CPHC Central North Pacific Outlook

Central North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Central North Pacific 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center Honolulu HI
800 PM HST Sat Jul 11 2020

For the central North Pacific...between 140W and 180W:

No tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5 days.


Forecaster Gibbs

NHC Eastern North Pacific Outlook

Eastern North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Eastern North Pacific 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
1100 PM PDT Sat Jul 11 2020

For the eastern North Pacific...east of 140 degrees west longitude:

The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Tropical
Storm Cristina, located several hundred miles west of the southern
tip of the Baja California peninsula.

1. A low pressure area located a couple of hundred miles south of
Acapulco, Mexico, is producing disorganized shower and thunderstorm
activity. Although upper-level winds are currently only marginally
conducive for the development of a tropical cyclone, environmental
conditions are likely to become more favorable for the formation
of a tropical depression in two or three days while the system
moves quickly west-northwestward to westward, well south of the
coast of Mexico.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...medium...40 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...high...70 percent.

Forecaster Blake

AFDLOX July 11, 11:14pm

FXUS66 KLOX 120614 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion...UPDATED National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 1114 PM PDT Sat Jul 11 2020 .SYNOPSIS...11/717 PM. Afternoon temperatures will be well above normal today and Sunday and then will slowly cool through the week. Night and morning low clouds and fog will remain along the coast through the weekend and then will become more widespread, pushing into interior valleys by midweek.

NHC Atlantic Outlook

Atlantic 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Atlantic 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
200 AM EDT Sun Jul 12 2020

For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:

Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 5 days.

Forecaster Blake

Too many autistic adults are denied basic rights

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Some of the very worst treatment of the vulnerable is hardly being discussed. There is an entire category of American adults being denied almost all of their basic legal rights: to hold a job, choose a residence, determine their health care, enter into contracts and even decide what to do with their own body. These are adults under legal guardianship — a court-imposed process, in Ohio as elsewhere, “by which a person is relieved of the right to make personal life decisions and another is appointed to make those decisions on that person’s behalf.”

Among the adults who have lost such rights, or live under the fear that they will, are those with autism. It is entirely possible that they will end up in guarded and segregated communities, often against their will.

Perhaps you think many of these individuals are unable to care for themselves and therefore their full rights cannot be respected. To whatever extent that may be true, it is not a reason for trampling on human rights. And even if you believe it is, you must concede that the legal system is prone to horrible misjudgments and mistakes.

After recent revelations about institutional racism, it is hard to believe that prejudices do not affect decisions about guardianship. The justice system is already heavily biased in favor of plea bargains, in effect favoring efficiency over constitutional rights. And even when there is no bias, there is the reality of simple error — which are common enough in hospitals, where the stakes are much higher.

Definitely recommended, do read the whole thing.  And don’t forget this:

When it comes to guardianship, is there any reason to be so sure that liberty-protecting institutions are in place? Especially since basic information is so hard to come by? As both a people and a polity, Americans do not always behave best “when no one is watching.”

Overall it is remarkable to me how little good information, or for that matter argumentation, is available on this topic.

The post Too many autistic adults are denied basic rights appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

AFDSGX July 11, 9:01pm

FXUS66 KSGX 120401 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 901 PM PDT Sat Jul 11 2020 .SYNOPSIS... The weather will continue to be exceptionally hot this weekend with strong high pressure over the Southwest. Coastal temperatures will be somewhat moderated by sea breezes. Increasing moisture aloft will bring occasional high clouds and a slight chance for showers, mainly over the mountains. Temperatures will slowly trend lower early next week as the high aloft weakens. Seasonal weather will prevail later next week with a weak trough along the West Coast.

[Sponsor] Change for Twenty: The Harriet Tubman Twenty Dollar Bill

One of the Trump administration’s first moves was to delay the release of the approved Harriet Tubman Twenty Dollar Bill. Yes, it’s only a symbol, but as we’ve seen in 2020, symbols matter. And the bill is overdue. For every $20 shirt purchased, we will donate $20 to a Donors Choose K-12 program focused on Black history, literature, equality, and/or racial justice.


Comet CG Creates Its Dust Tail

Where do comet tails come from? Where do comet tails come from?

NASA implements changes to planetary protection policies for moon and Mars missions

Artemis astronauts

WASHINGTON — NASA announced July 9 two new directives regarding planetary protection for missions to the moon and Mars that implement recommendations of an independent review board last year.

The two directives, announced by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a “Moon Dialogs” webinar, are part of an effort by NASA to modernize guidelines that are decades old and which the agency believes could hinder its long-term human exploration plans.

The directives reflect “how NASA has evolved on its thinking as it relates to forward and backward harmful biological contamination on the surface of the moon and, of course, on Mars,” Bridenstine said.

The first of what are formally known as NASA Interim Directives revises planetary protection classification of the moon. Mission to the moon had been in Category 2, which required missions to document any biological materials on board but set no cleanliness standards on them. That classification was driven by concerns spacecraft could contaminate water ice at the lunar poles.

Under the new directive, most of the moon will be placed in Category 1, which imposes no requirements on missions. The exceptions will be the polar regions — north of 86 degrees north latitude and south of 79 degrees south latitude — which will remain in Category 2. Regions around Apollo landing “and other historic sites” will also be in Category 2, primarily to protect biological materials left behind by the crewed Apollo landings.

“NASA is changing its thinking on how we’re going to go forward to the moon,” Bridenstine said. “Certain parts of the moon, from a scientific perspective, need to be protected more than other parts of the moon from forward biological contamination.”

The second directive addresses future human missions to Mars, a planet with much greater planetary protection requirements. Those requirements include setting strict limits on the level of terrestrial contamination that many have argued are incompatible with human missions.

“We can’t go to Mars with humans if the principle that we’re living by is that we can’t have any microbial substances with us, because that’s just not possible,” Bridenstine said.

The Mars directive doesn’t change the planetary protection requirements for missions to that planet, but instead calls for studies for how to do so. Those studies range from research that can be done on the International Space Station to potentially sending a precursor robotic mission to a location near the proposed landing site for the crewed mission to measure what organic materials are present.

“NASA will develop risk-informed decision making implementation strategies for human missions to Mars, which account for and balance the needs of human space exploration, science, commercial activities, and safety,” the directive states.

That effort, Bridenstine said, would be a long-term process that will require more changes to policies in the future. “As we learn more, we’re going to have to continue making adjustments,” he said.

The two directives implement some of the recommendations of the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board, which released a report last October calling for modernization of planetary protection protocols. Among its recommendations was reclassifying much of the moon from Category 2 to Category 1, as well as for NASA to develop planetary protection guidelines for future Mars missions.

“Planetary protection has not really had a look under the hood in a bottoms-up assessment in something like 40 years,” Alan Stern, the planetary scientist who chaired that independent review, said in a panel discussion after Bridenstine’s remarks. “So much has changed in that time in so many areas.”

The NASA directives apply to the agency’s own missions as well as those in which the agency participates in some way, such as joint missions with other agencies or commercial missions where NASA is a customer. It does not apply, though, to missions by other space agencies or strictly commercial missions.

“There are NASA’s interim directives, but what NASA does has a tremendous influence on the private sector,” argued Mike Gold, acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations at NASA, during the panel discussion. “We have to establish the right precedent. The [directives] we put forward today will demonstrate a path for the private sector.”

The directives also do not affect international planetary protection guidelines maintained by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). However, when the independent review board’s report was released last fall, people such as Len Fisk, president of COSPAR, said they expected the recommended changes to ultimately be accepted by COSPAR.

One space law expert said that approach should be sufficient. “It is an evolving process,” said Tanja Masson-Zwaan, deputy director of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University. Countries have been voluntarily implementing those guidelines for decades, she noted, as a means of adhering to the Outer Space Treaty’s requirement to avoid “harmful contamination” of celestial bodies.

She rejected in the panel discussion the idea of a new international organization to oversee planetary protection. “In pragmatic terms, this is not something that will happen, but I also do not think it is necessary.”


Philosopher J. emails me about free speech and Straussianism

I won’t add extra formatting, here goes (and here is my original post):

“Nice point about a Straussian reading of the free speech letter, and the general constraints of working in groups…But I have this worry about your post. I am not myself a Straussian, but I will express the point as a way of taking further the Straussianism already in your post. Maybe this is what you intend, so that a post making a Straussian point explicit should have a kind of meta-Straussian point. But, here goes: Taking your point about working in groups, I’m worried about you saying:

  • we have a new bunch of “speech regulators” (not in the legal sense, not usually at least) who are especially humorless and obnoxious and I would say neurotic

I would think the Straussian position (in the fuller sense, not just the sense of covert or hidden) would be that working in a group, in a city (or state, country, etc.), always requires constraints — some way of encoding and reproducing enough of a common morality to make living together and coordination possible. From the position of “the philosophers” (as Straussians would say, but in this case I’m thinking of you) these may always be humorless, obnoxious, and maybe neurotic too. So why not think that the old speech regulators were equally so, just enforcing different rules? Why not think we’ve moved from rules of propriety (e.g. more censorship of sexual content, for example), to rules forbidding racism, etc.? You might then think that recent changes have broadened the openness for some kinds of speech. People I know who are interested in police violence, and remedies, report experiencing such a broadening.

An optional addition to this thought would be the idea that different sets of codes, equally and unfortunately all-too humorless, can still do better and worse judged with respect to the good, as Platonist-Straussians would say. In that sense, I would think the new humorless codes an improvement.

Granted, there is a strong strand in Straussianism that would think it just most important that there is some way for “the philosophers” to be able to have some space free of such codes to do the actually important stuff (as they see it) in ways that are not humorless, etc. But even that strand in no way holds the standard is that “the philosophers” should be freely expressing their views *publicly*! I would think that this is a pretty essential part of the point of Straussianism in the first place.

thanks as always for your work and the inspiration to think less about raising and lowering statuses, less from the perspective of Platonic thumos, as the Straussians would put it…”

TC again: More anonymity!  Hmm…

The post Philosopher J. emails me about free speech and Straussianism appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

SpaceX test-fires Falcon 9 rocket launch next week with Korean military satellite

A Falcon 9 rocket — without its payload fairing — fired up on Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch Saturday for a pre-flight test-firing. Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

Hours after calling off a launch of a different rocket from a nearby launch pad, SpaceX’s launch team loaded a Falcon 9 rocket with propellant Saturday and fired its nine main engines on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, setting the stage for a liftoff with a South Korean military satellite as soon as Tuesday amid a busy stretch of missions for the California-based rocket company.

SpaceX ground crews raised the Falcon 9 rocket vertical on pad 40 Saturday morning. An automated computer-controlled sequencer commanded super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen into the Falcon 9 Saturday afternoon.

The countdown culminated in ignition of the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D main engines at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT). The engines throttled up to full power, generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust for several seconds while clamps restrained the Falcon 9 on the launch pad.

Onlookers observed a plume of exhaust coming from the rocket and confirmed the the test-firing occurred. SpaceX was expected to officially release an update on the outcome of the static fire test after a quick-look data review.

The Falcon 9 will be lowered and rolled back inside SpaceX’s hangar near pad 40, where technicians will attach a European-made communications satellite named Anasis 2 built for the South Korean military.

Assuming the final days of launch preparations go according to plan, SpaceX plans to launch the mission Tuesday during a nearly four-hour window opening at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and extending until 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT).

The static fire test Saturday for the Anasis 2 mission occurred the same day SpaceX planned to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, located a few miles north of pad 40. SpaceX announced Saturday morning that it called off the launch from pad 39A “to allow more time for checkouts.”

SpaceX tweeted that teams “working to identify the next launch opportunity” for the mission from pad 39A, which will loft SpaceX’s next 57 Starlink broadband Internet satellites and a pair of commercial BlackSky Earth-imaging microsatellites.

The Starlink/BlackSky launch was supposed to take off June 26, but SpaceX delayed the mission to conduct additional pre-launch checkouts. A launch attempt Wednesday was scrubbed minutes before liftoff by poor weather.

The company has not disclosed any details about the nature of the problems — other than weather — that have delayed the Starlink/BlackSky mission. As of Saturday evening, it was not clear whether SpaceX might proceed with Tuesday’s planned Anasis 2 launch next, or if there might be another opportunity to launch the Starlink/BlackSky mission as soon as Monday.

SpaceX has launched 11 Falcon 9 missions so far this year, most recently on June 30, when a Falcon 9 rocket took off from pad 40 with a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

Developed by Airbus Defense and Space, the Anasis 2 satellite is shrouded in secrecy at the wishes of the the spacecraft’s owner — the South Korean government.

Anasis 2 is based on the Eurostar E3000 spacecraft platform made by Airbus, but details about its performance have been kept under wraps. The Anasis 2 satellite is expected to launch into an elliptical transfer orbit, then use its on-board propulsion system to reach a circular orbit at geostationary altitude more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.,

South Korea purchased the satellite — formerly known as KMilSatCom 1 — through an arrangement to offset South Korea’s purchase of F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin ultimately subcontracted the satellite manufacturing deal to Airbus.

Before Anasis 2, South Korea’s military has relied on international and civilian-owned satellites for communications.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

July 11 COVID-19 Test Results; Highest Percent Positive Since Early May

The US is now conducting over 600,000 tests per day, and that might be enough to allow test-and-trace in some areas. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections, so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly.

There were 633,974 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 63,007 positive tests.

COVID-19 Tests per Day Click on graph for larger image.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 9.9% (red line).

For the status of contact tracing by state, check out testandtrace.com.

Loft Orbital satellite to carry experiment for DARPA’s Blackjack program

WASHINGTON — Loft Orbital’s YAM-3 satellite — scheduled to fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission — will carry a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency experiment for the Blackjack program.

Loft Orbital, a San Francisco-based startup, is working under a contract from Scientific Systems Company Inc. Boston-based SSCI received a DARPA contract to fly a demonstration of the Blackjack Pit Boss mission system.

DARPA started the Blackjack program in 2018 to demonstrate the utility of low-cost small satellites in low Earth orbit for military operations.

Blackjack program manager Rusty Thomas told SpaceNews on July 9 that the upcoming Pit Boss experiment, dubbed Sagittarius A*, is projected to launch in early 2021. The experiment is a “risk reduction” mission in preparation for the production of the main Blackjack satellites planned for launch in late 2021.

Pit Boss is the mission management system that will make it possible for Blackjack satellites to autonomously acquire, process and distribute information to users. SSCI developed the Pit Boss software for this demonstration and is a subcontractor to SEAKR Engineering, based in Centennial, Colorado. SEAKR was selected by DARPA as the Pit Boss prime contractor.

Alex Greenberg, co-founder and chief operating officer of Loft Orbital, said this will be the company’s first Defense Department mission. Loft Orbital buys satellite buses and leases space onboard the buses to customers who don’t want to fly their own satellites. It also books the launches.

The YAM-3 satellite — a small spacecraft about the size of a washing machine — is being built by LeoStella, a joint venture of Thales Alenia Space and Spaceflight Industries. The company supplies the satellites for the earth observation company BlackSky.

The Blackjack mission on YAM-3 (short for Yet Another Mission) will be flying with other payloads from multiple customers on a SpaceX SSO Rideshare launch, Greenberg told SpaceNews.

The Pit Boss demonstration has two payloads. One is the flight computer that runs the SSCI autonomy software. The second is a commercial optical imaging sensor that will search for targets in the open ocean. The data will be fed to the flight computer for on-board analysis and processing. The Pit Boss’ artificial intelligence will process the data and retask the satellite as it searches for targets.

Greenberg said planning for the YAM-3 mission began long before Loft Orbital got the contract from SSCI for the DARPA experiment. “They realized that this was the fastest way to get hardware in space,” he said.

What DARPA is doing in the Blackjack program — buying commodity satellites and payloads, and developing the middle layer to interface the two sides — “that’s our business model too,” Greenberg said. “We buy buses from different vendors, we develop the onboard interface technology to be fully payload agnostic.”


Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 30.2% Year-over-year

From HotelNewsNow.com: STR: US hotel results for week ending 4 July
U.S. hotel performance data for the week ending 4 July showed a slight decline in occupancy from the previous week, according to STR.

28 June through 4 July 2020 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019):

Occupancy: 45.6% (-30.2%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$101.36 (-20.9%)
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$46.21 (-44.8%)

Occupancy had risen in week-to-week comparisons for 11 straight weeks since mid-April.

“Demand came in 67,000 rooms lower than the previous week, and beyond that, July 1 was a reopening day for a lot of hotels, further impacting the occupancy equation,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights. “A rise in COVID-19 cases has led to states pausing or even rolling back some of their reopenings. Beaches have been a big demand driver for hotels, but with many beaches closed ahead of the July 4 holiday, all but two markets in Florida showed lower occupancy than the previous week. Growing concern around this latest spike in the pandemic has further implications for leisure and business demand alike.” emphasis added
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

Hotel Occupancy RateClick on graph for larger image.

The red line is for 2020, dash light blue is 2019, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year probably since the Great Depression for hotels).

Usually hotel occupancy starts to pick up seasonally in early June. So some of the recent pickup might be seasonal (summer travel).   Note that summer occupancy usually peaks at the end of July or in early August.

According to STR, the improvement appears related mostly to leisure travel as opposed to business travel.

