Friday, August 28, 2020

Elon Musk Is a Vandal Scrawling His Name across the Heavens

For all his professed love for space exploration and expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, Elon Musk sure has a horrible way of showing it:

The above image, taken with a 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo, shows the tracks that Musk's Starlink satellites make in astronomical observations. Musk is a vandal scrawling his name across the heavens. And this is only the beginning:

SpaceX has so far launched over 600 satellites and OneWeb has launched 74. Both companies plan to eventually launch tens of thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbits and provide broadband to areas that lack fast wired service. Amazon is also planning to launch thousands of satellites. Because of their low-Earth orbits (LEO), the satellites will provide lower latency than traditional satellite networks.
A cloud of these satellites in orbit will kill earth-based astronomy. These tracks will make it impossible to image distant galaxies and extra-solar planets. Hundreds of telescopes across the Earth, installed at a cost of billions of dollars to universities and governments, will be rendered useless.
We've already got plenty of terrestrial internet access with our existing cellular networks, and with 5G coming out, what's the point?
And the idiotic thing is, who really needs this? Is it that important to stream episodes of "The Bachelor" while driving across Montana or sailing your yacht across the southern Atlantic?
You could argue that it's important to give internet access to the teaming masses across Africa and the trackless wastes of Northern Canada and Siberia, where there are no land lines and only spotty cell coverage. But how profitable is that market going to be?

I have a hard time believing three different companies will be able to make a go of launching hundreds of thousands of satellites. The launch costs will be, well, astronomical. Because there are so many satellites, they have to be cheap to build, which means each one won't last very long (the intense radiation in space plays hell with electronics), so there will have to be an constant, ongoing program of launches to replace dead satellites.
Two if not three of these companies will go bankrupt in the process, leaving the skies littered with useless space junk. There's already too much debris in orbit, and these satellites will make the problem that much worse.

And it's not just astronomy that will suffer. With this many satellites there will eventually be collisions with military reconnaissance satellites, the space station, and manned and unmanned launch vehicles. Such collisions can cause large clouds of debris, potentially causing a chain reaction that could affect dozens of satellites.

Finally, we use earth-bound telescopes to monitor space for asteroids that may run into Earth. Hundreds of thousands of satellite tracks will make it that much harder to predict deadly collisions with our home planet. 

I used to think Elon Musk was sort of cool. He's done good work with SpaceX and Tesla. But now, with his Twitter rants, stock price pumping, and the idiotic submarine/pedo guy debacle, he's turning into a Lex Luthor clone, only with more hair and an accent. But a lot dumber.

At least he won't be able to become president of the United States.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

How Defund The Police Works


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Monday, August 17, 2020

Is This Why Trump Keeps Pushing Hydroxychloroquine?

Despite there being no real evidence that hydroxychloroquine is an effective remedy against the coronavirus, Donald Trump keeps pushing it even though the FDA has revoked its emergency use authorization.

The drug is normally used by people suffering from autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus because it suppresses the immune system. So when it was first mentioned as a treatment for Covid-19 it was somewhat plausible that it might be useful in stemming the violent immune system reaction, or cytokine storm, that some Covid patients suffer from.

But it turns out it takes months for hydroxychloroquine to have the desired effect on the immune system

Hydroxychloroquine is a longer acting medication that can take several months to build up in the body and become effective. It can also take several weeks for the medication to “leave the body” or no longer be effective after you have stopped taking it. This is referred to as a medication’s half-life -- the length of time it takes for the medication to reduce to 50% concentration in the body.

So why has Trump been so gung-ho about it? I think it's because of his constant diet of cable TV. For the last 20 years a weight-loss product called Hydroxycut has been hawked incessantly on the late-night TV channels that Trump watches. 

In its ads Hydroxycut uses words like strength, energy, power, and is sold on websites with muscle and strength in the names (like this one). We all know what a sucker Trump is for the magic word strength. Even though this clown is clearly the weakest, most out-of-shape president we've had since FDR and his wheelchair.

Because Trump has heard Hydroxycut being advertised for two decades, and his pea-sized brain thinks all words beginning with the same three syllables are interchangeable, he thinks hydroxychloroquine is a safe and familiar product.

Trump even claimed that he was taking "the hydroxy" (see, only the first three syllables of a word matter), though many doubted he was actually taking hydroxychloroquine. But maybe Trump's doctor was just giving him Hydroxycut. "Sure, Mr. President. This hydroxy is the real stuff!"

The irony, of course, is that Hydroxycut was and is neither safe nor effective. The original formulation included ephedra, a supplement the FDA banned in 2004. Ephedra causes seizures, strokes and fatal heart attacks, and caused the death of pitcher Steve Bechler.

MuscleTech, the company that produced it, covered up research that showed it was ineffective and caused (bum, bum, bum!) cardiac side effects, just like hydroxychloroquine. The company even doctored evidence submitted in an Oklahoma lawsuit.

