Despite climate concerns, demand for dirty fuels is surging

As industry recovers, coal and natural gas are resurgent

Prices in Turkey are surging. But by how much?

Depending on whom you ask, inflation is either around 17% or 40%

Real Treasury yields plumb the depths

Anxiety about the economic recovery has taken hold

Could sympathy for debtors help boost consumption in China?

Shenzhen becomes the first Chinese city to offer personal bankruptcy protection

Fintech is booming, despite a weak economy. Can that last?

Some Nigerian investors worry that the excitement is overdone

The case for a further narrowing of euro-zone bond spreads

Italy’s have the furthest to fall. And it is coming into the fold

Why have some places suffered more covid-19 deaths than others?

Income inequality is a big part of the answer

Two Quick Links for Thursday Afternoon

The next month or two is a really great time to see Saturn in the night sky (esp. if you have a telescope). []

The US poverty rate is expected to be *cut in half* this year due to pandemic relief efforts from the federal government. Presumably after those efforts end, poverty levels will go back to "normal". []


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

Nauka Fired Its Thrusters For No Reason - OFT-2 Delayed

NASA Invites Media to International Space Station Update

Audio of the teleconference will stream live online at: ... To participate in the teleconference, media must contact Kathryn Hambleton at by 4 p.m. today for dial-in information.

Keith's update: NSAA PAO mailed this media advisory at 4:09 pm EDT - 9 minutes after the deadline expired for media to participate. So much for enabling media access.

Keith's update: NASA and Boeing have delayed Friday's launch attempt for OFT-2 Starliner due tot he Nauka situation. The new launch date is still TBD.

Keith's note: Just as the hatch to Nauka was being opened Nauka started to fire its thrusters in an uncontrolled fashion putting the ISS some 45 degrees out of its preferred orientation. Progress thrusters were activated to counteract what Nauka was doing. Then the Service Module used its thrusters to counteract what Nauka was doing. Now Russia is waiting to get another pass to communicate with Nauka to see what is going on - and why. NASA is not saying much of anything other than to say that the crew is not in danger.

Nauka has had problems from the moment it reached space. Indeed it had problems in the decades it sat on the ground and had to have one system after another rebuilt and/or redesigned. It was originally FGB-2 - one of the two FGBs that NASA paid for back in the 1990s. This module was a back-up and was only called into service when Russia decided that it could not afford a much more complex laboratory module.

Nauka was unable to use its propulsion system to do orbit burns so it had to use smaller thrusters to do that. Now that it is docked onto the ISS it is supposed to be passive. As such, the random firing of its thrusters in an uncontrolled fashion such that the space station has to fight back to counter this activity is not the sign of a healthy spacecraft. Add in the fact that there were crew inside when this happend is certainly causing some people at NASA and Roscosmos to be concerned.

You have to wonder if NASA and Boeing are at all interested in launching OFT-2 given that this uncontrollable and unexplained situation exists.

Stay tuned.

AFDLOX July 29, 2:21pm

FXUS66 KLOX 292121 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 221 PM PDT Thu Jul 29 2021 .SYNOPSIS...29/929 AM. A warm air mass will remain in place due to an area of high pressure aloft over the West. Some cooling is expected over the weekend as an area of low pressure brushes the area, but high pressure aloft will build back in for next week. Isolated afternoon and evening thunderstorms are possible across some mountain areas and the deserts Friday and Saturday.

Links 7/29/21

Links for you. Science:

Breakthrough Infections of SARS-CoV-2 Gamma Variant in Fully Vaccinated Gold Miners, French Guiana, 2021
Gun violence is surging — researchers finally have the money to ask why
You got a coronavirus vaccine. But you still became infected. How did that happen?
Viral Load of SARS-CoV-2 in Respiratory Aerosols Emitted by COVID-19 Patients while Breathing, Talking, and Singing
How the Delta variant achieves its ultrafast spread


The Case for Vaccine Mandates and Proof of Vaccination Systems
A Defunct Video Hosting Site Is Flooding Normal Websites With Hardcore Porn
Why Republicans suddenly seem to be taking COVID seriously (“this looks very much like a two-pronged strategy, where the Beltway press gets a “GOP loves the vaccine” message, while the actual base is still getting blasted with a “vaccines are bad” message.”)
Michigan Sheriff Alarms Small-Town Clerks With Shady, Mike Lindell-Inspired Elections Probe (elected sheriffs are worse than elected judges)
SF Bay Area restaurants are still struggling. Returning customers don’t see that.
Parents Take Aim At D.C. Law That Allows Minors To Get Vaccinated Without Parental Permission
Proud Boys Say They Can’t Safely Dance, Even Though They Wanted To
Sean Hannity assures audience he’s “not urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.” Sean Hannity issues stern rebuke to those calling him “pro-vaccine”: “Why are they saying something I didn’t say?”
In Alabama and Louisiana, partisan opposition to vaccine surges alongside Delta variant: Many people are turning down Covid vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats thinking they know what’s best. (fucking morons)
Democrats aren’t falling for bogus GOP attacks on Biden nominees
Woodland Bar Shuts Down After Maskless, Unvaccinated Customers Infect Staff With COVID-19
I live in a Democratic bubble. Here’s why that’s okay.
Imagine a 9/11 Commission If the Hijackers Had Allies in Congress
Here’s the cynical reason why Fox News ‘changed its tune’ on COVID-19 vaccinations
Anti-vaccine groups changing into ‘dance parties’ on Facebook to avoid detection
Some Republicans are pushing people to get vaccinated. It may be too late.
In Mattapan, the uphill battle against COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy
‘Complete, dysfunctional chaos’: Oklahoma reels after Supreme Court ruling on Indian tribes
In southwest Missouri, the coronavirus Delta variant and freedom collide (‘freedom’ akshually)
The Post-Pandemic Return of Professional Frisbee
A Black entrepreneur wanted to find success in the Seaport. Instead she had to go to New York. Her business is taking off

AFDSGX July 29, 1:42pm

FXUS66 KSGX 292042 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 142 PM PDT Thu Jul 29 2021 .SYNOPSIS... Monsoonal moisture will continue a slight chance of thunderstorms this afternoon for the mountains and high desert areas. An influx of monsoonal moisture from the south will bring more clouds and greater chances for showers and thunderstorms mainly for the mountains and deserts Friday through Saturday. Then drier with a gradual warming trend for Sunday through the middle of next week.

Lora Webb Nichols’ Photographic Chronicle of the 20th Century American West

a woman stands in front of a car wearing a deerskin suit

a double exposed photo of a woman playing a banjo

a woman with very long hair bends over to show it off

This is fantastic: for more than 60 years beginning in 1899, Lora Webb Nichols captured and collected about 24,000 photographs of life in a small copper-mining town in Wyoming.

On October 28, 1899, Lora Webb Nichols was at her family’s homestead, near Encampment, Wyoming, reading “Five Little Peppers Midway,” when her beau, Bert Oldman, came to the door to deliver a birthday present. The sixteen-year-old Nichols would marry the thirty-year-old Oldman the following year, and divorce him a decade later. The gift, however — a Kodak camera — would change the course of her life. Between 1899 and her death, in 1962, Nichols created and collected some twenty-four thousand negatives documenting life in her small Wyoming town, whose fortunes boomed and then busted along with the region’s copper mines. What Nichols left behind might be the largest photographic record of this era and region in existence: thousands of portraits, still-lifes, domestic interiors, and landscapes, all made with an unfussy, straightforward, often humorous eye toward the small textures and gestures of everyday life.

You can browse the collection of her photos at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

Tags: Lora Webb Nichols   photography

July 29th COVID-19, New Cases, Hospitalizations, Vaccinations

The 7-day average cases is the highest since April 18th.

The 7-day average hospitalizations is the highest since May 9th.

This data is from the CDC.

According to the CDC, on Vaccinations.

Total doses administered: 344,071,595, as of a week ago 339,763,765. Average doses last week: 0.62 million per day.

COVID Metrics
Percent over 18,
One Dose
Fully Vaccinated✅
New Cases per Day3🚩66,60662,23140,596≤5,0002
Deaths per Day3🚩296296222≤502
1 America's Short Term Goals,
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37 day average for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7 day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met (even if late).

KUDOS to the residents of the 20 states and D.C. that have achieved the 70% goal (percent over 18 with at least one dose): Vermont, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Connecticut are at 80%+, and Maine, New Mexico, New Jersey,  Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado and D.C. are all over 70%.

Next up are Florida at 68.2%, Utah at 67.7%, Wisconsin at 67.1%, Nebraska at 67.1%, South Dakota at 66.1%, Kansas at 66.0%, Iowa at 65.5%, and Nevada at 65.2%.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) and 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported.

This data is from the CDC.

Filtered for light


Thomas Edison in 1879, around the time of the first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb:

We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.

The cost of light.

Source: Early Light Bulbs, Engineering and Technology History Wiki.


Theatre lighting designer Alex Forey’s eye-opening Young Directors’ Guide to Lighting: Intensity, Colour, Angle, Texture, Atmosphere.

we are often responsible for directing the gaze of the audience to where it needs to be

Just an incredible piece about shaping light, both the practicalities and the narrative control. Worth a read for a glimpse into another world. (Assuming you’re not already a theatre person, which I’m not.)

It is galling that software interface design lacks a similar rich language and set of tools for how to speak with the user.

RELATED: What wipes in Star Wars teach us about the brain and also interface design (this blog, April 2021).


An attempt to hack the human eye into seeing near-infrared (Science for the Masses, 2014).

Humans use the vitamin A1 to build red-sensitive pigments in the eye.

But freshwater fish use vitamin A2 instead to create a pigment which has been shown to be sensitive to light of wavelengths up to 1400nm in some species, which is well into the near infrared range.

And so, an experiment:

The members of Science for the Masses and a handful of our collaborators will completely eliminate all retinoids and caretinoids (vitamin A and its provitamins) from our diets by switching to a special vitamin A deficient (VAD) blend of Soylent provided to us by special request. We will then supplement with two compounds: 3,4-dehydroretinol (A2) and retinoic acid (RA).

The idea being that it’s possible to deprive the body of vitamin A1 in order to force the eye to use vitamin A2 instead, and therefore see the world as fish do – in the near-infrared.

So - I guess - you could see objects glow with heat, directly?

Sadly it wouldn’t work: No, These Biohackers Can’t Give Themselves Infrared Vision (Wired, 2015).


I am less concerned with biohacking itself than what this idea shows cultural readiness for…

You could hack the same experience with augmented reality smart glasses. Take the video feed, then compress the colour spectrum such that deep red is unused. Then take a separate feed of the infrared, and hue shift it into the red channel.

(Note that standard cameras see infrared by default and it has to be filtered out. The rear camera on my iPhone is filtered, but the front-facing camera is unfiltered and can see IR – which I use pretty regularly to see if the TV remote batteries are working. Point the remote at your phone and press a button: the IR bulbs will appear as sharp points of light. All of which is to say, you wouldn’t even need a dedicated IR sensor for the smart specs.)

Then wear the specs for a few days to give it time for your brain to adjust, touch a few objects of various temperatures (while looking at them) to train your perception, and you would be able to see heat. A kind of lo-fi cyborg prosthetic.

Could be a practical industrial application for smart glasses, aimed at plumbers, mechanics, and electrical engineers.


A nugget from Venkatesh Rao’s newsletter back in December:

The amount of work that bought 1 hour of light in prehistoric times now buys 53 years of light.

The cost of light!

Biden taps Aerospace Corp.’s John Plumb to run DoD space policy

President Biden has nominated John Plumb to be assistant secretary of defense for space policy, the White House announced July 29. 


Las Vegas Visitor Authority for June: Convention Attendance N/A, Visitor Traffic Down 18% Compared to 2019

From the Las Vegas Visitor Authority: June 2021 Las Vegas Visitor Statistics
Marking the sixth consecutive month of MoM gains, June saw the destination host more than 2.9 million visitors, +3.2% MoM and down ‐17.6% vs. June 2019.

While convention and group data continue to be gathered, the return of several conventions including World of Concrete, Surfaces, Nightclub & Bar and the Int'l Esthetics, Cosmetics & Spa Conference helped support midweek business.

Hotel occupancy continued to improve, reaching 75.9% (up 5.0 pts MoM, down ‐15.8 pts vs. June 2019), as Weekend occupancy neared 90% (89.4%) and Midweek occupancy reached 70.9% (up 8.1 pts MoM, down ‐18.8 pts vs. June 2019.)
Las Vegas Visitor Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows visitor traffic for 2019 (blue), 2020 (orange) and 2021 (red).

Visitor traffic was down 17.6% compared to the same month in 2019.

There had been no convention traffic since March 2020, but there were a few conventions in June (data not available yet).

I'll add a graph of convention traffic once convention data is available.

Note: Conventions started again in June, but the data isn't available yet.

Nauka drama: Module thrusters fire errantly while docked to ISS


Nauka as seen from the Cupola module on the U.S. side of the ISS. Credit: NASA

Nauka as seen from the Cupola module on the U.S. side of the ISS. Credit: NASA

Just hours after safely docking with the International Space Station, the Nauka module’s thrusters began firing unexpectedly, causing the outpost to lose attitude control.

Not long after the ISS Expedition 65 crew, consisting of seven people, started opening the hatch to the newly-arrive module, Nauka’s thrusters began firing at about 12:45 p.m. EDT (16:45 UTC) July 29, 2021, causing the Zvezda service module to begin correcting the errant maneuvers as the outpost began drifting away from its normal orientation.

An overview of the Nauka module. Credit: NASA

An overview of the Nauka module. Credit: NASA

According to NASA, the ISS rotated up to about 45 degrees from its normal orientation. The agency stressed the crew was not in any danger.

NASA ground controllers immediately began directing the space station crew, commanded by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide, to close all the outpost’s window shutters. They were also told to command the massive solar array wings into a safe configuration as the outpost began rotating.

“Just to update you guys, right now we’re in a little bit of a tug of war between thrusters firing from both the [service module] and the [Nauka module],” radioed Mission Control Center Houston shortly thereafter. “We’re sorting through the best course of action right now.”

A few minutes later, the crew was updated to say the Zvezda module was decreasing the attitude error and that the Progress MS-17 spacecraft, located on the space-facing Poisk module, took over correcting the outpost’s attitude.

The location of the Nauka module on the International Space Station. Also annotated are the locations of the three visiting spacecraft currently at ISS: Progress MS-17, Soyuz MS-18 and Crew-2 Dragon. Credit: Derek Richardson / Spaceflight Insider / Orbital Velocity

The location of the Nauka module on the International Space Station. Also annotated are the locations of the three visiting spacecraft currently at ISS: Progress MS-17, Soyuz MS-18 and Crew-2 Dragon. Credit: Derek Richardson / Spaceflight Insider / Orbital Velocity

At 1:30 p.m. EDT (17:30 UTC), NASA confirmed that attitude had returned to normal and Nauka was no longer firing.

Roscosmos is not sure why Nauka’s thruster began firing. However, it was expected to send commands to the module to disable its thrusters during the next Russian ground pass at about 2 p.m. EDT (18:00 UTC). It occurred while the thrusters were being integrated into the software and computer logic with the Zvezda service module.

Ground teams are expected to continue troubleshooting the issue while the ISS crew works to verify nothing was damaged during the incident.

This issue has also prompted NASA to call off tomorrows (July 30) launch of the Orbital Flight Test-2 Starliner mission. It was slated to dock with the forward port of the Harmony module on Saturday. The delay gives NASA and Roscosmos additional time to ensure the thruster issues doesn’t occur again. The weather for a Friday launch was also iffy at 50-50.

The next opportunity for launch is expected to be at 1:20 p.m. EDT (17:20 UTC) Aug. 3.

Video courtesy of Space Videos

The post Nauka drama: Module thrusters fire errantly while docked to ISS appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

How Taiwan Held Off Covid-19 (Until It Didn’t)

This video from Vox takes a look at how Taiwan avoided a Covid-19 outbreak for more than a year (and kept total deaths to just 7 in 2020 in a country of 23.6 million) while residents were mostly able to go about their normal lives. The video features photojournalist Ed Ou, who underwent a mandatory 14-day quarantine when he traveled to Taiwan last year. Ou had this to say after spending time in Taiwan, doing normal things without lockdowns or restrictions:

This was an alternate universe of what America, and the rest of the world, had seen all year. The Taiwanese people had been able to just live their lives, as if nothing had happened. Like, to me, that’s freedom.

After more than a year of almost no cases, Taiwan experienced its first Covid-19 outbreak in May (after relaxing their quarantine rules and, presumably, the rise of the delta variant) but has since gotten it under control. Other countries that had been successful in controlling the virus until recently — like Vietnam, Thailand, and Mongolia — are also seeing outbreaks now. When the rest of the world is teeming with the virus, it becomes more likely over time that even the most organized and protected systems are going to be vulnerable.

Tags: Covid-19   Ed Ou   Taiwan   video

Mandate Vaccinations, Not Masks

Aaron E. Carroll, chief health officer for Indiana University, in a guest column for The New York Times:

Many may read the C.D.C.’s continued focus on masking and distancing as an acknowledgment that the vaccines don’t work well enough. Leaning heavily on masking and distancing is what we did when we didn’t have vaccinations. Today, such recommendations are less likely to succeed because they are more likely to be followed by those already primed to listen — the vaccinated — and to be fought and ignored by those who aren’t.

Hospitalizations and deaths are rising in some areas not because someone didn’t wear a mask at the ballgame. They’re occurring because too many people are not immunized.

This is why I’ve advocated vaccine mandates. I don’t understand how we can mandate wearing masks but not getting vaccinations.

Here’s German Lopez, making the same case at Vox:

A year ago, requiring masks as cases spiked would have been an obviously smart decision. Mask mandates work, and for most of 2020, they were among the best methods we had to stop the spread of Covid-19. But masks were never meant to be the long-term solution; they were a stopgap until the US and the rest of the world could stamp out epidemics through vaccination.

Now those vaccines are here. And the changed circumstances of summer 2021 call for new approaches. Any entity thinking about a mask requirement — from private businesses to local, state, and federal governments — should consider mandating something else first: vaccination.

Asking the vaccinated to wear masks to protect the voluntarily unvaccinated is not going to work. The backlash is growing.


Google and Facebook to Require Employees Get Vaccinated

Heather Kelly and Gerrit De Vynck, reporting for The Washington Post:

Google on Wednesday became the first Big Tech [sic] company to announce that it will require employees who work in its offices to be fully vaccinated. Facebook later announced a similar policy requiring all in-person workers to get vaccinated before coming into a Facebook office in the United States.

More like this, please (ahem, Apple).


Danny Meyer’s Restaurants Will Require Both Employees and Patrons to Be Vaccinated

Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box:

“We’re following the lead of both city, state, and federal government. We’re going to do this ourselves in our restaurants in New York City and in Washington D.C. … We feel like we have an amazing responsibility to keep our staff members and our guests safe, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

More like this, please.


Conversational gambits

Jim Carroll is dedicated to high quality conversation.

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 PM EDT Thu Jul 29 2021

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

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

Forecaster Cangialosi/Reinhart

The vaccine lottery is a worthwhile investment

Conditional cash lotteries (CCLs) provide people with opportunities to win monetary prizes only if they make specific behavioral changes. We conduct a case study of Ohio’s Vax-A-Million initiative, the first CCL targeting COVID-19 vaccinations. Forming a synthetic control from other states, we find that Ohio’s incentive scheme increases the vaccinated share of state population by 1.5 percent (0.7 pp), costing sixty-eight dollars per person persuaded to vaccinate. We show this causes significant reductions in COVID-19, preventing at least one infection for every six vaccinations that the lottery had successfully encouraged. These findings are promising for similar CCL public health initiatives.

That is from a new paper by Andrew Barber and Jeremy West.

The post The vaccine lottery is a worthwhile investment appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


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 AM PDT Thu Jul 29 2021

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

1. Showers and thunderstorms are gradually organizing in association
with an area of low pressure located about 500 miles south-southwest
of the coast of southwestern Mexico. Environmental conditions are
conducive for continued development, and a tropical depression is
expected to form during the next day or two while the system moves
west-northwestward at 10 to 15 mph.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...high...80 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...high...90 percent.

2. Another area of low pressure is located about 1100 miles southwest
of the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. Although the
circulation appears well defined, showers and thunderstorms are
poorly organized and confined to an area southeast of the center.
Upper-level winds are expected to become more conducive for
development during the next couple of days, and a tropical
depression is likely to form over the weekend while the system moves
generally westward at 5 to 10 mph.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...medium...60 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...high...80 percent.

Forecaster Cangialosi/Reinhart

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 AM HST Thu Jul 29 2021

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

No tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5 days.

Forecaster Kino

Inmarsat unveils multi-orbit Orchestra constellation

British operator Inmarsat plans to add at least 150 low-Earth-orbit satellites to its global fleet, stepping up competition against OneWeb and others developing megaconstellations for mobility markets. 


One Dirty Creek Tells the Story of 450,000 U.S. Brownfields

Newtown Creek Exemplifies Our Government’s Agonizingly Slow Response to Environmental Cleanup

A walk along an urban creek sounds like a beautiful and peaceful way to spend a summer afternoon. Not so, however, at many places in America, especially the Newtown Creek waterfront in the curiously named Greenpoint area of Brooklyn.

A walk along Newtown Creek and many places like it is a visit to toxic brownfields — parcels of what could be valuable land that lie fallow because industrial solvents and wastes contaminate the soil and water. Beneath nearby Brooklyn streets lie potentially explosive concentrations of petrochemicals, testing showed in 2007. These empty old industrial lots each offer views of mucky, dark water.

Newtown Creek is just one of the estimated 450,000 brownfields in the United States.

The process remains mired in the discussion stage, precisely the situation in thousands of other brownfields across America.


Some of these sites, like Newtown Creek, are finally getting attention under the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, more commonly called the Superfund Law, which former President Jimmy Carter signed. However, many more sites sit empty and languishing in communities across the nation because that law is deeply flawed.

To clean up the site under the Superfund law involves a protected and complicated process, one that’s difficult for the public to participate in because it’s so technical.

Willis Elkins, president of the Newtown Creek Alliance, told DCReport about the frustrating Superfund rules.

‘Drawn-Out Process’

“That’s something that we try to work with the EPA on, and, fortunately, we do have a technical advisor and facilitator to help with our meetings,” Elkins said. Still, Elkins wrote, it’s “very difficult when at the end of the day what we want is a waterway that’s safe to interact with, and we have to go through a very technical, drawn-out process to understand how we might get there.”

Newtown Creek flows 3.8 miles. Along its banks, which separate the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, toxic residues have despoiled 140 acres for more than a century.

European settlers had worked the land alongside the creek since the 1600s, when Dutch and then English farmers set up plantations. In the 1800s, factories began popping up, including the region’s first kerosene and oil refineries. In time the area became home to more than 50 refineries owned by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and others.

The 20th century brought canneries, copper wiring plants, fertilizer mixing, glue factories, leather tanneries, sawmills, shipping docks and sugar refineries, adding even more toxic wastes.

Decades of industrialization alone would have affected the surrounding environment. But added to this was dumping from factories beyond the creek banks, the city government and oil spills, all before environmental laws made such practices illegal.

The creek’s worst pollution came from what has become known as the Greenpoint oil spill, an accumulation of years of oil leaks from refineries owned by firms that eventually were bought up by ExxonMobil, Chevron-Texaco.and Amoco-BP.

ACTION BOX / What You Can Do About It

Want to get involved? You can contact the Newtown Creek Alliance here or reach out to the Newtown Creek Superfund site staff here.

Call the U.S. Capitol at 202-224-3121. Ask for your senators or representative by name.

Find your representative here (add your zip code in the URL) and write to them at: [Name] U.S. House of Representatives / Washington, D.C. 20515

Find your senators here and write to them at: [Name] United States Senate / Washington, D.C. 20510


The oil companies spilled between 17 million and 30 million gallons, the Newtown Creek Alliance estimates.

The spillage was officially noticed in 1978 when a U.S. Coast Guard patrol spotted oil flowing into the creek; an incident now called the Greenpoint oil spill. Subsequent testing revealed that oil seeped into 55 acres of the creek’s commercial, industrial and residential land.

ExxonMobile Oil Spill

Some recovery and remediation efforts by the companies, ordered by the state government, began, including ExxonMobil’s minimal 1979 cleanup attempts. That effort was more than undone in 1990 when the giant oil company spilled an additional 50,000 gallons of oil into the creek.

Since 1995, ExxonMobil has been slowly extracting and treating polluted groundwater. While it’s not clear how much longer the project needs to continue, more than 13 million gallons of chemicals have been recovered from the more than 6 billion gallons of groundwater recovered and treated through 2020.

In 2010, a third of a century after the Coast Guard officially identified a problem, the EPA finally designated Newtown Creek a Superfund site. That designation meant it’s supposed to undergo community-involved remediation and revitalization.

“EPA added the site to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2010. Remedial investigations and fieldwork are ongoing,” the EPA’s New York State Superfund webpage says of the Newtown Creek.

But 11 years later, the process remains mired in the discussion stage, precisely the situation in thousands of other brownfields across America. And some despoiled lands have yet to be officially designated as Superfund sites.

This problem persists nationwide, with land spoiled by petroleum residues and other toxins not removed while endless negotiations and discussions drag on.

Sewage Overflows

At Newtown Creek, a Community Advisory Group connects residents to the Superfund cleanup process. It met on June 22 not to discuss cleaning toxins in the soil but to address sewage overflows.

Its most recent Zoom meeting, on July 21, featured a presentation from the New York City Department of Conservation’s Mike Haggerty. He gave the “annual update of the upland sites,” followed by community questions.

One disappointed participant, Laura Hofmann, told DCReport that she wasn’t surprised the update showed that the remediation plan hasn’t progressed.

“The Superfund process is definitely not going fast enough,” Hoffman said in an email. “Newtown Creek has had devastating effects on our community health over the many, many years… it’s incredible that this is still going on in 2021.”

Hoffman also said that since “our sewage treatment facility didn’t come into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act until 2010, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is a golden example of the level of concern our environmental and health agencies have for our community.

“Newtown Creek needs to be cleaned up, greened up, and put to use by clean operating entities with something to offer our community. After all, we’ve suffered enough.”

While studies and conversations abound, it doesn’t seem that cleanup work has started yet, aside from the minimal groundwater treatment ExxonMobil was already conducting.

Elkins, the creek alliance president, said, “There’s been a lot of frustration on the community’s part about the pace that we’re at, that we haven’t really began discussing cleanup scenarios in a substantial way.”

“It’s very frustrating for longtime residents that have had to deal with the impacts of the heavily polluted waterway in their backyard for so long to continue to have to wait further until we see any real action,” Elkins added.

Across America, the story is pretty much the same, raising the question of when, if ever, Congress will overhaul the Superfund law so that instead of studies and talks, we get a cleaner environment?