Note: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.

Dangerous Heat Continues Across the South; Severe Thunderstorms Possible From Central/Southern Plains to Ohio Valley

Saturday assorted links

1. What the auction listing for a campus looks like.

2. As fewer kids played football, hospitals saw a big drop in ER visits.

3. Polite explanations of why so many professional athletes test positive for coronavirus (NYT).  Why can’t they just come out and write the likely truth about multiple sex partners?

4. Response to Peter Beinart.

5. Carrying cost of cruise ship > liquidity premium, at least for now (Bloomberg).

6. The shooting cops problem is much worse out in the west, and other regularities.

7. I do a 45-minute podcast with Dwarkesh Patel (he is interviewing me, mainly).  My only podcast where I use “the f word”?  (Not for any good reason, I just felt like it.)

The post Saturday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Family Business and Politics in Marlborough

Personal finance and politics intersected for the Speakman family and their neighbors in the summer of 1770.

As I started to discuss back here, Thomas Speakman acquired property in Marlborough before being killed on the Lake Champlain battlefront in 1757.

His widow Mary was living in that town in the late 1760s, and their son William (Billy) apparently moved out there after a health scare in late 1768.

By that time both mother and son had become attached to Whig politics, even though they were upper-class Anglicans, a group more likely to side with the Crown. That irked Mary Speakman’s Loyalist friend and neighbor Christian Barnes, who nonetheless concluded that the widow was not acting ”from any Self interested Motives.”

In those years the family’s second son, Gilbert Warner Speakman, was in Boston working for his uncle, merchant John Rowe. But that young man, called Gibby or Gib by his family, came of age in 1768 and needed to establish himself independently in some way.

In the same long letter from the summer of 1770 that I quoted about political disturbances in Marlborough, Christian Barnes wrote in late June:
Mrs. Speakman went to Boston last week and Mr. Rowe ask’d her what she intended to to [sic] do with Gibby for he had no longer any ocation for him and could not afford to pay him wages

She told him her last resort was New Boston [New Hampshire, where the family had invested in land] and if she could be put into business there she should like to take her whole family with her,

he made no reply to this and she return’d from Boston in very low Spirits but last Night she received a letter from Gibby informing her that his uncles Row & [Ralph] Inman had agree’d he should go to New Boston with goods and there make Pearl & Pott Ash
Christian Barnes’s husband Henry happened to own a potash manufactory in Marlborough. To be sure, that building had recently had its windows smashed, and a rumor was going around town that Billy Speakman was sparking such vandalism to get Henry to finally adhere to non-importation. But that didn’t stop Gibby from asking his mother’s neighbor for advice:
he sent to Mr. Barnes for an estimate of the Cost of the Works and desires to know if this is a proper Season to cut down Timber to build a House

you see these are all things at a distance and may possibly blow off in Air However it has given Mrs. Speakman new Spirits
That month, two effigies of her husband, a threatening letter, and news of attacks on other Loyalists made Christian Barnes increasingly anxious. And then came a small-town betrayal.

Christian Barnes’s 13 July letter reported that Mary Speakman was preparing for her son to go into business in competition with Henry Barnes. The people of Marlborough would no longer have to buy general goods from an importer or travel to another town. Political, commercial, and personal factors were intertwining as Christian Barnes wrote of the rift between the families:
even Mrs. Speakman has deserted me, and takeing the advantage of our distress’d situation has made aplication to Mr. Row and he has consented to send up Gibby and open a Store at her House and he is now actuly here makeing preparation for the reception of his goods[.] he has brought his Mistress with him and they have past a Week in the greatest Mirth and festivity.

The only excuse they have to make for this ungreatfull proceeding is that as Mr. Barnes has advertized his Estate for Sail but whatever Motive Mr. Barnes might have for advertizeing his Place Mrs. Speakman has told me more than twenty times that she was convinced he has no intention of leaving Marlborough, so you see what the New Boston Scheem is come to but it must end in that finily, or something worse for I am well assured that a Store of Good put into their hands and by Mr. Row must prove their distruction, and at the same time will be injuring us to such a degree as I think ought not to be forgiven.
By this point Christian Barnes had dropped all her skepticism about the Speakman brothers encouraging the attacks on her husband. “I know they have both been very active in all the riots in Boston and they may Posibly find some dareing Sons of Violence who may be willing to assist them in any interprize they shall propose.”

To get away from the local unrest, Barnes went to stay with friends. On 17 September she described developments she found on coming back home:
when I returned from Cambridge (after an absense of five Weeks) I found the Peoples Minds were more composed[.] a Party had apear’d in our favor and some of them had Publicly declared they would act in opposition to any one that should molest us

they remain’d quiet till the time approach’d for takeing out our licence [to sell liquor.] Mr. Barnes then waited on the Select Men for their approbation but was refused

Mrs. Speakman (who is still determin’d to circumvent us in our trade if possible) had no doubt but she should obtain it but she did not gain her Point and Mr. Barnes put in a Petition to the Court which was then siting at Concord and they very readily granted him a license tho there was great opposition made by some People in the Town who were at the expence of feeing a Lawyer upon the ocation

they now begin to make it a party affair among themselves and the Tory Party (as they are call’d) talk of erecting fire Works by way of triumph upon our gaining the licence
Soon, however, the non-importation controversy settled down. Gib Speakman opened a tannery instead of directly competing with Henry Barnes.

Of course, the larger political issues remained unresolved.

TOMORROW: When war came.

[The picture above is an eighteenth-century engraving of a potash kiln, courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.]

Thieves and Scoundrels Spotted Among SBA Payroll Loan Recipients

Survey Finds Dozens of Companies Guilty of Wage Thefts Among Borrowers of Public Funds; More Names To Come

Many of Uncle Sam’s coronavirus-driven loans did not go to Mom and Pop, but to the brotherhood of the thieving rich.

The Trump administration’s reluctant disclosure of the names of more than 600,000 recipients of Paycheck Protection Program aid has shown that many of the loans went to firms that are well-connected.

The companies don’t fit the image of mom-and-pop businesses we were led to believe would be the main beneficiaries.

There is another problem: Many of the recipients previously engaged in behavior that amounts to paycheck endangerment. They failed to comply with minimum wage and/or overtime requirements and thus paid their workers less than what they were owed. In other words, they engaged in wage theft.

Many of the recipients … failed to comply with minimum wage and/or overtime requirements and thus paid their workers less than what they were owed. In other words, they engaged in wage theft.

This comes from an analysis of data my colleagues and I have collected for the COVID Stimulus Watch and Violation Tracker databases. That includes the big PPP dataset and information on penalties imposed by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, one of the many agencies whose enforcement data can be found in Violation Tracker.

We are in the process of determining which PPP recipients are on the list of wage and hour violators, so we can highlight that in COVID Stimulus Watch along with other corporate accountability data.

88 Firms Spotted so Far

As a first step, I looked at the 4,800 companies identified as receiving the largest PPP loans–$5 million to $10 million. So far, I have found 88 of those recipients that paid wage theft penalties since 2010. Their penalties averaged about $100,000—which is roughly double the amount paid in back pay and fines in a typical wage and hour case.

The largest wage theft penalty I’ve found for a PPP recipient is the $1.9 million paid by Hutco Inc., a marine and shipyard staffing agency based in Louisiana. In announcing the penalty, Labor said the company had utilized improper pay and record-keeping practices, resulting in “systemic overtime violations” affecting more than 2,000 workers.

PPP recipient National Food Corp., a major egg producer, paid $435,000 in penalties for wage and hour violations at its operations in Washington State. The company also paid $650,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Hearth Management, a PPP recipient that manages assisted living facilities in four states, paid a total of $383,000 in wage theft penalties at several locations. At a facility in Tennessee, Labor reported the company made deductions from timecards for meal breaks even when employees worked through those breaks and it failed to include on-call and other non-discretionary supplements when calculating overtime rates.

Other PPP recipients with substantial wage theft penalties include the publisher O’Reilly Media, the electronics company Sierra Circuits, the restaurant chain Legal Sea Foods and Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, N.Y., which also has been penalized for overbilling Medicaid.

Apart from the PPP money, the Erie County Medical Center has received more than $75 million in grants and loans from other federal programs related to COVID relief.

We will undoubtedly find many more companies with similar track records as we analyze the other hundreds of thousands of PPP recipients.

Not Illegal to Apply

It was not illegal for employers with a history of wage theft penalties to apply for and receive PPP assistance, yet the presence of these companies in the recipient list points to dual risks.

First, there is the possibility that these firms will cook the books when it comes to reporting on their use of PPP funds and submitting their requests to have the loans forgiven.

Second, these firms may feel that the current economic crisis will give them cover for returning to their old practices of wage theft. At a time of massive unemployment, these firms may assume that workers will not dare to complain about being shortchanged.

For these reasons, PPP employers with a history of wage theft penalties should be subject to additional scrutiny both by the Wage and Hour Division and the Small Business Administration.

Paycheck protection must mean not only the preservation of jobs but also the defense of fair labor standards.

The post Thieves and Scoundrels Spotted Among SBA Payroll Loan Recipients appeared first on DCReport.org.

Economics and Computation 2020 updated program, July 13-16

Scott Kominers forwards this update on the EC conference program, including a shortcut to identify those sessions on market design.

Economics and Computation 2020
The main programming of EC 2020, the leading scientific conference on advances in theory, empirics, and applications at the interface of economics and computation, will be held next week from July 13 to July 16.  The program features invited speakers, a highlight of papers from other conferences and journals, a technical program of paper presentations and posters, workshops, tutorials, and ample opportunities for casual interactions and networking. The conference will be run virtually on the Gather platform, an innovative 2D world that facilitates spontaneous small-group conversations. 

Participation by members of related fields is strongly encouraged.  Registration is mandatory (register here) but complimentary with ACM/SIGecom membership of $10 ($5 for students).  Details on joining events will be emailed to registered participants.

All events are listed on this Google calendar.  Paper sessions are broken down by areas of interest in the Google calendars below.  You can add these calendars to your personal Google calendar by clicking the “+Google” button on the bottom right.

1.     Matching and Market Design
2.     Social Choice and Fair Division
3.     Equilibria, Learning, and Bounded Rationality
4.     Mechanism Design
5.     Gig Economy, Ethics
6.     Electronic Commerce, Econometrics
7.     Data, Social Learning, Social Networks
8.     Pricing and Optimal Stopping

Unanswered questions about EC’20 can be directed to the Conference Hosts at sigecom-virtual-EC2020@googlegroups.com.

Schedule for Week of July 12, 2020

The key reports this week are June CPI, housing starts and retail sales.

For manufacturing, the June Industrial Production report and the July New York and Philly Fed manufacturing surveys will be released.

----- Monday, July 13th -----

No major economic releases scheduled.

----- Tuesday, July 14th -----

6:00 AM ET: NFIB Small Business Optimism Index for June.

8:30 AM: The Consumer Price Index for June from the BLS. The consensus is for a 0.6% increase in CPI, and a 0.1% increase in core CPI.

----- Wednesday, July 15th -----

7:00 AM ET: The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) will release the results for the mortgage purchase applications index.

8:30 AM: The New York Fed Empire State manufacturing survey for July. The consensus is for a reading of 7.9, up from -0.2.

Industrial Production9:15 AM: The Fed will release Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization for June.

This graph shows industrial production since 1967.

The consensus is for a 4.6% increase in Industrial Production, and for Capacity Utilization to increase to 68.1%.

2:00 PM: the Federal Reserve Beige Book, an informal review by the Federal Reserve Banks of current economic conditions in their Districts.

----- Thursday, July 16th -----

8:30 AM: The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released. The consensus is for a 1.200 million initial claims, down from 1.314 million the previous week.

Year-over-year change in Retail Sales8:30 AM: Retail sales for June is scheduled to be released.  The consensus is for 5.5% increase in retail sales.

This graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, decreased by 3.9% on a YoY basis in May.

8:30 AM: the Philly Fed manufacturing survey for July. The consensus is for a reading of 20.0, down from 27.5.

10:00 AM: The July NAHB homebuilder survey. The consensus is for a reading of 60, up from 58. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

----- Friday, July 17th -----

Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing Starts8:30 AM ET: Housing Starts for June.

This graph shows single and total housing starts since 1968.

The consensus is for 1.180 million SAAR, up from 0.974 million SAAR in May.

10:00 AM: University of Michigan's Consumer sentiment index (Preliminary for July).

10:00 AM: State Employment and Unemployment (Monthly) for June 2020

How small satellites are radically remaking space exploration

An Electron rocket launches in August 2019 from New Zealand.

Enlarge / An Electron rocket launches in August 2019 from New Zealand. (credit: Sam Toms/Rocket Lab)

At the beginning of this year, a group of NASA scientists agonized over which robotic missions they should choose to explore our Solar System. Researchers from around the United States had submitted more than 20 intriguing ideas, such as whizzing by asteroids, diving into lava tubes on the Moon, and hovering in the Venusian atmosphere.

Ultimately, NASA selected four of these Discovery-class missions for further study. In several months, the space agency will pick two of the four missions to fully fund, each with a cost cap of $450 million and a launch late within this decade. For the losing ideas, there may be more chances in future years—but until new opportunities arise, scientists can only plan, wait, and hope.

This is more or less how NASA has done planetary science for decades. Scientists come up with all manner of great ideas to answer questions about our Solar System; then, NASA announces an opportunity, a feeding frenzy ensues for those limited slots. Ultimately, one or two missions get picked and fly. The whole process often takes a couple of decades from the initial idea to getting data back to Earth.

Read 34 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX stands down from Starlink launch for the third time [Updated]

10:15am ET Saturday Update: The third time was not a charm. A little more than an hour before a Falcon 9 rocket was due to launch on Saturday morning from Florida, SpaceX announced it was, "Standing down from today's launch of the tenth Starlink mission to allow more time for checkouts; team is working to identify the next launch opportunity. Will announce a new target date once confirmed with the Range."

Notably, this is the second time this rocket—the first stage of which has flown four times previously—has been scrubbed on launch day due to the need for additional "checkouts."

8:30am ET Saturday Update: SpaceX first tried to launch its tenth batch of Starlink satellites on June 26 before standing down a couple of hours before liftoff, citing the need to perform additional "pre-flight checks."

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fight the Virus! Please.

One of the most confounding aspects of the pandemic has been Congress’s unwillingness or inability to spend to fight the virus. As I said in the LA Times:

If an invader rained missiles down on cities across the United States killing thousands of people, we would fight back. Yet despite spending trillions on unemployment insurance and relief to deal with the economic consequences of COVID-19, we have spent comparatively little fighting the virus directly.

Economists Steven Berry and Zack Cooper have run the numbers:

By our calculations, less than 8 percent of the trillions in funding that Congress has allocated so far in response to the virus has been for solutions that would shorten or mitigate the virus itself: measures like increasing the supply of PPE, expanding testing, developing treatments, standing up contact tracing, or developing a vaccine. A case in point is the most recent House Covid-19 package. It calls for $3 trillion in spending; less than 3 percent of that total is allocated toward Covid testing. As Congress considers next steps, it’s imperative to shift priorities and direct more funding and effort toward actually ending the pandemic.

Berry and Copper point to the vaccine plan that I am working on as an example of smart spending:

…a group of prominent economists, including Nobel Laureate Michael Kremer, has proposed spending a $70 billion dollar vaccine effort. The proposed expenditure is both much larger than anything proposed by the White House or Congress and also quite cheap compared to the potential benefits.

…[Similarly] Nobel Laureate Paul Romer and the Rockefeller Foundation have each sketched out $100 billion plans to increase testing. We say: Let’s fund both, allocating half the funds directly to states, who can spend to activate the vast capacity of university labs, and also fund Romer’s plan to scale up $10 instant tests for true mass testing. We could create a $50 billion dollar challenge prize that rewards the first 10 firms that develop effective treatments for Covid-19 — $5 billion each. We could fund Scott Gottlieb and Andy Slavitt’s bipartisan $50 billion contact tracing proposal. We could allocate $100 billion to fund the libertarian leaning Mercatus Center’s proposal for advanced purchase contracts to procure massive quantities of PPE.

What makes this all the more confounding is that spending to defeat the virus will more than pay for itself! As I said in my piece in the Washington Post (with Puja Ahluwalia Ohlhaver):

Economists talk about “multipliers” — an injection of spending that causes even larger increases in gross domestic product. Spending on testing, tracing and paid isolation would produce an indisputable and massive multiplier effect.

Who gains by killing the economy and letting people die? Yes, it’s possible to spin some elaborate conspiracy about someone, somewhere benefiting. But in talking with people in Congress the message I hear is not that there’s a secret cabal with a special interest in economic collapse and dying constituents. In a way, the message is worse. Multiple people have told me that things move slowly, no one is stepping up to the plate, leadership is absent. “Who is John Galt?,” they sigh. Ok, they don’t literally say that, but that sigh of resignation is what it feels like in the United States today at the highest levels of government.

The post Fight the Virus! Please. appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Rereading Ayn Rand on the New Left

It used to be called The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, but the later title was Return of the Primitive.  It was published in 1971, but sometimes drawn from slightly earlier essays.  I wondered if a revisit might shed light on the current day, and here is what I learned:

1. “The New Left is the product of cultural disintegration; it is bred not in the slums, but in the universities; it is not the vanguard of the future, but the terminal stage of the past.”

