Reactions in a Moment

We’re recording a quick podcast of reactions. I’ll share my thoughts on the debate momentarily.

NHC Eastern North Pacific Outlook

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


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
500 PM PDT Tue Sep 29 2020

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

The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on recently
upgraded Tropical Storm Marie, located several hundred miles south
of the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.

1. An area of low pressure could form a few hundred miles south of the
coast of southwestern Mexico in a few days. Thereafter, some slow
development is possible over the weekend while the system moves
west-northwestward at 5 to 10 mph.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...20 percent.

Public Advisories on Marie are issued under WMO header WTPZ33 KNHC
and under AWIPS header MIATCPEP3.
Forecast/Advisories on Marie are issued under WMO header WTPZ23
KNHC and under AWIPS header MIATCMEP3.

Forecaster Blake

Wednesday: ADP Employment, Q2 GDP, Chicago PMI, Pending Home Sales

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

• At 8:15 AM, The ADP Employment Report for September. This report is for private payrolls only (no government). The consensus is for 605,000 jobs added, up from 428,000 in August.

• At 8:30 AM, Gross Domestic Product, 2nd quarter 2020 (Third estimate). The consensus is that real GDP decreased 31.7% annualized in Q2, unchanged from the second estimate of -31.7%.

• At 9:45 AM, Chicago Purchasing Managers Index for September. The consensus is for a reading of 52.0, up from 51.2 in August.

• At 10:00 AM, Pending Home Sales Index for August. The consensus is 3.2% increase in the index.

Debate Live Blogging

9:47 PM: One critical thing to remember here is that President Trump is behind. He needs to shift the dynamic. Even at its best for Trump this is not changing any dynamic.

9:32 PM: That part from a few moments with Biden saying can you believe him after all his lies, how he hasn’t leveled with you about how he blew it at the beginning. That was the clearest part of the whole debate.

9:25 PM: I’m seeing a lot of people complaining about Chris Wallace, saying Trump is dominating the debate. That’s not what I’m seeing. Trump is taking up more time. But I don’t think he’s helping himself.

9:05 PM: And here we go … Trump hard mad mugging from the start.

9:03 PM: He’s been decent in debates. But can’t forget that this first off debate is hosted by the top host from Fox News.

AFDSGX September 29, 5:20pm

FXUS66 KSGX 300020 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion...Updated National Weather Service San Diego CA 520 PM PDT Tue Sep 29 2020 .SYNOPSIS... High pressure aloft will bring hot and very dry conditions through Thursday with the the heat extending almost to the coast Wednesday. The return of onshore flow and weakening of high pressure aloft will bring a cooling trend Friday through early next week, but with high temperatures remaining above average. Areas of night and morning coastal low clouds and fog will gradually return and spread farther inland this weekend and early next week.

AFDLOX September 29, 5:10pm

FXUS66 KLOX 300010 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion...UPDATED National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 510 PM PDT Tue Sep 29 2020 updated aviation discussion .SYNOPSIS...29/143 PM. Strong high pressure along with decreasing marine layer influence and light offshore flow will result in hot temperatures in most areas through the end of the week. Wednesday and Thursday will be the hottest days with temperatures as high as the upper 90s to triple digits in the valleys, and 80s to around 100 for coastal areas. Temperatures will begin to cool by Friday but will remain well above normal through the weekend.

GW Orionis: A Star System with Titled Rings

Triple star system GW Orionis appears to demonstrate Triple star system GW Orionis appears to demonstrate

Epic Games Is an Unreliable Narrator

Epic Games, in a support document published back on September 9:

Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Epic Games accounts using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020. If you have previously used “Sign In with Apple”, please update your Epic Games account email address and password immediately so that you can still login after September 11, 2020.

And on Twitter, from their Fortnight Status account:

Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Fortnite using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020. If you used “Sign In with Apple”, please make sure your email and password are up to date.

(And a nearly identical tweet from the Unreal Engine account.)

This smelled funny to me from the start, as it made no sense from Apple’s perspective. Shutting Epic off from Sign In With Apple wouldn’t penalize or punish Epic — it would only punish players who used (and trusted) Sign In With Apple (SIWA herewith) to create their accounts. It would punish only Fortnite players, and cause reputational harm among developers to the dependability of SIWA. (“Piss Apple off and they might spitefully shut off your SIWA users.”)

Worth noting: Apple publicly stated that it was not doing anything to stop SIWA from working for Epic. Epic wound up changing their help document to the following:

Apple previously stated they would terminate “Sign In With Apple” support for Epic Games accounts after September 11, 2020, but today provided an indefinite extension.

I haven’t written about this until now, but I was reminded of it by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’s disparagement of Epic Games’s honesty during yesterday’s hearing. I spent a few hours back on September 9 digging into this SIWA story, and multiple sources at Apple told me Epic’s claims were simply false. There was never a September 11 deadline for their SIWA support to stop working, and in fact, Apple’s SIWA team performed work to make sure SIWA continued working for Fortnite users despite the fact that Epic Games’s developer account had been revoked. There was no “extension” because Apple was never going to revoke Epic’s SIWA access.

At this point, Epic has passed the “Fool me once, shame on you …” point of the proverb.


NHC Atlantic Outlook

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


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
800 PM EDT Tue Sep 29 2020

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

1. A tropical wave located over the central Caribbean Sea is expected
to move westward over the next few days and interact with a frontal
system, producing a broad area of low pressure over the western
Caribbean Sea on Friday. Environmental conditions are forecast to
be conducive for some additional development thereafter, and a
tropical depression could form over the weekend while the system
moves slowly west-northwestward over the northwestern Caribbean Sea.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...medium...60 percent.

Forecaster Stewart

Judge Excoriates Epic’s Dishonesty in Hearing Regarding Lawsuit Against Apple

Brian Fung, reporting for CNN on yesterday’s three-hour hearing over Zoom:

Judge Gonzalez Rogers looked skeptically at many of Epic’s claims, explicitly telling the company several times in the hearing she was not persuaded by its arguments or its strategy. Epic knew that it was breaching its contract with Apple when it published the update, but did it anyway, she said, accusing the company of dishonesty.

Apple has justified its app store policies partly as a way to protect consumers from security risks and malicious software. Epic has countered that it is a credible business that has been on the iOS App Store for years and poses no security threat. But Gonzalez Rogers said that is not the issue.

“You did something, you lied about it by omission, by not being forthcoming. That’s the security issue. That’s the security issue!” Gonzalez Rogers told Epic. “There are a lot of people in the public who consider you guys heroes for what you guys did, but it’s still not honest.”

This was a long hearing — I enjoyed Fung’s notes on Twitter, as well as Financial Times reporter Patrick McAgee’s. Some highlights from McAgee’s Twitter thread:

Judge YGR says it’s complicated, “we are in a new world — they don’t call this The Wild West for nothing.” Says: walled gardens have existed for 4 decades. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all had/have them. “What Apple is doing is not much different … they created a platform.”

[Epic lawyer] Bornstein says the economics of consoles are different: “Consoles are sold at a loss, so their 30% is very different from (Apple’s) 30%.”

Judge YGR: “Well plaintiffs always want me to define relevant markets as narrowly as possible. It helps their case. And defendants always want me to define markets as broad as possible, because it helps their case.” […]

YGR: “The 30% of what you complain seems to be the industry rate, right? Steam charges 30%. Microsoft: 30% … If you go to consoles: PlayStation, Xbox Nintendo all charged 30%. Physical stores: GameStop, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart all charge 30%. Apple and Google charged 30%. It’s all 30%, and you just want to gloss over it. You don’t want to address it,” Judge YGR says. […]

Epic’s Bornstein says alternatives to the smartphone have their own constraints. “For example you can’t play an Xbox when you are, you know, on a bus.”

YGR: “You can’t play, but you can play on a Switch.”

Basically, Epic’s lawyers seem to think Judge Gonzalez Rogers is a dummy, but she most certainly is not a dummy. She seems to take the angle I’ve taken all along: Apple runs iOS as an app console, and it doesn’t hold water for Epic to argue that the Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch game platforms are fine, but Apple’s app platform is not.


CPHC Central North Pacific Outlook

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


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center Honolulu HI
200 PM HST Tue Sep 29 2020

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

No tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5 days.

Forecaster Almanza/Kino

September 29 COVID-19 Test Results

The US is now mostly reporting over 700,000 tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections, so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).

There were 744,476 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 36,947 positive tests.

Over 22,000 Americans have died from COVID so far in September. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

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

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 5.0% (red line is 7 day average).

For the status of contact tracing by state, check out

And check out COVID Exit Strategy to see how each state is doing.

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

The dashed line is the June low.

Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed (the percent positive was very high - see first graph). By June, the percent positive had dropped below 5%.

If people stay vigilant, the number of cases might drop to the June low some time in October (that would still be a large number of new cases, but progress).

Space Force weighing options to modernize ground antennas for military satellites

WASHINGTON – In a test this summer at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, an electronically steered phased array antenna made by Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace communicated with four military satellites across multiple orbits.

This was a demonstration of a technology the U.S. Space Force might use in the future to replace the aging network of parabolic dish antennas located around the globe used to fly military satellites. 

“This was the first operational demo of the Multi-Band Multi-Mission program to modernize the Space Force satellite control network,” Col. Rhet Turnbull told SpaceNews.

The Multi-Band Multi-Mission program is one of several that Turnbull oversees as the director of the Cross Mission Ground and Communications Enterprise at the Space and Missile Systems Center. 

“We were able to do four simultaneous contacts across multiple orbital regimes at different frequencies,” he said. 

The Lockheed Martin/Ball Aerospace antenna, about the size of a large conference table, is one of two systems being evaluated under the Multi-Band Multi-Mission program. The other is a phased array antenna from L3Harris that will be tested in the coming days, Turnbull said. The companies received contracts from the Defense Innovation Unit in April 2019 to develop antenna prototypes. 

Turnbull said phased array antennas that can maintain contact with multiple satellites are one option being considered to replace 15 existing dish antennas that can only talk to one satellite at a time. 

The antennas are located at “remote tracking stations” at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; Royal Air Force Station Oakhanger, United Kingdom; the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean; Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; Kaena Point, Hawaii; New Boston Air Force Station, New Hampshire; and Thule Air Base, Greenland.

The Space Force operates about 77 satellites but more will be deployed in the coming years so the current network of antennas doesn’t have enough capacity. “Phased array technology to control multiple satellites across multiple orbits is something we’ll need in the future,” said Turnbull. “We’re launching a lot of new capabilities and they all need to be commanded and controlled from the ground.”

The Space Force, however, has not yet decided what type of electronically steered antennas it will buy for the satellite control network. “We still have a lot of work to do in assessing what’s affordable,” said Turnbull.

The likely solution, he said, will be a mix of new phased array antennas, commercial services and sharing agreements to use antenna capacity from other U.S. government agencies.

“We’re doing a study on what we want to go build,” said Turnbull. “The most cost effective would be a huge antenna that can talk to 30 to 40 satellites at once, but that also becomes a single point of failure.”

Under a program called “commercial augmentation services,” Turnbull’s office is looking at options such as leasing capacity from commercial vendors. It also is working on a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use the agency’s antennas that have excess capacity.

“To fly the missions that we’ll be launching, we’ll need civil, commercial systems, something like Multi-Band Multi-Mission in addition to the existing systems we have today,” Turnbull said.


NASA and SpaceX wrapping up certification of Crew Dragon

Demo-2 splashdown

WASHINGTON — NASA and SpaceX are finalizing reviews of minor changes to the Crew Dragon spacecraft that they expect will be complete before the first operational mission launches to the International Space Station at the end of October.

During a series of press conferences Sept. 29 about the upcoming Crew-1 mission to the ISS, officials said they were incorporating lessons learned from the Demo-2 flight of the Crew Dragon this summer into the design of the spacecraft.

One issue involves the heat shield on the spacecraft. “We found on a tile a little bit more erosion than we wanted to see,” said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX. The problem appeared to be with how air flowed around “tension ties,” or bolts that link the capsule to the trunk section of the spacecraft that is jettisoned just before reentry. “We saw some flow phenomenon that we really didn’t expect, and we saw erosion to be deeper than we anticipated.”

He emphasized that erosion was limited to a very small area of the heat shield, and didn’t put the Demo-2 crew in jeopardy. “It’s relatively easy to fix,” he said, by using a more erosion-resistant material for the tiles around the four tension ties. That change was tested in an arcjet chamber at the Ames Research Center last week “and it came out great.”

A second issue was with parachute deployment, which took place within what Koenigsmann called the “allowable box” for reentry but a little lower than expected. SpaceX is changing an instrument that uses barometric pressure to determine altitude to correct the problem.

Those changes have been the major issues before NASA formally certifies the Crew Dragon spacecraft for operational missions. “The big chunk of the certification is in those upgrades,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations. Other focus areas include new capabilities added to the Crew-1 mission, such as being able to dock with two different ports on the station.

Most of the rest of the certification work is completed, she said, including a program-level certification review. “We’re just in the process of finalizing the last few pieces of our documentation needed to close our human rating certification plans,” she said, work she expected to completed in the next week to 10 days. A “final final” certification will take place at the flight readiness review for the Crew-1 mission, about a week before launch.

Another change for the Crew-1 mission will address an issue after splashdown on the Demo-2 mission, when dozens of private boats swarmed around the spacecraft. Koenigsmann said NASA and SpaceX is closely coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard to maintain a 16-kilometer “keep out zone” around the splashdown site, to be patrolled by additional Coast Guard vessels.

The Crew Dragon mission that will fly the Crew-1 mission features other upgrades, including the ability to support four people and remain in orbit for 210 days. The spacecraft also features an improved backshell that will increase the wind limits for reentry, said Anthony Vareha, the lead NASA flight director for the mission. For Demo-2, he said, there was just one chance in seven of having acceptable winds, but “we got it right on the first try.” For Crew-1, that will improve to one in four.

The day before the briefings, NASA announced it was delaying the Crew-1 launch by eight days to Oct. 31. Part of the reason for the slip was to wrap up that certification work, as well as provide more time between the arrival and departure of Soyuz spacecraft in mid-October and the Crew-1 mission. “It’s a very busy October for us,” Lueders said.

Another factor in the announcement in the delay was to provide more time to track down an air leak on the station. Shortly before the briefings started, NASA announced the rate of the leak had increased, and had been isolated to the Zvezda module in the station. “We think there’s something going on there,” said Kenny Todd, deputy manager of the ISS program at NASA.

That leak does not pose a safety issue for the crew, and Todd said additional air bottles will be flown to the station on a Cygnus cargo spacecraft scheduled for launch Oct. 1. It also should not affect the Crew-1 mission, he added. “We’ll be OK out to the spring of next year” based on the current leak rate, he said. “This is not necessarily a near-term problem, as long as the leak rate stays at where it’s at today.”

The four astronauts who will fly on the Crew-1 mission — NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi — said they were ready for the flight, having finished all their training for the mission except for a few final simulator sessions. The astronauts announced that, following the tradition of the Demo-2 mission, where astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley named their Crew Dragon spacecraft “Endeavour,” they had selected the name “Resilience” for their spacecraft.

“I think all of us can agree that 2020 has certainly been a challenging year,” Hopkins said. “The name ‘Resilience’ is really in honor of the SpaceX and NASA teams and, quite frankly, it’s in honor of our families, our colleagues, our fellow citizens, international partners and leaders, who have all shown that same quality, that same characteristic through these difficult times.”


Two Quick Links for Tuesday Afternoon

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning is an upcoming book in which Tom Vanderbilt teaches himself 5 new skills (chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling) and rediscovers the joy of learning. []

The pandemic has revealed the limitations of America's cult of individual freedom (vs collective action), stranding its citizens with few good choices. "Our only liberty is to choose among a menu of awful options." []


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 Poverty of Debating. Especially This One.

Our whole team will be bringing you full coverage of tonight’s debate. And I will too. I confess though I find it a funny thing to cover. Biden is a policy-knowledgable, well-meaning guy who’s been in elected office most of his adult life. Trump is a compulsive liar with little interest in or knowledge about any policy question currently working to delegitimize the election itself.

Both will play to form because neither are capable of doing otherwise.

This means that what we are watching, what we are all collectively evaluating are the possibilities of unpredictable events and the general optics and how those impact the very small number of voters who are not strongly committed to either candidate. It’s almost impossible that any of these ‘events’ will have any substantive bearing on how either man would serve as President.

And yet, as we know they can have a big impact.

So what this really means is that we will be watching to analyze second order reactions by a tiny group of voters and perhaps even more how partisans will exploit or use (pick your word) them to nudge those voters into either camp or lock down those who need locking down.

I believe in politics and that’s what politics is. Only good government chin scratchers think this or a campaign is supposed to be a deep ranging debating about the economics of health care provision. This is what politics is. That’s what civic and democratic life are. So I’m not tsk-tsking anyone or anything. It’s simply that in this particular moment – when the stakes are so high, when the candidates are so known, when the facts are really just out there – we’re just so deep into second and third order speculation, narrative creation and spin that it’s hard to know what there there really is there at all.

This is all the more because Trump, singularly, believes in disruption and stunts.

Trump will do nonsensical and gross stunts. We’ll try to make sense of whether they help him. Will Biden’s expressions of compassion help him? It’s just hard to know. But Trump’s a degenerate liar and Biden’s a compassionate person. Those are the fundamentals. Sometimes they’re hard to get beyond.

See you in a few hours.

Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen

In this experimental feature-length film that played at Cannes in 2012, director György Pálfi constructed a love story using clips from 450 films that span nearly the entire history of cinema. I was afraid this would be gimmicky, but it’s so well constructed and so smoothly adheres to the tropes of romantic movies that I got totally sucked in. It reminded me a lot of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, a 24-hour film made from hundreds (thousands?) of other movies and TV shows where the on-screen action is synced to the viewer’s time of day. (via waxy)

Tags: Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen   movies   remix   video

Links 9/29/20

Links for you. Science:

Brigham and Women’s COVID-19 cluster illustrates challenges in controlling infection
Here’s How the Pandemic Finally Ends
At the Brigham, ‘battle-weary’ staff may have allowed virus to slip in
COVID-19 is political, so scientists should be too. I ran for Congress because it needs more scientists. But that’s just one of many ways we can have more influence on our government.
A pair of Octopus cyanea on a date among the dunes


This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy.
There Is Only One Way Out of This Crisis: Expand the Court
Did Xi Just Save the World
Democrats Can’t Take Any Option Off the Table (even Joan Walsh…)
Revenge of the Money Launderers. The “FinCen files” story reveals: getting caught doesn’t stop banks from taking dirty money. It may even encourage them
Federal Judge Ousts Trump’s Bureau Of Land Management Chief
White House Staffers Worried About Trump Refusing To Step Down, Says Former Aide
‘I feel sorry for Americans’: A baffled world watches the US
The pandemic has devastated downtown D.C. Some fear the damage is permanent.
Davis Square’s character is being challenged. Can it survive?
Africa has defied the covid-19 nightmare scenarios. We shouldn’t be surprised.
To combat hunger, neighbors are stocking community fridges on Boston’s streets
Democratic senator to party: ‘A little message discipline wouldn’t kill us’
There Is No Invisible Referee
We Don’t Know Our Potential
Gambling With Your Health
Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance
Why Ginsburg Didn’t Retire
This is not a drill. The Reichstag is burning.
‘Everyone sees the train wreck coming’: Trump reveals his November endgame
Charting an Empire: A Timeline of Trump’s Finances
Some covid-19 rule-breakers could be narcissists, experts say. Here’s how to approach them.
No Place to Be: Cities have spent three decades criminalizing homelessness. Last year, Austin bucked the trend—and sparked a firestorm that still hasn’t gone out.
Prognosis unknown: Hospitals have figured out how to care for patients in a Covid world — just not how to pay for it all

Wild Card Series (Best-Of-Three)

The four American League Wild Card Series begin today:

ALWC G1: Astros at Twins, 2 PM (All Times ET)

ALWC G1: White Sox at Athletics, 3 PM

ALWC G1: Blue Jays at Rays, 5 PM

ALWC G1: Yankees at Cleveland, 7 PM

I'm not a fan of an expanded postseason, where more teams made the postseason (16) than not (14), but Wednesday's schedule is pretty clearly made for baseball junkies (game/series threads):

NLWC G1: Reds at Atlanta, 12 PM

ALWC G2: Astros at Twins, 1 PM

NLWC G1: Marlins at Cubs, 2 PM

ALWC G2: White Sox at Athletics, 3 PM

ALWC G2: Blue Jays at Rays, 4 PM

NLWC G1: Cardinals at Padres, 5 PM

ALWC G2: Yankees at Cleveland, 7 PM

NLWC G1: Brewers at Dodgers, 10 PM

No travel days in this round. The home teams are hosting all of the games.

Craig Calcaterra, Cup of Coffee, September 29, 2020:

Dodgers: The best and most balanced team in the field by far. As I said yesterday, if you extrapolate their win total to a 162-game season, they'd have been 116-46. If you extrapolate out their run differential to 162, it’d be +360. No team has ever won more than 116 games in a season. Only two teams have ever had run differentials better than 360, and they are the two teams most commonly ranked as The Greatest Team of All Time, the 1927 and 1939 Yankees. I'm not saying the Dodgers are those guys, and obviously their greatness is a bit hard to quantify because it was such a short season, but the 2020 Dodgers are a truly special club. But it's also a club that lost two games in a row four times and lost two out of three games seven times in the 2020 season. Losing two of three happens to even the most dominant of teams, and now this dominant team is being tossed into a best two-out-of-three opening round. Shit could happen. Shit can always happen in three games. . . .

Rays: You know their deal by now: amazing depth, a strong and versatile next-man-up bullpen, the ability to mash lefties with Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames leading the charge, and excellent defense and strategy and all that has come to define the Rays Brand.™ In this short opening series, of course, they get to pitch Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow in two of the three games, so trying to punch them out early before the longer rounds when that depth and all of those arms are really gonna create problems for opponents is gonna be a tall, tall order. . . .

Cleveland: This seems like the team no one should want to face in the first round because they go 1-2-3 better than the Reds and better than anyone, what with AL Cy Young presumptive Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac. Their fourth option, Triston McKenzie, would easily be in a lot of team's first three and here he'll be a strong presence out of the pen (and another starting obstacle in later rounds if they advance). The problem, obviously, is offense. They have the worst OPS of any team in the postseason. José Ramírez will likely win the AL MVP but it's slim pickings after him. They'll have to win low-scoring games or hope that someone steps up in ways they never did, outside of Ramírez, from July through September.

