Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Photo(s)

A week or so ago, I visited Carkeek Park in northwest Seattle. This is a large park that includes both a lot of nature trails and forested areas, and a beach on the seaward side of a railroad track.

One of the routes to the beach goes over this boardwalk:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

Then over this foot bridge that spans the tracks:

This is the view south, toward downtown Seattle and Elliot Bay:

And this is the view north, toward Lynnwood:

The tracks are raised, of course, to keep them above the tidewater. Here's the northbound track just north of the foot bridge:

Since it was late afternoon, several local commuter trains passed by, all headed out of Seattle:

And finally, an Amtrak train went by, also headed north:

As always, click on the photos to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: recubjim

David Dayen, on the implications of the debt limit "crisis", and all the other economy-related nonsense of the last couple of decades:
[W]e’re seeing this kind of failure in Europe and throughout the world; it’s not unique to the United States. Yes, we have a pathetic couple of political parties, and a cult of balance in corporate-run media that poisons the discourse. But institutions all over the world, at every level, have been rotting for some time, and the same elites who have failed the world have pressured these institutions into acting on their behalf.

And it drives a sense of helplessness among the public, something I see and hear every single day, which could go one of two ways. It could result in people massing together, rebuilding a mass movement to end the careers of those who put us in this predicament, or it could result in a mass pulling back. People could retreat to other pursuits, places where they can maintain a modicum of control. This of course plays right into the hands of unaccountable elites, giving them practically everything they want. I reject it totally. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

America Unmoored – Elite Failure Leads to Utter Confusion
None of which I can argue with in the least. I wrote this with that feeling in mind. The economic debate in this country has largely been competing clown acts of "free market" Tea Party activists and Obama loyalists who pounce on even the slightest uptick in economic indicators as the sign that we're at the end of the tunnel.

To the first group, I can say little. It's amazing that they grew out of their belief in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. There is no such thing as a truly free market - in each market, among the central questions when trying to predict its behavior are who has control over it, how much control they can exercise, and what they want. Free markets are an intellectual exercise in figuring how things would be if certain things were universally true. That they are not universally true is universally recognized, it seems, everywhere but in this dogmatic belief system masquerading as a science.

As for the other group, I can only say this. The problems of this economy have been of long standing. They are still there, and now that the effects of the stimulus have worn off without actually jump-starting the economy, which I, and many other people warned was way too small to do anything but ameliorate things for a while, we will see how bad things can get with the idiots you adoringly assume are playing eleventy-dimensional chess in charge. I say that, because I see absolutely no sign that liberals are going to boot them out. And I have been saying all that, in one way or another, for a very long time. That's why I mentioned their tendency to grasp every temporarily upward movement in economic indicators as a sign that the masterful end game is near. I've seen those white knuckles far too often.

All of which has been said and written, many times, by many people, some of whom are much smarter and more knowledgeable than I. Yet here we are, stuck between competing clown choruses, barely able to hear ourselves think over the shouting.

I don't see how we can succeed as a nation as long as so many people are so doggedly determined to remain so stupid. As always, of course, suggestions are welcome.

Some Friday Mythbusting

Update/correction for the record at the end of the article

Caption: Liberty Bonds, where all this trouble started.

Image credit: Found it here

There seems to be a meme going around, possibly started by Democratic politicians, that President Harry S Truman once ignored the federal debt ceiling while in office. Taylor Marsh repeated this meme today:
Since Pres. Obama has refused to use the power of the presidency and the U.S. Constitution, invoking the 14th Amendment as Truman did, he once again turned to begging the American people to keep calling, emailing and even tweeting Congress.

Obama: Keep those phone calls, emails and tweets comin’ into Congress
One of her supporting writers wrote in a comment that he hadn't ever heard of Truman doing such a thing. I hadn't either, so I did a little Internet searching, and here's what I found out.

First, the reason there's a debt ceiling can be traced back to a bill authorizing Liberty Bonds, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS):
The statutory limit on federal debt began with the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917,8 which helped finance the United States’ entry into World War I. By allowing the Treasury to issue long-term Liberty Bonds in addition to more commonly used short-term debt instruments, the federal government held down its interest costs.

The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases (PDF, page 2)
As for what happened when Truman was President, according to Politifact:
In 1939, Congress eliminated those separate limits and set up the first aggregate limit covering nearly all public debt. During the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the debt ceiling was raised annually between 1941 and 1945 to pay for the costs associated with World War II. The limit was increased to $65 billion in 1941.

