Pegasus rocket successful in responsive launch demonstration

Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rocket is mated to its L-1011 carrier aircraft before the TacRL-2 launch. Credit: U.S. Space Force

A Northrop Grumman Pegasus rocket dropped from the belly of a carrier jet over the Pacific Ocean early Sunday and streaked into orbit with a small U.S. military space surveillance satellite named Odyssey, completing a successful rapid launch exercise in partnership with a secretive new Space Force special projects unit.

The mission’s goal was to demonstrate how the military can develop and launch satellites on faster timescales. The small spacecraft, which a Space Force spokesperson said is named Odyssey, was buttoned up inside the nose cone of a Pegasus XL rocket.

The mission, known as TacRL-2, was part of the Space Force’s “Tactically Responsive Launch” program.

Mounted on the belly of an L-1011 carrier aircraft, the 53,000-pound (24-metric ton) Pegasus XL rocket departed Vandenberg Space Force Base on California’s Central Coast about an hour before launch.

The L-1011 aircraft, named “Stargazer,” flew to the Pegasus drop zone about 150 miles (250 kilometers) off the California coast and lined up on the launch trajectory heading south. Two pilots, a flight engineer, and two launch console operators ensured all systems were “go” for release of the Pegasus.

The flight crew commanded release of the 55-foot-long (17-meter) at 4:11 a.m. EDT (1:11 a.m. PDT; 0811 GMT) as the L-1011 flew at an altitude of 39,000 feet (11,900 meters).

After a five-second free fall, the Pegasus ignited its solid-fueled first stage Orion 50S XL motor to begin the climb into space.

The first stage, fitted with a wing and steering fins, generated more than 160,000 pounds of thrust and fired more than a minute before burning out. The Pegasus then jettisoned its first stage and fired its Orion 50 XL and Orion 38 second and third stage motors to reach orbit with the Odyssey satellite.

Northrop Grumman and the Space Force did not provide a live webcast of the mission.

A statement released by Space Launch Delta 30, formerly the 30th Space Wing, at Vandenberg Space Force Base less than an hour after launch confirmed the mission was successful.

The Space Force established the Tactically Responsive Launch Program to demonstrate the military could “call up” a launch provider and deploy a small satellite into orbit within 21 days.

“Our mission partners and Delta 30 team demonstrated the Space Force tactical response capability to launch small satellite payloads within three weeks,” said Col. Robert Long, commander of Space Launch Delta 30, in a statement. “It takes a resilient team providing agile services and responsiveness to our launch customers for mission success. I want to thank our launch partners and our Delta 30 team for their efforts providing space access for this important tactical response demonstration.”

Military officials have released few details about the Odyssey satellite.

Maj. Nick Mercurio, a Space Force spokesperson, said the payload is a “space domain awareness technology demonstration satellite.” Space domain awareness is a field that encompasses the detection, tracking, and characterization of satellites and debris in orbit.

Officials did not reveal the mission’s target orbit, but airspace warning notices suggested the Pegasus XL rocket likely headed for a sun-synchronous orbit with an inclination of about 98 degrees.

The Odyssey spacecraft was built by a new organization called “Space Safari,” modeled after the Air Force’s secretive “Big Safari” program that modifies aircraft for special missions, according to Gen. Jay Raymond, the Space Force’s chief of space operations.

“The thing that concerns me is our ability to go fast, so everything that we’re doing in the Space Force is designed to allow us to move at speed,” Raymond said Thursday in a virtual discussion hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “So about a year ago, I challenged our acquisition organization to develop a capability in tactical timelines, integrated it onto a launch vehicle and launch it, and let’s see how fast we can do it.

“So we stood up an organization called Space Safari, modeled kind of after what the Air Force has done with their Big Safari program, and in less than a year, they took satellite components off the self, married it up with a satellite bus that was off the shelf, put it together, and it’s a space domain awareness satellite.”

Raymond said it takes about five years to build a GPS navigation satellite.

“That’s not good enough,” he said.

Building and launching a spacecraft in less than a year could pave the way for the Space Force to quickly deploy a satellite to respond to an emerging threat, or to replace a critical satellite in wartime.

“This is a first experiment, and I’m proud of the team,” Raymond said. “It was less than year from when I gave them the challenge to a launch.”

Once the satellite was built, the Space Force kept in storage until May, when officials called it up for launch.

“We kind of had it on the shelf. We just gave them a 21 day call-up, saying get ready to launch in 21 days,” Raymond said

The Space Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $28.1 million contract for the TacRL-2 launch last July. The Defense Department awarded the task order through the Orbital Services Program-4 contract, which covers launch services for small and medium-size military satellites through 2028.

A Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket inside its hangar at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin

Northrop Grumman had the Pegasus XL rocket for the TacRL-2 mission in storage. It was one of two Pegasus rockets manufactured for Stratolaunch, a company founded by the late billionaire Paul Allen. Stratolaunch developed the largest airplane ever built, and purchased two Pegasus rockets to launch from the giant aircraft, then planned to work on its own launch vehicle.

But Stratolaunch’s progress slowed after Allen’s death in 2018, and the company abandoned plans to launch Pegasus rockets. Instead, Stratolaunch said last year it is working on a hypersonic test vehicle.

Stratolaunch’s airplane successfully flew for the first time in 2019, and completed a second test flight in April.

After Stratolaunch’s plans changed, Northrop Grumman reacquired the near-complete Pegasus rockets from Stratolaunch to offer to other customers.

Kurt Eberly, director of Northrop Grumman’s launch vehicles division, said the Pegasus team and the Space Force worked out how to execute the TacRL-2 mission in the months leading up to the call-up May 22, including agreements with the Western Range at Vandenberg on flight safety parameters. But some specifics, such as the target orbit and trajectory, were not known to the Pegasus team until 21 days ago.

“I would say it was very successful,” he said in an interview. “What we just did with the space vehicle team is really hard. We got the call-up 21 days ago on a Saturday evening. Our team just swung into action. In that call-up, we got direction on the trajectory and where to launch to, and some other particulars. So our team had to adjust to all that.”

The Odyssey satellite arrived at Vandenberg within the last three weeks. Technicians encapsulated the spacecraft inside the Pegasus payload fairing before mating it to the rocket.

Ground teams at Vandenberg connected the Pegasus XL rocket to the L-1011 carrier aircraft Wednesday.

Developed commercially by Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, the Pegasus rocket flew its 45th satellite delivery mission. Since the rocket’s debut in 1990, Pegasus missions have been staged from Vandenberg, Edwards Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral, Wallops Island in Virginia, Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, and the Canary Islands.

The most recent Pegasus launch staged from Vandenberg was in 2013.

“It’s the first time in eight years we’ve had a Pegasus launch from here on the Western Range, so that’s exciting to do something we don’t get to do very often,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy Hromsco, commander of the 30th Operational Support Squadron at Vandenberg.

Despite the growth of small satellite operators, the Pegasus rocket has only launched three times since 2013 amid growing competition from other launch companies like SpaceX. Other launch providers in the small satellite sector, such as Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, are also cutting into the market once served by the Pegasus rocket.

NASA paid $56.3 million to launch a research satellite on the previous Pegasus rocket flight before TacRL-2.

That mission was delayed more than two years due to technical problems with the Pegasus. NASA decided in 2019 to launch a future scientific satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, a much larger launcher than the Pegasus.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE, was originally designed to launch on a Pegasus rocket. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is vastly oversized for the IXPE satellite, but it has the ability to launch the small payload into a unique equatorial orbit from Cape Canaveral.

And SpaceX can do the launch for $50.3 million, undercutting the previous publicly-available price for a Pegasus. The $28 million contract for the TacRL-2 mission is half the price NASA paid for the most recent Pegasus mission in 2019.

Eberly said the Pegasus rocket, designed by Orbital Sciences in the 1980s as the first privately-developed satellite launcher, still has a role to play in the launch industry.

“Solid rocket motor propulsion is maybe a little more expensive than some of the low-priced new entrants that we see come along,” he said. “We understand that.”

The benefit of solid-fueled launchers, according to Eberly, is they are inherently responsive.

“They are able to be stored for many, many years, and then are ready to launch at a moment’s notice,” Eberly said. “Solid rocket motor technology can enable very short call-up times and responsiveness. What it requires is to get all the work done up front, and get ready, and get the plan done.’

Northrop Grumman has one more Pegasus XL rocket in the hangar, and could build more. So far, the Pegasus doesn’t have a customer beyond Sunday’s TacRL-2 mission.

The Space Force issued a request for proposals earlier this year for two additional tactically responsive launch missions — TacRL-3 and 4 — for flights in 2022 and 2023.

The military in 2019 selected Aevum, Firefly, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, VOX Space, and X-Bow as eligible to compete for OSP-4 missions, including TacRL-3 and 4.

The ground-launched Minotaur rocket family, derived from decommissioned solid-fueled military missile stages, and the air-launched Pegasus rocket are Northrop Grumman’s offerings under the OSP-4 contract.

“If there is a need to shorten up these call-up times, then solids could have a place to serve in that role,” he said. “In addition to the vehicles launched from the ground, an air-launched solid then gives you flexibility in the basing and the drop point, and allowing you to get to different orbits more quickly than you could get to if you had to launch from the ground at a fixed launch point.

“Maybe there’s a role there (for Pegasus),” Eberly said before Sunday’s launch. “So we’re going to do our best job here on TacRL-2 , and put our best foot forward … And then after the mission, we’ll see what comes out of it.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

AFDLOX June 13, 3:07am

FXUS66 KLOX 131007 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 307 AM PDT Sun Jun 13 2021 .SYNOPSIS...13/305 AM. Weakening onshore flow will continue to bring a gradual warming trend to the region through Monday. Gusty Sundowner winds, and northerly winds in the Interstate 5 corridor, are expected Monday through Tuesday night. A significant heat wave will bring temperatures to near record levels starting Tuesday and continuing through the end of the week, though some cooling is expected near the coast starting Wednesday.

AFDSGX June 13, 3:02am

FXUS66 KSGX 131002 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 300 AM PDT Sun Jun 13 2021 .SYNOPSIS... High pressure will strengthen and expand over the Desert Southwest through the middle of next week. This will bring a long duration heat wave to much of the region, with temperatures peaking Tuesday through Friday. A sea breeze and shallow marine layer will keep temperatures moderated in the coastal areas, along with some patchy night and morning low clouds and fog at times. The ridge over the Southwest will keep it hot well inland into next weekend, with cooling expected across the entire region early next week.

CPHC Central North Pacific Outlook


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


ZCZC HFOTWOCP ALL
TTAA00 PHFO DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center Honolulu HI
800 PM HST Sat Jun 12 2021

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

No tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5 days.

$$
Forecaster Donaldson
NNNN


NHC Eastern North Pacific Outlook


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


ZCZC MIATWOEP ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
1100 PM PDT Sat Jun 12 2021

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

The National Hurricane Center has initiated advisories on recently
upgraded Tropical Storm Carlos, located more than 1200 miles
southwest of the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.

1. Showers and thunderstorms remain poorly organized in association
with a weak area of low pressure located about a hundred miles
south-southwest of Puerto Angel, Mexico. Environmental conditions
appear only marginally conducive for additional development over the
next day or so. By early next week, the system is forecast to
interact with land and a larger disturbance developing to its north,
and formation of a tropical cyclone is not anticipated. Regardless
of development, heavy rainfall will be possible over portions of
Central America and southern Mexico through early next week. See
products from your local meteorological service for more
information.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...20 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...20 percent.

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

Forecaster Stewart


Why was pre-Covid unemployment so low?

Here is a recent paper by Andreas Hornstein and Marianna Kudlyak, noting that when the authors write “current” they are (were) referring to pre-Covid times:

Current unemployment, as of 2019Q4, is so low not because of unusually high job finding rates out of unemployment, but because of unusually low entry rates into unemployment. The unusually low entry rates, both from employment and from out of the labor force, reflect a long-run downward trend, and have lowered the unemployment rate trend over the recent decade. In fact, the difference between the current unemployment rate and unemployment rates at the two previous cyclical peaks in 2000 and 2007 is more than fully accounted for by the decline in its trend. This suggests that the current low unemployment rate does not indicate a labor market that is tighter than in 2000 or 2007.

Of course these results have significance for the common view that we need to “run the labor market hot” to get back to a desirable state of affairs.  What we need is for the necessary adjustments to take place to restore a new and sustainable equilibrium.

The post Why was pre-Covid unemployment so low? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Schadenfreude 297: (A Continuing Series)

AL East

            W   L    GB    RS   RA DIFF  EXPWL
Rays       41  24   ---   321  243  +78  41-24
Red Sox    39  26   2.0   323  280  +43  37-28
Blue Jays  32  30   7.5   303  267  +36  35-27
Yankees    33  31   7.5   252  252    0  32-32
Orioles    22  41  18.0   257  319  -62  25-38

Fun Fact: The shitty Orioles have scored more runs in 63 games than the mighty Yankees have in 64 games. The MFY are 26th among MLB teams in runs scored.

Dan Martin, Post:
For a second consecutive game, the Yankees came up short with Aroldis Chapman on the mound, this time in an 8-7, 10-inning loss to the Phillies, as they wasted DJ LeMahieu's game-tying, three-run homer in the top of the ninth.

"We're not into moral victories," manager Aaron Boone said . . .

Chapman came on in the 10th, following his disastrous outing on Thursday in Minnesota . . . This time, pinch-hitter Travis Jankowski led off with a bunt . . . [Chapman] said he wanted to throw to third, but no one covered and he threw high to first, allowing Jankowski to reach on the error.

After Odubel Herrera popped out, Jean Segura won it with a hard grounder to third.

Gio Urshela['s] throw home was late and wide, giving the Phillies a walkoff win for a third straight game. . . .

The Yankees had a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth [but] Hector Neris [struck out] Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres. . . .

The Yankees' day started rough, when Jameson Taillon couldn't get out of the first inning, and they received more bad news when Luis Severino was forced out of his minor league rehab start with a right groin injury . . .

[T]he Yankees, who have lost five of seven, dropped to a season-worst 7½ games behind the first place Rays.

Taillon put the Yankees in a huge hole, as his underwhelming first season with the club continued.

The right-hander started the game by allowing four straight singles and a walk as he gave up four runs in an outing Taillon called "embarrassing" and "humiliating."
Kristie Ackert, Daily News:
[The Yankees] have to start worrying about their pitching. On a day that Luis Severino left his rehab start with a groin injury, Jameson Taillon could not get out of the first inning and the Bombers' bats just couldn't catch up after being in an early hole.

Jean Segura scorched a ground ball to third base and Ronald Torreyes beat Gio Urshela's throw from the seat of his pants for the Phillies' 8-7 walkoff win in the bottom of the 10th . . .

It was the Yankees' (33-31) second straight loss — and the second straight walk-off loss. The Yankees have not had back-to-back walk-off losses since Sept. 14-15, 2014 . . .

Severino . . . will have an MRI Sunday. With Corey Kluber on the 60-day injured list with a strained shoulder, the starting pitching depth is already thin. Michael King is already in Kluber's spot in the rotation and Deivi Garcia is still struggling in Triple-A.

So the Yankees need Taillon to figure it out.

Taillon has been inconsistent in his 12 starts. . . . So far, Taillon is 1-5 with a 5.74 ERA. He has gone past the fifth inning once. He has given up 10 earned runs in the last 10.2 innings pitched, over three starts. . . .

Taillon . . . has given up the highest percentage of barreled balls in his career (10.1%) and the highest average exit velocity on hits against him (90.3 mph). He is in the bottom third of MLB in hard-hit balls and 12th percentile in max exit velocity.

Saturday was the shortest outing of Taillon's career. . . . Taillon gave up four straight hard-hit singles to start the game, including a two-run single to Bryce Harper. He then walked Rhys Hoskins before giving up a sacrifice fly to Andrew McCutchen and then an RBI single to Alec Bohm, which was the final straw. . . .

Ken Davidoff, Post:
Jameson Taillon, of all people, symbolizes these 2021 Yankees:

Big hype, small results. . . .

Losers of two straight and 12 of 17, a season-worst 7½ games behind the Rays in the American League East, the Yankees (33-31) get no points for fight, not at this stage of the season.

Similarly, Taillon receives no reprieve for his loss-turned-no-decision, not after the right-hander recorded one measly out before departing, putting his team in a 4-0 hole . . .

The two-time Tommy John surgery recipient now owns a ghastly 5.74 ERA, and on the same day that Luis Severino left his minor league start early with a right groin injury, the turn of events reflected poorly upon the Yankees' "Let's bring in four starting pitchers who combined to throw one inning in 2020" strategy for this season.

Corey Kluber [is] the guy who threw that one inning . . . and he's on the 60-day injured list with a bum right shoulder . . .

If you watch Taillon's starts regularly, you know he's not a comfortable watch . . . [H]e doesn't put guys away enough. Of the seven batters he faced on Saturday, he accrued two strikes on three of them. All three of those gentlemen . . . managed to notch base hits. . . . [W]hen Taillon reaches two strikes on a hitter, they have a slash line of 233/.282/.338 against him … [T]he overall AL line, through Friday's action, was .167/.242/.270. . . .

[Taillon:]. "I feel better than I have in a long time."

Whether he can bring his results closer to that feel, to his underlying counts, will help determine whether these Yankees, such a disappointment so far, ever catch up to their hype.

Dan Martin, Post, June 12, 2021:

Luis Severino hit an unexpected setback . . . when he had to leave a rehab start after suffering a right groin injury.

The right-hander had to be helped off the field after coming up lame in the second inning while pitching for High-A Hudson Valley in their game at the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Mets affiliate. After striking out the first two batters of the inning, Severino surrendered an infield single before suffering the injury against the next batter. . . .

It's just the latest injury issue for Severino, who has pitched in just five games for the Yankees since signing a four-year, $40 million extension in February 2019. . . .

Kristie Ackert, Daily News, June 12, 2021:

It was an all-around bad day for the Yankees' starting pitching. Even before Jameson Taillon got chased in the first inning after recording just one out against the Phillies, Luis Severino had to be helped off the field during his minor league rehab start. . . .

Severino . . . was hobbled after throwing a pitch. His trailing right leg came around awkwardly and he struggled to put weight on it. He had to be helped off the field . . .

He has pitched just 20.1 innings in the first two years of a contract extension he signed in the spring of 2019 . . . He missed all of last year's 60-game season.

Early Post web headline:
 

NHC Atlantic Outlook


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


ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
200 AM EDT Sun Jun 13 2021

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

1. A large area of cloudiness and showers over the Bay of Campeche and
adjacent land areas is associated with a trough of low pressure.
Slow development is possible over the next several days while the
broad disturbance moves little, and a tropical depression could form
in this area by Thursday or Friday. Regardless of development,
heavy rainfall will be possible over portions of Central America
and southern Mexico during the next several days. Please consult
products from your local meteorological service for more
information.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...10 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...medium...50 percent.

Forecaster Stewart


Emergent Ventures winners, 15th cohort

Emily Oster, Brown University, in support of her COVID-19 School Response Dashboard and the related “Data Hub” proposal, to ease and improve school reopenings, project here.

Kathleen Harward, to write and market a series of children’s books based on classical liberal values.

