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The elephants of Bushcamp Company’s Mfuwe Lodge

An evening pause: As the youtube website explains, “This is perhaps the only hotel in the world where you may need to make way for passing elephants when checking in. During the month of November, a small herd of pachyderms nonchalantly tromps through reception on their way to a wild mango tree.”

Hat tip Danae.

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Anti-establishment non-politicians top Iowa poll

I normally don’t bother reporting on polls. They are notoriously unreliable and often force one to the wrong conclusions. Nonetheless, this poll appears significant because it indicates that it isn’t just Trump that the voters are turning to in their disgust of the establishment political elite community.

First, it is the first poll since late July that does not show Trump with a lead. Instead, Ben Carson ties him. Second, Carly Fiorina with 10% and Ted Cruz with 9% come in second and third.

Finally, and most important, Bush, Kasich, and Rubio, politicians who have demonstrated by their actions that once elected they cannot be trusted get little or no support.

For months I have strongly believed that Jeb Bush was going to go nowhere once the voting began. The Republican base does not want another Bush. Similarly, Rubio’s betrayal of the tea party voters who got him elected by his support of the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration bill is well remembered by those tea party voters. They do not trust him.

Instead, I believe that it will be reliable conservatives or brash outsides like Cruz, Fiorina, Carson, and Trump who will get the votes. This poll suggests I might be right.

Having said this, I must emphasize again my mistrust of polls. It is just as likely this poll is a waste, and tells us nothing.

Obamacare to punish small businesses for helping employees

Finding out what’s in it: The IRS has announced that the annual fine to businesses — even businesses with less than 50 employees — for helping employees pay their medical expenses will be a mere $36,500.

“We were told over and over during the Obamacare discussions that if you had less than 50 employees there’s no requirement to provide coverage, so you don’t have to worry about any cost factor,” said Ron Aldridge, Mississippi director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. … If a company has five employees, the total tax would be $182,500. A “large” employer with 50 employees that did not provide insurance in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, would be subject to $2,000 per employee, with the first 30 employees exempt, for a total of $40,000, Aldridge said.

And then there’s this gem:

The Mississippi Insurance Department said: “The rule appears nowhere in the Affordable Care Act but was developed by the Obama administration’s regulation writers at the IRS.” [emphasis mine]

Not only is this IRS rule illegal, as it isn’t based on anything written in the Obamacare law, it starkly illustrates the inhumane attitude of the Obama administration and people there who wrote it. The rule demands that employers look the other way if their employees are in trouble because of medical expenses. It also surprises everyone by suddenly imposing Obamacare on all businesses, even tiny ones which had been promised they were exempt from the law.

In fact, based on the information in this article, even an independent contractor like myself could be found in violation of this rule and subject to fines.. Essentially, I am not allowed to use my profits from my business to pay for my medical costs,

In other words, this administration wants to hurt people.

Charges dropped against man for playing Star-Spangled Banner on July 4th

A Florida prosecutor has dropped all charges against a man who was arrested by police for playing the Star-Spangled Banner on July 4th for his neighbors.

That the police even considered arresting him was beyond reasonable. And three cheers for the player, Lane Pittman, for refusing to plea bargain.

Russia accelerating development of Soyuz replacement

The competition heats up: The head of Energia, the Russian company that builds the Soyuz capsule, said this week at a space conference near Moscow that they are going to accelerate construction of a prototype of a next generation replacement, capable of launch four astronauts.

We have agreed with the engineers…. to reduce the time for construction and production of the first copy of this spaceship. Despite the fact that we have voiced and agreed on the first launch in 2021, we have set the task to build the prototype by 2019, and I think that we will succeed, ” Solntsev told reporters at the MAKS.

