Welcome to Rest Home Mars

May 5th, 2015 - 7:24 am

Long space voyages may trigger dementia-like symptoms in astronauts, according to a recent study:

In order to better understand what effect that highly energetic charged particles might have on a body, the researchers exposed rodents to charged particle irradiation. These particles are much like those found in the galactic cosmic rays that bombard astronauts during extended spaceflights.

The researchers found that exposure to these particles resulted in brain inflammation. This disrupted the transmission of signals among neurons. In addition, imaging revealed that the brain’s communication network was impaired through reductions in the structure of nerve cells called dendrites and spines. Additional synaptic alterations in combination with the structural changes interfered with the capability of nerve cells to efficiently transmit electrochemical signals.

“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two- to three-year round trip to Mars,” said Charles Limoli, one of the researchers, in a news release. “Performance decrements, memory deficits, and loss of awareness and focus during spaceflight may affect mission-critical activities and exposure to these particles may have long-term adverse consequences to cognition throughout life.”

There’s no use in settling other planets if we arrive there unable to even care for ourselves.

Jordan Cuts Support for Syrian Rebels

May 5th, 2015 - 6:10 am
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows damaged cars and a motorcycle after a bombing attack in the Rokn al-Deen neighborhood, Damascus, Syria, Monday, May 4, 2015. A small group of insurgents, including a suicide bomber, carried out the attack in Damascus on Monday targeting a Syrian military logistics and supply facility, militants and activists said. (SANA via AP)

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows damaged cars and a motorcycle after a bombing attack in the Rokn al-Deen neighborhood, Damascus, Syria, Monday, May 4, 2015. A small group of insurgents, including a suicide bomber, carried out the attack in Damascus on Monday targeting a Syrian military logistics and supply facility, militants and activists said. (SANA via AP)

Jordan has quit trying to tip the scales in Syria, and instead will just try to look after Jordan:

For much of Syria’s civil war, Jordan has quietly supported the rebels fighting to topple the regime. In recent months, various coalitions of rebel forces have scored major battlefield gains, seizing towns and villages from the regime in the north and south of Syria.

But far from cheering these advances, Jordan is ready to pull the plug on the rebels.

Alarmed by the strength of Islamist militants in the rebels’ ranks and their recent seizure of a critical Jordanian border crossing, officials here say their priorities have changed from unseating President Bashar al-Assad to taking the fight to jihadists, including the self-declared Islamic State.

There aren’t any good choices left to be made in Syria, other than perhaps to try and quarantine that place on the map we still think of as Syria, and let the locals fight it out until the tragic end. But even that’s no good, as the survivors would undoubtedly prove to be the most effectively violent Islamists the world has yet to see.

There just aren’t any good choices left.

Encrypt THIS!

May 5th, 2015 - 5:10 am
"Fourth Amendment? Never heard of it." (AP photo)

“Fourth Amendment? Never heard of it.”
(AP photo)

Another fine idea from your friendly neighborhood all-present federal government:

THE FBI HAS been lobbying top internet companies like Yahoo and Google to support a proposal that would force them to provide backdoors for government surveillance, according to CNET.

The Bureau has been quietly meeting with representatives of these companies, as well as Microsoft (which owns Hotmail and Skype), Facebook and others to argue for a legislative proposal, drafted by the FBI, that would require social-networking sites and VoIP, instant messaging and e-mail providers to alter their code to make their products wiretap-friendly.

The FBI has previously complained to Congress about the so-called “Going Dark” problem – the difficulty of doing effective wiretap surveillance as more communications have moved from traditional telephone services to internet service companies.

This is akin to arguing that because some people rob houses, the FBI should have the power to enter your house — at will, and without a warrant. Or that because some people rob banks, the FBI should have the power to examine your accounts — at will, and without a warrant. Or… well, I’m sure you get the idea.

Police states are always sold as being for the benefit of the people, but it never seems to work out that way.

Poor, Poor Killer

May 4th, 2015 - 2:26 pm
In this courtroom sketch, William Campbell, Jr., father of Boston Marathon bombing victim Krystle Campbell, is depicted on the witness stand during the first day of the penalty phase in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in federal court in Boston. Krystle Campbell was one of three who died after two bombs went off near the marathon finish line in 2013. (Jane Flavell Collins via AP)

In this courtroom sketch, William Campbell, Jr., father of Boston Marathon bombing victim Krystle Campbell, is depicted on the witness stand during the first day of the penalty phase in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in federal court in Boston. Krystle Campbell was one of three who died after two bombs went off near the marathon finish line in 2013. (Jane Flavell Collins via AP)

From the Boston Bomber trial:

Family members of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, trying to keep him from death row, said he was a kind and caring young man who once cried while watching “The Lion King.”

His sobbing aunt briefly took the stand to tell jurors about his fawning relationship with his radicalized older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

“Dzhokhar loved his older brother very much,” the aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, said through tears. “You always listen to your older sibling and follow his example.”

Tamerlan died days after the bombings after a shootout with cops.

For the first time during the trial, Tsarnaev, 21, got choked up and wiped away tears as his mother’s sister wailed away on the witness stand. She was forced to leave the stand to compose herself.

