Category Archives: Essays And Commentaries

Announcement: Week Two: 10th Anniversary Fund-Raising Drive for Behind the Black

Readers

We now begin the second week of my annual July fund-raiser for Behind the Black. The response so far been breath-taking. Thank you all for your support, from the bottom of my heart!

The July fund-raising campaign must continue however or else I will not be able to afford to continue my work here for another year.

This year’s fund-raising drive is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website’s founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year’s fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don’t like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts on Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

I therefore am entirely dependent on the generous support of my readers, which has been growing steadily and sometimes exponentially in the past six years (which is about when I gave up on advertising to go directly to my readers). While asking for voluntary donations is a harder way to make money, it sets me free to say and write anything I wish. No one has a hold on me. No one tells me what to write. From me you will always get my honest perspective on space, science, culture, and politics.

I therefore ask you to please consider donating to Behind the Black, either by giving a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below or in the column to the right. You can also consider buying my books, all of which are available in the boxes scattered throughout the webpage. You will have my eternal gratitude, and you will help me continue my work.

This announcement will remain at the top of the webpage for the next month. Scroll down for new posts.

Midnight repost: Mars!

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Despite my many essays on culture and politics, Behind the Black remains mostly a site reporting on space and science. Since the modern exploration of Mars is probably the most significant on-going event now in space, it seemed unsatisfactory to only repost one or two of my past articles on this subject, when I have probably have posted hundreds. Instead, this midnight repost will provide links to a bunch, divided into several topics.

Martian geology, shown in cool images

First, we have the many cool images I have posted on Mars, often tied to detailed descriptions of what scientists are now beginning to learn about the red planet’s mysterious geological history. The following are the most important, and will help readers better understand future cool images.

Future colonization

Next, two posts, both focused on the future exploration and colonization of Mars.
» Read more

Spring at the Martian South Pole

Geysers on Mars?
Click for full image.

Geysers on Mars
Click for full image.

It is now full spring at the Martian south pole, and as should be expected much has been happening there. Like the Martian north pole, when sunlight arrives after the dark winter it hits the seasonally-placed mantle or cap of carbon dioxide snow and begins to melt it, in the alien ways things like this occur on Mars.

The two images to the right illustrate this process for one particular place located in what are called the south polar layered deposits. The two images, just released on July 1, 2020 from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and taken on May 14 and May 30 respectively, had immediately caught my attention because they were labeled “Active Geyser Locale Dubbed Macclesfield.” Active geysers?! I immediately contacted Candy Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, whom I correctly guessed had requested these photos. She explained,

The name for this site is of course informal, and it dates back to when I first started picking sites to monitor. I was so certain we would see active geysers here! We see their deposits, the fans on the surface, but so far we have not caught an actual eruption in progress.

The overview map of the south pole below provides some context.
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Rover update: Curiosity’s future journey

Mount Sharp, with Curiosity's future travels
Click for full image.

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater. For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

Today the science team of Curiosity issued a press release outlining their travel plans for the rover over the next year. In conjunction, they also released a mosaic of 116 images taken by the rover showing that route, a reduced in resolution version shown above.

The rover’s next stop is a part of the mountain called the “sulfate-bearing unit.” Sulfates, like gypsum and Epsom salts, usually form around water as it evaporates, and they are yet another clue to how the climate and prospects for life changed nearly 3 billion years ago.

But between the rover and those sulfates lies a vast patch of sand that Curiosity must drive around to avoid getting stuck. Hence the mile-long road trip: Rover planners, who are commanding Curiosity from home rather than their offices at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, expect to reach the area in early fall, although the science team could decide to stop along the way to drill a sample or study any surprises they come across.

Overview map sol 2804 of Curiosity's route

This journey actually began in late May, at about the time of my last rover update. The overview map to the right shows in red their approximate planned route to avoid that large dune field to the south. The meandering yellow line indicates Curiosity’s actual route. The straight yellow lines indicates I think the area covered by the mosaic above. As you can see, since the end of May they have quickly returned to their planned route. Note also that the dune field extends about twice the distance beyond the eastern edge of this overview map.

The next big goal when they reach that sulfate-bearing unit will be to not only study it but to also study a recurring slope lineae on the slopes of that unit, a streak that darkens and lightens seasonally that might be caused by seeping brine from below. Because the sulfate unit and the linneae are both major geological goals, they are going to be moving fast to get there. I am sure they will periodically stop to do geology, but I think the travel will be, as it has been for the past month, quick-paced.