Take this with a grain of salt. Energia has proposed a number of different Soyuz replacements since 2000, none of which ever saw the light of day. At the same time, the situation in Russia has changed, and the government is now committed to financing a robust space program. Previously, Energia had to find private investment capital, which never arrived because, I think, investors did not trust the legal situation in Russia. They had no way of guaranteeing that they would own their shares. In fact, the recent take-over and consolidation of Russia’s entire aerospace industry by the government has proven those investor doubts entirely right.

At the same time, the increased competition in the launch industry and this government takeover might signal something real is finally going to happen.

Alexander Rybak – Into A Fantasy

An evening pause: Rybak returns, this time performing live in 2014 his song for the animated film How to Train your Dragon 2 (2014). I normally don’t post videos made by audience members, but this time I make an exception because the performance is good and the videographer had the sense to soon ignore the dancers and stay focused on Rybak, who grabs the audience and holds them.

Hat tip Danae.

New Horizons team picks its next Kuiper Belt target

The New Horizons science team has picked its next Kuiper Belt fly-by target beyond Pluto.

New Horizons will perform a series of four maneuvers in late October and early November to set its course toward 2014 MU69 – nicknamed “PT1” (for “Potential Target 1”) – which it expects to reach on January 1, 2019. Any delays from those dates would cost precious fuel and add mission risk. “2014 MU69 is a great choice because it is just the kind of ancient KBO, formed where it orbits now, that the Decadal Survey desired us to fly by,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “Moreover, this KBO costs less fuel to reach [than other candidate targets], leaving more fuel for the flyby, for ancillary science, and greater fuel reserves to protect against the unforeseen.”

The press release includes some silly gobbly-gook about how the science team can’t announce this as its official target because they still have to write up a proposal to submit to NASA, which then must ponder their decision and decree it valid. We all know this is ridiculous. Will NASA sit and ponder and make them miss their target? I doubt it.

The fly-by itself will be really exciting, because this object will truly be the most unusual we will have ever gotten a close look at, as it has spent its entire existence far out in the dim reaches of the solar system.

Judge rules IRS must disclose White House requests for private taxpayer information

The noose tightens: A federal judge today ruled that the IRS must turn over any records showing White House requests for private confidential taxpayer information.

Questions about potential White House meddling in taxpayers’ private information stretch back to the beginning of the Obama administration, when the then-White House chief economist seemed to describe the tax structure of Koch Industries during a briefing with reporters. His description was apparently incorrect, but it left some watchdog groups wondering if the White House had quietly sought information on conservatives, such as the billionaire Koch brothers.

Cause of Action sued in 2013 to get a look at whatever requests the White House, or other federal agencies, had made. The IRS refused, saying even the existence of those requests would be protected by confidentiality laws and couldn’t be released, so there was no reason to make the search. The judge said Friday, however, that the agency couldn’t use the privacy protection “to shield the very misconduct it was enacted to prohibit.”

If evidence is found that the White House was delving into the confidential tax records of its opponents, with IRS help, I think this scandal will finally reach critical mass. People might not go to jail, but the evidence will allow the individuals involved to sue and win in court. For the Democrats, Obama, and the IRS, this will not be pretty.

New EU tax law puts thousands out of business

We’re here to help you! A major revision to the VAT tax in the European Union tax has caused the shutdown of thousands of businesses because they cannot afford to meet the complex rules and bureaucracy required.

Designed to prevent large businesses locating themselves in VAT-competitive territories, it had the predictable effect of drowning small businesses under a sea of bureaucracy, forcing them to access the data required to prove the customer’s location, figure out which of more than 80 VAT rates to apply, and issue an invoice in the correct language, currency and layout. Unable to afford the costly software required to deal with the regulation, thousands of small business and sole traders have closed or abandoned their enterprises. Most of those who have continued to trade have either moved to third party platforms, losing up to 70 percent of their total revenue (not just non-domestic sales) in commission, or spent thousands on software.

“The human cost to these businesses is vast”, Clare Josa is co-founder of EU VAT Action commented for EU Observer. “The only reason the Digital Single Market is still functioning is because awareness levels are below 5 percent, so most businesses are continuing to trade under the former system. As awareness rises, the damage will soar.”

