Monthly Archives: December 2017

No obscenities on Behind the Black

I have stated this now bluntly more than a few times. I will not tolerate obscenities or curse words on this website. Despite this, today two different regular commenters thought it was perfectly fine to ignore these rules. One I have suspended for a week. The other might be.

The rest of the world might want to wallow in barbarism and ill behavior, but it will not happen here. This is my workplace. If you want to participate in the conversation on Behind the Black, I expect you to act like a civilized adult. If you can’t abide by these rules, then go somewhere else.

And don’t think it is okay to quote someone else verbatim and get away with this. As I noted just now in a reply to the suspended commenter, when Richard Nixon’s White House used the term [expletive deleted] everyone knew what it meant. It wasn’t a great solution, but it at least showed that they recognized that it was inappropriate to nonchalantly print obscenities, even ones spoken by the president. At the same time, they knew they couldn’t edit the transcripts, so they found a way to make it clear what was on the tapes without adding to the misbehavior.

Consider this a final warning. From now on I will not simply delete the obscenity and issue a warning. From now on, any violation of this rule will get an immediate suspension for a week. A second violation by the same person will get them banned.

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Protests in Iran escalate

The protests in Iran this week that began over food prices and unemployment have now escalated into protests calling for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.

We shall see if these protests result in anything, or will be successfully squelched by the regime, as it did to similar protests in 2009. One difference between then and now is the American president. Obama spent most of his administration making nice to the Iranians, hoping that would make them less radical. He thus did nothing to support the protests, and if anything indicated his support for the regime at that time. Trump appears to think such an approach to be a waste of time, and has already indicated that he is sympathetic to the protesters, not the Iranian leadership.

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Trump administration cancels $255 million of military aid to Pakistan

Related to Awan IT scandal? The Trump administration has canceled the last payment of $255 million of military aid to Pakistan, out of a total $1.1 billion package.

“The United States does not plan to spend the $255 million in FY 2016 in Foreign Military Financing for Pakistan at this time,” said a spokesperson of the President’s National Security Council in a statement to Hindustan Times. “The President has made clear that the United States expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorists and militants on its soil, and that Pakistan’s actions in support of the South Asia Strategy will ultimately determine the trajectory of our relationship, including future security assistance. The Administration continues to review Pakistan’s level of cooperation.”

The statement reflected and sealed the administration’s complete disillusionment with Pakistan, which had sought to brazenly disregard the explicit warnings issued by President Donald Trump personally and leading members of his cabinet, such as secretaries James Mattis and Rex Tillerson. “This could be the severest blow dealt to Islamabad by this administration if it indeed decided to withhold it,” said a leading US expert on Pakistan, who did not want to be identified. “There is more coming,” the expert added.

I am wondering if this action now might have some connection with the unfolding Imran Awan IT Congressional scandal. There is evidence there that Awan and his brothers were working with both Hezbollah and Pakistan to obtain classified information from the computers of congressional Democrats.

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Falcon Heavy on the launchpad

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has finally rolled the first Falcon Heavy rocket out to its launchpad in preparation for at least one static fire engine test prior to is first launch.

SpaceX engineers are expected to conduct a fit check and complete other tests at pad 39A this week, followed by a hold-down firing of all 27 first stage engines some time after New Year’s Day. The company has not set a target date for the Falcon Heavy’s first liftoff, but officials say the launch is targeted in January, some time after the hold-down hotfire test.

Should it launch successfully, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world.

Update: They have now lowered the Falcon Heavy to a horizontal position. I suspect that the raising and lowering were both part of the fit check tests, and that they will soon raise the rocket up again.

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R.I.P. Rose Marie

Rose Marie, best known for her role on the Dick Van Dyke show in the 1960s, has passed away at 94.

Diane and I recently rewatched the entire Dick Van Dyke show, and they come off as fresh and as funny as when they were made more than a half century ago. If you want to see adult comedy at its best, not the modern obscene and shallow adolescent humor that dominates today’s culture, you must see this show.

