AFDLOX December 5, 2:18pm

FXUS66 KLOX 052218 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 218 PM PST Sun Dec 5 2021 .SYNOPSIS...05/216 PM. Some low clouds and fog will affect mainly southern coastal areas tonight into Monday morning, otherwise it will be mostly clear through Monday. Gusty offshore winds can be expected tonight into Monday morning. A chance of light rain is expected late Monday night into Tuesday morning with a weak front. A low pressure system will then bring a good chance of rain and mountain snow with much cooler temperatures to the area Thursday into Thursday night followed by dry and cool conditions Friday through Sunday.

Strong System To Move Through East; Very Unsettled Hawaii and Alaska

AFDSGX December 5, 1:54pm

FXUS66 KSGX 052154 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 200 PM PST Sun Dec 5 2021 .SYNOPSIS... High pressure aloft will bring slight warming this afternoon and Monday with only patchy low clouds and fog tonight and Monday morning. However, an approaching trough of low pressure will bring gusty westerly mountain and desert winds late Monday into Tuesday along with a chance of light showers Tuesday. Another trough from the north could bring widespread rain and mountain snow to the region Thursday into Friday, though precipitation amounts will be light to moderate. Fair weather should return by the weekend.

Links 12/5/21

Links for you. Science:

Many Severe Covid-19 Survivors Go on to Die Within a Year, Study Finds
Early Immunogenicity and safety of the third dose of BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 vaccine among adults older than 60 years; real world experience
Omicron outbreak at Norway Christmas party is biggest outside S. Africa -authorities
Six different COVID-19 boosters induce variable immune response
Tremors and “internal vibrations”: Long Covid patients are reporting Parkinson’s-like symptoms (manuscript here)
These whales are so decimated that a single birth was cheered by scientists

Other:

The media treats Biden as badly as — or worse than — Trump. Here’s proof.
Utah Makes Welfare So Hard to Get, Some Feel They Must Join the LDS Church to Get Aid: Utah’s safety net for the poor is so intertwined with the LDS Church that individual bishops often decide who receives assistance. Some deny help unless a person goes to services or gets baptized.
Biden nearly ended the drone war, and nobody noticed. Why is the White House so silent about this significant achievement?
Voting rights advocates frustrated by ‘same-old, same-old’ meeting with White House. Participants lament apparent lack of strategy from Biden to address filibuster and get voting rights bills passed (we will fight for YOOOOUUUUUU!!!)
Hackers Are Spamming Businesses’ Receipt Printers With ‘Antiwork’ Manifestos
How Manchin and Sinema’s status as Senate holdouts is proving lucrative
The bombshell about Trump testing positive also implicates the Trump family
Governor SuperSpreader Now Claims Florida Needs Its Own Army
Twitter’s New Privacy Policy Is Making It Harder to Spread Warnings About Online Fascists
Maryland announces first three cases of omicron variant in the greater Washington region (“Silverman asked what numerical metrics would signal that the city needs a mask requirement again, and Ashley said he could not answer.” Utter failure of governance by the Bowser administration)
‘Magic dirt’: How the internet fueled, and defeated, the pandemic’s weirdest MLM
Democracy isn’t ‘backsliding.’ Equality is. Equality has been presumed in the word ‘democracy’ since the postwar era. We may not be able to presume that much longer.
Even if the U.S. did support mothers — and it doesn’t — there will always be a need for abortion
Lies, Damn Lies and ‘Self-Censorship’ Statistics. Are students increasingly reluctant to express their views? Or do we live in a society?
Built to Lie: A new book about the Boeing 737 MAX disaster exposes the company’s allergy to the truth.
Jack, You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie. Critics say the ex-head of Twitter hasn’t hired enough nonprofit professionals, so his charity has been driven by arbitrary personal whims. Maybe there is a bigger problem here.
Did Trans Activists Doxx J.K. Rowling? Yes but also kind of no
Stanley McChrystal Accidentally Reveals the Dishonesty of U.S. Generals
Time to Pull the Plug on Cable News
Let’s Talk About Screen Time
A Progressive Civil War Threatens The Left’s Power In Rhode Island
The costly toll of dead-end drug arrests

w/e 2021-12-05

Blimey, December 2020 here already. Time flies.


§ Remember last week when I spent a couple of days writing some code, as a start to make Webmentions (IndieWeb Trackbacks) work on this site? This week, looking at what there was left to do, and how much of django-wm I’d just end up copying, I did the sensible thing and ask the maintainer if they were open to me making it possible to use that package without having to set up Celery, which seemed over the top just for me to send and receive very rare mentions.

They were not only into the idea but also went ahead and wrote most of the code for it. So there’s a lesson for anyone planning to spend days re-inventing the wheel only perhaps a slightly different colour this time? I haven’t tried the code out yet but I look forward to a glorious future of mentioning.

Incidentally, Jeremy did helpfully do a manual webmention from my post to his last week. He has his site set up to display the entire source blog post (i.e. mine) which is entirely fine… but given only part of my lengthy weeknote was related to his post, it does make me wonder about this weeknote format more. I often think each of these sections could, or should, be a separate blog post. But, based on past experience, maybe I’d never get round to writing any of them without a weekly deadline?


§ I upgraded to macOS [opens “About This Mac” to remind himself what version it is] Monterey yesterday.

I was going to say, “As usual there are no new features in it I need but I’ve already used “Hide My Email” when buying a Christmas present off a random website so that I can disable that address at some point soon. I never did get into adding +something to the end of my normal email address’s name to make unique disposable ones, and Hide My Email seems a decent-enough interface to make this easier.

Talking of Apple I wondered this week how much I pay to Tim Apple each month. Let’s break it down with some rounded figures:

Showing my expenditure per month, averaged, on various Apple software and hardware
Item Cost Cost / month Notes
iCloud £0.79 / month £1
Fitness+ £9.99 / month £10
MacBook £2,900 / 8 years £30 Price of MacBook Pro 14″ I’d get
iPhone £679 / 6 years £9 Price of iPhone 13 Mini
iPad £579 / 8 years £6 Price of base iPad Air
Watch £369 / 6 years £5 Price of Watch 7
Total £61

For the hardware I’ve looked at what I’ve got now, how long I’ve had it, how much longer I reckon it’ll be before I replace it, and what the cost of a current new replacement would be.

£61 per month, or £732 per year, every year, is a fair amount really isn’t it. And this doesn’t include the percentage I’m effectively paying to Apple when I buy something on one of their app stores. e.g. Apple takes £3 of my monthly subscription to the Guardian‘s iPad app, taking my monthly Apple Tax up to £64.

If, like me, you don’t upgrade stuff often it’s easy to ignore the costs for a long time. But if, also like me, you try to stick to a rough budget, then in theory one should smooth out such large occasional payments by putting money aside regularly. The thought of putting aside £50 per month in order to only upgrade my Apple hardware every 6-8 years makes me realise how expensive even this is.

But, going by how often some friends replace their laptops or phones or whatever, and how much more Apple hardware and services some friends have/use, this is probably quite low for people who are fully into the “Apple ecosystem”. Replace your laptop every couple of years, get a new phone as often, pay for Apple TV+, Apple Music, more iCloud space, buy AirPods, TV, AirTags, cases, etc. and watch that figure climb.

An amazing achievement really, whatever you think of the company.


§ We started watching Tick, Tick… Boom! on Netflix this week but lasted maybe fifteen minutes. I could, perhaps, cope with a musical, but not a musical about musicals full of musical people who love musicals. Everyone is unbearable. And my heart did not at all bleed for a 30-year-old complaining that his life was over.

I have now started watching Schitt’s Creek. Will this be like The Good Place, something everyone loves but I couldn’t bear? Or will it be like Succession, something everyone loves and I also loved? I’ve heard the first season is not good but I’m straight-facedly working my way through that for completeness, so am reserving judgement for a while. TV Chart does demonstrate the show improves but there’s no indication of a sudden improvement…


§ I’d just stop working now if I were you. It’s practically Christmas already.


Read comments or post one

China fact of the day

The scale isn’t small, and it seems to be rising: “From July to Nov. 15, LGFVs bought 13.38% of land parcels by value across the country, up 4.38 percentage points from the January-to-June period.”

Here is more from Michael Pettis.

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Fuel leak at launch pad delays Atlas 5 mission

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) with delay to Tuesday.

An Atlas 5 rocket stands on pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station before launch on the STP-3 mission. Credit: United Launch Alliance

United Launch Alliance delayed the planned launch of an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Sunday after discovering a kerosene fuel leak in the launch pad’s ground storage system. Officials have rescheduled launch with two U.S. military satellites for Tuesday morning.

ULA announced the launch delay around 7 p.m. EST Saturday (0000 GMT Sunday), just prior to the start of the countdown for a planned liftoff before dawn Sunday.

“During initial operations, a leak was discovered in the Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1) ground storage system,” ULA said in a brief statement.

RP-1 is a highly-refined rocket-grade kerosene fuel used on the Atlas 5 rocket’s first stage. The first stage’s Russian-made RD-180 engine consumes kerosene fuel in a mixture with super-cold liquid oxygen.

The kerosene fuel was supposed to be loaded on the Atlas 5 first stage Friday afternoon, following rollout of the rocket from ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility to launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. But the fuel loading was delayed to Saturday, and ULA didn’t say why teams were unable to complete the process Friday.

The Atlas 5 launch team loads cryogenic propellants into the Atlas 5 just a few hours before liftoff. The rocket’s Centaur upper stage consumes super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

ULA initially rescheduled the launch for Monday, but officials announced Sunday afternoon that teams needed more time to test a fuel sample to make sure the kerosene was not contaminated during the leak. The ground storage system repairs were completed by Sunday afternoon, ULA said.

The new target launch time is at 4:04 a.m. EST (0904 GMT) Tuesday, the opening of a two-hour launch window, according to ULA.

The official launch weather outlook from the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicts an 80% chance of favorable weather for liftoff early Tuesday.

The Atlas 5 rocket will launch with two U.S. Space Force satellites hosting an array of technological prototypes and experiments. Military engineers will test their readiness for use on future operational space missions.

The launch is sponsored by the military’s Space Test Program, which oversees many of the Defense Department’s experimental space missions. The larger of the two satellites on the Atlas 5 rocket, named STPSat 6 and built by Northrop Grumman, hosts a NASA laser communications experiment and a payload for the National Nuclear Security Administration designed to detect nuclear detonations to verify international treaty compliance.

The military hasn’t disclosed specifics for other experiments on the mission, but officials said they generally will test technologies related to space domain awareness, space weather monitoring, and communications.

A rideshare satellite named the Long Duration Propulsive ESPA, or LDPE 1, also is riding to orbit on the Atlas 5 rocket. It is mounted to the rocket below STPSat 6 inside the 17.7-foot (5.4-meter) diameter payload fairing.

LDPE 1 hosts its own technological experiments, and will have its own propulsion system to maneuver in space.

The Atlas 5 rocket will aim to release both satellites in geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator around seven hours after liftoff.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Xmas on 19th Street

Observed on 19th Street NW between Riggs and S, Dupont Circle, D.C.:

Xmas on 19th 2021

Boosters

I have to imagine that vaccination rates among TPM Readers is close to 100%, given a variety of factors – education levels, politics, age, etc. But I’m sure there are many who haven’t gotten a booster shot. You should get that shot. You should get it as soon as you’re able to get it. I’ve been pretty pro-booster for months, even back to when the evidence for the persistence of increased immunity was less clear. Until quite recently boosters were seen by many as a bit precious unless you were part of some high risk group or even a bit selfish. Not so. Not now at least.

As I often share with you here, I read what amounts to the raw feed of conversations and commentary of clinicians, virologists, epidemiologists and researchers. The verdict is pretty universal: boosters will play a critical role in how we navigate the next several months. That is partly about attenuating immunity, mostly against infection as opposed to severe disease. It’s also because it is increasingly clear that the optimal dosing was always a second or third dose after a significant stretch of time. But we’re also clearly at the front end of another winter surge.

This was pre-Omicron. We still don’t know the critical information. But all the evidence points toward some significant level of immune evasion. So you want to hit Omicron with as much protection as you can get. And it seems clear that an mRNA booster months after the first two significantly, maybe very significantly, increases that protection.

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 September 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.

Organ shortages for transplantation: Pig kidneys won't be transplanted into people soon

 Here's an article in Medpage Today by the chief medical officer at UNOS, pointing out that xenotransplantation is not going to substitute in the near term for other efforts to increase organ transplants. (The article goes on to discuss recent progress in other directions.)

A Look at Pig Kidneys in the Broader Transplantation Puzzle— Advancements across the field are accelerating in real time  by David Klassen, MD November 29, 2021

"Last month's breaking news that the kidney of a pig functioned normally when attached for 54 hours to the body of a brain-dead patient was hailed as an eventual solution for more than 100,000 people nationwide who are waiting for life-saving organs. While xenotransplantation, or animal-to-human transplantation, has been undergoing study and experimentation for quite some time, this was a huge step in the right direction.

As first reported on October 18, the team at NYU Langone Health obtained consent from the ventilated donor's family to attach a pig kidney to her upper leg and monitor the results. They reported that the organ, which came from an animal whose genes had been modified to avoid early rejection by a human host, began to work almost immediately and produce urine and function as would a human kidney. The pig kidney functioned normally throughout the 54-hour trial.

...

"Unfortunately, the next steps remain incredibly complex. Routine xenotransplantation of non-human organs into human bodies is many years away. One of the greatest hurdles is immunological: getting non-human organs to survive long-term, not just for a 54-hour trial. Due to the need for additional research and testing, it is unlikely that xenotransplantation will arrive in time to help most of those currently on the transplant waitlist, including more than 90,000 kidney transplant candidates."

Onfim

Onfim’s lessons.

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U.S. was not blindsided by Russia’s anti-satellite test, say officials

"These advances in capabilities are concerning, they are not a surprise," Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations, said Dec. 4 at the Reagan National Defense Forum

SpaceNews

Sunday assorted links

1. “A man in northern Italy brought a silicone arm to his COVID-19 vaccination in an attempt to obtain a green pass without actually getting the vaccine.

2. The Rubell DC museum is taking shape.

3. Amazon wage hikes spill over to other firms.

4. Good interview with Ariel Pakes.

5. Poll data on which countries get drunk the most.

6. Glen Weyl thread.

7. Paul McCartney as founder (my Bloomberg column).

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Arianespace launches Galileo navigation satellites in final mission before Webb

A Soyuz ST-B launcher takes off from the Guiana Space Center on Saturday night with two Galileo navigation satellites. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – S. Martin

Deployment of Europe’s independent Galileo navigation network resumed Saturday night with an on-target launch of two satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket, the final Arianespace mission from French Guiana before the historic liftoff of the James Webb Space Telescope later this month.

Running four days late due to bad weather and a problem with a downrange telemetry station, a Soyuz launcher fired its kerosene-fueled engines and vaulted away from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern shore of South America at 7:19:20 p.m. EST Saturday (0019:20 GMT Sunday).

The liftoff occurred at 9:19 p.m. local time at the launch base in French Guiana, beginning the 26th Soyuz mission from the tropical spaceport.

