Friday, May 17, 2013

Mixed News from Space

Amid fretful resignation, we learn of the likely loss of the magnificent Kepler mission...which discovered as many as three thousand planets beyond our solar system.  (About 10% of them now confirmed.) Only two of the four gyro systems are still working, not enough for the probe to aim at more than a hundred thousand stars with uncanny accuracy, each day. While this will be a sad loss, the epoch introduced by the Kepler Mission bodes well for your understanding of the universe.

Can we agree by national consensus about just one thing?  That we must follow this up with something even better and more grand?  Say to yourself… aloud… the following words.

SayAloud"I am a member of a civilization that does stuff like that."

If that is not a tonic against cynicism, I cannot imagine there being any hope for you, alas.

Take just one glimpse of what Kepler did for us… planets called Kepler-62e and -62f,  are by far the best candidates for habitability of any found so far, and because of their sizes and orbits, the newfound planets are likely either rocky—like Earth—or watery, NASA scientists said. Also see Kepler's Greatest Hits: Water Worlds, Tatooines and Earth Twins. And an animation of the new exoplanets found by Kepler.

== The Barnstorming Era in Space Begins ==

In another posting -- and in a fascinating panel discussion for the Reinventors Network with Chris McKay, Geoffrey Landis and others -- I  have described how our entry into a new "barnstorming era" will feature an exceptional number of bold private or semi-private ventures in space.  I've lately posted and spoken about the Mars proposals... and next week the topic will be starships!

GoldenSpikeBut let's turn back to the "middle horizon" of the moon -- not (I'll admit) may favorite destination, scientifically or economically.  But still transfixing. Golden Spike is a moon-aimed venture that stands in that intermediate territory, between the hugely ambitious (and iffy) Mars One and Inspiration Mars missions and the far more near-term and already commercially viable SpaceX and Virgin Galactic concepts.  (My favorite, Planetary Resources, also fits in the intermediate zone, aiming for a destination that might make us all rich.)

Golden Spike hopes to create the infrastructure for manned, round-trip jaunts to the Moon's surface, for less than a billion dollars each. Tallyho you rich dudes.  I totally approve. Amateur space flight is one excellent recycling system for excess-toxic accumulations of lucre, in ways that will eventually lower the costs for everyone else.  (Also illustrated in some vivid scenes from Existence. )

Now: James Fallows at The Atlantic interviewed Eric C. Anderson, a co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, a company focused on sending people to space. Mining asteroids is seen as a key component to making such travel possible.

Why go?  Well, famed physicist Stephen Hawking says: Mankind must colonize space to survive.

== NASA Corner ==

supersonic-flying-wing-02.jpg1346341939From my recent service as a member of the Advisory Board for NIAC (NASA Innovative and Advanced Concepts) group: A supersonic, bidirectional flying wing idea comes from a team headed by GeCheng Zha, an aerospace engineer at Florida State University. In this revolutionary (and kind of unnerving) concept, a midair transformation allows the aircraft to fly in its most fuel-efficient modes at both subsonic and supersonic speeds. Jet engines atop the aircraft would stay aimed in the travel direction. But after takeoff and subsonic cruise, the aircraft would then rotate under the engines to present its narrow cross section forward, allowing rapid and smooth acceleration to supersonic flight. A real brain twister, but intriguing!

NIAC liked the idea enough to give Zha and his colleagues a $100,000 grant (and I offered some friendly advice.) But the U.S. space agency does not expect such funded concepts to test fly for at least another 20 years or so.

AsteroidRetrievalHere's another. See this NASA Animation: Asteroid Retrieval & Utilization Mission aims to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and direct it into a stable lunar orbit where astronauts can explore it.  An excellent concept with just the right combination of plausibility and ambitious reach, that's also very compatible with the notions of Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.  An excellent mid-future goal, with some potential for unleashing a cornucopia.

Meanwhile, NASA's still in the game of developing great big boosters. The agency's new Space Launch System is on track for a 2017 launch of a Mars bound rocket.

More than skin deep….NASA’s Mars Icebreaker Mission would drill about a meter below the icy surface of the northern plains of Mars, looking for organic biomarkers as evidence of life on the red planet. The mission would likely launch in 2018.

Some news for you open source nerds! NASA has switched to using Debian 6 Linux for the 80 working laptops and LAN network aboad the International Space Station (ISS.)

The guts of NASA's newest cubesat test satellite?  A Nexus Android phone. Phone-sat will see how little more is needed to operate in space, take Earth pix and self-diagnose before burning up. Get familiar with Cube-Sats. They are how "barnstorming" can happen at the low-cheap end, where universities, small companies and even passionate clubs may get to try something out. If combined with cheap, easily deployed solar sails (coming at last) we could see much of the solar system opened up for the Age of Amateurs.

