morning 06.29.16

37,000-year-old “Deep Skull” from Borneo is not related to indigenous Australians. It’s more closely related to the current indigenous people of Borneo. They acquired agriculture through culture several thousand years ago and were not replacing a people more closely related to the Australian at that time. Hm. Good to know. Two layer hypothesis of Southeast Asia is taking a hit.

Profile of Lee Berger in the New Yorker. I love his work, but he certainly raises the hackles of many people.

Ancient Mars Was Even More Earth-Like Than We Imagined. Curiosity rover finds high levels of manganese oxides at the Gale Crater. This means more free-floating oxygen was in atmosphere, or maybe… microbes. Opportunity rover discovered manganese oxides at the Pinnacle Island site thousands of miles away in 2014.

Laughing at wacky, corrupt Bill Jefferson with his bundles of cash in a freezer is good fun, but there’s something awfully odd about it. Library Chronicles points to a Times-Picayune piece on how the Supreme Court overturned the corruption conviction of Bob McConnell might signal hope for Jefferson. Why Mary Landrieu was not been charged like Jefferson (or Nagin) is bewildering. I hadn’t been thinking about Jefferson or Nagin, but of Terry McAuliffeBill de Blasio, Andrew CuomoDannel Malloy, and possibly in the near future, Hillary Clinton. The Supreme Court jumping to raising the bar on corruption cases for politicians (unanimously no less) while making two decisions this term that undermine the Fourth Amendment heightens awareness that the elite have a very different justice system from us plebes.

Media preview

morning 04.02.16

View From Space Hints at a New Viking Site in North America. This deserves its own post, but it’s a busy morning.

The site is on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, about 300 miles south of L’Anse aux Meadows, the first and so far only confirmed Viking settlement in North America, discovered in 1960.

Pynchon in Public. A podcast devoted to Thomas Pynchon!

Turkey moves to rebuild San Stefano Russian Monument in Istanbul. After the blowup at the Syrian border, Russia and Turkey are attempting to repair relationships by rebuilding monuments from their conflict during World War I. That seems… backwards.

Clinton aides unite on FBI legal strategy. All four Clinton aides in the State Department being interviewed by the FBI have hired the same lawyer (Beth Wilkinson) and each are paying a flat fee. Politico says that the aides must think there must not be much of a case, because they’re not in fear of one person turning on the others, which would made the lawyer’s job difficult. My theory is that they have a plan as to who is going to fall on his sword to protect Hillary. They are the firewall. This is all about coordination. All they have to do is protect Clinton, hope she is elected, and whoever is the fall guy gets the same treatment Scooter Libby received.

My hero: Flann O’Brien by John Banville.

NASA Satellite Images Uncover Underground Forest Fungi.

Rover reveals puzzling sand dunes on Mars. Some of this is only now catching up with the crazy speculation from orbiter photos from the late ’90s.

Possibly one of the last recorded interviews with Dan O’Bannon.

Anti-languages. The cants of the persecuted and criminal.

The Temple of Bel should not be rebuilt.

liquid water on Mars

To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the confirmation of liquid water on Mars. It’s been real to me over a decade at least. Yes, it was fringe sites that also regularly delivered breathless reports of alien temples but the photos of what seemed to be tracks of water seeping down crater walls have been circulating for long time. I played along, discarding my acceptance of water on Mars along with the deranged, silly things that used to delight me more. I’m happy about my bias being confirmed, but damn it… it took long enough.

Recurring Slope Lineae in Coprates Chasma

More soberly, here’s a great blog post explaining what the announcement means in terms of future exploration for Mars and it’s not exactly optimistic in terms of immediate discovery of Martian life. Future exploration will be even more cautious. She also makes the point that the briny water is likely not even the best place to find life, but in thin sheets of melted ice near the poles.

No one is expecting Barsoom anymore

Why Discovering Martians Could Be Disappointing. Nope. That title is wrong. It’s a nicely written article about the research dedicated to finding life on Mars, but in no way is any possibility of discovery of life on Mars going to be disappointing.

Even I had to give up on my beloved Martian banyan trees years ago, but non-terrestrial bacteria will still be world-shattering news.

