Archive for December 1, 2010
Much of the speculation has centered on this hidden meaning in this cryptic news release from NASA.
“NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”
As you might imagine, this has brought everyone out of the woodwork, from the sobersided astrophysicist types I tend to hang with all the way to the tinfoil-hat crazies.
Blogger Jason Kottke has channeled many of the crazies with a blog post entitled “Has NASA Discovered Extraterrestrial Life?” Way to drive traffic to your blog, Jason.
The answer appears to be “no”. Based on what I’m reading, the best guess seems to be that scientists will announce a new breakthrough in arsenic exobiology. Nitrogen, phosphorus and arsenic all share the same ability to trade electrons. (Pokemon-style electron trading is rampant amongst atoms and is the basis for chemical bonding.)
Nitrogen and carbon are the basis for proteins; phosphorus and carbon are the basis for nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) plus the “energy currency” of the cell, adenosine triphosphate or ATP. When the cell wants to store energy, it stores it in the bond between phosphate #2 and phosphate #3 of ATP (phosphate = phosphorus + four oxygens). When it needs energy, it breaks that bond and releases energy for use by other things. This works exactly like a currency in economics, smoothing the commerce within the cell by providing a common medium of exchange.
It’s possible they’ve discovered that arsenic can be used in the same way, and that there is even an example at hand (like Saturn’s moon Titan). Or, it could be they’re just discussing arsenic chemistry in an existing lifeform here on Earth.
Or, maybe Michael Stipe is right, and it’s the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.
Six o’clock — TV hour. Don’t get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn,
return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning,
blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle,
light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh,
this means no fear — cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament,
a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives
and I decline.
To understand why we have a major recount in the governor’s election this year, and why we had one two years ago in the Senate race, you have to understand something about Minnesota.
The state motto is “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but that’s a vast understatement. There are far more than ten thousand named bodies of water, though many of them are just large permanent puddles. The motto should be, however, “Land of Contrasts.”
We have harsh winters, and hot summers. In December and January, the temperature can often get to 20 below zero in the southern part of the state, and perhaps 50 below in the north. Near Minneapolis, our record low was –65. It wouldn’t surprise us to get four or five feet of snow. In summer, it is not unusual to spend several days over 100 degrees. We get fierce thunderstorms, sometimes with enormous tornadoes. Contrasts, and extremes, you see.
Some of the earliest European settlers here were Swedes and others of Viking descent. According to the Elder Edda, the Norse peoples held the world to be created out of ice and fire, and that certainly fits this land. The Norse were a practical people, because they had to be in order to survive. And so, Minnesotans are practical. We tend to do what works.
That doesn’t mean it’s middle-of-the-road. Rather, it means we often embrace extremes. Many is the time I’ve seen my kids go out the door wearing shorts and a parka. It’s not uncommon in the spring and fall to use the furnace at night and the air conditioner during the day.
This tendency to extremes extends to our politics as well. During the period from 2000 to 2002, we had one of the most conservative of the nation’s Senators (Rod Grams) as well as one of the most liberal (Paul Wellstone). Our Governor was a moderate independent (former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, from the Reform Party). Our state Senate was majority Republican, and the state House was majority Democrat. All at the same time. This is how we are.
My own legislative district, a heavily Jewish suburban area, elected the first Muslim to the United States Congress, now three-term Representative Keith Ellison—who was sworn into office, by the way, on a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. He’s a proud and outspoken member of the House Progressive Caucus. But Minnesota is also home to famous right-wing crazy lady Michele Bachmann.
Bob Dylan is from Minnesota, and so is Prince, and the closest thing modern America has to Mark Twain, humorist Garrison Keillor. Minnesota is home to Hiawatha and to Paul Bunyon, and to the only gas station archetected by Frank Lloyd Wright.
We have a long progressive tradition—not because of ideology, but because it works. Minnesota was home to Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale. We traditionally have high taxes, because we have to keep the roads clear of snow—and because we value education. For a long time, Minnesota ranked near the top in academic achievements scores and number of both high school and college graduates.
Despite high taxes – or. more likely, because of them—it’s a great place to live, full of museums and zoos and theaters and state parks, all the things that make life worth living. We have among the highest concentration of millionaires, and of Fortune 500 company headquarters. So much for the lie that high taxes drive businesses away. Wealthy people and big companies want to locate to places where their children will get a good education and they can visit well-tended and protected wilderness whenever they want.
We also have MinnesotaCare, a very successful state-run health care system for the poor. We have the Mayo Clinic. We are a world center for diabetes research.
Our current Governor is Tim Pawlenty, first elected in a squeaker of an election in 2002 when Jesse Ventura declined to seek a second term. Pawlenty was reëlected in 2006 in a three-way contest in which he got 46% of the vote. Minnesota has a history of centrist and moderate Republican governors (see: Arnie Carlson). Pawlenty seemed to be of the same mold; soft-spoken, polite, handsome, unthreatening. I met him once. He’s tall and gangly with hands the size of tennis rackets.
He promised not to raise taxes. He didn’t — though he did raise all of the regressive user fees and license fees he could think of. Minnesota’s infrastructure has decayed from lack of funding. Local levies and property taxes have skyrocketed. The once-beautiful state parks are now in woeful disrepair. MinnesotaCare is being dismantled. Academic test scores have plummeted. And on August 27, 2007, the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in the middle of downtown Minneapolis collapsed in the midst of rush hour, due to inadequate maintenance. Thirteen people died.
Pawlenty has decided to try to do to the country what he’s done to Minnesota. He declined to seek a third term as Governor, and has been running for President for the last two years, instead of governing. But from his record, we’re probably better off having his inattention.
So in this land of contrasts, we had a vacancy coming in the Governor’s mansion. The major candidates in 2010 were Republican Tom Emmer, a right-wing Tea Party type; Democrat Mark Dayton, a firebrand liberal millionaire, heir to the Dayton department story family fortune; and Tom Horner from the Independence Party, because a Minnesota Governor’s race would not be complete without a major third-party candidate.
This being a land of contrasts, it was, of course, a razor-thin election that requires a recount. The unofficial totals after the election gave Dayton 919,214 votes to Emmer’s 910,459, with 251,485 going to Horner, and four other minor-party candidates each getting between 4000 and 8000 votes. Dayton and Emmer were separated by less than one half of one percent of the total vote, triggering an automatic recount.
We’ll look at how that’s working out tomorrow.
- Recount Begins in Minnesota Governor Race (time.com)
- Minnesota Recount In Unresolved Governor’s Race Gets Underway (huffingtonpost.com)
- Here we go again: Another Minnesota recount (capitolhillblue.com)
- Minnesota Begins Recount in Disputed Gov Race (foxnews.com)
- Minnesota Election Tradition? Ready, Set, Recount (abcnews.go.com)