SpaceOddityAw heck, you've already seen Space Oddity, but in case you've been hiding in a closet, here's the viral video from Commander Chris Hadfield recorded aboard the ISS -- this singing astronaut gives a terrific weightless version of David Bowie. Zowee!

==  More Space Miscellany ==

The age determination of a deep-drill core from the Pacific Ocean showed that the supernova explosion must have occurred about 2.2 million years ago, roughly around the time when the modern human developed. Isotopic inspection of bacterial fossils containing tiny crystals of magnetite (Fe3O4) show some iron isotopes that would have decayed by now if not caused by a very recent supernova. We know lots more about the (pre-Noah) past than some folks allow into their philosophy, alas.  In this case, it makes you envision our australopithecine forebears staring up, in wonder.  And changing.

Cool..Dramatic look at earth's past! Bolides -- An interactive animation showing every eye-witnessed meteorite impact thru Earth's history -- 1,107 eye-witnessed meteorites as of 2013.

spacechroniclesAre we at a turning point in space exploration? See Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest book: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. No one can say it better than Tyson -- who argues that we must regain our curiosity and enthusiasm for what lies beyond.

==And now...==

And now, from the sublime to the ridiculous? Alien? Subhuman primate? Deformed child? Mummified fetus? The Internet is buzzing over the nature of "Ata," a bizarre 6-inch-long skeleton featured in a new documentary on UFOs. "A Stanford University scientist who boldly entered the fray has now put to rest doubts about what species Ata belongs to."  The "news" is that Ata's DNA is human.  Okay, no aliens.  Phew. But why no provenance, peer-reviewed articles, outside validations or systematic investigations? I have to tell you, something smells fishy.  I keep a "sci fi corner" of my mind ready, always, for something fantastic to come into our world.  But 99% of the time, I am rewarded by my scientific side riding herd on wild enthusiasms.

There is a reason that science mostly works.  It incorporates skepticism… or it ain't science. Fiction is great. It's important.  But it is fiction.


Unknown said...

It took forever for the Kepler folks to get funding. The gyros lasted "only" 3 years. The problem is, Kepler is in a solar orbit that renders it unserviceable (even if we had a shuttle, which we don't).
So this is my great worry about the Webb scope. It too will be sitting out where no one can get to it. The complex scope has to unfold correctly in the first place, then everything has to keep working indefinitely to make it cost effective...
Yes, we need to keep at it, but we need to "service what we sell"!
Meanwhile, lets hope that somehow they can get one of those darned wheels turning again.

Rocky said...

Who needs Monoliths when there are plenty of supernovas in the galaxy?

locumranch said...

A beautiful & inspiring post about human love & desire. We desire the stars because we envy what they represent, power, knowledge & freedom. They are a pearl of great price and they are worthy of infinite risk.

We should embrace this noble desire without reservation. We should dare everything & anything to accomplish it, but let's stop pretending that this desire of ours is logical, necessary or inevitable because it isn't.

Logic never compelled humankind to climb that mountain, steal fire from the gods, defy the natural order and challenge the inevitability of death. That was unbridled lust, ambition, audacity, impudence, desire, authoritas or chutzpah. It is the primary human virtue, the one that separates us from the animals, and it is enough to justify everything we do.

Ad astra.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I must compliment locumranch on his latest post. While he frequently spirals off into neverland, this one was trenchant and on point. "We choose to do this and the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."

beeredo: Brewing in space??

Alex Tolley said...

It strikes me that the asteroid retrieval mission might well be suited to a competition with a prize. We already have 2 asteroid mining companies born, so why no offer a prize for a successful retrieval to lunar orbit to await Nasa astronauts? OK, so there is a risk that a cheap effort could botch the orbit and have it hit earth but the size depicted in the Nasa video would likely not be a problem.

More prizes could be opened up for demonstrating mineral extraction and of course, the right to sell pieces to collectors and institutions.

matthew said...

No surprise here. I've ben waiting for the right loonies to go after star trek. But it is just too good. Is Ann a secret counter agent for the Enlightenment? Sometimes I think that she is a deep cover Onion writer.

matthew said...

I'll second my admiration for what locu wrote above. Beautiful prose and a worthy sentiment.

Andrew Kieran said...

"deep cover onion writer"

Mate, I'm so so sorry

so, so sorry

Ian Gould said...

Tying together two recent topics: how about a reward for anyone who can either fix Kepler in situ or return it to the ISS for repairs?

TheMadLibrarian said...

Alex, d'ya suppose there is something to be learned from the difference between asteroid specimens retrieved from space without ever undergoing the alteration of atmospheric entry, and meteorites? There are probably several thousand meteorite collectors and scientists who would like to know, me included.

yntrywe: Olde English re-entry

Tony Fisk said...

It will be interesting to see whether Kepler can be rebooted.

