Congratulations to the Standing Rock Sioux!

I see this morning that the Army Corps of Engineers has decided to seek another path for the controversial pipeline through North Dakota. This is a victory for the thousands of people who’ve been actively resisting the construction of that pipeline.



I don’t know much about the engineering or property details of the pipeline. I don’t know much about how many jobs, or how much lower the price of gasoline would be if the pipeline were built. I don’t know how badly the pipeline would have jeopardized local water supplies. Those are all important considerations. What I do know is that the people who live there didn’t want it, and in a democracy that ought to matter. For once, it has.

Yesterday’s decision isn’t the last word. the Army Corps is just saying it needs to look for alternative routes for the pipeline. It may eventually say the controversial route is the only one. This may just be a ploy to get the protesters to disperse so the ‘dozers can roll. But at least for today, the folks at Standing Rock can catch a breath.



Explain This to Me, Please!

There is a solar-powered scooter with a camera trundling around on the surface of Mars. It is called “Curiosity” and since August of 2012 it has been taking pictures and sending them back to Earth. The most recent batch of pictures are “stunning” or “glorious” if you ask USAToday or Fox News. I would not say such things if I were them. The surface of Mars, as the picture clearly shows, is dismal, dry and forbidding:



[Source: Universe Today]

A few days ago, several sources, including Universe Today, reported that Curiosity is getting close to an RSL. Recurring slope lineae are dark streaks on the surface of Mars that are periodically observed by telescope and are thought to be a possible source of water, or as the more scientific sources have it, “liquid water.”

These recurring slope lineae are narrow, dark markings on steep slopes that appear and incrementally lengthen during warm seasons on low-albedo surfaces. The lineae fade in cooler seasons and recur over multiple Mars years. Recurring slope lineae were initially reported to appear and lengthen at mid-latitudes in the late southern spring and summer and are more common on equator-facing slopes where and when the peak surface temperatures are higher.

None of that proves there is water on Mars, though perhaps there is. Either way, NASA has resolved to re-route Curiosity to keep it away. There may be Earth bacteria on the rover, and they don’t want to contaminate the as yet unseen Martian flora and fauna.

Now, I hasten to say that taking measures to protect water, air and earth is a noble thing. I approve of NASA’s decision and I think it speaks well of humans that they act responsibly toward this distant planet. What I DON”T understand, is why humans don’t take better care of our own planet.

[Source: The Nature Conservancy]

I’ll take planet Earth any day.

Spend a few moments browsing with this New York Times interactive water quality dataset. You can choose a state from the drop-down menu, and then zoom in to your home community to see if there are any polluters near you. (I should note that the dataset is a few years old and evidently has not been kept up to date.) After studying it a while, I AM sure that it is a joke of one sort or another. I looked at Indiana and learned that the fourth worst polluter (judging on number of violations) is  . . . . wait for it . . . a catholic convent! The #1 polluter in Indiana is the small town municipal water system of Austin. Most of the large industrial enterprises across the state either are missing or are association with zero violations.

Better information on water quality is found at the US Geological Survey. The problems aren’t limited to Flint, Michigan. And water quality isn’t the only issue. Recently 14 members of the Standing Rock Sioux were arrested for trying to keep a pipeline off their land. Now, I’m aware that the pipeline would bring fuel to US consumers. I’m aware there are already lots of pipelines and that they are pretty safe. I understand  that wild animals scared by the pipeline are free to run wild in the other direction. I’m aware of all the reasons in favor of the pipelines. But if the land belongs to the Standing Rock Nation, the pipeline it should not be forced on them. (A federal judge decided earlier today to deny the Sioux’ request.)

Anyway, my question here is a simple one. How is it even possible that mankind looks to outer space with such fascination and hope, and yet so many people act with such disdain toward what is quite obviously the jewel of the Universe?