Friday, October 30, 2020

Yet Another Funny Related to Elections

 I saw a bumper sticker that gave me a chuckle.  It should be funny no matter your political preferences.  Read on .....

Politicians should serve two terms

one in office,   the other in prison


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Voting Safely

Update 15 October 2020:  the first part of this article,  without the recommendations section,  appeared in pretty much its submitted form as a guest column in the Waco "Trib" newspaper on Thursday 15 October.  I took that article,  added the recommendations section,  and posted it here on the 13th,  when I first wrote it. 


I voted early on the first day of early voting.  For the most part,  I liked what I saw,  from the viewpoint of reducing the risks of virus spread.  I think you can go vote in person,  without a high risk of catching Covid-19,  or the seasonal flu for that matter.

I think our county elections people are really trying hard to do this right,  and it showed.  I congratulate them on trying so hard to do this right.  They have served us well.

Lines were long,  in part because of social distancing,  but mostly because turnout is high this year (which is a good thing).  Expect to stand in line about an hour,  or more.  I was there about 10:30 in the morning,  and I stood in line about ¾ of an hour,  before actually going in the door. 

Nearly everybody I saw in line was wearing a mask.  The only shortfall I saw was people not staying 6 feet apart:  the usual distance was 3-4 feet.  It got better closer to the door going in,  where there were marks on the pavement 6 feet apart. 

They disinfect your hands as you enter,  which is a good thing.  The poll workers are wearing full face shields,  which is the right thing for them to do.  They give you a pen with which to sign the voter roll,  which they want you to keep or recycle.  They offer you a pencil to work the dials and buttons on the voting machine,  which they also want you to keep or recycle.  All these are the right things to do. 

Not many took advantage of this,  but you can have your hands sprayed with disinfectant as you leave.  I did see a few voters wearing disposable gloves,  which is the right thing to do,  if you are at particularly-high risk.  I had some with me,  but didn’t really see the need to wear them,  despite my risky age.

All of this means that you can vote in person (early,  or on election day) with reasonable safety during this pandemic!  You need not worry about whether the post office will deliver your mail-in ballot on time,  or over the logistics of delivering your ballot to the one-and-only drop off location for this county.  You can instead just vote in person,  sidestepping those problems!

I would like to see the spacing increased to a full 6 feet between linestanders,  far from the door.  No one is monitoring that.  I would also like to see the in-public mask rule enforced.  If this takes a patrolling law enforcement officer,  then so be it.  These things are simply public health measures,  during what amounts to a plague.

Some may take issue with that sentiment,  but it is based on the hard science behind these rules.  The mask a person wears is not so much to protect him,  but to protect those around him from anything he might be infected with!  To think the presence or absence of a mask only affects its wearer,  is a conspiracy theory,  not science.  What we’d like to do is irrelevant;  what is relevant is all of us actually doing what we already know works,  for the common good of us all.

The 6-foot rule is what does far more to protect the mask wearer from those around him.  Actually,  doing both the mask and the 6-foot rule is way far more effective,  than is either action by itself!  The real science supports that assessment,  too.  

So,  go out and vote.  It is the duty of citizens of a representative democracy (also known as a “republic”) to do so. 


Now that I have dealt with the safety of the process,  here are my recommendations for its outcome.  Everyone should vote their conscience and preferences.  I am just offering opinions supported by the facts as I can uncover them.

On the national level,  I recommend Biden/Harris,  not Trump/Pence.  I think we need very significant change from what we have seen the last almost-4 years. 

The Trump administration coronavirus response has been a disaster,  compared to what the other industrialized countries have managed to do,  primarily because the president and his supporters and enablers apparently do not believe in science or simple facts.  It’s about to get worse,  not better:  the second wave is just beginning (there were 3 waves over 3 years with the 1918 flu pandemic).  Free Fauci,  fire Trump.  Simple as that.

The economy is in a shambles comparable to the Great Depression,  which is due to what we had to do to fight the coronavirus,  and that is not the administration’s fault.  I think the administration’s relief response for people hurt in this depression is a very poor showing.  But,  they are lying to you about who created the rather good economy we had right before the pandemic hit!  In point of fact,  that economy was inherited from the Obama administration,  and Biden played a role in creating it,  out of the Great Recession mess that they inherited.  Hire Biden,  fire Trump.  Simple as that.

We can argue about how good or bad Obamacare really is,  or if something else might be better.  That is just as it should be.  But the administration trying to take it away in the middle of a pandemic is heartless and cruel!  The Republicans have been trying to repeal or sabotage Obamacare since its passage.  But beware:  they are lying to you when they say they have an alternative!  They never did,  and they still do not!  Ditch them and try somebody who actually has a plan.  Simple as that. 

We have seen how the Republicans (and maybe some of the Democrats,  too,  to some extent) have come to prioritize party advantage above doing the people’s business,  in violation of their oaths of office.  A part of this is the mad rush to pack the Supreme Court with possibly-conservative justices before the election is over,  just because they can.  They are doing this,  despite the polls saying nearly 2/3 of Americans do not want this.  They do NOT represent you very well,  do they?

Republicans refused to even consider Mr. Obama’s nominee in 2016,  because it was an election year.  And as late as the 2018 mid-terms,  promised that they would not rush a nominee through during the 2020 election.  They lied!  And that disqualifies them as worthy representatives.  

This is a type of corruption sometimes called “arrogance of power” that often happens when politicians stay in office too long.  But you can fix this,  because you have always had the term limits power in your hands.  Just vote for somebody besides the incumbent!  Ideology is simply less important than the effects of corruption and the arrogance of power.  Throw the rascals out!  If the new guy is no good,  throw him/her out,  too.  Rapid turnover restricts all sorts of corruption.  Simple as that.

