Monthly Archives: January 2017

SpaceX to double leased space at Los Angeles port

The competition heats up: SpaceX has requested a doubling of its leased space the port of Los Angeles in order to facilitate the return of first stages launched from Vandenberg.

The Board of Harbor Commissioners will vote at its Thursday morning meeting on a deal to enlarge Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s footprint at San Pedro’s outer harbor. The company hopes to lease 4.6 acres of land and water area along Berths 51 to 53 for $23,735 a month, plus insurance and any incidental costs.

In addition to extra space, the lease agreement allows the company to have berthing rights, install a chain-link fence around the property, build a concrete rocket-support pedestal, and add an office trailer, guard shack and portable restrooms, according to a staff report prepared for the commission.

According to the article, the increased space is needed because of the company’s plans to launch every two weeks from its pads at Kennedy and Vandenberg.

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U.S. 2020 Mars rover faces delays

A new inspector general report has pinpointed a number of issues that could cause a delay in the 2020 launch of the next American Mars rover mission.

The biggest risk to the mission, according to NASA OIG, is the sampling system that will be used to collect and store samples of Martian rock and soil that a future mission will gather for return to Earth. That system, an essential part of the mission, has several key technologies that are less mature than planned at this phase of the mission’s development. “The immaturity of the critical technologies related to the Sampling System is concerning because, according to Mars 2020 Project managers, the Sampling System is the rover’s most complex new development component with delays likely to eat into the Project’s schedule reserve and, in the worst case scenario, could delay launch,” OIG stated.

I find it puzzling that the sampling system is an issue. This rover is essentially based on Curiosity, which has very sophisticated equipment for grabbing and even storing samples for periods of time. I don’t understand why such systems could not be quickly revised for future retrieval.

Nonetheless, there are other problems however.

Two instruments on the Mars 2020 mission have also suffered problems. One, called MOXIE, is designed to test the ability to generate oxygen on Mars, saw its estimated increase by more than 50 percent during its development. NASA has taken steps to reduce some of that cost growth by eliminating development of an engineering model and skipping further design improvements in one element of MOXIE.

Another instrument designed to study atmospheric conditions on Mars, MEDA, has suffered delays because of a “financial reorganization” by its developer, Spain’s National Institute for Aerospace Technology. OIG concluded in its report that MEDA is unlikely to be ready for delivery to NASA in April 2018, as currently scheduled. That could require adding MEDA to the rover later in the overall assembly process, or flying the mission without the instrument.

One of the reasons the Obama administration decided to make this 2020 rover mission a reboot of Curiosity was to save cost and development time. Thus, it does not speak well for NASA’s planetary program that they are having these problems.

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Japanese experiment to remove space junk fails

A Japanese experiment designed to test technology for removing space junk and flown on that country’s most recent cargo ship to ISS has failed to deploy its tether as planned.

The system, designed by the Japanese space agency (JAXA) and a fishing net company, should have unfurled a 700-meter (2,300 ft) tether from a space station resupply vehicle that was returning to Earth. According to JAXA scientists, however, the system appears to have faltered.

This only adds another technical failure to a string of technical failures by Japanese spacecraft. And even though the cargo ship operated as planned, its launch was delayed when engineers discovered a leak during testing. Overall, it increasingly appears that Japan’s space program has the same kind of quality control problems as Russia.

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Some radioisotope dating might be overestimating the age of samples

The uncertainty of science: New research suggests the radioisotope dating that scientists use has been overestimating the age of many samples.

The article does not indicate if this overestimate applies to all radioisotope dating or just to the strontium-86/rubidium-87 dating methods mentioned. Nor does the article detail how much of an overestimate the scientists have measured. Depending on these factors the difference — and its influence on scientific results — could be relatively small, or quite large.

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Gorsuch picked by Trump for Supreme Court

President Trump tonight named Neil Gorsuch as his pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

My fear that Trump would go for the more moderate Thomas Hardiman has proven unfounded. Instead, this more conservative choice once again suggests that Trump is shifting increasingly to the right.