Yankees: They draw Cleveland, and it's gonna be tough. D.J. LeMahieu and Luke Voit are gonna get theirs, but there are a lot more questions in this Yankees lineup than we've seen in recent years. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will play, but both are Tin Man-rusty. If either of them or Gary Sánchez get hot, look out, the Yankees are a totally different team. If not, the Yankees are going to need Gerrit Cole to come up big against Bieber in Game 1 and then hope their pen and their two big bats solve Cleveland's other arms. They've just been so damn streaky this year that, frankly, I could see them turning into a postseason buzzsaw or bowing out by Thursday. Maybe the hardest team to handicap in this whole tournament. . . .

So, Predictions?


I mean it, no.

It's kind of insane to pretend you can predict a best of three between any two big league teams, even when one is great and one is terrible. When most of those matchups are between all pretty decent teams, well Christ, you're clearly just guessing.

Sure. . . . I agree. . . . Nevertheless . . .

ALWC: Cleveland over Yankees in 2

China Is Again Banning Feed Reader Apps

iOS feed readers Fiery Feeds and Reeder today tweeted that Apple notified them they were being removed from the Chinese App Store to comply with Chinese law. Both link to a 2017 tweet from Inoreader saying the same. (An earlier version of this post didn’t make clear that Inoreader’s tweet was three years old.)

It’s completely unclear what explains the three year gap here, and the entire policy makes no sense. Why ban feed readers but not web browsers? At a technical level, feed readers are just web browsers for RSS feeds. China’s Great Firewall should block feeds (and centralized feed aggregating sources) just as easily as it blocks websites. I suppose there’s not much point looking for sense in this decision — China is going to China.


The Politicization Of Climate Science At NOAA Is Underway

Trump White House recruited climate science critics to work at NOAA, Science

"At least three prominent researchers who question the severity of climate change rebuffed the opportunity to take a senior position at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The White House has been quietly working in recent weeks to reshape the leadership of NOAA with a goal of criticizing climate science, according to people who were contacted about the job. The revelation that administration officials approached multiple researchers with long records of casting doubt on human-caused climate change points to a political campaign to undermine mainstream science at one of the world's leading climate agencies, experts and observers said. After the initial candidates declined the position, the White House turned to David Legates, a geography professor at the University of Delaware who rejects the basic principles of climate science. Legates, now the deputy assistant secretly for observation and prediction at NOAA, has claimed that rising carbon dioxide levels would make the earth more hospitable to humans. John Christy, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, told E&E News that a White House official promised him he would be given a free hand to change the way NOAA approaches climate research."

White House recommends Ryan Maue, meteorologist and critic of dire climate predictions, for NOAA chief scientist, Washington Post

"The White House has tapped Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who has challenged connections between extreme weather and climate change, to serve as the new chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Two NOAA officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the personnel move, confirmed the appointment is in progress."

Keith's note: Meanwhile, the CDC deleted some COVID-19 guidance it posted online regarding airborne transmission and social distancing revisions - because it was accurate. Oops. How did that happen? Oh and then there is this: NIH staffer to retire after he was exposed as the blogger behind anti-Fauci, anti-mask stories. Thus far NASA has more or less escaped the politicalization of Earth and climate science but that cannot go on forever.

Is It Too Late To Stop Climate Change?

For Kurzgesagt’s latest video, they explore the challenges the world faces in attempting to get the rate of climate change under control before it’s too late and how to get there.

Climate change is just too much. There is never any good news. Only graphs that get more and more red and angry. Almost every year breaks some horrible record, from the harshest heat waves to the most rapid glacier melt. It’s endless and relentless.

We have known for decades that rapid climate change is being caused by the release of greenhouse gases. But instead of reducing them, in 2019 the world was emitting 50% more CO2 than in the year 2000. And emissions are still rising. Why is that? Why is it so hard to just stop emitting these gases?

According to the video, global population growth and economic growth will be working against us over the next few decades and that increasing our energy efficiency and lowering emissions from energy sources are the main ways in which we will be able to slow things down. It’s worth noting that on the wizard vs. prophet continuum, this video is firmly in the wizard camp. That’s not wrong or bad; it’s just that other people have different ideas about how to combat climate change.

Tags: global warming   Kurzgesagt   science   video

NASA Centers Can't Be Bothered To Mention The Economic Report

Real House Prices and Price-to-Rent Ratio in July

Here is the post earlier on Case-Shiller: Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 4.8% year-over-year in July

It has been over fourteen years since the bubble peak. In the Case-Shiller release today, the seasonally adjusted National Index (SA), was reported as being 18.6% above the previous bubble peak. However, in real terms, the National index (SA) is still about 4% below the bubble peak (and historically there has been an upward slope to real house prices).  The composite 20, in real terms, is still 12% below the bubble peak.

The year-over-year growth in prices increased to 4.8% nationally.

Usually people graph nominal house prices, but it is also important to look at prices in real terms (inflation adjusted).  Case-Shiller and others report nominal house prices.  As an example, if a house price was $200,000 in January 2000, the price would be close to $289,000 today adjusted for inflation (45%).  That is why the second graph below is important - this shows "real" prices (adjusted for inflation).

Nominal House Prices

Nominal House PricesThe first graph shows the monthly Case-Shiller National Index SA, and the monthly Case-Shiller Composite 20 SA (through June) in nominal terms as reported.

In nominal terms, the Case-Shiller National index (SA) and the Case-Shiller Composite 20 Index (SA) are both at new all times highs (above the bubble peak).

Real House Prices

Real House PricesThe second graph shows the same two indexes in real terms (adjusted for inflation using CPI less Shelter). Note: some people use other inflation measures to adjust for real prices.

In real terms, the National index is back to June 2005 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to November 2004.

In real terms, house prices are at 2004/2005 levels.

Note that inflation was negative for a few months earlier this year, and that boosted real prices.


In October 2004, Fed economist John Krainer and researcher Chishen Wei wrote a Fed letter on price to rent ratios: House Prices and Fundamental Value. Kainer and Wei presented a price-to-rent ratio using the OFHEO house price index and the Owners' Equivalent Rent (OER) from the BLS.

Price-to-Rent RatioHere is a similar graph using the Case-Shiller National and Composite 20 House Price Indexes.

This graph shows the price to rent ratio (January 2000 = 1.0). The price-to-rent ratio has been moving sideways recently.

On a price-to-rent basis, the Case-Shiller National index is back to March 2004 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to November 2003 levels.

In real terms, prices are back to late 2004/2005 levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is back to late 2003, early 2004.

Ho hum

Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is ‘Very Likely to Work,’ Studies Suggest (NYT)

What else have we got this year?  Visiting alien drones, life on Venus and Mars, super-acceleration of vaccine production techniques, Tesla valued at mega-levels, and plummeting prices for solar panels.

Remember what I wrote in the final section of The Great Stagnation?  I predicted you’ll all be super-pissed off when it ends.

The post Ho hum appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Where Things Stand: No Surprises Here

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was practically jumping at the opportunity to back Rep. Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) attempt to force an investigation into one of the most basic pillars of journalistic protections.

During an interview on Fox News earlier this morning, McEnany denied that President Trump was involved in Brady’s mission to investigate the New York Times’ sources for the Trump tax returns story, but quickly bolstered the importance of the move. She called the suggestion “fair” and used the opportunity to dig her heels into a fever swamp belief in a deep state out to get the President, suggesting the IRS was targeting “tea party” groups and Trump personally.

Calls for an investigation into the sources of the Times’ bombshell Trump taxes report were always going to happen in the “fake news” era that Trump has manipulatively created. The White House run by the “enemy of the people” president was always going to embrace such a probe — nothing would thrill Trump more than attempting to force the Times to hand over its secret sources so he can finally point to someone specific to prop up his amorphous deep state belief.

For the Times’ sake, that likely won’t happen. Despite Trump’s best efforts, legal protections for journalists have not yet been fully dismantled in the country.

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

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Josh Kovensky has been following all the news out of the Michael Flynn hearing today. Follow our liveblog coverage here.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

We’ll be covering the debate tonight and monitoring any developments throughout the day that might indicate candidates’ anticipated tenor this evening. So far this morning, Biden’s team has hyped the former vice president’s expected performance, painting the picture of a competent candidate who will “really take the fight” to Trump tonight. Meanwhile, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News this morning and visibly made the co-hosts uncomfortable when he repeatedly maintained that Biden has dementia and takes uppers.

We’re also still tracking various aspects of the Senate SCOTUS confirmation battle, which has become increasingly messy now that Trump officially named his nominee. Just this morning, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he would refuse to meet with the nominee, calling the entire process “illegitimate.”

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

A disturbing headline, even for 2020: Coronavirus Has Now Killed 1 Million People.

Coming Up

2:00 p.m. ET: Trump will leave the White House to head to Cleveland for tonight’s debate, arriving just before 4:00 p.m. ET and traveling to the InterContinental Suites Hotel Cleveland at 4:50 p.m. ET.

Later today: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will attend a virtual fundraiser.

9:00 p.m. ET: The Trump-Biden debate begins.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Report: Trump Repeatedly Pushed For Ivanka To Be His Running Mate In 2016 –Cristina Cabrera

What We Are Reading

Postal Service Workers Quietly Resist DeJoy’s Changes With Eye On Election — Jacob Bogage

The Students Left Behind By Remote Learning — Alec MacGillis

5-Alarm Fire!

The big hearing in the Flynn case just took a dramatic turn when the judge demanded to know whether Flynn’s lawyer had discussed the case with President Trump.

Are You Ready for Tonight’s Presidential Match-Up?

On One Side There’s Biden’s Take on the Reality of the Pandemic and the Depression and on the Other Side, Well, There’s Trump

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

Well, we can be sure tonight’s debate will be sarcastic, insulting and lively – and a fact-checker’s heaven, starting with why Donald Trump hasn’t paid income taxes recently.

Donald Trump is reported to have spent his prep time coming up with one-line zingers particularly aimed at his opponent’s family and mental acuity, even as Joe Biden seeks to lay blame for the coronavirus and economic problems on Trump. Still, the whole event sets up as a clash of cultures more than any debate about who stands where on issues, a showdown of sorts about what sort of country we want.

Tonight’s a setting for mud-slinging and half-truths on almost any subject you want to name.

If you want an intelligent, understandable discussion about how best to curb coronavirus or on the best ways to integrate immigrants into American society, I’d suggest you go read a book instead. Tonight’s a setting for mud-slinging and half-truths on almost any subject you want to name. Various news outlets noted in opinion pieces, it is difficult to debate someone who simply re-invents reality on the spot.

Start with the fact that Donald Trump apparently doesn’t believe in elections or voting, and won’t commit to regarding a long count of mail-in ballots prompted by disease as anything but rigged. How do you have a debate with someone who’s not playing the same game? Or that he thinks the six-page-long report on his taxes in The New York Times was somehow faked.

Blame Game

I pity moderator Chris Wallace, a hard-nosed news guy, for whatever efforts he will make to try to corral the exaggerations and excess of a joint appearance. It feels like a job just to squeeze all the ego into one room.

Trump’s idea of debate is to tie anything any Democrat in history has ever said to the Biden campaign, and Biden’s idea of debate will be to all but read the names of 200,000 dead Americans whom Trump has refused to acknowledge as his responsibility.

Trump sees his goal as making Biden the carrier for high taxes, chaos on the streets, cozy international relations, particularly with China, over American jobs and interests, and open borders. Biden sees his goal as showing Trump simply failing to do his job over coronavirus, jobs, international relations, immigration and the economy. Enter the Soul of America opinions.


It’s not a formula for persuasion, by any means. It’s an ego-exercise that threatens to show a divide that continues to widen.

Trump revels in emerging as the loudest solo voice amid chaos, Biden beams in pursuit of communal healing. There is nowhere for these two to meet. They are polar opposites on almost every issue of substance, and they are clashing candidates on grace and personal style.

Of course, if you’re Trump and actually standing up at rallies saying that hardly anyone who is not old or has an underlying health condition is getting COVID-19, your view of the world and of the job of being president is so strange as to make using political powers to bend science and economic fact almost normal.

If you’re Biden and trying to survive a tightening election campaign filled with so many untruths about daily life, the fight is to keep from getting into the mud-slinging on the belief that Americans are more interested in solutions than insults.

We should keep some things in mind as the debate gets underway:

  • Trump wants to get rid of Obamacare and any organized health care, while Biden wants to preserve the system and add Medicare options for more people.
  • Trump thinks he is doing an A+ job on handling the pandemic, despite 200,000 dead and climbing, while Biden sees that Trump has abdicated responsibilities to blame states, particularly Democratic states, for any problems.
  • Trump believes in a market-driven economy with as few regulations as possible, financial or environmental, and tax cuts for companies to drive jobs; Biden sees a wider government role in stimulating job growth and rules for companies to do so in a way that rewards workers and communities.
  • Trump thinks climate change is a hoax, even when standing in the ashes of drought-caused wildfires; Biden believes we need to address climate issues head-on and be creative about tying job growth to the changes.
  • Trump wants to stop all illegal and most legal immigrants, even if it means breaking up families; Biden wants to pass long-awaited overall immigration policies.
  • Trump sees racial protest only as organized anti-Trump violence; Biden sees a mainstream endorsement towards addressing concerns of an aggrieved minority.

It goes on and on – guns, environment, education.

Divergent Views

Mostly, Trump wants a government that salutes him, honors him, adores him and everything he says; Biden wants a president who accepts oversight and tries to work across aisles towards more bipartisan agreements. Trump primarily believes in Trump’s gut; Biden believes in science and fact.

One sees America First as Trump First, and the other sees it as America as World Leader among allies.

Likely understated in tonight’s debate will be the extent to which Trump believes in using the powers of his office for personal, political gain, rewarding friends and squashing those who dare criticize him. Or how COVID money ended up being routed by the Defense Department into weapons contracts rather than on disease  It seems impossible for a discerning set of responses about the degree to which Trump has grown presidential powers to the end of authoritarianism.

At the end of the day, this debate and the two that, by arrangement, follow, are supposed to be helpful to voters to distinguish one from the other.

In this election, the sides are so opposite, it seems impossible that there can be any persuasion, just the counting of slashes and counter-slashes.

Recent town halls with actual voters showed the difference. Trump turned every question that suggested a problem into a pretext for insult. Biden took the time to hear the question, even with directional answers that sometimes seemed less than fully discursive.

There is no question here about how each candidate will behave in office.

There is a lot of question here over how each actually sees the world we live in, and whether they respect our opinions about how to live our lives.

The post Are You Ready for Tonight’s Presidential Match-Up? appeared first on

Five Quick Links for Tuesday Noonish

Tips for avoiding Covid-19 infections indoors: avoid unnecessary exposure, open windows, filter the air, and smartly increase airflow w/ fans. Avoid gimmicks like "air cleaners" and UV lights. "The reality is, it's a time for the basics." []

More than 1.1 million people have already voted in the 2020 US general election. In states reporting party affiliation (FL, IA, NC), participation is 54% Dem and 18% Rep (it's usually the other way around). []

A new anthology out next week: The Fragile Earth: Writing from the New Yorker on Climate Change. []

Andy Baio responds to a reader who's disappointed by the uptick of political content on his personal website. I've gotten many emails like this over the past few years; Andy's response is a good one. []

Listening to Ella Fitzgerald lovingly impersonate Louis Armstrong in this clip is just so wonderful. []


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.

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, a New Documentary Film

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is a new documentary film by Ric Burns about famed author and neurologist Oliver Sacks.

A month after receiving a fatal diagnosis in January 2015, Oliver Sacks sat down for a series of filmed interviews in his apartment in New York City. For eighty hours, surrounded by family, friends, and notebooks from six decades of thinking and writing about the brain, he talked about his life and work, his abiding sense of wonder at the natural world, and the place of human beings within it. Drawing on these deeply personal reflections, as well as nearly two dozen interviews with close friends, family members, colleagues and patients, and archival material from every point in his life, this film is the story of a beloved doctor and writer who redefined our understanding of the brain and mind.

The film is playing in virtual cinemas around the country right now: you can check out the list at the end of this page for more information and showtimes.

Tags: movies   Oliver Sacks   Oliver Sacks: His Own Life   Ric Burns   trailers   video

Tuesday assorted links

1. Beetle technicianRat tickler: “it’s crucial for researchers to know whether the animals are having a positive or negative experience.”

2. No central original point here, but this paper is actually an extremely useful piece for understanding currency risk.  And Captain Beefheart’s ten commandments of guitar playing.

3. “Surprisingly, we document that innovation was resilient in the face of one of the largest financial crises in the U.S. history, suggesting that it is likely to be even more so during milder economic recessions.”  Link here.  One plausible way of reading the result is that independent inventors were damaged, but their efforts were reallocated into firms, which improved by a result.

4. Buried lakes on Mars?

5. An actual scientific study of intermittent fasting suggests no real benefit and loss of muscle mass.

6. “With more of us than ever working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a spike in demand from employers for surveillance software. US-based Hubstaff says its number of UK customers is up four times year-on-year since February.”  Link here.

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Amazon One: New Hand-Scanning Payment System Set to Debut in Amazon’s Own Stores

Jason Del Rey, reporting for Recode:

Amazon on Tuesday is unveiling a new biometric technology called Amazon One that allows shoppers to pay at stores by placing their palm over a scanning device when they walk in the door or when they check out. The first time they register to use this tech, a customer will scan their palm and insert their payment card at a terminal; after that, they can simply pay with their hand. The hand-scanning tech isn’t just for Amazon’s own stores — the company hopes to sell it to other retailers, including competitors, too.

I’m happy to hear more details, but on the surface this sounds insane. Why in the world would anyone voluntarily send their palm print to any company to store in the cloud? With something like Face ID and Touch ID, your biometric info is not only stored solely on your own device, it’s stored on the secure enclave on your own device. Even the apps running on your own device can’t access it.

And with Apple Pay, if you ever need or simply want to create a new card number, you can do so. (Settings → Wallet & Apple Pay → Name of Card → Card Information → Request New Card Number.) You can’t request a new palm print.

This is a terrible idea and the only reason I can think of why Amazon created it is that they wanted their own payment system and felt they had to use some kind of biometrics for identification, privacy implications be damned, because they don’t have any sort of mobile device platform they could use instead. Why they don’t just stick to offering a scannable code from their app is beyond me.


The Great Disconnect: The perverse rhetoric of gentrification

The Great Disconnect

By Jason Segedy

City Observatory is pleased to publish this guest commentary from Akron’s Jason Segedy.  It originally appeared on his blog.



As this decade draws to a close, the story of urban America is increasingly about the great disconnect between a small number of large cities that are thriving, and a much larger number of cities of all sizes that are continuing to fall behind.

What’s true for a handful of large cities is increasingly untrue for the majority of cities in the vast middle of the country. Nowhere is the great disconnect more apparent than in the debate about gentrification.

Gentrification is a hot topic of conversation in coastal cities, like New York, Washington, and San Francisco, with expensive living costs that are also home to influential journalists and academics.

Writing about gentrification has become a cottage industry for many pundits and urban policy wonks.  Many of the earlier pieces penned on the topic were important, thought-provoking, and well-reasoned.

But what started as the airing of thoughtful, reasonable, and understandable concerns about displacement and inequality in a handful of coastal cities, has turned into intellectual dishonesty, irrational hysteria, and even self-parody, particularly when it is applied to the long-suffering cities of the Rust Belt.

Peter Moskowitz’s How to Kill a City, which Josh Stephens accurately calls “an ideological rant in the guise of journalism” makes it clear that no matter how many times he mentions Detroit, it is clear that the New Yorker simply doesn’t really understand the place.  He says: “The new Detroit is now nearly a closed-loop…It is possible to live in this new Detroit and never set foot in the old one.” I’ve got news for him.  Detroit has been like that for 50 years.  It’s just that the closed-loop was called 8-Mile Road.  Gentrification didn’t kill Detroit.  Urban decline did.  And we can be confident that more decline won’t resurrect it.

A recent New York Times piece on Climate Change warns us that although Duluth may benefit from “climate refugees”, new growth raises the specter of (you guessed it) gentrification.  In case you were wondering, Duluth has been steadily losing population since 1960.

Then there’s Samuel Stein’s Capital City, which at least gets points for originality by dispensing with blaming hipsters or developers for gentrification, and aims its sights squarely on my overwhelmingly leftward-leaning profession of urban planning, even going so far as to say that “proto-planners” (whatever that means) were responsible for Native American genocide as they “enabled the country’s murderous westward expansion, and mapped the rail networks and other infrastructure that made it possible.“

There is even a movement called “Just Green Enough”, which is premised on the idea that parks in poor neighborhoods shouldn’t be made “too nice” in order to prevent displacement by gentrification. Precious energy and effort is expended on endless worry and discussion (and in some cases, active opposition) to a nice park, a new ice cream shop, or a new grocery store, because it could potentially displace someone.

Meanwhile, the poor themselves continue to languish in disinvested and actively-avoided neighborhoods, without any of the amenities or conveniences that the activists and academics have (and take for granted) in their own neighborhoods.

However well-intentioned, these efforts end up doing the same thing – ensuring that people living in poor neighborhoods continue to have the worst of everything, confined to separate and unequal places with substandard facilities and amenities, all “for their own good”.

How elitist, patronizing, and sad.

For those interested in separating data-driven fact from ideologically-driven fiction, a new report, American Neighborhood Change in the 21st Century: Gentrification and Decline, provides a welcome corrective.

Anyone who is serious about understanding urban public policy, equity, and neighborhood change, should read this report.  It is an easy read.

The report examines the ways in which neighborhoods in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas are growing or shrinking; getting richer or poorer; rebuilding or disintegrating.  It quantifies the degree to which neighborhoods are experiencing economic growth, displacement of low-income people, concentration of poverty, and abandonment.

It finds that the most common form of American neighborhood change, by far, is poverty concentration, rather than wealth concentration.  Low-income residents are exposed to neighborhood decline far more than gentrification.  In fact, there was no metropolitan area in the nation where a low-income person was more likely to live in an economically expanding neighborhood than in an economically declining neighborhood.

The findings mirror what Alan Mallach says in his must-read book, The Divided City: gentrifying areas are rarely the most distressed areas of a city, particularly where demolition has unraveled a neighborhood’s fabric, and where few attractive homes or buildings of any kind remain; and predominately African-American neighborhoods are less, not more, likely to experience gentrification than largely white, working-class neighborhoods.

Instead, gentrification typically follows a pattern of black neighborhood avoidance.  Rather than being subject to displacement by gentrification, urban residents who are both black and poor are far more likely to be left behind in neighborhoods experiencing widespread vacancy, abandonment, and disinvestment.

Instead of displacement by gentrification, what we are seeing in most cities in my part of the country, including Detroit, could be described as displacement by decline – as middle class residents, African-Americans in particular, frustrated by the continued social and economic disintegration of their neighborhoods, are moving to safer and more attractive neighborhoods in the suburbs.