Read the whole article. The quote above only gives a small taste of the problem caused entirely by government bureaucrats and elected officials who seem divorced from reality. And though this is a European governmental disaster, it is instructive for Americans to learn about it. Like Obamacare, the new VAT tax rules were imposed with the best of intentions, but completely ignored the reality of meeting those intentions. The result is financial ruin for thousands of businesses and individuals.

Wyoming farmer defies the EPA

Defiant! A Wyoming farmer has filed suit against the EPA for demanding he disassemble a small stock pond he built on his own property, after following all the state’s rules and getting all the proper permits.

The EPA’s fines, $75K per day, have now accumulated to over $16 million. He is challenging the agency, saying that he followed all the rules, that the pond is on his own property, and that the EPA does not have jurisdiction.

Hawaii Supreme Court hears arguments on TMT constructions

Hawaii’s Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments for and against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea.

Based on reading the various news reports of the hearing and the questioning by the judges, it appears to me that the judges have already decided against the telescope. Race, ethnicity, and hatred of western technology must take precedent over all else.

I repeat: If the court shuts down TMT astronomers should consider moving out entirely. Furthermore, Americans should maybe consider other places for their tourism, considering how hostile Hawaiians now appear to be.

Comet 67P/C-G goes boom!

Outburst on Comet 67P/C-G

Cool image time! On August 22, just days after its closest approach to the sun, Rosetta caught the outburst, image above, from the larger lobe on Comet 67P/C-G.

The image scale is 28.6 m/pixel and the image measures 29.3 km across. Although the activity is extraordinarily bright even in the original (below), the image above has been lightly enhanced to give a better view of the outline of the nucleus in the lower part of the image, as well as to show the full extent of the activity.

The most interesting images, I think, will actually come later, when the activity dies down and they can bring Rosetta in closer again. We will then be able to compare the nucleus both before and after this outburst, getting a sense of how the comet changes with each close pass to the sun.

Alexander Rybak & Stefan Ibsen Zlatanos – Clair de Lune

An evening pause: Hat tip Danae. Tomorrow the evening pause will be an entirely different piece of music written by tonight’s violinist. As Danae noted in describing Rybak to me, “Composer, singer, dancer, musician on violin and piano, actor and impersonator of famous vocalists on Eurovision TV’s equivalent of American Idol, this 29 year-old, though occasionally temperamental, is a rising star in Europe. He was born in the Soviet Union, but has lived in Norway since he was four years old, and speaks Russian, Norwegian and English fluently.”

More than half of published psychology papers cannot be replicated

The uncertainty of science: An attempt to replicate 98 different psychological research studies has found that significantly less than half could be replicated.

In the biggest project of its kind, Brian Nosek, a social psychologist and head of the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Virginia, and 269 co-authors repeated work reported in 98 original papers from three psychology journals, to see if they independently came up with the same results. The studies they took on ranged from whether expressing insecurities perpetuates them to differences in how children and adults respond to fear stimuli, to effective ways to teach arithmetic.

According to the replicators’ qualitative assessments, as previously reported by Nature, only 39 of the 100 replication attempts were successful. … There is no way of knowing whether any individual paper is true or false from this work, says Nosek. Either the original or the replication work could be flawed, or crucial differences between the two might be unappreciated. Overall, however, the project points to widespread publication of work that does not stand up to scrutiny. [emphasis mine]

None of this surprises me. The focus of much science research, especially in the soft sciences like psychology, is statistical in nature and easily manipulated. In fact, most of it isn’t science at all, but an attempt to use mere statistics to prove a point. Science would instead try to find out why something happens, not just demonstrate through statistics that it does.