2. The moderates who tolerate the New Left and its anti-reality bent can be worse than the New Left itself.

3. Ayn Rand wishes to cancel the New Left, albeit peacefully.

4. “Like every other form of collectivism, racism is a quest for the unearned.”  Ouch, it would be good to resuscitate this entire essay (on racism).

5. She fears the collapse of Europe into tribalism, racism, and balkanization.  I am not sure if I should feel better or worse about the ongoing persistence of this trope.

6. It is easy to forget that English was not her first language: “Logical Positivism carried it further and, in the name of reason, elevated the immemorial psycho-epistemology of shyster lawyers to the status of a scientific epistemological system — by proclaiming that knowledge consists of linguistic manipulations.”

6b. Kant was the first hippie.

7. The majority of people do not hate the good, although they are disgusted by…all sorts of things.

8. Like many Russian women, she is skeptical of the American brand of feminism: “As a group, American women are the most privileged females on earth: they control the wealth of the United States — through inheritance from fathers and husbands who work themselves into an early grave, struggling to provide every comfort and luxury for the bridge-playing, cocktail-party-chasing cohorts, who give them very little in return.  Women’s Lib proclaims that they should give still less, and exhorts its members to refuse to cook their husbands’ meals — with its placards commanding “Starve a rat today!””  Feminism for me, but not for thee, you could call it.

Overall I would describe this as a bracing reread.  But what struck me most of all was how much the “Old New Left” — whatever you think of it — had more metaphysical and ethical and aesthetic imagination — than the New New Left variants running around today.  As Rand takes pains to point out (to her dismay), the Old New Left did indeed have Woodstock, which in reality was not as far from the Apollo achievement as she was suggesting at the time.

The post Rereading Ayn Rand on the New Left appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.


In a screed that historians will cite as a hallmark of Trumpism, the president has commuted the prison sentence of Roger Stone:

Statement from the Press Secretary Regarding Executive Grant of Clemency for Roger Stone, Jr.
Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Grant of Clemency commuting the unjust sentence of Roger Stone, Jr.
Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.  There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia.  Such collusion was never anything other than a fantasy of partisans unable to accept the result of the 2016 election.  The collusion delusion spawned endless and farcical investigations, conducted at great taxpayer expense, looking for evidence that did not exist.  As it became clear that these witch hunts would never bear fruit, the Special Counsel’s Office resorted to process-based charges leveled at high-profile people in an attempt to manufacture the false impression of criminality lurking below the surface.  These charges were the product of recklessness borne of frustration and malice.

This is why the out-of-control Mueller prosecutors, desperate for splashy headlines to compensate for a failed investigation, set their sights on Mr. Stone.  Roger Stone is well known for his nearly 50 years of work as a consultant for high-profile Republican politicians, including President Ronald Reagan, Senator Bob Dole, and many others.  He is also well known for his outspoken support for President Donald J. Trump and opposition to Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Stone was charged by the same prosecutors from the Mueller Investigation tasked with finding evidence of collusion with Russia.  Because no such evidence exists, however, they could not charge him for any collusion-related crime.  Instead, they charged him for his conduct during their investigation.  The simple fact is that if the Special Counsel had not been pursuing an absolutely baseless investigation, Mr. Stone would not be facing time in prison.

In addition to charging Mr. Stone with alleged crimes arising solely from their own improper investigation, the Mueller prosecutors also took pains to make a public and shameful spectacle of his arrest.  Mr. Stone is a 67-year-old man, with numerous medical conditions, who had never been convicted of another crime.  But rather than allow him to surrender himself, they used dozens of FBI agents with automatic weapons and tactical equipment, armored vehicles, and an amphibious unit to execute a pre-dawn raid of his home, where he was with his wife of many years.  Notably, CNN cameras were present to broadcast these events live to the world, even though they swore they were not notified—it was just a coincidence that they were there together with the FBI early in the morning.

Not only was Mr. Stone charged by overzealous prosecutors pursing a case that never should have existed, and arrested in an operation that never should have been approved, but there were also serious questions about the jury in the case.  The forewoman of his jury, for example, concealed the fact that she is a member of the so-called liberal “resistance” to the Trump Presidency.  In now-deleted tweets, this activist-juror vividly and openly attacked President Trump and his supporters.

Mr. Stone would be put at serious medical risk in prison.  He has appealed his conviction and is seeking a new trial.  He maintains his innocence and has stated that he expects to be fully exonerated by the justice system.  Mr. Stone, like every American, deserves a fair trial and every opportunity to vindicate himself before the courts.  The President does not wish to interfere with his efforts to do so.  At this time, however, and particularly in light of the egregious facts and circumstances surrounding his unfair prosecution, arrest, and trial, the President has determined to commute his sentence.  Roger Stone has already suffered greatly.  He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case.  Roger Stone is now a free man!

Some economies are bouncing back. But recoveries can easily go wrong

Our analysis shows just how fragile consumer confidence can be

The race to lead the WTO begins

Picking a winner could get messy

The pandemic revives ultra-safe European bonds

The European Commission could soon become a big player in capital markets

Europeans quibble about long trading hours: the finance edition

Europe’s stockmarkets are open for longer than anywhere else

More corporate defaults seem to be on the way

Despite a mini-boom in the bond market, defaults are priced in

Americans need more guidance from the Fed

Spelling out the future path of policy would help

The Tails of Comet NEOWISE

Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) is Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) is

Photos: Mars rover encapsulated for launch, mated with Atlas 5 rocket

NASA’s Perseverance rover, contained inside its aeroshell for a searing plunge into the Martian atmosphere next year, has been cocooned inside the payload shroud of its Atlas 5 launcher and mated with the rocket ahead of liftoff from Cape Canaveral scheduled for July 30.

The six-wheeled robot is NASA’s next Mars rover. It’s similar in size and appearance to NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2012. But Perseverance carries a different set of scientific instruments, featuring upgrades such as microphones, a zoom-capable camera, and a technology experiment to demonstrate the generation of oxygen on the surface of Mars.

A primary objective of the $2.7 billion mission is to collect dozens of drilled core samples from Martian rocks. The specimens will be hermetically sealed in tubes by Perseverance, and will wait arrival of a future robotic mission to return the samples to Earth for analysis.

Perseverance, the centerpiece of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, is scheduled for liftoff on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket during a two-hour window July 30 opening at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT).

Read our full story on the mission’s launch status. More photos from the encapsulation of the Mars 2020 spacecraft and its attachment to the Atlas 5 rocket are posted below.

The two halves of the payload fairing for United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket are seen on each side of the spacecraft containing NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover in this June 18 photo. Credit: NASA/Christian Mangano
Credit: NASA/Christian Mangano
Credit: NASA/Christian Mangano
Credit: NASA/Christian Mangano
Credit: NASA/Christian Mangano
The Atlas 5 rocket’s payload shroud containing the Perseverance rover was raised atop the launch vehicle Tuesday, July 7. Credit: NASA/Christian Mangano
Credit: NASA/Christian Mangano
The Atlas 5 payload fairing with the Perseverance rover arrives at ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility. Credit: NASA/KSC
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Credit: NASA/KSC

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Two Quick Links for Friday Afternoon

Turkey has revoked Hagia Sophia's status as a museum and Turkish president Erdogan ordered it to be opened for Muslim prayers. I visited the Hagia Sophia a couple of years ago and it was the highlight of my trip. [nytimes.com]

A look at some memorable photos taken by Patrick Cashin, retiring staff photographer of the MTA in NYC. [nytimes.com]


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of kottke.org, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

July 10 COVID-19 Test Results; Record Tests, Record Positive Tests

The US is now conducting over 600,000 tests per day, and that might be enough to allow test-and-trace in some areas. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections, so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly.

There were 825,635 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 66,645 positive tests.

COVID-19 Tests per Day Click on graph for larger image.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 8.0% (red line).

For the status of contact tracing by state, check out testandtrace.com.

Eumetsat shifts two tardy satellites to Ariane 6

WASHINGTON — Program delays have forced Eumetsat to reserve a pair of Ariane 6 rockets for two European weather satellites originally anticipated to launch on Ariane 5 rockets. 

Eumetsat had signed a contract with Arianespace in 2015 to launch two or three Meteosat Third Generation satellites on Ariane 5 rockets between 2019 and 2023. Of those satellites, only one, MTG-I1, will be completed before Arianespace switches completely to Ariane 6 rockets. 

MTG-I1, an imaging satellite, will launch on an Ariane 5 rocket in 2022, the last year Ariane 5 will be available, Paul Counet, Eumetsat’s head of strategy, communication and international relations, told SpaceNews by email July 6. 

The sounding satellite MTG-S1, for which Eumetsat had a firm Ariane 5 launch contract, is now scheduled to launch in 2023 on an Ariane 6, Eumetsat announced July 2. The third satellite, MTG-I2, for which Eumetsat had an Ariane 5 contract option, will now launch on an Ariane 6 in 2025, the agency said. 

Counet said the switch for both satellites “was triggered by the unavailability of Ariane 5 after 2022.”

Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy is building the MTG satellites using platforms from German manufacturer OHB. The companies are building six MTG satellites in total — four imagers and two sounders — with half launching in the 2020s and the other half launching in the 2030s. 

A Thales Alenia Space spokesperson said “new technological challenges” discovered this year with the instruments for the first two MTG satellites, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, delayed those satellites and had a knock-on effect on the third satellite. 

OHB Head of Investor Relations Martina Lilienthal declined to comment on the cause of the MTG manufacturing delays. The MTG satellites are based on OHB’s SmallGEO bus, which has experienced delays with early builds. 

Counet said Eumetsat plans to launch all three satellites with a co-passenger satellite, though discussions are ongoing about using the Ariane 62, the lighter version of Ariane 6 with two strap-on boosters, for the MTG-I2 satellite, which would likely make it a standalone mission. 

MTG-S1 will launch on an Ariane 64, the more powerful version equipped with four solid rocket boosters, he said. 


Not Just Die or Survive

Most of us know that with COVID and many other diseases there is seldom a clear binary division between ‘died’ and ‘went back to life as though nothing had ever happened’ post-recovery. One of the things that has increasingly driven my news interest and personal concern are the many studies showing how many people who survive critical or severe cases of COVID face permanent disability or organ damage or other lifelong diminutions of health and quality of life. There are also many people who have mild or moderate cases of COVID, now dubbed “long-haulers”, who get the disease but don’t clearly get better. Weeks or months later they’re still experiencing old symptoms or new symptoms or a changing parade of new and old. Doctors don’t seem clear whether these are attenuated recoveries or permanent damage. A limited but still non-trivial number of patients suffer various neurological symptoms or what could well be permanent brain damage.

All of these troubling data-points add up to the conclusion that the cost of this disease is not limited to the tally of the dying. There are perhaps as many again who live but suffer permanent and serious effects of the disease.

We simply don’t know how much of this is permanent. One of the main dimensions of COVID illness is an out of control inflammation response which is triggered by the disease but not the disease itself. It’s that inflammation response that kills a lot of people. It also appears to be a continuing cycle of inflammation triggered by the disease that causes permanent damage or long-tail continuing symptoms.

I got focused on this today when I head from longtime reader TPM Reader JB, who is a clinician at an academic medical center. He forward me this JAMA study from Italy. You can see the details here. But the gist is that they talked to 143 patients who had been hospitalized for and survived COVID. Only 5% had been on a ventilator. So this wasn’t just people who had been on the edge of death. The mean hospital stay was about two weeks. They were interviewed 60 days after the onset of symptoms.

Only 12.6% reported being symptom free. A worsened quality of life was observed among 44.1% of the group. The most common symptoms were fatigue and labored breathing. Other instances include what appears to be permanent organ damage from COVID or persistent neurological or psychiatric impacts. One day you’re healthy and the next you have a permanently compromised heart or kidneys. It’s not great.

If you’re staying up on COVID news you probably don’t need me to tell you this. Certainly you don’t if you have loved ones who are affected. But even after roughly 130,000 Americans have died of this disease much of the public discussion is significantly understating its full impact either nationally or individually.

DoD awards $15 million Defense Production Act contract to LeoLabs

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department announced on July 10 it has awarded LeoLabs, a provider of space surveillance data services, a $15 million contract funded under the Defense Production Act to shore up domestic industries financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

LeoLabs, a startup based in Silicon Valley, tracks satellites and debris in low Earth orbit using ground-based phased array radars.

“As part of the national response to COVID-19, the Department of Defense entered into a $15 million agreement with LeoLabs Inc. to ensure the continued viability of space surveillance capability through the operation and maintenance of a worldwide highly capable phased-array radar network,” DoD said in a statement.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed and President Trump signed on March 27 provided $1 billion for Defense Production Act efforts to ensure the availability of critical technology for national defense and to invest in domestic industrial base capabilities.

“The ability to surveil and analyze spacecraft in low Earth orbit is essential to national defense,” DoD said. “LeoLabs is the only domestic commercial supplier with demonstrated capability in this critical area.”

Using funds authorized and appropriated under the CARES Act, the DPA Title 3 investment will “offset direct workforce and financial distress brought about by the coronavirus pandemic,” DoD said. The $15 million contract for space situational awareness services will help “ensure resultant critical capabilities are retained within the U.S.”


A Sharpiegate Truther

One of my all-time fave reader emails just landed in the inbox. Indulging a little fanciful (but not completely implausible!) speculation on a summertime Friday afternoon, here is TPM Reader ST:

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I’m grateful for the work that you and your team are doing.

There is another possibly comical aspect to SharpieGate that I don’t think has been commented on, even when the event was first being reported. It’s true that the line drawn on the map does include part of Alabama, but the actual area of Alabama’s coastline included in the circle is minuscule. To the untrained eye, it might appear that the longitudinal line that bisects Florida’s panhandle on the map is the Alabama border but, of course, that is not true. I always assumed that Trump mistook the portion of the Florida panhandle that lies to the west of the longitudinal line for the coastline of Alabama. In fact, Trump’s alteration seems designed to highlight only the Florida panhandle.

I think that it was Trump’s inability to correctly read a map that precipitated this entire mess. It would make perfect sense to believe that Alabama might be impacted by Dorian if you didn’t actually know where Florida ends and Alabama begins.

Keep up the good work.

A Moment of Reflection: On the Paradox of Individual Creative Work

After producing over 220 art history videos in 6 years, YouTube channel The Art Assignment is going to take an extended break to “reassess what educational art content should look like in 2020 and beyond”. In the video above, creator Sarah Urist Green reflects on her experience so far and what’s happening next. I’m always interested in what people have to say about their projects at inflection points like this, but I was blindsided by the almost total resonance of Green’s remarks with my own thoughts about the advantages & limitations of how I’ve chosen to work here at kottke.org. Here’s an extended quote from the transcript of the particularly resonant bit:

I don’t actually enjoy being on camera, but individual authentic voices have always been at the core of what makes YouTube great. And I’ve been glad to be able to lend my own voice in the hopes of making art and art history more accessible.

Over time I’ve learned to appreciate the specificity of my own point of view — but also its limitations. I’m a person who’s more interested in art from the 1960s than the 1560s. I have a deeper background in art from North America than South America.

Making this channel has been a hugely rewarding way to stretch beyond my formal education and natural inclinations. But any channel on YouTube, and indeed any experience, is shaped by bias and perspective — both the content itself and the way that each of us interprets and responds to it. The fact that my voice sounds grating to some and comforting to others is a reminder of that.

I’ve also learned that these biases are often reinforced by the recommendation algorithms that govern the platforms we frequent. Whether we want to or not, we citizens of the internet work in collaboration with these algorithms to curate information feeds for ourselves. And even if our feeds feel objective, they never are.

The Art Assignment isn’t, and has never been, the history of art or an introduction to the art world. It’s always been my history of art and a glimpse into my art world. I hope that’s been part of what makes it good, but it’s also part of what makes it limited, subjective, and necessarily incomplete.

The more videos we make, the more aware I am of the vast amount we haven’t covered. Trying to make content on this platform that is both educational and also clickable can be a challenging task with many pitfalls.

We’ve used what I think of as a buckshot technique — making a huge variety of kinds and formats of episodes to see what might possibly stick.

In doing so, we’ve discovered that more people click on names of art movements they’ve already heard of, artworks they’ve seen before, and already famous artists (mostly male).

More people watch when I do a hot take about those rare moments when art hits the wider news, like a Banksy stunt or a banana duct-taped to a wall.

I’ve also learned what YouTube viewers are less likely to click on, which is artists they’ve never heard of, artworks they haven’t seen before, and topics that don’t court controversy or outrage. This says something about the YouTube algorithm, but it also says something about what kinds of information we’re all drawn to online. Who wants to watch an educational video when you can watch The Try Guys eat 400 dumplings? (Seriously, I just watched it, it’s great.)

But because I know what tends to get clicked on more and watched for longer stretches, I’ve been more likely to try to serve that to you. Not all the time of course, but even when served in moderation that’s not really good for art history. It reinforces dominant narratives and offers up the same boring old menu of famous artists again and again.

