My excellent Conversation with Zach Carter

Zach is author of the recent book The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, which has been on many year-end “best of” lists.  Here is the audio, transcript, and video.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

Zach joined Tyler to discuss what Keynes got right — and wrong — about the Treaty of Versailles, how working in the India Office influenced his economic thinking, the seemingly strange paradox of his “liberal imperialism,” the elusive central message of The General Theory, the true extent of Keynes’ interest in eugenics, why he had a conservative streak, why Zach loves Samuel Delaney’s novel Nova, whether Bretton Woods was doomed to fail, the Enlightenment intuitions behind early defenses of the gold standard, what’s changed since Zach became a father, his next project, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: [Keynes is] sympathetic to his own ideas and wants to promote them. But to me, there’s a discord. Milton Friedman spends, what, 45 minutes talking to Pinochet, has a very long record of insisting economic and political freedom come together — maybe even too simplistically — writes against the system of apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia, calls for free markets there. And people give Friedman hell over that.

Keynes writes the preface for the Nazis and favors eugenics his whole life, and that’s hardly ever mentioned.

CARTER: I don’t know that the way that Keynes talks about eugenics is as salient as you suggest. The best article that I came across on Keynes and eugenics is by this guy — I think David Singerman. It’s in the Journal of British Studies. It’s a pretty in-depth look at the way Keynes came to eugenics and what he did and did not support. It’s very clear that Keynes didn’t support eugenics in the way that Americans sterilizing poor Black workers in the South were interested in eugenics.

Keynes was broadly interested in it from the perspective of birth control. This is a time when eugenics and genetics are not as clearly defined as they are today, so he’s thinking about heritability of eye colors — how he gets involved in this stuff. He never really supports anything other than birth control.

When he actually has power as a policymaker, he just doesn’t do any of this stuff. He is working on the Beveridge plan. He is working on financial stuff that is much more egalitarian than what we think of him when we think about eugenics.

COWEN: But he is chair of the British Eugenics Society for eight years late in his career.

CARTER: He doesn’t do much there. There are big debates that are happening within that society, and he’s mostly sitting them out. Singerman goes into this in much more detail. It’s been a while since I read the article, but Singerman seems to think that this is a useful way of understanding Keynes’s worldview, but not that Keynes is some guy who’s going around wanting to sterilize people and do the things that we think of with the eugenics movement in the United States.

COWEN: I don’t think he wants to sterilize people, but he has those essays on population, which are not put into the collected works. They’re not mentioned by Roy Harrod. He is greatly worried that the people from some countries — I think including India — will outbreed the people from Britain, and this will wreak havoc on prices and wages, and it’s a big crisis. He even says, “We need to worry not only about the quantity of people, but the quality of people in the world.”

A very good episode, definitely recommended.  And here is Zach on Twitter.

The post My excellent Conversation with Zach Carter appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Detailed Forensic Reconstruction of the Beirut Port Explosions

On August 4, 2020, materials stored in a warehouse in Beirut, Lebanon caught on fire and then exploded multiple times. More than 200 people were killed, 6,500 injured, and around 300,000 residents were left homeless. Using photos and videos shot of the incident as well as other materials, a company called Forensic Architecture built a 3D model of the warehouse (inside and out), the fires, and the explosions. They cleverly used the unique second-to-second shape of the smoke plumes to sync up various bits of video shot from different vantage points.

We collected and examined images and videos taken by witnesses of the blast and shared on different platforms online. Using details about the smoke, fires, and explosions, we were able to geolocate each piece of footage and calculate the camera’s cone of vision. We places the cameras in the open source 3D model of the city , which we had adjusted to match the necessary precision. This helped us to identify the precise location of the source of the smoke plume within Warehouse 12 in each frame of each footage.

It’s a fascinating analysis. After going through more than 9 minutes of explanation of what they learned about the placement of materials (including highly explosive ammonium nitrate, tires, and fireworks) inside the warehouse from smoke colors, interior videos, and warehouse manifests, the narrator says simply:

From an engineering perspective, this is the spacial layout of a make-shift bomb on the scale of a warehouse, awaiting detonation.

The video is also available in Arabic. They’ve made the 3D files of the warehouse, the smoke plumes, and the port — as well as the source media used in their analysis — freely available for download on GitHub. (thx to several people who sent this in)

Tags: 3D   Beirut   video

China releases a super-clear image of the Moon taken by Chang’e 5 probe

This panoramic image shows the Chang'e 5 lander and the lunar landscape.

Enlarge / This panoramic image shows the Chang'e 5 lander and the lunar landscape. (credit: CNSA)

Less than a day after its Chang'e 5 probe made a soft landing on the Moon, the China National Space Administration has released both a short video showing the spacecraft's descent to the surface as well as a high-definition image of the lunar landscape.

The panoramic surface image, highlighting the Oceanus Procellarum region where the spacecraft landed, is especially jaw-dropping. It shows the lander and one of its legs in the foreground, with the lunar surface stretching off to the horizon. This zoomable image, which measures 15,000×7,947 pixels, provides incredible detail about small rocks near the lander, as well as the indentation made by the landing leg in the Moon's surface.

The sped-up video of the descent clearly shows the Chang'e 5 lander undergoing deceleration, reorienting itself, avoiding hazards, and then hovering before coming in for a final landing.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

It’s a Good Time to Propose a $15/Hour Minimum Wage

Admittedly, I’m in the slow leftist group because I’m not talking about jobs guarantees or universal basic income, but this would help a lot of people. It’s so obvious even milqueotoast Ed Rendell gets it (boldface mine):

Some moderate Democratic leaders urged the president-elect to head off any internal conflict by embracing policies both sides can agree on and reaching out to the left.

“The first thing I would do if I were Joe Biden is I’d propose a $15-an-hour minimum wage,” said Edward G. Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “That’s something that both sides [of the Democratic Party] agree on. That would be the first action on behalf of President Biden to show there are significant parts of the progressive agenda that need to be acted on.”

I would start talking about this now–47% of Georgians make below $15/hour (there’s a Senate election happening now). It might help them win. Biden also could announce that he will raise, via executive order, the minimum wage for federal employees and contractors–and subcontractors too–to $15/hour, and no separate tipped minimum wage either.

It wouldn’t solve all the problems, but it would make a difference–and people have to like this crap.

Fifteen Ways to Depict Elevation on Mars

How do you depict elevation on a map of Mars? Earlier this year, Daniel Huffman posted a roundup of hypsometric tints for Mars.

I have a peculiar hobby of collecting Martian hypsometric tinting schemes: those sets of colors that cartographers use to depict elevations on the Red Planet. It’s a fascinating cartographic frontier. While the classic (and somewhat flawed) way of showing Earth’s elevations is to use a color scheme that starts with green lowlands, and then proceeds through some combination of brown/yellow/orange/red until it reaches white in the highest areas, there’s no standard yet for Mars. Maybe centuries from now, one of the schemes below will become that standard.

Huffman looks at fifteen schemes in total in the post, and in this video on YouTube:

November Vehicles Sales decreased to 15.55 Million SAAR

The BEA released their estimate of light vehicle sales for November this morning. The BEA estimates sales of 15.55 million SAAR in November 2020 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), down 4.5% from the October sales rate, and down 8.4% from November 2019.

This was below the consensus estimate of 16.2 million SAAR.

Vehicle SalesClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows light vehicle sales since 2006 from the BEA (blue) and the BEA's estimate for November (red).

The impact of COVID-19 was significant, and April was the worst month.

Since April, sales have increased, but are still down 8.4% from last year.

The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967.

Vehicle SalesNote: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 15.55 million SAAR.

In 2019, there were 15.92 million light vehicle sales through November.  In 2020, there have been 13.20 million sales.  That puts sales-to-date down 17.1% in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Stratospheric ballooning company Space Perspective raises $7 million

Space Perspective balloon

WASHINGTON — Space Perspective, a startup planning to offer tourists trips to the edge of space in a high-altitude balloon, has raised $7 million in a seed round that will allow the company to test its technologies.

Space Perspective announced Dec. 2 it closed the seed round, led by funds Prime Movers Lab and Base Ventures. Others participating in the round included Kirenaga Partners’ Central Florida Tech Fund, 1517 Fund, Schox, E2MC Ventures and SpaceFund Venture Capital, as well as entrepreneur and author Tony Robbins.

The company, with about 15 employees currently, will use the funding to continue development of Spaceship Neptune, a stratospheric balloon system designed to carry people to an altitude of 30 kilometers. Such flights would give people an experience similar to some aspects of spaceflight, notably the view.

A first test flight of the system, without people on board, is scheduled for the first half of 2021 from the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “It will really take us through the concept of operations” of the system, Taber MacCallum, co-founder and co-chief executive of Space Perspective, said in an interview. “It allows us to jump into serious hardware testing.”

The company also plans next year to start selling tickets for commercial flights that Space Perspective expects to begin in late 2024. Jane Poynter, the other co-founder and co-chief executive, said the company has already been asking people to sign up to be first in line. “We’ve been excited about the response we got,” she said. “We’re now getting ready to start turning those into tickets.”

In addition to test flights and ticket sales, the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain a commercial launch license. That process, MacCallum said, should be easier now that the FAA has finalized revised regulations known as Part 450 intended to streamline launch and reentry licensing.

“It’s going to make our job a lot easier,” he said, citing the use of performance-based criteria rather than more prescriptive rules used the past. “It’s geared toward new technologies, and we’re sort of the extreme in the new technology part of that.”

Space Perspective announced its plans for stratospheric balloon flights in June. The balloon will carry a pressurized cabin with several passengers and crew on board to an altitude of 30 kilometers, spending about two hours there. The balloon will then gradually descend, with the cabin splashing down in the ocean to be retrieved by a ship.

Those plans remain unchanged, and the company has pressed ahead despite a pandemic that has devastated the tourism industry. “We’re a tourism company in the middle of an environment where tourism is effectively shut down,” said Poynter. The expectation that the pandemic will be over long before the company is ready to enter service, along with the interest in spaceflight experiences, has kept the company moving ahead. “Human spaceflight has always been an incredibly inspiring endeavor, and people are clearly excited now.”

That belief won over investors. “We are big believers in the future space economy and space tourism is a segment we have been tracking closely,” said Anton Brevde, a partner at Prime Movers Lab and a member of the board of Space Perspectives, in a statement. “It’s clear that there is massive consumer demand to explore this final frontier and we believe seeing Earth from the edge of space will have a profound impact on those who experience it.”

“Jane and Taber’s work at Space Perspective will deliver a life-changing experience to people across the world and help us all realize that we are part of a human family sharing this remarkable planet,” Tony Robbins said in a statement to SpaceNews.

The seed round raised by Space Perspective won’t be enough to carry the company through to commercial operations. Poynter said she expects the company to raise another round by early 2022 to continue development of their system.

“It’s exciting that the capital markets are seeing the space tourism market as solid and real,” MacCallum said. “We’ve come a long way.”

SpaceNews

The UK Approves the Pfizer Vaccine

Your daily reminder that 14,696 people have died from COVID in the United States since Pfizer applied for an EUA from the FDA.

The UK approved today.

The post The UK Approves the Pfizer Vaccine appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Space balloon company raises funds, will conduct first test flight next year

A company that plans to send passengers to the edge of space in a pressurized vehicle beneath a large balloon said Wednesday it is on track to fly a demonstration mission next year and has raised the funds needed to accomplish this.

Space Perspective, which is based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, announced it has raised $7 million in seed funding in a round of funding led by Prime Movers Lab. This funding will help the company conduct an uncrewed test flight in 2021 and continue additional development work on its pressurized Spaceship Neptune vehicle.

Inside this Neptune craft, a pilot and eight passengers will spend about two hours ascending to 30km, above 99 percent of the atmosphere. From this vantage point, beneath a balloon with the diameter of a US football field, the passengers would spend about two hours experiencing the view and "Earth overview" effect. Neptune would then take about two hours descending back to Earth. Envisioned to be nearly 5 meters across, the reusable Neptune is designed to fly as much as once per week. Only the parachute is discarded after each flight.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A Juror’s Notes on the Boston Massacre Trial

Edward Pierce (1735-1818) was a carpenter, farmer, and deacon in Dorchester. He came from the family that built and expanded the Pierce House, erected around 1683 and thus one of the oldest surviving structures in the state.

The Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society’s 1859 local history called Pierce “a prominent man in town, and well remembered by our older people.”

Pierce’s reputation as a builder was so strong that Col. Josiah Quincy hired him to construct a new mansion in Braintree in 1770 (shown above).

Pierce also oversaw the expansion of the Dorchester meetinghouse in 1796 “by dividing it in the middle lengthwise, and removing the north part twelve feet, and the tower six feet.” As compensation, he received “all the new pews, excepting those to be granted to individuals who lost theirs by the alteration”; I assume he then sold the rights to those.

In 1770, the same year Edward Pierce took on the big job for Col. Quincy, he was also seated on the jury for the trial of the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre. That might seem like a conflict of interest since one of the colonel’s sons was a prosecutor, but another son was a defense attorney, and people didn’t have the same ideas of conflict of interest that our legal profession does today.

Deacon Pierce kept notes during the trial, preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society. A transcription was published in The Legal Papers of John Adams, listing each soldier by name and then several witnesses speaking about them:
Hugh Wite. James Baley Saw White. Josiah Simpson Saw White. Thos: Hall Saw White.

William Warren. James Dodge Knew Warren. Nicholas Feriter Saw Warren at the fray. Josiah Simpson Saw Warren Under arms in the Party. Theodore Bliss Saw Warren fire.

William Whems, Josiah Simpson Saw Whems Under arms in the Party. Thos: Hall Saw Whems.

John Carroll. Mr. Austin Saw Carrall and heard Six or Seven Guns. James Baley Saw Carrall fire the Second Gun. John Danbrook Saw Carrall. Thos Hall Saw Carrall.

William McCawley. Mr. Austin Says that he Saw McCawley Load his Piece and Push his Bayonet at him.

Matthew Killroy. Lanksford Saw Killroy Present his Gun and fird and Gray fell at his feat then Pushd his Bayonet at Lanksford and run it through his Cloaths. Francis Archible Saw Killroy. Hemenway heard Killroy Say he would not Miss an opportunity to fire on the Inhabitance. Nicholas firiter Saw Killroy. Joseph Crosswell Saw Killroy. Bayonet Bloodey the next morning. Thos Crawswell Saw Killroy. Jonathan Cary Saw the Same.

James Hartengem. John Danbrook Saw Hartengem. Josiah Simpson Saw Hartengem.

Hugh Montgomery. Test. James Baley Saw Mongomory fire the first Gun. Pointed towards the Molatto he Stood the Third from the Right. Parms Saw Mongomery and Pushd at me With his Bayonet twise. John Danbrook Saw Mongomory fire and Saw two Persons fall Near together. Ted: Bliss Saw Mongom Push his Bayonot and fire he thinks he heard Six Guns fire. Thos Wilkinson Saw Mongomory and heard Seven Guns fire and one Snap.
We can thus see what Pierce thought was important to keep track of. He wanted to have at least one witness placing each accused soldier on King Street. He also wanted to have positive evidence of whether each man fired his gun or otherwise behaved aggressively.

By Pierce’s reckoning, witnesses confirmed that all eight men were on the scene of the shooting. However, witnesses described only William Warren, John Carroll, Mathew Kilroy, and Edward Montgomery as firing their guns. In addition, Montgomery, Kilroy, and William Macauley pushed at people with their bayonets. And witnesses linked Montgomery and Kilroy’s shots with the fall of particular victims.

Edward Pierce’s brother Samuel kept a terse but useful diary through the Revolutionary period, recording, among other things, when Edward broke his leg in 1761. Here’s what Samuel wrote about in the dramatic year of 1770:
Feb. 22. A boy was shot at Boston by an informer.
March 6. Four men killed in Boston by the soldiers.
March 12, The soldiers go from Boston to the Castle.
April 19. Richarsan had his trial for his life.
May 28. I had 18 men to making stone wall in one day.
May 30. There was an ox roasted whole at Boston.
Aug. 11. Mr. Whitfield came to Boston.
Sept. 10, Castle William is resined to Col. Dalrymple.
Oct. 20. Was a violent storm as ever was known in these parts, and did a vast deal of damage.
Dec. 2. Little Sam first wore jacket and bretches.
Samuel Pierce never mentioned his brother’s service in the province’s most closely watched trial nor mentioned the verdict. On 2 Dec 1770, 250 years ago today, he had something more important to record.

Chinese college admissions reform: some consequences, by Yan Chen, Ming Jiang and Onur Kesten in PNAS

 An empirical evaluation of Chinese college admissions reforms through a natural experiment by Yan Chen, Ming Jiang, and Onur Kesten

PNAS first published November 24, 2020; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2009282117

Abstract: College admissions policies affect the educational experiences and labor market outcomes for millions of students each year. In China alone, 10 million high school seniors participate in the National College Entrance Examination to compete for 7 million seats at various universities each year, making this system the largest centralized matching market in the world. The last 20 years have witnessed radical reforms in the Chinese college admissions system, with many provinces moving from a sequential (immediate acceptance) mechanism to some version of the parallel college admissions mechanism, a hybrid between the immediate and deferred acceptance mechanisms. In this study, we use a natural experiment to evaluate the effectiveness of the sequential and parallel mechanisms in motivating student college ranking strategies and providing stable matching outcomes. Using a unique dataset from a province that implemented a partial reform between 2008 and 2009, we find that students list more colleges in their rank-ordered lists, and more prestigious colleges as their top choices, after the province adopts the parallel mechanism in its tier 1 college admissions process. These listing strategies in turn lead to greater stability in matching outcomes, consistent with our theoretical prediction that the parallel mechanism is less manipulable and more stable than the sequential mechanism.

Flynn Tells Us Who He Is Again

Last night, fresh off his pardon for past crimes, retired General Mike Flynn endorsed a call for President Trump to suspend the constitution and declare martial law. It came in a tweet in which Flynn tweeted and endorsed a manifesto calling on President “to immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a national re-vote.”

There’s a lot more awful stuff in the declaration. But that quote, I think, includes all we ever need to hear: declare martial law, throw out the results of an election you lost. In a democracy, this is essentially sedition, a call to overthrow the state.

In 2015 and 2016 we saw in Gen. Flynn a man of extraordinarily bad and reckless government married to vast personal, venal corruption. Here he shows us again this is who he is and remains.

ADP: Private Employment increased 307,000 in November

From ADP:
Private sector employment increased by 307,000 jobs from October to November according to the Novembe ADP National Employment Report®. ... The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

“While November saw employment gains, the pace continues to slow,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “Job growth remained positive across all industries and sizes.”
emphasis added
This was below the consensus forecast for 420 thousand private sector jobs added in the ADP report.

The BLS report will be released Friday, and the consensus is for 500 thousand non-farm payroll jobs added in November. Of course the ADP report has not been very useful in predicting the BLS report.

A History of Maps in Games

Matthew Edney explores the history of maps and games, beginning with the three basic forms of early map games: playing cards, board games, and puzzles, all of which had the “improvement” of youth as their aim. Over time game maps became more abstract (grids, simplifications) and puzzle pieces didn’t follow territorial boundaries. Edney doesn’t get very far into modern-day computer games, where the map becomes synonymous with the playing field, but that’s understandable: it’s too big a subject on its own (I’ve left it out of my fantasy map work for that reason).

This has been quite a week for science

Vaccine approval in the UK, protein folding advances, isn’t there a SpaceX launch today?, and now this:

Cultured meat, produced in bioreactors without the slaughter of an animal, has been approved for sale by a regulatory authority for the first time. The development has been hailed as a landmark moment across the meat industry.

The “chicken bites”, produced by the US company Eat Just, have passed a safety review by the Singapore Food Agency and the approval could open the door to a future when all meat is produced without the killing of livestock, the company said.

…The product would be significantly more expensive than conventional chicken until production was scaled up, but Eat Just said it would ultimately be cheaper.

…The growth medium for the Singapore production line includes foetal bovine serum, which is extracted from foetal blood, but this is largely removed before consumption. A plant-based serum would be used in the next production line, the company said, but was not available when the Singapore approval process began two years ago.

As Eli said on Twitter, what are they planning for Thursday?  Here is the full story, via Michelle Dawson.  Just yesterday I was rereading my CWT with her, it is very good.

The post This has been quite a week for science appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Live coverage of the first Dragon 2 cargo mission for members

This page is available to Spaceflight Now members only

Support Spaceflight Now’s unrivaled coverage of the space program by becoming a member. Your monthly or annual membership will help us continue and expand our coverage. As a supporter of the site you will also gain access to bonus content such as this page.

Existing member? Sign in.

20150928-Annual-Membership-Button       20150928-Monthly-Membership-Button

We appreciate your support.

AFDLOX December 2, 4:32am

FXUS66 KLOX 021232 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 432 AM PST Wed Dec 2 2020 .SYNOPSIS...01/852 PM. A very dry offshore flow pattern will persist over the region into next week and keep mild days in place with cool overnight lows in wind sheltered areas. Gusty northeasterly winds are expected for the rest of the week, possibly damaging at times in the mountains and foothills Thursday. Lighter offshore winds expected over the weekend into early next week.

AFDSGX December 2, 4:31am

FXUS66 KSGX 021231 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 431 AM PST Wed Dec 2 2020 .SYNOPSIS... Santa Ana winds will strengthen this afternoon and evening with periods of stronger and gusty northeast to east winds for late tonight through Thursday. Periods of gusty east winds, though not as strong, will continue into Friday and Saturday. Periods of mostly weaker east to northeast winds will continue into early next week. High temperatures will cool into Thursday, then warm for Friday into Sunday and Monday.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications decreased 0.6 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending November 27, 2020. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Thanksgiving holiday.

... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week and was 102 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 9 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 28 percent compared with the previous week and was 28 percent higher than the same week one year ago.

After adjusting for the Thanksgiving holiday, mortgage applications were mixed, with a jump in purchase applications and a decline in refinances. Purchase activity continued to show impressive year-over-year gains, with both the conventional and government segments of the market posting another week of growth,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase loan amounts continue to be significantly higher than their average over the past decade and hit $375,000 last week, the largest since the inception of MBA’s survey in 1990. Housing demand remains strong, and despite extremely tight inventory and rising prices, home sales are running at their strongest pace in over a decade.”

Added Kan, “The sustained period of low mortgage rates continues to spark borrower demand, and the mortgage industry is poised for its strongest year in originations since 2003. The ongoing refinance wave has been beneficial to homeowners looking to lower their monthly payments during these challenging economic times brought forth by the pandemic.”
...
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) remained unchanged at 2.92 percent, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.


The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

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

But with record low rates, the index remains up significantly from last year.

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

According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 28% year-over-year unadjusted.

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

Space policy advice for Biden: Tone down war rhetoric, fix military acquisitions

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration should not undo progress made in space policy during the Trump presidency, experts suggest. But they urge incoming leaders to tone down the militaristic rhetoric surrounding space and pay more attention to practical matters like the procurement of next-generation technologies.

“We urge the Biden administration to place a high priority on supporting U.S. space activities by building on recent national space policy decisions that reflect long-standing U.S. principles while abandoning the divisive and antagonistic rhetoric that has accompanied those policy changes,” says a new report from the Secure World Foundation released Dec. 2.

The 42-page report delves into a number of space policy issues and lists recommendations for the Biden-Harris administration.

“We don’t expect space to be the biggest Biden priority,” says Krystal Azelton, the foundation’s director of space applications programs. Ensuring space sustainability should be a concern, however, she says. “It’s important to get it right because space is essential to modern life.”

Azelton cautions against making space policy decisions based on anti-Trump backlash. Trump’s space initiatives such as the establishment of the National Space Council and NASA’s program to return to the moon have helped advance national interests, says the report. But it points out that Trump is leaving major unfinished business. “The rapid growth in new actors conducting space activities, an increasing number of active satellites and debris objects, and the growing potential for conflict create both opportunities and challenges that require timely policy responses.”

Space war rhetoric

Victoria Samson, director of the SWF Washington office, says the Trump administration’s politically charged rhetoric on the U.S. Space Force has alarmed civilian agencies and organizations around the world concerned about space security. 

Every discussion about the Space Force is centered around the idea of space “as a warfighting domain,” Samson says. Even though Space Force officials have insisted that their goal is to deter conflict, “for the average person, the rhetoric is about war … It reinforces a negative understanding of what the Space Force is trying to do.”

The White House’s insistence on American “space dominance,” which does not appear in the official policy documents, and linking the Space Force to human space exploration has “created consternation, confusion, and apprehension internationally about the intended goals of the U.S. Space Force,” the report says.

A key reason Congress pushed to establish a Space Force was growing frustration that space programs were scattered around many organizations across the military and the intelligence community, says Samson. She would like to see Biden’s Pentagon focus on “the problem the Space Force was created to solve,” which is the management of space procurements. 

“The biggest unresolved policy gap is how to ‘fix’ the way the military acquires new space capabilities,” the report says. “There is general agreement that the current process is too slow and rigid to respond to emerging threats, in part due to the lack of central authority.”

Another national security policy challenge is defining the future mission of the Space Force and how much it will focus on in-space activities versus supporting terrestrial military activities, says the report. 

Biden’s defense and diplomacy efforts should aim to “establish norms of behavior for military space activities,” says the report. “During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union agreed on how ships and aircraft would interact to reduce tensions and mishaps. The United States should work with other countries to establish similar agreements for military space activities, and particularly those that could cause misperceptions or increase tensions such as rendezvous and proximity operations and anti-satellite testing.”

SpaceNews

Biden's Economic Team Knows Compromise Is Overrated

A BBWAA Writer Mentioned In Passing That Curt Schilling Was Not On His HoF Ballot.Schilling Found Out, Threw A Fit, And Lied Repeatedly About His History Of Bigotry.

Many members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, after submitting their Hall of Fame ballots, share their choices with the public and offer some thoughts and/or explanations.

David Laurila (FanGraphs) cast his first HoF ballot this year and two days ago (November 29), he posted what he called "a snapshot of my thought process". It included:

Curt Schilling did not get my vote. Call it contradictory if you will, but I couldn't in good conscience allow myself to hold him to same "what they did on the field" standard that I applied to the PED group. As important as baseball is, there are things far more important than baseball. As Jay stated in our recent FanGraphs Audio conversation, "It goes beyond politics… [Schilling] has documented examples of hate speech." In my mind, that's a disqualifier.

This is Schilling's ninth year on the ballot. He was named on 70% of ballots last year, just shy of the necessary 75% for induction. He will probably be inducted.

Craig Calcaterra ("Cup Of Coffee") remarked:

Because Dave greatly prefers to talk about baseball than politics, he devoted only 79 words to Curt Schilling . . . Given what some of us have said about Schilling — and the amount of ranting in which some of us engaged — what Dave wrote qualifies as profound and admirable restraint. He's a calm, quiet, and thoughtful type, though, so it's not like he was ever going to scream about anything until the wallpaper curled.

Schilling got wind of Laurila's column. And he reacted — at great length (1,454 words!). He was neither calm nor quiet nor thoughtful. Laurila made it crystal clear his decision to not vote for Schilling was based solely on his off-the-field behaviour, so naturally Schilling spent most of his time ranting about on-the-field matters.

I'll FJM this thing.

Schilling begins: "Hate that I am giving this [Laurila's column] more views than it deserves."

Yes, Curt hates to draw attention to the column . . . and proceeds to type 1,443 words (most of which have absolutely nothing to do with Laurila's short comment. Laurila's stance is far from original. Others have said the same thing about Schilling for years and far less subtly. In fact, he built his explanation around a comment from someone else (Jay Jaffe).

There isn't a SINGLE documented quote of "hate speech" in my existence. Unless you're a Muslim Extremist, a Nazi, or a white supremacist that is.

There isn't a SINGLE documented quote of "hate speech" in my existence. . . . EXCEPT for the hateful stuff I've posted about these three groups of people! Schilling insists he's never expressed a hateful "quote" towards "normal everyday people". (Speech does not have to be spoken words.) I will get back to this later.

Donald Trump is most certainly a white supremacist. The Klu Klux Klan endorsed Trump in 2016 and former grand Wizard David Duke expressed excitement over the fact that the policies of both Trump and the Klan were in alignment. In late June 2020, Trump retweeted a video of one of his supporters yelling "White Power!" During campaign rallies, Trump repeatedly expressed deep admiration for slave-owning generals who declared war on the United States and fought to preserve slavery. Removing statutes of those men was "ripping down greatness" and destroying "our past" and "our history".

Trump might not be an actual Nazi, but he imitates them a lot. In a three-week period over the summer, Trump was caught using Nazi symbolism and language three times! On June 11, Trump casually referred to the Secret Service as the "S.S." On June 18, it was revealed that Trump's re-election campaign was running ads in all 50 states featuring an inverted red triangle, which the Nazis used to identify political prisoners, liberals, and members of opposition parties. And on July 2, Trump's campaign was called out for its reelection logo, which was nearly identical to the Nazi eagle which is also used by modern white supremacist groups. The phrase "America First" was used by white supremacist and fascist groups in the 1930s. Trump famously refused to condemn white supremacy in one of the debates. (Schilling has defended his collection of Nazi memorabilia.)

My post here quotes Burt Neuborne, from his book When at Times the Mob Is Swayed: A Citizen's Guide to Defending Our Republic, outlining the numerous similarities of Trump's and Hitler's communication styles and their relationships with the media.

He may post the trans picture I COMMENTED on. And if "men should use the men's room" is hate speech then I guess I am guilty.

Schilling mentions three postings that many people have labelled "hate speech" and disingenuously explains why they are not actually hateful. Schilling posted his anti-transgender meme in April 2016 (and then defended it, calling the controversy "hilarious"). ESPN fired him. (The network had originally taken Schilling off its baseball broadcasts in August 2015 after he posted a meme equating Muslims with Nazis (see below), but reinstated him for postseason games.) Schilling is supposedly quoting himself, but what he has written above is not what he said. First, here is his post and comment:

Got that? The men's room was "designed for the penis", says alleged architect Curt Vandelay. of course, both men's and women's rooms have stalls which house toilets upon which one can sit. I guess you could say both rooms were designed for the ass.

This is true: Schilling said he was not a homophobe because his son started an LGBT club at his high school. Most people usually point to one of their own actions as evidence of their mindset. Oh, wait! Schilling said if anti-gay slurs offend you, you are a sensitive snowflake. Does that count?

If saying Hillary was so guilty she shouldn't be IN jail she should be in a cell under it is hate, then guilty.

Schilling misrepresents what he actually said here, as well. He did not say Hillary Clinton "should be in a cell under" the jail. He said "she should be buried under a jail somewhere". A grave versus a holding pen. That's an important difference — and one Schilling has to lie about to make his point.

He may even post the T-shirt pic I commented on and NOT post the context in which that post was made (In which I was lamenting on the sports media committing suicide").

In November 2016, Schilling tweeted a picture of a man at a Trump rally wearing a shirt with the words: "Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required." He added: "OK, so much awesome here…" Schilling (using the name "President Elect Curt Schilling") defended the tweet as a joke (the usual fallback), calling it a "smart ass shirt". When someone tweeted an objection, Schilling made a bee line for Godwin.

Boston Magazine reported
Schilling has since deleted the tweet after it offended the liberal "wusses." He said he was being sarcastic, that the shirt was sarcastic, that there are far worse shirts, and that people ought to be offended over Benghazi and all the abortion going on.
Those were Schilling's excuses at the time. I see no "lamenting . . . the sports media committing suicide", whatever the hell that means. I would have guessed the sports media (which he will later say is 80+% liberal, a number he pulled out of his ass) committing suicide would have made Schilling happy.

