* This weblog provides an "online notebook" to provide comments on current events, interesting items I run across, and the occasional musing. It promotes no particular ideology. The current daily installment is available HERE. For update notices, follow Wyle_Coyote @gv_goebel on TWITTER.
* THE WEEK THAT WAS: As discussed in an article from REUTERS.com ("Democrats Score Big Wins" by David Morgan, 8 August 2022), the House of Representatives has now passed the "Inflation Reduction Act" -- a $430 billion USD drug pricing, energy, and tax bill, mentioned here last week after it cleared the Senate. It now goes to President Joe Biden's desk for signing.
The package is a scaled-back version of Biden's "Build Back Better" proposal, which was blocked by conservative Senate Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema as too expensive. Manchin and Sinema voted for this bill; no Republicans did, and it was only passed through the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris was able to cast a tie-breaking vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said:
This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades: it will reduce inflation, it will lower prescription drug costs, it will fight climate change, it will close tax loopholes, and it will reduce -- reduce -- the deficit. For families struggling to pay the bills, for seniors struggling to pay for medications, for kids struggling with asthma. This bill is for them.
According to a recent Reuters / IPSOS poll, about half of Americans -- some 49% -- support the bill, including 69% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans. The bill includes:
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell predictably blasted the bill, saying: "Hundreds of billions of dollars in tax hikes on a struggling economy will kill American jobs. He denounced the legislation as a "so-called inflation bill that will not meaningfully reduce inflation at all, and will actually make inflation even worse in the short term."
It is true that the impact of the bill will be long-term; major bills are like that -- though it is also true that inflation is in part a matter of social psychology, and reassuring the public that things are being done helps cool it off. In any case, President Joe Biden was ceding no ground to the Republicans, declaring the bill a big win: "Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests, voting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs and reduce the deficit, while making the wealthiest corporations finally pay their fair share."
Incidentally, Senator Bernie Sanders, marked as the furthest Left the Senate gets, wasn't happy with the bill, saying among other things: "This legislation does not address the reality that we have more income and wealth inequality today than at any time in the last hundred years." He concluded: "This reconciliation bill goes nowhere near far enough in addressing the problems facing struggling working families. But it is a step forward and I was happy to support it." One wonders, however, if Sanders was, by dissing the bill, trying to encourage Fox News to approve of it.
Other major legislation -- on gay marriage and voter rights -- remains in the wings, for when Congress returns from summer recess. The big interesting question in that context, as mentioned here last week, is if Manchin pushes filibuster reform to get the legislation passed. Things are looking up in that direction, but we'll see.
* On 9 August, a series of violent explosions shook a Russian airbase in occupied Crimea, with startled tourists watching mushroom clouds rising into the air. Nobody knows what happened; the explosions were big, and the Ukrainians are not known to have weapons with nearly enough range to reach the airbase. The Ukrainian government blandly claimed that it had been a partisan attack, but few believed that. Speculation on Twitter was all over the map, muted by the general awareness that it was best to keep the Russians guessing.
Fighting still grinds on in the Donbas region, but precision attacks by HIMARS rocket launchers have seriously hobbled the Russians, who are no longer making even slow progress. The VOICES FROM RUSSIA & UKRAINE YouTube channel, which plays phone intercepts of Orc soldiers, suggests the Russians are flatly terrified of HIMARS. Although intercepts have been drying up somewhat due to better Russian security, a recent intercepted conversation between a Russian soldier and his father suggests desperation is sinking in:
FATHER: Son, your voice sounds sad. Hold on in there! Cheer up! ...
SOLDIER [glumly]: Honestly, I think it's because nobody will replace us ... It's just -- you know what I think now? After 6 months, what next? Will it be a one-year mission? ...
FATHER: What did those jackals tell you about that mission?! Are they just silent about it and don't tell you anything?!
SOLDIER: They don't know anything themselves.
FATHER: ... I call everyone, fuck! BTW, do they fire a shitload of shells at you?
SOLDIER: ... It's hard to count ... the whole day, every 5 to 10 minutes.
FATHER: ... artillery, mortars?
FATHER: ... Grad, Uragan [rocket launchers], what else?
SOLDIER: Everything! ... you can even hear HIMARS at work from far away.
FATHER: Be careful with HIMARS ... it's really precise. It's just fucking hell. [The YouTube host, normally impassive, smiled and gave a thumbs-up.]
Ukrainian forces are under severe pressure, but much more upbeat. Ukrainian General Dmytro Marchenko gave an interview with several interesting comments, excerpted here:
Q: There is open information that the occupants have been pulling forces to the south -- to the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions -- for several weeks. Is it for some serious offensive operation or local attacks?
A: This is probably to make it more convenient for us to destroy them in a pile. There is information that they are reinforcing the troops they already had there. They understand that Ukraine is preparing for a counteroffensive operation, so they are strengthening their groups there, moving battalion tactical groups. But this will not help them much. Our Southern Command is now very successful in artillery strikes against enemy targets. In the last week, they destroyed more than ten ammunition depots and command posts. Therefore, believe me, the situation is not as bad as everyone thinks.
Q: Is the increased intensity of shelling in Mykolaiv some element of their preparation for an offensive, or is it solely for terror and intimidation of the locals?
A: I would say that the intensity, on the contrary, has decreased. Today [9 August] was the first quiet night. The South Command, in addition to many ammunition depots and command posts, very aptly struck an entire S-300 [missile] division. So they are not doing as well as they may seem.