However, I’ve also learned that you all are willing to dive down lesser-known and unexpected rabbit holes of research and bear with me as I simultaneously cook poorly and attempt to understand the eating and cooking lives of artists. You’ve taught me you’re willing to reconsider art and artists you didn’t think you liked, and you’ve tried approaches to art that are far outside of your comfort zones and made beautiful and vulnerable work in response. You’ve tackled really difficult questions with me and been willing to linger in grey zones and leave questions unanswered. I mean we’ve never even established a definition of art on this channel.

Because of your capacity for the abstract and lesser-known, we’ve been able to keep going all these years. And, with the incomparable backing of PBS, we’ve been able to make content not just for the most people, but for an open-minded and discerning audience like you.

I can’t adequately relate to you how unnerving it was for me to hear her say all that — change a few specific references and I very easily could have written it (but not as well). Doing kottke.org is this constant battle with myself: staying in my comfort zone vs. finding opportunities for growth, posting what I like or find interesting vs. attempting to suss out what “the reader” might want, celebrating the popular vs. highlighting the obscure, balancing the desire to define what it is I do here vs. appreciating that no one really knows (myself included), posting clickable things vs. important things I know will be unpopular, protecting myself against criticism vs. accepting it as a gift, deciding when to provoke & challenge vs. when to comfort & entertain, feeling like this is frivolous vs. knowing this site is important to me & others, being right vs. accepting I’ll make mistakes, and saying something vs. letting the content and its creators speak for themselves.

I know that all sounds super dramatic — I don’t intensely feel all of that when I’m working, but that video made me reflect on it hard. And I suspect that many people who do creative work in public struggle in similar ways. Like Green with respect to PBS, I am grateful to kottke.org’s members (“an open-minded and discerning audience” if there ever was one) for their support of my work and trust in the limited & imperfect human who does it.

Tags: art   Jason Kottke   kottke.org   Sarah Urist Green   video

Where Things Stand: Fauci Knows Politics Have Contributed To Our Grand COVID Failure

Dr. Anthony Fauci has played a vital role and has been a consistent, therapeutic presence in the U.S.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic since the earliest days of the White House task force.

He emerged early-on as a voice of reason in a frightening situation and has not once adopted the groveling approach to pressuring President Trump that’s so often exhibited by Republicans and administration officials in this era. And maybe Trump respects him for it. While Fauci has not once personally gone after President Trump for the botched handling of the pandemic, he’s repeatedly contradicted Trump’s worst coronavirus impulses and regularly breaks with the advice and rhetoric toppling daily out of the White House. Fauci may be the control in this grand 2020 experiment.

And the nation’s top infectious disease expert knows that America is trapped in a uniquely sticky situation because of our sometimes militant individualism and the divisiveness of the nation’s politics. During an interview with a FiveThirtyEight podcast posted yesterday, Fauci readily agreed that the hyperpartisan climate of the Trump era has made it difficult to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.

You know, I think you’d have to admit that that’s the case,” Fauci told FiveThirtyEight when asked about politic’s role in how Americans have responded to the pandemic. “We live, I mean, you have to be having blindfolders on and covering your ears to think that we don’t live in a very divisive society now, from a political standpoint. I mean, it’s just unfortunate, but it is what it is.

“And you know, from experience historically, that when you don’t have unanimity in an approach to something, you’re not as effective in how you handle it,” he continued. “So I think you’d have to make the assumption that if there wasn’t such divisiveness, that we would have a more coordinated approach.”

We’ve been covering this very notion for weeks. Trump and his allies pushed to make masks a politically divisive issue early-on, bringing his messaging into alignment with his personal-freedom-obsessed base. Largely for his own political benefit.

Trump stokes division when he’s starved for attention. It’s a staple of his presidency and the crux of his campaigning efforts. Fauci appears to know it. We all do.

Here’s more on other stories we’re following today:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Tierney Sneed is covering the latest developments in Michael Flynn’s case.

Matt Shuham just published a comical rundown on the “Sharpiegate” scandal that engulfed the Trump administration last hurricane season. If you don’t remember this particular befuddling affair, refresh yourself here. The behind-the-scenes timeline is based on the Department of Commerce Inspector General’s new report on the whole inept controversy.

Josh Kovensky and Kate Riga are reporting on COVID-19 and the impact the virus will have on hospitals this fall when flu season hits.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

We’re continuing to monitor reactions to the SCOTUS rulings on President Trump’s financial records yesterday. Just last night Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs railed against the decision that upheld a criminal subpoena for Trump’s tax returns and suggested that the Supreme Court has now been compromised by the “deep state.” The Dobbs remark is particularly befuddling given Trump’s nomination of two of the conservative Supreme Court justices who actually sided with the majority in the tax return case. We’ll be watching to see if this rhetoric catches on among other Trump supporters or the President himself.

President Trump in the last 24 hours has made some of the most definitive remarks yet about whether he intends to pardon or commute Roger Stone’s prison sentence. Stone is set to head to prison on Tuesday and Trump has hinted he’s mulling a pardon in at least two separate interviews on Thursday and while speaking to reporters on Friday morning. Trump told conservative radio host Howie Carr on Thursday that Stone’s “prayer” for a pardon may soon “be answered.” We’ll be watching this closely today.

If You Read Anything On COVID-19 Today, Read This

An Alabama state lawmaker is actually advocating for MORE coronavirus infections in his state … not less. Alabama state Sen Del Marsh (R), who also serves as the Senate’s President Pro Tempore, told reporters on Thursday that an increase in COVID-19 cases in his state means that more people will develop an immunity to the virus. “In fact, quite honestly, I want to see more people [test positive] because we start reaching an immunity if more people have it and get through it,” he said.

The concept of “herd immunity” has been widely debunked by health experts and many fear it actually contributes to the ongoing spread of the pandemic. There is no clear scientific conclusion yet that someone who contracts and recovers from the coronavirus can’t get it again. Alabama just saw it’s highest single-day caseload so far on Thursday with 2,164 new infections.

Coming Up

9:30 a.m. ET: Trump left the White House to head to Miami where he will received a briefing on enhanced counternarcotics operations at the U.S. Southern Command in Doral.

12:35 p.m. ET: Trump will deliver remarks and then meet with leaders at the Iglesia Doral Jesus Worship Center for a discussion on supporting Venezuelans.

3:30 p.m. ET: Trump will travel to Fort Lauderdale for an event at a private home in Hillsboro Beach. He will head back to Washington at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Trump Has A Meltdown After SCOTUS Upholds Subpoena For His Tax Returns — Cristina Cabrera

What We Are Reading

‘Big Mess’ Looms If Schools Don’t Get Billions To Reopen Safely — Dana Goldstein

A More Specific Letter On Justice And Open Debate — The Objective

Excess deaths are down — below average — for those younger than eighteen

In the United States that is, link here, from Lyman Stone, photo here:

In other words, lockdown and shelter at home have limited some of the otherwise risky activities that young people engage in.

Excess deaths more generally seem to have reached a normal range, albeit at the upper end of that range:

I wouldn’t want to call this “good news,” but it is one form of putting the current situation into perspective.

The post Excess deaths are down — below average — for those younger than eighteen appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

New Chinese satellite launcher fails on first flight

This frame from a video of the Kuaizhou 11 launch shows the rocket lifting off from the Jiuquan launch base in northwestern China. Credit: CASIC/CCTV

The first flight of the new Chinese Kuaizhou 11 solid-fueled rocket failed to place two small satellites into orbit Friday, and Chinese state media said the cause of the malfunction is under investigation.

The Kuaizhou 11 launcher fired away from a launch site at the Jiuquan space center in the Gobi Desert of northwestern China at 0417 GMT (12:17 a.m. EDT; 12:17 p.m. Beijing time). A video of the launch published after the mission showed the rocket taking off from Jiuquan, and the Kuaizhou 11 appeared to fly normally through the burn of its first stage motor.

Two more solid-fueled stages were expected to fire to place the mission’s two satellite payloads into orbit. Chinese officials did not say at what point in the flight the rocket malfunctioned.

“The specific cause of the failure is under further analysis and investigation,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said Friday.

The satellites aboard the Kuaizhou 11 rocket included a Jilin 1 Earth-imaging satellite developed by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. Ltd., which has launched launched 16 Jilin 1 observation satellites since 2015. The video observation spacecraft lost on Friday’s launch was developed to provide imagery to Bilibili, a Chinese video sharing website.

Bilibili said last month the satellite weighed around 379 pounds (172 kilograms).

A roughly 220-pound (100-kilogram) satellite named Centispace-1-S2 was the other payload on Friday’s mission. The satellite’s mission was not disclosed, but it follows a previous Centispace spacecraft launched in 2018 for Beijing Future Navigation Technology Co. Ltd. to augment satellite navigation services.

The Kuaizhou 11 rocket was developed by Expace, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., or CASIC. Expace is based in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus pandemic emerged beginning late last year.

The first flight of the Kuaizhou 11 rocket was supposed to occur earlier this year, but the launch was delayed after a lockdown of Wuhan.

Expace also launches the smaller Kuaizhou 1A rocket, which has flown on nine satellite delivery missions since 2017. All of the Kuaizhou 1A flights have been successful.

Expace performed six Kuaizhou 1A missions in a five-month period from late last year through January, including back-to-back Kuaizhou 1A launches on the same day from separate launch pads at China’s Taiyuan spaceport in December.

Kuaizhou means “speedy vessel” in Chinese, a name indicative of its purpose as a satellite launcher that can be readied for liftoff in a short time period. Based on Chinese missile technology, the Kuaizhou launcher family has logged 12 missions in total, including flights of the disused Kuaizhou 1 variant and Friday’s failed Kuaizhou 11 launch.

The Kuaizhou 11 rocket stands 82 feet (25 meters) tall and has a diameter of 7.2 feet (2.2 meters). It has the ability to place a payload of up to 1 metric ton, or about 2,200 pounds, in a polar sun-synchronous orbit 435 miles (700 kilometers) above Earth, according to Expace.

That makes the Kuaizhou 11 China’s most powerful solid-fueled launcher.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Sharpie-Gate was a Harbinger

Matt Shuham has a good run-down here of the comical toadying behind the scenes in “Sharpie-Gate” which was unearthed by the newly-released Inspector General’s report. Read it.

It is worth remembering that while Sharpie-gate was from the start comical and absurd it was never “funny.” Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars to collect, distribute and publicize data about the weather to protect lives, property, economic vitality and more. When the President falsifies that data for trivial and self-serving reasons that’s a big problem. But this episode is best seen as an almost novelistic foreshadowing of the falsification of data and corruption of the country’s public health apparatus which only months later would lead directly to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and immiseration of millions more.

Three Quick Links for Friday Noonish

The Confederacy Was an Antidemocratic, Centralized State. "The actual Confederate States of America was a repressive state devoted to white supremacy." [theatlantic.com]

Sleeping Giants has pushed big advertisers to drop their support of racist & sexist media brands. While that was going on, co-founder Nandini Jammi says: "my white male co-founder gaslighted me out of the movement we built together". [medium.com]

America Is Refusing to Learn How to Fight the Coronavirus. Instead, we have "a pattern of failure following failure, with each successive failure normalized by the last". [nymag.com]


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of kottke.org, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

ISO Isolation

Felicia Chiao

Felicia Chiao

Felicia Chiao

Felicia Chiao’s illustrations depicting isolation, dissociation, and loneliness have taken on an added resonance during the pandemic. In a caption for one of her illustrations, she explains where the drawings come from:

I dissociate a lot. I like to think of my brain as a series of rooms. On good days I’m up front engaging with the world, and on bad days I’m waaay in the back. I can still kind of see and hear what’s going on outside but it’s far away and I don’t feel a part of it. It’s not unpleasant but time moves weird and I feel everything and nothing. A lot of you are connecting with my work because you’re literally stuck inside and probably a little depressed too so…Welcome to my rooms! Please take your shoes off and be nice.

Prints (and more) of Chiao’s work are available. (via colossal)

Tags: art   Felicia Chiao

Back to Herd Immunity Hocum

An Alabama Republican political leader (Senate President pro-tem) is back to pushing the “herd immunity” strategy as cases mount in his state.

There are a number of problems with this approach, not least of which is that having everyone get the disease as a way of combating the disease is a rather logically and conceptually confused approach. But more particularly we have the case of New York City.

Everyone concedes that New York City went through a horrific storm. What did we get out of it? At the end, roughly 20% of the city’s population appears to have been exposed to the disease, judged by broadly representative serology testing. What that tells us is that even after what the city went through, we’d need at least two or three more comparable outbreaks to get to herd immunity.

That is simply not a sane or humane strategy for anything.

Of course on the merits we know very little about the potency or durability of COVID immunity. It’s entirely possible that you go through a few bloodbaths to get to herd immunity and then a year later most people are susceptible again. Or perhaps enough people are susceptible again that you really haven’t accomplished what you set out to accomplish at such cost.

So even on its own terms it is a nonsensical strategy. And there are good reasons to fear that the premises of the approach themselves don’t check out.

Q2 GDP Forecasts: Probably Around 36% Annual Rate Decline

Important: GDP is reported at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR). So a 36% Q2 decline is around 10% decline from Q1 (SA).

Note: I'm just trying to make it clear the economy didn't decline by one-third in Q2.  Previously I just divided by 4 (an approximation) to show the quarter to quarter decline.  The actually formula is (1-.36) ^ .25 - 1 = -0.095 (a 9.5% decline from Q1)

From Merrill Lynch:
2Q GDP tracking remains at -36.0% qoq saar. [July 10 estimate]
emphasis added
From Goldman Sachs:
We left our Q2 GDP forecast unchanged at -33% (qoq ar). We expect -29% in the initial vintage of the report, reflecting incomplete source data and non-response bias [July 9 estimate]
From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report
The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -15.3% for 2020:Q2 and 10.1% for 2020:Q3. [July 10 estimate]
And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow
The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the second quarter of 2020 is -35.5 percent on July 9, down from -35.2 percent on July 2. [July 9 estimate]

Feeling Loved From a Distance

This is a great interview with Jia Tolentino in Interview magazine. Take for instance her answer to the question “What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?”:

That capitalist individualism has turned into a death cult; that the internet is a weak substitute for physical presence; that this country criminally undervalues its most important people and its most important forms of labor; that we’re incentivized through online mechanisms to value the representation of something (like justice) over the thing itself; that most of us hold more unknown potential, more negative capability, than we’re accustomed to accessing; that the material conditions of life in America are constructed and maintained by those best set up to exploit them; and that the way we live is not inevitable at all.

From later in the interview:1

I think the American obsession with symbolic freedom has to be traded for a desire for actual freedom: the freedom to get sick without knowing it could bankrupt you, the freedom for your peers to live life without fearing they’ll be killed by police. The dream of collective well-being has to outweigh, day-to-day, the dream of individual success.

And I’m struggling with quarantine in this way as well:

In quarantine I’ve been aware of the intellectual stagnation that comes when you stop physically seeking out and experiencing new things. There’s a loss that comes from not meeting strangers, not doing things just for the hell of doing them, not having everyday avenues of discovery and surprise.

Ok, one more thing and then I’ll just let you read the rest of it in peace:

People ought to seek out the genuine pleasure of decentering themselves, and read fiction and history alongside these popular anti-racist manuals, and not feel like they need to calibrate their precise degree of guilt and goodness all the time.

“The genuine pleasure of decentering themselves”. Yep.

  1. See also Pete Buttigieg’s progressive definition of freedom.

Tags: interviews   Jia Tolentino

Friday assorted links

The post Friday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

A Meeting to Protect the Town’s Reputation

Back in late March 1770, the Boston town meeting had commissioned Capt. Andrew Gardner to carry its official report on the Boston Massacre and other documents to London.

Gardner arrived in the imperial capital in early May. That was a couple of weeks after Londoners had read the first newspaper reports about the shooting on King Street.

Furthermore, the captain discovered, Customs Commissioner John Robinson had reached London before him, carrying documents that reflected poorly on Boston. That material included:
  • Capt. Thomas Preston’s “Case,” describing how hostile the town had been to the army, and how people had provoked his soldiers into firing.
  • Several depositions collected by Loyalist magistrate James Murray in mid-March backing up that picture of the shooting.
  • Province secretary Andrew Oliver’s description of the Council meetings after the Massacre, accusing members such as Royall Tyler of almost openly threatening unrest if acting governor Thomas Hutchinson didn’t withdraw troops from town.
Most of Preston’s “Case” was printed in London newspapers by the end of April. The depositions and Oliver’s account went into the pamphlet titled A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston.

Those publications offset the effect of Boston’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. In fact, the Fair Account was a direct response to the Short Narrative; its depositions were numbered starting with 97, where the first edition of the Short Narrative ended.

To be sure, London’s Whiggish printers quickly set about reprinting Boston’s report (as well as the Rev. John Lathrop’s sermon, Innocent Blood Crying to God from the Streets of Boston). But after all the Boston Whigs’ effort to present their town as innocently attacked, they had been scooped.

(My talk “Reporting the Battle of Lexington” discusses how Massachusetts Patriots were determined not to let that happen again in 1775. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Provincial Congress rushed to collect depositions and spared no expense sending them to London. There was none of the delay and debate we see in the town meetings of 1770.)

Capt. James Hall brought the first news of trouble in London back to Boston on 18 June, as I discussed here. Capt. Gardner returned with confirmation on the evening of 6 July.

