Tag Archives: commentary

Updates and tidbits

Back from Space

SpaceX’s Dragon Demo-2 flight has ended with the successful return to earth of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley after spending more than two months on the International Space Station. As I wrote at the time of their launch, this flight marks the return to America of the ability to send humans into space.

After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2000, Americans who wanted to go the the ISS had to buy a seat on a Russian rocket. NASA began, during the Obama-Biden administration, what is called the “Commercial Crew” program effectively outsourcing this task to private industry. SpaceX is the first to successfully demonstrate this capability. This flight was named “Demo-2.” The first regularly contracted flight of the Crew Dragon is set to take four astronauts, three Americans and one Japanese, to the space station later this year.

As they left the capsule Behnken and Hurley thanks the SpaceX team. The SpaceX communicator said, “Thanks for riding SpaceX.” For America’s space program, a new day has begun.

There’s always something

And while we are at it, what the heck is wrong with some people. The Coast Guard had, at NASA’s request, cleared out the splashdown area in the Gulf of Mexico west of Pensacola, Florida, and posted marine hazard warnings. But that didn’t stop a bunch of idiots in pleasure boats from pulling in close after the landing to take in the scene.

It is not clear where the Coast Guard had disappeared to, but SpaceX’s recovery boats had to chase the civilians away from the potentially dangerous area, spacecraft just back to earth are loaded with toxic fuels and prone to release hazardous vapors. NASA and the Coast Guard say they’ll do better next time.

And speaking of some people

Here is our little friendly friend, the Covid-19 virus. This is the little monster which has killed hundreds of thousands, injured others, severely damaged our society and devastated our economy.

The best way to control the spread of this killer is to social distance, self-quarantine, and when you must be out in public, wear a mask. Refusing to wear a mask is crazy.

This is not a matter of personal liberty. Personal liberty does not give you the right to hurt others. There’s an old aphorism, “Your liberty ends where my nose begins.” Which means something like you can swing your arms around all you want. But if you hit me I get to clobber you. Or better yet, sue you for everything you’ve got. Ditto the Covid. Come within six feet of me without wearing a mask and it’s an assault.

Out of juice

Why is it that storm after storm produces hundreds of thousands of people without electricity for a week or more? I actually lost power for only seven hours. But that’s because I sued my local electric company, PSE&G, a decade ago and as a result they rerouted the power supply for my block to a newer, more reliable circuit. Mine had been on a 100 year old wire running across a ridge surrounded by trees which were always shorting the wire. The people across the street were without power for five days. I did lose my Internet for a week.

Verizon explained that their FiOS fiber runs on PSE&G’s poles and until the electric company had restored their service and declared the poles safe Verizon couldn’t gain access to fix their own circuits. Storms happen. With global warming, they are happening more often. Things can be done. Trees an be trimmed. Wires rerouted. Wires can also be buried. All it takes is money. Aha!

Biden – Harris

I’ll certainly have more of this as the campaign progresses but for now I’ll just say this is a great choice. Kamala Harris is, most importantly, ready to step in if something should happen to President Biden. She will be able to work with Congress, especially if the Democrats can win back the majority in the Senate. One of her legislative specialties is desperately needed criminal justice reform. She is also close to Biden’s position on the ideological spectrum, a left of center moderate with a history as a prosecutor.

But putting all that aside, this would still be a historic decision, and one which puts the Biden-Harris ticket in sharp contrast to the incumbents, Trump-Pence. Harris is the first woman of color to be on a national major party ticket. She is the daughter of two immigrants. Her father, Donald Harris, is a well known Stanford economics professor. He is from Jamaica. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris was a cancer researcher at UC Berkeley and a civil rights activist. She was from British India. She died in 2009 from colon cancer.

As Biden himself learned during the debates, Harris can be an aggressive opponent on the campaign trail. I can see her easily filling the traditional role of a vice-presidential candidate, dishing it back to Trump as fast as he throws it. Biden is 77 years old, Harris is 55. The Biden-Harris ticket reflects the changing of America. Trump-Pence continue to dream of the return of the 1950’s past.

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apple 1 – eu 0

It was a win for Apple. A loss for the European Union. And a case study for the rest of us.

The news story itself is simple. In 2016, the European Commission ordered Apple to pay Ireland 13 billion euros ($14.9 billion) for ten years of back taxes. The Commission claimed Apple benefited from illegal state aid via two Irish tax rulings that artificially reduced its tax burden for over two decades, to as low as 0.005% in 2014.

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From Ham to Dragon

Sunday May 31 2:00PM Update

They have arrived! Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley opened the hatch on the Crew Dragon and joined Expedition 63 on the International Space Station at 1:22pm Eastern Time and were greeted by fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. The crew will spend several days continuing to test the Dragon, making sure it is fully operational and ready to return crew members to earth. Then they will work with the other members of the space station crew to perform experiments and maintenance on the station, which has been in orbit with a human crew on board since the year 2000.

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Again With the Guns

I have now learned that a great way to increase the amount of public participation on your blog is to talk about guns. The feedback on my last post set a record.

I have also learned that having a reasonable debate on this subject is pretty much impossible. There is so much disinformation out there that people involved in the discussion seem to be speaking different languages.

Part of the problem is that there really is, as I noted in the last post, not a lot of good data on the effects of gun ownership and gun regulation. I know that sounds crazy and I have to tell you, as one who believes in making informed data driven judgments it is very frustrating. But it is true mostly because the government, which funds much of the academic research in the United States, has for years forbidden the organizations responsible for public health and safety to fund studies into the causes of death by gunfire. That leaves us arguing, for example, on the effectiveness of the assault weapons ban which expired in 2004. 

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Journalism and Business

I usually find when a journalist writes about journalism, the result is boring, or self-serving, or both. But with all the discussion surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy The Wall Street Journal, the sales of the Tribune Company and
Reuters, and complaints from shareholders about the performance of New York Times stock, I’ll take a chance.

I remember when I was in school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, trying to decide between two career interests, the law and journalism. The law seemed the more serious profession. But it was the time of the Watergate scandal. The journalists were the heroes, and the lawyers were all going to jail.

I chose to be a hero. As I look back, I figure I would have made a lot more money had I chosen the law. Otherwise, I remain satisfied with my decision.
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