Q: Let's imagine, there is no way they can approach and surround Mykolaiv, so they will try to break through to the Odesa Oblast through Voznesensk. Is this a realistic scenario, and how significant is the risk that they will manage to break into Odesa Oblast?
A: Yes, that was in their original plans. But let's say they missed their chance to do so back in March. So now it will be complicated for them; they will suffer heavy losses of personnel and equipment. They are already morally very frazzled and want to flee. From their conversations, we hear that they have already started looking for air mattresses and rubber boats instead of washing machines and microwave ovens. They are getting ready to flee behind the Dnipro River.
Q: And what about the bridge on the dam across the Kakhovka Reservoir? What to do there, because it is a critical engineering structure, and it seems to me that to damage it is dangerous?
A: This bridge has already been hit, but it is challenging to shoot it because there are critical facilities there. If we hit them, we could hit the dam gates. So it's an exceptional job. But I think this bridge will soon be damaged enough that they can't move their reserves over it. As soon as the reserves are cut off -- "Welcome to Ukraine [said in English]" -- we will beat them and drive them out.
Q: In the Zaporizhzhia region, Gauleiter [ED: interesting use of that term] Balitsky has already signed an "order" to hold a "referendum". Do you know if something like this is planned in the Kherson region?
A: Their FSB service members are discussing that they can not use the same scenario in Kherson as they did in Crimea. They already recognize this as a fact. And they are already preparing for some other events because this particular scenario does not work for them. The people of Kherson are very pro-Ukrainian and resist. They do not give them a chance to implement this scenario with the "referendum" and the "Russian world". Therefore, I think in Kherson, the referendum scenario will definitely not succeed.
Q: So they will hardly be able to hold it in Kherson on September 11?
A: I'm 100% sure that they will not.
Q: Can we liberate Crimea militarily?
A: Yes. We will liberate it militarily. No one has given up on it. Crimea is Ukraine; it's our land. Our people are there, who are still forced to live under occupation. No one gave Russia the right to come, take a piece of land and say, "this is mine. We will reclaim Crimea, just as we will reclaim Kherson, Lugansk, and Donetsk.
Q: Is it necessary to destroy the Crimean bridge to do so?
A: Yes, this is a necessary measure to deprive them of the ability to provide reserves and reinforce their troops from Russian territory.
Q: How critical is our arms shortage now? What kind of weapons do we lack for counteroffensive and offensive operations and the liberation of our territories?
A: Unfortunately, the military assistance our Western partners have promised us is provided in small batches, making it very difficult for us to conduct offensive operations. [ED: While it is true that supplies can't possibly arrive fast enough, that sounds a little like disinformation.] So I think that as soon as we receive the complete package of this assistance, our counteroffensive actions will be swift.
Q: Can Ukraine end the war through negotiations, making certain compromises, or will everything be decided exclusively on the battlefield until we reach the borders of 1991?
A: We have already passed the point of no return after [atrocities at] Irpen and Bucha. Any negotiations concerning the surrender of some of our territory -- all the military, all the population understand that we can not do this categorically. If we do that, we will shift this war onto the shoulders of our children. If we leave the enemy even a piece of land, he will come back home, draw some conclusions and attack again in six or eight years. So we need to defend all the territory. We need to take control of Ukraine's borders and not leave them a single piece of our land.
Q: How long do you think this war can go on?
A: I wouldn't want to make predictions. But if we have the amount of weaponry that was promised to us, that we need, then I think next spring, we will be celebrating victory.
Online comments on this interview gave General Marchenko points for "weapons-grade trolling" of the Russians. The war remains painful, but it does make a big difference to have the psychological upper hand over an adversary. A poll of Ukrainians showed 98% of them were sure Ukraine will win the war, and over 90% backed Zelenskyy. More than half seriously, Ukrainians on social media are already promoting "Summer Beach Party Crimea 2023".COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* SOCIAL CAPITALISM (7): Adam Smith's WEALTH OF NATIONS was published in 1776, the same year that the American colonies declared independence of Britain. During the conflict, the 13 colonies tried to establish joint action through a ramshackle and voluntary confederation, embodied in a "Continental Congress", that proved barely effectual. After the end of the revolution in 1783, the defects of the confederation became obvious -- leading to the establishment of a central government of the United States in 1789.
The Constitution of the new government reflected the commercial bent of the new nation. To be sure, the Constitution gave the Federal government broad powers to provide common laws, maintain domestic order, provide national defense, and "promote the general welfare" that didn't sound particularly commercial in themselves, but were necessarily intertwined with commerce. The common laws regulated interstate trade -- with the Constitution effectively setting up the United States as an internal free-trade bloc -- and national defense a navy to protect American foreign trade from pirates or hostile states -- with "freedom of navigation" becoming an ongoing theme in American foreign policy. The Constitution also granted the Federal government specific powers with commercial implications, such as to:
In 1790, America's first president, George Washington (1732:1799), delivered the first annual presidential address to the US Congress, which stated that the safety and interest of a free people "require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies." -- with Washington reflecting a mercantilist mindset.
Alexander Hamilton (1755|1757:1804), the first treasury secretary of the USA, followed up Washington's comment with a proposal for US government commercial policy in his REPORT ON THE SUBJECT OF MANUFACTURES, presented to Congress in 1791. He argued for subsidies or bounties to industry, and moderate tariffs -- not intended to discourage imports, but instead to obtain funds for the government operation and industrial subsidies. The funds could be used for internal improvements, such as the construction of roads and canals. Encouraging industry would increase employment and encourage immigration to the United States, with immigrants bringing in new skills and ideas. In the end, America would have a domestic industry that was capable of providing all the gear needed for national defense.