Did he also cry before, during, or after killing three and injuring 264 others with a pair of homemade bombs set to detonate among the runners and audience members of the Boston Marathon?

Poor Bill’s Bills

May 4th, 2015 - 1:00 pm

Poor Bill Clinton:

One thing he won’t stop doing: giving high-priced speeches, even though he acknowledges being a wealthy man these days, reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars.

“I gotta pay our bills,” he said. “And I also give a lot of it to the foundation every year.”

The fees — $500,000 or more for 11 speeches while his wife was Secretary of State — are justified, he insisted.

“I spend a couple of hours a day just doing the research. People like to hear me speak,” he said.

He spends “a couple hours” reading and another hour talking, and brings in nearly ten times more than the average American’s income for the entire year.

Now I don’t begrudge Clinton his millions. For whatever reason, people find it worth their money — well, usually worth other people’s money — to hear him speak. And it’s nice to know that at his age he’s still keeping up with events.

But the tone-deafness on display here — could it be that Clinton has lost a small bit of that magic political touch?

Other than that, the NBC puff-piece quoted above isn’t worth your time. It claims the Clintons are “reportedly” worth tens of millions, as if there were even some small doubt about it, and lets Clinton get away with saying his foundation did nothing “knowingly inappropriate.”

C’mon, NBC knows how to parse Clinton Legalese, and a statement like that one should be an invitation to do a little digging.

But I won’t hold my breath.

J.J. Abrams Is My New Hetero Man-Crush

May 4th, 2015 - 11:45 am

From Vanity Fair:

For some Star Wars fans, there’s no May the Fourth news finer than this: director J. J. Abrams revealed that he’s thought about killing off the very controversial Jar Jar Binks. Sitting in an edit bay at his Bad Robot production office and pointing to a frame of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Abrams told Vanity Fair contributing editor Bruce Handy, “I have a thought about putting Jar Jar Binks’s bones in the desert there. I’m serious! Only three people will notice, but they’ll love it.”

More great news, plus some lovely Annie Leibovitz photos, all at the link.

An Open Letter to Millennials

May 4th, 2015 - 10:06 am
"We'll go dancing in the dark, walking through the park and reminiscing." (AP photo)

“We’ll go dancing in the dark, walking through the park and reminiscing.”
(AP photo)

Dear Young’uns,

As I rock in the chair on my front porch, keeping an ear out for noisy dogs and a wary eye on those teenage hooligans with their backwards hats and Air Jordans and whatnot, I began to reminisce about the good ol’ days, back during the last century when most of y’all still wore your short pants, and the cell-you-lur phone your mommy carried was the size a one them mini fridges. The only app it had was called “call people up,” and you had to hit the keys, that’s real buttons mind you, yourself.

Why, back in those days we still thought Pluto was a planet — Pluto!

This might surprise you young folks, but back when the country last voted for a Clinton for President, NBC was a network people actually watched. Cross my heart, it’s true. They had seven of the top ten TV shows, if’n you can believe such a thing, with hits like “Suddenly Susan” and “Naked Truth” and “Single Guy.” They called it “Must-See TV.” There was also a fella called Seinfeld but I doubt you ever heard a him.

1996 was the year we learned how to do the Macarena. And you know what else we did back then? We used to ask people, “Do you have email?” Ask them if they had email! Can you imagine?

Now hold on, I was talking about music, wasn’t I? I forget things more these days. Anyhoo, Hootie and the Blowfish had a new album that year, too, but they were pretty much past their prime. I remember Celine Dion had a bunch a songs on the radio. Can’t say I remember all the names, but she sure sang them all again for us when Missus VodkaPundit and I caught her matinee show in Las Vegas a few years back. Seems like ages now.

You know you can still smoke indoors in Vegas? You can, just like we still could back in the ’90s. Hard to imagine, but I took a flight to Baltimore — it was still a nice town then — and sat in the smoking section. Lit up whenever I liked, and I don’t mean one of those fancy electronic cigarettes like you kids fart around with.

A lighter? Of course I carried a lighter on the plane — why do you ask?

‘Course, I didn’t vote for Clinton — that’s right, Bill Clinton — in 1996. But I did vote for him in 1992. I remember the year because that’s when “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was really getting good, and had that one where the Enterprise kept getting blown up again and again, crashing into this other starship caught up in some dang fool time loop. And we were all shocked at the end when the Captain of the other ship turned out to be Frasier from “Cheers.” You probably never saw “Cheers,” because that was the show Frasier was on before “Frasier” was on. You never heard a that, either?

Well I can tell you that Star Trek show really got good in season four, about the time as the First Gulf War. ‘Course, back then we just called it “The Gulf War.” That was a different President Bush, too. No, not the brother — the dad. The one that came after Reagan, but golly that was so long ago even I was too young to vote for Reagan!

I worked summers to pay for my college, but I knew a guy in my dorm who had a student loan. One year he racked up over two grand worth a debt. Why, kids like you now probably never even seen so much money.