While the urban renaissance in a handful of neighborhoods gets all the headlines, it is the rapid concentration of poverty and urban decline that is far more prevalent – and troubling.

I’ve lived my entire life in Akron, which, like Duluth and Detroit, has been losing population and wealth for 60 years now.  Those of us who work on behalf of (and love) these places do our best to fight poverty, abandonment, and urban decline every single day.  Living here, it is hard for me to understand getting worked up in anger at someone with some money in their pocket renovating an old house in an urban neighborhood, opening a brewery, or leasing a brand-new apartment downtown.

I hope that this new report’s findings serve as a wake-up-call to the people who worry so much about the potential downside of urban revitalization, that they are overlooking the far greater challenges of inter-generational poverty, uneven economic growth, disinvestment, abandonment, urban sprawl, and pervasive and entrenched racial and economic segregation.

I see a lot of people, even here in the Rust Belt, who are energized about gentrification, and convinced that it is the enemy.  It’s considered a sexy topic for activism.

But I don’t see the same level of passionate activism being applied to fighting the spread of concentrated urban poverty, neighborhood abandonment, or the yawning racial and economic chasm between older cities like Akron, Cleveland, Detroit, and their newer suburbs.

And let’s be honest.  Those are big, messy, complicated, systemic, extremely intractable problems, and there is nothing sexy about them.  They don’t lend themselves to clever yard sign slogans or quick-take podcasts.  Most people would rather not think about them, because there is not a lot that the average person can even do about them.

But they are the urban problems we need to face.  They are the existential challenges to our cities and to the people who live in them

New development does not always mean displacement, and revitalization is not always a synonym for gentrification.

Gentrification has become a useless word.  Words lose their value whey they no longer have an agreed-upon meaning.  No one knows what the hell that word means anymore.  It’s time to retire it.

Swarm Technologies reveals plan to connect devices for $5 per device per month

SAN FRANCISCO – Swarm Technologies, a Silicon Valley startup seeking to connect sensors in a low-cost, global internet-of-things (IoT) network, announced prices for its satellite communications products Sept. 29, including data services starting at $5 per device per month..

Swarm launched its first 12 operational Spacebee satellites in early September aboard an Arianespace Vega rocket. The Mountain View, California, company plans to complete its constellation of 150 hockey-puck-size satellites before the end of 2021, Sara Spangelo, Swarm co-founder and CEO, said in a Sept. 21 blog post.

Swarm Tile, the company’s satellite modem, carries a $119 price tag. Customers are encouraged to embed Swarm Tile, which is built around a single printed circuit board, into devices.

“Now, every person and IoT machine can have affordable access to two-way data services from any point on Earth at all times,” Spangelo said in a Sept. 29 statement. “Swarm’s global network enables customers to build their businesses and scale them globally overnight by harnessing the power of small satellite connectivity.”

More than 200 companies have signed up for early access to Swarm’s network, including Autonomic, a Ford Smart Mobility subsidiary that creates software for connected cars. Swarm plans to begin providing communications services later this year, Swarm said in a Sept. 29 news release.

Swarm has obtained regulatory approval to operate in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Antarctica and over international waters.

The company is establishing a global ground station network with sites in nations including the United States, United Kingdom, Antarctica and New Zealand.

Companies are racing to offer low-cost IoT service. Skylo, a Palo Alto, California, startup plans to attract customers by offering data plans starting at $1 per month.


An FDR Moment

Last week we were joined on the podcast by a rising star of the New York Democratic party, incoming Congressman Ritchie Torres. Torres is 32 years old, currently serving on the City Council and recently won a very hard fought primary race for the Democratic nomination in the 15th district, which is in the Bronx. This is one of or perhaps the most Democratic district in the country. So he will certainly be a member of the House next year. We talked about the “FDR moment” incoming Democrats may confront in 2021.

COVID-19 in Ottawa Neighbourhoods

Ottawa Public Health has partnered with the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study to produce this interactive map of COVID-19 rates in Ottawa’s neighbourhoods. Both the map and its underlying data are subject to many caveats: the differences between rural and urban zones, between where people live and where people are tested, and other factors affecting testing and susceptibility. Most notably, the map is updated only monthly, so the current map (screenshotted above) does not take into account the rapid increase in positive cases over the past week or two as Ottawa entered the second wave. [Ottawa Citizen]

"Chemical Activity Barometer Rises in September"

Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production.

From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Rises in September
The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), rose 1.6 percent in September on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis following a 2.7 percent gain in August. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer was down 4.3 percent in September.

The unadjusted data show a 0.7 percent gain in September following a 2.2 percent gain in August and a 1.9 percent gain in July. The diffusion index rose from 35 percent to 65 percent in September. The diffusion index marks the number of positive contributors relative to the total number of indicators monitored. The CAB reading for August was revised upward by 0.89 points and that for July was revised upward by 0.42 points.

“With five consecutive months of gains, the September CAB reading is consistent with recovery in the U.S. economy,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC.
Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to 14 months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index.
emphasis added
Chemical Activity Barometer Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB) compared to Industrial Production.

Although the CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue), they both collapsed together with the sudden stop of the economy in March. The increases in the CAB suggest further increases in Industrial Production, but still a large year-over-year decline.

Op-ed | Social distancing, self-isolation, and … space debris?

The pandemic of 2020 has brought great loss and suffering, assuredly impacting every human life on the planet in one way or another. While a number of countries appeared to have the virus under control, we are now seeing second surges of cases and can expect to realize the full impact of COVID-19 for many years to come.

To learn and grow from this, we must continue to question and study the factors that made the virus so deadly and difficult to contain. In addition to better preparing us for the next pandemic, or teaching us how to prevent it altogether, this reflection also reveals lessons we can apply to other issues we face as a collective society.

Already we have seen numerous comparisons of the spread of the virus to other global crises such as climate change — the growing issue of space debris also has some significant parallels worth exploring.

While most of us are not epidemiologists, the quarantine period likely provided ample opportunity (for those of us fortunate enough to have avoided the symptoms) to read countless articles educating us about R0, the effectiveness of masks, and of course, the frightening reality of exponential growth. While new data continued to roll in during the early months of the pandemic and countries applied different policies with varying results, the most decisive factor in beating the virus proved to be taking holistic action and doing so quickly.

If there is one take-away about exponential growth, it is that once it starts, it is extremely hard to contain — and this is our first lesson:

1. Take preventive measures before the growth rate becomes problematic.

Of course, while this seems painfully obvious, we have just witnessed firsthand how this principle invokes a paradox in policy implementation. If the problem doesn’t appear to be out of control, then why take action that comes with certain and severe economic impact? Luckily, seeing the future doesn’t require a crystal ball — it simply requires a respect for science and an understanding of the usefulness of simulations.

Any model that simulated the spread of COVID-19 indicated a grim future if no actions were taken, and yet we still saw resistance to implementing safety measures. Will space suffer the same outcome? Many researchers have painted worrying images of the LEO environment which could result from our current trajectory of leaving defunct satellites in orbit. The emergence of more large constellations has also inspired countless variations of the studies and, fortunately, some forward-leaning regulatory action. However, we still see lagging investment in space sustainability and a reluctance to take holistic measures as an industry. Should we not have the equivalent of pandemic response teams and ventilators at the ready?

Part of the issue perhaps, is a skepticism toward current models out there, which brings us to our next lesson:

2. All models are wrong, but some are useful.

This famous phrase is not meant to cast any doubt on simulation work being done; rather it is meant to do the opposite. We must recognize that not only do input parameters never match reality, but researchers often risk backlash and loss of credibility if pessimistic assumptions or conclusions are singled out and attacked. COVID-19 certainly demonstrated this dynamic in spades. We may expect the space industry to show more respect for appropriate amounts of conservatism, but we are not without our own competitive and capitalistic motivations. In almost all cases, a sustainable tomorrow means additional expense today, which can be a hard pill to swallow (but the key is in understanding that these expenses are actually investments, much like wearing a face mask).

One example of unrealistic optimism in many long-term debris studies is that a single, simulated constellation will operate for a finite time, then one day decommission all of its satellites. The simulation may show that during the operation of said constellation, the environment was negatively impacted, but 150 years later, things are mostly back to normal. One could then conclude that the constellation has a negligible longterm effect on the space environment, and is thus sustainable.

The problem with this model is that it assumes we won’t continue to increase the number of satellites in space, and so the “long-term” analysis paints a positive picture of a false future. We cannot overlook the current growth of the steady state environment we are creating for ourselves right now. Is it safe and sustainable? Does it foster investment and innovation? Or does it look increasingly risky and expensive for everyone involved?

In a bit of a silver lining, the pandemic proved that reducing personal travel and vehicle use results in cleaner air and a healthier ecosystem overall. It is a bit more difficult, however, to take satellites out of the sky for a few centuries while LEO clears itself up. We must therefore invest in space sustainability simultaneously with space development, not after the fact. Unfortunately, this means we have some catching up to do.

Though, in more good news, many operators and institutions are currently engaging in discussions regarding the best practices that will reverse some of the historical damage and ensure a better future. One of these notions, which seems particularly apt this year, is also becoming harder and harder to abide by. It is also our third lesson:

3. Social distancing and self-isolation work.

If the reader would excuse the insensitivity of the forthcoming analogy, a catastrophic collision in space that causes new space debris can be likened to a cough from an infected person. Anyone near the cougher is at an increased risk of being hit by particles which could then infect that bystander, eventually causing them to become sick and cough themselves. This chain reaction (remember R0) is exacerbated in populations of people in close proximity, such as those in large cities.

Those of you familiar with space debris discussions probably know where this analogy is going: the dreaded Kessler Syndrome, a chain reaction of space debris events catalyzed by dense deployments of satellites in space.

As we have learned, the R0 factor is decreased by keeping our distance from one another. Constellation operators have recognized this as well, and in some cases have even altered their plans to deploy away from other constellations. OneWeb even named this concept a “safety buffer zone.” LEO is not infinite, however, and sooner or later this satellite social distancing will cease to be possible. Policymakers such as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission recognize this impending issue, but so far have declined to adopt any rules regarding orbital separation. Of course, it is notoriously difficult to tell the difference between too soon and too late when it comes to implementing new policies.

Space is big, yes, but the region in which most satellites operate is limited. We cannot deny that our orbital environment is steadily becoming more crowded. So, what will we do when we can no longer rely on separation for safety? There are many strategies to consider but, to again reference our pandemic lessons-learned, we know that self-isolation is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the risk. A “sick” or broken satellite that cannot move itself to avoid collisions presents a potential debris risk to the others around it. The best way to reduce its risk is to self-isolate, which in GEO means moving to a graveyard orbit, and in LEO means reentering the atmosphere as quickly as possible. Removing potential sources of new space debris will always be one of the most direct and effective ways to ensure a sustainable space environment.

To close this off, we’ll explore a final lesson that we really hope wouldn’t be true for the space industry, but alas we are not there yet.

4. Without regulation, we cannot expect others to consider more than their own immediate self-interest.

Historically, humanity has not been good at taking proactive measures to solve problems. However, we repeatedly see that sustainability is not only good for humanity’s future, it is also good for business. Even if the tangible return on an investment in sustainability is not immediately apparent to everyone, taking steps toward that goal will yield long-term rewards, both financial and environmental. The difficulty, however, is that this knowledge is in constant conflict with the parts of human nature that make us want what we want, when we want it — whether that’s getting a haircut, going to the beach, or launching thousands of new objects into orbit — with minimal appreciation of the risks and long-term consequences. Let’s not wait until the orbital pandemic hits before taking action. The time to take preventive action is now.

Mike Lindsay is chief technology officer at Astroscale. He previously worked for OneWeb, NASA and Google.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 3, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


Artist “Logos” from Iconic Jazz Album Covers

Jazz Musician Lettering

Reagan Ray (previously) surveyed 100s of iconic covers of jazz albums (Blue Note, anyone?) and isolated the lettering of the artists’ names. I love these sorts of compilations — this is like a mini-tour through the history of graphic design in the 20th century.

Tags: art   design   music   Reagan Ray

Harvard on the Map

Harvard on the Map, a new radio program looking at geospatial topics, is hosted by Harvard Graduate School of Design student Jennifer Horowitz. Three episodes so far, each of which an interview with someone working in the field.

When Certain Religions Are No Longer Primus Inter Pares

The nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is Catholic, has, once again, moved religious conflict into the political arena (let’s be clear, this is, in part, a cynical move by a very cynical administration to peel off Catholic support for Biden, who himself is Catholic). A column by Elizabeth Bruenig (who is Catholic) gets close to but not all the way there as to what this is about (boldface mine):

Rather than regenerating a long-vanquished prejudice, Judge Barrett’s nomination has merely renewed attention to a fundamental conflict, centuries underway, between Catholicism and the American ethos.

The United States is unusual among nations: We are a country founded along the contours of a philosophy. That philosophy, liberalism, is the logic that underlies our founding documents and our national ethos of individualism, self-reliance, liberty, equality and tolerance. Whether we live up to those values is another matter; they are our reason for being, and the principles that bind us together.

But liberalism, like any storied philosophy, has its difficulties and points of contention. While liberal societies seek to build legal and cultural climates of toleration for expression and religion (among other things), liberal theorists have long recognized that it’s risky to tolerate notions and movements that could undermine liberal democracy itself….

Roman Catholicism does not readily distinguish between public and private moral obligations [many religions don’t actually]…

Even the most modern and liberal-friendly popes have noted without special fanfare that the teachings of the church pertain to the decisions Catholics make about politics…

Generally, contemporary American Catholics aren’t particularly beholden to the church; as I wrote recently, the logic of partisanship has replaced the moral primacy of the faith. That means that, for most Catholics, their religious beliefs never clash with their civic interests in a disruptive way. When they do, the solution is typically some kind of exemption from particular legal or civic obligations…

Catholic institutions have asked for exemptions to various laws, citing the First Amendment. In Lockean terms, they have argued that business putatively conducted in the civil sphere actually belongs to the religious one, and thus ought not be subject to the rules of civil government. They are staking out and reclaiming jurisdictional territory from the state, in other words, and each victory adds ground to the church’s domain.

From the vantage point of a religious minority (Jewish) whose minority status is never in doubt, I’m not sure Bruenig gets it right. To me, it looks like conservative Christianity, both its Catholic and Protestant wings*, which from the late 1970s to around 2015 (I’ll return to that date) was defined as ‘religion’, is becoming a minority religion. It is no longer the default setting for ‘religion’ or ‘faith.’ It is no longer primus inter pares (first among equals).

A small, politically uncharged (hopefully) example is Jews who take time off for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are about as important as Christmas). In some parts of the country, this isn’t a problem: there are enough Jews that this is seen as normal occurrence. In some places, schools even close (Westchester County, NY used to do this; don’t know if they still do). But in some other places, non-Jews aren’t always so accommodating. “Do you really have to take the entire**** day off?” (yes, we do. And we had this conversation last year. And the year before that…).*** In those places, the reverence for ‘faith’ doesn’t extend to Jews or Jewish observance. Jewish holidays aren’t federal holidays, unlike Christmas. Judaism obviously isn’t the default setting for ‘faith.’

Of course, conservative Christianity, from the late 1970s to around 2015, was never the dominant dogma among self-described Christians. But in national life, ‘religious’ became synonymous with conservative Christian. One enoromous advantage of being primus inter pares–and it is an unnoticed advantage until it is lost–is the ability to argue from authority. One can simply say that policy X is a violation of (your) religious beliefs–that is, generic ‘faith’–and shut down debate. Religious minorities can’t do this: we have to argue in universal, non-religious terms.

For example, one of the 613 commandments for Jews is to not oppress the worker. But were I to argue that overturning labor protections is a violation of my religious beliefs and thus should be opposed, I would not be taken seriously; as a Jew, I have to make a universal, secular case. Primus inter pares religions have a much lower bar in that regard**.

The irony facing conservative Christians is that, as they have gained political power and the ability to include their sectarian dogma in public life, they have lost legitimacy as the default religion. The reason I define the heyday of conservative Christianity as the late 1970s to around 2015 has to do with ‘their’ president, Donald Trump. While religions in the U.S. might intrude into the public sphere, this is usually seen as a continuation of the private sphere, as an extension of personal religious behavior. But Trump makes conservative Christianity look cynical: how can you intrude into other people’s private sphere, when your champion is horrible in that regard? It’s hard, in the face of this hypocrisy, to maintain the mantle of generic ‘religion’ and ‘faith’ while unabashedly supporting someone who is so counterethical to many people’s conception of morality and religiosity.

So conservative Christianity–which numerically, if not politically or culturally, has always been a minority religion–is now losing its primus inter pares status, even as it gains in political power. Yes, it does have tremendous political power: the majority of the Supreme Court are conservative Christians, and the Republican Party, which holds the White House and Senate (for now), is dominated by them.

But what is shocking to conservative Christians is that they are losing a privileged cultural status they have held for decades, one that has had significant secular, political advantages (along with psychological ones). This terrifies them.

Welcome to the minority. We other minorities will keep a seat warm for you.

*Which sometimes disagree with each other.

**One thing the ‘woke left’ often overlooks when referring to ‘white men’ is how conspicuously absent, to religious minorities, the word Christian is in that formulation.

***And, of course, we’re using our vacation time for the High Holidays, which is fine, but Christmas is a federal holiday, despite the supposed War on Christmas.

****Back when most Reform Jews only celebrated one day of Rosh Hashanah, not two (this has changed in the last few decades), non-Reform Jews often had to convince them to stay out of work for two days, so non-Reform Jews wouldn’t be pressured to show up to work on the second day.

Mapping Climate Risk in the United States

The New York Times (screenshot)

Climate change isn’t just one thing: rising temperatures, or sea level rise. It’s also changes to rainfall, increased risk of wildfires, more powerful hurricanes. The extent to which any of these are threats depends on where you live: North Dakota doesn’t have much to worry about rising sea levels, but it should think about drought. That’s what this interactive map from the New York Times attempts to measure: the climate risks to the United States on a county-by-county basis.

Previously: How Climate Change Will Transform the United States.

Google Removing Uluru Street View Images

Google has agreed to Parks Australia’s request that user photos taken from the summit of Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) be removed from Street View; climbing Uluru, which is owned by and sacred to the Pitjantjatjara people, has been prohibited since 2019. ABC Australia, CNN. As of this writing a couple of images are still visible. Aerial coverage is unaffected. [Boing Boing]

Daniel R. Mandell on Economic Equality at the A.A.S., 30 Sept.

On Wednesday, 30 September, the American Antiquarian Society will host an online talk by Daniel R. Mandell on “Finding the Lost Tradition of Economic Equality in America.”

The event announcement:
Although Americans today are concerned about the ever-increasing levels of wealth and income inequality, many continue to believe that their country was founded on a person’s right to acquire and control property. But in his latest book, The Lost Tradition of Economic Equality in America, 1600–1880, Daniel Mandell argues that the United States was originally deeply influenced by the belief that maintaining a “rough” equality of wealth was essential for a successful republican government. That belief continued to influence American culture and politics even as wage labor became increasingly common and the chasm widened between rich and poor.
Dan Mandell was a research fellow at the A.A.S., and his talk will highlight some of the library’s holdings significant to this research.

Mandell is a professor of history at Truman State University in Missouri. Much of his work has examined the Native communities of New England, including the books King Philip’s War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty; Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts; and Tribe, Race, History: Native Americans in Southern New England, 1780-1880.

Here’s a Conversation essay by Mandell sharing ideas from his new book. In this Rogue Historian podcast episode, he discusses the history with Keith Harris.

The A.A.S.’s live event is scheduled to start at 8:00 P.M. Eastern time. Registration is free.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 4.8% year-over-year in July

S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for July ("July" is a 3 month average of May, June and July prices).

This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index.

From S&P: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index Reports 4.8% Annual Home Price Gain in July
The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 4.8% annual gain in July, up from 4.3% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 3.3%, up from 2.8% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 3.9% year-over-year gain, up from 3.5% in the previous month.

Phoenix, Seattle and Charlotte reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 19 cities (excluding Detroit) in July. Phoenix led the way with a 9.2% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle with a 7.0% increase and Charlotte with a 6.0% increase. Sixteen of the 19 cities reported higher price increases in the year ending July 2020 versus the year ending June 2020.
The National Index posted a 0.8% month-over-month increase, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted increases of 0.6% before seasonal adjustment in July. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.4%, while the 10-City and 20- City Composites posted increases of 0.5% and 0.6%, respectively. In July, 18 of 19 cities (excluding Detroit) reported increases before seasonal adjustment, while 18 of the 19 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment.

“Housing prices rose in July,” says Craig J. Lazzara, Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The National Composite Index gained 4.8% relative to its level a year ago, slightly ahead of June’s 4.3% increase. The 10- and 20-City Composites (up 3.3% and 3.9%, respectively) also rose at an accelerating pace in July compared to June. The strength of the housing market was consistent nationally – all 19 cities for which we have July data rose, with 16 of them outpacing their June gains.

“In previous months, we’ve noted that a trend of accelerating increases in the National Composite Index began in August 2019. That trend was interrupted in May and June, as price gains decelerated modestly, but now may have resumed. Obviously more data will be required before we can say with confidence that any COVID-related deceleration is behind us.
emphasis added
Case-Shiller House Prices Indices Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

The Composite 10 index is up 4.3% from the bubble peak, and up 0.5% in July (SA) from June.

The Composite 20 index is 8.7% above the bubble peak, and up 0.6% (SA) in July.

The National index is 18.6% above the bubble peak (SA), and up 0.4% (SA) in July.  The National index is up 60% from the post-bubble low set in December 2011 (SA).

Case-Shiller House Prices Indices The second graph shows the Year over year change in all three indices.

The Composite 10 SA is up 3.3% compared to July 2019.  The Composite 20 SA is up 4.0% year-over-year.

The National index SA is up 4.8% year-over-year.

Note: According to the data, prices increased in 18 cities month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

Price increases were slightly above expectations.  I'll have more later.

‘Bomb Trains’ Coming Soon Through Your Town

Trump, Kushner Have Financial Ties to Company that Wants Railroads to Carry Deadly Liquefied Natural Gas

Sarah Okeson

Sarah Okeson

An energy company tied to a hedge fund that loaned millions to the Trump Organization and the Kushner Companies will benefit after Team Trump approved railroads running “bomb trains” through our nation.

They are loaded with liquefied natural gas with more explosive power than the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Liquefied natural gas is even more volatile than Bakken crude oil carried on trains like the one that derailed and caught fire on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, killing 47 people. Most of the victims had to be identified with DNA samples and dental records. The bodies of five of the people were never recovered.

