Monthly Archives: March 2015

Supreme Court upholds voter ID again

The Supreme Court today turned down a challenge to Wisconsin’s new voter ID law, essentially allowing it to become fully effective.

This is not the first time the court has upheld voter ID. Moreover, the decision today is another political victory for Scott Walker, who pushed the legislation through, and a defeat for Democrats and the left, which for some reason fear a system that will make sure voter fraud is difficult if not impossible.

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Watch the break up of Pangea!

Geoscientists have created a short video showing the break-up of the giant continent Pangea, beginning 187 million years ago and showing the changes in million year increments.

It is very cool to watch today’s continents slowly come into view. Make sure especially that you watch India as it suddenly starts to fly north at a relatively fast speed to smash into Asia.

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Largest ancient meteorite impact found?

The uncertainty of science: Scientists doing geothermal research in Australia have discovered evidence of what they think is the largest known impact zone from an meteorite on Earth.

The zone is thought to be about 250 miles across, and suggests the bolide split in two pieces each about 6 miles across before impact. The uncertainty is that the evidence for this impact is quite tentative:

The exact date of the impacts remains unclear. The surrounding rocks are 300 to 600 million years old, but evidence of the type left by other meteorite strikes is lacking. For example, a large meteorite strike 66 million years ago sent up a plume of ash which is found as a layer of sediment in rocks around the world. The plume is thought to have led to the extinction of a large proportion of the life on the planet, including many dinosaur species.

However, a similar layer has not been found in sediments around 300 million years old, Dr Glikson said. “It’s a mystery – we can’t find an extinction event that matches these collisions. I have a suspicion the impact could be older than 300 million years,” he said.

In other words, they find some evidence that an impact occurred, but not other evidence that is expected to be found with such an impact. Moreover, the rocks at the sedimentary layer where the impact is found are dated around 300 million years ago, a time when no major extinction took place. Either this impact didn’t really happen, or it didn’t happen when it appears it should have, or it shows that large impacts don’t necessarily cause mass extinctions.

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Further SLS delays loom

A report by NASA’s inspector general finds that the planned first launch of the SLS rocket in November 2018 is threatened with delay because the ground facilities at Kennedy might not be ready.

In a report released Wednesday, NASA’s Office of Inspector General warned that Ground Systems Development and Operations, or GSDO, may be hard-pressed to have Kennedy Space Center’s launch facilities ready on time. Ground systems are a critical piece of the SLS-Orion infrastructure. All three elements are tightly integrated, with ground systems requiring significant input from the rocket and capsule designs. “GSDO cannot finalize and complete its requirements without substantial input for the other two programs,” said Jim Morrison, the assistant inspector general for audits. “And NASA is still finalizing the requirements for those programs.”

Gee, I guess SLS isn’t getting enough money, as its budget is only about $3 billion per year (about six times what the commercial space program gets per year, a program that has already created two freighter systems for ISS and is now creating two manned ferry systems for ISS). Why don’t we give them more, so that even more won’t be done with the money we spend?

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“No Republican should vote for her confirmation.”

Guess who said it. You will be surprised.

As noted at the webpage, these comments raise the likelihood considerably that Loretta Lynch’s appointment for U.S. attorney general will be voted down by the Senate. Such a defeat would be a first by the Republicans against a liberal appointee, in my lifetime.

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Federal government moves to seize water rights from Montanans

Under the radar theft: The federal government, in league with the Montana state legislature, is moving to seize the privately-held water rights of 100,000 Montana citizens and hand those rights over to the Flathead Indian Reservations, after which the rights would be controlled and administered by the federal government.

The tale of woe begins with the Hellgate Treaty of 1855 that created the Flathead Indian Reservation. Article III of the Treaty is the point of contention, as it states the Indian tribes have an established “right of taking fish” in waters not on the reservation. The article has been selectively interpreted and further manipulated to this end: the tribes must be able to ensure water quality of their fishing sites; therefore, the water rights in 11 counties must fall under the Tribal jurisdiction.

Enter the EPA to set standards of water quality, the Water Compact Commission, a board that is relentlessly pushing the compact on the populace, the Department of the Interior, the bureaucracy that will collect and manage revenue “on behalf” of the tribes, and the DHS, the enforcement arm of compliance. Should the tribes and the aforementioned players win this fight, all surface water and wells (private wells, mind you) within the boundaries imposed by the Compact will be metered and taxed.

