Catch Up: Monsanto Ceases to Exist, Heat, and Stuff!

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A picture of a rose because, well, why not?

That heading up there is not a typo. Monsanto ceased to exist as of June 7 when the merger with ag giant Bayer was completed. The name “Monsanto” will be retired completely within a few months, the company will no longer exist, and all of its business will be conducted under the Bayer name. The complete acquisition will take a few months longer. Bayer still has to sell off some of its business parts to satisfy the DOJ’s requirements for approval of the acquisition, but it’s pretty much a done deal.

If you don’t find these mergers concerning, well, you should. As the saying goes, “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”. The claim that these “mega-mergers” improve the efficiency of a company, reduce prices to consumers, etc., is pure nonsense. There were valid reasons for the rise of the “trust busters” in the late 19th and early 20th century as the abuses of the monopolies became so great and so obvious that not even their wealth and influence could prevent the outrage that caused the development of the anti-monopoly laws, lawsuits and legal actions that broke many of them up back then.

Trade Wars

Oh brother… I could go on and on about this nonsense. I won’t. I try to stay away from politics here because, well, why bother? You get flooded with enough of that nonsense in other forums. However, I find it more than a little ironic to have you-know-who here in Wisconsin celebrating giving away more than $4 billion in taxpayer money to a Chinese company to lure it to Wisconsin while at the same time engaging in never ending tweet-storms about unfair trade practices by that country.

Oh, I should add that the company quietly announced that, to paraphrase them, “oh, by the way, the factory we’re going to put up is going to be a fraction of the size we said it would, isn’t going to make the product we said it was going to make, and we’re only going to hire a few hundred people not the 13,000 we said, but that the big factory will be put up “real soon”. Maybe.”

What remains to be seen is where FoxCon is going to find any employees. The unemployment rate in the state is under 4%, and in some parts of the state it’s under 3%. Employers have tried hiring bonuses, improving benefits, even upping starting wages. Several companies here have now even dropped the high school diploma requirement.

How Hot Is It?

In a word, very. It hit 97 F here yesterday (Friday), with very high humidity. Heat index was up around 107 the weather people said. It’s supposed to be even worse today with a heat index pushing 110. It was already 83 when I got up at 5:30 this morning. Basically no one goes outside in this weather unless they absolutely have to.

I remember what it was like milking cows in this kind of weather. Dear lord, it was bad. The cows were miserable, we were miserable, the cats were miserable, the dog was miserable…

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I don’t know what in the world made me think taking this photo was a good idea. MrsGF makes me wear the dopey vest. Make it easier for the police to find my body when I get hit by a truck, I guess.

While I looked at the poor bike sitting there in the garage behind the car, and was momentarily tempted, not even I am crazy enough to go out on the back roads and trails on a bicycle in this kind of weather.

I’ve become addicted to biking, though. Whenever the weather is even close to being decent I want to get out and put at least a few miles on. Being addicted to biking isn’t a bad thing, of course. It’s healthy, fun, relaxing.

But definitely not when it’s this hot and humid.

Amateur Radio Stuff

Okay, I have to admit it, I’m a bit bored with the FT8 mode. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not agreeing with the curmudgeons who think FT8 is ruining amateur radio. FT8 is just one of a long line of technologies that was going to “destroy amateur radio” according to the GOBs (good ole boys).  If you get on some of the amateur radio forums like QRZ and listen to some of these people ranting, you’d think FT8 was the harbinger of the apocalypse, for heaven’s sake.

But dam, FT8 does work if you want to make contacts under bad conditions and with less that ideal equipment.

Speaking of the QRZ website, I don’t know what’s wrong with some of the people who stalk the forums. And I do not use the term “stalk” lightly. That’s what they seem to do. They haunt the forums just waiting to pounce on anyone they think they can get away with insulting. Newcomers to the hobby are the natural prey of these jackasses. The most innocuous question will result in them pouncing on them without mercy with snide remarks, sarcasm, insults, accusations of them not knowing what they’re doing.

It’s a shame, really. QRZ has some great resources and there are a lot of people in the forums who are genuinely willing to help when you run into problems or are looking for information. But this handful of jackasses really ruin things. The moderators really need to step up and shut this kind of crap down. Right now QRZ has become so toxic because of some of these people that I have started to tell newcomers to avoid it completely and when my current subscription runs out next year I might not renew it.