There was a significant omission in the REPORT ON MANUFACTURES: there was no place for slavery in Hamilton's scheme. This pointed towards the fundamental split in America's economy at the outset: between a North that was headed towards industrialization, and a South that was headed towards a plantation system, based on slave labor. Thomas Jefferson (1743:1826) -- at the time, Washington's vice president, and later a president -- was insistent on the superiority of "honest farmers" over money-grubbing businessmen. In practice, Jefferson's "honest farmers" were hard to separate from the owners of plantations, run by slaves. Jefferson was a slave-owner. [TO BE CONTINUED]COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* GIMMICKS & GADGETS: As reported in an article from SCIENCEMAG.org ("New Artificial Enamel Is Harder And More Durable Than The Real Thing" by Graycen Wheeler, 3 Feb 2022), the enamel on our teeth is the hardest thing in our bodies, but still elastic enough not to crack very often. Researchers have now come up with an artificial enamel that is tougher and more durable than natural enamel.
Enamel is hard to mimic because it's not just a simple composite of molecules; it has an elaborate structure. Calcium, phosphorus, and oxygen atoms are linked together to form crystalline wires. Enamel-producing cells form a magnesium-rich coating around those wires -- which then weave together and establish structures that resemble bunches and twists. It is this structure that gives enamel its impressive properties.
Previous attempts to create synthetic enamels have not been able to duplicate this structure. Efforts have been made to use peptides -- fragmentary protein chains -- to guide the formation of the crystalline wires, but coatings didn't form around the wires.
Now a research team at the University of Ann Arbor in Michigan has figured out a workaround. Instead of peptides or similar biological tools, they used extreme heat to coax the wires into an orderly formation. As with earlier efforts, they made the wires of hydroxyapatite, a calcium phosphate compound -- but then encased the wires in a malleable metal-based coating that prevents the wires from snapping. The coating was made with zirconium oxide, which is very strong and biologically inert.
Although the artificial enamel didn't have the elaborate 3D structure of natural enamel, it was still very hard and durable, having to be cut with a diamond-bladed saw. To measure the hardness and elasticity of the new artificial enamel, the researchers nicked a piece of it and applied pressure until the nick spread into a fracture. The fracturing pressure and the length of the crack gave them the toughness and strain resistance of the enamel. They also tried to indent the enamel with a pointy diamond tip. They found that the artificial enamel outperformed natural enamel in six areas, including its elasticity and ability to absorb vibrations.
More work needs to be done on the artificial enamel, since its fabrication requires high heat, then freezing, and then cutting with a diamond saw. However, the market potential is there. Our bodies can't regenerate enamel, so the artificial enamel should have plenty of application in dental treatments. Alvaro Mata -- a biomedical engineer at the University of Nottingham in the UK who was not involved with the study -- says the artificial enamel should be useful for many purposes: "From creating body armor to strengthening or hardening surfaces for floors or cars, there could be many, many applications."
* As discussed in an article from NEWATLAS.com ("Seashell-Inspired Material Makes for Strong, Light Spacecraft Shielding" by Michael Irving, 5 May 2022) researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have developed a material, inspired by seashells, that has remarkable properties and is also very cheap.
Seashells are strong due to their structure of alternating layers of organic and inorganic materials. Layers of inorganic nanograins provide strength, while organic proteins "glue" them together, preventing cracks from propagating between layers. The Sandia researchers mimicked this structure, laying down a sandwich of inorganic layers of silica, alternating with carbon black derived from burnt sugar.
The result is light, very hard and stiff, with an ability to stand extreme heat -- possibly up to 1,650 degrees Celsius (3,000 degrees Fahrenheit). It is also remarkably cheap, a fraction of a percent of the cost of beryllium, the material with the closest thermal and mechanical properties. Production is also environmentally-friendly, the only chemical element being ethanol. The Sandia researchers see it as useful for spacecraft shielding and reactors.
* As discussed in an article from REUTERS.com ("Lobster Shell Patterns Make Concrete Stronger" by Jill Gralow & James Redmayne, 26 January 2021), Australian researchers have leveraged off the stacked, twisting patterns of a lobster shell to improve the strength of concrete.
The process involves depositing layers of concrete one on top of the other using a 3D printing process. The concrete is reinforced with steel fibers. Research lead Jonathan Tran says: "The lobster shell is always something that still amazes me by its very interesting shapes and architectures [that make] the lobster shell ... amazingly very stiff." He sees the process as particularly useful for building arched or elaborated curved structures.COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* DEFENDING TAIWAN (1): As discussed here a few months back, Taiwan has been considering a "porcupine" strategy to deter a Chinese invasion -- the idea being to acquire large numbers of smart munitions to balance Chinese material superiority. As discussed in an article from THEDRIVE.com ("Massive Drone Swarm Over Strait Decisive In Taiwan Conflict Wargames" by Joseph Trevithick, 19 May 2022), wargames conducted in the US have suggested just how effective huge swarms of cheap drones would be in the defense of Taiwan.
David Ochmanek -- a senior international affairs and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development during President Barack Obama's administration -- has discussed wargames performed by RAND that established the importance of robot platforms in a new Taiwan Straits crisis.