White House Briefed On Potential For Mars Life

White House Briefed On Potential For Mars Life. Just ran across this link on Metafilter, and cannot believe that it’s not linked everywhere yet, as this story was published on the Aviation Weekly site yesterday it seems. News from Phoenix going straight to Bush’s ear has to be some interesting news.

To be honest, i’m one of those nuts who suspects that certain people have known about the potential of life on Mars since Viking, but they didn’t want to go out on a limb, as it would be too controversial as well as based off very little evidence. All of the scientists can line up to say that the Viking program never turned up anything, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a science fiction fantasist nursed on too many conspiracies, but here it is.

Hopefully more will come up in the coming days, not weeks. I’m also demanding more than a simple admission of discovering amino acids or hydrocarbons, as that news doesn’t seem to be something necessary to brief Bush on.

Yeah, yeah, i read the story:

Phoenix scientists have said from the start that neither the TEGA organic chemistry lab nor the MECA wet chemistry system could detect current or past life.

MECA’s two microscopes do, however, have the resolution to detect bacteria–which would be life. Sources, however, say the microscopes have not detected bacteria.

But i could understand these sources lying while they try to conform more, as careers are on the line.

update 08.03.08 from Twitter:

MarsPhoenix Reports claiming there was a White House briefing are also untrue and incorrect.


Martian manifest destiny

Warren follows up on his Mars post from yesterday. Good. Our best idea people for science in the 20th century seem to be fiction writers in retrospect. There are a lot of science blogs in my RSS feeds, but most of those are entirely hung up on identity issues with atheism. The breathless war championing atheism gets as tedious as listening to Wiccans explain that they are not Satanists. Rationalism is a handy tool, but as an avid fiction reader, i’m convinced that rationality is overrated.

To Mars…

I’m a little torn here. If there are supertough microbes on Mars (which i think is inevitable, based on nothing more than a hunch,) it pains me to wipe them out without understanding what they are. It’s not any kind of moral code honoring a xeno-species, although i do respect sentience. It’s that if these creatures exist, and have significant genetic differences, it’s going to be damned useful to know these sequences for future genetic engineering adventures. The transhumanism movement generally leaves me cold, but it seems only a matter of time before tinkering with the human genome to allow for better adaptation to varying environments.

In other words, terraforming Mars isn’t going to work completely. Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles “Green Morning” scenario doesn’t seem entirely feasible. Humans are going to have move part of the way by rewiring themselves, possibly by using techniques learned from extremophile organisms. Yeah, that sounds ridiculously naive. How are we supposed apply these particular adaptations of (Martian) microorganisms to macro-organisms? We might not. It could just be another dead end dreamed up by pulp sci fi and comics, but the idea probably came from agricultural engineering in the first place. It’s not so ridiculous.

Besides, planetscale terraforming would take many generations. Humanity is not going to be patient enough to wait around until it’s just like Earth. If there are Martian microbes, they will colonize the human flora, and we should help them do it, unless we want to die or wait possibly hundreds or even thousands of years.

(This is one of those time that i wish that i had the footnotes feature down. If there is life on Mars, it seems highly unlikely that it arose independently from Earth, and i’m still sympathetic to the notion that the seed of life arose from outside this solar system. Whatever turns up there is not going to be that alien. If there is going to be something truly exotic in this system, it’s Titan. Just full of the broad pronouncements lately, aren’t i?)

martian cults

Sometimes i wish that Warren Ellis would quit writing comics altogether, and just write columns about science and technology. The piece on Robert Zubrin, the feasibility of a manned expedition to Mars, and the cultlike nature of mission was more fun the whole of his run of Thunderbolts (and i like that one, for what it is.) It’s just that his unvarnished musings on science and technology unexpectedly stick with me longer.

Maybe that’s an option for the Mars Society now. Buy some frontier land and ritually smash effigies of the radiation-hardened robot lander currently clunking away at the Martian maidenhead.

Yeah, that’s more like it. It’s either that, or wonder if Norman Osborn has developed anal fissures from fighting the nanobots shackling him to the service of the Initiative.