Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Another sign of tight NASA budgets ahead

From Jeff Foust: Another sign of tight budgets ahead.

The possibility that NASA’s budget might cut by several billion doesn’t bother me a bit. Unlike it seems everyone else, I ain’t gonna be one of those who says “We need to cut the federal budget, but just don’t cut MY favorite program.” NASA shouldn’t be immune to cuts. In fact, NASA could easily lose the several billion dollars per year that’s going to be wasted on the program-formerly-called-Constellation.

And if Congress decided to cut the subsidies to the new commercial space companies as well, I probably wouldn’t cry that much over that either. I think these companies can make it on their own. I think there is a market for their product. By taking NASA’s money up front, they are then forced to take NASA supervision, something I think will be very damaging in the long run.

GOP denies TSA money to buy more body scanners

The House budget for the TSA has deleted funding for more body scanners.

Though I think denying the TSA this money is a good thing, this paragraph from the article stood out to me:

The measure includes $7.8 billion for the TSA, which Republicans said was a $125 million increase from current levels but $293 million less than the administration’s budget request.

In 2008 the TSA’s budget was approximately $6.99 billion. Considering how the Republicans wanted to bring spending back to 2008 levels, how can we take them seriously about getting control of the deficit if they agree to an overall budget increase for the TSA?

GOP senators focus on entitlement cuts

More debt ceiling negotiations: GOP senators focused on entitlement cuts in a meeting with Obama on Thursday. I found this quote quite intriguing and a refreshing change from previous such meetings:

Obama was careful not to dominate the meeting, according to Republican senators who attended. The president opened the session with brief remarks and spent most of the session listening to lawmakers’ concerns and responding to their arguments.

The strange egg-shaped dwarf planet Haumea is apparently also covered with ice

Truly alien: The strange egg-shaped dwarf planet Haumea is apparently also covered with crystallised ice.

“Since solar radiation constantly destroys the crystalline structure of ice on the surface, energy sources are required to keep it organized. The two that we have taken into consideration are that able to generate radiogenic elements (potassium-40, thorium-232 and uranium-238) from the inside, and the tidal forces between Haumea and its satellites,” [explained] Benoit Carry, co-author of the study and a researcher at the ESAC Centre of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Madrid (Spain).

The science remains uncertain

Two papers published this week by the American Geophysical Union once again indicate that the science of climate change remains exceedingly uncertain. More significantly, the models that try to predict the future of the Earth’s climate continue to appear unreliable, with such large margins of error that it is at this time foolish to make any policy based on their predictions.

diagram of Atlantic currents

The first paper took a close look at the deep water currents in the Atlantic to see if it could track changes to what the authors’ call the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), more generally referred to as the Atlantic conveyor belt. This conveyor belt begins with the sinking of salty dense water in the northeast Atlantic off of Europe and Africa. The deep water current then travels south and into the Indian and Pacific Oceans where it comes to the surface only to flow back to the Atlantic, traveling north along the coast of North America as the Gulf Stream, bringing with it the warm temperatures that make Europe’s climate much warmer than its latitude would normally suggest.

According to most global warming models, higher temperatures should cause the glaciers in the Arctic and Greenland to melt, thereby pouring an increased amount of fresh water into the North Atlantic. This infusion of fresh water is then expected to lower the salinity and density of the Atlantic water, thus preventing it from sinking and thus acting to slow the conveyor belt, and possibly even causing it to shut down. The consequence would be no more Gulf Stream to warm the climate of Europe.

In other words: Disaster! Death! Destruction! All caused by global warming!

Unfortunately for these global warming models, the paper above found no trend at all. The conveyor belt is not slowing, as predicted. To quote the paper’s abstract:
» Read more

The regulations are “overly prescriptive, operationally burdensome, and the incentives are too difficult to achieve to make this voluntary program attractive.”

Why don’t we just repeal it? “An umbrella group representing premier organizations such as the Mayo Clinic wrote the administration Wednesday saying that more than 90 percent of its members would not participate, because the rules as written are so onerous it would be nearly impossible for them to succeed.” There’s also this lovely quote:

[The Obamacare regulations] are overly prescriptive, operationally burdensome, and the incentives are too difficult to achieve to make this voluntary program attractive.

The Crab Nebula erupts with flares six days

In mid-April the Crab Nebula erupted for six days, repeatedly emitting the most powerful flares ever recorded from the supernova remnant.

Scientists think the flares occur as the intense magnetic field near the pulsar undergoes sudden restructuring. Such changes can accelerate particles like electrons to velocities near the speed of light. As these high-speed electrons interact with the magnetic field, they emit gamma rays.

To account for the observed emission, scientists say the electrons must have energies 100 times greater than can be achieved in any particle accelerator on Earth. This makes them the highest-energy electrons known to be associated with any galactic source. Based on the rise and fall of gamma rays during the April outbursts, scientists estimate that the size of the emitting region must be comparable in size to the solar system.

Did a fungal infection kill forty percent of the world’s amphibians?

Did a fungal infection kill forty percent of the world’s amphibians?

The above article outlines an intriguing solution to this mysterious die-off. Sadly, the article also makes a silly effort to link everything to climate change, without justification. Pay attention to the former and ignore the latter.

State Department report on religious freedom in Afghanistan: Deteriorating

A State Department report on religious freedom in Afghanistan: deteriorating. Two quotes from the report:

Respect for religious freedom deteriorated during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals. Residual effects of years of jihad against the USSR, civil strife, Taliban rule, popular suspicion regarding outside influence and the motivations of foreigners, and still weak democratic institutions remained serious obstacles. There were cases of harassment, occasional violence, and inflammatory public statements made by members of parliament and television programming against religious minorities, particularly Christians, and Muslims who were perceived as not respecting Islamic strictures. Negative societal opinion and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Afghan converts to Christianity. The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.


The right to change one’s religion was not respected either in law or in practice. Muslims who converted to Christianity risked losing their marriage, rejection from their family and village, and loss of jobs. Following the May 2010 suspension of two NGOs on suspicion of proselytizing, some parliamentarians advocated violent responses toward the alleged apostates, including public execution. [emphasis mine]

This report actually came out in November, 2010, but I hadn’t known of it until now. It is worth reading. Though there are clearly some positive signs, overall the state of religious freedom in Afghanistan appears abysmal.

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