In fact, I think the insane and insulting attacks brought against Trump by the left have actually served to make him more conservative. As Rush Limbaugh noted today,

Would you like an illustration of what I mean by Donald Trump not being ideological and how it’s a problem? He understands he has opposition. How could he not? (chuckles) I mean, I’m sure he knows that he’s got opposition. Don’t misunderstand me, now. And I’m sure that he may have had his eyes opened about some of these people. In his mind, they’re Democrats. Liberal, conservative, that’s not in his lexicon, folks. I’m not offering this as a criticism. It’s just a truth. It’s something that, if you want to understand Trump, then there’s no better deconstructor of Trump and explainer of Trump who’s not in the inner circle than me.

All during the campaign I did my best to explain to everybody — leftists, media, conservative, Republicans, Never Trumpers — who Trump is, why Trump is, why Trump was winning, who Trump’s supporters are. And the thing that I kept saying is, “He’s not ideological.” So he knows he’s got opposition, he knows Democrats, and he’s probably had his eyes opened here. I’m sure that over the course of his life some of these people now calling him names trying to destroy him have been his friends. So his eyes are no doubt opened. I don’t doubt that.

When Trump first announced his candidacy, everything he did and said at that time fit with Limbaugh’s analysis, except that at the time I think Trump was much more middle of the road. I think he truly believed his liberal background working closely with Democrats would make them treat him decently. Instead, they have come at him guns blazing, calling him the worst sort of names, making the most vile accusations against him, and even attacking his family and his children.

The result? Trump has, as Limbaugh notes, had “his eyes opened.” He might not be a philosophical conservative, but more and more it appears that he recognizes the corrupt hate coming from the left, and is less and less inclined to give them an inch. Instead, he moves rightward. I also think this is the same pattern we are seeing nationwide among voters.

Right now the Democrats in the Senate look like they are planning to copy the strategy to try to block Trump’s Cabinet appointees used by Texas and Wisconsin Democrats in 2003 and 2011 respectively.

This is not the first time Democrats have blocked a Republican majority from proceeding by refusing to take their seats and thus denying Republicans a quorum. In 2003, 11 Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives literally fled the state for weeks in order to prevent a redistricting plan favored by Republicans. Eventually, one of them returned and the redistricting plan was passed. More recently, in 2011, Wisconsin Democrats fled to Illinois for three weeks to avoid a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill because of provisions that were opposed by Wisconsin unions. However, the GOP-controlled legislature defeated the Democrats’ maneuvers by separating these bills from the budget and passing them separately.

In both cases, the Democrats not only failed to win, but their actions caused the voters to move to the right, voting in more Republicans and significantly reducing Democratic influence in both these states. With Wisconsin the result has been the shift of that state from a blue to a red state.

They say that Einstein called insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I think this nicely defines the Democratic Party these days.

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“We need to start killing people.”

This story has been making the rounds, but I held off posting it because I wanted some confirmation that it was real. It is. At a anti-Trump rally this weekend in Seattle one speaker made it very clear what she wanted:

“F**k white supremacy. F**k the U.S. empire” the speaker attacks capitalism. “You know what America thrives off of? Capitalism,” the speaker says, adding, “We use our mother=f**king, f**king black and brown bodies to live and survive while white people own f**king properties after that.” But the speaker has a solution for this problem, “So you know what we need to do? We need to start giving f**king money.” The rant continues, “White people, give your f**king money, your f**king house, your f**king property, we need it f**king all. You need to reparate black and indigenous people right now.”

A minute or so later, the speaker takes it up a notch saying, “And we need to start killing people. First off, we need to start killing the White House. The White House must die.” [emphasis mine]

The worst part? The speaker claimed she was a preschool teacher who intended to “f**king radicalize mother-f**king four year olds and five year olds.” Imagine her as the teacher of your toddler. Every other word is a curse word, and the words in-between are filled with hate.

