Satellogic signs multi-launch contract with SpaceX

Satellogic constellation

WASHINGTON — Earth observation company Satellogic announced Jan. 19 it signed a contract with SpaceX covering several rideshare launches of its satellites through next year.

The multiple launch services agreement makes SpaceX Satellogic’s preferred provider for launching its constellation of microsatellites, after previously relying on Chinese, European and Russian vehicles, including a launch of 10 satellites as the primary payload on a Long March 6 Nov. 5.

In an interview, Emiliano Kargieman, chief executive of Satellogic, said the low prices and frequent launch opportunities that SpaceX offered led his company to sign up. “The new rideshare program that SpaceX has put together has reduced the price on the order of four or five times on a per-kilogram basis,” he said. “That really made the rideshare program compete very well in the market and it caused us to start having conversations with SpaceX.”

Satellogic plans to conduct its next four launches with SpaceX, starting in June. Additional launches will take place in December and in March and June of 2022. All will be rideshare missions going to sun-synchronous orbits, with at least four satellites on the June launch. The company, which has 13 operational satellites currently, projects having a constellation of about 60 satellites by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

The company also has the option of flying satellites as rideshare payloads on Starlink missions. Those would go to mid-inclination orbits, which Kargieman said would complement the bulk of the constellation in sun-synchronous orbits. “They give us more diversity in times for revisits for points of interest,” he said, noting the company has one satellite in such an orbit. “We are looking into deploying more mid-inclination satellites over the next 12–18 months, but we have not yet decided exactly when those launches are going to be.”

Another benefit of the agreement, he said, is the flexibility it offers in determining how many satellites to fly, as well as options for flying satellites on Starlink missions. “It gives us the possibility of making those decisions closer to the launch date.”

While SpaceX is Satellogic’s preferred launch provider, Kargieman did not rule out occasionally using other providers. “Because we might need some particular orbit, we might still decide to launch a dedicated rocket every once in a while to make sure we have the satellites where we want them,” he said.

Satellogic is seeing strong demand for the high-resolution imagery its satellites produce, he said, with that demand accelerating in the last year from government customers in particular. “On the government side it’s very clear that there is significant unsatisfied demand,” he said. “The pandemic has accelerated the demand for Earth observation data and geospatial analytics.”

That demand was a key factor in the decision to select SpaceX, with its launch services allowing Satellogic to accelerate deployment of its constellation. “That’s a good point to invest more,” Kargieman said. “We’re feeling strongly that this is a time for us to double down, scale and continue to bring this data to market at an affordable cost.”


The Magnetic Field of the Whirlpool Galaxy

Do magnetic fields always flow along spiral arms? Do magnetic fields always flow along spiral arms?

AFDLOX January 20, 3:58pm

FXUS66 KLOX 202358 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 358 PM PST Wed Jan 20 2021 .SYNOPSIS...20/1225 PM. Northeast winds will continue to weaken through Thursday morning with a sea breeze returning Thursday afternoon. For Friday into early next week, much cooler and unsettled weather is anticipated. Rain and snow will be possible Friday and Saturday and again Monday through Wednesday.

January 20 COVID-19 Test Results

Note: Bloomberg has great data on vaccinations.
"Vaccinations in the U.S. began Dec. 14 with health-care workers, and so far 17.2 million shots have been given, according to a state-by-state tally by Bloomberg and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the last week, an average of 912,497 doses per day were administered."
It is possible the 7-day average cases has peaked. Stay safe! I'm looking forward to not posting this data in a few months. 

The US is now averaging close to 2 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to be under 5% (probably close to 1%), so the US has far too many daily cases - and percent positive - to do effective test-and-trace.

There were 1,788,698 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 185,822 positive tests.

Over 60,000 US deaths have been reported so far in January. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

COVID-19 Tests per Day and Percent PositiveClick on graph for larger image.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 10.4% (red line is 7 day average).  The percent positive is calculated by dividing positive results by total tests (including pending).

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. (updated link to new site)

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayThe second graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported and daily hospitalizations.

It is possible cases and hospitalizations have peaked, but are still at a very high level.   

Here Comes The NASA Biden Away Team

Message from NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk and Senior White House Appointee Bhavya Lal

"We have some initial appointments from the new administration: Alicia Brown has been named NASA's Associate Administrator for Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs (OLIA), and Marc Etkind will be the Associate Administrator for Communications. Please join us in giving them a warm welcome to the NASA family. There will be other new faces arriving at Headquarters, and we will communicate these developments with you."

- Bhavya Lal, LinkedIn Twitter
- Alicia Brown, LinkedIn Twitter
- Marc Etkind, IMDb - Twitter

AFDSGX January 20, 3:25pm

FXUS66 KSGX 202325 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 325 PM PST Wed Jan 20 2021 .SYNOPSIS... Strong east to northeast winds will continue this afternoon, diminishing in the evening. Periods of showers will continue into this evening for the mountains and lower deserts with mostly dry weather elsewhere. Showers will come to an end tonight. A break in the weather action occurs on Thursday before another storm arrives from the north Friday night and moves across the area on Saturday. This will bring light to moderate precipitation to the region and drag colder air southward. Another break occurs on Sunday ahead of another potentially stronger storm arriving from the north Sunday night and Monday and lasting through at least Tuesday. It will turn even colder with lowering snow levels. Significant snowfall is possible in the mountains, which could impact all of the SoCal mountain passes Monday through Tuesday.

Four Quick Links for Wednesday Afternoon

From the new White House website, this seems like a pretty good list of priorities for the new administration to tackle: Covid-19, climate, racial equity, economy, health care, immigration, restore America’s global standing. []

"Where the Obama administration's approach was too often clever and strewn with budgetary wonkiness, the Biden formula should embrace the opposite: big, fast, and simple." Be bold, change lives – GOP will complain either way. []

Arnold Schwarzenegger, after getting the Covid-19 vaccine: "Come with me if you want to live." []

There's a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 found in California that may be more transmissible (like B.1.1.7), which would explain the sharp increase in Covid-19 cases in the state in Nov/Dec. []


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

The White House

New president, new administration, new website.


Links 1/20/21

Links for you. Science:

After ~10 months of relative quiescence we’ve started to see some striking evolution of SARS-CoV-2 with a repeated evolutionary pattern in the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern emerging from the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
Biden announces Science and Technology Policy director, elevates position to Cabinet-level
Pipetting in TV and Movies is bad and I feel very passionately about it.
Electric Eels Hunt in Packs, Shocking Prey and Scientists
Intranasal ChAdOx1 nCoV-19/AZD1222 vaccination reduces shedding of SARS-CoV-2 D614G in rhesus macaques


The Good, the Bad, and the Odd in Biden’s Stimulus Plan
The best way to secure the Capitol is to make D.C. a state
‘We’re The Ones Who Saved Congress’: Meet Three D.C. Police Officers Who Fought For The U.S. Capitol
Lawmakers Calling for “Unity” Should Support Policies Voters Actually Want
Why Didn’t The Alibi Face Harsher Consequences for Having Customers Inside on Jan. 6?
Some Democrats in Congress are worried their colleagues might kill them
Players Rip a ‘Fucking Corrupt’ College Football Season
The Capitol riots prove we need to strengthen our democracy. That begins with voting rights.
The fantasy-industrial complex gave us the Capitol Hill insurrection
This is what it looks like when the mob turns on you
Your Metrorail trips in 2021 might get quicker – five seconds at a time
Democrats pressure Pelosi to expel Madison Cawthorn
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner flush their reputations down the toilet
Capitol Mob Has Roots in Anti-Lockdown Protests: Reopen and anti-mask groups were a crucial recruiting ground for the Stop the Steal effort that culminated in last week’s deadly siege.
How Biden will try to reverse one of Trump’s most destructive failures
Vigilante militias organizing to invade state Capitols this weekend operate outside the law
Joe Scarborough: ‘We made the same mistake that people made during Hitler’s rise’
Outlets that are just now deciding to cover extremism are about to make this mistake.
You don’t need to interview far right extremists. You don’t need to quote them or put them on TV and set up cute little debates with them.
Trump administration staffers are getting snubbed while hunting for jobs. One recruiter tried to place 6 of them and couldn’t land any interviews. (“They’re all very all about themselves with narcissistic attitudes, thinking any company in the country will want to hire me. I listened to one for about 20 minutes, and it was so much baloney, what he was spewing out to me.”)
Make. Them. Testify. Call the Trump officials who resigned in protest to testify at the impeachment trial.
Vaccine reserve was already exhausted when Trump administration vowed to release it, dashing hopes of expanded access (criminal negligence)
Among the Insurrectionists: The Capitol was breached by Trump supporters who had been declaring, at rally after rally, that they would go to violent lengths to keep the President in power. A chronicle of an attack foretold.

Space challenges for President Biden: Four issues for the next four years

As Joe Biden begins the first year of his presidency, there is still much we don’t know about where he and his vice president, Kamala Harris, stand on major issues in civil and national security space. The pandemic and economic recovery are sure to drive Biden’s initial agenda.

There are, nonetheless, several key space issues the new administration will have to address. NASA’s Artemis program is now unlikely to meet its 2024 human landing goal, giving the administration the opportunity to revisit the program while enhancing the agency’s Earth science work. The growing population of satellites and debris may lead the administration to reexamine the Trump administration’s approach to civil space traffic management. The Space Force will continue to mature but faces growing pains. The Pentagon will also finish programs, from new launch vehicles to LEO constellations, started under the Trump administration.

NASA was expected to select a company this spring to proceed into full development of a crewed lunar lander but budget setbacks and a change in administration could alter those plans. Credit: NASA Human Landing System concept

The future of Artemis

Ever since Biden won the presidential election in November, the space industry has speculated what his administration will mean for NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the moon in 2024. The Democratic Party platform in August endorsed in general terms “NASA’s work to return Americans to the moon,” but made no mention of either retaining or changing the 2024 goal.

That decision may already have been made for him. In December, Congress passed a fiscal year 2021 spending bill that included $850 million for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) program, just a quarter of what the agency requested. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had warned for months that keeping a 2024 human landing on schedule would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, without full funding for HLS.

There was, even before Congress passed the bill, widespread skepticism that a 2024 landing was feasible. “It was a long shot to begin with,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, shortly after the election. She speculated that the new administration would defer a human lunar landing to “slightly later than 2024.”

A new approach might look something like what NASA was pursuing in the first half of the Trump administration, when it was focused on first building out the lunar Gateway, followed by human lunar landings around 2028. NASA has continued to make agreements with Canada, Europe and Japan on elements of the Gateway, so broader changes to human spaceflight plans that do away with the Gateway could be geopolitically costly for the Biden administration.

NASA may have to make decisions on the future of Artemis soon, perhaps before a new administrator is in place. The three companies that received HLS contracts last year — Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX — are waiting on NASA to select who will proceed into full development. The agency previously said it would make decisions in the spring, but both the limited funding and the change in administrations could alter those plans.

At the same time, the Biden administration is widely expected to put greater resources into Earth science programs at NASA, as part of a broader emphasis on climate change. The party platform called for “strengthening” NASA and NOAA Earth observation missions “to better understand how climate change is impacting our home planet.”

That could create opportunities not just for Earth scientists but developers of spacecraft and related technologies. “With the administration’s planned focus on climate change, we expect growth in spacecraft and information systems related to understanding weather and climate change,” Eileen Drake, president and chief executive of Aerojet Rocketdyne, said at the AIAA SciTech Forum Jan. 11.

Exactly what form that new emphasis on Earth science will take is not yet clear. NASA already has a lengthy list of recommended missions from the previous Earth science decadal survey published in 2018 but has been slow to implement them because of limited budgets. Additional funding could accelerate those missions and feed into a broader climate change initiative.

Some have bolder expectations. “Managing the Earth’s ability to sustain human life and biodiversity will likely, in my view, dominate a civil space agenda for a Biden-Harris administration,” said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator during the Obama administration, shortly after the election.

However that climate change initiative develops, it likely means that boots on the moon will have to wait.

While the incoming administration has offered no hints of its views on the subject, there is nothing that would stop it from moving civil space traffic management to the FAA or authorizing the Commerce Department to perform STM, making it easy for the White House to change its mind. Credit: SpaceNews illustration

Space traffic management

At the end of the Obama administration four years ago, the outlines of a civil space traffic management (STM) system were beginning to take shape. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation was starting preparations to take on that work from the U.S. Air Force after a consensus by the White House and other government agencies that it was the best agency for the job.

That changed in June 2018, when the Trump administration issued Space Policy Directive 3 on civil STM. The administration directed the Air Force to transition civil STM activities to the Commerce Department, specifically its Office of Space Commerce. It concluded that the office could take on space traffic management, freeing up the FAA to oversee increasing commercial launch activity.

Two and a half years later, the office was finally ready to take on that challenge. Congress provided the office with $10 million in the fiscal year 2021 omnibus spending bill in December — less than the $15 million it requested but the first time it received any funding for STM work. Up until then, the Office of Space Commerce was laying the groundwork for STM, including coordination with the Space Force and meetings with industry, but needed funding to hire staff and develop systems.

“Next year will be largely what I’ll call a ‘building block’ year,” Kevin O’Connell, director of the Office of Space Commerce, predicted in October during a 0SpaceNews webinar. If his office got its requested funding, he projected that by the end of 2021 “we will have an initial architecture that is up and running.”

That assumes the Biden administration continues on that path. While the incoming administration has offered no hints of its views on the subject, there is nothing that would stop it from moving civil STM to the FAA or authorizing the Commerce Department to perform space traffic management, making it easy for the White House to change its mind.

However, there is now a consensus in the public and private sector that Commerce is the best place — or, at least, a good enough place — to handle civil STM. A congressionally mandated report by the National Academy of Public Administration, released in August, concluded Commerce was a better agency for civil STM than the FAA, NASA, or Defense Department.

With the growing amount of debris in orbit, along with emergence of megaconstellations like Starlink, most just want the government to move ahead as fast as it can. “In the end, it doesn’t really matter who does it, just that it gets done,” said Chris Kunstadter, global head of space for insurer AXA XL.

Another question will be how much attention Commerce gives to civil STM. Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, hasn’t been involved in space in any way or shown an interest in the subject. However, the same was true for Trump’s nominee, financier Wilbur Ross, who never attended a launch before 2018. Yet he became a vocal advocate for the department’s work on space, including STM.

Credit: U.S. Space Force

Next steps for U.S. Space Force

Among the final acts of the Trump administration was a celebration at the White House of the U.S. Space Force’s first anniversary, where Vice President Mike Pence announced the members of the service would be called guardians. The sixth branch of the armed forces was a darling of President Trump and no detail about the Space Force was too trivial to trumpet.

The Space Force will now enter its formative years with bipartisan support in Congress but under a new commander in chief with a different worldview. Biden is not expected to undo his predecessor’s prized achievement, but the Space Force will be lower on the totem pole.

“I don’t think the Space Force is in any danger of going away, but I don’t think it will be politically favored the way it was under Trump,” said David Burbach, associate professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College.

Over the next four years, the Space Force will stay busy building the service. In 2020, more than 2,200 former members of Air Force Space Command formally transferred to the Space Force. Another 3,600 are projected to transfer in 2021. The long-term goal is a Space Force of about 6,000 military members and 8,000 civilians. The service will be standing up a Space Systems Command to oversee acquisitions and plans to build a space intelligence center. The Biden administration later this year will have to provide recommendations to Congress on what space units from the Army and the Navy could be realigned under the Space Force.

More broadly, political appointees and military officials will continue to have to address questions on the Space Force’s role and reason for being.

“There is still a lot of confusion about the role of the Space Force,” said Burbach, noting that he does not speak for the government. Even though the space service’s job is to operate and defend U.S. satellites, “they run commercials showing astronauts going to the moon and exploring other planets. That’s not what the Space Force is going to do. They are not fighting laser battles in space.”

“The primary job for the Space Force right now is really focused on Earth,” said Scott Pace, former executive secretary of the National Space Council, during a recent National Security Space Association webinar. He noted the service has its hands full just carrying out its basic responsibilities to provide space-based services to U.S. military forces and allies.

A criticism often lobbed at the Space Force is that it created an expensive new bureaucracy to do the same work that the Air Force Space Command used to do, with the same people. But critics need to move on, said Deborah Lee James, former secretary of the Air Force during the Obama administration. “It’s not worth the bureaucratic churn to put it back the way it was,” she said last month at the Mitchell Institute’s West Coast Aerospace Forum.

Congress has made similar points and directed the Department of the Air Force and the Space Force to propose by May a revamped space acquisition process, a responsibility that will fall on Biden’s appointees. The fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act asks for specific recommendations for making space acquisitions move faster, in ways that capture innovations from the private sector.


The U.S. Space Force is counting on a smooth transition to ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket to help ensure the reliable delivery of national security satellites to orbit. Credit: United Launch Alliance

National security space modernization

During the Trump administration, the Pentagon took important steps to modernize key national security space programs. For now, there is nothing to suggest Biden’s appointees — many of them veterans of the Obama administration — will reverse course on major programs, at least until they have a chance to dig through budgets and submit new proposals.

“We see no reason to think it won’t be full steam ahead,” said Mike Tierney, industry analyst at the defense and space consulting firm Velos. In 2021, “we’re going to get a lot of the same” simply because the incoming leaders are not going to have time to substantially amend Trump’s budgets until their second year in office.

Over the next four years, Biden’s Pentagon will oversee the transition of the National Security Space Launch program to a new phase where SpaceX will have a more prominent role flying military satellites to orbit and longtime incumbent United Launch Alliance will be tested to introduce a new launch vehicle, Vulcan, that the company promised will be ready in 2021. It will fall on the Space Force and the Biden administration to help SpaceX and ULA clear this hurdle and assure Congress the nation has the domestic launch vehicles it needs to reliably deliver critical national security satellites to orbit.

Sometime in 2024, the Space Force will start planning for a new heavy-lift launch competition. Biden’s administration could be in a position to evaluate whether emerging players like Blue Origin, which tried and lost in 2020, can win a spot in Space Force’s stable of launch providers.

Another item on the space agenda is the resiliency — or lack thereof — of U.S. space systems. This has been a much-discussed issue during the Trump administration amid warnings that U.S. satellites are vulnerable to jamming, cyberattacks and threats from anti-satellite weapons.

Former undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Mike Griffin pushed the Pentagon to invest in proliferated low-Earth orbit constellations, like those being built by private companies, to provide resiliency. Under Griffin, the Pentagon stood up the Space Development Agency to take on the design and early development of military systems in LEO. The young agency, which was opposed by the Air Force Association and others, is preparing to launch its first 28 satellites in 2022.

“SDA will get a fresh look,” Tierney said, but there’s no sign that the Biden team will be opposed to it. Once the SDA shows it can deliver on its promise to field a constellation in just two years, he expects it will be seen as the “agile, innovative new arm of the Space Force focused on proliferated LEO.”

The large “exquisite” satellites that have been the bread and butter of Pentagon space programs will not go away even if the SDA’s proliferated systems come to fruition. Under Biden, the Space Force will continue to acquire multibillion-dollar systems for missile warning, secure communications, and navigation. But there will also be parallel efforts to diversify the space architecture and use cheaper, smaller platforms as the private sector continues to drive down the cost of satellites and launch.

How the military leverages commercial space technology for national security will remain an issue over the next four years. A recent Aerospace Corp. space policy paper aimed at the Biden administration noted that the “increasing commercialization of space is presenting new opportunities for national security acquisition.” A trend to watch will be whether U.S. intelligence and defense agencies begin to seriously consider alternatives to the traditional model of hiring contractors to develop bespoke capabilities.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 18, 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


Goodbye to Our White Supremacist President

For the occasion of Donald Trump’s last day as President, Ta-Nehisi Coates revisits his essay published in the October 2017 of The Atlantic, The First White President, which argued persuasively that Trump is a white supremacist. In a new introduction, he writes:

It was popular, at the time of Donald Trump’s ascension, to stand on the thinnest of reeds in order to avoid stating the obvious. It was said that the Trump presidency was the fruit of “economic anxiety,” of trigger warnings and the push for trans rights. We were told that it was wrong to call Trump a white supremacist, because he had merely “drawn upon their themes.”

One hopes that after four years of brown children in cages; of attempts to invalidate the will of Black voters in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit; of hearing Trump tell congresswomen of color to go back where they came from; of claims that Joe Biden would turn Minnesota into “a refugee camp”; of his constant invocations of “the Chinese virus,” we can now safely conclude that Trump believes in a world where white people are — or should be — on top. It is still deeply challenging for so many people to accept the reality of what has happened — that a country has been captured by the worst of its history, while millions of Americans cheered this on.

Tags: Donald Trump   politics   racism   Ta-Nehisi Coates

SpaceX sets new rocket reuse records with successful Starlink launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 8:02 a.m. EST (1302 GMT) Wednesday. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink satellites Wednesday into a sunny sky over Florida’s Space Coast, adding more capacity and coverage to the company’s commercial broadband network while setting new records for the pace it is reusing Falcon 9 rocket boosters.

The two-stage launcher fired its nine Merlin 1D main engines and climbed away from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 8:02 a.m. EST (1302 GMT) Wednesday. The rocket’s guidance system steered the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) launcher toward the northeast over the Atlantic Ocean on a trajectory to place the 60 Starlink relay stations into an orbit ranging between 53 degrees north and south latitude.

The first stage booster — designated B1051 — made it’s eighth trip to space and back on Wednesday’s mission, making it SpaceX’s fleet-leader. The first stage shut down and separated from the Falcon 9 second stage around two-and-half minutes into the flight, extended aerodynamic grid fins, and briefly arced into space before re-entering the atmosphere and nailing a propulsive landing on SpaceX’s floating recovery vessel in the Atlantic Ocean.

Braving stiff winds, the 15-story rocket descended to the landing platform, or drone ship, extended its four-legged landing gear, and fired its center engine in a final braking maneuver just before touchdown. The winds in the landing were stronger than durning previous rocket landings, but SpaceX elected to go ahead with the mission in hopes of gathering data on the booster’s capability to land in less-than-ideal conditions, according to Jessica Anderson, a SpaceX engineer who hosted the company’s launch webcast Wednesday.

Video from the drone ship dropped out as the rocket touched down about eight minutes after liftoff, but the live video quickly resumed, showing the scorched, soot-covered booster safely on the landing platform.

“We have landed the Falcon 9 for the eighth time,” Anderson said. “This is our life leader. What an amazing morning!”

The booster on Wednesday’s launch first flew on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission in March 2019, when the human-rated spaceship took off on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station, paving the way for astronaut missions in 2020.

The first stage launched again from California in June 2019 carrying Canada’s three Radarsat Constellation Mission remote sensing satellites, then flew on four Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral. Most recently, the booster launched Dec. 13 with the SXM 7 radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM.

The SXM 7 launch occurred 38 days before Wednesday’s mission, marking the fastest turnaround between flights since SpaceX started reusing Falcon 9 boosters in 2017.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, has said the newest version of the Falcon 9 booster — called the Block 5 — could fly 10 times without any major refurbishment, and perhaps 100 times with periodic overhauls. With as many as 48 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy flights planned in 2021, SpaceX seems poised to have at least one Falcon booster, and possibly more, reach the 10-flight milestone this year.

The two halves of the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing Wednesday were also recycled from previous missions. Two SpaceX fairing recovery vessels, each fitted with giant nets to catch the fairing shells as they fall under parachutes, were on station in the Atlantic Wednesday to retrieve the components.

The payload fairing jettisoned moments after ignition of the Falcon 9’s second stage engine as the rocket soared above the atmosphere, revealing the stack of 60 Starlink satellites mounted to the forward end of the rocket.

A Falcon 9 rocket, flying with a first stage flown on seven previous missions, climbs through the atmosphere Wednesday over Florida’s Space Coast. Credit: SpaceX

After reaching a preliminary parking orbit, the Falcon 9 upper stage coasted halfway around the world, transiting the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, and the Middle East before briefly reigniting its engine over the Indian Ocean to place the Starlink payloads in the proper orbit for deployment.

The 60 satellites released from the rocket a little more than an hour into the mission. An on-board camera showed the flat-panel satellites, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, flying away from the Falcon 9 second stage.