Soon after the debt limit was increased to $300 billion in April 1945, Truman became president. The debt ceiling was reduced to $275 billion in June 1946, and the Korean War was primarily financed by higher taxes, not increased debt.

The debt ceiling would not increase until 1954, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.

"It just went down and stayed down," said Bill Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution, referring to Truman’s presidency.

New Jersey Sen. Richard Codey claims “every president has raised the debt ceiling” during Fox News interview
If Truman "ignored" the debt ceiling, it appears to have been by raising taxes to pay for a new expenditure, rather than by selling bonds. That's what the CRS report says, too:
The debt ceiling was raised to accommodate accumulating costs for World War II in each year from 1941 through 1945, when it was set at $300 billion.15 After World War II ended, the debt limit was reduced to $275 billion. Because the Korean War was mostly financed by higher taxes rather than by increased debt, the limit remained at $275 billion until 1954.

The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases (PDF, page 2)
After a slump that lasted a year or two, the economy started booming after the end of World War II. Revenue was undoubtedly higher, and there was no more need for new debt, since the war was over.

That guess is borne out by the government's own records, which show these debt levels for the years that Truman was President:

Outstanding Federal Debt During the Truman Administration
YearDebt ($ Billion)
[data source, 1900-1949 and 1950-1999]

As you can see, the debt never reached $275 billion.

Of course, there's another reason to think that Truman never ignored the debt ceiling, and that is to consider what would have happened if he had. If he had ignored the debt ceiling, it seems almost certain that either Congress would have impeached him, or someone would have contested his action in court. For an example of how the latter worked, consider the Youngstown Steel case:
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952), also commonly referred to as The Steel Seizure Case, was a United States Supreme Court decision that limited the power of the President of the United States to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article Two of the United States Constitution or statutory authority conferred on him by Congress. It was a "stinging rebuff" to President Harry Truman.

Wikipedia: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer
In that case, Truman relented after the Supreme Court handed down its verdict. If a similar process had happened, then there would either be court precedent that various politicians would be discussing that says President Obama isn't allowed to do this, or there would be no debt ceiling.

Which means that if Truman had successfully ignored the debt ceiling, Washington, DC would be all aflutter about some other made-up crisis that needs to be resolved by screwing the average American.

So, what do you think Jamie? I think this one's been busted.

Afterword (and UPDATE): This argument having apparently been scotched multiple places, the idea is now that Truman invoked the "spirit" of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is the one most relevant to the debt ceiling, to seize Youngstown Steel. As you can see from the Wikipedia quote above, that wasn't the principle argument of the case. In fact, the Fourteenth Amendment isn't mentioned at all in the Supreme Court decision in that case, while Article II (see the quote above) is.

I cannot fathom that argument.

The basic argument isn't about the Fourteenth Amendment. What is clear in the case of Truman and Youngstown Steel, and is not in the case of Obama and the debt ceiling, is that Truman found a legal excuse to do what he felt he needed to do. Obama has so far refused, even though I think his case is more solid than Truman's. The Fourteenth clearly says that the government cannot ignore its financial obligations, whereas the argument that the President has powers under Article II to do whatever he thinks Congress sounds like an excuse for a power grab.

By the way, I am not a lawyer, constitutional or otherwise.

UPDATE: Removed the row in the table for 1954, since that would have been Eisenhower's first budget year. The debt was only $271 million, but it wasn't Truman's.

UPDATE 2: Taylor Marsh says here that she was not arguing that Truman had ignored the debt ceiling, only that he had invoked the 14th Amendment somewhere, possibly the Youngstown Steel case. As I've mentioned, that particular case didn't mention the 14th, either.

Anyway, that's what she says, and the quote certainly doesn't explicitly mention the debt ceiling in that context. Sorry for any confusion I've caused in that regard. However, this is certainly a meme that's been making its way around the Internet, as I've seen from various Internet search hits that land here.

(The first comment, from "anonymous", is also from Taylor.)

UPDATE 3: This may be where this all started:
“If that’s what lands on his desk, a short-term lifting of the ceiling, the debt ceiling, he should put it on his desk next to an executive order,” [Rep. James] Clyburn said at a press conference. “He should sign an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment to this issue.” The Associated Press reported that he was applauded when he suggested the idea at a caucus meeting earlier in the day.