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How the Purge in Saudi Arabia might link to the Democratic computers in Congress

This essay is going to outline some interesting associations that appear to exist between a number of very unconnected news stories in the past few months, links that might help explain how recent events in Saudi Arabia might have something to do with the U.S. Congress and car dealerships in the U.S. and Africa.

First of all I want to emphasize that I really have no idea if the associations I am going to note even exist. I am no expert on foreign policy, other than being a very well-read follower of the news. However, my skills as a historian have often allowed me to spot connections between disparate events that further research very frequently confirms as true. In this regard I think it very worthwhile to reveal what I have noticed, and let the chips fall where they may.

This trail must first begin with President Trump’s first foreign policy trip in May as President, going first to Saudi Arabia followed by visits to Israel and Europe.
» Read more

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Is Clinton a target of Trump’s order freezing foreign assets of “human rights abusers?”

Link here. The executive order, quietly issued last week, froze the U.S. assets of 52 people, several of which have ties to the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation.

The article suggests this order might be the first shot across the bow by the Trump administration that it is going to go after the Clintons in connection with the Uranium One deal. I am not so sure about that specifically. However, the order does fit with Trump’s stated hostility to lobbists.

Last Week’s Executive Order could have serious implications for D.C. lobbyists who provide “goods and services” (e.g. lobbying services) to despots, corrupt foreign politicians or foreign organizations engaging in the crimes described in the EO. “Virtually every lobbyist in DC has got to be in a cold sweat over the scope of this EO,” said an attorney consulted in the matter who wishes to remain anonymous.

And because the phrase “person” means “an individual or entity” in the order – any US organization which merely employs a foreigner engaging in the listed offenses is also subject to frozen assets. “Consider, what would happen if Apple, say employed a foreign national who bribed a PRC official for government approvals? How about a hypothetical case of a company like Northrop or Boeing where an employee, or consultant, who is a foreign national bribes a Saudi official to direct government purchases of airplanes and military equipment?

Those lobbyists could include the Clintons, but I suspect the order will affect many smaller fish before it gets to them.

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Russians regain contact with AngoSat 1

Russian engineers have successfully restored communications with Angola’s first communications satellite, AngoSat 1.

It appears the problem was in connection with the satellite’s solar panels. The link suggests that as the panels unfolded there was a loss of power, which got restored over time once the panels were extended and were charging the batteries.

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Scientists catch a big volcano eruption on Io

Scientists reviewing twenty year old data from the Galileo orbiter that studied Jupiter and its moons in the 1990s have identified the most intense volcanic eruption yet found on Io.

While looking through the NIMS temperature data, Davies and his colleagues spotted a brief but intense moment of high temperatures that cooled oddly quickly. This signal showed up as a spike in heat from a region in the southern hemisphere called Marduk Fluctus. First, the researchers saw a heat signal jump to 4–10 times higher than background, or relatively normal, levels. Then just a minute later, the signal dropped about 20%. Another minute later, the signal dropped another 75%. Twenty-three minutes later, the signal had plummeted to the equivalent of the background levels.

This signature resembled nothing Davies had seen before from Io. The lava flows and lava lakes are familiar: Their heat signals peter out slowly because as the surface of a lava flow cools, it creates a protective barrier of solid rock over a mushy, molten inside. Heat from magma underneath conducts through this newly formed crust and radiates from Io’s surface as it cools, which can take quite a long time.

This new heat signature, on the other hand, represents a process never before seen on Io, Davies said: something intense, powerful, and—most important—fast.

There’s only one likely explanation for what the instruments saw, explained Davies, whose volcanic expertise starts here on Earth. Large, violent eruptions like those seen at Stromboli are capable of spewing huge masses of tiny particles into the air, which cool quickly.