Schilling went 3-for-3. He intentionally misrepresented all three well-known instances in which he was accused of "hate speech". To explain how he was not actually being offensive, he had to lie in all three cases. (And he opened his rant by calling Laurila a liar. How Trumpian.)

[Sportswriters like Laurila] have ZERO qualms in lying to try and ruin someone else's reputation because they have no pride, no integrity, and no accountability. Like most liberals he believes he's smart enough to use the "what he was really saying is" or "What he meant was" and they've never even met me.

Right before explaining how "liberals" claim to know the thought process of someone else or what someone really meant — literally in the previous sentence! — Schilling claimed to know the thought process of someone else or what someone really meant to do.

Schilling then wanders off-track, complaining about Ed Wade for 130 words, listing 22 former teammates by name as "some of the finest men I've known", says he was teammates with "more than 5" gay players, and boasts he "talked with a few about the topic". He also brings up his wife's battle with breast cancer, saying "this whole charade causes her untold stress". He then writes an additional words, so let's hope she doesn't read his manifesto.

After this year I will no longer participate in the Hall of Fame process. 

Craig Calcaterra, from December 1's "Cup of Coffee":
The best part is when he says "after this year I will no longer participate in the Hall of Fame process." Which is curious because there's actually no part for a candidate to play "in the Hall of Fame process" unless and until he's elected. [Calcaterra believes Schilling will receive the necessary votes.] Which makes the "after this year" part the most Schilling thing possible: a way for him to (a) sound like he's talking tough; while (b) saying nothing at all; and (c) still allowing himself to participate in all the glory of election, assuming he's elected. But he won't do it next year!
I won't get in because many of the writers have openly stated their hatred of my support of President Trump. 

Two years ago, Mariano Rivera, a well-known Trump supporter, was the Hall of Fame's first unanimous selection in history. . . . Perhaps Trump is not the underlying issue here.

[T]hey are of the belief that . . . something they THINK you said, once, or did ONCE, defines you as a person. And in this case, top that off with the things they THINK I said or did never happened. The things they THINK I meant, or THINK I was implying, give them pause to question my character.

Schilling is clearly bothered by this aspect, that's what I THINK. But earlier in his rant, he wrote "something like 80+% of the sports media is liberal". . . . Ooops, there he goes again, defining an entire group of people by one possible attribute, claiming to know their inner-most thoughts.

I haven't struck out a hitter or won a game in 13 years. So that yearly vote total that changes does so for reasons that have zero to do with my performance between the lines.

The vote totals for every single player (all of whom have been retired for at least half a decade) on every single ballot change every single year. Does Schilling think that players not accused of "hate speech" receive 48.3% of the vote or 7.7% of the vote every single year until they drop off the ballot? And while Schilling's whining would lead you to believe his vote totals have been dropping with each passing year, his percentage has been increasing, towards induction.

Sorry, girls, he's married.
* * *

Schilling voted for Donald Trump in 2020.

Maybe Schilling didn't know all that much about him in 2016, but now he's been watching Trump for four years. If he was willing to sign on for four more years, then Trump's views are his views. 

Which means Schilling's rah-rah US military talk is straight-up Grade-A horseshit. #FakeNews. Vladimir Putin has been paying members of the Taliban cash rewards for every American soldier they kill. Trump has known about this for almost two years (since early 2019) and has never publicly denounced the bounties and he's never brought the subject up with Putin.

Less than two months ago, a Trump campaign ad featured Russian fighter jets and weapons, stating "Support Our Troops". In 2018, Trump chose to believe Putin over US intelligence agencies regarding election tampering. Trump's deference and fealty to Putin has never waned. It's as strong as ever. Why would Schilling, who claims to support the troops, support a man who doesn't care if those troops have bounties on their heads? A man who won't say he disapproves of the bounties? A man who believes soldiers who have died in battle were "suckers" and "losers"? A man who stole five million masks meant for veterans hospitals during the pandemic?

Schilling's unwavering support of Trump also means his much-self-publicized Christian beliefs are more Grade-A horseshit. Trump separated immigrant children from their parents at the border; the youngest child taken was four months old. There was rampant child rape and sexual assault at the detention facilities. In four years, there were more than 4,500 allegations, with lawsuits alleging that guards assaulted detainees in blind spots not visible to security cameras. Trump wanted a moat filled with alligators and snakes alongside his border wall. He said he wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. He wanted migrants shot if they threw rocks at US guards.

Trump has been accused of rape or sexual assault by 26 women. One of his victims wants to know if Trump's DNA matches residue on her clothes from that night. If Trump is innocent, as he claims, his DNA would prove it. Trump has refused to provide a sample. Five years ago, Trump promised he would sue every one of his accusers. He has done nothing. Trump was good friends with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and has been accused of raping several minors, including a 13-year-old girl. When Epstein's main sex trafficking accomplice was arrested this year, Trump wished her well during a White House press conference. Throughout the pandemic, Trump has shown a callous disregard for human life. 

Why would Schilling, who claims to follow the teachings of Christ, support a man who believes in grabbing women "by the pussy"? Why would Schilling, in October 2016, defend Trump's sexually suggestive comments about a 10-year-old girl? Schilling admitted: "I've seen my daughter's friends [and thought] Wow, she's a beautiful young lady." Perhaps that's why Schilling supports a man who has repeatedly insinuated he's thought about having sex with one of his daughters, who he agreed in one interview was "a piece of ass"? Trump said his favorite thing he has in common with Ivanka is "sex". He said this, on television. When Ivanka was 13, Trump asked Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen: "Is it wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife?"

So . . . 

Schilling claimed: "There isn't a SINGLE documented quote of "hate speech" in my existence." Excluding Muslim extremists, Nazis, and white supremacists, of course. (Strange that Donald Trump credibly fits into two of those categories.)

First, let's get a definition of "hate speech". The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:

public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

John T. Nockleby, writing in Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, stated that hate speech is:

usually thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or a group on account of a group characteristic such as race, colour, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.

Has Schilling said, written, or posted anything that "expresses hate" towards a person or a group or , "animosity or disparagement" of an individual or group based on national origin, sex, religion, etc.?

Spoiler Alert: Of course he fucking has!

The photo in his anti-transgender meme certainly expresses "disparagement" of transgender people.

In August 2015, Schilling tweeted one of his many comparisons of Islam to Nazism. "It's said that only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How'd that go?" 

There are so many problems with this tweet. First, it's comparing a worldwide religion with one political party in one country. Max Fisher of Vox wrote (after pointing out that Islamophobia is rampant on cable news (and has been since 2001)):

Muslims are by far the number-one victims of extremist groups such as ISIS: They are the most likely to be killed by ISIS, and they are the most likely to actively fight ISIS. Nazi-era Germans, on the other hand, overwhelmingly supported and fought for the Nazi regime. So in fact the relationship between Nazi-era Germans and Nazi crimes is the exact opposite of the relationship between Muslims and ISIS.

What is an "extremist"? A person who believes strongly in something? It doesn't specify a good thing or a bad thing. In that sense, Schilling would describe himself as a Christian extremist", despite his love for a selfish, lying, thieving, deceptive, adulterous, vindictive, vengeful politician (who hates and mocks Christians, but admires the con-artist preachers!). (Also, how many "Christians" are violent, either in their homes or in public, in the United States alone?)

At the time of Schilling's tweet, PolitiFact stated there are 945 million Muslims in the world. The Bipartisan Policy Center's Homeland Security Project estimated there were about 100,000 armed jihadists on the planet in 2014. That's roughly 1/100 of 1% (.0001). Better double-lock your doors.

Schilling's claim of 7% of Germans being Nazis is also simplistic and wildly inaccurate. Counting only Germans who formally joined the Nazi party, membership in 1940 was 6.5 million, roughly 9% of an overall population of 70 million. When excluding children under age 15, the number rises to 12%. In Germany's 1932 election, the Nazis won with about 33% of the vote. Thomas Kuehne, a professor of history and director of Holocaust and genocide graduate studies at Clark University, sees the 33% in 1932 as a useful benchmark. "There is no reason to assume that this share decreased before, say, late 1944. The 7% figure is totally misleading."

So: 33% versus 1/100 of 1%. . . . Math is staggering.

Schilling defends flying the flag of the Confederate States of America, an enemy nation that supported slavery and fought a four-year war against the United States. I would say expressing your approval for a pro-slavery country is "hate speech" against Black Americans. Schilling shared a Facebook post stating the message of the CSA flag is: "We are united in our Christian fight for liberty." The people who fought under that flag 150 years ago did so in support of slavery, in a war against the United States. (Why would Schilling (who allegedly supports the US military) publicly support a country who fought against the US in war? Does he also defend the flying of the Japanese flag from state capitol buildings?)

In May 2017, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles stated he has heard racist slurs at Fenway Park. Schilling (who had no connection to the story, but popped out of the bushes anyway) called Jones a liar for spreading "fake hate crimes":

If he wants to maintain the lie he made here, that's fine. No one denies racism exists, but when people like him lie about an incident and others just take him at his word, it perpetuates a mythical level of racism.

It's good that Schilling admitted racism exists, but how would he know whether Jones heard slurs? (Yet again, Schilling is claiming he can read other people's minds, something he claims that only idiot liberals do.) When Jones said Schilling "just wants an outlet" to talk and has "never been black" and played the outfield in Boston, Schilling doubled down:

For some reason, it appears blacks believe only blacks can talk about racism and only whites can be racists. . . .  Adam has an agenda and one needs to only look at his past commentary on race and racism to see it. But see, when you question fake hate crimes in this day and age it somehow makes you a racist.

Sports Illustrated's Jon Thayer wrote that Schilling "knows nothing at all about anything important".

[Schilling stated] Jones had no right to be offended given the air-tight argument of "black people use the n-word all the time," including in rap songs.. . .

There are few people on this earth who are more ignorant about race than Curt Schilling, a woefully uneducated man trying his best to ignore actual, observed racism because it doesn't fit in with his idiotic and narrow worldview . . . Schilling is a man who sees the world as one constant attack on white men, the most privileged and protected group on the planet, and has made it his goal to keep intact the reality he wants, no matter what lunatic conspiracy theory he has to espouse to defend himself and whatever horrible position he currently stands for. . . .

Schilling can't fathom what Jones or other black Americans have gone through. He is too lazy ever to try to find out and too ignorant to accept it. All he knows is what he's lived, and in a world that has become increasingly and rightfully cognizant of the sensitivities and needs of women, people of color and people of different sexual orientations, what he lives now is a nightmare in which he can't just say whatever he wants at the risk of offending some "social justice warrior" or "PC liberal snowflake." The world long ago left Schilling behind, and all he can do is rage and blubber about how unfair that is. . . .

Curt Schilling is a racist idiot, full stop. He is one of the least qualified people in the country to talk about matters of race. His opinions on race, gender, society, and literally anything that is not the sport of baseball are thoughtless and should be ignored. He should not be amplified, only shouted down. His ideas should be exposed for the drivel that they are.

After a "brew ha ha" in June 2020, Schilling deleted his Twitter account. However, it is active now (and filled with nonsense about voter fraud and Trump's elite strike(out) force of lawyers), so he must have only taken it offline and restored it later when the heat died down. I guess Curt's colors do run! Why wouldn't he stay and defend his opinion?

All this and I never got around to mentioned Schilling defaulting on a $75 million loan (that Republican friends pushed through for him) and sticking in Rhode Island's taxpayers with the bill. I'll bet Curt hates welfare queens, too. (Oh, Schilling was also connected to Steve Bannon's border wall fraud case.)

In 2016, Greg Howard of the New York Times took a close look at Schilling's online presence.

Over the years, Schilling has used Facebook to curate a safe public community, where friends and like-minded followers can follow what he's up to, post well wishes and contribute to an ever-growing wall of hatred. Nestled between corny jokes, boasts of semi-successful dadding, videos of his dogs, photos of his chickens and evidence of his legitimately dope fish tank are the thoughts and paranoia of what I would describe as a racist, sexist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic conspiracy theorist who believes deeply in the Christian God and much less so in the humanity of people who are unlike him.

A few weeks ago, Schilling posted a Free Beacon article aggregating a Department of Homeland Security report that assessed the likelihood of someone hacking into the country’s electrical grid. That likelihood, the report found, is low, but still, Schilling wrote, "This is how WWIII is going to open." He has raved on his wall about microchips embedded in people's hands that allow them to open doors and pay for coffee, which he considers the Mark of the Beast predicted in the Book of Revelations over 2,000 years ago. He has surmised that President Obama is the Antichrist sent to destroy the United States. When posting a video foretelling Islam's destruction of the country, he wrote, "I would honestly say this is the most important 14 minutes of information I've heard in the last 15 years, by a mile." And, of course, there’s Benghazi.

Taking in the sum of what Schilling shares — all the links to Breitbart, Drudge, Fox News, Right Wing News and lesser-known Facebook groups, often peddling apocryphal or otherwise odious memes — is a jarring experience. But examined individually, none of Schilling's opinions qualify as particularly novel. In the current political climate, it's hard to even call them extreme. There's nothing surprising about Schilling reacting just as incredulously to the idea of police brutality as to the idea of climate change. You can probably guess that he believes in denying women the right to abortion but does support torture. These are the ordinary, everyday musings of a certain type of conservative, Christian, middle-aged, jingoistic white male — the type that, like Schilling, holds to a specific vision of America that is being rendered obsolete. He's a bigot, yes. But more than that, he seems scared.

Schilling is only 49, but his Facebook page drips with synthetic nostalgia for a time he has never known and figures was probably better than this one. . . . 

When his fear of a changing America manifests in an ornery disdain for millennials' pathological laziness, unabashed admiration of Walmart's marketing ploys or public displays of affection for Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Donald Trump's kids, Schilling's retrograde beliefs are almost quaint: He's the clichéd right-wing uncle I've never known but my white friends all claim to have. More often, though, Schilling's fear is expressed in other, more hostile ways — like when he shares a video of an American soldier playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" on his electric guitar in an effort to drown out Muslim prayer services, or celebrates Sheriff Joe Arpaio's harsh treatment of prisoners in his tent-city prison in Maricopa County, Ariz. He sees humans rights and freedoms as extinguishable, transferable resources, reserved mainly for straight, white, middle-aged, Christian, conservative, American males — people like him. . . .

Schilling is an outspoken bigot, undoubtedly one of the worst acting as an outward face of a reputable company. But he's the same bigot ESPN hired 2010. He's the same bigot they merely suspended last year when he claimed there were as many as 160 million radical Muslims in the world and then compared them to Nazis. The meme that led to his termination wasn't even the first transphobic post he has shared on Facebook this week

If Curt Schilling was confronted with any or all of these examples, I have no doubt he would have a bagful of excuses ready to go. But since his posts are always single-entendre, there's not much room for misconstruing his point of view.

Back in 2016, Schilling posted on his blog:

Let's make one thing clear right up front. If you get offended by ANYTHING in this post, that's your fault, all yours.

Speaking as only an entitled white American male can, Schilling reserves the right to be as dismissive, rude, and hateful as he wants and it's your fault if anything bothers you. Curt does not like the fact that he can be called out by someone — anyone — at any time. He truly pines "for a time he has never known and figures was probably better than this one", when a man was a man and did his business in a men's room, standing up, as God intended. When he could say whatever he wanted and no one dared stop him. But everything's gone to shit nowadays. The PC Police of Libtard City will "cancel" you if you don't act like a decent human being.

Curt Schilling was an essential part of 2004. That's a fact. . . . It's also a fact that Curt Schilling is a horrible human being.



Lockheed Martin completes production of SBIRS GEO-5 satellite to be launched in 2021

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin announced Dec. 2 it has completed production of the fifth satellite of the Space Based Infrared System constellation. The geosynchronous satellite known as SBIRS GEO-5 is projected to launch in 2021 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

Four geosynchronous SBIRS satellites are on orbit today. The billion-dollar spacecraft are equipped with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors that can detect missile launches anywhere in the world. 

SBIRS GEO-1 launched May 7, 2011; GEO-2 March 19, 2013; GEO-3 Jan. 20, 2017 and GEO-4 Jan. 19, 2018.

“In 2019 alone SBIRS detected nearly one thousand missile launches, which is about a two-fold increase in two years,” said Tom McCormick, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for overhead persistent infrared systems.

Lockheed Martin said SBIRS GEO-5 is the first military satellite that uses a new bus developed by the company, the LM 2100. SBIRS GEO-6, launching in 2022, is also being built on that bus.

The LM 2100 bus also is the baseline for three missile-warning satellites Lockheed Martin is developing as future replacements for SBIRS. The Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next Gen OPIR) Block 0 GEO satellites are expected to launch starting in 2025.

SpaceNews

Wage stickiness for incumbents vs. new workers

Masao Fukui, job market candidate from MIT, has made some significant progress on this problem, paper here.  You should cringe if you just hear ‘wage stickiness” — for the incumbents, maybe, due to morale effects, because a grumpy worker who just took a pay cut might wreck things.  But why is there wage stickiness for the new, not yet hired workers?  Isn’t the new wage bargain what they need to negotiate in the first place?  Other than postulating stubborn unemployed workers who overestimate their worth, how might we generate microfoundations for wage stickiness for the not yet hired, also known as “the unemployed”?  Here is Fukui’s abstract:

I develop a new theory of wage rigidity and unemployment fluctuations. The starting point of my analysis is a generalized version of Burdett and Mortensen’s (1998) job ladder model featuring risk-neutral firms, risk-averse workers, and aggregate risk. Because of on-the-job search, my model generates wage rigidity both for incumbent workers, through standard insurance motives, and for new hires, through novel strategic complementarities in wage setting between firms. In contrast to the conventional wisdom in the macro literature, the introduction of on-the-job search implies that: (i) the wage rigidity of incumbent workers, rather than new hires, is the critical determinant of unemployment fluctuations; (ii) fairness considerations in wage setting dampen, rather than amplify, unemployment fluctuations; and (iii) new hire wages are too flexible, rather than too rigid, in the decentralized equilibrium. Quantitatively, the wage rigidity of incumbent workers caused by the insurance motive alone accounts for about one fifth of the unemployment fluctuations observed in the data.

As for wage stickiness for the not yet hired workers, here is I think the key point:

I show using simple phase diagrams that new hire wages must always feature rigidity at the top of the job ladder. This comes from the fact that at the very top of the job ladder, potential new employers have no incentive to increase wages above what the incumbent firms offer because there would be no additional workers to poach. This extremely strong strategic complementarity spills over toward lower job ladder rungs, and the wages are asymptotically rigid regardless of functional forms or parameter values. This result provides an explanation for the recent evidence on new hire wage rigidity.

The paper has many other interesting features. For instance, once wage rigidity for incumbent workers is a larger cause of unemployment, as opposed to just wage rigidity for new hires, the Shimer empirical critiques of labor market matching models dissipate.  So matching models are strengthened, as are models of real rather than nominal rigidity of wages.

I am not yet sure if Fukui is right, but in any case this paper is a major contribution to the theory of wage-setting and it seems he is getting closer to the truth than anyone else has.

Tricky stuff!  Via Ivan Werning.

The post Wage stickiness for incumbents vs. new workers appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Soyuz rocket launches Emirati military satellite after lengthy delay

Credit: Arianespace

After months of delays caused by launch vehicle issues and the coronavirus pandemic, a Russian Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage took off from South America and delivered the French-built Falcon Eye 2 military observation satellite to an on-target orbit Tuesday night for the United Arab Emirates.

The kerosene-fueled Soyuz ST-A launcher lifted off from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern coast of South America at 8:33:28 p.m. EST Tuesday (0133:28 GMT Wednesday) with the UAE military’s Falcon Eye 2 reconnaissance satellite, a mission jointly developed by European space industry stalwarts Airbus and Thales Alenia Space.

The Russian-built rocket vaulted off its launch pad in French Guiana with more than 900,000 pounds of thrust and quickly disappeared into clouds over the tropical spaceport.

Liftoff occurred at 10:33 p.m. local time in French Guiana after mission managers scrubbed two previous launch attempts Sunday and Monday due to poor weather and a problem with telemetry reception at a ground tracking station.

The Soyuz jettisoned its four liquid-fueled first stage boosters about two minutes into the flight as the rocket soared north from the Guiana Space Center. Officials confirmed good firings by the Soyuz second stage and third stage in the first nine minutes of the mission.

A Fregat upper stage separated from the Soyuz third stage for a pair of engine burns to first place Falcon Eye 2 into an egg-shaped transfer orbit, then in a circular sun-synchronous polar orbit at a target altitude of 379 miles, or 611 kilometers.

The upper stage accomplished those maneuvers as designed, and the Fregat deployed the 2,623-pound (1,190-kilogram) Falcon Eye 2 spacecraft nearly 59 minutes after liftoff while flying in range of a tracking station in Australia.

Arianespace, the French launch services company overseeing Tuesday night’s mission, declared the mission successful.

“I confirm that tonight we have had success with our launcher Soyuz,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “Falcon Eye is in the targeted orbit.”

Designed for a 10-year mission, the Falcon Eye 2 satellite will collect high-resolution images for downlink to the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates. With global coverage, the spacecraft gives the UAE an independent source of space-based surveillance data for use in military campaigns, intelligence analysis, and strategic planning.

The Falcon Eye 2 satellite. Credit: Airbus

Ground teams at an Airbus control facility in Toulouse, France, were expected to receive the first signals from Falcon Eye 2 early Friday, commencing a 10-day test period before handing over control of the satellite to engineers in Abu Dhabi, according to Michel Roux, Falcon Eye program director at Airbus.

“We will check that the satellite and the ground system are fully operational, then the system will be officially handed over to the United Arab Emirates, providing them with fully autonomous access to a very high resolution space imagery,” said Philippe Pham, senior vice president of Earth observation, navigation, and science at Airbus. “This will be a capacity that only a handful of countries have in the world.”

The launch of the Falcon Eye 2 satellite comes more than a year after an identical observation craft named Falcon Eye 1 was lost in a rocket failure.

Falcon Eye 1 launched in July 2019 on a European Vega rocket, but the launcher failed during the second stage of its mission. The rocket and Falcon Eye 1 crashed back to Earth before entering orbit.

The Falcon Eye 1 mission was insured for 369 million euros, or $407 million, including the value of the satellite and the launch, according to Space News.

Officials from the UAE government, which owns the billion-dollar Falcon Eye program, decided after last year’s failure to swap the launch of the identical Falcon Eye 2 satellite in the Arianespace launch schedule from a Vega rocket to a Soyuz booster.

The light-class Vega rocket is one of three launchers operated by Arianespace from the Guiana Space Center, alongside the medium-lift Russian-made Soyuz launcher and the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.

After switching to a Soyuz rocket, the Falcon Eye 2 satellite was supposed to take off in March. But technical problems with the Soyuz rocket’s Fregat upper stage and delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to reschedule the flight for November.

Weather and technical delays then forced managers to keep the Falcon Eye 2 satellite grounded from its target launch date Saturday until Tuesday night.

It turned out the Vega mission originally assigned to launch Falcon Eye 2 — known as VV17 in Arianespace’s launch manifest — also failed in flight. The failed launch Nov. 16 destroyed a Spanish Earth observation satellite and a French research probe. It was the second failure for a Vega rocket in its last three missions, following a successful return-to-flight launch in September.

Artist’s concept of the Falcon Eye 2 satellite. Credit: Emirates News Agency

Airbus Defense and Space built the Falcon Eye satellites, and Thales Alenia Space provided the high-resolution optical imaging payloads for both spacecraft.

The agreement between the UAE and French industry to build the Falcon Eye satellites was brokered with the backing of the French government, but a security review by the U.S. government delayed the final signature of the contract between the UAE, Airbus and Thales until 2014. The satellites use some U.S.-made components, prompting the Obama administration to put a temporary hold on the deal until officials ultimately approved the export of the U.S. parts for use by the UAE military.

The two Falcon Eye spacecraft were built on the design of the French Pleiades Earth-imaging satellites launched in 2011 and 2012, and reportedly have a resolution of about 2.3 feet, or 70 centimeters, in their highest-resolution imaging mode.

In remarks during Arianespace’s launch webcast Tuesday night, Roux said the exact imaging capabilities of Falcon Eye 2 is “confidential.”

As part of the agreement, European companies are providing the Falcon Eye satellite, ground systems, and training to Emirati engineers.

“Falcon Eye is not only a satellite,” Pham said. “It’s a full space system, including the ground segment and the imagery processing capabilities. It will deliver top quality Earth observation imagery for our customer.”

The launch Tuesday night was the 24th flight of a Soyuz rocket from the Guiana Space Center since October 2011, and the 12th flight of the venerable Russian launcher this year from French Guiana, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

It was the eight Arianespace mission of 2020. The company has two more launches planned before the end of the year, both using Soyuz rockets.

A Soyuz launcher is scheduled to carry 36 OneWeb broadband satellites into orbit from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia on Dec. 17. The French military’s CSO 2 optical reconnaissance satellite is set for launch Dec. 28 on a Soyuz rocket from the Guiana Space Center.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Soyuz launches Falcon Eye 2 satellite for UAE

Soyuz launch

WASHINGTON — An Arianespace Soyuz rocket successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite for the United Arab Emirates Dec. 1 after months of delays caused by technical problems and the pandemic.

The Soyuz ST-A rocket lifted off from the launch complex in French Guiana at 8:33 p.m. Eastern. The Falcon Eye 2 satellite separated nearly an hour later after two burns by the Fregat upper stage.

The launch took place after nearly nine months of delays. Arianespace postponed the original launch attempt in early March because of a problem with the Fregat upper stage. By mid-March, before the Fregat problem had been corrected, Arianespace and the French space agency CNES suspended all launch activities at the spaceport because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The launch was eventually rescheduled for late November, but launch attempts Nov. 28 and Nov. 29 were postponed because of weather. Another launch attempt Nov. 30 was scrubbed minutes before liftoff when a range safety system at the launch site was not properly receiving telemetry from the rocket.

The 1,190-kilogram Falcon Eye 2 satellite was built by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space for the UAE’s armed forces. Neither the companies nor the UAE government have disclosed the capabilities of the satellite beyond it producing “very-high-resolution” images, likely sharper than one meter.

The satellite is the second of two produced by the companies for the UAE. Falcon Eye 1 was destroyed in a Vega launch failure in July 2019. In January, with the Vega still grounded, Arianespace announced it would move Falcon Eye 2 to a Soyuz rocket at the request of Airbus to avoid further delays in the satellite’s launch. As it turned out, Vega launched twice before this mission, although the second of those launches, Nov. 16, ended in failure because of misconfigured cables in the vehicle’s upper stage.

The Falcon Eye 2 launch is the first of three Soyuz missions Arianespace plans to conduct this month. Arianespace will launch a set of OneWeb satellites Dec. 17 on a Soyuz from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia now that the broadband megaconstellation company has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Another Soyuz launch from French Guiana will take place between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, said during the launch webcast. He did not disclose the payload for that launch, but it is likely the CSO-2 reconnaissance satellite for the French military.

SpaceNews

Damaged Arecibo Observatory collapses

 

This aerial view shows the damaged Arecibo Observatory after its instrument platform collapsed onto its reflector dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. The radio telescope, which once starred in a James Bond film, collapsed Tuesday when its 900-ton receiver platform fell 450 feet (140 meters) and smashed onto the radio dish below. Photo Credit: Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP via Getty Images.

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, a world-famous 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope through which major discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics were made, collapsed on the morning of Tuesday, December 1, after one of its main cables broke on November 6.

That cable’s collapse occurred three months after the telescope’s reflector dish was damaged in August of this year when an auxiliary cable slid out of its socket in one of the observatory’s towers, leaving the dish with a 100-foot gash and causing the collapse of other cables when it fell.

An engineering team was in the process of determining the cause of the first cable break and working out a repair plan when the second cable, this time a main one, collapsed onto the dish, further damaging both it and other cables.

Following the second accident, the National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns Arecibo, determined that repairing the telescope could cause further catastrophic collapse that posed a threat to the lives of the technicians who would be doing the work.

In a bid to save the telescope, supporters, including Puerto Rico’s Congressional representative Jenniffer Gonzalez, organized a formal petition to the White House asking the federal government to send the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate whether Arecibo could be stabilized and ultimately repaired.

At 6:55 AM EST on Tuesday, the telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform, suspended via cables connected to three towers, fell 450 feet (137 meters) onto already damaged reflector dish.

In a public statement, the NSF said, “Initial findings indicate that the top section of all three of the…telescope’s support towers broke off. As the 900-ton instrument platform, fell, the telescope’s support cables also dropped. Preliminary assessments indicate the observatory’s learning center sustained significant damage from falling cables.”

No injuries resulted from the collapse.

Iconic History:

Arecibo opened in 1963 after three years of construction. Over 57 years, it has been one of the most productive telescopes in both the number and scope of discoveries made using it. The observatory has been used to study a wide range of fields in astronomy and astrophysics ranging from pulsars to near-Earth asteroids to fast radio bursts.

Just one year after Arecibo opened, a research team led by Gordon Pettingill used the telescope to determine that Mercury’s rotation period is 59 days rather than the 88 days previously believed.

Airplane view of Arecibo Observatory before it was damaged. Photo Credit: Arecibo Observatory

The first exoplanet ever discovered was found with Arecibo in 1992. One year later, scientists Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor used the observatory to find the first evidence of gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, by studying a binary pulsar system, earning them that year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

In an attempt to communicate with any existing extra-terrestrial civilizations, scientists in 1974 used Arecibo to send an interstellar radio message.

A major tourist attraction, Arecibo received thousands of visitors every year and actively took part in public outreach and science education, motivating many to pursue careers in engineering and astronomy.

Arecibo was also a popular culture icon, having been featured in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye and in the 1997 film Contact. The latter was based on a novel by Carl Sagan.

Since 2018, Arecibo has been managed for the NSF by the University of Central Florida (UCF). It is currently in the third year of a five-year $20.15 million grant.

Challenges:

During its 57 years of operation, Arecibo was damaged on several occasions, often by earthquakes and hurricanes. In 2014, an earthquake damaged another of its main cables, which was subsequently repaired. In 2017, Hurricane Maria damaged both the dish and one of the antennas.

Several earthquakes hit Puerto Rico in January of this year, causing the observatory to close for several days.

Repairs of damage from Hurricane Maria were still underway when the auxiliary cable broke in August 2020, possibly due to damage from Tropical Storm Isaias, which had just passed over Puerto Rico.

Since the main cable collapse last month, satellite images have revealed the telescope to be more damaged than previously thought. Photos commissioned by the journal Nature show the dish to be broken in half, with large gouges in its central area.

The main cable was found to have broken at 60 percent of what should have been its minimum breaking strength during good weather, indicating the observatory’s cables were weaker than previously thought, due to degradation over time. Using drones, engineers discovered more wire breaks in several major cables.

Satellite image of damaged Arecibo dish after main cable break. Photo Credit: Nature/Planet Labs, Inc.

“According to engineering assessments, even attempts of stabilization or testing the cables could result in accelerating the catastrophic failure. Engineers cannot tell us the safety margin of the structure, but they have advised NSF that the structure will collapse in the near future on its own,” said Ralph Gaume, director of the NSF‘s astronomy division.

What Now?

Plans had been underway to upgrade one of the observatory’s antennas to increase its sensitivity. These were subsequently suspended when the NSF decided to conduct the controlled demolition.

Losing Arecibo is a major blow to astronomers and astrophysicists worldwide. While some of the science done there can be transferred to other observatories, other projects can be done only with its unique instruments.

