Live ISS feed about to go dark because NASA does not have the money

 GOES Full Disk Shows First Day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere

Help Save NASA’s ISSLive! Website!
[Via Dear Astronomer | Bringing space back down to earth!]

Frequent visitors to the NASA Live ISS Telemetry website ( http://spacestationlive.nasa.gov/ ) have spotted an official notice stating the site will be shutting down in two weeks.

I can’t stress how incredibly awesome the ISS live site is. With a few clicks of a mouse, visitors can get real-time telemetry from the solar arrays, communications systems, propulsion, and other systems. It’s kind of like looking at the bridge displays on Star Trek!

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So a resource accessible to the public that provides real time data from the ISS will disappear because there is not money to support it any longer.

We are watching the space program simply die because Congress does not give a crap. Better to spend billions on fighter planes that no one wants than actually support NASA.

We destroy ourselves when we lose the ability to support scientific research

 Lab Bench

World’s Oldest Direct Measure Of Atmospheric CO2 May Lose Its Funding
[Via Think Progress]

The oldest and most well-known direct measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide is in danger of losing its funding, according to USA Today.

The Keeling Curve is run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, and was started by scientist Charles David Keeling in 1958. Since then it’s grown from a single measurement taken near the top of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii to 13 different measuring sites spread across the globe. It’s the longest-running record of direct instrumental readings of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Other records trace back hundreds of thousands of years, but rely on indirect measurements using data from ice cores and the like.

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How a once proud nation destroys itself – refusing to provide needed support for scientific research. The selfishness of a decaying society, its inward turning, has historically heralded it coming collapse.

The stupid and frankly worthless budget battles of the last few years have been devastating to our ability to support basic scientific research. Not only is the scientific infrastructure being tremendously damaged, as seen here, but we ae destroying the seed corn of American innovation – research scientists.

We are spending less on research than we did 13 years ago. We account for only 45% of the global biomedical research budget, down from over 50% just 7 years ago. Two-thirds of research scientists are receiving less money than they were in 2010. We have lost reagents that cannot be replaced and had to euthanize animals that took years and millions to produce.

A new brain drain may be in the offing, as about 20% of American researchers say they contemplate moving elsewhere to continue their work.

One great thing about America in the past has been its ability to reverse this trend.

Unfortunately, I do not see anything like that happening yet. One side would rather toss the baby out with the bath water. All to the detriment of us all.

 

Sounds like the railroad industry is figuring the taxpayer will deal with risks while they make a ton of money

Rail Car

A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary
[Via DeSmogBlog - Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science]

Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400,000 carloads of crude oil, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to railroad industry estimates.  Each carload represents roughly 30,000 gallons of flammable liquids, and some trains haul over 100 oil cars at a time.

But with this fast expansion has come some astounding risks — risks that have insurance companies and underwriters increasingly concerned.

A string of oil train explosions have highlighted the potential for harm. A train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken oil derailed and exploded on November 8 in Aliceville, Alabama, and the oil that leaked but did not burn continues to foul the wetlands in the area.

On December 30th, a train collision in Casselton, North Dakota 20 miles outside of Fargo, prompted a mass evacuation of over half the town’s residents after 18 cars exploded into fireballs visible for miles. 400,000 gallons of oil spilled after that accident, which involved two trains traveling well below local speed limits.

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As detailed in the article, many companies do not carry enough insurance to stay viable if there is an accident in a populated area. They expect to go bankrupt and then just start again.

“There is not currently enough available coverage in the commercial insurance market anywhere in the world to cover the worst-case scenario,” James Beardsley, an executive with Marsh & McLennan Cos.’ Marsh Inc. insurance brokerage unit, told the Wall Street Journal in January.

They expect the taxpayer to take up the slack. Privatizing profits and socializing risk. This is not capitalism. And it is a big problem with our current system.

There is no incentive to fix the problem because the necessary disincentives of the marketplace have been removed. Why figure out a safer approach when the people will take on any moral hazard?

This will continue until people realize that so many of the authoritarians are quite happy screwing over the rest of us by making us pay for their risks, all so they can make more money.

No transporter of dangerous and deadly cargo should be allowed to be in business without the necessary insurance. If they cannot get some, then maybe they should work at making it safer. Spend some of their own profits rather than expecting the taxpayers to do it for them.