The article makes it sound like we’ve never seen this kind of eruption on Io before, which isn’t really true. Such eruptions have been imaged, but this is the first time that infrared data of their temperature spike was captured, thus confirming its nature.

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First flights of commercial manned capsules in 2018

According to a NASA presentation last month, it appears that both SpaceX and Boeing are aiming to complete both their first unmanned and manned flights this coming year.

The schedules remain tight, but SpaceX plans to do its first unmanned demo mission in April, followed by a manned flight in August, while Boeing’s first unmanned flight is set for August, with the first manned flight in November. If these schedules happen 2018 should be quite an exciting year.

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Russian/Ukrainian Zenit rocket puts Angola’s first satellite into orbit

A Ukrainian Zenit rocket with a Russian Fregat upper stage successfully launched Angola’s first communications satellite into orbit today. [Update: While the rocket succeeded, it appears there is a problem with the satellite, which Russia built for Angola. Engineers have lost contact with it.]

The launch occurred earlier today, but it took nine hours for the Fregat upper stage to complete several engine burns and maneuvers to place the satellite in the correct orbit. Considering that it was a Fregat upper stage that caused the launch failure of a Soyuz rocket last month, it seemed wise to wait for these maneuvers to complete successfully before announcing this launch a success.

That Russia and Ukraine worked together to make this happen is quite amazing, considering that the two countries are essentially still fighting a war against each other. It also indicates, as noted by this article, that the future of Zenit and the Ukrainian rocket industy might not be dead.

Angosat 1 was originally supposed to blast off on a Zenit rocket from Sea Launch’s commercial ocean-going platform in the Pacific Ocean. But Sea Launch flight operations ceased in 2014, and Russian officials considered launching Angosat 1 on the heavy-lift Angara 5 rocket before deciding last year to put the satellite on a fully-assembled Zenit booster already in storage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

At the time of the last Zenit launch in December 2015, there were no more missions on the Ukrainian-made rocket’s manifest, leaving the Zenit program’s future in question.

But with the switch of Angosat 1’s launch to a Zenit rocket, and the purchase of Sea Launch infrastructure mothballed in Long Beach, California, by a commercial Russian airline company, there are plans for the resumption of Zenit missions in the future. The new Sea Launch company, called S7 Sea Launch, ordered a dozen new Zenit launch vehicles from Yuzhmash in April for ocean-based missions and flights staged from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Another Zenit rocket is slated to launch a long-delayed Ukrainian telecom satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome next year.

This launch also probably closes out the launch schedule for 2018, with the standings as follows:

29 United States (including all companies)
20 Russia
18 SpaceX
17 China

Russia, China, and SpaceX have all indicated that they are aiming for a launch rate of about 30 launches per year. If that happens in 2018, we could see the most rocket launches next year since the late 1980s.

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Academic fascism in 2017

Rather than publish another weekly update on the fascist culture that presently dominates many American campuses, I thought I would look back on the year and compile a list of all the colleges I reported where acts of oppression or the silencing of free speech were carried out by the administration, facility, or student body.

There were many ways I could have compiled this list. In the end, I decided to list the colleges alphabetically by state, and then sort the states into three groups, based on how those states voted in the past two presidential elections. States that voted Democratic or Republican both times are grouped together as either Democratic- or Republican-dominated. States that flipped from one party to the other (all flipping Republican, by the way) were listed as battleground states. If a college had more than oppressive incident during the year the number of incidents is indicated in parenthesis.

Because the list is so long, I have placed it, as well my analysis of it, below the fold. Before you read on, make sure you scan down take a look at the list of colleges itself.
» Read more

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Buddy Greene – How Can I Keep From Singing

An evening pause: Most people in the secular world today know this version of the hymn, but this performance of the original is so magnificent I think all should see it, whether you are Christian or not. And for those who are Christian, what better day but today to hear it.

To me, it was this performance from 1987 by Jean Redpath that is most meaningful, but in good will I — a secular humanist born a Jew — post the gospel version now.