“I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people and will bring needed stability to our financial markets,” Clyburn added, noting that President Harry Truman did it once during his presidency after Congress was unable to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling.

Obama urged to invoke 14th Amendment as debt ceiling deadline nears
At least, it helps to explain my own confusion...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yes, This Is Despair, And It's Depression

There hasn't been much here on the "debt crisis", the latest made-up drama to grip our nation's capital. There are any number of reasons for that. The reason I refer to it as "made-up" is that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution clearly states that the government cannot simply ignore its financial obligations. What's more, at least in the case of Social Security, there is a specific law in place that says the checks have to go out.

David Dayen has listed several ways the President could avoid defaulting on debts within the law, should he choose to.

Still, up to this point, no one had put the political and social ramifications of this nonsensical theatre as well as William Rivers Pitts did yesterday in an op-ed at Truthout:
Oh, but we weren’t done yet. The “Grand Bargain” was still in the offing, now splintered into two or three or twelve different iterations, but all ultimately coming down to the same thing: trillions in cuts for the most vulnerable Americans, no new tax revenues from the rich or anyone else, and the bonus prize sought most passionately by the Democrats was the chance to kick this whole fight down the road to 2013, so none of these failures would be forced to address the question before their next all-important election cycle.

Sell out Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for a chance at an easier ride at the ballot? Where do I sign?

So This Is Despair
This is where we are: despair. At least, it's where I am. The Congress is demanding, after the people who run the financial system in this country looted it, and have not been made to pay anything, that the rest of us must foot the bill. The President is fully on board with this agenda.

Yet Americans continue to let this happen. Progressives still overwhelmingly approve (PDF - see page 7) of the job that Barack Obama is doing as President. That is insane. If anything, his ratings should be that high among conservatives. In his first two years in office, he's done virtually everything that George W. Bush did before him, for which these same people almost universally roundly criticized the man. They called the people who supported Bush, after all the failures and the broken economy, "dead enders", or "thirty percenters", as in the the thirty percent or so who still hadn't bought a clue. Now, Obama stands poised to do something that Bush couldn't manage - cut Social Security and Medicare.

So who are the dead enders now?

It's hard to imagine how we will recover from this. Progressive Americans don't want to punish these people by removing them from office for failing to do what we need them to do. They just think that since Obama's a Democrat, and at least part of Congress is still in Democratic hands, that this is as good as things can be. Since progressives aren't willing to do this, and conservatives are, conservatives will continue to be the ones the politicians try to please.

So yes, this is what despair looks like. It looks like progressives who won't demand that their politicians do what we need them to. It looks like a country that won't make its leaders stop screwing them, even when it's leaving us in the depths of a depression many of us may not see the end of.

UPDATE: Forgot to add that Ian Welsh has some suggestions about how Obama could proceed if he actually wanted to save SS, Medicare, Medicaid, and the economy in general.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Photo(s)

A few days ago, Dana Hunter posted an article about Airfield Park in Martha Lake, Washington. She went on about this big rock that the glaciers carried here during one Ice Age or another. And, yes, to misquote Maxwell Smart, it's the second biggest glacial erratic I've ever seen (now that I think about it, I remember seeing a photo of an even bigger one in the Midwest somewhere long ago). Strangely, though, she didn't mention the park's other wonders.

Caption: Airfield Park, including the skateboard park on the left, the world's most solidly built picnic roof, and a large rock.

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

For one thing, there's this skateboard park, which looks almost as strange in real life as it does in this picture:

For another thing, there's this pavilion:

I've never seen a covering for picnic tables that was built anywhere near this solidly. As many military installations as I've visited, that's saying something. I think you could set that rock on top of the pavilion, and about all you'd do is dent the roof a little.

Here's one of the columns. I've seen less solidly constructed pillboxes:

I have to wonder what they thought they were building it for.

The other wonder of Airfield Park is the airfield. It's easy to miss when you're gazing at the park's other wonders, but here it is:

A runway and a stainless steel paper airplane right next to it. Is that not awesome?

Speaking of which, I have no idea what these are supposed to be. Nearby skyscrapers, perhaps?