Two previous launch attempts were scrubbed due to bad weather, and officials called off another countdown due to the unavailability of a downrange shipborne tracking station in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Russian-made Soyuz ST-B rocket took off with nearly a million pounds of thrust and darted through scattered clouds, arcing to the northeast over the Atlantic Ocean. The Soyuz shed four first stage boosters two minutes into the mission, then jettisoned its clamshell-like nose cone after soaring above the thickest layers of the atmosphere.

The core stage shut down and released about five minutes after liftoff, and a third stage engine ignited to continue the flight into space. The Soyuz third stage finished its work about nine minutes into the flight, then deployed a Russian Fregat upper stage for the final maneuvers to place the Galileo satellites into orbit.

The Fregat engine fired first to reach an egg-shaped transfer orbit, then the rocket coasted more than three hours before reigniting to circularize its orbit at an altitude of more than 14,600 miles (23,500 kilometers) and an inclination of 57.1 degrees to the equator.

The two 1,576-pound (715-kilogram) Galileo satellites, mounted side-by-side during launch, deployed from the Fregat upper stage around 11:11 p.m. EST (0411 GMT).

A few minutes later, telemetry from the rocket confirmed a successful spacecraft separation.

Ground teams at a Galileo control center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, took command of the spacecraft. The satellites unfurled their solar panels as panned, officials said.

The spacecraft will complete a series of post-launch tests before entering operational service in a few months.

“Tonight, we have a fantastic success again for the Galileo program,” said Paul Verhoef, director of navigation at the European Space Agency.

Designed for 12-year missions, the new spacecraft will join 26 Galileo satellites already in orbit providing navigation services around the world for the European Union’s mulbillion-euro flagship space program. Ten launches of Soyuz and Ariane 5 rockets from French Guiana from October 2011 through July 2018 deployed the operational Galileo satellites, which are spread out in three orbital planes around 14,400 miles (23,200 kilometers) above Earth.

The full constellation needs 30 satellites, including 24 active platforms and six spares.

“The purpose of the coming up launch of Galileo is to complete the deployments of the satellites and the population of the different orbital planes to ensure that the constellation is complete,” said Andrea Cotellessa, head of the Galileo space segment management office at the European Space Agency. “Our constellation requires eight operational satellites and two spare satellites per plane, and this has not been achieved yet.”

Europe’s next two Galileo navigation satellites are prepared for attachment to their Russian-made Fregat upper stage at the Guiana Space Center. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – P. Baudon

Galileo satellites are already beaming navigation signals to users around the world. More than 2 billion smartphones have been sold with Galileo-enabled chipsets, allowing users to locate themselves with navigation signals from Galileo satellites alongside data from the U.S. military’s Global Positioning System network.

When fully operational, the Galileo network will provide independent navigation fixes for users without needing GPS signals. With both networks available, combining Galileo and GPS data can give users a more precise position estimate.

The launch Saturday night was the final mission from the spaceport in French Guiana before liftoff Dec. 22 of the James Webb Space Telescope, a $9.7 billion observatory developed by NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency.

Webb, the most expensive space science mission in history, will blast off on top of a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket. Officials at the Guiana Space Center require about two weeks to reconfigure ground infrastructure between launches, meaning the Soyuz flight needs to get off the ground by around Dec. 8 to ensure the Webb launch remains on schedule.

The complete Galileo constellation will consist of 24 satellites along three orbital planes, plus two spare satellites per orbit. Credit: ESA-P. Carril

The two Galileo spacecraft launched Saturday night were built by OHB in Bremen, Germany. The L-band navigation payloads on each satellite was supplied by SSTL in the United Kingdom.

The satellites are the first two of 12 Galileo spacecraft ordered in a third batch contract from ESA in 2017. The “Batch 3” satellites, with the same capabilities as the previous 26, will sustain the Galileo constellation until a new generation of spacecraft is ready for launch.

Over the next few years, three Soyuz launches and three flights of Europe’s new Ariane 6 will rocket will each carry two Galileo satellites into orbit.

The second-generation satellites should begin launching by the end of 2024, according to ESA, which manages spacecraft development for the Galileo system on behalf of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body.

“They will be more powerful,” Verhoef said before this week’s launch. “They will be, as a result, also heavier, but they will have more capabilities. In particular, they will be fully flexible, fully digital, so we can re-program them in orbit.

“At the moment with the first generation, if we want to provide significant new services, we’re going to have to bring completely new satellites into orbit,” Verhoef said. “With the second generation, we have decided to do it differently and allow this capability, de facto, to be on the satellites, so we can change things as markets demand it in a relatively quick way.”

Earlier this year, the European Commission and ESA awarded contracts to Airbus and Thales Alenia Space for 12 second-generation, or G2, Galileo satellites. Each company won a deal for six spacecraft, which will carry navigation payloads built on the European continent, rather than by SSTL in the UK.

SSTL was excluded from the new generation of Galileo satellites after Brexit. European officials required sensitive elements of the Galileo program to come from EU member states.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Headlines that made no sense until recently

Singapore suspends crypto exchange over spat with K-pop group BTS

Bitget was threatened with legal action by Korean boy band’s agency for promoting digital currency Army Coin

Here is the FT story.  On the same front page is “US defence chief warns of China ‘rehearsals’ for attack on Taiwan” and “US says Russia could invade Ukraine in early 2022.”  Those have made sense for some while now.

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India’s Chandrayaan-2 maneuvered to avoid close approach to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

LRO in orbit

India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter maneuvered in October to avoid a close approach to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft, a conjunction both agencies have acknowledged but have said little more about.

SpaceNews

[RODEN] Big Walks, Opioids, Short Films

Roden 62 — Hello from the middle of my November / December 2021 Ten Japan Cities Megawalk / Adventure. It has been hot, cold, freezing, a little snowy. One day it hailed with impressive violence. I’ve walked some 200km and biked 80km and have about ten days left on this trip. I ate raw chicken the other night and a drunk fisherman made me eat his raw squid at nine in the morning.

Evidence for the “great resignation” is thin on the ground

Job quits are not unusually high

Total Solar Eclipse Below the Bottom of the World

Yesterday there was a total solar eclipse visible only at the end of the Earth. Yesterday there was a total solar eclipse visible only at the end of the Earth.


Atoms

My thanks to Atoms for sponsoring this week at DF. Atoms’s excellent Model 000 is a sneaker-style everyday shoe, available not just in half sizes but quarter sizes for a perfect fit. Atoms’ stretchy laces make it easy to slip the shoes on and off. Insoles made with copper thread neutralize odor. And lightweight materials make Atoms exceptionally comfortable and durable. My much-worn pair — size 12.25, quarter sizes for the win — is well over a year old and still look great.

For the holidays, Atoms has launched three new colorways, a limited edition art collaboration, and also brought back the popular Navy Blue and Neons. On top of that, Atoms is offering Daring Fireball readers $20 off one pair or $50 off two. A great deal for great shoes.

 ★ 

Not the final word, but could be worse…

And here is an update on patient profiles from South Africa: they don’t seem to have major oxygen problems.

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Links 12/4/21

Links for you. Science:

Probable Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Variant in Quarantine Hotel, Hong Kong, China, November 2021 (worth nothing this has been observed before in similar situations for other variants too)
Viral Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 Variants in Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Persons
Venice’s barrier against rising seas could jeopardize city’s ecosystem
Implications of the further emergence and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 variant of concern (Omicron) for the EU/EEA – first update
How Delta and Omicron Could Emerge as Twin Outbreaks
Omicron COVID variant was in Europe before South African scientists detected and flagged it to the world (if a South/southern African origin isn’t correct, lots of HAWT TAEKS will have to be revised–the epidemiology case tracking is just as hard and requires as much time as the immunology)

Other:

In Praise of One-Size-Fits-All: Critiques of vaccine mandates continue a neoliberal tradition of idolizing private choice at the expense of the public good.
Give Me Slack (excellent)
California school district will let unvaccinated students have in-person learning, defying state mandate
China tightens its grip on Hong Kong universities
Glibertarian Josh Barro And Neoconservative Bill Kristol Agree
The Supreme Court faces an existential crisis of legitimacy
Ten Things TV Lawyers Can Do Rather than Whinging about Merrick Garland
Congress Could Really Hurt the NFL If It Wants To
Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene aren’t fringe. They’re leading indicators.
You Really Should Check Out Lincoln’s Cottage
Everywhere, America. Every man looks like a Nazi, and every Nazi just looks like every man
Amy Coney Barrett’s Adoption Myths: “They’re co-opting our lives and our stories.”
I Was Adopted. I Know the Trauma It Can Inflict.
Texas Restricts Medication Abortion, Escalating War On Reproductive Rights
Supreme Court Makes Clear the Unthinkable Is Here on Abortion
Dems Stalled Abortion Protections In A Committee (we will fight for YOOOUUUUU!!!!)
As Buttigieg Eyes a Presidential Run, His DOT Is Floundering
Dr. Oz has misled the public on medical issues for years. Now he’s running for Senate.
The Problem With Alice Waters and the “Slow Food” Movement (too much PMC barglespeak, but the point is valid)
The effort to contain the coronavirus with vaccines is about to get harder. Once again, partisanship plays a role (Republican COVID Quislings)
Far right is using Twitter’s new rule against anti-extremism researchers
A man bragged he was ‘gonna be rich’ off fake coronavirus vaccine cards, prosecutors say. Then he got charged.
‘Stretch that rope’: Colorado conservative leader suggests Gov. Polis should be hanged. FEC United’s Joe Oltmann spoke on podcast of ‘a line of executions of traitors,’ including U.S. senators

Real Estate Newsletter Articles this Week

At the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter this week:

Rents Still Increasing Sharply Rent increases slowing seasonally

Real House Prices, Price-to-Rent Ratio and Price-to-Median Income in September And a look at "Affordability"

Conforming Loan Limit Increases to $647,200 High-Cost Areas increase to $970,800

Case-Shiller National Index up 19.5% Year-over-year in September Index for Conforming Loan Limit Increases 18.04% YoY

2022 Housing Forecasts: Second Look Optimism on New Home Sales in 2022

This is usually published several times a week, and provides more in-depth analysis of the housing market.

The blog will continue as always!

You can subscribe at https://calculatedrisk.substack.com/  Currently all content is available for free - and some will always be free - but please subscribe!.

SpaceX test-fires Falcon 9 rocket ahead of NASA science probe launch

SpaceX completed a static fire test of a Falcon 9 rocket Saturday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in preparation for a launch Dec. 9 with the space agency’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer science mission.

The test-firing of the Falcon 9 rocket occurred at 12:18 p.m. EST (1718 GMT) on pad 39A at the Florida spaceport. SpaceX rolled the rocket, without its payload fairing or the IXPE spacecraft, out to pad 39A Friday afternoon and raised it vertical on the launch mount overnight.

SpaceX loaded kerosene and liquid oxygen into the two-stage launcher beginning 35 minutes prior to the static fire test. The nine Merlin engines at the bottom of the booster ignited for less than 10 seconds as hold-down restraints kept the Falcon 9 on the ground.

The static fire test is a customary part of most SpaceX launch campaigns, giving engineers a chance to rehearse countdown procedures and verify ground and rocket systems are ready for launch day.

SpaceX engineers will review data from the test-firing to ensure everything worked as expected. Teams will lower the Falcon 9 rocket and return it to the hangar a quarter-mile south of pad 39A for attachment of NASA’s IXPE spacecraft.

The fully-assembled launch vehicle will return to pad 39A Tuesday in preparation for a 90-minute launch window Thursday, Dec. 9, opening at 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT).

The IXPE mission is designed to measure the polarization of high-energy cosmic X-rays, collecting data that will allow astronomers to study the unseen environment around black holes, neutron stars and pulsars, the extremely dense collapsed remains left behind by exploding stars.

Astronomers hope IXPE will reveal the spin of black holes, and yield new discoveries about the extreme magnetic fields around a special type of neutron star called magnetars.

In order to obtain the sensitivity required for the X-ray research, the IXPE observatory will host three identical X-ray telescopes that will be extended after launch on a 13-foot (4-meter) boom. Built at Marshall Space Flight Center, the mirror module assemblies at the end of the boom will focus X-rays onto detectors provided by ASI, the Italian space agency.

The IXPE spacecraft, built by Ball Aerospace, weighs 727 pounds (330 kilograms) at launch, according to a NASA spokesperson.

Artist’s concept of the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer. Credit: NASA

The relatively small size and mass of the IXPE observatory falls well short of the normal capacity of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

But IXPE will launch in a unique equatorial orbit from Cape Canaveral, requiring a significant sideways burn, or plane change maneuver, with the Falcon 9’s upper stage before deployment of the spacecraft at an altitude around 335 miles (540 kilometers).

NASA selected IXPE to become the next in the agency’s line of Small Explorer missions in January 2017. At the time, NASA said the IXPE mission would cost $188 million, covering development of the spacecraft and its X-ray telescope payload, a launch vehicle, and two years of operations.

In 2019, NASA signed a $50.3 million contract with SpaceX to launch the IXPE satellite on a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster from the Kennedy Space Center.

The orbit hugging the equator will minimize the X-ray instrument’s exposure to radiation in the South Atlantic Anomaly, the region where the inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closest to Earth’s surface.

The launch of IXPE will mark the 28th launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this year, following a blastoff Thursday night from nearby pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with the next batch of Starlink internet satellites.

SpaceX plans to recover the first stage booster after the IXPE launch on the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Saturday assorted links

1. “A strict parent.”

2. London accent over the centuries.

3. Why are many book prices now so stratespheric on Amazon? (NYT)

4. Most expensive purchases at AbeBooks this year.

5. Advancing mathematics by guiding human intuition with AI.

6. Household manual.

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Photos: Atlas 5 rolls out to launch pad for Space Force mission

United Launch Alliance rolled an Atlas 5 rocket to its launch pad Friday at Cape Canaveral in preparation for liftoff before dawn Sunday on a mission to carry two U.S. Space Force technology demonstration satellites into orbit.

The 196-foot-tall (59.7-meter) rocket emerged from ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility shortly before 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) Friday. The Atlas 5 rode its mobile launch platform along rail tracks for the 1,800-foot journey from the VIF to launch pad 41.

ULA confirmed the rocket reached the pad early Friday afternoon, then teams started preps to load the Atlas 5’s bronze-colored first stage with RP-1, a highly-refined, rocket-grade kerosene that will feed the Russian-made RD-180 main engine.

The Atlas 5 is set to launch the STP-3 mission for the military’s Space Test Program. Two technology demonstration satellites are mounted inside the Atlas 5’s 17.7-foot (5.4-meter) diameter nose cone, hosting payloads from NASA, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Space Force.

The Atlas 5 will release the two satellites directly into geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.

The launch will mark the 90th flight of an Atlas 5 rocket. The rocket — designated with tail number AV-093 — will fly in its “551” configuration with a 5-meter-diameter payload shroud, five solid rocket boosters, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage. This is the most powerful version of the Atlas 5 family, with 11 missions of the Atlas 5-551 rocket configuration to date.

The two-hour launch window opens at 4:04 a.m. EST (0904 GMT) Sunday.

Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance
Credit: United Launch Alliance

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

In Case You Missed It…

…a week of Mad Biologist links:

Ginkgo, Fallen

Some HAWT TAEKS on Omicron

Will Biden Govern? The Omarova Edition

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Getting Better, But…

Some of Us Knew Anti-Vaxx Was Going to Be a Problem…

A Quick Thought on Omicron–and Lambda

Morse lecture at INFORMS next year: market design and the study of operations

 In 1974, the year I received my Ph.D. from Stanford's (then) Department of Operations Research, it was unclear in what discipline game theory would best thrive.   As disciplinary boundaries shifted, I found that I was an economist.  But I've kept open my professional ties to OR, and indeed I think of market design as the engineering part of game theory, and very concerned with the operational detail of markets and marketplaces. So I was glad to accept an offer to compose a lecture on this for an OR audience, since market design is now a multi-disciplinary field that draws many students of operations.

Here's an announcement that includes the following:

Philip McCord Morse Lectureship Award

The Lectureship is awarded in honor of Philip McCord Morse in recognition of his pioneer contribution to the field of operations research and the management sciences. The award is given in odd-numbered years at the Annual Meeting if there is a suitable recipient. The term of the lectureship is two years. The award is $2,000, a certificate, a travel fund of $5,000, a copy of Morse's autobiography, In at the Beginnings: A Physicist's Life, and a copy of Morse and Kimball's Methods of Operations Research. Learn more about the Philip McCord Morse Lectureship Award and how to be nominated on the INFORMS website.

This year, the lectureship is awarded to:

Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University

Who exemplifies the true spirit of Professor Morse and who, like Morse, has been an outstanding spokesperson for the operations research profession in operations research tools and ideas in designing efficient markets for a range of applications. This award is given by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences in honor of Philip McCord Morse, in recognition of Professor Morse's pioneering contributions to the field of operations research and of his devoted service to the field's professional societies.

***********

See also

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Schedule for Week of December 5, 2021

The key economic reports this week are November CPI and the October trade deficit.

----- Monday, December 6th -----

No major economic releases scheduled.

----- Tuesday, December 7th -----

U.S. Trade Deficit8:30 AM: Trade Balance report for October from the Census Bureau.

This graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum, through the most recent report. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.

The consensus is the trade deficit to be $67.0 billion.  The U.S. trade deficit was at $80.9 billion in September.

8:00 AM: Corelogic House Price index for October.

----- Wednesday, December 8th -----

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

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey10:00 AM ET: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for October from the BLS.

This graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (purple), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.

Jobs openings decreased in September to 10.438 million from 10.629 million in August.

----- Thursday, December 9th -----

8:30 AM: The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for 228 thousand initial claims, up from 222 thousand last week.

12:00 PM: Q3 Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States from the Federal Reserve.

----- Friday, December 10th -----

8:30 AM: The Consumer Price Index for November from the BLS. The consensus is for a 0.7% increase in CPI, and a 0.5% increase in core CPI.

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

Thesis on engineering onboarding products.

As I’ve started doing a bit more angel investing, I’ve ended up chatting with a handful of folks working on the engineering boarding space, and here is my collection of thoughts on the space.

Engineering onboarding is the process by which a recently hired engineer becomes a proficient contributor to your company. As companies scale, they tend to devote an increasingly large amount of energy into this space. Pulling a few data points from my own experience: Uber sent every new engineer through a week of “engucation” to onboard them, Stripe had new engineers form short-term teams that spent two-to-four weeks building and shipping a project together. Most other companies do something similar, although always tweaked to their culture and practices (e.g. Facebook’s bootcamp model).

Engineering onboarding is an interesting problem for a few reasons:

  • Quality of onboarding greatly impacts whether you benefit from rapid hiring, and many companies believe that engineering is their constraint on product delivery. (A belief that I often disagree with for the reasons Shreyas describes.)
  • Engineering headcount is a large item in most companies budgets, often the highest departmental headcount cost, with overall headcount as one of the top two to three costs. This means even a marginal improvement has significant value to would-be buyers
  • Very few companies have a team or individuals responsible for engineering onboarding, although increasing are seeing some “Engineering Operations” roles with a focus on this problem. Historically this problem was either unowned or owned by a “developer productivity” team whose expertise is primarily in tooling rather than training
  • Customer experience teams have clear efficiency metrics to evaluate onboarding quality against, but engineering teams firmly disagree whether it’s possible to measure engineering impact or engineering efficiency. A number of recent companies attempt to create measurable engineering efficiency scores, but I think they’re focused on measuring efficiency rather than effective behavior (Slack is a great book on why efficient and effective are meaningfully different). The industry has started to standardize on the DORA metrics (e.g. those covered in Accelerate), but those are input metrics rather than output metrics (e.g. you can do well on them and still have bad efficiency) so they’re not particularly helpful for evaluating onboarding quality, e.g. they are advantageous to but not guarantees of effective onboarding
  • The Pandemic-drven rapid switch to remote work over course of 2020 and 2021 has put even more pressure on onboarding as many previous strategies (e.g. “shoulder tapping”) aren’t working as well
  • Many companies are finding it relatively easy to attain high company valuations at early stages, providing the capital to start rapidly growing their engineering team at earlier phases than in the past

Despite the significant potential value in this space and trends supporting investment, there are relatively few tools doing well in this space. Some of the core challenges are: \

  • The would-be buyer is typically the head of engineering who is not directly impacted by bad onboarding, because executive onboarding is always very custom and they’re able to quickly get help from anyone. This leads to limited intuitive connection to the problem
  • The would-be user, e.g. newly hired engineers at the company, have little influence at the company to drive tool adoption, and typically direct that influence towards other problems that they understand better (day to day practices like code review, tool selection, etc)
  • Even if buyer agrees with the problem statement, they’ve rarely experienced effective onboarding and may not believe there’s much opportunity to impact this problem, even if it’s going poorly
  • Even if buyer theoretically believes the problem is solvable, the lack of agreed upon measurement for engineering impact (and the bespokeness of engineering impact measures that companies adopt in practice) makes it difficult to show value even if your offering is quite good
  • Many approaches require an internal operator to use effectively, which leads many companies to prioritize hiring the “engineering operations” role first, and then rely on those hires to select tools (if any). However, the folks hired to solve the problem are rarely aware of these tools and consequently they don’t advocate for their adoption
  • This sort of tooling potentially requires integration with important data (e.g. HRIS data) which brings security, legal and compliance issues into play for both the buyer and the seller

Reflecting on those challenges, the most valuable questions I’d encourage folks working in this space to answer are:

  • Who is the buyer, and what budget are they pulling from?
  • What is your security and compliance strategy?
  • What is your go-to-market strategy to convince would-be buyers that it is possible to improve engineering onboarding?
  • What is your go-to-market strategy to create conviction that your product can improve engineering onboarding?
  • How do you avoid getting sequenced behind hiring “engineering operations” role? Conversely, how do you lean into getting sequenced behind hiring someone into the engineering operations role?
  • How does your product show value when no one agrees on measuring engineering efficiency? (If you use a synthetic metric to evaluate efficiency, how do you avoid measuring something harmful and how do you ensure it’s widely applicable? If you use surveys, how do you go beyond NPS surveys that inevitably show a one-time improvement but are difficult to tie to impact?)
  • If you rely on consulting-heavy approaches to solve any of the above problems, how will you scale revenue at a reasonable margin?
  • If you don’t rely on a consulting-heavy approach or intend to pivot out of the consulting-heavy approach quickly, how will you manage quality without humans in the loop?

If you have convincing answers to those problems, then I think most of the other problems are probably pretty solvable in comparison (e.g. driving up margin once you’re there seems pretty straightforward: attach more higher margin offerings once you’re in the door).

I’ve probably done just enough angel investing that I should really figure out a more structured template for thinking about investment verticals, and hopefully will figure out a template over the next bit.

Context is that which is scarce

Sebastian Garren emails me the following:

“I have been meditating a lot recently on “Context is what is scarce.” The amazing and ironic thing about this statement is that it is extremely low context and yet offers a gateway into a whole view of reality. Consider this passage from Bernard Lonergan’s Insight:

A single book may be written from a moving viewpoint, and then it will contain, not a single set of coherent statements, but a sequence of related sets of coherent statements. Moreover, as is clear, a book designed to aid a development must be written from a moving viewpoint. It cannot begin by presupposing that a reader can assimilate at a stroke what can be attained only at the term of a prolonged and arduous effort. On the contrary, it must begin from a minimal viewpoint and a minimal context; it will exploit that minimum to raise a further question that enlarges the viewpoint and the context; it will proceed with the enlarged viewpoint and context only as long as is necessary to raise still deeper issues that again transform the basis and the terms of reference of the inquiry; and clearly, this device can be repeated not merely once or twice but as often as may be required to reach the universal viewpoint and the completely concrete context that embraces every aspect of reality.

He gets the context issue. Of course, this doesn’t only apply to books, but to networks of people. Networks create context. Movement along the network to subcategories or adjacent networks creates new insights out of new context, and importantly the person retains an ability to engage with the old context, while inculturating himself to a broader view.

Build the context adjacent to many other high energy networks and they will come.”

TC again: “Context is that which is scarce” is one of my recent favorite sayings.

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Demographic Transitions Across Time and Space

The demographic transition –the move from a high fertility/high mortality regime into a low fertility/low mortality regime– is one of the most fundamental transformations that countries undertake. To study demographic transitions across time and space, we compile a data set of birth and death rates for 186 countries spanning more than 250 years. We document that (i) a demographic transition has been completed or is ongoing in nearly every country; (ii) the speed of transition has increased over time; and (iii) having more neighbors that have started the transition is associated with a higher probability of a country beginning its own transition. To account for these observations, we build a quantitative model in which parents choose child quantity and educational quality. Countries differ in geographic location, and improved production and medical technologies diffuse outward from Great Britain. Our framework replicates well the timing and increasing speed of transitions. It also produces a correlation between the speeds of fertility transition and increases in schooling similar to the one in the data.

That is from Matthew J. Delventhal, Jes´us Fernandez-Villaverde, and Nezih Guner.

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Ben Pearson: ‘Here’s Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult to Understand’

Ben Pearson, writing for Slashfilm:

I used to be able to understand 99% of the dialogue in Hollywood films. But over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed that percentage has dropped significantly — and it’s not due to hearing loss on my end. It’s gotten to the point where I find myself occasionally not being able to parse entire lines of dialogue when I see a movie in a theater, and when I watch things at home, I’ve defaulted to turning the subtitles on to make sure I don’t miss anything crucial to the plot.

Knowing I’m not alone in having these experiences, I reached out to several professional sound editors, designers, and mixers, many of whom have won Oscars for their work on some of Hollywood’s biggest films, to get to the bottom of what’s going on. One person refused to talk to me, saying it would be “professional suicide” to address this topic on the record. Another agreed to talk, but only under the condition that they remain anonymous. But several others spoke openly about the topic, and it quickly became apparent that this is a familiar subject among the folks in the sound community, since they’re the ones who often bear the brunt of complaints about dialogue intelligibility.

I think part of this is a trend that might have been inevitable, as the language of cinema inevitably became the lingua franca of the world. Most people can thoroughly enjoy movies recorded in a foreign language with subtitles. (Have I ever mentioned how fucking much I love Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite? My god, what a masterpiece.) So of course, you can, in theory, enjoy a movie recorded in your own language even if you can’t make out all or even a lot of the dialogue. Trend isn’t even the right word, though — it’s a fad, like grunge typography in the 1990s or the bizarre orange-teal color grading of movies during the 2000s.

But the other factor — which Pearson addresses directly — is the singular influence of Christopher Nolan. Nolan is to mumble-mouthed movie dialogue what David Carson was to illegible typography. Did I buy every issue of Ray Gun? Yes. Do I watch every movie Nolan makes? Yes. But, still, it’s a fad.

The correct answer here is Stanley Kubrick. In the same way the color grading of his films has never seemed dated, no matter the current fad, the audio tracks have not either. You can understand every fucking word every character says. Which makes Nolan’s recent films a bit frustrating, given how amazing a job he did supervising the 50th anniversary re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. My gut says Nolan is going to outgrow this.

 ★ 

Yes, the U.S. is still a (flawed) democracy

Dammit, I have to write about politics again. I promise I’ll get back to economics soon.

Lamenting the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge to Roe v. Wade, Stephen Colbert recently declared that “We don’t live in a democracy.” Some people I very much respect, such as YIMBY activist Darrell Owens, echoed his declaration:

Now, I do think that the (probably successful) drive to overturn Roe is a grave misstep by conservatives. I predict (and hope) that whipping up anger at unelected judges overturning the will of the people — 60% of Americans support upholding Roe, while only 27% want to overturn it — will be as effective at rallying support for Democrats as it was for Republicans in the 1970s. AND, I also think that our democracy is under grave threat, and people are right to sound the alarm (as I’ll discuss in a bit).

BUT, that said, I think the rhetoric that “we don’t live in a democracy” is unhelpful. One reason is that it discourages people from voting. If you live in a place where elections are rigged, e.g. Russia, it doesn’t make much sense to vote; you’re just helping to give the dictatorship a facade of democratic legitimacy. But the election of Biden in 2020 — which was decided by a razor-thin margin in a few battleground states — shows how important and powerful voting can still be in the U.S. That’s why it’s so frustrating to me that the bad old idea that voting doesn’t matter seems to be making a comeback among some elements on the Left:

This is ridiculous; Biden has reduced drone strikes to almost nothing since getting elected, and seems to get no credit for this from the Left. But if people on the Left believe their vote doesn’t count, it’ll just mean more victories for the Right.

Even more ominously, the rhetoric that “we don’t live in a democracy” seems dangerous because delegitimizing the current system could play into the hands of the rightists who actually want to overthrow it. Elements within the GOP are already pushing for state legislatures to steal the 2024 presidential election, defending Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, and making excuses for the coup attempt of 1/6. If Americans decide that they no longer live in a democracy, then an election theft in 2024 might seem like a modest, incremental step; people might think “Well, we already had gerrymandering and the Electoral College, so how much different is this really?” And that could sap the will to resist.

Of course, if we really don’t live in a democracy, then we ought to be honest and truthful about that. So let’s take a quick look at the data and the relevant facts.

What the experts say about American democracy

In fact, there are various organizations whose job it is to determine which countries are and are not democracies. The three main orgs who do this are:

  • Freedom House, a U.S.-based think tank

  • Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), a Sweden-based NGO

  • The Economist Intelligence Unit, part of a UK-based publication

These are institutions staffed with experts whose job it is to compare political systems around the world, who gather meticulous and voluminous data about these systems in consistent methods over time. So let’s see what each one has to say.

Freedom House rates the U.S. as a “free” country in 2021, with a score of 83/100. The “political rights” score was 32/40, which was about the same as the overall score. Though we still get classified as “free”, we’ve slipped badly in the rankings in recent years, and are now similar to Panama, Poland, or Romania. Japan, in comparison, has a score of 96/100. So we’re not doing too well. Here’s a graph of the change between 2009 and 2019:

Here is a list of all the political freedoms where Freedom House gives the U.S. less than full marks, along with (summarized) reasons for the deductions:

1. “Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?” (3/4)

The main problem Freedom House cites here was Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

2. “Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?” (3/4)

The cited reasons for the subtraction of 1 point include gerrymandering, cumbersome voting processes in some areas, the unrepresentative nature of the Electoral College, Trump’s characterization of mail-in voting as a “scam”, overly strict voter ID laws in some states, and understaffing of the Federal Election Commission’s panel on campaign finance.

3. “Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?” (3/4)

Freedom House gives three reasons for subtracting a point here. First, the influence of money in politics. Second, right-wing threats against elected officials. And third, Trump’s use of government resources to support his own presidential campaign.