The terrible political consequences of Iran deal to the Democratic Party

Several stories in the news today outline for me the terrible political consequences faced by the Democratic Party by their support for the nuclear deal with Iran:

This quote from the middle article however highlights how bad the consequences for the Democrats will be:

if Obama is left with a deal that is opposed by a majority of either the Senate or the House, the Democrats will be stuck with it. They will then be on the defensive with every hostile move Iran makes with the $150 billion the mullahs are going to get.

Like Obamacare, only Democrats are going to support this Iran deal. They will own it entirely. Thus, the first time Iran does something to violate the treaty or to use the $50 billion or more of cash they will get for signing the deal to promote terrorist attacks, it will be Democrats and only Democrats who will share the blame.

Yet, like Obamacare, the Democratic Party seems oblivious to these political risks. Come hell or high water, they are, as described in the first story, working as hard as they can to get the votes to sustain an Obama veto and make this deal law.

As much as I want these Democrats kicked out of office, I think having the Iran deal approved will be worse for the nation and the world. It will immediately dump billions of dollars into the hands of Iran’s radical terrorist leaders, surely resulting in more violence against many innocents across the globe. And it will announce to the world our willingness to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, which will almost certainly instigate a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and probably prompt Israel to attack Iran, possibly with its own nuclear weapons.

None of this is good. Better that the Democrats should save themselves the political cost and oppose this horrible deal.

Unfortunately, I am not hopeful. The track record of today’s Democratic Party is that of a group of people willing to put ideology ahead of everything, even if it means they will lose elections like crazy afterward. I see nothing to make me think they will do different here.

Our only option afterward then will be to throw them out of office. I pray that come 2016, the election results will make the Republican landslides of 2010 and 2014 look like mild rebukes in comparison.

States okay big insurance premium increases caused by Obamacare

Finding out what’s in it: State insurance regulatory agencies have been routinely granting the gigantic rate increases requested by health insurance companies due to the costs imposed on them by Obamacare.

It’s the third year in a row for huge rate hikes, all due to the uncertainties built into the mandate-driven system of ObamaCare. The White House explained the hikes after the first year as an artifact of sudden access to care, but by year three that explanation has worn thin. The cost curve isn’t bending downward in any phase of health care, and it’s not even bending upward any longer. It’s skyrocketing, and insurers are reflecting that in their premium hikes.

At the same time that premiums have escalated, of course, deductibles have expanded almost exponentially for some families. Consumers are paying outrageously high premiums for insurance they will almost certainly never access, thanks to the need to spend thousands more out of pocket on top of these premiums before insurers have to cover anything but wellness checks.

Obviously this is the fault of Bush-Reagan and the evil Republicans in Congress, none of whom wrote or voted for Obamacare and in fact opposed it vehemently. Obama and the Democrats, who wrote the law and then forced it through Congress, are obviously innocent of any blame for that law’s disasters. Let’s vote for them again!

Launch of India’s big rocket a success

The competition heats up: India has successfully launched a military communications satellite using its home-built Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

Because of India’s bad habit of not giving distinct names to its space vehicles or spacecraft, I have discovered a bit a confusion about the version of GSLV that just launched. This rocket was built entirely in India, but it is the Mark II, not the Mark III, which is a significant upgrade and has so far only had one test flight.

Nonetheless, today’s Mark II launch is the second success in a row for the India-built version. Considering the number of failures of this version in the past, this success is a significant milestone for India’s space effort.

IAU balks at some Pluto names picked by New Horizons team

Irritated that the New Horizons team did not consult with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) before it announced its proposed names for many Pluto features, IAU officials are now threatening to reject them once submitted.

“Frankly, we would have preferred that the New Horizons team had approached us before putting all these informal names everywhere,” said Rosaly Lopes, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is a member of the IAU’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature.

The group’s chair, Rita Schulz of the European Space Agency, said the New Horizons team has not yet submitted a formal proposal for naming features on Pluto and its moons. “Usually, there are always some features for which this process goes rather fast, some for which more checks and balances are required (which then takes a bit longer) and there are usually also some names or descriptors that cannot be approved and need to be replaced by others,” she told GeekWire in an email.

