Category Archives: Points of Information

Holder bars use of federal law to seize private property

Good news: Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday barred state and local police from using federal law to seize any private property unless an actual crime is being committed.

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program. While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.

A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”

As much as I think Holder has been a dishonest and corrupt attorney general who has used his power to attack his political opponents, this decision by him should be lauded highly. It was the right thing to do.


Paul Ryan: No new gas taxes

Unlike his Senate Republican cohorts, who were very quick after the election to scream for a tax increase, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has now made it very clear that the House will pass no gas tax increases this year.

Good for Ryan. The article notes that large majorities strongly oppose any tax hike. The Republicans ran on a platform of shrinking government, not increasing the tax burden. For Senate Republicans to make a gas tax increase practically their first order of business after taking charge in 2015 is beyond disgusting.

Orbital signs deal for Russian engines

The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences has inked a deal with the Russian company Energomash to buy 20 rocket engines for its Antares rocket, with options to buy 40 more.

If Orbital ends up buying all 60 engines the deal will be worth one billion dollars to the Russians, which for them is a lot of money.

Comet 67P/C-G’s plumes

plumes from Comet 67P/C-G

The science team running Rosetta has released an image (cropped by me on the right) from the probe’s high resolution camera showing the fine structure of Comet 67P/C-G’s plumes.

I call them plumes rather than jets, which is the word the scientists use as well as everyone else, because it appears to me that they really aren’t jets, tightly confined flows of material coming from a nozzle-like opening. Instead, the image makes me think of very fast-rising plumes of smoke rising from an extinguished fire.

This image was taken in November, and is one of only a very tiny handful of images released from the high resolution camera. Rosetta’s science team has been very possessive of images from this camera, holding them back for their own research papers to follow in the future. Even here, the image is not very detailed. I wonder what cool stuff this camera has snapped close in that they have not yet shown us.

More Earthlike exoplanets found

Worlds without end: Using Kepler astronomers have discovered a red dwarf star 150 light years away with three Earth-like exoplanets, one of which is in the habitable zone.

The three planets are 2.1, 1.7 and 1.5 times the size of Earth. The outermost planet, at 1.5 Earth radii, is the smallest of the bunch and orbits far enough from its host star that it receives levels of light from its star similar to those received by Earth from the sun, said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who discovered the planets Jan. 6 while conducting a computer analysis of the Kepler data NASA has made available to astronomers. He calculated that the three planets receive 10.5, 3.2, and 1.4 times the light intensity of Earth. “Most planets we have found to date are scorched. This system is the closest star with lukewarm transiting planets,” Petigura said. “There is a very real possibility that the outermost planet is rocky like Earth, which means this planet could have the right temperature to support liquid water oceans.”

These planets were found by Kepler in its present reconfigured mission, which once again illustrates the incredible effectiveness of an optical telescope in space. If only we were building some.

Funding obtained for 648-satellite internet constellation

The competition heats up: A commercial effort to build a 648 constellation of satellites to provide worldwide intenet access has secured funding from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Qualcom.

Not surprisingly, Branson was immediately saying that his LauncherOne concept will be launching many of these satellites, though I think he’s got to get it built and tested first.

New Horizons to begin observations of Pluto

In preparing for its July 14 fly-by of Pluto, New Horizons will take its first images of the planet on January 25.

Snapped by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, known as LORRI, those pictures will give mission scientists a continually improving look at the dynamics of those moons. And they’ll play a critical role in navigating the spacecraft as it covers the remaining 135 million miles (220 million kilometers) to Pluto. “We’ve completed the longest journey any craft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring!” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Over the next few months, LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto against star fields to refine the team’s estimates of New Horizons’ distance to Pluto. Though the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until May, mission navigators will use those data to design course-correction maneuvers that aim the spacecraft toward its flyby target point this summer. The first such maneuver could occur as early as March.

IRS chief warns of bad service due to budget cuts

IRS Commissioner (and Democratic Party shill) John Koskinen has warned in an agency-wide email that the tax agency faces a short-term shutdown and increased bad taxpayer service because of Republican-led budget cuts.

“The effect of these cuts will hurt taxpayers and our tax system,” he wrote. He said the cuts could force the IRS to shut down operations for two days later this year, resulting in unpaid furloughs for employees and service cuts for taxpayers. But in the near-term, the commissioner said cuts in overtime and temporary staff hours could cause delays in refunds. “People who file paper tax returns could wait an extra week — or possibly longer — to see their refund,” he wrote, adding: “Taxpayers with errors or questions on their returns that require additional manual review will also face delays.”

Why am I reminded of the claims of federal agency heads everywhere just before sequestration, claiming doom and gloom should it take effect? None of their claims proved true. Sequestration did nothing to harm government operations and actually saved the taxpayers a load of money.