Open Source critics of Apple’s security bug forced to eat crow – Linux security bug is worse

apple prismfrom Wikipedia

Critical crypto bug leaves Linux, hundreds of apps open to eavesdropping
[Via Ars Technica]

Hundreds of open source packages, including the Red Hat, Ubuntu, and Debian distributions of Linux, are susceptible to attacks that circumvent the most widely used technology to prevent eavesdropping on the Internet, thanks to an extremely critical vulnerability in a widely used cryptographic code library.

The bug in the GnuTLS library makes it trivial for attackers to bypass secure sockets layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protections available on websites that depend on the open source package. Initial estimates included in Internet discussions such as this one indicate that more than 200 different operating systems or applications rely on GnuTLS to implement crucial SSL and TLS operations, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the actual number is much higher. Web applications, e-mail programs, and other code that use the library are vulnerable to exploits that allow attackers monitoring connections to silently decode encrypted traffic passing between end users and servers.

The bug is the result of commands in a section of the GnuTLS code that verify the authenticity of TLS certificates, which are often known simply as X509 certificates. The coding error, which may have been present in the code since 2005, causes critical verification checks to be terminated, drawing ironic parallels to the extremely critical “goto fail” flaw that for months put users of Apple’s iOS and OS X operating systems at risk of surreptitious eavesdropping attacks. Apple developers have since patched the bug.

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This bug may well have been there since 2005! The cry of Open Source is that, because so many eyeballs can see everything, critical bugs get found.

In contrast to closed source systems, such as Apple’s OS.

The reason these bugs were found was because people were specifically looking for them. Testing or eyeballs did not reveal them. Because Snowden released slides indicating that the NSA was specifically getting client data from various OS, including Windows, iOS and Linux.

This bug actually makes it easier for someone to get the information than Apple’s bug. For the hacker to use Apple’s bug, they had to be on the same network. But this one does not require that be the case.

You can bet that the NSA has been using this bug to get ahold of encrypted data from anyone using the appropriate Open Source tools.

All in systems that everyone supposedly can review.

The failure may allow attackers using a self-signed certificate to pose as the cryptographically authenticated operator of a vulnerable website and to decrypt protected communications. It’s significant that no one managed to notice such glaring errors, particularly since they were contained in code that anyone can review.

This was only found when some of the Open Source companies held audit reviews, probably to check out the very bug Apple found,

There was lots of criticism for Apple’s supposedly poor coding and bad error testing. But here we have something that has been a part of Linux for perhaps 10 years. Where was all the great checking by all those eyeballs?

I have to say that if Snowden’s revelations only helped Apple and others to identify these bugs (simply because they looked) he should be welcomed as a whistleblower. Because these are really devastating security flaws.

Interesting case over free speech involving bus driver and free lunches

 Barbra Streisand

ACLU takes case of bus driver fired over Facebook posting | 
[Via 11alive.com]

The ACLU is now suing the Haralson County school district after a bus driver was fired for posting negative comments on Facebook.

Johnny Cook said that he was terminated from his job after he made a post about a child who he said was refused a free lunch.

Cook said he had no regrets about writing the post, which read:

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First read what he wrote on Facebook:

A middle schooler got on my bus this evening and said mr johnny im hungry. I said why are you hungry buddy? Didn’t you eat lunch ? He said no sir I didn’t have any money on my account. I said they would let you charge it? No sir.
Huh! What! This child is already on reduced lunch and we can’t let him eat. Are you kidding me? I’m certian there was leftover food thrown away today. But kids were turned away because they didn’t have .40 on there account .
As a tax payer, I would much rather feed a child than throw it away. I would rather feed a child than to give food stamps to a crack head.
My number is 770 871 8811 the next time we can’t feed a kid for forty cent, please call me . We will scrape up the money.

This is what the world has come to

He was fired for those words. They do not seem unreasonable to me and it does seem like a great restriction of his free speech by a government entity.

But it also shows the wrongheadedness of authoritarian approaches. Instead of taking an adaptive, win-win approach – such as recognizing there was a screw up and fixing it (which they actually did eventually do) – they took a zero-sum one that authoritarians always seem to follow.

And now they get to see exactly what happens in the Information Age with something called the Streisand effect.

In essence, the attempt to use authoritarian pressures to hide or to create unnecessary zero-sum solutions gets pushed back by emerging social norms. This involves shining such a strong spotlight on the egregious behavior that even authoritarians learn the lesson – seek win-win solutions first.

Rent-seeking – Using the political system to prevent innovation

 Adam Smith

Auto dealers vs Tesla, taxi commissions vs Uber: Just the same damn rent seeking
[Via PandoDaily]

Sometimes this journalism stuff can be just too easy.

