The crooks in the tea party movement

John Hawkins has released a blockbuster report revealing which tea pary/Republican PACS are legitimate and helpful to conservative candidates and which are nothing more than scams.

The bottom line:

If you gave a dollar to the gold standard of PACs that we researched, Club for Growth Action, 88 cents of every dollar you gave went to a candidate. On the other hand, there were a number of PACs that gave 10% or less of the money they received to candidates. When there’s a 78 cents per dollar difference in the effective use of money between the top of the heap and more than half of the PACs we researched, there’s an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.

It is essential that conservatives review carefully the graph at the link before they give money to anyone.

Ceres comes into focus

Ceres as since on February 12, 2015 by Dawn

Cool images! The Dawn science team has released new even sharper images of the giant asteroid Ceres, taken by Dawn on February 12 at a distance of 52,000 miles.

Though the surface appears to have many of the typical craters, scientists continue to be puzzled by the bright spots. This newest image suggests that they are ice-filled craters, but don’t hold me to that guess. For one thing, why are only a handful of craters filled with ice, and none of the others?

South Korea unveils its own lunar rover

The competition heats up: South Korea has revealed its preliminary design for a lunar rover, set to launch in 2020 on a Korean-built rocket.

The article does not indicate whether this project has actually been approved or is merely being touted by Korea Institute of Science and Technology, which made the announcement. The cost to build it is estimated to be more than $7 billion, which seems quite exorbitant and over-priced.

Update: I had misread the conversion in the article from U.S. to Korean currency and thought the proposed cost for this mission was way more than it really is, which is about $7 million, a much more reasonable number. Thanks to Edward for the correction.

What the Islamic State really wants

Link here. This is an incredibly detailed and intelligent background analysis into what the Islamic State is, what it stands for, the roots of those principles, and the dangers it presents to the civilized world.

The article is long but worth every word. Number one take-away from this essay, however, are these two paragraphs:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal. [emphasis in original]

Another quote almost as important:

[T]he Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.

I am once again reminded of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, where he bluntly told us what he intended to do, and was ignored. We ignore the Islamic State and what it stands for at our very very great peril.

A real hero of freedom

Who, when faced with numerous death threats from Islamic fundamentalists — including an actual physical attack last week that killed one and wounded three — had this to say, “I’m not going to let this attack scare me. I’m going to continue just like I always have.”

Such an individual should be heralded by all in our society and backed up with so much firepower from everyone that no terrorist would dare attack him. Sadly, this is not the case.

Democrats discover that Obamacare fines are costly

Finding out what’s in it: Congressional Democrats are pleading with the Obama administration to create an illegal waiver of the Obamacare tax penalities for people who fail to obtain health insurance by this past weekend’s deadline.

Idiots. They have voted numerous times in lockstep for Obamacare, resisting all efforts to repeal or even amend it. Yet when the law they supported and forced upon us is finally about to take effect they suddenly discover they don’t like it?

Republicans continue to show little enthusiasm for Obama Attorney General candidate

A lack of enthusiasm by Republican senators for President Obama’s candidate to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General suggests her appointment might actually be threatened.

To be confirmed by the Senate, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch only needs four Republicans to support her nomination. But it is unclear where those votes will come from. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) is the only Republican so far who has signaled his intention to vote for Lynch, though several others have spoken favorably about her.

Origin of Chelyabinsk meteorite remains unknown

The uncertainty of science: The origin of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that crashed over that Russian city two years ago remains murky to scientists.

Originally, astronomers thought that the Chelyabinsk meteor came from a 1.24-mile-wide (2 kilometers) near-Earth asteroid called 1999 NC43. But a closer look at the asteroid’s orbit and likely mineral composition, gained from spectroscopy, suggests few similarities between it and the Russian meteor.

The scientists noted in their paper that you really can’t use the similarity of orbits to link different asteroids, as their orbits are chaotic and change too much.

A television reality show to pick 24 candidates to go to Mars — one way

The competition heats up? The private effort to choose 24 people to make a one-way flight to Mars has narrowed its candidates down from more than two hundred thousand to 100 finalists.

More here.

As interesting as this effort is, it is very important to remember that it is not an effort to fly these people to Mars. They don’t have the money and no one yet has the technical ability to make the flight. What they are actually doing is putting together a television reality show, where these 100 individuals will compete to be the final 24. If they do it right, which I am somewhat doubtful, the show will be entertaining and scientifically educational.

Europe’s last ATV leaves ISS

Europe’s last ATV cargo freighter for ISS left the station and burned up over the Pacific Ocean this past weekend.

Because of a technical problem on the ATV, a camera designed to record what happened inside the freighter as it burned up during re-entry was removed prior to undocking so that it could be used instead during a later re-entry.