After the Tucson shooting in 2011, the left made a big deal about the terrible incivility of the right. Obama even came to Tucson and gave a speech about the need for civility. The trouble is, the left never intended to rein in its own incivility. That crudeness to them is perfectly okay. Their goal was merely to shut down any opposition. Now they are moving to escalate their own crudeness towards violence, because no opposition to them can be tolerated.

And people wonder why I use the word fascism to describe this behavior.

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A review of 2016 launches

Link here. The report essentially confirms my own conclusions that I posted several weeks ago. This new report however also looks at total payloads, something I had not done, and finds that though there was a decline in 2016 in the number of satellites launched, they expect that trend to end in 2017 with the continued growth in the smallsat industry.

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India to launch spare GPS satellite because of single satellite failure

Because of the failure of the atomic clocks on one of its GPS satellites have failed, India now plans to launch one of their spare satellites to increase the system’s redundancy.

The article does not say whether they will make any changes to the clocks on the spare satellite, which are the same as the failed clocks on the Indian satellite and were all built by the same European company that built the clocks on Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites that are also failing.

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Trump fires acting AG for refusing to defend his executive order on immigration

At last! President Trump this evening fired the acting attorney general because of her announcement earlier today saying that the Justice Department would not defend in court his executive order on immigration.

The Trump announcement:

The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States. This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.

Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.

It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.

Tonight, President Trump relieved Ms. Yates of her duties and subsequently named Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as Acting Attorney General until Senator Jeff Sessions is finally confirmed by the Senate, where he is being wrongly held up by Democrat senators for strictly political reasons.

For more than a quarter century I have watched Republican leaders back down the instant a Democrat whined at them. Every. single. time. This time is different. Trump is not a fearful politician. He is a businessmen, an executive, and someone who expects his employees to support his actions. My first reaction when I read Yates statement earlier today was, “Fire her!” I then laughed because I haven’t seen that common sense reaction from a Republican for decades. I have seen it now.

There is still no guarantee that Trump’s policies or actions are going to be very conservative. For example, the one person out of five listed for possible Supreme Court nominee that I have found very questionable has now risen to the top of the list. Yuch. Nonetheless, Trump seems determined to make significant and positive changes in a number of areas, from immigration to environmental policy and administration. If he only does these things, he will have accomplished much.

Update: State Department officials are putting together a memorandum that will announce their opposition to President Trump’s executive order on immigration. I wonder how long these individuals will survive working for Trump after they do this.

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New close-ups of Saturn’s rings

New close-ups of Saturn’s rings, taken during one of Cassini’s recent ring-grazing orbits, have now been released.

They have released four different images, all at a higher resolution than any previous image. Even so, the individual particles in the rings remain unresolved. Instead, many different intriguing patterns are observed, once again suggesting that though the rings are made of many solid particles, they behave as a unit more like a liquid.

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Iran tests ballistic missile despite UN ban

Does this make you feel safer? In direct defiance of a UN ban on such tests, Iran on Sunday completed a new test of a medium range ballistic missile.

The Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a reentry vehicle, officials said. Iran defense minister Brigadier Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in September that Iran would start production of the missile.

I am very curious what Trump will do to try to rein in Iran. I suspect his options will be as limited as Obama’s were, except that he is not likely to sign any make-believe nuclear deals, as Obama did.

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A review of Trump’s first 17 executive orders

Link here. The leftwing gnashing of teeth over Trump’s first actions since becoming president have routinely been based not on reality but on their false bigoted perceptions of Trump. The review at the link reveals how incredibly ordinary almost all of Trump’s initial actions have been. Most have been similar to the actions of past newly arrived presidents, from both parties. Many are no more than memos giving his subordinates guidance on what they should do.

Most disturbing has been the uproar over Trump’s suspension of the refugee programs from the seven Middle Eastern Arab countries. He hasn’t banned Muslim immigration. He hasn’t banned travel by those with legitimate green cards. All he has done has taken the seven countries listed by the Obama administration as the worst sources of terrorism and temporarily suspended any immigration from those countries pending a review of the vetting process. This seems completely reasonable, especially considering the number of terrorist attacks the west has experienced in recent years coming from immigrants from these countries. For politicians and academics and entertainers to try to turn this into something it is not out of what seems a blind hatred of Trump tells us how much western intellectual society has declined in recent years.