Astronomy Stuff

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my 11 inch Celestron set up in the driveway. I must confess I don’t use it very often because the thing is almost impossible for one person to set up. Just the optical tube goes about 70 pounds.

Newcomers to this blog or whatever it is may not know I’m also an amateur astronomer because I haven’t talked about that in a long time here. I have two telescopes, the big 11 inch Celestron shown here, and a 3 inch Meade. I’ve been fascinated with astronomy since I was a kid. But as much as I love astronomy, there are aspects of it that I find more than a little tiresome, the main one being so-called scientists who claim life is everywhere out there.

It seems NASA spokespersons and even a lot of professional astronomers have gone right off the deep end with this. Mars could have life. Or may have had life billions of years ago. Moons of Jupiter and Saturn could have life. Hell, according to some of these people, Pluto could have life because they think there may be liquid water under the crust. Venus, which is as toxic a place as you can imagine with temperatures of 700+ degrees and sulfuric acid rain could have life, they tell us. And…

well, it’s all BS. I’m sorry, it just is.

As the Fermi paradox points out, if life out there is as common as some people claim, where the heck is it? Fermi pointed out that, given the number of stars in the galaxy and the age of the universe, if there was any intelligent life out there, there should be some kind of evidence that it exists that should be obvious to us by now. So where is it?

Despite the PR fluff pieces coming out of NASA and from astronomers who really should know better, there is no evidence of life anywhere outside of the Earth. The SETI project has turned up nothing but a few questionable signals that could be from natural sources or from man made sources. The Mars rovers have turned up some interesting results,  yes, but any sign of actual life either now or in the past? No. A lot has been made of the presence of methane on Mars and they’re attempting to link that to some kind of life. But there are other, far more likely explanations for the presence of methane.

We have no evidence at all that there is life out there. None. All we have is speculation, theory, beliefs, claims, and no actual evidence.

A study by Oxford scientists Sandberg, Drexler and Ord that came out a short time ago, examined the Fermi paradox and the Drake equation and other factors with an unbiased eye and, well, the results aren’t good for the proponents of life being common. They found huge margins for error in the calculations and that the “evidence” presented to support wide spread life in the universe is little more than wishful thinking.

The Drake equation is pretty much worthless. The parameters assigned to the equation are, well, flat out guesses. No one knows for sure. The parameters are often wildly optimistic, failing to take into account known facts.

If you look at the actual facts, the results are less optimistic. As the authors said in their report, “When we take account of realistic uncertainty, replacing point estimates by probability distributions that reflect current scientific understanding, we find no reason to be highly confident that the galaxy (or observable universe) contains other civilizations.”

“When we update this prior in light of the Fermi observation, we find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe.

“‘Where are they?’ — probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.”

 

 

The End Is Coming! Yes, Again! Non-famous Blogger Eaten By Shark! Exclamation Points Made Illegal by Obama in Secret UN Deal!

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 6.43.18 AMThe world is coming to an end again. This time it’s going to end on Sept. 23 when a great whopping planet called Nibiru is going to smack us.

What? You didn’t know? Oh, dear. Well, if you have plans for anything after Sept 22 you might want to reconsider.

We know this because a “christian numerologist”, whatever the heck that is, has figured it out from a Bible verse that says– well, it says absolutely nothing about planets hitting us or anything else, really. That, along with lots and lots of made up numbers, tells him that we’re going to get smacked by a giant planet called Nibiru on the 23rd. And for whatever reason some tabloid media outlets have picked up on it and have plastered it all over the place.

There is no planet “Nibiru”, of course. Nor is a planet going to hit us any time soon. If there was we’d have seen it coming by now. In fact, we’d have seen it coming years ago. And there’s no point in claiming there is some kind of conspiracy by NASA and astronomers to keep the info secret because there are tens of thousands of amateur astronomers like me out here, and we’d have spotted it ages ago and would have gleefully been plastering our images of it all over the place. We love things like planets getting hammered by really big rocks and comets, stars blowing up. solar systems being eaten by black holes, galaxies colliding and stuff like that. So if there was a planet about to smack the Earth, we’d have been all over that.