With the 60 new satellites, SpaceX has shot 1,015 Starlink spacecraft into orbit to date, including prototypes not intended for commercial service. The new satellites will give SpaceX a fleet of around 950 Starlinks currently in orbit, after subtracting the satellites that have been deorbited, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks global space activity.

That’s more satellites than owned any other company or government entity.

The fresh satellites will unfurl solar panels, run through automated checkouts, and activate krypton ion thrusters to begin raising their orbits to join the rest of the Starlink constellation at an altitude of 341 miles (550 kilometers).

SpaceX plans to operate an initial block of around 1,500 Starlink satellites. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually field a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations operating in Ku-band, Ka-band, and V-band frequencies.

SpaceX says the Starlink network — designed for low-latency internet service — has entered a beta testing phase in multiple U.S. states and Canada using its already-launched satellites. Testing recently expanded to the United Kingdom, SpaceX said Wednesday, and the U.S. military has also tried out the Starlink internet service.

There are also preliminary plans for an even larger fleet of 30,000 additional Starlink satellites, but a network of that size has not been authorized by the FCC.

Wednesday’s mission was SpaceX’s second launch of the year. Two more Falcon 9 flights are scheduled before the end of January.

A Falcon 9 rocket is set for liftoff from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station during a one-hour window opening at 9:24 a.m. EST (1424 GMT) Friday, carrying more than 100 small satellites for the U.S. government, commercial operators, and foreign customers.

The rideshare mission will deliver the satellites into a polar orbit sun-synchronous orbit more than 300 miles, or 500 kilometers, above Earth. It will be the second launch by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral to aim for a polar orbit, using a southerly launch corridor blazed by a Falcon 9 flight in August with Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite.

Another Falcon 9 mission is tentatively scheduled to take off from the Florida spaceport the morning of Jan. 27 with another batch of roughly 60 Starlink satellites, according to publicly-available hazard area notice outlining offshore keep-out zones for the launch.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Maps and cameras are neglected app runtimes

After last week’s post about QR codes in books to make it easy to follow links, there was a common response: Shouldn’t smartphone cameras just read the link? Optical character recognition is, at this point, ancient tech.

It’s true.


Smartphone cameras are far too dumb (by which I mean the live preview screen, before you take a shot). The camera view should have little recognisers which allow for tapping on web addresses, and email addresses, and whatever, opening the appropriate app.

The camera view should pick up not just QR codes and web addresses but all kinds of text. Clearly I should be able to hold my camera over a printed letter, have a map glyph pop up by the address, and be able to push a “freeze frame” button so I can copy-and-paste the words.

(I know the Android camera does some of this. They’re usually ahead with this kind of stuff. It should do more, and closer to the surface, is what I’m saying.)

Going further. In-view camera functionality should be user-installable. Recognise the prefix on a particular QR code, and a mini app interface pops up. Imagine how useful this would be for taking inventory or machine maintenance: show the barcode sticker to the camera, and see when this parcel is due to be picked up, or the maintenance schedule of this particular bit of kit, right in the camera, and so on.

(If there’s available functionality for which I don’t have the app, the object or the fiducial marker should glow – we already have that visual language from video games.)

Or, come on, let’s be wild, I should be able to buy virtual fashion to wear in my webcam. Filters should be native apps.


A runtime is a place where users interact with their apps, discover new apps, and - ideally - pay for services.

I learnt about the runtime concept from Benedict Evans who used it a lot around 2015/2016. For example:

One of my frameworks for thinking about mobile is that we’re looking for another runtime - somewhere to build experiences on mobile that comes after the web and mobile apps - and that that new runtime will probably comes with new engagement and discovery models and possibly new revenue models too.

And it’s a powerful concept.

The smartphone, with its app store, is a runtime - but more particularly it’s the home screen which is the runtime. Because that’s what you see when you take your phone out of your pocket.

But what if the phone opened to the camera view? It often does, for me. The camera button is right there. I don’t even need to unlock.

So the camera is a neglected runtime. The camera view should have an App Store.

Another neglected runtime is maps.


I would love to know how frequently I pop open maps as the immediate first app when I unlock my phone. I bet it’s a whole bunch.

I should be able to open my maps app in a car park, have it centred on my immediate location, and see the ticket machine located on the map. Tapping it, the parking app should launch - and I mean the micro version of the app, just the functionality I need, right there inside the app.

Let’s take this indoors. The maps app might hold theatre tickets at the theatre, the Sonos interface in my home (or someone else’s), or the meeting room booking system at work. I shouldn’t need to install those apps, I’m right there.

I should be able to install custom routing tools. (For example: did you know that Beeline has built a custom routing algorithm for safer city cycling? That should be user-installable.)

If I have a Uber Eats account, I should see Uber Eats locations on the map – with menus and payment one tap away. Or an Airbnb layer, if I’m arriving into a new city, in the frankly unbelievable scenario that I’m ever more than half a mile from my home ever again.

Cameras and maps are special

Not everything can be a runtime.

A runtime needs space for interaction, but it also needs discovery. So I’m intrigued about the idea of AirPods as a runtime - I would love programmable hearing - but I can’t see how I would discover new user-installable functionality while I was walking down the street. Apps whispering in my ear? I don’t think so. Likewise with Zoom: great idea to have apps running inside the video, adding functionality to my meetings, but can I imagine app advert pop-ups during a work call, offering to transcribe the task list? No.

Smart speakers don’t quite make the cut, for me. There’s no native way to learn about and install new apps. And messaging apps could have been runtimes. Facebook and Apple have both given it a good go. But it turns out that the discovery mechanism was group conversations, and it wasn’t powerful enough. Good on them for giving it a try.

But the default smartphone live camera view, and the map view – these should have app stores.

My speculation, and this is just a speculation, is that everyone is keeping their powder dry for smart glasses and augmented reality.

Policy experts named for DoD space, missile defense posts

WASHINGTON — David Zikusoka, aerospace research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, will serve as special assistant at the office of the assistant secretary of defense for space policy, CSBA announced Jan. 20. 

The assistant secretary of defense for space policy is a new post under the undersecretary of defense for policy that Congress directed in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The Biden administration’s nominee for that position will have to be confirmed by the Senate. DoD said this position will provide “civilian oversight of the space enterprise.”

Zikusoka’s research work at CSBA focused on the military applications of space, information technology and cyberspace. Before joining CSBA, Zikusoka was policy director of the U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a panel directed by Congress to examine the nation’s vulnerability to cyber attacks. 

Biden also named Leonor Tomero deputy assistant director for nuclear and missile defense programs, a position within the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy that does not require Senate confirmation. Tomero was sworn in Jan. 20 at the Pentagon.

Tomero for the past decade served as a senior staff member of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. She was a key voice in drafting legislative provisions in the annual National Defense Authorization Act dealing with strategic weapons and military space programs.

DoD overseen by acting secretaries

As soon as President Biden was sworn in on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that David Norquist assumed the duties of acting secretary of defense until a defense secretary is confirmed. Norquist has served as deputy secretary of defense since July 2019. Biden’s nominee Lloyd Austin is expected to be confirmed as defense secretary in the coming days.

The acting civilian leader for the Air Force and the Space Force is John Roth, who has served as assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management and comptroller since January 2018. 



The story we had ready if Trump had won re-election.

Also, special after-the-fact reaction from one of the experts on authoritarianism we had talked to for that story.

Amanda Gorman: The Hill We Climb

The rhetorical highlight of the Biden/Harris inauguration was Amanda Gorman reciting her poem, The Hill We Climb — I thought it was fantastic. It begins:1

When day comes we ask ourselves: where can we find light in this neverending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming President, only to find herself reciting for one.

You can read about how Gorman composed the poem in the NY Times:

“I had this huge thing, probably one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my career,” she said in an interview. “It was like, if I try to climb this mountain all at once, I’m just going to pass out.”

Gorman managed to write a few lines a day and was about halfway through the poem on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed into the halls of Congress, some bearing weapons and Confederate flags. She stayed awake late into the night and finished the poem, adding verses about the apocalyptic scene that unfolded at the Capitol that day.

The Times also has a lesson for students about Gorman and her poem. And from NPR:

Gorman is no stranger to having to change her work midstream. Like Biden, who has spoken openly about having stuttered as a child, Gorman grew up with a childhood speech impediment of her own. She had difficulty saying certain letters of the alphabet — the letter R was especially tough — which caused her to have to constantly “self-edit and self-police.”

Her delivery was amazing — powerful and lyrical. Brava!

  1. An official transcript has not yet (to my knowledge) been made available, so all punctuation, lack of line breaks, and errors are mine. I’m not a poet!

Tags: Amanda Gorman   poetry   video

Where Things Stand: It Begins

Most of us weren’t going to believe it until we saw it.

In a TPM Slack chat, TPM reporter Matt Shuham just said he was still expecting a Trump flyover.

In the last several hours, President Trump left the White House for good. Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, the first Black American and the first Asian American vice president. Joe Biden officially became president, delivering a compelling message on restoring the soul of America, notably mentioning the threat to unity posed by white supremacists and domestic terrorists.

“At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said, a sentence that holds years of weight and swelling with months of division stoked by the man who just landed in Florida, to hide away at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

And one of Biden’s first moves as president? Posting an extremely normal tweet.

We’ll be here all day covering the historic event. Stay tuned:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Josh Kovensky, Matt Shuham, Zoe Richards and I just published pieces on Trump’s 11th hour pardons.

Matt Shuham just published a recap on Biden’s speech: President Biden To Relieved Nation: Democracy Has Prevailed.

Josh Kovensky just published a piece on news that China issued sanctions against former Secretary of State Mike Pence and Steve Bannon, just moments after Biden was sworn in.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

We’re covering the inauguration proceedings in our liveblog here. Some highlights thus far:

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

Biden held a silent prayer for those whose lives have been lost to the raging coronavirus. 

Coming Up

Former President Donald Trump and the first lady left the White House for Florida around 8:00 a.m. EST.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff attended church at 10:30 a.m. ET. Biden and Harris were sworn in at noon.

4:30 p.m. ET: Harris will swear-in three new senators: her successor, Alex Padilla, as well as the Democratic winners of the Georgia run-off, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, according to their campaigns.

Afterwards they’ll visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington at 2:25 p.m. ET. Biden is scheduled to sign executive orders at 5:15 p.m. ET and will swear in presidential appointees virtually.

In the evening they will attend the “Celebrating America” inaugural program and the new White House press secretary will hold a briefing at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

One Day Until An Unprecedented Inauguration: Live Updates — TPM Staff

What We Are Reading

Amanda Gorman Captures the Moment, in Verse — Alexandra Alter

Kamala Harris will be escorted at the inauguration by heroic Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman — Grace Panetta

Goodbye, Ajit Pai — Nitish Pahwa

AIA: "Architecture Billings continue to lose ground" in December

Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.

From the AIA: Architecture Billings continue to lose ground
Demand for design services from U.S. architecture firms took a pointed dip last month, according to a new report from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The pace of decline during December accelerated from November, posting an Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score of 42.6 from 46.3 (any score below 50 indicates a decline in firm billings). Meanwhile, the pace of growth of inquiries into new projects remained flat from November to December with a score of 52.4, though the value of new design contracts stayed in negative territory with a score of 48.5.

“Since the national economic recovery appears to have stalled, architecture firms are entering 2021 facing a continued sluggish design market,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “However, the recently passed federal stimulus funding should help shore up the economy in the short-term, and hopefully by later this year there should be relief as COVID vaccinations become more widespread. Recent project inquiries from prospective and former clients have been positive, suggesting that new work may begin picking up as we move into the spring and summer months.”
• Regional averages: South (46.8); Midwest (43.6); West (43.4); Northeast (38.8)

• Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (48.0); commercial/industrial (47.2); multi-family residential (46.1); institutional (38.5)
emphasis added
AIA Architecture Billing Index Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 42.6 in December, down from 46.3 in November. Anything below 50 indicates contraction in demand for architects' services.

Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.

This index has been below 50 for ten consecutive months.  This represents a significant decrease in design services, and suggests a decline in CRE investment through most of 2021 (This usually leads CRE investment by 9 to 12 months).

This weakness is not surprising since certain segments of CRE are struggling, especially offices and retail.

Wednesday assorted links

The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

LA Area Port Traffic: Strong Imports, Weak Exports in December

Note: The expansion to the Panama Canal was completed in 2016 (As I noted a few years ago), and some of the traffic that used the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is probably going through the canal. This might be impacting TEUs on the West Coast.

Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.

The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container).

To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.

LA Area Port TrafficClick on graph for larger image.

On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was up 2.0% in December compared to the rolling 12 months ending in October.   Outbound traffic was down 0.1% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month.

The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).

LA Area Port TrafficUsually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year.

Imports were up 24% YoY in December, and exports were down 1% YoY.

Madam Vice President

Kamala Harris

At 11:42 AM EST today, Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice President of the United States of America. She is the first woman to hold that office. She is the first Black Vice President. She is the first person of South Asian descent to be Vice President. All good things to celebrate on this momentous day.

Tags: Kamala Harris   politics

Where Do We Go From Here?

Joe Biden set a tone yesterday evening to listen rather than speak, to speak through our silences. I will try to heed that as best I can with only some brief remarks as we rest at this threshold. Where do we go from here? What do we make of all this? A lesson for us to learn and absorb is resilience.

So many terrible things have happened over these four years, so many things were harrowing and unimaginable. Most became inevitable the moment the country took the fatal step of putting a sociopath at the helm of the state. We were here four years ago trying to imagine what would happen. Resilience and an ethic of optimism are not only good strategy. They are an ethical stance toward life and a way to survive whatever the world throws at us.

I know many of you feel a profound feeling of relief at this moment, one that I share. Celebration of hard-won victories is central to an ethical stance toward life. But there is no going back to the world before Trump. Because we are still in the midst of the world and circumstances that created him. We remain surrounded by conditions he created or accentuated by his presence. Indeed, he’s still in the wings likely plotting some comeback. There’s only going forward. We’ll all have an easier time if we don’t expect that going back is possible. Our reality is working to create something different and better, with something like the same order of engagement and exertion we’ve experienced over the last four years. We must learn resilience and not set ourselves up for disappointment by thinking any of this will be easy.

There are so many ways that Joe Biden helps me put this moment into perspective.

Here is a man who arrived in Congress, starting close to the top almost fifty years ago, with everything before him. Apart from the personal tragedies we know about he sought the presidency in his forties and failed, badly. He tried again in 2008 and was little more than an asterisk in that contest before Barack Obama chose him as his running mate. One thing that made Biden an effective Vice President is that he was clearly too old and too realistic to have future presidential ambitions. He’s the guy with his foot in his mouth, a man of Onion memes. But sometimes life creates moments for people. Some kinds of greatness are difficult to achieve without having already accepted that one’s life is marked more by failure than triumph.

There is a whole cult dedicated to Winston Churchill. The reality is that Churchill spent most of his life as a politician who started at the very top and then found numerous ways to fail, largely through his own mercurial nature, stubbornness and misjudgments. But late in life the world came together in a particular, horrifying way that made Churchill’s characteristic strengths somehow all that mattered. His flaws either fell to the background or, paradoxically, transmuted into strengths.

I’ve thought many times over the last year that history has come together in a similar way for Joe Biden. His resilience, penchant for expressive empathy and experience of suffering suddenly seemed perfectly matched to a broken, grieving country reeling from a presidency rooted in predation, egotism and brutality. These are always valuable experiences and qualities. But in most historical moments they would be secondary ones. We should all be so lucky to have our flawed selves find the moment for which we alone are perfectly suited. It is resilience that keeps us present and ready.

Trump Comes Through For the Dukester

Trump’s final pardons include a TPM special: Duke Cunningham!

SpaceX launches next batch of Starlink satellites

SpaceX launches its latest batch of Starlink satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Theresa Cross / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX launches its latest batch of Starlink satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Theresa Cross / SpaceFlight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — SpaceX has successfully launched its 17th batch of Starlink satellites this morning aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

Liftoff took place at 8:02 a.m. EST (13:02 UTC) Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. This mission marks the first batch of Starlink satellites delivered to orbit this year after the company successfully lofted over 900 of the internet-providing satellites in 2020.

The launch was originally scheduled to take place Monday, but SpaceX decided to reschedule to Tuesday due to impending poor weather conditions in the recovery area. The company then decided to target Wednesday to allow more time for pre-launch inspections.

On launch day, the dawn of the Wednesday morning light brought with it a picturesque backdrop as the Falcon 9 lifted off the pad right on time; its nine Merlin engines roaring to life just moments before taking to the skies.

The first stage burned as expected for just over two and a half minutes before releasing the second stage and performing its signature flip-back maneuver to point itself toward Earth.

About six minutes later, that first stage booster completed a series of burns to land successfully on the company’s autonomous droneship “Just Read The Instructions.” This marked the 72nd time A Falcon booster has successfully landed after an orbital-class mission.

The Falcon 9 with 60 Starlink satellites soars spaceward after its Jan. 20, 2021 launch. Credit: Theresa Cross / SpaceFlight Insider

The Falcon 9 with 60 Starlink satellites soars spaceward after its Jan. 20, 2021 launch. Credit: Theresa Cross / SpaceFlight Insider

For this booster in particular, it was the eight successful flight. SpaceX has said the Falcon 9 first stage was designed to theoretically be capable of flying at least 10 times. The company is well on its way of proving that ability with this mission, making this booster the fleet’s “life leader.”

The second stage reached orbit about 8.5 minutes after liftoff. A brief circularization burn was performed by the stage’s lone Merlin Vacuum engine about 36 minutes after that.

A little over an hour after liftoff, at 9:06 a.m. EST (14:06 UTC), the 60 Starlink satellites on this flight were deployed, bringing the total number of spacecraft in this constellation to 1,015.

SpaceX’s Starlink family of satellites is designed to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband internet service to rural or underserved areas throughout the world. The company rolled out its “Better Than Nothing Beta,” where select customers in areas approved by the Federal Communications Commission were given the opportunity to test Starlink service on a limited scale.

The setup consists of a terminal receiver resembling the shape of a traditional flying saucer. Customers were able to purchase a receiver for the price of $500.

Generally, the feedback for the initial rollout of Starlink has been positive as the company has gained FCC approval to bring the service to the United States, Canada, and Germany throughout 2021.

SpaceX has also received FCC approval to fly 10 Starlink satellites aboard its upcoming Transporter-1 mission, a rideshare mission consisting of dozens of small satellites for over twenty customers, delivering them to a sun-synchronous polar orbit.

This upcoming launch will mark the first time Starlink satellites have been placed in a polar orbit. Transporter-1 is slated to fly from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 as early as Jan. 22.

Video courtesy of SpaceX

The post SpaceX launches next batch of Starlink satellites appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

SpaceX surpasses 1,000-satellite mark in latest Starlink launch

Falcon 9 Starlink 17

WASHINGTON — SpaceX launched its latest set of Starlink satellites Jan. 20, bringing the total number of spacecraft launched so far for that broadband constellation to more than 1,000.

The Falcon 9 lifted off at 8:02 a.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The rocket’s upper stage deployed the payload of 60 Starlink satellites 65 minutes after liftoff.

The rocket’s first stage, making its eighth flight, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX cautioned during the webcast of the launch that the potential for high ground-level winds made the landing an “envelope expansion” attempt. However, the stage landed without incident in the center of the droneship.

The launch was the first time SpaceX flew a booster eight times. The booster, first used to launch the Demo-1 commercial crew test flight in March 2019, was most recently flown on the SXM-7 launch Dec. 13. The 38-day turnaround time between launches is also a record for the shortest time between flights of the same booster.

With this launch, SpaceX has now delivered 1,015 Starlink satellites into orbit, dating back to the two “Tintin” prototypes launched in February 2018. Of those 1,015, 951 are still in orbit, according to statistics maintained by spaceflight observer Jonathan McDowell.

SpaceX ramped up deployment of Starlink last year, with 14 launches. The rapid growth of the constellation has alarmed astronomers, who are concerned that Starlink and other megaconstellations could disrupt their observations.

Speaking during a session of the 237th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society Jan. 14, Patricia Cooper, vice president of satellite government affairs at SpaceX, argued that the company has taken major steps to reduce the impact of Starlink satellites on astronomy over the last year.

“We at SpaceX have certainly enjoyed what I would call a thoughtful and creative technical collaboration with an ever-widening group of astronomers,” she said, resulting in a “deeper and fuller technical understanding of the intersection of the satellite constellation sector and specific projects affect ground-based astronomy.”

That has resulted in the development of a version of the Starlink satellites called VisorSat, which is equipped with visors to prevent sunlight from reflecting off antennas and other surfaces on the satellites, reducing their brightness. Every Starlink satellite launched after August 2020 is equipped with visors, accounting for more than 400 satellites, she said.

The goal of the VisorSats is to reduce the brightness of the Starlink satellites to magnitude 7 or fainter. Observations of those satellites that have reached their final orbit, though, indicate they have an average magnitude of 6.5, said Pat Seitzer of the University of Michigan during the conference session.

Cooper said SpaceX is committed to continue to work with astronomers to mitigate the effect of Starlink, but also emphasized the benefits of the system. “It’s important to keep the purpose of this disruption to astronomy, from your perspective, in context of the goal of the constellation we’re deploying, which is broadband connectivity,” she said.

“This collaboration needs to continue,” she added, because those discussions are “what’s getting us to a much better, more successful way of coexisting.”


NAHB: Builder Confidence Decreased to 83 in January

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 83, down from 86 in December. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

From the NAHB: Builder Confidence Down on Rising Material Prices, Upsurge in COVID-19 Cases
Rising material costs led by a huge upsurge in lumber prices, along with a resurgence of the coronavirus across much of the nation, pushed builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes down three points to 83 in January, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. Despite the drop, builder sentiment remains at a strong level.

“Despite robust housing demand and low mortgage rates, buyers are facing a dearth of new homes on the market, which is exacerbating affordability problems,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke. “Builders are grappling with supply-side constraints related to lumber and other material costs, a lack of affordable lots and labor shortages that delay delivery times and put upward pressure on home prices. They are also concerned about a changing regulatory environment.”

“While housing continues to help lead the economy forward, limited inventory is constraining more robust growth,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “A shortage of buildable lots is making it difficult to meet strong demand and rising material prices are far outpacing increases in home prices, which in turn is harming housing affordability.”
All three major HMI indices fell in January. The HMI index gauging current sales conditions dropped two points to 90, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months fell two points to 83 and the gauge charting traffic of prospective buyers decreased five points to 68.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast fell six points to 76, the Midwest was up two points to 83, the South fell one point to 86 and the West posted a one-point loss to 95.
NAHB HMI Click on graph for larger image.

This graph show the NAHB index since Jan 1985.

This was below the consensus forecast, but still a very strong reading..

Housing and homebuilding have been one of the best performing sectors during the pandemic.

There’s a Path to D.C. Statehood

On this good day, let’s talk about something good. Like D.C. statehood!

One of the problems with passing statehood for D.C. is that it is widely believed to require ending the filibuster (the Senate rule that, even though only 51 votes are required to pass a bill, 60 senators are needed to bring the bill to the floor in the first place). Since Republicans have 50 votes in the Senate, they would be able to filibuster any legislation that permits D.C. statehood.

Or maybe not (boldface mine):

Constitutionally, the admission of a new state is not actually a legislative matter, so the legislative filibuster shouldn’t apply. In recent years both Democrats and Republicans, by ending the filibuster for confirming presidential appointments (a power outlined in Article II, Section 2), have in effect agreed the filibuster shouldn’t apply to certain constitutional matters that aren’t covered by Article I of the Constitution, which lays out the design of Congress and its legislative powers. The admission of a new state is also not included in Article I. The drafters set it apart as something distinct, not a change to law but a change to the structure of government.

Admission of states is dealt with separately in Article VI, Section 3…

It is no accident that the framers set the admission of new states as a matter separate from legislation. It is also clear they purposely choose not to have a supermajority requirement for it, as had existed under the Articles of Confederation. Our early leaders understood the existential need to add new states, but the Articles made the process nearly impossible

Having a clear system to admit new states with a simple majority, as long as the new state wasn’t part of another state without that state’s permission, was considered an important improvement of the new Constitution…

The two main arguments for keeping the legislative filibuster are that allowing endless debate forces compromise and protects the rights of the legislative minority…

Neither of these arguments make sense when applied to the unique issue of statehood. Legally, new states must be admitted under the equal footing doctrine. You can’t admit a state with less powers or rights than the others. So statehood is effectively a binary question with no possibility of compromise. It can’t be made “better,” it either happens or it doesn’t.

