Saturday, December 20, 2008

NASA Finds Carbonate, But Not Funds

NASA found water on Mars with the MIA carbonate minerals giving way to being able to land somebody there for the rest of their lives to colonize the planet in the future. NASA has some skin in the game as a President Obama is going to decide the mission and the money to go into the programs that shape the space race. Right now the president-elect is heavily focused on earthbound scientists who are bit more aghast at Global Warming and the damage incurred by the Neanderthals that were in charge that denied it all. Meanwhile, the head of NASA and his seven degrees got into a snotty spat with the ex-NASA scientist, current head geek of the Obama transition team about the Constellation project and its funding because its way over budget with an end schedule like the number π. Endeavour went up, came down, knowing in about a year nobody from the US is going into space without thumbing a wild ride on Mr. Putin's Russian rockets.

Now its the 3,600,000,000 year old acidic belief system on trial. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter by virtue of the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) beamed back evidence that some spots like the crater Isidis are less acidic and life gain a green toehold. The images are under review as the carbonates would have dissolved or dissapated long ago and not shown up for their Orbiter DeMille-like closeups. What it really means is a tiny step closer to rationalizing a fantastically expensive but scientifically prolific trip to Mars. Manned or unmanned just makes the stakes that much higher because they need a really powerful rocket... Out of the endless loop, comes proof that the mineral is there giving hope that missions even past Mars are possible.
"Carbonate, like the baking soda in your refrigerator, dissolves quickly when exposed to acid," said study leader and Brown University professor Bethany Ehlmann yesterday at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
"So the fact that … carbonate is still present means that the waters flowing through [Nili Fossae] must not have been acid" and could therefore have been conducive to life.

Bacteria and microbes on a meteorite that plopped down to Earth help the hypothesis that life could exist on the red planet. Right now its just a theory that is gaining a foothold as more discoveries are made. The Phoenix Lander and the Energizer twin Mars Rovers have paid for themselves a hundred times over with their discoveries. With each new discovery and scoops full of analyzed dirt more questions arise out of the oxidized red dust. But NASA's next rover that could settle the life (bacteria/microbe) on Mars question, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, is experiencing a two year delay from 2009 to 2011 due to design challenges. That's a big money fix in the works. Spirit and opportunity have taken full effect of the solar panels to beam back photographic evidence. (Photo Opportunity on Mars 2004 NASA)

Now where ever will the financing come from in a totally broke USA to fund the next Rover, Lander, Pathfinder steps? I am sure President Obama will get a group of science money people to find money on Earth to support life on Mars. An international coalition, oh yeah, the International Space -Hotel- Station needs some new bunk beds too. Russia, we'd like to book room for a party of six... Obama is going to find a spare billion somewhere in the name of science and carbonates on Mars.

Passion for Mars: Intrepid Explorers of the Red Planet enlists the imaginations of famous planet watchers to envision what it would be like or take to live there. NASA has finite resources and Mars aficionados are planning to keep the red planet at the top of the list someway, somehow. My guess, some sort of gravitational knowledge pull with a black hole that sucks in the naysayers. Andrew Chaikin writes a biography of the current and future of the red planet that will fire the imagination rockets into our own Habitable Zone in space.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Eat A Camel or Kangaroo to Save Planet

Australians first received patriotic pleas to eat kangaroos. Based on a three year study, the next request is more urgent, the wild and proliferating camels are destroying the desert ecosystem. Eat them. It is part of the new age million camel herd control plan urged by the government. To ensure the example starts at the top, civil servants in Canberra are putting a camel on the "barbie" for their annual BBQ. Water, already an issue is a commodity that is being consumed by the animals that are now reaching out of control numbers. Same could be said for humans too - but we already know which will consume which and blame the other in the name of preservation. What a way to get over the hump.
But as they increased in numbers, they also increased greenhouse gasses and helped turn some environments into deserts, destroying plants and animals.

According to the Northern Territory natural resources department, Australia's feral camel population is doubling every nine years.

Says department spokesperson Glenn Edwards: "Because camels are cautious animals and beautifully camouflaged, and because these areas are sparsely settled, most people are simply unaware of the sheer numbers of these introduced pests – or of the extent of the damage they are causing." (Camel Herd Photo: Hans Boessem)
More than a century ago in the name of progress and needing animals better suited to the dry conditions, the great camel pack "horse" arrived for immigrants to make their way to the Australian interior hauling their survival necessities. Transportation methods drastically improved making the camel no longer required. They were set free and Voila!, a veritable camel population explosion ensued. Now, Australians in charge of policy are tying novel culinary methods to change the balance of environmental power and justice.

While Territory Camel sends some meat interstate and overseas, most is eaten in and around Alice Springs.
Camel dishes include a camel, kangaroo and crocodile pizza served at the King's Canyon Resort, and the traditional Middle Eastern "baked camel", in which carp are stuffed into turkeys, which are stuffed into a sheep, which is stuffed into a camel, which is wrapped in banana leaves and baked in coals for two days.

Monir Samad, owner of Afghan Village restaurant in Camberwell, has never eaten camel — watching them being slaughtered outside his house when he was a child was enough to put him off — but said he would certainly serve camel meat in his restaurant if it became readily available.
I am not sure about the image of being replete after eating a marsupial versus consuming filet of camel hump, but it appears to be of no concern to many. On the other hand, eating the animals to control their numbers has been part of the human condition since walking upright. Meat eating is a known accelerant to global warming so there is an "upside" to partaking. These are the latest to be put on the list as causes of methane gas that heat the earth, especially in drought stricken Australia.