According to Ochmanek, a Chinese attempt to invade Taiwan would have to be defeated in a week or ten days. The Chinese have amassed a wide array of capable "anti-access / area denial" capabilities in the past two decades to deal with intervention by the USA and other Taiwanese allies -- including an arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles that could be used to neutralize US bases across the Pacific region; anti-satellite weapons to destroy or degrade various American space-based assets; and dense integrated air defense networks, bolstered by capable combat aircraft.
In recent years, US wargames envisioning a Taiwan crisis have not gone well for the USA. However, Ochmanek says that modeling performed by RAND, including simulations conducted in cooperation with the Air Force, shows that large numbers of robot aircraft -- particularly relatively small and inexpensive machines capable of operating as fully-autonomous swarms using a collaborative "mesh" data-sharing network -- have shown themselves to be absolutely essential for coming out on top in these wargames. Ochmanek says:
We're doing some simulations that capture scenarios in which we're trying to rapidly sink that invasion fleet in the Strait. We're also trying to clear the skies of [People's Liberation Army Air Force] fighters, transports, and attack helos, transport helos. So, think of this:
Imagine 1,000 UAVs [drones] over Taiwan and over the Taiwan Strait. They are not large aircraft, but they are flying at high subsonic speed. You can imagine making their radar cross-section indistinguishable from that of an F-35. And the UAVs are basically out in front. They're doing the sensing mission. Manned aircraft are kind of hanging back.
Imagine now being an SA-21 [S-400 surface to air missile system] operator on the mainland of China or on one of the surface action groups trying to project [power], your scopes are flooded with things that you gotta kill. If you don't kill those sensors, we're gonna find you. And if we find you, we're gonna kill you. So, A, we're creating defilade if you will, camouflage, for the manned aircraft to hide behind.
We're potentially exhausting the enemy's magazines of expensive SAMs, and on the right side of the cost-exchange ratio. You could put some jammers on a few of these UAVs, as well, to further suppress the effectiveness of the SAMs. And then, the key is, these UAVs create a sensing grid that tells you where the targets are on the surface, where the targets are in the air, so that the F-35s, F-22s can conduct their engagements passively. You never have to turn on your radar. You know what that means for survivability. So, we call these UAVs the pilot's friend.
If a single robot aircraft only has to act as a sensor node, weapons truck, jammer, or datalink relay, among other things, it then also opens up the option to make that platform smaller and cheaper than it would be if it were a multi-role platform. [TO BE CONTINUED]COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* SOLAR AFRICA: As discussed in an article from REUTERS.com ("Nigerian Businesses Turn To Solar As Diesel Costs Bite" by Macdonald Dzirutwe, 12 July 2022), the recent crunch on oil has been a big hint that the world needs to shift to renewable energy sources. Solar-energy companies in Nigeria are seeing that shift through a surge in demand for mini-grids and equipment, as businesses in Africa's biggest oil producer look for alternative power sources after the cost of diesel soared.
Nigeria, Africa's largest economy with a population of more than 200 million people, has installed electricity capacity of 12,500 megawatts but the national grid only provides 4,000 MW at peak, leaving businesses and citizens heavily reliant on diesel-powered generators. While gasoline is subsidized, diesel is not, and its price has tripled, mostly due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Energy Commission of Nigeria says the country spends $22 billion USD annually to fuel generators.
Solar power adoption is estimated at below 2%, and some businesses perceive it as unsuitable for large-scale use. One study showed that Nigeria's installed photovoltaic power generation capability per capita amounted to 1 watt, compared to an average 8 watts in similar emerging markets like South Africa.
Prince Ojeabulu -- CEO of Rensource Energy, a Nigerian solar-power provider -- says that negative attitude towards solar is changing as energy costs eat into company margins. In 2021, Rensource installed under a megawatt of solar panels, but it is now constructing 6 MW plants. He says: "By the end of the year, going by the trend that we see so far, we should have 12 MW of solar installations operational across Nigeria, or even more."
It's not all smooth sailing, however, due to supply chain disruptions caused by the Ukraine War and COVID-19 lockdowns in China. Finding local financing has been troublesome too, but money is flowing in from overseas development financial institutions seeking to invest in businesses focusing on green energy. The long-term prospect is, however, "sunny".
* In closely related news, another article from REUTERS.com ("Malawi Solar Mini-Grid Shows Promise", 21 April 2022) described the implementation of a solar-power project in Malawi -- where the village of Sitolo uses an array of photovoltaic panels to power maize mills, a sunflower oil facility, and to power small businesses.
In Malawi, more than three quarters of the country's roughly 20 million population does not have access to electricity -- a higher proportion than Africa's average of roughly half. Small villages in Africa are often "off the grid", with delivering electricity to them being problematic. Village-level solar power installations can be much more cost-effective, and eliminate the need to run expensive and dirty diesel generators.
The Sitolo project connects more than 700 people across three villages. Local farmers no longer have to trek long distances to get their maize milled or sunflower seeds pressed. Brenda Limbikani, a sunflower farmer, said local people never used to grow sunflowers. She says: "But with this oil-pressing machine, more people have planted the crop. This year, the number of farmers growing sunflowers is more than ever."COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* THE WEEK THAT WAS: The war in Ukraine drags on, but it is clear the Russians, and their Ukrainian separatist allies, are getting the worst of it. That was reflected in an intercepted phone call, between a separatist soldier and his mother & father:
SOLDIER: ... Ukrainian Army is the most powerful army in the whole world.
MOTHER: Khokhols?! [derogatory term for Ukrainians]
SOLDIER: Yes ... It's the truth ... They are not even scared of your Russians. The fuck knows who they're scared of.