Keep in mind that rules changes can’t be filibustered, and Vice President Harris can, at any time, chose to be the presiding officer of the Senate, so if Democrats want to admit D.C. as a state, they can.

And they should.

“He Ended Up As Nothing”

Roxane Gay, The Last Day of Disco(rd):

I am tired of reciting all his crimes, misdeeds, and failures. Trump was a cruel, petty tyrant of a president who surrounded himself with similarly terrible people, slobbering sycophants, and political operatives who knew they could advance their agendas so long as they told him what he wanted to hear.

Trump is the living embodiment of shamelessness. He cannot be shamed. He does not care about the 400,000 dead Americans he has barely acknowledged. He does not care about the suffering he has caused. He does not care about anything that happens beyond the country’s borders. He does not care that he has disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He is a catastrophe and he does not care. His children are exactly like him. His wife is exactly like him. I wish nothing but the very worst for them, for the rest of their days.

Tags: Donald Trump   politics   Roxane Gay

Biden/Harris Inauguration Livestream for Kids

Today beginning at 10am ET as part of the official inauguration festivities, Keke Palmer will host a special livestream geared toward kids (embedded above).

The livestream, hosted by award-winning entertainer and advocate Keke Palmer, will feature a special message from Dr. Jill Biden; commentary from historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Erica Armstrong Dunbar; a segment on presidential pets produced by Nickelodeon; excerpts of student voices from PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs “We the Young People” programming; trivia questions, including some asked by Doug Emhoff; segments produced by the Library of Congress; and other special features.

This sounds way better than whatever the talking heads on CNN will be going on about. For more information on the inauguration, check out the official site.

Tags: 2020 election   Joe Biden   Kamala Harris   Keke Palmer   parenting   politics   video

Bring Back Jobs from China and Mexico? Trump Couldn’t Even Do That Right.

The Loser President Failed to Reignite the Manufacturing Sector. And No, the Corporate Tax Cut Didn’t Work Either

David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston

Now that his term finally is ending, let’s examine Donald Trump’s performance on a key, premier promise: reclaiming manufacturing jobs, especially from China and Mexico, to raise U.S. wages.

Evaluation first, then a grade. (Can you guess?)

Our trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, last summer praised several companies that dropped plans to move jobs offshore. The “era of reflexive offshoring is over,” he claimed in a New York Times op-ed last May.

Facts show the opposite. Team Trump encouraged offshore manufacturing, not that you’d likely know that from following the news.

No ‘blue-collar boom,’ not even before Trump’s incompetent pandemic response threw millions onto the unemployment lines.

In his State of the Union address last year Trump proclaimed a “blue-collar boom.” It was fact-free nonsense. It didn’t happen, not even before Trump’s incompetent and malicious pandemic response threw 10s of millions of people, including many factory workers, onto the unemployment lines.

“Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the promised benefits of the president’s $1.9 trillion tax cuts hadn’t materialized and manufacturing had fallen into a slump,” Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, wrote in a report. “After a brief upturn in 2018, manufacturing had fallen into a slump by the first quarter of 2019.”

Factory job losses continued in 2019 as federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data show:

Bring Back Jobs from China and Mexico? Trump couldn't


Our goods trade with Mexico had a negative shortfall of almost $101.4 billion in 2019. That’s 60% worse than the $63.3 billion shortfall under the Obama administration in 2016.

Using 2019 as the benchmark avoids pandemic effects. But data on the first three months of 2020, before the pandemic, show our trade deficit with Mexico was exploding, up 21% in one year. That shows the abject failure of Trump’s Mexico trade policy measured on his terms.

Job Quality Suffered


Yes, China lost jobs … to Vietnam and other countries with even cheaper labor costs.

Under Trump job stability and quality – pay, fringe benefits, working conditions – suffered.

“Job quality in the U.S. remains tepid,” the Coalition for Prosperous America reported this month. The coalition promotes balanced trade deals. Jeff Ferry, the coalition’s chief economist and creator of its Job Quality Index, said on Jan. 8 that “restoring the health of our manufacturing sector is the best way to restore prosperity to millions of middle class and struggling Americans.”

Trump’s 2016 campaign promises about manufacturing jobs raised the hopes of people who worked in the 91,000 American factories that have closed since 1997 under Congressional policies which in some cases subsidized moving jobs offshore.

But the carnage continued. In the two years from 2016 under Obama through 2018 under Trump 1,800 American factories closed.

1,800 U.S. Factories Shut

Overall, we suffered a net loss of more than 91,000 manufacturing plants and nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs since 1997. Nearly 1,800 factories have disappeared during the Trump administration between 2016 and 2018.

Trump’s 2017 tax cut added to those subsidies by enabling American firms to earn untaxed or minimally taxed profits so long as they invest offshore.

Minorities were hardest hit by the loss of factory jobs to China. Economist Robert E. Scott, who tracks trade issues for the Economic Policy Institute,  estimated that 958,800 minority factory workers were displaced with wage-related losses of $10,485 per worker – and that was in 2011. Today jobs and pay are worse, not better, for blue-collar minority workers.

Weak Demand

The problem with Trump’s promise and the wish for more factory jobs is with the two sources of such jobs manufacturing jobs.

One is the diminished demand for goods, which in turn reduces the demand for workers to make, package, ship and market those goods. The other: Advances in efficiency that reduce the number of workers needed to produce goods.

Demand is weak because 90% of Americans — before the pandemic — were losing ground as the cost of living grew faster than incomes and job security evaporated in one industry after another.

The failure of political leaders in both parties to adapt to the long-running shift from factory jobs that paid well because of union contracts to moving manufacturing work offshore began long before Trump. So did the rise of low-paid unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, which has devastated the finances of most families. Trump promised voters he would reverse these trends.

Lower Incomes

The bottom 90% of Americans had less real income in 2018 than in 1973, the peak year for the share of production jobs in union shops. The 2018 households collected 4% less money than the 1973 households, the equivalent of having no income for the last two weeks of 2018.

Even worse for most Americans, incomes fell under Trump despite his baseless claims of huge income rises, often uncritically repeated in news reports.

In 2018 the nearly 87 million taxpayers making less than $50,000 had to get by on $307 less per household than in 2016, the year before Trump took office, my analysis of the official data shows. The gains were further up the income ladder.

That 57% of American households were better off under Obama contradicts Trump’s often-repeated claim he created the best economy ever until the pandemic. To be sure there was a lot of income growth but it was largely among the fast-growing ranks of $1 million and up households. Their numbers grew 27% in 2019 compared with 2016, IRS data show.

The economic pain for most can be seen in broad economic changes that disfavor manufacturing workers, especially those in the 97,000 factories that have closed since 1997. Overall, manufacturing workers make more than service workers.

Service Jobs vs. Factory Jobs

Minimum wage for waiters is just $2.13 an hour.

In December the average weekly wage for manufacturing workers was $955, compared with $823 in the service sector. That’s an $8,700 annual difference. Factory workers also are more likely to have retirement plans, including the fast-disappearing traditional pension, making their total compensation even greater than the wage data show.

And thanks to former President Bill Clinton and a Tea Party activist, the late Herman Cain, since 1993 the minimum wage for wait staff has been frozen at $2.13 an hour—just  $1.18 in today’s money. Food server is the fifth most common job in America. Whatever these workers get above that comes from tips —when they have work.

With most workers in the lower-paying service sector, and wages for all but the top 25% or so of workers flat to falling for decades, people simply do not have the capacity to buy more manufactured goods. The advent of seven-year zero-interest loans for new cars and trucks doesn’t hint at that, it screams demand is weak.

Increased Efficiency, Fewer Jobs

The second factor in shrinking manufacturing jobs is efficiency.

In December, America had 12.3 million manufacturing jobs, the same as in the summer of 1941 just as America entered World War II. Back then America had 204 million fewer people than now.

Factory jobs peaked at 19.5 million in 1979 when Jimmy Carter was president. There were 103 million fewer Americans then.

In 2020 we lost 577,000 manufacturing jobs, a huge toll not just on those workers but on the communities where they are concentrated.

We experienced a net loss of manufacturing plants (establishments) in every year since 1998.

Fewer workers can make more goods because refining manufacturing processes enables owners to use capital rather than labor to make things.

Capital Replaces Labor

Professor Robert Ashford, my colleague at Syracuse University College of Law and an advocate of paying all workers partly with shares of stock, explains how capital replaces labor with a simple story:

A poor young man gets a job hauling sacks of grain across town and out of his meager pay saves enough money to buy a donkey. Now he can carry more grain sacks which means he can save more so he buys a cart for the donkey to pull. With his even greater income, he next buys a truck to haul tons of grain each day. Along the way, labor is performed by capital in the form of a donkey, a cart and a truck.

When steel was first created in India about 3,000 years ago, it took years of labor to create one ton of steel. Today it takes under 40 minutes. The high cost of steel explains why in the ancient world the commanders of conquering armies were far more interested in tribute paid in that durable metal than gold and jewelry. The efficiency of steelmaking today is why the ranks of steelworkers have shriveled, especially in the last half-century.

Similarly, American lumber mills that in the mid-20th Century required hundreds of men now operate with only a dozen or so workers, including front office staff. That was thanks to computerized cranes and saws paired with lasers which measure logs to get the maximum yield in board feet of finished lumber.

The efficiency trend is likely to accelerate, not diminish. Trump’s rhetoric about manufacturing jobs is as hollow as proposing a job stimulus by banning earth-moving equipment to create jobs for men wielding shovels. Or demitasse spoons.

China Loses; Vietnam Gains

Bring Back Jobs from China and Mexico? Trump Couldn'tA related problem was Trump’s intense focus on China. It missed how America’s trade imbalance with Vietnam is growing and how rising labor costs in China are causing it to lose factory jobs to Vietnam.

“Vietnam is gaining massive traction into the U.S. manufactured goods business,” said the Coalition for a Prosperous America’s  Kenneth Rapoza. That’s because labor is cheaper in Vietnam than in China so even some Chinese firms are shifting production there.

The key trend, Rapoza wrote: “China is slipping in our supply chains, but Mexico and Vietnam are largely taking their place.”

So, overall, and considering only the period before the pandemic began, while Trump’s rhetoric got him votes from desperate and gullible citizens in 2016, he oversaw fewer factory jobs and less pay for all but highly paid workers. It’s the opposite of his promise.

The grade Trump earned on returning manufacturing jobs and raising pay?


Featured image: Reuters

The post Bring Back Jobs from China and Mexico? Trump Couldn’t Even Do That Right. appeared first on

Multiple Hazards for the Southwestern U.S.

Vaccine congestion: short planning horizons

 ProPublica has the story:

How Operation Warp Speed Created Vaccination Chaos--States are struggling to plan their vaccination programs with just one week’s notice for how many doses they’ll receive from the federal government. The incoming Biden administration is deciding what to do with this dysfunctional system.       by Caroline Chen, Isaac Arnsdorf and Ryan Gabrielson

"Hospitals and clinics across the country are canceling vaccine appointments because the Trump administration tells states how many doses they’ll receive only one week at a time, making it all but impossible to plan a comprehensive vaccination campaign.

"The decision to go week by week was made by Operation Warp Speed’s chief operating officer, Gen. Gustave Perna, because he didn’t want to count on supplies before they were ready. Overly optimistic production forecasts turned out to be a major disappointment in the rollout of the H1N1 vaccine more than a decade ago, also leading to canceled appointments and widespread frustrations with the government’s messaging.

"This time, however, the most pressing problem isn’t the overpromising of supply. For each of the past three weeks, the federal government got about 4.3 million shots. But the amount that each state is sent has fluctuated as Operation Warp Speed changes the quantities available week by week.

State health officials say the unpredictable shipments have led to chaos on the ground, including the inability to quickly use up all of the doses sent to them. The week-by-week system also makes it hard to plan for the second doses that everyone needs because they come three or four weeks after the initial dose.


"The makers of the two authorized vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are each contracted to supply 100 million doses by the end of March. But with just 31.2 million delivered as of Jan. 15, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the companies will need to ramp up their pace to hit their targets."


HT: Peter Cramton

Probing the Tale of Warren and Jeffries

I’ve just shared the two versions of the story of Dr. Joseph Warren sneaking across the siege lines in early June 1775 to try to talk Dr. John Jeffries into heading the provincial medical corps.

Both versions present Dr. Jeffries as a badass: so skilled that Warren was eager to recruit him, so proud that he refused to work under anyone else, so good a friend that he didn’t tell the royal authorities about Warren’s mission until he was dead.

Of course, one of those stories came from Dr. Jeffries’s family, and the other probably did. There’s no version of the tale from Warren’s side, nor any contemporaneous documentation.

Dr. Jeffries’s notes on young smallpox patients on Rainsford Island, now digitized from Harvard’s Countway Library, offer a little more information about this period in his life. I wondered what journal might say about when Jeffries was available to meet Warren on a dock in the North End and/or to treat Bunker Hill casualties on the morning after the battle.

Neither of those possibilities can be ruled out. Jeffries’s first journal entries are dated 6 June, 7 June, 10 June, 11 or 12 June, 14 June, 16 June, and 20 June. (It’s quite possible he missed recording the date of 15 June; his entry for patients after 14 June went through the whole cycle of patients twice before he wrote another date.) Jeffries was probably not on the island on the missing dates, and therefore could have been in the North End one of those nights, and on the Charlestown peninsula on 18 June.

At the same time, the notebook shows us that Jeffries was on Rainsford Island many times in the week before the battle. Rainsford is in the bottom right corner of the map above, well out in the harbor. That distance is why the town put the smallpox hospital there.

If Warren wanted to talk with Jeffries privately, with minimal chance of being taken prisoner, wouldn’t it have been wiser to take a boat from Dorchester out to Rainsford Island?

According to the Jeffries story, they met at the Charleston ferry landing, a place where the British army was patrolling, which Warren could reach only by crossing a river where the Royal Navy had stationed warships. That would be a very risky rendezvous.

Then there’s the question of Dr. Warren making this trip himself. With John Hancock off in Philadelphia, Warren became the presiding officer of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was still on the important Committee of Safety. And as of the afternoon of 14 June, he was being made a major general of the Massachusetts army. Basically, in the late spring of 1775 Dr. Warren was the single most important leader of the New England resistance.

To believe the Jeffries story, then, we have to believe that Dr. Warren decided to risk being captured or killed rather than ask someone else to carry a message into Boston. Which we know people were doing at this point in the siege.

What’s more, Dr. Jeffries wasn’t just an ordinary medical colleague. He had taken an appointment as a Royal Navy surgeon in 1771. So Warren was supposedly putting his life and the cause in the hands of a man who had already pledged loyalty to the enemy military.

Another detail that makes me go “hmmm” appears in the first version of the story. Allegedly on 18 June Dr. Jeffries told Gen. William Howe about how Warren had “ventured over to Boston in a canoe to get information” a few days earlier. Why didn’t the general ask why Jeffries hadn’t mentioned that before? The Crown made a wave of arrests in the days after Bunker Hill, including Samuel Gore, Peter Edes, James Lovell, and John Leach—the latter two on suspicion of being in contact with Warren. Yet Dr. Jeffries supposedly set up a secret meeting with the local leader of the rebellion, kept quiet about it, and wasn’t detained.

To be sure, none of those questions makes Warren’s trip to talk with Jeffries impossible. But the tale seems increasingly unlikely. Much less likely than that Dr. Jeffries, back in Boston after 1790, made up a story for his American-born son about how he’d been friends with the heroic Dr. Warren, who had really wanted him to join the team.

We Will Get to Herd Immunity in 2021…One Way or Another

By July it will all be over. The only question is how many people have to die between now and then?

Youyang Gu, whose projections have been among the most accurate, projects that the United States will have reached herd immunity by July, with about half of the immunity coming from vaccinations and half from infections. Long before we reach herd immunity, however, the infection and death rates will fall. Gu is projecting that by March infections will be half what they are now and by May about one-tenth the current rate. The drop will catch people by surprise just like the increase. We are not good at exponentials. The economy will boom in Q2 as infections decline.

If that sounds good bear in mind that 400,000 people are dead already and the CDC expects another 100,000 dead by February. We have a very limited window in the United States to make a big push on vaccines and we are failing. We are failing phenomenally badly.

To understand how bad we are failing compare with flu vaccinations. Every year the US gives out about 150 million flu vaccinations within the space of about 3 months or 1.6 million shots a day. Thus, we vaccinate for flu at more than twice the speed we are vaccinating for COVID! Yes, COVID vaccination has its own difficulties but this is an emergency with tens of thousands of lives at stake.

I would love it if we mobilized serious resources and vaccinated at Israel’s rate–30% of the population in a month. But if we simply vaccinated for COVID at the same rate as we do for flu we would save thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in GDP. The comparison with flu vaccinations also reminds us that we don’t necessarily need the National Guard or mass clinics in stadiums. Use the HMOs and the pharmacies!

And let’s make it easier for the pharmacies. It’s beyond ridiculous that we are allowing counties to set their own guidelines for who should be vaccinated first. We need one, or at most 50, set of guidelines and lets not worry so much at people jumping the queue. (The ones jumping the queue are probably the ones who want to get back to the bars and social life the most so vaccinating them first has some side benefits.)

Of course, the faster we vaccinate the more vaccine quantities will become the binding constraint which is why we also need to approve more vaccines, move to First Doses First (delay second doses like the British), and use Moderna half-doses. Fire on all cylinders!

Time is of the essence.

Hat tip: Kevin Bryan and Witold Wiecek.

The post We Will Get to Herd Immunity in 2021…One Way or Another appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Falcon 9 rocket launches, lands for the eighth time in dicey winds [Updated]

SpaceX's seventeenth batch of Starlink satellites and eighth flight of this Falcon 9 first stage (B1051.8) ascending through the upper atmosphere headed to space later landing successfully on the 'Just Read The Instructions' droneship.

Enlarge / SpaceX's seventeenth batch of Starlink satellites and eighth flight of this Falcon 9 first stage (B1051.8) ascending through the upper atmosphere headed to space later landing successfully on the 'Just Read The Instructions' droneship. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

8:15am ET Wednesday update: The Falcon 9 rocket took off on schedule on Wednesday morning, lofting its payload of 60 Starlink Internet satellites toward orbit. Then came something of a challenge for this first stage—sticking the landing. According to SpaceX engineer Jessie Anderson, winds at the surface near the landing site were stronger than what Falcon 9 rockets have experienced on previous flights.

This landing attempt would therefore "test the wind limits," she said, and be an "envelope expansion" flight. Although the video feed from Just Read the Instructions was briefly lost as the booster neared the droneship, when the video returned, the Falcon 9 first stage was there, venting in the chill ocean air, very nearly in the middle of its landing pad. And so this booster will now have a chance to go for nine flights.

Original post: SpaceX is continuing to make strides as it pushes the boundaries of reusing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sophisticated Watering Hole Attack

Google’s Project Zero has exposed a sophisticated watering-hole attack targeting both Windows and Android:

Some of the exploits were zero-days, meaning they targeted vulnerabilities that at the time were unknown to Google, Microsoft, and most outside researchers (both companies have since patched the security flaws). The hackers delivered the exploits through watering-hole attacks, which compromise sites frequented by the targets of interest and lace the sites with code that installs malware on visitors’ devices. The boobytrapped sites made use of two exploit servers, one for Windows users and the other for users of Android

The use of zero-days and complex infrastructure isn’t in itself a sign of sophistication, but it does show above-average skill by a professional team of hackers. Combined with the robustness of the attack code — ­which chained together multiple exploits in an efficient manner — the campaign demonstrates it was carried out by a “highly sophisticated actor.”


The modularity of the payloads, the interchangeable exploit chains, and the logging, targeting, and maturity of the operation also set the campaign apart, the researcher said.

No attribution was made, but the list of countries likely to be behind this isn’t very large. If you were to ask me to guess based on available information, I would guess it was the US — specifically, the NSA. It shows a care and precision that it’s known for. But I have no actual evidence for that guess.

All the vulnerabilities were fixed by last April.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications decreased 1.9 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending January 15, 2021.

... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week and was 87 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 9 percent compared with the previous week and was 15 percent higher than the same week one year ago.

“Mortgage rates increased across the board last week, with the 30-year fixed rate rising to 2.92 percent – its highest level since November 2020 – and the 15-year fixed rate increasing for the first time in seven weeks to 2.48 percent. Market expectations of a larger than anticipated fiscal relief package, which is expected to further boost economic growth and lower unemployment, have driven Treasury yields higher the last two weeks,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “After a post-holiday surge of refinances, higher rates chipped away at demand. There was a 5 percent drop in refinance activity, driven by a 13.5 percent pullback in government refinances.”

Added Kan, “Purchase applications remained strong based on current housing demand, rising over the week and up a noteworthy 15 percent from last year. Homebuyers in early 2021 continue to seek newer, larger homes. The average loan size for purchase loans jumped to $384,000, the second highest level in the survey.”
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 2.92 percent from 2.88 percent, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

The refinance index has been very volatile recently depending on rates and liquidity.

But with record low rates, the index remains up significantly from last year.  Note that refinance activity really picked up in February 2020.

Mortgage Purchase Index The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index

According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 15% year-over-year unadjusted.

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

Bridenstine, departing NASA, hopes Artemis continues

Bridenstine Green Run

WASHINGTON — Jim Bridenstine used part of his final full day as NASA administrator to call on the incoming administration to continue the Artemis program and return humans to the moon.

A Jan. 19 briefing on the Green Run static-fire test of the Space Launch System three days earlier became an opportunity for Bridenstine, who leaves the agency Jan. 20 at the end of the Trump administration, to reflect on his nearly three years on the job and his desire to see the agency’s human space exploration program continue.

“How do we build a program that can endure the test of time?” he said, noting the starts and stops of efforts dating back to the Space Exploration Initiative three decades ago. “We need our Artemis program, we need our moon-to-Mars program, to span generations.”

The failures of past efforts mean that Bridenstine, born in 1975, is the first NASA administrator not to have been alive when people last walked on the moon. “I think it’s important that I be the last NASA administrator in history that wasn’t alive when we had people living and working on the moon,” he said. “That’s a failure of the United States and of humanity. We need to make sure that we’re leading the world in a return to the moon and on to Mars.”

The incoming Biden administration has not detailed its plans for the space agency. A passage in the Democratic Party platform published last July indicated support for a human return to the moon, but did not endorse the Trump administration’s 2024 goal for doing so, a timeframe most in the industry now see as infeasible given limited funding and technical challenges.

“NASA needs to go back and look at the what the options are to go to the moon as quickly as possible,” Bridenstine said in an interview after the Jan. 16 Green Run test at the Stennis Space Center. That’s made more difficult, he acknowledged, by the funding shortfall for the Human Landing System (HLS) program for developing crewed lunar landers, which received only about one-fourth of the $3.3 billion NASA sought for fiscal year 2021.

In the call, Bridenstine said NASA was still analyzing the impact of the reduced HLS funding for that 2024 goal, given that the omnibus spending bill was signed into law less than a month ago. “NASA is doing its work to figure out, number one, do we need to change plans,” he said. “I have no doubt that the amazing people at NASA are going to present a range of options for our return to the moon that the next administration can fully buy into and support.”

Those plans, he said in the earlier interview, should include the SLS. “If we’re talking about sending humans to the moon, that’s the highest probability of success at the earliest possible moment,” he said. “Given the amount of effort and time and investment that has already been made, let’s just get it over the finish line and then go from there.”

Bridenstine’s successor

Bridenstine is leaving NASA with relatively little fanfare, such as a farewell ceremony. Jim Morhard, the departing deputy administrator, posted on Twitter a tribute video for Bridenstine Jan. 19, thanking him for his work leading the agency.

“This has been an emotional week just all the way around,” Bridenstine said in the interview. He said he had been in Washington just before the Green Run test “doing our farewells to people.”

With Bridenstine and Morhard departing, Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator, will serve as acting administrator until the Biden administration nominates, and the Senate confirms, a permanent successor. The new administration hasn’t stated when it anticipates announcing a nominee, but did announce its “science team” Jan. 15, including the nomination of geneticist Eric Lander as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Shortly after the election, several potential candidates for NASA administrator emerged, primarily women. They have included former astronaut Pam Melroy, former Aerospace Corporation chief executive Wanda Austin, and Kendra Horn, a former congresswoman who chaired the House space subcommittee in the previous Congress.