This is about the fifth or sixth “end of the world” that we’ve had in the last couple of decades that I can remember. There was the Y2K nonsense, of course. Then we were going to get hit by a comet. Then the LHC was going to generate a black hole that would swallow the Earth… Oh, brother…

Why do we human beings have this fascination with the world coming to an end? You’d think we’d have enough other problems to worry about rather than let yet another scam artist or person who needs professional help who spouts this nonsense to influence our lives. Yet we do it over and over again.

I am especially fascinated with all of these so-called Christians claiming they can predict the end of the world when Jesus himself said that we can’t predict it. He came right out and said that when the end happens, we’ll never see it coming.

So ignore that little voice in the back of your head that’s saying but what if he’s really right? maybe I should cash in my 401K and have one last party. The 23rd will come. No planet is going to hit us.

And you jackasses in the media? Just stop it, all right? Just stop giving free publicity to the loonies, nut cases, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers and the people who think you get ebola from wind turbines. When you run across that kind of stuff, just chuckle and go on past.

Oh, and while I got you media scam artists here, stop with the shark crap already? We’re sick of sharks, all right? More people are killed by cows than sharks. Seriously. More people are killed by their own cuddly dogs than sharks. And did you hear about that woman who was eaten by her own cats? Why wasn’t that plastered all over your stupid tabloids? Of course not, because it wasn’t a shark. If a shark had been involved you’d have been all over that one. But no, a few bucks slipped to you in the middle of a parking lot by the cat lobby and poof, you make it all go away, don’t you? Sharks are cuddly, lovely animals who respond positively to affection. Like my shark Leroy. See? Aww, isn’t that cute? He wants his nose robbed. Here Leroy… No. No, Leroy, my arm is not a chew toy, Leroy. Now stop that right now, Leroy… No. Let go… EEAAGGEEHHHHAAAA!!!!!

 

Stuff, Nonsense, and More Garden Photos

Mr. Spiny, the cactus we rescued from the town compost pile, has gone totally goofy this year. He now looks like this:

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I counted around 13 flowers, with about a dozen more buds ready to flower in the next day or two. I kinda, sorta knew that cactus flowered, but I had no idea they did this! We thought it was a really neat plant before, but now– Wow.

Mrs. GF picked up a packet of old seeds on sale for a few cents earlier in the season, threw them in one of the gardens, and then these things came up —

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I had no idea she did it so I was astonished and delighted when these brilliant orange poppies started to appear last week. The color on these guys is so intense they almost glow in the dark.

With some plants you don’t appreciate their beauty until you get up close to them and really look at them. Like the oregano we’ve been trying to kill off for years now. The stuff turned out to be horrifically aggressive, taking over the entire plot of ground, and even taking over the lawn in that area. And while it does smell amazing when I mow the lawn over there, we would like to grow something besides oregano there, so we’ve been rather ruthless in keeping what’s left in check.

But that very annoying plant, well, even it looks neat when it starts to come into flower as it is now.

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The Fuji camera I use has a pretty darn nice macro-zoom lens on it and while depth of field and focus is a pain to get right when I get this close to something, the results are worth it.

Heck, even the lowly cucumber looks pretty when you get close to it:

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Other stuff–

We’ve been going to state parks this summer. Wisconsin has one of the finest state park systems in the country. The places are absolutely beautiful.

Or perhaps I should use the phrase “had one of the finest state park systems”. The state government has decided, in its infinite stupidity, to cut off all funding for the entire state park system. It does not get any funding from the state any more and is going to have to survive entirely on entrance and camping fees, donations, and any other money it can scrounge up. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them out on the beaches with metal detectors looking for change people dropped to try to keep the parks running. The new paradigm down in Madison seems to be that if it doesn’t make a profit for someone who can funnel bribe money [ahem, excuse me] campaign contributions into their bank accounts or fund their PACs, it isn’t going to get any of our tax money. Sigh…

 

Junk Science Reporting Drives Me Crazy

It’s been a while since I had a good rant, so I’m going to indulge. Please feel free to skip this one if you like. I occasionally go off on a rant when I run into an especially irritating bit of so-called “journalism”, and this is one of those instances.