One reader has written in asking what’s happening in this fight between Tesla and the auto dealers in New York State. And then a PR agency sends me a blurb asking that I publicise their most recent campaign against Uber and Lyft.

As I say… too easy. They are both the same story: How incumbents, insiders in the political process, are willing to subvert that political process for their own economic gain. A gain, we should note, that comes at the expense of us consumers.

To the Tesla story, an outline of which is here:

ALBANY—Tesla would no longer be able to sell its luxury electric vehicles directly to consumers under a new bill in the New York State Legislature.

Groups representing the state’s automobile dealers met with Governor Andrew Cuomo in November to push a bill that would prevent automobile manufacturers from selling their vehicles directly to consumers, public schedules show. Deborah Dorman, president of the Eastern New York Coalition of Auto Dealers, was at that meeting and said Tuesday Cuomo aides told the group the governor would sign the bill if it passes.

That’s all pretty simple to understand. If car manufacturers have to sell through dealers then that means that dealers get a slice of the sale of every car. So dealers are of course going to campaign for manufacturers to have to sell through dealers, they’d be very odd indeed if they didn’t.

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Of course these guys are going to use every possible trick to save their business and jobs, even as the economy changes. I bet the buggy whip makers would have done the same thing.

But government regulation should seldom be used to save a business model. It is almost never to the customer’s benefit.

Yet, because our system of government is tied to much to money, regulatory capture is a common thing throughout the system.

It is rent-seeking in its purest form – to increase one’s share of existing wealth without actually creating any wealth. It is making money simply by having money not by creating anything new. It is a parasitic outgrowth of capitalism.

It is a horribly pernicious policy arising from the collaboration of capitalists and politicians. The customer is never part of the equation so it is actually anti-capitalistic as described by Adam Smith.

We must work to stop this. Can we?

The alchemy of Big Data is being used today to declrare pre-criminals

Instructing National Police officers 

Chicago PD’s Big Data: using pseudoscience to justify racial profiling
[Via Boing Boing]

The Chicago Police Department has ramped up the use of its “predictive analysis” system to identify people it believes are likely to commit crimes. These people, who are placed on a “heat list,” are visited by police officers who tell them that they are considered pre-criminals by CPD, and are warned that if they do commit any crimes, they are likely to be caught.

The CPD defends the practice, and its technical champion, Miles Wernick from the Illinois Institute of Technology, characterizes it as a neutral, data-driven system for preventing crime in a city that has struggled with street violence and other forms of crime. Wernick’s approach involves seeking through the data for “abnormal” patterns that correlate with crime. He compares it with epidemiological approaches, stating that people whose social networks have violence within them are also likely to commit violence.

The CPD refuses to share the names of the people on its secret watchlist, nor will it disclose the algorithm that put it there.

This is a terrible way of running a criminal justice system.

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The difference between alchemy and science is openness and transparency. This process has none and only serves to enhance confirmation biases while making who your friends are determine whether you are a pre-criminal or not.

So, will the penalty be greater for a 15 year old who shoplifts if they were on the pre-criminal list than a child who was not? Bet it will be.

Does this make you feel safer?

Everyone needs to read this – break up the NSA

EFF NSA logo parody (sticker) 

Breaking Up the NSA
[Via Schneier on Security]

The NSA has become too big and too powerful. What was supposed to be a single agency with a dual mission — protecting the security of U.S. communications and eavesdropping on the communications of our enemies — has become unbalanced in the post-Cold War, all-terrorism-all-the-time era.

Putting the U.S. Cyber Command, the military’s cyberwar wing, in the same location and under the same commander, expanded the NSA’s power. The result is an agency that prioritizes intelligence gathering over security, and that’s increasingly putting us all at risk. It’s time we thought about breaking up the National Security Agency.

Broadly speaking, three types of NSA surveillance programs were exposed by the documents released by Edward Snowden. And while the media tends to lump them together, understanding their differences is critical to understanding how to divide up the NSA’s missions.

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Schneier is one of the most important p[eople to listen to on the topic of digital security.

Authoritarian, top-down processes are the hallmark of Industrial Age approaches which will continue to fail fighting the agile,resilient processes of the 21st century.

Authoritarian always looks like it works in the short term because it can take action faster. resilent, agile communities often react to change, not initiate it.

Think of the US response to WW2. Sure, Japan and Germany got some early victories against the US. But, as one of the most agile and resilient societies that has ever existed (and that is another blog post), once we recognized the barriers, we worked around them in ways that pretty much assured success.