There has been a conflict between the IAU and the principal investigator for New Horizons, Alan Stern, for years now. Stern also runs the private company Uwingu, which offers citizens the ability to name unnamed craters on Mars for a fee, without asking the IAU. Stern, like myself, believes that the IAU’s claim that it is the only authority that can approve names for every object not on Earth is hogwash. Stern also strongly objects to the IAU’s decision to demote Pluto’s planetary status to a dwarf planet.

These comments by IAU officials suggest that they are being somewhat petty and are threatening to reject the New Horizons names to get back at Stern.

India starts countdown for the launch of its big rocket

The competition heats up: India has begun the countdown for the third launch of its entirely homebuilt Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket.

The launch is set for Thursday, and is attempting for the first time to place an actual payload into orbit, an Indian military communications satellite. Previous launches either failed with earlier versions of the rocket, or were carrying dummy payloads.

Russia delays first manned Vostochny launch seven years

The heat of competition: Russia has finally admitted that it will not be able to fly manned missions from its new Vostochny spaceport in 2018, and had instead rescheduled that first flight for sometime in 2025.

The reasons were not spelled out, and it was unclear if financial considerations were behind the delay.

Space agency spokesman Mikhail Fadeyev made clear the change of plan in stating: ‘The first manned flight from the Vostochny Cosmodrome is scheduled for 2025 with an Angara-AV5 rocket, according to the federal space programme.’ The move reflected the ‘founding principle of Vostochny as an innovative cosmodrome’, he claimed. Under the plan, the first test flight of the Angara-A5B is scheduled for 2023, while the rocket’s first unmanned flight is slated for 2024.

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev recently visited the spaceport, stressing the importance of the first unmanned launch, due in four months from now, being a success. His statement appeared to allow for the possibility of slippage in this timetable also.

Vostochny was first proposed in 2007, so that means it will take Russia almost two decades to get this spaceport ready for manned flights. Only a government operation, designed to create jobs instead of accomplishing something, takes such an ungodly long time to get finished.

Meanwhile, Russia will continue to use Baikonur for manned flight for at least one more decade.

New Hubble image of Twin Jet Nebula

Twin Jet Nebula

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have taken a new image of the Twin Jet Nebula, a planetary nebula officially called PM M2-9.

The M in this name refers to Rudolph Minkowski, a German-American astronomer who discovered the nebula in 1947. The PN, meanwhile, refers to the fact that M2-9 is a planetary nebula. The glowing and expanding shells of gas clearly visible in this image represent the final stages of life for an old star of low to intermediate mass. The star has not only ejected its outer layers, but the exposed remnant core is now illuminating these layers — resulting in a spectacular light show like the one seen here. However, the Twin Jet Nebula is not just any planetary nebula, it is a bipolar nebula.

The bipolar nature of the nebula is thought to be caused by the interaction of a binary star system. I like to say that the orbiting stars act like the blades in a blender, mixing the ejected layers of material to produce the jets and shapes that make planetary nebula so beautiful.

Hubble first imaged this nebula in 1997. This image, using the telescope’s newer instruments, is important because it shows the complex layers within each jet, suggesting multiple ejection events in the past.

An update on Gaia’s first year of astronomical observations

European scientists today released an update on the status and scientific observations of their space telescope Gaia, designed to survey the location and distance of a billion stars.

The press release provides a basic summary of the spacecraft’s condition, which appears good, as well as an overview of some of the most interesting observations, though with little detail. This is because the first scheduled release of Gaia hard data will not happen until a year from now, thus giving the scientists who run the project a year to analyze it and publish their own papers.

Cubesats to the Moon!

NASA has chosen three cubesat missions to fly lunar planetary orbiters to the Moon, to be launched on the first SLS flight in 2018.