When I was going through my various news sources this morning while having my coffee, I ran across a news item at Motherboard, part of Vice.com, about Proxima Centauri and it’s newly discovered planet, b. You can click here to jump over and read it yourself. The headline reads: “Our Closest Earthlike Planet Appears to be Covered in Water”

As I read it I frowned a lot. I might go so far as to say I was seriously irked. Unless someone, somewhere, had come up with something entirely new and unexpected, what they were implying in this little piece was irresponsible and so lacking in any kind of facts that it was pure fiction.  And yes, they use weasel words like ‘could’, ‘possibly’, ‘may’. Technically the article doesn’t come right out and lie, but it is seriously misleading, perhaps deliberately so in order to generate clickbait headlines.

Let me give you some background for you non-astronomers out there. Proxima Centauri is the star closest to us. It is a very tiny and very dim red dwarf star about 4.2 light years away from Earth. While that is close in astronomical terms, in human terms it is very, very far away indeed. Light moves at 186,000 miles per second. Light takes 4.2 years to go from Earth to Proxima. I will leave it to you to figure out exactly how far that is. My calculator doesn’t have enough zeroes.

They recently discovered Proxima has a planet. They immediately gave it the amazingly creative name Proxima b. What we know about this new planet is, well, not much, really. We know it’s about 1.3 times the mass of the Earth. We know it’s between 0.9 and 1.44 times the diameter of the Earth. We know it orbits Proxima at a distance that is one tenth the distance of Mercury to our sun. We know how fast it goes around it’s star. We know it is tidally locked to it’s star. That means the same face of the planet is always facing the star. One side of the planet is in perpetual light, the other side is in perpetual dark.

Or I thought that’s all we knew until I saw this article. This article implies that B is covered with planet spanning oceans teaming with life. There’s liquid water everywhere, and because there’s water, there must be life! Oh my!

Now just a minute here. Really? I follow astronomy news fairly closely. If these discoveries had been made, why weren’t they all over the actual astronomical press? Something smells a wee bit odd here.

And here’s another thing that set off alarm bells. The quotes are all generic, never attributed to a specific person, but they instead use terms like “researchers said”, and “the research team said”, and “scientists concluded”. That kind of thing starts to set off alarm bells with me. It’s been my experience that legitimate news stories almost always give actual names, and if not the name of the person being quoted, at least the name of the press agent or the name of the spokesperson.

Then I started running into other rather odd things.

The Motherboard article posts a link to what supposedly was the original press release from the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory which appeared in Agence Presse France, the French press agency. But when I click in the link, the APF’s website tells me there is no such story. So I started running searches on the APF’s news website, plugging in terms like Proxima, Proxima Centauri, Proxima B, the research group’s name, the university’s name, and found nothing. Not a single story anywhere on the APF’s website concerning Proxima’s planet, these researchers… Nothing. Unless I missed something, or wasn’t using the search engine properly, the story Motherboard quotes over at APF doesn’t exist according to APF. In fact, there is nothing anywhere on APF about Proxima at all that I could find after running extensive searches of its entire news site.

I freely admit that I might have been using their site wrong, was using their search engine wrong. So I did some more hunting for other related stories from other sources and found a lot of sciencey related popular websites with this same story. But all shared the same troubling traits. No actual names, vague references to universities and research organizations, quotes, again not from real people, but from “scientists” and “researchers.” Even more troubling, many of the stories in these websites were virtually identical, and I mean word for word identical in some cases, indicating that a lot of these places were engaging in good old fashioned cut and paste plagiarism.

I was getting increasingly obsessed with finding out what the hell was going on. Finally, I went to CNRS, the French science research organization, which supposedly was the source of all of this, and once I’d tracked down the actual original sources, I discovered what I had started to suspect already.

What the CNRS actually said about Proxima b bore little or no resemblance to what the media sources were claiming. What the CNRS actually said, if my horrible French and Google Translate haven’t failed me, is that we really know nothing about Proxima B except the few facts I already told told you about.  But that if you make a whole lot of assumptions that are probably wrong, and if those assumptions are correct, which they probably aren’t, and if the planet has an atmosphere, which we don’t know, and if the planet has a magnetic field, which we also don’t know, Proxima B might be capable of having liquid water, maybe even large amounts of it, and if it has water, which we don’t know, it might have a chance to develop some sort of life. Maybe. But we don’t really know.