Other, smaller parts of the observatory, such as two lidar instruments that study the atmosphere by firing lasers into it, will not be destroyed. The NSF hoped to preserve the visitors’ center as well as other buildings on the site, but the fates of those are unclear following the latest collapse.

The NSF emphasizes safety as its top priority and says it is interested in helping the scientific community in the wake of Arecibo‘s loss as well as continuing its strong working relationship with Puerto Rico.

“Top priorities are maintaining safety at the site, conducting a complete damage assessment as quickly as possible, and taking action to contain and mitigate any environmental damage caused by the structure or its materials, the NSF statement said.

“While the telescope was a key part of the facility, the observatory has other scientific and educational infrastructure that NSF will work with stakeholders to bring back online.”

Ashley Zauderer, Arecibo program director, praised the community of researchers and workers who repeatedly came together to make sure work at the site continued in the wake of the earthquakes, hurricanes, and the COVID pandemic.

“There’s an incredibly diverse and amazing group of scientists and dedicated staff and engineers at the observatory, and I mean, I think it is their passion to continue to explore, to learn, and that is the true heart and soul of Arecibo,” she said.  

The post Damaged Arecibo Observatory collapses appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Probe finds deep space is not completely dark

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, now 50 AU (astronomical units) from the Sun. Image Credit: NASA

Now more than four billion miles away from Earth, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, acting as a distant space observatory, has found that deep space is not entirely dark.

At 50 times farther from the Sun than the Earth, New Horizons is far enough away from any major sources of light, putting it in an ideal position to identify tiny light sources from the universe.

Scientists have long wondered whether space is completely dark. Astronomer Tod Lauer of the National Science Foundation‘s (NSF) National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), said he always questioned whether the universe “puts out a glow” independent of all known visible light sources, such as stars and galaxies. This glow is known as the Cosmic Optical Background (COB).

The question of whether this glow exists cannot be answered from observations in the inner solar system or from Earth because there the whole sky has a glow produced by dust particles the Sun lights up.

However, in the region where New Horizons is traveling, sunlight is very weak, and far less dust is present, making this an ideal location to search for evidence of a glow emitted by the universe.

In an effort to detect such a glow, scientists analyzed archival images of areas with very few stars and very faint galaxies collected by New HorizonsLong Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). They then processed the images to remove all known light sources, including light from stars, light scattered by the Milky Way galaxy, and light from distant galaxies.

“The images were all of what you just simply call blank sky. There’s a sprinkling of faint stars; there’s a sprinkling of faint galaxies, but it looks random. What you want is a place that doesn’t have many bright stars in the images or bright stars even outside the field that can scatter light back into the camera,” Lauer explained.

Researchers analyzed these fields imaged by LORRI. Image Credit: Tod Lauer et al.

When all known light sources were subtracted out, the images still contained light though not from any known source. According to astronomer Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, the amount of light still seen in the images is approximately the same amount that comes from known galaxies.

The light could be coming from as-yet undiscovered distant galaxies or from a completely unknown source, Postman said. It is also possible that deep space has more dust than scientists thought, and that that dust is affecting the measurements.

Or the light could be coming from an as-yet unknown exotic source, possibly even something associated with the mysterious dark matter, which gravitationally influences visible matter but itself has never been seen.

Knowing just how dark deep space is will provide scientists with important insights into the formation, history, and evolution of the universe.

Astrophysicist Michael Zemcov of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) made similar findings several years ago, also using New Horizons images.

“As a person who studies the universe, I really want to know what the universe is made of and what are all the components of the universe. We would like to think that the components that give off light are something that we can really get a good sense of and understand why there is that much light,” Postman said.

 

The post Probe finds deep space is not completely dark appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Wednesday: ADP Employment, Beige Book

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

• At 8:15 AM, The ADP Employment Report for November. This report is for private payrolls only (no government).  The consensus is for 420,000 jobs added, up from 365,000 in October.

• At 10:00 AM, Testimony, Fed Chair Jerome Powell, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Before the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives

• At 2:00 PM, the Federal Reserve Beige Book, an informal review by the Federal Reserve Banks of current economic conditions in their Districts.

And Now A Money for Pardons Scandal

Late this afternoon news broke of a federal investigation into an alleged bribery for pardon scheme targeting the White House. Matt Shuham has the basic details here. You can read the document here.

Let me run down a few initial reactions and clues in the document.

My initial hunch, reading through the document and considering other facts, is that I don’t think the person seeking to purchase a pardon here is some high profile Russia-probe adjacent figure. It doesn’t fit for a few reasons. I can’t rule it out. Call it an educated hunch. I think we should be thinking more of some high roller or fat cat who knows Trump and his circle is venal and wants to buy his or her way out of prison.

One key detail is that the judge’s order appears to say the person trying to get the pardon is either currently or was earlier this year in the federal prison system. So this isn’t someone under suspicion or facing charges. It sounds like they’re already doing time. That rules out a lot of people.

The judge’s order relates specifically to whether the emails in question were covered by lawyer client privilege. Most of the document is redacted. But some broad outlines are clear … A federal law enforcement raid, pursuant to a warrant, yielded a large quantity of devices. The bribery plot was revealed in emails on those devices. The question was whether the communications were privileged. That’s how this whole situation gets in front of the judge back during the summer.

We don’t know what that raid was, what investigation it was pursuant to, nothing. The Feds argued that there was no privilege both because of a crime/fraud exception and because the emails also included another person who wasn’t the pardon purchaser’s lawyer or an agent of their lawyer. That additional person seems to have been a White House adjacent fixer of some sort. The relevant point here is that that person being on the email chain helped nullify any claim of privilege.

One thing that is not explicitly clear in the document is whether or how the alleged plotters made their approach to the “senior White House officials” they were trying to work with. If they didn’t actually act on the idea I’m not sure there would be a crime. But it’s not clear from the document how the White House officials reacted. Presumably they didn’t go to the Justice Department because investigators only found out about the plot from those emails that turned up in the federal raid.

Again, I wouldn’t be going down your list of Russia probe perps and trying to figure out which one it is. The people who got pardons there got them to keep Donald Trump safe. This person needed to pay. That’s an entirely different situation.

A final potential wrinkle to this revelation is that the DOJ seemed to want to keep the story secret. And the court proceedings go back at least into the summer of 2020. Needless to say, news of a bribery for pardons scandal would have been a pretty big deal coming out before the election. It’s not clear to me that we would expect the DOJ to make this public or whether that would have been appropriate. No one has been charged with a crime yet. Still, it seems worth asking whether high level DOJ officials took steps to keep the probe under wraps before the election.

More to come.

Storm System Expected To Develop Across Southern U.S.; Fire Weather Concerns In Southern California

Salesforce Buys Slack For $27.7 Billion

Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm, reporting for TechCrunch:

Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff didn’t mince words on his latest purchase. “This is a match made in heaven. Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world,” Benioff said in a statement.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield was no less effusive than his future boss. “As software plays a more and more critical role in the performance of every organization, we share a vision of reduced complexity, increased power and flexibility, and ultimately a greater degree of alignment and organizational agility. Personally, I believe this is the most strategic combination in the history of software, and I can’t wait to get going,” Butterfield said in a statement.

I cracked wise about Salesforce offering user experience and design expertise to Slack when rumors of this deal first leaked, but let me now take the devil’s advocate position, and argue for why this could be a great outcome for Slack.

First, my take presupposes that the point of Slack is to be a genuinely good service and experience. That Slack is to Microsoft Teams what the Mac is to Windows, or iOS is to Android. To succeed by appealing to people who care about quality. Slack, as a public company, has been under immense pressure to do whatever it takes to make its stock price go up in the face of competition from Microsoft’s Teams, which Microsoft is just giving away to its customers paying for 365 Office or whatever they call the thing companies want to pay Microsoft for.

Apple, 20 years ago, successfully forged a way to align its shareholder interests with its customer interests. Make great computers, great software, great new products and services like the iPod and iTunes Store. Slack, it seems to me, has been pulled apart. What they ought to be entirely focused on is making Slack great in Slack-like ways. Perhaps Salesforce sees that Slack gives them an offering competitive to Teams, and if they just let Slack be Slack, their offering will be better — be designed for users, better integrated for developers. And there’s some history for that: Salesforce acquired Heroku almost 10 years ago — and seemingly has let Heroku be Heroku since.

Do that with Slack and I could see this working out great for Slack users.

 ★ 

December 1 COVID-19 Test Results; Record Hospitalizations

Note: The data was distorted over the holiday weekend.

The US is now averaging over 1 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% (probably close to 1%), so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).

There were 1,065,594 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 176,751 positive tests.

Almost 2,500 US deaths have been reported so far in December (one day!). See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

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

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 16.6% (red line is 7 day average).  The percent positive is calculated by dividing positive results by the sum of negative and positive results (I don't include pending).

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

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

The dashed line is the previous hospitalization maximum.

Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed, so the hospitalizations was higher relative to the 7-day average of positive tests in July.

• Record Hospitalizations (Almost 100,000)

Eye of Moon

Who's watching who? Who's watching who?


Orion Problems Threaten Artemis-1 Launch

Update on Orion Final Assembly and Transfer, NASA

"While powering up the spacecraft to prepare for the pressurization of the crew module uprighting system, which ensures the capsule is oriented upward after splashdown, engineers identified an issue with a redundant channel in a power and data unit (PDU) on Orion's crew module adapter. The team is continuing with other closeout activities while troubleshooting the issue, including installation of temporary covers to ensure components are protected during ground processing and fit checks for bonded tile on the crew module side hatch."

Keith's note: It is likely that this fix will require months since the PDU is not all that easy to reach and things would need to be removed that are not designed to be removed once installed. It is rather unlikely that NASA would allow this Orion spacecraft to fly with this issue since the unit and its redundancy exist to meet some rather basic requirements set by NASA. The current plan (which is always on wheels) calls for the first full-up SLS/Orion launch (Artemis-1) to happen in November 2021. Add in delays caused by weather and the pandemic with the Green Run engine testing of the core stage, and it is becoming rather improbable that this launch will happen at any time in 2021.

Raymond: Space Force will be candid with industry about tech needs

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force sees a “huge opportunity” to buy commercially developed technologies and services, said Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, chief of space operations. 

Speaking Dec. 1 at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce space conference, Raymond said the private sector is making large investments in technologies the government needs, and the military has a role to play in bolstering commercial space innovators. 

“We do not want industry to have to spend one minute or one dollar trying to figure out what’s in our head,” Raymond said. “We want to be very transparent. We view the partnership with industry to be hugely significant.”

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett also spoke at the virtual event. Moderator Chuck Wald, a retired Air Force general, asked Barrett and Raymond to comment on the prevailing sentiment in the industry that  “there seems to be a risk-averse policy” that keeps the military from procuring space-based services from commercial vendors. 

Barrett pushed back. “We are doing a lot to engage with the commercial world,” she said. “We are still working with our traditional companies but also leveraging non traditional commercial providers,” she said. Barrett mentioned efforts the Air Force launched in recent years to help recruit small businesses and startups, such as “pitch day” events and mentoring programs.

Wald’s line of questions echoed the findings of a recent study by the Aerospace Corp. that noted commercial companies in the space industry are now offering sophisticated services that previously only governments could provide. However, many U.S. defense and intelligence agencies are still not seriously considering using these services as alternatives to traditional government programs.

Raymond said in years past the only commercially viable services have been space launch and communications provided by geosynchronous satellites. But the Space Force is now becoming aware of other capabilities that are being offered commercially such as space tracking data, weather data and on-orbit satellite servicing. 

Speaking on a different panel at the U.S. Chamber event, HawkEye 360 CEO John Serafini said there is a “philosophical” divide between long-established military procurement practices and private industry. 

HawkEye 360 operates a constellation of remote sensing satellites that track radio signals and turns the data into images to help locate ships at sea, for example. 

“The government has embraced a traditional form of acquisition focused on solving specific requirements at specific fixed points in time,” said Serafini. “We want the U.S. government to think more creatively towards a hybrid architecture with national systems but also commercial capabilities.”

SpaceNews

Links 12/1/20

Trump_winningWI
Links for you. Science:

‘Absolutely remarkable’ : No one who got Moderna’s vaccine in trial developed severe COVID-19
Moderna to submit Covid-19 vaccine to FDA as full results show 94% efficacy
MBE Transitions to the Open Access Publication Model in 2021
Evidence Builds That an Early Mutation Made the Pandemic Harder to Stop. Scientists were initially skeptical that a mutation made the coronavirus more contagious. But new research has changed many of their minds.
What dinosaur eggs reveal about ancient parenting styles

Other:

Social Distancing: The wealthy have pulled out of the orbit of the rest of the country. Can they be leashed back?
Enough cowardice: Democrats must forge ahead, without caring what the Trumpers say
Sorry CNN, Trump voters don’t deserve “sympathy”: Don’t absolve dangerous behavior
The Last Few Years Have Spelled a Resounding End to the ‘Jewish Vote’
Trump isn’t the reason we can’t quit Trump — the obsession is really about his followers
The ‘Kraken’ Lawsuit Was Released And It’s Way Dumber Than You Realize
Bring back the rowhouse
This unnerving election does not bode well for the next one
Regrets, he’s had a few
What’s the matter with Monroe County?
SUFFERING TO PROVE TRIBAL LOYALTY, EXCEPT WITHOUT THE SUFFERING PART
Facial recognition used to identify Lafayette Square protester accused of assault
How Covid-19 stopped Metro in its tracks — and how it could recover
GWB Looks Worse in Hindsight
Divisions emerge among U.S. officials over when first Covid-19 vaccine doses will be available — and for whom
The Lost Days That Made Bergamo a Coronavirus Tragedy
How ‘Dr. Annie’ is dividing the Flathead (“The reality is she has a long history of work in these far-right circles and is a fairly known quantity, especially for organizations who work around the Legislature.” Shocking)
Black Americans are forced to operate our entire lives in battle mode. It’s utterly exhausting. Writer Nathan McCall on the racism he has faced in everyday life, from the streets to elite institutions.
What to Do About Trump Supporters?
Progressives Can’t Repeat the Mistakes of 2008. For the left to be effective in a post-Trump Washington, it must avoid the culture of deference that set in after Obama’s victory.
The Gig Economy Is White People Discovering Servants

Stan Lee: “Fuck” Is the “Most Useful Word in the English Language”

This is a lovely little animated video made from a recording of Stan Lee where he declares that the f-word is “probable the most useful word in the English language”. I found this via Josh Jones’ post at Open Culture, who shares some more Stan Lee tidbits.

Tags: language   Stan Lee   swearing   video

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 5.54%"

Note: This is as of November 22nd.

From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 5.54%
The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance increased from 5.48% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 5.54% as of November 22, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 2.8 million homeowners are in forbearance plans.
...
For the second week in a row, the share of loans in forbearance has increased, driven by a rise in new forbearance requests and another slowdown in the pace of forbearance exits. The increase was across all loan and servicer types. Even GSE loans, which had previously declined for 24 straight weeks, saw an increase last week,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Additionally concerning, there was an increase in forbearance re-entries, as borrowers who had previously exited sought relief again. The increase in new forbearance requests may be the result of additional outreach to homeowners who had previously not taken advantage of forbearance opportunities. However, the slowing rate of exits to a new survey low further highlights that borrowers still in forbearance are increasingly challenged by the renewed restrictions on economic activity to contain the surge in COVID-19 cases.”

Added Fratantoni, “Recent housing market data remain quite strong and we expect that the market is well positioned for additional growth next year, but these data show that additional support is likely needed to get through this winter.”
...
By stage, 20.34% of total loans in forbearance are in the initial forbearance plan stage, while 77.42% are in a forbearance extension. The remaining 2.24% are forbearance re-entries.
emphasis added
MBA Forbearance Survey Click on graph for larger image.

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

The MBA notes: "Weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) increased to 0.11 percent from 0.09 percent the previous week."

Yes, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was bad—but was it really that bad?

Satellite photos of every storm are lined up in a 6x5 grid.

Enlarge / All of 2020's tropical storms and hurricanes in a single image. (credit: NOAA)

Monday was the last "official" day of the Atlantic hurricane season, drawing down the curtain on what has been a frenetic year for storms forming in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea.

The top-line numbers are staggering: there were a total of 30 tropical storms and hurricanes, surpassing the previous record of 28 set in the year 2005. For only the second time, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami ran out of names and had to resort to using the Greek alphabet.

Of all those storms, 12 made landfall in the United States, obliterating the previous record of nine landfalling tropical storms or hurricanes set in 1916. The state of Louisiana alone experienced five landfalls. At least part of the state fell under coastal watches or warnings for tropical activity for a total of 474 hours this summer and fall. And Laura became the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Pelican State since 1856.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Chang'e-5 Has Landed On The Moon

Keith's note: I will be on CGTN at 2:04 pm EST and on Deutsche Welle just after 3:00 pm EST today to talk about the successful landing of China's Chang'e-5 spacecraft on the Moon this morning.

CGTN

Keith Cowing · CGTN Interview With NASA Watch: Chang'e-5 Lunar Landing


DW
Keith Cowing · Deutsche Welle Interview With NASAWatch: Chang'e-5 Lunar Landing

The Lame Duck Senate Sees No Need to Get Much Done

It’s Business as Usual for the McConnell Boys; No Covid Relief, but Gotta Save Those Confederate Military Bases

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

Senate Republicans have a last chance as lame-duckers to do a few right things in what lines up to be a slapdash race for the holiday door. I don’t have much hope for the ideologues to rise up to put the country over party, but hey, surprises happen.

This Congress started its last 10 days before holiday break yesterday with coronavirus aid hanging, with a federal budget unresolved and a bunch of contentious issues including selling more weapons overseas.

The session gets under way as Donald Trump continues his fantasy about overturning election results. In this same period a transition must move ahead amid a spiraling, out-of-control virus that is killing 2,000 people a day.

Republicans are more interested in their hobby-horse issues than in addressing the coronavirus elephant in the room.

Yet, from a policy point of view, it is unclear that Republicans acknowledge that millions are facing dire straits. Evictions loom as the clock has run out of individual aid and blanket rules to postpone rent payments. It is unclear whether both personal piques of particular senators and the overall desire by Trump to ruin the government can and will be set aside for greater societal good.

Senators like James Inhofe of Oklahoma want to hold up the federal budget over whether the Pentagon can change the name of military bases that still carry the name of Confederate generals. Really? This is the most important issue facing us? Trump is reportedly considering a veto if the budget measure doesn’t repeal legal shields for social media companies.

Can we please keep our collective eyes on the ball?

Insisting on Partisan Ways

Republicans are fond of saying that elections have consequences – unless elections do not go their way. Then we are supposed to ignore the results or switch back to defending deficits from getting too large, or, like Trump, simply deny the election took place.

Apparently, a number of Republicans in the Senate are more interested in their hobby-horse issues than in addressing the coronavirus elephant in the room. The Number One issue facing us is getting sufficient monies to individuals displaced by the virus from their jobs, to extend unemployment, to help small businesses survive during this period and to assure that we can adequately distribute emerging vaccines.

Republicans have been sitting on a House-passed package since the summer, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrongly insisting that an economic recovery is just days away despite the pandemic. Partisan debate has swirled around the size of the package with each side saying it has been more flexible.

Meanwhile, the country is suffering. The issue feels like the embodiment of why increasing numbers of Americans just don’t believe in government.

If you’re looking for a second issue, agreement on a federal budget that just allows us to keep things functioning seems an important goal.

The Other Agendas

But among the things that stand in the way:

  • A decision on approving the sale to the United Arab Emirates of up to 50 F-35s worth $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions worth $10 billion. A simple majority vote would start a 30-day review period in which Congress can block the sale.
  • Consideration of a late appointment by Trump of Judy Shelton, who has advocated that the United States return its monetary policies to debunked reliance on the value of gold, to the Federal Reserve. An earlier committee vote failed and the expected addition of newly elected Sen. Mark Kelly, the Democrat from Arizona, should make that issue a loser.

In general, expect these days to be a forerunner to judge Senate willingness – or not – to work with the incoming Biden administration. All Senate eyes continue to focus solely on the Jan. 5 twin U.S. Senate races in Georgia, the outcome of which will decide whether we continue to have a Republican majority.

In any case, neither party will have sufficient votes to ignore the other.

The question is whether we have civility and compromise or continue the Trump-inspired divisions of the past several years.

 

The post The Lame Duck Senate Sees No Need to Get Much Done appeared first on DCReport.org.

The Talk Show: ‘Camera Beer Belly’

Nilay Patel returns to the show and we have nothing to talk about. You know, other than the M1 Macs and entire iPhone 12 lineup.

Brought to you by:

  • Linode: Instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode Cloud. New accounts can get $100 credit.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code talkshow for 10% off your first order.
  • Mint Mobile: Get your new wireless plan for just $15/month with free shipping.
 ★ 

Phoenix: Climate Hypocrisy

You can’t be a climate mayor—and your city can’t be a climate city — if you’re widening freeways

Phoenix says its going to reduce greenhouse gases 90 percent by 2050, but

The city’s transportation greenhouse gases have risen 1,000 pound per person since 2014, and its planning to spend hundreds of millions widening freeways.

Around the country, and around the world, leaders are pledging to solve the climate problem—someday, in the distant future.  Typically, these pledges claim that a city (or other organization) will be “net zero” by some year ending in zero (2040, 2050), or that it will reduce its emissions (or usually, some carefully selected fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions it is responsible for), by a stated percentage. These multi-decade pledges aren’t really pledges that these leaders will be responsible for achieving:  it will be their successors, several steps removed, who will be in charge when the day of reckoning comes.

One of the world’s leading climate activists is calling “BS” on this phony and deceptive strategy.  Greta Thunberg is challenging leaders to  commit to change now, rather than waiting:

“When it’s about something that is in 10 years’ time, they are more than happy to vote for it because that doesn’t really impact them. But when it’s something that actually has an effect, right here right now, they don’t want to touch it. It really shows the hypocrisy.”

“They mean something symbolically, but if you look at what they actually include, or more importantly exclude, there are so many loopholes. We shouldn’t be focusing on dates 10, 20 or even 30 years in the future. If we don’t reduce our emissions now, then those distant targets won’t mean anything because our carbon budgets will be long gone.”

“. . . we can have as many conferences as we want, but it will just be negotiations, empty words, loopholes and greenwash.”

One doesn’t have to look far to find a city that is pledging to be much, much better (in a few decades), while its current efforts are failing perceptibly, and its actively spending money that will make the problem worse.  Today, we’ll pick on Phoenix, but much the same story could be told about many other cities.  Mayors are proclaiming loudly that there’s a climate emergency, and very visibly endorsing the Paris Accords, but at the same time are planning to put vast sums of scarce public resources into building more roads that will only make the problem worse. What makes this particularly egregious is that nearly everywhere, increased driving is now the single largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.  The one thing cities can do to fight climate change is reduce the need to travel by car; and widening freeways does just the opposite:  it subsidizes driving, and promote sprawl and car dependence.

Phoenix is developing a new climate action plan, because it’s required to do so for joining the C40 cities organization

The city’s goal is to complete CAP updates by year’s end in part due to Phoenix having joined C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group earlier this year.

“One of those things that C40 cities require is completion … or an updated climate action plan by the end of this year,” Environment Program Coordinator Roseanne Albright . . .”

Like a lot of cities, it has goals of reducing climate pollution . . . someday.  Here’s the provisional goal according to the city’s website.

Headed in the wrong direction

All well and good to have a reduction goal for the next couple of decades.  But what climate data show is that Phoenix–like most cities is utterly failing to make progress in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.  Data from the national DARTE database of transportation greenhouse gas emissions shows that metropolitan Phoenix is rapidly going in the wrong direction.  Its GHG per capita which had been flat to trending downward in the first half of the last decade (even as the economy was recovering from the Great Recession) grew rapidly after the big drop in gas prices in 2014.  Today, the average Phoenix resident emits about 1,000 pounds more greenhouse gases from transportation than in 2014.

 

Going faster—in the wrong direction:  A wider freeway

Even as they proclaim their climate goals, the Phoenix is embarking on a massive $700 million freeway widening project, with the full support of its mayor.  The plan would widen an eleven mile stretch I-10 through Phoenix to as many as 16 lanes.

According to Planetizen, Phoenix’s Mayor is all on board:

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego is quoted in the article touting the safety benefits of the proposed project, along with its potential economic benefits. On that latter score, Mayor Gallego cites the potential for $658 million in new economic activity.

The project’s video notes that there will be as many three pedestrian and bike overpasses, but makes it clear that these are currently only conjectural:  “multi-use bridges for pedestrians and bicyclists could span the freeway.”  Plus, as we’ve noted at City Observatory, this kind of “pedestrian” infrastructure is really primarily designed to serve cars and doesn’t contribute to a more walkable city.

Finally, much of the cost of the measure is being subsidized from a regional sales tax.  So in essence, the region’s residents will have to pay for the wider freeway whether they use it or not.  This amounts to a massive subsidy to more driving, and predictably will lead to even more sprawling development, longer commutes and more greenhouse gases.

In a way, its unfair to pick on Phoenix. (For the record, we’ve been unstinting at City Observatory in our critique of Portland’s failed climate efforts).  Other cities around the country, who ostensibly care about climate change or who have endorsed the Paris accords are pursuing their own massive freeway widening projects, as James Brasuell has chronicled. The list includes projects in Houston, Los Angeles, Akron, Indiana, and Maryland.  As Brasuell says:

Some of the politicians and agencies behind these plans claim to be climate warriors without being held accountable to their promises. Others are climate arsonists, who are not being held accountable to the consequences of these actions.

Tragically, these efforts are even being promoted by the National Science Foundation, under whose auspices that Transportation Research Board published a report calling for billions more in subsidies for road construction to facilitate literally trillions of more miles of driving, building a true highway to hell.

American Ph.Ds are failing at start-ups

We document that since 1997, the rate of startup formation has precipitously declined for firms operated by U.S. PhD recipients in science and engineering. These are supposedly the source of some of our best new technological and business opportunities. We link this to an increasing burden of knowledge by documenting a long-term earnings decline by founders, especially less experienced founders, greater work complexity in R&D, and more administrative work. The results suggest that established firms are better positioned to cope with the increasing burden of knowledge, in particular through the design of knowledge hierarchies, explaining why new firm entry has declined for high-tech, high-opportunity startups.

Here is more from Thomas Åstebro, Serguey Braguinsky, and Yuheng Ding.

The post American Ph.Ds are failing at start-ups appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Learn Some Black American Sign Language

After a video Nakia Smith did with her grandfather went viral, Netflix asked her to explain what Black American Sign Language is, how it came about, and how it differs from American Sign Language.

Black American Sign Language is a dialect of American Sign Language. It’s still a language. It was developed by Black deaf people in the 1800s and 1900s during segregation. For reference, the first American school for the deaf was created in 1817, but only started admitting Black students in 1952. So as a result, Black communities had a different means of language socialization and BASL was born.

Smith demonstrates a few BASL signs that differ from ASL signs and you can see more of those differences in the video w/ her grandfather, who is also deaf.

For more information, you can check out Smith’s TikTok, Wikipedia, and a documentary film called Signing Black in America.

Update: There was also a book about BASL published this year: The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL (Bookshop.org). The book includes 10 companion videos on YouTube.

Tags: American Sign Language   Black American Sign Language   deafness   language   Nakia Smith   video

The Proto-Fascist Cauldron

This situation with Joe DiGenova saying whistleblower (in the informal sense) Chris Krebs should be “taken out at dawn and shot” deserves our attention for a few reasons. The first, of course, is the sheer unacceptability and outrageousness of it. But it’s also a window into the permissive and transgressive far-right/Trumpist ecosystem.

Joe DiGenova wasn’t always this far out there. He’s actually a one-time US Attorney and was seen as an upstanding, though always conservative, member of the elite DC bar. He was actually an Independent Counsel at one point. Things have changed. Last year he was a key player in Rudy Giuliani’s work with Russian intelligence operatives and oligarchs, bagging millions with his partner/wife Victoria Toensing as well as plotting to sabotage a US election. A week ago he was part of that nutty Trump lawyer press conference that appears to have broken the back of Trump’s low energy coup plot. And now he’s calling for a guy Trump fired to be shot.

It’s important to be clear on this. Sometimes people can use ambiguous language that is clearly meant as a metaphor. DiGenova went way past that line, though I’m sure he would say he wasn’t literally demanding that Krebs be shot.

In any case, what happened here?

I’m not saying ‘what happened to Joe DiGenova?’ like he was some upstanding guy and something awful happened to him. I suspect this was always who DiGenova was. I’ve been watching the guy for 25 years. But there is something about the far-right lawyer/commentator/operative ecosystem where almost any expression of aggression or appeal to illegality is basically accepted and lauded. It’s a permissive, enabling environment. I mean, that’s why we have Trump. It’s why we have Trumpism. It’s something with deep political and historical roots. But whatever the roots it exists. And it’s why you have someone like DiGenova openly saying someone who is already getting very real death threats should be shot. It’s also why you have people suddenly pretty much openly demanding that state legislatures toss out the results of an election and declare a different candidate the winner. It’s a seedbed and no-limits generation point of attacks on civic democracy and the republic itself.

Critical Tourist Map of Oslo

Markus Moestue’s Critical Tourist Map of Oslo turns the unremitting positivity of tourist maps on its head, painting the Norwegian capital’s landmarks and history in a bracingly negative light.

In most countries, what we are taught about our own nation in school does not correspond much to reality. And Norway is no exception. We are made to believe in myths surrounding our own nation and are given a perfect mirage of excellence and good intentions in our history lessons. Stories of abuse, greed and war are often swept under the carpet, and it seems that, by some twist of faith, we are born into the best country in the world, and that all other nations are beneath us. Is Norway really the most happy place, the most environmentally conscious, the most peace loving or the most ethical? Hardly!

In this map I aim to correct a few myths, point to some problematic aspects of  Norway and Oslo. And I wish for this map to be a contrast to the mindless commercially motivated map you’ll receive at the tourist information centre.

In a short video, Markus tries to stunt-distribute the map on the streets of Oslo:

Acclimating to New Realities

You’ve probably noticed that my posts have been perhaps a bit more reflective than usual in recent days. Biden not only won and Trump is leaving but now Trump gets it and knows he’s leaving, even as he labors to manufacture a narrative in which he won but is being deprived of office by a conspiracy against him. Like TPM Reader MM below, there is a certain relaxing of muscles and tension. This really is over. And despite Trump’s still fairly successful efforts to project a reality in which he remains a presence past his presidency, I suspect it’s really over to a degree greater than we quite yet suspect.

So when I say reflective I find myself working to shake free of a certain set of assumptions and problems and questions and think through what seems necessary in a new reality which is quite different and yet a continuation and perhaps even a deepening of the crisis of the last five years.

What do we need to do now?

As I’ve been saying for months, we need an audit of the executive branch. We can see now how difficult that ends up being when an incoming administration is faced with such a rush of imperatives, crises and demands on its time. But we need it. So that is something we will discuss. I won’t rehearse the argument again here. The original piece covers it.

You may have noticed that Neera Tanden, head of CAP and Joe Biden’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget is now being targeted by the Bernie-adjacent left and Republican senators largely for her irascible and combative Twitter feed. People are rightly noting the comedy of Republicans newfound concern with mean tweets. The truth is Senators get a vote and they’re free to vote against anyone who hurt their feelings. There’s no law or rule against that, petty as it may be.

More bracingly, Sen. John Cornyn, one of the President’s more reliable toadies for four years has announced that he will need for disclosure of all of President Biden’s nominees work for any foreign governments or corporations. “Transparency is non-negotiable,” he tweeted without irony or apparent self-awareness. But is there a rule against hypocrisy? Hardly.