4. “Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?” (3/4)

Basically, this is about various state laws that make it hard for Black people to vote.

5. “Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?” (3/4)

This deduction is about Trump’s abuse of executive power, including appointing “acting” cabinet members to circumvent Congressional approval.

6. “Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?” (3/4)

This is basically entirely about corrupt stuff Trump did.

7. “Does the government operate with openness and transparency?” (2/4)

The only 2-point deduction. This is basically all about the Trump administration’s abuse of executive power to conceal information from the public.

The Freedom House scores basically mirror the findings of the other two agencies. V-Dem, the Swedish NGO, doesn’t establish firm cutoffs for “democracy” or “not a democracy”, but it does show the U.S. moving abruptly and substantially toward autocracy in the Trump era, mostly as a result of Trump policies:

The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks the U.S. as the 25th most democratic country in the world, just between France and Portugal. Before 2016 it had us in the “Full Democracy” category, but after 2016 we fell just below the cutoff, into the “Flawed Democracy” group. As with the other two agencies, the EIU assigns the Trump administration most of the blame for the deterioration.

All of these agencies are basically telling the same story: The U.S. is still a democracy, but now a flawed and injured one, and the injury was mostly done by Trump. That extends, of course, to the movement Trump created within the GOP, and the Republicans who are now laying the groundwork for election denial.

But note that longstanding U.S. institutions — the Senate, the Electoral College, and SCOTUS — can’t be the cause of the deterioration in the U.S. rankings. In 2009 we had a Senate that dramatically overrepresented rural areas and allowed a minority to block legislation via the filibuster, an Electoral College that could (and occasionally did) go against the will of the majority, and a SCOTUS that often bucked the will of the people when issuing its rulings. And yet in 2009, Freedom House rated the U.S. as one of the freest countries in the world, V-Dem had us with a very high score (and an all-time high), and the Economist Intelligence Unit rated us as a Full Democracy.

Thus, the people whose job it is to study comparative international political systems don’t share the popular progressive conviction that the Senate, the Electoral College, or SCOTUS made the U.S. undemocratic. Personally, I share the conviction that the Electoral College and the filibuster are grave impediments to democracy (though I’m fine with SCOTUS and the Senate). But when professional experts compare the U.S. to other countries around the world, they find that it was the Trump administration, not these longstanding institutions, that made the difference between a democratic country and a merely mostly-democratic country.

The “oligarchy” myth

I’d like to take a moment to address one other popular argument — the idea that American democracy is subverted by the influence of money in politics. Certainly, this has been a longstanding complaint, exacerbated by the decision in Citizens United in 2010. Freedom House docks the U.S. one point out of 40 because of this. But among certain segments of the Left, it has become catechism that the U.S. is an oligarchy — that the American political system exists to serve the rich, while ignoring the desires of the rest of the country.

The empirical evidence for this belief is incredibly thin. It mostly rests on one single paper: “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”, by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (2014). This paper is cited again and again by people asserting that America is an oligarchy:

The BBC even reported that Gilens and Page’s paper demonstrated that the U.S. was “not a democracy”.

This is complete misinformation. Vox’s Dylan Matthews explained why in a 2016 article, and I have little add to his masterful and succinct debunking, so I’ll just quote him here.

Since its initial release, the Gilens/Page paper's findings have been targeted in three separate debunkings. Cornell professor Peter Enns, recent Princeton PhD graduate Omar Bashir, and a team of three researchers — UT Austin grad student J. Alexander Branham, University of Michigan professor Stuart Soroka, and UT professor Christopher Wlezien — have all taken a look at Gilens and Page's underlying data and found that their analysis doesn't hold up…

[T]he researchers critiquing the paper found that middle-income Americans and rich Americans actually agree on an overwhelming majority of topics. Out of the 1,779 bills in the Gilens/Page data set, majorities of the rich and middle class agree on 1,594…That means the groups agree on 89.6 percent of bills.

That leaves only 185 bills on which the rich and the middle class disagree, and even there the disagreements are small…

Bashir and Branham/Soroka/Wlezien find that on these 185 bills, the rich got their preferred outcome 53 percent of the time and the middle class got what they wanted 47 percent of the time. The difference between the two is not statistically significant…

The researchers found the rich’s win rate for economic issues where there's disagreement is 57.1 percent, compared with 51.1 percent for social issues. There's a difference, but not a robust one.

Bashir's paper prods at the Gilens data even more and finds a number of holes. Bashir concludes that strong support from the middle class is about as good a predictor of a policy being adopted as strong support from the rich. "In the original data set, change is enacted 47 percent of the time that median-income Americans favor it at a rate of 80 percent or more," Bashir writes. "Yet change is enacted 52 percent of the time that elites favor it at that rate."…

Bashir also notes that the Gilens and Page model explains very little. Its R-squared value is a measly 0.074. That is, 7.4 percent of variation in policy outcomes is determined by the measured views of the rich, the poor, and interest groups put together. So even if the rich control the bulk of that (and Bashir argues they do not), the absolute amount of sway over policy that represents is quite limited indeed.

There are many more problems with the paper, so you can go read Matthews’ entire article, and the three critique papers. But the statistics quoted in the excerpt above are already utterly damning for the Gilens/Page result. The whole model has almost no explanatory power at all — an R-squared of 0.074, for a model with that many variables, is nothing. And the fact that Gilens & Page’s data shows that policy outcomes tend to agree with the middle class as much as they agree with the rich completely destroys the claim in the tweet above — i.e. that “elected officials make policy to benefit the richest ten percent of the country to the exclusion of the needs of everyone else.”

In other words, if America is an oligarchy, it has not been demonstrated by Gilens & Page (2014), and all the people claiming that this paper is proof that America is an oligarchy are engaging in pseudoscientific mythmaking. Maybe in the future some research will show that super-rich people or big corporations really do pull the strings of American politics. And it’s sensible to worry about the influence of money in politics. But the exaggerated claims regularly made by the Left, based on a misinterpretation of this one very shaky paper, are a distraction from the real threats facing American democracy.

What’s the right rhetoric?

Combining my own concerns, the opinions of the experts, and the research on “oligarchy”, I have the following recommendations for the rhetoric progressives (or centrists, or conservatives whose conscience doesn’t let them sign on to the Trump movement) should use in defense of democracy.

1. Don’t call for the abolition of longstanding U.S. political institutions.

“Abolish the Senate” is the equivalent of “Abolish the police” or “Ban cars” — a rallying cry that gets lots of Twitter likes, but gives normal people the impression that you’re an arsonist trying to burn down the country’s institutions, while simultaneously having zero hope of actually succeeding.

This is bad because we already have a gang of arsonists trying to burn down the country’s institutions — the Trump movement. We don’t need two such gangs. What we especially don’t need is an ineffectual, big-talking gang of Twitter progressives calling for institutional destruction that they’ll never ever actually achieve, pitted against a gang of Trumpists who have the intent, the will, and (eventually) the ability to actually destroy the country’s institutions in real life.

This is true to a lesser extend of the slogan “Pack the court”. I personally do think threats to pack SCOTUS have their place — FDR used them to force a recalcitrant court to allow most of the New Deal. But in a time of unrest like the present one, where the Supreme Court is not the main impediment to important legislative initiatives as it was in the 1930s, the usefulness of court-packing threats is lost on me. The rationale behind court-packing in the 2020s isn’t “allowing Congress to do its job”, it’s “reversing decisions that progressives don’t like”. Even if court-packing were possible given current Congressional realities (it’s not), it would destroy a long-established norm for no real gain; Republicans would simply pack the Court even more next time they won control of the government, etc. etc., ad infinitum, until the institution was effectively destroyed. Everyone who spends a minute thinking about the ramifications of court-packing understands this. So the slogan of “Pack the court” is worse than useless.

In fact, the one political institution that the Democrats both can and should destroy is the filibuster. The modern form of the filibuster is a relatively recent invention, and would take a simple majority to weaken substantially to the point where it no longer makes majoritarian governance impossible. So progressives should focus all of their institutional ire on the filibuster in the short term.

In the long term, we can think about how to fix the Electoral College.

2. Focus on undoing the damage done by the Trump administration.

The experts all seem to agree that the degradation of American democracy is a recent phenomenon, and that the blame overwhelmingly falls on Donald Trump and the rightist movement he created. Whether or not you think that the people in Freedom House and V-Dem and the Economist Intelligence Unit have any claim to objective fact here, it’s likely that their judgements reflect the impressions of the general public. (They certainly coincide with international opinion of America.) People used to have great confidence in American democracy. Trump shook that confidence deeply.

In other words, most people are probably NOT willing to buy a story that America’s founding institutions — the Senate, SCOTUS, etc. — make us “not a democracy”. But people ARE probably willing to buy a story that Donald Trump and his followers degraded and damaged our democracy, and that this democracy needs to be restored. So focusing on the damage done by Trump is probably a smarter bet than focusing on longstanding gripes about the way Madison and Hamilton set up the branches of government two and a half centuries ago.

3. Drop the “oligarchy” stuff.

Yes, money in politics is a real concern. But claiming that money in politics makes America “not a democracy” simply reduces the urgency of defending our democracy against election theft and other terrifying, imminent threats. I mean, who cares if we stop the Trumpists from stealing elections if elections don’t matter anyway and the rich just control everything?

If the rich did control everything, then maybe this would be valid. But the available evidence suggests that they do not; policy outcomes strongly track the desires of the middle class. And though the experts are concerned about money in politics, it’s only a small piece of the democratic deficit they’re warning us about. Thus, shouting that America is an undemocratic oligarchy under the best of conditions is simply counterproductive.

4. “Defend democracy” is more useful than “We’re not a democracy”.

The right rhetoric, I believe, is that our democracy is under attack and must be defended at all costs. Darrell gets it exactly right in the following tweet:

We’ve been in a period of national unrest for 7 or 8 years, and I believe that people are getting tired of that. They want retrenchment, they want stability. And if progressives are offering them a program of institutional destruction — attacking SCOTUS, attacking the Senate, etc. etc. — then there’s a chance that Americans may turn to the GOP for stability and retrenchment, holding their nose at the Trumpists’ manifest attempts to subvert elections. Thus it went in Russia, in Hungary, in Venezuela, in Turkey, and so on.

But if instead progressives are the ones defending democracy against the manifest institutional arson and democratic subversion of the Trumpists, then I believe the majority of Americans will be on our side. There is still much worth preserving in American democracy. And only by preserving it today do we have any hope of improving it tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.


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Reuters: U.S. State Department Employees’ iPhones Were Hacked With NSO Group Spyware

Christopher Bing and Joseph Menn, reporting for Reuters:

iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people familiar with the matter. The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said. […]

Apple’s alert to affected users did not name the creator of the spyware used in this hack. The victims notified by Apple included American citizens and were easily identifiable as U.S. government employees because they associated email addresses ending in state.gov with their Apple IDs, two of the people said.

Fascinating to consider that the U.S. State Department is only aware of this hack because Apple notified the affected employees. That’s certainly how this report reads.

In a public response, NSO has said its technology helps stop terrorism and that they’ve installed controls to curb spying against innocent targets. For example, NSO says its intrusion system cannot work on phones with U.S. numbers beginning with the country code +1. But in the Uganda case, the targeted State Department employees were using iPhones registered with foreign telephone numbers, said two of the sources, without the U.S. country code.

Big-time ✊🍆 feel to this. Like hearing about PC malware that bypasses PCs with Russian keyboards attached.

 ★ 

Changes ahead for Space Force procurement organizations

A new senior procurement executive for space programs will oversee the transfer of the Space Development Agency and a restructuring of the Space Systems Command

SpaceNews

How piecemeal carbon pricing affects cross-border lending

Banks with domestic carbon-pricing schemes do more dirty lending abroad

India inches towards inclusion in big bond indices

Its careful approach to capital flows accords with economists’ newfound caution

Have SPACs been cleaned up?

Newer blank-cheque vehicles are less costly for investors. But the change may not last

Managing the world’s biggest sovereign-wealth fund is about to get complicated

Inflation and politics could make Nicolai Tangen’s job at Norges Bank Investment Management harder

The explosion in stablecoins revives a debate around “free banking”

Did privately issued money in the 18th and 19th centuries lead to chaos or stability?

Iridescent by Moonlight

Iridescent by Moonlight Iridescent by Moonlight


NASA to award SpaceX three more commercial crew flights

Crew Dragon approaching ISS

NASA announced Dec. 3 its intent to purchase three more commercial crew missions from SpaceX as a hedge against further delays in the certification of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner.

SpaceNews

Live coverage: Soyuz rocket lifts off from jungle launch pad with Galileo satellites

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana with two more Galileo navigation satellites for the European Commission and the European Space Agency. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

Arianespace’s live video stream begins at 0000 GMT (7 p.m. EST) and will be available here.
If you appreciate what we do, please consider becoming a Spaceflight Now member and support our coverage.

Northrop Grumman wins NASA contract for SLS booster production

BOLE booster case

NASA awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman Dec. 2 for the production of several pairs of Space Launch System solid rocket boosters as well as development of a new version of the booster.

SpaceNews

Three Quick Links for Friday Afternoon

I Was Adopted. I Know the Trauma It Can Inflict. @espiers on Justice Amy Coney Barrett's too-casual assertion that adoption is "an accessible and desirable alternative for women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant". [nytimes.com]

Felix Klieser is an internationally recognized French horn player who was born without arms and plays his instrument with his toes. [classical-music.com]

David R Chan has eaten at more than 8000 Chinese restaurants across the US. "My interest in the history of Chinese in the US led me to eat Chinese food and see what it was like to be Chinese in different parts of the country." [bbc.com]

---

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Canadian Police Claim AirTags Are Being Used by Thieves to Track Cars They Intend to Steal

York Regional Police:

Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them. Brand name ‘air tags’ are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots. Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s residence, where they are stolen from the driveway.

Thieves typically use tools like screwdrivers to enter the vehicles through the driver or passenger door, while ensuring not to set off alarms. Once inside, an electronic device, typically used by mechanics to reprogram the factory setting, is connected to the onboard diagnostics port below the dashboard and programs the vehicle to accept a key the thieves have brought with them. Once the new key is programmed, the vehicle will start and the thieves drive it away.

Over the past year, more than 2,000 vehicles have been stolen across the region.

Five incidents out of 2,000 is not exactly a trend, but the basic idea here is interesting. I’m interested in knowing how the police figured out that AirTags were used in this way. Let’s say a thief hides an AirTag on your car while it’s in a public parking lot. Then you park the car in your home’s driveway. The thief comes in the middle of the night and steals your car. You call the police and they come to your home to investigate. How would they know an AirTag had ever been involved?

My only guess is that in these five incidents, the victims were iPhone users who got the “AirTag Found Moving With You” alert. They tapped the “Play Sound” button, found the nefariously hidden AirTag, and (perhaps because they know their car is high-end) had the foresight to call the police. Or, maybe they disregarded the alert, thinking their iPhone had picked up on someone else’s AirTag by mistake. But then their car gets stolen a day or two later, and the unexpected “AirTag Found Moving With You” alert they had disregarded suddenly seems relevant, so they share that with the police.

If that’s the basic idea, then the use of AirTags in this way might be more prevalent than the five cases suggest, because if the car owner doesn’t use an iPhone (or uses an older iPhone still running an older version of iOS), neither the owner nor the police would have any way of knowing an AirTag had ever been involved in the theft.