MOTHER: But on videos from the internet, when they're captured, they're pissing themselves!
SOLDIER: ... Did you even see the casualties rate?
MOTHER: They don't tell us about casualties ... They don't disclose those numbers. At all.
SOLDIER: Well, you don't know lots of things ...
MOTHER: Yeah, I get that we don't know the truth. They don't tell us the truth, Serezha.
FATHER: We've been told all is good.
SOLDIER: They tell you fairy tales ... The best army is Ukrainian. I'm telling you this -- the Ukrainian Army is the best ... though I wish it wasn't.
MOTHER: Yes, it sounds terrible!
SOLDIER: But that's how it is, honestly. And even if we're moving forward, we only do it with a very high casualties rate. Very, very high rate.
FATHER (presumably to MOTHER): And I told you, and you didn't believe me! That's what I told you.
SOLDIER: They fuck us up in a snap -- our regiment was fucking destroyed ...
A video was circulating of a HIMARS attack on a Russian supply train at night. It was a continuous chain of thunderous secondary explosions, shattering the night. It appears that Ukrainians are enthusiastic about Saint HIMARS. One video, to the soundtrack of Metallica's ENTER SANDMAN, spliced together clips of HIMARS in devastating action, concluding with: HIMARS GLOBAL TOUR 2022 / COMING SOON / TO A RUSSIAN MUNITIONS DEPOT NEAR YOU!
At the bottom end of the munitions scale, the Ukrainians are very enthusiastic about small commercial quadcopter drones. A video showed a Ukrainian soldier, nicknamed "Screw" for whatever reason, putting together miniature aerial bombs from 40-millimeter launcher grenades. They're about the size of an egg; Screw attached a cap with a detonator on it, plus a tailkit with fins, the accessories being 3D-printed. He says he's made hundreds of the little bombs.
As far as other weapons in the war go, the Russians released a photo of the remains of an AGM-88D HARM anti-radar missile, which had apparently chewed up an air-defense radar. That was surprising, because Ukraine is not known to fly any aircraft qualified to use HARM. If the report is true, clearly there is some improvisation at work, either air or ground launch, with an air asset carrying the specialized HARM targeting system. All the complaints about the failings of military aid to Ukraine don't recognize that Ukraine is getting weapons nobody is talking about.
* Along with the Ukraine War, China's belligerence over Taiwan was on full display this last week, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island as part of an Asia tour, despite loud objections from Beijing. China responded to the visit with a major set of military provocations, including missile launches. There was much fuss over how the USA handled the matter, but if Pelosi had backed down, Beijing would have felt more emboldened to react against the next perceived provocation. Nothing in the status quo changed. We may be on the road to calamity, but we would have been in any case.
The USA doesn't own the Taiwan problem; China does. Xi Jinping has as much claim to Taiwan as Vladimir Putin has to Ukraine, and neither the people of Taiwan nor Ukraine are going along. Xi needs to watch what happens to Putin. It might prove educational.
* Back in the USA, just before going on summer recess, Congress passed the "Inflation Reduction Act of 2022", which is effectively a "skinny" version of President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan. Features include:
It's not close to everything needed, but it's a substantial step. It clearly shows the fingerprints of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin -- but it was also passed by reconciliation, with 51 votes, including Vice President Kamala Harris. That's a big deal, since Manchin has been steadfast in supporting the 60-vote filibuster rule. It was obvious that his support was a tactical measure, but it was unclear if he would ever relent. Now he has, with the next question being: will Manchin support filibuster reform? He's discussed doing so in the past, so there is hope.COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* SOCIAL CAPITALISM (6): Adam Smith's "invisible hand", as he saw it, was inclined to "virtuous circles": with business development, the labor supply grew, with wages moderate by size; the increased labor supply meant further business development. The system generated wealth.
Of course, economics is a behavioral science -- the study of human economic behavior -- and Smith essentially knew it. While in modern times, Smith is seen as a prophet of capitalism without restraint, relying on the "magic of the market", he was thinking more in terms of breaking down the system of trade guilds and monopolies, enforced by governments. His system would not work if governance were based on the "the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind." Smith also took a dim view of landlords, believing they had an ingrained tendency to raise rents to the maximum rate possible. Smith believed the capitalist system had an inherent tendency towards monopoly, writing:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.
People are generally in business, as is said today, to "make money and have fun." They may have a sense of social obligation, but that's not what the system is all about, and their ideals of a just society may not reflect those of other citizens. Smith did not have a high opinion of businessmen, and believed that a factory worker "generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to become." He also suggested that his system of "natural liberty" could eventually run into diminishing returns and stagnation -- looking ahead somewhat to the phenomenon that would become known as "market saturation", in which sales no longer increase, leading to brutal price competition, and very possible monopoly over the longer run.
Certainly, Smith was hardly an anti-government activist in any sense; he not only believed the state had a right of taxation, but endorsed progressive taxation to a degree:
The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.
TWON was Smith's last major work; he then was appointed commissioner both of customs and of salt duties for Scotland, living out his life in comfort and public prestige. [TO BE CONTINUED]COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* SCIENCE NOTES: As discussed in an article from REUTERS.com ("Global Wind And Solar Growth On Track To Meet Climate Targets" 31 March 2022), a report from the climate think tank Ember from March says that solar and wind power can grow enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius if the 10-year average compound growth rate of 20% can be maintained to 2030.
