Thursday, December 24, 2020

It's Christmas Eve, babe

If any year justified being in the drunk tank, it's this one. But, as always, I hope you're not there, and instead in a happier place with better sleeping accommodations.

The advent of the vaccine and the departure of certain world leaders already adds a bit of promise to 2021. Here's to that, and to hope.


Happy Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The best news on Earth is not on Earth

This year has been one of the worst, and most bizarre, in decades. Certainly of my lifetime. Democracy is crumbling, fascism seems ascendant, climate change is causing catastrophes and of course there's the pandemic, which... well, we all know how bad that is.

Maybe that's why the news that leaked--and then gushed--out earlier this week felt so important. Signs of life on Venus! Right next door! Closer than Mars, even! The details of the announcement, that scientists had found in Venus' atmosphere phosphine, a gas that is only naturally produced by organisms, made it all the more exciting. They had worked hard to rule out other explanations, and made their observations at different times using different equipment. The most likely explanation for what they were seeing, they said, was life.

Venus. Not pictured: atmospheric microbes.

When methane was found on Mars a few years ago, it felt more interesting than exciting. Like phosphine, methane is unstable and most often is produced by living organisms. The amounts detected on Mars shouldn't exist unless it is being continually produced, or released from deep under the planet's surface. The methane still hasn't been explained (or biological origins ruled out) but I guess that caveat felt pretty big.

With the Venus news, the chances that it wasn't a sign of life seem much smaller. It would need to be an observation error, or the phosphine would have to be caused by some undiscovered natural process.

That's cool on its own. But what makes it even more moving, for lack of a better word, is what it says about the universe. Venus is inhospitable in every sense. Heat, pressure, corrosive substances. Like the song says, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Life on Venus, even microorganisms, sure seems to imply that it is likely to exist on some of the other billions of planets in just our galaxy.

Handy neighborhood map.

So while we're wallowing through 2020, it's nice to think that at least we might not be doing it alone.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy America Day!

This is probably the weirdest 4th of July in my lifetime, but even so... hard to beat the Muppets.

Here's to everything being better, and more normal, next year. But still with Muppets.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Things are weird

I've said this, in different ways, to many people in recent days. And it's true: this is an unprecedentedly bizarre time.

I'm watching most everything unfold from some distance, tucked away in Singapore, whose authoritarianism is problematic in every circumstance except, it seems, a viral pandemic. Things are mostly normal here! Very few masks, very few disruptions, very few cases of SARS-CoV-2. And that makes it even more bizarre to see everything unravel back home.

It's all so worrying. By now, enough scientists have studied the virus that they can confidently project its effects on the global population. There's nothing good about what they found. Doing nothing is catastrophic. Mitigation will still lead to great loss of life. Suppression will have wide-ranging societal and economic effects. No easy answers. You can read it here.

The fact that so much of the catastrophe is occurring in slow motion makes it all the more surreal. This isn't a meteor impact or a nuclear war. And, tragically, if governments--I'm looking at you, "it's a hoax" White House--had taken it seriously sooner (and not dismantled key elements of government that deal with situations like this) we might not be facing such stark choices. But here we are, facing stark choices.

In America, at least, the social safety net is made out of tissue paper. People who lose their jobs will fall back on almost nothing. They will have no access to free health care. That suffering was also avoidable.

Staying home, washing hands, not touching our faces--these things will all help limit the damage. If you aren't sick (with anything), please don't waste a mask that someone on the front lines could actually use. Be kind. Don't be racist. Don't say "I'm an American, I can do what I want." Definitely don't assume that because you're young, you're going to be fine. There are millions of people older than you with perfectly good lives who want to continue living them; walking around with an "I'm bulletproof" attitude will help get them killed.

Until there is a vaccine, this is just going to be how it is. Eventually the dust will settle. I don't think life will get back to normal, not in any real sense. But even though the other side of this looks far away, it will come.

See you there.