Philae Back From the Dead

The comet lander Philae has awakened from a seven-month hibernation and managed to communicate with Earth for more than a minute, the European Space Agency (ESA) said Sunday.

The probe became the first spacecraft to land on a comet when it touched down on the icy surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November. Shortly after its historic landing, Philae managed to conduct several experiments and send data to Earth for about 60 hours before its batteries depleted and it was forced into hibernation.

The German Aerospace Center, which operates Philae, said that the probe resumed communication at 10:28 p.m. (2028 GMT; 4:28 p.m. EDT) on Saturday, sending about 300 packages of data to Earth via its mother ship Rosetta, which is orbiting the comet.

Go Home Robot, You’re Drunk

The Terminator Apocalypse might be a little further off than originally feared.

Some people (me) dread the day that we see the robots take over, given the great improvements in robotics in recent years.

However a video (below) produced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Spectrum magazine and re-cut by RT, suggests that maybe we don’t have too much to fear yet.

The video shows the robots malfunctioning (hilariously) during a dress rehearsal last Thursday ahead of the The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Robotics Challenge which was held over the weekend.

DARPA launched the Robotics Challenge in 2012 following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The aim was to spur the development of robots that can respond to natural and man-made disasters by entering areas that are too dangerous for humans.

I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle. Also a functioning sense of balance:

Turns Out There’s Glass on Mars

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An impact crater containing deposits of glass could hold clues for understanding life on Mars. Discovered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the glass is believed to be the byproduct of the intense heat generated by a violent impact.

Glass in and of itself isn’t necessarily indicative of life, however in 2014, researchers discovered evidence of organic plant life entombed in glass found in Argentina from millions of years ago. Researchers hope that the same could hold true for Mars: that glass deposits hold important biosignatures of ancient Martian life.

The researchers’ analysis suggests glass deposits are relatively common impact features on Mars. These areas could be targets for future exploration as our robotic scientific explorers pave the way on the journey to manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Conveniently, one of the glass-containing craters is located within close proximity to the Nili Fossae trough, which has already been identified as a possible landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission. The mission aims to collect soil and rock samples that could potentially be returned to Earth and analyzed and hopefully not unleash a hellish space-plague.

No One Likes a Quitter

Hey, did you catch Game of Thrones Sunday? Turns out that Sunday’s episode upset a bunch of people.

Why are people upset? Turns out about halfway through the episode (*spoilers* by the way), Jamie and Bronn finally catch up to Myrcella at the same time the Sand Snakes make their move to kidnap her and what should have been an awesome five-way fight scene turned out to be clunky and awkward and didn’t lead to much other than everyone involved getting captured.

They can’t all be winners I guess.

Oh, and at the end of the episode Ramsay Bolton marries Sansa Stark and is…let’s say “less than gentle” when it comes to consummating the union, all while castrated man-slave Reek is forced to watch. Shocking right? Who would have thought that Ramsay would be such a douche to his new wife?

Apparently it was shocking and upsetting to a lot of people. The ending of the episode is so controversial in fact that it’s got the Internet Outrage Machine churned up to full throttle. It’s gotten so out of hand that many have announced (via twitter of course because that’s where internet outrage lives) that they are “quitting” the show. Feminist site The Mary Sue has vowed to no longer cover Game of Thrones episodes following such an unprecedented and problematic scene.

Which in my mind begs the question: Has The Mary Sue even been covering Game of Thrones to begin with? I’m more than ready to call bullshit on the “twitter quitters” as mostly being outrage bandwagoners who don’t watch the show but can’t miss an opportunity to be morally indignant about something, but if The Mary Sue has really been regularly covering Game of Thrones episodes, shouldn’t they know better by now?

In all fairness, the final scene in Sunday’s episode was extremely disturbing and upsetting, it was meant to be. George R. R. Martin and the show runners have established Ramsay as a lunatic sadist since he first appeared and there was very little chance of that scene going down any other way. In fact, it closely mirrors a similar scene in the books, the main difference being that Sansa wasn’t the victim but rather a young woman posing as Arya Stark.

Additionally, while the “rape of Sansa” is again disturbing, it’s hardly the worst thing to happen in the show, even to a woman. Remember the Red Wedding? Where a pregnant Talisa is murdered via several stabs to the abdomen? Having read to books, I knew that the Red Wedding was coming but even I wasn’t ready for that. Or in Season Two (I think) when Tyrion hires a couple of prostitutes for Joffrey hoping that it would mellow him out a bit and how horribly pear-shaped that goes? Ramsay’s a bastard (in more than one sense) but he’s not even in Joffrey’s league when it comes to tormenting women.

Game of Thrones has decapitated characters, castrated them, and even featured far worse treatment of some of its female characters. So why was this too far? Is this really the worst thing the show has yet done, or is this just the internet outrage du jour for people who are on a hair trigger when it comes to being offended at anything that they find to be personally distasteful?

The Battle of Texas

It appears that the right wing in this country has become downright hostile to the one government institution they previously have defended with every fiber of their being: The military. This week, members of the conservative fringe have apparently convinced themselves that the army is holding a large training exercise in the American southwest in order to lay the groundwork for a federal government invasion of Texas:

“It’s the same thing that happened in Nazi Germany: You get the people used to the troops on the street, the appearance of uniformed troops and the militarization of the police,” Bastrop resident Bob Wells told the Statesman after the meeting. “They’re gathering intelligence. That’s what they’re doing. And they’re moving logistics in place for martial law. That’s my feeling. Now, I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. I hope I’m a ‘conspiracy theorist.’”

Yes Bob, you are a conspiracy theorist.