The most audacious proposal I've heard of for 'Kepler II' involves scanning the absorption spectra of occulting planets, not just for molecular components, but for scattering effects. The proponents thought they would be able to detect large areas of tree-like structures.

'We desire the stars' frames the argument, locum. We are curious about what the stars may be and, lacking firm information, speculate endlessly.

David Brin said...

I agree. locum was at his best.

I mourn Kepler. But honestly, it was scanning a tiny patch of sky and only 100,000 stars. "Only?" Well, we move on. Let's build a new one that can spot them farther out from their suns.

Tony Fisk said...

...Perhaps I should clarify by rephrasing that.

"We speculate endlessly about the gaps in our knowledge."

If I read that piece about supernova aright, the samples come from sediments laid down 2.2 mya. That would have been when the solar system was passing through a region of space rich in Fe-60. The supernova could have occurred some time before that. How much longer before, though? For that, you would need to assess how much of the Fe-60 decay product was introduced at the same time. An interesting exercise, since I don't think Ni-60 would be taken up by microorganisms (the amount of Ni-60 present in the samples would be useful in measuring original amount of Fe-60, though).

Ian Gould said...

First let's note that spaceflight was the byproduct of an extremely rational means (ballistic missiles) employed in pursuit of the at least somewhat rational goal of killing as many of The Enemy as possible as efficiently as possible in furtherance of the bat-shit crazy ultimate goal of making Adolf Hitler ruler of the planet.

This is what is known as bounded rationality

(Similarly, the eminently rational Werner Heisenberg,employed highly rational thought processes in attempting to develop a nuclear weapon for the Nazis but his ultimate goal seems to have been to show that bastard Einstein who was smarter.)

Meanwhile, the Apollo project gave birth to the Apollo Guidance Computer which made possible home computers and smartphones.

Just as Marie Curie fiddling around with an electrometer measuring the conductivity of air in proximity to Uranium salts led both nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

The "irrational" pursuit of the unknown is highly rational.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Just checked - I still can't get Star Wars on Trial - Kindle version here in NZ

Ian Gould said...

"It's 1.7 miles long. Its surface is covered in a sticky black substance similar to the gunk at the bottom of a barbecue. If it impacted Earth it would probably result in global extinction. Good thing it is just making a flyby.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 will make its closest pass to Earth on May 31 at 1:59 p.m. PDT."

I know there's no chance of this hitting us on this approach but are we at a point where we should be looking at trying to put radio reflectors on NEOs so we can track their orbits better, both for safety reasons and to assist future exploitation?

Ian Gould said...

sorry, forgot the link:,0,548201.story

Tony Fisk said...

It's the ones you don't see... (and the ones we don't know about to put tags on)

Some interesting ideas on adjusting trajectories eg swarms of microsats shining light on an area of the asteroid (a little more sophisticated than stuffing one the same size as your (Orion?) craft into a giant garbage bag!!)

Alex Tolley said...

"adjusting trajectories eg swarms of microsats shining light on an area of the asteroid"

Maybe good for preventing collisions with enough warning (years/decades?), but probably not suitable for maneuvering an asteroid into a convenient parking orbit.

But your larger point is taken - is a "garbage bag" approach the best way to go, or are there better ideas that make more sense?

Paul451 said...

The garbage bag is because we don't really know what will happen when we grab onto a small asteroid. Are even these small ones just rubble, held together by little more than wishful thinking, ready to break apart at the slightest nudge, or are they robust enough to directly mount an engine to?

sociotard said...

"I am a member of a civilization that does stuff like that."
Always makes me think of this

So, Obama seems to have more scandals now than ever before. Some of them don't seem to be entirely his fault but a few seem like bucks that should stop there. Which scandals do you think are the most relevant? Which, had they happened under Bush, would have had you hopping mad that either he was incompetent or malicious, or that he had appointed cronies that were incompetent or malicious?

For myself, the AP bugging scandal and the IRS political targeting one seem the worst, at the moment.

Tony Fisk said...

The 'Benghazi Affair' seems to a beat-up.

Actually, the only thing I've seen in Oz press is the IRS story. I suppose we've got scandals of our own, like the use of an obscure regulation to apply internet filtering (taking down 1000 sites to hit 2. wtf!!??)

Ian Gould said...

I like the idea of sticking a bank of lasers in orbit, using them to power space craft and also to shift the orbit of NEOs by boiling bits off them and using the resulting reaction to shift them.

Of course, that'd take decades but you could do it in-between beaming power to spacecraft.

Then too if you're going to spend decades moving asteroids, why not test the technique by nudging a few toards one of the Lagrangian points or optimizing the orbit of an Earth-crossing, Mars-crossing asteroid to act as an Aldrin cycler?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Political question

The IRS "scandal"
If you are going to improve a process the first thing you do is use the Pareto Principle and look for the things that cause the most problems
You work on those FIRST

If the IRS had NOT targeted political groups applying for tax free black money status then they would have been guilty of dereliction of duty

The USA seems to be so "PC" in NOT using "profiling" where everybody else does - because it works

rewinn said...