Once the rover gets to the sulfate unit, Curiosity will at last have actually reached the base of Mount Sharp. Up until now it has been traveling first in the surrounding plains, then in the mountain’s foothills. The terrain will get much rougher and be far more spectacular, as Curiosity will be entering canyons as it begins to climb the mountain itself.

Midnight repost: NASA, the federal budget, and common sense

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Tonight’s midnight repost is actually two. First we have what might have been my most telling report for John Batchelor, aired in late July 2013. In that appearance I was quite blunt about my contempt for the politicians in Washington and the fake space program they had been foisting on the American public for decades. As I said,

What both those parties in Congress and in the administration are really doing is faking a goal for the purpose of justifying pork to their districts, because none of the proposals they’re making — both the asteroids or the moon — are going to happen.

Here is the audio of that appearance [mp3] for you all to download and enjoy. For reference, these are specific stories from then that I am discussing:

That rant makes for a perfect lead in to an essay I wrote in late 2011, outlining what I would do if I was in a position to reframe NASA’s budget. Everything I said then still applies. And that it does is a great tragedy, in that it means that nothing has changed, and our federal government continues to gather power while bankrupting the country.

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NASA, the federal budget, and common sense

Let’s be blunt: the federal government is broke. With deficits running in the billions per day, there simply is no spare cash for any program, no matter how important or necessary. Nothing is sacrosanct. Even a proposal to cure cancer should be carefully reviewed before it gets federal funding.

Everything has got to be on the table.
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Have you fallen in love with your fear of COVID-19?

The Star Spangled Banner
Fort McHenry bombarded by the British in 1812

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

These two lines are probably the most familiar words to most Americans of their national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. When people sing the anthem before sports events, it is these lines alone which everyone clearly knows and sings out robustly. For the rest of the song everyone kind of goes along, mouthing the words based on what they think the entire crowd is singing.

We tend however not to think about what the words mean. That last line especially describes precisely the American nation as Key and his fellow Americans in 1812 saw it, as a land of free and brave people. They understood that they were free, but they also understood that it is impossible to be a free person if you are afraid. You must be brave to be free, because freedom carries risk and danger. The rewards are gigantic, but with those rewards comes the real risk of failure and even death. To be free you need accept that risk and face it boldly.

The results of that courage are evident by what the citizens of the United States of America achieved in the two hundred years since Key wrote these words. We fought a Civil War that killed more than 600,000 people to set everyone in our nation free. We fought two wars in Europe, with the second setting that entire continent free as well because we came not as conquerors but as liberators.

And we built a nation so prosperous, for all its people, that multitudes flock desperately to come here and be part of this great experiment in human freedom.

That noble experiment is now threatened. Within our nation are many people who hate it, and are striving hard to destroy it. Along the way they eagerly long for the day that freedom itself is squelched, a day when they by edict can decide what every citizen is permitted to do, and when they by edict will be able to arrest and destroy anyone who defies them.

It is very simple. They want power. Freedom for everyone denies them that.
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Sunspot update: More evidence of an upcoming weak maximum

On July 4th NOAA updated its monthly graph tracking the monthly activity of sunspots on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. Below is that updated graph, annotated by me to show the past and new solar cycle predictions.

June 2020 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community for both the previous and upcoming solar maximums. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007 for the previous maximum, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The blue curve is their revised May 2009 prediction. The red curve is the new prediction, first posted by NOAA in April 2020.

June saw an uptick of activity since my last update, though that activity remains quite low. We saw two sunspots during the month, both with polarities that link them to the next maximum and thus providing evidence that we will have a maximum in about five or six years. The first of those sunspots was also one of the strongest new cycle sunspots yet seen, and lasted for almost two weeks before it rotated off the visible face of the sun.

The ratio of next cycle sunspots vs sunspots from the past maximum has also been shifting. More and more, the new sunspots belong to the next cycle and less to the last. The ramp up to the next maximum is definitely beginning, though to call it a “ramp up” at this point is a big exaggeration. Sunspot activity remains low, though the last few months have seen some activity, unlike the seven months of nothing seen during the second half of last year.

