Lucy McRae is thinking ahead. Like 2,500 years ahead

A lot of us have a hard enough time deciding what to scrounge up for dinner. Lucy McRae is thinking about life in the year 4,600.

She’s not alone. Science fiction writers have spent plenty of time imagining the distant future. But McRae is not a science fiction writer. She’s a science-fiction artist. She makes short films involving lots of silvery Mylar, condensation-soaked plastic, and edible body parts, among other things. They are gorgeous, cryptic, slow-moving and strange. [more]

Ancient craft yields storage medium of the future

An example tablet from a commission by the Kunst Historiches Museum Wien. (Courtesy of Martin Kunze)

The preservation of our collective story — so much of which is told in electronic pulses and stored in bits and bytes — may well hinge on the oldest of materials: clay.

It’s not just any clay. It’s a specially designed stoneware (the stuff of bathroom tiles) formed into 20-by-20 centimeter ceramic tablets. Martin Kunze, an Austrian ceramist and researcher, invented them, and once printed with snippets of science, politics, art, culture and much more, he stores them in a cavern in a salt mine in Hallstatt, deep in the Austrian Alps. The cavern, accessible via an 80 centimeter-wide tunnel, will naturally close up over time. There, what Kunze calls “the greatest time capsule ever” will wait for someone, someday, to find it. [more]

‘Mein Pate’ and the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program

Helmut Kohl and Congress-Bundestag students in 1986

From left, Jochen Messemer, Caecilia Hanne, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Todd Neff, and Frederic Pflanz on April 9, 1986.

We had been scheduled for 15 minutes, but between Helmut Kohl’s meetings with economic advisors, discussions with coalition partners about what to do about the assumed bombing by Libya of a Berlin discotheque four days before – plus having to squeeze in a meeting with East German Politbüro member Günther Mittag – there was only time for a quick photo op.

It was April 9, 1986. My host brother Frederic and I had woken at 6 a.m. in the Ludwigshafen suburb of Oggersheim, West Germany, a bit earlier than for a normal Wednesday school day at Carl-Bosch Gymnasium. We were going a bit further than downtown LU, instead taking the train to Bonn, the capital, to meet Helmut Kohl, the country’s chancellor.

I had turned 17 a few months earlier; Frederic would turn 18 in a few days. I was an exchange student; he had been an exchange student the previous year. Both of us were part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. It had launched a couple of years earlier. The program, jointly funded by the U.S. and West German governments, sent an American high school student to each Bundestag district in Germany and a German high school student to each U.S. Congressional district. The idea was to deepen U.S.-German ties in a Cold War era during which the threat of Soviet tanks rumbling through the Fulda Gap was quite real. Frederic, from Oggersheim, had spent a year in Kankakee, Illinois. I, from Dearborn, Michigan, was now in Oggersheim, the temporary third son of a family named Pflanz.

Oggersheim happened to be where Helmut Kohl was from. In the West German parliamentary system, the chancellor is also a member of the Bundestag. I had landed in Helmut Kohl’s district. And so, three-quarters of the way through my exchange year, Helmut Kohl’s staffers arranged for us to meet – actually, they had arranged for quite a bit more. This was an overnight trip, one that included a stop by the equivalent of the FBI headquarters in Wiesbaden, where we watched an anti-terror exercise, and also by the German Space Agency. All because, by random chance, I had ended up in the big guy’s district.

The moment crystallized in my memory is that of entering the enormous office and seeing the man at his desk, hurriedly checking something on a short stack of paper. He stood, confirming his famous size – six-foot-four, though at that point he was far short of the 300 pounds his obituaries last month cited. He wore a silvery suit that seemed to glow.

He shook all our hands, his grip soft, as if to offer comfort in the presence of such mass and gravitas. As we lined up for the photo we chit-chatted – he was surprised at my German: “Er spricht doch schon gut Deutsch.” I’d been immersed in a German family for nine months, so my German was in fact getting there, the fruits of countless hours of cramming and smile-nodding at things I scarcely understood. But Kohl’s infamous lack of foreign-language skills lent an irony to the comment that even a 17-year-old could grasp.

Within a minute or two we were hustled back out, to a conference room where an old reporter named Klaus Hoffman soon arrived. As a journalist now, I recognize this visit by teenagers as something between a very soft story and a nonstory. Hoffman was the equivalent of a White House reporter, though, and Die Rheinfalz was a big regional paper. Hoffman was a verygood writer, which I might have recognized at the time had I been able to read his product without consulting a dictionary. The headline: “Todd Neff Proud of His Godfather in the Chancellor’s Office.”