But I’ve gone too far back, haven’t I? I wanted to tell you about 1996, the last time we elected a Clinton to be President. Times were pretty good, pretty good. We’d almost had a recession the year before, but the bump was so small you could barely notice it. The economy was growing, people were happy, people — even young people like yourselves — all had jobs if they wanted one. Bill Clinton didn’t seem like he was gonna mess any of that up, so we gave him another term. Worked out pretty good, too, except for that impeachment thing, but that was over something so tiny you probably never heard of it. You know how long ago it was when they left office? So long, the Clintons were dead broke at the time. Dead broke. Now Bill flies around on some fancy-schmantzy private airplane called the Lolita Express. Must be nice.

Seems like forever ago, but now we’ve got Hillary — that’s Bill’s wife, not the daughter — running for President. Yep, just like she did that last time almost ten years ago. Like I told you, we gave Bill that second term because he promised us more of the same, but now I see Hillary is running against a bunch of stuff Bill did when he was president, so I just don’t know what she’d get up to.

I know I’ve gone on about old music and shows and people and all the rest, but it doesn’t seem that long ago to me, not really. Why, did you know that the last time we elected a Clinton to the White House, they were both only a little bit older than I am now? Yep, true story.

All this talk has made me thirsty, so you’ll excuse me while I pour a Bartles and Jaymes and have a little shuteye.

Y’all have a good election now.

-Your Friendly Neighborhood VodkaPundit

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 4th, 2015 - 8:34 am


Remember when ♡bamaCare!!! was going to result in fewer people visiting the emergency room for non-emergencies? Would you believe exactly the opposite has happened? Of course you would:

A poll released today by the American College of Emergency Physicians shows that 28% of 2,099 doctors surveyed nationally saw large increases in volume, while 47% saw slight increases. By contrast, fewer than half of doctors reported any increases last year in the early days of the Affordable Care Act.

Such hikes run counter to one of the goals of the health care overhaul, which is to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by getting more people insured through Medicaid or subsidized private coverage and providing better access to primary care.

A major reason that hasn’t happened is there simply aren’t enough primary care physicians to handle all the newly insured patients, says ACEP President Mike Gerardi, an emergency physician in New Jersey.

“They don’t have anywhere to go but the emergency room,” he says. “This is what we predicted. We know people come because they have to.”

The ER is required by law to see you, unlike doctors who aren’t reimbursed enough under the Medicaid expansion.

Nothing Special About Baltimore

May 4th, 2015 - 7:27 am

Baltimore business owner Jay Steinmetz writes for the WSJ that daily life in downtown Baltimore is just a “slow-motion version of recent events.”


Graffiti, which anyone with experience in urban policing will affirm is the first sign of trouble, regularly appears on the exterior of our building. From there the range of crimes escalates to burglarizing cars in the parking lot, and breaking and entering our building.

City policies and procedures fail to help employers address these problems—and make them worse. When the building alarm goes off, the police charge us a fee. If the graffiti isn’t removed in a certain amount of time, we are fined. This penalize-first approach is of a piece with Baltimore’s legendary tax and regulatory burden. The real cost of these ill-conceived policies is to the community where we—and other local businesses in similar positions—might be able to hire more of those Baltimoreans who have lost hope of escaping poverty and government dependency.

Escaping government dependency is not the goal of governments like Baltimore’s, or any other Democrat-run major American city.

Well of course they do:

Isis has claimed responsibility for an attack on an anti-Islam art contest in Texas in which an unarmed security guard was blasted in the ankle by fire from automatic rifles and the suspects shot dead by police.

Two heavily-armed men suspected to have been carrying explosives were killed by police after opening fire outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Dallas, at around 7pm during an controversial event where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were being displayed.

The SITE Intelligence Group reported that an Islamic State (IS) fighter claimed on Twitter that the shooting was carried out by two pro-Isis individuals.

In a series of tweets and links, a jihadist named as Abu Hussain AlBritani, which SITE said was British IS fighter Junaid Hussain, claimed that ’2 of our brothers just opened fire’ at the Prophet Muhammad exhibition in Texas.

‘They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State,’ added the tweet.

We’ve probably all entertained notions of how much damage a group like ISIS could do to this country’s psyche with just a few teams of gunmen at shopping malls or the schoolyards.

But they made a mistake, didn’t they, trying to shoot Americans who were on alert. An event like that in a place like Texas — that ain’t Charlie Hebdo, as ISIS just found out yesterday.

Or as Rick Blaine knew 70-plus years ago:

Major Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?

Rick: It’s not particularly my beloved Paris.

Heinz: Can you imagine us in London?

Rick: When you get there, ask me!

Captain Renault: Hmmh! Diplomatist!

Major Strasser: How about New York?

Rick: Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.

Nowadays we just say “Don’t mess with Texas.”

Big Edit at the New York Times

May 4th, 2015 - 5:12 am

Before turning off the light and going to sleep last night, I sent myself a bookmark from the NYT writeup of that fatal shooting in Texas. What I should have done was screencapped it instead.

Last night, Liam Stack’s story described Pamela Gellar and her American Freedom Defense Initiative as being “anti-Islamist.” This morning, they’re both “anti-Islam.” That’s some big difference. “Islamist” refers to the radicals, the terrorists. “Islam” is the entire religion.

Last night, Stack’s story ended with a quote from Gellar about the security risks she faced, in what read to me like an attempt to make her sound paranoid — even though two gunmen had just shot up her event and a security guard. That graf has now been replaced with this instead:

Ms. Geller described Sunday’s event as pro-free speech, and said that Muslims had become a “special class” that Americans were no longer allowed to offend.