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Ringo Starr to be knighted

Ringo Starr, who grew up in the poorest of situations and was so sickly that he ended up getting almost no education, will be knighted by the Queen of England in the coming year.

The article paints a great picture of Starr, who always came off as the nicest and most endearing Beatle, and whose abilities on the drums in many ways cemented the band’s musical style. What makes my heart sing about this story however was how it demonstrates that it is still possible in the English-speaking world to come from nothing and rise to greatness. Starr’s poor background could have led to any number of bad ends, but he instead chose to play drums, and ended up helping to change the world’s musical culture.

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India aims to double launches in 2018

The new colonial movement: The head of India’s space agency ISRO said in a newspaper interview today that the agency hopes to more than double the number of launches it completes in 2018, increasing the number to between 10 to 12 launches from the four successful launches in 2017.

“We are targeting 10 to 12 launches next year. The communication satellite GSAT-6A and Chandrayaan-2 mission will be launched by GSLV-Mk-II rockets. The second mission of GSLV-Mk-III rocket with a communication satellite and the launch of navigation satellite also will take place next year”, Kiran Kumar explained.

The much-awaited Chandrayaan-2 mission could be launched in the second quarter of 2018. “The moon lander is ready for the mission and undergoing tests. The flight hardware is getting assembled and going through tests. We are targeting the second quarter of the next year for the launch”, the top scientist said.

The two GSLV launches are critical, as this larger rocket is needed for India to really compete in the international market.

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A Christmas Carol

An daytime pause: For me, this version, starring Alastair Sim, remains the best of all the many adaptions of Charles Dickens classic short novel. Always worth seeing during the holiday season. As I wrote last year when I posted it, “I watched this again and felt like weeping, not because of the sentimentality of the story itself but because it is so seeped in a civilized world that increasingly no longer exists. There was a time when this was our culture. I fear it is no longer so. As noted by the Spirit of Christmas Present, ‘This boy is ignorance, this girl is want. Beware them both, but most of all beware this boy.’”

May all my readers have a wonderful Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

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Trump administration finally takes over Justice and FBI

Four stories at the end of this week, all apparently timed to hit the press over the weekend and thus be less noticeable, all indicate that the Trump administration, specifically Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray, might finally be taking control respectively of the Justice Department and the FBI from the Democratic partisan hold-overs from the Obama administration, who for all intents and purposes have apparently been running those agencies during Trump’s first year in office.

The first story is significant in that the lawyer reassigned, James Baker, was also the lawyer used by Andrew McCabe for his defense during his eight hours of stone-walling during a closed-door House hearing this week about his part in the Mueller Russian collusion investigation, and is also a good friend to fired FBI director James Comey. The Trump administration has now removed this lawyer from the game.

The middle two stories indicate that the Trump administration is not going to let Obama and Clinton off the hook for their own apparent collusion with both the Russians and terrorists. (An update: It behooves every American to read the full and very detailed Politico report about the Obama administration’s effort to shut down any investigations of Hezbollah’s drug operation in order to get the Iran deal signed. I finally got around to reading it carefully, and found it to be quite damning, both for Obama and for everyone in his administration. And remember, this is coming from a media source that has generally been favorable to Democrats.)

The last story involves what appears increasingly to be a terrible abuse of power by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Justice Department in its prosecution of the Bundy family following their stand-off with federal officials, a prosecution that has now resulted in a mistrial because the Justice Department improperly withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense.

That it took this long for the Trump administration to make these moves strongly illustrates how fragile our hold on democracy presently is. Trump was duly elected. By law, he is in charge, and has the right to fire anyone in the executive branch, as well as set policy there. Yet, he and his appointed cabinet officials have apparently felt they needed to tiptoe carefully during the first year of their administration, as if the people that Obama appointed and the policies he established were still in control.

