Monday, August 6, 2012

Killer Kulture

Mars, Bitches!

It was the strangest mash up yesterday, with most of my day taken up in following the Oak Creek Temple Massacre on line and then in the evening staying up late to watch the latest Mars landing, also online. Olympics gymnastics was on the teevee, but I really haven't watched the Olympics since the opening ceremony, and then only to be struck dumb by the... erm... spectacle(?).

[As as side note, once I learned of the modern Olympics' pretty overtly fascist operations and highly corrupt underpinning, if you will, I began to see the Games more as a mean joke than as a serious competition;  as a rule, I don't see more than a few minutes of a few events, especially since the Games have been on NBC, whose coverage is another mean joke. But I digress.]

Both the Massacre and the Mars Landing were highly evocative of past events, the Landing going back to the very long ago, the Massacre evocative of much more recent events.

I was struck by how antiquated the NASA/JPL procedures were as the Curiosity Mission neared Mars. My doG, they were still using 3 ring binders to read off their sequences, despite the fact that they had the latest computer equipment right in front of them. They were watching the plots of the landing on large screens at the sides of the room, just as they would have done at Houston Mission Control decades ago, and there were rows and rows of Curiosity Mission Control terminals at which rows and rows of Mission Control personnel scanned monitors for data and announced their satisfaction therewith as the Mission Scientist called on them one by one. Their voices were distorted the way space mission voices have been distorted by space mission radio gear for decades. At one point, the Mission Scientist's radio gear failed, the way that such gear seems to fail fairly often at Mission Control, and a colleague handed over his own equipment so that the Mission Scientist could communicate with the rest of the room.

The Curiosity Mission team was a highly individualistic bunch, though, and I would say the "star" of the room -- who never said a word publicly -- was a Latin looking dude with a fancy multi-colored roach haircut with stars shaven spray painted into the side of his head. He didn't say anything and he didn't really seem to have anything to do but nod his head, grin and look decorative. And why not? It's Mars!

Mohawk Guy is an Internet SuperStar:


Damb, we're easily amused!

I found I was just as caught up in the Landing as I'd been when Mercury capsules were returning to Earth; and it was a real thrill when the announcement came that the Curiosity craft was on the surface of Mars. Even more of a thrill was the first image from the surface, a thumbnail that had been enormously enlarged so that it was almost impossible to make out what it showed. It didn't matter; it was a picture from the surface, broadcast of millions of miles, after a landing that had taken place moments before, and it was from Mars.


And all of it was so evocative of so much space exploration since I was a child. Seriously, nothing has changed. It is the same operating theory and practice now as it was 50 years ago and more. The same procedures, the same hierarchies, the same look, the same sound.

Striking too is the fact that there hasn't been a mission to Mars that could actually look for the "markers" of biology -- not for life itself, of course -- since 1976, when the Viking Landers returned ambiguous data that were officially interpreted as indicating a sterile lifeless surface, without any carbon or carbon compounds at all (not even from meteorites) and literally lethal to living organisms due to deadly ultraviolet light and a surface saturated with peroxides and other substances and compounds which would kill anything and everything on contact.

I've made Mars something of a hobby for many years, even set up a website (which still exists though many of the links no longer work) beginning in 1997 or so to explore some of the controversies and disputes concerning what was really what on Mars. I was an active participant in a few space science boards, and through them became acquainted with quite a number of planetary scientists and interested laymen. Through sometimes heated discussions on those boards, I learned a great deal about what was not known or poorly understood about Mars, and especially how heavily images and information released to the public had been manipulated for many years to further certain standard and accepted theories rather than provide the means to explore and debate.

I learned that it was more than marginally likely that the Vikings had indeed "discovered life on Mars" but that there were political reasons both within the government and within NASA's planetary science community to obscure the data and deny the "discovery" -- if it was a discovery.

I made a "discovery" myself based on Mars Orbital Camera images taken near the south pole -- evidence and images of active geysers. And wouldn't you know, the evidence I produced was fiercely denied, and my interpretation was denounced as "an optical illusion."
My cropped and colorized image of Martian geysers near the South Pole c. 1999
Later, surprisingly -- or not -- the question of geysers at the south pole of Mars became something of a serious study, and surprisingly enough -- or not -- the presence of active geysers at certain seasons of the Mars year was widely accepted within the planetary science community, mechanisms enabling geysering were explained, and essentially everything but the visual evidence I provided has become standard and essentially uncontroversial. There had been scientific speculation about active geysering on Mars for years, but interestingly, the trigger for the acceptance of the notion was Gregg Orme's "Mars Spiders" investigations, the "spiders" being frequently encountered surface features that were otherwise inexplicable.

I also made stabs at discovering currently active glaciers on the surface, some of which have since been confirmed.

I stepped back from more active exploration of the Mars surface data when it became clear to me after the Pathfinder, Opportunity, and Spirit Missions, that the long-time focus on the question of whether there was or ever had been flowing water on Mars was barking up the wrong tree. Whether or not there had ever been "water" on the surface -- which obviously there was both as ice and flowing water -- the far more common liquid at the surface had been and perhaps still is sulfuric acid.

Liquid water and liquid sulfuric acid are chemically similar (H2O vs H2SO4) and -- depending on what you are looking for and how you look -- they may be indistinguishable, but the one can imply the presence of biology while the other will almost certainly imply the absence of biology (at least on Earth.)