Bostonians seem to have felt particularly betrayed by Capt. Preston’s “Case” since he’d sent a short note to the Boston Gazette back in March to say he was being treated fairly. At the very same time, people now knew, he’d written this long message to London, warning that he might be lynched. When Preston’s “Case” became public, people worried about that danger even more—at least according to officials and friends of the royal government.

The Boston Whigs therefore had to respond, but only in the most legal, least violent way. Which meant calling a town meeting. At 9:00 A.M. on 10 July 1770, 250 years ago today, qualified white men assembled in Faneuil Hall to discuss “Sundry Letters received by Capt. Gardner Master of the Packet taken up by the Town, in answer to those by him to our Friends in England.”

The meeting took action by, of course, forming a committee. It consisted of Thomas Cushing (also moderator of that meeting), Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Richard Dana, William Phillips, William Molineux, Dr. Joseph Warren, Ebenezer Storer, and William Greenleaf. They were delegated to “draw up a true state of the Town, and the conduct of the [Customs] Commissioners.”

The news from London prompted another agenda item as well: “A Motion made that the printed Narratives of the late horred Massacre, which has been retained by order of the Town in the hands of the Committee; may now be sold by the Printers.” Benjamin Edes and John Gill had gone to the trouble and expense of printing copies of the Short Narrative, but the town had forbidden them to sell any copies locally to avoid complaints about tainting the jury pool.

Now that the Short Narrative was being reprinted in London, Edes and Gill no doubt argued, copies of that edition were coming into Boston. So there was no longer any point in forbidding them to sell their stock, right?

The town meeting disagreed. Town clerk William Cooper wrote that the question “Passed in the Narrative”—a psychological slip for “in the negative.” Edes and Gill were told to keep sitting on their copies.

The meeting then adjourned until Friday the 13th, when they would hear from the new committee. In practical terms, that probably meant Samuel Adams got busy writing the town’s response, if he hadn’t already drafted it.

Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Fall by 435K

Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance.

From Black Knight: Forbearances See Largest Weekly Drop Yet
The latest data from the McDash Flash Forbearance Tracker shows that, following on last week’s decline, the number of active forbearance plans fell another 435,000 week-over-week – marking the largest drop yet. This brings the total number of active forbearances to its lowest point since April 28.

As of July 7, 4.14 million homeowners were in active forbearance, representing 7.8% of all active mortgages, down from 8.6% the week prior. Together, they represent just under $900 billion in unpaid principal.

The overall decline in active forbearance plans is likely driven at least in part by the fact that more than half of all active forbearance plans at the start of June were set to expire at the end of the month. While the majority have been extended, this week’s data suggests a significant share were not.

Of those in forbearance, 37% have now missed at least three payments, whereas nearly 60% have missed two.

Black Knight ForbearanceClick on graph for larger image.

Again, recent spikes in COVID-19 around much of the country and the scheduled expiration of expanded unemployment benefits both represent significant uncertainty for the weeks ahead.
emphasis added

How Republicans Are Using Technology to Deny Your Right to Vote

In an Era of Blatant, Court-Sanctioned Voter Suppression, Voting Machines May Be Democracy’s Weakest Link

Erick Sherman

Erick Sherman

How do you win an election? You could gain a majority of votes. Or you can cheat—as Republicans have been doing in force since 2010. 

Gerrymandering and other forms of suppression have been unleashed across the country so the minority party can gain and hold power even as its numbers shrink.

Now those who would discourage or disable unwanted ballots have a new potential tool: voting machines. If there aren’t enough working machines to enable people to cast their ballots, you blunt their will.

Manipulative conservative GOP politicians have a long history of actively attempting to interfere with voters they considered “unfriendly” or even “unworthy.”

Republicans are investing $20 million in a plan to challenge votes, even though evidence of widespread voter fraud is non-existent.

Photo ID requirements, slashing available polling places in minority and poor areas, the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, adoption of effective poll taxes and other tactics have resurfaced to target moderate or progressive voters.

Last December, Justin Clark, a top re-election adviser of Donald Trump was caught on a recording admitting this inconvenient truth:  “Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places … It’s going to be a much bigger program [in 2020], a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program,” as The Associated Press reported.

Later, Clark claimed he was referring to false allegations of attempted vote-rigging.

But that isn’t the only evidence.

In 2016, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) said, “Well I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate that the Democrats have ever put up and now we have photo ID. I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.

Republicans this year are investing $20 million in a plan to challenge votes, even though evidence of widespread voter fraud is non-existent.

The Heritage Foundation list of voter fraud cases that argues for ID laws is a thin read. For instance, it shows only 77 cases in 2010 scattered throughout the country. That would be barely enough, if gathered, to affect the outcome of an election in a small town.

There is one well-documented example, which prosecutors allege happened on behalf of a GOP candidate in North Carolina. Republicans have done their best to downplay and ignore the case.

However, the GOP will spend 10s of millions because harassment might reduce turnout for Democrats.

Machine-Aided Suppression

Now there’s a new front in potential voter suppression: voting machines.

There’s a virtual industry of voting machine lobbyists, as Sue Halpern of The New Yorker reported. Often the attempt is to steer business away from a requirement for paper-ballot systems and toward fully electronic ones, even though paper is less expensive, more secure, can be audited and is otherwise reliable.

Hacking or manipulating the machines to change outcomes—long a concern of security and voting experts—isn’t the biggest problem. In practice, the Brennan Center for Justice has noted “vote flipping” is more likely a result of aging machines that act erratically from wear and tear.

The more realistic and immediate danger is the way technology can throw a wrench into the election process.

Ballot Breakdowns

Voting machines, especially the so-called ballot-market devices, or BMDs, have significant weaknesses. “If a touchscreen goes down, it’s out of service until it’s fixed,” said Christopher Deluzio, policy director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law. “That machine is out of service for the voters to have a ballot printed.”

The issue isn’t theoretical. “You want to vote on paper because there have been a number of instances where machine failure meant votes were lost,” Susannah Goodman, Common Cause’s director of election security, told DCReport. “That’s a known fact.”

Then, as Deluzio—who served on a commission that audited Pennsylvania’s voting system infrastructure—notes, the machines are expensive. “The BMB options were costing roughly twice as much per voter” as paper ballots, he said.

The potential for equipment failing, combined with elevated costs that keep governments from having plenty of spares (unlike stockpiling additional pencils), means the chance that citizens will find it difficult to vote.

Georgia on Their Minds

Georgia’s primary election in early June was a disaster so vast that Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, called it “unacceptable” and vowed to investigate, according to NBC News.

The problems, which generally appeared in minority neighborhoods, caused multi-hour waits for people to exercise their franchise.

“I don’t think voter suppression was the idea behind it,” said Common Cause’s Goodman. But when there aren’t enough machines to let people vote efficiently that doesn’t matter.

“I do think there’s a real serious problem with the number of machines deployed,” Goodman added. “If you’re only going to let voters use a machine, then you damned well better be sure there are enough.”

“Especially in Georgia, they didn’t have enough machines and when the machines broke down, they didn’t fix them fast enough, replace them,” she said. “And it was in the areas that are more minority.”

In addition, the machines use a QR bar code that is the actual vote that will run through a scanner for the count. There is readable text as well, but, significantly, no way to know whether it represents what is in the QR code.

Kentucky’s Near Nightmare

This is exactly what many worried about Kentucky. Would minority residents get a fair chance to vote?

Only one polling place and 350 ballot machines were available last month for all of  of Jefferson County, home to the state’s largest city, Louisville, and many minority residents. Half of black Kentuckians live in that county. Which at 389 square miles is the equivalent of 17 Manhattans.

There were widespread expectations of voter suppression in the primary vote on June 23.

Even though the procedure seemed largely smooth—because pandemic-driven mail-in voting and early voting took pressure off in-person—the concerns were reasonable.

Stephen Voss, professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, argued that an “alienating” process tended to disenfranchise “people with lower socioeconomic standing,” many of whom could no longer walk to their local polling place.

A higher in-person turnout, which couldn’t have been ruled out, would have made the situation far worse.

There are 616,523 registered voters in Jefferson County, which had a ratio of one voting machine to 1,762 voters, the highest in the state. That was 70% more than the next highest, a DCReport analysis of Kentucky state voting data found. The median figure was 379 voters per machine and the smallest was 150.

Even if voting took no more than five minutes per person, only a tenth of voters appeared and there were no breakdowns, each Jefferson County machine would have been busy for nearly 15 hours. Polls opened for only 12. Had every voter showed up, the polls would have needed to remain open for six days and until dawn on the seventh.

Areas with fewer financial resources might not be able to afford sufficient voting machines for people to cast ballots during the brief periods when the polls are open, constraining the process. That means that residents of less affluent areas can find themselves facing election disaster as their voices are subtly quashed.

Voters should push back on the lobbying and the assurances that technology solves all problems. Simple paper ballots, hand-marked with pencil or pen, should be standard issue at every polling place. Scan the ballots later when there is time.

Focus on ensuring the most fundamental right of citizenship—the ability to vote—is available to all…

…Even if those people aren’t financially comfortable white Republicans.

The post How Republicans Are Using Technology to Deny Your Right to Vote appeared first on DCReport.org.

Blockchain economics, by Catalini and Gans; and Halaburda, Haeringer, Gans and Gandal

Some Simple Economics of the Blockchain
By Christian Catalini and Joshua S. Gans
Communications of the ACM, July 2020, Vol. 63 No. 7, Pages 80-90

"we rely on economic theory to explain how two key costs affected by blockchain technology—the cost of verification of state, and the cost of networking—change the types of transactions that can be supported in the economy. These costs have implications for the design and efficiency of digital platforms, and open opportunities for new approaches to data ownership, privacy, and licensing; monetization of digital content; auctions and reputation systems."

The Microeconomics of Cryptocurrencies
Hanna Halaburda, Guillaume Haeringer, Joshua S. Gans, Neil Gandal
NBER Working Paper No. 27477  July 2020

Abstract: Since its launch in 2009 much has been written about Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchains. While the discussions initially took place mostly on blogs and other popular media, we now are witnessing the emergence of a growing body of rigorous academic research on these topics. By the nature of the phenomenon analyzed, this research spans many academic disciplines including macroeconomics, law and economics and computer science. This survey focuses on the microeconomics of cryptocurrencies themselves. What drives their supply, demand, trading price and competition amongst them. This literature has been emerging over the past decade and the purpose of this paper is to summarize its main findings so as to establish a base upon which future research can be conducted.

Cost growth prompts changes to Europa Clipper instruments

Europa Clipper

WASHINGTON — Cost overruns on three instruments for NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft led NASA to consider dropping them from the mission and ultimately requiring significant changes to some of them.

At a July 9 briefing to the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences of the National Academies, NASA officials said they recently conducted “continuation/termination reviews” for the three instruments: a camera, infrared imaging spectrometer and mass spectrometer. Those reviews were prompted by cost overruns on those instruments.

“We’ve been struggling on cost growth on Clipper for some time,” said Curt Niebur, program scientist for the mission at NASA Headquarters. “Overall, we’ve been largely successful in dealing with it, but late last fall, it became clear that there were three instruments that experiencing some continued and worrisome cost growth.”

The outcome of the reviews, he said, could have ranged from making no changes to the instruments to, in a worst-case scenario, terminating the instruments. The leadership of NASA’s Science Mission Directive recently decided to keep all three instruments, at least for now.

“We are flying the entire payload, and every decision in the memo is intended to maximize the chance that we will retain the entire payload through launch,” he said.

However, there will be changes to some instruments, particularly to the Mass Spectrometer for Planetary Exploration/Europa, or MASPEX. That instrument is designed to measure the composition of the Jovian moon’s very tenuous atmosphere and any plumes of material that erupt from its surface.

MASPEX was suffering serious cost and schedule problems, Niebur said, a situation “that deteriorated further” during and after a risk assessment earlier this year. “It was really felt that significant relief was needed to avoid termination of MASPEX,” he said.

“We pulled out all the stops” to keep the instrument on the mission, he said, because of its importance in evaluating the habitability of Europa. The instrument now has a cost cap and its risk classification has changed from Class B, with a low tolerance for risk, to Class D, with a greater acceptance of risk. The mission’s overall “Level 1” science requirements will also be modified to reduce the mission’s reliance on MASPEX and the instrument’s performance requirements.

NASA also decided to replace the principal investigator (PI) of MASPEX, which had been Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute. Niebur said that the institute, which retains responsibility for developing the instrument, has appointed an acting PI, Jim Burch, and will nominate a permanent replacement to be approved by NASA Headquarters.

Niebur praised Waite for an “incredible job” on MASPEX, but that new leadership was needed to keep the instrument on the mission. “To get it the final 10 yards to the end zone, we need somebody with more experience,” he said. “Jim Burch is a good match for that.”

A second instrument, the Europa Imaging System (EIS), will also get a cost cap. The camera system was suffering technical issues he described as not particularly surprising, but those problems, combined with cost growth, posed a greater concern.

One option considered by the agency was to remove a wide-angle camera (WAC) from the instrument “because it has less intrinsic scientific value” than its narrow-angle camera, Niebur said. Instead, NASA decided to keep both cameras and place a cost cap on EIS, with instructions to prioritize development of the narrow-angle camera. The mission’s Level 1 requirements will change to reduce reliance on the wide-angle camera.

“If you have to cut corners on the WAC, that’s OK,” he said. “In the worst-case scenario, if we have to go forward without the WAC, we will.”

The third instrument, the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE), did not see significant changes. Niebur said that reviewers found its design had stabilized after past issues which affected its cost and schedule. “The decision for MISE was straightforward, to adjust the cost and the schedule and to simply continue on,” he said.

These reviews are not the first time that instruments for the mission have faced problems. Last year, NASA terminated a magnetometer instrument called ICEMAG because of continued cost growth and technical problems. The agency replaced it with a simpler and less expensive magnetometer with a different PI.

Some members of the committee wondered if the instruments were being singled out for the overall cost growth in the mission, which as an agency cost commitment of $4.25 billion. Jan Chodas, project manager for Europa Clipper at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the instruments used about the same amount of budget reserves as the spacecraft, or about $70 million each. However, she said that dollar amount was a much larger fraction of the overall cost to build the instruments than for the spacecraft.

Chodas said that Europa Clipper now has a launch readiness date of 2024, a year later than plans announced last year. There are launch opportunities in the summer and fall of 2024 for the mission, including an August launch window using the Space Launch System that would send the spacecraft directly to Europa. An October launch window would require Mars and Earth gravity assists, extending the flight time, but could also be done by commercial launch vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

NASA remains engaged in a debate with Congress about how to launch Europa Clipper. Congress has for several years mandated the use of SLS for the mission as well as a follow-on Europa lander mission. NASA has requested the ability to use other vehicles, citing cost savings and the lack of available SLS vehicles, which for the next several years are devoted to the Artemis lunar exploration program.

A House appropriations bill introduced July 7 would give NASA some flexibility, requiring Europa Clipper to launch on SLS only “if available,” a provision not found in previous spending bills. However, some in Congress continue to press NASA to use SLS on the mission. “NASA must increase the pace of SLS production to ensure an SLS is available for the Europa missions,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), ranking member of the commerce, justice and science appropriations subcommittee, at a July 8 markup of the bill.

Chodas said that while the Europa Clipper program has been working to support launches both on SLS and alternative vehicles, she needs a decision soon on which vehicle will launch the spacecraft. That uncertainty forced the program to delay its critical design review from August to December of this year.

“We really need a definitive decision on that launch vehicle by the end of this calendar year,” she said.


Four short links: 10 July 2020

  1. Notes on Splicing CRDTs for Structured Hypertext It’s a great feeling, seeing everyone around you create beautiful 3D graphical masterpieces or fully complete web applications while you spend twelve hours a day struggling to read technical papers that you don’t even understand. This is what happens when you attempt to do things with CRDTs.
  2. FinFisher ExposedFinFisher is not afraid of using all kinds of tricks, ranging from junk instructions and “spaghetti code” to multiple layers of virtual machines and several known and lesser-known anti-debug and defensive measures. What a cunning piece of code this malware is! It has its own virtual machine, which means that typical reverse-engineering tools fail.
  3. GDPR Explained by People Who Attack It For Having What it Actually HasRichard Stallman argues [against the GDPR] that laws must prohibit data collection if it is not necessary or not justified, and that systems must be designed not to collect certain data. That is why, since 1995, EU data protection law regulates not only data use, but also the collection of personal data.
  4. Evidence-Based Software Engineering Based on Publicly-Available Datathe first half discusses the major areas of software engineering, driven by an analysis of the publicly available data. The aim is to provide the information needed to reduce the resources needed to build and maintain software systems, and to make efficient use of available resources. Many topics usually covered in software engineering textbooks are not discussed because public data relating to them could not be located. I don’t know that it has that much to say on software engineering, but it’s a fascinating summary/tour of a whole lot of research in many interesting fields.

Rocket Report: Surprise Israeli launch, Britain decides to bail out OneWeb

The top stage of a rocket is being transported outdoors.