I could go into the Mueller report which the Senate committee essentially verified,  and into the Ukraine impeachment during which the Republican-controlled Senate essentially said “yes,  he did it,  but we don’t care”,  but I won’t.  

I could also go into the fact-checking record of Mr. Trump,  which is essentially 100% incorrect/egregious lies,  but I won’t,  except to say that you should look first for yourself at the Wikipedia article “Veracity of statements by Donald Trump”,  located at:  

Copy and paste that link in your search browser.  You have to decide for yourself whether lying behavior on that grand a scale is something you can tolerate in the White House.

On a Texas state level,  that same turnover effect means I recommend voting for the opponents of our incumbent  senator John Cornyn,  and all the judges,  education board,  etc.  They are all Republican,  and have mostly been in office a long time.  Too long.

There are at least some questionable court and education board decisions to point at,  so it is definitely time to try somebody else.  At worst,  we may have a corrupt felon or two among our state officials (such as AG Paxton).  If that is even remotely true,  it is a “must” for changing out officeholders.

The real problem here is that Texas has,  for many years now,  been a one-party Republican-controlled state.  I did not like one-party control under the Democrats half a century ago,  and I do not like it now under the Republicans!  Ending one-party control is reason enough to change out elected officials with much higher frequency.  Ditch the fixation on ideology,  and vote for new blood!  Often!  You will get better government!  Simple as that.

On a local level,  the same sentiment is true.  It is more important to end one-party rule,  and get fresh blood frequently,  than it is to support any particular ideology. The more frequently you change them out,  the better government you will get.  Simple as that.


In case you didn’t notice,  I put a whole lot more store in frequent turnover of elected officials,  and very little store in supporting (any) political ideology.  I am,  and always have been,  a fierce independent. 

To me a “conservative” is supposed to be only a person who says “if it ain’t broke,  don’t fix it”.  A “liberal” is supposed to be only a person who says “if it is broke,  then do fix it”.  We all should be “conservative” and “liberal” at need,  depending only on whether something is “broke” or not. 

I very much encourage comments,  but please resist the notion to “flame” me,  just because I recommended somebody other than your favorite.


Update 10-23-2020 

I watched the final presidential debate last night.  It looked more like a real debate,  with far less of the bullying interruptions coming from Mr. Trump (primarily because of the muted microphone).  

Fact-checking after the debate and this morning shows that Biden lied very little,  and Trump said very little that was true. It isn't really a debate if one side is a serial liar and the other is not.  But it was still informative.


It is not really possible to fairly compare the proposed health care plans,  because Biden and the Democrats "sort-of" have one (fixing and improving Obamacare),  while Trump and the Republicans do not have one (or they would have already trotted it out during the last 12 years since Obama was first elected). Simple as that.  

So if you want any sort of healthcare plan,  and before this economic depression is over you will,  Biden and the Democrats are your better choice.  Actually,  your only choice.

Dealing with the pandemic:

Despite the lies,  it is possible to compare what the two proposals are,  going forward with defeating the pandemic. This is more based on what has been done,  not what was said. Trump and the Republicans want to return as rapidly as possible to business-as-usual,  obviously valuing the money more than the lives threatened and lost. 

This approach is justified with claims that "the cure is almost here", when it is not,  really. Widespread vaccination of the citizenry is still a year away,  even if the vaccines get approved before this year's end. 

As a group,  Trump and the Republicans tend to ignore,  or in Trump's case even attack,  the science advisors,  especially when the scientific advice goes against what they want to do.  That's why the second wave is generally spiking up more dramatically in "red states".  Business-as-usual is good for Wall Street,  but definitely not good for Main Street or individual citizens.

Biden and the Democrats want to listen to the scientists and medical doctors,  who have actually been saying of late that you really can open up for business,  but only if you really make the changes necessary to stop disease transmission. 

Since I personally think that is what we should do,  while also enforcing the necessary changes,  I recommend Biden and the Democrats as the better way forward.

Those necessary changes are unpopular with folks who tend to support the Republicans more,  which is exactly why the changes must be mandatory,  not voluntary.  (Or they will not work;  we've already seen that in action.)  

This unpopularity gets extreme with the more radical Trump supporters,  we've already seen that,  too.  But, it is based on misinformation coming from far-right sources,  not based on the actual facts! Some of it was planted there by Russian disinformation efforts,  according to the FBI.

Immigration policies:

It is not possible to fairly compare the two on immigration policy proposals.  This is because virtually 100% of what Mr. Trump said during the debate on this topic was apallingly egregious lies.  Anything would be better that what he continues to push,  which compels comparisons to Nazi Germany.

Biden wants to do more reasonable-sounding things.  It makes sense to me to create a path to citizenship for illegals who came as children,  who have never known any other country but the US.  Trump's GOP does not want that.  But not doing it is immoral:  needlessly cruel treatment.

It makes sense to me to adhere to our own laws,  and make the naturalized-citizen path easier for asylum-seekers,  rather than stop that path up in the most cruel ways possible (family separations and deportations-without-hearings),  as now under Trump's GOP. That is immoral.

It makes sense to me to make the guest-worker status easier to obtain,  since such are already a large part of our economy.  These folks pay taxes while they are here.  For those who want to stay,  a path to naturalized citizenship also makes sense.  Trump's GOP does not want that. Creating a class of second-rate non-citizen wage-slaves is immoral.