When it occurred to me that quite possibly sulfuric acid had been the primary surface liquid throughout the history of Mars, a whole lot of otherwise difficult to understand evidence seemed to make sense.

Sulfuric acid has a much lower freezing temperature than water, and it doesn't require the atmospheric pressure water does in order to remain liquid over time. Under current conditions, in other words, sulfuric acid could remain liquid and flow over much of the Martian surface (assuming it was available at the surface) whereas pure water could not do so for more than a very brief period before freezing or evaporating. But flowing sulfuric acid would have the effect of sterilizing the surface just as surely as any of the hypothesized oxides, peroxides and superoxides that were once alleged to have combined with hyper-ultraviolet flux to sterilize the surface.

The key to understanding presence of biology or the absence of biology on Mars (which would be even more peculiar if there had been a water regime) lay in acceptance of the idea that "water" as we understand it -- whether solid, liquid or gas -- may never have been abundant at the surface of Mars during any period of the planet's history and continued focus on finding such evidence may be a wild goose chase if sulfuric acid was the key surface volatile throughout Mars's history.

There is evidence of at least some water at some time periods -- including now -- on Mars, and that water could have harbored biology, but if it ever did, it seems to me that any potential biology would have been killed if there was contact between water at or below the surface and the abundant sulfuric acid. Mars, therefore, is potentially self-sterilizing, a Killer Planet, but not necessarily the way planetary scientists have long hypothesized.

Needless to say, the appropriate tests to find out are not being done, any more than tests to confirm the presence or absence of the long-hypothesized sterilizing super-oxides have ever been done. (Actually, there's no experimental evidence on Mars that they exist at all.)

Meanwhile, in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, an All-American Killer went on a rampage at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, apparently taking out the prominent men of the religious community before apparently being killed himself by police. I say "apparently" because these All-American massacres and slaughters have a way of turning out to be not quite what they are initially reported to be, and especially the killers themselves aren't quite what they were initially made out to be.

I haven't checked news on either Mars or the Massacre this morning so I'm not sure how either story has developed; I'm recording mostly what I saw/heard yesterday.

There were initial reports of up to four shooters in Wisconsin which police assure us was probably really only the one, seen from different angles. According to later reports, the shooter was some sort of skinhead white supremacist who may have been seeking revenge for 9/11, but at the time, there was no way to even begin to confirm such a thing. However, the authorities quickly classified the attack as an act of "domestic terrorism" -- something they have been highly reluctant to do in the case of white men shooting up people and places or making terrorist threats to blow up this or that monument or facility.

Until recently, at any rate, "terrorism" in the popular mind and among our National Security authorities was almost entirely confined to Muslims and brown people. Only since the advent of the Occupy activities which have involved all kinds of anarchists have white men been rounded up and accused of "terrorism."

This may be the first time that a "skinhead" or "white supremacist" has been designated a "terrorist." But since he was apparently killed in a gun battle with police, he will not be subject to ... interrogation. We may never know the truth about him.

Unfortunately, the threats to and murder of Sikhs in revenge for 9/11 (which they had nothing to do with) has been fairly common in this country for years. In fact, I think one of the first revenge killings after 9/11 was of a Sikh walking on the street. There have been quite a few more since then, but nothing on the scale of the massacre yesterday.

But the myth-makers were busy yesterday assuring us that there had never been any threats to the Sikh community in Wisconsin, which is just silly. Yes, there have been threats. It's a fact of life for Sikhs in the United States, whether in Wisconsin or anywhere else. The myth of no threats against Sikhs is bogus.

Some Sikhs in America do not wear turbans or beards because of the ignorance of too many Americans regarding the origin and nature of Sikhism, and the fact that Sikhs had nothing to do with 9/11 or any other terrorist attack on Americans. (In India it's a different story, but we'll leave that aside for now.)

This is the second All-American Massacre in America's Heartland in a little over less than a month. Let's hope we're not on yet another cycle of copy-cat massacres, but we may be. American Exceptionalism, eh?

It's simply been a fact that people with the itch to kill in our culture find their impetus more easily available when someone else does it "first."

For a time, I wondered if the All-American Massacre was a result of Manchurianizing or otherwise "triggering" particularly vulnerable individuals to kill, whether or not they were actively recruited or trained. I don't think we can ever know. But G2Geek's exploration of "Stochastic" terrorism is worth some additional contemplation. His hypothesis is basically that the American culture itself provides the triggers for these periodic mass killings, that there is something very deep seated in our collective sub-consciousness that almost requires it.

And when you think about all the mass murders and massacres that have been features, not bugs, of  Euro-American culture from the beginning, starting almost at the moment Europeans first set foot in this New World and continuing relentlessly ever since,  then there may truly be no way out of this Killer Kulture box we're in.

Gun nuts of course reject any controls on their acquisition and use of personal weaponry, which is just absurd. But they may be right that controlling firearms access might not have any effect on the tendency of some Americans to engage in massacre. It may not be due the guns or their availability that enables the routine massacre of Americans by other Americans. It may be the culture itself, going back to the very beginnings of what we now call "America."

Something so deep seated and so out of whack will take more than a superficial approach to change.


Now to check the news.

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