Koskinen is full of it. This email by him is only intended to pressure Congress to give him more money, so that his agency can continue to abuse anyone who might express opinions hostile to the Democratic Party.

Scientists demand more skepticism of doom-sayers

The uncertainty of science: Ocean scientists have published a review of the literature, criticizing the ocean science field and the journals and journalists who report on it for overstating the environmental damage to the oceans.

The state of the world’s seas is often painted as verging on catastrophe. But although some challenges are very real, others have been vastly overstated, researchers claim in a review paper. The team writes that scientists, journals and the media have fallen into a mode of groupthink that can damage the credibility of the ocean sciences. The controversial study exposes fault lines in the marine-science community.

Carlos Duarte, a marine biologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, and his colleagues say that gloomy media reports about ocean issues such as invasive species and coral die-offs are not always based on actual observations. It is not just journalists who are to blame, they maintain: the marine research community “may not have remained sufficiently sceptical” on the topic. [emphasis mine]

Gee, what a concept! These guys actually want scientists to base their claims of environmental disaster on actual observations. Who wodda thunk it?

SpaceX to open satellite-building operation in Washington state

The competition heats up: Within three years SpaceX hopes to establish a new satellite operation in Seattle, Washington, employing 1,000 people and focused on the design of smaller, cheaper satellites.

The key quote from the article perhaps is this: “Musk said the office would focus on developing satellites but could also be a base for rocket-design talent uninterested in moving to SpaceX’s base in the Los Angeles area.” To put it another way, California’s socialist and highly restrictive state government has forced Musk to consider an alternative location for the expansion of his company.

His effort should also strike fear into the established satellite makers, who have done relatively little innovative design changes in the past four decades. As SpaceX has done with the launch industry, I expect SpaceX will do with the satellite industry: force them to lower costs while developing new technologies.

A 132-year-old Winchester rifle found leaning on a tree in national park

Archeologists made the astonishing discovery of a 132 year old Winchester rifle leaning against a tree in Great Basin National Park in Nevada during a survey sweep.

“The 132 year-old rifle, exposed to sun, wind, snow, and rain was found leaning against a tree in the park. The cracked wood stock, weathered to grey, and the brown rusted barrel blended into the colors of the old juniper tree in a remote rocky outcrop, keeping the rifle hidden for many years,” Great Basin National Park said in a statement.

They hope with some historical research they might be able to identify who left the rifle there more than a century ago.

Islamic leaders worldwide react with hostility to Charlie Hebdo cover


The religion of peace marches on: Throughout the world Islamic leaders and Islamic populations are reacting with anger, outrage, fear, or condemnation to the most recent cover of Charlie Hebdo that features Mohammed.

Meanwhile, I don’t remember any of these Muslims being bothered in the slightest by this week’s genocide in Nigeria, or the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, or the murder of journalists in France, all in the name of Islam.

I guess it is okay to Muslims that Muslims murder and destroy. Dare draw a cartoon they don’t like, however, then you’ve really done something bad!

Note: The only reason I haven’t printed the Charlie Hebdo cover myself is because I think the Mohammed bomb cartoon on the left makes the point much better.

Read an english translation of Charlie Hebdo


Link here.

I don’t agree with much of the material in Charlie Hebdo, nor have I ever found its humor that funny. Nonetheless, right now I want this magazine read by every single person in the universe in order to stick a finger in the eye of Islam’s intolerance.

Meanwhile, Iran officials have condemned the new issue of Charlie Hebdo, calling it an insult to Islam. Well, any religion that considers it more important to condemn a cartoon rather than Islamic terrorists using a 10-year-old to detonate a suicide bomb in the name of Islam deserves to be insulted, a lot!

Oxford University Press bans mention of pork in books to avoid offending Muslims or Jews

Link here.

The absurdity of this ban is so over the top that I at first was reluctant to post a link, thinking it might be a hoax. It still might be, but I have seen it sourced now in at least two publications.

Even if it is a hoax, that people believe it tells us just how subservient our intellectual elites have become when it comes to freedom of speech. Today’s modern intellectual class does not believe in free speech, it believes in not offending anyone with whom they agree or sympathize. The result is that they insist on dictating to everyone what you can or cannot say.

Cats vs dogs in genome research

After an initial focus on studying the genomes of dogs, genetics researchers are now switching to cats.

After the completion of the human, mouse and rat genomes, the US National Institutes of Health organized a commission to decide on their next target; the dog genome was selected for high-quality sequencing, whereas cats were put on hold.

That got some cat geneticists’ backs up. “The truth is there were more powerful people interested in dogs,” says Stephen O’Brien, director of the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics in St Petersburg, Russia, who led the initial cat-sequencing efforts.

There is now a project which, for only $7,500, allows scientists to map the genome of any cat for the cause of science. Under this program, they’ve already done 56 cats, including a kitten and her parents.