Here’s where we do get to something that is real and we need to remain focused on going forward. No Republican who has served in Congress under Donald Trump, with the exception of Mitt Romney, has any credibility on any question tied to ethics, public corruption or corrupt entanglements with foreign governments. Folks like Cornyn can say anything they want. But these are all bad faith arguments, bad faith statements and they should be treated as such. TPM alum Brian Beutler has this right in a tweet from a couple days ago: “When I’ve said we need new discourse norms to ostracize bad-faith actors, I was thinking ahead to this moment. How journalists cover Republicans pretending to care about deficits, tweets, etc. will go far toward determining whether the sabotage they’re plotting “works” or not.”

This is correct and it will take a lot of work for Democrats not to get drawn into bad faith arguments, debates, discussions. Obviously Republicans can vote how they want. And honest government, uncorrupted administration of government isn’t less important because Republicans don’t care about it. But we shouldn’t engage bad faith actors on any of these questions. It’s not a matter of tit for tat or that Democrats get to enjoy the standard-less regime Trump enjoyed. It is just a commitment not to engage bad faith actors and bad faith arguments – and to clearly identify those who choose to. It’s actually very important.

These are by no means exhaustive, just a few that are on my mind this morning. Globally, there is no going back. Obama or Hillary Clinton or whatever else did ‘give us Trump’. But clearly the old way of operating created the stage on which Trump was possible. So we need to do better and do differently and profit from the brutal education of the last four years.

Reuters: ‘Samsung May Discontinue Galaxy Note Smartphones’

Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang, reporting for Reuters:

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd may discontinue its premium Galaxy Note phone next year, sources with knowledge of the matter said, a move that would reflect the sharp drop in demand for high-end smartphones due to the coronavirus pandemic. […]

At present, the South Korean tech giant does not have plans to develop a new version of the Galaxy Note for 2021, three sources said, declining to be identified as the plans were not public. Instead, the Galaxy S series’ top model, the S21, will have a stylus and the next version of Samsung’s foldable phone will be compatible with a stylus, which will be sold separately, one of the sources said.

This sounds like it has nothing to do with demand for high-end phones in general, and everything to do with the Note’s raison d’être — integrated stylus support — being rolled out across Samsung’s entire high-end lineup. Samsung sells high-end regular phones and high-end gimmick phones. The gimmick used to be the stylus, now it’s folding.

 ★ 

Where Things Stand: Diverging Realities

Not that we needed any more reason to declare it over, but, as of yesterday, all six states where President Trump has attempted to contest the results of the election have finalized their vote counts. Joe Biden was and is and will be the next president.

Yet, even after Wisconsin and Arizona both officially certified the results of their elections yesterday, the Trump campaign filed another lawsuit this morning — this time in Wisconsin. The campaign is alleging “abuse” of absentee ballots, targeting 270,000 ballots.

It seemingly never ends. But it can, and will, if the world turns its back on Trump’s endless, unsubstantiated crusade. His motivations are clear and plentiful — he’s raising a ton of cash from his most loyal supports by pushing this “fraud” campaign; he’s setting himself up for a 2024 bid; his ego can’t possibly fathom defeat, so conspiracy theories abound.

It’s over and he knows it. After four grueling years, the rest of the country is moving on — has already moved on — leaving a core group of the Trump faithful marooned in an alternate reality.

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

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Josh Kovensky just published a piece on news that Rudy Giuliani discussed a pre-emptive pardon with President Trump. Giuliani is denying he had the conversation.

Kate Riga is reporting on the looming end to 2020’s COVID relief negotiations.

Matt Shuham is looking at new reports of flawed federal tracking of COVID-19 data related to hospitalizations.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

Sean Hannity says the quiet part out loud. The Fox News host and Trump BFF readily and bizarrely admitted last night that he does not “vet the information” that he serves up on his show, which daily traffics in Trumpian conspiracy theories and regularly peddles the President’s Twitter claims. Hannity later tried to clumsily clean up the remark, but it is still not entirely clear what he was trying to say. It appears he was attempting to explain that he doesn’t have someone in Fox News management overseeing the information that he shares on his show, but it’s hard to say. Head here to read more of his remarks.

COVID-19 remains largely non-existent in the eyes of the Trump White House as staff continues planning a slew of indoor celebrations to mark the holiday season. Not only are the series of events flouting public health guidance amid a pandemic, they’re also costing millions of dollars. The events are reportedly being funded by the Republican Party. This comes as the Trump administration has been criticized for hosting several events that appear to have been super spreaders for COVID-19. More than 260,000 Americans have died of the virus this year and cases are currently at an all-time high.

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

Atlas shrugged: ‘Not A Moment Too Soon’: Medical Pros Celebrate Atlas’ Resignation As COVID Adviser.

Coming Up

Trump has nothing on his public schedule today. Vice President Mike Pence will hold a COVID-19 task force meeting at 3:00 p.m. ET in the Situation Room.

Both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will separately received the Presidential Daily Briefing, followed by an announcement of their nominees and appointees to economic policy positions from Delaware.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

McEnany Ignores Male Deputies While Railing Against Coverage Of Biden’s All-Female Comms Team — Cristina Cabrera

What We Are Reading

Florida’s GOP Leaders May Create Long-Range Plan To Fight Rising Seas — Jim Turner

Update: Framing Lumber Prices Up 50% Year-over-year

Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.  

This graph shows CME framing futures through Nov 30th.

Lumcber PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This is down sharply from late August, but still up 51% year-over-year.

There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability.

Clearly there was a surge in demand for lumber mid-year - then the mills started catching up - but demand remains strong.

Three Quick Links for Tuesday Noonish

Ed Yong shares a list of his must-read stories of the pandemic. [getpocket.com]

Japan's govt is subsidizing 80-100% of wages due to Covid-19. Norway: up to 90%. Italy: 80%. The US: 0%. We're killing people, destroying businesses, and bankrupting folks because, god forbid, we can't possibly just give people money! [twitter.com]

The main platform of the Arecibo Observatory collapsed this morning. [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.

Amazon EC2 Now Offers Mac Mini Cloud Computing

AWS:

Built on Apple Mac mini computers, EC2 Mac instances enable customers to run on-demand macOS workloads in the AWS cloud for the first time […]

EC2 Mac instances are powered by a combination of Mac mini computers — featuring Intel’s 8th generation 3.2 GHz (4.6 GHz turbo) Core i7 processors, 6 physical/12 logical cores, and 32 GiB of memory — and the AWS Nitro System, providing up to 10 Gbps of VPC network bandwidth and 8 Gbps of EBS storage bandwidth through high-speed Thunderbolt 3 connections. […] EC2 Mac instances are available in bare metal instance size (mac1.metal), and support macOS Mojave 10.14 and macOS Catalina 10.15, with support for macOS Big Sur 11.0 coming soon. Customers can connect to Mac instances via both SSH for Command Line Interface and active remote screen sharing using a VNC client for a graphical interface.

Intel-only for now, but support for Apple Silicon Macs is surely just a matter of time — “planned for 2021” according to an AWS post targeted to iOS and Mac developers.

At $1/hour, it’s expensive if you want to leave it running all the time.

 ★ 

China lands sample return probe on moon

The shadow of one of Chang’e 5’s landing legs is visible in this image from the spacecraft after touching down on the moon Tuesday. Credit: CNSA

A Chinese spacecraft successfully touched down on the moon Tuesday, beginning what engineers have described as the most challenging phase of the mission to drill, scoop, and seal rocks for launch back into orbit later this week and return to Earth in mid-December.

The Chang’e 5 lander set down in the moon’s Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, region in the northern hemisphere of the near side of the moon, east of a volcanic plateau named Mons Rümker.

The landing occurred at 10:11 a.m. EST (1511 GMT) Tuesday, according to the China National Space Administration. The space agency reported the lander touched down at 43.1 degrees north latitude and 51.8 degrees west longitude on the moon.

The robotic sample return mission launched from China’s Wenchang spaceport Nov. 23 aboard a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket, then arrived in lunar orbit Saturday.

The Chang’e 5 mission’s landing craft detached from its orbiter and return section Sunday to begin a series of descent maneuvers.

CNSA said Chang’e 5’s final descent began at 9:57 a.m. EST (1457 GMT) from a velocity of 3,800 mph (1.7 kilometers) per second under the power of 1,700-pound-thrust throttleable engine, culminating in a brief hover roughly 300 feet, or 100 meters, above the lunar surface to allow on-board sensors to find a smooth landing site.

After reaching the surface, the spacecraft deployed power-generating solar arrays and a communications antenna to begin its two-mission on the moon, CNSA said.

The landing Tuesday signaled the start of a frenetic pace of activities on the lunar surface. The Chang’e 5 lander was expected to begin digging into the lunar crust within a couple of hours after arriving on the moon, first using a drill and then a scoop on a robotic arm to collect rocks for return to Earth.

If successful, Chang’e 5 will be the first mission to bring back rocks from the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

Chang’e 5 is designed to extract up to 4.4 pounds, or 2 kilograms, of material from a depth of up to 6.6 feet, or 2 meters, below the lunar surface.

If all goes according to plan, Chang’e 5’s ascent vehicle will take off Thursday to climb back into orbit around the moon, using its landing platform as a launch pad. The ascent vehicle is expected to rendezvous and dock with the mission’s return module in lunar orbit Saturday, then transfer the lunar samples into the orbiter. The return craft will begin maneuvers to head for Earth for a high-speed re-entry and landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region in mid-December.

The successful landing Tuesday marked the third time China has soft-landed a spacecraft on the moon, following the Chang’e 3 mission in 2013 and Chang’e 4 in 2019. Chang’e 4 became the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the far side of the moon, a feat enabled by the placement of a purpose-built Chinese data relay satellite in deep space.

Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 carried rovers to serve as mobile scouts exploring the lunar landscape. Chang’e 5’s mission on the lunar surface has no mobile rover.

Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at the University of Notre Dame, said China had proven it can land on the moon with previous missions.

“But then they have to collect the sample,” Neal said in an interview shortly after Chang’e 5’s launch. “The interesting thing is they launch from the moon, get into lunar orbit, and then rendezvous with the Earth re-entry vehicle that will bring that sample back to Earth safely and uncompromised. When the Soviets did it in 1976, the last time, it was direct to Earth. They launched from the moon and came straight back to Earth. This one has an extra step in there, which has to go well in order for the sample to actually make it back.

“But given the capability they’ve demonstrated with doing things for the first time, such as the far side landing and roving, I expect things to be successful, and hope they are,” Neal said in an interview with Spaceflight Now.

“We have never done a whole process of taking and sealing samples,” said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e 5 mission at the China Academy of Space Technology, in an interview aired on China’s state-run CCTV television channel. “This part of the work mainly depends on several complicated structures including the drill … the robotic arms used to scoop up rocks and regolith on the lunar surface, and actually a high vacuum sealing device designed to ensure that the sample can remain in its intact status.”

Scientists want to make sure the lunar specimens are sealed for the return to Earth to avoid contamination.

Another challenge will be Chang’e 5’s launch from the lunar surface, the first takeoff from the moon since the 1970s. The ascent module must launch on a precise trajectory to rendezvous with the return module in lunar orbit, and ground teams did not know the lander’s exact orientation on the moon’s surface until after touchdown.

“We need to precisely anticipate the location and speed of the two spacecraft flying (in) lunar orbit,” Peng told CCTV. “Because the probes don’t match in size — our ascender weighs just around 300 to 400 kilograms (660 to 880 pounds) during docking, while the (orbiter) weighs nearly 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds). Any error could knock off the smaller spacecraft, and that would make the docking job much more difficult than before.”

After transferring the samples to the Earth return spacecraft, Chang’e 5 will fire engines to break out of lunar orbit and head for home.

The return carrier will re-enter the atmosphere at some 25,000 mph, or 40,000 kilometers per hour, significantly faster than a re-enter from low Earth orbit. The capsule will will land around Dec. 15 in China’s Inner Mongolia region, where teams will retrieve the moon specimens and transport the material to a lab for analysis.

Nine missions have returned moon samples to Earth, including NASA’s six Apollo missions with astronauts, and three robotic Luna spacecraft launched by the Soviet Union. NASA’s Apollo missions brought back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks from the moon.

There is evidence that rocks in Chang’e 5’s landing zone are much younger than those returned by the Apollo astronauts. Those specimens are some 3.5 billion years old, created during a period of active volcanism in the first billion years of the moon’s existence.

Lava plains to the east of Mons Rümker appear to be less battered by asteroid impacts, suggesting rocks there could be less than 2 billion years old. But models of the moon’s evolution suggest its internal heating should have diminished by that time, rendering volcanoes extinct, Neal said.

“It will be exciting to look at the age of these samples coming back and also the actual compositions of them,” Neal said.

“We haven’t returned samples form the moon in 44 years, since Luna 24, a long time ago,” said James Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University, in an interview broadcast on China’s CGTN television network. “The best way to learn about the moon is by returning samples. That’s true for any planetary body because we can do analyses in the lab that are far superior than what we can do remotely or in situ.”

“Chinese scientists have said that samples from different ages are needed to form a complete picture of the moon,” Peng said. “Through analysis, they think the samples we will collect from the northwest region of Oceanus Procellarum are relatively young. By combining those samples with the previous ones, we will have a better understanding of the moon’s formation and evolution.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

“52 Things I Learned in 2020”

Every year around this time, Tom Whitwell shares a list of 52 things he’s learned over the course of the year, complete with references so you can drill down into each one. Here’s 2020’s version — fascinating as usual. A few favorites:

3. The hold music you hear when you phone Octopus Energy is personalised to your customer account: it’s a number one record from the year you were 14. [Clem Cowton]

18. 10% of the GDP of Nepal comes from people climbing Mount Everest. [Zachary Crockett]

30. In Warsaw’s Gruba Kaśka water plant there are eight clams with sensors attached to their shells. If the clams close because they don’t like the taste of the water, the city’s supply is automatically shut off. [Judita K]

44. A micromort is a one-in-a-million chance of death. Just being alive is about 24 micromorts per day, skydiving is 8 micromorts per jump. [Matt Webb]

52. British clowns register their unique makeup patterns by having them hand painted onto chicken eggs. The eggs are then stored either at the Holy Trinity Church in Dalston or at Wookey Hole caves in Somerset. [Dave Fagundes & Aaron Perzanowski]

You can check out the rest here.

Tags: best of   best of 2020   lists   Tom Whitwell

Decline and Fall

TPM Reader MM channels some of my recent thinking …

I viewed that priceless video last night, and was delighted and unsurprised to learn that Trump was furious about it. That’s the thing about losing, when a majority hates you: nobody who matters is listening. Raised $170 million on lies? Delighted to see the money well wasted by those who contributed. Trump was politically successful in a restricted, time-limited sense, but a Trump propaganda organization fueled by supporters’ bucks? Money down the toilet, just like every other business enterprise ever undertaken by Trump. Keep the money flowing in! Give more next month!

It’s taking a while to recover fully from the pervasive stress of the past four years. But the night-into-day flip, from daily outrages applauded and echoed by sycophants and bootlickers from Main Street to Capitol Hill, to every-day-more-insults-and-abandonment, is helping. A lot.

Nobody is listening to Trump, and that is crushing him. His psychological impairments make it impossible for him to mitigate or even deal with his diminution. And every day his power diminishes yet further, creating a positive feedback loop of defections and slights. Foreign leaders, most of whom had only contempt for and necessarily a bit of fear of Trump, are effectively according to Joe Biden the respect and status due to the president. Hell, even Kay Bailey Hutchison is on board.

Good times, though I’m sure that Trump will try to do whatever more damage he can.

Tuesday assorted links

1. New data on YouTube consumption.

2. New Canadian paper: “…for most parameter values, the optimal policy is to adopt an initial shutdown level which reduces the reproduction number of the epidemic to close to 1. This level is then reduced once a vaccination program is underway.”

3. More on Deep Mind and protein structures.  And off-label drug uses, to an extreme.

4. Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock is one of the very best movies of this year; search Amazon Prime for “Small Axe,” select episode two.  Short too.

5. Cecilia Rouse on debt cancellation.

6. Covid-19 in America detected as early as Dec.13-16 2019?  See here for good criticisms, still an open question.

7. Update on FDA vaccine review.  And new information on the EU review schedule.

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

How to Read Economics Research Papers: RCTs

The latest video from MRU is from Josh Angrist’s Mastering Econometrics class and it covers How to Read Economics Research Papers: Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs). The video is for the student and it will be very useful for teachers of introductory statistics and econometrics.

The post How to Read Economics Research Papers: RCTs appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Russian spaceport officials are being sacked left and right

Vladimir Putin, center, and Dmitry Rogozin, far right, tour Russia's new Vostochny Cosmodrome in October 2015.

Vladimir Putin, center, and Dmitry Rogozin, far right, tour Russia's new Vostochny Cosmodrome in October 2015. (credit: Kremlin)

The controversial leader of Russia's space enterprises, Dmitry Rogozin, has continued a spree of firings that have seen many of the nation's top spaceport officials fired, arrested, or both.

Most recently, on November 27, Russian media reported that Rogozin fired the leader of the Center for Exploitation of Ground-Based Space Infrastructure, which administers all of Russia’s spaceports. Andrei Okhlopkov, the leader of this Roscosmos subsidiary, had previously faced a reprimand from Rogozin for "repeated shortcomings in his work." The spaceport organization has more than 12,000 employees.

Earlier this month, Rogozin also fired Vladimir Zhuk, chief engineer of the center that administers Russian spaceports. According to Russian media reports, Zhuk was then arrested for abusing his authority in signing off on water supply contracts.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Construction Spending Increased 1.3% in October

From the Census Bureau reported that overall construction spending decreased in June:
Construction spending during October 2020 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,438.5 billion, 1.3 percent above the revised September estimate of $1,420.4 billion. The October figure is 3.7 percent above the October 2019 estimate of $1,386.8 billion.
emphasis added
Both private and public spending increased:
Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,093.7 billion, 1.4 percent above the revised September estimate of $1,078.9 billion. ...

In October, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $344.8 billion, 1.0 percent above the revised September estimate of $341.4 billion.
Construction Spending Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows private residential and nonresidential construction spending, and public spending, since 1993. Note: nominal dollars, not inflation adjusted.

Residential spending is 6% below the previous peak.

Non-residential spending is 10% above the previous peak in January 2008 (nominal dollars), but has been weak recently.

Public construction spending is 6% above the previous peak in March 2009, and 32% above the austerity low in February 2014.

Year-over-year Construction SpendingThe second graph shows the year-over-year change in construction spending.

On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is up 14.5%. Non-residential spending is down 8.2% year-over-year. Public spending is up 3.7% year-over-year.

Construction was considered an essential service in most areas and did not decline sharply like many other sectors, but it seems likely that non-residential, and public spending (depending on disaster relief), will be under pressure. For example, lodging is down 23% YoY, multi-retail down 19% YoY, and office down 8% YoY.

This was above consensus expectations of a 0.4% increase in spending, and construction spending for the previous two months was revised up (mostly private residential).

Chang’e-5 successfully lands on moon to collect youngest lunar samples

Representation of the Chang'e-5 lander in low lunar orbit ahead of landing.

HELSINKI — China’s Chang’e-5 has successfully landed on the moon in a major step towards obtaining the youngest lunar samples so far collected and delivering them to Earth.

The Chang’e-5 lander initiated a powered descent at 9:58 a.m. Eastern and successfully completed its soft landing near Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) 10:11 a.m. Eastern.

The lander will within a few hours begin collecting samples by drilling up to two meters into the lunar regolith, with a scoop to later take material from the surface. Liftoff of a small spacecraft atop the lander will take place in around 48 hours.

A waiting lunar orbiter will collect the samples from the ascent vehicle and deliver them to Earth around December 16.

The mission is the first lunar sample return attempt since the end of the U.S. Apollo and Soviet Luna missions in the 1970s. It is hoped the radiometric dating of samples brought to Earth will confirm the age of rock units theorized geologically youthful. 

A relative lack of crater impacts observed in parts of this western edge of the moon suggest that it contains basaltic rocks created by late-stage volcanism which could be billions of years younger than those collected from Apollo and Soviet Luna landing sites.

“With the new age data, we can calibrate the crater counting method, being more precise for young events,” Dr. Lin Yangting, at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics in Beijing under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told SpaceNews. Additionally, scientists will conduct compositional, mineralogical and radioisotope analysis to ascertain “the nature of the young basalt and its mantle reservoir, in order to understand why the basalt erupted so [much] later.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, tweeted his congratulations shortly after landing and expressed hopes that the samples could advance the international science community.

The four-module Chang’e-5 spacecraft launched on a Long March 5 rocket Nov. 23. It then embarked on a 112-hour to the moon and entered lunar orbit Nov. 28 before the spacecraft separated in preparation for the landing attempt. 

The lander is carrying science, imaging and sampling equipment along with the small ascent vehicle designed to lift samples back into lunar orbit. An orbiting service module remains in a lunar orbit ready to receive the samples, a process requiring an exacting and time-critical automated rendezvous and docking with the ascent vehicle.

Tuesday’s lunar landing is China’s third, following the Chang’e-3 and Chang’e-4 missions which touched down in 2013 and 2019 respectively. Chang’e-4 also made the first ever landing on the lunar far side with the aid of a relay satellite positioned beyond the moon.

An image of Mons Rümker on the Moon captured by Apollo 15 astronauts in 1971.
An image of Mons Rümker on the Moon captured by Apollo 15 astronauts in 1971. Credit: NASA

Chang’e-5: Next steps

Now on the surface, the Chang’e-5 lander has 48 hours to carry out its science and sampling activities and prepare the ascent vehicle for liftoff. 20 hours are set aside for collecting around two kilograms of lunar materials. These will consist of 0.5 kilogram samples from drilling and 1.5 kilograms scooped from the surface and placed in a container aboard the ascent vehicle.

Then follows perhaps the most challenging stages of the complex Chang’e-5 mission. The  roughly 500-kilogram ascent vehicle will launch from atop the lander into a 15 by 185-kilometer orbit to meet up with the waiting service module, which is meanwhile performing phasing burns in lunar orbit. Around two days after ascent vehicle liftoff the two spacecraft will have a 3.5-hour window during which they must perform rendezvous and docking. 

China has conducted rendezvous and docking operations, both automated and manually, in low Earth orbit using Shenzhou crewed spacecraft, Tiangong space labs and Tianzhou cargo vessels. This operation will however be taking place nearly 400,000 kilometers from Earth, bringing not insignificant light-time delay. It would also be the first ever robotic docking operation in lunar orbit. 

China's Chang'e-5 spacecraft stack undergoing testing.
China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft stack undergoing testing. Credit: CCTV/framegrab

After a successful docking the sample canister will be transferred from ascent vehicle to the reentry module attached to the service module. The ascent vehicle will then be jettisoned. The service module will spend 6-7 days in lunar orbit awaiting the optimal Earth return trajectory window for a reentry and landing at Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia 112 hours later.

The reentry vehicle will separate from the service module around 5,000 kilometers from Earth. A skip reentry, involving bouncing off the atmosphere—a maneuver tested by the Chang’e-5 T1 mission in 2014—to deal with the high-velocity return from the moon will follow. ESA tracking stations will support this critical phase as the spacecraft attempts reentry. 

Samples will then be transferred to specially constructed facilities in Beijing and Hunan for handling, analyzing and storing the lunar material. 

Fundamental questions

Bradley Jolliff, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, says that remote sensing evidence for unusual concentrations of thorium, uranium, and potassium in the landing area pose interesting questions pertinent to Chang’e-5. “These are radiogenic heat-producing elements and may help us to understand why volcanism was so prolonged and extensive in the western Oceanus Procellarum region.”  

Additionally there is the possibility of the presence of “silicic volcanics” from the Mairan Domes in the collected material, which would provide added insight into potentially the complex lunar geology of the region.

Katherine Joy, a Reader in Earth Sciences at the University of Manchester, says the additional Chang’e-5 lander radar and imaging spectrometer instrument payloads will provide vital geological context for the returned samples. These will help “reveal the sub-surface nature of the landing site, for example, revealing the thickness of underlying soil and lava flows, and also the compositional diversity of the area.” 

These will “help [us] understand if the samples returned to Earth are representative of the area in which they were collected.” 

Joy and Jolliff state that development of robotic sample return technologies will assist in exploration of the moon, both as a step to crewed missions and providing ability to visit scientifically interesting areas which will not be targeted by human missions.

The selected landing area for the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return.
The selected landing area for the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return. Credit: Phil Stooke

Backup mission, future goals

Chang’e-6 is a sample return spacecraft engineered at the same time as Chang’e-5 to provide a backup in the event of failure. Success of Chang’e-5 would however see Chang’e-6 repurposed for a landing at the lunar south pole around 2023.

China has stated it will then proceed into an extended phase of lunar exploration involving Chang’e-7 and further lunar landing missions. The aim will be to establish an ‘international lunar research station’ in the mid-to-late 2020s as a precursor to crewed landings.

Sample return technology and experience developed through Chang’e-5 is also to be utilized for planned near Earth asteroid and Mars sample return missions later in the decade. The complexity of the Chang’e-5 mission profile is considered by observers to be related to future crewed lunar landing ambitions.

“The Chinese space agency has demonstrated its capabilities several times now, and they have stayed on schedule with their ambitious plans for the past decade. They will probably do likewise with their manned exploration. I think we should cooperate in terms of the science. It’s a great way to do diplomacy,” says Jolliff.

 

Edited at 1:58 p.m. Eastern with landing time and tweet from NASA official

SpaceNews

ISM Manufacturing index Decreased to 57.5 in November

The ISM manufacturing index indicated expansion in November. The PMI was at 57.5% in November, down from 59.3% in October. The employment index was at 48.4%, down from 53.2% last month, and the new orders index was at 65.1%, down from 67.9%.

From ISM: Manufacturing PMI® at 57.5%; November 2020 Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®
Economic activity in the manufacturing sector grew in November, with the overall economy notching a seventh consecutive month of growth, say the nation's supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®.

The report was issued today by Timothy R. Fiore, CPSM, C.P.M., Chair of the Institute for Supply Management® (ISM®) Manufacturing Business Survey Committee:

"The November Manufacturing PMI® registered 57.5 percent, down 1.8 percentage points from the October reading of 59.3 percent. This figure indicates expansion in the overall economy for the seventh month in a row after a contraction in April, which ended a period of 131 consecutive months of growth. The New Orders Index registered 65.1 percent, down 2.8 percentage points from the October reading of 67.9 percent. The Production Index registered 60.8 percent, a decrease of 2.2 percentage points compared to the October reading of 63 percent. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 56.9 percent, 1.2 percentage points higher compared to the October reading of 55.7 percent. The Employment Index returned to contraction territory at 48.4 percent, 4.8 percentage points down from the October reading of 53.2 percent. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 61.7 percent, up 1.2 percentage points from the October figure of 60.5 percent. The Inventories Index registered 51.2 percent, 0.7 percentage point lower than the October reading of 51.9 percent. The Prices Index registered 65.4 percent, down 0.1 percentage point compared to the October reading of 65.5 percent. The New Export Orders Index registered 57.8 percent, an increase of 2.1 percentage points compared to the October reading of 55.7 percent. The Imports Index registered 55.1 percent, a 3-percentage point decrease from the October reading of 58.1 percent."
emphasis added
ISM PMIClick on graph for larger image.

Here is a long term graph of the ISM manufacturing index.

This was at expectations, however the employment index moved below 50 (contraction).

This suggests manufacturing expanded at a slower pace in November than in October.

Arecibo Observatory Suffered More Damage Overnight

NHC Atlantic Outlook


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


ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Special Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
955 AM EST Tue Dec 1 2020

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

1. A gale-force, non-tropical low pressure system is centered between
the Madeira Islands and the Azores. This system has become less
organized during the past 24 hours, and environmental conditions are
expected to become less conducive for development as the system
moves southwestward during the next day or two. Although
subtropical development is now unlikely, this system will continue
to produce strong winds and locally heavy rains in the Madeira
Islands and the Azores through Wednesday. Additional information on
this system can be found in High Seas Forecasts issued by Meteo
France.

This will be the last Special Tropical Weather Outlook issued on
this system. Regularly scheduled Tropical Weather Outlooks will
resume on June 1, 2021, while Special Tropical Weather Outlooks will
be issued as necessary during the off-season.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...10 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...10 percent.

High Seas Forecasts issued by Meteo France can be found under WMO
header FQNT50 LFPW.

Forecaster Beven


Professional Democrats (Still) Need to Learn How to Make Alternative Narratives

Will Wilkerson has some very good observations about why Republican failures on COVID-19 weren’t the game changer many thought they would be (boldface mine):

>Mr. Trump abdicated responsibility, shifting the burden onto states and municipalities with busted budgets. He then waged a war of words against governors and mayors — especially Democrats — who refused to risk their citizens’ lives by allowing economic and social activity to resume.

He spurred his supporters to make light of the danger of infection, made the churlish refusal to wear masks into an emblem of emancipation from the despotism of experts and turned public health restrictions on businesses, schools and social gatherings into a tyrannical conspiracy to steal power by damaging the economy and his re-election prospects.

He succeeded in putting Democrats on the defensive about economic restrictions and school closures. As months passed and with no new relief coming from Washington, financially straitened Democratic states and cities had little choice but to ease restrictions on businesses just to keep the lights on. That seemed to concede the economic wisdom of the more permissive approach in majority-Republican states and fed into Mr. Trump’s false narrative of victory over the virus and a triumphant return to normalcy.

They allowed Republicans to define the contrast between the parties’ approaches to the pandemic in terms of freedom versus exhausting, indefinite shutdowns.

Democrats needed to present a competing, compelling strategy to counter Republican messaging. Struggling workers and businesses never clearly heard exactly what they’d get if Democrats ran the show, and Democrats never came together to scream bloody murder that Republicans were refusing to give it to them. Democrats needed to underscore the depth of Republican failure by forcefully communicating what other countries had done to successfully control the virus. And they needed to promise to do the same through something like an Operation Warp Speed for testing and P.P.E. to get America safely back in business.

Instead, they whined that Mr. Trump’s negligence and incompetence were to blame for America’s economic woes and complained that Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even consider the House’s big relief bill. They weren’t wrong, but correctly assigning culpability did nothing to help working-class breadwinners who can’t bus tables, process chickens, sell smoothies or clean hotel rooms over Zoom.

The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?

This isn’t the whole story. Democrats really don’t have a propaganda arm equivalent to Fox News. Because when people’s own lived experiences directly contradict Trump et alia’s spin, Democrats did well:

The president’s mendacious push to hastily reopen everything was less compelling to college-educated suburbanites, who tend to trust experts and can work from home, watch their kids and spare a laptop for online kindergarten. Mr. Trump lost the election mainly because he lost enough of these voters, including some moderate Republicans who otherwise voted straight Republican tickets.

We need new political leadership, because new leadership would bring in a new group of consultants and advisors. Because what national Democrats are doing isn’t working, and is failing politically.

Blue Origin creates advisory board

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin is establishing a board of advisors, whose members include a former Air Force secretary and former NASA center directors, to guide the company on its long-term vision of space development.

The company announced Dec. 1 it was establishing the seven-person board of advisors that will provide “strategic counsel on the company’s mission to radically reduce the cost of access to space and the utilization of in-space resources,” according to a company statement.

“This board will help us drive our mission forward, provide us guidance on our key initiatives and serve as strategic advisors to our leadership team,” Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said in the statement.