The upcoming prediction for the next maximum calls for it to be very weak. Interestingly, the activity in June surpassed that prediction. This does not mean that the prediction will be wrong, only that June was more active when compared to the smooth prediction curve. As the cycle unfolds the monthly numbers will fluctuate up and down, as they did last cycle. The question will be whether their overall numbers will match closely with the prediction. In the past cycle actual sunspot activity was consistently below all predictions. It is too soon to say how well the new prediction is doing.

Midnight repost: Obama’s legacy of hate

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: This essay was posted originally on August 19, 2019. It quite correctly predicts the looting, rioting, and violence going on now against monuments honoring past American heroes and defenders of freedom. It also correctly predicts that this looting, rioting, and violence is as yet only beginning. Be prepared for far worse, especially if you wish to defend the honor of the American dream of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and rule by law.

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Obama’s legacy of hate

Of all of Obama’s achievements, probably the one that is going to ring down the decades the longest and maybe do the most to destroy the United States and western civilization was his willingness to either endorse or refuse to condemn the use of slanders and lies to advance the political power of his Democratic Party and the left.

The most obvious example of this were the false accusations by top Democrats that the Tea Party protesters against Obamacare were “racist”, despite zero evidence. (I speak from personal experience, as I was involved in Tea Party groups in both the DC and Tucson areas.) Obama was in a position to tamp down this hateful and dishonest rhetoric. Instead, he allowed members of his administration to encourage it.

This political tactic has now become pervasive and dominant throughout the Democratic Party and its minions in the mainstream press. This fact became especially evident to me this past weekend, during a demonstration in Portland by a group called the Proud Boys. This group was formed in 2016 in reaction to the modern political leftist pressure forcing Americans to adhere to leftist dogma. From their own webpage:
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Midnight repost: “We stand for freedom.”

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: This essay, portions of which was adapted from the fourth chapter of Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8, was posted originally on May 25, 2011, the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s speech to Congress where he committed the nation to landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.

It seems fitting to repost on July 4th, Independence Day.

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Kennedy's speech

“We stand for freedom.”

Fifty years ago today, John Kennedy stood before Congress and the nation and declared that the United States was going to the Moon. Amazingly, though this is by far the most remembered speech Kennedy ever gave, very few people remember why he gave the speech, and what he was actually trying to achieve by making it.

Above all, going to the Moon and exploring space was not his primary goal.
» Read more

Midnight repost: The Fantasy of Extreme Weather

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: The science described in this essay, posted originally on April 11, 2013 remains even today entirely accurate. Worse, the story illustrates the exact same kind of obtuse refusal to deal with reality that has put us today in the midst of a panic over a relatively minor seasonal virus.

Unfortunately, the links to the first two articles that I reference no longer work.

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The Fantasy of Extreme Weather

This week there were three stories describing new research proving that global warming is going to cause an increase in the number and violence of extreme weather events. Each was published in one of the world’s three most important scientific journals.

Sounds gloomy, doesn’t it? Not only will extreme heatwaves, cold waves, and droughts tear apart the very fabric of society, you will not be able to drink your soda in peace on your next airplane ride!

However, one little detail, buried in one of these stories as a single sentence, literally makes hogwash out of everything else said in these three articles.
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Midnight repost: Behind the Black

In celebration of the tenth anniversary the Behind the Black, I will each evening at midnight this month repost an earlier essay or article posted on the website sometime during the past ten years. Since I have posted more than 22,000 times since I started this website in July of 2010, I have plenty of good stuff to choose from. The thirty reposts over the next month will highlight some of the best.

We begin with what is really the only Easter Egg on Behind the Black, as it has sat as a unheralded link dubbed only Behind the Black on the main page since the website’s beginning. That link takes you to the following essay, excerpted and adapted from the final afterword in the paperback edition of my book about the Hubble Space Telescope, The Universe in a Mirror.

It explains much about my goals in all that I write.
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Behind the Black

At the end of the last spacewalk during this last servicing mission to Hubble, astronaut John Grunsfeld took a few moments to reflect on Hubble’s importance. This was Grunsfeld’s third spaceflight and eighth spacewalk to Hubble, and no one had been more passionate or dedicated in his effort to get all of Hubble’s repairs and upgrades completed.

“As Arthur C. Clarke says,” Grunsfeld said, “the only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.”

For most of human history, the range of each person’s experience was of a distant and unreachable horizon. This untouchable horizon defined “the limits of the possible.” No matter how far an individual traveled, there was always a forever receding horizon line of unknown territory tantalizingly out of reach before him.
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Two wedding cakes on Mars

Tall wedding cake on Mars
Click for full image.