Drue Pearce, the political appointee who is deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, helped shepherd the regulation through the agency. Trump in April 2019 had called for federal rules to be rewritten so trains could carry liquefied natural gas.

People are being kept in the dark about this enormous risk. A vapor cloud could travel a couple of miles and someone starts their car and the whole place blows up.

“There seems to be no compelling need for PHMSA to be moving so quickly on the issuance of a nationwide rule for LNG transport by 100-cars-plus unit trains of rail tank cars, in the absence of reasonably supporting agency research,” wrote the attorneys for Earthjustice.

‘Enhanced’ Tank Cars

The agency, headed by former railroad executive Howard Elliott, contends shipping liquefied natural gas by rail is a “safe alternative,” and that the gas will be transported in “enhanced” tank cars.

But Karl Alexy, now the chief safety officer for the Federal Railroad Administration, warned in 2014 that even sturdier cars carrying flammable liquids at 30 mph may not be able to withstand punctures.

“When you begin to look at cars that are derailing at speeds of 30, 40 mph, it’s very difficult, it’s a big ask, to expect that a tank car gets hit [and] not be breached,” Alexy said.

ACTION BOX / What You Can Do About It

Comment online about the rule.

Contact Earthjustice at 1-800-584-6460 or


Shipping liquefied natural gas by rail also doesn’t make sense economically compared with major pipelines, according to federal energy regulators. Environmentalists and landowners successfully have blocked pipelines such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline which would have carried natural gas across the Appalachian Trail and into Virginia and North Carolina.

Trump Lender

The 2013 LNG train crash in Quebec. (Transportation Safety Board, Canada)

The regulation financially benefits New Fortress Energy, a publicly-traded company founded by billionaire Wes Edens. Fortress Investment Group, a New York City hedge fund co-founded by Edens, was part of a deal to loan the Trump Organization $130 million to help build the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago in 2005.

“It is highly suspect,” said law professor Richard Painter, the former chief ethics attorney for President George W. Bush.

Vapor clouds from liquefied natural gas that ignite can burn as hot as 2,426 degrees. Liquefied natural gas is odorless because ethyl mercaptan, the foul-smelling compound added to natural gas for residential use freezes above the boiling point for liquefied natural gas.

“People are being kept in the dark about this enormous risk,” said Fred Millar, a chemical disaster expert. “A vapor cloud could travel a couple of miles and someone starts their car and the whole place blows up.”

Loan Forgiven

Trump couldn’t pay the loan which ultimately grew to about $150 million, according to documents filed in the New York Supreme Court by New York Attorney General Letitia James. She is investigating possible fraud by the Trump Organization. A judge recently ordered Eric Trump to cooperate with investigators.

James said that Fortress forgave more than $100 million of the loan, money that may have been taxable.

Fortress also loaned $57 million in October 2017 to a Jersey City, N.J., real estate project owned by Kushner Companies. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, transferred his stake in the project to a family trust.

SoftBank Group, a Japanese firm, bought Fortress Investment Group in 2017.

States Sue

In August, Maryland, New York, the District of Columbia and 12 other states sued Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Elliott over the new rule. They said the rule is unlawful under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act signed in 1975 by President Gerald Ford and other laws. Earthjustice and other environmental organizations are also part of the lawsuit.

Earthjustice said the rule could bring LNG railroad cars through virtually all major U.S. cities and that a disaster could destroy an entire city.

On Oct. 20, 1944, liquefied natural gas leaked from a storage tank at East Ohio Gas Co in Cleveland and got into the sewer lines, causing explosions over a square mile. The explosions and fires spread through 20 blocks, killing 130 people and destroying 79 homes in a neighborhood of Slovenian immigrants and two factories.

“It was if a flame-thrower had been turned on you,” one survivor said.

Featured image: The crude-by-rail explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, killed 47 people in 2013. (Earthjustice)


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Human infection challenge trial(s) for covid-19 vaccine likely to start in UK in January

 The Financial Times has the story:

UK to test vaccines on volunteers deliberately infected with Covid-19--‘Human challenge trials’ intended to accelerate vaccine development programmes   by  Clive Cookson.

"London is to host the world’s first Covid-19 human challenge trials — in which healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with coronavirus to assess the effectiveness of experimental vaccines.

"The UK government-funded studies are expected to begin in January ...

"The researchers, who did not want to comment publicly ahead of the launch, said the trials would play a vital role in narrowing the large field of promising Covid-19 vaccines likely to move into clinical testing early next year.

"Volunteers will be inoculated with a vaccine and a month or so later receive a “challenge” dose of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, under controlled conditions."

"About 2,000 potential volunteers have signed up for challenge studies in the UK through the US-based advocacy group 1Day Sooner, which campaigns for Covid-19 infection trials and has enlisted 37,000 people worldwide. Traditional clinical trials need tens of thousands of participants and researchers would struggle to attract enough for multiple vaccine studies."

Kepler launches first internally produced satellites

WASHINGTON — Canadian startup Kepler Communications launched Sept. 28 the first two satellites built in its own facility as the company ramps up its plans to deploy a constellation for data and Internet of Things services.

The two six-unit XL cubesats, known as Kepler-4 and Kepler-5 but nicknamed Antilles and Amidala, were among the 15 smallsat secondary payloads brokered by Exolaunch that launched on a Soyuz-2.1b from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia at 7:20 a.m. Eastern. The primary payload for the launch was a trio of Gonets satellites for the Russian government.

The two Kepler satellites are the first “GEN1” satellites for the company after the launch of three prototypes, two in 2018 and the third Sept. 2 on a Vega dedicated rideshare mission. The three prototypes were built in cooperation with AAC Clyde Space.

The new GEN1 satellites, however, were built by Kepler at a satellite manufacturing facility it established at its Toronto headquarters late last year. The company said that challenges in “maturing the supply chain” in the satellite manufacturing industry led it to establish an in-house production capability rather than work with an existing manufacturer.

“We’re able now to own the production of this very capable platform,” Jared Bottoms, director of space systems at Kepler, said during a company webcast about the launch. “We really wanted to centralize our production in downtown Toronto to take advantage of the fast-paced atmosphere, the wide breadth of talent that we can tap into, and take that spirit and apply it to the space industry.”

That internal production capability will allow the company to adopt what it calls a “lean and agile” approach to producing its satellites. “Building a production line associated with that allows us to be cost efficient while also allowing us to be innovative and collaborative,” said Shehroz Hussain, production control lead at Kepler.

The GEN1 satellites incorporate improvements over the three prototypes, including increased power and improved thermal control, as well as updates to the communications payload. Those satellites will provide store-and-forward communications for large data files as well as narrowband Internet of Things services for asset tracking and monitoring.

“This is the start of our aggressive launch campaign,” said Mina Mitry, chief executive of Kepler. “Our production floor has ramped up to nearly full capacity and we’ll continue to deliver satellites for a variety of launch missions.”

Kepler’s next satellites will launch in December, the company said. The company didn’t disclose details of the launch, but Mitry said it would be an “even larger deployment” of satellites than this launch.

The launch carried satellites for other smallsat constellation developers. Spire flew four of its three-unit cubesats on the launch, two of which are equipped with intersatellite crosslinks and two with advanced computing systems to enable the use of machine learning algorithms. The launch also carried two microsatellites that Exolaunch said were for an unnamed “European-based commercial customer” but are believed to be the latest synthetic aperture radar satellites for Finnish company Iceye.

Other satellites on the launch included four three-unit NetSat cubesats developed by the Würzburg Center for Telematics to test formation flying techniques, the SALSAT microsatellite from Technische Universität Berlin to study spectrum usage in several bands, the three-unit MeznSat cubesat from the United Arab Emirates Space Agency to measure greenhouse gas concentrations, and a three-unit Internet of Things cubesat for an unnamed customer.


A Calculation of the Social Returns to Innovation

Benjamin Jones and Larry Summers have an excellent new paper calculating the returns to social innovation.

This paper estimates the social returns to investments in innovation. The disparate spillovers associated with innovation, including imitation, business stealing, and intertemporal spillovers, have made calculations of the social returns difficult. Here we provide an economy-wide calculation that nets out the many spillover margins. We further assess the role of capital investment, diffusion delays, learning-by-doing, productivity mismeasurement, health outcomes, and international spillovers in assessing the average social returns. Overall, our estimates suggest that the social returns are very large. Even under conservative assumptions, innovation efforts produce social benefits that are many multiples of the investment costs.

What was interesting to me is that their methods of calculation are obvious, almost trivial. It can take very clever people to see the obvious. Essentially what they do is take the Solow model seriously. The Solow model says that in equilibrium growth in output per worker comes from productivity growth. Suppose then that productivity growth comes entirely from innovation investment then this leads to a simple expression:

Where g is the growth rate of output per worker (say 1.8% per year), r is the discount rate (say 5%), and x/y is the ratio of innovation investment, x, to GDP, y, (say 2.7%). Plugging the associated numbers in we get a benefit to cost ratio of (.018/.05)/.027=13.3.

To see where the expression comes from suppose we are investing zero in innovation and thus not growing at all. Now imagine we invest in innovation for one year. That one year investment improves economy wide productivity by g% forever (e.g. we learn to rotate our crops). The value of that increase, in proportion to the economy, is thus g/r and the cost is x/y.

Jones and Summers then modify this simply relation to take into account other factors, some of which you have undoubtedly already thought of. Suppose, for example, that innovation must be embodied in capital, a new design for a nuclear power plant, for example, can’t be applied to old nuclear power plants but most be embodied in a new plant which also requires a lot of investment in cement and electronics. Net domestic investment is about 4% of GDP so if all of this is necessary to take advantage of innovation investment (2.7% of gdp), we should increase “required” to 6.7% of GDP which is equivalent to multiplying the above calculation by 0.4 (2/7/6.7). Doing so reduces the benefit to cost ratio to 5.3 which means we still get a very large internal rate of return of 27% per year.

Other factors raise the benefit to cost ratio. Health innovations, for example, don’t necessarily show up in GDP but are extremely valuable. Taking health innovation cost out of x means every other R&D investment must be having a bigger effect on GDP and so raises the ratio. Alternatively, including health innovations in benefits, a tricky calculation since longer life expectancy is valuable in itself and raises the value of GDP, increases the ratio even more. (See also Why are the Prices So Damn High? on this point). International spillovers also increase the value of US innovation spending.

Bottom line is, as Jones and Summers argue, “analyzing the average returns from a wide variety of perspectives suggests that the social returns [to innovation spending] are remarkably high.”

The post A Calculation of the Social Returns to Innovation appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Four short links: 29 Sep 2020

  1. When Coffeemakers Demand Ransom So he then examined the mechanism the coffee maker used to receive firmware updates. It turned out they were received from the phone with—you guessed it—no encryption, no authentication, and no code signing. Nothing remarkable here other than it’s 2020 and companies still put crappy software into their hardware.
  2. Returns to Scale vs ExperienceBig machines are sometimes more efficient. But they cost more, so fewer can be produced with a finite budget. Small machines are cheaper and may benefit from improvement over time, driven by experience in building more units. When does this experience lead to greater overall efficiency? We derive an approximation which, given a learning rate, tells how much smaller a machine must be to overcome an initial efficiency disadvantage.
  3. Ten Years of Studying Social BotsThe first work that specifically addressed the detection of automated accounts in online social networks dates back to January 2010. A good history, courtesy the ACM.
  4. CRDTs are the Future — A love note to CRDTs from someone who worked on Wave.

Critical Fire Weather Conditions for California and the Plains; Wet and Stormy Across the East

Speeding up bgpq4 with IRRd in a container

When building route filters with bgpq4 or bgpq3, the speed of or can be a bottleneck. Updating many filters may take several tens of minutes, depending on the load:

$ time bgpq4 -h AS-HURRICANE | wc -l
1.96s user 0.15s system 2% cpu 1:17.64 total
$ time bgpq4 -h AS-HURRICANE | wc -l
1.86s user 0.08s system 12% cpu 14.098 total

A possible solution is to have your own IRRd instance in your network, mirroring the main routing registries. A close alternative is to bundle IRRd with all the data in a ready-to-use Docker image. This also has the advantage of easy integration into a Docker-based CI/CD pipeline.

$ git clone -b blade/master
$ cd irrd-legacy
$ docker build . -t irrd-snapshot:latest
Successfully built 58c3e83a1d18
Successfully tagged irrd-snapshot:latest
$ docker container run --rm --detach --publish=43:43 irrd-snapshot
$ time bgpq4 -h localhost AS-HURRICANE | wc -l
1.72s user 0.11s system 96% cpu 1.881 total

The Dockerfile contains three stages:

  1. building IRRd,1
  2. retrieving various IRR databases, and
  3. assembling the final container with the result of the two previous stages.

The second stage fetches the databases used by NTTCOM, RADB, RIPE, ALTDB, BELL, LEVEL3, RGNET, APNIC, JPIRR, ARIN, BBOI, TC, and AFRINIC. However, it misses some of the databases as I was unable to locate them: ARIN-WHOIS, RPKI,2 and REGISTROBR. Feel free to adapt!

The image can be scheduled to be rebuilt daily or weekly, depending of your needs. The repository includes a .gitlab-ci.yaml file automating the build and triggering the compilation of all filters by your CI/CD upon success.

  1. Instead of using the latest version of IRRd, the image relies on an older version that does not require a PostgreSQL instance and uses flat files instead. ↩︎

  2. Unlike the others, the RPKI database is built from the published RPKI ROAs↩︎

Art, Corona, Tech, and Social Media

This week, my book New Dark Age is published in Greek by Metaixmio, in a translation by Manolis Andriotakis. I was asked to undertake a short interview, which will accompany the publication – in Greek. Here is the English version.

1. How do you see the role of the artist in Coronavirus times?

It’s been strange times for artists: as precarious workers, we’ve seen much of our work, always irregular, cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Exhibitions have been pushed back, and many of the support structures for making work, such as residencies and grants, have become inaccessible or constrained. So a lot of artists are struggling right now. And so are many of those who work in the wider art fields: there have been mass redundancies across the art world, with many in even more precarious positions, such as cleaning staff, invigilators, and art handlers, treated incredibly poorly. This is happening just at the time of increased political involvement in art institutions by artists: from Black Lives Matter and Me Too to campaigns against pharmaceutical, weapons, surveillance, and offshore profits being laundered through art institutions. So on the one hand, we have a situation where artists are being reduced in agency, and on the other, there are incredible opportunities for acts of solidarity with other art workers, as well as broader political movements, and these feel necessary and urgent to be involved in. Campaigns such as Decolonize This Place and the Whitney Boycott in the US, and the Tate Workers Strike and SouthbankSOS in the UK, are serious attempts by artists and colleagues to shift the political situation around labour, representation, and power in the art world and these matter hugely in the present moment.

As to the role of art itself, I’ve been particularly struck by the way many organisations have moved online, and are trying to continue to disseminate artworks and events under heavily constrained circumstances. This is to be applauded, although it feels like there’s a lack of imagination in the way it’s being done: not all art – very little art – can be reduced to online videos, and little boxes on webpages. Art needs community to grow and thrive, offline as well as on, and it needs rethinking in how its performed and enacted. For example, I’m particularly interested in forms such as instruction-based and DIY art, which originate in 60s and 70s movements like Fluxus and Mail Art which tried to create distanced communities of artists, while showing how everyone could be an artist by creating the art themselves. These seem ripe for rediscovery in a time when we can’t all be together, but the need for art – as balm, as healing, as thinking differently, as novel story-telling, and as political force – is as great as it ever was.

2. Is technology the cure or the illness of our times, or both?

I have to fall back on much-quoted words of Melvin Kranzberg, as I do often in the book: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” What matters is how we use it, and who uses it. If it’s used to obscure, centralise and exercise power and domination, as it is by states and corporations in the present moment, then it is undoubtedly part of the sickness. But when it is decolonised and democratised, when it is placed into the hands of wider publics – crucially, along with the education to make its critical use possible – then it can be part of the cure. The greatest lie we have been sold is that technology, by the pure fact of its existence, makes the world better. This can only be true if the world is made better with it, so that more people have access to the tools themselves, and the knowledge and know-how to use them. So any programme of technological expansion, as we’ve seen accelerate to mind-bending speed in the last fifty years, has to be accompanied by a comprehensive political and educational project, to ensure that the benefits of technology accrue to all of us.

3. What is your opinion about the dominant role of social media on the internet?

Social media is what the internet was made for, whether we intended it that way or not. I sometimes describe the internet as “an unconsciously generated tool for unconscious generation”, by which I mean that we didn’t really know what we were building when we created it, there was no central plan or guiding intent, and there’s still no consensus on what it’s actually ‘for’ – nor could there be. Yet it seems to have this extraordinary ability to enact and amplify our deepest, often latent desires – the things we most long for, even if we’re not consciously aware of that longing. As deeply social creatures, who yearn for connection with one another and the more-than-human world, social media is a killer app: it allows us to create this incredibly vibrant, global sensorium, in which those of us lucky to have access can message, share, emote, and – unfortunately but inevitably – argue, to exhaustion.

The problem is that the platforms we currently use to do so are profit-seeking, imperial, closed, and authoritarian: they are wholly owned by large corporations, from the ground up, who have enclosed these social spaces, and do not have our best interests at heart. In fact, they profit precisely by driving us to distraction, extremism, and fundamentalism, and by increasing disparities in wealth, understanding, and political power and agency.

In part, this is a problem of western and particularly US hegemony: the bare fact that some billions of the world’s population interact daily through a social framework designed by and for white, male, privileged college graduates in the US is a travesty, and a dangerous one. But beyond that it’s also a problem of capitalism and statism, which render us incapable of imagining global, technological infrastructures which are not privately owned, not rent-seeking, and not focussed on elevating their own power at our expense. So my answer to all three questions is essentially the same: the role of art, and technology, and media in the present moment is to rediscover its political agency, self- and collectively educate, and imagine and build better worlds in which more diverse and more equal communities can live with care, justice, and respect towards one another the natural world.

New measures for health care productivity

The most productive part of medical care is treatment for cardiovascular disease, both acute conditions and risk factors.  Productivity estimates for acute cardiovascular diseases are $89,000 in aggregate — 79% of the total increase [in health care productivity from 1999 to 2012].

There has been very little progress over that same period in treating mental illness, arthritis, and musculoskeletal conditions.  How about this:?

Despite a vast increase in the number of people treated with drugs for mental illness, the population’s mental health showed essentially no change over time.

Overall medical care was increasing in productivity over that period by about 0.7% a year, still great stagnation territory as they say.

That is all from a new paper by David M. Cutler, Kaushik Ghosh, Kassandra Messer, Trivellore Raghunathan, Allison B. Rosen, and Susan T. Stewart.

The post New measures for health care productivity appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The Elite Quality Index

Here are the top ten, by Tomas Casas and Guido Cozzi:

1. Singapore

2. Switzerland

3. Germany

4. United Kingdom

5. United States

China comes in #12, Mexico wins for Latin America, Poland overperforms and France (!) underperforms.  Botswana is #23, and Argentina…uh-oh.  I don’t quite understand how the index is constructed, but how much a given elite focuses on Value Creation and avoids rent-seeking seems to be a key consideration.  The degree of Regulatory Capture counts as a negative.  Overall, the U.S. does very, very well on many metrics, but does poorly on Value Extraction.

Here is the underlying paper.  Here is the sponsoring organization.  Here is a lengthy treatment of the methodology.  For the pointer I thank Chandran.

The post The Elite Quality Index appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Coalition for App Fairness

Spearheaded by Epic Games, Spotify, and Tinder parent Match Group, the Coalition for App Fairness is an advocacy group pushing for legal and regulatory changes to “app stores” — but quite specifically Apple’s in particular. Some of their aims are unobjectionable, but the main ones would effectively do away with the App Store as we know it:

1. No developer should be required to use an app store exclusively, or to use ancillary services of the app store owner, including payment systems, or to accept other supplementary obligations in order to have access to the app store.

9. No app store owner should prohibit third parties from offering competing app stores on the app store owner’s platform, or discourage developers or consumers from using them.

Basically they’re demanding that platforms like iOS and Android be run like PC platforms like MacOS and Windows. But as I’ve been emphasizing all summer long, such a view would require game consoles to surrender the same control. iOS is an app console — a platform where the platform maker controls all software for the platform.

3. Every developer should have timely access to the same interoperability interfaces and technical information as the app store owner makes available to its own developers.

Good luck with that one.

4. Every developer should always have access to app stores as long as its app meets fair, objective and nondiscriminatory standards for security, privacy, quality, content, and digital safety.

Who gets to make these determinations if not the platform owner? To name just one high profile developer and just one of those categories, Facebook has very different standards for privacy than Apple. What the Coalition for App Fairness is arguing is that Apple shouldn’t get to decide the standards for privacy (or security, quality, content, and whatever “digital safety” is) for its own platform — some other unnamed arbiter (perhaps the Coalition for App Fairness itself) would make such determinations.


[Sponsor] Simris Algae Omega-3

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But the source of omega-3 is algae. Not fish. Fish get their omegas from eating algae. Simris® Algae Omega-3 is a completely plant-based and superior alternative to fish oil and krill, without the mercury, PCB and dioxins, and without harming our oceans.

Simris is a Swedish pioneer company growing microalgae. We save and protect endangered marine habitats by replacing unsustainable marine ingredients, and proudly combine Scandinavian innovation and design at its finest.


Apple Marina Bay Sands

Apple Newsroom, three weeks ago:

Apple today previewed Apple Marina Bay Sands, the first Apple Store to sit directly on the water. Appearing as a sphere floating on the iridescent Marina Bay, the store introduces a new and captivating retail experience at one of the most iconic locations in Singapore.

Entirely surrounded by water, Apple Marina Bay Sands offers uninterrupted 360-degree panoramic views of the city and its spectacular skyline. The sphere is a first-of-its-kind, all-glass dome structure that is fully self-supported, comprised of 114 pieces of glass with only 10 narrow vertical mullions for structural connection. As Apple’s third retail location in Singapore, the new store creates an unforgettable space for customers.

Whenever complaints about Apple pop up — like, say, this weekend’s story about a ripoff app topping the charts in the App Store — some number of people will respond along the lines of, “Well, what do you expect from a company run by a penny-pinching beancounter like Tim Cook?” I.e. that Apple, under Cook’s leadership, has gotten cheap, and the reason for Problem X is that Apple refuses to spend money to fix it.

This is nonsense. Apple is not cheap. A miserly penny-wise/pound-foolish company does not design and build architectural marvels like this new store in Singapore. Apple spends lavishly on what they care about and consider important.


Tuesday: Case-Shiller House Prices

• At 9:00 AM ET: S&P/Case-Shiller House Price Index for July. The consensus is for a 3.8% year-over-year increase in the Comp 20 index for July.