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Next Falcon 9 launch delayed as SpaceX rearranges manifest

Because the launchpad at Kennedy is not quite ready for the planned February 3 launch of a commercial satellite, SpaceX has rearranged its launch manifest to switch that launch with the next Dragon mission to ISS, essentially delaying their next launch by two weeks.

With [launchpad] 39A still not ready to debut in its new role with SpaceX, the first mission set to launch from this pad – the Falcon 9 launch with EchoStar 23 – was pushed to the right a number of times. Although 39A is very close to being ready to conduct launches, EchoStar 23’s launch date was deemed to be too close to the mid-February target for the CRS-10 Dragon mission.

SpaceX and NASA discussed the situation on Friday night, before deciding it would be prudent to place EchoStar 23’s launch after CRS-10, allowing engineers to finalize modification and checkout work on the famous pad and simultaneously avoid a potential delay to the important Dragon mission to the Station.

The real problem here is that SpaceX had planned to have two working launchpads by this time, but doesn’t because their first pad was damaged in the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion. The consequences is that, for at least the next month, they will not be able to set a pace of a launch every two weeks.

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Soyuz launches successfully from French Guiana

A Russian Soyuz rocket, built for Arianespace and launched from French Guiana, successfully placed a commercial satellite in geosynchronous orbit on Friday.

The launch has some significance. First, it was the first time a Soyuz rocket placed a payload into geosynchronous orbit. Second, the payload was the first satellite built by a German company in more than 25 years

Finally, and most important, it demonstrated that at least one configuration of the Soyuz rocket is still operational as Russia investigates the corrupt practices at the company that has been building upper stage engines for both its Soyuz and Proton rockets.

Update: Russia has revealed that this on-going investigation will now delay the next Proton rocket launch for 3.5 months. This means that launch will occur sometime in May, and will occur just weeks short of a full year after the last Proton launch on June 9, 2016.

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Making a Linux laptop

Yesterday while I was sitting at my desk working on my Linux desktop computer, I got a phone call from someone from “Windows Technical Support.” The man on the line said to me, quite nicely, that they had noticed a problem with my computer and wanted to help me fix it.

I said, “You are talking about my Windows desktop computer, the one I am working right now, correct?”

The man said sweetly, “Yes, sir. That’s the computer we have seen a problem with.”

I answered sweetly, “I just want to be sure, so let me ask again. You are referring to the Windows computer in front of me, the one on my desk?”

He responded, “Yes sir. Could you press your start menu please and go to settings?”

Unfortunately, I had too much work to do, and couldn’t spend more time with him. I would have liked to have lead him along for as long as possible, but simple didn’t have the time. Instead, I said, “Um, I can’t really go to my Windows settings because my desktop is a Linux computer, and has been for a decade. Have you heard of Linux?”

Instantly the phone went dead.

I tell this tale because it is only one more reason I abandoned Windows back in 2006. With Linux I have no viruses to worry about, and scammers like this can’t do me any harm.

Anyway, this post really isn’t about Windows scammers. Instead, I want to relate my experience this past week in setting up my first Linux laptop, following the step-by-step instructions provided by James Stephens and posted here on Behind the Black last year in the following series:
» Read more

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A Martian sinkhole

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced to display here, was taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and shows a very intriguing drainage pattern with several different meandering washes apparently flowing into what clearly looks like a sinkhole. As noted at the MRO website,

The drainages in this image are part of Hebrus Valles, an outflow channel system likely formed by catastrophic floods.

Hebrus Valles is located in the plains of the Northern lowlands, just west of the Elysium volcanic region. Individual channels range from several hundred meters to several kilometers wide and form multi-threaded (anastamosing) patterns. Separating the channels are streamlined forms, whose tails point downstream and indicate that channel flow is to the north. The channels seemingly terminate in an elongated pit that is approximately 1875 meters long and 1125 meters wide. Using the shadow that the wall has cast on the floor of the pit, we can estimate that the pit is nearly 500 meters deep.