The whole thing is a travesty and should be a moot point in reality: Article I of the same treaty ceded, relinquished, and conveyed (by the tribes) all rights or claims to any land and waters except the Reservation. The State Senate just voted on it a few weeks ago. The Senate holds 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats; however, 11 Republicans voted for the Compact and the measure passed, 32-18. The bottom line: there was not one dissenting Democratic vote on the whole measure.

The conflict here is obviously complex, but the result seems pretty simple. While before private citizens owned their own private wells (dug with their money and sweat), afterward those wells would be controlled by government bureaucrats, who will use that power to tax and regulate the use of those wells. As the article notes, if this should pass it will “set a precedent for the courts throughout the United States by the Federal Government to deprive us of our water rights.”

But who cares? Let’s instead go ga-ga over a stupid ill-advised publicity campaign from a stupid overpriced coffee company.

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Want to help name Pluto’s features? You can!

The New Horizons science team is asking the public to help name the planet’s features it expects to see when the spacecraft flies past Pluto on July 14.

I should mention that the project scientist for New Horizons is Alan Stern, who also happened to be a major player in the private space effort called Uwingu, which previously offered the public the opportunity to name features on Mars, without IAU approval.

In the case of New Horizons, Stern is kind of forced to work with the IAU, since the project is funded by NASA and NASA would never challenge a fellow bureaucracy like IAU.

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Did the Moon’s axis shift 3.5 billion years ago?

The uncertainty of science: Because the concentrations of ice on the moon are thought to be located on opposite sides of the planet, both locations 5.5 degrees away from the poles, a team of scientists has proposed that these locations were once the Moon’s poles and that the axis got shifted 3.5 billion years ago when a gigantic volcanic hotspot on the surface erupted.

He and his colleagues assumed that when the ice was deposited, it was centered on the poles. But what kind of event could have moved the poles by 5.5°? Known asteroid impacts were too small or in the wrong location to do the job. Instead, the team hypothesizes that a 3.5-billion-year-old hot spot could have nudged the poles to their present-day position. Pouring out enormous amounts of lava, that hot spot created Oceanus Procellarum, the vast dark spot on the near side of the moon. The Procellarum region is known to have high concentrations of radioactive elements that would have been hot in ancient times. The research team theorizes that this heat would have created a less dense lens in the moon’s mantle that would have caused the axis to wobble into today’s position.

This theory requires that the Moon’s ice is at least this old, which is quite a stretch. Also, if the Procellarum eruption caused a pole shift, I wonder why the other large lunar eruptions, which created the Moon’s other mare, did not shift the poles further and in other directions.

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Rosetta’s first attempt to contact Philae ends with no contact

After eight days of sending signals, listening for Philae, and getting no response, Rosetta has ceased its effort.

“It was a very early attempt; we will repeat this process until we receive a response from Philae,” says DLR Project Manager Stephan Ulamec. “We have to be patient.” On 20 March 2015 at 05:00 CET, the communication unit on the Rosetta orbiter was switched off. Now, the DLR team is calculating when the next favourable alignment between the orbiter and the lander will occur, and will then listen again for a signal from Philae. The next chance to receive a signal from the lander is expected to occur during the first half of April.

They always knew that it was unlikely for the lander to come alive this soon, but they tried anyway. The odds improve, however, in the coming months.

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How NASA will use Bigelow’s privately built ISS module

Not much it seems. The key paragraph is this:

Once installed, BEAM will be largely sealed off from the rest of ISS, with astronauts entering it every four to six months to retrieve data from sensors inside it. Crusan suggested NASA will consider making greater use of the module over time as the agency becomes more comfortable with its performance. That would require additional work inside the module, he said, since it has no active life support system beyond some fans.

This story illustrates NASA’s sometimes incredibly over-cautious approach to new technology. I grant that space is difficult and that it is always wise to be careful and to test thoroughly any new technology, but NASA sometimes carries this too far. For example, it took NASA more than two decades of testing before it finally approved the use of ion engines on a planetary mission (Dawn). Similarly, inflatable modules were abandoned by NASA initially, and wouldn’t even exist if a private company, Bigelow, hadn’t grabbed the technology and flown it successfully.