NASA still searching for source of ISS air leak

Cassidy air leak

WASHINGTON — NASA says they are still not sure of the source of a small air leak on the International Space Station after the crew spent a second weekend confined to a single module there.

The Expedition 63 crew of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner remained inside the Zvezda module in the Russian segment of the station from the evening of Sept. 25 until the morning of Sept. 28. Hatches between other modules of the station were all closed in an effort to identify which one has a small, but not critical, air leak.

At a Sept. 28 briefing about the upcoming Northrop Grumman NG-14 Cygnus cargo mission to the station, a NASA official said that the weekend isolation in the Zvezda module failed to immediately locate the source of the leak. “As of this morning, there was no clear indication of where the leak is,” said Greg Dorth, manager of the ISS Program External Integration Office at NASA. “The teams are still looking at the data and evaluating it.”

This was the second time the ISS crew confined themselves to Zvezda in an effort to track down the leak. A month earlier, the three also spent a weekend in Zvezda with the other modules sealed off in an effort to locate the leak. “After the three days, there was no indication of where the leak was coming from,” Dorth said.

This latest test, he said, featured some “slightly different configurations” in both the U.S. and Russian segments, although he did not elaborate on the differences between the two tests. In addition, Cassidy used an ultrasonic leak detector to see if the leak was coming from Zvezda itself.

The leak, he emphasized, doesn’t pose a risk to the crew or the station itself. “It’s a very, very small leak. It’s an impact to our consumables, but we’ve planned for that. We can address the leak as we continue the investigation.”

Cassidy made the same point in a series of tweets about the leak just before he and his crewmates spent the weekend isolated in Zvezda. “No harm or risk to us as the crew, but it is important to find the leak [so] we are not wasting valuable air,” he wrote.

Space station controllers took advantage of a relatively quiet time on the station in the effort to locate the leak, which was first detected a year ago. Only three people are on the station, making it feasible for them to stay in a single module. Moreover, there have been no spacecraft visiting the station since the departure of an HTV cargo vehicle Aug. 18.

That will soon change, though. The NG-14 Cygnus cargo spacecraft is scheduled to launch Oct. 1 from Wallops Island, Virginia, and arrive at the station early Oct. 4. That mission “marks the beginning of a very busy vehicle traffic month on ISS,” Dorth said.

That traffic includes the launch of a new Soyuz spacecraft Oct. 14 with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov on board. That will be followed by the undocking of the Soyuz currently at the station Oct. 21 returning Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon is now scheduled to launch Oct. 31 with NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi. That will bring the station’s crew to seven for the foreseeable future. The launch was scheduled for Oct. 23, but NASA said Sept. 28 they were moving the launch to deconflict it with the Soyuz launch and landing operations and provide more time “to ensure closure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the station” before the Crew-1 launch.


First operational Crew Dragon launch slips to Halloween

The Crew-1 mission will include mission specialist Shannon Walker, vehicle pilot Victor Glover, commander Mike Hopkins and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi. Credit: NASA

NASA announced Monday that the launch of the first operational crew rotation mission to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is set for the predawn hours of Halloween, eight days later than previously planned.

The Crew Dragon spaceship is scheduled to blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at around 2:40 a.m. EDT (0640 GMT) on Oct. 31, the space agency said.

If the mission takes off as scheduled, the crew capsule will dock with the International Space Station around a day later, either late on Oct. 31 or early Nov. 1.

Commander Michael Hopkins will lead the four-person crew. He will be joined by pilot Victor Glover and mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi to kick off a six-month expedition on the space station.

The mission, known as Crew-1, was previously scheduled for launch Oct. 23. NASA said the delay to Oct. 31 will “deconflict” the Crew 1 launch and docking with the scheduled arrival Oct. 14 of a three-person Soyuz crew at the space station, and the departure and landing of an outgoing station crew Oct. 21.

“This additional time is needed to ensure closure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the station, ahead of the Crew-1 arrival,” NASA said.

The delay will also give engineers more time to conduct additional testing to isolate a small air leak inside the space station’s pressurized cabin. Greg Dorth, NASA’s manager of the space station external integration office, said Monday that the leak is “very, very small.”

“The leak is not a safety of crew nor a safety of station issue,” Dorth said Monday. “It’s a very, very small leak. It’s an impact to our consumables, but we have planned for that. We can address the leak as we continue the investigation.”

The space station’s three residents spent three days isolated in the Russian segment of the complex in August, and the crew spent another weekend in the Russian section of the station last weekend in a bid to help ground teams isolate the location of the leak.

“As of this morning, there was no clear indication of where the leak is,” Dorth said Monday. “The teams are still looking at the data and evaluating it, and we will continue to search for this very, very small leak.”

NASA said SpaceX “continues to make progress on preparations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, and the adjusted date allows the teams additional time for completing open work ahead of launch.”

Hopkins and his crewmates finished training on Crew Dragon systems last week at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. “We’ve got our license to fly!” Glover tweeted.

The Crew-1 mission follows a successful test flight known as Demo-2, in which NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew to the space station on a two-month mission to wring out the human-rated capsule before officials clear it for regular missions.

Hurley and Behnken launched May 30 and returned to Earth on Aug. 2.

Beginning with Crew-1, SpaceX plans to launch multiple Crew Dragon missions per year with NASA astronauts, international crew members, and fare-paying private passengers. NASA is in the final stages of formally certifying the Crew Dragon for operational missions.

Noguchi also tweeted last week that the Crew-1 astronauts had completed their final underwater spacewalk training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronauts train in a giant pool to mimic the weightless conditions in orbit.

NASA plans to host a series of press conferences Tuesday to preview the Crew-1 mission.

The four-person crew set for launch Oct. 31 will remain aboard the space station until around April 2021, when another Crew Dragon spacecraft is set to dock with a fresh four-person team of astronauts. Hopkins and his crewmates will then depart in their Crew Dragon capsule to head for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is one of two new U.S. spaceships designed to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. Developed under a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA, the commercial Crew Dragon capsule is also configured to carry private astronauts into low Earth orbit, beginning with a 10-day mission next October that is expected to include actor Tom Cruise.

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule is designed the same types of missions as the Crew Dragon. But the Starliner program has run into delays, an an unpiloted test flight of a Starliner spacecraft in December 2019 prematurely ended after a software error prevented it from docking with the space station.

NASA and Boeing have agreed to launch a second Starliner test flight without astronauts to ensure the software issues are resolved before the first Starliner demonstration mission with crew members.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are seen on pad 39A on May 27 ahead of the launch of the Demo-2 mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The second unpiloted Starliner test flight is currently scheduled for launch in January aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. If it goes well, Boeing could be ready to fly another Starliner to the space station with Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann no earlier than June 2021.

Then NASA could approve Boeing’s Starliner to begin regular trips to and from the space station. NASA’s contracts with Boeing and SpaceX each include provisions for six crew rotation missions to the space station through 2024.

While the new U.S. vehicles are coming online, Russian Soyuz missions will continue transporting space station crews in the coming years. Russian technicians at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are readying the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft for launch at 1:45 a.m. EDT (0545 GMT) Oct. 14 with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins for their own six-month stint on the space station.

Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins will dock with the space station around three hours after liftoff, joining station commander Chris Cassidy and his Russian crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner have been on the space station since April. They are due to depart the station and return to Earth in their Soyuz MS-16 capsule Oct. 21.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Weather systems prevail, ULA forced to scrub NROL-44

Unfavorable weather hung in the skies of the Space Coast late into the afternoon, forcing the scrub of ULA’s September 29, 2020 NROL-44 launch attempt. Photo: Theresa Cross, SpaceFlight Insider

At 6:32 p.m. this evening, ULA tweeted that weather was responsible for the scrub of their planned NROL-44 launch attempt, scheduled to have occurred at 12:02 a.m. early Tuesday morning. The launch is now scheduled for 11:58 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Poor weather forced the scrub of ULA’s NROL-44 Delta IV Heavy rocket on September 28, 2020. Photo: Theresa Cross, SpaceFlight Insider

Prior to today’s Delta IV Heavy scrub, SpaceFlight Insider joined other media outlets in setting remote cameras at neighboring LC-34, but soon after that task was completed the skies opened with a vengeance, bringing the force of a violent lightning and rain storm to bear on the deployed equipment. The launch complex was then placed under a Phase 2 lightning warning, forcing the pad crew to leave the site for shelter.

Earlier in the day, SpaceX was forced to scrub their planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39-A, which had been prepared with the next batch of Starlink satellites. While the aggressive aspects of the storm system passed early in the evening, rain continued to fall on the Space Coast as the Mobile Service Tower (MST) continued to enshroud and protect the Delta IV Heavy. It is unclear whether today’s two scrubs will affect the upcoming SpaceX GPS III launch.

A series of unfavorable weather systems hung in the skies of the Space Coast through late in the afternoon of September 28, 2020, forcing the second scrub of the day. Photo: Theresa Cross, SpaceFlight Insider

The post Weather systems prevail, ULA forced to scrub NROL-44 appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

A Bára Gísladóttir moment

From her new album HĪBER, on dacapo.

September 28 COVID-19 Test Results

The US is now mostly reporting over 700,000 tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections, so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).

There were 960,631 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 36,741 positive tests.

Over 21,000 Americans have died from COVID so far in September. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

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

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 3.8% (red line is 7 day average).

For the status of contact tracing by state, check out

And check out COVID Exit Strategy to see how each state is doing.

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

The dashed line is the June low.

Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed (the percent positive was very high - see first graph). By June, the percent positive had dropped below 5%.

If people stay vigilant, the number of cases might drop to the June low some time in October (that would still be a large number of new cases, but progress).

Vermont’s Autumnal Splendor

VT Fall Foliage 2020

I don’t know whether it’s our dry weather, my increased appreciation for Vermont due to our relative sanity during the pandemic, or just because I’ve been trying to spend as much time as I can outside appreciating nature before the snow flies, but this year’s foliage display seems extra good. Mother Nature just spilled her box of crayons everywhere.

Tags: photography   Vermont

Music as ecological disaster

A comment on the New Yorker website.

Old Photo Suggests That NASDAQ Likes NASA's New Economic Impact Report

I Hate Wine Tasting Like Some Students Hate Math Class

I live adjacent to the Northern California wine country, which makes wine tasting a fairly affordable and semi-regular kind of outing. (Pre-quar, of course.) But wine tasting makes me anxious and sweaty in ways that help me relate to students who hate math class.

  • There’s a sharp division between who is considered an expert and a novice, and an obsession with status (there are four levels of sommelier!) that’s only exceeded by some religious orders.
  • Experts seem to have very little interest in the intuitions and evolving understandings that novices bring to the tasting room. (What you’re supposed to be experiencing – the answer key – is written right there on the tasting menu!)
  • The whole thing is arbitrary in ways that we’re all supposed to pretend we don’t notice. (In math: the order of operations, the names of concepts, the y-axis is vertical, etc. In wine: the relationship between price and appreciation.)

I basically only enjoy tasting with a friend of mine, Michael Kanbergs, who is the man at Mt. Tabor Fine Wines in Portland, OR, if you’re local. He has expert-level knowledge about wine and enthusiasm to match but is allergic to most ordering forces in the world, including the expert / novice distinction. So he wants to share with you his favorite wines but he’s hesitant to offer his own perception too early because that’d undermine his curiosity about how you’re perceiving the wine.

I’m grateful to Michael for modeling good teaching, and grateful to other wine experts for helping me empathize a little better with math students who might find me and my habits alienating in similar ways.

NASA selects SpaceX to launch mission studying interstellar space

This illustration shows the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe observing signals from the interaction of the solar wind with the winds of other stars. Credit: NASA

NASA has awarded SpaceX a $109 million contract to launch the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe, a NOAA space weather observatory, a robotic scout to map water on the moon, and two other ridealong payloads on a single Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in 2024.

The rideshare mission’s primary passenger is IMAP, a probe heading for an observing post nearly a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth in the direction of the sun at the L1 Lagrange point. IMAP’s instruments will study the boundary between the heliosphere — where the sun’s influence reigns — and the region between the stars known as interstellar space.

NASA considered launchers from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance for IMAP. The agency announced Friday that a Falcon 9 rocket will boost the IMAP spacecraft toward its distant operating orbit at L1, a gravitational balance point between the Earth and the sun.

IMAP’s launch is scheduled for October 2024 from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to NASA. The space agency said the value of the contract with SpaceX is $109.4 million, including “the launch service and other mission related costs.”

Fitted with 10 instruments, IMAP will map the outer reaches of the heliosphere, where particles blown outward by the solar wind run into winds from other stars. The boundary, located about 10 billion miles from the sun, shields Earth and the rest of the planets from harmful cosmic rays.

Some of IMAP’s instruments will sample neutral particles from interstellar space that make it into the heliosphere, along with interstellar dust particles. In addition to probing the collision between the sun’s winds and materials from other stars, IMAP will also study the fundamental processes that accelerate particles throughout the heliosphere, and beyond, according to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which is developing the mission and building the spacecraft for NASA.

File photo of a Falcon 9 launch. Credit: SpaceX

The IMAP mission is cost-capped at $564 million, excluding the cost of launch services. The launch contract NASA signed with SpaceX will push the mission’s total cost to NASA to nearly $700 million.

Although IMAP is the prime payload on the Falcon 9 launch in October 2024, the spacecraft will not fill the rocket’s lift capacity.

A satellite being developed by NOAA to monitor space weather will company IMAP into space. Like IMAP, NOAA’s Space Weather Follow On-Lagrange 1, or SWFO-L1, mission will head to an observing post around the L1 Lagrange point nearly a million miles from Earth.

The SWFO-L1 mission will monitor the solar wind and detect solar flares that could threaten Earth with disruptions in communications, satellite navigation, spaceflight operations, and electrical grids. The new space weather sentinel, built by Ball Aerospace, will replace observations currently provided by NOAA’s DSCOVR mission and the SOHO spacecraft jointly managed by NASA and the European Space Agency.

NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer spacecraft will also launch with IMAP.

Built by Lockheed Martin, Lunar Trailblazer is a small spacecraft that will fly into orbit around the moon. It will characterize water on the sunlit side of the moon, measure how the moon’s water changes over time, and study water ice locked in cold traps inside permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s poles.

The solar system’s teardrop-shaped heliosphere blocks many cosmic rays and interstellar particles from reaching Earth. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab

NASA is also planning to select two small heliophysics missions to launch with IMAP on the Falcon 9 rocket. The agency is running two separate competitions to pick the small heliophysics missions that will launch with IMAP.

In one solicitation, NASA selected candidates named SIHLA and GLIDE. The SIHLA mission would collect complementary data to IMAP on the boundary between the heliosphere and interstellar space, while GLIDE would help scientists study how the exosphere — the uppermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere — responds to changes in solar activity or the atmosphere below.

NASA is considering mission concepts known as SETH and Solar Cruiser to take the other slot on the Falcon 9 launch with IMAP.

SETH would detect neutral atoms, waves and other particles from the sun, and demonstrate laser communications technology that could be used on future CubeSats and small satellites in deep space. Solar Cruiser would test a giant solar sail that would use the sun’s energy as a means of propulsion, and would carry a coronagraph to measure the sun’s magnetic field structure and the velocity of massive solar eruptions, according to NASA.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Links 9/28/20

Links for you. Science:

SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence among Healthcare, First Response, and Public Safety Personnel, Detroit Metropolitan Area, Michigan, USA, May–June 2020
Fourth large-scale COVID-19 vaccine trial begins in the United States. Trial evaluating investigational Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.
Nothing Eats Viruses, Right? Meet Some Hungry Protists. New genetic evidence builds the case that single-celled marine microbes might chow down on viruses.
Brainiacs, not birdbrains: Crows possess higher intelligence long thought a primarily human attribute
Saliva or Nasopharyngeal Swab Specimens for Detection of SARS-CoV-2


Philadelphia election official warns mail-in ballot technicality could invalidate 100,000 votes (sigh)
“The Democratic Party Opened the Way for Trump.” Critics of U.S. President Donald Trump claim he has brought ruin to the United States. For Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, that charge is too easy. He argues that liberal hubris has also played a significant role in the decay of American society.
The Democrats’ Supreme Court Hail Mary. This is the progressive case for court packing in a nutshell: “If your wallet is stolen, you don’t forgo efforts to recover it just because it might be stolen again.
‘Ready to Deliver:’ Read the Post Office’s Mandatory Pep Talk About Election Mail. According to the leaked speech, the USPS says it will undo nearly all of Louis DeJoy’s most controversial policies and make election mail its “number one priority.”
Say it plainly: The president is a psychopath
Alaska mining executive resigns a day after being caught on tape boasting of his ties to GOP politicians
The Political Donations of NBA Owners Are Not So Progressive (for most rich people, it’s transactional)
Meet the Ward 2 DC Council candidates in the November 2020 election
Why Trump’s Promise to Save Manufacturing Was One He Never Intended to Keep
QAnon’s Inexorable Spread Beyond the U.S. The bizarre, pro-Trump cult known as QAnon has been gaining followers in the United States for months. Now, the conspiracy theory has begun spreading to Germany. It’s followers believe that the coronavirus is a weapon of the elite in their quest to enslave the world.
The DOJ’s Claims of Discarded Ballots Are Yet Another Storm Cloud Forming Over the 2020 Election. I suspect this isn’t anywhere near as strange as it’s going to get.
Seven months into the pandemic, Trump’s testing plan enters its second wave of failure
Bernie Sanders Says Americans Must Prepare To Stand Up For Democracy
Why is the Trump campaign sending rent checks to a mysterious Long Island PO box?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Failure of Democratic Politics. The Supreme Court justice was both an icon and a symbol of modern liberalism’s flawed approach to accruing power.
William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of Our Time
Is Gary Farmer’s Abject Fear Of Winning Going To Cost Biden The State Of Florida?
He Was At The Heart Of Two Of The Biggest Dirty Money Scandals In History. These Are His Secrets.
The Trumpcare Scam
Amy Coney Barrett Is an Extremist—Just Not the Kind You Think

Alex Rodriguez Admits He's Haunted Every Day By 2004 Yankees Choke

I've lost years of my life and have gray hairs with '04. There's not a day of my life that I don't think about '04, and it haunts you forever.

Alex Rodriguez

Google ‘Clarifies’ Play Store Policies, Ending Spotify, Netflix, and Apple Music’s Use of Their Own In-App Billing Systems

Sameer Samat, vice president of product management at Google, on Google’s Android Developer Blog:

We want to be sure our policies are clear and up to date so they can be applied consistently and fairly to all developers, and so we have clarified the language in our Payments Policy to be more explicit that all developers selling digital goods in their apps are required to use Google Play’s billing system.

Again, this isn’t new. This has always been the intention of this long standing policy and this clarification will not affect the vast majority of developers with apps on Google Play. Less than 3% of developers with apps on Play sold digital goods over the last 12 months, and of this 3%, the vast majority (nearly 97%) already use Google Play’s billing. But for those who already have an app on Google Play that requires technical work to integrate our billing system, we do not want to unduly disrupt their roadmaps and are giving a year (until September 30, 2021) to complete any needed updates. And of course we will require Google’s apps that do not already use Google Play’s billing system to make the necessary updates as well.

This whole blog post is rather opaque. Basically they’re saying two things. First, big whales like Spotify and Netflix that have been using their own credit card processing in their Android apps need to switch to Google’s system for the apps they distribute via the Play Store by next year. Most reports are mentioning Spotify and Netflix here, but unless I’m missing something this policy change (or as Google claim, “clarification”) will also apply to Apple Music — the Android version of which charges users who sign up in the app directly, not via Google Play. The fact that Apple forces all subscription streaming services to use Apple’s in-app payments on iOS but doesn’t use Google’s on Android for Apple Music has been a source of much heckling.

Second, in a masterful jujitsu move turning Epic’s own language about “fairness” to its own advantage, Google is making a vague promise about making it easier to use third-party app stores on Android:

In response to that feedback, we will be making changes in Android 12 (next year’s Android release) to make it even easier for people to use other app stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures Android has in place. We are designing all this now and look forward to sharing more in the future!

There are no additional details, just that. But they’re presenting it as the main thrust of today’s announcement, not the move to require Spotify/Netflix/et al to use Google’s payment system for apps in the Play Store.


MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 6.87%"

Note: This is as of September 20th.

From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 6.87%
The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 6 basis points from 6.93% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 6.87% as of September 20, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 3.4 million homeowners are in forbearance plans.
“The share of loans in forbearance continues to decline and is now at a level not seen since mid-April. Many homeowners with GSE loans are exiting forbearance into a deferral plan and resuming their original mortgage payment, but waiting to pay the forborne amount until the end of the loan,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “However, the overall picture is still somewhat of a mixed bag. The recent uptick in forbearance requests, particularly for those with FHA or VA loans, is leaving the Ginnie Mae share elevated, as the pace of new requests meets or exceeds the pace of exits.”

Added Fratantoni, “The continued churn in the job market is likely keeping many homeowners who have been in forbearance reluctant to exit, given the level of economic uncertainty.”
By stage, 30.26% of total loans in forbearance are in the initial forbearance plan stage, while 68.37% are in a forbearance extension. The remaining 1.37% are forbearance re-entries.
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 been trending down for the last few months.

The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) increased relative to the prior week: from 0.10% to 0.11%"

There hasn't been a pickup in forbearance activity related to the end of the extra unemployment benefits.

*The Murder of Professor Schlick*

The author is David Edmonds, and the subtitle is The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle.  I very much enjoyed this book, and found its direct style refreshing, and I hope it will serve as a model for others.  The author actually tells you what you want to know!

I enjoyed the small tidbits.  I had not known that Frank Ramsey traveled to Vienna for psychoanalysis, because he was in love with a married woman his senior.  Ramsey ended up drinking the Freudian Kool-Aid, and also in Vienna became acquainted with Wittgenstein’s sister Gretl.

I had forgotten that Quine was two years the senior of A.J. Ayer.  He also spoke sarcastically of his forthcoming audience with Wittgenstein but sought it nonetheless.  Quine learned German remarkably quickly in Vienna, and then was lecturing philosophy in it without much difficulty.

Karl Popper was first an apprentice cabinetmaker, then a social worker, and then a teacher before he became a professional philosopher.  When he moved to New Zealand during the War, the university library in Otago had fewer books than his father’s library back home.

You can pre-order the book here.

The post *The Murder of Professor Schlick* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

My Octopus Teacher

I don’t want to give away too much about this movie but I’d recommend watching the trailer and then the movie (you can find it on Netflix). I watched it last night at Kevin Kelly’s urging:

This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. Nothing about its subject would suggest greatness, but it was perfectly crafted.