(Via MacRumors.)

 ★ 

Gap Week: December 3, 2021

Hey folks! I know I was hoping to have Fortifications, Part III out this week, but in the inevitable bustle of the end of the semester combined with a few other pressing commitments, it just didn’t quite work out. Alas, as much as I love ACOUP, it must play third fiddle to my teaching and professional commitments (not to mention, you know, actually having a life). The good news is that I see no obstacles to having it finished for next week.

That said, lest I leave you all without anything to read or listen to this week, here are a few quick suggestions, starting with:

Me, writing in The Bulwark on “Ancient Insurrections – and Ours,” a discussion of ancient tyranny in light of the January 6th Capitol insurrection. I know that many of you come here to escape politics (and I don’t blame you) but for those of you who can stand to read more about it, I have written more (and for those who might want the ancient tyranny stuff, devoid of any modern political commentary, I think there’s a good chance in the coming months that we’ll revisit ‘How to Polis 101‘ – a section of the Sparta series – and get into more depth about how the various kinds of Greek polis government systems worked).

And while I’m here I should note that I have done quite a number of podcasts in the past month or so which you may have missed. I talked about historical video games in general and Paradox’s games in particular at both Three Moves Ahead and with Adrian Bonenberger at The Wrath-Bearing Tree. I also made another guest appearance on the Boiled Leather Audio Hour with Stefan Sasse, this time talking about Dune.

But now for things not by me! Over at War on the Rocks, Alex Vershinin talks logistics with “Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at Russian Army Logistics and the Fait Accompli.” I’m not sure I would bet the Baltic entirely on the analysis here, but there is a clearly valid point: we often focus on the difficulty of our logistics (whoever ‘us’ may be) and not on the often similar difficulties of opposing logistics. I will admit, I found it funny that just as Hearts of Iron IV adds trains and trucks to its logistics system, here we have a fairly sophisticated article discussing the impact of trains and trucks on actual, real-world maneuver warfare logistics. It’s also striking how Vershinin’s point here is that part of the reason it is easy to misread Russian logistics concerns is that their logistics system has some key fundamental differences from NATO in terms of underlying structure – a reminder that such things matter!

Over at Foreign Policy, Paul Musgrave has a fascinating article on that time that Pepsi bought a significant fraction of the Soviet Navy, though as you might imagine there is both a little more and a lot less to the story than the idea that Pepsi was suddenly a world naval power (the ships were militarily worthless but the purchase reflected Pepsi’s gamble on the future of the Soviet Union).

Finally, over at Peopling the Past, they have a pair of really fascinating interviews with Anissa Malvoisin and Alice Clinch, both graduate students studying the ancient world, using archaeology to investigate questions about production and trade, which really speaks to the range of uses that these kinds of studies can have, particularly in the ways that exploring the ancient economy can help to uncover at least some facets of the lives of regular people who are otherwise mostly invisible to us.

And also here are my cats, hanging out on their cat tower. Percy (bottom) looks profoundly unamused to be having his picture taken.

Links 12/3/21

Links for you. Science:

Fact Check-Research abstract is not reliable evidence of a link between mRNA vaccines and heart disease
Omicron – on a scale from 1-10, how bad is this going to be? This one’s a weirdo, so I’m a 3, a 10, or anything in-between.
New preprint out: Germany’s current COVID-19 crisis is mainly driven by the unvaccinated
Given the data we’re all waiting on with Omicron, I want to spend a minute talking about antibodies and the possible worst-case scenario of Omicron showing complete escape from neutralization by vaccine- or infection-derived antibodies.
Omicron Won’t Ruin Your Booster. Sometimes, dips in immunization quality can be rescued with a little extra quantity.
Increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection associated with emergence of the Omicron variant in South Africa

Other:

We may have already missed our last, best chance to bolster American democracy
Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and … Joe Manchin threaten government shutdown over vaccine mandates
‘Roe’ is dead. The Roberts Court’s ‘stench’ will live forever.
Omicron variant: Let’s not make Africa the target of our fear and our travel ban
Billie Jean King: My abortion story shows why the Supreme Court must save Roe v. Wade
Can We Occasionally Err On The Side Of Doing Too Much And Not Declare Mission Accomplished Too Early
Republicans Are Undermining the Vaccine and Blaming Biden for It
Why Do We Need a 24/7 Economy?
Up all night with a Twitch millionaire: The loneliness and rage of the Internet’s new rock stars
There’s A New Push To Let D.C. Voters Cast Ballots From Their Phones (nope)
Former federal prosecutor: We’ll see “a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump” (I too love modern fantasy…)
Georgia election workers suing conspiracy website over ‘campaign of lies’: In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Ruby Freeman and her daughter allege how they became the target of a feedback loop of misinformation that included President Donald Trump. (Gateway Pundit was always a walking shit stain)

Bari Weiss interviews me (pre-Omicron)

Here is the link, enjoy!

The post Bari Weiss interviews me (pre-Omicron) appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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December 3rd COVID-19: Cases, Hospitalizations and Deaths Increasing

The CDC is the source for all data.

According to the CDC, on Vaccinations.  Total doses administered: 466,348,132.

COVID Metrics
 TodayWeek
Ago
Goal
Percent fully Vaccinated59.7%---≥70.0%1
Fully Vaccinated (millions)198.2---≥2321
New Cases per Day3🚩96,42587,986≤5,0002
Hospitalized3🚩48,61044,689≤3,0002
Deaths per Day3🚩975893≤502
1 Minimum to achieve "herd immunity" (estimated between 70% and 85%).
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37-day average for Cases, Currently Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7-day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met.

IMPORTANT: For "herd immunity" most experts believe we need 70% to 85% of the total population fully vaccinated (or already had COVID).  Note: COVID will probably stay endemic (at least for some time).

KUDOS to the residents of the 5 states that have achieved 70% of total population fully vaccinated: Vermont at 73.2%, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts at 71.6%.

KUDOS also to the residents of the 16 states and D.C. that have achieved 60% of total population fully vaccinated: New York at 68.8%, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, Virginia, New Hampshire, Oregon, District of Columbia, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Florida, and Hawaii at 61.4%.

The following 19 states have between 50% and 59.9% fully vaccinated: Wisconsin at 59.8%, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Michigan, Texas, Kansas, Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, North Carolina, Alaska, Ohio, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Missouri and Indiana at 50.8%.

Next up (total population, fully vaccinated according to CDC) are Georgia at 49.8%, Tennessee at 49.7%, Arkansas at 49.6%, Louisiana at 49.0% and North Dakota at 49.0%.

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.

Natural vs Vax Immunity Comes to the Fore With Omicron

In recent months there’s been a lively debate and a number of contending studies over whether ‘natural’ or vaccinated immunity provides superior protection against COVID. This is important information to know for a number of reasons. But in the public conversation it’s largely become a cudgel in arguments about vaccine mandates – people insisting vaccine mandates shouldn’t apply to them because of the immunity they got from being sick with COVID is just as good. There are many problems with that argument – the most important of which is that every expert I’ve heard from seems to agree that getting vaccinated gives you added protection regardless of whether you’ve had COVID. Meanwhile, in public health terms, it’s nearly impossible to litigate at scale who has had COVID and who hasn’t. But setting that debate aside, the advent of Omicron may be pushing this issue to center stage in a new way.

Let me start with the standard and critical caveat: We’re still dealing with very incomplete data and knowledge about how Omicron functions and what dangers it represents.

The biggest concern over the Omicron variant is immune evasion – whether the location and number of mutations will allow it to get around the immunity people have either from being vaccinated or previous COVID infections. An emerging question is whether that evasion will hit harder with people whose immunity is from previous infection versus those who’ve been vaccinated or vaccinated and boosted.

How do we know this?

Well, we don’t know this. Or rather we don’t know that vaccine immunity holds up any better than natural immunity. A pre-print study released yesterday by South Africa’s public health authority showed substantially higher reinfection with the Omicron variant than previous variants. So that part we seem to know. However, that study didn’t look at breakthrough infections, or how vaccine immunity held up.

I was watching expert commentary and efforts to make sense of the emerging data and I wasn’t clear what this hunch or suspicion about superior immunity from vaccination was based on. So I asked a number of key researchers and experts.

One hint, though certainly not proof, is South Africa’s COVID profile. It has a pretty low vaccination rate and an extremely high rate of COVID infection. Most assume that almost everyone in the country has had COVID. So a lot of natural immunity and relatively little vaccine immunity. That could be why Omicron has taken off so quickly in South Africa, even as its been found in numerous countries around the world. Or it could just mean that South Africa is where it started, founder effect. So it’s suggestive but by no means conclusive.

There is also lab evidence that three doses of an mRNA vaccine produces higher antibody levels than those triggered by a COVID infection. So even if Omicron is better at getting around antibodies a vaccinated/boosted person starts with a lot more. There’s also evidence that a booster gives you a broader selection of antibodies, not just more of them. When I was trying to reason this out with experts I spoke to it seemed a bit like the way your iPhone’s face ID needs to look at you a few times and from multiple angles before it can get a real lock on what you look like. My expert said that was a reasonable way to think about it but that we don’t really know the exact mechanism by which the multiple vaccination produces this result. In any case, that kind of lab data can’t be directly extrapolated to real world infection and illnesses. But it’s suggestive of a vaccination advantage, especially if you’re boosted.

We should also be on the look out to see whether the pattern in South Africa holds up in other countries with very different profiles of vaccination vs natural immunity. Early data out of Israel – the most boosted or at least one of the most boosted in the world may point to some different.

As everyone has said for the last week, we need to wait for more data – both data from the lab, which will take about a week and real world data on the number of cases in different groups by vaccination, which will take two or three. Those timelines are from one of the experts I spoke to.

This has potentially important implications across the globe and in the United States, especially in areas that have been relying on high rates of infection to ward off the disease. We don’t know enough to know if this differing level of protection/immune evasion exists. At the moment we have hints and informed inferences. But we know enough to be on the look out for it.

Sounding the Sumburgh Foghorn

Built in 1905 and recently restored to working order, the Sumburgh Foghorn is perhaps the last functioning foghorn in Scotland. This two-minute film, which is simply but beautifully shot, documents the surprisingly elaborate process of sounding the horn.

Out of use since 1987, the foghorn was painstakingly restored by Brian Johnson. Shown in the video is the annual Foghorn sounding at Sumburgh Lighthouse, Shetland, Scotland. Brian starts up the 1951 Kelvin K-Series Diesel 44hp Engines. The engines power the Alley and MacLellan compressors, which in turn, power the foghorn.

Just so’s you know, the horn was originally much louder at the end, but YouTube’s audio algorithm turned the volume down. I tried several versions but it wasn’t having it.

I wish we could experience the true loudness of the horn through the video — it was so powerful that it could be heard at a range of 20 miles on foggy days. (thx, mick)

Tags: audio   video

Claims I can’t quite bring myself to believe

It doesn’t seem this is a partisan issue, but could this possibly be fake news?  It does not fit with my underlying model of the world, not even for British people:

A leading music teacher has said the popularity of the ukulele is threatening classical guitar playing.

More than one in ten musical schoolchildren now play the ukulele, the largest proportion ever, a study by the music exam board ABRSM found. It said the instrument’s popularity grew from 1 per cent of school music students in 1997 to 15 per cent last year.

The ukulele was cited as a cause of the decline of the recorder in schools but in a letter to The Times, Graham Wade, former head of guitar teaching at Leeds College of Music, said the popularity of the four-stringed ukulele was threatening its six-stringed uncle.

“The ukulele is more likely to oust the guitar (whether classical or otherwise) from early instrumental tuition than the recorder,” he said. “I have been a classical guitar teacher in schools and colleges for 50 years, and the subtext of your headline is the demise of a worthy musical tradition.”

There is perhaps more sanity on this side of the ocean:

The latest data from America suggests that demand has fallen, with sales of ukuleles declining 15 per cent between 2018 and 2020 — although the lockdown provided a boost to sales.

Here is more from the Times of London.

The post Claims I can’t quite bring myself to believe appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Three startups win prize money from U.S. Space Force accelerator

Varda Space Industries, SCOUT and Neutron Star Systems were the top three startups in the Hyperspace Challenge

SpaceNews

Black Knight: Number of Mortgages in Forbearance "Drops Below the Million Mark"

This data is as of November 30th.

From Andy Walden at Black Knight: Forbearance Plan Total Drops Below the Million Mark
Daily tracking data through December 1 shows the number of active forbearance plan totals dropping below 1 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

According to our McDash Flash daily forbearance tracking dataset, the number of active forbearance plans fell by 23,000 (-2.3%) this week, led by a 14,000 (-3.9%) drop in FHA/VA loans. Both GSE (-7K/-2%) and PLS/portfolio (-2K/-.6%) plan volumes also improved.

As of November 30, 994,000 mortgage holders (1.9%) remain in COVID-19 related forbearance plans, including 1.1% of GSE, 2.9% of FHA/VA and 2.5% of portfolio held and privately securitized loans.

Black Knight ForbearanceClick on graph for larger image.

Overall, the number of forbearance plans is down by 215,000 (-18%) from the same time last month, with the potential for additional improvements as we progress through December. After seeing starts jump before Thanksgiving, they fell to a pandemic low this week. This week’s low was likely due to the shorter holiday week.
emphasis added

Four Quick Links for Friday Noonish

The escalating costs of being single in America. "We don't seem to like or respect single people and their choices." [vox.com]

A collection of 30 maps made in 30 days. [observablehq.com]

Just sent out the latest issue of the @kottke newsletter. There's been so much interesting stuff on the site lately that it was hard to keep this short. A good way to catch up on things if you've been busy. [mailchi.mp]

This is hilarious but can we just marvel for a moment at the camera work here. There's panning and zooming and the reindeer stayed bang in the middle of the frame the entire time. Respect. [twitter.com]

---

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1761 Map of Fort Detroit Acquired, Crowdfunding Campaign Launched

William Brasier’s “Plan of the Fort at De Troit,” (1761)
William Brasier, “Plan of the Fort at De Troit,” 1761. William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

A 1761 map of Fort Detroit that depicts the fort just after it was ceded by the French to British forces, commissioned by Gen. Amherst and hand-drawn by William Brasier, has been acquired by the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library.

The map had been in private hands since at least 1967. Because its $42,500 price tag put a substantial dent in the library’s acquisition budget, they’re crowdfunding the purchase—with $20,000 already pledged in matching funds. [Tony Campbell]

Previously: Early Map of Detroit Acquired.

I'll give him a follow

I'll give him a follow

Boy howdy, I love Chompers the Chipmunk.