Most of the members of the board are also former government officials. They include Heather Wilson, former secretary of the Air Force; Kari A. Bingen, former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security; and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Sue Mashiko, former deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office. Charles Elachi, the former director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Todd May, former director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, are also on the board.

The makeup of the board suggests they may assist Blue Origin in winning more government business. Blue Origin proposed its New Glenn launch vehicle for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 competition, but lost to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. Blue Origin is one of three companies with NASA Human Landing System (HLS) awards to develop crewed lunar landers for the agency’s Artemis program, but NASA is unlikely to win the full funding it sought for HLS in its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal needed to keep that program on schedule.

Blue Origin did not disclose why they selected these individuals to serve on the advisory board. A company source, speaking on background, said it selected people “best aligned with our values as a company, provided insights and perspectives that we need, and represented the diversity of our industry.”

The company also didn’t disclose details of how the board will work. A company source said that there will be regular meetings of the board with Blue Origin leadership as well as additional conversations as needed.

The full roster of the advisory board is:

  • The Hon. Kari A. Bingen: former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security
  • Dr. Charles Elachi: former Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Dr. Dan Hastings: Aeronautics and Astronautics Department Head, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and former Chief Scientist, U.S. Air Force
  • Maj. Gen. Sue Mashiko, USAF (Ret.): former Deputy Director, National Reconnaissance Office
  • Todd May: Senior Vice President, Space and Mission Solutions, KBR; and former Director, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
  • Bill Smith: former President, Primex Technologies Aerospace Division
  • The Hon. Heather Wilson: President, University of Texas at El Paso; former Secretary of the U.S. Air Force; and former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

SpaceNews

Vanity Fair Interviews Billie Eilish for a Fourth Consecutive Year

For the fourth year in a row, Vanity Fair interviewed teen pop star Billie Eilish on where she is in her life, what she’s learned, where she sees herself in the future, how her work is progressing, and how her answers from previous years hold up. (Past interviews: 2019, 2018.) This year is obviously different because of the pandemic and hits differently because of it.

I still marvel that Vanity Fair embarked on this project with this particular person. They could have chosen any number of up-and-coming 2017 pop singer/songwriters and they got lucky with the one who went supernova and won multiple Grammys.

Tags: Billie Eilish   interviews   video

CityLab Wants Your Homemade Map of 2020

Earlier this year CityLab invited readers to submit maps of their life under lockdown. Now they’re soliciting reader maps again, with a slightly expanded focus: 2020 in general. (Which, in general, was a year: how do you represent that cartographically? That’s the idea.)

We’re inviting you, our readers, to create a homemade map of your life, community, workplace or broader surroundings as you experienced them in 2020. Show us how the extraordinary changes of this year have shown up in your life. Or, try to envision how this year will impact 2021. Perhaps you want to map the city you hope to see—changes in architecture, transportation or public space—or how you imagine, hope or fear humanity might be changed due to this collectively lived experience.

Deadline is Monday, 7 December.

Previously: CityLab Wants Your Hand-Drawn Quarantine Maps; Maps from Isolation.

China Chang’e 5 probe has safely landed on the Moon [Updated]

Technicians celebrate the successful launch of the Chang'e-5 spacecraft at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China.

Enlarge / Technicians celebrate the successful launch of the Chang'e-5 spacecraft at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China. (credit: Jin Liwang/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Update, Tuesday 10:25am ET: Chinese state news sources have reported that the Chang'e 5 probe landed safely on the Moon. In the end, live video of the attempt was not provided. If all goes well, the probe will now gather rock samples before a small return vehicle blasts of from the surface of the Moon on Thursday.

Update, Tuesday 9:20am ET: It appears that Chinese state television will broadcast the landing attempt of its Chang'e 5 mission live. The landing attempt, which will seek to collect and return rocks from the surface of the Moon, is expected to begin at 9:58am ET (14:58 UTC) and be completed by 10:13am ET (15:13 UTC).

The best available live video will be embedded below. (Note: The existing video cut out about 20 minutes before the landing attempt. We are attempting to find live video).

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Chef's Kiss

Don’t deprive yourself of this wonderful moment when Arizona Gov. Ducey (R) is signing the election certification papers for his state and gets a call from the President on his cell phone which he promptly mutes.

Violence Beyond King Street on the Fifth of March

By modern standards, the judges overseeing the trial of the soldiers for the Boston Massacre should have limited the testimony to what happened in King Street or specifically involved the defendants.

However, prosecutors Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Quincy wanted to call witnesses to violence and threats from other soldiers that night. Or as acting governor Thomas Hutchinson later wrote: “The Counsel for the Crown urged to be admitted to prove the threats &ct. of the Soldiers preceding the Action.”

The judges were dubious, but defense attorneys John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr., were agreeable as long as they had the same leeway to introduce testimony about violence and threats by civilians.

That tactic actually split the defense team, again according to Hutchinson. Robert Auchmuty, senior attorney for Capt. Thomas Preston and a strong advocate for the Crown in other respects, didn’t like letting people testify about aggressive soldiers, but he wasn’t arguing this case.

Adams himself reportedly didn’t want to put too much testimony about aggressive townspeople on record. Hutchinson stated:
Quincy one of the Counsel for the prisoners was for giving very large Evidence against the Inhabitants to prove a premeditated design to drive out the Soldiers & frequent abuse as well as threats Adams was against it & [Sampson Salter] Blowers who acted as an Attony to prepare the Evidence told me that Adams said if they would go on with such Witnesses who only served to set the Town in a bad light he would leave the cause & not say a word more. So that a stop was put & many witnesses were not brought who otherwise would have been.
Some supporters of the Crown even feared Adams was sabotaging the soldiers’ case, but Hutchinson declined to replace him “as it would have been extremely irregular” and Auchmuty wasn’t ready to step in.

As a result, we have records from the trial of confrontations elsewhere in town that night. For instance, Sgt. William Davis of the 14th Regiment described running into a crowd he estimated as about 200 people near Wentworth’s wharf:
I saw no soldier in the street; I heard them saying damn the dogs knock them down, we will knock down the first officer, or bloody backed rascal we shall meet this night; some of them then said they would go to the southward, and join some of their friends there, and attack the damned scoundrels, and drive them out of the town, for they had no business here.

Apprehending danger if I should be in my regimentals, I went into a house at the North end and changed my dress, and in my return from the North-end, about nine, coming near Dock square, I heard a great noise a whistling and rattling of wood; I came near the Market place, and saw a great number of people there, knocking against the posts, and tearing up the stalls, saying damn the lobsters, where are they now; I heard several voices, some said let us kill that damned scoundrel of a Sentry, and then attack the Main guard; some said, let us go to Smith’s barracks [also called Murray’s barracks], others said let us go to the rope-walks;

they divided: The largest number went up Royal-exchange-lane, and another party up Fitch’s alley, and the rest through the main street, up Cornhill. I passed by the Golden-Ball, I saw no person there but a woman, persuading a man to stay at home; he said he would not, he would go amongst them, if he lost his life by it. . . .

It was past nine, for I heard bells ring before. One of them was loading his piece by Oliver’s dock, he said he would do for some of these scoundrels that night.
John Cox, brick-layer, testified to a different scene in the South End:
I saw three soldiers, two belonging to the Neck, and one to the Main Guard, by Liberty-tree, I was at Mr. [John] Gore [Jr.]’s shop opposite the Tree; one said to the other, bring half your guard, and we will bring half ours, and we will blow up this damned pole; I said, so sure as you offer ye scoundrels to blow up that pole, you will have your brains blown out.
Soldiers in New York had blown up the Liberty Pole there a few weeks earlier, prompting bigger fights.

Gregory Townshend, merchant:
Just after the bell rung nine, hearing the bell ring again, I went out thinking it was fire; I saw numbers of people running from the South-end some had buckets, the principal number had clubs in their hands. I asked where is the fire, I received for answer, at the Rope-walks and in King street. Numbers were coming with buckets, and the rest said Damn your bloods do not bring buckets, bring clubs.
Henry Bass, another merchant—and a member of the Loyall Nine:
I went down the main-street, and coming near Boylston’s alley, I saw a number of boys and children from twelve to fifteen years old, betwixt Mr. [William?] Jackson’s and the alley; some of them had walking canes. A number of soldiers, I think four, sallied out of the alley. . . .

I took the soldiers for grenadiers, all of them had cutlasses drawn. . . . They came out of the alley, and I imagine from the barracks; they fell on these boys, and every body else that came in their way, they struck them; they followed me and almost over took me, I had the advantage of them and run as far as Col. [Joseph] Jackson’s, there I made a stand, they came down as far as the stone shop. . . .

these lads came down, some of them came to the Market square, one got a stave, others pieces of pine, they were very small, I do not know whether any of the lads were cut. I turned and then saw an oyster-man, who said to me, damn it here is what I have got by going up; (showing his shoulder wounded) I put my finger into the wound and blooded it very much.
Each legal team thus tried to portray the other side as needlessly aggressive and their own clients as responding with reasonable force. Of course, that was the problem in the first place.

Taking out the trash: One man’s mission to tidy up the space environment

Earth is encircled by derelict spacecraft, the remains of exploded rocket stages, and myriad bits of orbiting debris — from tiny chips of paint to the lingering leftovers of past but purposeful anti-satellite tests. Collectively, such high-speed clutter and other litter-causing activities heighten the risk of damaging or short-circuiting the performance of functional spacecraft.

The debris threat is a recognized reality. Outer space has already been termed a “tragedy of the commons” in the making. What avenues need to be taken to curb creation of orbiting rubble, help pinpoint the prospect of space collisions, and — above all — become better stewards of sustaining a quality space environment?

SpaceNews contributor Leonard David discussed these issues with Moriba Jah, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin, a specialist on space situational awareness, space traffic monitoring, and the hazard of orbital debris.

There was significant media attention paid last month to a potential orbital collision between an old Soviet satellite and a Chinese upper stage rocket body, flagged by LeoLabs, a tracking company. It didn’t happen, but any lessons learned from that incident?

Moriba Jah, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin. Credit: Courtesy Moriba Jah

Evidence is best when it can be independently corroborated. To me, the LeoLabs issue could have happened with any other entity when opinion is just based on that entity’s own data. This is the importance of crowdsourcing. There’s need for a consensus of opinions. That’s the direction we need to go in. It’s bad news if we desensitize people as it could become a Chicken Little kind of thing. Soon enough people don’t pay attention and say, “Oh, yeah. It’s another nothing burger.” So my sense of urgency is let’s try to independently corroborate an event and then figure out how to move forward from that. I think just getting some answer and then blurting it out will ultimately hurt the community.

You have raised concern that the U.S. military cannot accurately track all satellites and that their current data could be “biased.” Why so?

There are a number of things that actually influence the motion of objects in space. Then there’s a group of things that influence our perception of the motion of things in space. Things like gravity, solar flux, particulates like micrometeoroids, charged particles. Those are external things to anthropogenic space objects. Then you have control of objects, like thrusting, etc. These are the things that actually influence the motion of space objects. But by and large we don’t know all those things perfectly. Our assumptions on the physics are not perfect. The observations we have are inferring behavior. The actual data is corrupted by noise and biases. This is all very nuanced. You need to apply different methods to the same data to see what the statistical consistency is. That way you gain confidence and confidence comes from independent trials. The Defense Department (DoD) does not have all the methods I have described. They have assumptions on the physics. The fact that they model everything like a sphere already says that it can’t be the right answer. The objects in their catalog are modeled like a cannonball and very few of those objects actually look like that. So that’s a bias. It’s a systematic error in the opinion.

There is movement on giving the U.S. Commerce Department a new role in space situational awareness (SSA). What’s your view regarding this prospect?

I started off my career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It’s the best matrix organization that I ever worked for. What I’ve told parts of the government is that it’s OK if Commerce is the project manager for civil SSA and space traffic management, but this needs to be like a matrix organization. It needs to have line manager elements that clearly Commerce has no clue about because it’s just not their thing. There needs to be an interagency line, because clearly the DoD has been doing this for a really long time and Commerce hasn’t. There needs to be some sort of commercial entity. There needs to be academic researchers.

These should be the line elements and then Commerce should be resourced and given the responsibility. What Commerce needs is authority, responsibility, and the ability to affect change … to broker deals with each of the line elements so it can operate this matrix capability for the United States. That’s the way I think this needs to work.

You think that’s the way it is going to play out?

Of course not.

In testimony before Congress, you’ve advocated for creation of a nonprofit civil space traffic management public-private partnership. Why and how does that work?

There are different people that have a stake in what’s going on in space … all of humanity. There can’t be a single entity that shoulders the burden of the whole thing. There’s not a single government on the planet that can actually provide the continuing supervision in the absence of help from the people that they are authorizing. Government by itself can’t actually meet the needs of the community in space to achieve safety, security and sustainability without the cooperation of the very same entities they are authorizing to operate in space.

I have been developing AstriaGraph, a crowdsourcing, participatory sensing network. It prevents any single source of information from being able to uniquely bias or prejudice your opinion about what happens in space. That’s what we want to get to. We use a variety of data sources. There’s strength in numbers.

Over the years, various concepts for space debris removal have been proposed, be they harpoons, even fishnet-like devices to snag clutter. How practical are these ideas?

I like making an analogy to the ocean. A lot of the items in the oceans can be cleaned up, but things like microplastics are going to be there forever. I think people need to accept that we need to learn how to live within our own filth. A pristine space environment through cleaning will never happen. We need to accept that as reality.

Let me put it in current pandemic terms. How do we flatten the curve on the growth and spread of space debris? The biggest issue is lack of compliance, the equivalent of people not wearing masks and not social distancing. How do we incentivize people to actually comply with guidelines? There are a few things that we can remove out of the way because they are ticking time bombs, super-spreader events such as rocket bodies [that can potentially explode].

What other steps need to be taken?

Before anything else, we need to come up with a global definition of what “carrying capacity” in orbit means. Just like there’s carrying capacity for ecosystems, for highways, what is the equivalent carrying capacity for any given orbit regime? We should also come up with a definition for something like a “space traffic footprint” which is loosely the burden that anything has on sustainability, the safety of other things in space. No single country can just use up the carrying capacity of the orbit because it doesn’t belong to any country. It’s a shared resource. We have to come up with an orbital resource management program, to manage and allocate capacity. Those are the sorts of conversations that can underwrite sensible legislation. But without the sustainability metric, we just don’t get there.

If every country is just free to do whatever it wants in space, and we don’t have modes of behavior to help manage the common resource, then yes, eventually, we’re going to have a tragedy of the commons. That’s just going to happen.

There’s an evolving capability for satellite servicing. How important is that ability?

Because I’m coming to this in part as a space environmentalist, let’s minimize or eliminate single-use satellites. We should have some sort of capability to reuse and recycle objects in space. On-orbit servicing, reuse, recycling services to me is critical in the way that humanity needs to evolve in its use of outer space. But there’s a caveat. We need to also minimize misinterpretation. If somebody comes within close proximity of somebody else, they may feel it’s a threat and claim self-defense. So these are real human behaviors that we’ve displayed on Earth that we need to apply to space, so that we can forecast this a bit and try to prevent these things from happening.

You call yourself a space environmentalist, but why and how do you define that label?

I am a self-titled space environmentalist. I am not saying that tomorrow something cataclysmic is going to happen. But on our current path, space will become unusable if we do nothing different. Our behavior has not been so good for oceans, the atmosphere and climate. Space is suffering that. We are still at a point where we can do something about it. Environmental protection needs to be extended to near-Earth space for sure. That needs to be underscored. I just don’t want to be an alarmist. I just want to be a realist.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

SpaceNews

CoreLogic: House Prices up 7.3% Year-over-year in October

Notes: This CoreLogic House Price Index report is for October. The recent Case-Shiller index release was for September. The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA).

From CoreLogic: Gaining Momentum: Annual U.S. Home Prices Appreciated 7.3% in October, CoreLogic Reports
CoreLogic® ... today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for October 2020. Nationally, home prices increased 7.3% in October 2020, compared with October 2019, marking the fastest annual appreciation since April 2014. On a month-over-month basis, home prices increased by 1.1% compared to September 2020.
...
Home prices climbed in recent months due to heightened demand and ongoing home supply constraints. The supply shortage could further intensify as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and would-be sellers remain hesitant about putting their homes on the market. However, to keep up with the rising demand, new home construction surged in October and builder confidence reached a new high for the third consecutive month. The decreased pressure on supply could moderate home price growth over the next year. This is reflected in the CoreLogic HPI Forecast, which shows home prices slowing to 1.9% by October 2021. However, should the economic recovery from the pandemic be more robust, then we would expect projections for home price performance to improve.

“Home buyers have been spurred by record-low mortgage rates and an urgency to buy or upgrade to more space, especially as much of the American workforce continues to work from home,” said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “First-time buyers in particular should remain a big part of next year’s home purchases, as the largest wave of millennials is heading into prime home-buying years.”

“The pandemic has shifted home buyer interest toward detached rather than attached homes,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “Detached homes offer more living space and are typically located in less densely populated neighborhoods. And while prices of single-family detached homes posted an annual increase of 7.9% in October, the price of attached homes rose only 4.5% year over year.”
emphasis added

The labor market that is the military: a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine

 I recently served as a member of a National Academies committee on the issues facing the Air Force in managing its human capital, i.e. its labor force.  It resulted in a long report covering many aspects of Air Force policy.  

One of the fun things about that assignment was meeting with people throughout the U.S. armed forces (and some allies).  Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the promotion ceremony for a very thoughtful Air Force officer, Tobias Switzer. Congratulations, Colonel!.*

Readers of this blog are likely to be most interested in the evolving ways that military personnel are matched to new assignments, from time to time during their careers.  A first order problem has to do with retention, since the armed services compete with the private sector for highly trained people (e.g. pilots, cyber warriors, special operators, to name a few), which is most visible at times when the person in question doesn't have any further military service obligation.  Below, I excerpt some paragraphs concerning one new aspect of this process, called the Talent Marketplaces. (The page numbers refer to sections of the report, e.g. "p2-7" refers to page 7 of section 2.)

Here's the report:

A Consensus Study Report, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2020:

Strengthening U.S. Air Force Human Capital Management: A Flight Plan for 2020-2030. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25828

Committee on Strengthening U.S. Air Force Human Capital Management, Board on Human-Systems Integration, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

Committee and Staff: Julie J.C.H. Ryan (Co-Chair), William J. Strickland (Co-Chair), Terry A. Ackerman, David S.C. Chu, Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, Usaf (Retired), Brig. Gen. Leon A. Johnson, Usafr (Retired), Judith S. Olson, Dan J. Putka, Alvin E. Roth, Ann Marie Ryan, Stephen Stark, Cherie Chauvin, Study Director, Elizabeth T. Cady, Senior Program Officer, Daniel Talmage, Program Officer, Margaret Kelly, Sr. Program Assistant, Tina M. Latimer, Program Coordinator

Below are some snippets drawn from various sections of the report.

"since 2014, the Air Force has lost more fighter pilots annually than its annual production rate, and forecasts of the commercial airline pilot marketplace are an important variable in long-term workforce planning to develop and sustain the career field." (p2-7)


"A lack of clear data on why Airmen are leaving the force diminishes the Air Force’s ability to do such evaluations or establish an “early warning system” to identify recruits at risk of early attrition. Increased use of assignment tools like the Talent Marketplace will allow relevant longitudinal data to be collected on the extent to which Airmen’s separation decisions may be related to their preferences over the positions to which they could have been assigned as compared to the one to which they were assigned (see Appendix D)."  (p4-22)

"the recently implemented Talent Marketplace provides an innovative online means for matching Airmen with assignments based on expressed preferences of Airmen and position owners for post-accession job assignments. However, the usefulness of expressed preferences depends a good deal on how much information is available to Airmen about positions and to position owners about Airmen (through the Talent Marketplace), given that such information profoundly shapes preferences. Consequently, the most effective version of the Talent Marketplace would also serve as an information marketplace that allows position owners and Airmen to make appropriate information available to each other to form informed, accurate preferences (e.g., realistic job previews, using video and written descriptions). The key point is that matching, and the overall functioning of the USAF HCM system, may be improved by developing new methods of sharing preferences as well as new algorithms for taking preferences into account (see Appendix D)" (p4-26)


"In 2019, the Air Force began using the web-based platform, the Talent Marketplace, for making officer assignments (Lieutenant Colonel and below). The Talent Marketplace was initiated in an effort to meet a stated goal: “To the maximum extent possible, assign individuals on a voluntary basis and in the most equitable manner feasible while meeting mission and commander needs” (USAF, 2018a, p.2)." (p5-10)

"The Air Force is investigating implementing the Talent Marketplace to manage enlisted assignments, but a decision is still pending at this time."(p5-11)

"There are two officer assignment cycles per year. To support the Officer Assignment System for all assignments of Lieutenant Colonel and below (except for Judge Advocate General officers), the Air Force uses its newly developed Talent Marketplace. The web-based system provides transparency for available positions, provides visibility on an officer’s preferences to their commander, and incorporates gaining commander input as well for the first time. The technology behind it examines officer assignment solutions by incorporating specific prioritizations from both the officers who are eligible to move and the gaining unit (see Appendix D for discussion of preference informed matching). Officers on the vulnerable-to move list use the Talent Marketplace to indicate a desirability rating for assignment location preferences using a list of locations with jobs to fill, in alphabetic order. There is limited information on each position in the system: duty title, command, and location, but the officer can see how many other officers are interested in the position and make their decision accordingly.17 Any additional information the officer would like to know about the position is gathered through their own independent research. After the window closes for officers to bid for positions, the position owners access the system to see the final list of volunteers to fill their positions. The results of the matching algorithm are used as a first step in the process, which is further adjusted as needed and finalized by AFPC." (p5-11)

"As the Air Force expands its use of the Talent Marketplace for officers and develops a more modern approach to the antiquated Enlisted Quarterly Assignments List, it could benefit from considering the research conducted on and the implementation and results of similar marketplace initiatives (see for example, Malia, 2020). The U.S. Army, in particular, recently implemented its Army Officer Assignment Marketplace via Assignment Interactive Module (AIM).30 AIM is a centralized clearinghouse that requires officers and units to finalize preferences for the other side of the market at the same time, typically 6–9 months before officers are expected to move to their next assignment. The Army studies its assignment system in the Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis (OEMA), Department of Social Sciences, West Point.31 Information provided to the committee on the design and administration of AIM indicated that it is something of a hybrid model that involves a lot of hand-processing of assignments by assignment officers. However, it was reported that the “Human Resources Command received permission from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs to test the concept of matching officers to jobs according to a deferred acceptance algorithm similar to that of the National Resident Matching Program,”32 which matches new doctors to residency programs (Roth, 1984; Roth and Peranson, 1999). 

"One aspect of the Army Cadet Branching process (used to assign new West Point graduates to branches) is that Cadets can bid for preferred assignments by offering to extend their service obligation. Although a detailed review of AIM was outside the scope of this study, the committee notes that analysis has suggested that its use of a deferred acceptance algorithm is seriously flawed in implementation (e.g. Switzer, 2011), and this may be important for the designers and administrators of the Air Force Talent Marketplace to study and understand." 

"As of May 15, 2019, the Army reports that 90,952 officers of all ranks had participated in AIM. Officers are encouraged to submit resumes, but the majority have not done so (from 7% of Colonels, up to 42% of Majors). Resume-writers are encouraged to include unique Knowledge, Skills, and Behaviors (KSBs), but almost none have done so. Units seeking to fill jobs are encouraged to submit (long) preference lists of officers for each job they are seeking to fill, and so far, participation has been spotty: “The best participation is from [the 10 percent of] units who submit preferences for many jobs, and for multiple officers on each job” (U.S. Army, 2019, p. 2). Although no explanation was provided to the committee, the Army’s overall low participation numbers suggest that the Air Force and Army could benefit from joint efforts to understand the reaction Airmen and Soldiers have had to these initiatives as well as to develop approaches to improve participation and therefore its overall utility.

"Turning back to the Air Force, the present (preliminary) use of deferred acceptance algorithms in the Talent Marketplace is not an evidence-based decision; rather it arises from a perhaps too-hasty parallel with the operation of the private-sector clearinghouse for American physicians (see discussion of preference informed matching in Appendix D). To guide Air Force research into post-accession assignment decisions to improve and expand the effectiveness and validity of the Talent Marketplace, the committee identified the following research questions:

 How do assignments affect separation decisions? 33 (Collect data on “Who stays, who leaves, where they go, would they have stayed for a better assignment?”)

 How are preference data related to family data? (Collect family data on jobs of spouses, age, and schooling of children)

 How is the new blended retirement system changing separation choices?

 How do pilot separations interact with airline hiring demands? (E.g., could new arrangements be initiated between the Air Force and commercial airlines to better meet fluctuating needs of both?34)

 Can exit interviews be combined with interventions that might prevent or delay separation by the most effective Airmen?

 How should the Talent Marketplace be organized for minimizing early separation of the most effective Airmen?

 Does the Talent Marketplace assure an appropriate distribution of talent across units?

 How does the Talent Marketplace affect individual and unit performance?" (pp5-27-28)

"Similar to the Army, the Air Force is implementing a “Talent Marketplace” that gives Airmen increased agency in decisions about their assignments, which should improve “fit” and career satisfaction. But early results suggest the Air Force could benefit from a better understanding of how Airmen view this initiative, perhaps working jointly with the Army which seems also to be encountering early implementation problems. At a minimum, any review should re-consider whether the deferred acceptance algorithm the Air Force Talent Marketplace currently employs is being deployed as effectively as possible, or whether some other preference-informed matching procedure might better fit Air Force needs. In any case, a better understanding of what information participants require to form their preferences reliably will help support the information exchange needed by any matching and assignment system that incorporates preferences." (p5-38)


Among the recommendations for the Talent Marketplace, the report includes:

"—Initiate a Talent Marketplace promotion campaign across the entire service to stimulate use and buy-in through formal training, consumer feedback, and success stories.

—Expand the use of the Talent Marketplace, or a conceptually similar technology, to modernize the approach to enlisted Airmen assignments.

—Leverage data and create processes to further enable the operational goals of the Talent Marketplace for both officers and enlisted Airmen.

Ensure that the Talent Marketplace is also an information marketplace that gives position holders and candidates enough information about one another to form informed preferences.

 For job openings already using the Talent Marketplace, encourage position owners to post detailed job descriptions, and review many candidates (i.e., submit long preference lists), and encourage candidates to review many jobs.

 Incentivize true preference revelation for both “hiring” and “being hired” parties (i.e., make it safe to rank opportunities in their honest order of desirability.

 Use data to predict and recommend person-job match in a contextual manner, including preferences on both sides. Better leverage exit survey and other data for insights such as hidden reasons for attrition, the influence of preferences on separation decisions, and diversity concerns related to retention.

—Expand the Talent Marketplace to strategically fill hard-to-fill jobs and improve retention, especially in critical career fields.

Analyze whether and why certain job assignments predictably cause top choices to resign rather than take the assignment.

 Consider alternative approaches and incentives to offer declined jobs to someone who would prefer the position.

 Develop flexible procedures that preserve the possibility of retaining candidates who have chosen to separate rather than accept an assignment, by exploring whether other assignments would cause them to reconsider." (pp6-16-17)


From Appendix D: Preference-Informed Matching in Job Assignment

"Many of the current Air Force assignment procedures have grown out of the historical low-tech assignment tool consisting of a whiteboard covered with colored sticky notes, a longstanding system later augmented by spreadsheets. Often assignment teams worked with very little information about job requirements and candidate preferences. Although candidates with particular preferences or special needs could sometimes have these recognized by having their current commander (i.e., the “losing commander” who would be losing them, but who knew them) advocate for them to the assignment team, there were few ways of communicating preferences in a general and easily-used way.

"In recent years the United States Air Force and other services have moved towards somewhat more market-oriented assignment procedures, such as the Talent Marketplace developed for use by the officer assignment system,1 that make it easier for candidates and also for hiring authorities to share information and express preferences. This approach is shaped by the idea that sometimes the mutual needs and preferences of the candidate and the hiring authority could be better expressed and met. But the equivalent of whiteboards and sticky-notes still plays a role, as the information needed for hiring authorities and candidates to gain information with which to form and express preferences is still limited." (pD-1)

"Benefits of Deferred Acceptance Algorithms: DA algorithms use the information contained in the preferences of both candidates and hiring authorities, and they produce what are called stable matchings, which don’t have “blocking pairs” (i.e. there is never a service member and Air Force job that would have both, mutually, preferred each other) or “justified envy” (in which a lower-priority candidate receives a job preferred by a higher priority candidate with equal qualifications). This approach also renders it safe for members of the proposing side to reveal their preferences truthfully. Deferred acceptance algorithms have been used to match new doctors to their first positions in the U.S., and in other health care labor markets, and to match children to schools in a number of American cities (see Roth 2002, 2008 and the references cited there, and Roth 2015).

"Drawbacks of Deferred Acceptance Algorithms: The blocking pairs the Air Force needs to be most concerned with for retention don’t involve Air Force positions and service members. They instead involve private-sector jobs and service members who might choose to separate from the Air Force to take a private-sector job instead of the offered Air Force assignment. Because of this, it isn’t clear that the form of stability produced by deferred acceptance algorithms is the best goal for an Air Force assignment system. Eliminating blocking pairs involving Airmen and alternative assignments within the Air Force comes at a cost, since a stable matching (i.e., one with no such blocking pairs) may not be Pareto optimal for candidates (i.e., it may be possible to give all of some groups of candidates assignments for which they are all qualified and which they all prefer, which might better facilitate retention of service members who have no further military obligation). This is worth further study, particularly if (as is now the case) deferred acceptance algorithms are being employed to generate an initial matching that is then modified by assignment teams." (ppD6-7)

"To summarize, the Talent Marketplace has to also become an information marketplace that allows position owners and Airmen to make appropriate information available to each other in order to develop informed, accurate preferences. The key point is that matching, and the overall functioning of the human capital system, may be improved by developing new methods of sharing preferences as well as new algorithms for taking preferences into account.#" (pD-10)

#"Much of the academic literature on matching assumes that institutions that allow participants to form accurate preferences already exist. One of the tasks facing the Air Force is to develop such institutions in parallel with the development of the Talent Marketplace."

**********

*In these complicated times it's good to remember that the oath that U.S. military officers take is to defend the Constitution of the United States.

NASA weighing options for future planetary radar capabilities after Arecibo

Arecibo

Updated 9:30 a.m. Eastern with news of Arecibo instrument platform collapse.

WASHINGTON — With the Arecibo radio telescope to be decommissioned, NASA is beginning to consider options for future planetary radar capabilities, including potential cooperation with the U.S. Space Force.

NASA has used the 305-meter-diameter radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico for years as a radar, particularly for studies of near Earth asteroids. While the radar isn’t used to discover asteroids, it can refine their orbits and help characterize them.

However, the National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the observatory, announced Nov. 19 it will decommission the telescope after engineering analyses showed the telescope was at risk of collapse. Two cables that help support an instrument platform suspended over the dish snapped, one in August and the other Nov. 6, and engineering studies concluded the risk of an uncontrolled collapse is too great to allow crews to repair the damage. NSF announced early Dec. 1 that the instrument platform collapsed overnight, with no injuries reported.

“This is a hard thing to have to take,” Lindley Johnson, director of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, said at a Nov. 30 meeting of the agency’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee. His office funds the planetary radar work at Arecibo.

The closure of Arecibo, he said, will have “a slight negative impact” on NASA’s planetary defense work. NASA has another radar system at the Goldstone Observatory in California that can also be used for observing near Earth asteroids and other objects. The Goldstone radar is back in operation after recently installing a new klystron.