On this issue,  the choice is definitely moral vs immoral.  I recommend Biden and the Democrats. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Yet Another Funny

 This one is presented without comment.  It needs none.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

On the Beirut Explosion

The devastation in Beirut was caused by an ammonium nitrate explosion,  similar to that which devastated West,  but very much larger.  This is a material that is both dangerous,  and very necessary.  So,  it is important to understand it well.

 Ammonium nitrate as small particles is something you have all seen as 100-0-0 fertilizer.  The other fertilizers will not explode,  but this one can.  Surprisingly,  it is hard to get the explosion,  except under a physical confining pressure,  although it is shock-sensitive.  Otherwise it decomposes "peacefully" during a fire event,  just making the fire much hotter and more vigorous,  because it is an oxidizer.

There was enough ammonium nitrate in the warehouse in West to have utterly destroyed the entire city.  Most of it burned "peacefully" away during the fire,  until the building collapsed onto the decomposing fertilizer.  The weight of the building debris provided the confinement necessary for the explosion to happen.  And it did,  almost instantaneously.

There were only about 20 to 30 tons of un-decomposed fertilizer that exploded in West,  out of the possible 200-something tons that the site was permitted for.  It could have been a lot worse!  See Figure 1 for an aerial view of the site taken shortly after the fires were put out. 

Figure 1 – Aerial View of West Explosion Site,  Annotated for Scale

At the old Rocketdyne plant in McGregor,  waste ammonium nitrate from propellant-making, was disposed-of by burning.  It was bulldozed out on the burn pad not to exceed 4 feet in depth,  and topped with a thin layer of scrap wood as fuel for the fire.  No explosions ever happened,  because the weight of the wood,  and the shallow depth of ammonium nitrate,  prevented the bottom layers of the fertilizer from ever feeling enough confining weight to explode.

The fire codes require that bagged ammonium nitrate fertilizer not be stacked any higher than 6 feet.  That is to prevent the bottom of the pile from feeling enough confinement to explode,  in a fire event. According to the fire codes,  you are supposed to fire-sprinkle facilities like that,  to prevent the building from collapsing as it burns,  by stopping the fire in its tracks long enough for the fire department to put it out safely.

The building in West was not fire-sprinkled,  with the catastrophic results that we all saw.  Those fire codes have to be mandated by local or state authorities before they can be enforced.  That was (and still is) just not the case in Texas,  McLennan county,  or many Texas cities,  despite the recommendations to do so by the State Fire Marshal.  Remember that when you vote!

In Beirut,  back in 2013,  a Russian ship entered the harbor,  and its cargo of ammonium nitrate was confiscated and stored in a harbor warehouse.  The tonnages carried by ships are large,  and this particular cargo of ammonium nitrate is widely said to have been 2750 tons.  I don't know whether that is US tons or metric tons,  but it really doesn't matter;  the two are only about 10% different.  The point here is "thousands of tons".

Nobody has said anything yet about how those tons of ammonium nitrate were stored in that Beirut harbor warehouse.  It was just "forgotten-to-death" there,  since 2013. But the smart money is on the notion that it was stacked up many times higher than the 6 feet maximum specified by our US fire codes.  What that means is that an awful lot of those thousands of tons,  probably much more than half of them,  felt the weight of the overlying material as a confining pressure sufficient to risk explosion!

Then there was a fire and explosion in an adjacent warehouse,  setting off some fireworks.  We have all seen the video footage.  That fire spread to the building where the ammonium nitrate was piled up,  starting its decomposition,  seen as the column of reddish smoke (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Reddish Decomposition Plume Gets Overtaken By Explosion Shock

Once that reaction reached the lower levels of the pile,  where the confining pressure was high,  the whole bottom of the thousands-of-tons-pile exploded all at once,  with a white condensation cloud demarking where the shock wave has passed,  with the blast effects we have seen on TV.  See Figure 3 for an aerial view of the devastation in Beirut.  Bear in mind the devastated area extends more than a mile from the crater.


Figure 3 – Aerial View of Beirut Before and After

1000-2000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploding all at once has the blast effect of a fractional-kiloton nuclear weapon.  This scale of destruction we have seen before,  in Texas City 1947,  when two 10,000 ton shiploads detonated only hours apart.  The destruction was comparable to about-a-5-kiloton nuclear weapon.  See Figure 4.  Here the destruction radius is multiple miles.

Figure 4 – Texas City 1947

Now this stuff is a very necessary material.  It is the feedstock for the other fertilizer grades,  among other things.  It also makes a very safe-to-handle blasting agent for quarries and mines.  It just has two vulnerabilities in agricultural warehouse facilities that we have failed to address:  avoid the confinement,  and stop the fire to stop the building collapse.  Such buildings really do need to be fire-sprinkled,  and periodically inspected for compliance. 

This isn't about politics,  it's just plain old common sense.  So get on with it,  state politicians!  And if they won’t (and they haven’t so far),  then you need to use your vote to correct their misdeeds.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Asteroid Threats

 Update 9-26-2020:

Asteroid 2020 SW was discovered 9-18-2020,  and made its closest approach on 9-24-2020.  The warning time was thus 6 days.  It was estimated to be 5-10 m in size.  Closest approach distance was 22,000 km. 

Using the somewhat-arbitrary density of 2.5 g/cc = 2500 kg/cu.m,  that corresponds to a mass between 49.7 and 398 metric tons.  This definitely falls in the city-buster range for speeds between 10 and 20 km/s,  if it were to impact the surface,  or explode close to it. 