It’s such a simple movie but it packs a surprising emotional wallop and is philosophically rich. Even (or perhaps especially) the bits that seem problematic are thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

See also A Dreaming Octopus Changes Color.

Tags: movies   My Octopus Teacher   trailers   video

Live coverage: Delta 4-Heavy launch scrubbed for second day in a row

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a Delta 4-Heavy rocket with the classified NROL-44 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

United Launch Alliance’s live launch broadcast begins at 11:38 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Sept. 29 (0338 GMT on Sept. 30).

New Home Prices

As part of the new home sales report released last week, the Census Bureau reported the number of homes sold by price and the average and median prices.

From the Census Bureau: "The median sales price of new houses sold in August 2020 was $312,800. The average sales price was $369,000."

The following graph shows the median and average new home prices.

New Home Prices Click on graph for larger image.

During the housing bust, the builders had to build smaller and less expensive homes to compete with all the distressed sales.  When housing started to recovery - with limited finished lots in recovering areas - builders moved to higher price points to maximize profits.

The average price in August 2020 was $369,000, down 0.8% from July, and down 8.4% from the peak in 2017.  The median price was $312,800, down 4.6% from July, and down 8.9% from the peak in 2017.

The average and median house prices have mostly moved sideways since 2017 due to home builders offering more lower priced homes.

The second graph shows the percent of new homes sold by price.

New Home Sales by PriceVery few new homes sold were under $150K in August 2020 ("Less than 500 units" in August 2020, rounded down to zero).  This is down from 30% in 2002.  In general, the under $150K bracket is going away.   

The $400K+ bracket increased significantly since the housing recovery started, but has been holding steady recently - and declined over the last year.  A majority of new homes (about 66%) in the U.S., are in the $200K to $400K range.

The Growing Power Imbalance

Last spring, TPM published a series of essays on structural reforms to American democracy that Democrats could consider should they win the Senate and the White House in November. Now, with weeks to go until Election Day, the fight over the future of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat has thrust conversations about such reforms back to the fore. With the Senate and Supreme Court tilted to the right, and Republicans willing to toss aside norms and precedent to further strengthen their position, there’s too much at stake, the argument goes, for Democrats to declare any particular lever of power off limits.

Democrats could take affirmative steps in 2021 to, say, eliminate the Electoral College, create term limits for Supreme Court justices, or guarantee the right to vote for all Americans. “While such structural tinkering carries grave risks, and while there may be good reason for Joe Biden himself to stay silent for now, not acting in 2021 would carry a grave risk as well: that Democrats appear to be a party that can explain its failures but not produce results,” writes historian Greg Downs in Cafe today.

Given the Supreme Court fight and the conversation around how Democrats will respond, we’re re-upping our April series today. Read the essays here:


Monday assorted links

The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The Times Pulls Back the Covers on the Unrepentant Tax Cheat

A Damning Expose Lays Bare Decades of Deception, Fraud and Scheming—by Trump and Congress

David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston

The richly detailed examination of Donald Trump’s taxes in today’s New York Times carries two crucial but unstated messages. One is about Trump. The other about what chumps we Americans are when it comes to our own income taxes.

Trump paid no income taxes in 10 of the last 17 years while raking in as much as $153 million in a single year.

The year he ran for president he paid just $750. He paid the same sum during his first year in the Oval Office. That’s less than the average monthly rent paid by Americans, which was $1,023 in 2018.

That Trump is a serious tax cheat is no surprise to DCReport readers. Four years ago, I revealed that Trump lost two income tax fraud trials. He fabricated a consulting business in 1984. It showed no revenue, yet Trump claimed more than $600,000 in deductions. He could not produce a single receipt.

Getting caught cheating, again and again, didn’t make Trump into anything even vaguely resembling an honest taxpayer.

Trump’s longtime tax lawyer and accountant, Jack Mitnick, testified during one of the two civil fraud trials that Trump forged the tax return. Mitnick was Trump’s witness, by the way, showing just how much chutzpah Trump has.

The forgery testimony would have justified a criminal charge. It was also part of a pattern. In 1983, New York City Mayor Ed Koch took note of Trump’s multiple sales tax frauds. The mayor said Trump belonged behind bars. One city audit of his first big project, the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, showed Trump hid and destroyed records so he could cheat the city out of $3 million a year.

Learning Only How to Fight

But Trump learned nothing. Getting caught cheating, again and again, didn’t make him into anything even vaguely resembling an honest taxpayer.

What Trump did learn long ago from his mentor and “second father,” the notoriously corrupt lawyer Roy Cohn, was to lie, cheat, steal and never ever apologize or concede any fact. Just tie the authorities up for years and make them pour their limited resources into a case so they will give up and cry uncle – that’s the Roy Cohn way.

The New York Times report makes clear Trump continued into this century making up tax deductions out of thin air. That’s criminal and should be prosecuted, but our federal government has a policy of not indicting presidents no matter what crimes they may commit, leaving the task up to Cy Vance, the Manhattan district attorney.

In just two years, 2008 and 2009, Trump took $1.4 Billion in tax deductions. Note that B. Nothing in The Times report suggests he had assets and income that would justify such huge write-offs.

Deducting Personal Expenses

The paper also showed  Trump took deductions for his oldest son’s personal legal bills, a definite no-no. He deducted more than $70,000 for his hair styling. And he gave daughter Ivanka more than $700,000. The president called the money Ivanka got a fee, but it looks like a disguised gift in which Trump both evaded the gift tax and deducted it as a business expense. That’s also a no-no.

In tax matters our federal government never prosecutes over a single act of tax cheating. Instead, it goes after repeated misconduct. People have been sent to prison for cheating the government out of less than $1,000 because of a policy that is intended to intimidate people of every economic level into voluntarily complying with our tax laws.

Where the Blame Belongs

But Donald doesn’t learn. That’s the unstated message in The Times’ news account. Even being excoriated by a judge for making up tax deductions didn’t change Trump’s behavior.

The newspaper’s other unstated message is aimed at the rest of us. We are chumps.

We elected representatives, senators and presidents who have created two income tax systems, separate and unequal. One is for most of us – workers, pensioners, students on scholarship and stock market investors. In that system all our income is reported to the IRS and taxes are taken out before we get our money.

We can’t cheat. The computers will catch us if what the IRS has been told by our employers and others differs by as little as $10 from what we report on our tax returns.

But Donald Trump operates in the other tax system. It’s for people who control privately held businesses. Donald has more than 500 of them.

A Toothless IRS

Trump and his like tell the IRS how much they took in. There is little or no verification, nothing like how our employers file W-2 wage reports on us. These rich taxpayers pay whatever they want, which you can be sure is never more than the legal minimum, subject to audit.

This is a system designed to enable cheating. IRS studies, court cases, experiments by state tax agencies and official reports to Congress all show, as I have been reporting for decades, that this system is utterly corrupt.

Think about this for a moment. Congress doesn’t trust you, but it trusts the Donald Trumps of the country to pay what the law requires. If that doesn’t offend you, it should.

Fewer Audits of the Super-Rich

Audits have become rare and are moving in the direction of extinction. That’s because Congress has cut and cut and cut the IRS staff. The number of IRS revenue agents, as auditors are called, has been cut from almost 14,000 in 2010 to fewer than 9,000 in 2018. Trump is cutting their ranks even more.

In 2012 the IRS audited almost 41,000 taxpayers with incomes of $1 million or more. By 2018 that number was down to just 16,300.

This decline took place while the number of people making millions and billions of annual income has been growing fast, almost doubling since 2010 to more than 504,000 households.

In 2018, fewer than three out of every 100 millionaires were audited, down from eight out of 100 in 2010. Even then, the audit rate was tiny, especially compared to the opportunity to cheat.

Uncollected Taxes

In 2010, audits identified $5.1 billion of income taxes owed by millionaires and billionaires. But in 2018, only $1.9 billion of unpaid taxes were found, according to data that a federal court ordered the IRS to give to the Transactional Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

“Few audits mean many millionaires escape paying billions of dollars owed the U.S. Treasury,” the Clearinghouse says.

You’re Stuck with the Tab

Every dollar not paid by Trump and those like him is a dollar you must make up for through higher taxes, fewer government services or more federal debt. It’s a system in which you must pay one way or another while rich tax cheats enjoy personal jets, yachts and golf.

Many IRS audits are cursory. When I was The Times tax reporter, I reported on the trend toward what disgusted revenue agents called “audit lite,” a term intended to foster an image of thin and tasteless low-calorie beer. So even the audits now underway may not catch the cheats.

We must pay our income taxes like it or not while rich business owners like Trump decide what they want to pay. And their risk of getting caught cheating is tiny and shrinking each year.

The politicians who have supported ever tighter rules on verifying the income of most Americans and stripping away most of their ability to deduct charitable gifts, state and local taxes or mortgage interest are conservative Republicans. Some Democrats have gone along while other Democrats have fought for a bigger IRS to pursue business owners who cheat on their income taxes.

We keep electing people who make us pay whole while letting those best able to pay slip away. We are chumps.


The post The Times Pulls Back the Covers on the Unrepentant Tax Cheat appeared first on

After weather scrub, Starlink launch to wait for pair of national security missions

A Falcon 9 rocket is seen just before bad weather forced SpaceX to scrub a launch attempt Monday with 60 more Starlink satellites. Credit: SpaceX

Continuing a dizzying series of rescheduled launches from Florida’s Space Coast, poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center forced SpaceX to keep a Falcon 9 rocket and 60 Starlink broadband satellites on the ground Monday. The Starlink launch is expected to be delayed until Thursday, after a pair of national security missions are set to blast off from Cape Canaveral Tuesday.

SpaceX halted the Falcon countdown Monday around 30 seconds before a liftoff from pad 39A that was scheduled for an instantaneous launch window at 10:22 a.m. EDT (1422 GMT). The company’s launch conductor said the countdown stopped due to weather violations.

SpaceX did not immediately set a new target launch date, but sources said the next opportunity to launch the mission will be Thursday at around 9:17 a.m. EDT (1317 GMT).

Two rocket flights with U.S. national security payloads will take priority on the Eastern Range’s launch schedule at Cape Canaveral.

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket is set for liftoff at 12:02 a.m. EDT (0402 GMT) Tuesday from pad 37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Its mission, codenamed NROL-44, will deploy a classified cargo for the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency which owns the U.S. government’s spy satellites.

Assuming the Delta 4-Heavy gets off the ground early Tuesday, SpaceX will ready a separate Falcon 9 rocket and a GPS navigation satellite for liftoff from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral during a 15-minute window opening at 9:55 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0155 GMT Wednesday).

The three back-to-back launches — none directly related to the other — are planned from separate pads on the Space Coast.

The Delta 4-Heavy rocket — the most powerful in ULA’s fleet — was originally supposed to launch in late August with the NROL-44 mission. ULA scrubbed a launch attempt Aug. 27 to investigate an issue with a launch pad pneumatics system, then a computer sequencer commanded a hold just three seconds prior to liftoff Aug. 29 due to a failure in a pressure regulator associated with one of the rocket’s three hydrogen-fueled main engines.

The Aug. 29 countdown stopped after one of the rocket’s three RS-68A engines had ignited. ULA’s launch team announced the aborted countdown as a fireball erupted at the base of the rocket, a fiery feature normally observed during the Delta 4-Heavy’s engine startup sequence.

The rocket was later drained of cryogenic propellants, and ULA engineers traced the problem to a pressure regulator on the launch pad designed to flow helium gas to spin up rocket’s center engine for ignition. The regulator for the center did not open, prompting the countdown’s automated sequencer to stop the countdown.

Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, tweeted that engineers refurbished and tested all three pressure flow devices at pad 37B before proceeding with another launch attempt.

ULA set Sept. 26 for the next launch attempt for the NROL-44 mission, but officials delayed the mission again to investigate a concern with the swing arm retraction system at the Delta 4-Heavy’s seaside launch complex at Cape Canaveral. The swing arms, which feed liquid propellants and conditioned air to the vehicle, are designed to quickly retract away from the rocket at liftoff.

A Delta 4 rocket stands on pad 37B before a previous launch attempt on the NROL-44 mission. Credit: United Launch Alliance

ULA announced early Monday that the Delta 4-Heavy rocket was on track for its launch opportunity just after midnight Tuesday, Florida time.

The 235-foot-tall (71.6-meter) Delta 4-Heavy rocket will arc toward the east from Cape Canaveral over the Atlantic Ocean, targeting a near-circular geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) near the equator.

While the NRO has not disclosed any details about the Delta 4-Heavy’s payload, analysts believe it is likely a signals intelligence satellite with a giant antenna that will be unfurled in space to stretch as big as a football field. If the analysts are correct, the spacecraft will intercept telephone calls and data transmissions from U.S. adversaries.

The Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to blast off from pad 40 Tuesday night will loft the U.S. Space Force’s next Global Positioning System spacecraft, the fourth in the latest generation of GPS navigation satellites made by Lockheed Martin.

The GPS 3 SV04 spacecraft joins three previous Lockheed Martin-built GPS 3-series satellites launched in December 2018, August 2019, and June 30 of this year.

But the official weather forecast at Cape Canaveral is iffy for the NROL-44 and GPS missions Tuesday. There’s a 60 percent chance of good conditions for launch of the Delta 4-Heavy rocket early Tuesday, and just a 40 percent probability of acceptable weather for the Falcon 9 launch Tuesday night with the GPS satellite.

If the NROL-44 and GPS missions take off as scheduled, SpaceX could launch its Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A Thursday with the next 60 Starlink satellites.

SpaceX has launched 715 Starlink satellites to date, and is nearing the halfway point in a series of missions since to place some 1,440 broadband relay stations into orbit to provide high-speed Internet services over most of the world.

SpaceX has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch up to 12,000 Starlink satellites for global broadband service, and SpaceX has signaled its intention to seek authority to put up another 30,000 Starlink platforms in the coming years.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

The Origins of Policing in America

From Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Chenjerai Kumanyika, a quick tour of the history of policing in America and how that history should shape our discussions around police reform, defunding, and abolition.

The story of policing in the United States is the story of systems meant to protect and serve only a fraction of Americans.

As Kumanyika says in closing, the police in America are fulfilling their purpose very well. But the public has other demands that are not being met.

See also A History of Policing in America and Why Police Reform Doesn’t Work In America.

Tags: Chenjerai Kumanyika   Khalil Gibran Muhammad   policing   USA   video

The Exciting NASA Economic Impact Report That No One Seems To Care About (UPDATE)

Economic development projects to bring 510 new jobs to Huntsville area, Made in Alabama (Alabama Department of Commerce)

"The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber today announced that new economic development projects will bring 510 new jobs and more than $71 million in investment to the community."

Keith's 27 Sep 10:54 am EDT note: This release was issued on 25 September 2020 - the same day as the NASA economic Report came out. The Made in Alabama (Alabama Department of Commerce) website makes no mention of the NASA Economic Impact report. NASA HQ makes no mention of this news from Alabama. NASA Marshall makes no mention of this local economic news or the NASA economic report on their website but their twitter account retweeted @JimBridenstine's tweet - once.

NASA's Impact on Economy Is No Secret to Space Coast, MyNews13

"In Florida, NASA employs 33,000 workers and makes a $5.9 billion impact on the Space Coast, according to Space Florida's Dale Ketcham. Planned missions to return to the moon and to go to Mars for the first time are responsible for a lot of that impact, he said."

There is no mention of this report (or a link to it) on the Space Florida website but they are responding to media requests. There is no mention on the NASA Kennedy website but they did retweet @JimBridensine's tweet - once. No mention is made on the Florida Governor's website or the Department of Economic Opportunity. Rep. Bill Posey has posted nothing on his website or his Twitter account. Sen. Rick Scott makes no mention on his website or Twitter account. Sen. Marco Rubio has nothing on his website but he does make mention on his Twitter account. Given the immense amount of money NASA has sent to Florida over the past half century you'd think that the folks there would be a little more interested in spreading the good news - especially when the economy is in such dire shape. Its baffling that NASA Kennedy is not making more of this good news.

Oddly, while Johnson Space Center makes no mention of this NASA economic impact report on their homepage, they do have an old link prominently featuring their own report: "Texas Comptroller Releases NASA Economic Impact Report". I mentioned this report back in September 2019 when JSC did a stealth launch of their own:

"Look at this Texas portion (larger image) of the list of companies that are suppliers to SLS/Orion/Artemis: "2019 Deep Space Exploration Systems Supplier Locations". These 182 companies are located all over Texas. I'll be willing to bet that nearly all of these companies have no idea that there is a NASA website that lists all of the small business that work on this project. The Texas Comptroller seems not to know about it. JSC does not mention it either. Why go through the time and expense of collecting this information if no one is told that it exists?"

While JSC still features this old economic news from a year ago on their website, JSC makes no mention of the new report - but they did retweet Jim Bridenstine's tweet - once.

There is no mention on the NASA Ames website; none at NASA Armstrong's website; nor any mention at NASA JPL's website - this despite the fact that the report cites California having "69,725 jobs in the California economy were supported by NASA activities in Fiscal Year 2019" and that "The total income impact of NASA in California was $6.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2019."

Keith's 28 Sep 12:21 pm EDT update: NASA Langley just issued this press release today at 12:13 pm EDT. NASA's Moon to Mars Economic Impact Study Shows Significant Benefit for Virginia - but no mention on their homepage.

No mention is made by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology or the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (Jim Bridenstine will be testifying there on Wednesday - maybe he will mention the report).

No mention of the NASA report is made at the Aerospace Industries Association, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Space Foundation, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - or the National Space Council. To their credit, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration does make brief mention on their website and links to the NASA report. And of course none of the space advocacy groups have bothered to say anything.

I could go on and research the PR given to this report for all 50 states. A simple Google news search will show how underwhelming the response has been. Let me be clear: this report is overflowing with great news for NASA and hundreds of communities across the nation. I hope NASA publishes more things like this since they have only scratched the surface of what NASA provides to this nation. America needs good news right now. The inspirational aspect of what NASA does as part of this good news is an added bonus in these dark times. But it is downright depressing to see NASA drop the ball when it comes to promoting its own good news - once again.

What happend to all of that presidential "Make Space Great Again" hoopla? Or was that just for campaign ads?

- NASA's Economic Impact Study Misses Much Of NASA's Economic Impact, earlier post
- NASA Economic Impact Report Released, earlier post
- NASA Report Details How Agency Significantly Benefits US Economy, earlier post

Where Things Stand: Trump's Meager Tax Bill

The New York Times’ bombshell reporting on Sunday of President Trump’s tax avoidance was especially potent because its top-line takeaway was so easy to digest: Trump paid a mere $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. Did you pay more — maybe even a lot more — than that? I know I did, and many Americans are in the same situation.

Trump predictably called the story “fake news” during a briefing Sunday evening at the White House shortly after it broke. The Biden campaign pounced on the story, and even cut a Twitter ad on it.

We’ll be charting reactions and insights into the story over the course of the day.

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Josh Kovensky picked up an NBC News report showing that CDC Director Robert Redfield is increasingly alarmed about the incorrect information Trump’s favorite new COVID-19 adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, is sharing. Josh will also look into the New York Times’ bombshell report showing that Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016.

Tierney Sneed will publish a look at the various voting flash points in Pennsylvania, which could be a key swing state deciding the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign pounced on the New York Times’ bombshell on President Trump’s tax avoidance. Deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Sunday evening that the NYT report bolsters the notion that Trump “looks down on working people.”

Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was hospitalized Sunday afternoon after apparently threatening suicide in his home.

“Brad Parscale is a member of our family and we all love him. We are ready to support him and his family in any way possible,” campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said. “The disgusting, personal attacks from Democrats and disgruntled RINOs have gone too far, and they should be ashamed of themselves for what they’ve done to this man and his family.”

Coming Up

2 p.m. ET: President Trump gives an update on the nation’s coronavirus testing strategy at the White House

2:15 p.m. ET: Kamala Harris delivers a speech on the Supreme Court and how it impacts the election and the country’s future.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Trump Gives Rambling Denial Of NYT Bombshell On His Tax Avoidance — Summer Concepcion

What We Are Reading

QAnon Goes to Washington — Simon van Zuylen-Wood

Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses And Years Of Tax Avoidance — Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire

The New Yorker Endorses a Biden Presidency — The Editors

Weather scrubs SpaceX launch of Starlink satellites, NROL-44 still set to fly tonight

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the latest batch of Starlink satellites sit on the pad at LC 39-A, with the weather forcing a scrub of the September 28, 2020 attempt. Photo: Theresa Cross / SpaceFlight Insider

Weather has forced the scrub of the next launch of Starlink satellites, abandoning SpaceX’s plans for a September 28, 2020 liftoff. It is unclear at this time whether the skies and conditions will clear in time for the planned United Launch Alliance powered NROL-44 mission, scheduled for 12:02 a.m. Tuesday morning – just over 12 hours away. 45th Space Wing weather forecast indicates 60% favorable conditions, listing primary concerns as the Thick Cloud Layer, Anvil Cloud, and Cumulus Cloud rules.

Updates for a new flight time for Starlink will be shared when SpaceX provides them.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the latest batch of Starlink satellites sit on the pad at LC 39-A, with the weather forcing a scrub of the September 28, 2020 attempt. Photo: Theresa Cross / SpaceFlight Insider

The post Weather scrubs SpaceX launch of Starlink satellites, NROL-44 still set to fly tonight appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

What Alex Has Been Watching

Ted Lasso on Apple TV. My go to feel-good show. The relentlessly optimistic US soccer coach Ted Lasso finds himself teaching a moribund team of British footballers. Everyone needs some Ted Lasso in their life! Especially now. Hat tip: Joshua Gans.

Mythic Quest on Apple TV a situation comedy where the situation is game developer’s office. Nowhere near as good as Silicon Valley but there were three excellent episodes (5, 7, 10) and no bad episodes which is a pretty good ratio. Probably would not hold my interest outside of a pandemic.

Lovecraft Country on HBO–my favorite show right now. I’m not a big fan of horror but Lovecraftian horror is more about revealing the black depths of the mysterious unknown than about chainsaw massacres. The story is a mystery, taking place mostly in 1950s Jim Crow America. J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele are among the show runners. I could do without the interruptions of spoken poetry. In one climatic scene we get a reading of Whitey On the Moon rather than a soundscape. Yeah, we get it, the horror is a metaphor for racism. The show also gets very weird. I worry that it is self-indulgent. Watchmen pulled it off by pulling it all together in the finale but that was a miracle. Can Lovecraft Country do the same? The show is based on the book Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. Ruff enjoys wordplay, fantastical stories, and he has a libertarian streak. My favorite Ruff novel, Sewer,Gas and Electric, features a billionaire beat to death with his prized first-edition of Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand as a resurrected A.I. bottled up in a hurricane lamp. It’s a satire but there’s love there. Ruff is also a fan of David Friedman. I haven’t seen much if any libertarian influence in Lovecraft Country.