It it time for two cool Martian images from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Though both show features that are similar and likely had some comparable geological origins, they are located in two very different places on Mars and thus also had very different histories.

What makes them fun is how much both resemble classic tall wedding cakes, though the second has unfortunately fallen down and is no longer eatable.

The first, cropped on the right to post here, was taken on May 18, 2020, and is described by the science team as a “Tall Layered Mesa in Crater in Deuteronilus Mensae.” Deuteronilus Mensae is in the transition zone between the northern lowland plains and the southern cratered highlands, and being in the high mid-latitudes (42 degrees north) shows a lot of evidence of buried and eroded glaciers. Many of these glaciers are found inside craters.

What caused this layered mesa however to form is beyond me. It is taller than the crater in which it sits, as well as the surrounding terrain. A glacier would settle into the lowest regions, and would not last if exposed above the rim like this is. Its height suggests that the surrounding terrain was once much higher, and has been eroded away. Yet if so, why does this mesa also sit inside a depression?

The second “wedding cake” is even more intriguing, though less baffling.
» Read more

With Americans under attack where are Trump and the Republicans?

For me, the most distressing part of the panic over COVID-19 has not been the rules, the mandates, the nullification of the Bill of Rights, and the shut down of normal life, all of which have been terrible, wrong-headed, and a disaster for our country.

What has distressed me the most is the gutless response by the nation’s so-called conservative Republican politicians. All of the panic and harsh rules and economic damage has been designed by the Democrats to hurt the reelection chances of Trump. Little of it has anything to do with stopping the virus, and in fact most are nothing more than symbolic gestures that can accomplish nothing.

Despite this, Republican elected leaders have acquiesced to the Democrats demands, almost across the board.

Consider my own state of Arizona. My governor, Doug Ducey, is Republican. Republicans also have majorities in both houses of my state legislature. Yet, they have either let the Democrats run the show, or have acted in ways that are indistinguishable from the worst dictators in New York and New Jersey. First Governor Ducey imposed and then extended a lockdown that has bankrupted many businesses in the state. Then, as he began to loosen that lockdown he ceded his power to the generally Democratically-controlled local governments, letting them impose their own odious rules in place of his. The result is that in most big cities in the state, the lock down did not really end, but got tightened with new rules mandating masks.

Yesterday he reinstated part of his lock down for another thirty days. And like Democratic governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey, the new rules he imposed [pdf] were arbitrary and capricious, and will thus have little if any effect. Bars, gyms, indoor movie theaters, and water parks have to close until July 27th. Government and community pools however can stay open. So can restaurants, shopping centers, clothing stores, and many other venues that previously were considered “non-essential.” He also banned any gathering of more than fifty people, but exempted political demonstrations and religious services.

And why did he do this? It appears there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks! That means (oh no!) the number of people either hospitalized or dying might skyrocket, and overwhelm the hospitals!
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Politicians continue to lie about COVID-19 to generate fear

Total U.S. daily deaths from the Wuhan flu

They just won’t stop lying: On June 26 there was a strange and unbelievable jump in the number of deaths from COVID-19. The graph to the right (source here), up-to-date through June 28, illustrates this. Compare it to the graph I posted on June 25 (in an essay that makes a nice bookmark with this essay). All of a sudden there were 2,500 deaths from the Wuhan flu the very next day, when we had seen no numbers like that since early May and the totals had been steadily and very consistently declining for weeks. In fact, the decline continued along the same exact trend, following this strange uptick in deaths.

Was it a sign of the coming second wave that so many Chicken Littles have been predicting with the partial reopening of the economy, allowing people to leave house arrest? Or was it a sign of some shenanigans by some government officials to manipulate the numbers because they didn’t like how consistently the death totals were dropping, thus giving Americans some hope and the ability to put aside their fears of a coming plague and go back to normal.

Which would you pick?
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The press continues to lie about COVID-19 to generate fear

Daily U.S. Wuhan flu deaths as of June 24, 2020

They just won’t stop lying: If you have been reading the mainstream leftist press, you are probably now under the impression that the COVID-19 epidemic is once again raging across the land, destroying whole communities while spreading out-of-control everywhere because some Republican governors thought it was now okay to come out of hiding.

The CNN article at the link above is typical, reporting in lurid detail how multiple states across the country are now experiencing record levels of new coronavirus cases.