View on my website

AAR: November Rail Carloads Down Compared to 2019; Intermodal Up Slightly

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.
U.S. railroads originated 917,787 total carloads in November 2021, up 2.0% over November 2020 and down 3.9% from November 2019. The 2.0% gain in November was the ninth straight gain, but it was also the smallest percentage gain in those nine months.
...
U.S. railroads originated 1.03 million intermodal containers and trailers in November, down 9.6% from November 2020 and up 0.8% over November 2019. November 2021 was the fourth straight month in which intermodal volume fell, and the 9.6% decline was the biggest decline in those four months. In 2021, September, October, and November were all in the bottom half of months in terms of intermodal volume, something that has never happened before in our records that go back to 1989.
emphasis added
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2019, 2020 and 2021:
U.S. railroads originated 917,787 total carloads in November 2021, up 2.0% over November 2020 and down 3.9% from November 2019. Total carloads averaged 229,447 per week in November 2021, the third lowest weekly average for total carloads so far this year. (In part because of Thanksgiving, November is usually in the bottom half of all months in terms of total carloads.)
Rail TrafficThe second graph shows the six week average (not monthly) of U.S. intermodal in 2019, 2020 and 2021: (using intermodal or shipping containers):
Intermodal is not included in carload figures. In November 2021, U.S. railroads originated 1.03 million containers and trailers, down 9.6% from November 2020 and up 0.8% over November 2019. November 2021 was the fourth straight month in which year-over-year intermodal volume fell; November’s 9.6% decline is the biggest decline in those four months. Intermodal volume averaged 257,010 units per week in November; only February (253,999) was lower so this year.

How to Build the Perfect Medieval Castle

Castles across Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages were all pretty different, but by looking at the trends over a period of several centuries, you can determine how to build the perfect castle.

We trace the origins of the castle in the feudal system that emerged in France c.900 CE, and look at the early motte-and-bailey castle, used by the Normans to subjugate England and Wales in the 11th century. We then look at how castle’s became stronger and more sophisticated, with the addition of stone curtain walls, massive keeps, towers (square, round and D-shaped), as well as powerful gatehouses, barbicans, machicolations and moats.

(FYI: The sponsorship in this video for a medieval role-playing game is a little annoying but easily skippable and ultimately doesn’t detract from how interesting & educational the video is.)

Tags: architecture   how to   video

Mapping Marine Microplastics

Maps of microplastics concentrations
NASA Earth Observatory (Joshua Stevens)

NASA Earth Observatory: “Researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) recently developed a new method to map the concentration of ocean microplastics around the world. The researchers used data from eight microsatellites that are part of the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission. Radio signals from GPS satellites reflect off the ocean surface, and CYGNSS satellites detect those reflections. Scientists then analyze the signals to measure the roughness of the ocean surface. These measurements provide scientists with a means to derive ocean wind speeds, which is useful for studying phenomena like hurricanes. It turns out that the signals also reveal the presence of plastic.”

Tory Bruno: ULA won’t get engines by Christmas, BE-4s coming in early 2022

“We're in the end game now,” Tory Bruno said Dec. 3 on CNBC.

SpaceNews

Friday assorted links

1.The world of “shadow foster care.” (NYT)

2. The dollar is rising.

3. Why movie dialogue has become more difficult to understand.

4. And how the Beatles used Indian music theory (video).

5. “A soft-spoken, self-effacing young man from Seoul may be the most listened-to living composer on the planet right now…”  A good piece.  And Korea seems to account for 20% of the world’s classical music sales.  Reason to be bullish on the country.

6. “Model this.”

7. “I had to wrap my head around the fact that close to nothing of what makes science actually work is published as text on the web.”  Excellent essay by Markus Strasser.

8. Further Omicron calculations.

The post Friday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Shouldn’t We Have Learned This About the BLS Numbers?

We have a mere 210,000 new jobs created in November, according to statistics released this morning by the Bureau of Labor statistics. It’s another “disappointing” number, well below Wall Street estimates. But as we noted a couple weeks ago and Philip Bump reminds us this morning, we should expect that the number is actually much higher, probably dramatically higher. So far this year every month but one has been revised higher after the fact, often by magnitudes far greater than in the history of counting this number. September was initially 194,000. Now it’s revised to 379,000. August was initially 235,000. Now it’s revised to 483,000. A number of other months have been upward revised by 100,000 or more.

Cumulatively there are now just shy of one million new jobs created this year that were not reported in the initial first Friday reporting. These unprecedented discrepancies must derive from a combination of the unique nature of the comeback from the COVID induced recession and the way COVID has impacted how the data is collected. It’s not like the BLS suddenly got really bad at what it does.

From one perspective the record keeping is fine as long as its accurate. It’s not a big deal if it takes a month or so longer to get the numbers just right. But it certainly has a big impact on perceptions of the economy. That is the case with the public at large, as well as political and economic debates in the country. And what we’ve seen is that the later revisions barely seep into the public dialogue. So it’s a big problem politically for Democrats and the public mood generally.

NASA sets sail into a promising but perilous future of private space stations

On Thursday afternoon, NASA announced that it had awarded three different teams, each involving multiple companies, more than $100 million apiece to support the design and early development of private space stations in low Earth orbit.

This represents a big step toward the space agency's plan to maintain a permanent presence in space even after the aging International Space Station, which can probably keep flying through 2028 or 2030, reaches the end of its life. NASA intends to become an "anchor tenant" by sending its astronauts to one or more private stations in orbit starting in the second half of the 2020s.

The total estimated award amount for all three funded Space Act Agreements is $415.6 million. The individual award amounts, with links to each concept, are:

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The Hunt for Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann

This animated documentary about how Israeli Mossad agent Zvi Aharoni tracked down and captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina 15 years after WWII ended is really fantastic.

The rare film to win festival prizes as both a documentary & as an animation, Randall Christopher’s The Driver is Red is a stunning showcase for his minimalist pen and ink art and for his grand aim to increase public awareness of WWII history (which he perceives to be rapidly fading from the consciousness of younger generations). Should he succeed in that noble aim however, the reason will be that he has taken a potentially dry historical record and transformed it into an imaginative and unabashedly cracking spy thriller.

Told through the experience of Israeli Mossad agent Zvi Aharoni, the film documents the discovery and capture of Adolf Eichmann, the senior Nazi official largely responsible for organizing and executing the Holocaust. Hidden for 15 years half a world away, and living under an assumed identity, Eichmann is tracked down by Aharoni and the agent, with a small team in tow, must design and execute a strategy for Eichmann’s capture and extradition.

You can read much more about Eichmann and his crimes, capture, trial, and death in a massive five-part series Hannah Arendt wrote for the New Yorker in 1963 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), later collected in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. (via open culture)

Tags: Adolf Eichmann   crime   murder   Nazis   Randall Christopher   video   war   World War II

A Quick Thought on Omicron–and Lambda

While I wrote about some of my HAWT OMIKRON TAEKS on Monday, there’s one other thing to keep in mind. In December 2020, which admittedly is like eleventy gajillion ‘COVID years’ ago, the Lambda variant arose in Peru and rapidly rose from about 0.5% to greater than 90% by July 2021. Like Omicron, it appeared to evade the immune system rather well, and the rapid rise in the Peruvian data was very ominous. Yet Lamdba never amounted to much in the U.S., and is essentially non-existent in the U.S. today.

I don’t want to be pollyannish about this: Omicron very well could be a doozy. But whether or not it establishes and takes off globally (or in the U.S.) is uncertain. We not only need to wait and see what the immunological data reveal in a couple of weeks, but we also need to have a better understanding of the epidemiology in South Africa to see if that can provide clues as to the potential for spread (or the lack thereof).

So Keep Calm and Carry On: wear a mask in indoor public places, get the full course of all three shots, test frequently, and yell at political leaders to improve ventilation and impose vaccination requirements for non-essential indoor activities. In other words, same as usual.

Live coverage: ULA delays Atlas 5 launch to Monday

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of an Atlas 5 rocket with the U.S. Space Force’s STP-3 mission, carrying two satellites hosting technology demonstration experiments to geosynchronous orbit. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

SFN Live

ULA Webcast

U.S. Air Force Secretary Kendall: Short-term funding an ‘unfortunate’ reality for defense programs

Political fights that delay government funding bills are only helping U.S. adversaries, said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall

SpaceNews

Comments on November Employment Report

The headline jobs number in the November employment report was below expectations, however, employment for the previous two months was revised up by 82,000.   The participation rate and employment-population ratio both increased, and the unemployment rate decreased to 4.2%.

Leisure and hospitality gained 23 thousand jobs in November.  In March and April of 2020, leisure and hospitality lost 8.22 million jobs, and are now down 1.33 million jobs since February 2020.  So, leisure and hospitality has now added back about 84% all of the jobs lost in March and April 2020.

Construction employment increased 31 thousand, and manufacturing also added 31 thousand jobs.

State and Local education lost 16 thousand jobs, seasonally adjusted.  This accounted for over half of the 25 thousand public sector jobs lost in November.

Earlier: November Employment Report: 210 thousand Jobs, 4.2% Unemployment Rate

In November, the year-over-year employment change was 5.8 million jobs.

Permanent Job Losers

Year-over-year change employmentClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows permanent job losers as a percent of the pre-recession peak in employment through the report today. (ht Joe Weisenthal at Bloomberg).

This data is only available back to 1994, so there is only data for three recessions.

In November, the number of permanent job losers decreased to 1.921 million from 2.126 million in October.

These jobs will likely be the hardest to recover, so it is a positive that the number of permanent job losers is declining fairly rapidly.

Prime (25 to 54 Years Old) Participation

Employment Population Ratio, 25 to 54Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old.

The prime working age will be key as the economy recovers.

The 25 to 54 participation rate increased in November to 81.8% from 81.7% in October, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio increased to 78.8% from 78.3% the previous month.

Both are still low, compared to the pre-pandemic levels, and indicate that many prime workers have still not returned to the labor force.

Seasonal Retail Hiring

Typically, retail companies start hiring for the holiday season in October, and really increase hiring in November. Here is a graph that shows the historical net retail jobs added for October, November and December by year.

Seasonal Retail HiringThis graph really shows the collapse in retail hiring in 2008. Since then, seasonal hiring had increased back close to more normal levels. Note: I expect the long-term trend will be down with more and more internet holiday shopping.

Retailers hired 332 thousand workers Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) net in November.

This was somewhat lower than normal, and seasonally adjusted (SA) to a loss of 20 thousand jobs in November.

Part Time for Economic Reasons

Part Time WorkersFrom the BLS report:
"The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.3 million, changed little in November. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs. This figure was about the same as in February 2020."
The number of persons working part time for economic reasons decreased in November to 4.286 million from 4.423 million in November. This is back to pre-recession levels.

These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that decreased to 7.8% from 8.3% in the previous month. This is down from the record high in April 22.9% for this measure since 1994. This measure was at 7.0% in February 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Unemployed over 26 Weeks

Unemployed Over 26 WeeksThis graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more.

According to the BLS, there are 2.190 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job, down from 2.326 million the previous month.

This does not include all the people that left the labor force. 

Summary:

The headline monthly jobs number was below expectations; however, the previous two months were revised up by 82,000 combined.  And the headline unemployment rate decreased to 4.2%.  The household survey indicated a large gain in employment of 1.136 million, and that led to a sharp decrease in the unemployment rate and an increase in the employment-population ratio.

The prime age participation rate and employment-population ratio, are still below pre-pandemic levels, indicating a number of prime workers are still out of the labor force.   And there are still 3.9 million fewer jobs than prior to the recession.   


Republicans Show Their Fake Anti-Corporate ‘Populism’

Democrats in Congress Actually Want to Do Something About Corporate Power

Some analyses of Trumpism and Republican populism have claimed to detect a strain of anti-corporate sentiment. It is true that today’s right-wingers are willing to criticize big tech companies for supposedly treating them unfairly. But most of the time the GOP continues to serve the interests of big business.

That was clear during an important hearing just held by the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative law. Subcommittee chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.), vice-chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), other Democratic members and the witnesses all raised serious questions about the current regulatory system, focusing on issues such as disclosure and social equity.

The Republicans, on the other hand, did their best to change the subject or spoke in favor of less rather than more oversight. Ranking member Ken Buck (R-Colo.) used his opening remarks to attack executive overreach and praise the Trump administration’s wholesale attack on regulation.

Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) spent his time attacking what he claimed was a plan by the Justice Department to treat parents critical of school boards as domestic terrorists. One of the witnesses, NAACP climate justice director Jacqueline Patterson, was asked by Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) whether she was a revolutionary. She was also chastised for a facetious tweet about vaccines. The comments of GOP members on regulation were mainly limited to attacks on so-callled woke bureaucrats.

Despite these antics, there was a serious exchange between the Democrats and the witnesses on the failures of the current regulatory system. These issues are also addressed in the Stop Corporate Capture Act introduced by Jayapal.

The legislation would create more transparency in rulemaking, reduce corporate influence over the process and create a framework for considering social equity. It would fine companies that lie about the impact of public interest rules. It would also create a public Advocate to provide for more robust public participation.

It turns the usual discussion on its head. Rejecting the idea of executive overreach, the bill correctly diagnoses the problem as a situation of what one might call regulatory anemia. Agencies are not aggressive enough in tackling serious problems relating to the environment, the workplace and the marketplace. The parties meant to be targeted instead are playing an outsized role in creating the rules. Hence the reference in the bill’s title to regulatory capture.

Jayapal’s proposal is what one might call a populist approach to reforming the regulatory system—one that is not likely to receive support from corporate lobbyists. When they are not simply kicking up dust, Republicans, by contrast, are doing the bidding of big business by continuing the Trump Administration’s drumbeat against regulation.

This is one of those areas in which the conventional labels of U.S. politics continue to baffle me. Why are those working to benefit giant corporations called populists, while those who are seeking to rein in that power are called elitists?

The post Republicans Show Their Fake Anti-Corporate ‘Populism’ appeared first on DCReport.org.

November Employment Report: 210 thousand Jobs, 4.2% Unemployment Rate

From the BLS:
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 210,000 in November, and the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 4.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, construction, and manufacturing. Employment in retail trade declined over the month.
...
The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for September was revised up by 67,000, from +312,000 to +379,000, and the change for October was revised up by 15,000, from +531,000 to +546,000. With these revisions, employment in September and October combined is 82,000 higher than previously reported.
emphasis added
Year-over-year change employmentClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968.

In November, the year-over-year change was 5.8 million jobs.  This was up significantly year-over-year.

Total payrolls increased by 210 thousand in November.  Private payrolls increased by 235 thousand, and public payrolls declined 25 thousand.

Payrolls for September and October were revised up 82 thousand, combined.

Employment Recessions, Scariest Job ChartThe second graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms.

The current employment recession was by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms. However, the current employment recession, 20 months after the onset, is now significantly better than the worst of the "Great Recession".

The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate.

Employment Pop Ratio, participation and unemployment ratesThe Labor Force Participation Rate was increased to 61.8% in November, from 61.6% in October. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force.

The Employment-Population ratio increased to 59.2% from 58.8% (black line).

I'll post the 25 to 54 age group employment-population ratio graph later.

unemployment rateThe fourth graph shows the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate decreased in November to 4.2% from 4.6% in October.

This was well below consensus expectations; however, August and September were revised up by 82,000 combined.  

I'll have more later ...

Sale of dinosaur fossils

 National Geographic has the story:

The controversial sale of 'Big John,' the world's largest Triceratops. The fossil's $7.7-million sale has some experts worried that ancient bones' rising prices will put more scientifically valuable fossils out of reach.  BYMICHAEL GRESHKO

"The founder of a South Dakotan firm called PaleoAdventures, which digs up fossils for commercial sale, Stein nicknamed the fossil “Big John” after the owner of the ranch where he found it. For six years, he held on to the Triceratops in hopes that a U.S. museum would purchase it—but none came forward. Then, in 2020, he sold the fossil to an Italian firm that prepared it for auction. With much fanfare and a jaw-dropping sale price of $7.7 million (6.65 million euros) to an anonymous buyer last month, Big John became a big deal—and added fuel to an ongoing, thorny debate among scientists, auctioneers, commercial paleontologists, and private landowners.