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Giant lava tubes possible on the Moon

New analysis of the lunar geology combined with gravity data from GRAIL now suggests that the Moon could harbor lava tubes several miles wide.

David Blair, a graduate student in Purdue’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, led the study that examined whether empty lava tubes more than 1 kilometer wide could remain structurally stable on the moon. “We found that if lunar lava tubes existed with a strong arched shape like those on Earth, they would be stable at sizes up to 5,000 meters, or several miles wide, on the moon,” Blair said. “This wouldn’t be possible on Earth, but gravity is much lower on the moon and lunar rock doesn’t have to withstand the same weathering and erosion. In theory, huge lava tubes – big enough to easily house a city – could be structurally sound on the moon.”

You can read their paper here. If this is so, then the possibility of huge colonies on the Moon increases significantly, as it will be much easier to build these colonies inside these giant lava tubes.

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Arkansas agrees to let Stanley children go home, but only for awhile

The Arkansas government has agreed to return to their parents the children it had kidnapped, but only provisionally.

Four of the seven Arkansas Christian homeschool children who were removed from their parents home in January will finally be returned to live full time on a 60-day trial basis after the family reached a mediated agreement with the Arkansas Department of Human Services on Tuesday. The children’s mother, Michelle Stanley, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that the agreement will also allow for the three older children to return home on the weekends and to stay at home during their spring break, which is next week.

Isn’t this nice of them? The parents have been accused of no crime, there is absolutely no evidence of abuse, but the state has decided it can take the kids anyway and than determine if the parents can ever see them again. Doesn’t that make you feel really safe?

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Ohio wedding photographer threatened with legal action over beliefs

Here we go again: A Christian wedding photography now faces legal action because she declined photographing a same-sex marriage.

Although the [same-sex] couple filed the complaint, Ohio is one of 13 states that does not allow same-sex marriages, and Bexley is also a municipality that does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Additionally, the Bexley Chamber of Commerce does not prohibit its members from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The Bexley Chamber of Commerce issued a statement through Facebook on Monday condemning Schmackers’ refusal of service. The post continued by stating that board members have decided that the chamber’s policy must be changed so that this type of “discrimination” does not happen again.

Damn right. These evil Christians have got to be squelched and destroyed. They have no right to their religion. In fact, maybe we should round them up and put them in camps! That will show them that we believe in tolerance and freedom!

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Obama administration considers Munich-like UN deal to partition Israel

Having failed in its effort to depose Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s elected leader, the Obama administration is considering making several international deals that will bypass Israel’s government and force that country to accept a Palestinian state — even though the leaders of the Palestinians are still vowing to destroy them.

More here.

Anyone with any education at all knows how well Chamberlain’s deal at Munich with Hitler worked out. Expect the same from Obama and the Palestinians.

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Mars One finalist kicked out for publicly criticizing company.

The Mars One finalist who publicly criticized the company’s proposed one-way Mars mission has been kicked out.

The company claims he breached their confidentiality rules. In addition, other finalists have contested his criticisms. Their points seem reasonable, but the bottom line remains that the project is unrealistic and will not fly. They lack the funding and the technology to do it, and won’t have it for decades.

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Obamacare is crushing small business with its cost and complexity

Finding out what’s in it: Obamacare is costing small businesses thousands of dollars to fulfill its complex regulations that they didn’t have to spend beforehand.

The Affordable Care Act, which as of next Jan. 1 applies to all companies with 50 or more workers, requires owners to track staffers’ hours, absences and how much they spend on health insurance. Many small businesses don’t have the human resources departments or computer systems that large companies have, making it harder to handle the paperwork. On average, complying with the law costs small businesses more than $15,000 a year, according to a survey released a year ago by the National Small Business Association. “It’s a horrible hassle,” says Mete, managing partner of the Miami-based company.

And how are these small businesses paying for this? Either they have to raise prices, so that you the customer pay, or they

cut back on workers’ bonuses and raises. “[The employees] understand it didn’t emanate from us,” Patton says. “They’re just disappointed that $25,000 could have gone into a bonus pool.”

Obviously, it is Bush’s fault that this is happening! Who would dream of blaming the Democrats and Obama, even though they wrote this law and were the only ones who voted for it? If Bush hadn’t been President, they would never have done it! In fact, I am sure it is Reagan’s fault also!

