Thursday, January 31, 2013

We're All Gonna ... Nevermind: Feb. 15, 2013 Edition

Looks like we're in for another close pass by a big chunk of space debris:

Talk about a close shave. On Feb. 15th an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth only 17,200 miles above our planet's surface. There's no danger of a collision, but the space rock, designated 2012 DA14, has NASA's attention.

"This is a record-setting close approach," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at JPL. "Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we've never seen an object this big get so close to Earth."

Record Setting Asteroid Flyby

The new, digital NASA even has an online video to talk about it, which is where this diagram of 2012-DA14's close approach to earth came from:

Image credit: Screenshot of this NASA video by Cujo359

So, yes, once again we will not get to see earth-shattering explosions happen, unless, of course, we like what passes for science fiction cinema these days. As the graphic shows, the asteroid will pass closer than geosynchronous satellites, but well above the International Space Station (ISS) or the Hubble Space Telescope, so there's not much danger there, either. (Well, maybe not "shows" as "implies. See UPDATE/NOTE1.)

What would have happened had this asteroid hit the Earth? It would have been extremely unpleasant for some of us:

The impact of a 50-meter asteroid is not cataclysmic--unless you happen to be underneath it. Yeomans points out that a similar-sized object formed the mile wide Meteor Crater in Arizona when it struck about 50,000 years ago. "That asteroid was made of iron," he says, "which made it an especially potent impactor." Also, in 1908, something about the size of 2012 DA14 exploded in the atmosphere above Siberia, leveling hundreds of square miles of forest. Researchers are still studying the "Tunguska Event" for clues to the impacting object.

"2012 DA14 will definitely not hit Earth," emphasizes Yeomans. "The orbit of the asteroid is known well enough to rule out an impact."

Record Setting Asteroid Flyby

As this photo I took of the meteor that hit Meteor Crater, shows, that was, indeed, made of metal, which made it a more formidable projectile. 2012 DA14 is made of stone, so probably would break up more before reaching the surface.

The main reason I mention this is that, for some reason, the article on this subject is "embargoed", to use their terminology from the front page. I'm not sure why that is, but it doesn't appear to be the work of some doomsday cult.

UPDATE/NOTE 1: Well, actually, the graphic doesn't show low earth orbit, largely because it's so near the Earth on that scale that you probably couldn't see it. The ISS is roughly 200 miles (let's say roughly 300 kilometers) above the Earth's surface. That's well below where the asteroid will be passing us.

Into Or into

Some days, xkcd outdoes itself:

click here to see the comic we are discussing - assuming you do not have image display disabled Image credit: xkcd

Yes, lampooning Wikipedia discussions and Star Trek fans in one go isn't easy, but xkcd managed.

For my part, I wasn't even aware that a title had been decided on for this latest Trek movie, much less that it had a Wikipedia page, or when it might be opening. I made a passing reference to the last one in a review I wrote of District 9 a few years ago, which was about all it deserved. Frankly, the phrase "mindless explosion fest" is as much a review as I could give it without having to remember the sordid details.

So, no, this one isn't on my must-see list, either. It strikes me that the last one was a sad end to what once was a thoughtful television series, and I can't imagine being subjected to one more death rattle from the old corpse.

Still, the thought of a bunch of Trekkies arguing over a stylistic choice is an amusing thought, and no doubt not far enough from the truth to not be a little sad, too.

[Click on the image to see the original.]

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Photo(s)

Since I mentioned the other day that I had been trying to photograph an airplane passing overhead, I figured I'd share a few that I have managed to capture with the new camera. Federal Way is right underneath the approach to Sea-Tac Airport's runways, so most days we can see airliners taking off or landing. Since the new camera has a big zoom lens and is much more sensitive to light than the old one, I often try to take pictures of them now.

I'm sure I'll get over it eventually...

On the day that the world was going to end, I noticed that American Airlines decided to keep flying their 737s:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Quote Of The Day

Caption: On a sphere, the sum of the angles of a triangle is not equal to 180°. The surface of a sphere is not a Euclidean space, but locally the laws of the Euclidean geometry are good approximations. In a small triangle on the face of the earth, the sum of the angles is very nearly 180°.

Translation: Here on Planet Earth, things don't always work like an elegant theory says they ought to.

Image credit: Lars H. Rohwedder/Wikimedia

No peeking now, who wrote this and when?