William Zhang, a high school junior on Long Island, NY, for general career development and to popularize machine learning and computation.

Kyle Schiller, to study possibilities for nuclear fusion.

Aaryan Harshith, 15 year old in Ontario, for general career development and “LightIR is the world’s first device that can instantly detect cancer cells during cancer surgery, preventing the disease from coming back and keeping patients healthier for longer.”

Anna Harvey, New York University and Social Science Research Council, to bring evidence-based law and economics research to practitioners in police departments and legal systems.

EconomistsWritingEveryDay blog, here is one recent good Michael Makowsky post.

Richard Hanania, Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, to pursue their new mission.

Jeremy Horpedahl, for his work on social media to combat misinformation, including (but not only) Covid misinformation.

The post Emergent Ventures winners, 15th cohort appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

A Supercell Thunderstorm Over Texas

Is that a cloud or an alien spaceship? Is that a cloud or an alien spaceship?


"I'm Writing Like Crazy . . . When The Time Comes, You'll See The Book Of All Books"

From the Desk of Allan J. Wood:

I turned down two book deals, from the most unlikely of publishers, in that I do not want to do such a deal right now. I'm writing like crazy anyway, however, and when the time comes, you'll see the book of all books. Actually, I've been working on a much more important project right now!

So that's what's been going on with me and I hope — 

— 



Errr . . . this is highly strange and more than a little uncomfortable.

 

Mid-Atlantic Severe Storms; Western Heat and Fire Weather Threats

$28 million bid wins auction to join Bezos on suborbital spaceflight

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

Jeff Bezos and members of the Blue Origin team inspect a capsule after a landing in 2017. Credit: Blue Origin

An unidentified enthusiast bid an astronomical $28 million Saturday to win an on-line auction for a seat aboard a New Shepard spacecraft and a chance to make history next month, joining rocket owner and Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos for a commercial flight to space.

Bidding for the 10- to 12-minute sub-orbital flight started at $4.8 million. In less than two minutes it shot up to $10 million, doubling to $20 million a minute and 10 seconds after that. The $28 million winning bid was accepted a little more than six minutes after the auction’s final round began.

“Going three times… and that is sold! Twenty-eight million dollars to number 107!” auctioneer Steve Little announced with a flourish.

“The name of the auction winner will be released in the weeks following the auction’s conclusion,” Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, said in a tweet. “Then, the fourth and final crew member will be announced – stay tuned.”

Blue Origin’s six-seat New Shepard capsule will carry the the world’s richest man, his brother Mark, the not-yet-identified auction winner and one other passenger on a short up-and-down flight to the lower reaches of space on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Launching from a company test facility near Van Horn, Texas, the reusable single-stage New Shepard rocket will boost the crew capsule to an altitude just above 62 miles, the internationally recognized “boundary” of space, before it arcs over for a parachute descent back to Earth.

Bezos and his crewmates will experience about three minutes of weightlessness near the top of the trajectory, enjoying spectacular views of Earth from six windows the company says are the largest ever flown in space.

Blue Origin announced the auction May 5, a dramatic way of revealing the company was finally ready to begin carrying passengers to space after 15 successful unpiloted test flights. One month later, on June 7, Bezos announced on Instagram that he and his brother Mark would be joining the auction winner for the historic flight.

Nearly 7,600 people from 159 countries registered for the auction and the 20 top bidders, none identified, participated in the final round Saturday. A 6 percent fee was added to the winning bid.

The proceeds will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, “Club for the Future,” inspiring “the next generation as they go off and think about millions of people living and working in space … which is precisely what Blue Origin’s vision is,” the company said in an earlier release.

Blue Origin has not yet announced what New Shepard seats will normally cost, but tickets are expected to run in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand dollars each.

Competing against fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk, Bezos has said he spends a billion dollars a year funding Blue Origin and the development of sub-orbital spacecraft for commercial up-and-down trips to space as well as larger, more powerful boosters to launch satellites, and eventually people, to orbit and beyond.

The upcoming New Shepard flight is expected to be the first carrying purely civilian passengers to space aboard a commercially built spacecraft without company or government pilots on board.

While civilians have flown as guests or paying passengers on U.S. and Russian spacecraft in the past, those missions were government sponsored and piloted by professional astronauts. Branson’s Virgin Galactic has launched company pilots and engineers to space on sub-orbital test flights, all of them civilians, but so far, no members of the public.

In the wake of Bezos’ announcement, there has been speculation Virgin Galactic might try to beat Blue Origin to the punch, launching Branson on a test flight over the July 4 holiday weekend.

But Bezos and Blue Origin presumably would still claim the distinction of launching the first truly commercial space flight, taking off with the first non-company, non-government passengers flying to space aboard a privately owned and operated spacecraft.

Musk’s company, SpaceX, already launches astronaut crews to NASA’s International Space Station and plans to launch a fully commercial orbital mission in September. Additional commercial flights are expected.

However the history books might record it, the Blue Origin flight is the culmination of a lifelong dream for Bezos and a dramatic way to demonstrate his faith in the safety of his company’s rocket and spacecraft, matching Branson’s long-stated goal of flying on his company’s spaceplane.

“You see the Earth from space that changes you, it changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It’s one Earth,” Bezos said in an Instagram post announcing his flight.

“I want to go on this flight because it’s the thing I’ve wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me. I invited my brother to come on this first flight because we’re closest friends.”

Jacob deGrom: 0.56 ERA, More RBI (5) Than Earned Runs Allowed (4), .400 Batting Average

Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom has a 0.56 ERA, the lowest in major league history through 10 starts, since earned runs became an official statistic in 1913.

The chart above is after 10 "appearances". After his 10th start in 1914, Dutch Leonard's ERA was 0.85 (he had made three relief appearances along the way). The highest Leonard's ERA got that year was 1.01 after a one-inning start (three earned runs) on July 25. deGrom's ERA has not yet risen above 0.80.

I understand including Gooden because of the Mets connection, but Pedro Martinez's 2000 season could have been included. He had a 1.05 ERA through 10 starts and finished at 1.74.

Last night, deGrom allowed one hit to the Padres over six shutout innings and struck out 10, becoming the fastest pitcher to strikeout 100 batters in a season in major league history. He currently has 103 in 64 innings.

He also hit a two-run single off Blake Snell in the fifth inning, giving the Mets a 3-0 lead (they won 3-2). deGrom is the first pitcher in Mets history to allow one hit, strike out 10, and also have two RBI in a game.

In fact, deGrom now has more RBIs (5) this season than earned runs allowed (4), something no pitcher has ever done across any 10-start stretch since 1920 (when RBI became an official stat).

Last night's start was also deGrom's ninth game with 10+ strikeouts and no walks, one behind Tom Seaver, the Mets' all-time leader. (Noah Syndergaard has eight.)

Oh, and deGrom is also batting .400 (10-for-25). He's had at least one hit in eight of his 10 starts and his OPS+ is 137, which is identical to Rafael Devers's OPS+.

June 12th COVID-19 New Cases, Vaccinations, Hospitalizations

As expected the is a correlation between states with high vaccination rates, and low COVID cases.  The top four vaccination states are Vermont, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Connecticut, with an average of 80.6% vaccinated (percent 18+ at least one dose) and 2.4 new cases per day per 100,000.

The bottom four vaccination states are Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Wyoming, with an average of 46.2% vaccinated, and 6.3 new cases per day per 100,000.

Vaccines are free, safe and effective!

This data is from the CDC.

According to the CDC, on Vaccinations.

Total doses administered: 308,112,728, as of yesterday 306,509,795. Daily: 1.60 million.

COVID Metrics
 CurrentYesterdayGoal
Percent over 18, One Dose64.3%64.1%≥70.0%1,2
Fully Vaccinated (millions)143.1142.1≥1601
New Cases per Day313,29514,138≤5,0002
Hospitalized315,30415,717≤3,0002
Deaths per Day3348358≤502
1 America's Goal by July 4th,
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37 day average for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths


KUDOS to the residents of the 13 states that have already achieved the 70% goal: Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts are at 80%+, and Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Washington are all over 70%.

Next up are New York at 69.7%, D.C. at 69.6%, Illinois at 69.1%, Virginia at 68.9%, Minnesota at 68.4%, Delaware at 68.0%, Colorado at 67.7% and Oregon at 67.6%.

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

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

This data is from the CDC.

Hush-hush military satellite ready to ride Pegasus rocket into orbit

File photo of a Pegasus XL rocket mounted under its L-1011 carrier jet before a previous mission. Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

A small U.S. military satellite named Odyssey, designed and built in less than a year by a secretive new Space Force special projects unit, is set to launch early Sunday from an aircraft off the coast of California aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus rocket.

The mission’s goal is to demonstrate how the military can develop and launch satellites on faster timescales. The small spacecraft, which a Space Force spokesperson said is named Odyssey, is buttoned up inside the nose cone of a Pegasus XL rocket.

The solid-fueled Pegasus launcher is mounted under the belly of an L-1011 carrier jet awaiting takeoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The triple-engine aircraft is expected to take off about an hour before launch time, which the Space Force said is set for 4:11 a.m. EDT (1:11 a.m. PDT; 0811 GMT) Sunday.

Northrop Grumman and the Space Force do not plan to provide a live webcast of the launch.

There is a 60% chance of acceptable weather for Sunday’s launch opportunity, primarily driven by a thick marine cloud layer at Vandenberg that could prevent the L-1011 aircraft, named “Stargazer,” from taking off.

The 55-foot-long (17-meter) Pegasus XL rocket is capable of placing a payload of up to 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) into low Earth orbit, according to Northrop Grumman. The rocket consists of a winged first stage and two additional solid-fueled motors.

The L-1011 carrier jet, crewed by two pilots, a flight engineer, and two launch operators, will head west from Vandenberg to the Pegasus drop box about 150 miles (250 kilometers) off the coast.

“At this point, we’re pretty much ready to go,” said Kurt Eberly, director of Northrop Grumman’s launch vehicles division. “We are monitoring the weather. The marine layer has been moving in at night, and this launch is scheduled for early morning. So we’ll be monitoring that for some of the aircraft constraints in terms of ceiling minimums and visibility minimums, and hopefully we can get clear on that.”

The mission launching Sunday is known as TacRL-2, and is part of the Space Force’s “Tactically Responsive Launch” program.

Military officials have released few details about the Odyssey satellite.

Maj. Nick Mercurio, a Space Force spokesperson, said the payload is a “space domain awareness technology demonstration satellite.” Space domain awareness is a field that encompasses the detection, tracking, and characterization of satellites and debris in orbit.

Airspace warning notices suggest the Pegasus XL rocket will launch on a trajectory to the south from the drop box over the Pacific Ocean, likely targeting a sun-synchronous orbit with an inclination of about 98 degrees.

The Stargazer flight crew will command release of the 53,000-pound (24-metric ton) Pegasus XL rocket at an altitude of 39,000 feet (11,900 meters). Five seconds later, the Pegasus first stage will ignite to begin the climb into orbit.

The rocket’s three stages will complete their burns in less than 10 minutes before releasing the Odyssey satellite in orbit.

The Odyssey spacecraft was built by a new organization called “Space Safari,” modeled after the Air Force’s secretive “Big Safari” program that modifies aircraft for special missions, according to Gen. Jay Raymond, the Space Force’s chief of space operations.

“The thing that concerns me is our ability to go fast, so everything that we’re doing in the Space Force is designed to allow us to move at speed,” Raymond said Thursday in a virtual discussion hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “So about a year ago, I challenged our acquisition organization to develop a capability in tactical timelines, integrated it onto a launch vehicle and launch it, and let’s see how fast we can do it.

“So we stood up an organization called Space Safari, modeled kind of after what the Air Force has done with their Big Safari program, and in less than a year, they took satellite components off the self, married it up with a satellite bus that was off the shelf, put it together, and it’s a space domain awareness satellite.”

Raymond said it takes about five years to build a GPS navigation satellite.

“That’s not good enough,” he said.

Building and launching a spacecraft in less than a year could pave the way for the Space Force to quickly deploy a satellite to respond to an emerging threat, or to replace a critical satellite in wartime.

“This is a first experiment, and I’m proud of the team,” Raymond said. “It was less than year from when I gave them the challenge to a launch.”

Once the satellite was built, the Space Force kept in storage until May, when officials called it up for launch.

“We kind of had it on the shelf. We just gave them a 21 day call-up, saying get ready to launch in 21 days,” Raymond said

The Space Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $28.1 million contract for the TacRL-2 launch last July. The Defense Department awarded the task order through the Orbital Services Program-4 contract, which covers launch services for small and medium-size military satellites through 2028.

File photo of a Pegasus rocket in Northrop Grumman’s hangar at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin

Northrop Grumman had the Pegasus XL rocket for the TacRL-2 mission in storage. It was one of two Pegasus rockets manufactured for Stratolaunch, a company founded by the late billionaire Paul Allen. Stratolaunch developed the largest airplane ever built, and purchased two Pegasus rockets to launch from the giant aircraft, then planned to work on its own launch vehicle.

But Stratolaunch’s progress slowed after Allen’s death in 2018, and the company abandoned plans to launch Pegasus rockets. Instead, Stratolaunch said last year it is working on a hypersonic test vehicle.

Stratolaunch’s airplane successfully flew for the first time in 2019, and completed a second test flight in April.

After Stratolaunch’s plans changed, Northrop Grumman reacquired the near-complete Pegasus rockets from Stratolaunch to offer to other customers.

Eberly said Northrop Grumman and the Space Force worked out how to execute the TacRL-2 mission in the months leading up to the call-up May 22, including agreements with the Western Range at Vandenberg on flight safety parameters. But some specifics, such as the target orbit and trajectory, were not known to the Pegasus team until 21 days ago.

“I would say it was very successful,” he said in an interview. “What we just did with the space vehicle team is really hard. We got the call-up 21 days ago on a Saturday evening. Our team just swung into action. In that call-up, we got direction on the trajectory and where to launch to, and some other particulars. So our team had to adjust to all that.”

The Odyssey satellite arrived at Vandenberg within the last three weeks. Technicians encapsulated the spacecraft inside the Pegasus payload fairing before mating it to the rocket.

Ground teams at Vandenberg connected the Pegasus XL rocket to the L-1011 carrier aircraft Wednesday.

Developed commercially by Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, the Pegasus rocket has flown on 44 satellite delivery missions since 1990. Pegasus missions have been staged from Vandenberg, Edwards Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral, Wallops Island in Virginia, Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, and the Canary Islands.

Despite the growth of small satellite operators, the Pegasus rocket has only launched two times in the last seven years amid growing competition from other launch companies like SpaceX. Other launch providers in the small satellite sector, such as Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, are also cutting into the market once served by the Pegasus rocket.

The most recent Pegasus mission in 2019 launched a NASA research satellite. NASA paid $56.3 million to launch the satellite on a Pegasus rocket.

That mission was delayed more than two years due to technical problems with the Pegasus. NASA decided in 2019 to launch a future scientific satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, a much larger launcher than the Pegasus.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE, was originally designed to launch on a Pegasus rocket. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is vastly oversized for the IXPE satellite, but it has the ability to launch the small payload into a unique equatorial orbit from Cape Canaveral.

And SpaceX can do the launch for $50.3 million, undercutting the previous publicly-available price for a Pegasus. The $28 million task order for the TacRL-2 mission is half the price NASA paid for the most recent Pegasus mission in 2019.

Eberly said the Pegasus rocket, designed by Orbital Sciences in the 1980s as the first privately-developed satellite launcher, still has a role to play in the launch industry.

“Solid rocket motor propulsion is maybe a little more expensive than some of the low-priced new entrants that we see come along,” he said. “We understand that.”

The benefit of solid-fueled launchers, according to Eberly, is they are inherently responsive.

“They are able to be stored for many, many years, and then are ready to launch at a moment’s notice,” Eberly said. “Solid rocket motor technology can enable very short call-up times and responsiveness. What it requires is to get all the work done up front, and get ready, and get the plan done.’

Northrop Grumman has one more Pegasus XL rocket in the hangar, and could build more. So far, the Pegasus doesn’t have a customer beyond Sunday’s TacRL-2 mission.

The Space Force issued a request for proposals earlier this year for two additional tactically responsive launch missions — TacRL-3 and 4 — for flights in 2022 and 2023.

The military in 2019 selected Aevum, Firefly, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, VOX Space, and X-Bow as eligible to compete for OSP-4 missions, including TacRL-3 and 4.

The ground-launched Minotaur rocket family, derived from decommissioned solid-fueled military missile stages, and the air-launched Pegasus rocket are Northrop Grumman’s offerings under the OSP-4 contract.

“If there is a need to shorten up these call-up times, then solids could have a place to serve in that role,” he said. “In addition to the vehicles launched from the ground, an air-launched solid then gives you flexibility in the basing and the drop point, and allowing you to get to different orbits more quickly than you could get to if you had to launch from the ground at a fixed launch point.

“Maybe there’s a role there,” Eberly said. “So we’re going to do our best job here on TacRL-2 , and put our best foot forward … And then after the mission, we’ll see what comes out of it.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Readers Respond on Lab Leak #7

From TPM Reader JF

As someone who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years and what passes here for a passing familiarity with Chinese politics (but would probably be a more than passing familiarity for the average American), I agree with you about COVID and the PRC secrecy culture. It’s especially strong around things that make China look bad, and the instinct to censor and clamp down has only gotten stronger since Xi consolidated power. His shift from a term-limited supremo to a for-life supremo is underappreciated in the US, where I think most people just see a the same generic dictatorship, but it was a major change. The Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin served two five-year terms, in and out, and then retired after a decade (both are still alive).

The last supremos to wield power until at or near death were Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. By the time of Deng’s departure, China had moved to a system where, power was negotiated among the party elite. There was rotation at the top, governed by the incumbent leader, other politburo members, aspiring leaders, etc, and there were constitutional term limits (of course the PRC constitution can be changed, and was to allow Xi to stay on). All this constrained Hu and Jiang. They made all the real decisions, but their decisions could be overridden by the next guy, who everyone understood would be in power eventually.

Now, Xi calls the shots and he’s relatively young. He will almost certainly rule for another decade, maybe 20 years easily and he is often compared to Mao or Deng (a comparison that is only made because he allows it). He sees himself as the strong emperor after several weak (or “weak”) ones. The sort of emperor whose name lives on in national textbooks as a great father of the country. The useful comparison is not to a generic idea “dictatorship” (which sort of implies a level of pettiness), but, in a European context, monarchy. Xi wants to be a great emperor (the last one was Mao). The goal is, in a European context, to be like Louis XIV, or maybe Louis XIII, not Louis XII or Louis XV. Or better yet, Frederick the Great of Prussia or Peter the Great of Russia. Xi wants to be in that league, not one of those also-ran kings. All of the leaders I mentioned were militarily powerful, but also saw great reforms and advancements at home.

