Mining Martian earth and germinating prosperity

Major Tom, you there?

El Phoenix Mars Lander: Um, blip. Whirwm. Ground is cracky, Ground Control. As you said. Commencing scout at Green Valley, North Pole. (beep)

Ground Control: Roger, Phoenix. Your seven minutes of terror were exhilarating.

El Phoenix Mars Lander: Chinnngk. For you, maybe. Arm gimpy. Legs goosey. (blip)

Ground Control: One thing, Phoni. I know we said a lot of stuff about digging for ice out there, but we’ve got an overriding directive coming in. Please stand by.

El Phoenix Mars Lander: Gigfwoop-drrrr. Refractory sensors couldn’t stand more humanoid observation. ’Specially that damn Cheaters™ nocturne you had us on to raise scratch for new thrusters. (crik)

Ground Control: OK, ice is still a go, Phoni. But we’re going to ask you for a special favor. Seems the National Snow and Ice Data Center is predicting a total bleed out at the North Pole – that’s Earth’s North Pole, Buckets – and, well, they’d like you to jettison some of that Mars ice – if you find it. You know, it’d be real helpful.

El Phoenix Mars Lander: Wonk. Crank. Brrrlm. You realize, GC, I’m a 90-day job. Not outrigged for a return mission. Temperatures already reading …

Ground Control: (Inaudible, confusion, paper being balled and tossed.) (Mumbling.) Four-hundred-and-twenty-million bucket o’ bolts …

El Phoenix Mars Lander: Crrrilp. Boss?

Ground Control: Yes, right here. OK, scrap that last transmission. New overriding directive: We’d like you to do some deeper core analysis. Scout for some, how shall we say, Texas Tea. Having some unexpected reports from the International Energy Agency. Peak Oil probabilities near certain.

El Phoenix Mars Lander: Dingwhop. No go, GC. Go-go-gadget drill bits not assimilated into final assembly.

Ground Control: For Christ’s sake. New mission: Arable land. Soil. Seasonal variability playing hell with row crops. Social unrest imminent. Scout river bottoms! Round up loose livestock!

El Phoenix Mars Lander: (To self) Calculating caloric needs for 6.8 billion at 1,200 daily intake divided by remaining terrestrial resource.

Ground Control: Phoni, ixnay on the 6.8 billion-ay, OK? Market forces must play out. We’re pairing promising breeders with the well-financed.

El Phoenix Mars Lander: (Crreap.) Do you still want that ice? (Long pause.) Ground Control?

Back on Earth

San Antonio won’t be entering the Martian red-light district this year, but we are watching the city budget go crimson. Still, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for, Mayor Hardberger reminded us all recently while pitching for a five-percent rate-hike for CPS Energy. River North is crankin’ along, there’s that big new Voelcker Park (though we were really hoping for water slides), and, well, the Spurs.

For enders, we have the love of Forbes. The glossy of high-finance fixation has deemed San Antonio a “recession-proof” city all the way up there with Oklahoma City. Yeah, apparently OKC is the stoutest U.S. economy in this slipshod housing market kerfluffle, positioned to “ride out” the recession. San Antonio, ranked right beneath the Cowchip Capital, “features solid employment figures and affordable home prices that continue to rise,” Forbes editors wrote, before glomming on AT&T. We can’t leave it all to Ma, however. We have to nod at the Eternal Terror War for our recession-proofing as well.

New contracts announced in the last month include $8.6 billion to McDonnell Douglas for new large aircraft infrared countermeasure installations at Boeing Support Systems at Kelly; $4.1 million for Austin-based Signature Science’s super-sniffers (30 percent of work to be done here); global contractor Weston Solutions’ local office cut a slice of a $4 billion undefined reconstruction contract for “sustainment, restoration, and modernization type construction activity worldwide,” which Queque suspects doesn’t have to do with weather-proofing local low-income homes; and another $8.1 mil for San Anto’s Labatt Food’s meals-ready-to-eat goodness.

Super-sniffers? Better known as Hyperadsorptive Atmospheric Sampling Technology, the new-generation detection systems could aid Der Homeland in ferreting out as little as 10 parts per trillion of Popovich poots or any other “atmospheric impurities.” Rumor has it the EPA could use its refined senses over at Kelly’s Toxic Triangle.

But really, what does Forbes know? Last time they had us ranked it was as one of the top U.S. cities for singles.

Ill farm bill

If you were thinking of agriculture (it is Farm Bill week, after all), you’re probably in one of those regularly failing-to-meet-up MeetUp groups. That is: You’re one of the few city dwellers that ever do. However, there is gold in them thar fields. Subsidy gold.

In the past decade, Texas growers have raked in more than any other state – $16.2 billion – in direct and indirect federal payments for their corn, rice, and cotton. ’Course, we’re a big state. With half of all that kibble going into the Panhandle, Bexar County folk saw only a fraction of that take (one-tenth of one percent, or $16.4 million).

And James Richardson, professor in A&M’s Food Policy Center, says that will collapse even further, thanks to skyrocketing corn prices that will likely eliminate most subsidies this year.

“Right now corn is trading over $6 a bushel,” he told Que2, “and for the triggers to take effect they’re going to have to get down to $3.25.”

The bill also opens the door to the National Bio- & Agro-Defense Facility, the massive $450-million germ lab Homeland Security may be bringing to San Antonio. The bill allows Homeland to study foot-and-mouth disease on the U.S. mainland. To date, a little island off the Eastern Seaboard with a questionable containment history has been the only lab with the virus under study.

Problem is, the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded last week that the Bush Administration was using a flawed study when they decided a mainland site would be preferable or even safe.

The oldest ag-interest group, National Grange, have come out strongly opposed to docking the disease onshore, saying such a location “greatly increases the risk of a catastrophic outbreak.”

The Texas Cattle Feeders Association opposes it, too. It’s the cattle raisers that remain in limbo. Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, still listed as a supporter of the project by local boosters at the Texas Bio and Agro-Defense Consortium, haven’t found time to return Queque’s calls from months back.