“The media is self-enforcing a Shariah,” she said, referring to Islamic law. “Under the Shariah you cannot criticize or offend Islam.”

The story has been changed so that now Gellar just seems paranoid about media outlets like the NYT, who “self-enforce” in favor of a “special class.”

Well — shouldn’t she be?

Friday Night Videos

May 1st, 2015 - 10:24 pm

Dick Tracy never had a chance — and it’s a shame, too, because Warren Beatty’s 1990 comic book flick is tragically underrated.

The movie left audiences going “Huh?” in part because of Touchstone Pictures’ lousy marketing. Touchstone had hoped to ride the superhero wave launched the year before with Tim Burton’s Batman, with all the usual toy and fast food promotional tie-ins.

But Dick Tracy wasn’t a recently-reimagined (darkly so, by Frank Miller) comic book superhero for kids and teens; he was a comic strip cop trapped (delightfully so) in the 1930s. Touchstone might have had better luck marketing Geritol to surfer dudes.

Leave aside the facts that Touchstone got the marketing wrong and that Beatty directed a big-budget movie with a small potential audience, and what you’re left with is a solidly entertaining and visually arresting comic book movie. And perhaps uniquely, a comic book movie which organically looks like the comic book it came from. Even the color scheme is a perfect reproduction of the three-color printing process from the funny pages. The makeup jobs on the bad guys look as though Beatty waved a magic wand over a comic strip and made it come life. Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice, Dustin Hoffman’s Mumbles, and Paul Sorvino’s Lips Manlis make the movie work more than Beatty does as Tracy — in no small part due to the makeup by John Caglione, Jr. and Doug Drexler. They won an Oscar for their work.

Maybe Touchstone thought that having Madonna on hand as nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney would be enough to draw the kids in — which brings us, nearly, to tonight’s song.

Yes, Dick Tracy had Madonna, but it had Madonna singing showtunes. Gloriously, outrageously, incongruously singing showtunes.

Madonna. Via Stephen Sondheim. Brilliant!

Brilliant… except… what young Madonna fan wanted to see Madonna sing showtunes?

Damn few, if box office receipts are anything to judge by.

But the resulting soundtrack — I’m Breathless: Music From And Inspired By “Dick Tracy” — is one of only three Madonna albums that ever enticed me to listen to all the way through. And now and then, I still do.

Tonight’s pick, “More,” has all the clever lyrical and musical tricks you’d expect from Sondheim. It also has a much better vocal performance than you’d expect from Madonna. I mean, she’s actually pretty darn good here, proving that she has the ability to rise up to better material — when she can be bothered to look for better material.

Here’s a bit of that better material:

Once upon a time
I had plenty of nothing which was fine with me
Because I had rhythm, music, love
The sun, the stars and the moon above

Had the clear blue sky and the deep blue sea
That was when the best things in life were free

Then time went by
And now I got plenty of plenty which is fine with me
‘Cause I still got love, I still got rhythm
But look at what I got to go with ‘em

Those last two lines still make me smile, even after a quarter of a century. And so unabashedly materialistic — you think Sondheim would bother writing it today?

While you enjoy the song, I’m going to cue up Dick Tracy on Apple TV and enjoy it in full HD glory. If you’ve never seen it, not only is DT an underrated gem, but it also marks the return of Pacino to his scenery-chewing glory, after spending the ’80s mostly in the wilderness.

Check it out.

News You Can Use

May 1st, 2015 - 2:01 pm

Let’s say you have a rugby player with some missing teeth, a brewery in need of a great ad, and a dentist who might not be entirely ethical. Here’s what you’d certainly do:

The Salta beer ad, created by agency Ogilvy Argentina, documented how the company teamed with an oral surgeon “to reward players who gave everything they’ve got on the field — including their teeth.”

“We decided to give rugby players back the teeth they had lost in battle,” the ad says. “But we weren’t going to give them a simple tooth back we developed a unique dental implant, a specially designed tooth to open beer.”

You know… that’s kinda useful, actually.

Rock You Like a… Cyclone

May 1st, 2015 - 12:19 pm
The U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.  (Photo courtesy US Navy via Wikipedia)

The U.S. Navy Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1), USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Chinook (PC-9) and USS Typhoon (PC-5), transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise in the Persian Gulf.
(Photo courtesy US Navy via Wikipedia)

The Navy wants to spend billions on an all-new and unproven littoral combat ship, but it already has one — and it’s cheap:

When Iranian forces seized a U.S.-flagged container ship in the Persian Gulf on April 28, for reasons that remain unclear, an American destroyer rushed to the scene, along with three Cyclone-class patrol boats.

These 179-foot-long boats, armed with guns and missiles, are now viewed as among the Navy’s most important ships. Remarkably, they’re also some of the least expensive — setting U.S. taxpayers back just $20 million apiece when the Navy originally bought them in the early 1990s. Most Navy ships — admittedly far larger — cost hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars.