The classical [economics] theorists resemble Euclidean geometers in a non-Euclidean world who, discovering that in experience straight lines apparently parallel often meet, rebuke the lines for not keeping straight as the only remedy for the unfortunate collisions which are occurring. Yet, in truth, there is no remedy except to throw over the axiom of parallels and to work out a non-Euclidean geometry. Something similar is required today in economics. We need to throw over the second postulate of the classical doctrine and to work out the behaviour of a system in which involuntary unemployment in the strict sense is possible.

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money: Chapter Two

Was it Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, or any of the other modern economists who aren't of the "classical" persuasion? No. Is it me, writing about the sorry state of economics versus reality? No.

It's John Maynard Keynes, writing in 1936. Keynes was the economist who best understood the implications and remedies of the Great Depression. In part, based on what I've read of this book so far, this is due to his habit of checking economic theory against the real world, and noting where the two aren't related.

I'm often struck by the parallels between creationism and classical economics. Each is based on beliefs that don't actually correspond to reality, yet they persist. The arguments of Darwin's or Keynes' day are much the same as today, except for anyone who has followed the issue, it's even more clear that the old theory isn't just wrong, but spectacularly so.

No Climate Change To See Here

While trying to photograph a passing airplane yesterday, my camera caught this instead:

Image credit: Cujo359

Yes, those are cherry blossoms, in January. It's not the Climate Change Cherry Tree, but it's only a few blocks away. We can't say this is a scientific study without an official observation at the CCCT, of course, but it's sure looking like spring will be here really early this year.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Progressive Idiocy: What, You Thought Something Would Change?

Caption: Think this was going to happen? Think again. This is 21st Century America.

Image credit: public domain/Wikimedia

Remember how, last December, the Democrats in the Senate were going to "cowboy up" and maybe change it so that the minority would have to actually show up for a filibuster?

Well, brace yourselves - it turned out that was just too radical an idea:

The final agreement reached by leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and passed overwhelmingly by the Senate Thursday evening did not weaken the filibuster. It essentially served to move uncontroversial Senate business more quickly. Democratic senators roundly backed it — even the ones who were eager to end silent filibusters. Republicans didn’t object either.

How did it all fall apart?

According to conversations with pro-reform Democratic aides, party leadership sources and outside opponents of the filibuster, Reid’s main goal was ultimately not to weaken the 60-vote threshold that reformers desperately wanted to change. Instead his objective was to eliminate mandatory gaps between votes in order to move legislation and nominees that have cleared a filibuster more quickly — which he achieved.

Filibuster Reform Ends With A Whimper: How It Fell Apart

Wow, I bet none of you saw that coming, huh?

I felt so negative at the time for writing this:

To break a filibuster, the majority party needs to have at least 60 Senators ready to vote for it at the next opportunity. The minority party only needs to have the one speaking, and a couple of relief Senators at any time. As things stand now, that still gives the Republicans an advantage.

And that, I think, is the point. They still don't want to honk off their benefactors by doing what their supporters want.

As long as that's true, real change is worth about as much as a filibustering Senator's words.

Senate Democrats Might Do Something About The Filibuster, Kinda...

It turns out that I was too optimistic. Things may go a little more smoothly in the Senate, assuming there's no contention over at least a few things, but most of the legislation and appointments will move as slowly as they ever did. What the end result will be, of course, is that the Republicans, and conservatives generally, will get even more of what they want, and progressives won't. Why? Because they'll get what everyone agrees on, which was at least endangered now, and they're still going to obstruct everything else, because they can and their base expects them to actually accomplish something.

Folks have taken to blaming Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader for this, but it sure looks like he still has his job. If Democrats were upset over his failure, they could have removed him. They didn't. As far as I'm concerned, that makes this the Democrats' problem, not just Harry Reid's. At some point, you really have to blame the electorate for the people they vote for.

Maybe progressives will figure that out some day... Nah!

The next time some idiot of a "progressive" asks me why I'm so negative..., well, I already had lots of reasons. Now, I just have one more.

Opportunity Soldiers On

Caption: In a heart-tugging cartoon from 2010, xkcd memorializes the Spirit Mars rover. Spirit's brother Opportunity is still working on the surface of Mars three years later. See image credit link for the full cartoon.