Solar generation gained 23% globally in 2021, while wind supply gained 14% over the same period. Both renewable sources together accounted for 10.3% of total global electricity generation, up 1% from 2020. The Netherlands, Australia, and Vietnam had the fastest growth rates for the renewable sources, replacing about 10% of their electricity demand from fossil fuels to wind and solar in the last two years. Ember's global lead Dave Jones said that the main obstacles to growth are political constraints like permitting, and that governments need to take down those obstacles.
However, despite gains in wind and solar, coal-fired power generation saw its fastest growth since at least 1985, up 9% in 2021 at 10,042 terawatt hours (TWh), or 59% of the total demand rise. This came in a year of rapid demand recovery, with 2021 seeing the largest recorded annual increase of 1,414 TWh in global electricity demand in 2021, the equivalent of adding a new India to global demand. The biggest demand rise was recorded in China, up 13% in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. China relies largely on coal for power production, but passed the one-tenth of power generation from wind and solar landmark for the first time in 2021 along with six other countries.
* As discussed in an article from SCIENCENEWS.org ("Antiprotons Show No Hint of Unexpected Matter-Antimatter Differences" by Emily Conover, 5 January 2022), it is well known that the matter of which we and the world are composed is "mirrored" by "anti-matter", which looks the same but has reversed electrical charges. The puzzle to physicists is why we effectively only see matter and not antimatter. On the face of it, shouldn't there be as much of one as the other? A recent experiment keeps the question alive, showing that the ratio of charge to mass of protons and anti-protons is, within the limits of measurement error, exactly the same.
The "Baryon-Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment (BASE)" experiment at the European particle physics laboratory CERN, near Geneva, measured the oscillations of a single anti-proton confined within an electromagnetic trap. These oscillations gave the charge-to-mass ratio of the anti-proton; those measurements were compared to those of a trapped hydrogen ion, consisting of a proton and two electrons, to obtain the proton's charge-to-mass ratio.
After more than 24,000 of these comparisons, BASE researchers found that the two charge-to-mass ratios are identical to within 1.6 billionths of a percent. This is more than four times as precise as the previous measurement.
According to Stefan Ulmer -- a spokesperson of BASE and physicist at RIKEN in Wako, Japan -- the experiment also tested physicists' understanding of gravity's effect on antimatter. Since the Earth's gravitational environment shifts slightly as the planet orbits the Sun, if gravity had a different effect on protons and anti-protons, it would have showed up over the year and a half duration of the BASE experiment. According to Ulmer, there was no difference, within a precision of 3%.
* As discussed in an article from NEWSCIENTIST.com ("Most Precise Atomic Clock Shows Einstein's General Relativity Is Right" by Alex Wilkins, 16 February 2022), the University of Colorado Boulder JILA laboratory -- a collaboration between the university and the US National Institute of Standards & Technology, the name once meaning "Joint Institute For Laboratory Astrophysics" -- has developed an atomic clock of unprecedented precision, and used it for a test of Einstein's general theory of relativity.
JILA's Tobias Bothwell and his colleagues separated hundreds of thousands of strontium atoms into "pancake-shaped" blobs of 30 atoms. They used optical light to trap the atoms into a vertical stack 1 millimeter high; then they shined a laser on the stack, and measured the scattered light with a high-speed camera, with the wavelength of the emission from the strontium atoms being used as a time reference.
According to general relativity, clocks run slower the deeper they are in a gravity well. The stack of strontium atoms was vertical, meaning time ran more slowly at the bottom of the stack than at top -- exactly 10E-19 of a second slower, to be precise, with a certainty of 21 decimal places. Earlier measurements of this "redshift" in wavelength used multiple clocks; this was the first to use a single clock.
Bothwell says this atomic clock design could eventually be used to measure gravitational waves in space or the possible ways that dark matter couples to ordinary matter -- as well as having uses in more practical areas, such as improving accuracy for the Global Positioning System (GPS), which uses the precise timing of atomic clocks to calculate distance.
Another research group at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has also come up with an innovative atomic clock set-up. Shimon Kolkowitz and his colleagues used comparisons between six different strontium atomic clocks to measure a second. This comparative model, known as a "multiplex clock", allowed the to use a less stable laser than the JILA group's clock, but still achieve a level of precision even better than that obtained by the JILA team.COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* UK IN SPACE (3): The British government is supporting space development efforts through a "Research Collaboration Advice Team (RCAT)" within the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, set up in 2021. The RCAT provides advice on topics such as export controls, cybersecurity, and intellectual property.
Ultimately, it roots back to the UKSA, which has a broad mission, a spokesperson saying: "We will facilitate small satellite launches from our soil; back UK companies in the effort to develop sustainable practices and clean up space debris, and continue to invest in our world-renowned engineers and scientists. The UK Space Agency is supporting companies and researchers who together contribute pioneering new ideas, create jobs, and develop the technologies that position the UK as a global leader in space."
* As discussed in a footnote, Scotland is about to become a space power in itself, with the first launch of a spacelift booster from the Shetland Islands. The launch will be a cornerstone of the UK Pathfinder Launch program.
However, the effort is under the direction of US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the effort, which has been setting up SaxaVord Spaceport on the northernmost Shetland isle of Unst. The booster itself will be provided by US startup ABL Space Systems, which has been developing the "RS1" light booster. The RS1 can place up to 1,350 kilograms (2,975 pounds) of payload in low Earth orbit (LEO). The current arrangement envisions Lockheed Martin as obtaining up to 26 launch vehicles from ABL through 2025, and then 29 more through 2029. They may be launched from sites from the US and other countries as well.