Here’s what the U.S. military says it is actually doing with this so-called exercise:

 Members of U.S. Army Special Operations Command will train with other U.S Armed Forces units July 15through Sept. 15 in a multi-state exercise called Jade Helm 15.

USASOC periodically conducts training exercises such as these to practice core special warfare tasks, which help protect the nation against foreign enemies. It is imperative that Special Operations Soldiers receive the best training, equipment and resources possible.

While multi-state training exercises such as these are not unique to the military, the size and scope of Jade Helm sets this one apart. To stay ahead of the environmental challenges faced overseas, Jade Helm will take place across seven states. However, Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) will only train in five states: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The diverse terrain in these states replicates areas Special Operations Soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas.

The training exercise will be conducted on private and public land with the permission of the private landowners, and from state and local authorities. In essence, all exercise activity will be taking place on pre-coordinated public and private lands.

The public can expect nothing much different from their day-to-day activities since much of exercise will be conducted in remote areas. The most noticeable effect the exercise may have on the local communities is an increase in vehicle and military air traffic and its associated noise.

For some reason, right wingers read that and came away with the idea that these Special Forces personnel were secretly infiltrating their towns, schools and businesses across the region. Take this frightened citizen’s reaction:

The idea that training among small towns in the USA is supposed to provide “realism” for operating in Afghanistan or Iraq is utterly absurd. For one thing, small towns in America don’t have teams of local rebels setting up roadside IEDs to destroy humvees and their occupants. Special Forces operatives are more likely to encounter people hurrying their way to Starbucks than trying to run any sort of armed resistance actions. No, military training on the streets of America isn’t “realistic” training for fighting wars overseas. It’s only “realistic” for military action that takes place on the streets of America itself.

Others, like this gentleman from the ironically named “Common Sense Show,” have become convinced that this is far more insidious even than practice for the day the U.S. military institutes martial law throughout Texas:

In recent days, I have learned that the reason that we are seeing Jade Helm activity in so many areas and we are also witnessing the prepositioning of massive military equipment, is because Jade Helm forces will isolate certain geographic areas, thus trapping a segment of the population and keep them from fleeing to other areas. The second part of Phase III of the Jade Helm operation will be the insertion of Special Forces death squads among the civilian population which will target key dissident leaders.

Yes, they believe the U.S. military is inserting Special Forces Death Squads among the civilian population of the southwest in order to assassinate American citizens. And who might those “dissent leaders” be? Good, God-fearing Patriots, that’s who:

“Patriot groups across the country are preparing to launch a ‘Counter Jade Helm’ operation to keep tabs on a controversial U.S. military exercise that some fear is part of preparations to train troops for civil unrest and martial law”. Among those protesting the Jade Helm 15 drills are former Special Operations forces as well as many veterans groups. Along these lines, I am beginning to receive invitations to speak about Jade Helm to various groups including the Oath Keepers.

This person links to Alex Jones’s conspiracy website InfoWars, which (as usual) seems to be the primary source for all of this “inside information” about the Jade Helm exercise. He also cites the Oath Keepers, who are very agitated about this “infiltration” as well. Oath Keepers are former and current members of the military who take an oath to disobey orders which violate the constitution.

Who decides what the constitution actually says in these matters is apparently left up to Alex Jones and the Duck Dynasty guys.

The last time we heard from the Oath Keepers, they were “supporting” the National Guard and the police in Ferguson by stationing themselves on top of buildings armed to the teeth with the intention of “protecting the businesses.” You may recall that in one of the odder side stories from that period, one of the Ferguson police commanders was revealed to have given a speech before an Oath Keepers meeting in which he said, among other shocking things:

“Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill won’t even talk to me — they say ‘You’re an extremist.’ I say amen. OK. And I’m real good with a rifle. My best shot is at 1,875 meters. I got me a gold star on that one. That’s a fact. You run from me you will die tired. I’m dead serious, folks.”

Oath Keepers didn’t claim him as a member, although his speech seemed to be very well received.

As much as I would love to see a bunch or redneck weekend warriors actually got toe-to-toe with U.S. special forces, all of this can probably be chalked up to the usual conspiracy-minded fringe nonsense. The best they could really hope for would be a Bundy-style standoff, which seems unlikely since the military claims they have standing agreements in place to use private and public lands for their simulations. Still, considering that there are ongoing disputes about what constitutes ‘public’ and ‘private’ land, it’s not totally beyond the realm of possibility. The government assassinating members of patriot groups with Special Forces death squads probably is however.

Unfortunately, this is not confined to the farthest corner of the conspiratorial fever swamps. Yesterday, the AP reported this amazing development:

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday asked the State Guard to monitor a U.S. military training exercise dubbed “Jade Helm 15″ amid Internet-fueled suspicions that the war simulation is really a hostile military takeover…

“It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote. “By monitoring the Operation on a continual basis, the State Guard will facilitate communications between my office and the commanders of the Operation to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect Texans.”

There are many legitimate reasons to criticize the U.S. Government, the military and even the policies of assassinating U.S. citizens (which has happened, of course, but abroad). But this is pretty ridiculous. There have been many, many exercises carried out on U.S. soil by the military. Where else are they supposed to train? And just because the simulation map calls Texas “hostile” for the purpose of the exercise doesn’t mean the military is really considering Texans to be enemies of the state. It’s only a war game, people.

In his 2009 book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, David Neiwert traced the origins of much of contemporary right wing discourse back to the far right fringe. It’s now made it fully into the mainstream. The Governor of one of the 50 states ordered his national guard forces to “monitor” the U.S. Military to insure they are not planning to invade Texas and turn it into Nazi Germany. This is, by the way, the same U.S. Military which already has 15 bases in the state of Texas.