“I think the Biden-Harris administration would very much like to name, from everything I understand, the first woman NASA administrator,” said Jack Burns, a professor of astronomy at the University of Colorado who served on the NASA transition team for the Trump administration four years ago, during a session of the 237th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society Jan. 14. “Some of the names that have been put forward are extremely well qualified.”

Bridenstine, in the interview, offered a similar assessment, but without identifying any particular candidates. “I’ve heard some names, all very qualified, very capable people,” he said. “I’m confident that the future is bright.”

That transition work has taken place quietly, and without some of the conflict and drama seen at other agencies where the outgoing Trump administration was uncooperative. “The situation at NASA, both in the last transition and this transition, has in fact been much closer to normal,” Burns said. “In talking to the Biden-Harris transition team for NASA, I have the sense that there has been good collaboration.”

Bridenstine said he hasn’t made any plans for his future after NASA, other than returning to Oklahoma and spending time with his family there. “I love space, but I don’t know what the future holds there,” he said when asked if he would like to remain in the industry in some way. “We’ll have to see.”

Bridenstine did say he’ll be closely following the agency, planning to watch next month’s landing of the Mars 2020 rover and the Artemis 1 launch. He also pledged to support whomever succeeds him as the leader of NASA. “Whoever the next NASA administrator is, I’m going to be all-in,” he said in the interview. “However I can help them, I want to help them.”

He reiterated that point at the end of the Green Run briefing. “I will be watching with great interest,” he said. “There will be a new NASA administrator, and when that person comes in, they’re going to have my full support to do the amazing things that NASA does.”


Rocket Lab launches secretive communications satellite for OHB

Electron launch of GMS-T

Updated 2:45 p.m. Eastern with OHB statement.

WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab successfully launched a communications satellite for German company OHB Group Jan. 20 in the first Electron mission of the year.

The Electron lifted off from the company’s Launch Complex 1 at Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, at 2:26 a.m. Eastern after a brief delay because of gusty winds. Rocket Lab scrubbed the original launch attempt for the “Another One Leaves the Crust” mission four days earlier because of “strange data” from a sensor.

Electron released the sole satellite on the mission, GMS-T, 70 minutes after liftoff. “Perfect orbit, payload deployed. Hello 2021!” tweeted Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab.

The payload for this mission has been shrouded in secrecy since Rocket Lab announced the planned launch Jan. 5. The name of the satellite itself was not disclosed by OHB until after liftoff, and a press kit for the mission did not include the satellite’s mass or orbital altitude, stating only that it was going into an orbit at an inclination of 90 degrees.

Rocket Lab said in its announcement of the upcoming launch that the payloads “will be a single communication microsatellite that will enable specific frequencies to support future services from orbit.” OHB, which built the satellite, procured the launch last August. At the time it cited “an unmatched delivery time” by Rocket Lab, who agreed to launch the payload within six months.

An image of the rocket’s payload fairing included a logo with an illustration of the satellite and the words “BIU GMS-T.” Analysts speculated that the name of the satellite was GMS-T, with BIU referring to “bring into use,” a term in satellite communications for first use of spectrum allocated by the International Telecommunication Union and national regulators and consistent with the stated mission to “enable specific frequencies” for future applications.

The ultimate customer for the satellite may be GMS Zhaopin, a Chinese company planning a satellite constellation. It has been linked to a German company, KLEO Connect, that has announced plans for a constellation to provide internet of things services.

In a statement after the launch, OHB described GMS-T as a “50 kg class” satellite placed in an orbit 1,200 kilometers high. It described GMS-T as “the first prototype spacecraft for a planned new multi-hundred telecommunication satellite constellation in LEO using microwave broadband radio communication links” and confirmed it was launched to meet ITU bring-into-use requirements. The company, though, did not disclose the ultimate customer of GMS-T.

“With outstanding agility, reactiveness and flexibility, OHB and its key partners were able to engineer, assemble, test and launch this satellite in an unmatched contract-to-launch time,” Lutz Bertling, chief digital officer of OHB, said in the statement, which noted work to assemble the spacecraft started just seven months ago.

The launch is the first of what Rocket Lab previously called a “packed launch manifest” for 2021, although the company has not announced a specific number of launches it foresees performing this year. Those launches will include the first launches from Launch Complex 2 at Wallops Island, Virginia, and from a second pad at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.


Rocket Lab launches communications satellite for OHB

An Electron launcher lifts off Wednesday from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1A in New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab

A mysterious small satellite built by the German company OHB, purported to be a pathfinder for a Chinese-owned communications constellation, took off from New Zealand Wednesday and soared into orbit on top of a Rocket Lab Electron launcher.

The 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 1A at Rocket Lab’s privately-owned base on the North Island of New Zealand at 2:26 a.m. EST (0726 GMT; 8:26 p.m. local time), following a nearly half-hour delay to wait for ground winds go come within limits.

Rocket Lab, headquartered in Long Beach, California, called off a previous launch attempt Saturday to evaluate data from a sensor on the Electron vehicle.

Aside from the weather, Wednesday’s terminal countdown appeared trouble-free, and the two-stage all-black carbon-fiber Electron launcher fired off its pad with more than 50,000 pounds of thrust from nine kerosene-fueled Rutherford engines.

Arcing toward the south over the Pacific Ocean, the rocket passed the speed of sound in about a minute, then shut down its first stage engines about two-and-a-half minutes into the mission. The Electron’s first stage separated moments later, allowing the second stage to ignite its single Rutherford engine, followed by jettison of the rocket’s no-longer-needed nose cone after climbing into the airless vacuum of space.

Rocket Lab is experimenting with recovering booster stages for reuse, but the company did not attempt to retrieve the Electron first stage on Wednesday’s mission.

The second stage fired its engine for more than six minutes to reach a parking orbit. Rocket Lab’s kick stage deployed from the Electron second stage, flew over Antartica, and then headed back north over the Atlantic Ocean.

The kick stage’s Curie engine ignited to inject the mission’s sole payload — a small communications satellite built by the German company OHB — into the proper polar orbit for separation several hundred miles above Earth.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, confirmed the successful conclusion to the mission — Rocket Lab’s 18th overall and first of 2021.

“Congratulations to our mission partners at OHB Group,” Beck said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to have kicked off a busy year with a dedicated mission that once again demonstrates Electron’s unique ability to provide our small satellite customers with control over their mission schedule and orbital parameters.”

Officials are saying little about the payload the Electron rocket is carrying into space.

OHB Group, which builds small and medium-sized satellites, procured the launch from Rocket Lab through its subsidiary OHB Cosmos, according to Rocket Lab.

The payload from OHB is a “single communication microsatellite that will enable specific frequencies to support future services from orbit,” Rocket Lab said in a statement.

Before the launch Wednesday, OHB and Rocket Lab released no additional details about the satellite, which was built by OHB divisions in Germany, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Officials even kept the satellite’s name secret.

OHB finally officially revealed the name of the spacecraft — GMS-T — in a tweet shortly after the launch.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, said the launch occurred six months of the contract signing with Rocket Lab and OHB, a relatively fast turnaround for a launch service agreement.

“By flying as a dedicated mission on Electron, OHB and their mission partners have control over launch timing, orbit, integration schedule, and other mission parameters,” Beck said in a pre-launch statement.

With its newest upgrades, Rocket Lab’s 59-foot-tall (18-meter) Electron launcher can carry about 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of payload to a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) polar orbit. Rocket Lab sells Electron flights for as little as $7 million, offering small satellite operators dedicated rides for their payloads.

Responding to questions from Spaceflight Now, an OHB spokesperson declined to identify the end user of the satellite or provide any other details about its mission.

“OHB has purchased an Electron launcher for a customer,” the spokesperson said.

A short prepared statement from OHB, based in Bremen, Germany, also included no further information about the nature of the mission.

“OHB have developed, built and tested a satellite on behalf of the customer. We will also operate it until the end of the satellite’s operational life,” said Dr. Lutz Bertling, member of the OHB executive board and responsible for digitalization, strategy and business development.

In the days before the launch, the only hint about the identity of the satellite and OHB’s possible customer for the mission was revealed in an image of the Electron rocket’s payload fairing, which had a pair of mission logos.

One of the symbols includes an apparent illustration of the satellite on-board the rocket, showing the spacecraft with what appears to be a pair of circular communications antennas. The letters BIU and GMS-T were visible on each side of the satellite illustration.

An image of the payload fairing for Rocket Lab’s first launch of 2021 provides one of the few hints about the super-secret payload on-board. Credit: Rocket Lab

Sleuthing by Alexandre Najjar, a launch vehicle and satellite market consultant for Euroconsult, revealed what might be the customer for the mission.

“I think I have ID-ed the mystery OHB payload!” Najjar tweeted, adding that the satellite “seems” to be a prototype for a low Earth orbit broadband network linked to a Chinese company named GMS, also known as Shanghai Spacecom Satellite Technology.

GMS has a business relationship with KLEO Connect, a German company with Chinese financing that seeks to develop a fleet of small satellites to provide industrial asset tracking and data relay services. KLEO Connect’s first two technology demonstration satellites launched on a Chinese rocket in 2019.

Najjar wrote on Twitter that details on the arrangement between OHB and GMS is “probably secret due to Germany-China relations.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

A “Garden of National Heroes”?

This was presumably my last Bloomberg column about a policy from President Trump, here is the setting:

On his way out the door, President Donald Trump issued an executive order expanding on his earlier call for the creation of a “Garden of American Heroes.” The context is that recent events have supposedly shown that the U.S. no longer believes in its own greatness and has mocked its own history and heritage, and so this new tonic is needed to restore a spirit of homage and pride. Thus the government should carve out a new public space, full of statues of great Americans.

Here is one excerpt:

My first worry is that, however important heroism may be, it is not well represented en masse. The U.S. celebrates the heroic best when presenting an ethos of individualism, yet the executive order lists 244 Americans to be honored. In contrast, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials are solo presentations. The Iwo Jima statue in Arlington, Virginia represents a collective effort of flag raising, by only six soldiers. Mount Rushmore has just four presidents.

My worry is that a Heroes Garden of 244 would appear more collectivistic, even mildly fascistic, than heroic. It is hard to avoid a numbing effect when the number of figures is so large. Large numbers of figures also sometimes indicate victimization, such as in the “Tragedy of the Peoples” Holocaust memorial in Moscow, or with the more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


A final worry is that we do not live in a time of great portrait sculptors. Contemporary artists may be ironic or acerbic or witty or deeply conceptual to wonderful effect, as you can learn from a tour of the sculptures at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington or the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York. But I don’t see many first-rate works with the aesthetic of, say, Michelangelo’s David or the portrayals of American heroes created by Augutus Saint-Gaudens. The reluctance of contemporary sculptors to communicate the quality of heroism is likely to produce a bland garden featuring an ugly official culture.

There are further points at the link.

The post A “Garden of National Heroes”? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

U.S.A. fact of the day

The U.S. also experienced its most violent year in decades with an unprecedented rise in homicides. The Gun Violence Archive reported that more than 19,000 people died in shootings or firearm-related incidents in 2020, the highest figure in over two decades.

New Orleans-based crime analyst Jeff Asher took a closer look at the number of murders in 57 major American cities and he found that the number of offenses grew in 51 of them. He only focused on agencies where data was available and most of them had figures through November or December of 2020. Growth in violent crime varied by city with Seattle seeing a 74 percent spike in homicides between 2019 and 2020 while Chicago and Boston saw their offenses grow 55.5 percent and 54 percent, respectively. Elsewhere, Washington D.C. and Las Vegas saw growth in their murder offences, albeit at a slower pace of less than 20 percent.

New York’s homicide count went up by nearly 40 percent with Mayor Bill de Blasio stating that the figures should worry all New Yorkers and it has to stop.

Here is the full link.  Via Noah.

The post U.S.A. fact of the day appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.


If you didn’t see the COVID memorial service this evening – part of Joe Biden’s larger inauguration program – you really should. It is remarkable, simply remarkable that we are almost a year into this horrible epidemic and this is the first national memorial or commemorative service honoring, remembering the dead.

It is a remarkable and a devastating commentary. I did not quite grasp this absence until I saw it. We’ve fought so much over this epic calamity. We’ve seen so much deflection, blame-shifting and lies. Biden’s comments, remarkably brief, were a reminder that much of what we need is in silence, remembering and memorializing this catastrophic loss. We are now at more than 400,000 Americans dead, roughly the total number of fatalities over almost four years of World War II.

The brief program included two songs: Amazing Grace and Hallelujah.

This quiet, devastating and hopeful memorial reminded me of the remarkable and wholly improbable journey of this song, Hallelujah, into something like a canonical song of memorial or pathos in American culture. That this should be so is actually quite odd, not least because it is not at all clear what the song, in its totality, is even about. And a number of things the song is quite clearly about … well, they are not what you’d expect in a song now treated as appropriate, uplifting and fitting for all occasions and audiences.

Mainstream or memorial versions commonly expurgate the song’s erotic imagery. But it can’t all be ironed out. This energy, rumbling rough under the simplified lyrics, gives a power and ballast even to the more sanitized versions. In any case the mixing and matching of lyrics is possible because Leonard Cohen wrote numerous different lyrics for the song. You can mix and match them and create your own version.

Equally mysterious is the song’s evolution through time.

You likely know Leonard Cohen wrote Hallelujah but it’s probably not his version of the song you know. You probably think of Jeff Buckley’s recording. But that’s not actually Buckley’s version. It’s actually the arrangement, lyrics and interpretation of John Cale.

It’s complicated. So let’s go through it.

‘Hallelujah’ first appeared on Cohen’s 1984 album Various Positions, an album Cohen had a hard time getting released. Nor was Hallelujah a stand out song on the album. Cohen’s original version is slow-moving and husky. The lyrics, biblical and erotic, are forefronted – more like a spoken poem with musical accompaniment. It is a more Jewish song and quite different musically than the one you’re probably familiar with.

Seven years later John Cale, best known as a founding member of The Velvet Underground, covered the song on a Cohen tribute album called I’m Your Fan. Cale recast the song with the arrangement, tempo and lyrics that are the basis of most subsequent versions. And it was Cale’s version that Jeff Buckley heard and recorded.

There is a remarkable alchemy over these three versions and artists. Cale’s rendition is austere and spare, stripped down from Cohen’s loungey original, with almost an incantatory quality. His reworking has such a force behind it that it is Cale’s version that Cohen often performed in concert in later life. While Buckley essentially copied Cale’s arrangement, he added a bravura vocal performance with an ethereal almost mystical, heavily produced sound. It adds an interpretation and performative element that again transforms the song into something quite different.

Part of the protean nature of the song is encoded in the lyrics themselves with recurrent references to the incantatory power of words and sounds as numinous keys to the divine presence.

What’s remarkable is how long these recordings sat like smoldering embers before they caught fire in the culture. Buckley released his version in 1994 on the album Grace, his only studio album. But the album didn’t go gold until 2002, five years after Buckley died by drowning. Indeed, it wasn’t released as a single until 2007. Ironically, almost absurdly, one of the song’s key breakthroughs came when the song was included in the original Shrek in 2001. (The version in the movie itself is Cale’s though the version that appears movie soundtrack is Rufus Wainwright’s.) It’s the inclusion in Shrek that made the song almost ubiquitous in countless movies and TV shows. It functions like a touch point communicating things screenwriters can’t quite get on the page. But if this late in the TV episode arc use of the song has made it sometimes feel trite it is also now commonly used in funerals and memorials, a source of comfort and mystery to millions of people. Odd. But like all high art it has a life unconstrained by the intentions or assumptions of its various creators. People create new things out of it.

I’m far from the only one to note the mystery of the song’s ascent. There’s literally a whole book about it. In 2013 journalist Alan Light published The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”, which charts the song’s history. It’s been on my list to read ever since. It’s supposed to be very good.

I confess, having listened to different versions thousands of times, I’m not entirely sure what makes the song tick. As best I can tell it is a series of highly resonant lyric images – God, sex, death, loss, incompleteness, resignation (“I did my best, it wasn’t much / I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch”) that are only partly stitched together. And this play in the integument of the song can be used to tell countless different stories, much as people steeped in a common culture can speak to each other with references to songs, movies, novels. The central lyric repetition amounts to a kind of surrender. That is some big part of the song’s staying power.

It’s not a cry that you hear at night

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah

Flash Flood and High Wind Threats in the West

Wednesday: Homebuilder Survey

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

• At 10:00 AM, The January NAHB homebuilder survey. The consensus is for a reading of  86, unchanged from 86 in December. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

• During the day, The AIA's Architecture Billings Index for December (a leading indicator for commercial real estate).

Live coverage: SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will launch SpaceX’s 17th batch of approximately 60 Starlink broadband satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

SpaceX webcast

SpaceX mission audio

Solar System Compression Artifacts

Most of our universe consists of dark matter rendered completely undetectable by our spacetime codec's dynamic range issues.

What to make of Wall Street’s mind-boggling earnings season

Banks are in the bizarre position of shooing away deposits

Biden’s Defense nominee embraces view of space as a domain of war

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for defense secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers Jan. 19 that China is the United States’ “most concerning competitor” and in written testimony identified space as a growing national security concern.

“If confirmed, I will ensure the space domain is carefully considered across the range of upcoming strategic reviews,” Austin said in a statement submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

The SASC held a nearly four-hour confirmation hearing for Austin a day before Biden’s inauguration. He would be the nation’s first African-American secretary of defense. To get confirmed, Congress has to approve a waiver because Austin has not been retired from the military for seven years as the law requires. While some lawmakers said they oppose providing such a waiver, Austin is expected to be confirmed. 

In prepared testimony, Austin called space “an arena of great power competition” and endorsed the prevailing thinking in the national security space community that U.S. systems have to be more resilient and survivable against anti-satellite weapons.

“Chinese and Russian space activities present serious and growing threats to U.S. national security interests,” Austin stated. “While Russia is a key adversary, China is the pacing threat.”

Defense secretary nominee Lloyd Austin. Credit: SASC

Austin did not weigh in on whether it was a good idea to establish the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command — both strongly championed by the Trump administration. He said a military space reorganization had been advocated for years by independent commissions, lawmakers and multiple administrations.

“If confirmed, I will assess the current structure to ensure the defense space enterprise is postured to advance our national security objectives most effectively,” Austin testified. 

He noted that the DoD space enterprise is “still not well integrated with other services and terrestrial commands, and there are several other challenges that will need to be addressed.”

More broadly, given the importance of space in as an engine of economic competitiveness, he said “it is essential to continue developing best practices, standards and international norms of behavior in space.”

Austin warned that commercial activities in space are a concern to the military because of the congestion and the possibility of collisions in orbit.

He noted that thousands of new satellites will be sent to orbit in the coming decade, most privately owned and operated. This creates a risk to the United States “in the sense that the government needs to ensure that they do not collide with expensive and exquisitely capable government assets.”

None of the senators during the hearing asked Austin any questions on space policy. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) brought up the recent decision by the Trump administration to move the headquarters of U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama. Heinrich represents one of the locations — Kirtland Air Force Base — that competed to host Space Command. 

Heinrich criticized the selection process and asked Austin to commit to “take a close look” at how the decision was made. Austin said he would do so. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pressed Austin on his ties to defense contractor Raytheon, where he served on the board of directors. Austin said he will recuse himself from all Pentagon business involving Raytheon for the entire time he’s in office. “I’m sensitive to the appearance concerns you raise,” he told Warren.

Austin said the coronavirus pandemic currently is the nation’s greatest challenge and he would support a greater Defense Department role in the response to the crisis.

Austin’s hearing was the last one chaired by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) before control of the Senate shifts to Democrats. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) will chair the SASC in the new Congress.

“That transition will take place very peacefully,” Inhofe said to chuckles in the room.


January 19 COVID-19 Test Results

Note: Bloomberg has great data on vaccinations. "The U.S. has administered 15.6 million doses"

The testing data is probably still light due to the holiday, but it is possible the 7-day average cases has peaked. Stay safe! I'm looking forward to not posting this data in a few months. 

The US is now averaging close to 2 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to be under 5% (probably close to 1%), so the US has far too many daily cases - and percent positive - to do effective test-and-trace.

There were 1,698,121 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 144,047 positive tests.

Over 55,000 US deaths have been reported so far in January. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

COVID-19 Tests per Day and Percent PositiveClick on graph for larger image.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 8.5% (red line is 7 day average).  The percent positive is calculated by dividing positive results by total tests (including pending).

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. (updated link to new site)

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayThe second graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported and daily hospitalizations.

It is possible cases and hospitalizations have peaked, but are still at a very high level.   

NASA gives up on salvaging InSight Mars lander’s ‘mole’

Artist’s concept of the InSight spacecraft on Mars, with the mole of its HP3 instrument illustrated at lower right. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA managers tried for the last time earlier this month to coax the InSight lander’s long-stuck subsurface heat probe into the Martian soil, but after seeing no more progress, ground teams decided to end their efforts and focus on the mission’s other science objectives.

The German-built heat probe instrument is one of the $1 billion InSight mission’s three top scientific investigations, along with seismic sensors to detect “marsquakes” and an experiment to measure the wobble of the Red Planet’s rotation.

Together, the investigations were designed to help scientists learn about the deep interior of Mars, with an emphasis on studying the planet’s internal structure and composition, Martian tectonics, and meteorite impacts. The information will help researchers better understand how the rocky planets, like Earth and Mars, formed and evolved over the 4.5 billion-year history of the solar system.

While the other experiments continue producing results, an underground probe that is part of the InSight lander’s German-developed Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, instrument ran into trouble hammering itself into the Martian soil in the months after arrival on the Red Planet.

The stationary InSight lander touched down on Mars on Nov. 26, 2018, and ground teams sent commands for the HP3 instrument’s heat probe to start burrowing into the soil Feb. 28, 2019. It was the first time a mission tried digging so deep into the Martian surface.

Repeated tries at getting the self-hammering 16-inch (40-centimeter) probe into the soil, including attempts using the scoop on the lander’s robotic arm to help push the mole into the ground, have turned up empty.

“We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said HP3’s principal investigator, Tilman Spohn of DLR, the German Aerospace Center, which developed the instrument.. “Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions that attempt to dig into the subsurface.”

The metal spike has embedded temperature sensors designed to measure the thermal gradient in the uppermost layers of the Martian crust. The mole has a trailing umbilical tether that was supposed to feed the science data back to the InSight lander for transmission to Earth.

But the probe needed to reach a depth of at least 3 feet, or 10 meters, to provide the expected science data. Instead, the mole only reached about a foot, or 30 centimeters, below the surface before its progress stalled.

After months of analysis by ground teams, managers approved a plan to use InSight’s robotic arm to remove a support structure housing to reveal the top of the mole for inspection by the lander cameras. The camera views revealed a pit had formed around the circumference of the mole, suggesting the Martian soil was not providing enough friction, or resistance, as the self-hammering probe attempted to drive itself into the ground.

Controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory then tried using the robotic arm’s scoop to press against the mole in a bid to apply extra pressure to compensate for the soil at InSight’s landing site, which appeared to clump together rather than loosely fall around the mole as it hammered.

After getting the top of the mole about an inch, or 2 to 3 centimeters, under the surface, teams at JPL tried a final time earlier this month to use the robot arm’s scoop to tamp down on the spike to provide added friction, NASA said.

“After the probe conducted 500 additional hammer strokes on Saturday, Jan. 9, with no progress, the team called an end to their efforts,” NASA said in a statement.

The “mole,” a heat probe that traveled to Mars aboard NASA’s InSight lander, as it looked after hammering on Jan. 9, 2021, the 754th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. After trying since Feb. 28, 2019, to bury the probe, the mission team called an end to their efforts.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA said scientists and engineers learned much about Martian soil properties during their troubleshooting of the mole. The soil at the InSight landing site — on a broad plain named Elysium Planitia — has different characteristics than material observed at regions explored by other Mars missions.

“The mole is a device with no heritage. What we attempted to do – to dig so deep with a device so small – is unprecedented,” said Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer at JPL who has led efforts to get the mole deeper into the Martian crust. “Having had the opportunity to take this all the way to the end is the greatest reward.”