The Cyclones, which each have two 25-millimeter cannons, machine guns, grenade launchers, batteries of short-range anti-ship missiles and shoulder-fired antiaircraft rockets, are cheap because they’re so simple. They don’t have high-tech sensors, complex weapons or experimental equipment and design features. They’re straightforward metal hulls packing lots of simple guns and missiles that rely heavily on their hardworking 28-person crews to function, rather than on fancy automated systems like on many larger vessels.

Build another 20 and base them out of the Philippines as a tripwire force against the Chinese. Build 20 more and stick them in Tallinn, Estonia, to keep an eye on the Russians. Japan could base another 20, and buy or build 20 of their own.

We need combat power in coastal areas, and Cyclone has it. Not lots of power, mind you — but nobody sinks a US Navy ship without expecting the rest of the US Navy to show up for some payback. And with small pricetags and tiny crews, it’s a vessel — speaking in the cold calculus of war — we can afford to lose.

In naval matters, presence matters. “Showing the flag” is a time-honored Navy mission for precisely that reason. It’s difficult to have a global presence with as few ships as we have today, and it’s impossible to build a sizable fleet when even littoral ships cost a jillion dollars.

Then there’s the Cyclone, packing some punch and able to show the flag in contested shallow waters — quickly. Assuming, of course, we had enough of them, and the proper forward bases in which to berth them.


In September 2010, the decision was made to recall all of the remaining ships of the class due to fatigue damage to their hulls. The class was designed for a lifespan of roughly 15 years. All but the newest member of the class, Tornado, have been in service longer. The vessels will be inspected and a decision will be made whether to refit them or to decommission the ships.

These ships are so in demand that they’re on deployment halfway around the world, years after their hulls were deemed “fatigued.”

So we should build more Cyclones, lots more. And don’t gold-plate them with oodles of new equipment they don’t need. Build ‘em fast, build ‘em cheap, and give our Navy some of its presence back.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

May 1st, 2015 - 11:28 am

CNN Money reports what ♡bamaCare!!! opponents have long known, and what ♡bamaCare!!! mandate-customers are painfully learning:

Deductibles, co-payments, and drug payments are higher under the average Obamacare silver-level plans — the most popular — than employer policies, according to a CNNMoney comparison of reports by Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust. The reports looked at policies offered on the exchanges for 2015 and those enrolled in employer plans in 2014.

To be sure, having Obamacare coverage is often better than being uninsured, especially if you rack up big bills through a major illness or accident.

“Often better?” But I thought universal coverage was so fiercely important that Democrats had to shred the Constitution and precedent to pass this law so we could find out what was in it!

But, no, being forced to buy pricy coverage isn’t always better. Minus the (unconstitutional) mandate and (“it’s a tax!”) penalties, a lot of people would be better of paying out-of-pocket, rather than paying Cadillac prices for catastrophic coverage.

NASA Tests Warp Drive

May 1st, 2015 - 10:10 am
Not an actual NASA facility. (Image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Not an actual NASA facility.
(Image courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Give me maximum warp, Sulu:

NASA, according to, is quietly claiming to have successfully tested a revolutionary new means of space travel that could one day allow for such insane speed, and to have done it in a hard vacuum like that of outer space for the first time.

The technology is based on the electromagnetic drive, or EM drive.

The science behind the EM drive is, well, complicated to say the least, but the basic idea is to convert electrical energy into thrust without propellant (the fuel in rockets), which should be impossible because it violates the law of conservation of momentum. That law states that momentum can only be changed by one of the forces described by Newton’s laws of motion — that’s where propellant normally comes in with traditional rockets.

If you want to dive into the “hows” and “whys” of all this, they’re discussed at length — by amateur enthusiasts as well as Ph.Ds and one of the NASA engineers actually working on the EM drive — on this forum.

Scientists from the US, UK and China have demonstrated the EM drive over the past 15 years or so, but it’s been controversial, since as mentioned above, the EM drive would seem to violate classical physics. NASA’s tests in conditions that mimic outer space, however, bring a new sense of possibility to electromagnetic propulsion.

The EM drive could reportedly boost a ship to one-tenth the speed of light, getting a human generational-crew to Alpha Centauri in less than a century.

But we shouldn’t settle for anything less than Warp 6 and a journey of just a few hours.

To Earth Day 2016 — and Beyond!

May 1st, 2015 - 9:17 am


It’s Part III of your Trifecta Triple — and it’s for members only.

So don’t be a cheapskate. It’s not like “members only” means you have to wear a leather jacket with ridiculous epaulets and zippers all over the place.

Another Russian Sub Catches Fire

May 1st, 2015 - 8:56 am
(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

Fortunately nobody was killed this time, but the Russians just had another fire during an SSGN missile sub refit:

On April 7th, for the second time since 2013, a Russian Oscar class nuclear submarine caught fire while undergoing refurbishment. This time it was in a shipyard on the north (arctic) coast. The one in late 2013 was in a Pacific coast shipyard. In both cases the fire was put out quickly and there were no weapons on board. The Russians are pretty strict about reactors being shut down and weapons removed before the shipyard work begins. Thus there was no radiation leak or damage to the sub’s reactor during either fire. In both cases the fire was started when tools or welding ignited some rubber insulation and spread to other flammable material. The 2013 fire took five hours to put out and killed 14 people. The 2015 fire did not kill anyone.