The company was sold and they came up with a new formulation, keeping the name. But it turns out that one of the ingredients, hydroxycitric acid, causes liver problems, killing one man and requiring at least one liver transplant. So in 2009 the FDA issued a recall order. The company went bankrupt, but they keep on resurrecting this dog of a product.

It was reformulated yet again, with caffeine being the only common ingredient among all the formulations. Which means that Hydroxycut is no more effective than coffee for losing weight.

As much as I like bashing Trump, the real point is that the whole dietary supplement marketplace is a disaster. Companies like MuscleTech can sell worthless garbage as weight-loss and muscle-building supplements, and as long as they weasel-word their ads the FDA can't shut them down until bodies start dropping.

And even then the FDA can't stop them from coming back from the dead with useless zombie products like Hydroxycut.

Now, there are actually drugs out that have proven effective against Covid, including dexamethasone and remdesivir. So what isn't Trump championing those? Does he have stock in MuscleTech, and is he hoping that his followers will starting chugging Hydroxycut since only the first three syllables of a word matter?

Friday, August 14, 2020

Six Presidents


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Spot the Brit

What with the pandemic and all, people are staying home and watching a lot more TV. And there's a lot more TV to watch, what with all the cable channels and new streaming services.

So here's a little game you can add to your TV watching: Spot the Brit.

Every once in a while I'll be watching a show and all of a sudden one of the actors will say something that sets off my Spidey Sense: "He's not an American!" I will tell my wife. Then I look him up on IMDB and find out he's from London or New South Wales.

I've been a student of language for 50 years, so languages and accents have always fascinated me (I've studied German, Russian, French and Japanese).

One of the hardest things for anyone over the age of eight to do is acquire a natural-sounding accent for another language or region. British and Australian actors are usually trained in what's called "Received Pronunciation," (RP) the "standard" British accent that was taught in schools across England starting in the early 20th century.

RP is the "posh" British accent where they drop the Rs at the ends of words and pronounce the A in "class" and "path" like the A in "father."

In the United States the General American accent is what most TV announcers use, and what the majority of actors in TV shows use, unless they're affecting a regional accent for a show set in the South (Preacher) or a character from Boston (Ray Donovan).

But a lot of actors in American television are not American. Many are Canadian, because a lot of shows are filmed in Vancouver and Toronto (filming in SoCal is just so expensive). But a whole lot of actors are from Britain and Australia, and they don't always maintain an American accent.

Most of the time these clinkers are fixed with looping, or Automated Dialog Replacement (ADR), in post-production. The actor basically lip-syncs the dialog in the studio, rerecording their lines to cover up the slip.

But sometimes the subtler mispronunciations get through to the final cut. Here are the three that I notice most frequently:

Anything: Most Americans pronounce this word "en-ee-thing." Many Britons pronounce it "en-uh-thing." When you hear "en-uh-thing" in the middle of General American dialog, you've probably got yourself a Brit or an Aussie.

Intervocalic R: When two vowels are adjacent in an utterance, such as the A and I in "Our agenda is," people tend to insert some kind of consonant between them, either at the back of the mouth or at the front. Americans tend to do this at the back, inserting a very slight "glottal stop," a closing of the throat. This is often transcribed as an apostrophe:"Our agenda'is."

In RP (and some Eastern American accents) this happens at the front of the mouth: an R is inserted between adjacent vowels, so that "Our agenda'is" is uttered as "Our agenda-r-is."

Dropped syllables: a common feature of RP is the dropping of vowels in certain word endings. For example, "dignitary" is pronounced "dignitry," dropping the A. I was watching 11.22.63 on Hulu and it was particularly jarring when the Australian playing Lee Harvey Oswald dropped a syllable while affecting a Southern accent.

You can also play Spot the Yank, looking for Americans sporting British accents. Americans are notoriously terrible at British accents (Kevin Costner in Robin Hood!). 

The Hulu show "The Great" (a very fictionalized and over-the-top British/Australian production about Catherine the Great) stars Elle Fanning, a Georgian whose RP accent is pretty decent (at least to my American ears), but when she said "en-ee-thing" I pegged her as an American.

I give Fanning credit: most Americans working in British productions don't even try (like Sandra Oh in Killing Eve).

Monday, August 10, 2020

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Shit That Pisses Me Off Because Of Rona Volume 1: Masks

Today I’m starting a new series of posts about shit that pisses me off because of the pandemic. I’ve complained about some of this stuff before but now I’m organizing it in a series. Collect them all! First up is masks. 

Americans are addicted to many unhealthy things. Junk media...parades...but there is something about masks that really sends them into an obsessive fervor. Pro or con, doesn’t matter. Combine it with social media and watch the raging flames hit 100 feet. 