So Xi is putting his imprint on everything much more fully since lower level officials can expect to see most of their career transpire under his leadership: so they don’t have to please an amorphous party leadership, they have to please him. And what Xi wants is national greatness. He wants to be the ruler who makes China great, a world power, a scientific leader, a developed country, and realizes the “Chinese dream” as he calls it. Observe all the steps toward this. There’s China’s space program (which as you may have noticed, is no joke, they are currently assembling their own space station in orbit). The new aircraft carrier building program, the updating of ICBMs and the nuclear arsenal, the ambitions for lunar and Martian exploration, the aggressive economic growth targets, the aggressive environmental objectives (to seize the commanding heights of wind energy and solar energy production), the growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and on the border with India, and of course the strong push in AI, genetic engineering, and emergent science and technology generally (which could very easily include virology) all point in this direction. So whether the lab leak is real (maybe it is, maybe not), Xi doesn’t want the global headlines to be about that, he wants the global headlines to be about China becoming the third country to put a man on the moon and all that. His influence here thus accentuates the natural secrecy of the party-state (which had loosened under Hu).

There has been a clamp down in China on memoirs of last year’s Wuhan lockdown which cast China in a negative light, such as Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary, which was initially written in her Weibo account (a Chinese microblogging site), and was perpetually pulled down. It eventually came out in English, but not in Chinese, and she hasn’t seen the end of that yet, since, in coming out in English, after disappearing in Chinese, it’s really only about making China look back (at least in the eyes of online nationalists, the government, and others). See here.

Also of course there was the initial denialism and coverup of the virus, leading to death of Dr. Li Wenliang.

But, on the lab leak per se, I also think that the lab leak theory is quite dangerous because it makes China seem weaker than it is. The theory assumes a level of incompetence and maliciousness on China’s part. If China f—ed up and unleashed a virus from WIV onto the populace by mistake and then covered it up (a la the USSR and Chernobyl), this implies that China presents as a rival like the late Soviet Union, one that can be competed with and defeated.

But China is NOT like the late USSR. It’s much more powerful (economically, militarily, technologically, and so on). And, like Russia, we have every reason that, in some form or another, it will be there for the next century and beyond. The recent American talk of competing with China too often misses that China as a country (whatever happens to the current state) isn’t going away anymore than Russia and Germany disappeared in 1991 and 1945. And Xi in particular points to Gorbachev as the big failure, the giant cuck who did not fight to keep his empire. The CCP looks at the demise of the CCCP and says “never again,” and China’s focus on economic development and modernization is meant to prevent that. There is a certain American (and esp. Republican) fantasy about the USSR, that Reagan just said “boo” and it went away. But, ultimately, it fell because Gorbachev let it fall, Like the fall of KMT dictatorship in Taiwan or in South Africa, it was a case of the last ruler of the old regime choosing to shepherd in the new regime and not crack down. But usually dictatorships do crack down. It’s their jam. Thus from Xi’s perspective (and this view is shared broadly party higher ups who go to classes on this issue), Gorbachev lost his nerve. On June 4, 1989 Gorbachev allowed parliamentary elections to be held in Poland (in the sense that the Red Army could have just not let it happen). On the same day, Deng Xiaoping went a very different way in Beijing. Xi is right that Gorbachev let the USSR fall. Our talk of competition with China misses 1) that China’s not going away 2) that it’s more powerful and will have a larger demographic base than any other geopolitical rival has ever had 3) that it’s not going to let itself be overthrown internally and that 4) any world war type scenario that leads to its fall (a la Hitler) is unthinkably cataclysmic which means 5) we have to live with a powerful Beijing with divergent interests for the rest of our lives. Winning in this scenario isn’t The Coming Collapse of China. Rather, if this was an engineered virus, it’s surviving the next virus, and everything else that will come out of China between now and 2100 with the US intact.

Boston Real Estate in May: Sales Up 68% YoY, Inventory Down 20% YoY

Note: Remember sales were weak in April and May 2020 due to the pandemic.  I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

For Boston (single family and condos):

Closed sales in May 2021 were 2,533, up 67.9% from 1,509 in May 2020.

Active Listings in May 2021 were 3,418, down 19.6% from 4,250 in May 2020.  

Inventory in May was up 9.8% from last month.

The behavioral economics of pandemic sex

Another girl did ask if she could call me Fauci during sex. She said it with a straight face. I pretended that I didn’t hear and kept going, because how do you even address that? I’m not going to say yes, because that’s going to be weird. And if I say no, that kills the vibe. She didn’t say anything else, and she never called me Fauci. I think the only way you can make that weirder is if she had brought a Fauci mask and asked me to put it on.

Here are other anecdotes from the DC area, no photos but the text is somewhat risque.

The post The behavioral economics of pandemic sex appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

United States of Renters (USR): Single Family Rental Home Growth Rate up 45 Percent since the Great Recession versus 15 Percent for All Housing Units. US Rental Home Value at $4.5 trillion.

This past weekend I was looking at communities across the United States that are now being built to house renters. So why is that even worth mentioning? Rentals are always part of the housing mix typically in the form of apartments. Yet this is something different in that it is a suburban built cookie-cutter individual […]

Shh! NASA Wants Your Commercial Space Station Ideas

Keith's note: According to this posting on the NASA.gov website: NASA Seeks Proposals for Next 2 Private Astronaut Missions to Space Station which says "NASA is seeking proposals for two new private astronaut missions to the International Space Station as part of the agency's efforts to open space to more people than ever before. With these opportunities, U.S. commercial companies will continue to play an essential role in establishing a sustained presence in low-Earth orbit (LEO) through the agency's Commercial LEO Development Program."

A like to this was posted at NASA.gov. @NASA tweeted a link - once - around 1:00 pm on Friday 11 June. But nothing was sent out to the media press release email list or through the usual press release distribution channels. Friday afternoons are a great time to bury news - and it also means that some print publications have already decided on their edition for the following week. There is no mention of this at these official NASA pages where you'd expect commercial space station news like this would be posted: International Space Station, Commercial Space Economy, Commercial Crew Program. There is no mention at the CASIS/ISS National Laboratory website either - despite the fact that this opportunity involves work within the ISS National Lab. Oh yes: the International Space Station page still has no mention of the ISS National Laboratory or a link to it - so the ISS Program Office still ignores CASIS/ISS National Lab whenever possible.

A link to Research Opportunities for International Space Station Utilization NNJ13ZBG001N is on this NASA page, but no email from NSPIRES was sent out - which is odd since they send out emails about every other imaginable procurement and NASA opportunity. But if you try and click on "NNJ13ZBG001N" on the page you are sent to - well, there is no link to this thing that NASA just announced. But there are links to these old documents "Research Opportunities for ISS Utilization" and "ISS Commercial Activities Form" and an amendment that says "This amendment provides significant clarification updates for Focus Area 4A for Private Astronaut Mission (PAM) Provider and adds Focus Area 4A.1 for Solicitation for PAM Provider for Two Flight Opportunities." which is a modified version of "Soliciting Proposals for Exploration Technology Demonstration and National Lab Utilization Enhancements"- which is apparently the thing NASA is announcing. So why doesn't NASA just have a simple link to this document instead of making you jump around, go down a rabbit hole. and guess that this is what they are talking about?

NASA has built up an elaborate Internet presence - one that can reach millions of people and the news media. Yet they simply decide to not bother using it. Nor can they make the actual information easy to find. Either this announcement is just not important or NASA cannot get its internal public relations act together. Hard to tell.

Blue Origin auctions New Shepard seat for $28 million

NS-15 launch

WASHINGTON — A seat on the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle sold for $28 million at an auction June 12.

The live auction wrapped up a bidding process that the company announced May 5 to sell the seat on the flight, scheduled for July 20 from the company’s West Texas test site. The process started with sealed bids, followed by an online bidding process that closed June 10. Qualified bidders then participated in the final live auction, where the high bid reached $28 million in about 10 minutes. The proceeds go to Club for the Future, an educational nonprofit organization affiliated with Blue Origin.

The identity of the winning bidder was not immediately disclosed. The winner can fly on the New Shepard flight or designate another individual to go on the flight. Blue Origin’s Ariane Cornell said that the winner’s identity will be disclosed within a couple weeks, along with the fourth and final member of the crew.

Interest in the auction grew after Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announced June 7 that he will be on the flight along with his brother Mark. The high bid for the flight went from $2.8 million at the time Bezos announced his plans to $4.8 million when the online process closed June 10.

The July 20 flight will be the first to carry people on New Shepard, which has flown 15 uncrewed test flights over several years. The most recent flight, April 14, was a dress rehearsal for crewed flights, with several Blue Origin employees playing the role of astronauts, testing getting into and out of the capsule during pre- and post-flight activities.

Blue Origin’s major competitor in suborbital spaceflight, Virgin Galactic, flew its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity, on its first trip to the edge of space in more than two years May 22. The vehicle, with two pilots on board, flew to an altitude of 89.2 kilometers before landing back at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic previously discussed performing three more SpaceShipTwo test flights through the fall before going into a maintenance period, then starting full-scale commercial service in early 2022. The next flight was to carry four Virgin Galactic employees, along with two pilots, to test out the cabin interior.

However, Parabolic Arc reported June 7 that the company is reportedly considering having its founder, Richard Branson, go on the next flight. He was scheduled to go on the second of the three flights, with the third being a commercial research and astronaut training flight for the Italian Air Force. Under that revised plan, Branson’s flight would take place around July 4, more than two weeks before Bezos goes to space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.

In a statement June 8, Virgin Galactic said it had not yet determined the date of its next SpaceShipTwo flight, but neither confirmed nor denied the report that Branson would be on that flight.

SpaceNews

Saturday assorted links

The post Saturday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Thinking about Feel-Good History

At the Panorama, the blog of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, Princeton professor Michael A. Blaakman just shared an essay titled “How Should History Make Us Feel?”

While Blaakman’s remarks were prompted by David McCullough’s book The Pioneers, which is the focus of the latest issue of S.H.E.A.R.’s journal, and by the flimsy “1776 Report” from the last Presidential administration, his concerns can apply to other history projects.
This was snowflake history—history designed to inspire, delight, or comfort, while sheltering its imagined audience from challenging questions about the past. [It] embodied an idea that is not going away anytime soon: that history’s purpose is to make people feel good. . . .

For most historians, meanwhile, the primary goal is not to make us feel one way or another, but to help us think: to understand prior worlds, to discover why events unfolded the way they did, and to explain how all of it has shaped the present. . . .

Stories [that center on the origins and character of the nation] carry a lot of baggage. They implicate a primary and deeply political category of their reader’s personal identity, in ways that do not bear as heavily on biographies, microhistories, and global histories, at least not by definition.

Is it inevitable that any nation-centered history will necessarily alienate whole constituencies, even within the nation itself? The optimist in me would like to think it’s not, because it seems more vital than ever for scholars of the early republic to help broad audiences understand themselves and the nation in historical context. As the United States’ semiquincentennial approaches, we will be called on increasingly to do so.
Blaakman sees the appeal of history books like McCullough’s lying in “drama,” and he suggests foregrounding the authors’ investigative process to produce that.

I think those books’ appeal comes from narrative, which includes moments of drama but goes beyond that one ingredient. The historian can indeed be the protagonist of a narrative, but so can the historical actors, even when the author concludes that history is shaped by larger forces and trends beyond individual actions.

Schedule for Week of June 13, 2021

The key reports this week are May Retail sales and Housing Starts.

For manufacturing, the Industrial Production report, and the NY and Philly Fed manufacturing surveys, will be released this week.

The FOMC meets on Tuesday and Wednesday, and no change to policy is expected at this meeting.

----- Monday, June 14th -----

No major economic releases scheduled.

----- Tuesday, June 15th -----

8:30 AM: The Producer Price Index for May from the BLS. The consensus is for a 0.6% increase in PPI, and a 0.6% increase in core PPI.

8:30 AM: The New York Fed Empire State manufacturing survey for June. The consensus is for a reading of 22.0, down from 24.3.

Retail Sales8:30 AM: Retail sales for May is scheduled to be released.  The consensus is for 0.4% decrease in retail sales.

This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.1% in April.

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

This graph shows industrial production since 1967.

The consensus is for a 0.6% increase in Industrial Production, and for Capacity Utilization to increase to 75.1%.

10:00 AM: The June NAHB homebuilder survey. The consensus is for a reading of 83, unchanged from 83 last month. Any number below 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as poor than good.

----- Wednesday, June 16th -----

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

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

This graph shows single and total housing starts since 1968.

The consensus is for 1.630 million SAAR, up from 1.569 million SAAR in April.

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

2:00 PM: FOMC Forecasts This will include the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants' projections of the appropriate target federal funds rate along with the quarterly economic projections.

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

----- Thursday, June 17th -----

8:30 AM: The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for a decrease to 365 thousand from 376 thousand last week.

8:30 AM: the Philly Fed manufacturing survey for June. The consensus is for a reading of 31.0, down from 31.5.

----- Friday, June 18th -----

No major economic releases scheduled.

It's time to explore compensation for kidney donors: Dr. Arthur Matas in JAMA Surgery

 Dr Arthur Matas, the distinguished surgeon who directs the renal transplant program at the University of Minnesota, is tired of seeing his patients die for lack of an organ transplant.  Here's his latest plea to the profession.

A Regulated System of Incentives for Kidney Donation—Time for a Trial!, by Arthur J. Matas, MD, JAMA Surg. Published online June 2, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2021.1435

"In the past 2 decades, numerous attempts have been made to increase the number of both living donors (eg, nondirected donors, paired exchange) and deceased donors (eg, donation after circulatory death), yet there has been little change in the number of donated kidneys. With increasing need but limited supply, the waiting list for a transplant has grown and waiting times have increased, with substantial negative consequences for patients in the US. In the last 20 years, more than 89 000 candidates in the US died while waiting for a kidney. An additional 54 838 were removed from the waiting list because of becoming too sick to undergo a transplant.1

"A regulated system of incentives for donation could provide a sizable increase in the number of kidneys available for transplant. Yet incentives for kidney donation are illegal in the US. Proposals for a regulated system have existed since the 1980s. But, in addition to other objections to changing the law (discussed later in this article), the constant refrain has been “let’s see if this next innovation works first.” Although the previously described innovations have been important advances, none have significantly reduced the waiting list. Given the ongoing failure to provide the best treatment option for a large segment of the patient population, it is time to move forward with trials of incentives.

...

"Trials of incentives for kidney donation may not be successful. Yet while trials have been prohibited, donation rates have been stagnant and wait-listed patients are dying or becoming too sick to undergo a transplant. The American Society of Transplantation and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons have endorsed moving toward pilot projects of incentives.3 The US government, recognizing the benefits of transplant, recently initiated incentivization of providers for directing kidney failure patients to transplantation9 and provided lifetime coverage for immunosuppressive drugs.10

"It is time to move past the feelings that incentives are wrong to the reality that as a result of a potentially preventable shortage of organs, patients on the waiting list are dying or becoming too sick to transplant. We need to act to determine if we can improve outcomes for these patients while providing benefit to, and not harming, incentivized donors. It is time for professional societies and patient groups to advocate for changing the law to allow trials of incentives for donation."

*Ages of American Capitalism*

The author is Jonathan Levy (U. Chicago) and the subtitle is A History of the United States, noting it is mostly an economic history from a left-mercantilist, nation-building point of view.  So far on p.95 I quite like the book, here is one excerpt:

Ironically enough, in some respects Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty came to resemble the eighteenth-century British empire.  Congress revoked all internal taxes.  The military budget was cut in half.  A provision of the 1789 Constitution, the Commerce Clause, granted Congress the authority to regulate commerce “among the several states,” forbidding interstate mercantilist discrimination.  The result was to check state discrimination, opening up a unitary commercial space and increasing the extent of markets and thus the demand for goods.  Empires, while forging common political jurisdiction, accommodate pluralism and difference in rule, often so that different elements in the empire might engage in commerce.  In this respect, the Louisiana Purchase, in essence, handed the United States its own version of a West Indies in the lower Mississippi Valley.  By 1810 already 16 percent of the U.S. slave population lived in the trans-Appalachian West.  New slave-based triangular trades appeared on the North American continent, in a great counterclockwise national wheel of commerce.

741 pp. of text in this one, I am curious to see what comes next.  And my colleague Steven Pearlstein wrote a very good review of the book.

The post *Ages of American Capitalism* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

What I’ve been reading

1. William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805 edition.  Many people who read “the Great Books” never touch this one, because it is a poem, and a long one at that (about 200 pp. in my Oxford edition).  Nonetheless a) it is one of the best poems, and b) the experience of reading it is more like reading “a great book” than like reading a poem.  I am very happy to be rereading it.  Highly recommended, and it is also important for understanding John Stuart Mill, the decline and transformation of classical economics, and how German romanticism shaped British intellectual history.

2. Julian Hoppit, The Dreadful Monster and its Poor Relations: Taxation, Spending and the United Kingdom, 1707-2021.  A highly useful fiscal history, the book also has plenty on Ireland and those are often the most interesting sections.  There had been a formal union in 1801, but during the Great Famine there was no fiscal risk-sharing with Ireland.  At the time, the national government in London also much preferred spending in England to spending to Scotland.  At 223 pp. of text it feels short, but is still a nice illustration of how fiscal policy really does show a government’s priorities and throughout history always has.

3. Seamus Deane, Small World: Ireland 1798-2018.  Deane passed away only last month, might he have been Ireland’s greatest modern critic?  Covering Burke, Swift, Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, Heaney, Anna Burns and much more, these essays are especially good at tying together “old Ireland” with “current Ireland.”

4. Robert B. Brandom, A Spirit of Trust: A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology.  I’ve only read the first forty or so pages in this one, and I will read them again.  I am not sure it makes sense for me to study this book further, given my priorities.  Yet it seems worth the $50 I spent on it.  If you wish to imbibe a truly impressive, line-for-line smart and insightful take from a contemporary philosopher, this 2019 book is exhibit A, noting that it serves up 757 pp. of text.  I’ll let you know how far I get.

Gene Slater’s Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America is a very good and useful book about the role of realtors and covenants in shaping residential discrimination.

Michael Albertus, Property Without Rights: Origins and Consequences of the Property Rights Gap.  I have only pawed through this one, but it appears to be a highly useful extension of de Soto themes with better data and a more systematic approach.

Edward Slingerland, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization is an argument that our capacity for getting drunk, and indeed the act of getting drunk, enhances creativity, trust building, and stress alleviation.  I mostly agree, but…

The post What I’ve been reading appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Missing Mookie

Start with a sprint, then jog quickly in, make a not-so-simple basket catch below his knees, spin around (at one point having both feet off the ground), and without taking any time at all to gauge exactly where the plate might be, uncork a throw that was right on the fucking money to nail the runner by a foot or two. And all of it performed as casually as he might flick the light switch off as he distractedly wanders out of a room . . . damn. I miss Mookie. The broadcast cuts to the runner in the middle of the play rather than showing the eye-popping throw from Mr. Betts (naturally, because no one in baseball ever learns a fucking thing), which allows me to post these wise words yet again:
Unfortunately . . . the stupid fucking broadcast was showing a shot of literally the absolute least dramatic, exciting, uncertain part of the play, which is a guy running in a straight fucking line to exactly the place I already knew he was going to go.

Why do this? Was there some uncertainty about which direction [the runner] would go? Whether he'd run there or skip or do a series of forward rolls or pull out a sword and yell "Charge!" and attempt to skewer the catcher with it? The only interesting thing that can happen with the runner, once he tags up, is if he somehow stumbles and falls on his face. How often does that happen? Is there any plausible reason to expect that it might, and therefore that you had better be sure to show him running, in a straight fucking line to the least surprising destination imaginable, instead of showing the only interesting thing happening on the field? . . .