NASA approved a two-year extension for the InSight mission earlier this month.

InSight will continue measuring seismic tremors on the Mars, producing data to help scientists unravel the internal structure of the Red Planet. The solar-powered Mars lander will also continue operating a weather station, and ground teams will develop plans to bury a tether leading to InSight’s seismometer in hopes of eliminating noise in the data from the instrument.

The seismometer has recorded more than 480 marsquakes so far. Before InSight, scientists had not confirmed a detection of a seismic tremor on the Red Planet.

Lessons learned about using the lander’s robotic arm will help engineers devise a plan for burying the tether, according to NASA.

“We are so proud of our team who worked hard to get InSight’s mole deeper into the planet. It was amazing to see them troubleshoot from millions of miles away,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, in a statement. “This is why we take risks at NASA – we have to push the limits of technology to learn what works and what doesn’t. In that sense, we’ve been successful: We’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions to Mars and elsewhere, and we thank our German partners from DLR for providing this instrument and for their collaboration.”

In 2019, Zurbuchen said the mole is not required for the InSight mission to achieve its minimum criteria for success.

The heat flow measurements intended to be collected by the HP3 instrument are part of InSight’s so-called “Level 1” requirements, but were listed as a stretch goal, or a “nice to have” objective, not as a threshold requirement for minimum mission success, said Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at JPL, in 2019.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Four Quick Links for Tuesday Afternoon

Flickr and the Library of Congress are collaborating on a project called COVID-19 American Experiences that "invites people to contribute images that reflect how the pandemic has impacted people's lives and communities". []

Ibram X. Kendi has a deal with Netflix to bring 3 of his books to the screen: Stamped from the Beginning; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You; and Antiracist Baby. []

From I Love Typography, a list of favorite typefaces of 2020. []

On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, An Oral History of Wikipedia. []


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

Links 1/19/21

Links for you. Science:

To What Extent Does In-Person Schooling Contribute to the Spread of COVID-19?
Vaccine registration technology is failing. Here’s how the Biden administration could fix it
Three reasons a negative coronavirus test doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not infected
Combination of two drugs can help treat methamphetamine addiction for some, new clinical trial data shows
The Black Hole in America’s COVID-19 Data


For millions of charismatic Christians, the Capitol riot doesn’t change the truth: Trump’s win has been prophesied (you can’t understand Trump and the right without understanding the role self-described Christian evangelicals play)
They Used to Post Selfies. Now They’re Trying to Reverse the Election.
Ex-Friends: Anne Applebaum and the crisis of centrist politics.
Trump’s America: The inevitable conclusion to a sickening presidency.
A foreseeable fire: A steady diet of red meat turned the Tea Party into Trumpism
The Washington, D.C., siege has Western roots and consequences
QAnon Believer Charged for Threats Against Mayor Bowser, Illegal Firearm Possession: “DoubleODipshit” also allegedly head butted a random pedestrian on Jan. 7, according to a local warrant.
“No One Took Us Seriously”: Black Cops Warned About Racist Capitol Police Officers for Years
Trump’s New Criminal Problem: The president could face charges for inciting the Capitol riot—and maybe even for inciting the murder of a Capitol Police Officer.
QAnon was at the center of the Capitol assault, and could get worse after Trump is gone
Cancel the Inauguration: Biden will be safe. But we can’t have the typical Capitol-based celebration of the peaceful transfer of power. It hasn’t been peaceful and there’s a better way. Here’s how.
The $3,000-a-month toilet for the Ivanka Trump/Jared Kushner Secret Service detail
Democratic Lawmakers Want to Fine Politicians Who Refuse to Wear Masks
Upset by veterans who stormed the Capitol, these vets decided to clean up trash the mob left on the streets of D.C.
Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks?
The Pandemic Necessitates a New Approach to Health Care
D.C. leaders spar over coronavirus vaccine access for poorer residents (Nesbitt’s responses are very interesting)
Who Knew What in the Moments Before Pro-Trump Radicals Breached the Capitol?
Stunning Brick and Mortar Meltdown, Manhattan Style: The Collapse of Retail Rents Before and Now During the Pandemic
Dems eye punishing Republicans who challenged Biden’s win
What’s Wrong with the Way We Work
QAnon reshaped Trump’s party and radicalized believers. The Capitol siege may just be the start.
Bury Me Furious

Hyperrealist Paintings by Jeff Bartels

Jeff Bartels

Jeff Bartels

Canadian artist Jeff Bartels makes these stunningly hyperrealistic oil paintings of things like cameras, typewriters, and vehicles. And they’re pretty large too — here’s his painting of the Leica in progress:

Jeff Bartels

That must take for-ev-er to do. Check out more of his work on Instagram. (via claire salvo)

Tags: art   Jeff Bartels

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 5.37%"

Note: This is as of January 10th.

From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 5.37%
The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased from 5.46% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 5.37% as of January 10, 2021. According to MBA’s estimate, 2.7 million homeowners are in forbearance plans.
“The week of January 10th saw the largest – and only the second – decrease in the share of loans in forbearance in nine weeks, with declines across almost every tracked loan category,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “The rate of exits from forbearance has picked up a bit over the past two weeks but remains much lower than what was seen in October and early November.”

Fratantoni added, “Job market data continue to indicate weakness, and that means many homeowners who remain unemployed will need ongoing relief in the form of forbearance. While new forbearance requests remain relatively low, the availability of relief remains a necessary support for many homeowners.”
emphasis added
MBA Forbearance Survey Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, and has generally been trending down.

The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) remained the same relative to the prior week at 0.07%."

The Most Notable Lies of Donald Trump’s Presidency

Daniel Dale, writing at CNN:

Trying to pick the most notable lies from Donald Trump’s presidency is like trying to pick the most notable pieces of junk from the town dump.

There’s just so much ugly garbage to sift through before you can make a decision.

But I’m qualified for the dirty job. I fact checked every word uttered by this President from his inauguration day in January 2017 until September 2020 — when the daily number of lies got so unmanageably high that I had to start taking a pass on some of his remarks to preserve my health.

If I were asked to sum up the entire Trump era in one word, the word I’d choose is lies.

Lies, lies, lies. Liars telling lies. One very talented liar telling lies that many others parroted. Lies. Lies are poison. We’re not hooked up to assume that when one side says A, and the other side says B, that one side (or both) might be lying. We’re hooked up to assume both sides are arguing in good faith, for what they perceive to be the truth.

Also: Daniel Dale gets a 3-month vacation, right?


Rogan Vs. Jones: The Ultimate Analysis

In my latest video, I treat Joe Rogan’s interview with Alex Jones with a seriousness and rigor it does not deserve.

Back me on Patreon to help me make more videos like this.
Get This is Not a Conspiracy Theory
Follow me on Twitter

Former U.S. Air Force secretary Heather Wilson joins Maxar’s board of directors

WASHINGTON — Former secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has joined the board of directors of Maxar Technologies, the company announced Jan. 19. 

Wilson currently is president of the University of Texas El Paso. She was the Air Force’s top civilian from May 2017 through May 2019 and previously was a congresswoman representing New Mexico. 

Wilson was appointed to the Maxar board but still has to be elected by the company’s stockholders at their next annual meeting later this year. Maxar’s board is led by retired Air Force general Howell Estes and one of its members is retired Air Force general Robert Kehler.

Maxar is the U.S. government’s largest supplier of satellite imagery and geospatial intelligence. Wilson will provide Maxar strategic advice as the company seeks to grow its national security and intelligence business.

Maxar’s executive vice president and chief technology officer Walter Scott told SpaceNews that the company sees a rising demand from U.S. defense and intelligence agencies for technologies that can rapidly analyze and exploit data. In 2020 Maxar acquired Vricon, a supplier of satellite-derived 3D data aimed at the defense and intelligence markets,

Scott said Maxar plans to use Vricon’s technology to create virtual training environments for the U.S. military. So-called “digital twins” of the planet also could be used by the military for navigation and targeting.

Maxar plans to launch its first two next-generation WorldView Legion satellites as early as September 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This is a highly anticipated event, said Scott, as these satellites will provide new imagery capabilities from different orbits with with higher revisit rates.


Update Then and Now: With Column Excluding Pandemic

A few indicators comparing four years ago and today (and a column after three years - excluding the pandemic) ...

Vehicle Sales116.716.916.4
Employment change2 2,5912,195-704
Unemployment Rate34.7%3.5%6.7%
Participation Rate462.8%63.4%61.5%
Housing Starts51,0561,2621,278
New Home Sales6486644679
Mortgage Delinquency Rate76.1%4.6%8.3%
GDP Growth82.3%2.5%1.0%
Budget Deficit93.2%4.6%16.0%
S&P 500102,2693,3173,800
1millions, SAAR (average previous 4 years, or 3 years for Jan 2020)
2Thousands (Average previous 4 years, or 3 years for Jan 2020)
3Most Recent Month
4Most Recent Month
5Thousands, SAAR (average previous 4 years, or 3 years for Jan 2020)
6Thousands, SAAR (average previous 4 years, or 3 years for Jan 2020)
7Annual GDP growth (over previous 4 years, or 3 years for Jan 2020).  Q4 2020 estimated at 5.0% annual rate.
8Source: MBA, Quarterly including in-foreclosure (most recent quarter)
9Source: CBP: Annual, fiscal 2016, 2019, and 2020
10Jan 20, 2017, Jan 21, 2020 and Jan 19, 2021


Mitch McConnell’s remarks today about Trump’s role in the insurrection on their face make it pretty clear he believes Trump’s guilty of impeachable offenses which merit removal from office and a ban on serving again in the future. Whether he would vote that way is another question. I think there’s basically no way he does not if he’s not certain of at least 17 other Republican senators ready to join him.

But there’s one thing that’s worth noting about this impending trial.

On round two even the diehards are hanging their hats on technicalities. Joni Ernst claims, absurdly, that it’s unconstitutional to convict Trump after he leaves office. Tom Cotton made a similar argument last week when he said he wouldn’t vote to convict. As far as I can tell, no Republican Senator so far has said they’d vote to acquit because President Trump’s actions didn’t merit removal or because he wasn’t guilty of the alleged offenses.

I’m sure some of them would make one of those defenses if they didn’t have a technicality to fall back on. But they clearly want to avoid that if at all possible. That’s a big difference and telling for the future.

Exit Interview With Jim Bridenstine

Keith's note: I just did a 30 minute exot interview with jim Bridenstine. I will try and have the transcript online in the next day or so. Here's a portion:

NASAWATCH: Most people who become NASA Administrator tend to do so at the apex of their career and then dial things back, jump on a few boards, and then retire. Yet you have decades ahead of you. This is unusual. Normally I am talking to people who are in their 60s and say "yea, my wife wants me to take 6 months off and do nothing ...". Where do you go from up - when you have done something like this at such a young age?

Bridenstine: I'll tell you - this is going to be hard. There is nothing that is going to match the experience that I have had at NASA. The future out there of course is unknown. I know here at least initially I am going to be coming back to Oklahoma. I have some prospects for employment but I don't want to disclose those or make any announcements at this time - but I am going to be back in Oklahoma. ... I have a very strong direction that I am heading but I am not going to make any announcements until next week.

NASAWATCH: So ... you're not filled with a case of Potomac Fever?

Bridenstine: No (laughs) I am very happily coming back to Oklahoma and am excited about participating in my kids' basketball games, and swim meets, and Boy Scouts, and all kinds of other activities that I have missed over the last 8 years.

The feeling of percolating on stubborn problems

I wonder what’s going on in my head while I’m trying to figure out a problem.

I’ve been in venture building and strategy for a few months (the gig wraps up at the end of this month). Working to understand whole new-to-me sectors, and disruption dynamics, and client capabilities, all well enough to figure out good entry points.

Periodically, everything gets stuck in my head. I can’t write, can’t make slides, and I can barely articulate what’s interesting about the area. I can plod through a description, but the “why” and “what for” escapes me, and questions leave me stumped.

This lasts for 2 or 3 days. During which time it’s hard to focus on other tasks, I’m mildly short tempered, my to-do list goes untended, etc. Nothing major, just like there’s something occupying 30% of my CPU, if you know what I mean? And then…

Out of nowhere, the entire thing pops into my head. The key goals, a structured articulation of the market and how it’s evolving, recommended next steps, and all in the form of a top-to-bottom narrative. The deck outline comes out of my hands like automatic writing.

It’s not perfect, obviously. It gets presented, tweaked, reordered… It improves mainly through attempting to present it, and getting feedback through conversation. Until the point comes that it’s too brittle: I can see that it’s broken, but I can’t see how to incorporate obviously correct feedback. That’s the point that this deck (or mental model, or narrative) is redundant and it’s time to move onto the next stage, whatever that is.

But what’s going on in that 2 days?

What is this “background processing” feeling?

How come it’s a black box?

Other people I’ve asked share this. But what’s happening, brain-wise?


It’s like this for every project I’ve ever worked on.

(The first time I specifically remember this happening was figuring out an approach to a tricky differentiation in a physics problem that had been bothering me. The whole solution popped into my head unbidden on the dance floor at Downtown Manhattan on George St.)

There are ways to move things along. Talking helps. Going back to first principles helps: asking why, researching, writing down what I know in the plainest possible language. Writing down what I don’t know works. For really stubborn problems: running; hot showers.

But still the feeling of percolation. Like there’s a sub-mind allocated to the problem, one that has access to everything I know yet sits outside my personal experience of self, and all I can do - all I need to do - is wait.

What Can You Do About QAnon?

Over the past several months, documentary filmmaker Kirby Ferguson has been making a series of videos about conspiracy theories, including This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, Trump, QAnon and The Return of Magic (which I posted about here), and Constantly Wrong: The Case Against Conspiracy Theories, as well as this analysis of the tactics of infowar. Just before the election, he made a video for the NY Times (embedded above): What Can You Do About QAnon?

In particular, Ferguson singles out humiliation by ridicule as something to avoid when attempting to bring QAnon supporters back to reality. Instead, he suggests staying in contact, sharing relevant information, asking questions, and being patient. But as Open Culture points out: “After the violence of January 6, however, it’s reasonable to ask whether we need something more than coddling and patience.” (via open culture)

Tags: Kirby Ferguson   politics   QAnon   video

SLS Green Run static fire cut short by “intentionally conservative” test limits

Green Run engines

Updated 7:45 p.m. Eastern with details from briefing.

WASHINGTON — A static-fire test of the Space Launch System core stage ended early Jan. 16 when a hydraulic system for one its four engines hit an “intentionally conservative” limit during the test.

In a Jan. 19 statement, NASA said the hydraulic system for Engine 2 on the core stage “exceeded the pre-set test limits that had been established” for the Green Run test. “As they were programmed to do, the flight computers automatically ended the test.”

Later the same day, during a call with reporters, NASA officials said that the hydraulic reservoir level and hydraulic pressure in the Core Stage Auxiliary Power Unit, or CAPU, for that engine dropped below limits over “a series of milliseconds,” triggering the flight computer to end the test. That CAPU drives a thrust vector control system used to gimbal the engines, and the problem took place about one second after a gimbal sequence started 60 seconds into the test.

That also triggered a shutdown of that CAPU. “The automated software on board shut down CAPU 2 just to safe the system in case there was a problem” with the unit itself, John Shannon, vice president and SLS program manager at Boeing, said during the call.

The hydraulic system problem was not linked to a major component failure (MCF) reported by test controllers about 45 seconds after ignition. NASA said the MCF actually took place 1.5 seconds after ignition, and was caused by the loss of “one leg of redundancy” in instrumentation for Engine 4. “Test constraints for hot fire were set up to allow the test to proceed with this condition, because the engine control system still has sufficient redundancy to ensure safe engine operation during the test,” the agency stated.

NASA is still investigating what officials said shortly after the test was a “flash” seen in the vicinity of a thermal protection blanket around Engine 4. The blanket showed signs of scorching, but that was expected from standard engine operations, and temperatures in the engine section were normal.

The parameters used for the Green Run test, the agency stated, were “intentionally conservative to ensure the safety of the core stage during the test.” NASA officials previously emphasized they were taking a cautious approach to testing the core stage since it is flight hardware, intended for use on the first SLS launch, Artemis 1.

“We have to remember that the rocket we just tested is the rocket that is going to launch Orion around the Moon,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a briefing after the Jan. 16 test. “When we do this test, there is risk that we cannot take because this is the same vehicle that will fly Orion.”

“Our test parameters demonstrate our safety-first approach and were appropriately conservative. This core stage is a high-value flight article that will return America to deep space,” Shannon said in a company statement about the Green Run test. “Our redline limits were set to achieve data collection without unnecessarily risking the system.”

But they acknowledged in the call they may have been too conservative. The hydraulic system “had a reading, a parameter, that was maybe set a little too conservatively,” Bridenstine said. “Had this been a real launch, that parameter wouldn’t have been set so conservatively and the rocket would have continued.”

“It’s to walk the fine line between making sure, for the first time that we use any of this hardware, that we have sufficient protection in to keep the stage in a safe configuration, but also to let it operate through the test regime,” Shannon said. “There’s a judgment call in there for how you set those parameters to ensure that the stage remains in a good configuration for a further test or a launch.”

NASA has not yet decided if it will perform a second hotfire test. In comments before the first test, NASA and Boeing officials said that while the test was scheduled to last for 485 seconds, they would collect most of the data they needed after 250 seconds. However, the engine shutdown took place after just 67.2 seconds.

NASA said they want to review the data collected during the test before deciding whether to perform a second hotfire test or ship the stage to the Kennedy Space Center for final preparations for the Artemis 1 mission. “You have to understand the risk of exposing the flight core stage to another round of tests, and how does that risk trade off with the learning that we need to do,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

One factor, Bridenstine said, is the rated lifetime of the core stage. He said the stage is designed to be filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants nine times. That has been done twice so far: a wet dress rehearsal in December and for the static-fire test. A limited amount of propellant was loaded in the stage for the first attempt at the wet dress rehearsal in early December.

Doing another static-fire test means loading the stage with propellants at least one more time. “Every time we do something like that, it takes away one of our nine times that we can tank,” he said. “There’s reasons to do a full duration hotfire, and there’s reasons that maybe we wouldn’t do a full duration hotfire.”

One former NASA official recommended the agency conduct a second hotfire test. “My advice would be to retest and get complete data – may be a couple of weeks but schedule is secondary,” tweeted Wayne Hale, former shuttle program manager and current chairman of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee.

John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at NASA, said in the call that work to recycle the engines after the truncated hotfire test is underway, either to support a second hotfire test or to get the stage ready for shipment to KSC. He previously said it would take 21 to 30 days to get the core stage ready, giving NASA time to review the data and decide if a second hotfire is needed.

“The data analysis is going to drive us and inform our decision as to whether we either proceed to the launch or we perform an additional hotfire test,” he said. “We don’t have a date just yet on when we’re going to be at that decision point.”


Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in December

From housing economist Tom Lawler:

Based on publicly-available local realtor/MLS reports released across the country through today, I project that existing home sales as estimated by the National Association of Realtors ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.62 million in December, down 1.0% from November’s preliminary pace and up 19.7% from last December’s seasonally adjusted pace.

Local realtor reports, as well as reports from national inventory trackers, suggest that the YOY decline in the inventory of existing homes for sale was slightly greater in December than November, though what that means for the NAR inventory estimate is unclear. As I’ve noted before, the inventory measure in most publicly-released local realtor/MLS reports excludes listings with pending contracts, but that is not the case for many of the reports sent to the NAR (referred to as the “NAR Report!”), Since the middle of last Spring inventory measures excluding pending listings have fallen much more sharply than inventory measures including such listings, and this latter inventory measure understates the decline in the effective inventory of homes for sale over the last several months.

Finally, local realtor/MLS reports suggest the median existing single-family home sales price last month was up by about 13% from last December.

CR Note: The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is scheduled to release December existing home sales on Friday, January 22, 2021 at 10:00 AM ET. The consensus is for 6.55 million SAAR.

Tuesday assorted links

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

NASA likely to redo hot-fire test of its Space Launch System core stage

SLS Green Run Test

Enlarge / At 4:27pm central time on Saturday, the SLS rocket core stage ignited its four RS-25 engines at NASA's Stennis Space Center. The test was to last up to eight minutes. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann for Ars)

Following the unsuccessful completion of a Space Launch System hot-fire test, NASA is likely to conduct a second "Green Run" firing in February.

On Tuesday, three days after the first hot-fire test attempt, NASA released a summary of its preliminary analysis of data from the 67.2-second test firing. The report highlights three issues, none of which appears to be overly serious but will require further investigation.

The agency found that the test, conducted at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, was automatically shut down by an out-of-limits reading of hydraulic pressure in the thrust vector control mechanism used to gimbal, or steer, the engines. At 64 seconds into the test, the rocket began a pre-programmed sequence to gimbal its engines as if it were in flight. Shortly after, the pump-return pressure fell below the redline of 50 pounds per square in gauge, to 49.6. This pressure limit, the agency said, was more stringent than an actual flight redline and was set to protect against potential damage on the test stand.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Three Quick Links for Tuesday Noonish

From a large study of household transmission of Covid-19: "age ≥ 60 and infants most likely to get infected, age < 20 most likely to infect others (1.6X)". []

A county-by-county US map that shows who wants to get the Covid-19 vaccine. In some places, it's under 50%. Lots of work to do here. []

Michigan GOP will replace a Republican election board member who voted to certify the election for Biden. Seems likely that for 2024, a few GOP-controlled swing states could have election boards in place that will not certify Democratic candidates. []


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

Where Things Stand: Almost There

There are less than 24 hours left of the Trump administration. 

And the President is leaving behind a sicker, more divided and more violent nation than the one he inherited four long years ago. 

Even if you haven’t been here with us the last four years, the bookends of President Trump’s time as leader of the free world could not paint a more telling portrait of Trump’s priorities amid division and chaos: his ego. He entered the White House complaining and lying about crowd sizes. He’ll leave the White House to the cheers from a crowd — who knows how large or small — of supporters that his aides feverishly assembled in the last week, to give the dear leader one last ego bump before he slinks away to Mar-a-Lago. 

There is little profound left to say about the damage Trump has done to democracy and the fires of racism and division that he has happily stoked, cackling as the world burned. Especially throughout 2020 and the first month of ’21. 

But the priority of the Biden administration’s first day in office offers a contrast and some reprieve. According to the Associated Press, Day One will include the introduction of an expansive new immigration plan that will allow for an eight-year path toward citizenship for those living in the U.S. without legal status. The bill faces hurdles in Congress, in part because, to its credit, it doesn’t include the traditional measures to increase border security that are almost always paired with immigration legislation. But the return to humanity — or the turn away from executive branch demonization of undocumented immigrants — is refreshing after four years of racist fear mongering about the threat posed by the souther border. The family separation policy created some of the darkest days of Trump’s presidency. Biden is clearly hoping to make some amends right off the bat. 

We’ll be following all the most important news ahead of inauguration and during Trump’s final hours of leadership in our liveblog. Stay tuned.

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

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Josh Kovensky is working on a piece about Parler finding a new host domain for the conservative social media website where planning for the Jan. 6 insurrection took place. 

Kate Riga is monitoring confirmation hearings in the Senate today for President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet members. 

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

We’re following all the news leading up to inauguration tomorrow afternoon — just a little less than 24 hours from now — in our liveblog here

We’re also continuing to follow the aftermath and lingering threats tied to the insurrection two weeks ago, as well as the final day of Trump’s presidency. Some highlights:

  • The MyPillow Coup: Mike Lindell, the CEO of the MyPillow company and a large, vocal Trump supporter, is facing financial repercussions for his visit to the White House last week, apparently to further prod Trump’s election delegitimization crusade. Major retailers like Kohl’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond have dropped MyPillow products from their stores. 
  • The FBI put out a warning that QAnon supporters cooked up a plan to attempt to infiltrate the National Guard, which has been heavily deployed to Washington, D.C. to protect inauguration from further attacks. Many well known QAnon supporters were part of the Capitol insurrection earlier this month. 
  • Bill Barr hasn’t changed. Even after being dumped by President Trump, he’s still invested in the President’s bidding and is now making excuses for the Capitol riots. 
If You Read Anything On COVID-19 Today, Read This

Biden Expected To Reject Trump’s Last-Minute Lift On COVID-19 Travel Bans

How Operation Warp Speed Created Vaccination Chaos

Coming Up

Trump has nothing on his public schedule today. The vice president will hold a COVID-19 task force meeting in the Situation Room at 2:00 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden will participate in an event today as they depart Wilmington, Delaware to move to D.C. Biden will speak at the event.