Oh my! We are all gonna die!

Not. What the CNN article completely failed to mention is the number of deaths from COVID-19 taking place during this rise in new cases. Are you curious why? Could it be because, though the number of people now infected with the virus has skyrocketed, the number of deaths has remained largely flat, as shown by the graph above (data source here). The past two days has seen a slight uptick, but that is entirely within the range of the weekly ups and downs caused apparently by low numbers recorded over the weekends.

I am not the only one to notice this strange dishonest reporting, Nor is CNN the only culprit. This article at Just News noticed the same thing in a Washington Post report.
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The blind continuing panic over COVID-19

U.S. daily Wuhan flu deaths

With totalitarian Democratically-controlled cities and states across the nation now imposing odious rules requiring the wearing of masks at all times, based entirely on emotion and symbolism with absolutely no reliance on the actual science that says masks are not only useless against a virus like COVID-19, they could be medically harmful to the user, I think it is time to do a little science journalism and illustrate again the absurdity of this situation.

First, the Wuhan flu epidemic is clearly ending, as shown by the graph above. This graph, based on numbers from this site, shows that the disease reached its peak sometime near the start of May. Since then its threat has been declining steadily, until it reached today the lowest number of deaths since March, only 285.

Right now the chances of you catching COVID-19 and dying from it are practically nil, even if you live in densely populated states like New York, where only 14 people died yesterday from the virus.

Second, as predicted by some scientists, the lockdowns, social distancing, and silly symbolic mask use did nothing to stretch out the epidemic or flatten the curve. These scientists, ignored by politicians and the mainstream press, had predicted it would be a seasonal flu, dying out come summer, and that it would last from six to eight weeks, as it has done in every country where it has arrived, regardless of any government action.

That is exactly what the Wuhan flu has done. After eight weeks it is now fading away, like all such seasonal diseases.

Third, the numbers on this graph are certainly inflated. The total deaths in the U.S. assigned to the Wuhan flu as of today is just over 114,000. Based on numerous reports (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), we can estimate that this number is inflated from 25% o 50%.

The untrustworthiness of these numbers is further illustrated by graph below, outlining the number of Wuhan flu deaths in New York alone.
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Truth, Justice, and the American Way

The words spoken during the opening credits of a 1950s children’s television show:

Faster than a speeding bullet.
More powerful than a locomotive.
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Look up in the sky!
It’s a bird.
It’s a plane.
It’s Superman!

Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way.

That television show was obviously Superman, starring George Reeves, and these opening words expressed the mythology and basic ideals by which this most popular of all comic-book super-heroes lived.

I grew up with those words. They had been bequeathed to me by the American generation that had fought and won World War II against the genocidal Nazis, and expressed the fundamental ideals of that generation.

Much of the meaning of these fundamental ideals is outright and clear.

Truth means you always strive to be honest, and when you make a mistake you admit to it, without flinching. Or as Superman says quite clearly in the 1978 film, “I never lie,” saying this immediately after repeating that he is here “to fight for truth, justice, and the American way.”

Justice means you strive to administer the rules fairly so that the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished properly. It also means that you treat others justly, with respect and kindness, while defiantly standing up to those who would do the weak harm.

The phrase “the American Way” however is more puzzling. As a child I accepted it, but I have spent a lifetime as a historian and reader trying to understand it on a more fundamental level. The writers in the 1950s who gave that task to Superman knew what it meant, and assumed everyone else did. By the 1950s and 1960s they however no longer did a good job of teaching its meaning to my sixties generation, and many from my time grew up not understanding it.

I think I finally hit upon its basic meaning in writing Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8. As I said in trying to explain why the astronauts on that mission choose to read the first twelve verses of the Old Testament on Christmas Eve while orbiting the Moon,
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Persecution is now cool!

We are in a time of oppression. Make no mistake. If you publicly express an opinion that the left does not like, it is now considered perfectly reasonable among our smart set to destroy your business, dox your family, threaten your children, and have your very existence cancelled.

It is happening repeatedly now every moment of every day in communities across America. Dare to speak out against the accepted leftist mantras of the moment and you will be crushed.

Consider for example the orthodox Jewish community in New York. That city’s leftist Democratic mayor, Bill De Blasio, has forbidden them to gather at funerals, has shut down their schools, and has now locked nearby playgrounds so that Jewish children cannot play safely, all in the name of supposedly saving them from the Wuhan flu.