Test flight of Europe’s first prototype space plane has been rescheduled

The competition heats up: Preparations have resumed for a February 11 test flight of a European prototype space plane, initially scheduled for November but cancelled at the last minute because managers suddenly discovered its launch path was going to go over land.

The launch trajectory of the IXV space plane on a suborbital trajectory will differ from the Vega rocket’s previous flights, which flew north from the space center with satellites heading for high-inclination polar orbits. The launch of IXV will head east from Vega’s launch pad, and the geometry of the French Guiana coastline means it will fly over land in the first phase of the launch sequence.

Officials said they slightly adjusted the launch track to alleviate the the safety concern.

The four-stage Vega rocket was stacked on the launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, and the IXV spacecraft was about to be fueled with hydrazine maneuvering propellant when officials announced the delay in October. A ship tasked with retrieving the space plane after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean had already left port in Italy when news of the launch delay was released.

I remain suspicious about the cause of the delay in November. How could they not have known about the launch trajectory until the last second? Instead, I suspect it occurred because of politics higher up in ESA related to Italian, German, and French tensions over the future of Arianespace. The Italians are the lead on this space plane project, to the apparent chagrin of the French, who mostly run the launch facility in French Guiana. Moreover, it appears the Italians have generally sided with the Germans against the French in the Ariane 6 design negotiations. I wonder if the delay was instigated by higher management in an effort to influence those negotiations.

High Russia space official shoots down idea of new Russian space station

Sergei Savelyev, deputy director of Russian space agency Roscosmos, dismissed the idea that Russia might leave the ISS partnership to build its own independent space station.

“Theoretically it is possible to create a new Russian space station, but neither the current nor future drafts of the federal space program [through 2025] touch on this subject, and any [hypothetical] implementation could be tied in with the continued operation of the ISS,” [he said]…

Savelyev added that he anticipates Russia will continue to use the ISS beyond 2020, but that its focus will shift toward cooperating with China on Beijing’s own space stations — a small station is already in orbit, and a second larger one is set to be operational around 2020 — and aboard the Russian segment of the ISS.

I think the Russians know that it would be foolish to abandon their partnership on ISS, at least not for a few more years. For at least another decade it is going to be the best thing they’ve got in space.

False ammonia leak alarm causes evacuation of US portion of ISS

A false alarm on ISS early this morning, signaling the leak of ammonia coolant, forced the evacuation of the American portion of ISS.

American engineers are assessing the cause of the alarm, though they seem pretty confident now said that no leak of any ammonia took place and the problem was likely caused by a faulty sensor.

Update: The crew has now returned to ISS.

Falcon Heavy launch still set for 2015

The competition heats up: According to SpaceX officials, the first test flight of their Falcon Heavy rocket is still on schedule to occur sometime in the third quarter of 2015.

We should all take this schedule with a grain of salt. Back in 2013 SpaceX had scheduled the first Falcon Heavy launch for the second half of 2014. Then in April 2014 they said it would occur early in 2015. Now they say the third quarter of 2015. I would not be surprised if there are further delays beyond this.

Nonetheless, I have no doubt that they will launch this rocket. SpaceX has consistently delivered on its promises, which is one reason it has grabbed so much of the launch market in such a short time.

Politicians in Paris do photo op rather than participate in demonstration

Why I pay very little attention to demonstrations: A wide shot of the big name politicians at Sunday’s Paris demonstration against Islamic terrorism shows that none of them were really at the demonstration.

Instead, the politicians were gathered together on a separate street, guarded by security, so that they could link arms just for a photo op. The march itself was elsewhere. I also suspect that they all just gathered very quickly to take the picture than scattered their own separate ways immediately afterwards.

This is why I don’t really care that Obama nor anyone important in his administration showed up. Maybe they should have, and in fact maybe it is another sign of Obama’s incompetence that he did not make sure there was an important U.S. presence there, but who really cares? This is just for show.

What would really mean something to me is if these political leaders actually used this meeting to organize some concrete action to deal with Islamic terrorism. Did they? I think not. As far as I can tell they have made no plans to do anything about it, other than maybe increase security in their own nations, which is merely another way of restricting the freedoms of their own citizens.

Hardly what I would call fighting back against tyranny, terrorism, and oppression.

IRS harassment of conservatives continues

Working for the Democratic Party: After five years, the IRS has still not moved on a New Mexico tea party organization application for tax exempt status.

I found the following quote from the article most revealing:

Soon after the scandal went public in 2013, the IRS offered the targeted tea party groups a deal: Agree to keep overt political activity to less than 40 percent of what they do and the agency would approve them. Forty-three groups chose to accept that deal, but the ACLJ and other attorneys advised their clients not to take it, saying it would have meant giving up their rights.

In other words, even after the IRS harassment was revealed, the IRS was still trying to find ways to restrict the free speech rights of these conservative groups.

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