The post One Dirty Creek Tells the Story of 450,000 U.S. Brownfields appeared first on

Five Quick Links for Thursday Noonish

What if the Unvaccinated Can't Be Persuaded? ~15% of Americans just won't do it unless forced and it'll take many months (if not years) of education & outreach to reach another 15% who aren't. *sigh* []

Surrealist stock illustrations. []

The always excellent Margaret Sullivan on how the media is "equalizing the unequal": "Our democracy is under attack. Washington journalists must stop covering it like politics as usual." []

From the first time, scientists have been able to observe x-rays coming from the back side of a black hole, which were bent around the hole and toward us. Einstein's general theory of relativity remains undefeated. []

Huh, Gawker is back? RIP that old rainbow logo. []


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Philosophical CAPTCHAs

an image CAPTCHA of the Ship of Theseus

an image CAPTCHA of Magritte's The Treachery of Images

The ship of Theseus image is from Brooks Sterritt and Magritte’s pipe is from Noah Veltman.

Tags: Brooks Sterritt   Noah Veltman   remix

Thursday assorted links

1. Against CBDC.

2. Confirmation of radar data on Tic Tac.  And the Navy filmer, now a commander, claims he received “jamming cues” on his data stream.  Lots of additional detail in the chat.

3. Cowen’s Second Law: “Beer mats make bad frisbees.”  And what’s in the new infrastructure bill (NYT).

4. “The study maintains that the term “rough fish” is pejorative and degrading to native fish.

5. “Joe Biden is overseeing one of the largest cuts in legal immigration in history.

6. Buy property in El Salvador? (NYT)

7. Data on the ideological Turing test.

The post Thursday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.




Hotels: Occupancy Rate Down 8% Compared to Same Week in 2019

Note: The year-over-year occupancy comparisons are easy, since occupancy declined sharply at the onset of the pandemic.  So STR is comparing to the same week in 2019.

The occupancy rate is down 7.8% compared to the same week in 2019.

From CoStar: STR: US Weekly Hotel Occupancy Reaches Highest Level Since October 2019
U.S. weekly hotel occupancy reached its highest level since October 2019, while room rates hit an all-time high, according to STR‘s latest data through July 24.

July 18-24, 2021 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019*):

Occupancy: 71.4% (-7.8%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): $141.75 (+4.0%)
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): $101.24 (-4.2%)

Historically, the middle weeks of July are the country’s highest occupancy weeks each year, and 2021 has been no different even as demand slows week to week.
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 2021, black is 2020, blue is the median, dashed purple is 2019, and dashed light blue is for 2009 (the worst year on record for hotels prior to 2020).

Occupancy is well above the horrible 2009 levels and weekend occupancy (leisure) has been solid.

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

With solid leisure travel, the Summer months have had decent occupancy - but it is uncertain what will happen in the Fall with business travel. 

Vaccination Rates in Montreal

Interactive maps produced by Radio-Canada from Montreal Public Health data show where vaccination rates on the Island of Montreal are lagging. The Quebec government’s target is to have at least 75 percent of the population vaccinated. Of the 3,000 sectors on the map, 70 percent have reached that goal for the first dose and 3 percent for the second.

These data are useful in terms of where to target mobile clinics and other vaccination outreach programs. I’d love to see this for other cities in Quebec, especially the one nearest to me: Gatineau’s current rate is relatively low (66.4 percent first dose, 51.2 second dose as of this week) and it’d be revealing to see where the uptake is stronger or weaker.

Long-delayed Nauka science module finally reaches space station

Nauka approaches the International Space Station for docking. Credit: Roscosmos

Nauka approaches the International Space Station for docking. Credit: Roscosmos

The Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module Nauka, delayed by nearly 15 years, has finally docked with the International Space Station.

Docking took place at 9:29 a.m. EDT (13:29 UTC) July 29, 2021, at the space-facing port of the Zvezda module. This came some eight days after launching atop a Proton-M rocket on July 21 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“Congratulations, that was not an easy docking,” radioed Russian mission control in Moscow to the two cosmonauts aboard the ISS.

A docked Nauka module as seen through a window in the Zvezda module. Credit: Roscosmos

A docked Nauka module as seen through a window in the Zvezda module. Credit: Roscosmos

Over the next several hours, the two cosmonauts aboard the ISS, Expedition 65 flight engineers Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov, are expected to verify various connections and perform leak checks between the ISS hatch and the new module.

Nauka is 20 metric tons and is 43 feet (13 meters) long and 14 feet (4.2 meters) wide. It’s nearly identical to the Zarya module.

Inside is an additional 2,500 cubic feet (70 cubic meters) of habitable volume for ISS crews. In addition to laboratory space, it includes a third Russian-segment sleep station as well as an additional toilet.

On the exterior is also a 37-foot-long (11.3-meter-long) European Robotic Arm, which will be able to support various tasks around the outside of the Russian side of the outpost.

In the coming couple months, several spacewalks are expected to be performed by the two cosmonauts to fully connect Nauka to the ISS. Additionally, a radiator and experiment airlock, which have been stored on the Rassvet module since 2010, will also be added to the new science module.

Nauka was supposed to launch in 2007. However, a number of issues caused all sorts of delays. The most notable was in 2013 when metal shavings were found in the module’s propellent lines, which necessitated a revamp of the system.

The location of the Nauka module on the International Space Station. Also annotated are the locations of the three visiting spacecraft currently at ISS: Progress MS-17, Soyuz MS-18 and Crew-2 Dragon. Credit: Derek Richardson / Spaceflight Insider / Orbital Velocity

The location of the Nauka module on the International Space Station. Also annotated are the locations of the three visiting spacecraft currently at ISS: Progress MS-17, Soyuz MS-18 and Crew-2 Dragon. Credit: Derek Richardson / Spaceflight Insider / Orbital Velocity

Even when the module was finally launched into orbit, there were various problems with it as it began its trek to the ISS.

According to, shortly after reaching orbit, there were issues with the modules communications and propulsion systems. These were eventually resolved.

Nauka as seen from the Cupola module on the U.S. side of the ISS. Credit: NASA

Nauka as seen from the Cupola module on the U.S. side of the ISS. Credit: NASA

Additionally, when Nauka was approaching the ISS and less than an hour from its planned docking, it was noticed the module wasn’t quite on the correct course. This required a retro burn to correct the problem.

Moreover, there appeared to be a connection issue with the TORU manual docking system. However, that seemed to be resolved before the final approach.

While Nauka was expected to autonomously dock to the ISS, TORU appeared to be used during the last 30 feet (about 10 meters) as Novitsky took manual control to guide the school bus-sized module into the docking port.

However, according to CBS News space correspondent Bill Harwood on Twitter, it appears Novitsky may not have actually fully activated TORU before the automated system completed docking. Regardless, the module safely made it to the port and was captured successfully by the docking mechanism.

To make way for Nauka, the 20-year-old Pirs module had to be discarded. That was done so on July 26 when Progress MS-16 pulled away with the module, making it the first major ISS component to be decommissioned.

Pirs and Progress MS-16 was deorbited to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere several hours later.

Later this year, likely around November, Russia plans to launch an additional module to the outpost. Called Prichal, this small node module will be attached to the nadir port of Nauka, giving the Russian segment an additional four docking ports for any future potential expansion.

Video courtesy of Space Videos

The post Long-delayed Nauka science module finally reaches space station appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

A Helluva Spot

Yesterday, Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, went on CNBC to discuss a new study which suggests that the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy drops from about 96% against hospitalization to about 84% after six months. Bourla said that these results match with data emerging out of Israel. “We have seen also data from Israel that there is a waning of immunity and that starts impacting what used to be what was 100% against hospitalization. Now, after the six month period, is becoming low 90s and mid-to-high 80s.”

The good news, says Bourla, is that this can be solved with a booster shot. This all sounds plausible and it’s good news inasmuch as people can get booster shots and get back to higher levels of protection. But study is funded by Pfizer and remember that Pfizer is currently in a tussle with the CDC and the FDA over whether booster shots are actually necessary. A few weeks ago Pfizer announced it was moving ahead with seeking authorization for a third shot and the CDC and FDA, quite curtly, issued a joint statement saying, in so many words, not your call.

One way to look at this is that Pfizer has a multi-billion dollar incentive to create a market for third shots. (Here we’re talking about a third dose of the same vaccine.) And that is a pretty good way to look at it. But that doesn’t mean that boosters aren’t a good idea – at least for some people or perhaps at some point. The real issue is we need some impartial arbiter to sort this issue out. We can’t be led around in our COVID control strategies by a private company which stands to make billions or tens of billions of dollars based on the decision being made in a certain way.

My point isn’t that he’s a sheyster. Quite apart from the payday, I’d be pretty stoked if my company had delivered quickly on a vaccine that was saving literally millions of lives around the world. To a great extent, if you’ve made a kick-ass hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. But again, we need someone to sort out the facts here and it can’t be the company that sells the vaccine. Or at least not them alone.

There’s an additional debate about just what drives immunity from the vaccine. I won’t try to summarize it. But the gist is that the level of antibodies in your blood isn’t the only measure of your current immunity. I’m not in a position to evaluate the actual study. But my zero-technical-expertise read was that the study itself seems more equivocal than what Bourla suggests. Here’s one key sentence from the discussion portion fo the study: “Efficacy peaked at 96.2% during the interval from 7 days to <2 months post-dose 2, and declined gradually to 83.7% from 4 months post-dose 2 to the data cut-off, an average decline of ~6% every 2 months. Ongoing follow-up is needed to understand persistence of the vaccine effect over time, the need for booster dosing, and timing of such a dose."

Trump-Backed Candidate Swamped in Texas Primary

Texas Special Election Signals Americans Prefer Democracy over Trumpism

Donald Trump‘s influence is melting like a snowball left in the refrigerator, slow but inevitable destruction.

In a special election to replace a Texas congressman who died, voters rejected Donald Trump’s chosen candidate, the widow Susan Wright.

It’s among many indications that Trump’s hold on what was the Republican Party is weakening. Demand is low for seats at his rallies, GOPers gathered in Utah to discuss how to slip away from Trump and plans by some anti-Trump Republicans that they will challenge incumbents in the 2022 primaries have been announced.

Texas voters in the Sixth Congressional District located southeast of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area picked Jake Ellzey, a conservative state representative. Ellzey got 53% of the vote. Wright got 47%. About 40,000 ballots were cast.

Wright, whose running husband Ron Wright died of Covid, proved weak at raising money. Ellzey, however, proved an effective campaigner and fundraiser.

This week’s election results show yet again what a terrible choice Republican leaders made after Trump’s failed coup in January.


Ellzey never criticized Trump. Had he done so and then won, I’d tell you that snowball was melting on a hot stove.

But Ellzey did have to contend with opposition by the perfidious junior senator from the Lone Star state, Ted Cruz, and the Club for Growth, which claims to be conservative but which exists to ensure that little people are more heavily taxed than the already rich. That Cruz, a servile Trumper, backed the wrong candidate suggests that his never strong standing with Texas voters is also dwindling.

In another indication that Trump’s is fluence is melting,  17 Republican Senators voted to begin. debate on a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, a move Trump denounced to zero effect. And don’t forget that Trump; promised voters in 2016 that as soon as he arrived at the White House that he persuade Congress to pass a massive infrastructure bill, but never produced anything but hot air.

This week’s Texas election results show yet again what a terrible choice Republican leaders made after Trump’s failed coup in January. The insurrection, a clown-show attempted coup, gave them the option to denounce Trump, to walk away from the crazy old man from Mar-a-Lago who tried to overthrow our government.

The Republican leaders are akin to the fools who received stock options during the Dot con era at the turn of the 20th to 21st century but failed to exercise them because they foolishly believed their options would become even more valuable. Instead, many options turned to dross.

Politics, it’s often noted, is the art of the possible. The current Republican leadership has pretty much made it impossible to separate itself from Trump, a decaying albatross they chose to hang around their collective necks.

True believers continue to think of Trump as a demigod, lost in denial of his delusions, lies and incompetence in accomplishing what he promised voters in his first campaign.

At an ice cream social on Sunday attended by a culturally and politically diverse crowd, a friend told me that one of his sisters, who has an advanced degree, says Trump is literally a god.

My ice cream melted like a snowball in hell. Just kidding, but..

It was far from the first time I heard such nonsense — blasphemous to any religious believer. But it was the first time anyone told me that a person with a first-rate education embraces such craziness. That shows how much this is about emotions, not rational thinking.

Sadly, few people know that while Trump claims to be a staunch Christian who reads the Bible more than anyone, his words show that he holds Christians in utter contempt. He went on for page after page in his Think Big book denouncing those who accept Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as “fools,” “idiots” and  “schmucks.”

Unless most Americans are damn fools, support for Trump will continue to dwindle.

That’s a good thing for democracy in America. Our Constitution embraces Enlightenment principles of freedom rooted in rationality and reason, not cultish devotion to a wannabe dictator, especially one as incompetent as Trump.

As Trump continues his descent into madness and frets about his pending indictments, we should hope that the Republican leaders hold fast in their foolish embrace of Trump. Sticking by their awful decision after the Jan. 6 insurrection establishes they are knowingly evil in submitting to Trump and his anti-American desire to become our dictator. That submissiveness should reduce their numbers in Congress.

Let us hope that actual Republicans with some principles arise to defeat the faux Republicans who put Trump ahead of their oath to defend our Constitution. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer from those who, like Cruz and the Senate and House minority leaders, show allegiance to the criminal mind of Donald J. Trump.

The post Trump-Backed Candidate Swamped in Texas Primary appeared first on

Remember When Facebook Wanted to Use NSO Group’s Spyware to Surveil iOS Users?

One angle I didn’t see resurface amidst all the attention this month on NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware that exploits iOS — last year Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox revealed that Facebook attempted to purchase the right to use Pegasus to spy on their own iOS users. That seemed really fucked-up then, and even more fucked-up now.


Minimalist Creative Funny Photography

a woman stands in front of a large subway map and her hat appears to be a station

a woman and a tree lean the same way in front of a building

a woman stands in front of a wall covered in holes and her hat appears to be one of the holes

architectural dots on a wall appear to be raining down on a woman holding an umbrella

a woman appears to be pulling an architectural element across a wall

Spanish photographers Anna Devís and Daniel Rueda cleverly use landscapes and architectural elements to create minimalist and fun portraits of themselves. You can check out more of their work on Instagram. (via moss & fog)

Tags: Anna Devis   art   Daniel Rueda   photography

NAR: Pending Home Sales Decreased 1.9% in June

From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Fall 1.9% in June
Pending home sales declined marginally in June after recording a notable gain in May, the National Association of Realtors® reported. Contract activity was split in the four major U.S. regions from both a year-over-year and month-over-month perspective. The Northeast recorded the only yearly gains in June.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings, fell 1.9% to 112.8 in June. Year-over-year, signings also slipped 1.9%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.
The Northeast PHSI increased 0.5% to 98.5 in June, an 8.7% rise from a year ago. In the Midwest, the index grew 0.6% to 108.3 last month, down 2.4% from June 2020.

Pending home sales transactions in the South fell 3.0% to an index of 132.4 in June, down 4.7% from June 2020. The index in the West decreased 3.8% in June to 98.1, down 2.6% from a year prior.
emphasis added
This was below expectations of a 0.5% increase for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in July and August.

Still Waiting for Republican Snowflakes to ‘Be the Mom’

Shortly after the election, some asshole with a blog called for Republicans to begin healing the nation:

It’s their turn to “be the mom.”

Since the election was called for Biden, lots of Thought Leaders and Professional Politics Knowers have been calling for Democrats to “reach out to Republicans”, “heal the nation”, and other similar blather.

This is a con.

When Democrats lost in 2016, they were told they had to reach out to Republican voters–fair enough, Democrats did lose. But when they win, they’re also told… to reach out to Republican voters. Yet no one is saying Republicans, who lost both the electoral college and the popular vote, need to reach out to Democrats. That never happens.

It’s all the more ridiculous when you look at how many, if not most, major metro areas reacted Saturday after hearing that Biden had been declared the victor. When Democratic areas are rejoicing like we had just blown up the Death Star, that’s a sign that Republicans have a lot of work to do. If we weren’t in a pandemic, strangers would have been spontaneously hugging and high-fiving each other. If the reaction to your candidate losing is similar to that of a dictator being toppled, let’s just say you have some more reaching out to do.

And then there’s the healing. For the first two years of Trump’s term, Republicans controlled it all: Congress, the White House, and the courts. While they lost the House in the midterms, they were still running things for the most part. To the extent there is damage that needs healing, it is they who inflicted it.

This time around, Republicans should be the ones who moderate, and who manage the emotions–because ours are a little raw right now. So what do they give up? And, no, “well, we won’t be overtly bigoted or support assholes like Trump” doesn’t cut it. That doesn’t even get you in the door. So what do they do? Support a $15/hour minimum wage? Let Democrats appoint the next Supreme Court justice, or a bunch of federal court justices? What’s their give(s) here?

Our discourse, such as it is, needs to put the burden on Republicans–who were rejected nationally–to do the work.

In a related vein, Greg Sargent notices that many Republicans are infected with snowflakeitis (boldface mine):

To hear some pundits and Republicans tell it, millions of people across the country who voted for Donald Trump are suffering from an affliction that you might call “Snowflake Syndrome.”

On numerous fronts in our politics — from voting rights to covid-19 to the legacy of Jan. 6 — we’re being told these voters are afflicted with a deeply fragile belief system that must be carefully ministered to and humored to an extraordinary degree.

We must pass voting restrictions everywhere to assuage these voters’ “belief” that the 2020 election was highly dubious or fraudulent. We must not argue too aggressively for coronavirus vaccines, lest they feel shamed and retreat into their anti-vax epistemological shells.

And we must allow Republicans to appoint some of the most deranged promoters of the stolen election myth to a committee examining the insurrection so they’ll feel like its findings are credible

But many are also floating a destructive Snowflake Syndrome story line as well: the notion that vaccine hesitancy in red states is a reaction to how Democrats are talking about vaccines, a claim freighted with all manner of ridiculous hyperbole.

To wit: Some Republicans insist Trump voters will not shed vaccine hesitancy until Democrats give Trump more credit for originally launching the vaccine program.

…Many Republicans are airing concerns about “voter confidence” to justify further efforts to suppress votes and undermine that confidence. Many demanding understanding of vaccine hesitancy are working to inculcate further vaccine distrust.

And those calling for Trump-sympathetic GOP lawmakers on the Jan. 6 committee hope to corrupt the investigation with bad-faith lies, not to ensure that Trump voters have faith in its findings.

So enough with the bogus Snowflake Syndrome narratives already. It’s a tired act — not to mention a transparently disingenuous and even dangerous one.

Enough unwillingness to take responsibility for their own actions. Enough of the bullying behavior. Enough of their bullshit.

Time for them to be the mom.

Dreading the Map

Sonia E. Barrett’s Dreading the Map is an explicitly anti-colonial work installed in the heart of one aspect of British colonialism: the Map Room of the Royal Geographical Society.

Using carefully curated paper maps of the Caribbean and UK that have been shredded into strips, the artist and several black women co-creators used African-Caribbean hair styling techniques to plait the shredded maps. Culturally, such female spaces of hair styling are filled with discussions around self- and community-care, and this black woman-centred cultural practice juxtaposed the wood-lined walls, globes and portraits of white explorers that typify the building with the music and laughter of black women talking and working together. As a response to the RGS’s stated desire to reflect on their history and their building, this was a filling of the space with black women’s language, perspectives and practices, a reimagining of what the space can and should mean.

Dreading the Map is one of several “artistic provocations” commissioned by CARIUK. It has been installed in the RGS’s Map Room since March. On 24 May the RGS hosted a conversation with Sonia E. Barrett about the work.

How to Write Unit Tests in Python, Part 3: Web Applications

This is the third part in my series about unit testing Python applications. In this article I'm going to show you some of the techniques I use when I work with Python web applications. For the examples in this article I will be using the Flask framework (I know, what a surprise!), but the concepts I'll show you are universal and can be applied to other frameworks as well.

While this is the first article in the series that covers web applications, I will be applying many of the ideas and solutions I shared in the first and second parts, so be sure to check those out first, even if you are only interested in web applications.

Op-ed | The costs of extreme weather and climate are soaring. Commercial space data should be a bigger part of the solution

There is no one magic bullet to improving forecasts and reining in the costs of extreme weather and climate. To truly tap into the powerful innovation of the private sector, we must think beyond a few targeted, yet piecemeal commercial data buys.


British Library Completes Flickr Release of George III’s Map Collection

The British Library has uploaded another 32,000 images from George III’s Topographical Collection to Flickr. The Library has been engaged in digitizing the King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top), which comprises some 40,000 atlases, views, plans and surveys dating from 1540 to 1824, for the past few years; last year they uploaded the first tranche of nearly 18,000 images to Flickr for free access and download. As of their announcement earlier this month, the Flickr collection (found here, helpfully organized by fonds) “now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We’re working on it!”

Previously: British Library Makes 18,000 of George III’s Maps and Ephemera Freely Available.

A Few Comments on Q2 GDP

Earlier from the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2021 (Advance Estimate) and Annual Update
Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 6.5 percent in the second quarter of 2021, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 6.3 percent (revised).
emphasis added
On a Q2-over-Q2 basis, GDP was up 16.7% (Q2 2020 was the depth of pandemic recession).

Recession Measure, GDPClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the percent decline in real GDP from the previous peak (the previous peak was in Q4 2019).

This graph is through Q1 2022, and real GDP is now at a new peak; 0.8% above the previous peak.

The advance Q2 GDP report, at 6.5% annualized, was below expectations, due to several factors - a decline in private inventories, a decline in residential investment, a decline in government expenditures and a negative contribution from trade.

Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at a 11.8% annualized rate in Q2, due, in part, to the American Rescue Plan Act.

The second graph below shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter trailing average). This is important to follow because residential investment tends to lead the economy, equipment and software is generally coincident, and nonresidential structure investment trails the economy.

In the graph, red is residential, green is equipment and software, and blue is investment in non-residential structures. So the usual pattern - both into and out of recessions is - red, green, blue.

Of course - with the sudden economic stop due to COVID-19 - the usual pattern doesn't apply.

The dashed gray line is the contribution from the change in private inventories.

Investment ContributionsResidential investment (RI) decreased at a 9.8% annual rate in Q2.  Equipment investment increased at a 13.0% annual rate, and investment in non-residential structures decreased at a 7.0% annual rate (after getting crushed over the previous year)..

The contribution to Q2 GDP from investment in private inventories was -1.13 percentage points (this will likely be a positive in the second half of 2021).

On a 3 quarter trailing average basis, RI (red) is still up solidly, equipment (green) is up sharply, and nonresidential structures (blue) is still down.

I'll post more on the components of non-residential investment once the supplemental data is released.

Residential InvestmentThe third graph shows residential investment as a percent of GDP.

Residential Investment as a percent of GDP decreased in Q2, after increasing sharply for several quarters.

I'll break down Residential Investment into components after the GDP details are released.

Note: Residential investment (RI) includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, broker's commissions, and a few minor categories.

non-Residential InvestmentThe fourth graph shows non-residential investment in structures, equipment and "intellectual property products".  

Investment in non-residential structures declined in Q2 as a percent GDP, and will probably be weak for some time (hotel occupancy is still low, office and mall vacancy rates are high).

J.D. Vance Thinks George Washington Wasn’t Fit to Be President

Ohio Senate Candidate J.D. Vance Says Politicians Who Don’t Have Children Shouldn’t Hold Office

Unless we are pursuing politics for a living, we generally try to avoid spending actual time outside of elections thinking about individual candidates.

That is, we ignore them unless they do and say things that are just so nuts that we question whether we live on the same planet.

Enter venture capitalist, author and Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, the  emergent conservative in next year’s race who has landed on a core issue. Democrats have “become controlled by people who don’t have children,” he says.

Thus, as he explained in a speech to the Future of American Political Economy Conference hosted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the politicians running the country do not have a “personal indirect stake” in improving it because they do not have children.

It’s not quite Jewish space lasers starting wildfires in the West or seeing Capitol rioters as “loving people,” but it comes close.

Vance himself adopted belated love for the Donald Trump he used to detest. He noted that potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party including Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)  and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) do not have children.

Don’t Harris’ step-children count? What about adopted kids?

Why, he asks publicly, is it just a “normal fact of American life that the leaders of our country should be people who don’t have a personal indirect stake in it via their own offspring, via their own children and grandchildren,” Vance asked.

He says he was not referring to people who are unable to have children.

In Vance’s world, apparently, only pols with kids who have their DNA can think seriously about the national debt or committing U.S. troops to foreign locations or whether we should erect, and I choose that word carefully, Border Walls.

By the way, George Washington had no children of his own, but did have a step-daughter via Martha. But isn’t he father of the country? Didn’t he sleep around?

Children, No Children?

Wait a minute! Isn’t the Republican line on Democrat Joe Biden a constant near-impeachment because he does have a son Hunter who possesses an unerring ability to stick his business foot in his famous-name-influenced mouth?

And is Vance really arguing here that Trump, who loves to claim that he knows nothing of how government actually works or how policy is made, is more responsible because he has three millionaire children who run his businesses and violate every ethical line government lawyers can invent?

Skipping over the fact that Harris has two step-children from her husband Doug Emhoff’s previous marriage, the Vance doctrine seems to be that parents who go to the polls should have more power than adults who do not have children.

“When you go to the polls in this country as a parent, you should have more power, you should have more of an ability to speak your voice in our Democratic republic, than people who don’t have kids,” he said.

“Let’s face the consequences and the reality; if you don’t have as much of an investment in the future of this country, maybe you shouldn’t get nearly the same voice.”

So, parents with several children should get yet more votes, right?

Maybe the Republican stereotype of a welfare queen mom with a hive of kids should then have multiple votes as opposed to say a single, unattached big financial guy and would-be predator like, say, Jeffrey Epstein, who long was befriended by Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Is that what Vance wants?

In a conversation with conservative media personality Charlie Kirk earlier this year, Vance explained, “We need more American children because American families, American children are good for us,.

“They make fathers more invested — there’s all kinds of research on this. They make our economy more dynamic. They make fathers more empathetic, more invested in their communities.” And so they should have more votes?

But, he noted, he is always accused of being racist for elevating new children over population increases through immigration because “just no comparison between the positive effects of children and the positive effects of an immigrant.”

Immigrants apparently don’t have children, but then again, non-citizens don’t vote at all, unless Donald Trump is counting their imagined ballots as part of fraudulent elections.

So, is Vance just arguing that we need more white children, more white politicians with children or is he actually ready to acknowledge that demographic shifts show more children in non-white families?

Who’s Got Children?

Just as a reality check, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago conducts a biennial national General Social Survey. It is a broad poll of Americans on a range of social issues that includes questions specifically about politics and children. The most recent data says conservatives are more likely to have children than liberals — and are also more likely to have more children—but not children at home because conservatives also tend to be older.

Families with children at home are more or less equal between liberals and conservatives.

None of that explains how people vote or how they view the current culture wars.

Do you have to have aging parents to be able to vote about Medicare?  Do you have to be an excluded voter of color to consider national questions of voting rights? If we were really voting with children in mind, wouldn’t we be seeing wide votes of support in Congress for widening child care, adding to food stamps, public education and health care?

As a party, Republicans, kids or not, obviously don’t think so on any of these issues.

Maybe Vance should be graded on his support for actual policies relating to the well-being of children and the future, from economic justice to climate.