Bandish Bandits on Amazon–an Indian rom-com series in which pop-singer girl meets classically trained boy. The rom-com is ok but I liked it especially for the many gorgeous shots of Jodhpur. It’s also an effortless way to listen to some Indian classical music. It gets better after the first few episodes. Probably only worth watching if you have some prior interest in the region or the music. Panchayat is another Indian show I gave a shot. It does a good job of explaining how Indian village politics actually works. The lead character, however, is so sullen than I had a hard time continuing. Apparently, he gets less sullen over time.

The Pharmacist on Netflix. A great documentary following a pharmacist’s investigation of his son’s murder that takes him deeper and deeper into the opioid crisis. The first three episodes are stellar while the last is also good but covers the big picture I was already familiar with. Much better constructed than Tiger King or The Vow, the NXIVM doc on HBO, which is far too long and surprisingly boring.

Perry Mason on HBO. A film noir reboot of the classic series, basically Perry Mason meets Chinatown. Much darker than expected. Tatiana Maslany has a good performance as an old-time revival preacher but her story arc felt incomplete. Della Street should have written the bar, not Mason, or at least they should have made the fact that she didn’t more pointed. Overall, good but not great. Character and location driven–this one might grow on me, like Bosch.

The post What Alex Has Been Watching appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Space Force says it has a plan to fix gaps in weather data

WASHINGTON — The Space Force has completed a report mandated by Congress on its plans to acquire weather satellites to fill a growing military demand for meteorological data, a senior official told SpaceNews.

The report is done and is being submitted to Congress by the Department of the Air Force, Charlotte Gerhart, chief of the Space and Missile Systems Center Production Corps Low Earth Orbit Division, said in a recent interview.

The defense appropriations committees for years have been critical of the U.S. Air Force’s space weather program, which is now the responsibility of the U.S. Space Force. In the 2020 conference report for the Defense Department, appropriators raised concerns about the Air Force’s “commitment to provide accurate and timely weather data, a mission with a profound impact on daily worldwide military operations.”

Appropriators directed the secretary of the Air Force to report back with details on the weather strategy. Gerhart said the Space Force’s weather acquisition plan “is in the process of being delivered from the Air Force to Congress.”

Gerhart said she could not comment on the content of the report to Congress. She noted that the Space Force has several programs in place to provide space-based meteorological and oceanographic data, and is investing in next-generation systems.

The Space Force earlier this month activated a geostationary weather satellite that was transferred to the Air Force by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2019. Formerly known as GOES-13, the satellite was renamed Electro-optical Infrared Weather System Geostationary (EWS-G1) and moved to the region over the Indian Ocean to fill a gap in coverage.

Gerhart said the satellite provides cloud characterization and theater weather imagery and has enough fuel to function another four to five years.

“We project that we can continue to operate that satellite until 2024, or possibly 2025,” she said. “This was a very unique opportunity to utilize a spare satellite, to relocate it to the Indian Ocean region to provide capability that we didn’t have previously. We also leverage the European satellites that are in the region but this allows us to have our own satellite to fill that critical need.”

It didn’t take long to repurpose NOAA’s satellite, whereas building and launching a new spacecraft would have taken five to 10 years, said Gerhart.

The EWS-G1 is a temporary fix until the Space Force acquires a new system that will likely be a distributed or proliferated low-Earth orbit constellation, said Gerhart.

SMC’s Space Enterprise consortium in June awarded contracts totaling $309 million to three companies for the Electro Optical/Infrared Weather System (EO/IR EWS) program.

Raytheon Technologies, General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems and Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates are developing competing space sensor prototypes that can provide global cloud characterization and theater weather imagery. One will be selected for an on-orbit demonstration by 2023. The plan is to deploy new satellites by 2025

The EWS-G1 is a geosynchronous satellite that doesn’t cover the poles. Polar coverage currently is provided by four 1960s-era Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites.

For polar coverage, SMC is acquiring a new Weather System Follow-On-Microwave (WSF-M) satellite, which is being built by Ball Aerospace.

Gerhart said the satellite passed a critical design review in April and is on track for a 2023 launch. The contract awarded in November 2018 to Ball Aerospace is for one satellite but there are options in the contract to get a second satellite.

The WSF-M will replace services provided today by the DMSP satellites for theater weather imagery, electrical optical infrared data. It also will add a sensor to measure the direction and speed of ocean winds, as well as the intensity of hurricanes.

Gerhart said SMC also is considering using weather data from private companies but that is assessed on a case-by-case basis. “It depends on what commercial sensors are available and what’s going to be the price point for that capability,” she said. “Are those sensors going to be accurate enough, are they going to actually meet our requirements?”

A congressional source told SpaceNews that appropriators will be closely watching the Space Force’s weather programs and remain skeptical. The source noted past failed efforts by the Air Force to acquire weather satellites and to host sensors on existing satellites.

Two previous programs to replace the DMSP were cancelled. One was the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)that began in 1997 and was cancelled in 2010 due to escalating costs and schedule delays. Another was the Defense Weather Satellite System that followed the NPOESS cancellation. It started in 2010 and was terminated in fiscal year 2012 because of unsustainable costs.


Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Recovery Picks Up Steam" in September

From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Recovery Picks Up Steam
Texas factory activity expanded in September for the fourth month in a row following a record contraction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, rose nine points to 22.3, its highest reading in two years.

Other measures of manufacturing activity point to above-average growth this month. The new orders index advanced five points to 14.7, and the growth rate of orders index held fairly steady at 13.2. The capacity utilization index rose from 10.9 to 17.5, while the shipments index was largely unchanged at 21.5.

Perceptions of broader business conditions continued to improve in September. The general business activity index pushed up six points to 13.6, its highest reading since November 2018. The company outlook index held mostly steady at 14.9, a reading well above average. Uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks continued to rise, with the index positive but largely unchanged at 6.7.

Labor market measures indicated stronger employment growth and a continued increase in workweek length. The employment index pushed up from 10.6 to 14.5, suggesting more robust hiring.
emphasis added
This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for September.

Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

Fed Manufacturing Surveys and ISM PMI Click on graph for larger image.

The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through September), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through September) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through August (right axis).

The ISM manufacturing index for September will be released on Thursday, October 1st. The consensus is for the ISM to be at 56.2, up from 56.0 in August. Based on these regional surveys, the ISM manufacturing index will likely increase in September from the August level.

Note that these are diffusion indexes, so readings above 0 (or 50 for the ISM) means activity is increasing (it does not mean that activity is back to pre-crisis levels).

The Unsettling Normalcy of Societal Collapse

Indi Samarajiva lived through the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka that killed an estimated 80,000-100,000 people over 30 years. He cautions that societal collapse can feel quite normal for many people — but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There.

I lived through the end of a civil war. Do you know what it was like for me? Quite normal. I went to work, I went out, I dated. This is what Americans don’t understand. They’re waiting to get personally punched in the face while ash falls from the sky. That’s not how it happens.

This is how it happens. Precisely what you’re feeling now. The numbing litany of bad news. The ever rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner.

If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down.

Tags: Indi Samarajiva   politics   USA

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Some Improvement, but Still Not There

After last week’s backsliding, the prevalence in D.C. has dropped by roughly an equal amount as last week’s increase. The city as a whole, and all Wards except for Ward 5, have dropped below the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week (0.05% in the second column below):

Ward one week prevalence one week % pos two week prevalence two week % pos
1 0.040% 1.0% 0.083% 1.1%
2 0.027% 0.6% 0.074% 0.8%
3 0.020% 0.6% 0.063% 1.0%
4 0.047% 1.7% 0.107% 2.1%
5 0.077% 2.6% 0.159% 2.8%
6 0.033% 0.8% 0.073% 0.9%
7 0.033% 1.8% 0.082% 2.1%
8 0.037% 1.6% 0.078% 1.6%
D.C. total 0.041% 1.1% 0.092% 1.3%

Wards 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 all had substantial decreases in the number of cases, and the percent positive rate decreased for those wards, so this doesn’t appear to be an artifact of testing. The not-so-good news is that the prevalence is still too high for things like returning most children to schools (a one-week prevalence of 0.007%, column 2, and a two-week prevalence of 0.014%, column 4, would be equal to a daily new case rate of 1 per 100,000 people). Here’s why:

Low prevalence is not foolproof–it is absolutely not a vaccine, but it does keep infections low enough, such that we can mount an effective test and trace response, as well as survive the occasional bouts of stupid behavior.

To put an infection rate of 1/100,000 in the context of schools, we can look at D.C.’s public schools (DCPS). In its entirely, DCPS staff, students, and teachers number close to 55,000 (note that this doesn’t include the charter school system which is about 90% the size of DCPS). To keep the math simple, we’ll round to 50,000 DCPSers, which is about seven percent of D.C.’s total population. So, if D.C. has 50 cases per week, and seven percent of those cases affect someone in DCPS, we would expect two cases per week, give or take.

Two key points here. First, we will never not have COVID-19 cases in DCPS, even at a really low prevalence; without a vaccine or a very rapid, on-site testing scheme, a COVID-free school system isn’t happening. Second, we can manage a few cases per week in the schools. Most students and schools wouldn’t be have to be sent home or closed. We could ‘flood the zone’ with testing and tracing to find related cases in and out of the school system. But seven to ten times that amount, which is where D.C. is right now in terms of prevalence, and we’re quite strained in our ability to test and trace (remember DCPS is only seven percent of the city; D.C. also needs to deal with 93% of people not in the DCPS system). Likewise, at the current prevalence, it’s possible one or more schools get hit hard, requiring shutting down the entire school. And of course, all of this assumes that there wouldn’t be some spread within schools, so these are probably low-end estimates of the weekly number of cases if schools were open.

(Since D.C.’s charter school system is about the same size as DCPS, we can double this number if/when they return).

Thankfully, we’re not seven to ten times higher now, we’re ‘only’ about six times higher than 1/100,000 daily positives. But cases will happen, and I don’t think, based on the data DC Health is releasing, we have the capacity to run most of these cases down with contact tracing.

So there has been some improvement, but even the ‘best’ wards (in terms of COVID-19 prevalence) aren’t there yet. As I routinely remind readers, we are four to six weeks away from returning to normal-ish, but we intentionally remain four to six weeks away from safely returning to normal-ish because we’re unwilling to do what it takes to make that happen.

Anger is still the appropriate emotion.

“Onesimus and Rev. Cotton Mather” Program, 1 Oct.

On Thursday, 1 October, I’ll be part of an online discussion through the Freedom Forum on “Onesimus and Rev. Cotton Mather: Race, Religion, and the Press in Colonial America.”

The Freedom Forum’s description says:
The third program in the Freedom Forum’s series, Religious Resolve: Stories from Our Past, for Our Future, explores a story that received cursory attention when the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged in the United States. That is the story of the enslaved man, Onesimus, who was inoculated for smallpox in Africa and who taught the Rev. Cotton Mather the technique just as a deadly smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721.

While this historical fact is known, the program will explore less familiar but interesting aspects of the story. How did other Boston religious and medical leaders react to Rev. Mather’s promotion of African medical techniques? How did Benjamin Franklin get involved? How did the ensuing confusion lead to the development of Boston’s first independent newspaper? And what happened to Onesimus after Rev. Mather finally gave up on converting him to Christianity?
Besides myself, the panelists will be Tom Meenan, citizen researcher and educator for the Freedom Forum, and Debra L. Mason, Ph.D., Fellow at Harvard’s Religion Literacy Project and Professor Emerita at the Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri.

This free event will start at 1:00 P.M. Eastern time. Register through this link.

Among the other discussions in this Freedom Forum series is one covering the African-American ministers Richard Allen and Absalom Jones during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, as well as conversations about more recent American history.

The Hypocrisy of ‘Socially Responsible’ Corporations

A New Report Finds Many Companies Say One Thing and Do Another

Philip Mattera

As they push forward to fill a Supreme Court vacancy shortly before a presidential election, Republicans are putting on a master class in hypocrisy. A new report on self-proclaimed socially responsible corporations reminds us that the tendency to say one thing and do another also can be seen in the world of business.

The study, produced by consulting firm KKS Advisors and an initiative called Test of Corporate Purpose (TCP), looks at large corporations that were signatories to a much-ballyhooed statement issued in 2019 under the auspices of the Business Roundtable. That statement was meant to give the impression big business is no longer concerned only with maximizing returns for shareholders and is promoting the well-being of other stakeholders such as employees.

181 Companies Examined

Some of us responded to the Roundtable’s statement with skepticism, but KKS and TCP decided to put the 181 signatories to the test, looking at their behavior in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the problem of inequality. Basing its analysis on news coverage of corporate actions, the report compared signatories and non-signatories on topics such as workplace safety, healthcare access, wage levels, diversity and environmental justice. The evaluations used data prepared by Truvalue Labs using the framework of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.

The report’s conclusion is signatories were slightly less likely to respond in a responsible way to the pandemic and slightly more likely to do so with regard to inequality. In other words, endorsement of the Roundtable statement did not make a big difference one way or the other. KKS and TCP put it this way: “Our results suggest that corporate commitments to purpose are less informative about a company’s future performance on social and human capital issues than other indicators. What matters more is whether a company has a strong track record of proactively managing issues that may become material during a crisis, and whether a company is an early responder on relevant issues during a crisis.”

Look at What They Do

I’m not sure exactly what is meant by “proactively managing issue” and being an “early responder” may be a good or bad thing depending on the nature of the response. I also think the report goes too far in trying to use news coverage to assess and rank corporate behavior.

My preference is to use concrete evidence relating to corporate behavior—especially the extent to which companies have been found to be violating regulations relating to the workplace, the environment, consumer protection, etc.

When the Roundtable statement initially was released, I ran the names of the signatories through Violation Tracker and found that they accounted for more than $197 billion in cumulative penalties, with 21 of them having penalty totals of $1 billion or more.

Penalties and Fines

Serious violators also can be found among the companies—both signatories and non-signatories—that receive the highest ratings in the KKS-TCP report, which groups the firms into four quartiles without listing specific scores. For example, included in the quartile with the best ratings is drug giant Novartis, which according to Violation Tracker has paid more than $1.5 billion in fines and settlements over issues such as the promotion of drugs for purposes not approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

That figure will increase to more than $2 billion next week when the database is updated to include recent cases such as one in which Novartis paid $642 million to settle Justice Department allegations relating to kickbacks and other illegal payments. Also in the first quartile are other repeat offenders such as the French bank BNP Paribas, whose Violation Tracker penalty total is more than $12 billion.

Until large corporations end their unlawful conduct, they have no claim to being models of social responsibility.

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Two Quick Links for Monday Morning

The NY Times obtained two decades of Trump's tax returns and they show exactly what we already knew: chronic losses, huge debt, and tax avoidance. I have a hard time believing these revelations will matter to voters. []

Spreadsheet comparing Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums lists from 2003, 2012, and 2020. []


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.

“I Feel Sorry for Americans”

Hannah Beech reports on how the United States1 is perceived by the outside world these days due to our poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the continuing failure of our political system.

Myanmar is a poor country struggling with open ethnic warfare and a coronavirus outbreak that could overload its broken hospitals. That hasn’t stopped its politicians from commiserating with a country they think has lost its way.

“I feel sorry for Americans,” said U Myint Oo, a member of parliament in Myanmar. “But we can’t help the U.S. because we are a very small country.”

The same sentiment prevails in Canada, one of the most developed countries. Two out of three Canadians live within about 60 miles of the American border.

“Personally, it’s like watching the decline of the Roman Empire,” said Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, an industrial city on the border with Michigan, where locals used to venture for lunch.

And I had to chuckle at this part:

“The U.S.A. is a first-world country but it is acting like a third-world country,” said U Aung Thu Nyein, a political analyst in Myanmar.

I made a similar observation after a trip to Asia in January: “America is a rich country that feels like a poor country.” I got a bunch of pushback on that statement but after the past eight months, the pandemic has laid America’s deficiencies bare for the whole world to see clearly.

  1. Even the name of the damn country seems like a hilarious anachronism these days. States, sure. But united? Lol.

Tags: COVID-19   Hannah Beech   politics   USA

China launches environmental monitoring satellites

A Long March 4B rocket lifts off Sunday with two Chinese environmental monitoring satellites. Credit: Xinhua

Without any public warning, a Chinese Long March 4B rocket lifted off Sunday with two “environmental monitoring satellites” that the country’s state media said will replace a pair of spacecraft launched in 2008 that collected data to assist in a series of disaster relief efforts over the last decade.

The twin Huanjing environmental monitoring satellites took off at 0323 GMT Sunday (11:23 p.m. EDT Saturday) from the Taiyuan launch base in Shanxi province in northern China, according to the government-run Xinhua news agency.

A three-stage, liquid-fueled Long March 4B rocket carried the Huanjing 2A and 2B satellites into space. U.S. military tracking data indicated the two spacecraft reached an orbit ranging between 371 miles (600 kilometers) and 404 miles (651 kilometers) above Earth, with an inclination of 98 degrees to the equator.

Xinhua said the launch was successful.

Chinese authorities did not publicize the launch in advance, and issued no warning notices for pilots to keep clear of downrange drop zones for the Long March 4B rocket’s lower stages and payload fairing.

The Huanjing 2A and 2B satellites replace China’s Huanjing 1A and 1B spacecraft that launched in 2008, officials said. The satellites “provide services concerning environmental protection, natural resources, water conservancy, agriculture and forestry,” Xinhua said.

Huanjing means “environment” in Chinese.

The satellites launched Sunday carry optical imagers to provide medium-resolution color images. The satellites will also collect infrared and hyperspectral images, which contain information to help analysts distinguish between different types of features on Earth, such as vegetation, human-made infrastructure, and water quality.

Xinhua said the Huanjing 1A and 1B satellites collected remote sensing data to assist disaster response efforts in China, including major earthquakes and mudslides in 2008 and 2010.

The successful launch Sunday marked the 29th orbital launch attempt by China so far this year.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Judicial clerkships in the time of coronavirus--uneven compliance with the pilot hiring plan, and post-clerkship connections

 An article in the UC Davis Law Review Online discusses the hiring of law clerks by U.S. judges, during the current pandemic,  with reference to the  Federal Law Clerk Hiring (Pilot) Plan which is in its second year this year. (The plan calls for judges to delay hiring second year law students until June, and to leave offers open for at least 48 hours.)

The Federal Law Clerk Hiring Pilot and the Coronavirus Pandemic  by Carl Tobias, UC Davis Law Review Online, 2020,54, 1-20.

The article says that compliance with the plan is uneven, but that "numerous jurists who support the nascent pilot are Democratic Presidents' confirmees ... while copious judges who seem to oppose the pilot  in turn are GOP chief executives' appointees..." (p9).


An article in the NY Times talks about why clerkships are so valuable to clerks:

Law Firms Pay Supreme Court Clerks $400,000 Bonuses. What Are They Buying?   Inside information and influence with the clerks’ former bosses may figure in the transactions, a new study suggests     by Adam Liptak

"Supreme Court justices make $265,600 a year. The chief justice gets $277,700.

"Their law clerks do a lot better. After a year of service at the court, they are routinely offered signing bonuses of $400,000 from law firms, on top of healthy salaries of more than $200,000."

The article goes on to talk about the influence that clerks have later in their careers, when arguing cases before their former bosses. It's based on this article

The Influence of Personalized Knowledge at the Supreme Court: How (Some) Former Law Clerks Have the Inside Track by Ryan C. Black1 and Ryan J. Owens, Political Research Quarterly, 2020.

Abstract: When arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court, former High Court law clerks enjoy significant influence over their former justices. Our analysis of forty years of judicial votes reveals that an attorney who formerly clerked for a justice is 16 percent more likely to capture that justice’s vote than an otherwise identical attorney who never clerked. What is more, an attorney who formerly clerked for a justice is 14 to 16 percent more likely to capture that justice’s vote than an otherwise identical attorney who previously clerked for a different justice. Former clerk influence is substantial, targeted, and appears to come from clerks’ personalized information about their justices. These results answer an important empirical question about the role of attorneys while raising normative concerns over  fairness in litigation.

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy

These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment - some of the sectors that will recover very slowly.
----- Airlines: Transportation Security Administration -----

The TSA is providing daily travel numbers.

TSA Traveler Data Click on graph for larger image.

This data shows the seven day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Blue) and 2020 (Red).

The dashed line is the percent of last year for the seven day average.

This data is as of September 27th.

The seven day average is down 68% from last year (32% of last year).

There has been a slow increase from the bottom.

----- Restaurants: OpenTable -----

The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities.

Move Box OfficeThanks to OpenTable for providing this restaurant data:

This data is updated through September 26, 2020.

This data is "a sample of restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins. For year-over-year comparisons by day, we compare to the same day of the week from the same week in the previous year."

Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market". Since some restaurants have not reopened, the actual year-over-year decline is worse than shown.

The 7 day average for New York is still off 63% YoY, and down 33% in Arizona.  There was a surge in restaurant dining around Labor Day - hopefully mostly outdoor dining.

----- Movie Tickets: Box Office Mojo -----

Move Box OfficeThis data shows domestic box office for each week (red) and the maximum and minimum for the previous four years.  Data is from BoxOfficeMojo through September 24th.

Note that the data is usually noisy week-to-week and depends on when blockbusters are released.

Movie ticket sales have picked up over the last few weeks, and were at $9 million last week (compared to usually under $200 million per week in the late Summer / early Fall).

Some movie theaters are reopening (probably with limited seating at first).  

----- Hotel Occupancy: STR -----

Hotel Occupancy RateThis graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

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

This data is through September 19th.

Hotel occupancy is currently down 31.9% year-over-year (and that is boosted by fires and a hurricane).

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

The leisure travel season usually peaks at the beginning of August, and then the occupancy rate typically declines sharply in the Fall.  With so many schools closed, the leisure travel season might have lasted longer than usual this year, but it is unlikely business travel will pickup significantly in the Fall.

----- Gasoline Supplied: Energy Information Administration -----

gasoline ConsumptionThis graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows gasoline supplied compared to the same week last year of .

At one point, gasoline supplied was off almost 50% YoY.

As of September 19th, gasoline supplied was only off about 8.9% YoY (about 91.1% of normal).

Note: I know several people that have driven to vacation spots - or to visit family - and they usually would have flown.   So this might have boosted gasoline consumption and the expense of air travel.

----- Transit: Apple Mobility -----

This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities." This is just a general guide - people that regularly commute probably don't ask for directions.

