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Weird science

Jim Bridenstine and the final frontier

Before Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States—a sad day for any sentient American who didn’t champion a head of government who chose cabinet secretaries from a loose affiliation of grifters, bagmen, incompetents, sycophants, and industry hacks—he said the following:

“I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people. We want top of the line professionals.” (Washington Post)

Like this guy

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reportedly threatened to fire some of the nation’s weather officials if they refused to lie to the public about the projected path of Hurricane Dorian. (Vox)

Such laser-like focus on mendacity, greed, obsequiousness, and contempt for government got us not just Ross at Commerce, but also the likes of Jeff Sessions, Steve Mnuchin, Alexa Acosta, Betsy DeVoss, Ben Carson, Ryan Zinke, John Bolton and Mr. Cone of Silence himself, our own tactical-pant-wearing and Devon Energy stenographer Scott Pruitt. 

So when Trump announced in Sept. 2017 that Oklahoma’s First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine, a man whose only experience in heading a space agency was running the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, would be heading up The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), it seemed exasperatingly par for the course—or, as my friend Charlie Pierce at Esquire emailed me moments after Trump announced the selection: “You have got to be shitting me.”

Charlie’s disbelief was understandable, considering Bridenstine once said this:

"Global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago," claimed Bridenstine. "Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with Sun output and ocean cycles”  (The Register)

You say “10 years,” the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says, “800,000.” Let’s call the whole thing off.

Observed atmospheric GHG concentrations reached record highs in 2017, well above the levels observed in nature over the last 800,000 years, and the global mean temperature in 2018 was estimated to be 0.99 ± 0.13 °C above the pre-industrial baseline. (IPCC)

Good thing scrappy extraction industry executives, working against all odds, thwarted both the work of an international cabal of scientists testing Arctic soil samples and those Chinese climate hoaxers looking to corner the market on kitchen appliances. 

On Dec. 30, 2015, Trump told the crowd at a rally in Hilton Head, SC, “Obama's talking about all of this with the global warming and … a lot of it's a hoax. It's a hoax. I mean, it's a money-making industry, okay? It's a hoax, a lot of it … The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive. (Politifact)

It was enough to make you throw your autographed copy of The Art of the Deal through your Chinese-made Hisense refrigerator.

Then a strange thing happened. Jim Bridenstine, who was barely confirmed by the senate, 50-49, almost overnight stopped being Jim Bridenstine.

"I don't deny the consensus," Bridenstine said at a NASA town hall meeting. "I believe fully in climate change and that we human beings are contributing to it in a major way." (Newsweek)

Come again?

“I heard a lot of experts, and I read a lot. I came to the conclusion myself that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, that we've put a lot of it into the atmosphere, and therefore we have contributed to the global warming that we've seen." (The Hill)

And many of those experts now work for him.

According to NASA GISS, global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean. Globally, 2018 was cooler than the previous three years. Collectively, the past five years are the warmest years in the modern record. (NASA)

Considering this is an administration that not only silences and bullies scientists, scrubs reports of information it deems politically inconvenient, and skips out on global climate warming meetings at the G-7, not to mention just generally trashing long-established scientific protocols and freedoms, Bridenstine’s sudden sobriety was refreshing and astonishing. He was becoming the adult in the room—it’s a low bar to clear in this administration, admittedly—and doing it with perspective and a certain panache, as he did in July on CBS’s Face the Nation.

So we want to go back to the Moon sustainably, in other words, to stay, but we also want to keep our eye on what is President Trump's goal? What is his vision? He wants to put an American flag on Mars.

A flag? The leader of the free world wants to go to Mars, not for the adventure, not for the discovery, but to brand the planet as he would a casino in Atlantic City—TRUMP Mars.

Bridenstine, to his credit, dialed the jingoism way back and took the high road into space.

[In] those days all of our astronauts came from test pilots and fighter pilots and there were no opportunities for women. Today, under the Artemis program we have a very diverse, highly qualified astronaut corps that includes women. … [So] now when we go back to the Moon, we go with all of America. And I think that's a great message. (Face the Nation)

Okay, it’s not Carl Sagan, but it’s not Jim Inhofe, either. 

Bridenstine didn’t take the NASA gig just to gut it. But this is the Trump Administration, so even if Bridenstine is successful at funding the agency at levels needed for such an impossibly wonderful and audacious trip to Mars, the administration is already on record as to who will pay for it: poor kids.

The White House called on taking the initial $1.6 billion investment for NASA from the Pell Grant fund, which provides scholarships for low-income students. (The Verge)

Nice, huh?

Bridenstine began pushing back on the arrogant and the stupid of climate deniers even before getting to NASA. 

Congressman Jim Bridenstine announced today that Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and CEO of the Planetary Society will be his guest at President Trump’s State of the Union Address on January 30th. … Nye responded, “I’m very pleased to join Congressman Bridenstine at the President’s first State of the Union Address. As CEO of The Planetary Society … I have enjoyed a productive working relationship with Congressman Bridenstine on space issues.” (Parabolic Arc)

Say what you want about Nye—he can be more than shameless in his quest for media air time—but he’s also the guy who said, “The planet is on fucking fire.” 

That he has the head of NASA on speed dial can only be a good thing.

Here would be a nice place to end the column: Jim Bridenstine, we hardly knew ye, with an added word of caution about pigeonholing your opponents. But that can’t happen—not when there are souls to save.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine gave a stirring speech on February 12 before a Christian ministry at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California.

Here we go.

The event was put on by Capitol Ministries, which, according to its own website, aims to influence "every strata of government" with evangelical teachings of the Bible.


Bridenstine told the group he agrees with its goal.

"I love what Ralph said earlier,” [Bridenstine said, referring to the group’s founder, Ralph Drollinger.] “We're not trying to Christianize the US government.”

Of course not.

We believe in an institutional separation, but we also believe in influence," Bridenstine said. "And that's a big distinction and an important distinction, and that's why I love this ministry." 

Actually it’s neither—it’s the same damn thing.

And who is we? 

This would be a good time to remind readers of the first rule here at “Views from the Plains”: We’re not all Christian, nor want to be. 

That Bridenstine had tap danced on the establishment clause of the Constitution, which looks askance at government officials promoting one religion over another, is unassailable. 

Just ask him. 

“The question is this: How do we get the right people to do the right thing? The way to do that is you look inside your heart and you spend time with like-minded believers in the scripture and praying and looking really for who you are.” (Business Insider)

Oh, for the love of you know who.

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” 

That’s John Adams, second president of the United States, in case you’re thumbing through the Constitution at the moment counting the number of times Jesus is mentioned. (Let me know if you find one.)

So when Bridenstine and the group say, “We believe in an institutional separation, but we also believe in influence,” that’s the con—a dog whistle so loud, a deaf Min Pin could hear it. 

Why is the head of NASA embracing exclusionary politics and the assertion that only Christians steeped in scripture, joined by others in like-minded navel gazing, can save a hurting nation and live full lives? Because his is a political party of Us and Them; because his is a party that wants to remind us non-Christians they we are guests in their country; because Bridenstine serves a president who thinks he’s the “Chosen One.” (Yeah, I know, he was joking. He’s hilarious like that.) And because—Adams be damned—Jesus will lead all like-minded believers to a greater truth, both here and on Mars.

So don’t forget the flag. 

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