Vance believes that conservatives “have lost every single major cultural institution in this country. Think about it. Big Finance, Big Tech, Wall Street, the biggest corporations, the universities, the media and the government. . . There is not a single institution in this country that conservatives currently control, but there is one of them, just one, that we might have a chance of actually controlling in the future and that’s the constitutional republic that our founders gave us,” Vance said. “My argument is that we need to fight woke capital, woke corporations and the governments that enable them, because we can’t win anywhere else.”

Maybe we should skip the middleman and give the votes directly to kids.

Vance said that the culture war is a class war against middle- and working-class Americans, and also claimed that it’s an economic war against conservatives.

Vance wrote a memoir called Hillbilly Elegy, about the Appalachian values of his Kentucky family and their relation to the social problems of his hometown of Middletown, Ohio, where his mother’s parents moved when they were young. He now is a principal at Peter Thiel‘s venture capital firm, Mithril Capital, far from Appalachia, where he took interest in biotechnology issues before entering a primary to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman.

Thankfully, he has two sons and therefore can be a serious candidate.

The post J.D. Vance Thinks George Washington Wasn’t Fit to Be President appeared first on

Mass Evictions Are a Crisis the U.S. Knows How to Avoid

Severe Thunderstorms Possible from Ohio Valley to Mid-Atlantic; Excessive Heat in Central U.S.

Voice Content and Usability

We’ve been having conversations for thousands of years. Whether to convey information, conduct transactions, or simply to check in on one another, people have yammered away, chattering and gesticulating, through spoken conversation for countless generations. Only in the last few millennia have we begun to commit our conversations to writing, and only in the last few decades have we begun to outsource them to the computer, a machine that shows much more affinity for written correspondence than for the slangy vagaries of spoken language.

Computers have trouble because between spoken and written language, speech is more primordial. To have successful conversations with us, machines must grapple with the messiness of human speech: the disfluencies and pauses, the gestures and body language, and the variations in word choice and spoken dialect that can stymie even the most carefully crafted human-computer interaction. In the human-to-human scenario, spoken language also has the privilege of face-to-face contact, where we can readily interpret nonverbal social cues.

In contrast, written language immediately concretizes as we commit it to record and retains usages long after they become obsolete in spoken communication (the salutation “To whom it may concern,” for example), generating its own fossil record of outdated terms and phrases. Because it tends to be more consistent, polished, and formal, written text is fundamentally much easier for machines to parse and understand.

Spoken language has no such luxury. Besides the nonverbal cues that decorate conversations with emphasis and emotional context, there are also verbal cues and vocal behaviors that modulate conversation in nuanced ways: how something is said, not what. Whether rapid-fire, low-pitched, or high-decibel, whether sarcastic, stilted, or sighing, our spoken language conveys much more than the written word could ever muster. So when it comes to voice interfaces—the machines we conduct spoken conversations with—we face exciting challenges as designers and content strategists.

Voice Interactions

We interact with voice interfaces for a variety of reasons, but according to Michael McTear, Zoraida Callejas, and David Griol in The Conversational Interface, those motivations by and large mirror the reasons we initiate conversations with other people, too ( Generally, we start up a conversation because:

  • we need something done (such as a transaction),
  • we want to know something (information of some sort), or
  • we are social beings and want someone to talk to (conversation for conversation’s sake).

These three categories—which I call transactional, informational, and prosocial—also characterize essentially every voice interaction: a single conversation from beginning to end that realizes some outcome for the user, starting with the voice interface’s first greeting and ending with the user exiting the interface. Note here that a conversation in our human sense—a chat between people that leads to some result and lasts an arbitrary length of time—could encompass multiple transactional, informational, and prosocial voice interactions in succession. In other words, a voice interaction is a conversation, but a conversation is not necessarily a single voice interaction.

Purely prosocial conversations are more gimmicky than captivating in most voice interfaces, because machines don’t yet have the capacity to really want to know how we’re doing and to do the sort of glad-handing humans crave. There’s also ongoing debate as to whether users actually prefer the sort of organic human conversation that begins with a prosocial voice interaction and shifts seamlessly into other types. In fact, in Voice User Interface Design, Michael Cohen, James Giangola, and Jennifer Balogh recommend sticking to users’ expectations by mimicking how they interact with other voice interfaces rather than trying too hard to be human—potentially alienating them in the process (

That leaves two genres of conversations we can have with one another that a voice interface can easily have with us, too: a transactional voice interaction realizing some outcome (“buy iced tea”) and an informational voice interaction teaching us something new (“discuss a musical”).

Transactional voice interactions

Unless you’re tapping buttons on a food delivery app, you’re generally having a conversation—and therefore a voice interaction—when you order a Hawaiian pizza with extra pineapple. Even when we walk up to the counter and place an order, the conversation quickly pivots from an initial smattering of neighborly small talk to the real mission at hand: ordering a pizza (generously topped with pineapple, as it should be).

Alison: Hey, how’s it going?

Burhan: Hi, welcome to Crust Deluxe! It’s cold out there. How can I help you?

Alison: Can I get a Hawaiian pizza with extra pineapple?

Burhan: Sure, what size?

Alison: Large.

Burhan: Anything else?

Alison: No thanks, that’s it.

Burhan: Something to drink?

Alison: I’ll have a bottle of Coke.

Burhan: You got it. That’ll be $13.55 and about fifteen minutes.

Each progressive disclosure in this transactional conversation reveals more and more of the desired outcome of the transaction: a service rendered or a product delivered. Transactional conversations have certain key traits: they’re direct, to the point, and economical. They quickly dispense with pleasantries.

Informational voice interactions

Meanwhile, some conversations are primarily about obtaining information. Though Alison might visit Crust Deluxe with the sole purpose of placing an order, she might not actually want to walk out with a pizza at all. She might be just as interested in whether they serve halal or kosher dishes, gluten-free options, or something else. Here, though we again have a prosocial mini-conversation at the beginning to establish politeness, we’re after much more.

Alison: Hey, how’s it going?

Burhan: Hi, welcome to Crust Deluxe! It’s cold out there. How can I help you?

Alison: Can I ask a few questions?

Burhan: Of course! Go right ahead.

Alison: Do you have any halal options on the menu?

Burhan: Absolutely! We can make any pie halal by request. We also have lots of vegetarian, ovo-lacto, and vegan options. Are you thinking about any other dietary restrictions?

Alison: What about gluten-free pizzas?

Burhan: We can definitely do a gluten-free crust for you, no problem, for both our deep-dish and thin-crust pizzas. Anything else I can answer for you?

Alison: That’s it for now. Good to know. Thanks!

Burhan: Anytime, come back soon!

This is a very different dialogue. Here, the goal is to get a certain set of facts. Informational conversations are investigative quests for the truth—research expeditions to gather data, news, or facts. Voice interactions that are informational might be more long-winded than transactional conversations by necessity. Responses tend to be lengthier, more informative, and carefully communicated so the customer understands the key takeaways.

Voice Interfaces

At their core, voice interfaces employ speech to support users in reaching their goals. But simply because an interface has a voice component doesn’t mean that every user interaction with it is mediated through voice. Because multimodal voice interfaces can lean on visual components like screens as crutches, we’re most concerned in this book with pure voice interfaces, which depend entirely on spoken conversation, lack any visual component whatsoever, and are therefore much more nuanced and challenging to tackle.

Though voice interfaces have long been integral to the imagined future of humanity in science fiction, only recently have those lofty visions become fully realized in genuine voice interfaces.

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems

Though written conversational interfaces have been fixtures of computing for many decades, voice interfaces first emerged in the early 1990s with text-to-speech (TTS) dictation programs that recited written text aloud, as well as speech-enabled in-car systems that gave directions to a user-provided address. With the advent of interactive voice response (IVR) systems, intended as an alternative to overburdened customer service representatives, we became acquainted with the first true voice interfaces that engaged in authentic conversation.

IVR systems allowed organizations to reduce their reliance on call centers but soon became notorious for their clunkiness. Commonplace in the corporate world, these systems were primarily designed as metaphorical switchboards to guide customers to a real phone agent (“Say Reservations to book a flight or check an itinerary”); chances are you will enter a conversation with one when you call an airline or hotel conglomerate. Despite their functional issues and users’ frustration with their inability to speak to an actual human right away, IVR systems proliferated in the early 1990s across a variety of industries (, PDF).

While IVR systems are great for highly repetitive, monotonous conversations that generally don’t veer from a single format, they have a reputation for less scintillating conversation than we’re used to in real life (or even in science fiction).

Screen readers

Parallel to the evolution of IVR systems was the invention of the screen reader, a tool that transcribes visual content into synthesized speech. For Blind or visually impaired website users, it’s the predominant method of interacting with text, multimedia, or form elements. Screen readers represent perhaps the closest equivalent we have today to an out-of-the-box implementation of content delivered through voice.

Among the first screen readers known by that moniker was the Screen Reader for the BBC Micro and NEEC Portable developed by the Research Centre for the Education of the Visually Handicapped (RCEVH) at the University of Birmingham in 1986 ( That same year, Jim Thatcher created the first IBM Screen Reader for text-based computers, later recreated for computers with graphical user interfaces (GUIs) (

With the rapid growth of the web in the 1990s, the demand for accessible tools for websites exploded. Thanks to the introduction of semantic HTML and especially ARIA roles beginning in 2008, screen readers started facilitating speedy interactions with web pages that ostensibly allow disabled users to traverse the page as an aural and temporal space rather than a visual and physical one. In other words, screen readers for the web “provide mechanisms that translate visual design constructs—proximity, proportion, etc.—into useful information,” writes Aaron Gustafson in A List Apart. “At least they do when documents are authored thoughtfully” (

Though deeply instructive for voice interface designers, there’s one significant problem with screen readers: they’re difficult to use and unremittingly verbose. The visual structures of websites and web navigation don’t translate well to screen readers, sometimes resulting in unwieldy pronouncements that name every manipulable HTML element and announce every formatting change. For many screen reader users, working with web-based interfaces exacts a cognitive toll.

In Wired, accessibility advocate and voice engineer Chris Maury considers why the screen reader experience is ill-suited to users relying on voice:

From the beginning, I hated the way that Screen Readers work. Why are they designed the way they are? It makes no sense to present information visually and then, and only then, translate that into audio. All of the time and energy that goes into creating the perfect user experience for an app is wasted, or even worse, adversely impacting the experience for blind users. (

In many cases, well-designed voice interfaces can speed users to their destination better than long-winded screen reader monologues. After all, visual interface users have the benefit of darting around the viewport freely to find information, ignoring areas irrelevant to them. Blind users, meanwhile, are obligated to listen to every utterance synthesized into speech and therefore prize brevity and efficiency. Disabled users who have long had no choice but to employ clunky screen readers may find that voice interfaces, particularly more modern voice assistants, offer a more streamlined experience.

Voice assistants

When we think of voice assistants (the subset of voice interfaces now commonplace in living rooms, smart homes, and offices), many of us immediately picture HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey or hear Majel Barrett’s voice as the omniscient computer in Star Trek. Voice assistants are akin to personal concierges that can answer questions, schedule appointments, conduct searches, and perform other common day-to-day tasks. And they’re rapidly gaining more attention from accessibility advocates for their assistive potential.

Before the earliest IVR systems found success in the enterprise, Apple published a demonstration video in 1987 depicting the Knowledge Navigator, a voice assistant that could transcribe spoken words and recognize human speech to a great degree of accuracy. Then, in 2001, Tim Berners-Lee and others formulated their vision for a Semantic Web “agent” that would perform typical errands like “checking calendars, making appointments, and finding locations” (, behind paywall). It wasn’t until 2011 that Apple’s Siri finally entered the picture, making voice assistants a tangible reality for consumers.

Thanks to the plethora of voice assistants available today, there is considerable variation in how programmable and customizable certain voice assistants are over others (Fig 1.1). At one extreme, everything except vendor-provided features is locked down; for example, at the time of their release, the core functionality of Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana couldn’t be extended beyond their existing capabilities. Even today, it isn’t possible to program Siri to perform arbitrary functions, because there’s no means by which developers can interact with Siri at a low level, apart from predefined categories of tasks like sending messages, hailing rideshares, making restaurant reservations, and certain others.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home offer a core foundation on which developers can build custom voice interfaces. For this reason, programmable voice assistants that lend themselves to customization and extensibility are becoming increasingly popular for developers who feel stifled by the limitations of Siri and Cortana. Amazon offers the Alexa Skills Kit, a developer framework for building custom voice interfaces for Amazon Alexa, while Google Home offers the ability to program arbitrary Google Assistant skills. Today, users can choose from among thousands of custom-built skills within both the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant ecosystems.

Fig 1.1: Voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home tend to be more programmable, and thus more flexible, than their counterpart Apple Siri.

As corporations like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google continue to stake their territory, they’re also selling and open-sourcing an unprecedented array of tools and frameworks for designers and developers that aim to make building voice interfaces as easy as possible, even without code.

Often by necessity, voice assistants like Amazon Alexa tend to be monochannel—they’re tightly coupled to a device and can’t be accessed on a computer or smartphone instead. By contrast, many development platforms like Google’s Dialogflow have introduced omnichannel capabilities so users can build a single conversational interface that then manifests as a voice interface, textual chatbot, and IVR system upon deployment. I don’t prescribe any specific implementation approaches in this design-focused book, but in Chapter 4 we’ll get into some of the implications these variables might have on the way you build out your design artifacts.

Voice Content

Simply put, voice content is content delivered through voice. To preserve what makes human conversation so compelling in the first place, voice content needs to be free-flowing and organic, contextless and concise—everything written content isn’t.

Our world is replete with voice content in various forms: screen readers reciting website content, voice assistants rattling off a weather forecast, and automated phone hotline responses governed by IVR systems. In this book, we’re most concerned with content delivered auditorily—not as an option, but as a necessity.

For many of us, our first foray into informational voice interfaces will be to deliver content to users. There’s only one problem: any content we already have isn’t in any way ready for this new habitat. So how do we make the content trapped on our websites more conversational? And how do we write new copy that lends itself to voice interactions?

Lately, we’ve begun slicing and dicing our content in unprecedented ways. Websites are, in many respects, colossal vaults of what I call macrocontent: lengthy prose that can extend for infinitely scrollable miles in a browser window, like microfilm viewers of newspaper archives. Back in 2002, well before the present-day ubiquity of voice assistants, technologist Anil Dash defined microcontent as permalinked pieces of content that stay legible regardless of environment, such as email or text messages:

A day’s weather forcast [sic], the arrival and departure times for an airplane flight, an abstract from a long publication, or a single instant message can all be examples of microcontent. (

I’d update Dash’s definition of microcontent to include all examples of bite-sized content that go well beyond written communiqués. After all, today we encounter microcontent in interfaces where a small snippet of copy is displayed alone, unmoored from the browser, like a textbot confirmation of a restaurant reservation. Microcontent offers the best opportunity to gauge how your content can be stretched to the very edges of its capabilities, informing delivery channels both established and novel.

As microcontent, voice content is unique because it’s an example of how content is experienced in time rather than in space. We can glance at a digital sign underground for an instant and know when the next train is arriving, but voice interfaces hold our attention captive for periods of time that we can’t easily escape or skip, something screen reader users are all too familiar with.

Because microcontent is fundamentally made up of isolated blobs with no relation to the channels where they’ll eventually end up, we need to ensure that our microcontent truly performs well as voice content—and that means focusing on the two most important traits of robust voice content: voice content legibility and voice content discoverability.

Fundamentally, the legibility and discoverability of our voice content both have to do with how voice content manifests in perceived time and space.

Uterus transplants considered in Japan

 Here's the story from the Asahi Shimbun, including some background. For the time being, only living-donor organs seem to be allowed under Japanese law:

Medical group allows for uterus transplants to give birth

"A Japanese Association of Medical Sciences committee released a report on July 14 clearing the way for uterus transplants, a rare procedure that faces obstacles. 


"The biggest issue facing the committee was that the transplant objective would be to allow the woman to give birth.

"That differs greatly from other transplants in which the main objective is to save the recipient’s life. In addition, committee members had to consider allowing a transplant operation that held major health risks for both the donor and recipient.

"According to a report, there have been 85 cases of uterus transplants in 16 nations overseas as of March and 40 have led to the delivery of a baby.

"In many of those cases, an in-vitro fertilized embryo is placed in the transplanted uterus. But the uterus is removed after childbirth because of the need to continue using immunosuppressant agents to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted organ.

"In Japan, there are an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 women between the ages of 20 and 50 who were born without uteruses or have had their uteruses surgically removed due to tumors or other causes.


"There are also legal hurdles that have to be cleared.

"Japan’s organ transplant law does not include uteruses as an organ that can be removed for transplantation from a brain-dead individual.

"For that reason, the report allowed for transplants from live donors in only a very few cases to conduct clinical research.

"The report also called for revising the organ transplant law to allow for uterus transplants from brain-dead women.

"But even if the law was revised, organ donations from brain-dead individuals are still not widespread in Japan, meaning it would be almost impossible to plan for a uterus transplant operation.

"Experts were divided in their views about the latest report.

"Nobuhiko Suganuma, a professor of reproductive medicine at Nagoya University of Arts and Sciences who heads the Japan Society for Uterus Transplantation, said providing an alternative for women who want to give birth was a positive development.

"But Yukiko Saito, an associate professor of medical ethics at Kitasato University, raised concerns about approving an available technology just because there may be people who want to utilize it."

Don’t Sweat Sinema’s Antics

Yesterday, just as the bipartisan infrastructure mini-bill was coming together, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) announced she didn’t support the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan – where most of the Biden agenda is housed. Freak out? I wouldn’t.

First of all while this was played as a rejection of the bill that’s really not how it reads to me. It’s the vaguest of comments that seems focused on the size of the bill. It leaves all her options open and plenty of room to nitpick a few dollars here and there. I would expect that both Sinema and Manchin will work to shave some spending off the size of the bill over the next couple months. That’s similar to what Manchin did during the passage of the original COVID relief bill.

I think this is best interpreted as Sinema throwing up a flag that she’s going to continue to preen and create drama for the purpose of building a reputation as an uber-‘moderate’ and generally have everyone kiss up to her. She wants to come out of this as the person who wasn’t totally down with Democratic priorities and shaved the numbers down, at least a bit. If she really wanted to stop the process she wouldn’t vote to let it begin, which she is. That tells you the story.

The most interesting thing to me is that Joe Manchin seemed to signal he’s totally on board. Now I suspect that both will try to shave the top line numbers down a bit. But what interests me here is that Manchin doesn’t seem entirely in sync with Sinema. And here’s why that’s important. Manchin is from a very red state. He’s got his own politics and set of concerns that seems to work for him in his state but he rarely actually shuts his party down on critical stuff. None of this is new for Manchin. His vote is just more pivotal. Sinema meanwhile is a preening phony. She started out as a member of the Green party. Then she was progressive Democrat. Now she’s an uber ‘centrist’. She’s a total phony and I doubt very much that she will be able to pull any of this off if she’s there alone without Manchin. Without Manchin, she’ll fold.

So, we’ll have to see how this plays out. But I don’t see this as a real threat to the two-part package infrastructure deal that has been coming into view for the last few weeks. This is Sinema putting everyone on notice that she wants to have some more drama and spotlight and will probably extract some non-trivial but not too significant reductions in the size of the overall package.

As a separate but related matter, most of you who’ve followed what I write over the years will know that I rarely ever support primary challenges. I’m not against them. They serve an important purpose, not least of which is no one is entitled to a seat. It’s just not my thing. I’d make an exception for Sinema. She’s a destructive force in the Democratic caucus and Democratic politics generally.

Most pushes for primaries involve partisans being mad that a given Democrat is out of sync with the national party’s priorities when they are – at least arguably – in sync with their state or district. Manchin is good albeit somewhat extreme example of that. That’s not really the case with Sinema. This is more the party being strung along by her ego trip. The best read of her is that she’s doing this stuff to live down her earlier lefty politics. Arizona isn’t a shoo-in for any Democrat. But she brings no special magic to the equation. There’s nothing about the state that requires her current antics.

One thing that people tend to forget is that her colleague Mark Kelly is up for reelection in 2022. And her antics make things much harder for him.

Ideally and in theory, Sinema would be defeated in a Democratic primary in 2024. Democrats would then have a new candidate with at least as good a shot at holding the seat as they would have had with Sinema. But that’s not how things tend to work in practice. A primary for an incumbent is a destabilizing and sometimes traumatic process for a party coalition. It’s hard not to end up with a fractured coalition after the process is over. If it’s a blue state that’s not a huge problem. But Arizona is not a blue state. So there’s a very good chance, even with a new candidate who is in the abstract a better electoral fit, you go on to lose the race. And the truth is that Democrats just don’t have seats to spare.

As important as it is in my mind to see her political career come to an end, the better path is probably to find some way to add to Democratic numbers so that her vote is less critical.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 400,000

The DOL reported:
In the week ending July 24, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 400,000, a decrease of 24,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 5,000 from 419,000 to 424,000. The 4-week moving average was 394,500, an increase of 8,000 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 1,250 from 385,250 to 386,500.
emphasis added
This does not include the 95,166 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was down from 109,868 the previous week.

The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Click on graph for larger image.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased to 394,500.

The previous week was revised up.

Regular state continued claims increased to 3,269,000 (SA) from 3,262,000 (SA) the previous week.

Note: There are an additional 5,246,162 receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that increased from 5,133,938 the previous week (there are questions about these numbers). This is a special program for business owners, self-employed, independent contractors or gig workers not receiving other unemployment insurance.  And an additional 4,233,883 receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) down from 4,134,716.

Weekly claims were at the consensus forecast.

BEA: Real GDP increased at 6.5% Annualized Rate in Q2

From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2021 (Advance Estimate) and Annual Update
Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 6.5 percent in the second quarter of 2021, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 6.3 percent (revised). ...

The increase in real GDP in the second quarter reflected increases in personal consumption expenditures (PCE), nonresidential fixed investment, exports, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by decreases in private inventory investment, residential fixed investment, and federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.
emphasis added
The advance Q2 GDP report, with 6.5% annualized growth, was well below expectations.

I'll have more later ...

Live coverage: Newly-arrived Russian module causes problems at space station

Live coverage of the docking of Russia’s Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module at the International Space Station. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

NASA TV broadcast

NASA TV’s live docking coverage begins at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) on Thursday, July 29.

GeoOptics to launch next-generation Earth science constellation

GeoOptics is planning to deploy of constellation of dozens of smallsats over the next five years to collect weather and other Earth science data for government and commercial customers.


A Step Closer to General AI

From Google’s Deep Mind:

In recent years, artificial intelligence agents have succeeded in a range of complex game environments. For instance, AlphaZero beat world-champion programs in chess, shogi, and Go after starting out with knowing no more than the basic rules of how to play. Through reinforcement learning (RL), this single system learnt by playing round after round of games through a repetitive process of trial and error. But AlphaZero still trained separately on each game — unable to simply learn another game or task without repeating the RL process from scratch.

…Today, we published “Open-Ended Learning Leads to Generally Capable Agents,” a preprint detailing our first steps to train an agent capable of playing many different games without needing human interaction data. We created a vast game environment we call XLand, which includes many multiplayer games within consistent, human-relatable 3D worlds. This environment makes it possible to formulate new learning algorithms, which dynamically control how an agent trains and the games on which it trains. The agent’s capabilities improve iteratively as a response to the challenges that arise in training, with the learning process continually refining the training tasks so the agent never stops learning. The result is an agent with the ability to succeed at a wide spectrum of tasks — from simple object-finding problems to complex games like hide and seek and capture the flag, which were not encountered during training. We find the agent exhibits general, heuristic behaviours such as experimentation, behaviours that are widely applicable to many tasks rather than specialised to an individual task. This new approach marks an important step toward creating more general agents with the flexibility to adapt rapidly within constantly changing environments. (Bold added, AT).

Hat tip: Daniel Kokotajlo at Less Wrong who notes “This seems like a somewhat big deal to me. It’s what I would have predicted, but that’s scary, given my timelines.” See also the LW comments.

In other news, South Africa awarded the first ever patent to an AI.

The post A Step Closer to General AI appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



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Rocket Lab returns to service with “flawless” launch for U.S. military

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle lifts off at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT; 6 p.m. local time) Thursday from Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab

Resuming launches after a mission failure two months ago, Rocket Lab successfully placed a small U.S. military research and development satellite into orbit Thursday following a fiery liftoff from New Zealand on a flight that was originally supposed to launch from the company’s new pad in Virginia.

The 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron rocket ignited its nine kerosene-fueled Rutherford engines and climbed away from Launch Complex 1 on the North Island of New Zealand at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) Thursday.

Liftoff from Rocket Lab’s privately-owned launch base on Mahia Peninsula occurred at 6 p.m. local time, just after sunset.

Heading east from Mahia, the rocket’s first stage burned its nine engines for about two-and-a-half minutes, followed by a six-minute firing of the second stage engine to reach a preliminary parking orbit.

A kick stage deployed from the the Electron rocket’s second stage to begin a coast across the Pacific Ocean, Central America, and the Caribbean Sea before igniting its Curie engine reach a circular orbit about 372 miles (600 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of 37 degrees to the equator.

Rocket Lab, a California-based company founded in New Zealand, confirmed a good deployment of the U.S. military’s small experimental Monolith spacecraft about 52 minutes after liftoff.

“Payload deployed, flawless launch and mission by the team!” tweeted Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO.

The mission was the 21st flight of a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle since 2017, and the eighth to carry a payload for a U.S. military or intelligence agency customer.

It was also the first Rocket Lab mission since May 15, when an Electron rocket failed before reaching orbit with two commercial BlackSky Earth-imaging satellites.

Rocket Lab’s internal investigation, with oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration, concluded the failure was caused by a problem with the igniter system on the Electron launcher’s second stage engine.

“This induced a corruption of signals within the engine computer that caused the Rutherford engine’s thrust vector control (TVC) to deviate outside nominal parameters and resulted in the engine computer commanding zero pump speed, shutting down the engine,” Rocket Lab said in a statement earlier this month.

Live video from beamed down from the rocket May 15 showed the second stage’s kerosene-fueled Rutherford engine igniting and immediately begin to tumble about three minutes into the flight. The engine shut down prematurely after firing for a few seconds, well short of a planned six-minute burn.

The rocket and its two BlackSky payloads fell into the Pacific Ocean downrange from the launch site in New Zealand.

Rocket Lab said the igniter problem “resulted from a previously undetectable failure mode within the ignition system that occurs under a unique set of environmental pressures and conditions.”

The company said engineers found no evidence of the problem during pre-flight testing, which included more than 400 seconds of burn time for the same engine. But Rocket Lab said it was able to replicate the issue after the flight, and teams “implemented redundancies in the ignition system to prevent any future reoccurrence, including modifications to the igniter’s design and manufacture.”

The May 15 mission was the third time an Electron rocket failed to reach orbit on 20 attempts since 2017.

Engineers traced the cause of an Electron second stage failure in July 2020 to a faulty electrical connector, which detached in flight and led to an early engine shutdown, dooming seven small commercial satellites.