Later this evening Kamala Harris and Biden will speak at a Lincoln Memorial event honoring those who have died of COVID-19. 

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Congressman Recalls Rep. Boebert Giving Large Tour Days Before January 6 — Kate Riga

What We Are Reading

Among the Insurrectionists — Luke Mogelson

Why Joe Biden Can’t Bring His Peloton To The White House — Courtney Linder 

Lawmakers Who Objected To Election Results Have Been Cut Off From 20 Of Their 30 Biggest Corporate PAC Donors — Douglas MacMillan and Jena McGregor

This Is a Wake-Up Call

This video from Matthew Cooke is an excellent and succinct plea for Republicans and Trump supporters to come back to reality.

This is a wake-up call for Republicans. America elected Joe Biden by over 7 million votes, and you’re confused because you didn’t see us flock to his rallies and cheer his smackdowns like we were at a pro wrestling event during a global pandemic. We don’t wear matching hats or have “no more malarkey” flags waving from the backs of our trucks. Do you know why? Because Biden is not our tribal warlord. We believe the job of a U.S. President is to represent more than one interest group. That’s why 81 million of us turned out to stop a narcissistic personality cult that embodies all seven of the deadly sins — most of all pride, which you’ve taken to levels of blasphemy, claiming your political leaders are handpicked by Jesus Christ.

This country is called the United States and we have multiple converging crises that need adult supervision but we are being distracted trying to get control over a critical mass of you who no longer believe in reality.

I don’t know if it will be persuasive to actual Republicans, but it’s a solid attempt.

Tags: 2020 election   Donald Trump   Matthew Cooke   politics   video

Then and Now

A few indicators comparing four years ago and today ...

Vehicle Sales116.716.4
Employment change2 10,364-2,818
Unemployment Rate34.7%6.7%
Participation Rate462.8%61.5%
Housing Starts51,0561,278
New Home Sales6486679
Mortgage Delinquency Rate76.1%8.3%
Budget Deficit83.2%16.0%
S&P 50092,2693,790
1millions, SAAR (average previous 4 years)
2Thousands (over previous 4 years)
3Most Recent Month
4Most Recent Month
5Thousands, SAAR (average previous 4 years)
6Thousands, SAAR (average previous 4 years)
7Source: MBA, Quarterly including in-foreclosure (most recent quarter)
8Annual, fiscal 2016 vs. 2020
9Jan 20, 2017 vs Jan 19, 2021

Redwire acquires Oakman Aerospace

SAN FRANCISCO – Redwire has acquired Oakman Aerospace, a Littleton, Colorado firm known for digital engineering and spacecraft development. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

The acquisition announced Jan. 19 is the latest sign that Redwire is continuing to move rapidly to establish a multifaceted space company.

“Oakman Aerospace adds a critical capability in digital engineering that will significantly enhance our space infrastructure solutions,” Peter Cannito, Redwire chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Their modular open systems architecture design and development approach and proprietary commercial off-the-shelf software suite is transforming the way future space capabilities are designed, developed, deployed and operated.”

AE Industrial Partners formed Redwire in June 2020 with the acquisitions of Deep Space Systems and Adcole Space. Since then, Redwire has purchased Made In Space, Roccor, Loadpath and now Oakman Aerospace.

“Joining Redwire advances our strategic ambition to achieve the next level of growth and expand our technological innovation,” Maureen O’Brien, Oakman Aerospace co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to leveraging these additional resources to enhance our capabilities and offer new products and services to our customers.”

Oakman Aerospace was founded in 2012 to develop space systems architectures, spacecraft design and development as well as mission payload and data distribution services.

“This is an exciting opportunity to join an experienced team that is developing state-of-the-art space systems and hardware solutions that, combined with our leading digital engineering proficiencies, will expand our ability to provide world-class solutions to our customers for many years to come,” Stanley Kennedy, Jr., Oakman Aerospace co-founder, president and chief systems engineer, said in a statement. “We are eager to join Redwire and accelerate our competitive position as a provider of disruptive space-based technologies.”

Kirk Konert, AE Industrial Partners partner, said in a statement, Oakman Aerospace “provides deep digital engineering expertise and a unique set of capabilities that will augment Redwire’s technology portfolio and enable the organization to support a broader range of customer missions.”


SLS Green Run Update

Green Run Update: Data and Inspections Indicate Core Stage in Good Condition

"The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket Green Run team has reviewed extensive data and completed preliminary inspections that show the rocket's hardware is in excellent condition after the Green Run test that ignited all the engines at 5:27 p.m. EST at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. After analyzing initial data, the team determined that the shutdown after firing the engines for 67.2-seconds on Jan.16 was triggered by test parameters that were intentionally conservative to ensure the safety of the core stage during the test."

Keith's note: I am hearing that within NASA that many people think that it is almost a given that they need to try the Green Run test again. Its that whole 2024 deadline thing that is pushing them right now. Well, the impetus for that deadline - widely seen as impossible to meet - will evaporate at noon on Wednesday. There is broad consensus that a landing date along the lines of 2028 is considered to be more likely - as noted below. The reasons are simple - the whole Artemis program is woefully behind schedule and Congress did not give NASA the budget needed to try and make it happen. Yet if you read this tweet or heard the NASA PAO announcer during the test the agency and Congress are still holding to the 2024 date in spite of admitting the obvious.

I asked about this at the SLS -post test press event - rather, I tried to ask about this. Despite sending an emailed question to NASA PAO during the SLS post-test press event - exactly like all other media did - PAO decided not to let my question be asked. But they allowed every other question through. So I complained. I had originally asked "Sen. Wicker tweeted today that NASA is going to land on the Moon in 2024 and on Mars in 2029. Can you explain how this is possible given the budget NASA has been given?". This was in response to a tweet that Wicker issued right after the test:

This is the reply NASA PAO just sent me:

"We're grateful for the strong bipartisan support for the Artemis program as reflected in the FY 2021 Omnibus Appropriation passed and signed last month. Congress continues to recognize the value in America's Moon to Mars plans, providing funding for human landing system (HLS) development. As you've heard me say before, funding is one of the challenges we have to navigate as we continue our work toward a sustainable exploration program that lasts a generation. Landing the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024 remains our goal, but NASA will work with the incoming Biden Administration to do it smartly and get it done right."

In other words yet another non-answer answer.

Hydraulic system issue triggered early engine shutdown during SLS test-firing

An exhaust plume erupts from the B-2 test stand during a test-firing of the Space Launch System core stage Jan. 16. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

NASA officials said Tuesday the weekend test-firing of the Space Launch System moon rocket’s core stage was cut short by an out-of-limits parameter in a hydraulic system for gimbaling, or vectoring, one of its engines.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said engineers are “feeling pretty good” about the data gathered during the shortened test-firing, and managers may decide to ship the SLS core stage to the Kennedy Space Center for launch preparations without re-attempting the planned eight-minute hot fire.

“We are still kind of in a position where may not have to do another hot fire,” Bridenstine told Spaceflight Now in an interview Monday. “We might be able to take the rocket down to Kennedy and get it ready for launch. That decision has not been made. We don’t know.”

If NASA officials opt to conclude testing of the SLS core stage at Stennis and ship it by barge to Kennedy, it might preserve a chance to launch the first SLS test flight before the end of the year. The schedule was already tight before the hot fire test Saturday, but program managers said last week there was a path to launching the SLS test flight this year.

The Space Launch System is a major piece of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.

The SLS will launch NASA’s Orion crew capsule to send astronauts to the vicinity of the moon. NASA plans to construct a mini-space station to serve as a research outpost and waypoint for crews traveling between Earth and the lunar surface. The Orion spacecraft will link up with a descent craft in lunar orbit, where astronauts will float into the lander to head for the moon’s surface.

The first test flight of the SLS, known as Artemis 1, will send an unpiloted Orion crew capsule into lunar orbit on a mission lasting several weeks. The Orion spacecraft will come back to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, setting the stage for the first crewed SLS/Orion mission to the moon around 2023.

“The question is did we get enough data from what we just did to make people comfortable that we can go forward with the launch,” Bridenstine said. “Remember, the first launch is uncrewed, so we can accept some risk here that we wouldn’t normally accept.

“But we also have to remember that if something goes wrong, it sets us back significantly,” he said. “There are a lot of decisions in front of us.”

Wayne Hale, a former space shuttle program manager and current member of the NASA Advisory Council, tweeted he believes teams should proceed with a second hot fire test.

“Getting some more data on last weekend’s SLS hotfire test,” Hale wrote Tuesday. “Limits were set to conservatively protect hardware and cut the test off early. No damage to core stage or engines. My advice would be to retest and get complete data – may be a couple of weeks but schedule is secondary.”

The Space Launch System’s four RS-25 engines fire during an abbreviated Green Run test Saturday. Credit: NASA

The parameter in the core stage hydraulic system that triggered the early engine shutdown Saturday used “intentionally conservative” settings that were specific to the test-firing on the B-2 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi, the space agency said in a statement Tuesday.

The hot fire ended 67.2 seconds after the core stage’s four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines fired on the test stand. The engines throttled up to full power — 109% of rated thrust — and generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust.

Test engineers ran the 212-foot-tall (65-meter) rocket stage, built by Boeing, through a simulated countdown throughout the day Saturday, loading more than 700,000 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the orange rocket stage, pressuring the propellant tanks, and setting up the rocket for engine start.

Actuators in the engine thrust vector control system began gimbaling, or pivoting, the engines about a minute into the test-firing. The thrust vector control, or TVC, system is designed to steer the rocket in flight.

“During gimballing, the hydraulic system associated with the core stage’s power unit for Engine 2, also known as engine E2056, exceeded the pre-set test limits that had been established,” NASA said. “As they were programmed to do, the flight computers automatically ended the test.”

“That part of the (test) is very dynamic, and a lot of things are happening at the same time,” Bridenstine said. “When we started gimballing the engines, we gimbal with the hydraulic system … There was one measurement within the hydraulic system that got out of parameters, and that sent the signal to shut down all four engines. That parameter that was tested, that’s not a parameter that would even be measured on a flight. That was a test parameter that was being measured.”

The TVC system is driven by hydraulic pressure generated by Core Stage Auxiliary Power Units, or CAPUs. Two actuators pivot each engine.

“If this scenario occurred during a flight, the rocket would have continued to fly using the remaining CAPUs to power the thrust vector control systems for the engines,” NASA said.

“During the test, the functionality of shutting down one CAPU and transferring the power to the remaining CAPUs was successfully demonstrated,” NASA said. “This gimballing test event that resulted in shutting down the CAPU was an intentionally stressing case for the system that was intended to exercise the capabilities of the system. The data is being assessed as part of the process of finalizing the pre-set test limits prior to the next usage of the core stage.”

Four RS-25 engines fire during the SLS hot fire test Jan. 16. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

Early speculation on the cause of the premature end to the hot fire test focused on a major component failure, MCF, reading on Engine 4.  NASA said Tuesday a sensor reading that indicated the MCF on Engine 4 was not related to the hot fire shutdown. The sensor reading involved the loss of “one leg redundancy” in the instrumentation for Engine 4 about 1.4 seconds after ignition, the agency said.

“Test constraints for hot fire were set up to allow the test to proceed with this condition, because the engine control system still has sufficient redundancy to ensure safe engine operation during the test,” NASA said. “The team plans to investigate and resolve the Engine 4 instrumentation issue before the next use of the core stage.”

John Honeycutt, NASA’s SLS program manager, also noted in a press conference Saturday night that engineers observed a flash around the thermal blanket around one of the engines.

“A visual inspection of the thermal blankets that protect the engine show signs of some exterior scorching, which was anticipated due to their proximity to engine and CAPU exhaust,” NASA said.

Data gathered during the test Saturday indicated normal temperatures in the core stage engine section throughout the firing.

“The engine section is in good shape,” Bridenstine said. “The core stage of the rocket, in general, is actually in good shape. The thermal blankets were scorched a little bit, but I’m being told that that’s not terribly unusual. They’re there for that purpose, to control the temperatures.”

Bridenstine’s nearly three-year tenure as head of NASA ends Wednesday with the start of the incoming Biden administration.

“They’re still looking through the data, but based on the preliminary feedback, I’m actually feeling good about it,” Bridenstine said.

The team can make slight adjustments to the thrust vector control parameters and prevent an automatic shut down if they decide to conduct another test with the core stage mounted in the B-2 stand.

NASA said officials will hold a media briefing later this week to discuss the latest updates on the SLS core stage testing.

Assuming NASA decides to attempt another full-duration core stage test-firing, officials said the test team can adjust parameters in the thrust vector control system to prevent an automatic shutdown.

If managers choose to end the SLS test campaign at Stennis, known as the Green Run, and send the core stage to Florida for launch preparations, Bridenstine said the rocket could be test-fired for a short duration on pad 39B at the spaceport.

“The challenge is, on the pad at Kennedy, you can test the ignition system and you can get the engines to fire, and things like that,” Bridenstine said. “But we have to remember that the hot fire test is testing the entire flight profile. That’s why we were throttling down the engines as you go through Max-Q (the period of flight where aerodynamic pressures are greatest). And then you throttle the engines back up, and then you start gimballing the engines in a significant way, and it’s all very dynamic.

“The reason to do the Green Run test, and the hot fire, is to get the data from all those very dynamic situations,” he said. “At the launch pad at Kennedy, we can’t really go through all of that. So there’s a difference between what we can do at the launch pad and what we can do at the test stand, a big difference.”

At Kennedy, ground crews will mate the core stage to two powerful side-mounted solid rocket boosters, and mount an upper stage and the Orion capsule on top of the launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. The fully stacked SLS will stand 322 feet, or 98 meters, tall and will generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, more than the Apollo-era Saturn 5 moon rocket or the space shuttle.

John Shannon, Boeing’s SLS program manager, said before the test-firing teams wanted to get at least 250 seconds of run time on the core stage before moving on from the hot fire. By that point in the test, the engines would have throttled down and powered back up to full thrust and completed two gimbal profiles, including a sweep at about T+plus 2 minutes, 30 seconds, to check the structural response to the engine movements.

A full-duration test of more than eight minutes would have allowed engineers to collect even more data, including information on the functionality of the engine steering system when the propellant tanks are nearly empty.

“We have said all along that we would like to get to at least 250 seconds, but I think we need to do our due diligence and go look at the data we collected to ensure that we’ve got a good plan moving forward,” Honeycutt said Saturday.

NASA officials considered canceling the Green Run hot fire test at Stennis after Boeing suffered delays in building the core stage at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. But the agency decided in 2019 to go ahead with the test-firing, citing safety and reliability benefits for future astronauts riding on the launcher on missions to the moon.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

The Long History of Right-Wing Terrorism in America

One of the critical things that Luke Mogelson’s must-read piece about the Jan 6th assault on Congress does is define the attack as the latest in a string of right-wing militant actions in DC and across the country, incited by Republicans (and Trump in particular):

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

In her January 16th dispatch, historian Heather Cox Richardson took a quick dive further back into history, connecting the dots between the undercurrent of right-wing authoritarianism that has long been part of the nation’s political landscape, the right’s reaction to the New Deal, the fight against Black rights, the rise of partisan talk radio after the FCC fairness doctrine ended, Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Bundys, etc. It is a story of American self-interest & whiteness that found a home in the Republican Party.

Convinced that he was a hardworking individualist, Bundy announced he did not recognize federal power over the land on which he grazed his cattle. The government impounded his animals in 2014, but officials backed down when Bundy and his supporters showed up armed. Republican Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) called Bundy and his supporters “patriots”; Democrat Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader at the time, called them “domestic terrorists” and warned, “it’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

There are many threads she doesn’t explore — America’s lax gun laws, the larger racial context, religion — but the piece does pack a lot into its relatively short length. You can read her whole post here. (thx, meg)

Tags: Heather Cox Richardson   Jan 6 attack on Congress   Luke Mogelson   politics   terrorism   USA

Consistency about elasticities

If you think “stimulus” is effective right now, presumably you think supply curves are pretty elastic and thus fairly horizontal. That is, some increase in price/offer will induce a lot more output.

If you think we should hike the minimum wage right now, presumably you think supply curves are pretty inelastic and thus fairly vertical.  That is, some increase in price for the inputs will lead not to much of a drop in output and employment, maybe none at all.  The supply curve is fairly vertical.

You might somehow think that supply is elastic with respect to output price, but inelastic with respect to input price.  Is there a model that can generate that conclusion?  It is the net profit on the marginal output units that should matter for decisions.  And did you start with that model, or develop it afterwards to justify your dual intuitions?

Do you right now favor both a lot of stimulus and a big minimum wage hike?  What are your assumptions about elasticities?  Show your work!

Do you favor a minimum wage hike, but also think a lot of immigrants to this country won’t lower real wages by very much if at all?  The latter view would seem to imply a fairly elastic demand for less skilled labor.  (The new labor can be absorbed into the market with only a small price change.)  Are your assumptions about elasticities consistent there as well?

Are your assumptions about elasticity with respect to stimulus and elasticity with respect to tax cuts consistent?

If you favor a minimum wage hike, do you criticize wage subsidies because inelastic demand for labor means most of the value of the wage subsidy will be captured by the employer? Or do you somehow want both policies at the same time, because they both involve “government helping people”?

If you favor a minimum wage hike because you think the demand for labor is inelastic, does that mean you don’t see “downward sticky wages” as a big problem?  After all, the demand for labor is inelastic, right?

What are your assumptions about elasticities?  And are those even the assumptions that actually matter to you?

How many economists do you know who start with beliefs about elasticities and then apply them consistently, before considering the politics of the conclusions?

How many of you actually think you are consistent across all of these views about elasticities?  How many of you think you actually have a jerry-rigged model (“increasing returns for me but not for thee?”) that holds it all together?

Inspired by these tweets from Garett Jones.

The post Consistency about elasticities appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Anti-Semitism and the Radical Right

If we wish to defeat a problem we must understand it. I don’t think we’re able to understand the threat the radical right poses–and how it gained significant entry into the Republican Party–without understanding two related phenomena. The first is the overrepresentation of self-described Christian evangelicals in both the general electorate and the Republican Party (which can rise to a majority of Republicans in certain areas). A minority that perceives itself as embattled and locked in a zero-sum battle leads to a subculture where democracy is a means, not an end. If that same minority also believes that “a right-minded elite of religiously pure individuals should aim to capture the levers of government, then use that power to rescue society from eternal darkness and reshape it in accord with a divinely-approved view of righteousness” should rule, then things get very bad.

This has collided with a second phenomenon, where the radical right has embraced not only the pervasive anti-Black racism that still permeates American society, but also subscribes to specific ideologies (note the plural) that have, as a central element, anti-Semitism. As some asshole with a blog noted:

There’s no doubting that ‘traditional’ racism is a key component of Trump’s support. And to consider U.S. history without realizing how racism is the warp and woof of our national experience is absurd. Politically, racism has driven and still drives much of our politics. But when we consider the Tiki Torch Brigade and many of the follow-on protestors on Saturday, what is central to their bigotry is anti-Semitism, not racism. For them, anti-Semitism is the lodestone, the organizing principle.

In Charlottesville, the evening rally focused on Jews: “Jews will not replace us.”

They issued specific threats towards and intimidated a Jewish congregation.

The rally posters barely mentioned–or failed to mention at all–the Confederate statues.

This is not to say these assholes wouldn’t (and don’t) hurt or kill Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and other minorities (not to mention LGBT). These bigoted bastards would do so with glee. But this small, noticeable–and much more directly violent–part of the far-right is more akin to the militias of the 1990s, which were obsessed with Jewish-led global conspiracies, along the lines of The Turner Diaries. It played a role in motivating the Oklahoma City bombings, and it winds it way through the ‘sovereign citizens’ movement.

In this ideology, Jews are controlling other minorities and use them as their shock troops and servants (as laughable as that is to everyone supposedly involved in the conspiracy). Admittedly, the typical bigotry towards minorities and immigrants is a critical part of it–they use this as a ‘gateway drug’ for recruiting (and they are quite willing to have more ‘traditional’ racists as allies). But, at the core, is a Jewish conspiracy: break the Jews, and it all falls apart.

In this they are much more akin to the European far-right, than traditional U.S. racists and segregationists. They are a related, but different problem, separate from the foundational scourge of racism, even as they use it as a ‘gateway drug’ to build their strength and find allies. If we wish to defeat them, we must understand them.

Which brings me to a point historian Jonathan Sarna makes (boldface mine):

These and related images, captured on television and retweeted on social media, demonstrate that some of those who traveled to Washington to support President Donald Trump were engaged in much more than just a doomed effort to maintain their hero in power.

As their writings make clear to me as a scholar of American anti-Semitism, some among them also hoped to trigger what is known as the “Great Revolution,” based on a fictionalized account of a government takeover and race war, that, in its most extreme form, would exterminate Jews.

Calls to exterminate Jews are common in far-right and white nationalist circles. For example, the conspiracy theorists of QAnon, who hold “that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump,” traffic in it regularly.

The anonymous “Q” – the group’s purported head who communicates in riddles and leaves clues on message boards – once approvingly retweeted the anti-Semitic image of a knife-wielding Jew wearing a Star of David necklace who stands knee-deep in the blood of Russians, Poles, Hungarians and Ukrainians and asks with feigned innocence, “Why do they persecute me so?”

…More commonly, including in recent days, QAnon has targeted Jewish billionaire philanthropist and investor George Soros, whom it portrays as the primary figure shaping and controlling world events. A century ago, the Rothschilds, a family of Jewish bankers, was depicted in much the same way.

QAnon members also mark Jews with triple parentheses, a covert means of outing those whom they consider usurpers and outsiders, not true members of the white race…

As opinion writer Seyward Darby pointed out in The New York Times, the gallows erected in front of the Capitol recalls the novel’s [The Turner Diaries] depiction of “the day of the rope,” when so-called betrayers of their race were lynched. Unmentioned in The New York Times article is that the novel subsequently depicts “a war to the death with the Jew.”

Again, the point is these are very specific ideologies which feature anti-Semitism as much as anti-Black racism. This is not just some crazy stuff like believing aliens are going to whisk you away to utopia, but it is also adjacent to and, often, steeped in anti-Semitism. In many ways, Q and other similar conspiracies are The Turner Diaries, but with less snuff porn, and less overt anti-Semitism (usually. Sometimes they slip up, as Sarna documents). They should be viewed as abhorrent.

So Many Scandals

As we come to the end of this tragic saga, I realized that not many know or perhaps remember that there is an entirely separate scandal aside from the emoluments and self-dealing tied to Trump’s DC hotel. Long before he became President Trump scammed his way into the lease itself. He got the contract with a bogus bid and stalking horse financing. As soon as he won the contract, the stalking horse financing disappeared, as did the partners he promised to bring into the project. He then turned around and used the lease itself as collateral to get new financing from DeutscheBank. This was all basically known at the time. But it was when Trump was making his bones on the right as top birther. The GSA didn’t want to provoke a political fight with him (this was under Obama, remember) by voiding the deal.

I explained some of the details in this February 2018 post.

In Counting Your Vote, Technology Can Bring As Many Problems as Solutions

Consider Canada’s Simple, No Drama National Elections vs. the Complicated Hodge-Podge in America


Alison Greene

On election day in Canada, no matter where one votes in federal elections, the way ballots are cast is the same. Canadians step behind a privacy curtain to hand-mark a paper ballot by circling a choice. Once the voter emerges, election officials validate the ballot and return it to the voter who then puts it directly in a ballot box.

When polls close, the doors are locked. No one can enter or leave until all votes are hand-counted by paid poll workers who have been trained, vetted and apply the same standard nationwide. The result?  Canadian elections are drama-free with people expressing strong confidence in the results.

Canadian officials have studied switching to electronic vote-counting systems, focusing on reliability, cost and confidence in the results.

Ballot-marking devices produce ballots that do not necessarily record the vote expressed by the voter when they enter their selections on the touchscreen.