Given 6 days notice,  it might have been possible to evacuate a threatened city.  This one could have been a "success" story,  rare among those listed in the article. 


Original article:

In 2009 I attended a meeting held in Spain about defending Earth from threatening asteroid impacts.  At that time,  we had been able to locate most of the large (extinction-event) objects,  we were starting efforts to locate the smaller “city-buster” objects,  and we had some ideas about how to deal with them.  

I'm sorry to report that not much has changed since then.  We are now beginning to find some of the smaller "city-busters",  but that's about it.

Recent public news accounts:

Asteroid 2020QG passed ~1830 miles from Earth on Sunday 8-23-20.  It was not seen until some 6 hours after it passed.  This object was 10-20 feet (3-6 m) in diameter (for those unfamiliar with metric,  a meter is about 10% longer than a yard). Its speed past the Earth was ~27,600 mph.  An on-line animation in Wikipedia shows ~12.3 km/s at ~9300 km center-to-center.

Asteroid 2018VP1 is predicted to pass Earth Monday 11-2-20 (the day before election day in the US),  give or take ~2 days,  depending upon whose estimate you believe.  It is said to be 6.5 feet in size. It is listed in Wikipedia as 2-4 m size,  with an animation that shows a fairly-slow 9.7 km/s pass,  about 419,000 km center-to-center away (not far outside the moon's orbit). 

A somewhat-recent event,  only a few years ago:

The Chelyabinsk object was about 20 m dia,  with 19.16 km/s velocity,  estimated at 12,000-13,000 metric tons.  It exploded in the atmosphere,  with a yield estimated at 400-500 KT-equivalent to a nuclear weapon (where 1 KT = 4.184 GJ). This thing fell 2-15-2013,  and was completely undetected before its entry. It injured around 1000 people,  and blew out most of the windows in that city.

Here are the data as listed in Wikipedia,  for the previous 2 years,  plus this one so far.  To this I added the Chelyabinsk object.  It would take more than a day to evacuate a city that was threatened by such an event,  which is why the measure of warning time is important.   That list is in Figure 1.

So,  note the warning times color-coded in the list.  Only the single green one might have afforded sufficient time to evacuate.  Note also that a center to center distance under 6.37 thousands of km is a direct impact,  because that figure is the radius of the Earth.

Figure 1 – List of Small Asteroids Recently

Conclusion:  our track record seeing the small ones before they pass is NOT good at all,  whether or not we include the Chelyabinsk object!

What’s still coming that we know of:

Here are the predictions for some selected future encounters,  per Wikipedia,  as Figure 2.  To this I added the recently-reported "election day" object. The notation "LD" refers to lunar distance.  If "yes",  the predicted encounter leads to a pass within the orbit of our moon.  Bear in mind that both measurement inaccuracies and any sort of disturbance can throw these close-pass center-to-center distances off. 

Figure 2 -- Known Future Threats

The point here is that we already know of some larger objects that will pass uncomfortably close in the coming years.  Smaller objects are more numerous,  and mostly as-yet undetected.  That means there are a lot of “city busters” out there,  some of which we can expect to hit us.  This threat is quite real!

Figuring the explosive yield range of air bursts and impacts:

Chelyabinsk object:  20 m dia sphere has 4189 cu.m volume.  Using middle-of-the-road mass 12,500 tons = 12.5 E6 kg,  density is mass/volume = 2984 kg/cu.m.  Fresh water is 1000 kg/cu.m,  so the specific gravity is about 2.98.  How consolidated that object was,  is unknown.  But it's the best data available to me.   Most minerals are in this range of density.

A "typical" small asteroid is 2-6 m in size.  Treating that as the diameter of a sphere,  "typical" volumes are 4.19-113 cu.m.  Using the Chelyabinsk object estimate of 2980 kg/cu.m density,  the "typical" masses are 12,500 kg = 12.5 metric tons,  up to 337,000 kg = 337 metric tons. 

The actual astronomers have better data to use in such calculations than I have,  but their methods and formulas,  and mine,  are the same.  This stuff is just not as certain as it often appears to the public.

About the lowest velocity ever seen is near 10 km/s,  and about the highest velocity to be expected is nearer 20 km/s,  at least as a good guess.  Kinetic energy is 0.5 mass x velocity squared,  where for mass in kg and velocity in m/s,  you get energy in Joules:  kg m^2/s^2 = N-m = J.  Every 4.184 billion Joules is a kiloton (KT) equivalent to a nuclear weapon.

I used these data to estimate the results in Figure 3.

Figure 4 – Kinetic Energy As Equivalent Nuclear Weapon Yield

These figures say that these 2-6 m size "small asteroid" objects will have energies comparable to nuclear warheads in the 150 KT to 16 MT range.  They are very definitely "big-city-busters"! 

For comparison,  the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were about 15 and 20 KT in yield.  Many of our military warheads are now in the 200 KT range.  The giant "Tsar Bomb" test,  of October 1961 in the Russian arctic,  was around 66 MT,  the largest nuclear explosion ever seen.

Not only are these real city-buster threats,  we also have a poor track record of seeing them until it is too late! That is precisely because they are small,  dark,  and often approach from a more sunward direction,  where our ground-based telescopes are blind.

There are differences with nuclear weapon effects:

The kinetic energy of these things is not the whole story,  unlike nuclear weapons.  There are also the tremendous interplanetary speeds,  and the downward angle of the entry trajectory. 

Unlike a nuclear weapon,  the fireball associated with an air burst is still traveling along the trajectory at great speed for a while.  If during that interval,  it gets close to (or impacts) the surface,  it will incinerate everything in the vicinity.