This is considerably different from the Motherboard headline that says “Our Closest Earthlike Planet Appears to be Covered in Water”. In fact, I have yet to find any legitimate scientist of science organization that has said any such thing.

There is, in fact, no evidence that it has any water at all. There is no evidence it has an atmosphere. The only things we know about the planet at all are it’s approximate mass, it’s approximate size, it’s distance from its star, and it’s orbital period.

If you look at the actual facts, what we do know about Proxima Centauri and its planet, the preliminary data indicates exactly the opposite. Everything we know about it so far tends to contradict everything the Motherboard article claims is possible.

B is very, very close to it’s star. And while Proxima Centauri is a very small, very dim star, it is still a star. Even worse it is a flare star. That means it regularly blasts surrounding space with high intensity radiation and stellar mass ejections. This means that solar radiation and stellar mass ejections would have eroded away any atmosphere and water that the planet might have had billions of years ago.

Some people are trying to get around this fact by claiming B has a magnetic field strong enough to protect it from it’s star, a field similar to the one that protects Earth.

But not only is there no evidence at all to indicate it has a magnetic field, simple physics tells us it pretty much can’t have a magnetic field. A planet’s magnetic field is generated by the rotation of its molten iron core. But Proxima B doesn’t rotate. It’s tidally locked to it’s star. If it doesn’t rotate, it can’t have a magnetic field. Period.

Junk science reporting drives me crazy.

 

The Fermi Paradox: Where the Hell Is Everyone?

I’m beginning to become a bit — irritated with astronomers, and especially with astronomy publications like, well, Astronomy Magazine, Sky & Telescope, the BBC’s Sky at Night. Even with NASA, the space program in general, and a lot of astronomers and astrophysicists in general, who start babbling like little children about stuff when they should really know better. The ‘mainstream’ media is even worse, of course.

It’s this whole life thing. As in life out there, on other planets, other star systems, other galaxies.

Every once in a while some news outlet that really should know better pops up a headline like “Life on Europa!” or “Life in Oceans Under Pluto!” or “Life Floating in Clouds in Venus” or, “Life Discovered at the Republican Convention”. It’s just — just silly. (Especially that last one.).

I’m sorry, but it is. And they really should know better. Even worse, most of them do know better.

The popular press and even otherwise allegedly rational real live scientists with actual degrees from actual universities who have actual jobs doing sciency stuff, have just gotten silly over this whole life thing.

So let’s talk about the Fermi Paradox for a bit. (Wondered when I was going to get around to getting to the point of the title up there at the top, didn’t you? Relax. It takes me a while sometimes but eventually I get to the point. Sometimes. Maybe.)

The Fermi Paradox has been floating around for a long time now. Jump over to Wikipedia and go look it up. I’ll wait. I don’t have anything going on at the moment. I’ll just babble along here until you get back. While you’re at it, look up the Drake Equation over there too…

I’m an amateur astronomer with actual telescopes and everything. I love astronomy. Fun stuff, astronomy. Nothing better than sitting around outside, shivering, your feet gradually turning to ice, wondering if your health insurance covers having your toes amputated because they turned black, chipping the frost off your scope while you try to get a picture of Jupiter that doesn’t have a bloody airplane track across the middle of it. Great fun. Highly educational and all that stuff. Highly recommended. I’m also a science fiction fan. I discovered SF when I was about 9 years old and never looked back. I grew up in a fantasy world filled with starships, exotic aliens, odd characters, bizarre societies, horrific space battles throwing planets at people, time travel, time paradoxes, alternate universes, time travel to alternate universes, time travel for the purposes of, well, weird sex. Have you read Heinlein’s later stuff? Oh my…

So I’ve more or less been living in a universe full of life. I’d love to live in a universe full of that stuff. Well, except when the Fnezeer come to, well, eat us. That I probably wouldn’ like.

The thing is, I know that is fantasy. It isn’t real, all that stuff. The zooming starships, the aliens with tentacles, the time travel incest (what the hell was Heinlein thinking?) the alien races around every corner… They’re made up. They don’t exist. Unfortunately a lot of the news media and, it seems, NASA and real actual astronomers and stuff, haven’t figured that out, or that’s what it looks like if you some of the stuff they’re pushing.

Oh, you’re back. Good!