Enlarge / An Atlas V payload fairing with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover secured inside arrives at the Vertical Integration Facility this week. (credit: NASA)

Welcome to Edition 3.07 of the Rocket Report! This week, we're getting close to the opening of the Mars launch window, which occurs about every two years when Earth and the Red Planet align. It looks like United Arab Emirates' Mars Hope mission will the first of three probes to launch this summer, possibly as early as July 14.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Second-stage failure leads to loss of Electron rocket. On Sunday morning, local time, in New Zealand, Rocket Lab launched its 13th mission. The booster's first stage performed normally, but just as the second stage neared an altitude of 200km, something went wrong, and the vehicle was lost, Ars reports. The mission, dubbed "Pics Or It Didn't Happen," carried 5 SuperDove satellites for the imaging company Planet, as well as commercial payloads both for Canon Electronics and In-Space Missions.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Op-ed | U.S. satellites increasingly vulnerable to China’s ground-based lasers

Jinping ceremony

The Defense Intelligence Agency warned in January 2019 that China likely will field in 2020 a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors. By the mid-to-late 2020s it may field higher power systems that could damage the structures of non-optical satellites.

How real is the threat? Analysts have already identified five Chinese laser bases. One in Xinjiang has four main buildings. One of these building is thought to be for tracking satellites, while equipment in the other three could be used to dazzle or disable satellite sensors. If the Xinjiang facility is representative of the other four, all five bases can be located and are vulnerable to aerial attacks.

In addition to these bases, China operates several satellite laser ranging stations. These have been used to determine the orbits of satellites and space debris but could be used to damage U.S. and allied satellite sensors.

Of the world’s 50 satellite laser ranging stations, five fixed stations are in Shanghai, Changchun, Beijing, Wuhan and Kuming. Two Chinese satellite laser ranging stations are mobile.

The ranging system at the Shanghai station uses a laser with a relatively low average power of 2.8 watts. The wattage at other stations are most likely the same or lower. Another laser of 60 watts at the Shanghai station has been used routinely to measure space debris. Calculations show that a 1-watt laser has 1 in 1,000 chance to cause permanent damage to a sensor, while a 40-watt laser would double the chance. These odds are low but likely to increase.

In the near term China’s top priority is to deny America and its allies imagery with high resolution of 10 centimeters or better. Fortunately, to damage a satellite’s optical elements such as pixels and filters, an offensive anti-satellite laser would have to be located within roughly 10 kilometers of what one wants to take a picture of.

What should Washington do to counter sensor-damaging lasers? First, it should determine how many of the Chinese targets it wants to take pictures of that have a laser base or fixed satellite laser ranging station within roughly 10 kilometers. There are probably only a few such laser-protected targets.

Second, our military and intelligence analysts need to estimate the risks and costs of snapping pictures from space of these laser-protected targets (i.e., the chance of our satellite’ sensors being damaged and what their repair or replacement costs might be) and the benefits of getting such imagery. Such an analysis would likely recommend that the United States and its allies:

  • Take pictures whenever possible during peacetime, as the chance of damage is far higher during crisis.
  • Update imagery less frequently, because fewer trips mean less chance of being hit.
  • Use as low a resolution for imagery as much as possible, as low-resolution sensors and their satellites are cheap and numerous compared to dedicated military imagery satellites

Third, the United States should secure imagery of all needed resolutions, including 10 centimeters or better, any way it can using commercial and dedicated military systems during peacetime, crisis and wartime. Once it has a diversified group of imagery providers, laser damage to a few of our sensors would become far less valuable to our adversaries, leading them not to initiate such attacks in the first place.

Finally, the United States should extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in February 2021, to keep its formal prohibitions on interference with national technical means of verification (including sensor-carrying satellites) in force. To the extent that Washington can bring China into arms negotiations with the Russians, it should focus on getting Beijing formally to agree to this prohibition.

The U.S. government will need to do more in the years ahead. Today, Chinese lasers must be located within roughly 10 kilometers of whatever Washington wants to snap pictures of to have any hope of beaming into American satellites’ telescope openings and damaging their sensors inside. Mid-decade, though, when Beijing acquires higher powered lasers, at least one of China’s lasers will be in range to damage several of our low earth orbiting satellites every day. As a result, Washington will not only have to make our satellite constellations resilient and harden some satellites’ exteriors, it must be prepared to disable China’s laser systems if they attack our satellites.

During this same period, the United States will also have to pay attention to Chinese satellite laser ranging stations and high power lasers that will have gone mobile. Because these mobile systems are likely to be dual-use, they cannot be banned. Instead, the United States and its allies should disadvantage any hostile use with diplomatic measures that would afford warning of such.

This could best be achieved by pushing for an international agreement to register all mobile dual-use lasers (including their locations), require their operators to announce their planned movement a month in advance, and demand their movements be broadcast in real time.

Brian Chow is an independent policy analyst. Henry Sokolski is executive director of The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Arlington, Virginia.


Biden’s Economic Plan Gets a Lot of Big Things Right

First launch of Chinese Kuaizhou-11 rocket ends in failure

Liftoff of the first Kuaizhou-11 from Jiuquan, July 10, 2020.

HELSINKI — Launch of a new Chinese Kuaizhou-11 commercial solid rocket ended in failure Friday resulting in the loss of two satellites.

The Kuaizhou-11 lifted off at 12:17 a.m. Eastern from a transporter erector launcher at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, northwest China.

Video footage of the launch taken from a delayed stream indicates the rocket performed well for at least one minute, with unofficial reports of first and second stage separation. 

Terse reports from Chinese media state that the specific cause of the failure is ‘under further analysis and investigation’.

The first payload was a Jilin-1 video satellite developed by Changguang Satellite Co. Ltd., for Bilibili, a Chinese video sharing website. Changguang Satellite is a commercial offshoot of the state-owned Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The second satellite was reported to be CentiSpace-1-S2 (Weili-1-02). The previous satellite in the series was for low-Earth orbit navigation enhancement, developed for Beijing Future Navigation Technology Co., Ltd.

The debut of the Kuaizhou-11 was initially projected for 2018. Footage published by CCTV in 2019 suggested an explosive failure during first stage engine testing.

The mission was China’s 19th launch of 2020, following the successful launch of the APSTAR-6D communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit Thursday.

China has suffered three failures this year. These were the debut launch of the Long March 7A in March, a new launcher which may replace the aging, hypergolic Long March 3B. The latter launcher failed in April resulting in the loss of the Indonesian Palapa-N1 communications satellite.

Kuaizhou-11 and commercial launchers

The Kuaizhou-11 is a larger version of the Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket, operated by Expace, a commercial spin-off from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., a state-owned missile maker. The rocket has a diameter of 2.2 meters, a mass at liftoff of 78 tons. It is capable of delivering 1,000 kilograms to a 700-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit.

Leena Pivovarova, an analyst at consulting firm Northern Sky Research, told SpaceNews that the “KZ-11 coming online is an addition to China’s launch sector development of competitive domestic launch capabilities and service offerings to its burgeoning “commercial” space industry”.

“China’s launch sector is following a larger worldwide trend of increasing responsiveness and flexibility in launch activities, increasing its already aggressive launch cadence, to developing mobile launch operations and sea launch capabilities”, Pivovarova says. 

“Cutting down traditional launch operations and gaining rapid response (or readiness) capabilities can have many advantages to both commercial and government customers.

Pivovarova says competition to provide low-cost launch solutions is heating up between commercial launch firms in China, including Expace, iSpace, OneSpace, Landspace, and others. 

“KZ-11 is the second rocket on Expace’s development roadmap, which includes gradual development of larger rockets within the same rocket family. All of this signals an expansion of the commercial footprint within China’s space industry, which had been exclusively dominated by [the] government in prior decades.

Expace is also developing four-meter-diameter Kuaizhou-21 and -31 solid rockets designed to carry up to 20,000 and 70,000 kilograms to LEO respectively. Debut launches are projected for the middle of the 2020s and after.

The Chinese government opened portions of the space sector to private capital in 2014. A national strategy of military-civilian fusion has facilitated technology transfer in order to foster innovation, lower costs and create new supply chains, to benefit both civilian and military capacities. 

Beijing-based iSpace became the first such firm to launch a satellite into orbit in July 2019 following failures by two other companies. Galactic Energy is currently expected to launch its first Ceres-1 solid launcher in August or September. 

Landspace and iSpace are aiming for inaugural launches of new, larger liquid methane-liquid oxygen launch vehicles in 2021.


Claims about turkeys

You know, turkeys sound a lot like aliens, if you just name them part by part.

“Anatomical structures on the head and throat of a domestic turkey. 1. Caruncles, 2. Snood, 3. Wattle (Dewlap), 4. Major caruncle, 5. Beard”

That is from Jackson Stone.

The post Claims about turkeys appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The arrival of cheap food in England

The period from the 1870s to the start of the First World War saw a steep rise in working-class living standards in Britain, much of it underpinned by a vast array of cheap imported foods. Thanks to new refrigerated steamships and a growing railway network, such items as butter, eggs and meat could be transported from as far afield as New Zealand and Argentina. The British started to eat butter from Denmark; oranges and grapes from Spain; mutton from Argentina; bacon and cheese from the United States; wheat from Canada. The percentage of meat consumed in Britain that was imported rose from 13.6 per cent in 1872 to 42.3 per cent in 1912. The influx of these new cheap food imports gave many in the working classes a much more varied and tasty diet than before. Eggs were no longer a luxury and as the price of imported fruit fell, many in the cities started eating oranges and bananas for the first time. They could only afford to buy these foods because the costers who sold them kept the prices too low to allow themselves a decent life. By the same token, big shopkeepers kept food prices down by forcing employees to work long hours for low pay. A ninety-hour week was not uncommon for a clerk in a Victorian grocer shop, but these hours still might not deliver a wage large enough to live on, despite the cheapness of food.

Here is more from Bee Wilson, via The Browser.

The post The arrival of cheap food in England appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Collections: How Your History Gets Made

Last week, we talked about why the humanities – particularly the academic humanities, institutionally linked to universities – were important. So this week I want to explain how the academic side of history (the part that happens in research universities, a term I will define in a moment) leads to the history content that the public at large consumes.

I should note that I won’t be covering the ins-and-outs of actually doing historical research here; that’s a whole different (and much larger) project. I suspect I’ll talk about that some time in the future and I hope at some point to begin featuring the work of other historians here in the blog to give a broader sense of what the field looks like and the many methods we use to create new historical knowledge out of our sources. If you are really interested in a blow-by-blow of my own research methods and progress, I give my amici on Patreon monthly updates on my professional scholarly activities.

A detail of a blacksmith at work, from MS Harley 6563 f.68v, now in the British Library. The manuscript, a fragment of the Book of Hours in Latin, dates to the 14th century (1320-1330) and was produced in England.

Instead, this post is mostly about the connection between the various parts of history. It was motivated by a tweet declaring that “no one reads, thinks about or gives a single [ahem] about dissertations” and comparing them to a particular circular activity (you may click on the link or imagine for yourself what sort of activity is meant, I am keeping this essay family friendly here…). I’m not embedding the tweet because singling out the tweet isn’t the point: this is a commonly enough expressed view: “what is the point of all of these books, articles and conferences where academics talk to each other?” And that’s what this post is going to talk about: what is the point of all of the history work that historians of various kinds do and how does that work contribute to the public?

As always, if you like what you are reading here, please share it; if you really like it, you can support me on Patreon. And if you want updates whenever a new post appears, you can click below for email updates or follow me on twitter (@BretDevereaux) for updates as to new posts as well as my occasional ancient history, foreign policy or military history musings.

What Is History For?

I want to be clear at the outset concerning the priorities of these various parts. It is the tendency in all organizations that every department views itself as the most important department. Sales will tell you that they are the ‘profit center’ and thus the most important; operations will tell you that without them, there would be no sales, so they’re the most important; management tells you that they are the ‘brains’ of the organization and so on. It is just as true within a humanities discipline: each part of the discipline tends to see its role as primary. But organizations do have primary purposes.

I am going to contend that the primary purpose of the discipline of history is to foster greater historical knowledge in the public, in order that the public can use that knowledge (and the skills that come with it) to make better decisions. That doesn’t mean lots of history knowledge is equally useful to everyone; one assumes knowing the history of, say, Portugal, is rather more important for the folks at the State Department who interact with Portugal than your average taxi driver. But the goal here is for the field of history to produce both subject-matter experts (who might advise government and companies on their expertise) and also a broadly diffused base of generally available knowledge (sometimes concentrated in ‘thought leaders’) that the public can use more generally.

Now the counter-position, held by quite a few in the research side of the discipline is that historical knowledge is sublime (on the meaning of sublime in this sense, see) in and of itself and thus the discovery of new historical knowledge has intrinsic value even if that knowledge is not subsequently communicated widely. I actually have quite a bit of sympathy for this view; there is nobility in discovery for discovery’s sake. Such a view would invert the field, with its public-facing elements existing only to provide funding for the real work, which would be academic research. I am quite confident that view of the field would relegate it back to the unpaid pastime occupation of the leisure class, to the detriment of the field and the public – for a field that partakes of public funds, we must remain focused on public benefit.

So I am going to chart the structure of the field – as I understand it – on the assumption that the key ‘output’ is historical knowledge and skills to the public. I should note that I am going to try to describe the field as it is, not as I wish it was.

Since this is a difficult topic to find images for and the internet is fundamentally for cat pictures, here are some historical cat pictures. This one, via the British Museum, is a 17th century (1623-1681) drawing of two cats (and a pig) by Dutch artist Cornelis Saftleven.

The Engine: Academic Research

In a sense, we can view the field of history rather like a car, with an engine that generates the power, a transmission-system that communicates it, and the wheels which actually deliver that power to the road (the road in this metaphor being, at long last, the public) – except in this case, it is knowledge that is being generated, communicated and delivered. We can divide the field of history into the same three parts: the engine (academic research), the transmission (what I’ll call ‘public history,’ although I am being a touch imprecise with the term) and the wheels (public education).

A flow-chart I made to help keep track of the various parts of this chain of knowledge creation and transmission. Rectangles represent people, rounded-edged boxes represent activities. Purple boxes are part of knowledge creation (the engine, in our metaphor), Blue boxes part of knowledge transmission (the transmission) and green boxes are part of education (the wheels). And of course the red box at the end – the point to which all of the arrows eventually go, represent the final goal: a more historically sophisticated public, able to make better, wiser, more informed decisions.
The large yellow box labeled “The Academy” is meant to cabin-in all of the activities that primarily take place within universities. I wanted to single those out because I have run into quite a few folks who will say, “ah yes, the humanities are important, but why do we need humanities departments?” This essay, I hope, will answer those questions, at least in as far as history is concerned.

The engine of the field of history is academic research: this is where the knowledge gets created. And I think it is important to begin by stressing this: knowledge is being created, not merely transmitted. One of the real mistaken views that I find many people have about the humanities in general and history in particular is that what we are engaged in is an act of pure transmission – that historians spend our days reading history textbooks really hard and teaching that knowledge.

But that’s not what we’re doing (I’m going to say ‘we’ a lot in this section because this is the part of history I consider myself to belong to). We spend our days (ideally) interacting directly with primary source material – that is the raw, unprocessed evidence of history. For most modern historians, this involves lots of archive work, plowing through records, memoirs, old news reports and so on. For very modern history, it can also involve ‘oral history’ – which is to say the rush to record down people’s memories before those memories are lost to the living. For pre-modern historians, we often have to rely not only on surviving texts, but also on archaeological or representational (read: artwork) evidence, or on texts inscribed on stone (sub-field: epigraphy) or still in the raw manuscript form (subfield: paleography) or on half-lost scraps of ancient paper (subfield: papyrology). As much as possible, we try to interact directly with the evidence without any sort of filter (we tend, for this reason, to learn the languages rather than rely on translations).

But we then have to process that raw material into conclusions that are useful to someone who hasn’t spent years plowing through our tiny subset of the evidence, which often in turn requires fancy historical tools. History is a fun discipline in part because you will find bits of almost every other discipline in it for this reason. By way of example, my own research has involved archaeology, epigraphy, metallurgy, chemistry, physics, statistics, biology and botany, agricultural science, meteorology, economics and, of course, military science (naturally in most cases this was mediated by subject experts in those fields).

More cats! This amulet figuring is a cast copper-alloy figure of a cat with two kittens and a (now partially broken) suspension ring from Late Period Egypt (664-332 BC) now in the British Museum.

So the academic historian gathers evidence, processes it using a wide range of methods (some peculiar to history, some not) and then writes down the conclusions (typically with copious notes so that the historical research could be replicated for confirmation). The end goal of this is the final written form of all of that work, the published research. I should note that the motivations which impel academic historians to produce published research aren’t quite the same as the role it fills for the entire field. For most academic historians, who work in universities, the sale of their research (book sales) are not a significant form of income (far too little to live off of), but rather their advancement within the university is contingent on their publication record: they publish to make their colleagues, who govern their tenure and promotions, happy. The university wants its faculty to publish because part of its appeal to students is the promise of learning from people who exist at the very edge of human knowledge. And more broadly, as you’d expect, many academics want to be well-regarded by their peers, and the door to that well-regard is influential research.

We can divide that research into two categories: field-to-field and field-to-public (which we will get to momentarily). Field-to-field (or ‘field-to-self’) is my term for published research aimed at other academic historians. It is this type of publication that is most often mocked as being a circular… ahem…activity, but it is actually quite important for reasons which will become clear in a moment.