It’s massively unhealthy and I wish people would just calmly react to masks. A mandate requires one? Great. Put it on and go about your business. In a crowd or a place, you can’t distance? Good idea to wear one. Someone not wearing one? Oh well. No need to fly into a white-hot rage. How I yearn for an under reaction to masks. I’d settle for a normal reaction! 

People just have to argue about masks even when there is zero reason to argue. Their blood flies up instantly and all rationality goes out the window when the topic of masks comes up. What a crock of embarrassing shit.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Could Churches Please Stop Killing Their Congregants?

It has been obvious since the very start of the pandemic that churches should be closed or their attendance be severely limited, given the large number of superspreader events that have occurred at places of worship. 

There was the infamous church choir practice in Washington, the pastor at the First Assembly of God (great acronym, huh?) in Arkansas who killed three congregants with Covid-19, and the one man who single-handedly infected almost a hundred people at a church in Ohio.

So it's crazy that the Supreme Court decision from a couple of weeks ago was so narrow:

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request from a church in Nevada to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four more liberal members to form a majority.

The court’s brief order was unsigned and gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices act on emergency applications. The court’s four more conservative members filed three dissents, totaling 24 pages.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Dayton, Nev., argued that the state treated houses of worship less favorably than it did casinos, restaurants and amusement parks. Those businesses have been limited to 50 percent of their fire-code capacities, while houses of worship have been subject to a flat 50-person limit.

The conservatives on the court mistakenly believed that there was some kind of constitutional separation of church and state problem here:

“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” [Justice Samuel Alito] wrote. “It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine or to engage in any other game of chance. But the governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.”

Yes, Sam, the governor's priority is saving people's lives. Casinos pay taxes, which the state of Nevada needs to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Churches don't contribute to that fight -- they just spread the disease.

The fact is, churches in Nevada are subject to the same restrictions that similar venues are: identical limits are placed on concerts and theaters. In fact, churches are more dangerous than movie theaters, because people spread the virus when they talk, sing and shout in church. That's frowned upon in theaters.

But what about the "separation of church and state" argument? Well, churches all gave that up when they took handouts from the federal government:

Religious organizations across the U.S. have received at least $7.3 billion in federal rescue package loans, with evangelical leaders tied to President Donald Trump and megachurches tied to scandals pulling in some of the largest payouts.

Treasury Department data released Monday shows that religious organizations, ranging from nearly 10,000 Catholic churches to hundreds of Jewish groups, received 88,411 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans since the program began April 3. Several churches affiliated with outspoken Trump supporters and close associates amassed at least $17.3 million in loans intended to help small businesses and nonprofits retain workers.

Included among the top loan recipients is the megachurch of pastor Robert Jeffress, who last year called Trump a Christian "warrior." Another is City of Destiny, the Florida megachurch run until recently by White House spiritual adviser Paula White-Cain.

Houses of worship across the country, including many tied to sexual abuse and financial scandals, took advantage of PPP, which allows recipients of the government's 1 percent interest loans to have them converted into nontaxable grants. This week's Treasury Department report of payouts through June 30 notes that "traditionally non-profits are not eligible to receive SBA-guaranteed small business loans," but PPP has enabled the aid during the coronavirus pandemic.

The companies that got PPP money will eventually pay taxes again and governments will recoup the money. Churches will never pay a nickel.

Churches already get preferential treatment from the government: they don't pay property taxes, sales taxes or income taxes on payments from congregants. And their congregants can write off their payments to churches as charitable donations, costing governments even more. The annual subsidy for churches in 2013 was at least $80 billion, and likely hundreds of billions if you take into account all the sales and property tax exemptions.

Logically, churches should be the last places to open up: they are a major nexus of disease spread, they don't pay taxes and thus contribute nothing to government efforts to combat the disease. Their services are easily delivered online -- for almost a century some of the most successful Christian ministries in the country have been televangelists using radio and television.

The "Church" of Scientology is perhaps the most egregious example of the scam churches have going: science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard turned Scientology into a religion when he realized churches didn't pay taxes. To cover up the scam Hubbard instigated Operation Snow White, infiltrating dozens of governments and organizations to scrub them of information damaging to Scientology's claims. Eleven Scientology officers were convicted of stealing government documents and property.

All these giant churches are in reality politically active businesses, ready to feed at the government trough like every other company and the guys from Texas and Florida who used PPP loans to buy Lamborghinis and pay strippers. The Trump administration sure is doing a bang-up job administering this program, isn't it?

If churches are going to take billions in government money that they'll never pay back, they should at least have the decency to stop killing their congregants.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Trump Is So Dreamy...

Check out the full interview between the president and Jonathan Swan. Any sane person would look at this and realize that a mentally deranged and incompetent man is in charge of the United States. But let's look at this from the point of view of one of his supporters. 

Great interview! He really showed that elitist, fake news asshole what was what!!! Man, he's so dreamy the way he trolls the libs and makes them squirm. I'm in love...

Seriously, we have millions of these people to deal with...

Have You Ever Noticed...?