Let’s get back to the Fermi thing, then now that you got done over at Wikipedia.

The Fermi Paradox basically asks the question, if life is as common as a lot of people think it is, where the hell is it? Why haven’t we found any? And why the hell hasn’t it found us?

Considering the age of the universe, the ginormous (that apparently is a real word, I had no idea) number of galaxies, the even more ginormous number of stars in those galaxies, and the even furtherly more intensely ginormous (now that I found out it’s a real word I’m going to use it a lot, damn it) number of planets, somebody, from somewhere, should have come ringing our doorbell to try to sell us something or try to convert us to worshiping a giant space turtle or talk us into a time share out in the Wompel Galaxy or something.

Only they haven’t. There isn’t even a single sign that there’s anyone out there. Granted, the universe is a really, really big place. But if you run the math, a single, high tech civilization, could colonize an entire galaxy in a surprisingly short amount of time, maybe four, five million years. Sounds like a long time, but species even here on Earth have been around and essentially unchanged for far longer than that.

Of course maybe they’re busy, or just don’t care.  Like these alleged life forms might look up and go “meh, the hell with all that noise”, and get on with important things. Like, oh, I don’t know, frelking, let’s say. I have no idea what frelking is, but it’s like really, really important to them and it’s way more important than stars and stuff like that. So they give up on the whole space thing and get with some serious frelking. Probably has something to do with sex, I imagine.

So that’s one theory about why no one has come to try to sell us time shares or convert us or eat us or something. They don’t give a flying fig.

This space travel stuff all assumes that the race in question thinks it’s important. And maybe it is. To us. Well, some of us, anyway. But that’s us. They, if they’re out there, don’t care, maybe. That’s the point. They are going to look different, think different, have different priorities. Like frelking. They don’t care.

The point is that they come up with all these excuses to rationalize why we haven’t seen anything out there. And they do have a valid point. I mean, frelking is really, really fun. Maybe.

But the other thing that no one seems to want to bring up, is that maybe there isn’t anyone out there. Just flat out isn’t.

Yes, I know, statically speaking it is a virtual certainty that there is something alive out there, somewhere. But we have  scientists going off the deep end claiming there’s life everywhere almost.

So where is it? We don’t exactly have a good track record finding it, do we. Let’s see, well, there’s Earth, that has life (whether it’s intelligent or not is up for debate) And then there’s… well, that’s about it. One planet out of eight (nine if you’re a Pluto fan).

It’s entirely possible that Earth is just a fluke. For all we know life is an aberration that the universe gets rid of as soon as it can conveniently bash it with a rock.

And let’s talk about the intelligence thing. We want intelligent life, too. Well, come on, let’s face it. Intelligence really isn’t much of a survival trait, now is it? When it comes down to survival as a species, one could argue that intelligence is even a drawback, because the most successful species, the ones that have been around the longest, for tens of millions of years, function almost entirely on instinct, pre-programmed behaviors, not on intelligence.

I understand that it is statistically likely there is life out there. It is statistically likely that some kind of intelligent life is out there. But it seems increasingly likely that you’re not going to find it by just turning over a rock as some scientists are claiming.

But they keep at it. “Inhabitable planet found!” “Conditions on Europa favorable to life” and… It’s just silly. I’m sorry, it is. We know better. They know better.

So why do they do it?

Money, I suspect. Trying to drum up interest to get funding, get grants, convince congress to increase NASA’s budget. They figure we’re too stupid to understand things like pulsars and event horizons and how important the measurements of high energy particles is or why it’s important we understand what the hell happened to Venus to turn it into an acidic furnace from Dante’s Inferno. But, well, hey, they say, that alien movie made a hell of a lot of money. So did that Star Trek Clone Laser thingie that was in the theaters. So people like aliens, right? So, well, okay we can’t make it all up, but we can maybe pretend kind of that there’s something out there so they give us money.

Look, just stop it, all right? Stop with the phony press releases about life on space rocks. Stop with the phony press releases about planets made of diamond and places where it rains iron and all that. It’s hype and you know it. We know it. They know it.

Just tell us what you’re doing. Tell us why you think it’s important. Tell us why we should think it’s important. Stop trying to sell us space unicorns that we all know are b.s. Maybe you’ll be surprised.