The real story would unfold much later, and it has to do with the Congress-Bundestag program itself. I can’t find the above article. A friend of mine WhatsApped it to me (notice the “Ü” on the keyboard above the headline, and the “€”, and the “Z” where the “Y” should be). That friend, Christian Volz, was a classmate of mine in 1985-1986. He and his family are visiting my family in Denver – tomorrow, in fact.

Last summer, his sister and her family visited, as did Frederic and his family. The summer before that, my family met that of Andreas Macha, another classmate, in San Diego. The summer before that, Andreas rented a big van and drove the two families around Southern Germany, and Christian hosted a “Welcome Neffs” party for about 50 folks.  I’m a godfather myself now – to Frederic’s son Phileas. If you include the kids, there are several dozen people in Germany whom I count as close friends, and my kids are friends with their kids now, too.

This all has political implications. Particularly in our current environment, there are dozens of Germans who know that not all Americans agree with what’s being currently purveyed as public and foreign policy. They have a personal connection to the United States they wouldn’t otherwise have. The real story is that the Congress-Bundestag program, as relates to this kid from Dearborn, worked in ways neither its creators nor its participants could have imagined.

March for Science Denver 2017

March for Science Denver 2017

It’s a bit embarrassing to say, but I attended my first political march just a couple of weeks back — March for Science Denver. Brought along the girls and their good pal Laine. They were surprised that someone as open/occasionally strident about politics hadn’t put feet to concrete for political purposes before. I said, no, you’ve got me by 35 years on this one.

Part of the reason I hadn’t attended a march is that I’d attended marches, but as a newspaper reporter covering them. As a reporter, your strident opinions/biases are kept quiet, generally by policy (political contributions were, for example, forbidden by Scripps’ scripture, the then-owner of the Daily Camera).

Anyway, we hand-made signs and last-minute Saran-wrapped them, not having interpreted the weather forecast as accurately as might have, for example, Mike Nelson, who gave a great kickoff speech.

I’ve not found crowed estimates, but I’d say 20,000, minimum. Many people. And many great signs. A good toe-dipping in fighting-the-good-fight grassroots protest. I took a lot of photos; a selection below.

Fear-Ignorance-Hate chemistry graphic

The signs at a march on science are bound to be good (and geeky). We weren’t disappointed.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Folks gathered beforehand at the Civic Center Park amphitheater.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Junior scientists were also represented.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

This was, obviously, as much protest against our administration’s anti-science bent as a celebration of empirical methods.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

This one I had to read twice.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

German was represented, even. (“Trump is dangerous to our planet”)

 

March for Science Denver 2017

This is far more constructive than, for example, “I’m with stupid.”

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Down 17th Street

 

The home team’s signs were constructed of cardboard with paper glued on, affixed to 1/2 inch PVC pipe that, before I’d sawed shorter, had served as misconceived structural elements of a hastily erected backyard sun shade some years back. I glue-gunned them to the cardboard with enough epoxy to hold together a Boeing 787. Nonrecyclable plastic wrap protected from nonexistent precip.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Another good sign.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

My contribution to the visual clutter

 

March for Science Denver 2017

The Groundhog Day meme made an appearance. (“Only in America do we accept weather predictions from a rodent but deny climate change evidence from scientists.”)

 

March for Science Denver 2017

After a quick online search, it appears that this gentleman’s sign refers to the third derivative of the position function, which is “jerk.” 

 

March for Science Denver 2017

Beaker makes his beeping and meeping opinions known.

 

March for Science Denver 2017

More paid protesters (in Smashburgers, after the event) before the Colorado statehouse.

The former president of Estonia: This means (cyber) war!

The Estonians moved a statue; the Russians launched a new form of warfare. Now, a decade later, the man who was president of Estonia at the time proposes a new sort of alliance to counter a threat that has spread far from his Baltic state.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves had been president of Estonia for all of six months in April 2007 when his government moved the “Bronze Soldier” Soviet war memorial from a small park in central Tallinn to a nearby military cemetery. The Russian government responded with a distributed denial of services (DDoS) attack.

At the time, the Estonian defense minister said this: “Not a single NATO defense minister would define a cyber-attack as a clear military action at present. However, this matter needs to be resolved in the near future.”

Ten years later it hasn’t been resolved. Despite a mountain of recent, suspected-and-proven Russian meddling in democratic politics of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the European Parliament and elsewhere, the question remains. Ilves, who served as Estonian president through 2016 and is now a visiting fellow at Stanford University, says it’s time to do something about it. [more]