LunaH-Map, along with a number of other deep-space CubeSats, is a candidate to fly to lunar orbit on Exploration Mission-1, the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which will be the most powerful rocket ever built and will enable astronauts in the Orion spacecraft to travel deeper into the solar system. NASA will provide several CubeSat missions spots on the maiden SLS mission. LunaH-Map is a 6U (“6 unit”) CubeSat. One “unit” is a cube measuring 4.7 inches on a side; LunaH-Map strings six of these CubeSat building blocks together and weighs as much as a small child (about 30 pounds). …

“NASA has funded three different CubeSats to learn more: Lunar IceCube, Lunar FLASHLIGHT and LunaH-Map. They all look for water in different ways and provide different types of information,” [said principal investigator Craig Hardgrove].

The article is focused on LunaH-Map, not on the other two cubesats, but the fact that NASA plans to use “the most powerful rocket ever built” to launch the first three planetary cubesats, so small they could almost be launched by a model rocket, illustrates some of the problems of the SLS program. Even though that first SLS flight is likely to happen, I suspect that, should it falter for any reason (something that would not surprise me), these cubesats could easily be launched on another rocket, and will be.

Putting SLS aside, however, the building of these first planetary cubesats is a very significant development. It once again signals the way unmanned satellite engineering is evolving, finding ways to build spacecraft smaller and less costly.

EPA withholds Colorado disaster documents demanded by Congress

Surprise! The EPA, when ordered by Congress to release documents describing that agency’s planning prior to the toxic waste disaster it caused in Colorado, has failed to meet the deadline set by Congress for turning over those documents.

“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the EPA failed to meet the House Science Committee’s reasonable deadline in turning over documents pertaining to the Gold King Mine spill,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). “These documents are essential to the Committee’s ongoing investigation and our upcoming hearing on Sept. 9. But more importantly, this information matters to the many Americans directly affected in western states, who are still waiting for answers from the EPA.”

Smith – who frequently spars with the EPA – is chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. EPA director Gina McCarthy has been asked to appear and answer questions about the agency’s role in creating a 3-million-gallon toxic spill into Colorado’s Animas River on Aug. 5. Critics say McCarthy and the EPA have been unresponsive, secretive and unsympathetic toward millions of people who live in three states bordering the river.

The word “coverup” comes to mind, though how could anyone believe that the Obama administration (the most transparent in history!) would do such a thing baffles the mind.

A breakthrough in creating fusion power?

A privately funded company has successfully kept a ball of superheated gas stable for a record time, 5 milliseconds, putting them closer to producing fusion power.

“They’ve succeeded finally in achieving a lifetime limited only by the power available to the system,” says particle physicist Burton Richter of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who sits on a board of advisers to Tri Alpha. If the company’s scientists can scale the technique up to longer times and higher temperatures, they will reach a stage at which atomic nuclei in the gas collide forcefully enough to fuse together, releasing energy.

Although other startup companies are also trying to achieve fusion using similar methods, the main efforts in this field are huge government-funded projects such as the $20 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), under construction in France by an international collaboration, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s $4 billion National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California. But the burgeoning cost and complexity of such projects are causing many to doubt they will ever produce plants that can generate energy at an affordable cost.

Tri Alpha’s and similar efforts take a different approach, which promises simpler, cheaper machines that can be developed more quickly. Importantly, the Tri Alpha machine may be able to operate with a different fuel than most other fusion reactors. This fuel—a mix of hydrogen and boron—is harder to react, but Tri Alpha researchers say it avoids many of the problems likely to confront conventional fusion power plants. “They are where they are because people are able to believe they can get a [hydrogen-boron] reactor to work,” says plasma physicist David Hammer of Cornell University, also a Tri Alpha adviser.

The article does not say how much this success cost the privately-funded Tri Alpha, but it certainly wasn’t in the billions of dollars. Yet, it appears that in less than a decade they have accomplished more than all these big government-funded projects have in the past half century, and for less money.

Does that story sound familiar?

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