ABL Space Systems, which refers to its launch system as GSO, says that the RS1 booster and launch control elements of the GS0 can be stored in standard shipping container form-factors. The elements are described as "modular and deployable", allowing a launch system to be set up quickly -- though regulatory issues mean it's not just a question of hauling in the elements and putting them in place.
There has been work towards other UK spaceports, but the only one visible for the moment is Spaceport Cornwall, which is at Cornwall Airport Newquay. SpacePort Cornwall is working with and has been working with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit, which is grounded on the Virgin LauncherOne rocket launch system. LauncherOne involves a modified Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 jetliner carrying a booster under a wing, to fly it to high altitude for launch. The air launch reduces the size of a booster required to loft a payload, since the booster doesn't have to blast through thick air at lower altitudes.
In the meantime, the UK Defence Space Command, having been set up in 2021. is coming up to speed on space activities. UK Space Command, located at High Wycombe Royal Air Force base, alongside RAF Air Command, is a joint command, staffed from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, the government's Civil Service and industry. Space Command's directives will come from the UK government's National Space Council, through the Space Directorate. The UK Space Agency will work with Space Command to deliver a joint national space capability.
Space Command, however, will be closely involved in international collaborations to get its job done. One such collaboration is Operation Olympic Defender, which is a US-led multinational effort intended to coordinate space efforts. The UK Space Command joined the Olympic Defender effort in 2021. the UK also participates in the Combined Space Operations initiative, which comprises Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the UK and the US, and focuses on joint space operations.
Space Command has awarded a contract to SSTL for a technology-test satellite under Project TYCHE, a 150-kilogram (330-pound) pathfinder for a space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance system under Project MINERVA. It follows the earlier SSTL "Corbonite" series of satellites. [END OF SERIES]COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* SUPERWORMS ATTACK: As discussed in an article from NPR.org ("How Superworms Could Help Solve The Trash Crisis" by Olivia Hampton, 23 June 2022), Chris Rinke and other researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have found that the larvae of the darkling beetle (Zophobas morio) have unusual dietary habits: they can eat styrofoam. In fact, they can live on a diet consisting only of styrofoam, with two-thirds of those that only ate styrofoam maturing into beetles. Rinke says: "They're really eating machines. Their main goal is to gain as much weight as they can to then become a pupa and a beetle. So, they're not very picky eaters."
In their natural habitats, these "superworms" -- so-called because of their large size -- feed on decaying matter, such as rotten wood, leaves, and sometimes animal carcasses. They can handle such poor fare because of their intestinal microbiomes, which generate enzymes that can digest things other animals cannot. Rinke says that the superworms offer a path towards full recycling of plastics: "We could have gigantic worm farms with millions of worms and feed them polystyrene. But what scales way better, and is I would say also cheaper, is to focus on the enzymes."
He envisions spreading an "enzyme cocktail" over shredded plastic, with the digested result fed to microorganisms that could generate "bioplastics". It's just a dream right now, the scheme being nowhere near commercialization.
* YEASTS FOR BIOFUELS: In related news, enthusiasm about biofuels has gone up and down. There have been vehicles running off them for a long time, but the idea that they could replace petroleum has lost favor, due to concerns about costs and actual environmental impact. One issue is that they compete with food production, and it would be better if they were able to make use of plants that grow where crops can't, or from agricultural waste.
According to an article from SCIENCENEWS.com ("A Tweaked Yeast Can Make Ethanol From Cornstalks And A Harvest's Other Leftovers" by Nikk Ogasa, 7 July 2021), researchers have come up with a new genetically-modified (GM) variant of common baker's yeast that can convert agricultural wastes from corn production -- leaves, stalks, and spent cobs, or "corn stover" -- into ethanol for use as a biofuel.
Metabolic engineer Felix Lam of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his team focused on Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or ordinary baker's yeast, as a possible solution. Modified baker's yeast is already used to convert corn kernels into ethanol, but it doesn't work so well for corn stover. In the stover, sugars are bound up in lignocellulose, and yeasts can't break it down. The lignocellulose can be broken up with acids, but that process generates organic compounds named "aldehydes" that will kill yeasts.
The researchers decided to figure out a way to convert the aldehydes into something non-toxic. They already knew that, by adjusting the chemistry of the growth environment, they could improve the tolerance of the yeasts to alcohol -- which is also toxic to them at high concentrations. Working from that hint, the researchers focused on a yeast gene named GRE2, which helps convert aldehydes into alcohol. They randomly generated about 20,000 yeast variants, each with its own genetically modified variant GRE2. That done, they put all the variants inside a flask containing toxic aldehydes to see which ones survived.
A number did, but one did far better than any of the others. This variant demonstrated that it could produce ethanol from treated corn stover almost as efficiently as from corn kernels. It could also produce ethanol from other woody materials, such as wheat straw and switchgrass. Lam says: "We have a single strain that can accomplish all this." Nonetheless, although that's an important step in the process chain, it isn't the only step, and much more needs to be done to get a practical process. Lam adds: "There are so many moving parts to this problem."COMMENT ON ARTICLE
* THE WEEK THAT WAS: Retired US Army General Mark Hertling, who has been cited here in the past, got weary of listening to the complaints of those saying US support of Ukraine is inadequate, and decided to respond on Twitter, first citing comments from THE KYIV INDEPENDENT:
MINISTER: HIMARS destroyed about 50 Russian ammunition depots in Ukraine.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov was referring to US-made HIMARS multiple rocket launchers. "Our gunners use HIMARS very precisely. They work like a surgeon with a scalpel," he said on July 25. President Zelenskyy adds: "The name HIMARS has become almost native to our people -- just like Javelin or NLAW, like Stugna or Neptune earlier."