One of the great food books that talks about where the food originates to the time it hits the taste buds is from author Michael Pollan. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals puts it all in perspective. Carnivores have ruled the earth for eons, now find out what greens and vegetables have been hiding along with all the processed food available at every price point. Eye opening, but not exactly mouth watering.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Obama National Security Council

Since 1947 amidst Harry S Truman's presidency, the National Security Council (NSC) was born out of the military and intelligence interagency disorganization post WWII. In 1949, the NSC became the sole province of the president. By law, the National Security Act, this creature exclusive to the White House the NSC remains unmonitored by Congress and operates as a president chooses in matters pertaining to national security and foreign policy with some mandated participation. A National Security Adviser (NSA) is appointed by the president. The role oversees portfolios of regional or specific interest depending on the president's choice and mitigates between major cabinet officers (principals) and ideas that may have jurisdictional overlap. The real power is the Deputies meetings or the surrogates sent by the main principals to get into the fine detail in the conference rooms allocated off the White House's semi-secret Sit Room.

A six foot five inch four star combat tested former marine commandant, Jim Jones, is the President Obama selection. The President-Elect has authorized Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, Greg Craig as Counsel to the president and Lawrence Summers in his capacity as Assistant to the President fon Economic Policy to participate in the 2009 United States National Security Council. In spite of being part of Bush's war council, Robert gates remains atop the military industrial complex as the SecDef and a top spot on the NSC battling Clinton among others for resources and policy supremacy. General Jones is the lead arbitrator before it gets to the president's desk.

Sometimes the president is forced to "redo" his NSC in the middle of a term. Why? Because they have usually committed a terrible wrong that leaves the nation and the world aghast. Not likely one might say in Obama world -snicker. In sixty years, NOT one president escaped unscathed from not watching the NSC more closely. The bet is when, not if, Obama gets into trouble with his. History beckons and Obama's name will either be in smaller font or writ large depending on
what the issue is he wrangles with and gambles on the wrong person. That's when he's going to need all the political friends he made because he will build up a reservoir of Goodwill. He is smart like that.

In the White House there are 5,000 square feet of first rate technology including cell sensors in the cieling and the best military minds dedicated to crisis management and day to day intelligence activities. CNN's show The Situation Room is named after this collection of rooms inside the White House. The Sit Room is where the president discusses domestic emergencies, planning for pending military action or response to a global crisis. Those familiar with Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing TV show will immediately recognize the room. It was beautifully rehabbed during George W. Bush's 2nd term in 2007 with wainscoting lower on sliding padded walls to receive better transmission of secure communications than the prior mahogany covered walls did during the Clinton administration. Three secure conference rooms, plastic phone booths for calls and direct communication with Air Force One increase the Sit Room complex's functionality and capabilities. There are over 33 LCD monitors and 32 hookups that allow multiple simultaneous conference call capability. All that fancy hardware is needed to manage the threats and the fast growing cyber security incursions.

The NSC has a collection of people considered principals. Getting on the permanent principals list is at the sole discretion of the president. One ofthe layers below the principals is made up of their second in commands or in DC parlance, Deputy blah blah Undersecretary of the Molehill region.Usually, the presidents are the Main Man, Vice president, Secretary of Defense,Secretary of State, Director of National Intelligence or the CIA Director, and the National Security Adviser who chairs the meeting and directs traffic. Condoleeza Rice was George Bush's 1st term NSA and she was awful. Regan's second term guy who waded in and cleaned up the Iran Contra mess, was Colin Powell. Whoever gets that chair in an Obama Administration needs to be the consummate professional that cannot be pushed around by the big guns on the NSC.

Richard Clarke, the upstanding hard edged intel NSC guy sets the scene here:
On the ground level of the West Wing of the White House, a dozen men and women trickle into the wood-paneled Situation Room. They balance thick briefing books and cups of hot coffee from the White House Mess next door. The meeting's chairman, a member of the National Security Council staff, brings to order this gathering of the Counterterrorism Security Group, the committee that coordinates U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Behind and above his chair is the seal of the president of the United States.

"All right, let's get going," the NSC man intones. "President Obama wants a high-level
game plan for counterterrorism efforts in 2009. First, we need the intelligence picture." The NSC staffer turns to the woman sitting to his left, who works in the National Counterterrorism Center.

"Well, as we said in the recent National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism, we had a break for a while after we smashed the al-Qaida sanctuary in Afghanistan after 9/11," she begins. "But now al-Qaida has reconstituted itself in the Pakistani tribal areas, right along the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani army tries every once in a while to rein them in, but essentially, they're just too weak to gain control of the Wild West border areas. Al-Qaida is busy training terrorists up there, including Europeans and Asians, people who could slip into the United States without arousing suspicion. And al-Qaida is also developing another sanctuary in Somalia, where their local allies have been taking over Somali cities. It's not a soothing picture. We could see al-Qaida attacks in 2009 on the Arabian Peninsula, in Europe, even here at home. But of course, we have no actionable intelligence pointing to a specific plot."
Back to the trouble president's get in. Nobody likes telling a president no. Harry Truman Korea, Dwight Eisenhower is the best to date that pulled together an NSC that was stellar, but a certain pilot was shot down while spying over Russia and trainers were parachuted into Indochina in a former French colony. There was the NSC's fingerprints all over the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Kissinger & Pol Pot among others, China, Iran Contra, WHIG or Bush's White House Iraq Group an off shoot of the NSC that set up to market the war. Time will tell whether the error will be a combination of haste and sloppiness or a personal hubris on the part of his team or horrible circumstance that will bring the NSC to the public's attention in an Obama administration.

The only expert to write a book with scholarly dimensions but wickedly funny asides on the NSA came in a truly fascinating 2006 book from David Rothkopf. Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power traces the NSA from gestation to now with a look at the internecine connections amongst those who serve the public good (usually) inside the NSA.

This part of The Transition Series to the presidency of Barack Obama.
(please not the posts at the link above are stored by date)