Show the fucking throw! If the runner happens to stumble and fall or spontaneously combust or gradually get larger as he runs toward the plate so that by the time he gets there he is Godzilla and he simply squashes the catcher beneath one giant scaly foot, we can see that shit on the replay. There is nothing special about [a runner] running down the third-base line. . . .

Conservatively, I would estimate that baseball broadcasts make this infuriating choice roughly 900,000 percent of the time, and I always, always, always hate it.

★ The Talk Show Remote From WWDC 2021, With Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak

Special guests Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak join me to discuss the news from WWDC 2021: the all-new multitasking interface in iPadOS 15, on-device Siri, new privacy controls in Safari and Mail, MacOS 12 Monterey, and more.

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On Secrecy, COVID and the PRC

I hope you’ve enjoyed or at least feel you’ve learned more about this lab leak controversy from the emails I’ve published over the last couple days. I very much have. I now see a lot more of the complexity of the topic. But at the end of the day I come away with the conclusion that we really don’t know because we don’t have a lot of data.

And that brings us back to a recurrent point: if the Chinese authorities wanted to they could clear a lot of this up by granting access to the records of the Wuhan laboratory, perhaps the medical records of the staff and interviews with the relevant scientists. To China skeptics this is an obvious sign of guilt, a sign of something to hide. Many people from the sciences have a reaction that is a mix of anger and puzzlement. Science is about transparency, so what’s the problem exactly? Many biologists and virologists have years of experience working collaboratively with Chinese scientists or even some of the very scientists in question. So seeing them all go silent just seems odd or inexplicable.

But of course it’s not the scientists. It’s the Chinese government.

The issue I think neither group really contends with is that the PRC is an unbelievably secretive state. The fact that the Chinese authorities are not sharing more information, even as there’s a slowing growing international demand for it, makes me suspicious. But even with my very layman’s knowledge of the PRC, its secrecy and authoritarianism, and the way that China’s emergence from the humiliation of European colonialism plays into its national mythos it seems almost impossible to imagine what is being asked of them would ever happen.

China will allow western governments to come in and have free access to one of their labs? Or international institutions, often dominated by Western governments, to do the same? That’s really hard for me to imagine. Would the US extend that to China? It is always important to remember what is actually obvious, which is that the premise of such an investigation is that the Chinese government cannot be trusted to tell the truth. No state willingly grants that, certainly not a global power with nuclear weapons and the second largest economy in the world.

They are very different cases. But I can’t not think of Iraq in 2002. One of the biggest arguments by war hawks about weapons of mass destruction was that if Iraq didn’t have them why not just let the inspectors in? Of course, they didn’t have them. There are a few theories about why Saddam Hussein didn’t do so. But states don’t act in logical ways, at least not by logics that outsiders understand.

To be clear, my point isn’t that China can’t be expected to clear this up or isn’t obligated to because of colonialism. And it’s not that we shouldn’t draw an adverse conclusion. It’s that in the absence of any really compelling evidence of a lab leak Chinese refusal to open its doors to some international investigation seems as easily explained by state secrecy and nationalistic pride as it would by having something to hide.

Perhaps most important, both scenarios make it seem highly unlikely we’ll ever get the kind of unfettered investigation that would settle the matter.

The one thing that might change the equation would be if some compelling forensic and genomic evidence of a lab leak were to be discovered. Given the devastation COVID has wrought around the globe, I think that would lead to a groundswell of demands for answers. That said, China’s a nuclear power with herculean economic might. I don’t see their being compelled regardless. But that could clarify things.

South Carolina Real Estate in May: Sales Up 36% YoY, Inventory Down 55% YoY

Note: Remember sales were weak in April and May 2020 due to the pandemic, so the YoY comparison is easy. I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

From the South Carolina Realtors for the entire state:

Closed sales in May 2021 were 9,705, up 35.9% from 7,142 in May 2020.

Active Listings in May 2021 were 11,278, down 54.7% from 24,878 in May 2020.

Inventory in May was essentially unchanged from the record low last month.

Months of Supply was 1.2 Months in May 2021, compared to 3.1 Months in May 2020.

Will empty shopfronts revive as New York comes back to life?

A mismatch between what landlords and tenants want could hold things up

Why the market for secondhand private-equity stakes is thriving

Wherever there is a primary market, a secondary one is never far behind

Slow jobs growth may not be a bad sign for America’s recovery

Look beyond the tepid headline numbers, and hiring seems robust

Eclipse on the Water

Eclipse on the Water Eclipse on the Water


NASA spacecraft spots Chinese rover on Martian surface

The HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this aerial view of China’s Tianwen 1 lander and Zhurong rover June 6. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The sharp-eyed camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted China’s Zhurong rover on the Red Planet, showing the craft next to its landing platform, with pieces of its heat shield and parachute nearby.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, instrument on the NASA orbiter is the largest telescopic instrument ever flown to another planet. The camera has captured views of NASA’s rovers and landers on Mars, but the images of the Zhurong rover is the first time HiRISE has seen an intact Mars lander from another country.

Flying in orbit averaging around 186 miles, or 300 kilometers, above the planet, MRO’s HiRISE camera acquired its first image of the Chinese rover June 6.

“Clearly visible are what we interpret as the lander surrounded by a blast pattern, and the rover itself a bit to the south after it descended from the lander,” the HiRISE science team wrote.

China’s Zhurong rover sits atop the Tianwen 1 mission’s landing platform on Mars. Credit: CNSA

The HiRISE instrument was built by Ball Aerospace and is managed by a team at the University of Arizona. The camera’s telescope measures about 19.6 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter. From the orbiter’s altitude, the HiRISE camera produces images with a pixel size of about 12 inches (30 centimeters).

The Zhurong rover landed May 14 in southern Utopia Planitia, a broad plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars, making China the second nation to successfully land and operate a spacecraft on the Red Planet.

Designed for a three-month mission, the six-wheel robot drove down a ramp from its stationary landing platform May 21 (U.S. time) to begin exploring the Martian surface.

Zhurong traveled to Mars as part of China’s Tianwen 1 mission, the country’s first robotic interplanetary probe. Tianwen 1 launched from China last July on a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket and entered orbit around Mars in February, before releasing the entry, descent, and landing craft last month.

MRO’s HiRISE camera imaged the Zhurong rover just south of its lander. Part of the lander’s aeroshell and parachute are visible farther to the south in the image below.

The HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of China’s Zhurong rover and lander (upper right) and the mission’s backshell and parachute (lower left). Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The rover weighs about a quarter-ton, as measured in Earth’s gravity, and stands about 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall. The Chinese craft is slightly larger than NASA’s defunct Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004. Zhurong is significantly smaller than NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers currently driving across the surface of Mars.

MRO’s HiRISE instrument has captured views of the NASA rovers on Mars, and taken perfectly-timed pictures of U.S. spacecraft descending to the Red Planet’s surface under parachutes.

In addition to three-dimensional cameras and a subsurface radar to search for underground water ice, the Zhurong rover carries sensors to measure the composition of Martian rocks, a magnetic field monitor, and a weather station to collect atmospheric data at the Utopia Planitia location.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Readers Respond on Lab Leak #6

From TPM Reader MN

First of all, for credibility’s sake, I am a computational biology postdoc at [*******]. I’ve done some research on the SARS-CoV-2 genome but it hasn’t been my main focus the way it has for many people. Nonetheless, I’m acquainted with at least the discussion of genomic mutations and evolution, although the nitty gritty web lab virology is not my area.

Second, a couple of points on the previous takes. 1) I was delighted to see Harry Frankfurt’s classic work cited, it’s an all time great manuscript. 2) The WHO report had a lot of good information but it was also comical, particularly the repeated non-sequiturs addressing the idea that the virus was imported to Wuhan on the surface of frozen food products. Someone with some influence *really* wanted that possibility to be explored and you could almost feel the writer rolling their eyes. 3) I’m not wild about the Garry write-up or the TWIV discussions that AJ cited. Several of Garry’s points are good but the suggestion that all of it is utterly inconsistent with a lab leak is a leap, particularly the presence of two lineages at two different markets. Sure all else equal those are consistent with a spillover but he suggests that a lab leak would require that they diverged while still in the lab, which is simply not true. Those lineages were different by two nucleotides, which could easily accrue during a few weeks of undetected circulation.

To be clear, I still lean away from the lab leak hypothesis but I have found it intriguing because what’s been different about this round of speculation is that it’s based on something approaching a theory of how it actually happened. Actually Garry discusses it in that write-up, but essentially the thought is that the backbone was this RaTG13 genome that had been mutated via serial passage to something like 96% similarity with the original copy, then the RBD of the spike protein from the pangolin virus was spliced in, then somehow it acquired the cleavage site and it was off to the races. The first of those two seem at least plausible to me, although someone with intimate knowledge of virology and how mutations accrue in those two lab processes might be able to point out details that make that unlikely. The third step seems unlikely to have been by design since the mutation is out of frame, but it’s not impossible. But on that note I want to make two points which are the actual reason I’m writing.

First, one good way to proceed would be to talk to lab members and researchers to understand whether anything like that was done and how frequently the genomes of various viral specimens were sequenced (since their databases have ostensibly already been searched). So it’s definitely a bit annoying that additional cooperation seems to have been ruled out. But second, if this is how it happened then my guess is that there are breadcrumbs somewhere in the various sequencing datasets that the Shi lab and others at WIV have deposited over the years. Digging into those is time consuming and will require a lot of bespoke analysis, but the data are usually publicly available. I would explore this myself if there were more time in the day. A related point is that this sort of thing is a relative niche, so it’s not really subject to the efficient market hypothesis and as a corollary it’s not totally true that this round of discussion is not based on any new information. It’s taken some time for enough dots to be connected that even this half-baked theory has come together, and it’s quite possible we haven’t heard the last word on this.

Six Quick Links for Friday Afternoon

"Here's an important and (as far as I can yet tell) unaddressed question for Mare of Easttown criticism: when, exactly, did Mare Sheehan stop dying her hair blond?" [avidly.lareviewofbooks.org]

The uncut version of Jay-Z's verse on Monster. [twitter.com]

"Hey guys" has been the preferred greeting for YouTube vlogs for more than a decade now. [youtube.com]

This Is the Story of a Man Who Jumped Into Lake Michigan Every Day for Nearly a Year. [nytimes.com]

In a recent trial, the use of virus-blocking bacteria in mosquito populations reduced the incidence of dengue fever by 77%. Between stuff like this, mRNA vaccines, and CRISPR, we're set to make major progress against deadly disease in the next 10 years. [theatlantic.com]

Ed Yong of The Atlantic won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for his outstanding coverage of the pandemic. Cheers, @edyong209! [twitter.com]

---

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

June 11th COVID-19 New Cases, Vaccinations, Hospitalizations

The unvaccinated are still dying at a rate of over 10,000 a month in the US, and many more unvaccinated are suffering with LongCovid symptoms.  And there is a free, safe and effective alternative!

This data is from the CDC.

According to the CDC, on Vaccinations.

Total doses administered: 306,509,795, as of yesterday 305,687,618. Daily: 0.82 million.

COVID Metrics
 CurrentYesterdayGoal
Percent over 18, One Dose64.1%64.0%≥70.0%1,2
Fully Vaccinated (millions)142.1141.6≥1601
New Cases per Day313,80914,013≤5,0002
Hospitalized315,71716,142≤3,0002
Deaths per Day3352347≤502
1 America's Goal by July 4th,
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37 day average for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths


KUDOS to the residents of the 13 states that have already achieved the 70% goal: Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts are at 80%+, and Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Washington are all over 70%.

Next up are New York at 69.5%, D.C. at 69.4%, Illinois at 68.9%, Virginia at 68.7%, Minnesota at 68.3%, Delaware at 67.8%, Colorado at 67.6% and Oregon at 67.4%.

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

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

This data is from the CDC.

Reminder

Remember, our 2nd annual drive for The TPM Journalism Fund starts next week. I’ll get into all the details and the pitch next week. But it’s really important for our operation. So please keep an eye out and if you can give a glance to our posts about it we would really appreciate it.

Governments should buy kidneys, in Journal of Applied Philosophy

 Philosophers argue differently than economists do, but can sometimes reach similar conclusions.  And (like economists) philosophers can sometimes reach very different conclusions from one another. Here's a philosopher who comes out in favor of allowing governments to pay for kidneys, to be allocated to transplant recipients without requiring any payment from them. Among the philosophical counterarguments to a market that must be dealt with along the way are those such as "it is unjust to be paid to do one's duty" (i.e. since the healthy may be argued to have a duty to the ill, we shouldn't try to reduce the shortage of organs by compensating donors because they have a duty to be altruistic...).  I don't think this is a line of argument that an economist would feel compelled to respond to.

 Why States Should Buy Kidneys, by Aksel Braanen Sterri, Journal of Applied Philosophy, First published: 02 June 2021 https://doi.org/10.1111/japp.12523

ABSTRACT: In this article, I argue we have collective duties to people who suffer from kidney failure and these duties are best fulfilled through a government-monopsony market in kidneys. A government-monopsony market is a model where the government is the sole buyer, and kidneys are distributed according to need, not ability to pay. The framework of collective duties enables us to respond to several of the most pressing ethical and practical objections to kidney markets, including Cécile Fabre's objection that it is unjust to be paid to do one's duty, Simon Rippon's objections that it is harmful to be pressured to sell a kidney and that a market is unfair, Richard Titmuss's crowding out objection, and Ronald Dworkin's objection that body parts should not be among the goods we owe each other.


"By prohibiting monetary compensation, it has been objected that the government takes advantage of people who feel compelled to save someone close to them. Receiving a kidney may also come with a price, a price compounded by how kidney donations are framed within the current system: as priceless gifts and extraordinary acts of sacrifice. When kidney donations are seen in this way, they may impose a burden of gratitude on the recipient; recipients may feel they can never repay such priceless gifts. ‘The tyranny of the gift’ challenges the donor and recipient's equal standing.

...

"Several authors, most notably Charles Erin and John Harris, have defended a government-monopsony model. My primary contribution is to present a novel defence of this model. I argue we have collective duties to provide the sick with kidneys and derivative duties to pay donors. This view provides us with resources to respond to many of the most compelling ethical objections to kidney markets."

Readers Respond on Lab Leaks #5

From TPM Reader JB

For what it’s worth, I think most of the discussion in the US political world about the origins of COVID-19 has been about ephemera, driven by Republicans flopping around like fish in a boat as they try to devise a winning post-Trump (but Trump-friendly) political issue and media people fretting about whether media coverage is giving adequate weight to the things Republicans claim to be upset about today.

What matters most: the story China has been telling about zoonotic origin has not been complete or persuasive. This means there are things we will not know, the Chinese may not know, and the Chinese government may know but has not communicated to its own people about how this virus moved from bats to people in a large city hundreds of miles away. Even if the zoonotic origin theory is correct, as it well may be, this is bad. It’s bad for the future of COVID-19 in China, and for other viruses that may spread from wildlife to humans there in the future.

The Chinese government has been typically secretive about the Wuhan lab. There is no mystery about the lab leak theory that could not be solved with open access to lab records and personnel. The problem isn’t with the lab itself, the researchers who work there, with the city of Wuhan, or with Western media. It’s with Beijing.

Finally, the Chinese government is responding to the pandemic by distributing, within China and overseas, vaccines produced in China. The World Health Organization regards one of these vaccines, produced by a company called Sinovac, as safe and effective. The other, produced by Sinopharm, is evidently safe but less effective for most people — and the Chinese government is distributing it without releasing test data on older people or those with comorbidities.

Lack of test data doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a risk people taking this vaccine might get infected anyway, spread the virus to other people, need to be hospitalized or die. The risk is not known; that’s the problem. It’s a much bigger problem for China itself, as the Sinopharm vaccine is being distributed most widely there, than it is for the rest of the world (though Sinopharm’s vaccine is evidently being widely distributed in some Middle Eastern countries: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/06/03/bahrain-seychelles-sinopharm-vaccine/).

China has been able to use the catastrophically bad response to COVID-19 in the United States and other countries to its geopolitical advantage. But in terms of global public health, the Chinese government has been a liability with respect to this virus since the fall of 2019. It remains so today; unless something changes, it is likely to be again in a future pandemic. Once everyone is past the “did-China-unleash-an-engineered-bioweapon-to-make-Trump-look-bad?” phase of our public discussion, it would be wise to focus on this. I’d like to believe the Biden administration is already starting to.

Governments ally for federated quantum encryption satellite network

TAMPA, Fla. — The United States and five other countries are banding together with the United Kingdom to develop a satellite-based quantum technology encryption network.

The Federated Quantum System (FQS) will be based on the one British startup Arqit is developing for commercial customers, using quantum technology breakthroughs to guard against increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

But while that network is on a managed services platform run by Arqit, FQS will be closed off in a way that enables interoperability between allied countries.

Fighter jets and other military units and command and control centers would be able to share communications more securely across a sovereign-controlled network.

The governments of Japan, Canada, Italy, Belgium and Austria are also partnering on the initiative, which includes companies from each country to design and test the system.

Those commercial partners include British telco BT, U.S. aerospace giant Northrop Grumman, Japanese investment firm Sumitomo, Italian technology group Leonardo and Austrian quantum technology startup QTL. 

The Canadian and Belgian subsidiaries of aerospace company Honeywell and defense technology firm Qinetiq, respectively, have also joined.

The cost of the project including an initial satellite in 2023 is expected to be more than $70 million, funded by the consortium’s government and commercial partners.

They will also have the option to buy a dedicated version at a cost of around $250 million over 10 years.

Arqit is lining up Virgin Orbit to launch the first FQS satellites in 2023 from the U.K., after it orbits a pair of spacecraft for its commercial counterpart that year.

Virgin Orbit, an air-launched rocket startup nearing the launch of its first payload for commercial customers, earlier invested in Arqit as part of the quantum venture’s merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

Arqit expects to raise $400 million from that deal once it closes in the third quarter of this year.

The startup plans to make the first version of its QuantumCloud software available in July.

The software generates an unlimited number of encryption keys at the end point of customer devices, and will rely on terrestrial communications until its satellites are launched. 

Arqit says using quantum computing technology for symmetric encryption is more secure than systems based on public key infrastructure (PKI), which is used to encrypt most of the world’s communications.

Another conflict?

It is unclear what the European Union will make of Italy, Belgium and Austria’s participation in Arqit’s FQS.

The three countries — and all EU members apart from Ireland — have signed up to plans to develop a European quantum communications network called EuroQCI.

Airbus said May 31 it secured a contract from the European Commission to lead a consortium to study the quantum technology-powered network for Europe.

Leonardo is part of the 15-month study group, along with accountancy firm PwC France and Maghreb, French telecoms giant Orange and Italy’s CNR research council and NRiM meteorological institute. 

Telespazio, a joint venture between Leonardo and French aerospace group Thales, is also part of the group. 

An EU official recently suggested there may be a conflict of interest arising from French satellite operator Eutelsat’s $500 million investment in OneWeb in April. 