Even now, I am unsure that these actions will put the Trump administration truly in charge of the administrative state. There is ample evidence in both the Uranium One deal and Iran deal that the Obama administration committed acts that at the least should destroy political careers, and at the most might even send some people to prison. Unless one of those scenarios actually happens, however, Trump will have done little to rein in the administration state. They will continue to act as if they can do whatever they want, defying elected officials, with impunity, because it will be apparent that there are no consequences for such actions.

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The SpaceX light show yesterday

Falcon 9 launch, December 22, 2017

Numerous news articles today have noted that last night’s launch by SpaceX of ten Iridium satellites produced a somewhat unusual light show for Californians. Reader Frank Kelly sent me some images he took, noting,

I was able to catch the booster ascent, stage separation, second stage burn and what looks like the booster spinning with at least one engine firing. The spinning went on for a while so it must have had some fuel left.

I read SpaceX said they would not land this booster so maybe they had some fun with it for us folks in LA. It spun around for a minute like a pinwheel. A great show.

close-up of first stage maneuvers

The image above right is one of his images, reduced in resolution to post here. Below that is a cropped section of the full resolution image, showing the “pinwheel” being performed by the first stage. And as other readers of BtB have also noted, the launch crew was clearly performing engine tests and maneuvers with this first stage, all the way down to the ocean.

As is typical of SpaceX, they waste no opportunity to test their equipment and find out what it can do, on the extreme. I suspect these maneuvers were designed to push the first stage’s ability to recover from an out-of-control spin. From the call-outs by engineers during the launch, it appears that this test was a success, as it appears from those call outs that the first stage “landed” properly upright in the ocean.

Let me add that in reviewing some of the youtube videos posted by my readers in the comments below, I also think these first stage maneuvers might be tests in preparation for the first Falcon Heavy launch, which will involve landing three first stages at the same time, two landing very close together at Kennedy. The flight tests yesterday could be an effort to demonstrate how well they can program those first stages for their return.

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SpaceX successfully launches 10 Iridium satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched ten 10 Iridium satellites.

This launch for Iridium reused a first stage from a previous Iridium launch. This was the first time Iridium launched with a used first stage. SpaceX did not try to recover the stage, which could be for several reasons, including the possible desire by the customer that they devote their entire effort to getting the satellites in orbit.

This was also SpaceX’s last launch for the year. The launch standings for the year now are thus:

29 United States
19 Russia
18 SpaceX
15 China

Sometime in the first week of 2018 I will post a full table showing this year’s launches plus the launch totals going back to the early 1980s. It reveals a great deal about the history of the launch industry for the past half century, as well as where that launch industry is likely heading in the coming half century.

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On the radio

On Tuesday, December 19, 2017 I spent an hour with Robert Pratt on his Pratt on Texas radio show. Most of the show was devoted not to space and science but to discussing my weekly updates on the fascist culture on too many of today’s American campuses.

Robert has just let me know that this hour-long interview is going to be replayed twice over the next two weeks, on Christmas Day, December 25, 2017, and on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2018, both times from 6 to 7 pm Central time. He also let me know that the best link to listen is here.

So, if you have nothing better to do during these holidays, here is something that might help to fill your time.

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Arecibo returns to operation with images of asteroid Phaethon

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has resumed science observations after recovering from Hurricane Maria with new radio images of the asteroid Phaethon.

After several months of downtime after Hurricane Maria blew through, the Arecibo Observatory Planetary Radar has returned to normal operation, providing the highest-resolution images to date of near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon during its Dec. 16 flyby of Earth. The radar images, which are subtle at the available resolution, reveal the asteroid is spheroidal in shape and has a large concavity at least several hundred meters in extent near the leading edge, and a conspicuous dark, circular feature near one of the poles. Arecibo’s radar images of Phaethon have resolutions as fine as about 250 feet (75 meters) per pixel.

The images also revealed that Phaethon, which is considered a potentially hazardous near Earth asteroid, is about 3.6 miles across and is about a half mile larger than previously believed.

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