Interesting Items 09/20

Howdy All, a few Interesting Items for your information.  Enjoy –

In this issue:

1.  Space
2.  Purge
3.  Newsom
4.  Gambit
5.  Tesla

1.  Space.  News since Jan 20 has at best been a slog, mostly frustrating, occasionally infuriating, so I thought I’d start the week with some positive reportage about space.  Last week saw the first flight of a full non-professional astronaut crew onboard SpaceX Inspiration4 capsule, which will be where we start this week.

  • The Inspiration4 flight launched from Pad 39A Thursday evening carrying a crew of four on a planned 3-day trip in low earth orbit.  Unlike previous suborbital rides, this one made it all the way to orbit and successfully brought the crew back.  The trip was purchased by Jared Isaacman, a billionaire who founded Shift4Payments for an unspecified amount.  The other three seats were filled with different fundraising efforts for St Jude Children Research Hospital.  Isaacman donated $100 million directly to St Jude.  One of the other seats went to a cancer survivor from St Jude chosen as a frontline hospital employee.  Another was selected based on a randomly chosen sweepstakes winner.  The sweepstake raised another $13 million.  The final seat went to a Shark Tank like contest that set up online stories as a way to raise money for St Jude.  While in orbit, the crew did some medical experiments and gathered data.  Netflix has a series on training and the flight that started broadcasting episodes over the weekend.  The first stage booster had been used twice before.  The Dragon capsule is the same one that carried the Crew-1 crew to ISS last November and brought them back six months later.  The Inspiration4 web page is located at the link.  While not the final model on how to do this commercially, this flight is the first of what will be many, many flights to come, with a proposed flight to the moon (Apollo 13 trajectory) as soon as two years from today.  The flight was not without difficulty, as they did have some reported problems with the inflight toilet.  The important part of this flight was a demonstration of the automation of the Dragon capsule and its systems.  This level of automation allowed a crew to get trained up and successfully fly without doing this for a living.  There will be more of these to come.  In some ways, this is back to the future, as the early Soviet and US space capsules were mostly automated 60 years ago. 
  • As a reminder that space is still hard, Firefly Aerospace launched its first attempt at an orbital test flight (something Bezos’ Blue Origin hasn’t managed to do yet) on Sept 2.  The flight went well for the first 150 seconds, before the first stage exploded.  The launch was out of Vandenberg in California.  Test article for the flight was a 92 kg payload.  Any successful space program will have to blow up and break things as the companies learn (and sadly relearn) how to successfully do what they want to do. 
  • A few articles over the course of the last month take note of all the “hate” Bezos and Blue Origin are getting and all the love that Musk and SpaceX seems to get.  Much of this is tied to the notion that Bezos and Blue Origin are attempting to use the federal courts and legal challenges filed with the regulatory agencies to do what they are unable to do technically, that is, actually cut metal and launch things.  For all the positive coverage about Bezos suborbital hop last month, Blue Origin has yet to put something, anything into orbit.  This has spilled over into competition for NASA grants for work on the Artemis system lunar lander and with Musk and Bezos going after one another with competing Starlink (SpaceX) and Kuiper Systems (Amazon).  Bezos is attempting to use complaints with the FAA and FCC to block upgrades of Musk’s Starlink which already has over 1,600 satellites in orbit and 100,000+ subscribers to their beta system.  The complaint is intended to keep Starlink from doing any systems and deliverables improvements until Amazon can launch theirs.  Amazon’s first launch is scheduled for 2023.  Using the legal system to hinder competition is an old American industrialist technique.  Shame nobody figured out how to do it to Amazon when they were growing.  Bezos would be far better off applying the time and effort spent in court on figuring out how to build and fly things.  Blue Origin is going to have to blow up a lot of rockets before they figure out how to operate them.  The sooner they start, the better off they will be in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive marketplace. 
  • Final space story is discovery of a huge comet inbound likely from the Oort Cloud. The comet named Bernadinelli – Bernstein is the largest known body at around 160 km in diameter.  It sprouted a tail an unusually long way from the sun.  to fire you.  The comet is one of a class of objects called Trans – Neptunian Objects.  Initial estimates of the comet is that it will get no closer than the orbit of Saturn this time around.  But it will be back, eventually encountering the gas giants that will modify its orbit, either sending it back out into the outer solar system or into the inner system where it may pose a problem millennia in the future. 