...

"Big John is one of more than 100 known fossils of Triceratops, one of the most common dinosaurs found in western North America’s Hell Creek Formation, which snakes through parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

"In the United States, only researchers with government permits can collect fossils on the millions of acres of federal lands, and these remains must be held in the public trust at institutions such as museums. However, fossils found on private land—including Big John—belong to the landowner and can be bought and sold legally.

"The U.S. is one of only a few countries that allows this sort of trade. In Alberta, Canada, for instance, fossils found in that province can’t be exported according to a 1970s law that designates fossils as part of Alberta’s natural heritage—a legal response to decades of foreign museums removing exquisite dinosaur fossils from the province. Other fossil-rich countries, such as Brazil, China, and Mongolia, have similar laws, though black markets dealing in fossils from these countries persist.

"Academic paleontologists have a range of views on the legal fossil trade, from begrudging acceptance to steadfast opposition. University of Calgary paleontologist Jessica Theodor, president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), which represents paleontologists around the world, says she’s worried that auctions turn fossils into luxury collectibles and further legitimize the global fossil trade."

NASA awards funding to three commercial space station concepts

Northrop space station

NASA issued awards Dec. 2 valued at more than $400 million to three groups of companies to advance development of commercial space stations, keeping those efforts on track to succeed the International Space Station by the end of the decade despite skepticism from the agency’s inspector general.

SpaceNews

Rocket Report: SLS may face delay due to engine issue, Astra goes orbital

Renderings of Rocket Lab's neutron launch vehicle.

Enlarge / Rocket Lab calls this the "Hungry Hippo" fairing on its Neutron rocket. (credit: Rocket Lab)

Welcome to Edition 4.25 of the Rocket Report! After the Thanksgiving holiday, we are now in the homestretch of 2021, with less than a month to go in the year. And it will be a consequential month, with a Soyuz crew launch on deck, NASA's IXPE science mission, and—of course—the James Webb Space Telescope on December 22. Buckle up!

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

Astra successfully reaches orbit. Astra never sought to build the best rocket, the biggest rocket, or the safest rocket. The California-based space company simply wanted to build a rocket that was just good enough—and to do it fast. On November 20, Astra proved the value of this philosophy by successfully launching a stripped-down rocket for the first time. The mission hefted a small test payload for the US Space Force into an orbit 500 km above the planet, Ars reports.

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API Authentication with Tokens

In this article I'm going to show you a few common patterns for client authentication based on tokens, and how can they be implemented in a Python API back end. This method of authentication works well for rich clients, like JavaScript-based front end applications running in the browser, or perhaps a command-line (CLI) application.

I have written about Authentication several times on this blog, so this article is a bit different. Since I have already provided a few authentication projects in previous articles and in my open source projects, in this article I'm going to go over all the considerations you have to take into account when deciding how to best implement authentication for your own API project.

This article was voted by my supporters on Patreon. Would you like to support my work, and as a thank you be able to vote on my future articles and also have access to a chat room where I hang out? Become a Patron!

East of Zionism

East of Zionism | Aeon Essays

In 1900 my grandfather’s generation imagined a modernising Arab world, multireligious and progressive. What happened?

- by Ussama Makdisi

Read at Aeon

52 things Tom Whitwell learned in 2021

Always a good list, here is this year’s edition, and an excerpt:

  1. Beauty livestreamer Li Jiaqi sold $1.9 billion worth of products in one twelve hour show on Taobao. That’s slightly less than the total sales from all four Selfridges stores during 2019. [Jinshan Hong]
  2. 10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]
  3. Some South African students sell school Wi-Fi passwords for lunch money. Residents walk up to 6km to connect to schools because 4G data is so expensive. [Kimberly Mutandiro]
  4. Productivity dysmorphia is the inability to see one’s own success, to acknowledge the volume of your own output. [Anna Codrea-Rado]

For the pointer I thank Nabeel.  And here is Whitwell on Get Back and the principles of creativity.

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Claims about placebos

…the placebo effect in the United States has actually become quite a lot stronger over time, meaning that drugs that once would have been approved may not be now – because their performance relative to that of placebo is less convincing. This study makes the point clearly – by 2013, drugs produced 8.9% more pain relief than placebos, compared to 27.3% in 1996. In the charts above, it can be seen that the effect of placebo drugs has increased a lot, whereas the effectiveness of pain relief drugs has barely changed, meaning that the treatment advantage (the effectiveness of active drugs as opposed to placebos) has fallen dramatically. Weirdly, it seems like this is only happening in the United States, whereas other countries haven’t seen particularly large increases in the effect size of placebos.

That is from the Substack of Sam.  Hail Bruno M.!

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SpaceX aces 27th Falcon 9 rocket flight of the year, a new record

A Falcon 9 rocket streaks into the sky over Florida’s Space Coast on Thursday night. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX set a new record Thursday for the most missions by the company’s Falcon rocket family in a year, successfully sending a cargo of 48 Starlink internet satellites and two BlackSky optical Earth-imaging spacecraft into orbit from Cape Canaveral.

The two-stage, 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at exactly 6:12 p.m. EST (2312 GMT).

With a glow of orange, followed seconds later by a ground-shaking rumble, the Falcon 9 cleared the seaside launch complex and arced downrange northeast over the Atlantic Ocean. Nine Merlin 1D main engines, burning a mix of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, powered the rocket into a clear late autumn sky with 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

The first stage, itself 15 stories in height, shut down its nine engines and detached from the Falcon 9’s upper stage more than two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. That left the upper stage’s Merlin engine to drive the 50 satellite payloads into a parking orbit less than 10 minutes into the mission.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s reusable booster stage coasted to the apex of its ballistic trajectory, then plunged back into the atmosphere at roughly 5,000 mph (8,000 kilometers per hour).

Braking maneuvers using three, then one, of the first stage’s engines slowed the booster for a pinpoint touchdown on SpaceX’s football field-sized drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” positioned in the Atlantic Ocean east of Charleston, South Carolina.

The first stage, designated B1060 in SpaceX’s fleet, returned to Earth after its ninth trip to space and back. The drone ship will return to Florida’s Space Coast with the booster, which SpaceX will inspect and refurbish for a future flight assignment.

A SpaceX recovery ship was also on station downrange in the Atlantic Ocean to retrieve the two halves of the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing, which the company also reuses. The fairing shells on Thursday night’s mission were new.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage coasted halfway around the world, flying over Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean before briefly reigniting its engine off the coast of Australia about an hour into the mission.

The second upper stage engine firing circularized the rocket’s orbit at about 270 miles (440 kilometers), according to altitude data displayed on SpaceX’s live launch webcast.

That set the stage for the final phase of the mission, the satellite deployment sequence.

First, the rocket cast off the two 121-pound (55-kilogram) BlackSky satellites fastened to the top of the stack of Starlink satellites. The twin satellites, each hosting an optical imaging telescope for Earth observations, separated from the rocket at T+plus 63 minutes and T+plus 67 minutes.

The upper stage then released the cluster of Starlink internet stations at 7:41 p.m. EST (0041 GMT), or 89 minutes after liftoff, while flying outside the range of SpaceX ground stations. SpaceX confirmed the deployment of the Starlink satellites a few minutes later, when the rocket flew over a tracking site at the company’s Starbase complex in South Texas.

The on-target satellite deployments punctuated SpaceX’s 27th Falcon 9 launch of the year, exceeding a previous record for Falcon 9 launch activity set last year with 26 missions.

SpaceX has three more Falcon 9 launches scheduled from Florida’s Space Coast before the end of December.

Next up is the launch of NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE mission from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 9. The IXPE spacecraft carries three X-ray telescopes that will probe conditions around black holes and neutron stars, some of the most extreme environments in the universe.

Another Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Dec. 18 with the Turksat 5B geostationary communications satellite. A SpaceX cargo mission to the International Space Station is slated to take off Dec. 21 from Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX could launch one more Falcon 9 rocket mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California later this month. But there’s no firm launch date for that mission, which will carry another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit.

A Falcon 9 rocket climbs away from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with 48 Starlink internet satellites and two BlackSky remote sensing satellites. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

With the launch of 48 more Starlink satellites Thursday night, SpaceX has delivered 1,892 spacecraft to orbit for its privately-funded global broadband network. That figure does not include failed satellites and other Starlink craft SpaceX has deorbited.

Thursday night’s mission, named Starlink Group 4-3, was SpaceX’s 32nd Falcon 9 launch since May 2019 primarily dedicated to hauling Starlink satellites to orbit.

Most of the Starlink satellites launched so far have deployed into a 341-mile-high (550-kilometer), 53-degree inclination orbit, the first of five orbital shells SpaceX plans to complete full deployment of the Starlink network. SpaceX finished launching satellites in that shell with a series of Starlink flights from Cape Canaveral from May 2019 through May of this year.

Since May, SpaceX has rushed to complete development of new inter-satellite laser terminals to put on all future Starlink satellites. The laser crosslinks, which have been tested on a handful of Starlink satellites on prior launches, will reduce the reliance of SpaceX’s internet network on ground stations.

The ground stations are expensive to deploy, and come with geographical — and sometimes political — constraints on where they can be positioned. Laser links will allow the Starlink satellites to pass internet traffic from spacecraft to spacecraft around the world, without needing to relay the signals to a ground station connected to a terrestrial network.

SpaceX is currently providing interim internet services through the Starlink satellites to consumers who have signed up for a beta testing program.

In September, SpaceX launched the first batch of 51 Starlink satellites into a 70-degree inclination orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base. That orbital shell will eventually contain 720 satellites at an altitude of 354 miles (570 kilometers).

Aside from the 53-degree and 70-degree orbital shells, SpaceX’s other Starlink layers will include 1,584 satellites at 335 miles (540 kilometers) and an inclination of 53.2 degrees, and 520 satellites spread into two shells at 348 miles (560 kilometers) and an inclination of 97.6 degrees.

The mission Thursday night was the second Starlink flight to target the 53.2-degree inclination orbit, slightly offset from the 53-degree inclination planes populated during the first phase of the Starlink network deployment. The previous Starlink launch Nov. 13 was the first to go into the 53.2-degree orbital plane.

SpaceX has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission for approximately 12,000 Starlink satellites. The company’s initial focus is on launching 4,400 satellites on a series of Falcon 9 rocket flights. SpaceX’s next-generation launcher, a giant rocket called the Starship that has not yet reached orbit, may eventually be tasked with launching hundreds of next-generation Starlink satellites on a single mission.

The two remote sensing microsatellites that hitched a ride to space on the Falcon 9 rocket Thursday night join eight others in BlackSky’s active constellation.

Two BlackSky satellites launched Nov. 17 on a Rocket Lab mission from New Zealand, and Rocket Lab plans another launch next week carrying two more BlackSky payloads.

Expanding the constellation “will enhance the company’s geospatial capacity for data while increasing revisit rates for customers,” BlackSky said in a statement.

The surge of launches with BlackSky satellites will double the size of the company’s fleet from six to 12 spacecraft over a period of less than three weeks.

Another two BlackSky satellites are booked for launch on a Rocket Lab mission in early 2022. The remote sensing company has ordered additional spacecraft from its manufacturer, LeoStella, based in Tukwila, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.

LeoStella is a joint venture between BlackSky and Thales Alenia Space, a major European satellite manufacturer.

BlackSky, with offices in Seattle and Herndon, Virginia, is deploying a fleet of small remote sensing satellites to provide high-resolution Earth imagery to commercial and government clients. The company expects to reach a fleet size of 30 satellites within a few years.

One big customer for BlackSky is the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. BlackSky has agreements to sell commercial imagery to NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

BlackSky says the commercial market for its services include customers in transportation, infrastructure, construction, and supply chain management.

Two BlackSky satellites pictured inside a SpaceX processing facility at Cape Canaveral before a previous mission. Credit: SpaceX

Each of the current generation of BlackSky Global spacecraft can capture up to 1,000 color images per day, with a resolution of about 3 feet (1 meter). In the future, BlackSky will deploy a third generation of BlackSky satellites with sharper resolution level of about 20 inches, or 50 centimeters.

The company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to process and analyze imagery beamed back to Earth from BlackSky satellites. The algorithms and detect and identify objects in the images without humans in the loop, according to BlackSky.

SpaceX provides relatively low-cost rides to orbit to external customers by selling extra capacity on its Starlink missions. The launch company also launches dedicated rideshare flights, called Transporter missions, with dozens of small satellites from a range of U.S. and international customers.

Spaceflight, a Seattle-based company, managed the rideshare launch service for BlackSky, which is a return customer with SpaceX. Three BlackSky satellites launched on previous Falcon 9 missions, including two on a Starlink launch in August 2020.

According to SpaceX’s website, the company charges $1 million to launch a 440-pound (200-kilogram) satellite on a rideshare mission. That’s significantly lower than any other launch provider, including small satellite launchers like Rocket Lab’s Electron.

But Rocket Lab and other smallsat launch companies can satellites into orbit on dedicated rides, giving operators more flexibility to choose their altitude and inclination.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

One way a builder culture can fail

I've told some stories about what happens when you end up at a company that builds nothing and instead rents everything from some vendor. Given that, it's only fair that I describe something bad that can happen at a company which is known for building stuff.

Let's say you're at one of these companies which has a reputation for building infrastructure stuff instead of renting it. This can be good if you like that kind of environment and like digging into problems by using the source code, by talking to the people involved, and generally having access to things.

The trouble is that sometimes these companies will hire someone who's known for doing X... and *only* X. They're a builder, all right, as long as you want them to build X. Perhaps they have been building X at some other company, and now your company has hired them to come and do that same job over here instead.

Unsurprisingly, having invested in getting that person on board, the company is going to try to make that project happen. Then, they are going to try to make X go to production. That is, it has to "ship" and actually go out to real machines which are dealing with actual user traffic. If X never ships, then they look bad, the people who vouched for them look bad, their management looks bad, and so on up the line.

There's also the possibility that the prestige of having this person working at the company is what they're actually cultivating, and management wants to make this person happy by letting them work on their pet project, even if the pet project itself is not doing anything positive.

I will now point out that whether X makes it to production can become disconnected from the notion of whether X actually belongs in production. In one outcome, it's brilliantly executed and things grow. But, this is about the downsides, and in that scenario, it's a stinking pile of garbage and needs to be thrown out, but it gets forced in, anyway.

The way you find out what might happen is to challenge it on technical grounds. If the challenge is met with non-technical rebuttals, it might just be one of those bad situations. If they attack the person who brought it up, it probably is. They're pushing it for the wrong reasons: political, not technical.

If this project is being pushed for political reasons, then it should not come as a surprise that when it finally does ship to production, it causes outages and generally fails to deliver on its promises. It's actually worse than just leaving things the way they had been before any of this stuff showed up.

This is just one of the ways an unprincipled "builder culture" can backfire, particularly if you have people running the show who have no problem putting their own gains ahead of the company. They'll push all kinds of garbage if it makes them hit their goals and get a bigger bonus, a promotion, or some kind of shiny new position.

