Tag Archives: tunisia

Scientists set out to study Earth’s most forbidding – and Mars-like – locations

If we want to find life on Mars it might help to study the most forbidding places on Earth. And it turns out there are four places so inhospitable – too cold, dry, hot or salty – that match the conditions on Mars. A team of scientists visited these sites to see if life can survive.

The four places are:

  • Chott-el Jerid, a salt pan in Tunisia
  • Atacama desert in Chile
  • Rio Tinto in Southern Spain
  • Deception Island in Antarctica
Deception Island in Antarctica. (source: Astrobiology)

 

From AstroBiology:

“The big questions are: what is life, how can we define it and what are the requirements for supporting life? To understand the results we receive back from missions like Curiosity, we need to have detailed knowledge of similar environments on Earth. In the field campaigns, we have studied ecosystems…found a range of complex chemical processes that allow life to survive in unexpected places.”

The results are helping to guide NASA’s mission to Mars with the rover Curiosity. Hinting at places where life might be found, how cloud cover can help create moisture, and showing that bacteria can survive just below the surface.

More about this research and the results from each site – from AstroBiology Magazine - Mars-Like Places on Earth Provide Insight to Life.

10 years after 9/11, have we changed?

It’s been 10 years since 9/11.

Amid the celebrations and acts of unity, I want to reflect on how the world has changed. More specifically how we have changed, and will that prevent another attack from happening.

What really caused 9/11?

There are so many explanations, if I miss one please tell me, but here are the ones I look to: oil, the Middle East, our military but more specifically our geo-political strategy, and our security around the world.

Oil

U.S. oil consumption has remained steady since 2000 when it was 19.7 million barrels of oil/day. In recent years a slight dip has occurred maybe due to the recession or due to structural changes (improved car MPG), and is now at 19.2.

Which is very good news. Not only have we handled our economic and population growth without increasing our demand, we have even reduced it. Economist call this “demand destruction”, one of my favorite terms.

It is quite possible that we have turned the corner on fossil fuels (or reached “peak oil”). If so, one of the main sources of terrorist funding, recruiting, and anger may be fading away.

 

The Middle East

Then we can look to the Middle East, where all 19 hijackers were from. The vast majority of them (15) were from Saudi Arabia, which backs up the oil topic. The remaining ones were from Lebanon, Egypt, and two from the UAE.

It’s great that we took down the Taliban in Afghanistan, even though it is not in the Middle East (South-Central Asia). They were bad and needed to go. Their replacement is not perfect but a whole lot better, with room to grow, unlike the Taliban.

The Arab Spring changes everything, though.

Before the uprisings, there were no democracies in the Middle East (only 26 in the rest of the world). Many of the new governments are on track to change that, but remember that even in our own past, the road is rocky and violent.

The good news is that three evil, violent, and obnoxious dictators are out of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Eight other countries had major uprisings and six more had minor ones, with multiple reforms across the board.

All in all, it looks to be a general improvement.

Military Presence

The cult of Al-Qaeda was formed due to one very important factor, one that Osama exploited to no end. We have our military in several countries.

From our point-of-view this is a rational geo-political strategy to protect our interests. In the early days, we also protected the people from dictators and warlords.

Then at some point we started supporting more corrupted leaders than reformers. When one is bad, several is more than enough to cause hatred.

Which explains the opposing point-of-view. We often crossed that fine line between bully and protector, and usually for our own oil interests.

Yet, the situation hasn’t changed, in fact, it’s gotten worse. We now have our military in more places than ever, with many long term contracts in place to keep it there.

This is a problem and will not go away and was recently highlighted by crazy guy #1 in Iraq, Moqtada Al-Sadr’s statement, (paraphrasing): “don’t kill the Americans, they are leaving.”

Security

It’s hard to travel when everyone hates you. I went to Europe in 2004 and so many of those wealthy, pacificist, socialists hated us. They had signs up about our “invasion” of Iraq.

Now imagine how people in Muslim countries feel. It’s gotten to the point that if we are not giving money to a country, they hate us (and some still hate us when we do). We have to build monumental fortresses just to have embassies. Our checkpoints are becoming comedy acts of creative bomb making.

US Embassy, El Salvador

Where else can we possibly stick a bomb when traveling?

The only good news is that, for some reason, foreigners like Obama.

I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s that he’s not white. Maybe it’s because he was against the Iraq war and talks about removing troops. Or, maybe it’s just because Bush labelled so many as enemies that it became us-or-them.

Who knows.

The good news is that foreigners still like him after he announced the troop increase in Afghanistan. If he gets re-elected then he can do more international rock-star tours and keep building up that goodwill.

Then maybe I can travel abroad and not get the evil eye from everyone.

But then again, if a Tea Party-er gets elected we might start calling everyone extremists and enemies. It would be great if they added ‘isolationism’ to their pseudo-retro movement.

Conclusion

I think everything begins and ends with oil. If we are truly past peak oil then things are getting better. We can stop (or decrease) the use of our heavy hand in the Middle East to maintain our oil supply.

Our military can draw down and our goodwill will go up. Which will take years of course, but it will mean our state of affairs is getting better.

We just have to keep making those hard decisions to get us off oil, though, with shaded solar parking lots, maybe it’s not so hard after all.