The Oscar-class boats were designed by the Soviets to perform exactly one mission: To launch bunches of high-speed anti-ship missiles all art once at our aircraft carriers. If Russia can’t keep those boats at sea, don’t shed any tears over them.

A Tale of Two Hillarys (And One Bill)

May 1st, 2015 - 7:16 am
Does he still have it? (AP photo)

Does he still have it?
(AP photo)

First up, Brian Beutler explains Hillary Clinton’s shift to the left:

There’s an ongoing debate in American politics over the extent to which the Obama coalition is unique to Obama, who is himself a unique historical figure. Are the younger, more progressive Democrats who swept him into office ready to do the same for a candidate who doesn’t check all of the same characterological boxes—youth, charisma, diversity?

Perhaps more importantly, Hillary Clinton also thinks the answer is yes—if, that is, you buy the cynical (but possibly accurate) interpretation of her leftward shift. In fact, this might be the most hopeful interpretation as far as liberals are concerned. Because if Clinton doesn’t have any core convictions, and is only saying whatever she thinks she has to say to win—if indeed she’s merely betting that things like campaign finance reform, same-sex marriage, and immigration reform will add up to a winning platform—then it’s a nod to her belief that the Obama coalition is stable, loyal, and larger than the Republican electorate.

Sean Trende however sees potential cracks:

I would call this the optimistic interpretation (from a liberal perspective) of her moves, even if you accept that this is simply cynical gamesmanship on her part. The pessimistic interpretation would stem from one of the theses of my book, “The Lost Majority”: that Obama modified Bill Clinton’s coalition into a narrower, deeper one. This enabled Obama to win a victory in 2008 that was almost as large as Clinton’s 1996 win without bringing Appalachians or working-class whites on board. The problem with such a coalition is that it doesn’t allow for much flexibility: At least for now, Democrats have to run up the score with different groups in order to win.

Under the pessimistic take, the Clinton Coalition is simply gone. Bill Clinton had managed to keep Appalachian voters and working-class whites in the Democratic camp through skillful positioning and a bit of luck. But over the course of the next decade, these voters finally broke with the Democrats.

I believe Clinton — Bill Clinton — could win back those lost voters, and he’s sure to be a strong presence on the campaign trail. My real “Oh crap” moment in 2012 was watching Bill’s keynote at the DNC. It was a brilliant speech, in which the beloved (for lack of a better word) former president gave voters permission to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, by telling them, “Even I couldn’t have fixed this economy in four years.” It was a classically Clinton speech — making himself the star of someone else’s convention, and it worked.

So the question for 2016 might not be whether the Obama Coalition can be transferred to Hillary. Her skills, her charisma, her appeal, are just not enough to get the job done. The question instead might be whether Bill still has the skill, the charism, the appeal to help Hillary (who belongs in jail) win back some of the old Clinton Coalition without alienating Obama voters.

Maybe Hillary then is the wrong target for the GOP, and for right-leaning bloggers like myself. Maybe the real target is still Bill, the star of everyone else’s show.

Springtime for Putin (Reprise)

May 1st, 2015 - 6:24 am
A man stands tied to a post by pro-Russian rebels, accused of stealing from local people, with a poster around his neck reading "I am marauder, I beat and steal from civilians", standing next to a highway in Krasnyi Partyzan, Ukraine, Thursday, April 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

A man stands tied to a post by pro-Russian rebels, accused of stealing from local people, with a poster around his neck reading “I am marauder, I beat and steal from civilians”, standing next to a highway in Krasnyi Partyzan, Ukraine, Thursday, April 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

Russia’s ready for trouble, according to our own NATO brass:

Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of NATO forces in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the situation in Ukraine is volatile and fragile and urged Congress to bolster U.S. intelligence capabilities to better understand President Vladimir Putin’s intent in the region.

“Russian military operations over the past year in Ukraine, and the region more broadly, have underscored that there are critical gaps in our collection and analysis,” Breedlove said. “Some Russian military exercises have caught us by surprise and our textured feel for Russian involvement on the ground in Ukraine has been quite limited.”

He said the number of Russia intelligence experts has dwindled since the Cold War and intelligence assets of all kind have been shifted to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We cannot be fully certain what Russia will do next and we cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent. What we can do is learn from his actions,” Breedlove said. “What we do see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.”

That’s the kind of the Mitt Romney was viciously mocked for saying not even three whole years ago.

It makes you hope Barack Obama has just one patriotic bone in his body — and that it aches enough to night to make him wish he’d lost to Romney.

*If you’re a progressive, that is.

Part II of your Trifecta Triple.

(Image courtesy Google Maps)

(Image courtesy Google Maps)

Iran? Cheating? On nukes? But we don’t even have an agreement yet!


Britain has informed a United Nations sanctions panel of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to two blacklisted firms, according to a confidential report by the panel seen by Reuters.

The existence of such a network could add to Western concerns over whether Tehran can be trusted to adhere to a nuclear deal due by June 30 in which it would agree to restrict sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

Talks between six major powers and Tehran are approaching the final stages after they hammered out a preliminary agreement on April 2, with Iran committing to reduce the number of centrifuges it operates and other long-term nuclear limitations.