There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index. However the index is set "relative to its weekday-specific average over January–February", and is not seasonally adjusted, so we can't tell if an increase in mobility is due to recovery or just the normal increase in the Spring and Summer.

Apple Mobility DataThis data is through September 25th for the United States and several selected cities.

The graph is the running 7 day average to remove the impact of weekends.

IMPORTANT: All data is relative to January 13, 2020. This data is NOT Seasonally Adjusted. People walk and drive more when the weather is nice, so I'm just using the transit data.

According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is still only about 58% of the January level. It is at 51% in Los Angeles, and 58% in Houston.

----- New York City Subway Usage -----

Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage (HT BR).

New York City Subway UsageThis graph is from Todd W Schneider.

This data is through Friday, September 25th.

Schneider has graphs for each borough, and links to all the data sources.

He notes: "Data updates weekly from the MTA’s public turnstile data, usually on Saturday mornings".

Thick clouds scrub SpaceX launch of 12th operational Starlink mission [Updated]

A Falcon 9 rocket launches a Starlink mission in January 2020.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches a Starlink mission in January 2020. (credit: SpaceX)

10:25am ET Update: Monday morning's launch attempt of the Starlink-12 mission was scrubbed in the last moments of the countdown due to thick clouds over the launch site at Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX does not have a back-up launch window for this mission because there are two launches scheduled over the next two days.

Having fixed an issue with its retraction arm at Launch Complex-37, United Launch Alliance has an opportunity to launch the NROL-44 mission on its Delta IV Heavy rocket at 12:02am ET on Tuesday (04:02 UTC). And SpaceX has the launch of a GPS III satellite planned from its other Florida launch pad on Tuesday night, at 9:55pm ET (01:55 UTC Wednesday).

Original post: SpaceX returns to its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center on Monday for its twelfth launch of operational Starlink satellites. The mission is scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex-39A at 10:22am ET (14:22 UTC). Weather conditions are 70-percent favorable for liftoff.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX wins launch contract for NASA space science mission


WASHINGTON — NASA has selected SpaceX to launch a space science mission and several secondary payloads, the latest in a series of wins by SpaceX for NASA science missions.

NASA announced Sept. 28 it awarded a contract to SpaceX for the launch of its Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) spacecraft in 2024 from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9. The total value of the contract, covering launch and other “mission related costs,” is $109.4 million.

IMAP is a mission NASA selected for development in 2018 as part of its Solar Terrestrial Probes program. It will operate at the L-1 Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth in the direction of the sun, to the study the boundary of the sun’s heliosphere with interstellar space, and to measure the generation of cosmic rays.

The launch will also carry several secondary payloads as part of a NASA initiative to take advantage of excess capacity on science missions. Those payloads include NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer smallsat, which will orbit the moon to look for water ice, and NOAA’s Space Weather Follow-On L-1 mission, a space weather monitoring mission that, like IMAP, will operate at the L-1 point. Two additional NASA heliophysics “missions of opportunity,” yet to be selected, will also be on the launch.

The contract is the latest in a string of victories for SpaceX in competitions to launch NASA science satellites. Those awards, though, have had a wide range of contract values, even for the same class of launch vehicle.

SpaceX won a contract in April 2019 for the launch of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission in 2021 worth $69 million. Three months later, the company won a contract for the launch of the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer smallsat, valued at $50.3 million. In February, it won a contract for the launch of the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem spacecraft worth $80.4 million.

All three of those launches, like the IMAP mission, will use Falcon 9 rockets. One reason the IMAP mission may be more expensive than the others is the higher complexity of the mission, which includes several secondary payloads going to both the L-1 point and the moon.

The value of the IMAP contract only slightly less than SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy contract with NASA, for the Psyche asteroid mission, awarded in February. That contract is worth $117 million.


India's Mars orbiter completes six years at the red planet, but where is the science?

Six years ago, India's first Mars mission, known as Mangalyaan, successfully entered orbit around Mars, a major achievement for the country's space program. Jatan Mehta describes how, since then, the mission has been a scientific disappointment.

Reality bites

A reality TV show is reportedly in the works that would send the winner to the International Space Station. Dwayne Day notes this is a latest in a long line of such ventures, which so far have all failed to send anyone into space.

Battle of the Titans (part 1)

In the 1980s, the Air Force pursued a new launch vehicle as a backup to the Space Shuttle. As Wayne Eleazer recounts, what would become the Titan IV had its challenges both before and after it won the competition.

Photons and phosphine

A month ago, Rocket Lab not only returned its Electron rocket to flight, but also flew its first Photon satellite. Jeff Foust reports on the development of the spacecraft and how it could enable plans for a privately backed mission to Venus.

Review: China in Space

China's space ambitions have been the subject of much speculation, and sometimes hyperbole, in the West over the years. Dwayne Day reviews a book that provides a clear assessment of what the country is doing in space and plans to do in the coming years.

Landsat Next likely to bear little resemblance to its predecessors

NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) plan to issue a Request for Information by the end of the year on instrumentation and platforms for Landsat Next, the Earth observation system to follow Landsat 9.

“Rather than one single large satellite bus, which is what Landsat has been historically, we’ve looked at other options,” USGS Director Jim Reilly said in an interview.

NASA and USGS recently completed an 18-month Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study to evaluate the capabilities of existing and planned government and commercial satellites.

“The revolution in space is underway and we’ll want to capitalize on that as much as we possibly can,” said Reilly, a former NASA astronaut. “The critical piece for NASA and USGS is looking at how we combine all that information and how we calibrate and validate it.”

Iceland’s Ok Glacier has lost so much mass since Landsat 1 launched in 1972 to monitor changes to the Earth’s land surface that Ok lost its status as a glacier in 2014. Credit: USGS

Landsat, a program established in the 1970s, offers a continuous global record of land areas. Since 2008, NASA and USGS have provided Landsat data free of charge, a policy the agencies are committed to continuing, said Karen St. Germain, NASA Earth Science Division director.

NASA and USGS are preparing to launch Landsat 9 in September 2021. Landsat 9 is slightly different from its predecessor Landsat 8 in terms of the volume of data it produces but “operationally it is essentially identical to Landsat eight,” Reilly said.

Landsat Next, on the other hand, is likely to be a significant departure.

In the architecture study, “we didn’t hold anything sacred” when considering how to acquire Earth imagery “for everything from mapping to hazards to resource assessment and land use,” Reilly said. “A lot of those things now are available in a number of different platforms that can all be brought together as a system of systems.”

NASA and USGS may consider sharing Earth observation imagery obtained by other U.S. government agencies. NASA and USGS could work, for example, with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to obtain data that “can be used by the whole government in the future,” Reilly said.

In addition, NASA and the USGS evaluated opportunities to work with international allies conducting initiatives like the European Space Agency’s Sentinel land imaging program.

For now, that’s all NASA and USGS officials will say about Landsat Next.

“NASA and USGS anticipate being able to share information about the next Landsat mission in more detail following the planned release of the fiscal year 2022 president’s budget request in February 2021,” St. Germain said by email.


In the meantime, NASA and USGS attention turns to Landsat 9, a satellite built by Northrop Grumman in Gilbert, Arizona, to house the Operational Land Imager 2 from Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The price tag for Landsat 9 program, including the satellite, launch and flight operations plus imagery collection, data processing and dissemination over multiple years, is expected to be around $1 billion.

A 2019 report published by the U.S. Interior Department and USGS, “Economic Valuation of Landsat,” determined the 2017 imagery was worth more than $3.4 billion to international users and worth approximately $2.1 billion to U.S. customers alone.

“Studies have shown Landsat provides multibillion dollar annual economic benefits to the nation in support of applications including agriculture monitoring and forecasting, water resource management, wildfire mapping and remediation, forest and rangeland management, and hazards monitoring and mitigation,” Tim Newman, USGS National Land Imaging director, said by email.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 14, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


2020 Postseason Bracket (With All Advertisements Erased)


Syncing RIPE, ARIN and APNIC objects with a custom Ansible module

Internet is split into five regional Internet registry: AFRINIC, ARIN, APNIC, LACNIC and RIPE. Each RIR maintains an Internet Routing Registry. An IRR allows one to publish information about the routing of Internet number resources.1 Operators use this to determine the owner of an IP address and to construct and maintain routing filters. To ensure your routes are widely accepted, it is important to keep the prefixes you announce up-to-date in an IRR.

There are two common tools to query this database: whois and bgpq4. The first one allows you to do a query with the WHOIS protocol:

$ whois -BrG 2a0a:e805:400::/40
inet6num:       2a0a:e805:400::/40
netname:        FR-BLADE-CUSTOMERS-DE
country:        DE
geoloc:         50.1109 8.6821
admin-c:        BN2763-RIPE
tech-c:         BN2763-RIPE
status:         ASSIGNED
mnt-by:         fr-blade-1-mnt
remarks:        synced with cmdb
created:        2020-05-19T08:04:58Z
last-modified:  2020-05-19T08:04:58Z
source:         RIPE

route6:         2a0a:e805:400::/40
descr:          Blade IPv6 - AMS1
origin:         AS64476
mnt-by:         fr-blade-1-mnt
remarks:        synced with cmdb
created:        2019-10-01T08:19:34Z
last-modified:  2020-05-19T08:05:00Z
source:         RIPE

The second one allows you to build route filters using the information contained in the IRR database:

$ bgpq4 -6 -S RIPE -b AS64476
NN = [

There is no module available on Ansible Galaxy to manage these objects. Each IRR has different ways of being updated. Some RIRs propose an API but some don’t. If we restrict ourselves to RIPE, ARIN and APNIC, the only common method to update objects is email updates, authenticated with a password or a GPG signature.2 Let’s write a custom Ansible module for this purpose!


I recommend that you read “Writing a custom Ansible module” as an introduction, as well as “Syncing MySQL tables” for a more instructive example.


The module takes a list of RPSL objects to synchronize and returns the body of an email update if a change is needed:

- name: prepare RIPE objects
    irr: RIPE
    mntner: fr-blade-1-mnt
    source: whois-ripe.txt
  register: irr


The source file should be a set of objects to sync using the RPSL language. This would be the same content you would send manually by email. All objects should be managed by the same maintainer, which is also provided as a parameter.

Signing and sending the result is not the responsibility of this module. You need two additional tasks for this purpose:

- name: sign RIPE objects
    cmd: gpg --batch --user --clearsign
    stdin: "{{ irr.objects }}"
  register: signed
  check_mode: false
  changed_when: false

- name: update RIPE objects by email
    subject: "NEW: update for RIPE"
    to: ""
    port: 25
    charset: us-ascii
    body: "{{ signed.stdout }}"

You also need to authorize the PGP keys used to sign the updates by creating a key-cert object and adding it as a valid authentication method for the corresponding mntner object:

key-cert:  PGPKEY-A791AAAB
certif:    -----BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----
certif:    mQGNBF8TLY8BDADEwP3a6/vRhEERBIaPUAFnr23zKCNt5YhWRZyt50mKq1RmQBBY
certif:    -----END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----
mnt-by:    fr-blade-1-mnt
source:    RIPE

mntner:    fr-blade-1-mnt
auth:      PGPKEY-A791AAAB
mnt-by:    fr-blade-1-mnt
source:    RIPE

Module definition

Starting from the skeleton described in the previous article, we define the module:

module_args = dict(
    irr=dict(type='str', required=True),
    mntner=dict(type='str', required=True),
    source=dict(type='path', required=True),

result = dict(

module = AnsibleModule(

Getting existing objects

To grab existing objects, we use the whois command to retrieve all the objects from the provided maintainer.

# Per-IRR variations:
# - whois server
whois = {
    'ARIN': '',
    'RIPE': '',
    'APNIC': ''
# - whois options
options = {
    'ARIN': ['-r'],
    'RIPE': ['-BrG'],
    'APNIC': ['-BrG']
# - objects excluded from synchronization
excluded = ["domain"]
if irr == "ARIN":
    # ARIN does not return these objects

# Grab existing objects
args = ["-h", whois[irr],
        "-s", irr,
        "-i", "mnt-by",
proc ="whois", *args, capture_output=True)
if proc.returncode != 0:
    raise AnsibleError(
        f"unable to query whois: {args}")
output = proc.stdout.decode('ascii')
got = extract(output, excluded)

The first part of the code setup some IRR-specific constants: the server to query, the options to provide to the whois command and the objects to exclude from synchronization. The second part invokes the whois command, requesting all objects whose mnt-by field is the provided maintainer. Here is an example of output:

$ whois -h -s RIPE -BrG -i mnt-by fr-blade-1-mnt

inet6num:       2a0a:e805:300::/40
netname:        FR-BLADE-CUSTOMERS-FR
country:        FR
geoloc:         48.8566 2.3522
admin-c:        BN2763-RIPE
tech-c:         BN2763-RIPE
status:         ASSIGNED
mnt-by:         fr-blade-1-mnt
remarks:        synced with cmdb
created:        2020-05-19T08:04:59Z
last-modified:  2020-05-19T08:04:59Z
source:         RIPE


route6:         2a0a:e805:300::/40
descr:          Blade IPv6 - PA1
origin:         AS64476
mnt-by:         fr-blade-1-mnt
remarks:        synced with cmdb
created:        2019-10-01T08:19:34Z
last-modified:  2020-05-19T08:05:00Z
source:         RIPE


The result is passed to the extract() function. It parses and normalizes the results into a dictionary mapping object names to objects. We store the result in the got variable.

def extract(raw, excluded):
    """Extract objects."""
    # First step, remove comments and unwanted lines
    objects = "\n".join([obj
                         for obj in raw.split("\n")
                         if not obj.startswith((
    # Second step, split objects
    objects = [RPSLObject(obj.strip())
               for obj in re.split(r"\n\n+", objects)
               if obj.strip()
               and not obj.startswith(
                   tuple(f"{x}:" for x in excluded))]
    # Last step, put objects in a dict
    objects = {repr(obj): obj
               for obj in objects}
    return objects

RPSLObject() is a class enabling normalization and comparison of objects. Look at the module code for more details.

>>> output="""
... inet6num:       2a0a:e805:300::/40
... […]
... """
>>> pprint({k: str(v) for k,v in extract(output, excluded=[])})
   'inet6num:       2a0a:e805:300::/40\n'
   'netname:        FR-BLADE-CUSTOMERS-FR\n'
   'country:        FR\n'
   'geoloc:         48.8566 2.3522\n'
   'admin-c:        BN2763-RIPE\n'
   'tech-c:         BN2763-RIPE\n'
   'status:         ASSIGNED\n'
   'mnt-by:         fr-blade-1-mnt\n'
   'remarks:        synced with cmdb\n'
   'source:         RIPE',
   'route6:         2a0a:e805:300::/40\n'
   'descr:          Blade IPv6 - PA1\n'
   'origin:         AS64476\n'
   'mnt-by:         fr-blade-1-mnt\n'
   'remarks:        synced with cmdb\n'
   'source:         RIPE'}

Comparing with wanted objects

Let’s build the wanted dictionary using the same structure, thanks to the extract() function we can use verbatim:

with open(module.params['source']) as f:
    source =
wanted = extract(source, excluded)

The next step is to compare got and wanted to build the diff object:

if got != wanted:
    result['changed'] = True
    if module._diff:
        result['diff'] = [
                 before=str(got.get(k, "")),
                 after=str(wanted.get(k, "")))
            for k in set((*wanted.keys(), *got.keys()))
            if k not in wanted or k not in got or wanted[k] != got[k]]

Returning updates

The module does not have a side effect. If there is a difference, we return the updates to send by email. We choose to include all wanted objects in the updates (contained in the source variable) and let the IRR ignore unmodified objects. We also append the objects to be deleted by adding a delete: attribute to each them them.

# We send all source objects and deleted objects.
deleted_mark = f"{'delete:':16}deleted by CMDB"
deleted = "\n\n".join([f"{got[k].raw}\n{deleted_mark}"
                       for k in got
                       if k not in wanted])
result['objects'] = f"{source}\n\n{deleted}"


The complete code is available on GitHub. The module supports both --diff and --check flags. It does not return anything if no change is detected. It can work with APNIC, RIPE and ARIN. It is not perfect: it may not detect some changes,3 it is not able to modify objects not owned by the provided maintainer4 and some attributes cannot be modified, requiring to manually delete and recreate the updated object.5 However, this module should automate 95% of your needs.

  1. Other IRRs exist without being attached to a RIR. The most notable one is RADb↩︎

  2. ARIN is phasing out this method in favor of IRR-online. RIPE has an API available, but email updates are still supported and not planned to be deprecated. APNIC plans to expose an API↩︎

  3. For ARIN, we cannot query key-cert and mntner objects and therefore we cannot detect changes in them. It is also not possible to detect changes to the auth mechanisms of a mntner object. ↩︎

  4. APNIC do not assign top-level objects to the maintainer associated with the owner. ↩︎

  5. Changing the status of an inetnum object requires deleting and recreating the object. ↩︎

The remixing of quality in the pandemic

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

Now consider another of my favorite pastimes, watching professional basketball. I have been following the NBA bubble with great interest. The Miami Heat are now favored to reach the NBA Finals, even though they were only the fifth-ranked team in the East at the end of the regular season. What happened? They have played with grit and determination, and their entire active roster showed up in first-rate physical shape. That’s not easy to do after a five-month layoff, as it required tremendous discipline.

In contrast, the Los Angeles Clippers were among the favorites to win the NBA title. They were recently eliminated by the Denver Nuggets, a very good team but not previously a top contender. In the final quarter of the last game of the series, the victorious Nuggets played with energy and verve, while the Clippers seemed to be gasping for air. After their defeat, some of the Clippers admitted that inferior conditioning was part of their problem.

So “staying in shape during a five-month layoff” is now a critical skill for a basketball player. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the Clippers need to revamp their roster. Maybe they should just wait for a return to normal times.


Might these changes in quality affect your choices beyond work — such as your decisions about friends, family relations, romance, and much more? Should you buy a dog, knowing you probably won’t be homebound two years from now? How about dating? On a first date, presumably, looks should matter less and social carefulness more. But again, for how long? It would be very strange, and probably unwise, to form a lasting relationship based on how well your romantic interest wears a mask.

Sadly the world has entered a new paralysis, most of all because no one knows when things will return to normal, or what might become normal, or what might remain strange. When this pandemic ends, one thing we can all look forward to is making better plans.

Recommended, at least until the pandemic is over.

The post The remixing of quality in the pandemic appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Decentralized serological testing?

I would like to know more, but here is one new paper on the topic, by Lottie Brown,

Serological testing is emerging as a powerful tool to progress our understanding of COVID-19 exposure, transmission and immune response. Large-scale testing is limited by the need for in-person blood collection by staff trained in venepuncture. Capillary blood self-sampling and postage to laboratories for analysis could provide a reliable alternative. Two-hundred and nine matched venous and capillary blood samples were obtained from thirty nine participants and analysed using a COVID-19 IgG ELISA to detect antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Thirty seven out of thirty eight participants were able to self-collect an adequate sample of capillary blood (≥50 μl). Using plasma from venous blood collected in lithium heparin as the reference standard, matched capillary blood samples, collected in lithium heparin-treated tubes and on filter paper as dried blood spots, achieved a Cohen′s kappa coefficient of >0.88 (near-perfect agreement). Storage of capillary blood at room temperature for up to 7 days post sampling did not affect concordance. Our results indicate that capillary blood self-sampling is a reliable and feasible alternative to venepuncture for serological assessment in COVID-19.

Via Alan Goldhammer.

The post Decentralized serological testing? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Encircling Antu

Despite its name, ESO’s Very Large Telescope, the VLT, is not a single telescope! It is in fact made up of an array of four 8.2-metre-diameter Unit Telescopes (UTs) (one of which is shown here) and four additional, movable, 1.8-metre-diameter Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) (three of which are visible on the right side of this image). 

Each UT has its own individual name in the region’s native Mapuche (Mapudungun) language. The star of this image is Antu (or UT1, the first of the UTs), and is pictured here sitting atop Cerro Paranal in Chile. This polychromatic image, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Petr Horálek, also captures the beautiful colours of the cloudy night sky encircling Antu.

Many night-sky objects are visible here. Starting from the left we see the pink California Nebula, the Pleiades star cluster, the fiery river of the Milky Way, the constellation of Orion and its famous Belt, the looping Gum Nebula, the Carina Nebula and the Southern Cross. The most curious features are the green bands or stripes to the right of Antu’s enclosure. They are atmospheric gravity waves, generated by storms forming ripples in the greenish layer of Earth’s airglow in the upper atmosphere. This image also appeared in an ESOcast dedicated to Red Sprites, which can occur under similar conditions as gravity waves.

A Rebecca Saunders moment

Parscale Hospitalized After Barricading Himself in Home with Guns

Deposed Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has been hospitalized on a psychiatric hold after barricading himself in his Ft. Lauderdale home and threatening to harm himself with a firearm. According to a local press report, “Fort Lauderdale Police responded to a home in reference to an armed male attempting suicide Sunday afternoon. When officers arrived on the scene, they made contact with the wife of the man who told them her husband was armed, had access to multiple firearms inside the house and was threatening to harm himself.”

Parscale’s wife apparently called 911, telling police her husband was threatening to kill himself.

According to the Sun Sentinel there was a stand off of some sort with a SWAT team. “Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said he received a text message saying that there was a SWAT team standoff at Parscale’s home.” Said Trantalis: “I’m glad he didn’t do any harm to himself or others I commend our SWAT team for being able to negotiate a peaceful ending to this.”

Live coverage: SpaceX scrubs Falcon 9 launch due to weather

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 13th batch of approximately 60 Starlink broadband satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

SpaceX webcast

SpaceX mission audio

Messaging Systems

SMS is just the worst, but I'm having trouble convincing people to adopt my preferred system, TLS IRC with a local server and a patched DOSBox gateway running in my mobile browser.

Milestones in Aviation

Important dates in the conquest of air and space.

Filaments of the Cygnus Loop

What lies at the edge of an expanding supernova? What lies at the edge of an expanding supernova?

Sunday Night Futures

Schedule for Week of September 27, 2020

• At 10:30 AM ET, Dallas Fed Survey of Manufacturing Activity for September. This is the last of the regional surveys for September.

From CNBC: Pre-Market Data and Bloomberg futures S&P 500 are up 9 and DOW futures are up 89 (fair value).

Oil prices were down over the last week with WTI futures at $40.19 per barrel and Brent at $41.91 barrel. A year ago, WTI was at $58, and Brent was at $65 - so WTI oil prices are down about 30% year-over-year.

Here is a graph from for nationwide gasoline prices. Nationally prices are at $2.18 per gallon. A year ago prices were at $2.65 per gallon, so gasoline prices are down $0.47 per gallon year-over-year.