Field-to-Field research is often written in a more technical manner, with much more detailed notes and with that smaller audience in mind. For books, these sorts of works are often published by university presses with fairly small print runs (often 600 or so) because the main ‘customer’ for the books are university libraries (who are purchasing for the academics at the university). Because the print runs are small, these books are often very expensive – the overhead of setting up a print run is being split over fewer copies. That bad feedback – academic works are unobtainable by regular people because they’re so expensive and they are so expensive because regular people do not buy them – is beginning to be disrupted by ebooks, but only just beginning.

Now the academic book is typically the culmination of a number of years of research and writing – as you might imagine, smaller steps are required. The two main steps are the journal article and the conference paper (and the latter’s cousin, the ‘invited talk’). Most academic disciplines have one big annual conference (for historians, that is the AHA, except for ancient historians, who often attend the SCS/AIA, which is the big annual classics conference) and then lots of smaller sub-field specific conferences (like SMH for military historians or the ICMS in medieval history, typically just called ‘Kalamazoo’ because that’s where it always is – I have no idea why my medievalist friends are so attached to that one place; they are a strange people, the medievalists. There are many other such conferences). Those conferences do a lot of things, but the key one here is the presentation of papers. Those conference papers are an opportunity for scholars, especially more junior ones, to present work in progress and get feedback on it (SCS/AIA has a reputation for the…let’s say “sharpness” of its feedback; other conferences may be a bit more collegial). Those papers are valuable not just for the presenters: for the rest of the attendees, it is a chance to get a sense of where the field is heading, what research may be upcoming, and what scholars are working in areas related to your own, with whom you might collaborate.

(As an aside, while you do generally need to be a member of these societies to present research, typically anyone may attend, though they are not free. That said, these conferences are not directed at the general public and the papers portion is regarded as a bit boring by professional historians, who mostly spend each day looking forward to the drink-and-hangout period at the end).

Peer-reviewed journal articles sit somewhere in the middle. Journal articles present finished research, unlike conference papers, but are (typically) much shorter. While most historians think and plan in terms of monograph projects (that is, big, single-topic, single-author books), that work often ‘throws off’ interesting research that doesn’t fit into the book, which is where many articles come from. It is also not uncommon to see a limited form of an argument or research appear as a journal article a few years before appearing in a fuller form as a book. As with conferences, journal articles are aimed almost completely at other professional academic historians.

(As an side, journals have come under fire a bit lately for publication standards. Journal publishing standards vary wildly within disciplines; the ‘best’ journals (typically with wide readership and solid reputations) are typically a lot more stringent with peer-review. We’ll talk about peer-review more in the future, but in a proper academic journal, an article must pass not only the editor, but the review of several peer academics, a process intended to ensure the quality of the research being published. For my own part, I would actually like to see an effort to hoax the journals in my field; I am confident they would not be taken in, but if any failed, I would want to know that too and revise my opinion of the publication accordingly.)

A late 19th century painting from India (probably Rajasthan)showing a lady and attendant attempting to restrain their pet cat from pouncing on their pet bird (in the larger image the bird’s cage, open, can be seen), now in the British Museum.

So why do academic historians spend so much time talking to each other? The answer is because the job of an academic historian is two-part. On the one hand, we are producing new knowledge in tiny bits, but on the other hand we are expected to be subject-matter experts on our entire subfield, when it comes to speaking to the public or teaching students. Consequently it is important for us to remain ‘up to date’ with everyone else’s research, which is why we spend so much time and effort (seriously, writing is hard) packaging our research so that it can be easily consumed by other historians (and then spend more time consuming their research). That helps in our research – because you need to know where the ‘edge’ of human knowledge is to push it outward – but also in our teaching and public outreach. This has become more important as time has gone on – as the field develops further, pushing out the bounds of knowledge requires narrower and more intensive study; the reason you don’t see the sort of grand-history-of-everything magisterial single-researcher studies that used to be done in the late 1800s and early 1900s anymore is because so much more knowledge has been produced since then that the only way to survey an entire field like that is as a compilation of all of the work that has been done.

This is also ties back to my contention last week that this is an activity – pushing the outer bounds of human historical knowledge – which simply would not happen in anything near the amount it currently does without the academy (by which I mean the sum total of universities and colleges) supporting it. Those small-run academic books are usually too expensive to buy personally or for local libraries to stock and journal subscriptions can be very expensive as well. Only universities are generally willing to devote the resources to get that kind of material, which makes historical work of this sort possible. And really, only universities provide the research time as part of their job-structure (at least, at research universities) to produce this material and still manage to afford to eat and make rent. I see no other way; book sales and crowd-funding will simply never support projects where it takes years to assemble the painstaking research for a single book. This research does not happen without history departments in universities.

And without that in-the-first-instance primary-source investigation, all of these later steps outside of traditional academia simply don’t get any material to work with. They – public historians, school teachers, enthusiasts, bloggers and YouTube video makers – are by and large dependent on academic historians to build that foundation of knowledge. Which bring us to:

The Transmission System: Public History and Historian Training

This is my term for the set of mechanisms that aim to move that knowledge generated by academic historians closer to the public. This middle layer is still made up mostly of full-time professional historians, but the tasks they are doing has changed.

Starting with publication, we get the first half of field-to-public publishing, where we find ‘general surveys’ (including textbooks, but also a lot of the things you’ll see recommended as a “good first step into <field/question/topic>”), along with companion volumes (a companion is a term for a type of academic book composed of a set of state-of-the-field essays which together give a reader a sense of the current state of research in the field; they’re fantastically useful for students and scholars trying to get their bearing in a new field) and textbooks for use at the college level.

The key thing for these books is that they are generally not presenting much original research (though there is often some!) but rather presenting a ‘state-of-the-field’ look at the field. They are an effort by academic historians to summarize and package all of the field-to-field literature in an accessible, compact form, for a variety of different audiences (for instance, the readers of companions are generally assumed to be scholars, graduate students or advanced undergraduates; textbooks may be pitched at introductory undergraduate courses; many general surveys are aimed at interested members of the public.) These works are important, because they serve as ammunition for other parts of the transmission and wheels – they are fundamentally teaching tools.

The other major part of the transmission system I want to note are public historians (who in a sense are also part of the ‘wheels,’ since they also communicate with the public). Public historians are the professional historians who work as museum curators, historical specialists at historic sites (monuments, houses, parks), and so on. They put together exhibits, craft the language for explanatory texts, preserve artifacts and communicate with the public; some public historians also do research, both field-to-field and field-to-public, although generally not to the degree or with the frequency as academic historians. The other thing that public historians often do is manage and maintain archives and museum collections – that is, the raw material of much academic research – so not only are they part of the transmission communicating history form the academic sphere to the public, they also maintain a lot of the essential infrastructure that the academic historians rely on.

This is a late Anglo-Saxon (10th-11th century) comb made of Walrus ivory, with two (probably?) cats on it, now in the British Museum.

And where, you may ask, do we find all of these wonderful historians? That brings us to the other major task besides research which academic historians do, which is teaching. The exact ratio of teaching to research that an academic historian does depends on the university. Universities are broadly split between research focused institutions (flagship public state schools, the Ivies, etc.) and teaching focused institutions (smaller universities, liberal arts colleges, etc.). To be clear, you can get a top-flight undergraduate education from either of these sets of universities. One day in the future we’ll go more into how they differ, but the main difference here is that a historian at a research institution is expected to do about as much teaching as research, whereas a historian at a teaching college is going to do a lot more teaching and a lot less research (though typically never quite ‘no’ research at all).

For the transmission, the group of students we want to focus on are our history majors, and even within them, a subset of history majors that intend to go on to be graduate students and professional historians. While a lot of students move through history classes in a university (history majors are rarely a simple majority of even intermediate history courses, much less introductory surveys), let’s focus on the majors for now. Like most academic disciplines, the expectation is that the field of history trains its own specialists – another reason to write all of that field-to-field research so that history professors are prepared to give upcoming historians a broad base of knowledge. Those history majors take a lot of history courses for graduation, after which they go a number of different ways. The largest chunk, around 20%, go on to education, with the largest chunk of that chunk teaching in primary and secondary education (read: K-12), but the majority of history majors go on to do jobs not directly related in history, which is not a bad thing. We’ll come back to them.

But a sliver of those history majors are going to decide to pursue advanced degrees in history (note: there are certainly history graduate students whose college degree was in a different field, but they tend to be a minority). Graduate students in history take a lot of specialized coursework in historical methods building up to doing some actual historical research (of the field-to-field sort, ideally), either to roughly the size of an article (a Master’s Thesis) or roughly the size of a monograph (a doctoral dissertation). Those graduate students then fill the ranks of the academic and public historians, along with (in theory) the top tier of K-12 teachers (you tend to see a lot more advanced degrees for history teachers in well-funded high schools, in particular).

The Wheels: Education

Finally, we get to the part of the system that interfaces with the broader public directly. Let’s start with all of the students in a history class who aren’t going to become historians (which is 90+% of them). In my flowchart, I marked the undergraduate classroom as part of the transmission system because it really is. As I’ve noted before, only a minority of people attend four-year-colleges or equivalent institutions; there is no hope of processing all of the public – or even a very big fraction of the public – through a college history classroom. That isn’t what a college history classroom is for.

Instead, the hope is that those students are going to go into careers in science, technology, business, medicine, politics and so on and they are going to take that historical knowledge with them, whether that was a major, a minor or just a class on the side. Consequently – we hope! – that knowledge and skills they have gained will be available to their organizations, making for better decision-making and leadership (as we detailed last week).

This manuscript page, showing a cat and a dog, comes from a 14th century French manuscript (18684 in the British Library, the page is f.53v).

The other big group here, of course, drawing primarily from history majors and graduate students, are history teachers teaching in K-12. Teaching at the primary or secondary level demands a second set of educational skills that we academic historians don’t need to have as much of; teaching young-adults is just not the same as teaching children. I’ll probably blog a bit on the art-of-teaching from the academic angle in the future, but I want to stress here teaching at any level is a skill. It is not enough – as I see often supposed – to know your subject. If you put a teacher who knows their subject but does not know how to teach in a room with any sort of student, adult, child, whatever, they will fail to teach very much. For my part, I consider K-12 teachers to be a type of historian, specialized in education but I know that many of my peers would draw a line between history teachers and the rest of the field. While it is quite common in some fields (Classics, in particular does this, as with CAMWS) for smaller regional conferences to target a mix of academic and K-12 professionals in an effort to keep the two groups in better dialogue, it seems to me this is less common in history, which is unfortunate.

Because K-12 history teachers simply reach more of the population (effectively all of it) than any other group in the history-powertrain. Consequently, it would be fair to view K-12 teachers as the fundamental end-product of the whole edifice: academic historians do research to perfect the history that we give to K-12 teachers (in their undergraduate courses) which they then deliver, en masse directly to the public. That would be a reductive reading of the system, but not wrong per se.

Of course also at the level of direct approaches to the public is what is called public engagement or public outreach. You are, in fact, being publicly engaged right now. Public engagement – done by all of the levels of historian (but often only called out as public engagement by name when done by academic historians) – are efforts to communicate our historical knowledge to the public directly. This includes history podcasts, blogs (like this one), and articles in traditional print and online media.

There’s also a publication form of public engagement, generally called ‘pop’ history – books on history often written in an engaging, punchy style for the general public, rather than an academic or even para-academic audience. Pop history books often have a poor reputation in academic circles, but I think there is real value to this kind of publication. Unfortunately – and this isn’t the place to go into this, so I won’t elaborate – pop history will not get you tenure, which leads to neglect in the academy and consequently the big pop-history books are often not written by the best historians in their fields.


And that is the system. Academic historians train new historians at all levels, teach undergraduates (in part to create a pool of historian-trainees) and push the bounds of historical knowledge, revising old theories or breaking new ground to make sure all of the other parts of the system (including other academic historians) have the most exact and useful rendering of the past. Public historians, graduate and undergraduate teaching then work to transfer that knowledge into places like school classrooms, museums and public-facing publication which puts that improved historical knowledge in the hands of the public at large.

If it seems like my treatment of public history and K-12 teaching were a bit schematic, that is not because they are unimportant (indeed, I hope I have shown quite the opposite) but instead that because that is the part of the system I do not do, my knowledge there is thinnest about organizations and practices.

I should also note that for the sake of scope, I’ve confined myself to professional historians – folks who do this as a job, for a living. But that’s not the entire discipline! Research and public engagement sometimes does come from outside this system, particularly in the form of several very motivated and energetic enthusiast communities. There is a sad tendency for many academic historians to view these folks as beneath them; this is a mistake in my view. As someone whose work borders one such enthusiast community (the arms-and-armor enthusiasts who often go by the label HEMA, although that community is increasingly more globally minded in its approach and I think ought to drop the ‘E’ from that label and embrace the global perspective), it can be incredibly valuable to have one of these communities adjacent to you. I firmly believe that the field would do well to nurture more of these communities.

Via Wikipedia, this is a late-18th or early 19th century painting of a woman feeding her cat by French artist Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837).

I do want to say that this system is hardly perfect; there are problems. Academic historians at research institutions in particular have a tendency to become blinkered, focusing only on their peers at other research institutions, at the expense of the rest of the field. And while in theory, new historical research would make its way directly to high school classrooms, in practice that process often badly hampered, on the one hand because many overworked K-12 educators are not given the time or incentive to stay current on the state of the field (though some do!) and on the other hand because the process of developing public school curricula is heavily politicized, often leading school districts to cling to outdated historical theories for decades after they were soundly discredited in the field proper (I should note this is not a phenomenon restricted to the United States, much less only some parts of the United States; there are history textbook fights pretty much everywhere – some European textbooks are downright startling in their treatment of world history and don’t get me started on Japanese textbooks covering 1930-1945).

At the same time, it is my distinct impression that compared to many other disciplines in the humanities history has a much better developed transmission infrastructure (it is really striking coming from Classics, which I think is very badly hampered in this regard and seems to have little interest in saving itself). And I think this is directly part of how history, as a discipline, has (so far) mostly avoided the catastrophic decline in enrollment and funding which has struck much of the rest of the humanities (although that may not hold; the Great Recession and COVID have both hammered the discipline).

This blog is my small part of that outreach, of course.

The fact is, we all somewhat intuitively understand that as the general level of history knowledge in the voting public and the policy-making apparatus declines, the quality of our decision-making and leadership declines with it (again, we discussed this last week). And so on the one hand it is very important for professional historians – yes, all of us – to be actively engaging in forms of outreach (and, as an aside, if your only form of outreach is political in nature, that’s probably not great; not that history needs to be apolitical – I don’t think it can be – but we do need to reach out to people who disagree with us politically and engage them too). And on the other hand I think it is important for the public to continue its support of the discipline, even when it doesn’t always like what the historians are telling it. After all, that’s what you (by proxy) pay us for: to tell uncomfortable historical truths, not comfortable legends.

I’ll close with Thucydides that if my work “be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the understanding of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.” (Thuc. 1.22.4). That is what we strive to do, as a body, one whole discipline working (in theory) together.

ESA confirms Ariane 6 delay to 2021

This story was updated July 10 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern to reflect an updated translation of ESA Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander’s remarks at a July 9 press briefing. 

WASHINGTON — Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket won’t launch until the second half of 2021 at the earliest, a delay of at least six months, the European Space Agency confirmed July 9.

“While we know that the maiden flight will not take place before the second semester of 2021, we cannot at this moment precisely quantify the delay, and we cannot provide an exact launch date,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said according to an ESA translation of remarks at a July 9 press event provided to SpaceNews. The French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, organized the event at ArianeGroup’s headquarters in Paris.

ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said, according to the ESA translation.

Ariane 6 was viewed as very likely to slip from late 2020 into 2021 for a first flight, with much of the reason attributed to slowdowns from the coronavirus pandemic. In May, Neuenschwander said pandemic-induced delays with Ariane 6’s launchpad construction, solid-rocket-booster testing, and productivity losses at Ariane 6 industrial sites had compromised the rocket’s original schedule. 

Neuenschwander, speaking to journalists at the July 9 press event, said problems with the cryogenic arms at the Ariane 6 launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, were also contributing to the delay, according to the French publication Challenges

The French space agency CNES is building the Ariane 6 launch pad. ArianeGroup, a joint venture of Airbus and Safran, is building Ariane 6 as prime contractor to ESA. 


Hamster Ball 2

The worst is being teased by responsible, mask-wearing teens. They even spritz the hamster ball with disinfectant before rolling it, carefully avoiding the filter vents.

Comet NEOWISE from the ISS

Comet NEOWISE from the ISS Comet NEOWISE from the ISS

MLB Flew 160+ Players & Staff From DR Last Week Without Testing Them; Joe West Spouts Some Trumpian Bullshit

Manfred's gonna Manfred.

Check out this headline from the Washington Post:

MLB Flew Dominican Players To The U.S. For Restart But Didn't Test Them For Coronavirus First

From Jesse Dougherty's report:
Multiple players who took one of two Major League Baseball-chartered flights from the Dominican Republic to Miami on July 1 have since tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to several people with knowledge of the situation. Players and staff members were not tested before boarding the planes, according to six people with knowledge of the travel logistics, lending more skepticism to baseball's restart plan. ...