The second biggest glacial erratic I've ever seen, the most solidly constructed picnic table cover ever, and a stainless steel paper airplane - I think that's enough awesomeness for one week. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Say Goodbye, Part 7

Image credit: Excerpted from The Pain

Apparently, someone else is mourning the passing of the Space Shuttle:
I was talking about this depressing turn of events last Friday at a somewhat misnamed happy hour with my friend Ellen, who just about slumped forward to the point where her forehead was touching the icy rim of her martini glass, so demoralized was she over the prospect of the end of America’s space program, with all it symbolized—the ebbing of American optimism and enterprise, our supremacy in science and technology, the inexorable decline of the country. “And all because we couldn’t get our shit together to tax rich people and quit fighting expensive wars,” she said. Which gave me the idea for this cartoon.

We Could've Had the Moon
As I've mentioned before, we could have had a lot of things, instead of two failed wars and more on the way. Count the Moon, Mars, and any real chance of doing anything in space until the Chinese get there among them.

Anyway, go read the article. It's at both the image credit link and the quote link.

(h/t Pharyngula)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Robert Reich, on what goes on in Washington, DC:
I’ve spent enough of my life in Washington to take its theatrics with as much seriousness as a Seinfeld episode. A large portion of what passes for policy debate isn’t at all — it’s play-acting for various constituencies. The actors know they’re acting, as do their protagonists on the other side who are busily putting on their own plays for their own audiences.

The Dangerous Hi-Jinks of the GOP’s Juveniles
All of which, I think, is true. This is why I don't take much of anything that's said by politicians that seriously if it's not backed up with their actions. I've seen this sort of thing play out too many times. Hey, I'd seen it enough when I was in my teens to figure that out, and things mostly have gotten worse since then. Or maybe I'm just more perceptive now.

Reich's article is about the Republican playacting on the debt ceiling. It's spot on, though it largely ignores what the Democrats are doing. Their act isn't playing too well, either, particularly President Obama trying to handle the role of The Adult In The Room. It's been a pretty lame performance so far. He needs to find his motivation.

The only thing that makes Democrats look good is the contrast with Republicans, and even that is getting to be a thinner contrast by the day.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Say Goodbye, Part 6

Here are a couple more montages from the last Space Shuttle mission. These are from the spacewalk done by International Space Station (ISS) astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum to fix a bad fuel system, and install an experimental robotic fuel system.

The first shows Mike Fossum climbing into his space suit to start the walk, then going to the ISS hatch to step outside. If you look carefully in the last couple of frames, you'll see the clip on his safety tether, as he tries to hook it prior to going outside:

Image credit: Montages of screenshots from this NASA video by Cujo359

[Click on the pictures to enlarge. They're much bigger when seen full size.]

Sure makes figuring out what to wear to work in the morning seem like a trivial task, doesn't it? Of course, there aren't many offices with a view like these:

Believe it or not, there's an astronaut space walking in each frame.

Here's a photo one of the spacewalkers took while he was outside, with the nose of Atlantis visible on the right:

Image credit: NASA

The Shuttle should be separating from the ISS tomorrow, and heading back to Earth:
Sun, 17 Jul 2011 07:53:09 PM PST

Today’s wakeup song was “Days Go By,” by Keith Urban, played at 10:29 p.m. EDT, along with a special message from employees at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston: “Good morning, Atlantis, from all of us at the Johnson Space Center! Have a great mission!”

This is the last full day a space shuttle will spend docked to the International Space Station. After buttoning up the Raffaello multipurpose module, the astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to move Raffaello from the Harmony node’s Earth-facing port to the cargo bay of shuttle Atlantis. At 9:19 a.m. the shuttle and station crews will say farewell and close the hatches between the two spacecraft.

Crew to Move Raffaello and Say Farewell to Station
[As always, NASA doesn't believe in providing permalinks to these bulletins. That link might not be good a few days from now.]

Finally, one more shot of the ISS Cupola, taken from the Shuttle:
Image credit: NASA

No doubt the ISS crew will be peeking out of there tomorrow, waving goodbye to one of the great engineering achievements of the Twentieth Century.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Music Video Of The Day

With the endless faux-drama over the national debt, I think this video is as timely as it was in 1972:

"Good God, consider yourselves fortunate that you have John Adams to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it!"

Remove the wigs, substitute "Barack Obama" for "John Adams", and we could sell this thing as a musical comedy about the "Great Recession".

UPDATE: Speaking of the debt ceiling nonsense, economist Dean Baker has put the politics of it in perspective better than anyone I've read thus far:
The Democrats need the Republicans' to get a tax increase passed through Congress. The Republicans need the Democrats to give them cover for cuts that are unpopular across the board.