The Goldstone radar has some advantages over Arecibo, including being able to see more of the sky and finer resolution. However, Arecibo’s more powerful radar has a greater range, allowing it to observe more distant objects.

Another disadvantage for Goldstone is that it is located near restricted military airspace, which requires coordination for radar observations that can make it difficult to use for time-sensitive studies. Johnson said that process has improved somewhat.

Johnson argued that the closure of Arecibo presents an opportunity to examine the future of planetary radar systems. “It’s really time to be looking at the next generation of planetary radar capabilities,” he said. That’s likely to use arrays of smaller dishes rather than one monolithic dish, like Arecibo.

Old facilities, he added, are “high maintenance” and difficult to keep operate. “Technology has moved on from 30 years ago,” when Arecibo first got planetary radar capabilities, he said. “We need to take advantage of the new technologies.”

Any future planetary radar system would likely be done in partnership with other organizations. With few exceptions, notably the Infrared Telescope Facility observatory in Hawaii, NASA does not operate ground-based telescopes, focusing instead on space-based observatories.

The NSF has not discussed what plans, if any, it has for a successor to Arecibo, but Johnson suggested one possibility for NASA might be cooperation with the military. “We do definitely have an opportunity and an interest in partnering with the U.S. Space Force on a more capable radar system,” he said.

The Space Force’s interest in such a radar, he said, would be to track objects in cislunar space, something that would require a radar more powerful than existing ones that are limited largely to tracking objects in low Earth orbit. The Pentagon has shown growing interest in monitoring objects in the region between the Earth and the moon, including an experimental spacecraft mission called the Cislunar Highway Patrol System, or CHIPS, under development by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“Those are the kinds of things that are being talked about,” Johnson said. “What agencies can NASA partner with for a future planetary radar capability?”

Some members of the advisory committee, though, weren’t ready to give up on Arecibo, asking NASA officials if all the options for repairing the radio telescope there had been exhausted. “I think it would be good to have some additional study before final decisions are made, but the NSF will have the lead on it,” Johnson said.

“Arecibo is an NSF facility, and the responsibilities for ground-based observatories lie with NSF. It’s not in NASA’s purview,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division.

She emphasized the NSF made the decision to decommission the Arecibo radio telescope based on safety. “This is NSF’s decision to make,” she said, “and we’re supporting them in their decision to put safety first.”

SpaceNews

Manipulating Systems Using Remote Lasers

Many systems are vulnerable:

Researchers at the time said that they were able to launch inaudible commands by shining lasers — from as far as 360 feet — at the microphones on various popular voice assistants, including Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Facebook Portal, and Google Assistant.

[…]

They broadened their research to show how light can be used to manipulate a wider range of digital assistants — including Amazon Echo 3 — but also sensing systems found in medical devices, autonomous vehicles, industrial systems and even space systems.

The researchers also delved into how the ecosystem of devices connected to voice-activated assistants — such as smart-locks, home switches and even cars — also fail under common security vulnerabilities that can make these attacks even more dangerous. The paper shows how using a digital assistant as the gateway can allow attackers to take control of other devices in the home: Once an attacker takes control of a digital assistant, he or she can have the run of any device connected to it that also responds to voice commands. Indeed, these attacks can get even more interesting if these devices are connected to other aspects of the smart home, such as smart door locks, garage doors, computers and even people’s cars, they said.

Another article. The researchers will present their findings at Black Hat Europe — which, of course, will be happening virtually — on December 10.

Rocket Lab says recovered booster in “good condition,” some parts will re-fly

Rocket Lab successfully launched its "Return to Sender" mission 10 days ago. Then, for the first time, the company attempted to recover the Electron booster's first stage from the ocean after this launch, and now Rocket Lab has provided a preliminary assessment of the vehicle's condition.

In summary, the company said in an update on its website, "We couldn't have asked for a better outcome of our first recovery attempt and the team is thrilled." The rocket came back in such good condition, the company added, "We will re-qualify and re-fly some components."

The November 20 flight marked the first time Rocket Lab has fished an Electron out of the Pacific Ocean. The rocket was picked up in the waters off the coast of New Zealand, where the small booster launches from. Founder Peter Beck said the company wanted to assess the health of the first stage—and make necessary modifications to heat-shield and flight software—before going to the final step of catching the Electron rocket midair with a helicopter.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Daily life in Egypt: ancient and modern

Echoes of the ancient past in scenes of the Nile valley in 1925, at the dawn of anthropological filmmaking

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Zoom and gloom

Sitting in a videoconference is a uniformly crap experience. Instead of corroding our humanity, let’s design tools to enhance it

By Robert O’Toole

Read at Aeon

Why you should use *Modern Principles* for your class

Alex has had numerous posts on Modern Principles, but here is my two cents.  A textbook, as the name indicates, is a book.  It has to be conceived of as a book, and thought of as a book, and written as a book, and ideally it should be read as a book.  There are many other textbooks out there, and I do not wish to name names, but consider the following question.  Which are the authors who really love books?  Who spend their lives reading books?  And indeed writing books.  And who spend their lives studying what makes books good or bad?  Who view books as truly essential to their overall output?

An ancillary question to ask is who are the authors who are truly dedicated to video, and to on-line communication more generally, as an independent outlet for their efforts and creativity?

Here is information on our new fifth edition, better than ever.  Because we love books.

The post Why you should use *Modern Principles* for your class appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Clean Architecture Review

This is my review of Clean Architecture by Uncle Bob. The book is undoubtedly a classic and I feel bad for not having read it earlier. I think it might have helped with a project or three. Better late than sorry for sure, and unlike other books I read too late (SICP primarily) I did feel I got a lot out of this book, and I came out a better developer on the other side. It certainly gave me a bunch of ideas to try out in Jupiter.

I must admit I’ve been skeptical in the past of this whole clean code, clean architecture, design patterns, etc part of the software engineering toolset. Not the things in themselves. But what I perceived as the bias towards “the enterprise” on the one hand, and towards the world of software consultancies and “project”-work on the other hand. It didn’t help that I felt there was a lot of cargoculting in the mix too. As well as a feeling that this stuff is the easy part of software engineering. As opposed to algorithms, machine learning, functional programming, distributed systems, or other “hard” things. In any case, I got some wisdom in the end and decided to complete this part of my education before I slip too much into management. The fact that my side project Jupiter is hitting some architecture limitations is purely coincidental.

Anyway, back to regular programming. The topic of the book is software architecture. From the start, we’re faced with the problem of what exactly is software architecture. Uncle Bob settles on the very wide “every important decision about the technical aspects of the system being built”. Which has the nice property that it applies just as well to the 100 line utility script as it does to the Linux kernel, and just as well in the lowliest embedded system as in the loftiest distributed one. It’s not very concrete, unfortunately. However the book essentially then focuses on the “architecture in the small” (if I may) of components and component dependencies and their proper delineation and orientation.

The book has a lot of chapters. This is great for snacking and context switching and getting quick wins, but bad for chapter-by-chapter summaries as I’m used to doing. So instead I’ll offer a mish-mash of the actual lessons of the book. More work, but hopefully more useful too. I’ll even throw in a diagram.

The main problem is that of selecting a good architecture for the system that we are designing. By good here we mean that the system is easy to understand and extend. A good architecture allows for this growth and change to continue. It’s interesting to note that architecture in the sense discussed is not about the functionality of the system, though the performance, security, etc non-functionals do drive it.

The biggest take away is a set of design principles that should be followed when designing a system. There are two classes of them: the lower-level and more commonly known SOLID principles, and the higher-level component-level principles. By component here Uncle Bob means something like a jar, or dll. But in many ways, it can be extended to larger-grained things like processes, or services. I’ll summarise them here:

  • The release/reuse equivalence principle: the “unit” of release is the unit of “release”. That is, versioned libraries/components can be used and reused, not anything “smaller”.
  • The common closure principle: a component should contain classes that change for the same reason.
  • The common reuse principle; a component should contain classes that tend to be used and reused together.
  • The acyclic dependencies principle: the dependencies graph between components should not have cycles - it should be a DAG.
  • The stable dependencies principle: dependencies should flow in the direction of stability.
  • The stable abstractions principle: a component should be as stable as it is abstract. Abstract components (consisting of interfaces, ABCs, etc.) should be stable, and concrete ones less stable.

The “Clean Architecture” itself is quite simple and follows from the principles. The main idea is to split the code into two layers - the inner “domain” layer and the outer “infrastructure” layer. The inner layer is the pure business logic of the system, while the outer layer handles things like persistence, communication, serialization, etc. Crucially the dependencies are from the outer layer to the inner layer. This is against the flow of control (and thus doing “Inversion Of Control” proper), and also from more concrete to more abstract, and from more variable to more stable.

Components Diagram

The domain layer can be further split into two sub-layers. The first or “core” layer deals with the very abstract and high-level procedures of a business. Things like computing interest rates, or scoring a loan application. These things tend to change very slowly and would exist regardless of the physical instantiation of a system. They would look the same regardless of whether the system is a mainframe program, web service, blockchain contract, , etc. The “application logic” layer deals with the specific use cases of the current system. Things like a clerk verifying the loan documents of a potential client, or a salesman marking an account as inactive. These use cases tend to change with some frequency, and they are bound to the physical instantiation of a system. They would look different depending on whether the system is a mainframe program, an IoT controller code, or low-code automation.

The infrastructure layer has some canonical splits between presentation and persistence, but in general, here you can put anything which deals with the “world outside” the domain layer. From the database and the realities of turning entities into SQL rows in various tables to capturing user input and transforming it into commands of the various use cases. This layer is concrete and tends to change quite a lot. For that reason, it is called “dirty”. And the dirtiest of components is the main one. This is the component where the system starts - so perhaps it’s a class with the main function or the initial script file - and where it configures all other classes, linking them together, wiring the abstract with the concrete.

This means that in the domain layer we should have only simple classes. There should be no ORM objects, no framework muddling, no concerns about serialization or input validation. Just simple classes doing simple things. Just like one would see in OOP tutorials as “simple” but “unrealistic” examples. I find this thing very attractive intellectually. First because it’s indeed “clean” of external libraries or frameworks - it’s just the application’s own code. But it also allows for the clear separation between the part that codes the business processes and the one which is just accidental complexity. Indeed, this part could just as well be plucked from its most likely webapp form, into a CLI application, or a testing suite.

As an implementation note (mostly gotten from other sources though), the way the dependencies are manifest is that the domain layer will define some sort of interface - say LoansRepository, which deals with the persistence of Loan entities. The infrastructure layer will implement the LoansRepository via a PostgresLoansRepository that will handle speaking with a properly configured Postgres instance. It could also define MySqlLoansRepository or FlatFileLoansRepository. The main component will then need to configure that the LoansRepository is resolved to the appropriate implementation for the run. This way, the domain layer doesn’t use anything from the infrastructure layer explicitly - it just says what it expects some other components to provide, and leaves it up to main and polymorphism to do the rest.

The last section of the book is the catalogue of details. Essentially all the pieces of technology that we’d commonly understand as central to a system: databases, the web, frameworks, etc are relegated to mere details. Something which we should tightly keep in the application layer, but abstracted away to the needs of the domain layer, rather than running the show. This thing was both the most counterintuitive in the whole book, but also one of the truer and influential of the bunch. Indeed, building something with the “clean” architecture even imposes the use of libraries more than frameworks. Which is a trend I’ve seen in the industry anyway of shunning big and all-encompasing frameworks like Rails or Spring and moving towards simpler frameworks for special use-cases (and perhaps there’s even some causality there to look at).

There’s a link here to hexagonal architecture, the onion architecture and even domain driven design (to an extent). Indeed I’ve come to understand these architectures are a sort of large scale software design pattern for structuring the codebase. Ways in which it is useful to organize the classes/modules of a system, which we’ve observed to work and allow for easy understanding, reasoning, and expansion. On the other hand they’re not set in stone. Like all patterns they are (or should be) guidelines - each system will be different and have goals and constraints such that the form of $named architecture it uses will look different from another’s or from the standard. That’s why I think the principles are the most important part in the end. You can get something radically different than the “Clean Architecture”, but if it follows the principles, it would still be a good thing.

Besides reading this book I also watched a bunch of talks, both from Uncle Bob and from others. I’m linking them here because they serve to clarify, contextualizie, and expand the understanding of clean architecture. They are:

I couldn’t end before mentioning the final chapter. It’s a rundown of Uncle Bob’s past projects. It was a fun read in itself but two things stood out. One was that Bob’s first gig was in 1970 programming a computer for some union’s accounting needs. This was a mere 25 years after the first computers ever were built to help with the atomic bombs. That’s a massive achievement to go from the smartest minds of a generation working on the cutting edge to a fresh highschool grad of 18 years working on an old (by then) machine in the mundane field of union accounting. The second was just how brutal the developer experience was back then. Punched cards, days long edit-compile-test cycles, assembler everywhere. I’m not 100% I would have found being a programmer so interesting during those times. I’m hooked on our modern tooling.

Anyway, that’s it from me. There’s a lot more to the book, but hopefully, this has piqued your interest. Stay safe ‘till the next one.

Cognitive biases: where do we stand?

Here is a new and very important paper by Victor Stango and Jonathan Zinman, here are some of the main results, noting that each and every paragraph is important:

Our first finding is that biases are more rule than exception. The median consumer exhibits 10 of 17 potential biases. No one exhibits all 17, but almost everyone exhibits multiple biases; e.g., the 5th percentile is 6.

Our second finding is that cross-consumer heterogeneity in biases is substantial. The standard deviation of the number of biases exhibited is about 20% of its mean, and several results below suggest that this variance is economically meaningful and not substantially inflated by measurement error.

Our third finding is that cross-consumer heterogeneity in biases is poorly explained by even a “kitchen sink” of other consumer characteristics, including classical decision inputs, demographics, and measures of survey effort. Most strikingly, we find more bias variance within classical sub-groups widely thought to proxy for behavioral biases than across them. E.g., we find more bias variation with the highest-education group than across the highest- and lowest-education groups.

Our fourth finding is that our 17 biases are positively correlated with each other within-consumer, especially after accounting for measurement error following Gillen et al. (2019).1Across all biases, the average pairwise correlation is 0.13, and 18% have p-values < 0.001. Within six theoretically-related groups of biases (present-biased discounting, inconsistent and/or dominated choices, risk biases, overconfidence, math biases, and limited attention/memory), the average pairwise correlation is 0.25 and 29% have p < 0.001.

Our fifth finding is that there are also some important correlations between biases and classical inputs. Classical inputs and demographics may not explain much of the variance in biases (per finding #3), but some of them are correlated with biases in patterns that align with prior work. Most notably, the average pairwise correlation between cognitive skills and biases is -0.25. Cognitive skills are strongly negatively correlated with most biases, but positively correlated with loss aversion and ambiguity aversion. Other classical inputs are relatively weakly correlated with biases, except for a few expected links between patience and present bias, risk aversion and aversion to uncertainty and losses, and risk aversion and math biases that can lead to undervaluation of returns to risk-taking.

Overall not encouraging!  But perhaps some of that is also what makes life more meaningful, at a high cost admittedly.

The post Cognitive biases: where do we stand? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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
1000 PM PST Mon Nov 30 2020

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

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

This is the last regularly scheduled Tropical Weather Outlook of
the 2020 eastern North Pacific hurricane season. Routine issuance
of the Tropical Weather Outlook will resume on May 15, 2021.
During the off-season, Special Tropical Weather Outlooks will be
issued as conditions warrant.

$$
Forecaster Cangialosi
NNNN


‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’

Richard Hofstadter, in his seminal 1964 essay:

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. […]

Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

Written 56 years ago, or written yesterday? You make the call.

I, for one, take solace in knowing we’re not seeing something new.

 ★ 

Tuesday: ISM Manufacturing, Construction Spending, Fed Chair Powell Testimony

Tuesday:
• At 10:00 AM ET, ISM Manufacturing Index for November.  The consensus is for 57.5%, down from 59.3%.

• Also at 10:00 AM, Construction Spending for October.  The consensus is for 0.4% increase in spending.

• Also at 10:00 AM, Testimony, Fed Chair Jerome Powell, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate

• All day, Light vehicle sales for November. The consensus is for 16.2 million SAAR in November, unchanged from the BEA estimate of 16.2 million SAAR in October (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).

[Sponsor] Halide Mark II

Halide is the acclaimed camera from the makers of Apple’s 2019 iPhone App of the Year, Spectre. Halide does one thing, and one thing only: still photography.

The huge Mark II update adds the best tools for pros, while remaining true to its elegant and approachable design that makes it perfect for new photographers.

An app with no tracking, no ads, and no bullshit. Now offering a 7-day trial with subscription, or one-time purchase option. Get ready for ProRAW and get Halide now.

 ★ 

November 30 COVID-19 Test Results; Record Hospitalizations

Note: The data has been distorted over the holiday weekend.

The US is now averaging over 1 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% (probably close to 1%), so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).

There were 1,365,100 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 147,074 positive tests.

Almost 37,000 US deaths have been reported so far in November. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

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

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 10.7% (red line is 7 day average).  The percent positive is calculated by dividing positive results by the sum of negative and positive results (I don't include pending).

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

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

The dashed line is the previous hospitalization maximum.

Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed, so the hospitalizations was higher relative to the 7-day average of positive tests in July.

• Record Hospitalizations (Almost 100,000)

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
200 PM HST Mon Nov 30 2020

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

No tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5 days.

The central North Pacific hurricane season officially ends today.
The final Tropical Weather Outlook of the season will be issued
tonight at 8 PM. We will resume issuing outlooks starting on June 1
of 2021.

$$
Forecaster Morrison
NNNN


NGC 346: Star Forming Cluster in the SMC

Are stars still forming in the Milky Way's satellite galaxies? Are stars still forming in the Milky Way's satellite galaxies?


The real $3.4 billion hole in the I-5 bridge project

The Oregon and Washington transportation departments understated the funding gap for a revived I-5 Columbia River Bridge by more than $1 billion

Correcting for an arithmetic error increases the gap between identified revenues and potential costs from $2.3 billion to $3.4 billion.

ODOT & WSDOT also used too low an inflation factor for escalating project costs, understating total costs by a further $680 to $860 million.

Preliminary estimates appear to leave out costs of the revived planning effort and compensation to river users for the new bridge’s lower navigation clearance.

And ODOT and WSDOT have a history of under-estimating costs and over-estimating revenues.

The dreadful transportation news from the Pacific Northwest this month is the continuing plans of the Washington and Oregon transportation departments to revive the years-dead Columbia River Crossing project.  That project foundered in 2014, after nearly a decade of planning—and roughly $200 million spent on staff and consultants—because neither state had the money to pay for the project.

This past year, the two states have scraped up another $50 million and are hiring consultants and dusting off the old CRC plans, with the thought of reviving the project.  They’ve concocted a totally false story that if they don’t start construction on a new bridge by 2025, they’ll have to repay the US Department of Transportation the $140 million in federal money they spent earlier. As we demonstrated a year ago, that claim is incorrect, Federal Highway Administration regulations provide that if the states select the “No-Build” alternative at the end of the NEPA review process, there is no repayment liability.

But now, as the last time round, the big issue is who will pay for the project.  And neither state has the money.  Last week, the two state DOTs released their “Draft Conceptual Finance Plan,” which isn’t so much a plan as it is a picture of giant hole in the ground that they’d like to fill with money, if they can find some. As Clark County Today reported, money is still the sticking point for this project:

Sen. Lee Beyer (Oregon’s 6th District) stated he believed the major problem of the project will be “an inability to fund the project.”

Bottom line on the plan:  The two DOT’s told the legislators overseeing their work that the estimated size of the hole is between $1.8 and $2.3 billion.  Senator Beyer seemed to express considerable skepticism that even this range was within reach.

But even if one believes their cost estimates and revenue projections—and one shouldn’t as we’ll explore in a minute—the two agencies couldn’t even do the arithmetic correctly to state the actual range of estimates of the size of the hole in their finance “plan.”  The real gap, according to the two DOTs’ own numbers ranges as high as $3.4 billion, more than a billion dollars higher than the maximum gap they estimated.

Here’s how they made their mistake.  The DOTs constructed “high” and “low” estimates of revenues and expenditures for each of two alternatives (a widened freeway plus bus rapid transit system, and a freeway plus light rail line).  For each cost and each revenue estimate has a separate high and low estimate.  They computed the range of estimates by combining the low estimate of costs to the low estimate of revenues and comparing it with the high estimate of costs and high estimate of revenues for each alternative.  (The red arrows on the table below show how they’ve lined up the low estimates of cost with the low estimates of funding, and likewise with the two high estimates).

ODOT’s incorrect table claiming a $1.8 to $2.3 billion gap.

But that’s wrong:  The true range is illustrated by combining the low range of costs and the high range of revenues and comparing it to the high range of costs and the low range of revenues. The following chart fixes the error in ODOT’s estimates, and now compares a combination of the low range of revenues with the high range of expenses, showing that there’s a potential funding gap of up to $3.4 billion—fully a billion dollars more than acknowledged in ODOT presentation. We’ve literally just re-arranged the “funding assumption” rows in the ODOT chart above to line up the “low cost” assumption with the “high revenue” assumption, and the “high cost” assumption with the “low revenue” assumption, and then recalculated the values in the right-most column to reflect this change.  This generates the correct range of estimates of the gap implied by these figures.

Our corrected table shows the real gap could be as high as $3.4 billion.

The truly risky case here, and the one the states need to plan for if they’re moving forward, is a project that has costs at the high end, and that has revenues at the low end.  And in that case the gap is roughly $3.4 billion.

Now it’s true, that under the most optimistic reading, (high revenues and low costs) the gap might be only $800 million), but what this presentation has done is greatly overstate the precision and understate the financial risk associated with this project. Rather than being a relatively narrow gap of $2 billion plus or minus a couple of hundred million, the range of possible estimates of the gap are from a little less than a billion to nearly three and a half billion. But that’s not all.

But even these figures can’t be trusted.

There is, of course, another shoe (or two) that will drop here:  The two DOTs, ODOT in particular, have a lousy record in accurately forecasting project costs.  Less than a year ago, ODOT bumped up its cost estimate for the I-5 Rose Quarter project (just a few miles south of this proposed bridge) by 75 percent, from $450 million to as much as $800 million.  The estimates presented here are described as “initial”—they’ve simply been extracted from 2012 vintage CRC estimates, and inflated to current and year-of-expenditure dollars.  Already, these estimates are probably low.

For starters, in inflating the estimates from 2012 levels to 2020 levels, the two DOTs have pegged annual construction cost inflation to 2 percent per year.  But in the real world, according to the US Department of Transportation, highway construction costs have risen at an annual rate of 3.0 percent from the third quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2019 (the latest period for which data are available.  This higher actual increase in highway costs already recorded between 2012 and 2020 means that ODOT and WSDOT have underestimated the current (2020) cost of the base CRC project by about a quarter of a billion dollars.  Assuming that they similarly under-estimate inflation over the next decade (using a 2.0 percent inflation factor, rather than the 3.0 percent inflation factor we’ve experienced over the past decade, increases the year of expenditure cost of the project to between $4.0 billion and $5.7 billion, an increase of between $680 million and $860 million from the estimates made by the DOTs.  These changes represent an increase in the revenue “gap” for the project.  Combined with the earlier arithmetic error in calculating the range (above) that means that the funding gap could easily be more than $4.2 billion.

But there are other problems with the gap estimate.  While the new revenue estimates count the $50 million Oregon and Washington have chipped in for the renewed planning effort, but there’s nothing that indicates that those costs were added to the old 2012 estimates of construction costs (which assumed planning was essentially complete).  It’s also unclear whether the project costs include any of the promised $86 million compensation payments for river users whose access to the river will be impaired by the proposed bridge’s new fixed span. And since the agencies haven’t designed or selected the project, its impossible to say what the real cost might be. But we know one thing for sure:  the state DOTs almost never guess low.

Both ODOT and WSDOT routinely go over budget on major projects.  WSDOT is already $223 million over budget on the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s replacement tunnel, and faces an unresolved lawsuit for $480 million more in costs associated with a failed tunnel boring machine.  ODOT’s largest recent project, a five-mile widening of Highway 20 was 5 years late and more than $200 million over budget.  A series of major ODOT projects over the past two decades have experienced cost overruns averaging 200 percent.  When something is called a “draft conceptual” finance plan, that’s simply bureaucratic code for “we’re low-balling the cost estimate now and we’ll certainly raise it later.”

Similarly, the two agency’s have equally lousy in estimating revenues, and most notably, toll revenues.  Back when the CRC was being planned, WSDOT was in the process of developing a financial plan for the SR 99 deep bore tunnel under Seattle (which replaced the now-demolished Alaskan Way viaduct).  WSDOT confidently told the state legislature that tolling the new tunnel would generate $400 million toward its construction costs.  Even before the tunnel was built, that number was cut in half; current experience shows that the revenue could be even less than that.

So, all in all, the financial exposure to Oregon and Washington is easily in the range of $4 billion, but is likely to go up from there, as the project will no doubt cost more, and tolls will likely generate less revenue than forecast.

It’s alarming that with a $50 million budget, and with responsibility for a multi-billion dollar project, Oregon and Washington’s DOT’s could make a billion dollar math error in a such a vitally important calculation.  In doing so, they understated the liability the two states face, and created a false illusion that there’s a narrow range of uncertainty about the size of the gap the project faces.  Is this incompetence or deceit?  Can it be both?

The December 1st test

No, it’s not quite December 1st, but it is close.  And I recall a number of people, including numerous MR commentators, suggesting that once the election is over (with a modest lag) that Covid-19 would disappear from our radar screens, and that the “liberal media” would stop talking about it.

The first three articles on the NYT home page right now are:

Vaccines are Coming. But First a Long, Dark Winter.

Cuomo Fears ‘Nightmare of Overwhelmed Hospitals’ as Virus Cases Spike.

Covid-19 Live Updates: California’s Governor Warns of ‘Drastic Action’ as Hospitals Near Crisis.

Perhaps I am “lemon picking” by not waiting for the morning, but I have other posts planned for then.  CNN by the way is right now leading with Covid, WaPo is more about election and appointments, but after that it is Covid too, most of all vaccines (a better emphasis I might add).

Let’s hope the morning is cheerier!  Protein folding!

The post The December 1st test appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The End Game: Trump Turns Destructive and Vindictive, Like All Dictators

Our Bandy X. Lee Talks with Noted Fascism Expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Bandy X. Lee

I have often dubbed “fascism” mental pathology in politics, and as a fascism scholar and author of the new book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, Prof. Ruth Ben-Ghiat is as psychologically-minded as historians come.  The way mental health professionals have brought the context of our experience with patients to understanding the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump, she has brought the context of historical figures.  I interviewed her at our recent town hall.

Dr. Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University; a frequent commentator on CNN; an expert on fascism, authoritarian leaders, propaganda, and threats to democracy around the world.  She is also a World Mental Health Coalition Board member who has helped guide members in applying our mental health knowledge to the political domain as well as within the currents of history, to achieve our mission of bettering societal mental health.

Lee: Your work and ideas have always impressed me for their psychological sensitivity, and here again you get straight to what many historians or political scientists miss, which are the commonalities, patterns, and personality consistencies across different leaders.  How have you come to such psychological awareness in your work?

Mental Health Experts: Trump is Unraveling.Ben-Ghiat: I grew up in Pacific Palisades, Calif., which is an idyllic seaside town.  It might seem a strange place to start thinking about fascism and pathologies, but it was a place where many anti-Nazis, Thomas Mann and others, came to settle.  So I was always aware of this pain of exile, and perhaps being a child of immigrants and the closest family member an eleven-hour plane ride away, perhaps I was interested in what kinds of regimes force people to flee their country.  So I started investigating individuals, Otto Klemperer or Schoenberg, who had had to resettle.  Then my first book out of my dissertation was on Italian fascist culture, but it was really a study in intellectual and cultural collaboration, how did the regime pressure people, intimidate people to work with them.

There have been studies showing that many Americans … would like to have the big, strong, statuesque male figure to tell them what to do.

You were among the first to predict that Donald Trump would rule as an authoritarian once he gained power.  What were some early red flags for you, and what do his traits say about how dangerous he will likely be in these last 60 days of his presidency?  In other words, how does he resemble or differ from authoritarian cult leaders?

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Trump Turns Destructive and VindictiveIn terms of the first question, I was already writing for CNN on war, and so I had that platform—and my second book was just published in 2015, a study of fascist film propaganda.  From a slightly different angle, I was thinking about how people are led to believe a fictional reality and the destruction that it causes.  So I turned this global lens onto my own country, and when I did that, coupled with my training in fascism, the figure of Donald Trump was very clear to me.

His demonizing the press was a big sign.  Because Trump and Berlusconi and Putin have secrets and they are criminals, they have to start demonizing the press very early so that when secrets come out, his followers would already think of the press as partisan hacks.  And then the final component was the violence.  In the 21st century, we have fewer people with squadrons like the fascists a hundred years ago, and more people like Duterte in the Philippines who says he warned Filipinos not to vote for him, because if he won he said it would be bloody.  So here is Donald Trump who comes in and in January 2016 says, “I could shoot someone and not lose any followers.”  This is very unusual in a context of democracy.

Donald Trump, as he loses power, is about to head toward serious financial and legal problems once he leaves the presidency.  What has attracted his followers, despite his pathology, criminality, and incompetence?  Astonishingly, he received more votes in 2020 than in 2016.  How do we explain the many Americans who continue to follow him and parrot him?

There have been studies showing that many Americans are more authoritarian in their leanings, and they would like to have the big, strong, statuesque male figure to tell them what to do, but that is not the whole story.  I have many case studies.  It was very illuminating to look back over a hundred years of this and see the patterns.  When he acted in this rule-breaking way, because he started inciting violence or because he posed as the truth-teller who was not believed and ostracized by the mainstream media, and only he could tell the truth.  So this kind of personality who has a victim cult, who is kept down by the forces that be, who is attractive because he breaks the rules, this over and over has appealed to people.  Sadly, this is how they come on the scene, and they end up kind of energizing and legitimizing existing anti-democratic and extremist tendencies.  They coalesce and channel all these malcontents and extremists and people who felt the system was broken.

Trump in a Narcissistic RageAs you have well pointed out, dangerous leaders must maintain themselves in office at all cost.  He is currently plunging the nation into tragedy and chaos because of his refusal to concede or to share intelligence and vaccination plans with the incoming administration.  What might be our recourse, if any?

I had to turn my book in in the summer and had to write it for either outcome of the election, but his psychology lines up 100% with the other rulers—everyone.  The outcome is very different, of course.  He is not in a military junta, he is not in a fascist, one-party state.  Authoritarianism works differently today, but all of the style of governance they set up makes it more difficult for them to conceptualize leaving.  For example, they all create what I call inner sanctums, where you have flatterers and sycophants and family members.  They shield the leader from hearing things they just do not want to hear, and then you also have this chaos because he is always trying to find more and more flatterers.  Right now, there have been a lot of hiring and firing and moving people right now because he is upping the loyalty quotient, because stealing the election is the biggest game of all.  This is also part of the destruction—like Gaddafi would never surrender, so he was willing to drag his country into a civil war.  Pinochet in Chile had over a year before he had to leave office, and he spent that year doing as many destructive things as possible to sabotage the new democracy, from stacking the Supreme Court to passing edicts that protected his people and made it harder to find out to prosecute their crimes.  So one way or the other, they are always highly destructive to the last and vindictive.

When criminals get into power … the culture is going to reflect that, and people feel legitimated to threaten and intimidate.