A similar argument can be made for the North in the Civil War and the Revolutionaries in 1776. Over the last 400 years (at least) authoritarian approaches eventually lose because they cannot adapt fast enough.

There is a reason that liberal democracies are the only form of government that are increasing in numbers – they represent the most adaptive, resilient approaches to the rapid changes we see.

A top-down approach is simply too brittle to survive the disruptive changes buffeting us. We see again and again authoritarian leaders doing really stupid things. It is not because they are stupid. They just cannot react to change fast enough and in appropriate ways.

The course of history demonstartes that authoritarians lose. The question is how many millions of people die in the interim,

Perhaps splitting up the NSA, decentralizing some of its authoritarian control, will help save some of those people.

Interesting coincidence between Apple’s vulnerability and the NSA

sunset from airplane

★ On the Timing of iOS’s SSL Vulnerability and Apple’s ‘Addition’ to the NSA’s PRISM Program
[Via Daring Fireball]

Jeffrey Grossman, on Twitter:

I have confirmed that the SSL vulnerability was introduced in iOS 6.0. It is not present in 5.1.1 and is in 6.0.

iOS 6.0 shipped on 24 September 2012.

According to slide 6 in the leaked PowerPoint deck on NSA’s PRISM program, Apple was “added” in October 2012.

These three facts prove nothing; it’s purely circumstantial. But the shoe fits.

Sure would be interesting to know who added that spurious line of code to the file. Conspiratorially, one could suppose the NSA planted the bug, through an employee mole, perhaps. Innocuously, the Occam’s Razor explanation would be that this was an inadvertent error on the part of an Apple engineer. It looks like the sort of bug that could result from a merge gone bad, duplicating the goto fail; line.

Once in place, the NSA wouldn’t even have needed to find the bug by manually reading the source code. All they would need are automated tests using spoofed certificates that they run against each new release of every OS. Apple releases iOS, the NSA’s automated spoofed certificate testing finds the vulnerability, and boom, Apple gets “added” to PRISM. (Wasn’t even necessarily a fast turnaround — the NSA could have discovered the vulnerability over the summer, while iOS 6 was in developer program beta testing.)

Or, maybe nothing, and this is all a coincidence.

I see five levels of paranoia:

  1. Nothing. The NSA was not aware of this vulnerability.
  2. The NSA knew about it, but never exploited it.
  3. The NSA knew about it, and exploited it.
  4. NSA itself planted it surreptitiously.
  5. Apple, complicit with the NSA, added it.

Me, I’ll go as far as #3.1 In fact, I think that’s actually the optimistic scenario — because we know from the PRISM slides that the NSA claims some ability to do what this vulnerability would allow. So if this bug, now closed, is not what the NSA was exploiting, it means there might exist some other vulnerability that remains open.


  1. “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” —Napoleon Bonaparte 

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Best conspiracy theory that might actually have some basis in reality. Apple might owe Snowden a hearty pat on the back, He revealedthe fact that the NSA was hacking Apple.

Apple was added to the PRISM program only a couple of months after the vulnerability first appeared. And this vulnerability allowed exactly the sort of thing that the NSA said it could do.

Now the paranoid thing is to think that the NSA used a mole to place the vulnerability there. I’d hate to think that the Security State would purposefully undercut a UScompanyto feed its needs.

If it did, heads need to roll.

But, what this does suggest is that Apple has been working overtime to figure out just how the NSA was hacking Apple.

Now Apple has fixed this. Wonder how the NSA feels about it?


Authoritarian states could not deal with VHS. Theyw ill not deal with the Internet

VHS'sss 

 

‘VHS vs. Communism’
[Via Daring Fireball]

Ilinca Calugareanu:

I was raised in Romania in the 1980s, under a Communist regime that, among countless repressions, reduced television to two hours a day of dull propaganda, traditional music, patriotic poems and censored films. One day when I was 6, my parents found a way to borrow a VCR. They invited their friends, and all night they watched grainy VHS tapes of Hollywood B-movies. I remember the films, but more so I remember how I felt when I stepped into the living room — like walking into a secret, magical and free world.

All the dialogue on these movies was dubbed into Romanian in a husky, high-pitched woman’s voice. Throughout my childhood, these films provided a glimpse into the forbidden West, resplendent with blue jeans, Coke and skyscrapers. As Hollywood movies became ubiquitous through the black market, this voice became one of the most recognizable in Romania. Yet no one knew who she was.