The NYT's False Symmetry Between Republicans and Democrats
As with so many things recently, the surest way for Republicans to get their agenda implemented is to put the Democrats in charge.

And yet there's an endless supply of people who wonder why I say don't support the Democrats until that changes...

Cartoon Of The Day

xkcd, on that whole correlation/cause thing:

Once again, what the data actually says is important. What one thinks it may imply is just that, an implication drawn that needs to be investigated or proved using other knowledge.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Quote Of The Day

From a comment on one of Paul Krugman's more condescending blog posts about the recent fake debt ceiling contretemps in DC:
I've said it once and I'll say it a thousand times, some times you need to put bipartisanship aside and do something that will actually work!

Psychodrama Queens: Comment #33 by "PenninsulaMatt"
The rest is worth reading, I think, because it's a concise view of what I suspect a lot of us are thinking out here in the Land Of Not DC, particularly on the progressive side.

More than one pundit has blamed this nonsensical standoff on Obama's urge to reach bipartisan solutions no matter what. I don't think that's what's going on here, because everything I've learned about Obama's economic philosophy convinces me that he has a completely mistaken view of the field, which is far closer to the Republicans' than it is to progressives. It might not be good for the country, but that view is clearly very good for Obama's fundraising potential. Still, his fetish for trying to look as though he's cooperating with Republicans, when it's abundantly clear that the only way they're cooperating is showing up for the meetings, is pretty sad to see. And frankly, I think the GOP would like nothing better than to let Obama cut back Social Security and Medicare without being able to blame it on them.

So, screw bipartisanship. It's not working, because neither party wants it to.


If you've been having too much of this while running Firefox on a 64-bit Linux system:

funny pictures of cats with captions
Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

you might be interested in Adobe's latest Flash player release. After years of saying "any day now", Adobe has finally released a 64-bit Flash player for Linux:
Adobe has been taking quite a bashing from Linux supporters of late. First, there was the issue of them dropping AIR for Linux and then came the bashing because of the lack of updates on the experimental 64-bit Flash Player for Linux.

Well, guess what! They have just released Flash Player 11 and it includes native 64-bit support for Linux as well. When they discontinued their experimental 64-bit Flash Player earlier this year, Adobe promised to release a 64-bit version of Flash Player for Linux when they release the next major version.

Adobe Releases Flash Player 11 – Finally Delivers 64-bit Flash Player For Linux
I added that link about Adobe's experimental 64-bit player.

Using this procedure, I was able to upgrade to the 64-bit player on my Ubuntu 10.04 system, and play this vitally important video:

So it appears that the procedure works on both Ubuntu's latest release and its latest long term service (LTS) release. What the article doesn't quite mention is that this is still a beta version, but I've been using the previous version on Fedora Linux for some time, and it's worked as well as the 32-bit version, which is not quite the same thing as saying it's just fine.

Checking Adobe's download page, there is also a 64-bit version of the player for Windows and Macs. I cannot testify to the quality of either, of course.

There are at least a few folks who read this blog who use Linux, so I thought I'd pass this on.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Say Goodbye, Part 5

Today looks like a pretty dull day in Space Shuttle mission STS-135, so here are a couple of photos from yesterday. First up, a photo of Shuttle astronaut Ron Garan riding on the International Space Station's robotic arm while repairing that faulty fuel pump:

Image credit: NASA

The second image is a lovely shot of the Atlantis cargo bay, as the crew gets ready to transfer supplies and parts from the Raffaello logistics module to the ISS:

Image credit: NASA

It's hard not to be impressed by these pictures, and by the sophistication and scale of the technology that's part of the Shuttle and the ISS.

As always, click on the pictures to see them at the full size of the images on this blog. Follow the image credit links to be taken to the full size image files.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Say Goodbye, Part 4

Another day in the life of the end of America's manned space program:

Here's a picture from yesterday showing the payload that Atlantis brought up to the International Space Station:

Image credit: NASA

Here's what it looks on the inside - rather like the most densely packed walk-in closet ever, without gravity:

Image credit: NASA

Over the next few days, the ISS and Shuttle crews will be transferring all that stuff into storage spaces on the ISS.
Tue, 12 Jul 2011 05:00:33 PM PST

Expedition 28 Flight Engineers Mike Fossum and Ron Garan completed a six-hour, 31-minute spacewalk at 3:53 p.m. EDT Tuesday, retrieving a failed pump module for return to Earth, installing two experiments and repairing a new base for the station’s robotic arm.