Rocket Lab said it implemented improved testing to better screen for bad connectors, and the company successfully launched its next Electron mission less than two months later.

Rocket Lab racked up six straight successful Electron missions before the launch failure May 15. The company’s first orbital launch attempt in 2017 failed to reach orbit due to a ground system failure that caused safety teams to send a flight termination command to the rocket.

The small launch company says it is ready to resume a busy flight cadence through the rest of the year. Rocket Lab is close to beginning launches from two new pads — one in Virginia and another adjacent to its existing launch complex in New Zealand — to accommodate a more rapid flight rate.

Thursday’s mission, designated STP-27RM, was originally supposed to launch from Rocket Lab’s new pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. But delays in NASA’s certification of the Electron rocket’s new autonomous flight safety system have kept Rocket Lab from beginning service from the Virginia launch base.

In June, officials at Wallops said they hope to complete certification of the new autonomous flight safety system by the end of the year, enabling the first Rocket Lab launch from U.S. soil. With the launch of the military’s Monolith mission moved from Virginia to New Zealand, Rocket Lab’s first flight from Launch Complex 2 at Wallops will likely launch NASA’s CAPSTONE CubeSat payload to the moon.

The CAPSTONE mission is scheduled for launch late this year, according to NASA and Rocket Lab.

The Space Test Program, which helps manage development of the military’s experimental satellites, procured the launch of the Monolith satellite with the Rocket Systems Launch Program, part of the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.

Other partners on the mission include the Defense Innovation Unit and the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, a program that books rides to orbit for small military satellites on emerging commercial small satellite launchers.

The Monolith satellite, built by the non-profit Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University, will demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor that is relatively large in mass compared to the mass of the spacecraft itself, according to the Space and Missile Systems Center.

The deployment of the sensor will change the satellite’s dynamic properties, testing the spacecraft’s ability to maintain stable attitude control, military officials said.

When the military announced the Monolith mission in 2019, officials said the satellite’s sensor package is aimed at space weather monitoring.

Data from the Monolith mission will help engineers design future small satellites to host deployable sensors, such as weather monitoring instruments. The Space Force said that will help reduce the cost, complexity, and development timelines of future missions.

“The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities,” the Space Force said.

Rocket Lab did not attempt to recover the Electron rocket’s first stage booster on Thursday’s mission. The company has retrieved two Electron boosters from the Pacific Ocean as engineers move toward reusing the rocket’s first stage, an innovation Rocket Lab says will allow for a faster launch rate and lower costs.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is sized to deliver small satellites to orbit, providing a dedicated ride for spacecraft that would otherwise have to fly as a lower-priority payload on a larger launch vehicle.

The Electron rocket can deliver a payload of up to 440 pounds (200 kilograms) to a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous orbit, about 1% of the lift capability of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher. Rocket Lab sells dedicated Electron missions for as little as $7 million.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Rocket Lab returns Electron to flight with Space Force launch


Rocket Lab returned its Electron rocket to flight July 29 with the successful launch of an experimental satellite for the U.S. Space Force.


Lapses in insurance payments

Most individual life insurance policies lapse, with lapsers cross-subsidizing non-lapsers. We show that policies and lapse patterns predicted by standard rational expectations models are the opposite of those observed empirically. We propose two behavioral models consistent with the evidence: (i) consumers forget to pay premiums and (ii) consumers understate future liquidity needs. We conduct two surveys with a large insurer. New buyers believe that their own lapse probabilities are small compared to the insurer’s actual experience. For recent lapsers, forgetfulness accounts for 37.8 percent of lapses while unexpected liquidity accounts for 15.4 percent.

Here is the full AER article by Daniel Gottlieb and Kent Smetters.

The post Lapses in insurance payments appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


America’s Covid policy remains largely a train wreck

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, or use this link, some of it you already have heard here from me and from Alex.  Excerpt:

The delta variant is sweeping the U.S., and it is significantly more infectious, yet the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t have the data tools to know whether this is an early, middle or late stage of an outbreak. This is after a year and a half of a pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 Americans.

Have you ever wondered whether the U.S. will do better “next time”? Well, the next time is now — and the country is still flailing across some significant dimensions. The inability to do the simple “right thing” is troubling for a number of reasons.

First, when it comes to vaccines, these are bad decisions in their own right — and they are costing human lives, jobs, and economic output.

But the problems run even deeper. In some ways the U.S. is like a basketball player who cannot make a shot from 10 feet. That is almost always a sign that more complex plays are also going awry, even if this can’t always be spotted by outsiders.


Perhaps most important, there is a cascading effect: If you can’t get the simple things right, your capabilities are likely to deteriorate even further. The smartest people in the government lose their morale and move on. For those who remain, self-fulfilling feelings of defeat set in. The U.S. government also loses credibility abroad, in this case most notably with European governments that are (with possible restrictions) letting U.S. citizens into their countries.


The post America’s Covid policy remains largely a train wreck appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.




Live coverage: Rocket Lab launches return-to-flight mission

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand carrying the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Monolith microsatellite. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

Rocket Lab’s live video webcast begins approximately 20 minutes prior to launch, and will be available on this page.

Thursday: GDP, Unemployment Claims, Pending Home Sales

• At 8:30 AM ET, Gross Domestic Product, 2nd quarter (advance estimate), and annual update. The consensus is that real GDP increased 8.6% annualized in Q2, up from 6.4% in Q1.

• At 8:30 AM, The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for a decrease to 400 thousand from 419 thousand last week.

• At 10:00 AM, Pending Home Sales Index for June. The consensus is for a 0.5% increase in the index.

The Tulip and Cygnus X 1

The Tulip and Cygnus X 1 The Tulip and Cygnus X 1

Where Things Stand: It Was Hard To Spit Out, But Jim Jordan Confirmed He Spoke To Trump On Jan 6

Amid a stream of words delivered in his typical auctioneer fashion, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he did, in fact, talk to Trump on Jan. 6.

When exactly that conversation happened — before the insurrection, during the attack, after the fact, when Congress was certifying President Joe Biden’s win — couldn’t tell ya.

Last night, Jordan admitted during an interview with Fox News that he talked to the former President on the day of the Capitol insurrection. But the acknowledgement was weird. He quickly tried to downplay it, claiming he’s talked to Trump “thousands, countless times” before saying “yes” he talked to the then-President on that fateful day, with another caveat (note his continuous referral to Trump as “the president”).

“Yes,” Jordan replied. “I mean — I’ve talked to the president so many — I can’t remember all the days I’ve talked to him, but I’ve certainly talked to the president.”

Spectrum News DC was able to drag the confession out of him a bit more precisely today: “I spoke with him on Jan. 6,” Jordan said at one point. But he wouldn’t commit to a specific time in which that conversation took place. That detail would surely be of interest to the House committee’s probe of the insurrection — a committee that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) booted Jordan and Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) off of, knowing all too well Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) aim with the two non-serious appointments. McCarthy announced that all of the Republican picks would walk after that.

Does “after” mean after Trump’s rally, while the mob was violently infiltrating the Capitol? Does it mean during the post-attack certification vote? Later in the evening? Is he implying they spoke, but not about the attack? It’s hard to say, but we’ll keep trying to nail it down (though Jordan’s office hasn’t responded to our requests).

As TPM’s Josh Kovensky outlined here earlier today, the chaotic disclosure means a couple of things:

The admission puts Jordan in the camp of the Republicans who had direct contact with the insurrection’s main instigator on the day that it took place. Though it’s not clear what the two discussed, it means that Jordan could testify to Trump’s behavior on the day of the attack.

It further means that, like House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), he may be in a position to provide evidence to congressional investigators.

While the committee’s first hearing this week largely focused on security issues featuring the emotional testimony of law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol that day, some lawmakers who are part of the bipartisan group probing the attack did signal yesterday that they’re interested in a large-scale investigation that could look into the role Trump played in inciting the attempted coup.

The committee also reiterated its interest in issuing subpoenas this morning with committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the group “absolutely” has the authority to compel key players for testimony.

“I have no reluctance whatsoever in issuing subpoenas for information,” Thompson said. “Nothing is off limits in this investigation.”

The Best Of TPM

Here’s What You Should Read This Evening:

Follow our live coverage of infrastructure talks as we move toward a possible vote to open debate tonight here: Patience Wears Thin As Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Hangs In The Balance

This is … quite the admission: Jim Jordan Says He Spoke To Trump On Jan. 6

Also on Jan. 6: ‘Shameful’: Cheney Blasts Stefanik For Shifting Blame For Insurrection To Pelosi

From ProPublica: The Number of People With IRAs Worth $5 Million Or More Has Tripled, Congress Says

Some audit mania updates from Matt Shuham:

Public Face Of AZ Audit Steps Down Because Auditors Won’t Let Him See What They’re Up To 

Twitter Suspends Several Accounts Promoting MAGA Audits, Including AZ Audit’s Official Page

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

House Special Committee Holds First Jan. 6 Hearing –Josh Kovensky and Summer Concepcion

What We Are Reading

Cop Shares Voicemail Threat He Received During Testimony About U.S. Capitol Riot — Josephine Harvey

Mitch McConnell Is Going to Run Ads Urging Kentuckians to Get Vaccinated

David Morgan, reporting for Reuters:

“Not enough people are vaccinated,” said McConnell, a polio survivor. “So we’re trying to get them to reconsider and get back on the path to get us to some level of herd immunity.”

McConnell, who was vaccinated for COVID-19 in December and has been promoting vaccinations in public remarks ever since, plans to run 60-second radio ads on more than 100 Kentucky radio stations in the coming days promoting the vaccine with money from his re-election campaign.

More like this, please.


Intelsat returning JCSAT-RA satellite to Japan’s Sky Perfect JSAT

Intelsat is seeking regulatory permission to hand the JCSAT-RA satellite back to Japan’s Sky Perfect JSAT as a commercial deal between the satellite operators ends. 


Links 7/28/21

Links for you. Science:

Astronomers push for global debate on giant satellite swarms
The unusual Lambda variant is rapidly spreading in South America. Here’s what we know.
Treadmill Decarbonization Doesn’t Help
J.&J. Vaccine May Be Less Effective Against Delta, Study Suggests
World’s Coral Scientists Warn Action is Needed Now to Save Even a Few Reefs from Climate Change


Necessary or Not, Booster Shots Are Probably Coming
How bad can it be?
People Want To Work, They Just Don’t Want To Work For You
“Don’t You Work With Old People?”: Many Elder-Care Workers Still Refuse to Get COVID-19 Vaccine
NYC, let’s talk mandatory vaccinations
Less than 1% of fully vaccinated people in D.C. have contracted coronavirus, data shows
Remember when Politico said DeSantis “won the pandemic”?
Irresponsible States Are Threatening All of Us
‘Deadly serious’: Pelosi goes to war with GOP over Jan. 6
Brigaded By The Vile Trolls Again
This Will End With President Tucker Carlson
No Jab, No Play Should Have Been the Ironclad Rule of These Olympics
Why should vaccinated people wear masks? UCSF expert gives his take.
Sleepaway camp in New York says 31 campers under age 12 tested positive for Covid-19
Rick Dennison out as Minnesota Vikings assistant after refusing COVID-19 vaccine, sources say (good)
Murders are up. Crime is not. What’s going on?
Vaccinated America Has Had Enough: In the United States, this pandemic could be almost over by now. The reasons it’s still going are pretty clear.
The huge, gaping hole in our media discussion of the GOP and Jan. 6
The DCCC’s Top Bundler Is an Oil Lobbyist
The Battles to Come Over the Benefits of Working From Home. Not having to commute was the equivalent of a big bonus for many employees. In the future, bosses may expect more hours in exchange for remote work, an economist says.
Thousands of bullets have been fired in this D.C. neighborhood. Fear is part of everyday life.
The Decade’s Biggest Political Deadline
They Waited, They Worried, They Stalled. This Week, They Got the Shot. (the number of respondents who are afraid of needles seems notable)

Space Force sees ‘advantages and opportunities’ in nuclear-powered space missions

Space vehicles powered by small nuclear reactors could be used for military missions in deep space, the vice chief of the U.S. Space Force said July 28.


Rocket Lab set to resume launches Thursday after failure in May

A technician at Rocket Lab’s launch base in New Zealand works with an Electron booster. Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab is set to launch a small U.S. military technology demonstration satellite from New Zealand Thursday on the company’s first flight since a second stage failure doomed a commercial mission in May.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Monolith microsatellite is set to ride an Electron rocket into orbit Thursday from Rocket Lab’s privately-owned spaceport on the North Island of New Zealand.

There is a two-hour launch window for the mission Thursday. The window opens at 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT; 6 p.m. New Zealand time).

The mission will mark the 21st flight of a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle since 2017, and the eighth to carry a payload for a U.S. military or intelligence agency customer.

It will be the first Rocket Lab mission since May 15, when an Electron rocket failed before reaching orbit with two commercial BlackSky Earth-imaging satellites.

Rocket Lab’s internal investigation, with oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration, concluded the failure was caused by a problem with the igniter system on the Electron launcher’s second stage engine.

“This induced a corruption of signals within the engine computer that caused the Rutherford engine’s thrust vector control (TVC) to deviate outside nominal parameters and resulted in the engine computer commanding zero pump speed, shutting down the engine,” Rocket Lab said in a statement earlier this month.

Live video from beamed down from the rocket May 15 showed the second stage’s kerosene-fueled Rutherford engine igniting and immediately begin to tumble about three minutes into the flight. The engine shut down prematurely after firing for a few seconds, well short of a planned six-minute burn.

The rocket and its two BlackSky payloads fell into the Pacific Ocean downrange from the launch site in New Zealand.

Rocket Lab said the igniter problem “resulted from a previously undetectable failure mode within the ignition system that occurs under a unique set of environmental pressures and conditions.”

The company said engineers did not find evidence of the problem during pre-flight testing, which included more than 400 seconds of burn time for the same engine. But Rocket Lab said it was able to replicate the issue after the flight, and teams “implemented redundancies in the ignition system to prevent any future reoccurrence, including modifications to the igniter’s design and manufacture.”

The May 15 mission was the third time an Electron rocket failed to reach orbit on 20 attempts since 2017.

Engineers traced the cause of an Electron second stage failure in July 2020 to a faulty electrical connector, which detached in flight and led to an early engine shutdown.

Seven small commercial satellites were lost on the failed mission last year. Rocket Lab said it implemented improved testing to better screen for bad connectors, and the company successfully launched its next Electron mission less than two months later.

Rocket Lab racked up six straight successful Electron missions before the launch failure May 17. The company’s first orbital launch attempt in 2017 failed to reach orbit due to a ground system failure that caused safety teams to send a flight termination command to the rocket.

The Space Test Program, which helps manage development of the military’s experimental satellites, procured the launch of the Monolith satellite with the Rocket Systems Launch Program, part of the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.

Other partners on the mission include the Defense Innovation Unit and the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, a program that books rides to orbit for small military satellites on emerging commercial small satellite launchers.

Rocket Lab’s payload fairing for the STP-27RM mission. Credit: Rocket Lab

The mission, designated STP-27RM, was originally supposed to launch from Rocket Lab’s new pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. But delays in NASA’s certification of the Electron rocket’s new autonomous flight safety system have kept Rocket Lab from beginning service from the Virginia launch base.

In June, officials at Wallops said they hope to complete certification of the new autonomous flight safety system by the end of the year, enabling the first Rocket Lab launch from U.S. soil. With the launch of the military’s Monolith mission moved from Virginia to New Zealand, Rocket Lab’s first flight from Launch Complex 2 at Wallops will likely launch NASA’s CAPSTONE CubeSat payload to the moon.

The CAPSTONE mission is scheduled for launch late this year, according to NASA and Rocket Lab.

“We’re excited to have another Electron on the pad for the Space Test Program,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO. “We’re proud to once again demonstrate the flexible and resilient space access required by our government partners.

“The Space Test Program has a long history of developing advanced space and launch capabilities that we’ve all come to rely on, from global positioning systems, satellite communications, meteorological satellites, and space domain awareness capabilities,” Beck said in a statement. “We’re proud to support the continuation of that innovation through rapid and agile launch on Electron.”

The Monolith satellite will demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor that is relatively large in mass compared to the mass of the spacecraft itself, according to the Space and Missile Systems Center.

The deployment of the sensor will change the satellite’s dynamic properties, testing the spacecraft’s ability to maintain stable attitude control, military officials said.

When the military announced the Monolith mission in 2019, officials said the satellite’s sensor package will collect data on space weather.

Data collected from the Monolith mission will help engineers design future small satellites to accommodate deployable sensors, such as weather monitoring instruments. The Space Force said that will help reduce the cost, complexity, and development timelines of future missions.

“The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities,” the Space Force said.

Rocket Lab does not plan to recover the Electron rocket’s first stage booster on Thursday’s mission. The company has retrieved two Electron boosters from the Pacific Ocean as engineers move toward reusing the rocket’s first stage, an innovation Rocket Lab says will allow for a faster launch rate and lower costs.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is sized to deliver small satellites to orbit, providing a dedicated ride for spacecraft that would otherwise have to fly as a lower-priority payload on a larger launch vehicle.

The Electron rocket can deliver a payload of up to 440 pounds (200 kilograms) to a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous orbit, about 1% of the lift capability of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher. Rocket Lab sells dedicated Electron missions for as little as $7 million.

On Thursday’s mission, the 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron rocket will fly east from Rocket Lab’s launch site on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The rocket’s first stage will burn its nine engines for about two-and-a-half minutes, followed by a six-minute firing of the second stage engine.

A kick stage will finish the job of placing the Monolith spacecraft into an orbit about 373 miles (600 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of 37 degrees to the equator. Separation of the tech demo payload is scheduled about one hour after liftoff.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

How TikTok’s Algorithm Figures You Out

Using dozens of bot accounts, The Wall Street Journal did an investigation and determined that TikTok’s algorithm needs only one piece of information to determine what you want to watch: the amount of time you spend watching individual videos. Observing your watch time and rewatching is enough for them to fill your “For You” page with recommended videos that are right in your wheelhouse after just an hour or two. That this happens so quickly and completely — 90-95% of what users see on TikTok is algorithmically determined — leads to users going down narrow-interest rabbit holes that can be dangerous, e.g. if someone’s Covid interest turns into anti-vax QAnon crap or sadness turns into video after video about depression or harming yourself.

As someone who built an entire web app that collected people’s social media likes/faves, this focus on a single signal is fascinating. API limitations and rate limits on the number of requests would keep you from building a service with a TikTok-like algorithm for Twitter or Instagram that used likes as the only signal for whether to show someone a piece of content or not, but if you could, I bet it would be amazing.

Tags: TikTok   video

July 28th COVID-19, New Cases, Hospitalizations, Vaccinations

The 7-day average cases is the highest since April 20th.

The 7-day average hospitalizations is the highest since May 12th.

This data is from the CDC.

According to the CDC, on Vaccinations.

Total doses administered: 343,361,524, as of a week ago 339,102,867. Average doses last week: 0.61 million per day.

COVID Metrics
Percent over 18,
One Dose
Fully Vaccinated✅
New Cases per Day3🚩61,97656,77737,769≤5,0002
Deaths per Day3🚩300277206≤502
1 America's Short Term Goals,
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37 day average for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7 day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met (even if late).

KUDOS to the residents of the 20 states and D.C. that have achieved the 70% goal (percent over 18 with at least one dose): Vermont, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Connecticut are at 80%+, and Maine, New Mexico, New Jersey,  Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado and D.C. are all over 70%.

Next up are Florida at 68.0%, Utah at 67.7%, Wisconsin at 67.0%, Nebraska at 67.0%, South Dakota at 66.0%, Kansas at 65.8%, Iowa at 65.4%, Nevada at 65.0% and Arizona at 64.2%.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) and 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported.

This data is from the CDC.

Biden No Longer Gives All Those NASA Outs

R3-IoT gets funding for satellite-enabled sensor connectivity solutions

A fishery

Scottish startup R3-IoT is expanding to North America after raising early funds for connecting sensors and devices with satellite-enabled solutions.


Charles Barkley: Sports Leagues ‘Should Force Guys to Get Vaccinated’

Jade Scipioni, reporting for CNBC:

“Yes, I’m vaccinated,” says NBA legend Charles Barkley. “Everybody should be vaccinated. Period.”

“The only people who are not vaccinated are just assholes,” he says.

The 58-year-old NBA Hall-of-Famer says he personally thinks sports leagues should force players to get vaccinated. “Can you imagine if one of these guys that are not vaccinated, if they get one of these players’ kids, wives, girlfriends, moms and dads sick and they die over some unnecessary conspiracy bullshit,” Barkley says. “I think that would be tragic.”

More like this, please. (Via Paul Kafasis.)


FOMC Statement: No Policy Change; Economy has "made progress"

Fed Chair Powell press conference video here starting at 2:30 PM ET.

FOMC Statement:
The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time, thereby promoting its maximum employment and price stability goals.

With progress on vaccinations and strong policy support, indicators of economic activity and employment have continued to strengthen. The sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic have shown improvement but have not fully recovered. Inflation has risen, largely reflecting transitory factors. Overall financial conditions remain accommodative, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.

The path of the economy continues to depend on the course of the virus. Progress on vaccinations will likely continue to reduce the effects of the public health crisis on the economy, but risks to the economic outlook remain.

The Committee seeks to achieve maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run. With inflation having run persistently below this longer-run goal, the Committee will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer‑term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent. The Committee expects to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these outcomes are achieved. The Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and expects it will be appropriate to maintain this target range until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee's assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time. Last December, the Committee indicated that it would continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage‑backed securities by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward its maximum employment and price stability goals. Since then, the economy has made progress toward these goals, and the Committee will continue to assess progress in coming meetings. These asset purchases help foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses.

In assessing the appropriate stance of monetary policy, the Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook. The Committee would be prepared to adjust the stance of monetary policy as appropriate if risks emerge that could impede the attainment of the Committee's goals. The Committee's assessments will take into account a wide range of information, including readings on public health, labor market conditions, inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and financial and international developments.

Voting for the monetary policy action were Jerome H. Powell, Chair; John C. Williams, Vice Chair; Thomas I. Barkin; Raphael W. Bostic; Michelle W. Bowman; Lael Brainard; Richard H. Clarida; Mary C. Daly; Charles L. Evans; Randal K. Quarles; and Christopher J. Waller.
emphasis added

The absence of ambivalence

This is familiar. I love a crisis. Or a to do list:

"I have the reputation, at least among some friends and family, of being 'good in a crisis' – such as (to give a somewhat minor example) the day last year, deep in lockdown, when a shard of flying flowerpot ended up halfway through my partner's hand, sending her to hospital and upending our finely calibrated work and childcare plans for the week. In such circumstances, I never get stressed by having to change my plans, or add to the anxiety of the situation by freaking out. I just get on with whatever needs doing, calmly and resourcefully.

Naturally, I'd love to attribute this to my being a stunningly compassionate, courageous and flexible person. But the real explanation, I've come to realise, lies in the contrast with what I'm like the rest of the time: prone to second-guessing myself, wondering whether or not what I'm doing right now is what I ought to be doing, and whether I'm trying hard enough – to the general irritation of myself and anyone else involved.

In an emergency, that whole tangle of self-absorption lifts, because "what needs to be done" is usually so obvious that nobody, not even my inner critic, could reasonably disagree. For a certain kind of person – and I'm definitely one of them – this total absence of ambivalence feels freeing, even disconcertingly elating, never mind the fact that what's unfolding around me is unquestionably bad."

Oliver Burkeman

Wednesday assorted links

1. Renderings of large, extinct animals.

2. Rank size of a minority group matters for hate crime.

3. Is adolescent loneliness rising?

4. Good Klein-Douthat dialogue.  By the way, here is Ross’s forthcoming book The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery.

5. NFTs update (NYT).  To make your head spin: “One issue that has not caught up with the technology is how NFTs will be taxed. Cryptocurrency is taxed at the capital gains rate, and many experts say they believe that NFTs will be considered collectibles, which are taxed at a 28 percent rate. But the tax issue gets more complicated because many NFTs are bought using cryptocurrency. So any transaction would be considered a realization of the gains in that cryptocurrency.”

6. Number of unused AstraZeneca vaccines in Australia tops 3 million.  And yet they are in effect incarcerating significant portions of their citizenry.

The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.




The Twisties

Yesterday, world champion gymnast Simone Biles removed herself from the women’s team final at the Olympics after not doing one of the planned two-and-a-half twists on her vault and stumbling on the landing. Biles said after the final:

I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness. I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for, kind of, my screw ups, because they’ve worked way too hard for that.

On Twitter, former gymnast and diver Catherine Burns explained that Biles was likely experiencing a case of “the dreaded twisties”.

When you’re flipping or twisting (or both!) it is very disorienting to the human brain. When training new flips and twists, you need external cues to learn how it feels to complete the trick correctly. (In diving, a coach yells “OUT” and you kick your body straight and pray).

Once you’ve practiced a trick enough, you develop the neural pathways that create kinesthesia which leads to muscle memory. Your brain remembers how your body feels doing the trick and you gain air awareness.

It’s like driving a car, she explains. At first everything you do is unnatural and requires deep concentration to learn but once you’ve got it down, you can do it instinctively, without thinking or even paying that much attention. Then sometimes, in stressful situations, you start thinking too much about how to do the familiar thing and you lose it completely:

Suddenly, in the middle of driving on the freeway, right as you need to complete a tricky merge, you have totally lost your muscle memory of how to drive a car. You have to focus on making you foot press the pedal at the right angle, turn the steering wheel just so, shift gears..

It’s terrifying. You’re moving way too fast, you’re totally lost, you’re trying to THINK but you know you don’t usually have to think to do these maneuvers, you just feel them and do them.

The twisties are like this, and often happen under pressure. You’re working so hard to get it right that you stop trusting your muscle memory. You’re getting lost in the air, second guessing your instincts, overthinking every movement.

And when you’re driving a car or performing a high-intensity sport like gymnastics, second guessing and overthinking can cause serious injury.

I used to write a lot about this kind of thing in this loosely connected series of posts on relaxed concentration. This phenomenon goes by many names — performance anxiety, stage fright, choking, the yips, cueitis (in snooker), and target panic (for archers) — and the world-class are not immune. Daniel Day-Lewis had stage fright so bad he quit the stage decades ago — an affliction he shared with Laurence Olivier, Barbra Streisand, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you’ve read anything at all about this stuff, Biles’ case of the twisties doesn’t seem so unusual or mysterious — it’s just one of those things that makes her, and the rest of us, human.

Update: I’d missed this yesterday: Biles herself told reporters about the twisties.

They saw it a little bit in practice… having a little bit of the twisties.

Which is something she’s struggled with before:

The twisties are an issue Biles has faced before, including in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and prior to the 2019 season.

“2019, at the beginning of the year, I forgot how to twist and flip. It was great,” Biles told in January 2020.

Tags: 2020 Summer Olympics   Catherine Burns   gymnastics   Olympic Games   relaxed concentration   Simone Biles   sports

Zillow Case-Shiller House Price Forecast: "Expected to decelerate", 16.2% YoY in June

The Case-Shiller house price indexes for May were released yesterday. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close.