Eutelsat is part of a separate consortium that has been studying a new satellite broadband constellation for the European Union since December.

SpaceNews

Wireframe S4E5: Data Visualization and Emotion

Wireframe S4E5 Show Art Kick back this weekend with our latest season four episode of “Wireframe”” the documentary podcast about the world of design…

Schadenfreude 296: (A Continuing Series)

Aroldis Chapman ended the Yankees' 2019 season when he gave up a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth, tie-breaking, pennant-winning, two-run home run to Jose Altuve.

Aroldis Chapman ended the Yankees' 2020 season when he gave up a tie-breaking home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to Mike Brosseau, who went deep on the at-bat's 10th pitch, in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the ALDS. (Background: Chapman threw a 101-mph fastball near Brosseau's head in early September.)

Is Aroldis Chapman getting warmed up to torpedo the Yankees' 2021 season?

The Yankeed led the Twins 5-3 when Chapman began the bottom of the ninth. He fell behind his first batter, three balls and one strike. Chapman's next (and final) five pitches went: single, ball 1, home run, single, home run.

Jorge Polanco (bbcb) singled to left.

Josh Donaldson (b) homered to left-center, Polanco and Donaldson scored. 5-5.

Pinch-hitter Willians Astudillo singled to left.

Nelson Cruz homered to center, Astudillo and Cruz scored. 7-5.

MFY - 300 101 000 - 5 12  1 
MIN - 100 100 004 - 7 12  1
Loss: Chapman (0-4-4-0-0, 9).

Dan Martin, Post:

The Yankees were three outs away from sweeping the Twins out of Target Field.

And then Aroldis Chapman came in.

The closer . . . had perhaps his worst outing ever, giving up a game-tying, two-run homer to Josh Donaldson and then a game-winning homer to Nelson Cruz, as the Twins roared back in the bottom of the ninth for a 7-5 win on Thursday night.

Chapman didn't retire any of the four batters he faced and his face-plant spoiled [the] night . . .

More sloppy play from the Yankees got them in trouble with one out in the fifth, as Cruz reached on catcher's interference on Gary Sanchez and Larnach followed with a single to left that could have been caught by Andujar. . . .

The real test to see if the Yankee offense is ready to live up to expectations comes this weekend, when they head to Philadelphia for a two-game set and will see more representative competition.

Kristie Ackert, Daily News:

Aroldis Chapman did not have it. The Yankees' hard-throwing closer was struggling with his velocity Thursday night and his command was not there. The Twins made him pay for it. Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz each hit two-run home runs off Chapman for a 7-5, walk-off win over the Bombers at Target Field Thursday night.

The two homers tied a career high for Chapman, so did the four runs. Chapman had allowed two home runs in an outing just twice before in his career, the last time in 2016. . . .

After spending all week talking about MLB's impending crackdown on pitchers using illegal sticky substances to get greater command and spin rates on their pitches, Chapman's velocity being down an average of 2.3 miles per hour from his average for the season raised some eyebrows.

(Stupid basketball playoffs are regularly keeping any baseball doings off the back pages, but I still expected more of a reaction in the tabloids after this loss. I guess the MFY winning the first two games  of the series mitigated a lot dooming and glooming. Ah, well, I'm posting it anyway.)

Some Details on How Spatial Audio Will Work With AirPods on Apple TV

Igor Bonifacic, writing for Engadget:

Apple told Engadget the feature will work with stereo, 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos content. Whether you’re using a pair of AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, the software that powers the feature will widen the soundstage so that it seems like the entire room you’re in is being filled with sound. When you sit down to watch a movie or TV show, the included head tracking feature will lock in after it detects you’ve been looking in the same direction for a while. Once you get up to walk around, it will reactivate. Connecting your AirPods to an Apple TV is also easy in this context. When you’re near the device with your headphones, it will display a popup that will allow you to quickly connect, and you won’t need to dig into the settings menu.

 ★ 

Minnesota Real Estate in May: Sales Up 15% YoY, Inventory Down 51% YoY

Note: I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

From the Minnesota Realtors®:

Total Residential Units Sold in May 2021 were 7,982, up 14.5% from 6,971 in May 2020.

Active Residential Listings in May 2021 were 8,953, down 50.5% from 18,074 in May 2020.

Months of Supply was 1.1 Months in May 2021, compared to 2.6 Months in May 2020.

Minnesota InventoryClick on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Minnesota Realtors® shows inventory in Minnesota since 2012. Inventory had been trending down, and then was somewhat flat for a few years, and then declined significantly during the pandemic.

Magneto: ‘These New “Magnetic” Vaccine Mutants Are Extremely Disappointing’

Alexandra Petri, writing for The Washington Post:

I am Magneto, and I would like to register a complaint. Frankly, all of these new mutants are terrible. […]

I met the people who were saying that metal objects now stuck to them because of their vaccines and gave them a whole recruitment speech about how they were the next stage in evolution, but once I said the word “evolution,” they looked at me doubtfully. Then I asked them to show off their abilities, and — I hate to say this but, have you ever been at a friend’s amateur magic show, where the magic show is not going quite as was hoped, and there’s a lot of saying “hold on” and “wait, hang on” and “sorry” as they fail several times running to identify your card, and then a dead bird falls unprompted out of someone’s hat? Frankly, that would have been an improvement.

We have our first nomination for the 2021 Pulitzer for commentary.

 ★ 

Where Things Stand: Stark Contrasts At DOJ

By now you’ve read the New York Times bombshell report: the Trump administration Justice Department seized records from Apple for metadata from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), in 2017 and 2018.

It was part of the previous administration’s paranoia over leaks of classified information to the press — a running problem in the Trump administration, which couldn’t seem to ever get a handle on leaks out of the White House, from the palace intrigue details of Trump’s outbursts, to sensitive and substantive information. This particular probe was reportedly focused on leaks of classified information on conversations between President Trump’s advisers and a Russian official, as well as Michael Flynn.

At least a dozen people tied to the Democrats on the panel were targeted by the seizure, the Times reported. Apple did not hand over the contents of the communications that were seized, only the metadata.

But it’s part of a pattern we witnessed for four years, whether Jeff Sessions or Bill Barr was at the helm. Trump weaponized the DOJ to do his own political bidding. Whether he was influencing the length of DOJ sentencing recommendations for his friends (Roger Stone) via Twitter or attempting to block a former aide from publishing a tell-all, Trump genuinely believed he had the power to control the Justice Department.

He even said it outright once.

“I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country,” he said during an interview in February 2020 after he tweeted criticizing the sentencing recommendation for Stone. The department promptly filed a lighter sentencing recommendation after the tweet-spree.

It was a veer from precedent that the Biden administration is attempting to correct, perhaps at the risk of appearing to overcorrect. The Biden DOJ was criticized this week for taking on the defense for Trump for a lawsuit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll for defamation, arguing that Trump was in fact operating in his official capacity when he smeared Carroll after she accused him of raping her.

But the Biden White House took great pains to separate itself from the department’s decision.

“White House was not consulted by DOJ on the decision to file this brief or its contents,” an official told Politico when news broke this week.

“While we are not going to comment on this ongoing litigation, the American people know well that President Biden and his team have utterly different standards from their predecessors for what qualify as acceptable statements,” said spokesperson Andrew Bates.

More revelations of just how deeply Trump politicized his DOJ can only help the White House distancing cause.

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

What The Investigations Team Is Following

Josh Kovensky is working on a piece on Republicans’ aspirations for funding an infrastructure package — taking cash from Biden’s COVID relief package.

Kate Riga just published a piece on the commonalities of law enforcement miscommunication between the clearing of Lafayette Square and Jan. 6.

The Oregon “Operation Hall Pass” lawmaker — who coached a group of people on how to breach the state capitol building — was officially expelled from the state legislature. Matt Shuham has the news here.

What The Breaking News Team Is Following

Some other key stories we’re on today:

  • The New York Times dropped an explosive report revealing that the Trump administration privately seized House intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Eric Swalwell’s (D-CA) Apple metadata. Now Schiff’s demanding an investigation into the “the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”
  • Ouch: New York took a step to scrub Trump’s name from a state park as an “early birthday present,” said the state senator who sponsored the bill to do so. It passed yesterday. Cheers!
If You Read Anything From TPM This Afternoon, Read This

Prominent Yogi-Turned-Trump Fanatic And Crew Charged With Capitol Conspiracy

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Is Joe Manchin Doing The Democrats A Favor? — John Judis

What We Are Reading

It’s Not Just Income Taxes. Billionaires Don’t Pay Inheritance Taxes Either. — Michael Mechanic

Colorado Real Estate in May: Sales Up 58% YoY, Inventory Down 69% YoY

Note: Remember sales were weak in April and May 2020 due to the pandemic, so the YoY comparison is easy. I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

From the Colorado Association of REALTORS® for the entire state:

Closed sales for Single Family and Townhouse-Condo in May 2021 were 11,128, up 58.3% from 7,029 in May 2020.

Active Listings for Single Family and Townhouse-Condo in May 2021 were 7,034, down 69.4% from 23,060 in May 2020.

Inventory in May was down 10.6% from last month.

Months of Supply was 0.6 Months in May 2021, compared to 2.5 Months in May 2020.

Friday assorted links

1. Not sure I have been abused for any prediction more than this one, and yet it seems true: “Democratic primary voters have been turning away this year from the anti-elite furies that continue to roil Republican politics, repeatedly choosing more moderate candidates promising steady leadership over disrupters from the party’s left wing.”  Here is yet further evidence of ongoing moderation.

2. More on Ivermectin.  And very real progress on dengue — yes the biomedical revolution finally is here.  More on that from The Atlantic.

3. Chess players ranked by fighting spirit?

4. Can Bollywood survive Modi? (Atlantic)

5. Ross Douthat on @pmarca and “Reality Privilege in action.”

The post Friday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Wallops PAO Is Giving Media Exclusives To Classified Launch Pads

Keith's note: Really? NASA Wallops PAO is giving "exclusive on-pad access" to a launch pad with a classified mission sitting on it and only one media outlet gets this "exclusive on-pad access"? And they are bragging about it? And that's OK with NASA PAO? The last time I asked NASA HQ PAO about this they told me emphatically that they do not give "exclusives". WTKR News 3 is not exactly a nationally distributed news channel. Once again Wallops PAO is playing favorites with their local pals.

STOP and Read This

If you’re following the infrastructure negotiations, you’ll know the various bipartisan deals involve funding infrastructure with no new taxes. As Josh Kovensky explains here, when you look at the details, the demand is to get the money by cannibalizing the Covid relief bill Biden pushed through Congress in March.

Soothing Shutter Sounds of 18 Cameras

Photographer Sails Chong recorded something we don’t hear much of these days: the sounds of camera shutters. Accompanied by a song by Arcade Fire from the Her soundtrack, Chong presents the shutter sounds of 18 different cameras, from 35mm all the way up to large format cameras. Interestingly, the lineup does not include the iconic Leica shutter sound — “a photograph sounds like a kiss”. (thx, david)

Tags: Sails Chong   cameras   photography   video

Trump Department of Justice Subpoenaed Apple for Records of Democrats and Their Family Members

The New York Times:

As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had been subpoenaed. […]

Moreover, just as it did in investigating news organizations, the Justice Department secured a gag order on Apple that expired this year, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, so lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month.

Adam Schiff:

Trump repeatedly demanded the DOJ go after his political enemies.

It’s clear his demands didn’t fall on deaf ears.

This baseless investigation, while now closed, is yet another example of Trump’s corrupt weaponization of justice.

And how much he imperiled our democracy.

 ★ 

Seraphim Capital unveils world’s first listed space technology fund

TAMPA, Fla. — Seraphim Capital plans to trade stakes it has amassed in space technology startups on the public market through an investment trust.

The Seraphim Space Investment Trust will eventually comprise bets in 19 international startups, including satellite data specialist Spire Global, quantum encryption firm Arqit and space-based cellular network operator AST Space Mobile.

Those three recently got valuations of more than $1 billion in mergers with special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), investment vehicles that offer another route to public markets. 

AST Space Mobile (ASTS) went public in April after completing its SPAC merger. Spire expects to follow this summer, and then Arqit in the third quarter of 2021.

Seraphim said it will publish a prospectus detailing plans to launch an initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange in the coming weeks.

Announcing intentions June 11 to trade on the public market, it said its space technology fund is currently demonstrating an internal rate of return (IRR) of 31%.

The Seraphim Space Investment Trust will target an annualized return of net asset value (NAV) of at least 20% over the long term.

Will Whitehorn, former president of space tourism venture Virgin Galactic who will chair the trust, said the plans will open up space beyond billionaire entrepreneurs and other private investors.

“Space Tech is forecast to be a multi-decade, trillion-dollar investment market that has not previously been available through listed opportunities,” Whitehorn said in a statement.

“We are excited to offer investors access to a diversified portfolio of some of the sector’s highest growth-potential companies.

Seraphim’s definition for space tech businesses covers those relying on space-based connectivity or precision, navigation and timing signals. 

It also includes those with technology or services that are already addressing, originally derived from, or potentially benefiting the space sector. That covers the growing market for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) businesses.

Two-step plan

The trust will initially leave out Spire, Arqit, Earth imaging operator Iceye and space logistics firm D-orbit when it acquires Seraphim’s portfolio of 19 investments.

It said these companies are currently subject to corporate activity that may have a material impact on the value of these investments.

The trust plans to acquire the rest or a portion of the retained investments before the end of this year, pending the completion of that corporate activity or confirmation that it will not wrap up any time soon.

About £70 million ($99 million) of value could be added if the trust acquires the rest of the portfolio, Seraphim said based on May 31 valuations, on top of the £26 million coming from the initial 15 seed assets.

Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan are working on the IPO, which previous reports said could raise around $355 million.

SpaceNews

Four Quick Links for Friday Noonish

I love a good errand hang. "The errand hang dances in the sweet vulnerability that comes from the everyday." [annikahansteenizora.substack.com]

The Shortcut. Once begun, it's difficult not to watch this all the way through. [bewitched.com]

From the NY Times: An Oral History of the Pentagon Papers. [nytimes.com]

A trailer for the Kevin Smith-produced reboot/sequel of He-Man that's set to premiere on Netflix in July. [youtube.com]

---

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

Nach dem Gleichgewicht auflösen

Swiss-based multinationals such as commodities trader Glencore will receive subsidies and other incentives under plans Switzerland is drawing up to maintain its competitive tax rates, even as the country prepares to sign-up to the G7’s new plan for a global minimum tax on big businesses.

Bern is consulting its cantonal governments — which set their own corporate tax rates — to examine how measures such as research grants, social security deductions and tax credits could create a “toolkit” to offset any changes to headline tax rates, officials told the Financial Times.

Here is the full FT story by Sam Jones.

The post Nach dem Gleichgewicht auflösen appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Charlotte Region Real Estate in May: Sales Up 26% YoY, Inventory Down 62% YoY

Note: Remember sales were weak in April and May 2020 due to the pandemic. I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

For the Charlotte Region:

Closed sales in May 2021 were 4,784, up 26.4% from 3,785 in May 2020.

Active Listings in May 2021 were 3,104, down 62.0% from 8,177 in May 2020.

Inventory in May was up 2.8% from last month.

Months of Supply was 0.6 Months in May 2021, compared to 1.9 Months in May 2020.

Q2 GDP Forecasts: Around 9.5%

From Merrill Lynch:
2Q GDP tracking has fallen to 9.5% qoq saar from 11% as we incorporate our forecast for retail sales. 1Q GDP is also tracking slightly lower at 6.2% following trade data this week. [June 11 estimate]
emphasis added
From Goldman Sachs:
We left our Q2 GDP tracking estimate unchanged at +9.5% (qoq ar). [June 9 estimate]
From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report
The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 4.2% for 2021:Q2 and 5.3% for 2021:Q3. [June 11 estimate]
And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow
The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the second quarter of 2021 is 9.3 percent on June 9, down from 9.4 percent on June 8. [June 9 estimate]

Readers Respond on Lab Leaks #4

From TPM Reader AJ

While in general I agree with your take on the Lab Leak hypothesis, I would point out that the evidence is not as balanced as you suggest.

There are strong empirical suggestions that this is a natural event – specifically to do with genetic structure and the distribution of initial cases.

See this for a great breakdown of these issues, and this as another note.

It’s really unlikely that this is due to a leak. I keep on having flashbacks to the WMD discussions before the last Iraq war – where we went from a place where no-one thought Saddam had WMD, straight into it being a consensus.

I understand the desire to make things fit – but I wonder if this is not just a reflection of the trauma we have all gone through over the last year, and a matching hardening of anti-china political views.

Atlanta Real Estate in May: Sales Up 36% YoY, Inventory Down 61% YoY

Note: Remember, sales were weak in April and May last year, so the year-over-year comparison is especially strong this month. I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

From the GAMLS for Atlanta:

Total Residential Units Sold in May 2021 were 9,066, up 36.1% from 6,662 in May 2020.

Active Residential Listings in May 2021 were 7,530, down 61.1% from 19,352 in May 2020. Inventory was up 8.1% from 6,964 last month.

Months of Supply was 0.86 Months in May 2021, compared to 2.53 Months in May 2020.

Georgia MLS InventoryClick on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Georgia MLS shows inventory in Atlanta over the last several years - and the sharp decline in inventory at the start of the pandemic.

Inventory in Atlanta was above the record low in April 2021.

Yo-Yo Ma Answers Questions About the Cello

As part of the Tech Support series, Wired had Yo-Yo Ma answer some questions about the cello and music sent in by Twitter users. What I like about this is that no critic or professional interviewer would ask these questions (they are “bad” interview questions) and yet Ma answers them all generously and thoughtfully. It reminds me a little bit of when Vogue trained an AI program to interview Billie Eilish:

What I really loved hearing Billie say was that human interviewers often ask the same questions over and over, and she appreciated that the AI questions don’t have an agenda in the same way, they’re not trying to get anything from her.

Perhaps with interesting subjects who are game, having “good” interview questions maybe isn’t that important, particularly if they are repeated queried about the same topics in every interview.

Tags: interviews   music   video   Yo-Yo Ma

Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Decreased

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

This data is as of June 8th.

From Andy Walden at Black Knight: Share of Borrowers in Forbearance Falls Below 4%, Lowest Since Onset of Pandemic
Forbearance volumes fell by 61,000 (-2.9%) from last week to this week, continuing the trend of early month declines in forbearance volumes. Declines were seen across all investor classes, with portfolio/PLS loans seeing the largest improvement (-33K), while FHA/VA (-19K) and GSE (-9k) forbearances also saw meaningful declines.

Plan starts did rise this week, following the Memorial Day-shortened week, but remain relatively low, considering. For the second week in a row, more than 100,000 homeowners left their forbearance plans, with roughly one-third of loan reviews for extension or removal resulting in removals.

Some 530,000 plans are still scheduled for quarterly reviews for extension/removal over the next three weeks, which could lead to additional plan exits as we near the July 4 holiday.

Black Knight ForbearanceClick on graph for larger image.

Fewer than 4% of all mortgage-holders are now in forbearance, the first time since the onset of the pandemic this number has fallen so low.