Image credit: xkcd

Opportunity celebrated its ninth anniversary on Mars today:

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, one of the twin rovers that bounced to airbag-cushioned safe landings on Mars nine years ago this week, is currently examining veined rocks on the rim of an ancient crater.

Opportunity has driven 22.03 miles (35.46 kilometers) since it landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, PST (Jan. 25, Universal Time). Its original assignment was to keep working for three months, drive about 2,000 feet (600 meters) and provide the tools for researchers to investigate whether the area's environment had ever been wet. It landed in a backyard-size bowl, Eagle Crater. During those first three months, it transmitted back to Earth evidence that water long ago soaked the ground and flowed across the surface.

Since then, the mission's team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has driven Opportunity across the plains of Meridiani to successively larger craters for access to material naturally exposed from deeper, older layers of Martian history.

Opportunity has operated on Mars 36 times longer than the three months planned as its prime mission.

NASA's Veteran Mars Rover Ready to Start 10th Year

Maybe the best illustration of what that means is provided by this self portrait of the rover, taken almost a year ago:

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What's In A Name?

There are quite a few objections to team names I don't understand, but this isn't one of them:

All major Native American organizations have called for the Washington pro football franchise to end its team's despicable name. Why? Because it's a racial slur and – no matter how many millions it spends trying to sanitize it and silence native peoples – the epithet is not, was not, and will not be an honorific.

Washington 'Redskins' is a racist name: US pro football must disavow it

I seem to remember objections being raised about the names of the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians baseball teams, for instance, and I really don't get that. This I get. Would anyone name their team, say, the "Indianapolis Honkies"? I don't think so. The closest I can come to an offensive stereotype in team names is Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish", and even there I'd have to say that it would probably be best for those offended by that name to acquire a sense of humor. Aggression, after all, is considered a good thing in many sports.

But the name of our nation's capital's football team is singularly offensive. Not only has the term been a historically demeaning one, but it reminds us of the long, sad history of relations between the indigenous population of the United States and those of us who came afterward. Maybe it's good to be reminded of that once in a while, but I'd rather we came to realize that it was a bad thing, that racist attitudes of some of the newcomers were a big part of that reason, and we don't think those racist attitudes were OK.

This is why, on the rare occasions when Washington's team does something notable, I've refused to refer to it by its team name, and will continue to not refer to it that way.

It may not rank high on the list of crimes committed by America these days, but I agree that the NFL ought to change it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Today's Pop Quiz

Robert Reich wrote this today as his opening remarks about President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, or more accurately, the reaction of the neo-conservative Republicans to that nomination:

If the neocons in the GOP who brought us the Iraqi war and conjured up “weapons of mass destruction” to justify it are against Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, Hagel gets bonus points in my book.

The Neocons vs. Chuck Hagel

What logical fallacy is Prof. Reich committing here?

A Gusher In My Inbox

Image credit: werner22brigitte

The world never fails to amaze me. I received this e-mail yesterday at this blog's e-mail address:

From: Opec Award <>

To: undisclosed-recipients@null, null@null

Subject: Attention: Read Carefully

Date: Jan 14, 2013 2:28 AM


Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries

Obere Donaustrasse 93

A-1020 Vienna,



You have been chosen as one of the LUCKY RECIPIENT of the excess funds generated from petroleum products(Africa,Asia and Pacific region) in the past years. For further information

Email 1:


Zaira Hoshiko

On three large continents, with some of the most poverty-stricken nations on the planet, these folks can't think of anything to do with their "excess funds" but offer them to an Internet persona named after a rabid animal. I bet these folks would fit right in on the Obama Administration's economics team.

Afterword: Since I haven't done on of these in a while, I'll point out that nothing in the e-mail should be taken as real information, even the e-mail address after the "Email 1:". That, as it turns out, was the reply address before I altered it a little. Who knows who is scamming whom here?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

We're All Gonna ... Nevermind: January 10, 2013 Edition

In case you were worried about reports like this one from the BBC yesterday:

A 300 metre-wide [1000 ft.] asteroid is making a close pass to the Earth.

Apophis - named after the Egyptian demon of destruction and darkness - has been put on a watch list by scientists.

They have calculated that in 2036 there is a very small chance it could collide with our planet.