At the exact same moment however that same leftist Democratic mayor had no objection to a gathering of tens of thousands in packed street demonstrations in favor of “Black Trans Lives Matters,” a gay racist group that wants to impose its sexual and racist agenda on everyone. For some reason, De Blasio has decided that the Wuhan flu is no threat to that political movement.

Only Jews can get COVID-19, and must be protected from it, even if that protection is against their will.

The Orthodox Jews in New York have been fighting back. They have repeatedly cut the locks that De Blasio’s police thugs have put on the parks, only to have De Blasio order the park gates welded shut.

Now they have gone to court to force this clear double standard to cease.
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Trump had better do something soon

In Seattle on June 9, 2020 a group of rioters and Antifa and Black Lives Matter radicals took complete control over a seven block wide area of the city, throwing out the police, taking possession of the police station, and declaring the area the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ).

The next day, June 9th, President Donald Trump tweeted the following:

Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped (sic) IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!

Not surprisingly the response from the Washington Democratic politicians was contempt and defiance.

Gov. Jay Inslee also fired back at Trump on Twitter, posting, “A man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business. ‘Stoop’ tweeting.”

I think their contempt here is justified. Trump, who until the arrival of the Wuhan flu panic this spring had consistently stood up against the bullying and irrational hate of the left, has been played by them badly in the past three months.
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Sunspot update: The deep minimum deepens

NOAA last week did its monthly update of its graph for tracking the monthly activity of sunspots on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. Below is that updated graph, annotated by me to show the past and new solar cycle predictions.

May 2020 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community for both the previous and upcoming solar maximums. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007 for the previous maximum, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The blue curve is their revised May 2009 prediction. The red curve is the new prediction, first posted by NOAA in April 2020.

Since last month NOAA has done some further revisions to this graph, and improved it significantly since their first redesign, released in April. You can see the difference just by comparing it to my previous update last month. For scales covering longer periods, they have eliminated the diamonds, making the curve much more readable. They have also increased the size of the graph, which also serves to make it more readable as well. Kudos to the people at NOAA for these changes.

As you can see, sunspot activity in May plunged from the slight uptick in April. This is even more clearly shown by the SILSO graph below.
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American Kristallnacht

It might have been an accident, or maybe it was because of the events of the past three months, but earlier this year I decided to finally read William Shirer’s masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Previously I had only read the first few chapters in order to learn something about Hitler’s background. Now it was time to read the whole book.

I am only halfway through it but no matter. Every page has sent terror through my soul, as it appears to not be a history of the 1930s foolishness and madness that allowed a megalomaniac to become the leader of a powerful nation, intent on conquering the world while committing genocide against millions, but a news report of modern America.

What we have seen for the past three months — accelerated to madness with riots this week — has been nothing more than a return to the Nazi tactics of the 1930s, with the only difference being that the targets have not been just Jews, but all private businesses as well as anyone who dares to oppose their wanton destruction. In fact, the use of rocks to break windows and loot businesses and attack and even kill their owners this week was so reminiscent of Kristallnacht that I find it more than horrifying. From the link:
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The coming death of America

I have been so appalled and horrified by the events of the past three months, culminating in the riots and brutal violence and looting this past week, that I have found myself unable to express myself. I stand for freedom, for justice, for equal protection under law, and for our Constitution and Bill of Rights, fundamental documents that more than any philosophical tract ever written outline the most just way to run a country.

That country however appears to be dying, fast. It strongly appears that a large plurality, maybe even a majority, no longer believes in these ideals. This fact has made me depressed beyond words.

The speech below by Tucker Carlson however does a very good job of summing things up, based on facts, while making it clear what we must do to change this madness. He pulls no punches. He attacks every politician from both parties who have stood by or even supported the rioting and the nullification of our most basic laws. He demands better from them, and he demands that we, the citizenry, demand it as well.

I beg my readers to watch it. Set the speed at 1.25 and you can see it faster.

I also pray that some of my readers, after watching it, will recognize how deadly the situation really is, far beyond rioting, and how necessary it is for us to require proper behavior from our leaders, without exception, based on law and justice. No more race-baiting. No more apologies for enforcing the law meant to protect the innocent. No more cowardice. If our political leaders can’t protect everyone, then they must be fired. All of them.

And if we, the American people, still fail to recognize how bad things are and refuse to do something about it, then my headline above will simply be an accurate prediction. I weep to think I might be right.