To better see the shadowed floor of the sinkhole, I have cropped the full resolution image to focus on the pit itself, and increased the brightness significantly as shown on the right.

Pit bottom brightened to see floor

There does not appear to be any openings in the sinkhole floor into which water could drain, a lack that can be explained several ways. First, it is not unusual on Earth for sinkholes to have floors like this, without any obvious drainage opening, and for the water to still sink easily into the sand and rocks. Second, even if the drainage here is completely blocked, this could merely mean that it has been a very long time since water flowed here. When similar drainage systems dry up here on Earth, they fill with sediment and debris over time, so that all access to the cave below gets blocked. Many of the cave dig projects that I have been involved in over the last few decades were aimed precisely at digging out this debris to get access to the virgin cave below.

Either way, this Martian drainage indicates the presence of underground hydrology. Or to put it another way, water that future colonists can drill down into and access.

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Have scientists produced a speck of solid metallic hydrogen?

Scientists using a diamond vise think they have produced the first speck of solid metallic hydrogen, potentially capable of being a superconductor at normal temperatures.

While the scientists who performed the experiment believe they have succeeded, others are skeptical. Read it all. This is quite fascinating research.

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ISS twin study suggests weightlessness stresses the body in unexpected ways

The first preliminary results from NASA’s comparison of Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days on ISS, and his twin brother Mark, who did not, suggests that weightlessness stresses the body’s genetic system in ways not previously measured.

Preliminary results are in from NASA’s unprecedented twin study — a detailed probe of the genetic differences between astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a consecutive year in space, and his identical twin Mark. Measurements taken before, during and after Scott Kelly’s mission reveal changes in gene expression, DNA methylation and other biological markers that are likely attributable to his time in orbit.

From the lengths of the twins’ chromosomes to the microbiomes in their guts, “almost everyone is reporting that we see differences”, says Christopher Mason, a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. He and other project scientists reported the early results on 26 January in Galveston, Texas, at a meeting of scientists working in NASA’s Human Research Program. “The data are so fresh that some of them are still coming off the sequencing machines,” Mason says.

It remains unclear at this point the medical consequences of these genetic changes. The data from this first experiment is still too preliminary, and it only involves looking at two people, a sample that is obviously too small. Nonetheless, it is a beginning, and of some significance.

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Fifty years ago today: the Apollo 1 launchpad fire

Link here.

Fifty years ago Friday, the first – but sadly not the last – fatal spaceflight accident struck NASA when a fire claimed the lives of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White during a training exercise at Launch Complex 34. The accident, a major setback for the struggling Apollo program, ushered in the first understanding of the “bad day” effects of schedule pressure for spaceflight and brought with it words and reminders that still echo today.

The article provides a very detailed and accurate look at the history and causes of the accident, as well as its consequences, which even today influence American space engineering.

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85% of the world’s governments are corrupt

According to one think tank that studies corruption in government, 85% of the world lives under governments that are essentially corrupt.

“Corruption” is defined by Transparency International (TI) as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Each year since 1995, TI has published a Corruption Perceptions Index that scores the world’s nations out of 100 for their public sector honesty and the just-released 2016 report paints the same bleak picture we’ve been seeing now for two decades … except it’s getting worse.

According to the data, despite the illusion of elected government in half the world’s countries, democracy is losing. Only two countries scored 90 out of 100 this year, and just 54 of the 176 countries (30%) assessed in the report scored better than 50. Fifty percent might have constituted a pass in a High School arithmetic test, but for an elected government to be so inept at carrying out the will of the electorate, it is a clear betrayal of the people. The average country score this year is a paltry 43, indicating endemic corruption in a country’s public sector is the norm.

Even more damning is that more countries declined than improved in this year’s results.

Not surprisingly, the countries at the bottom of the list are almost all Middle Eastern Islamic nations, all of whom are the source of most of the world’s terrorism and Islamic madness. The few others are those trying to become communist paradises, Venezuela and North Korea.