Apophis asteroid: Large space rock flies past Earth

Well, nevermind, as NASA announced today:

NASA scientists at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., effectively have ruled out the possibility the asteroid Apophis will impact Earth during a close flyby in 2036. The scientists used updated information obtained by NASA-supported telescopes in 2011 and 2012, as well as new data from the time leading up to Apophis' distant Earth flyby yesterday (Jan. 9).

NASA Rules Out Earth Impact in 2036 for Asteroid Apophis provided this graphic to explain it all:

Find out about asteroid Apophis' close shave flyby in this infographic.
Source All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

So, bottom line:

  • 2029: Close, but within the altitude for a geosynchronous orbit, 36,000 km [22,000 mi.]
  • 2036: Not that close, actually.

Now you can worry about something else for the next twenty years. You're welcome.

As I've mentioned before, though, this is mainly a worry because we have almost nothing in the way of a manned spaceflight program anymore. Had we been producing ships capable of interplanetary flight, we'd at least have the possibility of deflecting Apophis-sized asteroids or destroying them before they reach Earth. Twenty years' lead time is a long time, and sometimes just a little push way ahead of time can turn a hit into another near miss.

Both the and NASA links discuss the fact that there are lots more asteroids out there, and more than a few comets.

Sadly, our government is far more interested in blowing up other countries and making the world safe for bank fraud than it is about things like exploring the universe or avoiding real disasters.

UPDATE: The initial version of this article used the words "asynchronous orbit", which as far as I know isn't even a real term. What I meant was "geosynchronous orbit".

Thursday, January 3, 2013

More Bumpy Lines

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), published a list of what it calls its top charts of 2012 a couple of weeks ago. A couple of them are particularly interesting, I think, if you're interested in why I scoff when people talk about us being in an economic recovery. These charts are all from that article, and produced by EPI, unless otherwise noted. Click on them to see them full size.

The first is EPI's answer to whether we're recovering or not:

Personally, I think that even EPI's chart understates the problem, but that's a good first pass at an estimate of how many jobs we still need to create to get back to where we were at the start of the Bush Administration twelve years ago. As I note nearly every time I write about unemployment numbers, we need something like 100,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with the increase in potential workers. We have barely maintained that pace during the Obama Administration's last two years. Before that, it was a power dive to the bottom until the spring of 2010.

The next slide of note is this one, which shows the drop in so-called "prime age" employment during the Great Recession, and the lack of recovery in that number since then. I keep encountering people who state, without a trace of humor, that the reason the employment to population ratio has been going down is because the Baby Boomers all decided to retire early (see NOTE 1). This chart shows quite clearly that they don't know what they're talking about:

Yes, that's right, those people are not anywhere near retirement age, and lots of them are still out of work, too.

Finally, my favorite. It shows more clearly than any charts, like this for instance, that ordinary working stiffs are not seeing the benefits of the growth of our economy in the last three decades:

Robert Reich noted this trend last year when he wrote this:

Here's the good news. The economic pie is growing again. Growth in the 4th quarter last year hit 3 percent on an annualized rate. That's respectable -- although still way too slow to get us back on track given how far we plunged.

Here's the bad news. The share of that growth going to American workers is at a record low.

That's largely because far fewer Americans are working. Although the nation is now producing more goods and services than it did before the slump began in 2007, we're doing it with six million fewer people.

Bye Bye American Pie: The Challenge of the Productivity Revolution

See when that trend started? It was in the Carter Administration, when the idea that government and unions were the problem began to take hold. I've written before that in some regards the unions have been their own worst enemies since the 1960s, but they have been one of the few counterbalances to the increasing power of corporations in both America and much of the modern world. Government, through progressive taxation that was largely ended in the 1980s, was another reason. Since then, it's been nothing but up for the rich, and it will soon be nothing but down for the rest of us.

But that's a story for another day.

NOTE 1: OK, I exaggerated a little. They say that more Boomers are retiring early. They're still idiots. No one who isn't already extremely well off is going to retire in an economy like this one, and as we can see, there are fewer of us in that circumstance every year.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Over The Fiscal Cliff

So, perhaps someone is wondering what I think of our government's solution to its "fiscal cliff" problem?

Well, let's see. Yes, we got screwed. We all got screwed a lot. And there are plenty of folks ready to make excuses for it or try to shame the critics.

For me, it comes down to the same thing I keep telling progressives - if you like this, keep voting for it.

No, none of them will pay attention this time, either. Some things really don't change. Perhaps some day I'll learn to take comfort from that thought.