From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: May 2021 Case-Shiller Results & Forecast: Growth Continues Climb
The forces that have propelled home price growth to new highs over the past year remain in place and are offering little evidence of abating.
The housing market’s historically tight inventory conditions finally started to ease in May, but that did little to immediately tame the record-strong home price appreciation that the market has experienced in recent months. The number available homes across the nation finally ticked up this spring, albeit from a historically low reference point, after spending most of the last year in a steady decline. Still, price pressures remain very firm and appear ready to stay that way in the months to come. Indeed, sharply-rising prices do appear to have priced out some home shoppers, particularly those looking to enter the market for the first time, and causing fatigue among would-be buyers. But overall demand for homes remains very firm, as bidding wars persist and the still-relatively few homes available for sales continue to fly off the shelves at a historically fast pace. Increased inventory levels should eventually help tame the record-high pace of price appreciation, but it’s going to take a while.

Monthly and annual growth in June as reported by Case-Shiller is expected to decelerate from May and April 2020 in all three main indices. S&P Dow Jones Indices is expected to release data for the June S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices on Tuesday, August 24.
emphasis added
Zillow forecast for Case-ShillerThe Zillow forecast is for the year-over-year change for the Case-Shiller National index to be at 16.2% in June, from 16.6% in May.

The Zillow forecast is for the 20-City index to be up 16.5% YoY in June from 17.0% in May, and for the 10-City index to be up 16.1% YoY compared to 16.4% YoY in May.

Two Quick Links for Wednesday Noonish

"Two bartenders floated in and out of the conversation, dropping comments like 'what's Covid?' to laughter. Just recently, a beloved cook at the restaurant had died from the virus, they said." This is a horrifying portrait of contemporary America. []

So interesting to read about the ritual & tradition among Dominican families living in NYC of heading to the beach to eat empaguetadas, a spaghetti dish. []


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

Visualization of Conservative America’s Vaccine Refusal

Charles Gaba has been graphing the Covid-19 vaccination rates of the 50 states (and DC) against the percentage of people who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and there is unsurprisingly a clear correlation between the two:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for the 50 states graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

As one commenter noted, all of the solidly “blue” states are above the vaxxed national average and all the solidly “red” states are below it. The picture is a little more muddy when you look at the rates at the county level:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for US counties graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

The “conservatives are unvaxxed” trend is still there, but a lack of access and education around the vaccines in counties with large Black and Latino populations also plays a large role in whether people are vaccinated or not.

Tags: Charles Gaba   Covid-19   infoviz   politics   vaccines

Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA Headquarters

NASA Federal Advisory Committees; Notice of Committees Re- Establishment Pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Federal Register

"The Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has determined that the re-establishment of four (4) NASA Federal advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) is necessary and in the public interest in connection with the performance of duties imposed upon NASA by law. This determination follows consultation with the Committee Management Secretariat, General Services Administration. These four committees were originally established on January 17, 2017. These four committees and their charters expired on June 12, 2021. Name of Federal Advisory Committees: Astrophysics Advisory Committee; Heliophysics Advisory Committee; Earth Science Advisory Committee; and Planetary Science Advisory Committee."

Keith's note: Its nice that someone at NASA noticed that these 4 important FACA advisory committees expired a month and a half ago. The last time that the NASA Advisory Committee had a public meeting was 31 October - 1 November 2019 - that was one year before the 2020 election. Yes, the pandemic upset things but NASA now has a thousand webinars, telecons, etc, every single day. NASA and its external communities have the whole telework thing down - just like the rest of us.

According to the official NAC website the NAC Aeronautics, Human Exploration and Operations, Regulatory and Policy, Science, STEM Engagement, and Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committees last met in 2019 along with the NAC itself. NASA has not even bothered to put up information resulting from any of these meetings. Nor is there any indication of when there will be new meetings. But wait - on another page on the NASA Aeronautics Directorate website says that the Aeronautics Committee met on 7 July 2021. And the Science Committee met on 14-15 April 2021 according to the Federal Register, and the Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) met on 27 January 2021. And so on. No one seems to know what the NAC does and when it does it.

Oh yes: the NAC Science Committee's subcommittees have somehow managed to continue to meet on a regular basis throughout the pandemic. Meanwhile, NASA seems to have been so uninterested in the whole policy advisory thing that they forgot that the charters for these four active NAC science committees expired 6 weeks ago. If committees just evaporate and the NAC people cannot grasp which committee and subcommittees are or are not meeting, what else has slipped through the cracks?

The Office of Science at Technology Policy is still getting up to speed with regard to space policy. After a brief flurry of arm waving several months ago about who should be the executive secretary of the National Space Council, no one has heard a peep out of the Vice President's office as to what is going on with that advisory committee or with its associated Users Advisory Committee. As such, NASA is simply making up policy based on what they derive from the White House without all of the ususal advisory apparatus in place that usually helps guide these things. Meanwhile, major budget issues confront the agency. Its large flagship project the Artemis Program with its giant rocket that is a decade late and many billions of over budget and the only solution seems to be a care package from TBD Infrastructure legislation. And then there is the while Human Landing System mess. NASA is at a crossroads in many ways. You'd think that there'd be a little more attention given to getting some external advice and reality checks.

The whole NAC thing is run by the Advisory Committee Management Division of the NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR). The OIIR is not known for being up to date on things. As I noted a month ago NASA's International and Interagency Relations Team Doesn't Bother To Update. They have no link to the Artemis Accords (which that office negotiated several years ago) and *all* of the policy links they have listed go to broken links that evaporated when the Trump Administration left office. I pointed all of this out a month ago. But NASA OIIR Associate Administrator Karen Feldstein and her team seem to be sleepwalking through the whole idea of telling stakeholders and taxpayers what they are doing or, in this case, what they are not doing.

- No One Really Knows/Cares What The NASA Advisory Council Does, earlier post

My excellent Conversation with Niall Ferguson

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

Niall joined Tyler to discuss the difference between English and Scottish pessimism, his surprise encounter with Sean Connery, what James Bond and Doctor Who have in common, how religion fosters the cultural imagination to produce doomsday scenarios, which side of the Glorious Revolution he would have been on, the extraordinary historical trajectory of Scotland from the 17th century through the 18th century, why historians seem to have an excessive occupation with leadership, what he learned from R.G. Collingwood and A.J.P. Taylor, why American bands could never quite get punk music right, Tocqueville’s insights on liberalism, the unfortunate iconoclasm of John Maynard Keynes, the dystopian novel he finds most plausible, what he learned about right and left populism on his latest trip to Latin America, the importance of intellectual succession and building institutions, what he’ll do next, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: If you had been alive at the time and the Glorious Revolution were going on, which side would you have been rooting for and why? Speaking of counterfactuals.

FERGUSON: I think everybody should ask themselves that question each morning. Whig or Tory? Are you a Jacobite?

COWEN: Do you want Dutch people coming over to run your country? That’s another part of it, right? I would have been quite worried. Nothing against Dutch people, but you might think, “Well, they don’t have a stable ruling coalition, so they’re going to be all the more tyrannical.”

FERGUSON: Yes. I wrote about the Dutch takeover in Empire. It’s bizarre that the British Isles just get taken over by a Dutch monarch at the behest of a faction mainly motivated by religious prejudice and hostility to Roman Catholicism. At the time, I would have been a Whig on religious grounds. I’m from the ardently Protestant Lowlands of Scotland. I’m like all people from that part of the world, drawn to the romanticism of the Jacobites but also repelled by what it would have been like in practice.

If you want to understand all this, by the way, you have to read Walter Scott, which I hadn’t done for years and years. I’d never really read Scott because I was told he was boring. Then during the pandemic, I started reading the Waverley novels, and it’s all there: all the fundamental dilemmas that were raised, not just by the Glorious Revolution, but prior to that by the Civil War of the 17th century, and that were raised again in the 1745 Jacobite rising.

Scott’s brilliant at explaining something that I don’t think is properly understood, and that is that Scotland had the most extraordinary historical trajectory. It went from being Afghanistan in the 17th century — it was basically Afghanistan. You had violent warring clans in the north, in the mountainous parts of the country, and a theocracy of extreme Calvinist zealots in the Lowlands. This was a deeply dysfunctional, very violent place with much higher levels of homicide than England. Really, it was a barbaric place.

And something very strange happened. That was that in the course of — beginning really from the late 17th century — in the course of the 18th century, Scotland became the most dynamic tiger economy in the world. Also, it became the cradle of the enlightenment, had really all the best ideas of Western civilization, all at once in a really short space of time with a really small number of people, all sitting around in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

I still don’t think a book has been written that properly explains that. You certainly wouldn’t have put a bet on Scotland behaving that way by the late 18th century, if all you knew about it was Scotland in the mid-17th century. If you look at it that way, then you kind of have to be a Whig. You have to recognize that the institutions that came from England, including the Dutch institutions that were imported in the Glorious Revolution, really helped Scotland get out of its Afghan predicament.

Recommended, interesting throughout.  And again, here is Niall’s new book Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe.

The post My excellent Conversation with Niall Ferguson appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



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Techdirt Is Now Entirely Without Any Google Ads or Tracking Code

Mike Masnick:

Techdirt is one of the very, very, very few truly independent media brands around. Almost none of the independent media brands that existed when we started remain. Some have been sucked up into larger companies or shut down entirely. Others have decided to go behind expensive paywalls. We’ve had to adapt and change over the years in many ways just to stick around, but in the end the reason we do this is because of the community we’ve built up here. For us to stick around, I need to ask the community to help support us as well. We have some cool experiments and projects in the works, so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, if you can help us out, it would be hugely appreciated.

Techdirt is irreplaceable. There’s no other site like it. And indeed, indie websites that neither run crappy ads nor put their content behind a paywall are a dying breed. You go to an article at Techdirt and you see the article. No annoying popovers begging you to subscribe to a newsletter. You just see the article.


Op-ed | Peace in the Era of Weaponized Space

We are on the verge of a new era in space security: the age of diverse and highly capable dual-use space systems that can serve both peaceful and anti-satellite (ASAT) purposes.


Out of Patience with the CDC? Grow the F Up

MELBOURNE, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - 2021/05/17: A nurse gives Sherri Trimble, 15, a shot of the vaccine at a vaccination clinic at Health First Medical Centre.On May 12, 2021, the CDC approved the use of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in 12 through 15-year-old adolescents. Vaccinating this age group is seen as a keyway for middle and high schools to reopen fully by this fall. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I will get to some points about the CDC’s updated masking policy in a moment. But first a few points about the CDC’s decision-making generally. I thought the earlier decision to end the masking guidance for the vaccinated was a mistake. I think the CDC was trying to balance the evolving science with immense public pressure to offer what amounts to a reward for vaccination, to declare the pandemic over or show the benefits of vaccination.

But after yesterday’s updated policy or reversal I kept seeing comments on Twitter, headlines in OpEds and comments from people on TV saying, “That’s it!” “That’s the final nail in the coffin of the CDC’s credibility!” Or ‘the experts’ or Fauci or whoever else. “First it was no masks! Now masks are back! Which is it??!?!!?”

Really people need to get the f*#$ over themselves.

COVID is an evolving pathogen. Our knowledge of it is evolving. We’re basically conducting, against our will, a live subject study with the entire human population. Science isn’t a book with all the answers. It’s an empirical process. By its nature it’s tentative and evolving. We are learning about the efficacy of the best vaccines. We’re learning about Delta COVID. And we’re trying to figure out how the two interact.

This isn’t a brief for anyone at CDC. Like I said, I think they’ve gotten some key decisions wrong, in ways I’ll describe in a moment. Mostly they are not clinical decisions but decisions which have sought to balance the available scientific knowledge with evolving public opinion. Or to be more specific, they are cases where they have sought to balance it with what we might call very understandable public exhaustion.

The fact is that we are living through an historic global pandemic. It’s complicated. We’re collectively having to make big decisions without anywhere near enough knowledge. It will continue to be bumpy. The problem isn’t that the CDC doesn’t have enough wizards to wave wands to make it disappear for you. The problem is the virus. And we are not done with it.

As I suggested above, the real challenges now are balancing the the current scientific knowledge with the political realities of an exhausted population. Our biggest challenge is one of free ridership. The CDC is now asking the vaccinated to resume masking in areas of high transmission, which is now most but not all of the country. What that means is that we are again asking the vaccinated to take on the burdens of the decisions of the voluntarily unvaccinated. And that’s a big problem.

But before we get to that we need to back up and remember what the earlier de-masking guidance really was. The guidance was actually that the vaccinated could stop masking. It is generally remembered as an end to guidance to mask generally. It wasn’t. In practice though it was the unvaccinated who were quickest to stop masking if they’d ever been masking at all.

This I think was the heart of the error. The people who most benefited from masking were the least likely to follow the guidance. In the absence of a robust system of vaccine passports there was no way to distinguish one group from the other. Indeed, in much of Red State America passports have been banned even for private organizations and businesses. Basically no one payed attention to this distinction at all – and that is a problem with the initial guidance because that was fairly predictable. The emergence of the Delta variant – a new and unknown factor – just made the consequences much greater.

Today one of the most difficult things to make sense of is just how much we think the vaccinated themselves are at risk today from Delta – whether we’re defining that as infections generally or severe outcomes. One reason for the updated CDC guidance is increasing – but still tentative and uncertain – evidence that Delta COVID is spreading among the vaccinated themselves. But clearly the biggest beneficiaries of this new policy are the unvaccinated. It’s the unvaccinated among whom Delta COVID is spreading like wildfire. Infections among the vaccinated are largely spillover from that out of control situation. The unvaccinated are not only unvaccinated they are also disproportionately unmasked. (If you’re worried about COVID or trying to do your part for the larger community, let’s be honest: you’re going to get vaccinated.)

So we can see larger problem. Masking is coming back largely because of the actions of the unvaccinated and also largely for the benefit of the unvaccinated. The burden of non-vaccination is being placed on those who are vaccinated. That basic disconnect is our problem.

That disconnect places no effective pressure on the voluntarily unvaccinated while sowing demoralization and frustration and contempt with public authorities among those who’ve gotten the vaccine. No good comes of that combination. As I have been arguing, the cornerstone of our policy should focusing the burden of non-vaccination on those who are voluntarily unvaccinated. That is both the most equitable and fair approach and it is the approach most likely to increase the number of people getting vaccinated. We need to cut that cord of misplaced incentives and penalties. That’s why I think the more important and more positive developments in recent days are the moves toward mandates. We’re seeing a wave of mandates for various kinds of public employees and health care workers to get vaccinated. We’re also seeing the federal government clear the way for private organizations to do the same. That is the proper path forward. We do not need to see it as punitive. It is simply placing the burden of non-vaccination on the voluntarily unvaccinated. This is also why speeding formal FDA approval of the vaccine is so important. Despite federal court rulings that appear to give employers the right to mandate vaccines under the current emergency approval, it is clear that only that formal approval will move the mass of the employers in that direction.

One more point.

To understand the challenges with vaccinating the whole country we need to understand what the problem is. I noted Monday that while we focus most on ideological anti-vaxxers there’s a big chunk of the non-vaxed population that is more movable and less set in their decision. This chart was in Mike Allen’s Axios newsletter this morning. They’ve arranged the numbers in a confusing way. But the part I’ve highlighted tells the story.

We don’t have one problem. We have two. These breakdowns show clearly that we have a hesitancy problem in the Black and Hispanic communities and a resistance problem among white Republicans. Those are different issues.

In the former case that is in part the historic experience of the African-American community and the general issue that marginalized communities are usually the hardest to vaccinate across cultures – economic private, low trust in public authorities, tenuous connection to social networks that facilitate public health efforts. That can be worked over time. The latter issue is clearly political and ideological. But for all the reasons above the best approach is not endless public discussion about understanding hesitance and resistance or persuasion. It’s mandates for vaccination. We’re not going to mandate for the whole population, though we should certainly have them for public-facing public employees and all health care workers. But in every respect we should concentrate the burden of non-vaccination on the voluntarily unvaccinated. Want to engage in non-essential indoor public activities? Get vaccinated. This is both the most equitable and most effective way forward.

Given where we are now – largely because of the voluntarily unvaccinated – some move back to public masking probably makes sense. For what it’s worth, I continue to wear a mask in public indoor settings. But our whole policy should focus on putting as little of the burden of non-vaccination on those who’ve gotten vaccinated and as much as possible on those who have not.

A few comments on the Seasonal Pattern for House Prices

A few key points:
1) There is a clear seasonal pattern for house prices.
2) The surge in distressed sales during the housing bust distorted the seasonal pattern.
3) Even though distressed sales are down significantly, the seasonal factor is based on several years of data - and the factor is now closer to normal (second graph below).
4) Still the seasonal index is probably a better indicator of actual price movements than the Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) index.

For in depth description of these issues, see Jed Kolko's article from 2014 (currently Chief Economist at Indeed) "Let’s Improve, Not Ignore, Seasonal Adjustment of Housing Data"

Note: I was one of several people to question the change in the seasonal factor (here is a post in 2009) - and this led to S&P Case-Shiller questioning the seasonal factor too (from April 2010).  I still use the seasonal factor (I think it is better than using the NSA data).

House Prices month-to-month change NSA Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the month-to-month change in the NSA Case-Shiller National index since 1987 (through May 2021). The seasonal pattern was smaller back in the '90s and early '00s, and increased once the bubble burst.

The seasonal swings declined following the bubble, however the recent price surge changed the month-over-month pattern.

Case Shiller Seasonal FactorsThe second graph shows the seasonal factors for the Case-Shiller National index since 1987. The factors started to change near the peak of the bubble, and really increased during the bust.   

The swings in the seasonal factors have decreased, and the seasonal factors has been moving back towards more normal levels.

Note that the recent price surge hasn't distorted the seasonal factors.

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Getting Worse

Though not as much as last week. Before we get to that, only Wards 1-4 are below the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week–which also is the threshold the CDC suggests schools for all grades can reopen (0.05% in the second column below; n/a is not available):

Ward one-week prevalence one-week % pos. two-week prevalence two-week % pos.
1 0.049% n/a 0.094% n/a
2 0.037% n/a 0.072% n/a
3 0.029% n/a 0.051% n/a
4 0.043% n/a 0.063% n/a
5 0.064% n/a 0.109% n/a
6 0.068% n/a 0.126% n/a
7 0.064% n/a 0.114% n/a
8 0.092% n/a 0.132% n/a
D.C. total 0.056% 2.7% 0.096% 2.1%

In addition, the entire city, for the first time in a long time, didn’t get below the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week. Every ward except Ward 2 saw large increases this week, especially Wards 4 and 8 which had doublings of new cases. We also lack percent positive rates for each ward, so there’s no context for these numbers. The percent positive rates, while still good, are also heading in the wrong direction.

We also had a death this week–and if cases stay where they are, we’ll probably see a needless trickle of COVID-19 deaths. The only good news is that COVID-19 related hospitalizations are low and steady. No increase there (yet, anyway). Mind you, a moderate case of COVID-19 that doesn’t require hospitalization isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Meanwhile, vaccination is crawling. At the current rate of around 0.1% of the population per day, it will be months before the city is anywhere near herd immunity. Unless, of course, we get there by Delta variant infections (WHEEEE!!!! Akshually, not the recommended way to build immunity to COVID-19). Last week, some asshole with a blog suggested the following vaccine mandates:

  1. All city employees, unless they have a valid medical reason or can perform the entirety of their duties remotely, need to be vaccinated. This includes UDC.
  2. All students eighteen and older must be vaccinated or must learn remotely.
  3. Since it seems unlikely the FDA will approve vaccination for children under the age of twelve, any parent or guardian of a DC K-12 student must have begun vaccination by the start of the school year or that student will have to learn remotely.
  4. Starting September 30, if your vaccination isn’t ‘in flight’ (or completed), no gym or other indoor exercise classes for you. If gyms can keep track of a whole bunch of other information about you (and they can and do), then they can track this too.
  5. Medical workers are supposed to be fully vaccinated by September 30. This should also apply to nursing home attendents (and similar workers).
  6. Want to serve food in a restaurant? Get vaccinated by September 30. Want to dine in a restaurant? Show proof of vaccination.

Will there be people who attempt to cheat their way out of this? Sure, but many will grumble a lot, get vaccinated, and, depending on whether or not they’re assholes, admit that the vaccination actually wasn’t a big deal. At the same time, D.C. should mandate sick leave for vaccination, and just eat the cost of vaccination (stop asking people for health insurance information–this is penny wise and pound foolish).

Will the Mayor or the Council do any of this? Likely not, since they are excessively cautious and slow. But that’s what needs to happen. Otherwise, we’re going to see hospitalizations and some deaths, especially in the areas of the city that resemble Southwest Missouri.

Anger is still the appropriate emotion.

Added: The CDC’s new masking guidance would require indoor masking in D.C. This didn’t need to happen.

“If It Doesn’t Shine In Your Face, You Don’t See Anything”

Jocelyn Bell Burnell as a graduate student

As I’ve written before, in the history of astronomy and astrophysics, women have made major discoveries and played a significant role in advancing our understanding of the universe but have often not gotten the recognition their male peers enjoy. In 1967, while she was working on her doctoral research with her advisor Antony Hewish, Jocelyn Bell Burnell (then Jocelyn Bell) discovered a new and unusual kind of object, the pulsar. In this short documentary, Bell Burnell shares her story — how she got interested in radio astronomy, the prejudice with which she was treated as the only woman in her university program, how she discovered the first pulsar and persisted (more than once) through Hewish’s assertions that the object was “interference”, and how she was passed over for the Nobel Prize for her discovery.

In 2018, Bell Burnell was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics “for fundamental contributions to the discovery of pulsars, and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community”, joining past honorees like the LIGO team, Stephen Hawking, and the team that discovered the Higgs boson. She donated the entire $3 million prize to the Institute of Physics to help support “PhD physics students from under-represented groups” with their educations.

It’s not justice, but I will note that Bell Burnell’s Wikipedia page is longer and more substantial than Hewish’s, despite his Nobel.

Tags: Antony Hewish   astronomy   Ben Proudfoot   Jocelyn Bell Burnell   Nobel Prize   physics   science   sexism

Live coverage: Launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft postponed from Friday

Live coverage of the unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule on the Orbital Flight Test-2 mission. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

Rollout Live Stream

Rocket Lab not yet close to profitability, proxy statement reveals

Peter Beck, founder of Rocket Lab, is seen as essential to Rocket Lab's success.

Enlarge / Peter Beck, founder of Rocket Lab, is seen as essential to Rocket Lab's success. (credit: Rocket Lab)

Running a rocket launch company is an expensive proposition. You need hundreds of employees, lots of expensive machines and tooling, plenty of hardware, and at least one launch site. To make matters worse, for a purely commercial launch firm like Rocket Lab, you typically only get paid when you deliver someone's satellite into orbit.

So it's perhaps no surprise that the US-based company, which launches from New Zealand and has about 600 employees, has been losing a lot of money. According to a new proxy statement, Rocket Lab experienced net losses of $30 million and $55 million in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Given the company's financial position, an independent auditor, according to the proxy statement, "expressed substantial doubt" about Rocket Lab's "ability to continue as a going concern."

These are the kinds of details we rarely see in the often financially opaque launch business, but as part of the process of merging with a publicly traded Special Purpose Acquisition Company, Rocket Lab had to make extensive financial disclosures. The full, 712-page document can be downloaded here.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Europa Clipper mission to launch atop a Falcon Heavy

File photo of a previous Falcon Heavy launch. SpaceX was selected by NASA to launch the Europa Clipper mission atop a Falcon Heavy no earlier than October 2024. Credit: Michael John McCabe / SpaceFlight Insider

File photo of a previous Falcon Heavy launch. SpaceX was selected by NASA to launch the Europa Clipper mission atop a Falcon Heavy no earlier than October 2024. Credit: Michael John McCabe / SpaceFlight Insider

After years of debating on a launch vehicle Europa Clipper spacecraft, NASA has selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for the highly-anticipated mission to Jupiter’s icy moon.

Originally mandated by the United States Congress to fly atop NASA’s Space Launch System, earlier in 2021, NASA got the go-ahead to select a commercial launch vehicle if an SLS wouldn’t be available or if there was a hardware compatibility issue.

As it turns out, a spare SLS is unlikely to be available for non-Artemis missions. So in January, NASA issued a solicitation for options to launch the flagship mission.

On July 23, 2021, NASA announced it selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services using the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket for a cost of $178 million.

The $4.25 billion Europa Clipper mission is slated for launch in October 2024 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After it reaches space, it will take the rest of the 2020s to reach Jupiter, requiring gravity-assist maneuvers with Mars in February 2025 and Earth in December 2026 before arriving at the giant planet in April 2030.

When it arrives, this spacecraft will conduct an in-depth and detailed science mission of Jupiter’s moon Europa and investigate whether the icy moon has conditions suitable for life, according to NASA.

NASA's Europa Clipper mission in orbit above the Jovian moon. Credit: NASA / JPL

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission in orbit above the Jovian moon. Credit: NASA / JPL

Rather than orbit the moon itself, it’ll perform several flybys of the icy body as it circles Jupiter over the course of its four-year primary mission.

Built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the spacecraft is expected to have a launch mass of about 13,370 pounds (6,065 kilograms) with a payload mass of about 770 pounds (350 kilograms).

It is expected to be about 20 feet (6 meters) tall with a solar panel wingspan of 72 feet (22 meters).

The spacecraft, once finished, is expected to have a whole array of instruments to study the icy moon. It is believed that Europa has a liquid water ocean underneath is icy shell. This is likely due to the immense tidal flexing imparted by Jupiter onto Europa, heating up the small body’s interior and driving geological processes.

In addition to understanding and characterizing the nature of the subsurface ocean, the mission is also set to investigate the moon’s potential habitability and search for a potential landing site of a future Europa lander. One recent study showed that any attempt to find life may require drilling through the icy crust and into the ocean below.

Europa Clipper is also set to acquire super-high-resolution images of the moon’s surface, use its suite of science arrays and sensitive equipment to determine its surface composition, look for signs of recent or ongoing geological or geothermal activity, measure the thickness of the moon’s icy shell, search for subsurface lakes, and determine the depth and salinity of Europa’s ocean.

Video courtesy of NASA

The post Europa Clipper mission to launch atop a Falcon Heavy appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Congress Kicks Off the Trump/Jan. 6 Investigation

And Most Republicans Still Can’t Handle the Truth

The formal Jan. 6 investigation by Congress kicked off Tuesday and was, of course, made almost secondary by fighting over who’s doing the investigating.

The first hearing of the new, select, 13-member House committee heard from four police officers who made clear that:

  • The Jan. 6 attacks were by Donald Trump supporters, not random leftist posers
  • It was dangerous, not a gathering of “love,” as Trump himself has described
  • It was out of control for hours

We heard ad nauseum from Trump’s side that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a rotten person because the Democrat rejected obstructionist nominees to the committee who were out to make a mockery of its proceedings. She dared in their view to reach into Republican ranks to name two members who have publicly opposed Trump on the insurrection attempt and the continuing Big Steal campaign to declare the last presidential election a fraud.