Every day Barack Obama and John Kerry continue on with this charade is a day when Barack Obama and John Kerry look like complete ass clowns to the entire world.

Personally, I’m long past any further embarrassment for my country, but I sure do hope for some change.

I’m Axin’ It

April 30th, 2015 - 12:51 pm
Wave goodbye to crap! (AP photo)

Wave goodbye to crap!
(AP photo)

McDonalds finally took the axe to eight unbeloved menu items — the Deluxe Quarter Pounder, six various chicken sandwiches, and the honey mustard and chipotle barbecue snack wraps. Here’s more from Bloomberg:

“It was a ‘rolling removal,’ meaning restaurants discontinued serving them as their supply depleted,” said Lisa McComb, a company spokeswoman.

McDonald’s new chief executive officer, Steve Easterbrook, is facing six straight quarters of declining same-stores sales in the U.S., along with pressure to sell healthier fare. While axing some sandwiches helps to condense the bloated menu, McDonald’s still has about 40 more items than it did in 2007, according to menu researcher Datassential in Los Angeles.

“They could cut their burger number in half,” said Michelle Greenwald, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School in New York City.

“If you have a good burger, a really, really good burger, you don’t need a million,” she said. “They should go for quality and not quantity.”

I tried the Deluxe Quarter Pounder a while back, and it was definitely an improvement over the regular QP, with better toppings. The lettuce and tomato gave the burger a freshness the regular one lacks. The next time I tried one, it was drowning in so much mayonnaise that I couldn’t eat it. Obviously, quality control remains a problem.

But McD might have been onto something with the Deluxe. If they could train their people to top the thing consistently, the Deluxe should be the new Quarter Pounder — but with the old name. In other words, make deluxe the new standard. The company could do the same with other standard fare, too. Put the beef tallow back in the fries, improve the quality of the buns, more fresh veggie toppings, and please do something with that miserable little standard hamburger patty.

Shrink the menu down to a sane number of favorite old items, but enhanced.

“Same menu, better food.”

Now that could save the chain.

Driven to Drink

April 30th, 2015 - 11:28 am


It looks like Tony Bourdain’s tell-all, Kitchen Confidential, was no exaggeration — the restaurant industry is a hotbed of booze & drugs. Especially drugs.

Wonkblog reports:

Now it’s important to note that much of this variation isn’t necessarily a direct function of the nature of the work in these industries, but rather of the types of people who work in them. For instance, we know that men drink and do drugs more heavily than women, and that young people are more into drugs and alcohol than older ones. So if an industry is dominated by young or male workers, it stands to reason that you’ll see higher rates of drinking and drug use in that industry.

For instance, the researchers write that one reason miners drink so much is that miners tend to be young and male. Construction workers, on the other hand, showed abnormally high heavy drinking rates even after controlling for age and gender. If some of that alcohol use is spilling over on to the job it could be a problem, given the potentially dangerous nature of that work.

However, the researchers found no difference in the distribution of drug use across the industries even when controlling for age and gender. Whether young or old, male or female, restaurant and hotel workers truly are the heaviest drug users in the nation.

Imagine you’re performing exhausting work for sometimes ungrateful customers, for too little money, and you get off work at oh-dark-thirty — when it’s just you and your brother and sister hospitality workers.

Pretty much nothing is open except for after hours bars and drug dealers.

What the heck else are you all going to do to blow off steam?

Killing Serial Killer

April 30th, 2015 - 10:14 am


The man who killed one of America’s most notorious serial killers explains why he did it:

Christopher Scarver — who fatally beat the serial killer and another inmate in 1994 — said he grew to despise Dahmer because he would fashion severed limbs out of prison food to taunt the other inmates.

He’d drizzle on packets of ketchup as blood.

It was very unnerving.

“He would put them in places where people would be,” Scarver, 45, recalled in a low, gravelly voice.

“He crossed the line with some people — prisoners, prison staff. Some people who are in prison are repentant — but he was not one of them.”

And on the killing itself:

“I asked him if he did those things ’cause I was fiercely disgusted. He was shocked. Yes, he was,” Scarver said.

“He started looking for the door pretty quick. I blocked him,” Scarver said.

With two swings of the bar, Scarver crushed Dahmer’s skull.

“He ended up dead. I put his head down,” he said.

He then casually crossed the gym and entered a locker room where Anderson, 37, was working.

“He stopped for a second and looked around. He was looking to see if any officials were there. There were none. Pretty much the same thing [happened] — got his head put out,” Scarver said of Anderson, who was serving a life term for killing his wife in 1992.

Scarver believes it was no accident that he ended up alone with Dahmer — since prison officials knew he hated the madman and they wanted him dead.

“They had something to do with what took place. Yes,” said Scarver, noting that the guards disappeared just before he clobbered Dahmer with the 20-inch, 5-pound metal bar.

Officially, I suppose Scarver deserves more prison time. Unofficially, I wonder if there’s some kind of fund people can give to, to make Scarver’s prison time more comfortable.

(Not) Leaving on a Jet Plane

April 30th, 2015 - 9:00 am
Grounded. (AP photo)

(AP photo)

Is there anything which that most perfect and noble of all men, Kim Jong-un, cannot do, comrades? Well, there is one thing — he can’t seem to leave the country:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has backed out of next month’s visit to Moscow for World War II anniversary celebrations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.