As of June 8, 2.06 million (3.9% of) homeowners remain in COVID-19-related forbearance plans, including 2.3% of GSE, 6.9% of FHA/VA and 4.4% of portfolio/PLS loans.
emphasis added

The Beard of John Stavely

Beards were not fashionable in the British Empire during the eighteenth century.

This fact is sometimes regretted by reenactors who don’t want to shave their modern beards, but the artistic record is clear.

That doesn’t mean there were no bearded men in Revolutionary America. Rather, they were few, and people saw them as unusual. The Boston shoemaker William Scott grew a long beard for religious reasons, and it scared children on the street.

Another man of the period noted for his full beard was John Stavely. We know him as a model for the painter Joseph Wright of Derby. And we know his name only by the inscription on the back of a Wright drawing now in the collection of the Morgan Library:
Portrait of
John Stavely
who came from Hert-
fordshire with Mr. French
& sat to Mr. Wright in the character of the old man & his ass in the
Sentimental Journey
We can spot the same bearded face in other Wright paintings and drawings, such as his two versions of The Captive and various studies as the man aged.

The Sotheby’s site says:
Wright’s practise of employing old men as models in the 1760s and early ’70s is well documented and the artist’s account book, now preserved in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery in London, includes the details and addresses of several local Derbyshire characters that sat for him on a regular basis. . . . Perhaps his favourite model, however, was a character known as Old John Staveley…
Stavely’s most famous role for Wright was as the scientist in The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers. Wright finished this painting in 1771, then went back over it in 1795.

Unfortunately, we don’t appear to have any account of what John Stavely’s family and neighbors thought of his beard. We know only that when Joseph Wright of Derby wanted to paint bearded men, he had a limited pool to choose from.

Portland Real Estate in May: Sales Up 62% YoY, Inventory Down 49% YoY

Note: Remember sales were weak in April and May 2020 due to the pandemic. I'm tracking data for many local markets around the U.S. I think it is especially important to watch inventory this year.

For Portland, OR:

Closed sales in May 2021 were 3,183, up 62.1% from 1,963 in May 2020.

Active Listings in May 2021 were 2,339, down 48.6% from 4,551 in May 2020.

Inventory in May was up 5.3% from last month.

Months of Supply was 0.7 Months in May 2021, compared to 2.3 Months in May 2020.

Previously: Bridges, meat, diamonds (w/e 11 June)

Some blog posts this week from years gone by.

1 year ago

Singing bridges (8 June 2020).

I’m also pretty taken with the idea that we don’t know what the Golden Gate Bridge is singing about, other than it being windy. It tickles me that the bridge has its own internal life that leads it to sing, but it’s no more speaking to us than a blackbird. Why should the bridge want to tell us anything? And why would we be able to understand it if it did?

What is the song of our cities?

2 years ago

Meat and gratitude (6 June 2019).

For me, I do continue to eat meat (although less than I used). But I think a lot of my discomfort around it - environmentally, the agro-industry, health - is displacement from the hard-to-digest fact that, when I’ve met a cow, they’re super nice to hang out with, and I could see us being friends. And that feeling isn’t going to go away.

We should say “thank you” to meat. Or stop eating it, I suppose.

13 years ago

The source of a diamond (10 June 2008).

“The source of a diamond is a kimberlite pipe, a form of diatreme–a relatively small hole bored through the crust of the earth by an expanding combination of carbon dioxide and water which rises from within the earth’s mantle and moves so fast driving magma to the surface that is breaks into the atmosphere at supersonic speeds.”

This is simply an extended quote from John McPhee’s monumental Annals of the Former World, and these two things are equally extraordinary: (a) how diamonds come to be; (b) McPhee’s command of the written word.

Read the whole thing.

(Another quote. Swoon.)


Some favourite posts selected from this week’s On This Day archive spelunking page. This is an experiment to see how to best surface older ideas in the current feed in a meaningful way, possibly as a regular Friday feature.

Rubio Pushes Fauci/PRC Conspiracy Theory

Yesterday I reminded everybody that it’s important to keep up on the right wing media ecosystem to understand what Republican politicians are saying. In this instance, Republicans have galloped far past the possibility that a lab leak may have been the origin point for the COVID. They’re now pushing the idea that Anthony Fauci was involved in the experiments which created COVID and has conspired with the Chinese to cover-up the lab leak which created COVID.

As you can see from this tweet this morning, Sen. Marco Rubio is pushing just that idea.

You can see he’s softened it up a bit for general public consumption. But that’s what he’s saying.

A Half Dose of Moderna is More Effective Than a Full Dose of AstraZeneca

Today we are releasing a new paper on dose-stretching, co-authored by Witold Wiecek, Amrita Ahuja, Michael Kremer, Alexandre Simoes Gomes, Christopher M. Snyder, Brandon Joel Tan and myself.

The paper makes three big points. First, Khoury et al (2021) just published a paper in Nature which shows that “Neutralizing antibody levels are highly predictive of immune protection from symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.” What that means is that there is a strong relationship between immunogenicity data that we can easily measure with a blood test and the efficacy rate that it takes hundreds of millions of dollars and many months of time to measure in a clinical trial. Thus, future vaccines may not have to go through lengthy clinical trials (which may even be made impossible as infections rates decline) but can instead rely on these correlates of immunity.

Here is where fractional dosing comes in. We supplement the key figure from Khoury et al.’s paper to show that fractional doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have neutralizing antibody levels (as measured in the early phase I and phase II trials) that look to be on par with those of many approved vaccines. Indeed, a one-half or one-quarter dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is predicted to be more effective than the standard dose of some of the other vaccines like the AstraZeneca, J&J or Sinopharm vaccines, assuming the same relationship as in Khoury et al. holds. The point is not that these other vaccines aren’t good–they are great! The point is that by using fractional dosing we could rapidly and safely expand the number of effective doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Second, we embed fractional doses and other policies such as first doses first in a SIER model and we show that even if efficacy rates for fractional doses are considerably lower, dose-stretching policies are still likely to reduce infections and deaths (assuming we can expand vaccinations fast enough to take advantage of the greater supply, which is well within the vaccination frontier). For example, a half-dose strategy reduces infections and deaths under a variety of different epidemic scenarios as long as the efficacy rate is 70% or greater.

Third, we show that under plausible scenarios it is better to start vaccination with a less efficacious vaccine than to wait for a more efficacious vaccine. Thus, Great Britain and Canada’s policies of starting First Doses first with the AstraZeneca vaccine and then moving to second doses, perhaps with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines is a good strategy.

It is possible that new variants will reduce the efficacy rate of all vaccines indeed that is almost inevitable but that doesn’t mean that fractional dosing isn’t optimal nor that we shouldn’t adopt these policies now. What it means is that we should be testing and then adapting our strategy in light of new events like a battlefield commander. We might, for example, use fractional dosing in the young or for the second shot and reserve full doses for the elderly.

One more point worth mentioning. Dose stretching policies everywhere are especially beneficial for less-developed countries, many of which are at the back of the vaccine queue. If dose-stretching cuts the time to be vaccinated in half, for example, then that may mean cutting the time to be vaccinated from two months to one month in a developed country but cutting it from two years to one year in a country that is currently at the back of the queue.

Read the whole thing.

The Becker-Friedman center also has a video discussion featuring my co-authors, Nobel prize winner Michael Kremer and the very excellent Witold Wiecek.

The post A Half Dose of Moderna is More Effective Than a Full Dose of AstraZeneca appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Rocket Report: Vandals spray-paint Buran; China to launch first crew in 4 years

This is the rendering China's Dongfang Space released of its proposed rocket. It seems to be Kerbal-approved.

Enlarge / This is the rendering China's Dongfang Space released of its proposed rocket. It seems to be Kerbal-approved. (credit: Dongfang Space)

Welcome to Edition 4.02 of the Rocket Report! This week there's news about the space race between two rocket billionaires, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, and still more news about Branson's other space company. Thanks for reading and contributing.

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

Bezos going to space, but will Branson beat him? Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said on Monday he would fly on the first human spaceflight of his company's New Shepard spacecraft. This mission will launch from Blue Origin's spaceport in West Texas on July 20, which is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969. With this timeline, Bezos seemed almost certain to get to orbit before his suborbital space-tourism rival Sir Richard Branson, whose flight was scheduled for later this summer.

Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Phase Four raises $26 million

Maxwell

WASHINGTON — Phase Four has raised $26 million in a Series B round that will allow it to accelerate production of its satellite electric propulsion systems.

The company announced June 11 it raised the round led by venture capital firm New Science Ventures LLC. The company had raised about $20 million in earlier funding rounds.

The El Segundo, California-based company has developed a plasma propulsion system called Maxwell for use on small satellites. Strong demand for Maxwell after the launch of the first spacecraft with those thrusters earlier this year prompted the funding round in order to fuel the company’s expansion.

“A lot of customers get more interested once they realize that this product is real and it’s working in space,” Beau Jarvis, chief executive of Phase Four, said in an interview. “We got a lot more inbound demand and our team has been pretty small up to this point. In order to make more Maxwell systems we needed to raise more capital.”

Phase Four was introduced to New Science Ventures through another investor, he said. That VC firm has previously invested in ABL Space Systems, a small launch vehicle company, and PlanetIQ, which is developing a constellation of satellites to collect commercial weather data.

“Phase Four has the management team, core technology set and product strategy to build a leadership position in the in-space propulsion sector,” Somu Subramaniam, managing partner of New Science Ventures, in a statement.

With the new funding, Jarvis said Phase Four plans to scale up production of thruster systems. “We’re going to triple the production of Maxwell from now to the first half of next year,” he said.

The first satellites with Maxwell thrusters launched in January, and the company now has three systems in orbit. Jarvis said the customers have asked not to be named for now, although Phase Four announced in 2019 orders from Capella Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. The company expects to have up to eight thrusters in orbit by the end of the year.

The systems that are in orbit are working well. “Our engineering team says the data on orbit is as boring as the data in the environmental test facility, which is always good,” Jarvis said. “That’s given us the confidence to build more of them.”

Those thrusters in orbit use xenon as propellant, but the company is studying the use of alternatives that can provide cost and mass savings. The company won a Small Business Innovation Research award from the U.S. Air Force in April to work on a version of Maxwell that uses iodine as propellant. Iodine doesn’t require high-pressure vessels for storage and is less expensive than xenon.

Jarvis said the funding round will support work on the iodine-fueled version of Maxwell, including a new vacuum chamber dedicated to testing that thruster. “Our team right now is doing some initial testing with the new version of the thruster that will handle iodine. Later this summer, we’ll be doing our first in chamber tests with iodine,” he said. If all goes as planned, that thruster would be commercially available in early 2023.

SpaceNews

Philosophy’s lack of progress

For centuries, all philosophers seem to have done is question and debate. Why do philosophical problems resist solution?

By Chris Daly

Read at Aeon

Collections: The Queen’s Latin or Who Were the Romans? Part I: Beginnings and Legends

Who were the Romans? How did they understand themselves as a people and ‘Roman’ as an identity? And what were the implications of that understanding – and perhaps more importantly the underlying reality – for Roman society and the success of the Roman Empire? This is the first part of a series looking at these questions, focusing on how identity functioned in the Roman world, beginning with the Republic and moving into the empire. We’re going to look at both Roman myths and writings (along with the writings of a few contemporary Greeks) and what they can tell us about where the Romans thought they came from, what it was to be a member of the Roman community and what that meant for Rome’s self-conception. But we are also going to pair that approach with a look at a mix of non-literary evidence (representational, epigraphic, and archaeological) and see how well the Roman self-evaluation stacks up against the evidence for the actual composition of Roman society. Moreover, we’re going to look at how the identity-structure of that actual Roman society contributed to exceptional Roman success.

Note that this means we are going to be getting into a lot of primary source material here in the ‘raw’ (though translated). That means this series may end up being a bit less family friendly then normal in a few places – we are going to touch on accounts of violence, including sexual violence, this week as well as some very salty Roman writing which I will not bowdlerize in the slightest a little later in the series. History is best learned unvarnished, but given that I normally try to keep the foul language here to a minimum, I should warn that some of our primary sources do not share my discretion and I will not force it on them. Caveat lector.

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

Onward!

The Queen’s Latin

For most of the English speaking world, the sound of the Romans is very particular. Thanks to shows like I, Claudius (1976) and HBO’s Rome (2005-7)(co-produced with the BBC) and films like Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), to Anglophone ears, ‘Latin’ has a British accent. It goes back further than this of course, look at the cast for Ben-Hur (1959) or Spartacus (1960) and you can see even in American films a real tendency – albeit not a universal one – to cast British actors as Romans – especially Roman aristocrats.

(The recent Gaumont/Netflix Barbarians (2020) – originally Barbaren – is one of the few examples where this is actually avoided, perhaps because it is a German-language production. The key Cherusci characters there are played by German actors and the Romans mostly by Italians, though the decision to have the Cherusci speak modern German while the Romans speak ancient Latin betrays some of the nationalism of the presentation; the nationalistic form of the Fremen Mirage runs deep in the show’s first season.)

This is what I have come to jokingly term – though I certainly didn’t invent the phrase ‘the Queen’s Latin,’ the tendency to signify ‘these people are speaking Latin’ in film or TV with British (or more particularly often upper-class English) accents. Given the tendency to treat Roman Latin as this sort of high language, delivered with posh-sounding (particularly to Americans) accents, many students are more than a little surprised to find that the actual contents of Latin literature are often rather less elevated than they might have expected (we will actually be seeing some of that rather less elevated Latin in this series).

But importantly, the Romans are presented as more or less uniform in this regard. Many pop-cultural products presenting the Romans present class divisions in Rome (HBO’s Rome especially has an ‘upstairs-downstairs vibe with the main characters). Often in American productions focused on Rome, accent is used to express this, with ‘working-class’ Romans played by white Americans and the aristocratic Romans played by white British actors. And certainly we often see clear distinctions made between the Romans and distant, recently conquered peoples in Rome’s empire. But rarely do we see any hint of heritage or ethnic distinctions within the populus Romanus or even Italy more broadly. The aristocrats might sound a bit different from the commoners, but no one speaks with a marked regional accent, or having marked regional customs, or so on (or perhaps more accurately in some of these, the actor’s marked British regional accents are treated as entirely incidental – one may contrast how regional accents are used in Game of Thrones, particularly of Northerners, to signal regional ethnicity in Westeros).

They all speak the Queen’s Latin.

The ‘newsreader’ from HBO’s Rome, played by English actor Ian McNeice. The Romans would have called him a praeco; it was an occupation which was looked down upon. On this (and disreputable occupations in Rome generally), see S. Bond, Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean (2016).

And of course the sound of the Queen’s Latin also comes with the appearance of the Queen’s Romans, as it were. Put bluntly, visual media featuring Rome (and Greece) tends to be dominated by actors of European extraction; even ‘Club Med’ countries (that is Southern European countries) appear fairly infrequently. HBO’s Rome‘s core cast is wholly from the British Isles (though one may note Indira Varma, who played Niobe, is of Indian heritage); going by Wikipedia, of the core cast, actors identified as ‘English’ (all of them white) outnumber every other background added together. Now of course we might expect a British production to be stocked with British actors (although the average London street has a rather wider range of skin tones than HBO’s Rome) just as we might expect the same series, produced in Egypt to be full of Egyptian actors. And Rome was a co-production between HBO and BBC Two (though it was filmed mostly in Italy), so the abundance of British actors is little surprise. I have no particular problem with a production in a given country employing actors from that country. What I want to focus on is the homogeneityit is not what the actors look like but that they all look the same, they all sound the same (except, of course, the true cultural outsiders like Nicholas Woodeson’s Posca, the only character with a very pronounced, consistent accent in the main cost and also by far the best character in the show but not because of that – but of course Posca is Greek and not Roman so even with this character we are back to homogeneous, white-British Romans speaking the Queen’s Latin and the one Greek fellow with an accent), even in productions put on in countries with no great shortage of actors with different backgrounds.

And of course, when you add something like Rome together with all of the other cultural products which portray the Romans in precisely the same way, it can give a very particular impression to the public about who the Romans were, what they looked like and how diverse (or not) they were.

The Senate from HBO’s Rome. We’ll come back to this point but I want to note here that we do not see here the full range of skin-color shades we see in Roman artwork (like frescoes) which show high status Romans from Italy with a fairly wide range of skin colors – as one might well expect having spent any time at all in Italy itself.

(And yes I know someone is going to jump in and note that Lucius Vorenus in HBO’s Rome is from Mutina and is said to have a ‘Gaulish look about him,’ but first he denies having any Gallic heritage – whatever the truth may be – and second he is shown in manners, customs, speaking and even honestly his physical appearance in the actual show to be little different from anyone else around him. If that is the best objection then I think that rather proves the point.)

In short, the visual language of the depiction of Rome in western media, in its language, its accents, and its casting choices, shows the Romans as an ethnically homogeneous group. They look the same, dress the same, sound the same and are easily contrasted with outsider groups that look, dress and sound differently. Roman citizenship and ethnic identity map almost perfectly. Moreover, especially in American media, we can take this a step further – the Romans aren’t merely presented as homogeneous, but as a specific homogeneous group: the Romans consist mainly (sometimes entirely) of homogeneous white-British actors speaking the Queen’s Latin. And this leaks into the popular conception of the Romans, which imagines them more or less exactly this way (try this experiment: do a google images search for ‘Romans‘ and see how many Spartans you see misidentified as Romans before you hit the first modern depiction of a Roman with so much as a deep tan; my count was three).

So we are going to ask the question, ‘was Rome really uniform like that, at any point in its history?‘ We’re going to move chronologically, comparing and sometimes contrasting the stories the Romans told about themselves with the evidence we have for the reality of life in Rome and in the broader Roman Empire. We’re going to talk about how the Romans understood identity, the degree to which that connected to language, skin-tone, culture and origin, and the degree to which we should understand the Romans as a homogeneous people or as a heterogeneous people.

Which means we need to start at the very beginning, with Rome’s foundation myths.

Chose Your Own Legend

Legends are a tricky historical source to use. The key is to remember that the value of these legends for us is often not in their truth about the past (which may be minimal) but in what they say about the people telling the legends. The stories that cultures tell about their legendary past are often as much – if not more – exercises in creative self-definition (declarations of “this is what we are“) than they are declarations about the past (“this is what we were“). Of course we still do this all of the time, couching arguments about what we should be in terms of what we supposedly were. This isn’t to say the Romans were unserious about their legends – indeed, they invested them with sacred force and some of the major characters were worshiped as gods. But that itself is part of what made such legends so powerful, since those legends, invested with importance and deep meaning, in turn shape the culture moving forward.

So what do Rome’s legends say about who the Romans thought they were?

We have traces and hints of quite a number of different variations on Rome’s foundation legends, which may come as a surprise for students used to getting the ‘standard version.’ This is not unusual when it comes to ancient myths and legends; there are often many versions, some more popular, others less so. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek writing about the Romans in the last decades of the first century B.C.E. records a surprising variety of potential legendary origins for the Roman people, deriving from native Italic peoples (1.10.1) or a collection of robbers and brigands from many places (1.10.2) to being colonists from Liguria or perhaps Umbrians (1.10.3) to his own preferred legend which had them as Greeks and was supposedly preferred by Cato the Elder (1.11ff). We’ll talk in a moment about what is true of that and what we can actually know about the earliest Romans (because, if it needs saying, Roman legends were at best only thinly connected to their own deep, pre-literate past). But it is important to note at the outset that there was a lot of variety in legends the Romans had about their origins.