[A]n MLB spokesman noted that ... tests are harder to come by in the Dominican Republic than in the United States, and he said "shipping saliva samples from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. was not possible due to governmental restrictions."

Six Washington Nationals players — Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Wander Suero, Fernando Abad, Luis Garcia and Joan Adon — were on the flights and are isolating in Washington. One tested positive for the coronavirus ... while the rest remain in quarantine out of caution. ...

MLB confirmed that there were asymptomatic players on both flights who later tested positive for the coronavirus during intake screening. ...

In a statement, an MLB spokesman said: "Testing 160 asymptomatic players in the Dominican Republic would have diverted substantial resources away from the Dominican health care system, where the availability of laboratory equipment is scarce, and would have required an exception to the country's criteria for testing, which was not something we were prepared to do."

Because team staff members were permitted on the flights, according to two people with knowledge of them, the total number of people who traveled exceeds 160. On Opening Day in 2019, 102 of MLB's 882 players were from the Dominican Republic. ...

"These guys are really frustrated by the whole thing," said one person close to a few Nationals who took the charter flight and are isolating. "And it also shows how risky the travel is all around. There's so much you can't control."
Like a commissioner who won't take basic health precautions during a pandemic.

Manfred also took offense at Nationals GM Mike Rizzo's comments after the team canceled its workout last Monday, because MLB, which had promised a 24-hour turnaround time for tests, failed to do so.

We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff, and their families. Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.
Manfred reportedly "jumped on [Rizzo] for that". ... Manfred doesn't like the truth.

NBC Sports' Bill Baer:
Many foreign players traveled back home once the league shut down in March, which complicated things once they returned to the U.S. to play baseball. While it was very predictable, there wasn't an easy fix. It was either keep the players in or out. However, adding this to MLB's slipshod job handling testing in the early stages of training camp, there is merited skepticism about the league's ability to pull off a 60-game season over the next three months.
In other obvious news, umpire Joe West is an idiot.

On Tuesday, West talked about the 135,000+ US deaths from SARS-CoV-2:
Most of these people that they're reporting are dying are not healthy to begin with. ... I don't believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus. I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.
Two days later, West (who has no experience in studying infectious diseases or in medical matters) sounded Trumpian, telling Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY:
Those statistics aren't accurate, I don't care who's counting them. ... Our system is so messed up they have emptied hospitals because there's no elective surgery. The government has been giving these hospitals extra money if someone dies of the coronavirus. So everybody that dies is because of coronavirus. I don't care if you get hit by a car, it's coronavirus.
Craig Calcaterra wrote:
Joe West's coronavirus "opinion" is not just ignorance. It's conspiracy theorist-level misinformation. It's also, it should be added, misinformation that Nightengale would've done well to counter after quoting West ...

For example, Nightengale could've noted that, rather than aggressively code patient deaths as coronavirus, if anything, West's home state of Florida has been underreporting coronavirus deaths. And, to say the least, there is no evidence of the insanity that West claims regarding "giving hospitals extra money."

As for elective surgeries, hospital systems in Florida have been given broad discretion with what to do about them but, in recent days, have halted them because they need the bed space for coronavirus patients. Far from being "emptied out," hospitals in Florida are filling up with people who are sick from the very disease West is dismissing as a danger.

West is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good or respected umpire. But it remains the case that his profession is one where showing good judgment is essential. Based on Joe West's coronavirus views, however, his judgment is even more blinkered than we previously realized.

UPDATE: A thing I did not realize earlier: West's citation to country singer Joe Diffie is itself a conspiracy theory that has been debunked. So West is peddling conspiracy theories on top of conspiracy theories.
The Major League Baseball Umpires Association (MLBUA) released a statement, though it did not specifically name West:
Recent public comments about the current Coronavirus pandemic do not in any way reflect the position of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association. ... The MLBUA fully supports the health and safety protocols agreed to by MLB and the MLBPA, and we have agreed to make dramatic changes to our usual working conditions in an effort to navigate this unprecedented season.
Baer, again:
If you're a player, how comfortable will you be playing in a game in which West is working? Do you trust him to call out a player who licked his fingers or coughed into his hand before touching the baseball? Do you trust him not to get in your face when he feels you disrespected him by questioning a call?

In order for this whole thing to work, the players, coaches, umpires, and all other personnel need to have a certain level of trust in each other. Players who are high-risk, or who have high-risk family members, are relying on everyone else to make smart decisions. They're trusting their teammates, et. al. to wear masks and socially distance, to not to go out to bars and restaurants, to faithfully wash their hands. All it takes is one slip-up for things to go sideways for a player and, thus, the game. This is not a simple difference of opinion; lives and livelihoods are on the line. West, with his dismissive comments, is not engendering any trust.

High-throughput communications satellite launched from China

A Long March 3B rocket lifts off Thursday from the Xichang space launch facility with the Apstar 6D communications satellite. Credit: Xinhua

A high-power broadband communications satellite designed to provide Internet access to airliner passengers, cruise ships, fishing vessels, and other mobile users successfully launched Thursday aboard a Chinese Long March 3B rocket.

The 12,235-pound (5,550-kilogram) Apstar 6D communications satellite lifted off at 1211 GMT (8:11 a.m. EDT; 8:11 p.m. Beijing time) Thursday from the Xichang space launch facility, located in Sichuan province in southwestern China.

A Long March 3B rocket carried the spacecraft aloft and headed toward the east-southeast from Xichang. The 184-foot-tall (56-meter) launch vehicle shed its four hydrazine-fed boosters and core stage in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the flight, followed by ignition of the Long March 3B’s second stage, and finally maneuvers using the rocket’s cryogenic upper stage to place the Apstar 6D satellite into orbit.

The Apstar 6D satellite deployed from the the Long March 3B’s third stage less than a half-hour after liftoff in an elliptical geostationary transfer orbit ranging between about 136 miles (220 kilometers) and 22,236 miles (25,790 kilometers) in altitude. The spacecraft’s own propulsion system will circularize its orbit at geostationary altitude over the equator in the coming weeks, where its velocity will match the speed of Earth’s rotation.

The spacecraft is owned by APT Mobile Satcom Ltd., a company headquartered Shenzhen, China, that was co-founded in 2016 by APT Satellite of Hong Kong and state-backed organizations in China.

APT Satellite said in a statement that the Apstar 6D spacecraft will “meet all types of mobile satellite communication, as well as satellite broadband connection needs in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The operator said that in the coming days the satellite will complete a second phase of the deployment of its power-generating solar arrays, and unfurl antennas to prepare for testing before entering commercial service.

Built by the China Academy of Space Technology, the Apstar 6D spacecraft is based on an enhanced version of China’s DFH-4 satellite platform, known as the DFH-4E. The satellite will use a conventional liquid-fueled engine to raise its orbit in the coming weeks, then rely on electric plasma thrusters to hold position in geostationary orbit during its planned 15-year mission.

APT Satellite procured the satellite and the launch through China Great Wall Industry Corp., or CGWIC, the government-owned company charged with selling Chinese spacecraft and launch services on the international market.

The Apstar 6D satellite is encapsulated inside the Long March 3B rocket’s payload fairing. Credit: CASC

Apstar 6D carries Ku-band and Ka-band communications payloads, including 90 Ku-band user beams to connect with customers and eight Ka-band gateway beams, according to CGWIC. The satellite will be positioned in geostationary orbit at 134 degrees east longitude, with a coverage area stretching from the eastern Indian Ocean to the western Pacific Ocean.

The spacecraft will serve Chinese airlines, maritime companies, and support emergency response and disaster relief agencies, officials said.

APT Satellite said the Apstar 6D satellite has a total throughput capacity of 50 gigabits per second, and has the ability to route more than 1 gigabit per second of data through a single beam. The satellite can generate up to 14.4 kilowatts of power.

APT Mobile Satcom Ltd. ordered the Apstar 6D satellite from the Chinese contractor in 2016. APT Mobile says the satellite is the first of up to four geostationary broadband satellites it plans to build and launch to create a global network, but the company has not announced firm contracts for follow-on spacecraft.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Ex-Im Bank to step up support for space industry challenged by Chinese competitors

WASHINGTON — The Export-Import Bank of the United States is reaching out to the space industry and offering to help exporters take on Chinese competitors, officials said July 9.

U.S. companies in the space sector face tough competition from Chinese government-backed companies and the Ex-Im Bank now has a mandate from Congress to help level the playing field, David Trulio, a bank senior vice president said at a virtual forum hosted by Ex-Im.

Trulio, a former Defense Department official, runs Ex-Im’s “Program on China and Transformational Exports.” The program was directed by Congress when it signed a seven-year re-authorization for Ex-Im on December 20, 2019.

‘It’s a crucial mandate that we’re working to operationalize,” said Trulio. The program extends loans to foreign buyers of U.S. goods and services. The law says that loan rates and terms must be competitive with those offered by the People’s Republic of China.

Congress charged Ex-Im to set aside at least 20 percent of the agency’s financing authority — $27 billion out of a total of $135 billion — for this program. Space is one of several industries that were identified as being challenged by Chinese competition.

Kimberly Reed, Ex-Im’s president and chairman, said the staff that works with the space industry is trying to get back on track after the bank was largely shuttered for four years due to the lack of congressional authorization from 2015 until the bill was signed in December 2019.

During those four years the bank lacked authority to make loans above $10 million, which severely limited its ability to finance satellite deals.

Judith Pryor, board member of Ex-Im, said that in the decade prior to the lapse of the bank’s charter, it had provided $5 billion in financing to buyers of U.S. satellite and launch services. “It would have been more had the bank not lost its authorization,” Pryor said.

In 2020, Ex-Im is finding that the commercial space landscape has dramatically changed. “We have seen an uptick in non-geostationary satellite requests,” said Pryor. There is a higher demand for financing for low Earth orbit satellites, especially for earth observation and remote sensing, as well as for in-orbit servicing and even space tourism.

Selling services, not hardware

Companies that provide earth imaging data and analytics services are increasingly facing cutthroat competition from Chinese firms, said Robbie Schingler, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Planet, a company that operates the world’s largest constellation of earth observation satellites.

“There is a massive market opportunity to get contracts with governments around the world,” Schingler said. “But we run into challenges with predatory pricing by Chinese backed companies.”

He said Planet would consider seeking Ex-Im’s help. “There are Chinese companies going after the same products and services we’ve been offering for the last few years,” said Schingler. He would like Ex-Im to help finance purchases of data subscriptions, a service that is provided with space technology but is not the same as selling hardware.

John Serafini, CEO of Hawkeye 360, said his company would like to see Ex-Im help ease the export licensing process.

Hawkeye 360 operates a constellation of satellites that track and analyze radio-frequency signals. The data is turned into intelligence reports.

“There has to be a level playing field,” he said. “U.S. companies can’t export certain capabilities that are available from international competitors.”

Paul Estey, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Maxar, said Ex-Im should reconsider how it views “U.S. content requirements.”

Maxar, which manufactures and exports satellites, uses foreign suppliers for some components. Estey argued that even if a Maxar-made satellite has some foreign components, it should be viewed as a U.S. product.

“Maxar would like the bank to allow flexibility in U.S. content requirements,” he said. “Other export credit agencies tend to look at the net benefits to the home country rather than define a strict content limit.”

Ex-Im also should be allowed to finance foreign launches for U.S. supplied satellites, he said, “so our customers have a one-stop shop for financing.”

China Great Wall Industry Corporation has emerged as a strong competitor in the satellite marketplace, said Estey. “They offer attractive financing hat generally includes full financing of the satellite and associated ground equipment, launch and insurance,” he said. “In some deals they allow the satellite operator to repay a 10-plus year loan one or two years after the satellite is launched and starts to generate revenue.”

Stephanie Bednarek, director of commercial sales at SpaceX, said the company competes frequently with Chinese-backed launch companies.

“It’s fair to say that SpaceX may view Ex-Im as an extension of our sales force and an asset that’s really critical to help us win international business,” she said.

Bednarek said Ex-Im could also assist U.S. launch providers by helping foreign satellite operators understand how to use Ex-Im as many tend to be skeptical because they are unfamiliar with how it works.


★ A Moment of Clarity Regarding the Raison d’Etre for the App Store

Feel free to file Google’s release this week of an update to their iPad Gmail app with support for split-screen multitasking under “better late than never”, but this is so late it borders on the absurd. It’s like the difference between showing up fashionably late and showing up a week after the party. Split-screen multitasking was introduced for the iPad back in 2015 with iOS 9. Five years to add support for a foundational element of the iPad user experience. And an email client is near the top of the list of the type of apps where someone would want to use split-screen. Five years.

Google makes a lot of software with terrible user experiences for users who have poor taste. Their iOS software, in particular, has for the most part never suggested that it was designed by people who like — or even use — iOS. It’s the blind leading the blind. But yet the Gmail app is currently the number one free app in the Productivity category in the App Store.

On the surface, it’s tempting to blow this off. To each their own. Whatever floats their boat. Who cares if millions of iPad users are satisfied using an email client that is a poor iPad app, so long as actual good iPad email clients are available to those who do care?

But what about those stuck using the Gmail app not because they want to, but because they have to? Who can help them but Apple?

I worry that it’s not tenable in the long run to expect Apple to continue striving to create well-crafted — let alone insanely great — software when so many of its users not only settle for, but perhaps even prefer, software that is, to put it kindly, garbage. There have always been popular Mac and iPhone apps that are objectively terrible apps — where by “popular” I mean much-used, not much-loved. But what made Apple users Apple users is that they complained vociferously if they had to use a terrible app. Word 6 was a sack of dog shit Microsoft dropped off and set aflame on Mac users’ porch, but we all knew it was a flaming bag of dog shit, and even those of us who didn’t even use Word were angry about it because it was an insult.

I worry that this sort of “Who cares, it’s better than nothing” attitude has seeped into Apple itself, and explains how we wound up with barely modified iPad apps shipping as system apps on the Mac.

But more than anything I worry that this exemplifies where Apple has lost its way with the App Store. What exactly is the point of running a strict approval process for apps if not, first and foremost, to ensure that they’re good apps? An iPad email app that doesn’t support split-screen multitasking for five years is, by definition, not a good app.

I’d like to see all the vim, vigor, and vigilance Apple applies to making sure no app on the App Store is making a dime without Apple getting three cents applied instead to making sure there aren’t any scams or ripoffs, and that popular apps support good-citizen-of-the-platform features within a reasonable amount of time after those features are introduced in the OS. I don’t know exactly how long “reasonable” is, but five fucking years for split-screen support ain’t it.

You might argue that there are a million apps in the App Store and Apple can’t make sure every one of them is up to snuff quality-wise. But there’s no need to scrutinize a million apps — just start with the apps with a million users. The more popular an app is the more Apple should scrutinize it in terms of being, simply, a decent citizen of the platform. If they’re going to be stringent about App Store review, they should be stringent in the name of user experience.

That the iPad’s most-installed productivity app was allowed to languish for half a decade without supporting something as fundamental to the platform as split-screen is every bit as much a condemnation of the state of the App Store as the Hey imbroglio was. It’s the other side of the same coin.

The primary purpose of the App Store should be to steer third-party apps toward excellence, to make the platform as a whole as insanely great as possible. When Steve Jobs introduced the App Store in 2008, he said, “We don’t intend to make any money off the App Store. We’re basically giving all the money to the developers and the 30 percent that pays for running the store, that’ll be great.” Really. It’s impossible to square that mindset with the App Store of today, where the highest priority1 seemingly is the generation of ever-increasing revenue in the Services column of Apple’s quarterly finance spreadsheet.

Apple undeniably wields great power from the fact that the App Store is the exclusive source for all consumer software for the iPhone and iPad. Why not use that power in the name of user experience? Imagine a world where the biggest fear developers had when submitting an app for review wasn’t whether they were offering Apple a sufficient cut of their revenue, but whether they were offering users a good enough native-to-the-platform experience. Video app that doesn’t support picture-in-picture? You’re out of the store. App doesn’t support dynamic type size but clearly should? You’re out. Poor accessibility support? Out. Popular email client that doesn’t support split screen? Out.

Rather than watch Apple face antitrust regulators in the U.S. and Europe with a sense of dread, I’d watch with a sense of glee. “This company is abusing its market dominance to take an unfair share of our money” is an age-old complaint to government regulators. “This company is abusing its market dominance to force us to make our apps better for users” would be delightful new territory. Only Apple could do that.

Great products often (but, sadly, not always) generate profit. Successfully navigating this dynamic — earning profits as a natural byproduct of the creation of consistently great products that people want to buy — is the story of Apple’s entire 40-year history in a nutshell. But profit seeking, as an end unto itself, does not generate excellence — and in fact generally results in the opposite. Apple, like any great company, is rightfully driven by an insatiable appetite, but that appetite ought to be for adding ever more artistic and technical excellence to the world, not mining ever more money from it.

You can’t pack every last ounce of joy, beauty, and elegance into something while simultaneously trying to squeeze every last dollar out of it.

  1. You can reasonably argue that revenue generation is not the highest priority of today’s App Store, but you can’t seriously argue that it isn’t a top priority — and that alone puts it in conflict with Jobs’s founding description. ↩︎