In 2016, a House of Commons Special Committee on Election Reform reviewed online voting for Canada’s federal elections. In 2017, the committee recommended against electronic voting machines. In subsequent reviews of technology, Elections Canada definitively stated their intent to continue using paper ballots, marked and counted by hand:

“Elections Canada has no plans to introduce electronic casting or counting of votes. Polling places will continue using paper ballots, marked and counted by hand.”

Canada is not alone in establishing a coordinated national approach free of electronic technology. According to ACE Electoral Knowledge Network 209 of the 227 countries they studied cast their votes by manually marking ballots.

Australia, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, among others, all use paper ballots and hand counting.

Nor was Canada alone in conducting extensive research into vote casting and counting technologies. Most of the other countries also conducted reviews before deciding to continue with paper. Compared to its allies, the United States is an outlier.

Source: ACE Electoral Knowledge Network

A Trusted System

Canada’s system is straightforward, safe and passes a critical test – there are no reports of vote flipping, disappearing votes, confusing ballots, illogical outcomes or outcries of fraud.


Some local elections have adopted technology into their voting process. For example, Ontario recently introduced technology, but for local elections such as picking a school board or a local representative. For federal elections Canadian officials recently studied switching to electronic vote-counting systems, focusing on reliability, cost and confidence in the results, but chose to keep paper ballots.

Like America  Canada has voter suppression, but there are no issues with the paper ballot process. Canada’s hand-marked and hand-counted paper system instills confidence that elections are free and fair.

“Having an agency that is independent from the elected government, with a chief electoral officer who is appointed by Parliament as a whole, we are nonpartisan in everything that we do,” said Natasha Gauthier, a spokesperson for Elections Canada. “We are removed from that politicization of the voting system that we see in the U.S.”


Canada’s different system of national government lends itself to a much simpler ballot and much simpler vote counting. Their parliamentary system requires them to cast a vote for only one candidate, instead of our country with pages of different candidates at multiple levels of government, bond issues and referendums. Canadians only have one bubble to mark on their ballot in their federal election.

In a growing number of American jurisdictions, so-called paper ballots are being adopted. But in no way does the American approach resemble Canada’s hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballot voting. Indeed, it doesn’t truly rely on paper. The American trend is to rely on ballot marking devices (BMDs), a hybrid technology-paper approach.

Machine and Paper

The hybrid approach uses a paper ballot that is generated, scanned and counted by machines.

Verified Voting, a bipartisan and nonprofit group organized by ballot experts found that almost 70% of the U.S. jurisdictions rely primarily on hand-marked paper ballots.

However, there’s an asterisk. That 70% figure included paper ballots created through a BMD. Many BMDs generate paper ballots which are then hand-marked  using technology. Vote machinery vendors push what they describe as voter-verified paper ballot products in which voters use a touch screen to create their paper ballots. The majority of states now rely on BMDs.

After making their selection on a touch screen, voters receive for verification a paper ballot showing their selection. The concept is that voters self-verify their vote by examining the paper ballot the machine generates before it is counted by another machine. This complicated process creates opportunities for error, mistakenly or intentionally, especially if voters do not scrutinize the paper ballot for accuracy. And it assumes the vote-counting software will accurately capture the choice on the paper ballot, a process that will not be observed by the voter.

In Pennsylvania’s Northampton County, near Allentown and 75 minutes north of Philadelphia, officials selected equipment from ES&S, the nation’s largest manufacturer of voting machines. It’s a secretive company founded by Republicans, which we examined here and here.

Problems with ES&S Machines

After the 2016 election, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and four others sued in Pennsylvania alleging that the ES&S machinery was vulnerable to hacking and difficult to audit. The case was settled in late 2018 with an agreement that all 67 Pennsylvania counties would buy new voting machines on which votes are recorded on paper and a voter-verifiable record of each vote was produced.

Northampton County chose to purchase $2.8 million worth of new voting equipment from ES&S, the largest vendor, including its ExpressVote XL BMD. However, on rollout in 2019 elections, the county ran into major problems with their new ES&S ExpressVote machines.

Abe Kassis, a Democratic Party judicial candidate, complained that he knew people who voted for him in one precinct where ES&S showed he got no votes. That prompted an inquiry into the integrity of the vote-counting process. The discrepancy between votes cast and counted was not trivial, but huge.

In December 2019, ES&S held a Facebook live press conference taking full responsibility for the issues in Northampton. The company acknowledged problems and blamed human error by ES&S employees, but insisted the machines worked just fine when properly operated.

Adam Carbullido, ES&S senior vice president of product development, said. “First and foremost, on behalf of my company, I apologize to Northampton County. If not for mistakes made by ES&S staff these issues all could have been avoided.”

Wrong Machine Votes

ES&S said it found that the candidates shown on the voter-verified paper ballot did not match with the records of the vote-counting equipment.

Voters saw their vote on the touch screen and confirmed it. Then the machine generates a paper ballot to confirm and assure voters of the official record of their ballot. However, despite double-checking and verifying, the system did not then count their vote for the candidate chosen on the voter-verifiable paper record.

So, the ES&S system instilled confidence that people cast their ballots as intended, and then the vote-counting software disregarded their votes, which voters would have no way of detecting except for anomalies like the one reported by Kassis, the judicial candidate.

ES&S’s Carbullido confirmed this, saying: “The ballot showed correctly on the screen and printed correctly on the paper ballots, but the votes were not attributed to the proper candidates.”

‘Human Error’

Carbullido acknowledged that the issues hadn’t been caught during pre-election testing. “I want to make clear that this was human error, and ES&S takes full accountability.

“The issue should have been identified by ES&S staff prior to the election and during pre-election testing.

“Had we scrutinized the results during that process better, had ES&S staff advised the county better on how to do that, it would have been caught.”

In the end, ballots were hand-counted. Kassis, the Democratic candidate for judge, appeared to lose with only 164 votes when ES&S machines did the counting. The hand count revealed he had actually received 26,142 votes, winning the election.

Righting this wrong was possible only because paper ballots existed and could be checked with a hand count. The Northampton debacle establishes the fears of many election integrity advocates are legitimate and illustrates the value of audits.

Experts Issue Warnings

In December 2019, computer scientists Andrew Appel of Princeton University and Richard DeMillo of Georgia Tech along with statistics theorist Philip B. Stark of the University of California, Berkley, produced a paper titled “Ballot-Marking Devices (BMD’s) Cannot Assure the Will of the Voters.” It reviewed BMDs including ES&S’s ExpressVote and ExpressVote XL. The professors concluded: “Ballot-Marking Devices produce ballots that do not necessarily record the vote expressed by the voter when they enter their selections on the touchscreen.”

This followed a similar observation after an examination of ES&S ExpressVote equipment done as part of Texas’s certification procedures. Of BMD generated paper ballots, James Sneeringer, Ph.D., as a designee of the attorney general, wrote in a 2018 report: “I want to express my opinion that the paper ballot does not actually increase the accuracy or security of a voting system, although I acknowledge that many voters feel more secure when there is a paper record, and voter confidence is very important.”

He was more specific about his concerns in a 2019 report produced for the Texas secretary of state writing: “I cannot think of a circumstance where I would advise a Texas jurisdiction to buy ExpressVote XLs, yet I am loath to deny certification or to try to write a complex condition to attach to certification.”

This contrasts with Sneeringer’s 2017 Texas report which found a “bridge” between ES&S systems was “acceptable.”

Despite these statements by experts, in March 2019 the secretary of state of Texas certified both ExpressVote and ExpressVoteXL.

Texas and Pennsylvania both used either the ES&S ExpressVote or ExpressVote XL in the 2020 elections in some of their counties.

Kentucky Uses ExpressVote

DCReport analyzed the election results in Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky. Our analysis was based on information from the Kentucky State Board of Elections website. They listed the ES&S voting machines used in Kentucky as a model called the iVotronic.

At some point after our Dec. 19 article, the list of ES&S equipment that had been used in the 2020 election was changed on the Kentucky government website. Kentucky now listed the equipment they used as made by ES&S but switched the specific product listed to ExpressVote.

DCReport verified with Jared Dearing, executive director of Kentucky Board of Elections, that the website had been updated, and that ES&S ExpressVote models were used in the 2020 General Election. Dearing stressed, “We recently updated our equipment to provide a voter-verified paper ballot system.”

Given expert concerns about the ability to hack the ES&S ExpressVote, Kentucky’s recent purchase of this equipment seems curious.

Dearing told a Kentucky House budget subcommittee that a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official meets with the Kentucky elections board every week to go over every attempt to break into Kentucky’s system, which gives him “sleepless nights.”

“We are routinely scanned by Venezuela, by North Korea, by Russia on a regular basis,” Dearing said. “This is not something that is in the past, that happened in 2016. It happens on a weekly basis.”

Dearing told this to the subcommittee in February 2020, months after the false results produced by ES&S equipment in Pennsylvania’s Northampton County.

Foreign Snooping

Given that bad actors worldwide are scanning Kentucky’s electronic elections systems, the choice of upgrading approximately 20% of Kentucky’s voting machines to the ES&S ExpressVote seems ill-suited at best. DCReport’s recent article about Texas and the bug they reported in their ES&S equipment adds to the concerns about their choice.

As part of their report, professors Appel, DeMillo and Stark warned that “hacking, bugs, and configuration errors can cause the BMDs to print votes that differ from what the voter entered and verified electronically.”

They explained further, “When computers are used to record votes, the original transaction (the voter’s expression of the votes) is not documented in a verifiable way. When pen-and-paper is used to record the vote, the original expression of the vote is documented in a verifiable way (if a demonstrably secure chain of custody of the paper ballots is maintained).”

Assurances by the Kentucky State Board of Elections that they use voter-verified paper ballots are intended to instill confidence. Instead, they may provide a false sense of security. On top of that, consider Kentucky has provided very little in the way of verifying the voting machines accurately counted ballots in the 2020 election.

The results that DCReport broke down in Breathitt, Elliott and Wolfe counties in Kentucky are still supported only by anecdotal evidence. But the experience in Northampton and the findings by the professors, among others, argue strongly for universal hand counts and an independent inquiry into the integrity of the voting machines used in Kentucky and other states.

‘Gold Standard’

Ion Sancho, an internationally recognized elections expert who was featured prominently in HBO documentaries on cyber-attacks on American elections in both 2006 and 2020, said, “Hand-marked paper ballots are the gold standard’ of election security — provided there’s an audit system to verify, afterward, that the machine totals match what the voters actually marked on ballots.”

Kentucky did not use hand-marked ballots and only did limited audits in 2020. Out of Kentucky’s 120 counties, only six were randomly audited. None of the three counties DCReport focused on was audited.

As Sancho points out, mandated audits are a critical step. While Kentucky updated their machines to have an auditable paper trail, that does nothing to ensure election integrity without actual audits of every voting precinct.

Voting technology: tweet by voter.

Vendors over Voters?

The concept that more costly sophisticated technological solutions will provide safer and more secure elections than human counted hand-marked ballots is a myth if we don’t apply the technology effectively.

Sancho further notes, “We need to look at the outcomes we need to achieve. You want to safeguard the process, not the product, to ensure safe and secure elections.” In our eagerness to embrace technology are we paying enough attention to securing the voters’ fundamental Constitutional right to have their ballots counted as cast?”

Looking at other countries, if we shift our approach from technology to paper, we won’t be alone. Secure Our Vote found that 15 countries had either tried electronic voting and switched back to paper by 2018, or like Canada explored electronic voting but decided to stick with paper.

Hand-marked paper ballots are distinct from BMD paper ballots. But also, the overall approach and the process differ.

The crucial distinction is this: Canada puts trust in people who are trained, paid, vetted and locked in a room together to count the votes with ballots that can be recounted if necessary.

America puts trust in technology vendors whose self-interests are served by assuring election officials that the election went well, all the while maximizing their profits, and providing very little transparency for Americans to be able to audit fully audit elections.

Featured image: Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau and family leave a polling station after voting in Montreal on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

**Correction: This replaces an earlier map.


The post In Counting Your Vote, Technology Can Bring As Many Problems as Solutions appeared first on

Trump’s EPA Is OK With Poisoning Children

Agency Extends Time for Utilities, Cities to Replace Lead Water Pipes

Sarah Okeson

Sarah Okeson

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing criminal charges for his role in poisoning people with lead in their drinking water in Flint, Mich. Yet the Trump EPA recently released a new rule that will allow another generation of children in our nation to grow up stunted by lead poisoning.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the rule that allows lead pipes to remain in drinking water systems for up to 33 years. The pipes were supposed to be replaced within 15 years under the 1991 rule the new rule replaces.

“After the Flint, Mich., disaster, Wheeler’s EPA had a chance to give environmental justice a win, as there is no safe level of level, and this issue disproportionately affects minority communities,” said Kyla Bennett, the chief scientist for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The dangers of lead pipes in drinking water systems were known more than a century ago.

The rule could be rescinded by Congress and the Biden administration under the Congressional Review Act . Congress, under the act, can roll back rules put in place in the last months of a previous administration.

In Michigan, Snyder and eight other former state officials have been charged criminally for failure to protect the safety and health of Flint residents. Snyder is facing two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty. He could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

In 2014, the city began drawing water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron to save money. The river water was more corrosive and caused lead to leach from the pipes. Six years later, Flint residents are still drinking bottled water. At least nine people died of Legionnaires’ disease.


ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Contact your senators or representative about rolling back the new rule.

Contact PEER at 202-265-7337 or


A December study by the Government Accountability Office found that areas with older housing and families in poverty have higher concentrations of lead pipes in their drinking water systems. The EPA doesn’t know how many homes have lead services lines, the pipes from the water main to the home. But the number is estimated at 6.1 million to 10 million nationwide.

The EPA, states and local water systems share the responsibility for providing safe drinking water, but the EPA is responsible for making information available to the public about lead in drinking water.

Lead was used widely in plumbing materials, including drinking-water service lines, until 1986, when the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to prohibit generally installing lead pipes. The dangers of lead pipes in drinking water systems were known more than a century ago, but the Lead Industries Association promoted using lead pipes and campaigned against bans.

Low levels of exposure to lead in children are linked to hyperactivity, anemia, lower IQs, physical and learning disabilities and slowed growth. In pregnant women, lead can be transmitted to the bones of the developing fetus. In adults, lead can lead to memory loss and high blood pressure. Bones can retain lead for decades.

The post Trump’s EPA Is OK With Poisoning Children appeared first on

A Positive Note from Merrill: "A light at the end of the COVID cave"

Here is a positive outlook on the 2021 economy.  

A few brief excerpts from a research note by Merrill Lynch Global Economist Ethan Harris: A light at the end of the COVID cave
Normally we write about COVID news in the back, but now it deserves front-page coverage; With COVID cases falling and vaccines accelerating, this is probably the beginning of the end of the COVID crisis. Here we argue:

• Renewed restrictions and the end to the holiday season seem to be bending the cases curve.

• The vaccine rollout should continue to accelerate as new resources and effort is put into the project.

• There is one major caveat: new more contagious strains have arrived in the US.
What does this mean for the economy? We continue to see upside risks to our above consensus forecast. We think the vulnerable population will be inoculated by March/April, cutting hospitalizations dramatically, and allowing a partial reopening. Michelle Meyer and team have already boosted their GDP forecast for 2021 from 4.6% to 5.0% based on a somewhat earlier and bigger stimulus package. Moreover, like most forecasters they have not incorporated the impact of a second package.

School choice under discussion in Vienna (video, in English and German)

 On Wednesday I spoke about school choice in Vienna.  (Here's the prospectus.)The video is below. (I start speaking around minute 9:30, in English, for 30 minutes, and the subsequent talk and discussion are in German.)


My understanding is that there will now be some opportunity for the scholars in Vienna to study the current (local) school assignment system used in Vienna, in conjunction with the schools administration.

Two Quick Links for Tuesday Morning

From Ibram X. Kendi, a list of The 10 Best Political Books of 2020 by Black Women. []

How do we get rid of hate speech and plans for insurrection on social media but keep joyful stuff like this? []


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

“The connection of my father and General Joseph Warren, M.D.”

In 1875, Bostonians were very excited about the Centennial of the start of the Revolutionary War. Naturally, that included the editorial staff of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal.

People at that magazine asked Dr. John Jeffries (1796-1876), whose father of the same name had grown up in Boston and lived through that war (albeit while supporting the Crown), what stories he’d heard. Those tales were of course secondhand since this man wasn’t born until more than a decade after the war. (He was in fact his father’s third son named John.)

In its 17 June 1875 issue, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal published the elderly doctor’s reply:
In compliance with your request that I should state what I know of the connection of my father and General Joseph Warren, M.D., with the battle of Bunker Hill, I have penned the following reminiscences derived from statements of my father, who, like Drs. Warren, [Isaac] Rand, and others of that time, had been a pupil of Dr. James Lloyd. . . .

Dr. Warren had sent to my father a message to meet him secretly at midnight at the end of the wharf of the Charlestown ferry. He accordingly met him shortly before the battle of Bunker Hill. Dr. Warren came over in a small boat, with muffled oars. His object was to induce my father to unite with the Continental army as a surgeon. This he urged upon him, offering him great inducements to accept.

The reply was, “I thought, Warren, that you knew me better. I would not take office under anybody. My motto is ‘Aut Cæsar aut nullus [Either Caesar or no one].’”

Warren then said, ”Don’t be so quick, Jeffries, I have a general’s commission in my pocket. We want you to be at the head of the medical service.” The offer, however, was declined.
Yesterday I quoted the much briefer version of the same story that had appeared half a century earlier in Samuel Swett’s history of Bunker Hill. That telling was an adjunct to the story of how Dr. Jeffries had helped to identify Dr. Warren’s body, a topic that the 1875 letter didn’t mention at all.

There are other small differences between the two versions of the story. Did Warren visit Boston to gather information or to recruit Dr. Jeffries? Did he come by “canoe” or in a rowboat with “muffled oars”? Was he expecting to become a major general soon or did he already have “a general’s commission in my pocket”? (Indeed, other sources indicate that Warren never received the official commission that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress voted to give him on 14 June.)

However, those discrepancies seem like the typical signs of a story getting a little more dramatic as it’s retold over the decades.

I think what strains credibility about this tale, in either version, is Dr. Jeffries’s basic claim.

TOMORROW: Crossing the line.

China’s iSpace advances with IPO plans, reusable launcher landing leg tests

Hot fire tests of the iSpace JD-1 engine in May 2020.

HELSINKI — Chinese private rocket firm iSpace is planning an IPO while also making progress on technology for a reusable launch vehicle.

Beijing-based iSpace is planning to file an initial public offering on the Science and Technology Innovation Board (STAR Market), a market established in 2019 to support tech companies.

STAR Market announced the move Jan.12 (Chinese) naming CITIC Securities and Tianfeng Securities as advisory firms.

The STIB was created to focus on companies in high-tech and strategic emerging sectors and support Chinese science and technology innovation, according to Xinhua.

Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., also known as iSpace, became the first nominally private Chinese company to launch a satellite into orbit in July 2019

The company’s Hyperbola-1 four-stage 20.8-meter-tall solid rocket sent two satellites into low Earth orbit after liftoff from Jiuquan, a national launch center.

Last year the company raised $173 million in series B round funding to back development of a new series of launch vehicles and reusable methalox engines. 

iSpace is currently developing a 28-meter-tall, 3.35-meter-diameter liquid oxygen-methane launcher named Hyperbola-2. 

Hyperbola-2 will be capable of delivering over 1,100 kilograms of payload into a 500-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit, or 800 kilograms when the first stage is to be recovered and reused. The launcher’s 15-ton thrust JD-1 engine completed a 200-second hot fire test last May

Chinese NewSpace rivals Landspace ( $175 million) and Galactic Energy ($29.9 million) also secured funding in 2020 as launch companies continue to attract interest and investment.

A 2014 central government policy shift opened the Chinese launch and small satellite sectors to private capital. Since then around 20 launch vehicle-related firms have been established in China.

These commercial launch companies are being supported by a national strategy of civil-military fusion. This includes facilitating the transfer of restricted technologies to approved firms in order to promote innovation in dual-use technology. The State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) oversees activities.

Provincial and local governments are also providing support for space companies as they look to attract high-end and emerging technology firms.

Reusable launch vehicles

Last week iSpace also announced progress in developing the reusable first stage of its Hyperbola-2 liquid methane-liquid oxygen propellant launch vehicle. 

The firm carried out tests of struts for landing legs of the first stage, including structural, dynamic and vibration tests, as well as performance in high and low temperatures. 

The components are designed to help absorb the impact of landing following powered descent. iSpace tested telescopic deployment arms for the landing legs in November (Chinese).

iSpace is planning to conduct hop tests, similar to those of the SpaceX Grasshopper tech demonstrator, in 2021, starting at the level of meters, followed by one-kilometer and 100-kilometer-altitude vertical launch and landing tests.

Landspace, Galactic Energy and Deep Blue Aerospace are also developing reusable liquid-propellant launchers. Landspace’s methalox Zhuque-2 is expected to make a first, expendable launch this year, before being converted for reusability. 

Galactic Energy and Deep Blue Aerospace, established after early starters Landspace and iSpace, are developing their respective Pallas-1 and Nebula-2 kerosene-liquid oxygen launch vehicles.

The companies are expected to compete for domestic commercial launch contracts, as well as potential international customers. They also face competition from China Rocket Co. Ltd, Expace and CAS Space, all spinoffs from giant state-owned entities. A recent call for space station cargo proposals from China’s human spaceflight agency however suggests that involvement in civil space projects is a possibility in the future.

China’s state-owned main space contractor, CASC, is also looking into reusability. It is expected to convert the Long March 8, which had an expendable test launch in December, for vertical takeoff, vertical landing by 2025.


Injecting a Backdoor into SolarWinds Orion

Crowdstrike is reporting on a sophisticated piece of malware that was able to inject malware into the SolarWinds build process:

Key Points

  • SUNSPOT is StellarParticle’s malware used to insert the SUNBURST backdoor into software builds of the SolarWinds Orion IT management product.
  • SUNSPOT monitors running processes for those involved in compilation of the Orion product and replaces one of the source files to include the SUNBURST backdoor code.
  • Several safeguards were added to SUNSPOT to avoid the Orion builds from failing, potentially alerting developers to the adversary’s presence.

Analysis of a SolarWinds software build server provided insights into how the process was hijacked by StellarParticle in order to insert SUNBURST into the update packages. The design of SUNSPOT suggests StellarParticle developers invested a lot of effort to ensure the code was properly inserted and remained undetected, and prioritized operational security to avoid revealing their presence in the build environment to SolarWinds developers.

This, of course, reminds many of us of Ken Thompson’s thought experiment from his 1984 Turing Award lecture, “Reflections on Trusting Trust.” In that talk, he suggested that a malicious C compiler might add a backdoor into programs it compiles.

The moral is obvious. You can’t trust code that you did not totally create yourself. (Especially code from companies that employ people like me.) No amount of source-level verification or scrutiny will protect you from using untrusted code. In demonstrating the possibility of this kind of attack, I picked on the C compiler. I could have picked on any program-handling program such as an assembler, a loader, or even hardware microcode. As the level of program gets lower, these bugs will be harder and harder to detect. A well-installed microcode bug will be almost impossible to detect.

That’s all still true today.

Boeing Starliner completes software requalification

WASHINGTON — Boeing has completed a requalification of software on its commercial crew spacecraft as it prepares to launch the vehicle on a second test flight as soon as late March.

Boeing announced Jan. 18 it completed a “formal requalification” of the software on its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. That work included reviews of the software itself as well as the processes by which Boeing developed and tested the software.

“The work this team put into exhaustively wringing out our software is a defining moment for the program,” John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Starliner, said in a company statement. “We’re smarter as a team having been through this process, and most importantly, we’re smarter as a human spaceflight community.”

Software problems were at the root of a flawed initial test flight, known as Orbital Flight Test (OFT), of the spacecraft in December 2019. Starliner’s timer was off by 11 hours, causing the spacecraft to think to think it was in a different mode of flight immediately after spacecraft separation. The spacecraft ended up using more fuel for its thrusters than planned to achieve orbit, ruling out a planned docking with the International Space Station.

Engineers then found a second software problem that could have caused the spacecraft’s service module to bump into the crew capsule after separation just before reentry. That risked damaging the capsule’s heat shield or causing the capsule’s orientation to become unstable. A software patch to correct the problem was installed just hours before reentry on that shortened test flight.