“We were informed of the decision via diplomatic channels,” Peskov said. “The decision is connected with North Korean domestic affairs.”

The visit was highly anticipated because it would have marked Kim’s first official foreign trip since inheriting the leadership of North Korea in late 2011.

My first guess — and it’s only a guess — is that Kim’s reign is not secure enough for him to risk leaving the country. That’s not exactly an uncommon problem for dictators, who in the early days usually owe their power to an unsteady coalition.

My second guess — still only a guess — is that whatever power block is the real power behind the throne doesn’t yet feel like Kim is ready to leave the country, or perhaps that their rule isn’t yet secure enough to risk letting the figurehead leave for a few days.

You have a third guess?

Samsung Takes Another Hit

April 30th, 2015 - 7:45 am

Samsung just reported another worse-than-expected quarter:

The company reported Wednesday that its January-March income was 4.63 trillion won ($4.35 billion), compared with 7.49 trillion won one year earlier.

That was lower than analysts’ consensus of 4.97 trillion won, according to financial data provider Factset.

Sales fell 12 percent from a year earlier to 47.12 trillion won while operating income dropped 30 percent to 5.98 trillion won, in line with Samsung’s earnings preview earlier this month.

The wider-than-expected drop in net profit was due to a big profit plunge in Samsung’s mobile business. The maker of Galaxy smartphones said its mobile division generated 2.74 trillion won in quarterly profit, compared with 6.43 trillion won a year earlier.

The new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge phones are supposed to be selling well, but apparently not well enough to bolster the company’s bottom line.

One good sign going forward is that I just checked on S6 prices, and they aren’t being discounted yet. If they finally have a phone built well enough to hold its value for more than a few weeks, the company has a good chance of getting back to its old profit margins in wireless.

No Rate Hike for You!

April 30th, 2015 - 6:30 am
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, attends the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund annual meetings in Washington, Saturday, April 18, 2015.  (Not actually an AP photo)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, attends the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund annual meetings in Washington, Saturday, April 18, 2015.
(Not actually an AP photo)

That June rate hike the Fed has been promising (threatening?) for months now? Yesterday’s recession-y GDP report has taken that off the table:

The Fed now needs time to make sure its expectation of a rebound proves correct after a spate of soft economic data. That means the chances a rate increase by midyear have diminished, a point underscored by the Fed’s statement released Wednesday after a two-day policy meeting.

“Economic growth slowed during the winter months, in part reflecting transitory factors,” the Fed said. The Fed also said that although growth and employment had slowed officials expected a return to a modest pace of growth and job market improvement, “with appropriate policy accommodation.”

“Transitory factors” again, eh? Janet Yellen has become the Roseanne Roseannadanna of central banking: “It’s always something.”

It’s my week to host the Trifecta Triple, and we’re doing “Earth Day: Past, Present, and Future.”

Assuming of course we have a future, because we’re all going to die of something, possibly, they just can’t quite figure out what.

Anyway, we had far too much fun on this first segment, so I hope you enjoy it, too.

Before we all die.

This next item came as no surprise after the dismal last couple of jobs reports:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. economy slowed to a crawl at the start of the year as businesses slashed investment, exports tumbled and consumers showed signs of caution, marking a return to the uneven growth that has been a hallmark of the nearly six-year economic expansion.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, expanded at a 0.2% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The economy advanced at a 2.2% pace in the fourth quarter and 5% in the third.

Don’t be fooled by those “strong” numbers from Q3 and Q4 of last year — they were mostly the result of a surge in consumer spending on health insurance, as mandated by ♡bamaCare!!!. Being mandated into a milch cow for the insurance industry might not sound very fun, but it sure goosed the GDP figures. And now even that meager steam has run out.

I just happened to have come across that WSJ story right after reading Jeremy Warner’s Telegraph report on negative interest rates in the eurozone. It seems apropos to our own situation, so here you go:

What makes today’s negative interest rate environment so worrying is this; to the extent that demand is growing at all in the world economy, it seems again to be almost entirely dependent on rising levels of debt. The financial crisis was meant to have exploded the credit bubble once and for all, but there’s very little sign of it. Rising public indebtedness has taken over where households and companies left off. And in terms of wider credit expansion, emerging markets have simply replaced Western ones. The wake-up call of the financial crisis has gone largely unheeded.

One by one, all the major central banks have joined the money printing party. First it was the US Federal Reserve. Then came the Bank of England and later the Bank of Japan. Just lately, it’s the European Central Bank. Now even the People’s Bank of China is considering the “unconventional” monetary support of bond buying. Anything to keep the show on the road. It’s what Chris Watling of the consultancy Longview Economics has termed the “philosophy of demand at any cost”. A crisis caused by too much debt has been fought with even more of the stuff.

It makes the central bankers happy to think so, and it probably makes them feel very important as well, but as I’ve said here many times before: You can’t spend your way to prosperity.

Every con man runs out of marks, and every credit bubble runs out of takers.

Europe is a little ways ahead of us on this road, but make no mistake — we’re on the same road.