I remember your sharing with me how you were strictly an academic before, and you felt a special civic duty to write and speak publicly since this administration.  What in particular called you, and what has the experience been like?

Trump hugging American flagIt is just something I felt I had to do.  I was in a very privileged position.  I am tenured and a full professor.  Because plenty of people do not like what you write, and they try and get you fired, they write to your provost, they write to your chair.  I think everyone has to do something, but this was what I could do, and I had all this training and a platform with CNN.  I would hear from people who had themselves fled dictatorships to come and settle in America, and they said, “I am so glad you are writing, because no one else is getting this.”  So this feedback from the public really spurred me on and told me that it was helping people.  You get a lot of hate mail, you get threats, and I had to move my office to a more secure location in 2017.  For a little while I had a guard, but it is just part of living through a culture where the model, the tone is being set by a brutal criminal.  When criminals get into power and have been associated with organized crime, the culture is going to reflect that, and people feel legitimated to threaten and intimidate.  But I have also been exposed to a whole community of people working to protect our democracy, and that has been absolutely wonderful.

The post The End Game: Trump Turns Destructive and Vindictive, Like All Dictators appeared first on DCReport.org.

Two Quick Links for Monday Afternoon

Learn How to Play Chess Free Online: Tutorials for Beginners, Intermediate Players & Beyond. [openculture.com]

Cloud Zoo, a virtual collection of video clips of the activities of hundreds of zoo and aquarium animals that are live streamed online every day. [pudding.cool]

---

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.

Japan tragedy fact of the day

In 2019 Japan’s population shrank at the rate of roughly one person per minute…

Here is the rest of the FT article, too pessimistic in my view but by no means is it entirely fabricated.  Here is one quotation:

“The economic and demographic numbers make the future look so grim. They believe the pie is shrinking, so if they do get a piece, they have to stick to it. The priority is stability. Nobody has big dreams any more,” said Prof Miura. A study published earlier this year by Hiroshi Ishida, a professor at Tokyo University’s Institute of Social Science, found a record 49 per cent of respondents aged 20 to 31 thought life for their children would be worse than for them.

I am curious to see what will be the next “big turn” in Japan’s history…the country has had a few, and they were not well predicted in advance.

The post Japan tragedy fact of the day appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

National Space Council Superspreader Series Finale (Update)

Vice President Mike Pence to Convene Eighth Meeting of the National Space Council

"The Eighth Meeting of the National Space Council will take place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on December 9th, 2020 at 12:30 PM EST. The meeting will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. The meeting will be livestreamed here on NASA TV, and additional details will be forthcoming. Following NASA's COVID-19 response protocols, the use of face coverings will be required for invited guests, and hand sanitizer stations will be available. Attendance will be limited to promote social distancing, and temperature screenings will be required prior to entry."

Keith's note: The event starts at 12:30 pm ET. According to the draft agenda there are 120 minutes of events to be discussed - 2 hours. That's it - all the security and physical arrangements and the whole Air Force Two thing - for a 2 hour meeting that could be done on Zoom. Gee, they could have just used a green screen on Zoom and inserted some shots of pretty rocket ships at KSC and it would look like they were actually there.

Right now the main topic of speculation is whether this event in Florida is just a victory lap for Mike Pence - or if the new National Space Policy that is finished and in the can will be announced. A "new National Space Policy" is listed as an agenda item (see below). But it only gets 10 minutes. Really? An entire, brand new national space policy only gets 10 minutes? Wow. What a rollout. Why bother. But this is all sort of pointless since any policy that is announced will be dead on arrival at the Biden Administration's doorstep.

Either way, staff involved in this physical event are not especially pleased to be called in to work a physical event during a worsening pandemic when a virtual event would suffice. And you can bet that most of the members are going to Zoom in anyway.

DRAFT Agenda: Meeting of the National Space Council Wednesday, December 09, 2020

"III. National Space Policy Update (10 minutes)
a. Dr. Scott Pace, Executive Secretary, National Space Council, provides summary of the new National Space Policy (public discussion on previously approved policy)"

Links 11/30/20

Trump_massivedumps
Links for you. Science:

Hurricanes are staying stronger even over land as oceans warm from climate change, study finds
Trump administration official who questions global warming will run key climate program. David Legates moves from NOAA to the U.S. Global Change Research Program
Transmission heterogeneities, kinetics, and controllability of SARS-CoV-2
A Geneticist’s Dilemma: A growing number of scientists believe that the cure for disease can be found in our DNA. But that poses a unique problem for some Native Americans.
Pandemic raises difficult issues about limits of tests for covid-19, other diseases

Other:

Let’s Talk About Higher Wages. The nation, and the Democratic Party, desperately needs a replacement for the tired story that tax cuts drive economic growth.
Congress can wait: How Biden can reshape our future with executive action
Forgive Us Our Debts. Churches are doing what politicians have been unable to do, rescuing Americans from crushing medical bills.
You may have never heard of Judge Juan Torruella, but his death is another warning for January 5
Abolishing the Economics Nobel Isn’t Enough
Don’t Blame the Left for the Democrats’ Losses
Young voters set turnout record, aiding Biden win (so by all means, let’s fuck up student debt relief, which they overwhelmingly favor)
Online Anti-Vax Communities Have Become A Pipeline For QAnon Radicalization
IF YOUR AD MONEY SUPPORTS THE DESTRUCTION OF DEMOCRACY, WE SHOULD BOYCOTT YOUR COMPANY
D.C. deserves a police chief who embraces transparency. So, too, does Prince William County.
New York City Will Reopen Elementary Schools and Phase Out Hybrid Learning
Germany has lessons about containing the damage of COVID-19. It’s not too late for us to start listening
Mask defiance remains strong in Big Sky Country, even as the pandemic rages
America Just Can’t Get Enough Lysol
Why Twitter is (Epistemically) Better Than Facebook
Rich donors don’t make great ambassadors
Let Trump try to defend racist, traitorous Confederates. Congress can still prevail.
Trump dramatically changed the presidency. Here’s a list of the 20 most important norms he broke — and how Biden can restore them.
Elizabeth Warren: What a Biden-Harris administration should prioritize on its first day
Kimberlé Crenshaw: the woman who revolutionised feminism – and landed at the heart of the culture wars
A Trump donor’s company got a 3 percent federal pandemic loan. It sells title loans at a 350 percent annual rate.

Fannie Mae: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased in October

Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency decreased to 3.05% in October, from 3.20% in September. The serious delinquency rate is up from 0.67% in October 2019.

These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".

The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59%.

Fannie Freddie Seriously Delinquent RateClick on graph for larger image

By vintage, for loans made in 2004 or earlier (2% of portfolio), 5.82% are seriously delinquent (up from 5.81% in September). For loans made in 2005 through 2008 (3% of portfolio), 9.84% are seriously delinquent (unchanged from 9.84%), For recent loans, originated in 2009 through 2018 (95% of portfolio), 2.57% are seriously delinquent (down from 2.74%). So Fannie is still working through a few poor performing loans from the bubble years.

Mortgages in forbearance are counted as delinquent in this monthly report, but they will not be reported to the credit bureaus.

This is very different from the increase in delinquencies following the housing bubble.   Lending standards have been fairly solid over the last decade, and most of these homeowners have equity in their homes - and they will be able to restructure their loans once they are employed.

Note: Freddie Mac reported earlier.

Policy Is Always About the Next Election

It’s hard for me to think of a point in American history where an incoming President has faced a greater range of compounding crises with as little freedom of action as Joe Biden will have on January 20th of next year. There is COVID. There is economic calamity COVID created. There is the seemingly more distant but gravely important wrecked international system which portends a rising tide of foreign policy crises and disruptions in trade which has the potential to ramify out for decades into the future.

It is still just possible that Democrats will control the Senate, if they pick up both Senate seats in Georgia. But assuming Republicans hold on, basically no legislation of any significance will be possible and Mitch McConnell will have a stranglehold over staffing and presidential confirmations, not even to mention judges.

But this is all a reason to plan and frame everything that happens over the next two years around the choice to come in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Far too often we think about legislation and governance as separate from elections, or as two related processes that go one after another. They are really the same thing, so intimately stitched together and mutually dependent as to amount to a single thing. You build constituencies with government action. You demonstrate the value of a political coalition to its members by producing tangible results.

This may sound to some like another version of President Trump’s penchant for seeing himself only as the President of Red State America. But this only if you see it in zero sum terms, something that came naturally to Donald Trump because his entire business career, his whole concept of “deal making”, was one based on zero-sum interactions. I cut an aggressive “deal” so I win and you lose. In fact, I can’t win unless you lose. That’s how I know I won. Because you lost.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Indeed, no President has ever been a success, ever won a second term or changed politics beyond his time in office without expanding the coalition that brought him into office. Not once. What made this just possible for Donald Trump was the particular constellation of early 21st century demographics and geography and late 18th century constitution. That held out the possibility he could hang on as the head of a rump, minority coalition. But it still didn’t work.

A lot of people are looking at this situation as one in which Biden wins but is shackled from the start and likely to lose control of the House halfway through his term. Indeed, there’s a decent amount of history in favor of this argument. President’s tend to lose seats in their first midterm election and adverse redistricting seems likely to imperil the Democrats already slender majority in the House. But we don’t know the future. And we live in an era of upended truisms and reliable patterns. The 2020 election isn’t a chance that didn’t quite come through. It’s a big step forward, an opportunity to do a lot of good through presidential power alone and perhaps as much as anything a chance to set up future elections by demonstrating what Democratic governance can accomplish in power. Everything that gets done in the next two years should be seen as an argument sending more Democrats to Congress in 2023.

How Are You Doing?

As a companion of sorts to the previous post, I ran across this infographic on a site of pandemic resources for Colorado healthcare workers that shows some typical responses to different levels of stress.

Stress Levels Chart

Sometimes having a tough time can make it difficult to determine just how tough a time you’re having. Using a chart like this can help you figure out where you are on the stress continuum (as long as you remember that everyone is different) and then seek out the proper kind of assistance. (via @TheRaDR)

Growl in Retirement

Chris Forsythe:

Growl is being retired after surviving for 17 years. With the announcement of Apple’s new hardware platform, a general shift of developers to Apple’s notification system, and a lack of obvious ways to improve Growl beyond what it is and has been, we’re announcing the retirement of Growl as of today.

It’s been a long time coming. Growl is the project I worked on for the longest period of my open source career. However at WWDC in 2012 everyone on the team saw the writing on the wall. This was my only WWDC. This is the WWDC where Notification Center was announced. Ironically Growl was called Global Notifications Center, before I renamed it to Growl because I thought the name was too geeky. There’s even a sourceforge project for Global Notifications Center still out there if you want to go find it.

What a great open source project Growl was. It proved itself as a feature that should have been built into MacOS — and then it was. Growl arguably defined “notifications” as we know them, not just on Mac, but iOS and Android as well.

Peter Hosey:

One thing that working on Growl helped shape in me: A militant respect for people’s attention as well as what they do and do not want their tools to do.

Long after the official end of @GrowlMac, I will always have that.

Cheers to that. Growl respected the user — it served the notifyee, not the notifier, and that made all the difference.

 ★ 

Isaac Asimov on the ‘Cult of Ignorance’

I meant to re-link to this quote from the great Isaac Asimov last month, but it remains as relevant post-election as it was pre-election:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.

Update: Here’s Asimov’s original column for Newsweek, from January 1980.

 ★ 

David Brooks: ‘The Rotting of the Republican Mind’

Good column from David Brooks over the weekend:

For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.

Under Trump, the Republican identity is defined not by a set of policy beliefs but by a paranoid mind-set. […]

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia. If you try to point out factual errors, you only entrench false belief. The only solution is to reduce the distrust and anxiety that is the seedbed of this thinking. That can only be done first by contact, reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it. And second, it can be done by policy, by making life more secure for those without a college degree.

“You can’t argue people out of paranoia” nails the deep dark conundrum we face. A good example, from his NYT op-ed page colleague Maureen Dowd, who for years now has turned over her Thanksgiving column to her Republican brother, a supposed conservative. This tradition of Dowd’s drives many readers nuts, but I have always enjoyed — well, no, not enjoyed, but appreciated — it for the insight into how a large group I’m not a part of, and generally disagree with, thinks. This year, Kevin Dowd revealed himself to be well on his way to Kookville:

The Democrats remain mystified by the loyalty of Trump’s base. It is rock solid because half the country was tired of being patronized and lied to and worse, taken for granted. Trump was unique because he was only interested in results.

Yes, yes, Trump’s base remains united behind him because they’re … tired of being lied to. That’s it. It’s certainly not that they’re tired of being told truths they do not want to hear.

A word of caution to Fox News: Your not-so-subtle shift leftward is a mistake. You are one of a kind. Watching the quick abdication of Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum following the election (joining an already hostile Chris Wallace) was like finding out my wife was cheating.

This treachery that Kevin Dowd equates to his wife cheating on him was acknowledging that Joe Biden soundly beat Donald Trump in the election. That’s not a leftward shift. It’s a statement of fact. A truth, inconvenient or not.

 ★ 

Las Vegas Visitor Authority: No Convention Attendance, Visitor Traffic Down 49% YoY in October

From the Las Vegas Visitor Authority: October 2020 Las Vegas Visitor Statistics
Visitor volume continued to ramp‐up in October as the destination hosted approx. 1.86M visitors, about half of last October's tally but up 9% from last month.

With continued hotel re‐openings at the end of Sep and in early Oct, the room tally of open properties in October represented 140,658 rooms. Total occupancy was 46.9% for the month as weekend occupancy reached 64.2% and midweek occupancy reached 38.6%.

Average daily rates among open properties reached $104.54 (‐3.3% MoM, ‐22.8% YoY) while RevPAR came in at roughly $49, down ‐59.7% vs. last October.
* Reflects weighted average of daily room tallies
Here is the data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Las Vegas Click on graph for larger image.

The blue and red bars are monthly visitor traffic (left scale) for 2019 and 2020.   The dashed blue and orange lines are convention attendance (right scale). 

Convention traffic in October was down 100% compared to October 2019.

And visitor traffic was down 49% YoY.

The casinos started to reopen on June 4th (it appears about 94% of rooms have now opened).

‘Now Has Stories’ Is the New ‘Jumped the Shark’

Kris Holt, writing for Engadget:

If you’re in the festive spirit and you’re already listening to seasonal music, you might have noticed Spotify’s Christmas Hits playlist is looking a little different. […] If you open it on the iOS or Android app, you may get a peek at Spotify’s Instagram-style stories.

Stories are popular and engaging, so we should add stories.” This year’s featuritis fad.

Also: demerits to Engadget for calling them “Instagram-style”, rather than “Snapchat-style”. That’s like calling the Mac a “Windows-style” graphical user interface.

 ★ 

2020 SpaceNews Awards Virtual Event

• Winners announced live

• Panel discussion with 2020 honorees

Join us Monday, Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. Eastern as we reveal the winners of the 2020 SpaceNews Awards for Excellence & Innovation.

This one-hour live event features a panel discussion with four of this year’s honorees. You won’t want to miss this lively discussion of 2020’s key accomplishments and what lies ahead for civil, commercial and military space.

REGISTER NOW

Panelists:
• Government Leader of the Year
• Company Leader of the Year
• Large Company of the Year (key executive)
• Startup of the Year (key executive)

Host:
• SpaceNews Editor-in-Chief Brian Berger

Moderators:
• Jeff Foust, SpaceNews senior staff writer
• Sandra Erwin, SpaceNews national security reporter
• Debra Werner, SpaceNews correspondent

Registration required for this free event.

SpaceNews

Where Things Stand: Even The Bare Minimum Isn't Enough

Alas, even the bare minimum enforcement of basic elements of democracy is too much for President Trump.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is the latest target of Trump’s post-election ire. Earlier this month, Kemp certified the results of the election in Georgia, which the secretary of state has repeatedly said was won by Biden. Kemp claims that he certified the results so that the Trump campaign could move forward with other legal options for a recount.

Trump, however, is furious.

As many election law experts have pointed out, Kemp not only doesn’t have the legal authority to do this, signature matching already happens at least twice when a voter applies for a ballot and when the ballot is received.

This doesn’t matter to Trump — and the relationship between the “hapless” governor and President has been on the fritz for months at this point.

Kemp has painted himself as a loyal Trump supporter since the early days of his gubernatorial bid in 2018. In April he made Georgia one of the first states to fully “reopen” its economy, despite recommendations from health experts at the time that lockdowns should remain in place until at least the end of May.

But his loyalty to President Trump was not rewarded. Trump flung Kemp under the bus after Kemp announced the aggressive reopening, telling reporters at the time, uncharacteristically, that he wanted to “protect people’s lives” and firmly stating he wouldn’t have made the same decision if he were in Kemp’s shoes.

Kemp seemingly brushed off the embarrassing dismissal. But things haven’t improved for the once-chummy pair since.

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

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Tierney Sneed is covering today’s SCOTUS hearing on the Census. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect.

Kate Riga and Matt Shuham are digging into a debacle in Georgia where Trump obsessives, enthralled by conspiracy theories about the integrity of the Nov. 3 election, are despairing about the runoffs in January and, in some cases, planning not to vote.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

President-elect Joe Biden will receive his first intelligence briefing today after weeks of stonewalling from the White House as President Trump continues to refuse to concede and attempts to delegitimize the election. The Trump team finally agreed to allow Biden’s transition to commence last week. Kamala Harris was part of the briefing today as well. Republicans in Congress have been urging the White House to allow Biden to receive his daily briefings for national security purposes, but most who advocated for the transition, have not publicly acknowledged his win. We’ll keep an eye on this.

Meanwhile, Trump is still fighting his endless, unfounded voter fraud war, complaining about a “60 Minutes'” interview with Chris Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity official  whom Trump fired after Krebs poked holes in Trump’s baseless election fraud allegations. In tweets, Trump whined that he had not been contacted for comment in response to Krebs’ claims — that the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history.” We’ll continue monitoring this drama.

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

This: Moderna To Ask FDA To Approve New COVID-19 Vaccine That’s 94% Effective.

But also, this: WH COVID Task Force: Don’t Let Guard Down Just Because Vaccine Is In Sight.

Coming Up

12:30 p.m. ET: Trump and the vice president will have lunch. Afterwards, Mike Pence will lead a governor’s teleconference on the pandemic at 2:00 p.m. ET.

President-elect Biden will receive his first presidential daily briefing with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Afterwards, the two will meet with transition advisers.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

GA Sec Of State Calls Out GOPers Who Won’t Condemn Death Threats: ‘Really Complicit’ — Summer Concepcion

What We Are Reading

Bipartisan Senate Group Revives Coronavirus Relief Talks — Burgess Everett

Teaching In The Pandemic: “This Is Not Sustainable” — Natasha Singer

It’s Time To Understand The Biden Voter — Jennifer Rubin

How to Help a Friend Through a Tough Time

Based on the four separate conversations I had with friends this weekend (and reading/watching assorted social media posts), it seems like everyone is really struggling with the pandemic right now, perhaps more so than back in March/April/May. Fatigue is really starting to set in, misinformation is wearing people down, there’s disease and death all around us, it’s tough to keep going towards an ill-defined finish line, and dealing with 9 straight months of grief is just not sustainable. I myself have been all right recently, thankful I’m able to do what I can to support others, but it really varies from week to week.

A year ago, before the pandemic set in, clinical psychologist Kathryn Gordon wrote a piece for Vox on how to help people that you know through a tough time. You may have seen similar advice before — e.g. How Do You Help a Grieving Friend? — but now seems like a good time for a refresher. Here’s one of Gordon’s four tips on how to help:

Ask them how they are feeling. Then, listen non-judgmentally to their response. The simple act of asking someone how they’re doing, with an open-ended question, shows that you care. Listen attentively rather than interrupting or offering your opinion. Ask simple follow-up questions like, “What does that feel like?” or “What has been on your mind as you’re going through this?” This communicates that you genuinely want to know how they’re doing and feel comfortable hearing the truth.

I hope you’re getting the support you need during all of this and are able to find small pockets of time & energy in which to be useful to those around you.

Tags: COVID-19   Kathryn Gordon

Five Quick Links for Monday Noonish

11 facts about coast redwoods. They drink fog, their bark is a foot thick, and some were alive during the Roman Empire. I love redwoods. [treehugger.com]

"Hailed as 'the Sistine Chapel of the ancients', archaeologists have found tens of thousands of paintings of animals and humans created up to 12,500 years ago across cliff faces that stretch across nearly eight miles in Colombia." [theguardian.com]

From the medical journal The Lancet, a collection of short obituaries of medical professionals from around the world who have died of Covid-19. [thelancet.com]

Final "absolutely remarkable" results from Moderna's vaccine trials: 94.1% efficacy and "no one who got Moderna's vaccine in trial developed severe COVID-19". [sciencemag.org]

Ava DuVernay is set to write & direct a film adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson's Caste for Netflix. [variety.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.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to leave agency in January

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who oversaw the agency’s work to streamline space-related regulation, announced plans to leave his post Jan. 20, 2021.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years,” Pai said in a statement. “I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for appointing me as a Commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Senate for twice confirming me.  To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege.”

During Pai’s tenure, the FCC streamlined satellite licensing regulations for commercial space startups and established rules for the upcoming auction of 300 megahertz of satellite C-band spectrum for 5G cellular network operators, prompting 13 orders for new C-band satellites.

“It’s also been an honor to work with my fellow Commissioners to execute a strong and broad agenda,” Pai said in a statement. “Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety. ”

While Pai was chairman, the FCC also announced plans to award $20 billion in broadband subsidies under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and granted Ligado Networks permission to deploy a low-power broadband network opposed by commercial satellite operators, the U.S. Defense Department and the Commerce Department due to concern it would disrupt GPS signals.

SpaceNews

Monday assorted links

The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

SES to provide satellite connectivity for U.S. military ‘internet of things’

WASHINGTON — Satellite communications provider SES Government Solutions announced Nov. 30 it was selected by the U.S. Air Force to join the pool of vendors that will compete for contracts to build the military internet of things.

SES will compete to provide communications services for the Advanced Battle Management System program, or ABMS — an Air Force project that seeks to connect weapon systems and command centers so they can share data. ABMS is one piece of a larger Pentagon effort to build a military internet of things known as Combined Joint All Domain Command and Control. 

The Air Force requested $302 million for ABMS in fiscal year 2021, with projected funding of $3.2 billion over the next five years. A large group of vendors from across the defense, aerospace and tech industries have been selected so far to compete for up to $950 million worth of individual task orders the Air Force plans to award as it continues to test and develop the ABMS.

SpaceX’s Starlink and SES have been tapped to provide satellite-based communications for the ABMS. Starlink’s space internet is in low-Earth orbit, whereas SES has satellites in geosynchronous and medium-Earth orbit. 

“The commercial satcom we’ve seen is highly appealing to us,” said Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions. 

The idea is to make ABMS an open architecture and to use commercial systems to link, for example, military combat aircraft that currently can’t pass information to other systems. The Air Force wants to be able to move data seamlessly from sensors to weapons systems and to cloud computing environments so information can be analyzed. 

Roper told reporters Nov. 24 that the ABMS architecture has been in the works for 18 months and that the Air Force will continue to conduct new demonstrations known as “on-ramps” over the coming years. 

He said ABMS will be a top priority for the Air Force, but it’s a challenging program that has many moving parts and is incompatible with the rigid military procurement system. “The internet of things has happened all around us but has not happened for the military,” said Roper. “The acquisition system we’ve inherited does not deal well with cross-cutting capabilities nor with capabilities that continually update.”

Roper directed in a memo Nov. 23 that the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office will be responsible for integrating and fielding ABMS technologies. The RCO manages some of the Air Force’s most cutting-edge programs such as the X-37B spaceplane and the B-21 stealth bomber. 

SpaceNews

Launchspace Technologies proposes debris mitigation and collection constellations

Launchspace Technologies continues to refine its concept for establishing one constellation of satellites to track objects in orbit and a second to collect debris over the equator.

Since the company unveiled plans in 2017 to send Debris Collection Units into equatorial orbits, Launchspace Technologies has conducted a study funded by the U.S. Air Force, signed a NASA Space Act Agreement and won support from Airbus for its plan to test technology on the International Space Station’s Bartolomeo platform.

“We are positioning ourselves for the time when orbital debris becomes a real problem,” said Marshall Kaplan, Launchspace Technologies chief technology officer. “One of these days soon, we’re going to find out that we’re losing satellites at a rapid rate because of debris. At that point, it will be critical to address the debris problem because if we allow it to continue, we will lose access to space altogether.”

For Launchspace Technologies, the first task is developing a constellation of satellites equipped with sensors into equatorial low-Earth orbit to keep track of other satellites in low-Earth and geostationary orbit in addition to monitoring orbital debris and other threats, said John Bauman, Launchspace Technologies CEO.

The company plans to sell subscriptions to the data it acquires with its initial constellation to customers interested in space domain awareness, space traffic management and orbital debris mitigation, Bauman added.

Launchspace Technologies plans to establish a second constellation of satellites operating between 600 and 1,200 kilometers to collect pieces of orbital debris large enough to hurt satellites but too small to be tracked with ground-based sensors.

The debris collector satellites will be designed to move out of the way to dodge active satellites and large debris, while capturing small debris, Bauman said.

Kaplan has applied for and been granted patents related to this work. In early 2020, for example, Kaplan was granted a patent to equip satellites with radial thrusters “to evade threats, such as orbital debris and/or hostile spacecraft without losing its relative position within a satellite constellation or experiencing the diminished services often attendant such maneuvers,” according to the patent.

Launchspace Technologies signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA in April to identify promising materials for collecting debris.

Kaplan envisions “a combination of plates with some filler material between the plates to absorb a lot of the energy.”

Launchspace Technologies plans to test its multilayer debris-collection technology for 12 months on Bartolomeo beginning in 2022. Airbus, which developed Bartolomeo and operates it with European Space Agency support, called the Launchspace Technologies demonstration mission “a bold step toward advancing the state of the art for debris collection and mitigation technologies and techniques,” in a Sept. 15 letter to Bauman.

Under the terms of the contract, Launchspace Technologies is paying fees to house its technology on Bartolomeo, but Airbus is not charging the company for transportation, astronaut crew time and other ISS resources.

Robert Walker, former House Science Committee chairman and former executive chairman of the Washington lobbying firm Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, began working with Launchspace Technologies to rally support for the company’s work.

Now, Walker, who founded moonWalker Associates in 2019, has joined the Launchspace Technologies board.

“I think the concept that they have is absolutely correct,” Walker said. “At the highest level both in the military and at NASA, no one has any real objections to this program. We are getting positive signals from the government, but we haven’t found an agency that’s prepared to step up with funding yet.”

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

SpaceNews

Pandemic Stories from Around the World, Fall 2020

My friend Jodi Ettenberg spent a decade traveling around the world, so she’s got friends and followers from all over the place. Over the weekend, she asked her Instagram followers to share their pandemic experiences and she’s been republishing them in Story collections: one, two, three. (You can also find them on her Instagram profile page.) Individually and as a collection, the stories she’s received are fascinating and heartbreaking to read. Almost 11 months into the pandemic — Wuhan’s lockdown began on Jan 23 — folks out there are really struggling and the response of governments around the world has varied widely (and wildly). Here are a few of the stories…check out the links above to read the rest.

pandemic stories from around the world

pandemic stories from around the world

pandemic stories from around the world

She’s still gathering & sharing stories from people, so send her a DM on Instagram about how things are going in your part of the world if you’d like to participate.

I solicited stories like this from folks back in early April. It’s surreal reading those responses now — so much completely avoidable death and suffering has occurred between then and now.

Tags: COVID-19   Jodi Ettenberg   travel

China pushes ahead with super-heavy-lift Long March 9

A Long March 5 launches the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission Nov. 23, 2020.

HELSINKI — China is pressing ahead with the Long March 9 super heavy launch vehicle for crewed lunar, robotic deep space exploration and space infrastructure.

The massive rocket is in the research and development stage with a test launch planned for around 2030, said Xu Hongliang, secretary-general of the China National Space Administration, speaking at the Wenchang International Aerospace Forum Nov. 24.

The event followed the launch of the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission from the Wenchang spaceport that morning local time. The mission was launched by China’s current largest rocket, the 878-metric-ton, 57-meter-long Long March 5. 

In contrast the Long March 9 will be 93 meters long, feature a 10-meter-diameter core, have a mass at liftoff of 4,140 metric tons. It will have four five-meter-diameter side boosters comparable to a Long March 5 first stage. The Long March 9 is designed be capable of lifting 140 tons to LEO or 50 tons to trans lunar injection.

The Long March 9 has long been stated as part of long term plans to send Chinese astronauts to the moon and facilitate deep space exploration. However the launcher’s exact role is still not clearly defined as China mulls pathways to robotic and human exploration of the moon.

Potential missions for the Long March 9 include a single-rocket Mars sample return, though a two-launcher profile using Long March 5 and 3B rockets may be preferred. Construction of a more tentative and technologically challenging space-based solar power project has also been slated as a possible task for the Long March 9.

The launcher is being developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), an institute belonging to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), a giant state-owned enterprise and the country’s main space contractor.

A presentation at the recent International Astronautical Congress CyberSpace edition reveals that China has made progress on the high-thrust engines required to power the Long March 9.

The first stage of the launcher will use four, dual nozzle 500 ton-thrust engines sometimes referred to as the YF-130. The assembly of the first YF-130 kerosene-liquid oxygen engine was completed in 2019 and ready for hot-fire test operation, according to Hui Chen of the Xi’an Aerospace Propulsion Institute, belonging to CASC.

Component technologies including high-power, high-efficiency turbopumps, high-pressure gas generators, wide-range thrust regulators, high-pressure and a large flow main LOX valve have all been verified. 

The Long March 9 is not explicitly stated to be reusable. However a “space transportation roadmap” presented by CASC since 2017 features the stated goal of making all of China’s launch vehicles reusable by around 2035.

Xu also noted that China was developing a reusable Earth-space transportation system to improve Chinese access to space. China in September launched a secretive “reusable experimental spacecraft”, widely speculated to be a winged space vehicle.

Alternative—or parallel—heavy launcher?

Another heavy lift launch vehicle, using three, five-meter-diameter first stage cores and clusters of YF-100K engines, is also being proposed by CALT for use as a human-rated launcher for crewed lunar missions.

While an architecture for crewed lunar missions to the moon presented at the 2020 China Space Conference in September did not feature the Long March 9, the reasoning is that the latter is required for major infrastructure to be delivered to the lunar surface in order to facilitate longer term stays on the moon.

The new launcher for human deep space missions is not yet apparently approved. It could however receive formal backing with the introduction of a new Chinese Five Year Plan for the period 2021-2025.

Long March 8 arrives

CASC’s first launch vehicle with a reusable first stage will be the Long March 8. The first flight model has been delivered to Wenchang and rolled out for a rehearsal. Launch is set for December 20.

This first Long March 8 will however be an expendable version, with the launcher not being upgraded to be capable of vertical landings and being reused until around 2025

Commercial Chinese launch companies are meanwhile developing their own reusable launch vehicles. Landspace aims to test launch the methane-LOX Zhuque-2 next year before upgrading to a variable thrust, VTVL first stage. 

Another, iSpace, which reached orbit in 2019 with a light solid rocket, is developing its methalox Hyperbola-2 to directly feature first stage reusability. This month the Beijing-based firm performed wind tunnel tests of a test first stage article and next year plans takeoff and landing tests at the meter, kilometer and 100-kilometer level.