I must also add that to understand what I mean, you must watch Carlson’s speech first. Otherwise, you will be doing exactly what I rage against.

SpaceX’s first manned SUCCESSFUL Dragon launch

UPDATE: I am off on a caving trip on Sunday, May 31st, so I will not be doing any updates to this post. The live feeds however will still be here and, though they are presently showing a replay of the launch today, should be covering Dragon’s rendezvous and docking with ISS on Sunday..

UPDATE: Dragon is in orbit. SpaceX has successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place to Americans into space, the first American launch from American soil in an American spacecraft on an American rocket in nine years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

9 China
7 Russia
7 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 12 to 9 in the national rankings.

UPDATE: I have added NASA’s media live feed to the one provided on SpaceX’s website. There will be some hype on SpaceX’s feed, but the media feed had no commentary. Pick which you prefer.

UPDATE: NASA and SpaceX have decided to attempt a launch today. The weather remains at 50-50 for launch.

Capitalism in space: Below are the live streams of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch, presently scheduled for launch at 3:22 pm (Eastern) tomorrow, May 30, 2020.

First, the feed from SpaceX’s website:

Second, the media feed from NASA, with no narration:

The live coverage will begin at 11 am (Eastern), and because this presentation is a partnership of NASA and SpaceX, will be filled with a lot of hype that one normally does not see during a SpaceX live feed, though I will note that during the live feed of the May 27th scrubbed launch, the NASA hype was kept relatively tame, compared to previous events. It seemed they accepted some guidance from SpaceX on how to do this in a way that seemed less fake or propagandistic.

This time I am embedding the media feed, which might have even less hype.

This post is also set to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or after the launch is scrubbed, whichever happens. At the moment the weather says there is a 50-50 chance of launching, so we might end up having a scrub again, like on May 27th. In fact, NASA and SpaceX have already said in the evening of May 29th that they will reassess the weather in the AM on May 30th and decide whether to continue with the countdown or scrub. If so, this link and live feed will remain for the Sunday, May 31st, launch attempt.

As I did during the first launch attempt on May 27th, I will also periodically post below the fold images captured from the live feed, with some commentary. Comments from readers are of course welcome, as always.

NOTE: You will need to refresh the post periodically to see new images and commentary.

For other news updates, scroll down.
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Rover update: The state of Curiosity’s wheels

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater. For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

In my last rover update (April 16, 2020), I posted some new images taken of Curiosity’s wheels, showing the damage that they have experienced during the rover’s journey so far in Gale Crater.

At the time, I was unable to match any of the released images, taken on Sol 2732 (April 13, 2020), with the previous wheel image I have used to quickly gauge any new damage (see my July 9, 2019 report).

As it turns out, one of those images did match the earlier image. I simply failed to realize it. Today’s daily download of raw images from Curiosity included additional photos of the rover’s wheels, apparently also taken on Sol 2732 but not available until now. One of those images matches the earlier wheel image, and this time I spotted the match. A comparison is posted below, with my analysis.
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The health dangers of wearing a mask improperly

Our new dictators in government and its bureaucracies are now attempting to impose a new “normal” on society, demanding that everyone where a mask wherever they go in public. They claim this is to “slow the spread of COVID-19”, but if you try to pin down the actual science that supports this claim, you will routinely have trouble finding it.

What you instead will find is that there is substantial peer-reviewed research that not only questions the usefulness of widespread mask use by the public in ordinary settings, but also notes serious health risks that can be caused by the masks themselves.

Today I want to take a look at the failure and absurdity of widespread mask use, using as my guide the very instructions given by the Mayo Clinic and the World Health Organization (WHO). What I am going to do is review these instructions, step-by-step, noting the absurdity of their expectations and the risks they scoff over so nonchalantly.

First, let’s look at the claims made by the Mayo clinic:
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In space exploration, freedom wins again

Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, with Falcon 9 in background
Dragon astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken
with their Falcon 9/Dragon in the background

This week we shall once again see a demonstration of the power of freedom, and it will not be a demonstration by protesters in Hong Kong or Michigan or New York against the petty dictators who rule them.

No, it will simply be the launch of an American rocket, owned by an American company, putting two Americans in space. While most reports of the manned Dragon launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will properly focus on the new engineering and the specific achievement — the first American manned space mission in almost a decade — few will recognize how it is freedom, that forgotten word, that more than anything made it possible.

