devotion to the Glorious Leader. The notion that global warming or the Big Bang might be objectively true has never occurred to him, not even once. In today's conservative mind, it seems, there are no objective truths, just political wedge issues, just ways to scare up contributions or pander to the base. And I doubt he's the only party hack warming a cubicle at NASA HQ. In the event they ever do find unequivocal evidence of life on Mars, or anywhere else, we'll probably never hear a single word about it, since life on other planets isn't mentioned in the Bible.

Sadly, all this public wallowing in self-pity will likely turn out to be a fabulous career move for Deutschie. There's an unlimited market out there for conservative/fundie types who spin the "liberal persecution" angle and generally wallow in self-pity day after day, week after week, year after year. By now, he's probably got a seven-figure job offer from every think tank in DC. He's set for life. He'll never have to spend another minute outside the Beltway ever again, unless maybe Fox News makes him their new science editor (with extra emphasis on editor). That would be an important job in the Fox universe, since it mostly involves offering constant uninformed speculation about a variety of lurid missing-white-female-of-reproductive-age crime stories. He's already got experience at this, believe it or not, and for all we know he still thinks the Laci Peterson case was the doing of a shadowy Satanic cult.

There's an easy way NASA could've avoided this whole debacle. All they needed to do was pull Deutschie aside and tell him the President himself had given him an important, and very secret, mission. His new job: Go out and search for the edge of the flat earth, and contact HQ immediately the moment it's located. That would've kept the guy quietly occupied for the next few years. Instead, now they've gone and made him a fundie superstar.

In cheerier news, a researcher for Mars, Inc., has presented new evidence that chocolate can help prevent cancer and heart disease. As if really we needed another excuse. Seems the good Dr. Hollenberg is presenting the results at a scientific gathering known as the Cocoa Symposium. Now I know for an absolute fact that I'm wasting my life, and I picked the wrong career. Here I am, grinding out C++ code, when I could be studying chocolate instead. Of course, the symposium's put on by the National Academy of Sciences, a federally-funded institution, so it's anybody's guess what the results will look like once they've run the Deutschie-clone gauntlet. After all, chocolate tastes good and is therefore extremely sinful. I suppose these days all federally-funded researchers will be forced to say faith healing is the only real cure for any disease or ailment. Performed by a famous TV evangelist in front of a live studio audience, if at all possible.

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