That said, at roughly the same time Dionysius was writing, we see the emergence of a sort of ‘canon’ tradition of Rome’s origins, flowing out of the reign of the first emperor Augustus (r. 31 BC – 14 AD) and the literary culture he sponsored (through his associate, Maecenas). Two monumental works shaped this ‘official’ version: Vergil’s Aeneid and Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita. It is clear that the version of the origin story both works present – with Aeneas and Romulus and Remus and so on – was not new to them; Livy seems to be learning on Fabius Pictor (c. 200 BC) for parts of his account. Ennius (writing in the early second century) already treats Romulus as a divine figure and the Romans were putting up statues of Romulus and Remus (and the wolf) as early as 293 BC. So these legends, collected by Livy into an ‘official’ history and embellished by Vergil into a grand state epic, long predate both and seem to reflect some of the most common legends the Romans had of their past (and I should note, Dionysius is aware of all of these). In essence there is good reason to suppose that Vergil and especially Livy were presenting the basic outlines of a set of legends the Romans had held about themselves for some time – probably at least as far back as the third century, if not earlier.

In the interest of keeping things manageable, we are going to focus on those ‘canon’ versions, because – as probably the most common versions – they offer some of the best insight into Roman thinking about their past.

(Spelling note: Publius Vergilius Maro’s name, in English is sometimes spelled Vergil and sometimes spelled Virgil, the latter a corrupted spelling that emerged very late in antiquity. ‘Vergilius’ however is Vergil’s correct nomen, so I prefer ‘Vergil’ to ‘Virgil’ when referring to him. In case anyone was confused by the spelling difference.)

Via Wikipedia, a black-figure oinochoe (520-510 BCE), now in the Louvre, Paris, showing Aeneas carrying his father, Anchises; the female figure gesturing behind may be Aeneas’ first wife Creusa, in the process of being accidentally left behind in the flight from Troy. While Aeneas is an older figure in Greek mythology, the Romans clearly take some liberties with him; while Vergil represents Aeneas as fighting his way out of Troy, both Livy and Pseudo-Apollodorus (in the Bibliotheca) present traditions where Aeneas is consciously spared by the victorious Achaeans on account of his conspicuous piety. Given that his epithet in the Aeneid is pius Aeneas, Vergil is clearly aware of this alternate tradition.

Founding Rome: All Without Distinction

Both Vergil and Livy begin by putting down Homeric roots and anchoring their stories in the Trojan War. That makes a good deal of sense from a mythic perspective: the Iliad and the Odyssey were the most illustrious legends of the Hellenic world and so it made sense for the Romans, looking to claim a place in the Mediterranean, to make that claim through connection to this most illustrious of tales (and of course later, when Rome was a colossus astride the Mediterranean, which the Romans by then called mare nostrum, ‘our sea,’ it made sense they would prefer a heroic origin with grandeur to match their power at the time). And so both Vergil and Livy begin their story with Aeneas and his plucky band of Trojan refugees, fleeing the fall of Troy (though interesting, while Vergil tells the tale as a harrowing escape, Livy politely suggests that perhaps Homer’s Achaeans let Aeneas go, Liv. 1.1).

Aeneas (son of Aphrodite/Venus and a mortal man, Anchises) does appear, by the by, in the Iliad, though he isn’t a particularly notable or impressive hero (naturally Vergil will embroider Aeneas until he is presented as the equal of an Achilles or Odysseus because…well, wouldn’t you?). The Aeneid follows (with the aid of a major flashback) Aeneas as he shepherds his surviving Trojans from Troy to their prophesied new homeland in Italy (with a minor stopover in Carthage) and then covers also the war that breaks out between Aeneas’ Trojans and the local inhabitants (the Latins) when he arrives. Vergil cuts off at the climactic moment of the war (which in turn presents Aeneas as rather morally grey, a feature that is also present, as we’ll see, in Livy’s retelling of Rome’s legends), but Livy provides the denouement. After a period of conflict (Livy presents two different versions of the exact sequence), Aeneas ends up married to Lavinia, the daughter of Latinus, king of the Latins (Livy calls them the Aborigines – lit, ‘the native inhabitants,’ Vergil the Latins; in both cases Latinus is their king) and the Trojan exiles and Latinus’ people form a single community at Lavinium, which in turn founds a colony at Alba Longa, both in Latium (the region of Italy in which Rome is, although note we haven’t founded Rome yet).

We then fast forward a few generations. Rhea Silvia, a priestess of Vesta at Alba Longa gives birth to twins, Romulus and Remus by (Livy expresses some doubt) the god Mars. The twins are exposed (for complicated royal-family-drama reasons we needn’t get into) and rescued by either a she-wolf or a woman of ill-repute (Livy isn’t sure which on account of Latin lupa having both meanings and clearly both legends existed, Liv. 1.4) and raised among shepherds in the hills of northern Latium. More politics ensues, Romulus and Remus, having grown to adulthood, right some wrongs in their home city of Alba Longa and set out to found their own city.

At which point Romulus promptly gets into a fight with and murders Remus over who is going to be in charge (this sort of intense moral ambiguity where the venerated legendary founder figures are also quick to violence and deeply flawed is also a feature of the Aeneid and can be read either as a commentary on Augustus or as some lingering Roman discomfort with their own recent history of civil wars running from 88 to 31 BC; we are not the first people in history to have very mixed feelings about how well people in our country’s past lived up to our ideals). Crucially, Romulus forms his new settlement (prior to the fratricide) out of – as Livy has it – “the excess multitudes of the Albans and Latins, to which were added the shepherds” (Liv. 1.6.3). After this, desiring to increase the population of the city, Romulus sets a place of refuge in the city so that “a crowd of people from neighboring places, altogether without distinction, free and slave, fled there eager for new things” (Liv. 1.8.6) and were incorporated into Romulus’ growing city. Livy approves of this, by the by, declaring it the first step towards rising greatness.

Romulus quickly has another problem because all of these new settlers were men, so he concocts a plot to carry off all of the unmarried women of the neighboring people, the Sabines – an Umbrian people (we’ll come back to this, for now we’ll note they are ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Latins) – who lived in the hills north of Rome under the guise of a religious ceremony (Liv. 1.9-13). At a festival where the Sabines had been lured to under false pretenses, the Romans abduct and forcibly marry the Sabine women, while using hidden weapons to chase away their families (I should note Livy goes to some length to assure the reader that the captured maidens were subsequently persuaded to marry their Roman captors, rather than forced (Liv. 1.9.14-16), though what choice he imagines the unarmed, captive women to have had is left for the reader to wonder at in vain; in any event, we need not share Livy’s judgement or his effort at patriotic euphemism and may simply note that bride-capture is a form of rape). The Sabines naturally go to war over this but (according to Livy) a peace is mediated by the captured women (according to Livy, unwilling to see their new husbands and old fathers kill each other) and the two communities instead merge on equal terms. In the midst of all of this, Livy does have Romulus set down a set of common customs for his people, which he thinks to have been mostly Etruscan (Liv. 1.8.3), the Etruscans being the people inhabiting Etruria (modern Tuscany) the region directly north of Rome (Rome sits, in essence, on the dividing line between Latium to the South and Etruria to the North).

Via Wikipedia, a Roman denarius minted in 89 BC. The obverse (left) portrays the legendary Sabine king Titus Tatius while the reverse (right) shows the abduction of the Sabine women by Roman soldiers. The timing of this coin – in 89 – can hardly be an accident as the coin visually stresses Rome’s connection to the Umbrian Sabines at a point where many of Rome’s allies were rebelling as part of the Social War. Part of the reason I keep gesturing here at older evidence and not taking Livy at his word (see the archaeology section below) is that Roman attitudes towards the other Italians may have been substantially reshaped by the Social War and its aftermath and so it is difficult to generalize those later views earlier. Fortunately, with a mix of archaeology and older Latin and Greek sources (like Polybius, who predates the Social War by 70 years), we don’t have to accept Livy on his own.

Now we want to note two things here from this high-speed trip through the first few chapters of Livy. First is the deep ambivalence towards Roman violence here. Livy presents Rome as a city founded on fratricide, conquest, rape and sacrilege. Livy occasionally attempts to soften the impact of these legends (particular with the Sabines), but only so far. This isn’t really the place to unpack of all of that but suffice to say that I think that Livy’s willingness to open his history of Rome – practically an official history of Rome – so darkly speaks to a literary project still attempting to come to grips with the stunning civil violence which had gripped Rome for Livy’s entire adult life and had, as he wrote, only recently ended. And one day we also ought to come back and do a deeper look at how women function in Livy’s legends and histories (Livy’s account becomes much more properly historical as he gets closer to his own time); women, mostly Roman women, suffering (often sexual) violence so that in their sacrifice the Roman state might be enhanced is a repeated motif in Livy (e.g. Lucretia, Verginia).

But more directly to our topic today, I want to note at this point exactly the sort of society Livy is imagining the earliest Rome, under its first king Romulus consists of a lot of different peoples and heritages. We’ll come back to exactly who all of these peoples are (historically speaking) in a moment. But Livy and Vergil first create a Trojan-Latin fusion community, which produces both Romulus and Remus and their initial core of settlers (mixed in with other, apparently purely Latin communities), who then gather up shepherds from all around, and then invite literally anyone from nearby communities to join them (which must include Etruscan communities to the north as well as Umbrians and Falisci of various sorts from the hills) and then finally fuses that community with the Sabines (an Umbrian people).

So we have our very first Romans, as the first Senate is being set up (1.8.7) and the very first spolia opima – the prize for when one commander defeats his oppose number in single combat – being won (1.10.7) and the very first temple being founded in the city (1.10.7). And those very first Romans, as Livy imagines them, are not autochthonous (that is, the original inhabitants of the place they live), nor ethnically homogeneous, but rather a Trojan-Aborigines-Latin-Faliscian-Umbrian-Etruscan-Sabine fusion community. For Livy, diversity – ethnic, linguistic, religious – defines Rome, from its very first days.

But of course this is all legends – important for understanding how the Romans viewed themselves, but necessarily less valuable for understanding the actual conditions in Rome at its earliest. Unfortunately, we lack reliable written sources for this part of the world so early (most of the ‘regal’ period, when Rome was ruled by kings, notionally from 753 – the legendary founding date for the city – to 509, is is beyond historical reconstruction). Fortunately, where the historians fail, the archaeologists have our backs.

Archaeology Strikes Back

The first thing we need to talk about is the physical location of Rome and the peoples directly around it. I am going to save a fuller discussion of all of the people’s of pre-Roman Italy for next time, but we need still to set the board, as it were. Rome in its earliest history was, essentially, a frontier city, placed at the very northern end of Latium, the region of Italy which was populated by Latin-speakers. Rome’s position on the Tiber River put it at the cultural meeting place of the Etruscan (and Faliscian) cultural zone to the North, Latium to the South and Umbrian-speaking peoples in the Apennine uplands to the North-East. To the West, of course, lay the Sea, which by Rome’s legendary founding date was already beginning to fill with seaborne merchants, particularly Phoenician and Greek ones (we’ll talk more about Greek colonies in Italy next time). These patterns of settlements and cultural zones are both attested in our literary sources but also show up fairly clearly in the archaeology of the region.

Via Wikipedia, a map of the hills of Rome. The forum Romanum is located in the depression between the Capitoline, Palatine and Esquiline hills.

Rome itself, a cluster of hills situated at an important ford over the Tiber (and thus a natural trade and migration route running north-south along Italy’s Western side), was already inhabited by the close of the Neolithic, with small settlement clusters on several of its hills. As you might well imagine, excavating pre-historic Rome is difficult, due to the centuries of development piled on top of it and the fact that in many cases pre-historic evidence must exist directly below subsequent ruins which are now cultural heritage sites. Nevertheless, archaeology sheds quite a lot of light. That archaeological evidence allows us to reject the sort of ’empty fields’ city foundation that Livy implies. Rather than being ‘founded,’ the city of Rome as we know it formed out of the political merger of these communities (the technical term is synoecism from Greek συνοικισμóς, literally “[putting] the houses together”). There is, importantly, no clear evidence of any archaeological discontinuity between the old settlements on the hills and the newly forming city; these seem to have been the same people. The Palatine hill, which is ‘chosen’ by Romulus in the legend and would be the site of the houses of Rome’s most important and affluent citizens during the historical period, seems to have been the most prominent of these settlements even at this early stage.

A key event in this merging comes in the mid-600s, when these hill-communities begin draining the small valley that lay between the Capitoline and Palatine hills; this valley would naturally have been marshy and quite useless but once drained, it formed a vital meeting place at the center of these hill communities – what would become the Forum Romanum. That public works project – credited by the Romans to the semi-legendary king Tarquinius Priscus (Plin. NH 36.104ff) – is remarkably telling, both because it signals that there was enough of a political authority in Rome to marshal the resources to see it done (suggesting somewhat more centralized government, perhaps early kings) and because the new forum formed the meeting place and political center for these communities, quite literally binding them together into a single polity. It is at this point that we can really begin speaking of Rome and Romans with confidence.

Via Wikipedia, a map of the forum, the Capitoline and the Palatine hills showing the Cloaca Maxima, which drained the forum, in red. It is worth noting this (modern) map depicts the forum as it would have existed in the mid-fourth century AD: about a thousand years, give or take, after the the forum was originally drained.

What does our archaeology tell us about this early community at this point and for the next several centuries?

The clearest element of this early polity is the Latin influence. Linguistically, Rome was of Latium, spoke (and wrote their earliest inscriptions) in Latin and it falls quite easily to reason that the majority of the people in these early hilltop communities around the Tiber ford were culturally and linguistically Latins. But there are also strong signs of Etruscan and Greek influence in the temples. For instance, in the Forum Boarium (between the Tiber and the Palatine), we evidence for a cult location dating to the seventh century, with a temple constructed there in the early sixth century (and reconstructed again towards the end of that century); votive offerings recovered from the site include Attic ware pottery and a votive ivory figurine of a lion bearing an inscription in Etruscan.

Archaeological evidence for the Sabines is less evident. Distinctive Sabine material culture hasn’t been recovered from Rome as of yet. There are some clear examples of linguistic influence from Sabine to Latin, although the Romans often misidentify them; the name of the Quirinal hill, for instance (thought by the Romans to be where the Sabines settled after joining the city) doesn’t seem to be Sabine in origin. That said, religious institutions associated with the hill in the historical period (particularly the priests known as the Salii Collini) may have some Sabine connections. More notably, a number of key Roman families (gentes in Latin; we might translate this word as ‘clans’) claimed Sabine descent. Of particular note, several of these are Patrician gentes, meaning that they traced their lineage to families prominent under the kings or very early in the Republic. Among these were the Claudii (a key family in Roman politics from the founding of the Republic to the early Empire; Liv. 2.16), the Tarpeii (recorded as holding a number of consulships in the fifth century), and the Valerii (prominent from the early days of the Republic and well into the empire; Dionysius 2.46.3). There seems little reason to doubt the ethnic origins of these families.

So on the one hand we cannot say with certainty that there were Sabines in Rome in the eight century as Livy would have it (though nothing rules it out), but there very clearly were by the foundation of the Republic in 509. The Sabine communities outside of Rome (because it is clear they didn’t all move into Rome) were absorbed in 290 and granted citizenship sine suffrago (citizenship without the vote) almost immediately; voting rights came fairly quickly thereafter in 268 BC (Vel. Pat. 1.14.6-7). The speed with which these Sabine communities outside of Rome were admitted to full citizenship speaks, I suspect, to the degree to which the Sabines were already by that point seen as a kindred people (despite the fact that they spoke a language quite different from Latin; Sabine Osco-Umbrian was its own language, albeit in the same language family).

The only group we can say quite clearly that there is no evidence for in early Rome from Livy’s fusion society are the Trojans; there is no trace of Anatolian influence this early (and we might expect the sudden intrusion of meaningful amounts of Anatolian material culture to be really obvious). Which is to say that Aeneas is made up; no great surprise there.

But Livy’s conception of an early Roman community – perhaps at the end of the sixth century rather than in the middle of the eighth – that was already a conglomeration of peoples with different linguistic, ethnic and religious backgrounds is largely confirmed by the evidence. Moreover, layered on top of this are influences that speak to this early Rome’s connectedness to the broader Mediterranean milieu – I’ve mentioned already the presence of Greek cultural products both in Rome and in the area surrounding it. Greek and eastern artistic motifs (the latter likely brought by Phoenician traders) appear with the ‘Orientalizing’ style in the material culture of the area as early as 730 B.C. – no great surprise there either as the Greeks had begun planting colonies in Italy and Sicily by that point and Phoenician traders are clearly active in the region as well. Evidently Carthaginian cultural contacts also existed at an early point; the Romans made a treaty with Carthage in the very first year of the Republic, which almost certainly seems like it must have replaced some older understanding between the Roman king and Carthage (Polybius 3.22.1). Given the trade contacts, it seems likely, that there would have been Phoenician merchants in permanent residence in Rome; evidence for such permanently resident Greeks is even stronger.

In short, our evidence suggests that were one to walk the forum of Rome at the dawn of the Republic – the beginning of what we might properly call the historical period for Rome – you might well hear not only Latin, but also Sabine Umbrian, Etruscan and Greek and even Phoenician spoken (to be clear, those are three completely different language families; Umbrian, Latin and Greek are Indo-European languages, Phoenician was a Semitic language and Etruscan is a non-Indo-European language which may be a language isolate – perhaps the modern equivalent might be a street in which English, French, Italian, Chinese and Arabic are all spoken). The objects on sale in the markets might be similarly diverse.

I keep coming back to the languages, by the by, because I want to stress that these really were different people. There is a tendency – we will come back to it next time – for a lot of modern folks to assume that, “Oh well, these are all Italians, right?” But the idea of ‘Italians’ as such didn’t exist yet (and Italy even today isn’t quite so homogeneous as many people outside of it often assume!). And we know that the different languages were mirrored by different religious and cultural practices (although material culture – the ‘stuff’ of daily life, was often shared through trade contacts). Languages thus make a fairly clear and easy marker for a whole range of cultural differences, though – and we will come back to this as well – it is important to remember that people’s identities are often complex; identity is generally a layered, ‘yes, but also…’ affair. I have only glanced over this, but we also see traces of Latin, Etruscan, Greek and Umbrian religious practice in early Roman sanctuaries and our later literary sources; Phoenician influence has also been posited – we know at least that there was a temple to Uni/Astarte in Pyrgi within 30 miles of Rome so Phoenician religious influence could never have been that far away.