Downward angle plays a strong role,  too.  The Chelyabinsk object struck at a very shallow angle across the sky,  so that its air burst happended dozens of miles up in the air. Had this been steeper downward,  the burst would have been much closer to the city,  utterly destroying it,  and killing its people. 

A little steeper still,  and the object might have struck the surface without bursting in the air.  That just releases even more blast and heat right at the impact point. 

What we need:

(1) We need to be able to detect these things,  in time to actually do something about them! 

(2) We need to obtain real ground-truth data directly from them,  so that we can figure out exactly what to do,  given the chance. 

(3) We need to implement those means of doing something,  which includes both the means to get there fast enough,  and the actual means to deflect or destroy them.


The B612 Foundation at one time proposed an asteroid-defense satellite to be placed in an orbit nearer that of Venus than Earth, so that it could see threats approaching Earth from sunward,  by being even more sunward,  but looking outward from the sun. 

The sensor of this proposed satellite was not based on visible light or radar,  but infrared.  These objects are brighter and easier to see in the infrared than in visible light (or radar),  although they are still dim.

We still need that satellite,  and preferably 2 or 3 of them at any one time!  We do not have any of them!  What we do have (mostly telescopes based on Earth),  is having great difficulty seeing things that are only 1-100 m in size. 

That is because (1) these telescopes are not located sunward of Earth looking outward at dark,  cold deep space,  and (2) they does not use infrared (asteroids,  being somewhat near the sun,  are simply warmer than the cold of deep space).

Knowing how to deflect or destroy:

There seem to be three general types of these small objects. (1) By far the most numerous are those that seem to be made of a mix of carbonaceous and stony particles,  not very consolidated (and often with significant void spaces internally),  and actually rather weak structurally. 

These are essentially flying sand-and-gravel-and-boulder piles, which would fly completely apart if you actually pushed against one. These are the ones that tend to explode up in the atmosphere,  from the suddenly-crushing drag forces of encountering air while moving at interplanetary speeds. 

The small solid particles of post-explosion debris,  if larger than about a quarter inch diameter,  actually do not burn up entirely,  and hit the ground at modest speeds.

(2) There are a few asteroids that are really more-or-less solid rocks,  made of a mix of different minerals,  and even some metal content.  These tend to hang together fairly well,  and would likely not fly apart out in space,  if you pushed against one,  at least fairly gently. How internally fractured they really are,  is an open question.

These bodies tend to make it to the Earth's surface,  if larger than about a quarter inch.  Not being debris of an atmospheric explosion,  they are moving very much faster when they hit,  causing their own explosions and craters.

(3) There are a very,  very few that are actually solid chunks of metal,  mostly iron.  If larger than about a quarter inch,  they make it through the atmosphere to strike at very high velocities as one solid object.

This produces really big explosions and craters.  Meteor Crater in Arizona was created about 50,000 years ago by one of these,  just about the size of the objects we are interested in detecting and deflecting-or-destroying.

Some of these we could push against (in some way) and deflect into a miss,  if we could get there in time to do it.  But not the most-numerous unconsolidated bodies.  Those will fly apart if pushed,  creating a storm of debris. 

If that disruption of the threatening object happens close to the Earth,  then you just turned a damaging bullet strike into an even more damaging shotgun blast!  That strategy is viable only if you can do it far enough from the Earth that most of the debris storm you have created will miss.  See Figure 4.

Figure 4 – Bullet Strike vs Shotgun Blast,  with Timing

Deflection / destruction techniques:

Space is a vacuum.  There is nothing out there to propagate a blast wave.  Nuclear explosions create great heat as radiant energy,  but no blast out there.  You won't have time to drill (and we don't know how to drill into these things anyway) to emplace a nuclear bomb inside one of these bodies.

What you do is detonate your nuclear device alongside the threat.  The immense amount of radiant heat will vaporize and spall-off significant mass from it,  hopefully without completely disrupting it.  The resulting momentum "kick" in the opposite direction will subtly alter the body's trajectory.  Do this "right",  and "soon enough",  and you can cause it to miss.

The same sort of thing can be done with impactors instead of nuclear weapons.  You hit the thing from the right direction,  and "soon enough",  and the impact creates the spall-off,  just on a smaller scale than a nuclear explosion.  The momentum reaction changes the body's course slightly,  provided that it is not disrupted.  See Figure 5. 


Figure 5 – How Spallation Creates a Force

The gentlest technique is the so-called "gravity tractor".  This takes the longest time to have effect,  so you must know (and go) years in advance of the impact threat to Earth. You send a spacecraft to rendezvous,  and hover,  alongside the body. 

Its propulsion prevents its falling onto the body.  But the tiny force of gravity between spacecraft and body forces the body to "follow the spacecraft".  This is a very tiny effect,  but it is real.  See Figure 6.

Figure 6 -- Gravity Tractor

To summarize – see Figure 7.

Figure 7 -- Actions We Can Take,  with Timing

What to do about this:

Now look carefully at the indicated timing required in Figure 7,  and compare that to the track record seeing these threats in advance of their approach in Figure 1.  It is NOT GOOD!  We should be working on this,  but are mostly not.  THAT is why we need the detection satellites.

Getting there soon enough to do any good:

For an Earth-crossing asteroid,  there is a short window of time to get there from here,  and a very demanding propulsion requirement to do the mission,  even if a one-way trip with an unmanned spacecraft.  The perihelion velocity of the asteroid is substantially higher than the Earth in its orbit about the sun,  by at least 2-3 km/s. 