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An iron rain fell on Earth early in its formation

New research attempting to explain why the Earth but not the Moon has so much iron splattered through its mantle has found that iron can be more easily vaporized during impacts than previously thought, and thus rained down on the planet during the early asteroid bombardment.

Principal investigator Kraus said, “Because planetary scientists always thought it was difficult to vaporize iron, they never thought of vaporization as an important process during the formation of the Earth and its core. But with our experiments, we showed that it’s very easy to impact-vaporize iron.” He continued, “This changes the way we think of planet formation, in that instead of core formation occurring by iron sinking down to the growing Earth’s core in large blobs (technically called diapirs), that iron was vaporized, spread out in a plume over the surface of the Earth and rained out as small droplets. The small iron droplets mixed easily with the mantle, which changes our interpretation of the geochemical data we use to date the timing of Earth’s core formation.”

The Moon’s gravity in turn wasn’t sufficient to pull its own iron vapor down. Thus, it does not have much iron in its mantle.

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Sierra Nevada introduces its cargo version of Dream Chaser

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada has unveiled a revised cargo version of Dream Chaser, competing for NASA next round of freighter contracts to ISS.

They have made a number of changes, but the most significant is the new folding wings, allowing the spacecraft to fit inside the fairings of most rocket systems. This also eliminates one of the concerns I have read about the previous design on whether its wings could have withstood exposure to the maximum atmospheric stresses experienced during launch.

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Lockheed Martin enters the competition to supply cargo for ISS

The competition heats up: Lockheed Martin has joined Sierra Nevada, Orbital ATK, Boeing, and SpaceX in bidding for NASA’s next contract to ferry cargo to ISS.

Lockheed’s proposal is different in that it proposes a two spacecraft operation. The cargo would be hauled up in a very simple storage bin, where a long-term orbital tug would grab it and take it to ISS. The idea is that they would only have to build and launch the complicated thrusters, robot arms, computers, and avionics of their cargo freighter once, thereby saving money.

Two companies will be chosen. Since the first competition back in the mid-2000s, when NASA picked SpaceX and Kistler for the first cargo round, the quality of the bids has improved remarkably. Back then, NASA had to choose from a bunch of new companies, none of which had ever done this before. The big companies (Boeing, Lockheed Martin) then poo-pooed the competition, saying that it couldn’t be done as cheap as the new companies claimed. After Kistler went under and was replaced by Orbital, they and SpaceX proved the big companies were wrong.

Now the competition includes all the big players, except that those big players are no longer offering expensive systems but cut-rate efficient designs that are as cost effective as SpaceX and Orbital’s first designs.

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New evidence of child-smuggling in ancient Mayan human sacrifices

Isotope testing of the teeth of the skeletons of children found in a cave in Belize has found that none had come from that region, suggesting that the children were kidnapped from other neighboring communities before they were sacrificed to the Mayan gods.

Though the data is still being crunched (the full report will be published when Lorenz presents her thesis later this year), initial analysis indicates that the children whose bones littered the Midnight Terror Cave did not come from the surrounding Upper Roaring River Valley, where the cave is located, or even from Belize. In fact, the young victims appear to have been brought to this spot from as far as 200 miles away (an enormous distance in the 9th century), before being taken deep into the earth to have their beating hearts cut from their chests to appease any number of angry gods.

The article is fascinating not only for the profound archeological discoveries it documents but also for its detailed description of the science process itself. It also is brutally honest. Even though these results cast a poor light on ancient Indian culture, something that is very political incorrect in today’s world, the author minces no words, even if he does wring his hands a bit about these conclusions.

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Water ice volcanoes on Ceres

Data collected by Dawn since it entered orbit around Ceres on March 6 now strongly suggests that the bright spots on the surface are produced by venting water,

Andreas Nathues, principal investigator for Dawn’s framing camera, says the feature has spectral characteristics that are consistent with ice. Intriguingly, the brightness can be seen even when the spacecraft is looking on edge at the crater rim, suggesting that the feature may be outgassing water vapor above the rim and into space. “Ceres seems to be indeed active,” he says. The feature brightens through the course of the day, and then shuts down at night. Nathues says the behavior is similar to that of comets.

More here. By mid-April Dawn should finally settle this with high resolution images.

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