And it has always been this way, since the very beginnings of the space age. As John Kennedy expounded in his 1961 speech committing the U.S. to a lunar landing, that commitment was to demonstrate that a free people and nation could do it better:
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More pits found on Mars

Pit near Hephaestus Fossae
Click for full image.

Overview map

Since 2018 I have made it a point to document every new pit image taken on Mars by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The list of can be found at the bottom of this post.

In the most recent release from MRO, a number of new pits were photographed. All continue to suggest that Mars has a lot of underground voids, some caused by lava flow, some by tectonic activity, some by water ice erosion, and some almost certainly caused by processes we don’t yet know. The images also suggest that we have only identified a small fraction of those underground voids.

The first image to the right, cropped to post here, shows the one new pit in the northern lowlands of Utopia Planitia, near a series of meandering channels and canyons dubbed Hephaestus Fossae and Hebrus Valles.

This appears to be the fifth such pit found in this region. Previously I had documented the first four. The overview map to the right adds this fifth pit. Note how the pit is much closer to the head of Hephaestus. In the full image you can see fissures both to the north and south, as well as many nearby aligned depressions, suggesting the existence of more underground passages, some possibly linked to voids under this very pit.

The pit itself seems filled, with no apparent side passages, though to the southwest there might be something leading off in the shadows.

The overall terrain in this region, including these pits, the fissures, and the many aligned depressions, strongly suggests a lot of underground voids. As I noted in 2019:
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The only opposition that will matter to today’s lock down fascism will be opposition expressed in the ballot box

In the past week or so there have been numerous stories in the press suggesting that Americans have finally lost patience with the unreasonable Wuhan flu lock downs that have been arbitrarily imposed in the past two months by elected officials, sometimes indefinitely, for no justifiably rational reasons.

In Michigan there were armed protests, and then barbers began publicly defying the lock down orders of their fascist governor.

In New Jersey a health club defied the order of that state’s fascist governor and reopened to cheers from its customers.

In Baltimore a pastor stood at the pulpit and ripped apart the shut down order by that city’s health department.

In Minnesota the Catholic church announced it was reopening for church services, in direct defiance of the orders of that state’s governor.

I could cite many other examples, across the country, in both conservative and liberal states.

Are these push backs necessary? Certainly. These fascist governors and mayors, most of whom have been Democrats, have imposed unreasonable and blatantly illegal arbitrary restrictions on the freedoms of Americans, which must be resisted at all costs.

Are these push backs real? Forgive me if I must sadly remain skeptical. For fifty years I have watched as politicians, mostly from the Democratic Party but with more than ample support from large numbers of Republican Party hacks, have slowly but steadily worked to erode the freedoms of Americans.
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The fascist states within the United States

It is now clear that a large number of state governments have decided to morph what had originally been called a very temporary lock down and request to social distance into a permanent state of martial law, with their governors retaining the right to rule by edict for as long as they personally deem.

As most states begin to move forward with measures to reopen their economies following strict lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, some governors and big-city mayors are now saying the restrictions will not fully be lifted until a vaccine or treatment for the disease is available — a timeline that could take a year or more.

The leaders’ comments indicate Americans could be living with orders restricting personal and economic activity for much longer than many anticipate.

And who are these new dictators? Here is the list from the linked article above:

  • Democrat Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey
  • Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan
  • Democrat Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois
  • Democrat Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles
  • Republican Mayor David Holt of Oklahoma City

Nor are these the only ones. » Read more

The Artemis Accords: The Trump administration’s effort to bypass the Outer Space Treaty

Capitalism in space: The Trump administration yesterday released the guidelines it will require any international or private partner to follow if they wish to participate in its Artemis lunar and planetary manned program.

The guidelines, which you can download here [pdf], list ten very broad and vague principles. Most reiterate support for the most successful requirements of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, such as:

  • the requirement that all activities be conducted for peaceful purposes
  • the requirement that everyone design equipment for interoperability and to international standards
  • the requirement that everyone take reasonable steps possible to render assistance to astronauts in distress
  • the requirement that everyone publicly register anything they launch
  • the requirement that everyone release their scientific data publicly
  • the requirement that all parties take actions to mitigate space junk

The remaining four principles appear designed to bend the Outer Space Treaty in the direction of allowing countries and companies to have some control over the territories they occupy in space.
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