What you have to do to get there is wait until the Earth is in the "right place" in its orbit about the sun,  relative to where the asteroid is. You cannot go "just any time you want",  like we can to the moon.  Then you escape from the Earth,  and wait in an Earth-like orbit about the sun for the asteroid to catch up with you.  Then you burn a second time to catch up with the faster asteroid. 

The cost of all this (14+ km/s) is more than a direct one-way shot to Mars at optimum orbital positions (about 12 km/s).  See Figure 8.

Figure 8 – Traveling to an Earth-Crossing Asteroid

If you send astronauts,  then they must have a way home.  Before it is too late (days to weeks),  they must depart the asteroid into an Earth-like orbit,  waiting for the Earth to catch up with them.  Then you might do a free entry,  or you might do a propulsive deceleration into Earth orbit,  to bring them home. 

At the very least this is 17 km/s velocity change required. Maybe over 20 km/s. At present,  we have no rocket vehicles capable of flying this fast.  We will need nuclear propulsion,  or else very huge chemical rockets pushing very small probes and space capsules.

Why humans need to go,  sooner or later:

A robot can only deal with what its programmers anticipated.  It just cannot adapt to the unexpected or the unforeseen,  without direct human intervention.  That is simply just one of the truths of our time. 

Across the distances needed,  it is just not feasible to remotely-operate a probe,  in anything resembling a timely fashion.  Light just does not cross those distances that fast.  Another truth of our time. 

What that really means is this:  sooner or later in the process,  humans simply must go to these asteroids to investigate their real "ground truth" properties. There is just no other way at this time in history to find out "what is" versus "what is not". 

This isn't like going to the moon,  which was a mission about a week,  to at most two weeks,  long.  We are talking about weeks to months in space for the Earth-grazing asteroids.  For the non-Earth-grazing asteroids,  and for most comets,  we are really talking about years in space.  And we just don't know yet how to do that,  without killing our crews.

Bottom line:  we need more capable rockets,  and we need a vehicle for crews that provides artificial gravity and radiation protection. These voyages could range from days to years in duration,  and a small space capsule is only "good" psychologically for a couple of weeks.  These living spaces must be large


There is no better reason for both unmanned,  and manned,  space program efforts than protecting the Earth against asteroid impacts.  The massive extinction event 66 million years ago that extinguished the dinosaurs in favor of the mammals,  is just one example of what damage a 6-10 km size object can do. 

This is not a zero-sum game (despite what politicians insist);  this is something that needs to be ongoing,  at whatever level we think we can afford,  in any given year.  Spend more when you think you can afford more,  simple as that.  But NEVER zero!  Some outcomes are just not tolerable,  no matter how unlikely! 

I recommend the following things be done:

(1) Deploy a constellation of at least 3 asteroid-detection satellites,  using infrared detection devices supplemented by visible and radar,  in orbits about the sun approximately at the orbit of Venus. 

This is just not that expensive a thing to do,  and it will identify the vast bulk of the small (2-6 m) threats to the Earth.  Such would make evacuation of a threatened city possible for the first time.

(2) Develop a means to send unmanned probes,  followed by manned missions,  to several of the Earth-crossing asteroids,  to find out real "ground truth" about their characteristics.  The manned voyages will probably require enhanced propulsion,  possibly nuclear.  Crewed vehicles will be quite large.

The place to test nuclear propulsion safely is on the moon,  where there are no neighbors to annoy,  and where there is no air and water to pollute.  There is no better reason than this, for a return to the moon!  There are other reasons to go back to the moon,  but none are better than for helping to provide protection of the Earth against asteroid threats.

(3) Develop the rockets and the spacecraft needed to send humans to the Earth-crossing asteroids as soon as possible.  This requires both propulsion upgrades,  and it requires built-in protection against space radiation and microgravity disease.  (If you can go there,  you can go to Mars,  or pretty much anywhere else in the inner solar system,  including out to the main asteroid belt.)

What that really means is artificial spin gravity,  and about a meter or more of low molecular weight insulation materials to double as radiation shielding. And plenty of living space for long missions.

These were also my conclusions in 2009 at that meeting.  They have NOT changed since! 

If your elected and appointed officials are not addressing these issues,  you may safely conclude that they are lying to you,  whether by omission or commission.  In any event,  they are not protecting the public safety,  which is their sworn duty.  And that deserves your attention at election times.

Related articles:

4-21-09  On Asteroid Defense and a Good Reason for Having National Space Programs

7-22-09  On the Future of the US Manned Space Program

9-6-09   Space Program Public Support

10-31-09 The Future of NASA Manned Space

3-10-10  About Old "Project Orion" -- the Nuclear Explosion Drive

4-17-10  Space Recommendations

1-21-11  Fundamental Design Criteria for Alternative Space Suit Approaches

8-2-11  What Should the Government's Manned Space Exploration Strategy Be?

5-2-12  Space Travel Radiation Risks

12-31-12  On Long-Term Sustainable Interplanetary Travel

1-5-13  Using Nuclear Rockets Safely for Manned Space Travel

2-15-13  On the Two Dangers From Space Friday 2-15-13

10-2-13  Budget Moon Missions

11-17-13  Rocks From Space

11-17-14  Space Suit and Habitat Atmospheres

1-17-15  Stagnation in Space

4-11-15  Radiation Risks for Mars Trip

1-15-16  Astronaut Facing Drowning Points Out Need for Better Space Suit

2-15-16  Suits and Atmospheres for Space

3-3-16   Effects of Microgravity Demand Artificial Gravity

3-16-18  Suit and Habitat Atmospheres 2018

10-5-18  Space Radiation Risks:  GCR vs SFE

7-14-19  Just Mooning Around

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Voting Safely

We have a national election coming up,  during a raging pandemic yet to be controlled.  Gatherings are rightly to be discouraged,  making vote-by-mail an attractive alternative.  That does raise issues of higher ballot disqualification rates,  and of much longer times needed to count them.  It also puts a huge burden on the post office to move those ballots in a timely fashion. 