Just imagine what companies would look like if their hiring processes filtered out this kind of charlatan instead of looking for whether they could do some dumb coding card trick in a 45 minute interview block. I think they'd look very different, and a whole bunch of people would have to find another industry to prey upon.

Friday: Employment Report

My November Employment Preview

Goldman November Payrolls Preview

Friday:
• At 8:30 AM ET, Employment Report for November.   The consensus is for 563 thousand jobs added, and for the unemployment rate to decrease to 4.5%.

• At 10:00 AM, the ISM Services Index for November.

SpaceX breaks annual launch record as it deploys 48 more Starlink satellites

SpaceX deployed 48 more satellites for its Starlink broadband constellation Dec. 2, along with two remote sensing spacecraft for BlackSky in a mission that breaks the record for Falcon 9 launches in a calendar year.

SpaceNews

SpaceX breaks annual flight record with latest Starlink mission

A Falcon 9 rocket with 48 Starlink satellites and two BlackSky satellites launches into the Florida skies for SpaceX's 27th Falcon 9 launch of 2021. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

A Falcon 9 rocket with 48 Starlink satellites and two BlackSky satellites launches into the Florida skies for SpaceX’s 27th Falcon 9 mission of 2021. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink satellites, as well as two rideshare payloads for BlackSky, into low Earth orbit atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Liftoff occurred at 6:12 p.m. EST (23:12 UTC) Dec. 2, 2021, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket carried 48 Starlink satellites as well as two Earth observation satellites for BlackSky.

A long exposure of SpaceX's 27th Falcon 9 launch of 2021. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

A long exposure of SpaceX’s 27th Falcon 9 launch of 2021. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

Following its role in sending the satellites into orbit, the first stage of this Falcon 9 rocket, B1060, landed successfully on SpaceX’s drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” located some 385 miles (620 kilometers) downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the ninth flight for this particular first stage.

The fairing halves, which protected the 50 spacecraft from the lower atmosphere, are expected to be scooped up and recovered by Bob, another one of SpaceX support ships.

Meanwhile, the second stage with the payload continued toward a parking orbit, cutting its engine off some nine minutes after liftoff.

About 50 minutes later, the second stage reignited to finalize its orbit before deploying the rideshare satellites. The Starlink satellites were deployed about 90 minutes after liftoff.

This launch was the 32nd dedicated Starlink mission overall, boosting the total number of satellites launched to date to 1,892. Including this batch, there some 1,700 currently active in orbit around Earth.

Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

Currently, 30 more launches are needed to fill this Starlink shell, which is the second being constructed.

This first phase of the company’s internet constellation has five orbital shells. Starlink is SpaceX’s low-latency internet service designed to provide near-global coverage where ground-based internet is insufficient.

The constellation will not be complete until 42,000 Starlink satellites are in low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX.

Starlink satellites are expected to earn a profit of $30-50 billion annually, which could be used to fund the company’s Starship program and Mars exploration plans, once the constellation is complete.

This was SpaceX’s 27th launch of 2021, which breaks the company’s record for orbital launches in a calendar year.

Overall, this was the 75th flight of a previously-flown booster and the 130th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since its debut in 2010.

Video courtesy of SpaceX

The post SpaceX breaks annual flight record with latest Starlink mission appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Spacewalking astronauts replace faulty antenna at ISS

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Marshburn rides the robotic Canadarm2 to the SASA work area. NASA astronaut Kayla Barron assisted him in replacing the failed S-band antenna. The two astronauts spent about 6.5 hours outside the outpost. Credit: NASA

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Marshburn rides the robotic Canadarm2 to the SASA work area. NASA astronaut Kayla Barron assisted him in replacing the failed S-band antenna. The two astronauts spent about 6.5 hours outside the outpost. Credit: NASA

Two astronauts have successfully completed a spacewalk at the International Space Station to repair a faulty S-band Antenna Sub-assembly, or SASA, during U.S. EVA-78 as part of the seven-person Expedition 66 mission.

The faulty antenna was first noticed during routine testing in September. Mission Control in Houston experienced issues while testing S-Band string 2 at both high and low data rates, yielding anomalous signatures. NASA made the determination that the SASA would need to either be repaired or replaced, with the latter being the more economical option.

Astronauts Thomas Marshburn, left, and Kayla Barron prepare their suits for their spacewalk. Credit: NASA

Astronauts Thomas Marshburn, left, and Kayla Barron prepare their suits for their spacewalk. Credit: NASA

The event was originally scheduled to take place Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, however NASA made the last minute decision to reschedule the outing due to a possible collision risk posed by on-orbit debris.

It has not been confirmed if the debris event was related to the test-firing of a Russian anti-satellite weapon that forced the station crew into emergency configuration approximately two weeks ago.

The spacewalk began at approximately 6:15 a.m. EST (11:15 UTC) Dec. 2. European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Marshburn, acting as EV1 wearing red stripes, and NASA astronaut Kayla Barron, acting as EV2, began the activity at the Quest airlock.

Over the course of 6 hours, 32 minutes, the two astronauts quickly got ahead of their scheduled SASA replacement tasks on the Port 1 truss segment where the faulty antenna was located.

The duo were even able to perform several get-ahead tasks on the Port 4 truss segment, which included resetting torque on a set of bolts, according to NASA.

“Kayla and Tom, I asked you to crush it but man, you all triple crushed it,” astronaut Mark Vande Hei radioed from inside the station before the spacewalkers returned to the airlock.

This spacewalk, which officially ended at 12:47 p.m. EST (17:47 UTC), was the 13th at the ISS in 2021. While it was Barron’s first extravehicular activity, it was Marshburn’s fifth, bringing his cumulative time outside a spacecraft to 31 hours and 1 minute.

In total, this was the 245th spacewalk in support of ISS assembly and maintenance over the last 21 years. According to NASA, space station astronauts and cosmonauts have collectively spent 64 days, 12 hours and 26 minutes outside the orbiting laboratory.

The post Spacewalking astronauts replace faulty antenna at ISS appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Webb

Each one contains a chocolate shaped like a famous spacecraft and, for the later numbers, a pamphlet on managing anxiety.

December 2nd COVID-19: Hospitalizations Increasing

The CDC is the source for all data.

According to the CDC, on Vaccinations.  Total doses administered: 464,445,580.

COVID Metrics
 TodayWeek
Ago
Goal
Percent fully Vaccinated59.6%---≥70.0%1
Fully Vaccinated (millions)197.8---≥2321
New Cases per Day386,41294,393≤5,0002
Hospitalized3🚩47,71444,556≤3,0002
Deaths per Day3859983≤502
1 Minimum to achieve "herd immunity" (estimated between 70% and 85%).
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37-day average for Cases, Currently Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7-day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met.

IMPORTANT: For "herd immunity" most experts believe we need 70% to 85% of the total population fully vaccinated (or already had COVID).  Note: COVID will probably stay endemic (at least for some time).

KUDOS to the residents of the 5 states that have achieved 70% of total population fully vaccinated: Vermont at 73.1%, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts at 71.4%.

KUDOS also to the residents of the 16 states and D.C. that have achieved 60% of total population fully vaccinated: New York at 68.7%, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, Virginia, New Hampshire, Oregon, District of Columbia, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Florida, and Hawaii at 61.1%.

The following 19 states have between 50% and 59.9% fully vaccinated: Wisconsin at 59.7%, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Michigan, Texas, Kansas, Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, North Carolina, Alaska, Ohio, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Missouri and Indiana at 50.7%.

Next up (total population, fully vaccinated according to CDC) are Georgia at 49.7%, Tennessee at 49.7%, Arkansas at 49.5%, Louisiana at 49.0% and North Dakota at 49.0%.

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.

Comet Leonard and the Whale Galaxy

Comet Leonard and the Whale Galaxy Comet Leonard and the Whale Galaxy


Emerging Data on Omicron

For the last few days the world has been waiting for scientists to make sense of Omicron. Today we appear to have some new information and it’s not encouraging. I’m no scientist. So I’m going to do as little characterizing as I can. I am recommending this Twitter thread and this one, both from trustworthy people, one a journalist following COVID and another a computational biologist at the KU Leuven in Belgium.

Also see this FT article and this pre-print from the main South African public health agency which finds “Population-level evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is associated with substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection.” This study along with new case data out of South Africa are main points of discussion in the threads above.

For the last week global concerns about Omicron have been driven mostly by the structure and mutations of the virus, what it looks like, its shape. Those mutations make it look like Omicron would have a high potential for immune escape. But you don’t really know until you have real world data. Some of this you can do in the laboratory, seeing how it interacts with antibodies in a lab setting. A lot you need to see data on case numbers, hospitalizations, etc. We’re now seeing numbers out of South Africa that are consistent with a significant level of immune escape.

I stress that we’re still far too early to know what is happening. But more evidence is coming into place. The false alarm scenarios are becoming less plausible. We are beginning to see case growth and hospitalization data out of South Africa that appear to match the levels of immune escape researchers feared when they saw the mutations.

From reading a lot of expert discussion on this in the last few days, the one thing I feel confident saying is that if you haven’t gotten your booster you really want to get that booster as soon as you are able.

Where Things Stand: We’re Living In A ‘Slow Motion’ Jan 6

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) sounded the already scream-worthy alarm this week.

It was a stark warning about something TPM has been covering with our hair-on-fire for some time: that the Jan. 6 attempt to steal an election was the culmination of months of President Trump’s stoking of the Big Lie, and not an isolated incident. What’s more, the attempted heist never ended.

Griswold outlined the various threats to our current democracy — like a slew of new state level restrictive voting laws and ongoing threats of violence against election workers — and observed that the election-stealing crusade is continuing as we speak. Just, perhaps, in slow motion.

“Warning lights are blinking red. We are seeing January 6, the attempted stealing of an American presidency, just in slow motion right now,” Griswold said during a Reuters Next event Wednesday. “What we’re seeing right now is no longer about 2020. It’s about 2022 and 2024, making what was attempted on January 6 more feasible the next time around. So I believe we are at an incredibly urgent time in terms of things that we have to do, that we must do.”

That framing of the issue is spot on. Especially coming from Griswold, who is the top elections official in a state that has had its fair share of Big Lie drama and has come under federal scrutiny after a county’s sensitive election data was leaked to none other than Mike Lindell, the MyPillow Guy.

Last month, FBI agents raided the home of Trumpy Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, as well as other locations connected to Peters. TPM’s Matt Shuham has the full story here, but, in short: Peters had already been under investigation by state and local authorities for months and gained national attention in August when QAnon influencer Ron Watkins claimed he was speaking to a local election whistleblower who allegedly gave him a video that showed sensitive information about how Dominion voting machines work. Dominion, of course, has filed a bunch of defamation lawsuits against Trump allies and right-wing media outlets for spreading disinformation about the company and smearing Dominion in the service of hyping various voter fraud myths tied to the 2020 presidential election.

Peters is suspected to be said “whistleblower,” as the data leaked earlier this year was from election machines in her custody as county clerk at the time. Authorities allege she allowed an unauthorized person to attend an in-person election software update. The data was then shared online by Watkins and was featured as part of Lindell’s unhinged “Cyber Symposium” back in August.

After the FBI raided her home last month, Peters did an interview with Lindell where she revealed that Rep. Lauren Boebert’s (R-CO) former campaign manager had also been targeted by the raid. Boebert’s ex-campaign manager Sherronna Bishop has been vocal for months about various debunked election machine conspiracy theories. Bishop joined Peters at Lindell’s wacky — and, overall, useless — cyber event last month, where he offered literally … nothing of substance to back up his months-long claims of possessing evidence that would prove Trump actually did win the 2020 election by a long shot. (If you recall, he’s also bragged about his plans to share said supposed evidence with the Supreme Court, vowing that it would propel Trump back into the White House by August. None of this has happened.)

It’s all a convoluted web of Big Lie characters. But Griswold clear-eyed remarks this week speak to the gravity of the ongoing democracy-dismantling, election stealing efforts by those in Trump’s corner, which we’re watching continue to unfold at the national and local level.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s what you should read this evening:

An LOL update: DC Cop Agrees With Insurrectionist Who Called Himself ‘Stupid’

After yesterday’s SCOTUS hearing sparked realistic fears about Roe’s fate, Kate Riga digs into the possible tangible repercussions if the hallmark abortion ruling is dismantled by the new hyper-conservative Supreme Court: If Roe Is Overturned, Abortion Will Be Near Instantly Illegal In A Third Of The States

Trump Butts Into Ohio Sen Race To Do Preemptive 2024 Damage Control

Report: Powell Falsely Named Lawyers In Election Suits

Matt Shuham digs into Jeffrey Clark’s plan for avoiding the Jan. 6 committee’s requests: Jeffrey Clark Plans To Take The 5th. What Does That Mean For The Jan. 6 Probe?

House And Senate Leaders Say They’ve Reached Deal To Avert Shutdown … but will far-right Senators fall in line?

From TPM Cafe: The Number Of Guns In Households With Teens Spiked During COVID

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

‘Inhumane, Unacceptable’: Democrats Rage Against Supreme Court Threat To Abortion Rights — Kate Riga

What We Are Reading

Don Young is the rare Republican who’s not afraid of Trump — or of saying he needs to ‘shut up’ — Paul Kane

Column: Sorry, Pete Buttigieg. It’s Fred Karger who belongs in the history books — Mark Barabak

The vast majority of Republicans don’t want a booster — Harry Enten

From the DF Archive: Taiwan Flag Emoji Disappears From iOS 13.1.2 Keyboard in Hong Kong

Speaking of kowtowing to China, this one still irks me. And, at this point, likely will for the foreseeable future.

 ★ 

The Other Memory-Holed Episode of ‘The Simpsons’ — the One With Michael Jackson

Small bit of follow-up regarding yesterday’s item about Disney+ blocking an episode of The Simpsons in Hong Kong because it contained a joke about Tiananmen Square. The article I linked to at The Wrap claimed “Disney+ users in the U.S. may be able to stream every episode of ‘The Simpsons’ ever made,” but that’s not true. Here’s Isaac Butler, writing for Slate two years ago:

One unexpected fallout from our cultural reckoning with the life and work of Michael Jackson is the erasure of a Simpsons episode. “Stark Raving Dad,” the premiere of the show’s third season, tells the story of Homer being committed to an insane asylum, where he meets a patient named Leon Kompowsky, who claims to be Michael Jackson. Homer, not knowing who Michael Jackson is, believes him. Antics ensue. The central joke is that Leon is actually voiced by Michael Jackson, a joke extended further by his use of a pseudonym in the end credits. Following the renewed allegations of child sexual abuse against Jackson, executive producer James L. Brooks announced last week that The Simpsons will no longer include the episode in syndication packages, streaming, or even future DVD releases of the show. It’s gone. But don’t call it a book burning, he cautions. “This is our book,” he told the Wall Street Journal, “and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.” [...]

“Stark Raving Dad” is not the golden age’s best episode, but it is the shot across the bow. In its absurd plotting and metatextual japery, its alchemical mixture of cynicism and heartwarming sentiment — to say nothing of the way it reckons with its guest celebrity’s public image — it establishes the formula that the show was to follow for years. The episode belongs in a museum — preserved forever, not swept into the memory hole.

There was also a years-long stretch after 9/11 where the season premiere of season 9 — “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” — was held from syndication because a segment takes place at the World Trade Center. It’s been back in syndication and streaming since 2006, though. They should do the same with “Stark Raving Dad”.

 ★