2.  Purge.  Fun piece in The Federalist about the ongoing purge of conservatives and Trump supporters from the US military.  This one discusses the most recent targets, advisory boards for the military academies.  Members of these Boards of Visitors are overseen by what used to be bipartisan mix of congress critters, retired military and distinguished civilians.  They are supposed to oversee what is going on at the academies (US Military Academy, US Air Force Academy, US Naval Academy, etc) and report their findings yearly to congress.  Less than two weeks after Biden’s inauguration, newly appointed SECDEF Lloyd Austin announced he would be suspending the Boards of Visitors for the three service academies along with 39 other DoD advisory boards.  The suspension took place immediately pending completion what Austin called a “zero based review” of the boards.  The term “zero based” used to mean start from the beginning, from scratch.  Unfortunately, under this SECDEF and JCS it may have morphed into review by zeroes (idiots).  This review was also to include changes to mission, function, membership balance (must not want to have to many white guys appointed or approved), and membership size.  Membership was retained at least temporarily because Austin does not have the ability to fire members, as they are statutorily appointed by congress and the president.  The review, supposed to be complete by April 30 has not yet been released.  On Aug 27, a Pentagon spokesman announced that the review was completed, and Austin would be examining how the boards are going to be “… reconstituted and how they’re going to be both chaired and populated.”  In other words, get rid of the white guys and Trump appointees.  The next step took place on Sept 8 when board members appointed by Trump were informed by the WH Personnel Office they were going to be fired if they did not voluntarily resign.  There is as yet no actual firing, and a number of Trump appointees have refused to resign.  This is part and parcel of politicizing the military and will proceed until it is stopped. 

3.  Newsom.  There is no small amount of frustration with the success of democrats in keeping California Governor Gavin Newsom in office.  While the vote to retain was an almost identical split with the Harris – Xiden win over Trump last year, there were some positive signs.  A woman on SQV expressed her dismay to Ric Grenell, former Trump insider, DNI, hatchet man, and all-around fighter for the right.  Grenell responded with a positive message about positive signs from the recall:

  • Latino voters gave 19% more support for the recall than for Trump in 2020
  • Asian voters gave 16% more support for the recall than for Trump in 2020
  • Black voters gave 4% more support for the recall than for Trump in 2020
  • Other non-Asian, black and Latino voters gave 23% more support for the recall than Trump in 2020
  • Several swing congressional districts showed an improvement in support for the recall over votes for the elected congress critter

The main point Grenell made was that the problem in California didn’t get the way it currently is overnight and will take a while to fix.  But things are starting to turn the right direction, which is a positive sign.  Grenell points out that Cali is a blue state, and it will take a while to fix it.  The hard work so far is paying off and trends are starting to swing in the right direction, particularly among minorities.  Keep highlighting mismanagement in the state.  And keep working on the trend that minorities are supporting conservatives in Cali like never before.  Fix California, which Grenell heads up is focused on fixing Cali’s voter rolls.  They have identified 1.3 million conservatives in Cali who are not registered to vote.  And they are going to go after the black little heart of democrat control of Cali, public education, specifically the teachers’ unions.  This is a start.  And Grenell is just the fighter we need to lead this fight. 

4.  Gambit.  What happens when you don’t have a voting majority?  Historically, you change either who gets to vote or who gets to count them.  In North Carolina, the state supreme court looks poised to remove a pair of Republican members, give democrats a temporary 4:1 majority on the court, allow a sitting democrat up for reelection next year to vote no, eventually tossing out a pair of constitutional amendments which were overwhelmingly passed by over 4 million voters.  The case is NAA(L)CP v Moore and grew out of a fight that started in 2018 when NAA(L)CP and greens sued to block 4 constitutional amendments presented to voters for approval in the Nov 2018 election.  The amendments passed by a wide margin.  Two of these were a lowering of the state constitutional cap on income taxes and a voter ID law.  Both passed 57% and 55% respectively.  NCAA(L)CP filed a lawsuit immediately.  Feb 2019, they found a judge who ruled in their favor, issuing a breathtaking opinion finding that the legislature that put the amendments on the ballot were usurpers illegally elected by tainted redistricting maps.  This thrashed around state courts until Sept 2020 when the NC Court of Appeals reinstated the amendments, shredding the lower court ruling.  There was an automatic appeal to the state supreme court.  NAA(L)CP filed a demand that two Republican Supreme Court members be forced to recuse themselves.  While judges recuse from time to time, they have never been forced off a case by their fellow judges.  Should democrats and the NAA(L)CP be successful in this gambit, forcing two judges to recuse and reinstating an opinion that an entire state legislature is illegal because they lost redistricting, I predict Vigilance Committees, ropes, trees and lampposts.  

5.  Tesla.  Yet another demonstration that Elon Musk is one of the most brilliant industrialists operating in the US today comes from New Mexico, where Musk reached an arrangement with Nambe Pueblo to open a sales and service center on tribal lands.  New Mexico, like several other states, has laws in place that prohibit purchase of vehicles direct from the manufacturer.  These were put in place decades ago at the behest of local dealerships to protect their market share.  Teslas are sold directly from the manufacturer.  Musk has been in a fight with New Mexico to open sales in the state.  They tried to get legislation passed in 2019 but were shut down when the dealerships flexed their political muscle.  Took less than two years to figure out a workaround on tribal land.  Musk gets to sell Teslas.  The Pueblo get paid.  And everyone other than the politically connected dealerships in New Mexico are happy. 

More later –

  • AG

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