Both Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois are paying a price among Republican colleagues for even agreeing to sit on a panel that thinks there is something more important here than party politics. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised retribution against “Pelosi Republicans,” even as Pelosi gave Cheney a prime opening speaking role which she used to lambast her GOP colleagues.

Republican mainstay thinking is that Pelosi had wrought a biased investigation panel of specific Democratic interest and majority to bear – even though they, as a group, resisted any attempt to create a more independent, bipartisan group of investigators.

Underscoring Purpose

Kinzinger’s public statements after his selection by Pelosi were in stark contrast with those of Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana or Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom he essentially replaced. “We are duty-bound to conduct a full investigation on the worst attack on the Capitol since 1814 and to make sure it can never happen again.”

Banks and Jordan, by contrast, had attacked the premise of even looking at Jan. 6 is a renewed attack Trump. They wanted rather to investigate street violence surrounding Black Lives Matter protests and why Pelosi herself had not secured the Capitol rather than look at how Team Trump had assembled and incited armed supporters and sent them to the Capitol – delaying any action to stop the rioting. Five people died in the attacks and scores were injured.

Pelosi tossed the pair and offered to keep three other nominees. Then Republicans chose not to nominate new investigators.

The purpose of the Jan. 6 committee, of course, is to examine how the riot came about, what happened and to recommend steps to stop a repeat.

Because Pelosi insisted on that purpose for inclusion on the committee, Republicans walked away – only now to bleat that the investigation is unfairly biased because Pelosi didn’t include those bent on changing the purpose.

But it is literally bipartisan, if you still count being non-Trump Republicans as party members.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democratic head of the committee, opened with frankness: “Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on Jan. 6th. . . And all of it: for a vile, vile lie. Let’s be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As chairman of this committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground.”

The hearing itself featured the emotional testimony of four law enforcement officers, particularly in annotating video clips.

  • U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell told how he was beaten, had his hand sliced open and was doused in chemical spray during the attack
  • Private First Class Harry Dunn said was called racist slurs and has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Metropolitan Police Department Officer Michael Fanone said he faced death threats with his own gun
  • Officer Daniel Hodges told of being crushed in a door by rioters and beaten.

This was no lovefest.

Rockiness Ahead

This effort is bound to prove controversial at every step. Every statement of “fact” about Jan. 6 will elicit countercharges of presumption, prejudice and denial by the non-participating Republicans. Expect constant attacks on the people asking the questions, on staffers, on versions of the story that don’t begin with allegations that voters were rightfully angry because millions of votes for Trump were magically turned into votes for Joe Biden.

Four Republican congress members — Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene – held a press conference to decry that Jan. 6 arrestees are political prisoners, for example.

Still, despite court proceedings for now 500 rioters, we continue to have big gaps in the public understanding of what actually occurred, where the money and planning came from, what was going on in the White House while insurrectionists ran riot, why federal response was delayed. We can expect a lot of howling over whether the committee tries to subpoena Trump or his top aides and Trump family members to answer questions about hat the expectations were in calling that midday Jan. 6 rally and sending them to the Capitol. The Justice Department decided yesterday that they could testify without the protection of executive privilege.

If Trump were as big a guy as he presents himself, you’d think he would want to face down this committee. But that has not been his pattern, and he certainly won’t willingly agree to be under oath. And what of the Republican members of Congress who supposedly conducted Capitol reconnaissance tours just before the attacks?

We should probably be content to see it all as political theater rather than fact-finding, but who knows? Maybe we’ll be surprised to learn that there are any number of individuals who participated or who are uncovering actual fact that can provide some answers.

As the hearing was happening, we were seeing evidence across town about why it is needed:

The Justice Department was filing a brief on arguments about whether then Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.—now Senator Brooks — was within his official duties as a congressman to promote the riot. He was among the speakers at the rally denouncing his colleagues for failing to overturn the election results.

As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted, “This sounds absurd, but in effect, Brooks is asking the Justice Department to certify that he was acting in the scope of his duties when he tried to overthrow the government. If he succeeds, he would be immune from suit.”

She said it is “akin to saying Gen. Robert E. Lee was acting within the scope of his duties in the U.S. Army when he attacked Union troops. Sedition is not within the scope of any official’s duties.”

Meanwhile, Trump himself broadly hints at trying again. He claims the large sums of money he is raising through front-man groups are for recounts and audits. He’s apparently using the money for business and legal bills.

So much for bipartisan wondering about the future of democracy.


The post Congress Kicks Off the Trump/Jan. 6 Investigation appeared first on

Redistribution through markets, in Econometrica, by Dworczak, Kominers, and Akbarpour

 Market designs involving taxes, or rationing, in the latest Econometrica, Vol. 89, No. 4 (July, 2021), 1665–1698:


Abstract: "Policymakers frequently use price regulations as a response to inequality in the markets they control. In this paper, we examine the optimal structure of such policies from the perspective of mechanism design. We study a buyer-seller market in which agents have private information about both their valuations for an indivisible object and their marginal utilities for money. The planner seeks a mechanism that maximizes agents’ total utilities, subject to incentive and market-clearing constraints. We uncover the constrained Pareto frontier by identifying the optimal trade-off between allocative efficiency and redistribution. We find that competitive-equilibrium allocation is not always optimal. Instead, when there is inequality across sides of the market, the optimal design uses a tax-like mechanism, introducing a wedge between the buyer and seller prices, and redistributing the resulting surplus to the poorer side of the market via lump-sum payments. When there is significant same-side inequality that can be uncovered by market behavior, it may be optimal to impose price controls even though doing so induces rationing."


" the classic idea that competitive-equilibrium pricing maximizes welfare relies on an implicit assumption that the designer places the same welfare weight on all agents in the market. Thus, the standard economic intuitions in support of competitive equilibrium pricing become unreliable as the dispersion of wealth in a society expands."

Boeing’s Starliner set for 2nd unpiloted orbital test

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This vehicle, Spacecraft 2, will fly the OFT-2 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is secured atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This vehicle, Spacecraft 2, will fly the OFT-2 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing

After more than a year and a half of additional testing, Boeing is finally set to fly the second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test, OFT-2, of the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is the second of two spacecraft NASA selected to help develop as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The other is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which has successfully flown people to the International Space Station three times.

A basic overview of the Starliner spacecraft. Credit: Derek Richardson / Spaceflight Insider / Orbital Velocity

A basic overview of the Starliner spacecraft. Credit: Derek Richardson / Spaceflight Insider / Orbital Velocity

The OFT-2 mission is essentially a redo of the December 2019 flight, which saw several programming bugs nearly cause the loss of Starliner. The spacecraft was not able to reach the International Space Station for docking and was returned to Earth two days after launch.

Just like the first uncrewed Starliner mission, OFT-2 is slated to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in an “N22” configuration. Meaning it has no payload fairing, two solid rocket motors and a dual-engine Centaur upper stage.

Liftoff is expected at 2:53 p.m. EDT (18:53 UTC) July 30, 2021, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The 45th Weather Squadron is predicting a 40% chance of favorable weather during the launch attempt with the primary concerns being the violation of the cumulus cloud rule, surface electric rule and lightning rule.

Should OFT-2 not launch on July 30, the next available opportunity is expected to be Aug. 3.

On July 17, 2021, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft rolled out of the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility processing facility at NASA Kennedy Space Center and traveled to United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 where the capsule was joined to the Atlas 5 rocket in preparation of the launch.

This redo comes after coding errors prevented the capsule from reaching the International Space Station during the original OFT mission, which launched Dec. 20, 2019.

File photo of the OFT mission on the launch pad in December 2019. The launch vehicle adapter that connects the spacecraft to the Atlas V N422 rocket can be seen in this image. Credit: Boeing

File photo of the OFT mission on the launch pad in December 2019. The launch vehicle adapter that connects the spacecraft to the Atlas V N422 rocket can be seen in this image. Credit: Boeing

Shortly after separating from the Centaur upper stage, Starliner struggled to place itself into a stable orbit, requiring quick intervention from ground-based mission controllers.

It would later be found that an internal mission timer anomaly caused the spacecraft to perform a sequence of maneuvers at the incorrect time and miss its orbital insertion burn, according to Boeing.

The incorrect orbit meant OFT Starliner wouldn’t be able to get to the ISS. Two days after lift off, the capsule, which would be named Calypso, made a ground-based landing at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico.

Boeing stresses, however, that even though the spacecraft did not go to the ISS to demonstrate rendezvous and docking objectives, Starliner performed nominally or better-than-nominal performance during launch, orbital flight, reentry and landing operations.

After an independent review team completed its analysis of the Starliner OFT mission, calling it a “high visibility close call,” it was decided that Boeing would need to complete some 60 corrective actions in the software of the spacecraft.

It was also found that there was a second point in the mission that Starliner could have been lost. This software error was caught and fixed a few hours before the vehicle’s return to Earth, but could have resulted in the service module’s thrusters firing in the wrong manner after separation.

“Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer.” Boeing said after the anomaly occurred in 2019.

A rendering of the Starliner spacecraft approaching the International Space Station for docking. Credit: NASA

A rendering of the Starliner spacecraft approaching the International Space Station for docking. Credit: NASA

This out-of-pocket cost to the company is estimated to be roughly $410 million.

Among the objectives for this mission, according to NASA, is to verify the in-orbit operation of the avionics, docking system, communications and telemetry systems, life support systems, solar arrays and power systems as well as the propulsion systems.

In addition to the end-to-end test, OFT-2 is bringing some 400 pounds (180 kilograms) of crew supplies and cargo to the seven-person Expedition 65 crew aboard the ISS. It is also expected to return more than 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of cargo.

Assuming an on-time launch on July 30, Starliner should reach the ISS the next day, docking at about 3:06 p.m. EDT (19:06 UTC) July 31. It is expected to remain docked for about five to 10 days before undocking and returning to Earth to land in the western United States, likely at White Sands Space Harbor.

The OFT-2 mission to the International Space Station, like the original flight, will be an end-to-end test of the capsule’s human transportation capabilities. It is the last step needed before allowing Boeing to fly the Crew Flight Test, which could come as early as late 2021 or early 2022.

After the Crew Flight Test, regular crew rotation missions using Starliner can begin.

Video courtesy of NASA

The post Boeing’s Starliner set for 2nd unpiloted orbital test appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications increased 5.7 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending July 23, 2021.

... The Refinance Index increased 9 percent from the previous week and was 10 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 18 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

“The 10-year Treasury yield fell last week, as investors grew concerned about increasing COVID-19 case counts and the downside risks to the current economic recovery. Refinance applications jumped, as the 30-year fixed mortgage rate declined to its lowest level since February 2021, and the 15-year rate fell to another record low dating back to 1990,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinances for conventional loans increased over 11%. With over 95% of refinance applications for fixed rate mortgages, borrowers are looking to secure a lower rate for the life of their loan.”

Added Kan, “The purchase index decreased for the second week in a row to its lowest level since May 2020, and has now declined on an annual basis for the past three months. Potential buyers continue to be put off by extremely high home prices and increased competition. The FHFA reported yesterday that May home prices were 18% higher than a year ago, continuing a seven-month trend of unprecedented home-price growth.”
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $548,250) decreased to 3.11 percent from 3.13 percent, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

With low rates, the index remains elevated, and increased this week as rates declined.

The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index

Mortgage Purchase IndexAccording to the MBA, purchase activity is down 18% year-over-year unadjusted.

Note: The year ago comparisons for the unadjusted purchase index are now difficult since purchase activity picked up in late May 2020.

Note: Red is a four-week average (blue is weekly).

Donald Trump and partisan fertility

You people are weird:

Changes in political leadership drive large changes in economic optimism. We exploit the surprise 2016 election of Trump to identify the effects of a shift in political power on one of the most consequential household decisions: whether to have a child. Republican-leaning counties experience a sharp and persistent increase in fertility relative to Democratic counties: a 1.1 to 2.6 percentage point difference in annual births, depending on the intensity of partisanship. Hispanics, a group targeted by Trump, see fertility fall relative to non-Hispanics, especially compared to rural or evangelical whites. Further, following Trump pre-election campaign visits, relative Hispanic fertility declines.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Gordon Dahl, Runjing Lu, and William Mullins.  An optimism effect perhaps?  Or is it just about the sex?

The post Donald Trump and partisan fertility appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



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Isar Aerospace raises $75 million

Isar Aerospace, a German small launch vehicle company, has raised an additional $75 million that will allow the company to expand its manufacturing and launch capabilities.


Sports are good for student athletes

The recent Supreme Court decision NCAA vs Alston (June 2021) has heightened interest in the benefits and costs of participation in sports for student athletes. Anecdotes about the exploitation of student athletes were cited in the opinion. This paper uses panel data for two different cohorts that follow students from high school through college and into their post-school pursuits to examine the generality of these anecdotes. On average, student athletes’ benefit—often substantially so—in terms of graduation, post-collegiate employment, and earnings. Benefits in terms of social mobility for disadvantaged and minority students are substantial, contrary to the anecdotes in play in the media and in the courts.

Here is more from James J. Heckman and Colleen P. Loughlin.  Maybe ten year olds are wasting too much time trying to be the next Lebron James rather than doing their homework, but at higher levels this does not seem to be the case.

The post Sports are good for student athletes appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



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Movies Watched, June 2021

Former location of Pathé Cinema studios in the 18th Arrondissement in Paris Short roundup here due to the fact that I’ve been traveling for the first time since the pandemic began. We’ve…

Apple Reports Record Third Quarter Results

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2021 third quarter ended June 26, 2021. The Company posted a June quarter record revenue of $81.4 billion, up 36 percent year over year, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $1.30.

Jason Snell, as usual, has charts. Long story short: very strong quarter across the entire company.


COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate

Biden will announce vaccination requirement across federal government on Thursday, CNN

"President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday a requirement that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated against Covid-19, or be required to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. The announcement will come in remarks where Biden is also expected to lay out a series of new steps, including incentives, in an attempt to spur new vaccinations as the Delta variant spreads rapidly throughout the country. It will also follow the decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to require its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated over the course of the next two months. Biden alluded to the looming announcement on Tuesday."

Biden plans to require federal workers to be vaccinated or undergo repeated tests, Washington Post

"We fully endorse a vaccine mandate," said Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents some 25,000 federal workers at agencies such as NASA and the Defense Department. "We're in the middle of a pandemic, over 600,000 people are dead, and we don't want any more of our members dying."

- NASA Coronavirus Response Information
- Earlier posts

As Promised, Safari for iPadOS 15 Beta 4 Has a Standalone Tab Bar, Like the Mac Version

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Prior to this beta, Safari on iPad was similar to Safari on iOS with no dedicated tab bar, but after the update, Apple has added a dedicated tab bar that’s activated by default, which is the same layout that’s now used in macOS Monterey.

While the separate tab bar is enabled automatically when updating, in the Safari section of Settings, there is an option to toggle on the original compact tab bar that merged everything together.

This is a significant improvement for Safari on iPad, and showing the tab bar is the correct default. If you love the new unified design, it’s still there. But my big problem with this tab bar — both on Mac and now iPad — is that it’s very hard to see which tab is the current (selected) tab. The visual indication for “selected” is just a very slightly different background tint — whether you’ve got “Show color in tab bar” enabled or not. You can even scroll the current tab out of view. Why is that possible? I don’t see how this is better than the Safari 14 tab bar in any way, and I see a lot of ways that it’s worse.


Safari’s Crowded Toolbar in iOS 15 Beta 4

Federico Viticci, on Twitter:

There’s a total of six different touch targets in the iOS 15 beta 4 tab bar in Safari.

These exclude the ability to long-press the tab bar, swipe across it to change tabs, and swipe it up to open the Tabs view.

I’m … starting to think a single, small toolbar just won’t do. 😬

I responded that there are actually nine tap targets in the new toolbar in beta 4 — Viticci didn’t count the left / right edges that can be tapped like buttons to switch to the previous / next tabs. That’s nine tappable buttons (or effective buttons) on a single phone-width toolbar. (My tweet says eight, but there are two separate tappable areas to bring up the URL address bar, one on each side of the minuscule reload button.)

Apple’s own example in the HIG of a toolbar that’s too crowded has … nine items.

Curtis Herbert:

I really do appreciate the experimentation, but the new Safari feels like something I’d take to the UI Design Labs at WWDC and they’d push me to use native controls that users expect and already know, have better tap targets, and stop cramming too many things in a small space.


Safari UI Changes in iOS 15 Beta 4

On iPhone:

  • The Share button is back in the toolbar, replacing the “···” don’t-call-it-a-hamburger-button. But there’s an awful lot of non-sharing stuff crammed into the Share menu — the ᴀA menu items from the current version of Safari (text size, Reader mode, disabling content blockers temporarily, etc.) are all in “Share” now. It’s better than the “···” menu in betas 1–3, but really, this is more like changing the “···” glyph to the Share glyph. It’s still two menus’ worth of features stuffed into one monolithic menu.

  • The Reload button is back. But it’s bizarrely tiny — way smaller than the minimum recommended tap target size of 44 x 44 points. And it shares space with the newly restored Reader mode button. When you load a page, if Reader mode is available, the Reader mode button shows briefly (maybe for 1–2 seconds?) along with the text “Reader Available” under the website’s domain name. But then the “Reader Available” label fades out and the Reader mode button turns into the Reload button. To enable Reader mode at this point, you either need to long-press the URL domain name to bring up a shortcut menu, or tap the — you guessed it — Share button, which has its own “Reader” item near the top.

  • Bookmarks are supposed to be easier to access, but I think most users accustomed to previous versions of Mobile Safari — which heretofore has always had a bookmarks button right in the main toolbar — are going to struggle to find them.

Apple is clearly trying to address the numerous complaints about the Safari 15 design for iPhone, but beta 4 feels like they’ve decided that the solution to finding themselves in a hole is to dig faster.


WSJ Investigation Into How TikTok’s Algorithm Figures Out Your Interests

Fascinating video from The Wall Street Journal:

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that TikTok only needs one important piece of information to figure out what you want: the amount of time you linger over a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or rewatch, the app is tracking you.

Not surprising it works this way, but creepy nonetheless. Update: I’ve long suspected that Instagram does something similar, with regard to its often uncanny “Hey, I was just looking at pictures of those…” ads.


Wednesday: FOMC Announcement

On the FOMC meeting: FOMC Preview: Probably Too Soon for Hints on Tapering

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

• At 2:00 PM, FOMC Meeting Announcement. No change to policy is expected at this meeting.

• At 2:30 PM, Fed Chair Jerome Powell holds a press briefing following the FOMC announcement.

Universal Seat Belt

The plug fits really snugly, so it should be safe in a crash.

Ring Galaxy AM 0644 741

The rim of the large blue galaxy at the right The rim of the large blue galaxy at the right

An Osher Map Library Exhibition Inspired by Cancelled Travel in the COVID Era

C. F. Weiland, Cholera-karte oder Übersicht der progressiven verbreitung der Cholera seit ihrer Erscheinung im Jahr 1817 über Asien, Europa und Africa, 1832. Map, 62 × 73 cm. Osher Map Library Sheet Map Collection.

The latest exhibition at the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education is deliberately on the nose: Where Will We Go from Here? Travel in the Age of COVID-19 is the Osher’s first crowdsourced exhibition, based in part on more than 140 responses to an online survey about cancelled travel plans and the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, beginning with an introduction to the mapping of pandemics and diseases, and continuing into four themes that emerged from the types of cancelled or postponed trips our respondents wrote about most frequently: Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Family Milestones; Weddings; Work-Related Travel; and Lost Study-Abroad Experiences. The curators selected stories from the survey and matched personal narratives and reflections about trips not taken to historic maps from our collections. We hope that as you walk through the gallery you will take time to read these personal narratives, and that they provide you with an opportunity to engage in quiet reflection about the challenges you and your loved ones have faced this year, and that you will join us in pondering the question: “Where will we go from here?”

At the end of our questionnaire, we asked participants: “Beyond your canceled travel plans, is there anything else you would like to tell us about how the pandemic has impacted your living and working situations?” We were particularly moved by the honest and thoughtful responses to this question; all responses can be read in a scrolling feed on the monitor at the end of the exhibit.

The physical exhibition opened on 13 May and is open to visitors until 15 October 2021. Free admission with timed tickets; no more than six visitors are allowed in the gallery at any one time. The online exhibition starts here; the sections mixing personal narratives and historical maps can be quite poignant.

“All eyes on weather” for Friday test launch of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is stacked on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral. Credit: Boeing/Damon Tucci

The threat of lightning could thwart plans to launch an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Friday with a Boeing commercial crew capsule on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station, according to the forecasters on the Space Coast.

There is a 60% chance that weather could prevent liftoff at 2:53 p.m. EDT (1853 GMT) Friday, when the Atlas 5 has an instantaneous opportunity to launch on a trajectory to allow the Starliner spacecraft to intercept the space station Saturday.

If launch occurs on time, the Starliner spacecraft is set to dock with the station at 3:06 p.m. EDT (1906 GMT) Saturday. The capsule is scheduled to undock and return to Earth for a parachute-assisted landing in New Mexico on Aug. 5.

But that assumes weather cooperates for Friday’s launch attempt.

“It kind of feels like all eyes are on weather at this point,” said Will Ulrich, launch weather officer at the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron. “Anytime me and my colleagues see a launch being put on the schedule or on the calendar during the summer months from Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, we always have to be prepared for a challenge. And this particular launch is no different, especially given the time of the instantaneous launch window just before 3 p.m.”

The sea breeze pattern over Central Florida this week favors afternoon thunderstorms on the eastern half of the peninsula, putting Cape Canaveral at risk of lightning each day.

“We’re a little bit pessimistic going into week’s end, but we do have to be realistic with that,” Ulrich said Tuesday.

The primary weather concerns are with cumulus clouds, electric fields at the surface, and with lightning in the area, according to the forecast team.

Those rules are “designed to protect from both natural and rocket-triggered lightning,” Ulrich said. “In addition, we’ll be monitoring winds and other user constraints. But overall, outside of any thunderstorms, we are expecting favorable winds and temperatures temperatures in the middle 80s (Fahrenheit), not atypical for this time of year, and southerly winds up to about 15 miles per hour.

“With that said, we have to be realistic going into late week, and we can hope that we’ll find a gap in the shower and thunderstorm activity that we’re anticipating,” Ulrich said.

The Starliner team will also assess wind and sea conditions along the Atlas 5’s flight corridor northeast from Cape Canaveral. The capsule could splash down in the Atlantic Ocean along the offshore flight path if an emergency triggers a launch abort, in which the Starliner’s abort engines would propel the ship away from the Atlas 5 rocket.

The capsule’s launch abort system will be active for the first time on the OFT-2 mission. It operated in a “shadow” mode on the OFT-1 launch in 2019, collecting data for analysis by engineers after the flight.

For a Starliner mission with astronauts on-board, the abort weather constraints would factor in to the decision on whether to proceed for a launch. On this unpiloted test flight, teams will monitor the conditions but would not hold the launch if they were out of limits.

If the OFT-2 mission doesn’t take off Friday, the next opportunity to launch would be Tuesday, Aug. 3, at 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT). Another launch opportunity is available at 12:57 p.m. EDT (1657 GMT) on Aug. 4.

The launch times are determined by when Earth’s rotation brings the launch pad at Cape Canaveral under the space station’s flight path.

NASA says a “classified” operation on the Space Force’s Eastern Range will tie up ground assets Saturday, preventing the OFT-2 mission from launching that day. The position of the space station in its orbit precludes launch opportunities on Sunday and Monday.

The Atlas 5 rocket will deploy the Starliner spacecraft about 15 minutes after launch, then the Boeing crew capsule will use its on-board maneuvering thrusters to climb into a stable orbit and begin the pursuit of the space station. The demonstration flight, called Orbital Flight Test-2, is a redo of a Boeing test mission in December 2019 plagued by software problems.

The Starliner suffered from a mission timer error, causing it to burn too much fuel after arriving in space. The excess fuel consumption left too little propellant to rendezvous and dock with the space station, and the capsule landed in New Mexico two days after launch.

Boeing engineers, working with NASA, rewrote portions of the Starliner software code and performed additional simulations to ensure the same problems don’t recur on the OFT-2 mission, which managers added to the program after the early end to the OFT-1 mission.

If all goes well, NASA could clear Boeing to launch astronauts on the next Starliner mission, giving the U.S. space agency two independent vehicles capable of ferrying crews to and from the space station. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, also developed under contract with NASA, successfully flew astronauts for the first time last year.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Weather key issue for Starliner launch


NASA and Boeing say a second test flight of the company’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle remains on track for launch July 30, with weather the biggest concern.


Where Things Stand: McCarthy Hides From Jan. 6 Testimony

The House minority leader says he didn’t even watch the hearing he was trying to distract you from.

Kevin McCarthy had plenty of time to hold a little press conference before the start of the Jan. 6 select committee’s hearing on Tuesday morning, once again attempting to shift the blame for the insurrection from Trump — who he initially, at least partially, blamed for inciting it! — to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). But he was impossibly booked the rest of the day.

Back-to-back meetings, he claimed. Much work, no time.

Missing the moving, and at times emotional, testimony from law enforcement officers who were brutally honest about how traumatized they still are by the events that transpired on Jan. 6 is another way for McCarthy, and the vast majority of the Republican Party, to try to dismiss the committee. He’s been seeking to escape the severity of the attack ever since he got over the initial shock of what happened in front of him that day, endangering his life and that of his colleagues.

Meeting with Trump in Mar-a-Lago to make amends after that expletive-laced phone call with the former president during the riot was the start. Every move he’s made since has been aimed at taking the wind out of Democrats’, and some Republicans’, very real concerns about what led up to and unfolded during the attempted coup. The back-stabbing of a member of his caucus over the bipartisan, 9/11-style commission. The appointment of the least serious lawmakers in the land to the select committee. The feigned outrage over Pelosi’s veto. Today’s pre-hearing press conference.

McCarthy has what appears to be a singular goal: downplay the seriousness of an attempted coup incited by the former president so that former president will help him seize the House’s top gig after taking back the majority in 2022.

The raw emotion on display today was just another distraction.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s What You Should Read This Evening:

ICYMI: Does The Jan. 6 Committee Have What It Takes To Investigate The Big Lie?

Catch up on our live coverage of the Jan. 6 committee hearing today: House Special Committee Holds First Jan. 6 Hearing

From TPM Cafe, our home for opinion and analysis: Bipartisanship Needs to Die So Our Country Can Thrive

Latest in audit mania: Arizona GOP Senate’s Liaison To ‘Audit’ Unloads About Longstanding Problems

Gohmert, Gaetz, Greene Rushed Out Of Their Jan 6 Side Show By Protesters

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Is Vaxxed America Running Out Of Patience? — Josh Marshall

What We Are Reading

Opinion: We have questions about Jan. 6. The new House committee can answer them. — Washington Post Editorial Board

Two Quick Links for Tuesday Afternoon

"Almost everybody still yells at their kids sometimes, even the parents who know it doesn't work. Yelling may be the most widespread parental stupidity around today." []

An entertaining thread arguing that most pickup trucks in the US are purchased as status symbols and aren't practical. "Owning a truck the size of a WWII Sherman tank serves no practical purpose." []


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

Anuvu orders first satellites for small GEO mobility constellation

Anuvu constellation

Anuvu has ordered the first two of an eight-strong constellation of small geostationary orbit satellites as demand returns for Wi-Fi on aircraft, boats and remote locations.