Galactic Energy, which recently successfully held its first orbital launch, is also developing a medium-lift launcher. The Pallas-1, planned for late 2022, will burn kerosene and liquid oxygen and be capable of VTVL.

SpaceNews

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Expansion Moderates" in November

From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Expansion Moderates
Texas factory activity expanded in November for the sixth consecutive month, though at a markedly slower pace, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, fell from 25.5 to 7.2, indicating a deceleration in output growth.

Other measures of manufacturing activity also point to slower growth this month, as the indexes remained positive but came in below last month’s readings. The new orders index dropped 13 points to 7.2, and the growth rate of orders index fell five points to 9.7. The capacity utilization index dropped from 23.0 to 6.9, and the shipments index fell from 21.9 to 13.7.

Perceptions of broader business conditions continued to improve in November, though the indexes retreated from their October levels. The general business activity index remained positive but fell from 19.8 to 12.0. Similarly, the company outlook index fell from 17.8 to 11.0. Uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks continued to rise, though the index declined from 11.0 to 7.2.

Labor market measures indicated stronger growth in employment and work hours. The employment index ticked up three points to 11.7, suggesting a slight pickup in hiring. Twenty-five percent of firms noted net hiring, while 13 percent noted net layoffs. The hours worked index moved up from 3.7 to 9.7.
emphasis added
This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for November.

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

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

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

The ISM manufacturing index for November will be released tomorrow, December 1st. Based on these regional surveys, the ISM manufacturing index will likely decrease in November from the October level. The consensus is for a reading of 57.5%, down from 59.3%.

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


Check Washing

I can’t believe that check washing is still a thing:

“Check washing” is a practice where thieves break into mailboxes (or otherwise steal mail), find envelopes with checks, then use special solvents to remove the information on that check (except for the signature) and then change the payee and the amount to a bank account under their control so that it could be deposited at out-state-banks and oftentimes by a mobile phone.

The article suggests a solution: stop using paper checks.

NAR: Pending Home Sales Decrease 1.1% in October

From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Dip 1.1% in October
Pending home sales fell slightly in October, according to the National Association of Realtors. Contract activity was mixed among the four major U.S. regions, with the only positive month-over-month growth happening in the South, although each region achieved year-over-year gains in pending home sales transactions.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings, fell 1.1% to 128.9 in October, the second straight month of decline. Year-over-year, contract signings rose 20.2%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.
...
The Northeast PHSI slid 5.9% to 112.3 in October, a 18.5% increase from a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 0.7% to 119.6 last month, up 19.6% from October 2019.

Pending home sales in the South increased 0.1% to an index of 151.1 in October, up 21.0% from October 2019. The index in the West remained the same in October, at 116.8, which is up 20.8% from a year ago.
emphasis added
This was below expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in November and December.

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: An Ongoing Failure of Governance

It was yet another disastrous week for COVID-19 in D.C. The entire city and all wards, including the ‘low prevalence bastions’ of Ward 2 and 3, are now well above the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week (0.05% in the second column below):


Ward one-week prevalence one-week % pos. two-week prevalence two-week % pos.
1 0.164% 1.6% 0.307% 1.9%
2 0.156% 1.5% 0.286% 1.5%
3 0.103% 1.4% 0.178% 1.5%
4 0.205% 3.3% 0.384% 3.7%
5 0.185% 2.5% 0.381% 3.1%
6 0.182% 1.5% 0.387% 1.9%
7 0.230% 5.3% 0.418% 5.7%
8 0.202% 4.6% 0.371% 4.9%
D.C. total 0.181% 2.2% 0.345% 2.4%

For context, in column two, the ‘good place’, which is one new case per 100,000 people per day, is 0.007%.

There are some marginal improvements in Wards 5 and 6, but those wards were doing so poorly to begin with, that’s not really saying much (Ward 5 did have a lower percent positive rate too, so testing seems to be improving there). All the other wards are worse–and objectively bad.

Meanwhile, the city’s new proposals are to further limit indoor dining starting December 14, and ban booze purchases after 10pm (apparently, COVID-19 is like Gremlins or something). There also will be further limits on houses of worship. And people are pretty good about wearing masks, so I’m not sure how much more we can squeeze out of that. I don’t think all of these new rules will be enough to lower R(t) to less than one (i.e., daily new cases will decrease). I hope it will, but I’m not convinced. At all.

While next week probably won’t be much worse, partly because travel-related COVID-19 cases won’t really start hitting the system until late this week, it’s going to be bad soon. Deaths are going to keep coming through–right now, we’ve had twenty deaths in the last two weeks–and D.C. will likely join the 1/1000 residents COVID-19 deaths club by the end of the year.

This is an utter failure of governance by both the mayor and the Council, the latter which seems to be focused on everything but the immediate crisis at hand. Why anyone currently holding office in D.C. should be re-elected escapes me. As some asshole with a blog noted:

The city won’t do that, however, because it needs revenue, so people will get sick and die for money. I’m not surprised Bowser has adopted this line because I expect Bowser to do her usual when faced with a crisis: hunker down and hope it resolves itself or is forgotten.

Unfortunately, you can’t bullshit the virus.

But the D.C. Council also is failing–if nothing else, members have a political opportunity here–and there’s nothing wrong when opportunism is aligned with good policy. My hunch about the D.C. Council’s actions is that it is one part hunkering down and one part stone cold ignorance of biology and math. They know lots of things, such as the ins and outs of housing policy. But here isn’t anyone on the Council or their staffs (or enough people on staff to break through) to know what to ask and how to ask it.

It is obvious what needs to be done, as painful as it might be economically: we need to shut down indoor dining (and bars), and other gathering places, and limit gatherings to households. If things get worse, we might have to consider schools too*, but that should be a last resort.

As usual, even with these horrible data, we still could be only four to six weeks away from returning to normal-ish, but we intentionally remain four to six weeks away from safely returning to normal-ish because we’re unwilling to do what it takes to make that happen.

Anger isn’t the appropriate emotion, rage is.

*I’m far less sanguine than some about the lack of spreading in schools–and from schools back into the commmunity. It appears to be an argument with little evidence to support it (and Israel’s experience contradicts it), and I fear that public health officials will rue making these claims so strongly.

Speculation: Scented Candle Ratings Down Due to Covid-19 Loss of Smell

After Terri Nelson noticed people complaining online about a lack of scent from newly purchased scented candles, Kate Petrova analyzed Amazon reviews for candles from the past three years and found a drop in ratings for scented candles beginning in January 2020 (compared to a smaller ratings decline for unscented candles).

graph showing a ratings decline for scented candles since January 2020

The hypothesis is that some of these buyers have lost their sense of smell due to Covid-19 infections and that’s showing up in the ratings.

Tags: COVID-19   infoviz   Kate Petrova   medicine   science   smell   Terri Nelson

Van Horn on “The Power of Objects,” Plus a Panel on “Caribbean Connections”

Tonight, on Monday, 30 November, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host an online talk by Jennifer Van Horn on “The Power of Objects in 18th-Century British America.”

The event description says:
Over the course of the eighteenth century, Anglo-Americans purchased an unprecedented number and array of goods. Prof. Jennifer Van Horn investigates these diverse artifacts—from portraits and city views to gravestones, dressing furniture, and prosthetic devices—to explore how elite American consumers assembled objects to form a new civil society on the margins of the British Empire. In this interdisciplinary transatlantic study, artifacts emerge as key players in the formation of Anglo-American communities and eventually of American citizenship.

This presentation is the second annual lecture in honor of President Emeritus Dennis Fiori in recognition of his leadership.
Jennifer Van Horn is a professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware. She has had fellowships at the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Winterthur. Van Horn has published articles on early American prostheses (wooden legs and dentures) and women’s embroidery in the new American republic.

This online event is scheduled to start at 5:30 P.M. It is free to all, but audience members must register in advance here.

In addition, on Tuesday evening the M.H.S. will host a panel discussion on “Caribbean Connections” as part of its Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar. The participants will be:
  • Casey Schmitt, Cornell University, exploring the intersection of warfare and human trafficking in the seventeenth century, as unmet demand for enslaved labor in smaller markets coupled with near-constant warfare among major European powers reinforced practices of raiding and captivity.
  • Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, Roger Williams University, discussing how eighteenth-century New Englanders diversified their thriving business in horse breeding to supply mules to the West Indies.
  • Ryan Quintana, Wellesley College, commenter.
This discussion is scheduled to run from 5:15 to 6:30 P.M. Again, people should register in advance to receive all the necessary information.

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy

NOTE: Some of this data was impacted by Thanksgiving. For example, transit data is always down during holidays.

These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment.    It will interesting to watch these sectors recover as the vaccine is distributed.   

IMPORTANT: Be safe now - if all goes well, we could all be vaccinated by Q2 2021.

----- Airlines: Transportation Security Administration -----

The TSA is providing daily travel numbers.

TSA Traveler Data Click on graph for larger image.

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

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

This data is as of Nov 29th.

The seven day average is down 61% from last year (39% of last year).  (Dashed line)

There has been a slow increase from the bottom, and appears to have increased for the Thanksgiving week holiday.

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

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

Move Box OfficeThanks to OpenTable for providing this restaurant data:

This data is updated through November 28, 2020.

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

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

Note that dining is generally lower in the northern states - Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York - and only down slightly in the southern states.

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

Move Box OfficeThis data shows domestic box office for each week (red) and the maximum and minimum for the previous four years.  Data is from BoxOfficeMojo through November 26th.

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

Movie ticket sales have picked up slightly over the last couple of months, and were at $12 million last week (compared to usually around $300 million per week during the Thanksgiving blockbuster period).

Some movie theaters have reopened (probably with limited seating).

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

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

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

This data is through November 21st. Hotel occupancy is currently down 32.6% year-over-year.

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

Since there is a seasonal pattern to the occupancy rate, we can track the year-over-year change in occupancy to look for any improvement. This table shows the year-over-year change since the week ending Sept 19, 2020:

Week EndingYoY Change, Occupancy Rate
9/19-31.9%
9/26-31.5%
10/3-29.6%
10/10-29.2%
10/17-30.7%
10/24-31.7%
10/31-29.0%
11/7-35.9%
11/14-32.7%
11/21-32.6%

This suggests no improvement over the last 10 weeks.

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

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

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

As of November 20th, gasoline supplied was off about 11.7% YoY (about 88.3% of last year).

Note: People driving instead of flying might have boosted gasoline consumption over the summer.

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

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

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

Apple Mobility DataThis data is through November 28th for the United States and several selected cities.

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

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

According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is at 44% of the January level. It is at 31% in Chicago, and 49% in Houston - and declining recently.

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

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

New York City Subway UsageThis graph is from Todd W Schneider. This is daily data for this year.

This data is through Friday, November 27th.

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

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

Philippe Steiner on matching and romance, and transplants

 The French economic sociologist Philippe Steiner, who studies (among other things) how markets and gift giving can coexist, has a short piece about dating platforms.

Plateformes d’appariement, rencontres amoureuses et mondes marchands ("Matching platforms, romantic encounters and trading worlds") by Philippe Steiner, Dans Revue Française de Socio-Économie 2020/2 (n° 25), pages 161 à 166

Via google translate:

"Two elements can serve to close this brief reflection on the meeting of economic sociology and the sociology of sexuality.

"The appearance of a commercial intermediary modifies the social conditions of the romantic encounter. However, is it of a commercial nature? The use of the term matrimonial market, in which it is a question of "making a choice, maximizing your options and using calculation techniques in terms of costs and profits, and efficiency" [Illouz, 2006, p. 252], might lead one to believe. This interpretation is doubtful: if the market implies the idea of ​​choice, the converse is not true. The market relationship is characterized by monetary power, that is, the ability to obtain the desired good by paying more - it is not for nothing that auction technology is often taken as the example of the market. Also, once the relationship connecting individuals to the platform has brought together two potential partners, it is not the ability to pay that will make the match between them."

...

"Finally, the matching technologies that are at work in the platforms are not necessarily associated with the market world [Steiner, 2016, chap. 7]. Matching platforms using deferred acceptance or optimal trading cycle technologies can serve as well to reproduce the market functioning as to enable non-market matches. Alvin Roth's economic engineering applies to the labor market (pairing of medical interns and hospitals) as well as to organ transplantation, in which the commercial relationship is banned by national laws as well as by international declarations of professionals."

****************

The following interview may also be of interest to readers of this blog:

“Organic” Gift-Giving and Organ Transplantation, the Development of Economic Sociology and Morality in a Super-Monetized World: An Interview with Philippe Steiner Journal of Economic Sociology, 2014, vol. 15, issue 1, 11-19

 "when I studied the issue of organ transplantation, in full agreement with Healy’s approach, the organizational setting appeared to be very, very important. Accordingly, organ donation is a gift that individual actors provide to organizational actors. And then, with this gift, the organization conducts an extensive and very important process to ensure that the kidney does not convey illness, AIDS, cancer. In addition, the degree of compatibility between the organ and the body is checked. And they do this very rapidly. Then, they allocate the gift to a new individual actor. However, the important thing, in my opinion, is that between the first individual actor and the second one there is a large organization. More precisely, a plurality of organizations. This is something that I refer to in my present book as  organizational gift-giving”. To parallel the Durkheimian distinction between mechanical and organic solidarity, I would call this “organic” gift-giving and thus draw a distinction between the usual story about people in Melanesia who give gifts according to Malinowski and Mauss. 

...

" I am trying to map gift-giving, inheritance, and the exchange of symbolic goods, which are at the frontiers of usual market exchanges, to provide a broad view of what exchange at large means in our present society. Considering market exchange as a limited element of all the transactions in the world is my way to escape this super-monetized world.

...

"Social forces are pushing in the direction of a fullblown market society, whereas others are resisting and devoting their energy to maintaining a frontier between market exchanges and other forms of exchange. In that sense, political issues remain central, as in Polanyi’s time. To return to my research on organ transplantation, I would like to stress that the last chapter of the book concerns what is usually referred to as transplant tourism — is it good to have transplant tourism? Should it be fully legalized? Is the creation of a biomarket in India for Americans suffering from final-stage kidney failure a good thing? You must say yes or no. You cannot escape a political decision. And my answer was “Definitely, no biomarkets”. However, of course, this is not an easy position because as you know there are individuals who are dying because of the lack of kidneys. Therefore, this (response) is uncertain, difficult. However, in the end, not giving an answer is a boon to those pushing for the commodification of body parts. So, finally, I decided to stay on the Maussian–Polanyian side — “limit the market.”

Teaching Modern Principles Online

I’ve been teaching hundreds of students the principles of economics using Modern Principles of Economics and its online course management system and the response has been excellent. Most students like the class but what always surprises me is that some students like the online class better than any other class they have ever taken. A good lesson about different learning styles. Some reviews:

  • I wanted to say thank you for the way you teach your class. I just started it and it is way better than I expected. The videos you made are why I’m thanking you. In high school I would always have to go home and watch videos explaining what the teacher taught us….your class is already the best class I have taken in my life because it fits the way I learn. I’ve never really written an email like this so forgive me if it breaks the usual business casual email approach. Thank you again!
  • I am a student a George Mason…I would like to say that these classes are the best online classes I have taken and wish all my classes would be like this! Especially with Mason being mostly online and all of my classes being online this semester, I think that this class’s design should be an outline for other online classes. The videos themselves are very well edited and can be fun to watch! Instead of just watching a PowerPoint online and taking notes, being able to see the professor speak, while incorporating graphs, and even animations makes the class much more enjoyable, and in my case easier to absorb. Another aspect I wish all online classes did is giving quizzes along with the videos to check information learned. Speaking from my experience in your previous class the “Learning Curve” and other pre-test activities did wonders for me when preparing for chapter tests and exams. Overall, these classes are a great experience and I look forward to this semester in Econ 104! As a little side note, my favorite videos/lessons from last semester where the ones where you and Professor Cowen would debate over subjects learned in class. It gave useful insight and thinking to both sides of the argument.
  • I really liked how it was set up with the videos. As someone who has diagnosed ADHD, this type of online class, and class in general has made it so much easier for me to constantly go back on videos to hear what the professors were saying and trying to teach us. Honestly best class experience I’ve ever had, and I wish more were like it.
  • Prof. Tabarrok’s videos that accompanied our course material were of high quality. Even though this was a distance learning course, I felt that I got an in depth lecture for each section of the course. I did not feel that I was left to read the book myself; it was like I had great in-person lecture that I could re watch again and again.
  • Since this is an online course, I expected it to be very short cut and not interactive. This course was the total opposite. Being able to watch videos about professors genuinely teaching economics and answering questions while following the video was so helpful.The aspects of the course allowed me to connect with different imperative issues & solutions across the world.

The post Teaching Modern Principles Online appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Report concludes former Spaceport America director violated state law

WASHINGTON — The ousted director of New Mexico’s Spaceport America repeatedly violated state law and policies while running the commercial launch site in a “dysfunctional” manner, according to a report prepared for state officials.

The New Mexico Office of the State Auditor released a report Nov. 24 that outlined evidence of numerous violations of procurement laws, open meeting acts and other state policies by Dan Hicks, who served for nearly four years as executive director of the spaceport, best known as the operations base for suborbital spaceflight company Virgin Galactic.

The report “details a severe breakdown of internal controls that resulted in possible waste and abuse of taxpayer funds,” the office said in a statement about the investigation.

The state government put Hicks on administrative leave June 12 after Zach DeGregorio, at the time the spaceport’s director of finance and administration, filed a complaint with state officials about what he believed were improper activities by Hicks. DeGregorio resigned from the spaceport later that month. The board of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority voted Oct. 16 to fire Hicks.

Officials hired a private firm, The McHard Group, to investigate those claims. Their 362-page report found, in their view, ample evidence that both Hicks and DeGregorio violated laws and policies, from improper contracting processes to conducting business by the spaceport’s board outside of public meetings to filing false travel vouchers.

The report described in detail examples of Hicks’ violations of law and policy. Investigators said Hicks justified trips to meetings of the National Space Council and its advisory group by claiming he was a member, which was not the case. Hicks issued contract solicitations and selected awardees often without the approval of the spaceport’s board as required. There was also a “lack of controls” over the spaceport’s budget, including overspending that put the spaceport at times in danger of running out of money.

The report concluded that, based on the evidence, “Dan Hicks violated criminal and administrative statues, as well as the State of New Mexico Governmental Compliance Act, and Governor [Michelle] Lujan Grisham’s Code of Conduct, during his tenure as Director of the Spaceport.”

The report also described Hicks as an “extremely dysfunctional manager” and “at times a forceful bully” who sought greater control over the management of the spaceport, and its budget, than allowed by state law. That alarmed the spaceport’s anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, “who became increasingly dissatisfied with Mr. Hicks’ management” and complained to the governor’s office.

While DeGregorio filed the complaint that triggered the investigation, the report found he was also complicit in violations of law and policy. “Mr. DeGregorio collaborated with Mr. Hicks to circumvent rules to procure contracts, spend money on unapproved travel, file materially false vouchers, move money off approved [purchase orders] to cover other expenditures, and generally fail to control the Spaceport’s finances in any responsible way.”

The report, submitted to the Office of the State Auditor two days before the spaceport’s board voted to fire Hicks, recommended that its findings be referred to the state attorney general for a formal criminal investigation.

In a statement, Alicia Keyes, secretary of New Mexico’s Economic Development Department, whose oversight includes Spaceport America, said she was aware of management issues at the spaceport early this year. The report mentions in passing a meeting that state officials held with Hicks in March “in which he was chastised for inappropriate behavior and given an ultimatum.”

“The Economic Development Department, supported by the governor, moved quickly to investigate allegations of impropriety at the spaceport,” Keyes said in that statement. “It is now time to move forward and repair the breakdowns that allowed these abuses to happen.”

How that repair process will go forward remains unclear. Scott McLaughlin, director of business development at Spaceport America, has been serving as interim executive director since June, but state officials have not announced a timetable for selecting a new executive director. The spaceport’s board, chaired by Keyes, is scheduled to meet Dec. 2.

SpaceNews

The trouble with love and sex

‘What does sex mean to you?’ Intimate tales from relationship counselling lay bare the ages-old hazards of romantic love

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Empire of fantasy

By conquering young minds, the writing of J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis worked to recapture a world that was swiftly ebbing away

By Maria Sachiko Cecire

Read at Aeon

Rolling the dice on Apollo: Prospects for US-Soviet cooperation in the Moon program

President Kennedy surprised many in 1963 when, in a UN speech, he proposed cooperating with the Soviet Union on sending humans to the Moon. Dwayne Day examines a report written not long after that speech for insights into that sudden, but short-lived, shift from competition to cooperation.

The case for Apophis

In April 2029, the asteroid Apophis will pass close to the Earth, posing no threat of impact but instead offering an opportunity for scientists. Jeff Foust reports on discussions at a recent workshop on the potential missions that could be flown during the flyby and the rationales for them.

A 4G network on the Moon is bad news for radio astronomy

NASA recently awarded a contract to Nokia to study the development of a 4G wireless network on the Moon. Emma Alexander warns that such a network might benefit exploration but could harm radio astronomy.

Chesley Bonestell and his vision of the future

Chesley Bonestell is widely known in the space community for his spaceflight art at the dawn of the Space Age, but for much of his career he was known for other kinds of artwork. A biography of Bonestell now streaming, Jeff Foust notes, offers an overview of his life and the artwork that inspired many.

Review: Black Hole Survival Guide

Odds are you'll never encounter a black hole, but it never hurts to be prepared. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a "survival guide" to black holes as a means to help people understand these enigmatic objects.

Markets in everything, messed up edition

Shawn Graham, a professor of digital humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa, uses a convolutional neural network called Inception 3.0, designed by Google, to search the internet for images related to the buying and selling of human bones. The United States and many other countries have laws requiring that human bones held in museum collections be returned to their descendants. But there are also bones being held by people who have skirted these laws. Dr. Graham said he had even seen online videos of people digging up graves to feed this market.

Here is the full NYT story, interesting more generally, via TEKL.

The post Markets in everything, messed up edition appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Who Mismanages Student Loans and Why?

From Kimberly Rodgers Cornaggia and Han Xia:

With a license to use individually identifiable information on student loan borrowers, we find that a majority of distressed student borrowers manage their debt sub-optimally and that suboptimal debt management is associated with higher loan delinquency. Cross-sectional analysis indicates that loan (mis)management varies significantly across student gender, ethnicity, and age. We test several potential selection-based explanations for such demographic variation in student loan management, including variation in students’ overconfidence, consumption preferences and discount rates, and aversion to administrative paperwork. Motivated by federal and state allegations against student loan servicers, we also test for the presence of treatment effects. Overall, the empirical evidence supports the conclusion that loan servicers’ differential treatment across borrowers play an important role in student loan outcomes.

Here is a key background fact:

Broadly, subsidized student borrower assistance programs include provisions for loan forbearance, loan deferment, and
income-driven repayment (IDR) options for financially distressed borrowers.

Borrowers should switch to those provisions more than they do, with older students, non-traditional students, males, and non-whites performing less well than others.  Here is the link to the paper, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The post Who Mismanages Student Loans and Why? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Solitary Road

Resembling a river of light flowing through the dry, otherworldly landscape of northern Chile, the road to ESO’s Paranal Observatory is a lifeline for the facility. Sited in one of the most remote locations in the world to benefit from the extremely low light pollution there, the observatory can only be accessed by this road, which winds its solitary way through the calm, barren terrain.

Atop the distant mountain, called Cerro Paranal, it is possible to see the tiny shapes of the VLT Survey Telescope, and all four of the Unit Telescopes (UTs) that make up ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Though small in this Picture of the Week, up close these telescopes are veritable behemoths — each UT mirror alone spans over eight metres!

This photo was taken from the vantage point of another of ESO’s facilities, the VISTA telescope, on an adjacent peak in the Atacama Desert, by ESO Photo Ambassador Yuri Beletsky.

Kandji

My thanks to Kandji for sponsoring last week at DF. Kandji is an Apple device management (MDM) solution built exclusively for IT teams at organizations that run on Apple platforms. It’s a modern, cloud-based platform for centrally managing and securing your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV devices, saving IT teams countless hours of manual, repetitive work with features like one-click compliance templates and 150+ pre-built automations, apps, and workflows.

Earlier this month, they announced release-day support for new MDM features in MacOS 11 Big Sur. Request access to see a demo and get access to an optional 14-day free trial.

 ★ 

Sunday Night Futures

Weekend:
Schedule for Week of November 29, 2020

Monday:
• At 9:45 AM ET, Chicago Purchasing Managers Index for November.

• At 10:00 AM, Pending Home Sales Index for October. The consensus is for a 2.0% increase in the index.

• At 10:30 AM, Dallas Fed Survey of Manufacturing Activity for November. This is the last of the regional Fed manufacturing surveys for November.

From CNBC: Pre-Market Data and Bloomberg futures S&P 500 and DOW futures are mostly unchanged (fair value).

Oil prices were up over the last week with WTI futures at $45.10 per barrel and Brent at $47.60 barrel. A year ago, WTI was at $58, and Brent was at $65 - so WTI oil prices are down about 25% year-over-year.

Here is a graph from Gasbuddy.com for nationwide gasoline prices. Nationally prices are at $2.10 per gallon. A year ago prices were at $2.60 per gallon, so gasoline prices are down $0.50 per gallon year-over-year.

Live coverage: Soyuz launches Falcon Eye 2 satellite on third attempt

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana with the Falcon Eye 2 military reconnaissance satellite for the United Arab Emirates. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

Arianespace’s live video stream begins at 0118 GMT (8:18 p.m. EST) and will be available here.
If you appreciate what we do, please consider becoming a Spaceflight Now member and support our coverage.

November 29 COVID-19 Test Results; Record Hospitalizations

Note: The data will be unusual over the holiday weekend. Stay Safe!!!

The US is now averaging over 1 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% (probably close to 1%), so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).

There were 1,011,883 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 131,441 positive tests.

Almost 36,000 US deaths have been reported so far in November. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

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

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 13.0% (red line is 7 day average).  The percent positive is calculated by dividing positive results by the sum of negative and positive results (I don't include pending).

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

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

The dashed line is the previous hospitalization maximum.

Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed, so the hospitalizations was higher relative to the 7-day average of positive tests in July.

• Record Hospitalizations.

Cyber Cafe

Since we haven't really settled on a name for those online hangout/work spaces that try to recreate the experience of cafes, and I love confusion, I'm going to start calling them 'cyber cafes' or 'internet cafes.'

S&P pays $44bn for IHS Markit as financial-data providers race for scale

Like their consumer-tech counterparts, market-information providers want to lock clients into self-contained ecosystems

Cygnus Without Stars

The sky is filled with faintly glowing gas, though it can take a The sky is filled with faintly glowing gas, though it can take a


Photos: Falcon 9 launches and lands at Vandenberg Air Force Base

This composite image captures the launch of the the Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-4E at Vandenberg, followed by the booster’s return to Landing Zone 4 more than eight minutes later. Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now

These photos show the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Nov. 21 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with the U.S.-European Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich oceanography satellite.

The commercial launcher lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg at 9:17 a.m. PST (12:17 p.m. EST; 1717 GMT) on Nov. 21. Nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines powered the 229-foot (70-meter) rocket off the pad and toward the south-southeast over the Pacific Ocean.

Nearly two-and-a-half minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9’s first stage detached and began maneuvers to head back to a landing at Vandenberg. The booster ignited its center engine for a braking maneuver just before a vertical touchdown on Landing Zone 4, just west of the Falcon 9’s launch pad, more than eight minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s upper stage deployed the European-built Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite into orbit nearly one hour after launching from Vandenberg, beginning the spacecraft’s mission to monitor global sea levels.

Read our full story for more details.

Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Sunrise hike

IMG_0240

My younger self would have been aghast at the idea of a hike at sunrise. Until I was thirty or so, I routinely stayed up well past midnight, writing or drinking, and rose in the late morning, sometimes the early afternoon. I now regret all those hours spent sleeping through the light.

Soyuz rocket ready to launch with UAE’s Falcon Eye 2 military satellite

A Soyuz rocket rolls out to its launch pad in French Guiana in preparation for liftoff with the Falcon Eye 2 military reconnaissance satellite. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – P. Piron

A Soyuz booster is set for launch from French Guiana Sunday night with a European-built military reconnaissance satellite for the United Arab Emirates, the twin of a UAE surveillance craft lost in a rocket failure last year.

The 2,623-pound (1,190-kilogram) Falcon Eye 2 satellite is closed up inside the nose cone of a Soyuz ST-A rocket set for blastoff at 8:33:28 p.m. EST Sunday (0133:28 GMT Monday).

After heading north from the European-run spaceport in French Guiana, the Soyuz ST-A rocket will aim to place the Airbus-built spacecraft into a circular 379-mile-high (611-kilometer) sun-synchronous orbit that flies over Earth’s poles.

The mission — managed by the French company Arianespace — will mark the 24th flight of a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from French Guiana, and the 12th launch of a Soyuz rocket from launch sites worldwide this year.

The launch of the UAE’s Falcon Eye 2 satellite comes more than a year after an identical spacecraft named Falcon Eye 1 was destroyed in a Vega rocket failure in July 2019.

The Falcon Eye 1 mission was insured for 369 million euros, or $407 million, including the value of the satellite and the launch, according to Space News.

Officials from the UAE government, which owns the billion-dollar Falcon Eye program, decided after last year’s failure to swap the launch of the identical Falcon Eye 2 satellite in the Arianespace launch schedule from a Vega rocket to a Soyuz booster.

The light-class Vega rocket is one of three launchers operated by Arianespace from the Guiana Space Center, alongside the medium-lift Russian-made Soyuz launcher and the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.

Airbus Defense and Space built the Falcon Eye satellites, and Thales Alenia Space provided the high-resolution optical imaging payloads for both spacecraft.

The agreement between the UAE and French industry to build the Falcon Eye satellites was brokered with the backing of the French government, but a security review by the U.S. government delayed the final signature of the contract between the UAE, Airbus and Thales until 2014. The satellites use some U.S.-made components, prompting the Obama administration to put a temporary hold on the deal until officials ultimately approved the export of the U.S. parts for use by the UAE military.

The Falcon Eye 2 satellite will provide high-resolution surveillance imagery to the UAE military. The two Falcon Eye spacecraft were built on the design of the French Pleiades Earth-imaging satellites launched in 2011 and 2012, and reportedly have a resolution of about 2.3 feet, or 70 centimeters, in their highest-resolution imaging mode.

Artist’s concept of the Falcon Eye 2 satellite. Credit: Emirates News Agency

After switching to a Soyuz rocket, the Falcon Eye 2 satellite was supposed to take off in March. But technical problems with the Soyuz rocket’s Fregat upper stage and delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to reschedule the flight for November.

The Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage’s launch sequence Sunday night will last nearly 59 minutes from liftoff until separation of the Falcon Eye 2 satellite in orbit.

The kerosene-fueled Soyuz ST-A rocket will climb off its launch pad with more than 900,000 pounds of thrust, accelerate through the speed of sound, and jettison its four liquid strap-on boosters about two minutes into the mission.

The rocket’s payload fairing will drop away at Plus+3 minutes, 59 seconds, followed by shutdown and separation of the Soyuz core stage at Plus+4 minutes, 47 seconds.

The third stage’s RD-0110 engine will burn for around four minutes before deploying the Fregat upper stage at Plus+8 minutes, 48 seconds, for a pair of firings to first reach a parking orbit around Earth, then enter a circular 379-mile-high orbit.

Separation of the Falcon Eye 2 satellite is scheduled at Plus+58 minutes, 45 seconds, or at 9:32 p.m. EST (0232 GMT).

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.