Inside the shuttle-station complex, transfer of material from the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module began. The work to unload the more than 9,400 pounds of supplies and equipment brought up by Raffaello and then repack it with 5,700 pounds of equipment, supplies and trash to return home will continue for much of Atlantis stay at the station.

Astronauts Complete Spacewalk; Cargo Transfers Begin
[As with all NASA status reports, I have no idea if that link will be valid two days from now, let alone in a year.]

Hopefully, they'll remember where they put it all when, three years from now, someone needs his favorite old pair of boots.

One other interesting item in the status reports was this one:
About three hours, 15 minutes into the spacewalk, Mike Fossum and Ron Garan completed installing the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) experiment onto a platform on Dextre, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator.

In the future, the RRM will demonstrate robotic refueling technology and techniques using Dextre, four unique RRM tools and an RRM enclosure filled with refueling components and activity boards. The tests will demonstrate that remote-controlled robots can perform refueling tasks in orbit, using commands sent from controllers on Earth. RRM is expected to reduce costs and risks, and lay the foundation for future robotic servicing missions.

Spacewalkers Install Robotic Refueling Mission Experiment
I think it's safe to say that any tasks that must be done outside of a space ship or station that can be done by robots is a good one to try to automate. This is certainly no exception. Space walking is hazardous enough, add some volatile chemicals into the mix, and it's something best left to machinery.

Click on the pictures to see the bigger versions. Click on the image credit links for the full sized versions.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Photo

While at the University of Washington's Arboretum last week, I managed to take this panorama of the Montlake Cut, and all the boaters who were out enjoying the day:

Image credit: Cujo359

Click on the picture to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

UPDATE: If you don't want to see bodies of water, James Ala has some lovely pictures of some dry land.

Say Goodbye, Part 3

As though happy to be in space one last time, Space Shuttle Atlantis does a back-flip maneuver called the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver before docking with the International Space Station:

Image credit: Composite of screenshots from this NASA video by Cujo359

NASA explains this maneuver:
At 10:05 a.m. EDT, space shuttle Atlantis began the nine-minute Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, or “backflip.” With Commander Chris Ferguson at the helm, Atlantis is rotating 360 degrees backward to enable space station crew members to take high resolution digital pictures of the shuttle’s heat shield. Three cameras outfitted with 1,000 mm, 800 mm and 400 mm lenses are capturing photos that will provide Mission Control experts with the best possible imagery to validate the integrity of Atlantis’ heat shield.

After the backflip is complete, Ferguson will fly Atlantis through a quarter circle to a position about 310 feet directly in front of the station, allowing the complex to catch up with the shuttle for docking at 11:07 a.m.

NASA STS-135 Status Archive
That link may not be reliable for long.

Atlantis has now docked with the ISS, and the crew have come aboard the station:

Image credit: NASA TV

Click on the images to enlarge. That RPM montage is much bigger and clearer than the thumbnail version embedded in this article.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Say Goodbye, Part Two

A lovely photo of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the pad at the Kennedy Space Center:
Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

According to the caption at Astronomy Picture Of The Day, this was taken early yesterday morning, before the launch of the last Shuttle mission.

Meanwhile, here's the latest Shuttle mission news:
Sat, 09 Jul 2011 16:37:51 GMT

Starboard and port wing leading edge RCC survey inspections and nose cap inspections are complete. A camera inspection of the orbiter’s tiles will be conducted during Atlantis’ approach to the International Space Station on Sunday. Results will be reported at an upcoming Mission Management Team (MMT) meeting.
That came from NASA's main page. They've never been good about linking to articles like this, so I won't bother. Get to NASA's home page soon enough, and you might see it. Then again, you might not. The inspection it discusses is part of a routine inspection that was added as a part of all Shuttle missions after the Columbia disaster.

According to this NASA update, the Shuttle should be docking with the International Space Station sometime tomorrow (Sunday).

Click on the image credit link to see the caption, and then click on the picture there if you want the full sized version, which is really large. Clicking on the image here gets you a medium-sized image.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Say Goodbye

The last NASA Space Shuttle, Atlantis, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on its final voyage this morning:

Image credit: NASA

This mission has a crew of only four. Its primary purpose is to deliver supplies and parts to the International Space Station. From two different articles at the NASA site:
Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off July 8 on the final flight of the shuttle program, STS-135, a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. Atlantis carries a crew of four and the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station. The STS-135 astronauts are: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

The mission also is flying a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and returning a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.
Usually, there are three other mission specialists on a Shuttle flight, but it seems this isn't really a normal flight.