After the 1989 revolution I learned the true story, which I present here in this Op-Doc video.

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What a cool story. The difference one person can make. Then a few, Then a nation.

People find a way because connected networks of human beings working together in communities are smarter than any totalitarian hierarchy.

It may take some time for them to demonstrate their intelligence but history has shown that human social networks always win.

The perks of the President – scoring advance episodes of HBO shows?

 Petyr Baelish

Obama Asked HBO Chief for ‘True Detective,’ ‘Game of Thrones’ Advance Episodes - 
[Via TheWrap]

The president is also fan of Netflix’s “House of Cards”

It turns out President Barack Obama is a TV fanboy.

We already knew that Pennsylvania Avenue’s most famous resident is a “Homeland” fanatic, but that’s not the only small screen favorite that sets his pulse racing.

The president asked HBO Chief Executive Officer Richard Plepler at last week’s state dinner for French President Francois Hollande if he could score him advance copies of “True Detective” and “Game of Thrones,” according to the New York Times. President Obama reportedly was hoping to catch up on the two shows over the Presidents Day Weekend.

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It can’t hurt to ask. It does appear the President is a binge watcher also, as many of us are becoming.

True Detective may well be the best 8 segment movie ever shown on TV. Woody and Matthew are simply outstanding as is every other character there. One episode has a 6 minute single take scene that was one of the best ever filmed – TV or movie.

Once all 8 episodes are out, I plan on rewatching all them in a binge weekend. They are that good.

The President shows great taste in his choices.

Bill Nye continues scientific offensive against deniers

 Bill Nye visits Goddard Space Flight Center

Bill Nye schools Marsha Blackburn on climate: Stop denying and start leading 
[Via | The Raw Story]

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” implored Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Sunday to stop wasting time by denying that the climate was changing and to start leading the charge to do something about it.

Nye began his debate with Blackburn on NBC’s Meet the Press by applauding President Barack Obama’s call to create a $1 billion fund to prepare for climate change.

“What I’ve always said, we need to do everything all at once,” Nye explained. “And this is an opportunity for the United States to innovate, to be the world leader in new technologies.”

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First it was the outstanding debate on creationism, where Nye did a great job.

Now he continues the scientific offensive on the Sunday morning shows. And he is even better. He just demonstrated how lacking in rhetorical skills so many of our congress critters are. 

Most can only spout the latest talking points with not ability to actually understand or discuss them to any depth.

Nye is a trained engineer and head of the Planetary society. So trying to belittle him by simply saying he is an ‘actor’ while the denier is an important member of Congress simply does not stand.

The thing that became obvious is that Nye has learned a lot of great rhetorical tools from his time on TV, which he is using to great effect. 

Most scientists only use the facts and are either oblivious to other approaches or disdain them, often to their detriment.

Every one in marketing knows that facts alone does not sell a product.There are a variety of ways to convince people that have nothing to do with facts.

Facts alone do not win debates. And stylistic rhetorical tools (seen in just about every courtroom drama) often do.

But when those tools are used in the service of facts, there can only be one winner.

So, when Blackburn states

“When you look at the fact that we have gone from 320 parts per million — 0.032 to 0.040 — 400 parts per million [carbon dioxide in the atmosphere], you realize it’s very slight” 

,implying that 80 parts per million is such a small number that it is insignificant, Nye nails her innumeracy.

“When you asserted, Congresswoman, 320 to 400 parts per million is insignificant, my goodness. That’s 30 percent! I mean, that’s an enormous change. And it’s changing the world. And that’s just over the last few decades.”

(Yes, it is actually 25% but it was live and the point is valid.)

Yet, he tells her that she needs to lead, not deny. He was attacking her denialism, not her personally.

“I encourage the congresswoman to really look at the facts. You are a leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

Although he did provide substantial evidence for why she might not look at the facts or want to lead.

Thanks, Citizens United. Judge says citizens cannot reduce tax breaks for compnaies because the companies are citizens themselves.

 :)

St. Louis Judge Cites Citizens United to Protect Tax Breaks for Peabody Energy
[Via DeSmogBlog - Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science]

With the quick stroke of a pen, a circuit court judge in St. Louis has singlehandedly silenced more than 22,000 city residents, who had sought to bring a ballot initiative to end tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to a citywide vote in April.

Last summer, volunteers with the Take Back St. Louis coalition gathered over 22,000 signatures to put onto the ballot a measure that would amend the city’s charter to include a “Sustainable Energy Policy” and end taxpayer-funded support of fossil fuel companies.