Meanwhile, instead of supplying ISS with cargo, Europe has decided to meet its contribution to ISS by building the service module for NASA’s Orion/SLS program, which has no plans to ever go to ISS. Note, however, that Europe has also not committed to building more than two service modules, so how Orion/SLS will go beyond Earth orbit after these two modules have been launched remains a mystery.

If you are scratching your head at all this, you are not alone. To me, this one decision alone illustrates quite neatly the utter stupidity of big government-run programs.

The mystery of Martian plumes

The uncertainty of science: Scientists struggle to explain the discovery by amateurs of Martian atmospheric plumes 125 to 150 miles high.

Amateur astronomers spotted the bizarre feature rising off the edge of the red planet in March and April of 2012. It looked like a puff of dust coming off the surface, but it measured some [125 to 155] kilometres high. That is much higher than would be expected from the lower-altitude dust storms that rage across the planet. Now a team of astronomers proposes that the plume was either a cloud of ice particles or a Martian aurora. But neither possibility fully explains the plume — raising new questions about the state of the Martian atmosphere.

Read it all. No explanation really works to explain the plume’s height.

More Obamacare website problems

On the final weekend before the deadline to sign up for health insurance, the Obamacare website had a serious technical problem that prevented some people from completing their enrollment.

After you read the description below of the problem, I dare you to tell me you that we are now better off with this law:

Some people trying to get coverage hadn’t been able to get their income information electronically verified. That’s crucial because the amount of financial assistance to help pay premiums is based on people’s income.

The health care law offers health insurance to people who don’t have coverage on the job. More than 8 in 10 of those who apply qualify for help. Without it, most can’t afford the coverage. The IRS handles income verification for the website. In a statement, Hill said the problem was due to issues with “external verification sources.”

The glitch seemed to affect people with new applications. People who previously submitted their income details — but hadn’t completed the final step of picking a plan — were still able to do so.

This is a wonderful example of finding out what’s in it. The law makes the process of getting health insurance so difficult and complex, with so many different hands in the process, that it is literally impossible for problems and “glitches” (oh how I hate the bureaucratic word) not to happen. Either something is going to go wrong, or you will have to wait forever to get everyone to agree to the process.

But don’t worry. That it doesn’t work is irrelevant. It was the good intentions of Obama and the Democrats that really matter. Who cares if their ideas are stupid, unworkable, or foolish? They care!

Gunmen attack free-speech event in Copenhagen

The religion of peace strikes again: At a free-speech event in Copenhagen — organized by backers of one of the cartoonists who ridiculed Mohammad — masked gunmen unleashed a hail of bullets, killing one and wounding three.

The French ambassador was there and has reported that this was clearly a terrorist attack similar to the murderous attack on the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Update: Three people are wounded when a gunman fired shots at a Copenhagen synagogue. It is not yet clear if this attack is linked to the attack above.

Obama would claim these are all random attacks. But then, delusional people will believe anything.

In related news, Islamic terrorists attacked a polio vaccination team in Pakistan, killing one and wounding another. The article also reports that in a separate incident two polio workers and two security guards have gone missing.

At what point will our intellectual elites get their heads out of their asses and recognize the war that Islam is waging on the free world?

Movies before the code

An evening pause: I had doubts about posting this initially, not because I’m a prude but because, as I wrote to Phil when he sent me this suggestion, “What is the point? Watching three minutes of 1930s girls taking off their robes to reveal their underwear? I’m not sure that is my goal with my evening pauses.”

But then I thought, why not? The compilation definitely illustrates the differences and similarities between then and now. What was risque then is almost innocent today. And at the same time, what is interesting in terms of sex then is not much different than what is interesting today. Sex still sells. Humans remain human. And Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.

Hat tip to Phil Berardelli, author of Phil’s Favorite 500: Loves of a Moviegoing Lifetime.

Looking down a comet’s plume

Looking into Comet 67P/C-G's plume

More cool images! The Rosetta science team has released another spectacular image, this time looking down into the plume that is coming out from the neck of the nucleus.

In this orientation, the comet’s small lobe is the foreground and the large lobe is in the background. Particularly stunning is the delicate, ethereal glow of activity that contrasts against the shadowed region between the two lobes. From this viewing position the outflowing material seems to take the shape of a broader fan, rather than the more collimated jet-like features seen at other angles.

The fly-by planned for this weekend is only the first of many. As they note,

For the rest of the current mission plan in 2015, in fact, Rosetta will always conduct flybys, and, based on predictions of increasing cometary activity, can no longer be maneuvered so close to the comet as to be in a gravitationally bound orbit.

In other words, the spacecraft and the comet are now in parallel solar orbits, with the spacecraft doing a dance around the comet as they fly in and around the Sun.

SDO celebrates its fifth year in space with a time-lapse of the Sun

Cool images! In celebration of Solar Dynamics Observatory’s fifth year in space observing the Sun, the scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center have released a time-lapse movie showing the Sun for the past five years.