The Shuttle program is thirty years old. In that time, it has completed 134 missions. Two missions ended disastrously, with the loss of fourteen crew members. That is a rather high cost. But, in comparison to the Apollo program, the Shuttle was almost the routine transportation system it was meant to be. One Apollo mission caused the deaths of three crew without even leaving the ground; an equipment fire killed all three astronauts in the Apollo One mission. Apollo Thirteen nearly killed its crew thanks to an oxygen tank explosion. Out of twelve manned missions, one killed its crew, and one almost did. In that light, the Space Shuttle, which while it did not venture beyond Earth orbit nevertheless stayed in space roughly as long on each mission, had roughly one tenth the serious accident rate.

In the case of the Shuttle, each disaster was due to a lax attitude among the leadership of NASA, who took for granted that a one out of four chance of a rocket exploding meant that it wouldn't explode on their watch. Perhaps the ultimate tragedy of the second Shuttle disaster was that it was caused by the same foolish management attitude that caused the first one, and the same unwillingness to listen to the concerns of the astronauts and engineers.

If you're wondering what comes after, all I can say is so am I. As I mentioned earlier, it's extremely unlikely that NASA will have another manned spaceflight program within five years. That makes it nearly impossible to hold onto the people who now know how to operate such a program. That the last two presidential administrations have allowed this to happen is yet another example of what lousy leadership we have in DC these days. It's possible that the "commercial" launch programs, where NASA pays commercial aerospace companies to develop spacecraft, will take up some of the slack, but that's at least three years away, and there's no guarantee that that program will come to fruition. If there's no financial motivation to develop it, a commercial program can be canceled just as quickly as a government program, if not more quickly.

The success of the Shuttle program came from the abilities and determination of the flight crew, technical staff, and operational staff who designed the spacecraft, then flew and operated it. Their leaders, both at NASA and in DC, can be thanked for its failures and its end with no viable replacement.

George Carlin On Why We're So Screwed

This video has been making the rounds, and it's certainly topical at the moment:

For background, see Glenn Greenwald or lawguy, or look at this credulous fool asking a loaded question in support of Obama's latest attempt to gut Social Security, and then insulting the intelligence of everyone who tries to point out how wrong he is. Didn't wanna read no firebaggers, ya know. I'm amazed he didn't call us all racists.

Needless to say, this individual had never been to that site before, at least not under that name. The URL he provided was bogus, too. Go figure.

This has been part of the Obama Way ever since Iowa - spin up all these rude little dipsticks and then send them all around the Internet to sites that are critical of his actions. I've been arguing with them since 2007, and, not surprisingly, they are no smarter now than they were then. Once you go around insulting people, it's a lot harder to admit you're wrong. Odds are they never will, even those few who actually are smart enough to learn.

So, not only do we have to put up with a declining standard of living and the gradual loss of freedom, but we have to put up with all these little clowns who couldn't get an education that was good enough to allow them to ask intelligent questions, and who nonetheless seem to think themselves astoundingly clever because they can think up insults for those who did.

I'm just going to reiterate something that has been a comments policy here since I started this blog - pointless insults will disappear. That applies to insults both to me and other commenters. If you have a point to make, make it, but piling insult upon ad hominem will not fly here, nor will anything that smells of astroturfing. If you show up here for the first time with arguments like that, you won't be around for long.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cartoon Of The Day

Having lived with cats for several years, I saw this expression quite often:

funny pictures - Aifinkso it's YER prollem.
Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

If you haven't, count yourself lucky.

Quote Of The Day

Yves Smith, of Naked Capitalism, on Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's (TX-14) idea to have the Federal Reserve invalidate the Treasury Bonds it acquired during the "Quantitative Easing 1" banking system rescue back in 2008/9:
Paul’s gambit is also a clever way to hoist the banks on their own petard. The deficit hysteria has in no small measure been driven by the banks as part of a desire to enforce their new program of insulating bondholders from losses, including those of inflation. State support for policies like that amounts to socialism for rentiers, since the reason bonds pay more interest that Treasury bills is interest rate risk and credit risk. If investors want a premium yield, they should expect to bear the hazards which go with them.

I hope Paul prevails. When a Congressman who has often been depicted as a wingnut has the best idea in the room, you know a serious house cleaning is in order.