According to Take Back St. Louis, the “proposed charter amendment would end public financial incentives, such as tax abatements, to fossil fuel mining companies and those doing $1 million of business with them per year, and requires the city to create a sustainable energy plan for renewable energy and sustainability initiatives on city-owned vacant land.”

On Tuesday, Judge Robert Dierker sided with Peabody Energy (in a decision you can read here) to grant a temporary restraining order that would, in essence, keep the initiative off the April 8th ballot.

First declaring the initiative “facially unconstitutional,” Judge Dierker proceeded to cite the Citizens United decision in explaining why the policy would represent a “patent denial of equal protection” to fossil fuel energy companies.  Specifically, Judge Dierker wrote:

business entities (which, after all, are a species of associations of citizens coming together in the exercise of economic freedom) are entitled to constitutional protection as citizens and may not arbitrarily be denied basic legal rights. See Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm., 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

 

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It does not matter what the company is. Giving any of them the same rights as citizens results in twisted decisions like this. By this logic, no city can regulate any business because to do so would deny basic legal rights to the companies.

I guess since the companies cannot vote, it violates their rights to regulate them. So I guess the next step is to extend voting rights to companies.

Will Italy ever admit that DNA contamination is a likely event?

Block Gavel

Kercher trial: How does DNA contamination occur?
[Via BBC News | Science/Nature | World Edition]

The Kercher trial highlights concerns over DNA

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We can detect such small levels of DNA now that contamination in the lab becomes very likely. It is already known that proper procedure was not followed at the scene.

The data are all consistent with contamination, at east beyond a reasonable dobt to me.

u

Will that ever happen in Italy, whose court system has never seemed to be interested in justice?

America could easily lead in space once again

 space

America and the Emergent Space Powers

[Via BillMoyers.com]

The following is an excerpt from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.


I was born the same week NASA was founded. A few other people were born that same year: Madonna (the second one, not the first), Michael Jackson, Prince, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sharon Stone. That was the year the Barbie doll was patented and the movie The Blob appeared. And it was the first year the Goddard Memorial Dinner was held: 1958.

I study the universe. It’s the second oldest profession. People have been looking up for a long time. But as an academic, it puts me a little bit outside the “club.” Yes, I’ve spent quality time in the aerospace community, with my service on two presidential commissions, but at heart I’m an academic. Being an academic means I don’t wield power over person, place or thing. I don’t command armies; I don’t lead labor unions. All I have is the power of thought.

Space Chronicles Book Cover

Spring 2001, there I was, minding my own business amid the manicured lawns of the Princeton University campus — and the phone rang. It was the White House, telling me they wanted me to join a commission to study the health of the aerospace industry. Me? I don’t know how to fly an airplane. At first I was indifferent. Then I read up on the aerospace industry and realized that it had lost half a million jobs in the previous fourteen years. Something bad was going on there.

The commission’s first meeting was to be at the end of September. And then came 9/11. I live — then and now — four blocks from Ground Zero. My front windows are right there. I was supposed to go to Princeton that morning, but I had some overdue writing to finish, so I stayed home. One plane goes in; another plane goes in. At that point, how indifferent could I be? I had just lost my backyard to two airplanes. Duty called. I was a changed person: not only had the nation been attacked, so had my backyard.

I distinctly remember walking into the first meeting. There were 11 other commissioners, in a room filled with testosterone. Everybody occupied space. There was General this, and Secretary of the Navy that and Member of Congress this. It’s not as though I have no testosterone, but it’s Bronx testosterone. It’s the kind where, if you get into a fight on the street, you kick the guy’s butt. This I-build-missile-systems testosterone is a whole other kind. Even the women on the commission had it. One had a Southern accent perfectly tuned to say, “Kiss my ass.” Another one was chief aerospace analyst for Morgan Stanley; having spent her life as a Navy brat, she had the industry by the gonads.

On that commission, we went around the world to see what was influencing the situation here in America. We visited China before they put a man in space. I had in my head the stereotype of everybody riding bicycles, but everybody was driving Audis and Mercedes Benzes and Volkswagens. Then I went home and looked at the labels on all my stuff; half of it was already being made in China. Lots of our money is going there.

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Read the whole thing. What is infuriating is taking the innovative work we can do, the frontier busting approaches us the US, and making them an MBA-driven, commodity.

Space does not pay for itself directly. It pays for just about everything indirectly. Tyson knows it.

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