A strong & accurate comment by Ukraine Defense Minister Reznikov. Interestingly, I read several articles in major newspapers this weekend -- all written by journalists -- saying in so many words: "We must give UKRAINE more HIMARs!"
There are reasons we have provided the limited number & type of combat systems. Ukraine originally asked for the M270 tracked MLRS; we provided HIMARS instead, because it was the better solution. The M142 HIMARS is a fast-moving wheeled vehicle that travels almost 100 KPH (60 MPH) on roads, half that on rough terrain. The M270 MLRS is a tracked vehicle designed to keep up with tanks on rough terrain. It is not only slower, but it is harder to maintain. HIMARS is just an ordinary heavy truck carrying a rocket launcher. It's also easier to train the smaller crew needed for HIMARS.
MLRS missiles come in pods or "sixpacks", with six missiles each. HIMARS can fire one pod, while the M270 can fire two. Given that HIMARS can quickly reload and fire again, the limitation to one pod isn't very troublesome, and is more than offset by the greater mobility and serviceability.
So why only 16 HIMARS launchers delivered? There are a number of reasons:
In addition, MLRS rockets have relatively long range, and 16 launchers can cover the front -- as long at they have rockets to fire. That leads to a particularly important factor most journalists don't consider: instead of focusing on HIMARS launchers, consider the missiles being shot! Here's some back of envelope battlefield math:
That mean 12 x 16 = 192 missiles per day, or about 5,800 missiles per month. Given at least 90% kill probability, that means taking out about 5,200 targets.
The US does have stockpiles of these precision "smart" missiles, but the manufacturer makes about 9,000 per year. A smart planning consideration of our Department of Defense -- and all the other nations that are supplying MLRS -- is this: How much risk do we take in giving UKR a very large percentage of our smart weapons? What if, in the near future, we face this or another enemy in a conflict? It is also not clear that there is any need to use HIMARS to destroy thousands of targets, when other and cheaper weapons are available to deal with most of them.
I'm 100% sure I don't have all the considerations that went into this decision making -- but I'm also relatively sure those saying: "Give UKR everything it wants!" -- are also not considering several important US national security factors. Bottom line: I believe Secretary of Defense Austin, NATO Secretary General General Jens Stoltenberg, and NATO member states are applying prudent decision making in determining what equipment they can send Ukraine that will make a difference on the battlefield.
I keep saying on Twitter: "Support of Ukraine is clearly inadequate, because they need everything yesterday. They can't get everything, and they can't get it yesterday."
Somebody else added, relative to those claiming there's some scheme at work to starve Ukraine of weapons, that if that were the case, we would be hearing endless leaks from the Pentagon. We're not, because everyone involved is working overtime and has neither time nor inclination to complain to the press.
* We've had a hot summer in Colorado, but so far the fires have been muted. Not so much in Europe; Britain has had its hottest days ever, and has been suffering fires, as has been much of Southern Europe. The fires have been particularly troublesome in Slovenia, since they've been cooking off dud artillery rounds left over from World War I. There's been hundreds of detonations, with the authorities finding it hard to keep count.
* The House committee investigating the 6 January 2021 Capitol riot has been taking flak from Right-wing media. THE DAILY SHOW'S Desi Lydic has been investigating the pushback, and has issued a report:
The January 6th Committee just wrapped its first series of hearings into the so-called "assault on the Capitol". But what does it all mean and why is it totally meaningless? Well, I've been watching "Fox News" for 439 hours straight and I'm ready to FOXSPLAIN the January 6th hearings!
First off, these hearings are boring, and nothing boring is worth paying attention to. That's why I've never filed a tax return. Everyone on this "Shamuary 6th Shamittee" is anti-Trump. Where are the pro-Trump, pro-January 6th people? Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon shaman. What does he have to do to get on the committee? Storm the Capitol again?
Why does this committee only wanna know what Trump did on January 6th? What about what he did on February 6th or April 10th? There's so many days. This committee is a witch-hunt, full of witch hunters, but which hunter should they be hunting? HUNTER BIDEN!
Democrats are so hypocritical. They call Donald Trump a liar, but they believe all these people who worked for Donald Trump -- who we know is a liar. These hearings were all hearsay ... heresy ... horsey ... Hiroshima. What about the real insurrections? The insurrection inside Biden's brain. The insurrection inside Fauci's Disney lab.
Oh, so everyone's upset about missing texts and call logs. Where was this outrage for all the missing ballots that Democrats composted and ground into Impossible Burger meat?! We need to hear from the Secret Service agent. Also, any Secret Service agent who testifies is a traitor! "Why didn't Trump call the National Guard?" Oh, so now you want rich white people to call the police. Make up your mind, liberals.
Yeah, some people ask for pardons. Asking for a pardon is the polite thing to do. "Oh, did I bump into you? Pardon me? I'm sorry, did I cut you off? Pardon me? My goodness, did I accidentally try to orchestrate the murder of my colleagues at the hands of a mob? Pardon me?"
What happened to people's manners? It's a conspiracy because one member of Congress asked for a pardon? Two members? That's barely a three? That's a small soiree. Six? Plus a lawyer? And a chief of staff? It's just a pardon groupon, totally innocent.
Well, that's everything you need to know about the January 6th hearings. I hope that helped.
PSST: Liz Cheney has dragon wings.
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