Brief Grief

Nick Hobbs and Andrea Huey:

We’re excited to announce that Brief is joining Twitter! Our team has always been inspired by Twitter’s mission to improve public conversation, and we can’t wait to work with the kind, brilliant folks we’ve met there. Together, we’ll do great things. Sadly, this transition also means that our work at Brief is coming to an end. The newsroom will publish our final news bulletins on July 31. […]

We founded this company to foster healthy discourse by rethinking the way we read the news. The only way we can tackle the world’s complex challenges is by doing it together. In this next chapter, we’ll continue our efforts to push the conversation forward, and we hope that everyone who believed in us will do the same.


Congrats to Hobbs and Huey (presuming this is a good outcome for them), but man, this is the second iOS app from my first home screen that Twitter has acquired and killed in the last few months. (The other was Nuzzel, which shut down in May, and which I continue to miss every day.)

Brief is an extraordinary app. It cost $5-6/month (it varied over the time I was using it), and you got about 5 major news stories a day. Each story was short — a neat summary with links to sources for more information if you wanted more. That’s it. It was like reading the front page of a good newspaper. Brief didn’t tell you everything — it told you the most important news, and that’s it. No needless notifications, and most importantly, no infinite scroll. Brief wasn’t designed or edited to keep you in Brief for as long as it could. Quite the opposite: Brief was designed and edited to get you in, get you up to date on major national and world news, and get you out. Brief is the only news app I’m aware of that gave you a sense of completeness — the point was to catch up, quickly, and be done. No ads. Just a fair subscription price (that I would have happily paid much more for.) For god’s sake Brief defaulted to not sending you any notifications at all. No notifications. They just assumed you’d open Brief when you wanted to see if there was fresh news. When’s the last time you saw a news app that defaulted to not trying to send you notifications, let alone not bombarding you with them?

Even the company’s name — Broadsheet — harkened back to the days of print newspapers and their finiteness. When you finish reading Section A of The New York Times, you’re done. You can stop, without worrying that you’re missing anything. Brief is like that, except just 5 or so stories per day.

Also, Brief is a beautiful app, designed specifically for iOS. It has a better and more iOS-like design and interaction model than Apple’s own News app. I don’t say this lightly, but its design was nearly perfect. I don’t know what Twitter plans to do with it, but given that Brief was pretty much the opposite of Twitter, experience-wise, I’m deeply pessimistic. Twitter’s apps have non-native designs and all try to keep you “engaged” for as long as possible.

I want more apps with a finite scroll, which respect, rather than seek to consume, my time and attention.


Links 7/27/21

Links for you. Science:

How Many Numbers Exist? Infinity Proof Moves Math Closer to an Answer.
Spatial, Ecologic, and Clinical Epidemiology of Community-Onset, Ceftriaxone-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, Cook County, Illinois, USA
New Data Leads To Rethinking (Once More) Where The Pandemic Actually Began
Self-infection with speech aerosol may contribute to COVID-19 severity
Cats Are Better Than Dogs (at Catching the Coronavirus)


Independence Day (excellent)
My Community Refuses to Get Vaccinated. Now Delta Is Here.
The New Brandeis Movement Has Its Moment: Biden’s DOJ moves toward anti-monopoly enforcement and away from Merrick Garland.
Suddenly, Conservatives Care About Vaccines. A number of leaders on the right suddenly urged their audiences to get vaccinated in the past day. Why now?
Class War Comix
It’s Time to Require COVID Vaccination in the Workplace
My completely uncontroversial take on what to call your professor
America’s least essential pundit hopes Jim Jordan will restore bipartisan comity in America
Can Employers Require Employees to Get Vaccinated? Plus, Answers to Other Legal Questions as We Return to the Office
The Billionaires Did It. They Made Spaceflight Uncool.
Pelosi exploded the myth of bipartisanship
Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Tinley Park Hospital (1958) Tinley Park, IL
Vaccine doubters’ strange fixation with Israel
4 Reasons I’m Wearing a Mask Again. Our vaccines are extraordinary, but right now they need all the help they can get.
D.C. Regulated Third-Party Delivery Apps During the Pandemic. What Happens Now?
When Facts Are Controversial: A Modern Story
Calls to Amend, Delay Non-Compete Ban Grow
Mask requirements can’t exempt the vaccinated, because the unvaccinated will simply cheat
Give Greece Back the Olympics
Biden’s vaccine misinformation road not taken
In the shadow of Nationals Park, longtime residents face threats beyond gunfire

Insurrectionists as ‘Political Prisoners’

The main focus of our write-up was the fact that this event was disrupted by protesters. But I wanted to zoom in on what the event was about. It was a bit of counter-programming to today’s hearings, a House GOP press conference discussing the treatment of indicted insurrectionists as “political prisoners.”

The members at the event were among the Trumpiest, most extremist members of the House GOP caucus: Greene, Gaetz, Gohmert, Gosar, Good and Biggs. So it’s those folks. But the pattern of in the current GOP is that things start with Trump and those folks and then it slowly becomes party orthodoxy or at least – like the Big Lie – something the majority of the party can’t dispute. Donald Trump has already made clear that this is his position – that they are political prisoners and they should all be released immediately (or charged dropped) – and that he plans to make this a center piece of the 2022 campaign. We should expect this claim to grow among Republicans. This is just a step on that path.

So yeah, crazy stuff. But it won’t stay with those folks. This is part of a process that will grow over the next year building to the 2022 election.

The Problem of Corporate Solutions to Public Needs

For Vox, Emily Stewart writes about the shortcomings of the, er, system we’ve developed here in America of outsourcing public needs to private industry: Corporations aren’t going to save America.

Across various segments of American life, the private sector has begun to take on tasks big and small that one might think should be tackled by the public sector. Domino’s filled in potholes. Dawn’s dish soap saved ducks. American Express pitched in on historic preservation. Walmart started selling low-priced insulin. A slew of companies help workers pay for school. Much of America’s health care system is still handled through private insurers and your job. As people lose faith in government to act on sweeping issues such as climate change and guns, they’re increasingly looking to corporate America and asking whether there’s something they can do about it. If Congress won’t tackle gun violence, maybe Dick’s Sporting Goods can try.

It’s not a bad thing for brands and companies to try to make the world better. Starting a business often involves identifying a problem to solve, and it’s much better for companies to help than to do harm. Corporate social responsibility is fine. There are, however, limits.

“Of course we want businesses to be responsible,” said Suzanne Kahn, managing director of research and policy at the Roosevelt Institute. But she emphasized that this does not constitute a plan for how to organize society. “Private companies don’t, can’t, or won’t plan with the same values that we demand and expect the government to.”

(via the morning news)

Tags: business   Emily Stewart   USA

MacOS 12 Monterey Beta 4 Now Supports Live Text on Intel Macs

When announced at WWDC last month, Live Text required Apple silicon on MacOS, because the implementation required the Neural Engine. Good news for everyone with an Intel Mac that Live Text is now slated to work on all Macs supported by MacOS 12.


A Look at Apple Maps in iOS 15

MacRumors takes a look at the changes to Apple Maps in iOS 15. “Apple has made so many improvements to the Maps app in iOS 15 that it’s almost an entirely different experience. There are better driving directions, improved transit directions, and more immersive AR-based walking directions.” That’s maybe a bit over the top, in the fashion of the Apple-focused tech press, but at any rate there are a bunch of screenshots.

Previously: Apple Maps Updates Announced at WWDC.

What should I ask Amia Srinivasan?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, her forthcoming book The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century is already making a big splash.  Here is an excerpt from her Wikipedia page:

Amia Srinivasan (born 1984) is an American philosopher, specialising in political philosophy, epistemology and metaphilosophy. Since January 2020, she has been Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Oxford.

Srinivasan was born…in Bahrain to Indian parents and later lived in New York. She studied for an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Yale University. This was followed by postgraduate Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) and Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) degrees as a Rhodes Scholar at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford. She completed her DPhil in 2014 with a thesis titled The Fragile Estate: Essays on Luminosity, Normativity and Metaphilosophy.

…She is an associate editor of the philosophy journal Mind and a contributing editor of the London Review of Books.

You can access some of her works here.  So what should I ask?

The post What should I ask Amia Srinivasan? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



Related Stories


July 27th COVID-19, New Cases, Hospitalizations, Vaccinations

The 7-day average cases is the highest since April 23rd.

The 7-day average hospitalizations is the highest since May 15th.

This data is from the CDC.

According to the CDC, on Vaccinations.

Total doses administered: 342,607,540, as of a week ago 338,491,374. Average doses last week: 0.59 million per day.

COVID Metrics
Percent over 18,
One Dose
Fully Vaccinated✅
New Cases per Day3🚩56,81653,86536,105≤5,0002
Deaths per Day3🚩281267215≤502
1 America's Short Term Goals,
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37 day average for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7 day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met (even if late).

KUDOS to the residents of the 20 states and D.C. that have achieved the 70% goal (percent over 18 with at least one dose): Vermont, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Connecticut are at 80%+, and Maine, New Mexico, New Jersey,  Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado and D.C. are all over 70%.

Next up are Florida at 67.8%, Utah at 67.3%, Wisconsin at 66.9%, South Dakota at 65.9%, Kansas at 65.7%, Iowa at 65.3%, Nevada at 64.9% and Arizona at 64.1%.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) and 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported.

This data is from the CDC.

SpaceX is about to begin launching the next series of Starlink satellites

A Starlink ground terminal. Credit: SpaceX

After going through the month of July with no launches, SpaceX is scheduled to resume missions in August with Falcon 9 rocket flights from California and Florida to begin deploying Starlink internet satellites into new orbits.

SpaceX is gearing up for at least two Starlink launches next month, beginning with a Falcon 9 mission departing from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, no earlier than Aug. 10, multiple sources said. Another Falcon 9 launch is scheduled to carry a batch of Starlink satellites into orbit in mid-August.

They will be the first SpaceX launches since June 30, an unusually long gap in the company’s jam-packed launch schedule. SpaceX launched 20 Falcon 9 missions in the first half of the year, mostly for the company’s own Starlink program.

The most recent Falcon 9 mission to carry a full load of Starlink satellites occurred May 26.

Since then, SpaceX has activated hundreds of internet spacecraft delivered to orbit on previous Falcon 9 missions, raising the number of operational Starlink craft from roughly 950 satellites to more than 1,300, according to an analysis by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a widely-respected tracker of spaceflight activity.

More than 200 additional Starlink satellites are drifting into their operational positions in orbit 341 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of 53 degrees to the equator.

SpaceX has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually launch and operate up to 12,000 internet relay satellites. The early phases of SpaceX’s Starlink network involves the launch of 4,408 satellites into five orbital shells, or layers, in low Earth orbit.

SpaceX has launched 1,740 Starlink satellites to date, including prototypes already retired, more than all other commercial satellite fleets combined. Most of the satellites have launched into a 53-degree inclination orbit, the first of five orbital “shells” the company plans to complete full deployment of the Starlink network.

With that shell on the verge of having more than 1,500 active satellites, SpaceX is transitioning to a new phase of the Starlink program.

The completion of the first Starlink “shell” will enable the network to provide high-speed, low-latency internet services to lower latitudes, such as the southern United States. The partial deployment of satellites into the first orbital shell initially provided service over northern regions of the United States, Canada, and Europe, as well as higher-latitude regions in the southern hemisphere.

SpaceX, founded and led by billionaire Elon Musk, is currently providing interim internet services through the Starlink satellites to consumers who have signed up for a beta testing program in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand, France, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

SpaceX’s other Starlink layers will include 1,584 satellites at 335 miles (540 kilometers) and an inclination of 53.2 degrees, 720 satellites at 354 miles (570 kilometers) and an inclination of 70 degrees, and 520 satellites spread into two shells at 348 miles (560 kilometers) and an inclination of 97.6 degrees.

The Starlink mission set for liftoff from Vandenberg next month, designated “Starlink 2-1,” will begin populating a new orbital shell.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Nov. 21, 2020, with the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich oceanography satellite. Credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX application with the FCC associated with launch vehicle telemetry links for the Starlink launch from Vandenberg suggests the company’s booster landing platform, or drone ship, will be positioned in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. The drone ship position indicates the launch will target an orbit with an inclination of 70 degrees.

A similar FCC application for a Starlink launch next month from Cape Canaveral shows a SpaceX drone ship will be parked in the Atlantic Ocean in line with a rocket trajectory heading for an inclination of 53.2 degrees.

SpaceX recently moved one of its drone ships, named “Of Course I Still Love You,” from Florida to California to prep for the upcoming Starlink missions from Vandenberg. Weeks later, a new drone ship named “A Shortfall of Gravitas” arrived at Port Canaveral to be stationed there alongside the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions.”

More Starlink missions will follow the launches in mid-August. SpaceX is expected to launch an average of one Starlink mission per month from Vandenberg over the next year, and there will be a regular cadence of Starlink flights from Cape Canaveral, too.

SpaceX has not disclosed what, if any, design changes it plans to introduce on the next series of Starlink satellites, which the company builds on an assembly line at a development facility in Redmond, Washington. A fully loaded Falcon 9 rocket could carry 60 of the quarter-ton first generation of Starlink satellites into orbit on each mission, but it’s not clear whether that number could change on future flights.

In January, Musk said SpaceX would introduce laser intersatellite links to all Starlink spacecraft beginning in 2022. Starlink satellites heading into polar orbit this year would have the upgrade, he tweeted.

SpaceX launched 10 Starlink satellites into a 97.6-degree polar orbit on a rideshare mission in January. Another three Starlink payloads launched into a similar orbit last month on a subsequent rideshare flight.

Those satellites featured laser intersatellite links, which allow spacecraft to pass data and internet traffic between each other without routing it through a ground station. The upgrade will allow SpaceX to provide internet connectivity near the poles and in other regions without ground stations.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Nissan Taps Video Game Company for New In-Car Warning Sounds

Car warning sounds urging drivers to buckle up or turn off the headlights can be quite unpleasant to listen to. So Nissan teamed up with sound designers at Bandai Namco, the gaming company known for Pac-Man and Tekken, to replace those warning noises with something more musical.

I had a car once that beeped really sharply and loudly whenever the temperature dropped to 37°F as a warning for potential slippery roads and it scared the shit out of me every time. As someone who is sensitive to sound, I applaud efforts like these to make non-emergency sounds less jarring. (via rob walker (again))

Tags: audio   Bandai Namco   cars   Nissan   video

House Prices and Inventory

Watching existing home "for sale" inventory is very helpful. As an example, the increase in inventory in late 2005 helped me call the top for housing.

And the decrease in inventory eventually helped me correctly call the bottom for house prices in early 2012, see: The Housing Bottom is Here.

And in 2015, it appeared the inventory build in several markets was ending, and that boosted price increases.  

In 2020, with the pandemic, inventory dropped to record lows, and prices really increased (record low mortgage rates and demographics were factors too).

I don't have a crystal ball, but watching inventory helps understand the housing market.

Existing Home SalesClick on graph for larger image.

This graph below shows existing home months-of-supply (inverted, from the NAR) vs. the seasonally adjusted month-to-month price change in the Case-Shiller National Index (both since January 1999 through May 2021).

There is a clear relationship, and this is no surprise (but interesting to graph).  If months-of-supply is high, prices decline. If months-of-supply is very low (like now), prices rise quickly.

In May, the months-of-supply was at 2.5 months, and the Case-Shiller National Index (SA) increased 1.7% month-over-month (a month-over-month record).  The black arrow points to the May dot.

In the June existing home sales report released last week, the NAR reported months-of-supply increased to 2.6 month in June. There is a seasonal pattern to inventory, but this is still very low - and prices are increasing sharply.

Different not better

"A talent for speaking differently, rather than for arguing well, is the chief instrument of cultural change."

Richard Rorty

House panel wants details on Space Force plans to upgrade launch infrastructure

The House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on strategic forces in its markup of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act raises concerns about the state of the U.S. space launch infrastructure.


Tuesday assorted links

1. Where Elon Musk lives/lived.

2. Are Treasuries undervalued (in absolute terms)?

3. On Medici and Thiel.  On the need to radically scale genius grants.  And Hou Yifan update.

4. Applied Divinity Studies wishes to reform the Olympics.

5. Podcast with Alex T.

6. The vaccine incentive culture that is San Francisco (cannabis).

7. Hermitage will mint an NFT on a Leonardo, other works.

8. Many Americans SUVs are now larger than the tanks that fought WWII.

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.




Five Quick Links for Tuesday Noonish

A timeline of digital nomadism. The term "digital nomad" was first used in 1997, but the concept originated perhaps as far back as the 60s. []

The trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Looks fun. []

The CDC is going to change their mask-wearing guidance for vaccinated people. Good. []

Wow, Taschen is coming out with a massive 624-page "XXL" book of all of Frida Kahlo's paintings and promises it's "the most extensive study of her work and life to date". []

What a find! This short clip from 1974 is the earliest known footage of Prince playing live music. He was just 16, performing before the demolition of a YMCA building. []


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

The Jan 6th Insurrection Was The Centerpiece of a Failed Coup by Donald Trump

My colleagues David, Matt and Josh have each addressed this question of the scope of the Jan 6th committee in different ways on the site this morning. I wanted to add my voice to theirs and add some thoughts of my own.

Especially Republicans, but not only Republicans, want to focus any investigation on the narrow questions of the security breach itself. How did the insurrectionists manage to enter the Capitol complex? This is wrong and insufficient on many counts, not least of which is that we basically already know the answer. Just as important it focuses the inquiry on the possible shortcomings of some of the primary victims – Capitol Police officers who failed to protect the premises.

It would be a simple enough matter to harden the Capitol complex and add sufficient security forces and weaponry to secure it from another insurrectionary mob or one two or three times the size. The obvious point is that once we have an insurrectionary mob acting on the orders of the President or any national political leader seeking to storm the seat of government there has been a major breakdown of the civil order. Some level of security is a given. But we don’t want a Capitol prepped for such an encounter. The real question is not one of security but the nature of the breakdown in the civil order itself, who is responsible for it and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Focusing on security breaches is like investigating the 9/11 attacks by interrogating the architects and contractors who built the Towers about why they weren’t able to withstand the impacts.

There is no way to understand the January 6th insurrection without beginning with the fact that it was led by, at the behest of and for the benefit of Donald Trump. It was the result of his actions. It was one of the final developments in a failed coup plot by Donald Trump.

It began with attempts to rig the election in advance. It continued with efforts to delegitimize and subvert the results in the courts and in the court of public opinion. Trump then pursued an array of extralegal and illegal actions to overturn the results of the election in multiple states and overthrow the republic itself. The events of January 6th, both the insurrectionary mob which tried to overthrow the state and the campaign to pressure Vice President Pence into doing the same, were in some ways the culmination of that failed coup attempt. But we can’t say it was the culmination because it actually hasn’t ended.

In many ways, what happened on January 6th and in the two months prior was less dangerous than what has happened in the six months since. The system actually worked. The courts rejected Trump’s spurious arguments. State authorities, often Republicans, refused to break the law or upend the election results on his behalf. The Congress and Vice President fulfilled their constitutional duty to confirm the lawful election of Joe Biden, who was duly inaugurated on January 20th. What has happened since then is that President Trump has managed – from his exile compound – to make support of the insurrection into the central pillar of party ideology.

‘Support’ may seem like hyperbole. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s true that most elected Republicans still won’t explicitly support the violent storming of the Capitol. But Trump himself now does. He has made vindication of the insurrectionists, release of all those indicted for their crimes and vengeance against the Capitol Police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt into the centerpieces of his 2022 campaign. He has succeeded in making any participation in any effort to investigate the events of January 6th grounds for de facto and perhaps de jure expulsion from the Republican party. Critically, he has managed to make the spurious rationale for the coup attempt – The Big Lie – even more firmly a matter of party ideology.

That is support. Indeed, there is every reason to believe and we are already seeing signs that a strict refusal to investigate or punish the people behind the coup attempt and firm support for its rationale are slowly involving into explicit support itself. There is currently no other issue – possibly including personal loyalty to Donald Trump – which is more defining for the GOP. That is support. For one of the country’s main political parties to be offering such support constitutes a profound threat to the civic order and the Republic itself.

That is why there is simply no going back. The problem is not shortcomings in the security of the Capitol complex. It’s not even the individuals who joined the violent assault on the Capitol. It’s the coup plot itself and the man who led it, Donald Trump.

Winners of the 2021 IPPA Photographer of the Year Contest

two shepards in Romania carrying lambs

a girl jumps in the air, with her shadow behind her

a street scene at sunset

The IPPA Photographer of the Year Award is open to photographers who use an iPhone or iPad to take photos, and the winners of the 2021 competition demonstrate just how capable these devices are (and how much photography is not about your equipment). I’m struck by how many of the winners were not taken with the latest phones — the grand prize winner (above, top) was shot with an iPhone 7, which came out in 2016. Photos above by Istvan Kerekes, Jeff Rayner, and Enhua Ni.

Tags: best of   best of 2021   photography

Astroscale and rocket maker MHI team up to develop debris removal technology

Astroscale announced July 27 that it will be working with rocket maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on technologies to help clean up space junk.


Real House Prices and Price-to-Rent Ratio in April

Here is the post earlier on Case-Shiller: Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 16.6% year-over-year in May

It has been over fifteen years since the bubble peak. In the Case-Shiller release today, the seasonally adjusted National Index (SA), was reported as being 38% above the previous bubble peak. However, in real terms, the National index (SA) is about 6% above the bubble peak (and historically there has been an upward slope to real house prices).  The composite 20, in real terms, is still 2% below the bubble peak.

The year-over-year growth in prices increased to 16.6% nationally.

Usually people graph nominal house prices, but it is also important to look at prices in real terms (inflation adjusted).  Case-Shiller and others report nominal house prices.  As an example, if a house price was $200,000 in January 2000, the price would be over $303,000 today adjusted for inflation (51.5%).  That is why the second graph below is important - this shows "real" prices (adjusted for inflation).

Nominal House Prices

Nominal House PricesThe first graph shows the monthly Case-Shiller National Index SA, and the monthly Case-Shiller Composite 20 SA (through April) in nominal terms as reported.

In nominal terms, the Case-Shiller National index (SA) and the Case-Shiller Composite 20 Index (SA) are both at new all times highs (above the bubble peak).

Real House Prices

Real House PricesThe second graph shows the same two indexes in real terms (adjusted for inflation using CPI less Shelter). Note: some people use other inflation measures to adjust for real prices.

In real terms, the National index is 6% above the bubble peak, and the Composite 20 index is back to late-2005.

In real terms, house prices are close to previous peak  levels.


In October 2004, Fed economist John Krainer and researcher Chishen Wei wrote a Fed letter on price to rent ratios: House Prices and Fundamental Value. Kainer and Wei presented a price-to-rent ratio using the OFHEO house price index and the Owners' Equivalent Rent (OER) from the BLS.

Price-to-Rent RatioHere is a similar graph using the Case-Shiller National and Composite 20 House Price Indexes.

This graph shows the price to rent ratio (January 2000 = 1.0). The price-to-rent ratio had been moving more sideways, but picked up significantly recently.

On a price-to-rent basis, the Case-Shiller National index is back to June 2005 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to November 2004 levels.

In real terms, prices are close to 2005 peak levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is back to late 2004, early 2005.

JP Morgan Analysts Claim Apple to Use Titanium Alloy for iPhones Pro in 2022

William Gallagher, reporting for AppleInsider:

In a note to investors seen by AppleInsider, investment firm JP Morgan Chase’s China office has reported to its clients that Apple intends to introduce a titanium alloy to the iPhone for the first time. Apple has already used titanium in some Apple Watch models, for the physical Apple Card, and at times for the PowerBook.

Titanium’s toughness, though, is only achieved when it used as part of a titanium alloy with other metals. Titanium is also prone to smudges from fingerprints, and its finish can be unattractive. Apple is therefore certain to be using an alloy, and it presumably addresses these issues.

I hope this is true. Stainless steel is just too heavy; titanium would be a much nicer premium upgrade over aluminum. The titanium Apple Watch models are great, especially the Space Black model with a highly scratch-resistant DLC finish.


First Person Charged Under Hong Kong Security Law Found Guilty

Al Jazeera:

The first person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law has been found guilty of “terrorism” and “inciting secession”, in a landmark case with long-term implications for how the legislation reshapes the city’s common law traditions.

Former waiter Tong Ying-kit, 24, was accused of driving his motorcycle in July last year into three riot police officers while carrying a flag with the protest slogan: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, which prosecutors said was secessionist.

An alternative charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm was not considered in Tuesday’s widely anticipated ruling, much of which has hinged on the interpretation of the slogan. […]

The ruling imposes new limits on free speech in the former British colony. Pro-democracy activists and human rights groups have also criticised the decision to deny Tong bail and a jury trial, which have been key features of Hong Kong’s rule of law.

This is utterly unsurprising, but crushing nonetheless.


HVS: Q2 2021 Homeownership and Vacancy Rates

The Census Bureau released the Residential Vacancies and Homeownership report for Q2 2021.

It is likely the results of this survey were significantly distorted by the pandemic.  

This report is frequently mentioned by analysts and the media to track household formation, the homeownership rate, and the homeowner and rental vacancy rates.  However, there are serious questions about the accuracy of this survey.

This survey might show the trend, but I wouldn't rely on the absolute numbers. Analysts probably shouldn't use the HVS to estimate the excess vacant supply or household formation, or rely on the homeownership rate, except as a guide to the trend.
"National vacancy rates in the second quarter 2021 were 6.2 percent for rental housing and 0.9 percent for homeowner housing. The rental vacancy rate was 0.5 percentage points higher than the rate in the second quarter 2020 (5.7 percent) and 0.6 percentage points lower than the rate in the first quarter 2021 (6.8 percent). The homeowner vacancy rate of 0.9 percent was virtually the same as the rate in the second quarter 2020 (0.9 percent) and virtually the same as the rate in the first quarter 2021 (0.9 percent).

The homeownership rate of 65.4 percent was 2.5 percentage points lower than the rate in the second quarter 2020 (67.9 percent) and not statistically different from the rate in the first quarter 2021 (65.6 percent)."
Homeownership Rate Click on graph for larger image.

The Red dots are the decennial Census homeownership rates for April 1st 1990, 2000 and 2010.  The Census Bureau will released data for 2020 soon.

The HVS homeownership rate decreased to 65.4% in Q2, from 65.6% in Q1.

The results starting in Q2 2020 were distorted by the pandemic.

Homeowner Vacancy RateThe HVS homeowner vacancy was unchanged at 0.9% in Q2.

Once again - this probably shows the general trend, but I wouldn't rely on the absolute numbers.

Rental Vacancy RateThe rental vacancy rate decreased to 6.2% in Q2 from 6.8% in Q1.

The quarterly HVS is the most timely survey on households, but there are many questions about the accuracy of this survey.