We thus have to conclude that Livy is correct on at least one thing: Rome seems to have been a multi-ethnic, diverse place from the beginning with a range of languages, religious practices. Rome was a frontier town at the beginning and it had the wide mix of peoples that one would expect of such a frontier town. It sat at the juncture of the Etruria (inhabited by Etruscans) to the north, of Latium (inhabited by Latins) to the South, and of the Apennine Mountains (inhabited by Umbrians like the Sabines). At the same time, Rome’s position on the Tiber ford made it the logical place for land-based trade (especially from Greek settlements in Campania, like Cumae, Capua and Neapolis – that is, Naples) to cross the Tiber moving either north of south. Finally, the Tiber River is navigable up to the ford (and the Romans were conscious of the value of this, e.g. Liv 5.54), so Rome was also a natural destination point for seafaring Greek and Phoenician traders looking for a a destination to sell their wares. Rome was, in short, far from a homogeneous culture; it was a place where many different peoples meet, even in its very earliest days. Indeed, as we will see, that fact is probably part of what positioned Rome to become the leading city of Italy.

(For those looking to track down some of these archaeological references or get a sense of the source material, though it is now a touch dated, The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol 7.2: The Rise of Rome to 220 B.C., edited by F.W. Walbank, A.E. Astin, M.W. Frederiksen, and R.M. Ogilvie (1990) offers a fairly good overview, particularly the early chapters by Ogilvie, Torelli and Momigliano. For something more suited to regular folks, when I teach this I use M.T. Boatwright, D.J. Gargola, N. Lenski and R.J.A. Talbert, The Romans: From Village To Empire (2012) and it has a decent textbook summary, p. 22-42, covering early Rome with particularly good reference to the archaeology)

A Word on the Etruscans

I want to pause our march for a second to make a point. One problem when discussing peoples and cultures in the ancient world is the modern tendency to consider peoples based on the boarders of modern nation-states and so to conclude, for instance, that all of the people in Italy were, well, ‘Italians.’ For quite a lot of folks with only a passing interest in history, this goes further as the Greeks and Romans, known perhaps only through high school world history or a college survey, blend together into ‘Greco-Romans’ who are essentially similar (to the point that I regularly have students somewhat surprised that the Greeks and the Romans didn’t fight in the same way or have the same political institutions; even more assume they had the same religion, which they did not).

So I want to take a moment to stress just how different the Etruscans were from the Romans – or indeed, any other Italic peoples.

Via Wikipedia, a fifth century Etruscan fresco showing dancers from the Tomb of the Leopards, in Tarquinia, Italy. The art style is distinctively Etruscan, although there is clear Greek influence as well.

Perhaps the most arresting thing about the Etruscans was their language. Etruscan is a language isolate – it doesn’t appear to be related to any other known language (there is occasionally some very technical debate on this point, but not any that will effect what I am going to say here). All of the other languages of pre-Roman Italy (not counting any Phoenicians who had large settlements in Sicily; Sicily was not considered part of ‘Italy’ by the Romans) are members of the Indo-European language family, which spread out (probably through a series of migrations) from the eastern Pontic Steppe perhaps around 3000 BC or so, reaching Italy around 1000 BC. The Etruscan language – and we may assume the ancestors of the Etruscans themselves – were probably already there when Indo-European arrived; for whatever reasons the Etruscans kept their language and evidently control of their homeland. Consequently, the Romans, linguistically speaking, were more closely related to (Old) Persian and Hindi speakers – both Indo-European languages – than they were to the Etruscans.

Etruscan religion was also distinct. A lot of Indo-European-speaking cultures share some basic mythological elements (linguistically reconstructed backwards to a lost proto-Indo-European religion), but Etruscan religion was a blend of indigenous non-Indo-European religious elements with syncretically adapted Greek and Italic elements (as we’ve discussed, polytheistic religions are very good at this kind of adaption. According to Varro, the supreme god of the pantheon was Voltumna (also called Veltha), an underworld deity which the Romans adopted as Vertumnus (Var. De Ling. Lat. 5.46), but which is quite different from the standard set of Indo-European gods. The Etruscan practice of haruspicy – reading the will of the gods from the entrails of animals – was also clearly distinct and the Romans adopted this too. Even into the first century BC, haruspicy seems to have been a distinctively Etruscan art in Rome and non-Etruscan haruspices were less preferred (though Roman priests practiced augury, divining the will of the gods from birds). Though the extensive later Roman borrowing of elements of Etruscan religion can disguise this, Etruscan religion was quite distinct from Latin and Roman religious practices.

We could go on, limited really only by the limitations in the evidence for the Etruscans (alas that the history of the Etruscans, written by the emperor Claudius, does not survive!). The Etruscans had their own alliance system (Liv. 7.21.9), their own very distinctive art-styles and so on. But the upshot here is that the Etruscans were very much culturally distinct from the Romans or indeed all of the other peoples of Italy.

Misreading the Romans

It may seem odd that I am opting to start this discussion so early. After all, very little of the popular perception of Rome is anchored in this period. Most of the ‘Roman stories’ we tell concern either the late Republic or the Empire.

But I wanted to start here, at the very beginning because there is this persistent myth that Rome was, at some point in its history, effectively homogeneous and that Rome’s subsequent downfall was a product of it becoming heterogeneous, either culturally or racially. It is, in fact, an old theory, going back at least as far as Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882; we have met him before) who argued that the Roman empire collapsed because of ‘race mixing’ resulting in the “vitality” and “aptitude for conquest” of the Romans being diminished. I will stress here that Gobineau’s theories fail even a basic test of the historical evidence -they were quite bad history even for 1853 (when he published his Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines – ‘Essay on the Inequality of Human Races.’ It turns out sometimes a title does tell you all you need to know about a book) given that even a passing familiarity with Dionysius or Livy would have been enough to raise insurmountable objections (as we have just done) even before addressing the pseudo-scientific bunk that was 19th century ‘scientific’ racism (which, again, we have already discussed). Unsurprisingly, Gobineau’s theories were quite popular among the Nazis, something discussed in both C.B. Krebs, A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich (2012) and in greater depth by J. Hell, The Conquest of Ruins: The Third Reich and the Fall of Rome (2019).

The more modern version of this argument often focuses on culture rather than race, but apart from the substitution of ‘cultural compatibility’ for ‘race mixing’ hysteria, is fundamentally unchanged in its arguments; the same car with new paint. The folk history theory goes that the Romans were strong at some vague point in the past (this argument does not generally come with a firm grasp of chronology for reasons which will become obvious. If this sounds like the same chronology problems the Fremen Mirage had, they are. These two bad folk theories tend to come together) but then the empire became ‘multicultural’ and was thus weakened and so collapsed. That assertion is then offered as a brick in an argument to suggest that cultural pluralism is necessarily a weakening force for a state – that cultural homogeneity is necessary for a well-functioning society. As you may well have guessed, that is a thesis which is unlikely to survive our trip through Rome’s cultural history.

But I wanted to begin by drilling out the bottom layer of that argument: Rome was always multicultural, it was never homogeneous; Rome was born of an ethnic and cultural fusion, at a meeting place of different peoples, from the very beginning, long before Rome was anything more than an unremarkable collection of villages on a few relatively unimportant hills overlooking the Tiber. To a degree, that fact is disguised by the modern tendency to simply call a lot of people Romans (who may well have called themselves other things) and to lump together groups (Etruscans, Latins, Sabines – we’re going to have even more Italic peoples next time!) who were in fact quite distinct and considered quite different then. Distinctions that really mattered – like differences between Greek, Roman and Etruscan religion – are elided away in introductory history courses (because they had to be when you have hundreds or thousands of years to cover in a single semester) but were very important to people at the time (we’ll talk about Roman queasiness about adopted foreign religion – including Greek religion! – next time).

As we are going to see, it was probably not an accident that the polity which would come to dominate the rest of Italy was located not in the center of one of pre-Roman Italy’s various cultural zones (that is, it was not an Etruscan city in the core of Etruria, nor an Oscan community well inside Samnite territory, or a Latin community in the center of Latium, etc.), but rather a hybrid community that existed at the meeting points of several cultural zones (in this case, at the juncture of areas of Etruscan, Latin and Umbrian settlement and at the same time at a nexus of trade between them and overseas Greek and Phoenician traders). This was certainly not the only factor in Rome’s rise, but it does seem to have been a factor.

Next week, we are going to advance into the era of the Republic and look at how the Romans handle going from being just one community of many in Italy to the de facto political, economic and cultural center of the peninsula and how they cope with a state that comes to encompass all of ancient Italy’s varied cultural groups.

Austin Vernon on El Salvadoran bitcoin acceptance, from my email

Sent this to [redacted, a man of substance] yesterday. LN = Lightning Network, Bitcoins layer 2 scaling solution based on channels:

As far as I understand it, everyone using LN in El Salvador has primarily been using Strike. Classic crypto conundrum in that they had to centralize to get it to work. There is a Twitter thread with the CEO where he shows they had to block their software using most non Strike LN nodes because there were so many failed payments.

https://mobile.twitter.com/JackMallers/status/1291403528116883456

https://strike.me/faq/howitworks

Also looks like you submit USD and they have some kind of centralized payment system to manage the transactions to the Bitcoin layer 1 chain.

I imagine this is a big improvement for people in El Salvador and I’ve heard Strike has already been popular, but I don’t see it as what is being touted as.

Additionally to the email above:

There was an out at the end of the law that says you don’t have to accept Bitcoin if you are too poor. But a basic smartphone with the app means you can accept it. There is a small town where a donor gave the town Bitcoin and forced them to use it as currency and even started doing a private UBI in Bitcoin. Some of the stores started taking it. Strike is only available in the US and El Salvador. So in a truth is stranger than fiction, the idea probably got jumpstarted by a surfer that loved both a beach town and bitcoin. Helps that El Salvador uses the dollar. The legislators would just have to drive to the town to see how it works rather than read about it.

https://www.bitcoinbeach.com

To me this is more like a new kind of bank than some decentralized currency takeover, because Strike is relatively centralized. Being like a bank probably implies some of the same advantages and vulnerabilities of a regular bank. The PR is nice! Not having to get cash at a Western Union that might be far (and where you can get robbed) could have more impact than cheaper fees. It will be a few years before the technology exists to do this in a more decentralized way. Interesting nonetheless.

The post Austin Vernon on El Salvadoran bitcoin acceptance, from my email appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Readers Respond on Lab Leaks #3

From TPM Reader MT

I have been following your conversations on the lab leak theory for Covid, and how the perception has changed in the near absence of the facts changing. I am a biomedical scientist (soon to be retired!) and my reaction to the lab leak possibility when I first heard about it early during the pandemic was to dismiss it out of hand. But I quickly changed my mind when I realized what the Wuhan labs had been doing with bat viruses and that the Chinese government was, at best, not being forthcoming with information.

I also know that best practices in laboratories are not always carried out perfectly. Accidents happen, be it from equipment or human failure. So, I switched to the stance that the lab leak theory needed a full investigation. Josh Rogin from the WaPo has been particularly good at keeping this story alive and pushing it forward, as apolitically as possible. The continued resistance of the Chinese government coupled tightly with the nearly comical WHO report on the virus has hardened my view that an investigation is required.

I’m not sure what to make of the reports that three researchers at one of the Wuhan institutes were ill before the pandemic started, but this is something that could easily be determined with a real investigation. In this regard, Biden is doing the right thing by asking our intelligence agencies to look at lab leak possibility in more detail, even if this request allows the right wing noise machine to crow that Trump was right. Stopped clock, at best. I heard former HHS Assistant Director Admiral Brett Giroir on Fox today claim that a lab leak is now the most likely source of the virus, so to Fox World this is now established fact.

You pointed out how crazy this has all become with the vilification of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who did not get everything right at the start of the pandemic. No one did because it is indeed a new virus. A lot of people died in the New York metro area early on because the doctors were making mistakes using techniques that worked on other illnesses but either had no effect or made the outcomes worse for Covid patients. Good doctors and scientists learn from their mistakes.

My point is that we have to ignore the noise and accompanying stupidity and push the Chinese government as hard as possible for a full investigation of the Covid origin, without assuming a priori the answer. This is on Biden et al who will have to do so despite the misinformation that continues to come from GOP politicians and right wing media. If done well, an investigation shouldn’t take long because the Chinese have already done the research and they know the answer. No, I don’t know this as fact, just logic, because the alternative is that the Chinese government did nothing. I don’t think so; and again their reluctance to tell the world what did or did not happen is what gives me pause.

ESA selects Venus mission

EnVision

WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency has selected a Venus orbiter as its next medium-class science mission, just a week after NASA announced the section of two Venus missions of its own.

ESA announced June 10 that EnVision will be the agency’s next M-class, or medium-class, science mission. The orbiter will carry a suite of spectrometers, sounders and a radar to study the planet’s interior, surface and atmosphere.

Solar Orbiter will launch no earlier than 2031 on an Ariane 6 rocket. A baseline mission timeline included in a mission assessment study projected a launch during a one-month window that opens in late May 2032, arriving at Venus in August 2033. It would then use the planet’s atmosphere to aerobrake into its final science orbit by early 2035 for a four-year science mission.

EnVision was one of two finalists for the “M5” mission opportunity, along with Transient High-Energy Sky and Early Universe Surveyor (THESUS), an astronomy mission designed to look for transient events, in particularly gamma-ray bursts from the early universe. A third finalist, an infrared space observatory called SPICA that would have flown in cooperation with the Japanese space agency JAXA, was dropped from consideration in October 2020 because of cost issues.

ESA did not disclose the estimated cost of EnVision, but under ESA’s Cosmic Vision framework of science missions, M-class missions are intended to cost about 500 million euros ($610 million).

The selection of EnVision comes after NASA announced June 2 it selected two missions to Venus as part of its Discovery program of low-cost planetary science missions. DAVINCI+ will send a probe into the planet’s atmosphere to measure its composition and take images of one region of its surface. VERITAS is an orbiter that will perform radar and infrared emission mapping of the planet’s surface.

Neither the selection of the missions nor their timing was coordinated, but both NASA and ESA embraced what is effectively a complementary Venus exploration program. “A new era in the exploration of our closest, yet wildly different, solar system neighbor awaits us,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA director of science, in a statement. “Together with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program at this enigmatic planet well into the next decade.”

“EnVision leverages strengths in instrument development by both our agencies,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in the same statement. “Combined with NASA’s Discovery missions to Venus, the science community will have a powerful and synergistic set of new data to understand how Venus formed and how the surface and atmosphere changed over time.”

Both the U.S. and Europe are contributing to each other’s missions. The synthetic aperture radar on EnVision, called VenSAR, is being provided by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ironically, the Italian space agency ASI and French space agency CNES are contributing to a similar radar on NASA’s VERITAS spacecraft, while the German space agency DLR will provide the infrared mapper for VERITAS.

EnVision is the fifth M-class mission ESA has selected as part of the Cosmic Vision program. The first, Solar Orbiter, launched in February 2020. Three others are in development: Euclid, a mission to map dark matter and dark energy to launch in 2022; Plato, an exoplanet search mission launching in 2026; and Ariel, an exoplanet characterization mission launching in 2029.

SpaceNews

SOFIA operations continue despite cancellation threat

WASHINGTON — Despite facing the threat of cancellation for the second straight year, a NASA airborne observatory is continuing with regular operations.

NASA’s fiscal year 2022 budget request, released May 28, included a proposal to end the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a modified Boeing 747 equipped with a 2.5-meter telescope to perform infrared observations. The agency argued in its budget justification that the high cost of operating SOFIA, about $85 million per year, was not justified given the low scientific output of the observatory.

The proposal marks the second year in a row, and third time in eight years, that NASA proposed shutting down SOFIA. In both its fiscal year 2015 and 2021 budget requests, NASA proposed terminating SOFIA, only to have Congress reject the proposal and fully fund the project.

A SOFIA official, speaking at a June 9 session of the 238th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, did not sound alarmed by the latest proposal to cancel the observatory. “We’ve been in this place before where the president doesn’t have us in the budget,” said Margaret Meixner, director of SOFIA science mission operations at the SOFIA Science Center. “We are planning for success.”

That planning includes regular flights of the observatory out of its home base in Palmdale, California. SOFIA is in the final weeks of a series of observations called Cycle 8, scheduled to conclude in early July. That will be immediately followed by the next series of observations, Cycle 9, that will include a deployment starting in July to French Polynesia for Southern Hemisphere observations.

Demand remains high for SOFIA, Meixner said, with an oversubscription rate, the ratio of the amount of observing time requested in proposals to the amount of time available, greater than four in Cycle 9.

“We have a lot of great science to look forward to in Cycle 9,” she said. The project is preparing to proceed with a call for proposals for the round of observations, Cycle 10, in the fall.

NASA hasn’t elaborated on the reason its budget proposal once again sought to terminate SOFIA beyond its high cost — only Hubble has a higher operating cost among astrophysics missions in operation — that the agency deemed was not justified by its scientific productivity. NASA previously sought to address this with studies looking for ways to improve its performance or, in the words of one official, “more discoveries per dollar.”

“This is the administration’s proposal to the Congress, which will have to decide whether to accept that proposal,” Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said at a June 2 meeting of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee.

He added that his concern is that Congress may decide to restore funding for SOFIA, but not increase the overall astrophysics budget, which is what happened in fiscal year 2021. “I hope that any uppers that Congress wants us to do, they add the money to the budget, whether it’s SOFIA or any other project,” he said.

SpaceNews

NASAWatch on CNN: Billionaires And Their Rocketships

Keith's note: I will be on CNN Friday morning around 6:30 am EDT talking about billionaires flying in their own rocket ships.

OldOS: iOS 4 Rebuilt in SwiftUI

Holy hell this new project from Zane Kleinberg, a talented 17-year-old developer who just dropped this out of the blue yesterday. It’s available via TestFlight (the first one is full already, though) and as open source code you can build yourself.

It’s exquisitely well done, very fun to play with, and surprisingly usable. And what a remarkable testimony to the expressiveness of Swift UI.

Once you get past the surface aesthetic differences, it’s also interesting as a way to remember how many little things iOS has added over the years. iOS is so much richer now. You couldn’t do anything in list views back then. E.g., if you wanted to delete a note in Notes, you had to open the note and tap the Trash button. In a view hierarchy, you couldn’t go back just by swiping from the left edge of the display — you had to tap the Back button in the navigation bar at the top of the display. Going back to this simulacrum of iOS 4 reminds me of what it felt like going back to, say, System 6 (1988) after taking for granted all the various little things added to the Mac between then and Mac OS 8.6 (1999).

A decade is a long time. Even the 1990s — the most dysfunctional decade of Apple’s corporate existence — was a productive one for the Mac. Now, though, with Apple firing on all cylinders throughout the 2010s, iOS 4 feels joyful but crude, barren of small conveniences.

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Health Drink

You'd need to keep track of so many people! Would you use, like, Excel or something? Far too fancy for a simple country nanoenzyme developer like me.

Eclipse Flyby

Eclipse Flyby Eclipse Flyby


A Linus Torvalds Rant We Can All Get Behind

Linus Torvalds, on the Linux Kernel mailing list:

Please keep your insane and technically incorrect anti-vax comments to yourself.

You don’t know what you are talking about, you don’t know what mRNA is, and you’re spreading idiotic lies. Maybe you do so unwittingly, because of bad education. Maybe you do so because you’ve talked to “experts” or watched youtube videos by charlatans that don’t know what they are talking about.

But dammit, regardless of where you have gotten your mis-information from, any Linux kernel discussion list isn’t going to have your idiotic drivel pass uncontested from me.

A shrinking violet, as ever.

 ★