Boeing executives said two months after the OFT mission that they were revising their software development processes to address those issues. “We’re going to apply additional rigor to systems engineering and software development,” said John Mulholland, Starliner program manager at Boeing at the time.

An independent review of the OFT mission generated 80 recommendations, with software requirements, development and testing accounting for a large fraction of them. NASA said in December that Boeing had completed work on more than 90% of the recommendations.

Boeing is not finished with testing the Starliner software. Additional work is planned with United Launch Alliance to test integration of Starliner with its Atlas 5 launch vehicle, and with NASA to test joint operations with the ISS.

Boeing will also perform an end-to-end simulation of the upcoming second OFT mission, including complete testing of the software from prelaunch operations through docking, and from undocking to landing. Boeing acknowledged last year they didn’t do end-to-end software testing, instead breaking up the tests into smaller segments.

That next OFT flight, known as OFT-2, is scheduled for March 29. Boeing agreed last year to perform the second uncrewed test flight at its own expense to complete the testing of the spacecraft, including docking with the ISS, before flying astronauts on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) later this year.

That test flight could take place slightly earlier. Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters, said at a Jan. 13 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee that it may be possible to move up the launch to March 25, although NASA and Boeing have not made a formal decision on a revised launch date for OFT-2.

He praised Boeing for the work they have done to correct the problems with Starliner found during the original OFT mission. “They have certainly not taken their foot off the gas, and we continue to work with Boeing and get them ready for their OFT-2 flight,” he said.

If the OFT-2 mission is successful, the CFT mission would follow, sending astronauts Mike Fincke, Nicole Mann and Barry Wilmore to the ISS as soon as this summer. NASA previously contemplated extending the CFT mission from a couple weeks to as long as several months to maintain a U.S. presence on the ISS.

That extended CFT mission is unlikely now, McAlister said, with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in service. The Crew-1 mission is currently at the station and expected to remain there until May. Crew-2 is scheduled to launch in the spring, overlapping with Crew-1, while a third Crew Dragon mission, Crew-3, is planned for the fall.

“Now that SpaceX is operational, we don’t see the need to necessarily stress that,” he said, noting there was no official decision yet on the length of the CFT mission. “We’re thinking of making that a regular test flight.”


The evolution of cynicism

Free like a street dog: cynicism evolved from ‘dog philosophers’ such as Diogenes who rejected materialism and manners

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Natural and unnatural

‘Natural’ remedies are metaphysically inconsistent and unscientific. Yet they offer something that modern medicine cannot

By Alan Jay Levinovitz

Read at Aeon

Aurora Insight to launch cubesats for RF sensing

SAN FRANCISCO – Aurora Insight, a Denver startup that gathers data on terrestrial and satellite communications, plans to launch the first of two cubesats on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission scheduled for liftoff Jan. 22.

Satellite manufacturer NanoAvionics built the six-unit cubesats, Bravo and Charlie, and integrated them with Aurora Insight sensors.

“We deploy sensors at fixed sites like on buildings and in vehicles, on aircraft and on satellites,” Aurora Insight CEO Jennifer Alvarez told SpaceNews. “We continually take trillions of measurements that we process in the cloud. From this, we produce valuable information on RF spectrum and the networks that rely on it.”

Aurora Insight them sells the data and analytics to customers including wireless service providers, tower owners, telecommunications equipment manufacturers and government agencies. The company creates maps, for example, that show the availability of radio frequency spectrum and wireless infrastructure, measuring 5G, LTE, internet-of-things, 3G, 2G, Wi-Fi and TV signals.

Founded in 2016, Aurora Insight launched its first satellite in 2018, a technology demonstration to determine how well the firms proprietary sensor could detect terrestrial communications.

“For cellular base stations like LTE, antennas are tilted toward the ground to maximize signal usage and coverage,” Alvarez said. “The key challenge is receiving sufficient signal in space to sense the RF signal and provide analytics.”

When that initial technology demonstration was successful, Aurora Insight hired NanoAvionics to build Bravo and Charlie. Bravo was expected to launch first but is now scheduled for launch in a couple of months.

“Our Bravo and Charlie satellites have significantly more capabilities” than the first satellite, Alvarez said. “They will unlock new information about the wireless spectrum and the networks that rely on it.”

Aurora Insight plans to establish a constellation of 12 satellites to provide global coverage.

“We’re targeting having that global reach and being able to reach hard-to-monitor places like developing nations,” Alvarez said.

In addition to building the satellites based on its standard M6P bus, NanoAvionics was hired to provide launch and satellite operations.

“We’re here to help Aurora Insight get their instruments to space cost effectively and close their business case,” said NanoAvionics US CEO Brent Abbott.

NanoAvionics and Aurora Insight began working together in January 2020.

Aurora Insight executives made one trip to NanoAvionics headquarters in Lithuania, before the COVID-19 pandemic halted travel.

Still, the companies were able to work remotely to integrate the Aurora Insight payload with the NanoAvionics bus.

“It has been seamless,” Alvarez said.





How (not) to measure progress in science?

I’m a bit late to the party but I’ve been enjoying some Collison podcast backlog and realized I had more to say about the “diminishing returns of science” trope that does the rounds from time to time.

Simply stated, the thesis suggests that a variety of metrics employed to measure progress of science all seemingly concur that despite increasing numbers of PhDs and the net accumulation of knowledge, major new discoveries are few and far between, at least compared to science in prior ages.

For a process that’s devoted to discovering knowledge, science is poorly understood by nearly everyone, including scientists. It may not be surprising to find that GAAP metrics don’t neatly translate into an industry that has resolutely resisted market forces since the beginning of time, but there are less glib reasons why measuring progress in science is actually highly non-trivial.

I’m going to go into more detail later in this post, but the fundamental issue is that science is like Tetris, in that it’s both cumulative and self-compressing. Unlike, say, philosophy, the measure of a field’s maturity is the brevity of its textbooks and the unity of its underlying theoretical framework. With the benefit of hindsight, the discoveries of a century ago appear neatly ordered with the most (contingently) significant results retaining salience while the rest have slipped away.

Where do we start?

I first became aware of this idea being in the startup world around 2014, when Peter Thiel was giving talks such as this one.

I found that Thiel had somewhat limited insight here, though I recognize that a scientific background isn’t necessarily a requirement to contribute to this question. Still, comparing rate of financial return between venture capital and fundamental research is a bit gauche, particularly if one happens to be a VC. Of course, such comparisons will be made but it’s germane to begin with the requisite 45 minutes of throat clearing about Keynesian capital overabundance and selection bias.

That is, we don’t typically get lectures from failed (unlucky) VCs about the genius of the market. My rule of thumb is that if 5 sigma is good enough for particle physics, it’s good enough for VC as well. Anyone can get lucky once. Get lucky 5 times in a row and that’s more interesting.

I was more interested when Patrick Collison and Michael Neilson entered the arena in 2018, with an article in the Atlantic asking if science was stagnant.

I’ve met both men socially a couple of times and must begin by stating I have nothing but the highest respect for them personally, and their intentions in this endeavor. I also think that their suggested program of attempting more detailed study of this area is a damn good idea.

However, getting traction is difficult if the foundations are awry and there are aspects of the article that need further attention. Collison has collated other responses here so it’s gratifying that there is an ongoing conversation in this area. Certainly, science coming to a grinding halt is the stuff of civilizational nightmares.

Much of what I’ll write here may be obvious to some readers, perhaps less so to others. It seemed less obvious to me despite being familiar with these ideas for years and working in science for a decade or so, so I’m writing them down.

In summary, the article leans heavily on statistics and surveys about Nobel Prize-winning discoveries to make the case that despite exponentially increasing PhDs, publications, and science funding, few major discoveries have been made very recently.

At the risk of appearing a bit snarky, I would ask a hypothetical question: Over time Stripe has hired exponentially greater numbers of talented software engineers and yet has continued to ship about one product a year. Why?

To be fair, I could ask this of any software startup. The answer, of course, is that it’s complicated. Larger organizations move more slowly. Incremental growth in a market suffers diminishing returns. More ambitious products have more onerous compliance requirements. Competition. Technical debt.

To get a little deeper, like many ambitious companies Stripe has teams working on fairly fundamental research questions in cryptography and computer science. These team members are among the smartest, best resourced humans to have ever lived. How long until we get a Stripe publication that’s as significant as the Church-Turing Thesis?

This is a silly question, intended to provoke more than illuminate. But I think it underscores that progress in science is not purely an organizational problem. Academia is undoubtedly riven with dozens of major inefficiencies, some old and some new. I even wrote a whole book about ways in which assimilating this way of life can challenge humans. See the chapter on leaving academia for more information along these lines. The point is that even private research outside academia, despite enormous leaps in capability, doesn’t necessarily see itself as being in the Nobel Prize game.

And so, with that primer, we turn to the Nobel Prize. Awarded once a year in various fields for outstanding research, the prize itself has numerous well documented limitations. Using it as a mechanism to measure progress in science, no matter how well intentioned, is unlikely to result in deep insight. Doing so rests on a variety of flawed assumptions, chief among them being that science progress is conventionally measurable and the Nobel Prize performs that sort of measurement. Unfortunately, this is fairly far from the truth.

Before we tackle the salience of historical scientific research in general, it’s worth enumerating known biases in the Nobel Prize alone:
– Cadence of once a year, to at most three living participants, doesn’t scale with increased number of scientists, increased lifespans, or scale of scientific research.
– Nobel Committee is notoriously, and increasingly, conservative, reliably shunning certain demographics.
– Nobel Committee strongly prefers established results, meaning that in general old scientists get prizes for work they did when much younger, often work that may not have seemed that significant at the time.
– Scientists who die, or leave the field, or leave science, never get prizes.
– Women hardly ever win, particularly in physics.
– Standards and practices on the Committee have changed over time.
– Standards and practices of science outside the Committee have changed over time.

Earlier in the article, however, Collison and Nielson talk about a survey which asked scientists to evaluate which of a pair of given Nobel Prize discoveries were more significant. This approach ameliorates some of the peculiarities of the Prize system, however as designed cannot give unequivocal evidence. Science is progressive, and later results build on earlier ones. The significance, and salience, of earlier discoveries is enhanced, or overshadowed, by later ones in the same area.

Judging the relative merit of the discovery of the neutron or the Higgs Boson is a pointless exercise. The Higgs is the final page of a story that began with the neutron, a story that involves the contributions of at least tens of thousands of scientists, most unknown even to their own close families. If the Higgs had been discovered before the neutron, it would be more significant by far! So in some ways the question as posed asks “which of these discoveries was made first?” Are we so surprised to find that answers to this question, averaged and graphed, are biased to the left?

Collison and Nielson’s article follows this by talking about the lack of Earth-shaking discoveries, such as Einstein’s final formulation of General Relativity in 1915. Today that seems like as good a date as any to bake a cake with equations on it, but the reality for working scientists is that the ways in which GR “radically changed our understanding of space, time, mass, energy, and gravity” began, in many ways, with Maxwell in the 1870s and continue to the present day. There were several other prominent mathematicians (Hilbert among them) also working on similar geometric formulations of gravity, while GR was not widely accepted in physics for decades. Many of the more interesting cosmological consequences were not appreciated until the universe was found to be expanding and the cosmic microwave background (CMB) discovered, and details are still being actively researched today. I worked in this field for five years and I am 100% certain that by 2050, 90% of what I learned will be utterly irrelevant, I just have no way of knowing what.

The article discusses (and largely rejects) the idea that science is reaching a point of diminishing returns because all the easy stuff has been found and we’re approaching a more-or-less complete knowledge of nature. The death of physics has been predicted in the past, just prior to the discovery of quantum mechanics. It’s true that subfields of physics wax and wane depending on funding priorities and the somewhat stochastic fine-grained nature of discovery. Nuclear physics has run out of superpowers and high energy physics has certainly run out of big accelerators for the time being. But grad students and postdocs are highly fungible and may be counted on to reliably find the next big thing. Just because we haven’t yet digested the significance of the body of knowledge produced by our own generation doesn’t mean that it’s intrinsically worthless.

The article closes with a brief discussion of the idea of productivity slowdown. Economists measuring nation-state level productivity find that gains in per-person productivity in the US and other developed nations have largely tailed off since their peaks between post WW2 1950s-1970s. Obviously at this scale economic behavior is multifactorial (to say the least) but the specific mention of the Concord as a false harbinger does highlight the omission of the single most glaring factor in economic changes in the last quarter of the 20th century: the loss of predictably cheap oil. If I’m right, exploding capacity and plunging electricity costs currently occurring due to developments in photovoltaics and batteries will reverse this trend and enable supersonic air travel. We’ll see before we’re old!

Finally, let’s talk about the single most troubling aspect of the science progress measurement problem. Science is axiomatically different from nearly every other human pursuit, in that it’s cumulative and self-compressing. Scientists often joke that if they’re lucky they’ll get a Nature paper in a career – a single really solid bit of research that, years later, will be half a paragraph or a footnote in a textbook. Scientific progress often isn’t measured in pages of text produced, but pages of text removed. A great insight will allow two previously disparate phenomena to be understood under the same concept, and thus, the knowledge is compressed.

So when we attempt to measure the salience of the net contribution of an individual historical scientist today, it’s very difficult to propagate that distribution forwards or backwards in time, or to analyse it in isolation to other contemporary work. This is not simply a matter of bunging a bunch of weights into the Perron-Frobenius model and redoing PageRank. Everything is contingent.

I will, however, suggest a useful mental model. Imagine that the contribution of individual scientists can be modeled with a power law distribution. Landau actually tried to do something like this, for real.

Over time the rankings will shift and the absolute value will rise and fall but, generally speaking, salience falls with time, and often for reasons beyond any individual’s control, and often for reasons unrelated to the intrinsic quality or utility of that person’s work. Within someone’s career, if their salience is consistently high and the gods are favorable, the Swedish Committee may bestow The Prize but in many ways this is an inherently (and inconsistently) biased sample of an already biased probability distribution.

This all seems a bit handwavey, so I’ll give a concrete example.

I studied physics as an undergrad in building A28 at the University of Sydney. Built in 1920, its striking facade is decorated with the debossed names of famous physicists of the time. Einstein is not listed. Indeed, 1920 predates almost all of quantum mechanics and subatomic physics. It is a fun exercise to read “Anathem” by Neal Stephenson and map all the renamed physics in there to relatively obscure physics arcana in our own universe.

As someone who has read a couple of undergraduate physics textbooks, I could associate each of the names with an effect or equation, but I would be surprised if non-physicists knew any of the names, which are: Archimedes, Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Huyghens, Dalton, Fresnel, Fourier, Carnot, Faraday, Maxwell, Helmholtz, Kelvin, Boltzmann, Roentgen, and Bessel. I challenge the interested reader to write a paragraph, from memory, on the key contributions of each of these people.

For the purposes of this blog, I decided to research who did what and when, and it turns out that nearly all these physicists made their discoveries between 1800 and 1850, which is to say, 70-120 years before the building was built. A more comprehensive list of physicists active during this period can be found here. Attentive readers will have noticed that Collison and Nielson’s primary thesis is that exciting discoveries in physics dried up by 1950, 70 years ago. Coincidence, or perhaps low confidence in one’s ability to predict the long term value of recent discoveries isn’t a new phenomenon?

To take just one example, consider Thomas Young, who is best known today for the classic double slit experiment. A renowned polymath “who made notable contributions to the fields of vision, light, solid mechanics, energy, physiology, language, musical harmony, and Egyptology.” Widely considered to be the smartest working scientist of his generation, though apparently not good enough for the facade of A28. Best known today for an experiment that can be repeated by a four year old with a cheap laser. And yet in his own lifetime, despite considerable talents, he struggled as well as anyone else to wrest knowledge from the unordered chaos of the universe.

Science is a largely artisanal endeavor whose discoveries are always made by a huge number of people working in parallel. Tiny pieces of the puzzle are worked out by people who, in many cases, remain unaware of the other’s existence. The lucky few get an obscure equation named after them. Measuring the rate of equation naming is not a good way to understand the progress of science!

So how might we go about measuring the progress of science?

To take a utilitarian perspective, I think it’s fairly widely agreed that the human condition, both individually and collectively, has improved markedly over the last century. Amongst many others, Human Progress has collated impressive datasets showing rapid, and accelerating, improvement in key indicators such as hunger, poverty, literacy, freedom, life expectancy, exposure to violence, and access to markets. For sure, much of the improvement can be attributed to wider implementation of existing technology, and in some cases rather antique technology at that.

Food scarcity was largely (and unexpectedly) solved in the 20th century with the invention of the Haber process (1913) and Berlaug’s dwarf wheat (1950s), which were widely deployed within decades.

There is no doubt in my mind, however, that on a per-minute or per-smile basis, the material resources my contemporaries enjoy are overwhelmingly the result of new inventions, which is to say, new applications of relatively recently discovered science. The most transformative of these are personal computers and the internet, but I am convinced that we’re not even half way through chapter one of that story.

Manufacturing and automation are also salient examples. One could argue that there’s no reason that, for example, Tesla cars couldn’t have been built on a Ford production line in 1920 (perhaps without the autopilot and computer screen) but that would require overlooking the vast foundation of incremental knowledge gains necessary to make something as banal (and alien!) as a lithium battery cell for only $1.50 – cheaper than a loaf of bread.

A more thorough accounting premised on applied utility will show, I believe, accelerating scientific knowledge generation, diffusion, and application for the improvement of the human condition in every corner of the globe.

*Bettering Humanomics: A New, and Old, Approach to Economic Science*

That is the new, forthcoming book from Deirdre McCloskey.  Due out in April, Amazon link here, home page here.  The introduction and TOC is here.

The post *Bettering Humanomics: A New, and Old, Approach to Economic Science* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Three views from Mussel Rock

Three views from Mussel Rock

Mussel Rock is a short ways up the coast from Mori Point.

Felix Camilo Ayala, RIP

He was an indigenous, Nahuatl-speaking Mexican painter in the “Naive” tradition, working on board, amate paper, and ceramics.  Some of you will know that I was his biographer, along with his two brothers Marcial Camilo and Juan Camilo, both painters as well.  I spent many hours interviewing Felix Camilo (and his friends and relatives) about the events of his life, so it is especially sad for me to see such a tragic final episode, namely death by Covid in his mid-sixties.  He simply was not able to breathe any more, and then he died.

Felix was less ambitious than his brothers, but he had a natural eye for a lovely scene.  Pretty much everyone in San Agustin Oapan, his home village, liked or loved him, and such general popularity there is rare.  He worked hard to avoid faction, to stay on good terms with all, and to raise his children after his wife passed away almost thirty years ago.

Here is an update on the coronavirus situation in Mexico:

Officials reported 1,219 deaths Saturday, which was a near-record for one day, and 463 deaths Sunday.

Mexico has now seen over 1.64 million total infections and registered over 140,000 deaths so far in the pandemic. With the country’s extremely low testing rate, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.

Here is some basic background on Felix Camilo, his village, and my involvement with it.  These days, one of my friends in Oapan estimates that about two percent of the village has died from Covid, and about half of those are relatively young.  There are many comorbidities and no medical care to speak of.

Here are a few other Felix Camilo images.  He was never a famous painter, but he played a significant part in capturing and communicating a culture that is vanishing rapidly.

The post Felix Camilo Ayala, RIP appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system achieves orbit

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne successfully ignites its engine moments after being dropped by a carrier aircraft to begin its flight toward orbit. Credit: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne successfully ignites its engine moments after being dropped by a carrier aircraft to begin its flight toward orbit. Credit: Virgin Orbit

After several hours filled with hopeful anticipation, California-based company Virgin Orbit successfully air-launched its LauncherOne rocket Jan. 17 over the Mojave Desert.

Virgin Orbit confirmed in a series of tweets that the launch vehicle successfully separated from the company’s 747 carrier aircraft “Cosmic Girl” at 11:39 a.m. PST (7:39 p.m. UTC) and had begun the climb to space.

There was confirmation of a successful orbit, however the company initially appeared to remain silent on whether the second stage burn of rocket had been achieved in order to release its payloads into nominal orbit.

The company later confirmed in a tweet that, after several hours, the payloads aboard LauncherOne began transmitting data to the ground.

Known as Launch Demo 2, this flight was conducted in partnership with NASA as part of its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa-20) series, awarded to Virgin Orbit via the Venture Class Launch Services program.

The program was created in part to help accelerate the design, development, testing and operation of new commercial launch vehicles such as LauncherOne. The vehicle carried nine CubeSats from eight universities, as well as a CubeSat experiment from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. This was the first time LauncherOne carried payloads for a customer.

This flight comes after the first demonstration mission of LauncherOne, which subsequently failed a few seconds after being released from Cosmic Girl on May 25, 2020.

Being that the first flight was considered a test of both the launch vehicle and the launch integration system with the 747, the mission itself was considered a success as valuable data was collected in order to implement design improvements to the launch system.

Virgin Orbit used the data gathered from the first flight to help ensure that LauncherOne’s second flight proceeded nominally.

Launch Demo 2 was originally scheduled to fly in mid-December. However, several events needed to occur before the flight itself took place.

The last event leading up to the final checkout before launch was the wet dress rehearsal for both LauncherOne and Cosmic Girl. However, this had to be scrubbed as contact tracing for the pandemic prompted several precautionary quarantines.

The company announced in January that more extreme measures had been taken in order to safeguard both Virgin Orbit’s employees and the launch schedule, and the wet dress rehearsal aboard Cosmic Girl had since been successfully conducted.

Among the payloads that hitched a ride to orbit include nine CubeSats. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette flew its student-designed CAPE-3 satellite which aims to put ground tracking stations into the hands of anyone with a smartphone. Students will be able to conduct experiments with the CubeSat via an app on their smartphones.

California Polytechnic University sent EXOCUBE-2 into space, which is designed to measure atomic and ionic substances in the exosphere.

CubeSats from Capital Technology University, the University of Michigan, Brigham Young University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Central Florida also hitched a ride into space.

LauncherOne’s successful flight marks only the second time a rocket of its class has successfully reached orbit. Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus launch vehicle uses a similar insertion technique; being carried to 40,000 feet aboard a modified L1011 aircraft.

Virgin Orbit is also in direct competition with smaller launch vehicles such as Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. While LauncherOne carries a bit heavier price tag than Rocket Lab’s flight-proven system, it does provide a bigger payload to orbit capability.

Another advantage LauncherOne has over traditional launch vehicles is a decreased likelihood of a scrub due to weather.

Since LauncherOne is launched at altitude from a 747, the main weather constraints facing the vehicle are winds aloft. Even so, the system can theoretically take flight from any runway in the world as long as it provides sufficient length for a 747 takeoff.

Video courtesy of Virgin Orbit

The post Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system achieves orbit appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

[Sponsor] Honk

Honk is the new real-time messenger that displays what you and your friends type in real time. With no send button and no chat history, it’s the closest a chat can feel to a real life conversation. Since launching at the end of 2020, users have typed over 250 million characters on Honk.

To get someone’s attention, Honk them. Once you’ve typed a message, clear it, and it’s gone forever. Express yourself will full-screen emojis. Personalize everything, from nicknames for your contacts to chat themes and more. Honk is fast, fun, private, and built to make messaging — even from a distance — feel like talking face-to-face.

Download Honk from the App Store.


Will Joe Biden’s fiscal stimulus overheat the American economy?

Policymakers seem determined to test its speed limits

A Lunar Corona with Jupiter and Saturn

Why does a cloudy moon sometimes appear colorful? Why does a cloudy moon sometimes appear colorful?

January 18 COVID-19 Test Results

Note: Holiday data is always light. But it is possible the 7-day average cases has peaked. Stay safe! I'm looking forward to not posting this data in a few months.

The US is now averaging close to 2 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to be under 5% (probably close to 1%), so the US has far too many daily cases - and percent positive - to do effective test-and-trace.

There were 2,079,206 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 150,385 positive tests.

Over 53,000 US deaths have been reported so far in January. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

COVID-19 Tests per Day and Percent PositiveClick on graph for larger image.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 7.2% (red line is 7 day average).  The percent positive is calculated by dividing positive results by total tests (including pending).

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. (updated link to new site)

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayThe second graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported and daily hospitalizations.

It is possible cases and hospitalizations have peaked, but are still at a very high level.   

Apple’s MLK Quote

Martin Luther King Jr.:

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.