Unfortunately,  this vote-by-mail option has been needlessly politicized,  and the post office's capacity to support such has been sabotaged by the political appointee running it!  Thus we need to be able to gather and vote in person,  and safely.  However,  there really is a way to do that

Voters must be wearing masks and disposable gloves,  and each voter needs to carry his own pencil.   The masks and gloves must be mandatory for entry inside the polling place.  Period.  This is based on science,  and on centuries of experience.  The pencil is to move the dials on the voting machine,  instead of just your gloved finger.  The idea is that 2 layers of protection working together are way better than just 1 layer.

Poll workers are going to need face shields.  They will need lots of disposable gloves to get through the day.  There is no way around that requirement,  driven by science.  Between the face shields and the masks on the voters,  they should be safe enough,  probably safer than while shopping at the grocery store.  That's the 2-layer effect working for them.

We will need more polling places open,  not fewer.  The lines need to be short,  and linestanders spaced out 6 feet apart.  Linestanders need to be wearing masks;  that plus the 6 foot rule are the 2-layer effectThis requirement needs to be enforced,  with serious penalties for noncompliance. Conspiracy theories about masks are just not tolerable.  But it cannot (and won't) work rightif you don't have enough polling places open!   So demand them!

The biggest change is a disinfectant wipedown of the keyboard of every voting machine after each voter is done (probably something we should have been doing even in normal circumstances,  but that's another discussion).  The voter himself can do this,  observed by poll workers

It takes a few minutes for the disinfectant to work,  so you will need more voting machines in each polling place,  to avoid the otherwise-inevitable slowdown.  The disinfectant wipedown by the voter is a third layer of protection.  It should help keep voters (and poll workers) safer still.

There,  I just told you how to run a vote-in-person election safely during this pandemic.  There is required protective equipment,  and the very-necessary enforcement of those requirementsThere is required extra polling place capacity to shorten lines.  Simple enough.  Now just get on with it!

And when some of you see your local elected officials fail to do these things, does that not suggest to you,  that you have the wrong local elected officials?

It certainly should!

You can vote.  So when you see perfidy like that,  go and do something about it!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Protests vs Riots

In recent weeks,  there have been several columns published in the Waco,  Texas,  "Trib" newspaper about protesters and rioters.  These include the Gordon Robinson column awhile back,  and several more since,  including more than one,  in just one edition alone (Sunday 9 August)!  Surprisingly enough,  there are certain elements in all of these that I do in fact agree with,  despite the apparent drastic disagreements among columnists.

 There is very definitely a difference between a protestor and a rioter!  The “molotov cocktail” is just one of those differences.  That being said,  the heightened emotional tension during recent protests in the streets makes it very easy for a protester to be induced to stray across that line into rioting.  This is the long-known psychological reason behind the easy formation of lynch mobs.  It would be well to remember that!

Figure 1 shows what a protest looks like.  Figure 2 shows what a riot looks like.  Admittedly,  there’s not a lot of difference,  but you have to look closely,  and you have to really understand what you are seeing,  in order to respond appropriately.  One involves property damage,  the other does not. 

Figure 1 – What Protest Looks Like (Portland,  OR)

Figure 2 – What Rioting Looks Like (Portland,  OR)

The fact that a protest exists is trying to tell you that there is some problem needing to be solved!  Unless there is such a problem lacking solution,  there is NO need for a protest!  Simple as that!  We can always differ and argue about what those solutions might be,  but it is totally illogical to deny that there is a problem to be solved,  when folks are protesting. 

I’m not talking about small groups looking for publicity,  I’m talking about major,  mass protests.  Such things are as American as apple pie!  In point of fact,  mass protest is exactly how the American Revolution began!

The right thing to do is to understand what that unsolved problem is,  so that you can start developing proposed solutions to it. 

When solutions are being developed and debated,  the fundamental reason for protesting starts going away.  Thus the protests begin to abate,  and with them,  the risks of riots.  This is not perfect or immediate,  but it is simple enough to understand.  No matter who you are,  or what your politics might be.

All that being said,  there are political opportunists who prefer to make the problems worse,  not better.  These are the people you do NOT want to listen to!  They exist on both sides of the political spectrum.  The more extreme they are,  the more likely they are to do or say something to cause harm.  Barry Goldwater in 1964 was dead wrong:  extremism is bad,  no matter what!

Which makes you wonder just what fraction of the arsonists and looters seen in the current civil rights protests were actually far-right extremists masquerading as far-left extremists,  doing damage so as to discredit the generally-honest protestors?  That is a very good question!  I have seen many things debated about these protests,  but not that "false flag" issue.  Yet it seems to be a very real thing (read on).

Look again closely at Figure 2.  Many of the people breaking down the fence at the federal courthouse in Portland are white-skinned,  not black- or brown-skinned.  In fact the only skins that can be seen are white! 

Now look closely again at Figure 1Not all the skins that can be seen are white!  Those in the foreground are,  but look closer into the far field!  Many there are black or brown.  About what you might expect in a national population that is mostly white,  but with a significant black minority,  and a significant brown minority. 

