Daily Archives: 09/05/2005

Gasoline Hits New High – Again

So, gasoline is hitting the $3.00 a gallon mark this long weekend. Regular is now $2.96 around the island, with all premium grades and diesel fuel well above the $3.00 mark. The time has come to start riding the bus. I’ll give it a go tomorrow and see what happens. If I can make the commute in a reasonable amount of time, that will become my new method of transportation. I certainly don’t expect gasoline prices to fall anytime soon – if ever again. The disaster along the Gulf Coast will send ripples throughout the global oil supply.

Speaking of transportation, I ate lunch down at Jeff’s this afternoon. I had a hankering for that Greek salad they make, it’s the best thing on their menu. Sharing the restaurant with me was none other than Senator Bob Klitzkie. I was going to approach him while he was enjoying a drink and ask him about his vendetta against me and my automobile, but I decided to let it pass. But when it came time to leave the Pirates Cove, the good senator was also departing. I thought it best to just sit in my car quietly a few minutes and let him get well ahead of me. Safety first, especially in the driving rain.

Intelligent Donation?

While I think this story from the Onion pillories intelligent design nicely, it is distressing to discover that numerous high profile foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, both known for their support of science and education programs, are supporting the Discovery Institute, the think tank that promotes intelligent design and packages creationism as a legitimate science for our nation’s schools. Both foundations stress their donations are strictly for a project analyzing transportation solutions in the Pacific Northwest at the Discovery Institute and not for the promulgation of intelligent design.

You know, the Nazis came up with the autobahn and Volkswagen, both admirable transportation solutions. I wonder if the Gates Foundation would’ve thrown Hitler a few million back 1930’s?

Now granted the Discovery Institute is not about to start gassing Jews and Poles, but the support of these respected institutions lends credibility to the Discovery Institute, their obscurantist agenda, and the pseudo-science they champion. There is a strong tradition of anti-intellectualism in this country, whether it is expressed in conservative Christianity’s right wing politics or namby-pamby New Age crystal rubbers. They are both the enemy of science and rational thought, preferring instead easy, simplified answers to the complexity of nature and the universe.

Much has been made about this ‘war on science‘ in our cultural landscape. It continually amazes me that people refuse to believe in the basic tenets of science, expressing distrust and unease about scientists and how they are going to be the downfall of humanity, yet happily consume plasma tv’s, cellphones, antibiotics and modern medicine. I look around at religion and all I see is millenia of war and suffering, murder and oppression in the name of various gods – violence done is contradiciton to the very beliefs and commandments of religion. In four hundred years science has managed to raise humanity far above the quagmire of disease and violence that centuries of religion imposed on our species. Science isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t claim to be. But science is honest and willing to undergo deep changes in theories of reality – if the evidence supports such a change. This capacity for self discovery and renewal is something that religion, by it’s very nature, will never possess.

Given a choice between religion and science, I choose science.

Glitch Forces Mars Probe Offline

Corby Waste/NASATaking a break from New Orleans coverage, it looks like NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, the oldest satellite probe currently in orbit over the red planet, is having difficulties with the onboard computers. Both the primary and backup computers have gone offline and switched to safe mode, turning off all science instruments and cameras aboard the spacecraft. NASA hopes to reboot the computers and get the probe back online in time to image the suspected crash site of 1999’s Mars Polar Lander mission.

The Polar Lander lost contact with NASA during the final touchdown near the southern polar ice cap in January 1999, and subsequent imaging from orbit left tantalizing clues to the crash: disturbed terrain and a possible sighting of the lander’s parachute. A new imaging technique for the Global surveyor can increase the satellite’s image resolution from 1.5m per pixel to only 50cm per pixel, so scientists are eager to image the crash site at this high resolution for possible clues. The crash site is located close to the Martian south pole and is about to plunge into polar night for the next two years, so time is of essence in ironing out the computer glitches.

Why the rush? There is another polar lander under construction by NASA which is planned to launch in 2007. This new mission will use the same software and hardware as the doomed probe, so NASA is keen to see if any design tweaks need to be made before the probe launches. Hopefully the aging satellite can be resurrected before September 10, when the crash site dips into the polar night for two years.