Stand Here for Dance Party

Since 2001, performance art group Improv Everywhere have been staging events in public, aiming to “surprise and delight random strangers through positive pranks”. Their latest endeavor takes place in NYC, perhaps the best place on Earth for exposing random strangers to positive pranks. A man in an orange vest places a “Stand Here for Dance Party” sign on the ground and then walks away. A brave soul steps onto the sign and, well, you might guess what happens next.

I found this via Rob Walker’s newsletter about his book, The Art of Noticing. I love what he wrote about it:

Now that you’ve seen it, you know that once someone did stand on the decal, a squad of Improv Everywhere operatives, with boom boxes and impressive dance moves, converted the public space into (as promised) an open-air dance party. Very fun.

But here’s what makes this work: Not just the planning and the expert performers and the slick choreography and the clever subversion of social-distance design. None of that matters unless somebody stands on the decal. What activates this entire operation is curiosity.

He continues, describing the woman who gets the party started:

This woman is my hero! I love everything about her, her body language, her openness, the thrilling sense she radiates that anything could happen and she’s up for it. And if you’ve watched the video, you know that she in fact unleashed an experience that she (and many strangers nearby) will never forget.

What’s not in the video, but we know is true, is some huge majority of people not even noticing, or actively ignoring, the invitation to an impromptu, on-the-spot dance party. As always, attention is the first step.

Curiosity. Attention. There are those words again, the universe trying to tell me something.

Tags: dance   Improv Everywhere   NYC   Rob Walker   video

Some Thoughts on Masking in a Partially Vaccinated Society

One of the worst decisions made during the pandemic, and after an initial good start it pains me to say it, was CDC Director Walensky’s decision to tell people if they were fully vaccinated, they no longer needed to wear a mask in public areas indoors. The notion this would give people an incentive to be vaccinated was, at best, marginal: poll after poll shows that people who are vaccine hesitant overwhelmingly cite concerns about the safety of the vaccine as the key factor in their hesitancy (yes, there are other issues cited such as access or missing work, but, far and away, safety concerns dominate). Likewise, people who were eager to be vaccinated didn’t get vaccinated so they wouldn’t have to wear masks anymore, though that’s a perfectly fine secondary benefit (if warranted by the epidemiology), they (we) did it so they would be safer.

Without any verification scheme, which is to say the honor system was used, it was obvious that people were lying about their status. Many weren’t, but enough were. And here we are.

I think it’s possible over the next few months, at least in states with a modicum of responsible governance, we’ll see a shift towards mandatory masking in public essential places (e.g., grocery stores) and a requirement to prove vaccination in non-essential places. Alternatively, these same places will mandate a whole lot of vaccination. But the current situation, while it won’t lead to a calamity like we had in January, isn’t sustainable. There will be enough American Carnage (to use a phrase) to force officials to take action. It also seems pretty clear that there is a vaccinated ‘silent majority’ that is really tired of people’s bullshit, and that it will only get larger and more vocal.

So my guess–and I could wind up being laughably wrong–is that we’re going to see, in some/many places, either a ‘mixed masking’ strategy or a whole bunch of vaccine mandates (especially once the FDA gets off its ass and formally approves the vaccines*).

*I get that the FDA doesn’t want to be hasty, but this is hardly a case where, after administering hundreds of millions of doses world-wide, one could possibly think there is either fraud occurring or a better therapy. Move faster FDA.

Jan. 6 Committee Hearing Underway

Follow along with our live coverage here — and don’t miss Matt Shuham’s big piece on the proper scope of committee’s inquiry.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 16.6% year-over-year in May

S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for May ("May" is a 3 month average of March, April and May prices).

This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index.

From S&P: S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller Index Reports Record High Annual Home Price Gain Of 16.6% In May
The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 16.6% annual gain in May, up from 14.8% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 16.4%, up from 14.5% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 17.0% year-over-year gain, up from 15.0% in the previous month.

Phoenix, San Diego, and Seattle reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities in May. Phoenix led the way with a 25.9% year-over-year price increase, followed by San Diego with a 24.7% increase and Seattle with a 23.4% increase. All 20 cities reported higher price increases in the year ending May 2021 versus the year ending April 2021.
Before seasonal adjustment, the U.S. National Index posted a 2.1% month-over-month increase in May, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted increases of 1.9% and 2.1%, respectively

After seasonal adjustment, the U.S. National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 1.7%, and the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted increases of 1.7% and 1.8%, respectively. In May, all 20 cities reported increases before and after seasonal adjustments.

“Housing price growth set a record for the second consecutive month in May 2021,” says Craig J. Lazzara, Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy at S&P DJI. “The National Composite Index marked its twelfth consecutive month of accelerating prices with a 16.6% gain from year-ago levels, up from 14.8% in April. This acceleration is also reflected in the 10- and 20-City Composites (up 16.4% and 17.0%, respectively). The market’s strength continues to be broadly-based: all 20 cities rose, and all 20 gained more in the 12 months ended in May than they had gained in the 12 months ended in April. Prices in 18 of our 20 cities now stand at all-time highs, as do the National Composite and both the 10- and 20-City indices.

“A month ago, I described April’s performance as “truly extraordinary,” and this month I find myself running out of superlatives. The 16.6% gain is the highest reading in more than 30 years of S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller data. As was the case last month, five cities – Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, and Seattle – joined the National Composite in recording their all-time highest 12-month gains. Price gains in all 20 cities were in the top quartile of historical performance; in 17 cities, price gains were in top decile.

“We have previously suggested that the strength in the U.S. housing market is being driven in part by reaction to the COVID pandemic, as potential buyers move from urban apartments to suburban homes. May’s data continue to be consistent with this hypothesis. This demand surge may simply represent an acceleration of purchases that would have occurred anyway over the next several years. Alternatively, there may have been a secular change in locational preferences, leading to a permanent shift in the demand curve for housing. More time and data will be required to analyze this question.
emphasis added
Case-Shiller House Prices Indices Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

The Composite 10 index is up 1.7 in May (SA).

The Composite 20 index is up 1.8% (SA) in May.

The National index is 38% above the bubble peak (SA), and up 1.7% (SA) in May.  The National index is up 86% from the post-bubble low set in February 2012 (SA).

Case-Shiller House Prices Indices The second graph shows the year-over-year change in all three indices.

The Composite 10 SA is up 16.4% compared to May 2020.  The Composite 20 SA is up 17.0% year-over-year.

The National index SA is up 164.6% year-over-year.

Price increases were slightly above expectations.  I'll have more later.

Blue Origin has a secret project named “Jarvis” to compete with SpaceX

A rocket pierces a cloud-filled sky.

Enlarge / An artist's rendering of a New Glenn rocket in flight. (credit: Blue Origin)

In late May, a rumor concerning Blue Origin's large New Glenn rocket broke on several social media sites frequented by spaceflight enthusiasts.

According to the rumor, Blue Origin was changing the primary structural material of its new rocket from an aluminum alloy to stainless steel. The social media posts sparked considerable interest, as they implied that the company would mimic a competitor in its choice of materials—SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy are made primarily from stainless steel. Moreover, such a change also augured further delays in the New Glenn development program, which was already years behind schedule.

At the time, I checked with a source and found the rumor to be false. New Glenn was not swapping its first stage to stainless steel.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

House Republicans Try to Get A Handle on Climate Change

They Don’t Have Any Ideas, But At Least They’re Not Denying It Altogether

Every week now, we’re seeing the results of extreme weather in America and across the globe.

Maybe it’s even enough to stop some of the oft-repeated Republican denials that climate disruption is real.

There are recent reports that uniform denial is cracking just a bit, if for no other reason than a perceived political liability of insisting that the planet is just fine as it is. They think, let’s drill some more oil, burn some more methane and forget about alternative energy sources.

Ending climate change denial is simply inviting the next question: What do you want to do about it?

Therein lies the Republican dilemma. They don’t want:

  • to  back substantial public investments in growing solar and wind energies
  • to have mandates about emissions
  • to join international consortiums that issue global advice to Americans.

But they want to be seen as Doing Something.

For years, Republicans have been arguing that human-made conditions are not substantially worsening our air, water and weather. At worst, there are ripples in climate over time, they say.

In any case, they don’t want to say the American Dream is at risk from climate any more than they want to acknowledge institutional racism, growing classist income inequality or the shortcomings of underinvestment in education.

Whatever label you want to put on it, we’re seeing more serious wildfires, more destructive storms and higher floodwaters.

So, my question is the same, “GOP: What do you want to do about what’s actually happening now?”

Where Are the Alternatives?

I can understand the criticisms leveled against the big infrastructure packages still gridlocked In Congress over partisan concern. I reject the Republican unwillingness to spend public dollars on public threats, but I can understand that the dollar amounts here are politically frightening.

But I don’t hear anything about the alternative. Isn’t it wildly expensive to keep shelling out taxpayer monies to dry out Houston and rebuild thousands of homes after a flood or to rebuild those entire California communities consumed by wildfires, only to see them newly at risk a year later? Isn’t it bad enough to see one entire apartment building disappear, killing 98, into unsound earth near Miami Beach without considering banning further development in what is clearly becoming much more fragile land?

What do Republicans who insist on twisting human-made rules on voting and gerrymandering want to stay in office to do, exactly?

Climate change remains a low  priority for Americans who identify as Republican or lean toward the Republican Party, a Pew Research study now finds. At the same time, Republicans express openness to certain policy proposals to deal with climate change. There are differences in views within the GOP, with moderates and younger adults generally offering higher levels of support for action to address climate change than conservatives and older adults.

Still, only 10% call it a top concern, compared with a much larger share of Democrats and Democratic leaners (49%), according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults. Amid warnings from scientists and activists about climate impacts, there has been little increase in the share of Republicans who see climate change as a threat to the country, in contrast to rising levels of concern among Democrats.

Last February, 24 Republicans gathered in Salt Lake City where they brainstormed ways to get their party to engage on a planetary problem it has ignored for decades. They insisted on anonymity to protect themselves from Donald Trump followers. There is an inkling that to be competitive in national elections, the party will need some type of credible position on climate change.

A Republican Climate Caucus

Now, the anonymous have gone public as House Republicans actually have formed a group on climate change, 50 or so strong, led by Utah Rep. John Curtis. As a group, though, they care as deeply about not harming American economic interests with rules as they say they do about Doing Something about climate.

That means that Curtis and company want private-sector innovation and technology development without the government to do things like capture and store carbon emissions, noting that the U.S. already is a global leader in such things.

My cynicism says this is more about labeling and marketing than it is about widespread practical solutions that are needed to address these climate issues intelligently and forcefully.

It has been interesting to see Europe moving much more quickly than us to adopt big-think commitments to ending fossil-fuel cars and trucks, for example, or to tell energy companies that they must meet a much more aggressive conversion schedule for alternative fuels and emissions.

Indeed, as I have argued previously, our American marketplace is moving toward climate change faster than government policy. Automakers are committing to all-electric fleets. The solar panel industry is struggling mightily to grow despite shortages of needed supplies and barriers in international supply chain requirements. Coal is dying a marketplace death. Oil and gas companies are moving on their own.

The question is about the scale of these changes and the role that we expect our government to play in guiding some kind of intelligence balancing of jobs, training, investment and the like.

Amidst all the foot-dragging toward infrastructure proposals from the Joe Biden White House, I’m having trouble seeing the practical effect of even some Republicans recognizing that climate disruption already has arrived.

The post House Republicans Try to Get A Handle on Climate Change appeared first on

Emergency decision making and medical ethics for breakfast

 Saturday morning breakfast cereal (SMBC) has hidden a message for us here:

Astronomers back technical efforts to reduce impacts of satellite megaconstellations while seeking regulatory solutions

Starlink trails

With slow progress on regulation and policy, astronomers are making progress on other approaches to mitigate the effects that satellite megaconstellations will have on their observations.


The Farrago of International Travel Restrictions

International travel restrictions are a farrago built on fear, statistical confusion, and out-dated information. The US, for example, is still requiring a virus test to enter the US but not proof of vaccination. In other words, a fully vaccinated citizen can now fly to Canada (with Canadian requirements) but if they want back in they need to have had a virus test. Ridiculous.

Even more ridiculous, Chinese, European and British citizens are still not allowed into the United States. Why? China, for example, has almost no COVID cases–thus there is no reason to restrict Chinese citizens from traveling to the United States. Indeed, President Trump rescinded these restrictions at the end of his term but Biden reinstated them immediately. Why?  Travel is now banned from many countries with low COVID and high vaccination rates while allowed from many countries with high COVID rates and low vaccination rates.  There is no rhyme or reason to the travel bans and restrictions.

I propose we eliminate the farrago with a simple rule. Anyone vaccinated with a full dose of any WHO approved vaccine should be allowed to visit the United States without restriction. People on twitter responded “but even a vaccinated person could still be a carrier!” No kidding. So what? We cannot eliminate all risk. The logic of allowing vaccinated travelers into the United States is simple–a fully vaccinated visitor is safer than the average US citizen. Thus, allowing more vaccinated people into the United States is not especially risky and is having beneficial effects on the economy.

“Vaccine passports” became politically charged but what we have now is a bizarre combination of “testing passports” and “no passports.” In contrast, a vaccination requirement for travel is simpler, cheaper, more convenient and more effective than a test and it creates greater freedom than no passport at all. A vaccine requirement is no more difficult to enforce than a testing requirement. Indeed, the United States has in the past required vaccination prior to arrival so this would hardly be unprecedented. For special cases, a test could be allowed in lieu of a vaccine, especially if it was followed up with an airport vaccination but vaccination should be the primary requirement.

To recap: Anyone vaccinated with a full dose of any WHO approved vaccine should be allowed to visit the United States without restriction.

Addendum: A mix and match from any two WHO approved vaccines counts as a full dose!

The post The Farrago of International Travel Restrictions appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



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The Great Wave by Hokusai

The Great Wave by Hokusai | Aeon Videos

Why Hokusai’s Great Wave – created amid Japanese isolation – became a resounding artistic and commercial success worldwide

- by Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Don’t farm bugs

Don’t farm bugs | Aeon Essays

Insect farming bakes, boils and shreds animals by the trillion. It’s immoral, risky and won’t resolve the climate crisis

- by Jeff Sebo & Jason Schukraft

Read at Aeon

Chinese rocket company Space Pioneer secures major funding ahead of first launch

Render of the Tianlong-1 commercial reusable launch vehicle being developed by China's Space Pioneer.

Chinese commercial rocket company Space Pioneer has secured a large funding round ahead of reusable “hop” tests and a first orbital launch.


Why vaccine passports are a welfare-dominated approach

Use monetary rewards (or penalties) if need be.  Here is Joshua Gans applying some game theory to the vaccine passport idea:

Vaccine hesitancy is modelled as an endogenous decision within a behavioural SIR model with endogenous agent activity. It is shown that policy interventions that directly target costs associated with vaccine adoption may counter vaccine hesitancy while those that manipulate the utility of unvaccinated agents will either lead to the same or lower rates of vaccine adoption. This latter effect arises with vaccine passports whose effects are mitigated in equilibrium by reductions in viral/disease prevalence that themselves reduce the demand for vaccination.

A “utility tax” is rarely a good idea.  Besides what happens if you lose your smart phone?  Don’t have one to begin with?  Arrive from another country with an incompatible information/verification system?

With cases falling in both the UK and Netherlands, the vaccine passport idea, at the governmental level, is looking worse and worse.  That said, I am all for private entities making their own decisions on these issues, and generally I am happy when I see employers require vaccination.

Addendum: Here is a Gans tweet storm on the paper.

The post Why vaccine passports are a welfare-dominated approach appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



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Atomic Habits Review

This is my review of Atomic Habits. As the name implies it is a book on habits. It looks at how to effectively build good habits, and how to drop bad habits. It also makes the case that the habits one has are what determine success, rather than the goals one sets or the motivation one has.

I was already familiar with many of the concepts in the book, so I took it more as a refresher than new material. I’m especially interested to see how anything here could be used to extend jupiter. In any case the ideas are powerful. They’re best exemplified in the field of sports. Hear each player or team has the same goal - to win the game. Assuming equally talented teams, what sets apart the winners is the approach they take to training and preparing. Which comes down to the habits they have in the end. The author posits that the processes one has about attaining goals are much more important than the goals themselves then. It’s the system that wins, rather than reliance on motivation (which is limited) or on goals (which can be shared, or which might carry no information on how to attain them).

The first section of the book is about this. It begins by building a case for the above. But then it goes into deeper territory. Habits are essentially your identity - the things you do repeatedly. When you develop habits you assume a new identity - sometimes with good outcomes, sometimes with bad outcomes. But any habit adoption is a change in identity. There’s a good model here of this: it all start with identity (who you are), then goes to processes (your system, or your habits), and then finishes at goals. The best and hardest way to apply changes is to go at identity - become the person who is an athlete, rather than just try to lose some weight, or develop a jogging habit.

Another important aspect is the habit execution. You first see a clue which activates a desire for change. After this you go and react to this desire. At the end you get a reward. When you adopt a habit your brain starts to optimise for this process, looking for ways to simplify the reaction or even predicting the reward at the desire stage, and not at the end.

Adopting good habits is then about hacking the process here to make it easy and automatic to do the habit. This means that you should make the clue very visible (leave good food around the house, prepare gym clothes from the night before, etc), make the desire be attractive to you (ie lead to a good long-term outcome, but have some short term boost), make the reaction easy (do something for two minutes), and add some short-term reward to the whole thing so you’re incentives to keep to it.

Dropping bad habits is then just a mirror of adopting a good habit. Clues must be hidden, the desire should be muted, the reaction should be hard, and there should not be a short-term reward for the whole thing.

A good point here is also about the notion that there’s value in the structure and repetition. So going to the gym three times a week, even if for five minutes, is much better than going twice a month for two hours. In time this structure builds on itself and you’re gonna get better results.

There’s two things I thought were missing in the book. One was a deeper dive into dropping bad habits. The discussion here was more theoretical and mirroring the one for adapting good habits (hide away bad food, add conditions to being able to do a bad habit, etc) rather than digging in the underlying needs that cause the bad habits. Indeed the author claimed that you can never get rid of a bad habit, you can just hide the clues for it, or try to dampen the reward, or have enough good habits to outweigh the bad ones. But nothing super-actionable about quitting smoking, or ditching junk food, etc.

The other was that there was no attempt made to say which habits should one have. I think there’s some universal good habits - eating healthy, being active, reading, etc. - which could have been a normative backbone for the book. Sure there were examples, but if you’re looking for a sort of “field guide to the good life” this wasn’t it.

In any case, this was a good and easy read, definitely recommend it, and I’m definitely putting into practice the learnings here in the rest of the year.

Growing Oligopolies, Prices, Output, and Productivity

The real monopoly problems in our economy are not the firms that push up some very particular concentration indices, rather they are the small, local monopolies, hospitals, and the public education system.  Here is a new investigation (AEA gate) from Sharat Ganapati, you will note that the bold emphasis has been added by yours truly:

American industries have grown more concentrated over the last 40 years. In the absence of productivity innovation, this should lead to price hikes and output reductions, decreasing consumer welfare. With US census data from 1972 to 2012, I use price data to disentangle revenue from output. Industry-level estimates show that concentration increases are positively correlated to productivity and real output growth, uncorrelated with price changes and overall payroll, and negatively correlated with labor’s revenue share. I rationalize these results in a simple model of competition. Productive industries (with growing oligopolists) expand real output and hold down prices, raising consumer welfare, while maintaining or reducing their workforces, lowering labor’s share of output.

That is from the new issue of American Economic Journal: Microeconomics.  Rooftops!  Other research has pointed in the same direction.  Pennsylvania, Ave.: please do not split up America’s best and most productive firms.

The post Growing Oligopolies, Prices, Output, and Productivity appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.



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The winds of change are stirring for Starship and Starbase

Starship Super Heavy Booster 3 undergoes its first static fire at SpaceX's Boca Chica facility in South Texas. Credit: SpaceX

Starship Super Heavy Booster 3 undergoes its first static fire at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in South Texas. Credit: SpaceX

New build rumors and static fire tests abound as SpaceX continues to make progress at its Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Booster 3 made its fiery debut on July 19, 2021, with the first of its kind static fire of three Raptor Boost engines lasting a little over two seconds. The boost engines are a high-thrust engine that will make up the outer rim of the booster’s engine section. Unlike its cousins powering the Starship vehicle itself, the boost engines will not gimbal and also will not be as easily throttled.

The boost engines that will power the nearly twenty-story-tall booster were ultimately removed one by one this week as further development and testing will continue prior to the booster design’s maiden flight, likely via Booster 4, expected within the coming months.

A tweet storm of new developments came from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk as he hinted at possible design changes and upgrades to not only the booster, but other features of the build and launch site as well.

Depending on the progress of Booster 4, Musk tweeted that the company might attempt another static fire, this time with 9 Rboost engines, on Booster 3. Currently, Booster 4 is expected to be the company’s first orbital booster.

The SpaceX CEO also teased that a design change for the Starship vehicle could be in order as flight test telemetry data appears to have suggested that the flaps and fins on the vehicle’s fuselage could potentially be shortened while still being able to maintain aerodynamic integrity. While nothing has been officially announced by the company, a Starship design change could be possible in the coming months.

In addition to releasing teaser information about upcoming flight hardware changes, Musk also released information regarding the future of the build site, saying that construction will soon begin on an even-bigger high bay just north of the current high bay’s location.

According to Musk, this new building will likely be only slightly taller than the current high bay, but will have a larger footprint.

Meanwhile, a ninth segment of the Orbital Launch Tower is currently being assembled before being erected and fixed to the top part of the pad. This will be a crane-like structure that will hold the Starship assembly into place.

SpaceX employees pose around the 100th build of a Raptor engine at the company's factory in Hawthorne, California. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX employees pose around the 100th build of a Raptor engine at the company’s factory in Hawthorne, California. Credit: SpaceX

The post The winds of change are stirring for Starship and Starbase appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

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All this and much more in a fast, lightweight, securely sandboxed and beautiful git client: GitFinder.


Not Kidding About Those Blue Bubbles

Mirin Fader, in an excerpt from her new book, Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP:

Knight searches for the right words. “I don’t want to sound negative,” he says. Knight explains some of Kidd’s methods, such as how Kidd would embarrass the culprit of an error by making everyone but that person run sprints for his mistake. “He just had his way of getting his point across,” Knight says.

Little things were made to be a big deal: At one point center Thon Maker didn’t have an iPhone, messing up the team’s blue-bubble iPhone group chat. Kidd was upset about it and made the team run because Kidd felt that Maker not getting an iPhone was an example of the team not being united.

So now we know there’s a basketball court inside Apple’s walled garden.


The History of Regular Expressions

Buzz Andersen, in a guest post for Why Is This Interesting:

Eventually, a Russian artist and Twitter user named Gregory Khodyrev realized what was going on: someone at Russia’s state Internet censor, Roscomnadzor, had attempted to block the Internet domain “” (used by Twitter’s URL shortener), but had instead managed to cut off access to any domain containing the text pattern “” This meant that sites such as “,” “,” and even Russia’s own state media outlet “” were rendered suddenly inaccessible.

Readers with a modicum of technical knowledge may already have an inkling of what likely happened here: some hapless censor, attempting to curb Twitter’s political influence, installed a URL pattern matching rule on Russia’s national firewall that turned out to have been just a tad overzealous. The rule in question was almost certainly expressed using a notoriously abstruse notation called a “regular expression.”



OCR was a big part of WWDC last month, with the new Live Text feature. But a few of my friends turned me on to a Mac utility called TextSniper that’s offered instant OCR for any text on your screen for a while now. Very convenient, very accurate. I used it last week to turn this screenshot — written by a Facebook user attempting to obfuscate many of the words with extra spaces — into text to include in this post, and TextSniper got it exactly right, weird spelling and spacing included. $10 in the App Store.


Tuesday: Case-Shiller House Prices, Q2 Housing Vacancies and Homeownership

From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: MBS RECAP: Slow Monday, But Late Warning Shots
It was a slow trading day for the most part until the last 90 minutes. ...  As the day wound down, yields bumped up to the highs--right in line with the 1.295% technical level--and MBS coughed up a quick eighth of a point. That was enough for several lenders to reprice for the worse even though the weakness doesn't speak to any bigger picture issues. ... [30 year fixed 2.86%]
emphasis added
• At 9:00 AM ET, S&P/Case-Shiller House Price Index for May. The consensus is for a 16.3% year-over-year increase in the Comp 20 index for May.

• Also at 9:00 AM, FHFA House Price Index for May. This was originally a GSE only repeat sales, however there is also an expanded index.

• At 10:00 AM: Richmond Fed Survey of Manufacturing Activity for July. This is the last of the regional surveys for July.

• Also at 10:00 AM, The Q2 Housing Vacancies and Homeownership report from the Census Bureau.

Erin Davis’s Average Colours of the World

Map: Average Colors of the World (Erin Davis)
Erin Davis

Erin Davis has created maps showing the average colour of each country of the world (plus  maps showing the average colour of each U.S. state and county). She derived the average colour from Sentinel-2 natural-colour satellite imagery; she appends the process and the code to the end of her post. [My Modern Met]

Algonquin Bead Artist to Reinterpret Cold War Maps

The Diefenbunker is a Cold War-era fallout shelter on the outskirts of Ottawa that has since been converted into a museum. Its large floor maps, never used or displayed, are serving as grist for an Indigenous artist in residence, CBC Ottawa reports:

As the new artist in residence at Ottawa’s Diefenbunker Museum, Mairi Brascoupé is blending Cold War-era maps and beadwork to explore the idea of “place” during times of change.

Brascoupé, a member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, wants to weave her own story by exploring the differences between cultures of Indigenous people and settlers.

She plans to use waterways and traplines in contrast with fallout zones, evacuation plans, and other details of the museum’s maps.

Saving memory with Pandas 1.3's new string dtype

When you’re loading many strings into Pandas, you’re going to use a lot of memory. If you have only a limited number of strings, you can save memory with categoricals, but that’s only helpful in a limited number of situations.

With Pandas 1.3, there’s a new option that can save memory on large number of strings as well, simply by changing to a new column type. Let’s see how.


Flemings Triangular Wisp

Chaotic in appearance, Chaotic in appearance,

Esri’s New Giant Globe

“When you are a global Geographic Information Technology company with a globe in your logo, you don’t shy away from the opportunity to have a great big glorious 8.5-foot diameter illuminated rotating globe in your new office building. But what sort of globe cartography do you design? How should this gigantic model of our lovely home planet appear?” John Nelson and Sean Breyer explain the design and construction process behind Esri’s new globe—a custom Earthball manufactured by Orbis World Globes.

Google Maps: Android My Maps Discontinued, Transit Crowdedness Feature Expanded

The Google My Maps Android app is being closed down in October. You may remember that My Maps is a feature allowing users to create custom maps on the Google Maps platform relatively easily. To be honest I wasn’t aware that it had its own Android app; once that’s closed it will be available via the web. Andro4all worries (Spanish) that this is a sign that My Maps could be discontinued, which on the one hand seems a bit premature, but on the other, well, Google does have a track record. [Alejandro Polanca]

Meanwhile, Google Maps has expanded its feature that predicts crowdedness on transit lines—useful when it’s still very much not a great idea to be in a packed subway car—to 10,000 agencies in 100 countries. [Macworld]