Now think for yourself!  Could the difference in skin color count between Figure 1 and Figure 2 be right-wing extremists infiltrating the protests,  to give the more-or-less left-wing protesters a bad name,  by doing (or starting) the rioting,  arson,  and looting?  If you are honest with yourself,  you have to admit that this really could be true!  It’s right there in front of your eyes!

The other thing I haven't seen very much of, in the current public discussions,  is the issue of attitudes versus behaviors,  when it comes to racism.  You can regulate behaviors with laws,  but generally not attitudes,  which are passed-on in-private from parents to children.  (This is the real problem we have had since the Civil War!)  Yet it is attitudes that comprise the racism that previously enabled the centuries of overt owning-people slavery in our culture!   If you are honest with yourself,  you have seen this attitude thing just as I did,  as a child.  It never went away.

There is the overt institutional slavery of owning other human beings.  This was outlawed in America as a result of the Civil War.  But there are other kinds of slavery:  the repression we call "Jim Crow",  and also for-profit wage slaveryI remember seeing "Jim Crow" when I was a boy,  and I am glad to see it mostly (if not entirely) gone.  What remains of it,  is what is being protested:  it costs lives needlessly.  That is just unacceptable.

Wage slavery is something most all of you should be familiar with,  at one level or another.  Which is why I find it so surprising that so many of you have been on the side of "union-busting" for so many decades,  when collective bargaining has been the most effective (even if somewhat-flawed) tool we have had,  against wage slavery,  for well over a century-and-a-half now.  But that's another story.

 What's missing in the current protest scenario is distinguishing between protesters and rioters,  and responding appropriately.  Too many rioters are being given a "pass" to burn and destroy.  Too many honest protesters are being abused,  or kidnapped,  by unneeded federal troops,  or over-reacting police.  Too much of this has been politicized as "either my way or the highway",  and not enough attention paid to solving the very real problems these protests have identified.  And THAT is what I object to!

See Figure 3.  This is a US Navy veteran being gassed by police while not doing anythingnot even moving.  Seconds later,  he was beaten severely with batons,  all the while not resisting in the slightest!  We all saw the video footage of this on the TV news,  however it might have been labeled or explained.  This was utterly appalling!

Figure 3 – Portland Vet Being Gassed Right Before Being Beaten,  Totally Unresisting

THIS is a prime example of police over-reaction!  Why should it surprise anyone that protesters might respond to such violence,  with violence of their own?  That,  too,  is human nature!  Yet it all can be avoided,  if one simply understands the difference between protestors and rioters,  and responds appropriately.

Even so,  sometimes people respond in unexpected ways!  There was a protestor in Portland,  Oregon,  often termed “Naked Athena”,  who did not respond with violence to police violence in Portland.  Indeed,  she actually seems to have reduced the violence! 

Figure 4 is a photo of her in action.  “Naked Athena” was wearing only two articles of apparel:  a stocking cap and a covid mask,  which can be seen in other photos taken of her.  Considering the violence going on around her,  I find that she showed consummate bravery!  I don’t care what her politics were.  She deserves commendation for extraordinary bravery!

It depends upon the source you get this from,  as to whether her actions are deemed positive or negative.  Some sources refer to her as a “crazed Antifa terrorist”.  Which is utterly ridiculousHow is reducing violence “terrorism”?  It is not.

Be aware that your “favored sources” may be lying to you in that way!  I see an awful lot of such lies,  from both ends of the political spectrum!  So,  think for yourself!   

Figure 4 – “Naked Athena” Facing Down Federal Troops

We’ve seen enough violence on both sides of this!  It needs to stop!  So,  my message is simple: 

#1.  There is a difference between protestors and rioters.  You have to deal with them differently.  So,  learn the difference,  and just get on with that!

#2.  When there is protest,  there is something wrong that needs to be fixed.  So figure out what that is,  and just FIX IT!

My fellow citizens,  this stuff has to change!  Most of your current politicians clearly won’t act effectively.  Your most powerful tool is your vote!  Please use it!  Wisely!

That being said,  if you do not trust the post office to get your mail-in ballot where it needs to go on-time,  then vote in person!  There are ways to do that safely,  even in a pandemic!  (I will cover that in another post.)  

Update 1-8-2020:  In response to the comments to this article (below) about whether the far left or the far right might present the greater terrorist threat,  note that today some 13 far-right persons from two separate groups have been arrested and charged with planning to kidnap (and "try for treason" the governor of Michigan,  who happens to be a Democrat who took Covid-19 seriously,  and has imposed some quarantine measures to fight the spread of the disease.  

These people hated those quarantine measures,  among other things.  6 are facing federal charges,  and 7 are facing state charges.  The FBI broke this one.  They are radical right wingers,  charged with intending to commit a terroristic event. 

A right-wing Q-follower tried shoot up a pizzeria in NYC to "save the children from the pedophile ring operating in the basement",  per what the Q community believed;  when that pizzeria physically didn't even have a basement.  A right-winger hit and killed a leftist with his car in Charlottesville.  Several in the news media have noted the presence of outsiders,  not associated with the protestors,  committing or fomenting the violence associated with the civil rights protests.  Multiple black males,  all unarmed,  have recently died in police custody.  And now this:  right-wingers wanting to kidnap state officials they disapprove of,  and perhaps "try" them for treason.  

Looks to me like the FBI is quite correct in its recent assessment:  the worst domestic terrorist threat comes from the far right,  not the far left.  I don't like extremists of either stripe,  but the greater threat is so very clearly coming from the far right.