Video below the fold. It is astonishing and hypnotic. The movie images were taken one image every 8 hours beginning in 2010. If you compare the Sun at the beginning of the movie with the end, you can see the slow shifting of sunspots/flares from higher to equatorial latitudes, as is normal as the solar cycle ramps up to solar maximum and beyond.
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Week long movie of Pluto produced by New Horizons

Cool images! Using New Horizons’ long range camera scientists have compiled a movie showing Charon and Pluto orbiting each other during the last week of January 2015.

Pluto and Charon were observed for an entire rotation of each body; a “day” on Pluto and Charon is 6.4 Earth days. The first of the images was taken when New Horizons was about 3 billion miles from Earth, but just 126 million miles (203 million kilometers) from Pluto—about 30% farther than Earth’s distance from the Sun. The last frame came 6½ days later, with New Horizons more than 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) closer.

The wobble easily visible in Pluto’s motion, as Charon orbits, is due to the gravity of Charon, about one-eighth as massive as Pluto and about the size of Texas.

Our view of Pluto, and Charon, is only going to get better as New Horizons zooms towards its July fly-by.

Virgin Galactic opens facility for developing LauncherOne

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic announced today the establishment of a new facility to design and build the company’s LauncherOne rocket, aimed at putting into orbit very small cubesats at a very low price.

LauncherOne is an air-launch system for satellites weighing up to 225 kilograms. The system will use the same aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, as the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, but replaces SpaceShipTwo with a two-stage launch vehicle using engines fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene.

At the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 4, William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects for Virgin Galactic, said the company has already tested engines and other “core infrastructure” of LauncherOne. “We are a fairly vertically-integrated team,” he said. “We really do control a lot of the production in house.”

As the article notes, Virgin Galactic is investing in OneWeb, which hopes to launch a constellation of 650 cubesats to provide broadband communications worldwide. It is likely that a partnership between the two companies exists to put many of those cubesats into orbit with LauncherOne.

This announcement also suggests to me that Virgin Galactic is beginning to shift its gaze from suborbital space tourism to orbital launch services, and in doing so is looking for new ways to make its investment in WhiteKnightTwo pay off.

Abraham Lincoln – a tribute on his birthday

An evening pause: As I have done before, on Lincoln’s birthday it behooves us to remember him.

We should also remind ourselves, especially in this time of increasing anger, bigotry, and violence, of these words from his second inaugural address, spoken in the final days of a violent war that had pitted brother against brother in order to set other men free:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The endless and all-compassing terrors of global warming

Want to know what scientists have predicted climate change will do to the Earth? Go to, where they keep a full list of every prediction they can find.

I especially like the category “Having it both ways,” where they list different predictions that insisted on opposite consequences. For example did you know that global warning is going to bring both “less rain” and “more rain”, Other predictions are equally amusing.

Another Falcon 9 launch success

The competition heats up: A Falcon 9 rocket today successfully put a NASA solar observation satellite into orbit.

They have also said that they have achieved splashdown of the first stage, though no details yet on how soft that splashdown was.

Update: SpaceX reports that “the first stage successfully soft landed in the Atlantic Ocean within 10 meters of its target. The vehicle was nicely vertical and the data captured during this test suggests a high probability of being able to land the stage on the drone ship in better weather.”

No barge landing attempt today for Falcon 9

Because of high seas SpaceX will not attempt to land its Falcon 9 first stage on its floating barge today.

The drone ship was designed to operate in all but the most extreme weather. We are experiencing just such weather in the Atlantic with waves reaching up to three stories in height crashing over the decks. Also, only three of the drone ship’s four engines are functioning, making station-keeping in the face of such wave action extremely difficult.

They will still attempt a soft splashdown of the first stage in the ocean.

Though this kind of repeated soft splashdown test is essential to prove their ability to bring the first stage down safely, it certainly isn’t as exciting as landing the first stage on a barge. Nonetheless, in previous attempts they have been unable to get really good video of the soft splashdown. Maybe they will do better this time, though the high seas suggest it won’t be easy.

Sunspot activity tracks prediction

On Monday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in January. As I do every month, I am posting it here below the fold, with annotations to give it context.

As I have noted previously, the ramp down from solar maximum continues to track the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community (indicated by the red curve) quite closely. As NOAA also notes,

While awaiting final confirmation, all evidence points to the most recent solar maximum having peaked at 82 in April, 2014. This was within the expected range for the peak, but occurred significantly later than predicted.

Since their graph doesn’t show the entire curves for their predictions, the above statement seems reasonable. However, looking at the graph with those curves inserted (see my annotated graph below the fold), it becomes clear that not only did the peak occur much later than predicted, the maximum’s overall activity was also generally less than predicted.
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