Ron Paul Suggests Using Fed to End Run Debt Ceiling Impasse
I've written similar things about Ron Paul versus many DC politicians. The point about rentiers is another good one. In essence, the Fed has been making sure that the banks and various financial institutions don't go broke. I suspect that from Rep. Paul's libertarian perspective, that's just something the government shouldn't be involved in. From my political perspective, it's clearly not working out for anyone but the financial industry. The rest of us are in a depression.

So, once again, the crazy wingnutty guy is one of the few in that room who are saying anything sane.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Quote Of The Day

A special quote of the day for Independence Day, by literature Professor David Bromwich, concerning a special address President Abraham Lincoln gave 150 years ago today:
Today, as in Lincoln's day, we are involved in "a struggle for maintaining ...that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all -- to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life." Yet the main peril in that struggle today comes not from any foreign power capable of destroying us from without, but the lapse of thought and faith that threatens us now from within. We are divided between two parties: one that thinks government should be used for nothing but wars, another that thinks government should be used for wars (whether justified or not) in order to prove the value of government for other purposes as well.

To Maintain a Republic
Many years earlier, as a young candidate for another office, Lincoln said these words, which are perhaps even more meaningful today:

"All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, ... with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
- Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, 1838.

If you don't know why I am worried about this by now, then you should check the human rights and torture keywords here. Over the last few years, our government has abandoned the idea that it is restrained by the rule of law when it deals with people who are within its jurisdiction or its reach, even its own citizens.

We can, and very likely may, lose this country to our own indifference to what it really means.

UPDATE: Perhaps the most egregious example of how lawless our government has become is courtesy of Marcy Wheeler:
When Anwar al-Awlaki’s family sued for due process, the government invoked state secrets, even as Crazy Pete Hoekstra and a stream of anonymous sources have leaked details of the drone targeting of him for over a year. One of the things Robert Gates specifically invoked state secrets over is whether or not we’re engaged in military operations in Yemen.

Our “Public Debate” about Drones Is a State Secret
Al-Awlaki is an American citizen living in Yemen. He is being targeted by robotic aircraft, at least potentially. The Obama Administration claimed the right to kill him without trial for vague offenses. When his relatives tried to sue in court to find out what was really going on, the government successfully invoked state secrets as an excuse not to talk about it. It doesn't get more lawless or unaccountable than that.

Happy Birthday, America

Image credit: Photo by Cujo359

Another year older, another year closer ... no, we don't want to go there. Of course, nothing says "I care" like recycled images from previous Independence Day photos, so here are a couple.

I'm sure most of you will be out there celebrating our freedoms:

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

But some of us can't do that:

cute pictures of puppies with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hotdog

They're good people. It's about time they were home. Maybe we could celebrate our freedoms by reminding our leaders.

Happy Fourth of July, whether it's a special day where you are or not.

UPDATE: For an interesting look at America, check out James Ala's pictures of San Francisco's Chinatown.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Dean Baker, discussing George Will's most recent column:
The facts that Will musters to make this case are so obviously off-base that this sort of column would not appear in a serious newspaper. But, Will writes for the Washington Post.

George Will Spreads Some Lies About the Economic Crisis
The only argument I have with this is that it's hard to think of a newspaper that genuinely deserves to be called "serious" these days. Every once in a while, The New York Times seems to have aspirations under their new editor, but old habits are hard to break.

Are there any newspapers you'd call serious?

As usual, Prof. Baker does a wonderful job of deconstructing Will's "free market" nonsense. Well worth a read, I think, especially if you want to be reminded of the vast difference between the debate that's going on in DC about the economy and reality.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day, 2011

Caption: Constable Benton Frasier and Detective Ray Vecchio discuss a case while Frasier's at his day job.

Image credit: Screenshot of Due South pilot episode by Cujo359

I bet you thought I forgot again, Canada, didn't you? I didn't forget, I just forgot what day it was - silly me.

Anyway, we've been pretty busy on our side of the border. Hope things are OK. Don't let that little thing with the elections get you down. You could do worse, just look at us. You could do a lot worse, in fact. At least we don't have all those pesky labor problems (excuse me, labour problems) like you do.

Hey, could you send some new TV shows? Da Vinci's is on its third run down here, and I already have all the Due South DVDs.

Well, good luck, and feel free to drop by. Just remember your passports!

Your unruly brother,