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New measurements of the universe’s expansion rate

The uncertainty of science: New measurements of the universe’s expansion rate are apparently in agreement with some previous measurements but not with others.

The Hubble constant — the rate at which the Universe is expanding — is one of the fundamental quantities describing our Universe. A group of astronomers, the H0LiCOW collaboration, used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes in space and on the ground to observe five galaxies in order to arrive at an independent measurement of the Hubble constant. The new measurement is completely independent of — but in excellent agreement with — other measurements of the Hubble constant in the local Universe that used Cepheid variable stars and supernovae as points of reference.

…However, the value measured by Suyu and her team, as well as those measured using Cepheids and supernovae, are different from the measurement made by the ESA Planck satellite. But there is an important distinction — Planck measured the Hubble constant for the early Universe by observing the cosmic microwave background. While the value for the Hubble constant determined by Planck fits with our current understanding of the cosmos, the values obtained by the different groups of astronomers for the local Universe are in disagreement with our accepted theoretical model of the Universe.

Both measurements are very precise, but they do not match, suggesting that there are some basic fundamentals here that astronomers simply do not yet understand.

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Trump’s top five picks for Supreme Court

Link here. The author argues, that though some of these individuals have made decisions that some conservatives dislike, their general philosophical and analytical approach to their court decisions make them all strong conservative picks.

I’ve spent the better part of a week researching many of their writings and talking to stalwart constitutionalist leaders about them. All of them are clearly textualist-originalists to a degree Chief Justice Roberts never appeared to be, even when many on the right were applauding Roberts’ 2006 nomination due to his clear sense of one sort of judicial “restraint” and generally conservative political leanings.

Sure, these judges may reach differing conclusions from each other in particular cases, but these will likely be with the infrequency and integrity of, say, the occasional differences between Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. What’s important is that each one of them is clear and forthright in applying the same basic method of analyzing each case — namely, by hewing closely to the facts at hand, and carefully considering those facts in light of the exact language of the statutes and/or Constitution (whichever applies) relevant to that case.

All of them do so while clearly operating from a legal-philosophical framework/understanding very much in line with the philosophies so well explained in the seminal Federalist Papers that explained how and why our Constitution was designed as it was.

If that honest decision-making process sometimes leads to individual case results that do not comport to the policy preferences of a subset of conservatives, so be it. The real safeguard for our liberties lies in that analytical process undertaken by those well steeped in a Federalist-paper worldview. The reality is that in the vast majority of cases, the right constitutional approach will lend aid to the right policy results, because the Constitution and conservative policies both tend toward limited government, maximum liberty under straightforward law, and a respect for the realms in which traditional institutions of family and faith are honored and cherished. For every policy disappointment that might result from such an approach to constitutional jurisprudence, surely 15 or 20 policy triumphs will occur. [emphasis in original]

While I agree with the author in general, his discussion of one particular candidate, Thomas Hardiman, did nothing for me. Based on what I read, Hardiman is now my least favored choice among the names Trump is considering.

Regardless, read it all. The article indicates once again that while Trump might have once been a liberal Democrat, his leanings now are increasingly in a conservative direction.

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Jupiter’s Little Red Spot

Little Red Spot

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped to show here, is focused in on Jupiter’s Little Red Spot, a storm that formed by the merger of three smaller storms about a decade ago. The cropped image comes from a wider view of Jupiter from Juno that is quite amazing.

Note that the Little Red Spot, while only a third the size the more well known Giant Red Spot, is still about the size of the Earth.

This storm is the third largest anticyclonic reddish oval on the planet, which Earth-based observers have tracked for the last 23 years. An anticyclone is a weather phenomenon with large-scale circulation of winds around a central region of high atmospheric pressure. They rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. The Little Red Spot shows very little color, just a pale brown smudge in the center. The color is very similar to the surroundings, making it difficult to see as it blends in with the clouds nearby. Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstaedt and John Rogers processed the image and drafted the caption.

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