If we're gonna stick asteroid-shifting lasers in orbit, we could put their down time to use boiling chips off near grazers to give earth some rings, partly for aesthetic purposes but mostly to reduce the sunlight hitting us and therefore counteract the impact of global warming.
"Where I Wasn't Going" Walt Richmond and Leigh Richmond's 1963 Analog story on spaceborne lasers, is now available on Project Gutenberg. Surely lasers powerful enough to maneuver asteroids would never be used to influence Earthside politics!

TheMadLibrarian said...

Randy, I have some serious doubts about giving Earth rings. We already have a lot of crap in LEO, enough to start posing a threat to the stuff we WANT in orbit. How stable would rings be, especially since we already have a large moon? The orbital mechanics sound pretty tough.

wasngui: Linux variant #233

Alfred Differ said...

Rings would not be stable and they would be commerce killers. Unless someone goes to the trouble of stitching all the material together in which case it might be useful.

Regarding the IRS... Yes the Pareto Principle should apply. Unfortunately that puts our government in direct conflict with every political movement that comes down the road. If the movement gets popular, the Principle would apply. Do that and people WILL pull out their guns eventually demonstrating that this is less about PC than it is about practical survival.

Acacia H. said...

The IRS thing is less of a scandal than it's being made to be. It was a significant minority of Tea Party organizations that were targeted and they all got their rating from the sounds of things. republican-accidentally-debunks-gop-narrative-at-irs-hearing/

rewinn said...

If rings are a bad idea, then ... what to do with the orbital lasers while they're not protecting us from asteroids ...

... how about knocking off bits of the Moon (or at least vaporizing selected mountainops to nudge it a little further from the Sun, in such a way that it pulls the Earth a little further out?
The ostensible reason would be to fight global warming, but the real reason would be to simplify the calendar by getting rid of leap days. It's a long-term project.

Tim H. said...

Sounds like a large scale Dean drive, you'd need the moon to have less mass when it's between us and the sun, more when it's on the other side. Easier than anchoring a few giga-hectares of solar sail to a space elevator and configuring it to change albedo as the earth rotates.

Paul451 said...

Changing the angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system doesn't change the angular momentum of the Sun-Earth-Moon system. Changing the moon's orbit will change the length of our day, but not move the Earth's orbit.

rewinn said...

Hold on.
I appreciate that the proposition is impractical.


When the Earth ejects mass, this alters the Earth's orbit, and therefore the orbit around the Sun of the Earth/Moon system. The Earth moves, and drags the Moon along with it. (We haven't noticed this effect when we launch rockets, because we launch such teenytiny masses. Think Big!)

The same effect happens when the Moon ejects mass. It may be true that other effects are more noticeable (e.g. an impact on the length of Earth's day) and such unintended consequences are surely something to keep in mind in building an Earthmover, but a system using the Moon's mass to move the entire system would necessarily account for them.

Imagine you are a boy wearing a jetpack, and whirling a ball on a string around your head. When you fire the jetpack, you soar away and if you are careful about how you time things and don't over-accelerate, the string doesn't break and your ball comes along. Likewise, if the ball has the jetpack, whether firing it merely makes it go faster around your head or pulls you into the sky depends on how cleverly you design and operate your most excellent toy.

David Brin said...

Randy, there is a super way to lift the Earth super gradually toward mars. Create a beanstalk tether at the far side of the moon, with a counter weight centrifugally held outward by a counterweight. The tether cuts the sun's magnetic field. And the force would over millions of years move the moon which would tug the Earth.

Chuck L. said...

Paul and Randy,
When ejecting mass from the Moon, if the velocity is greater than Earth-Moon escape velocity, it will change the orbit of the Earth-Moon system around the Sun. If not, it will merely change the orbit of the Moon around the Earth.

Tony Fisk said...

I thought of the 'Moonstrap' technique while dozing in bed one morning, many years ago.

The suppression circuits have woken up since: would Jupiter tend to nudge such induced variations back into place? Could the resonance effects set up by Jupiter be put to good use?

TheMadLibrarian said...

So, Dr. Brin, would you actually take the plunge and go on the one-way trip to Mars? It looks like you have applied...

edonst: Paradise, but only with a lot of work

Paul451 said...

There would only be a narrow range of alignments of Moon-Earth-Sun, and a narrow region on the moon from which you eject mass, to increase the orbit of Earth. That'll slow your rate of progress down the the point where other feedbacks (like tidal effects) dominate, and as Tony points out, that may well cancel out your whole effort.

In which case you'd probably be better to take the same energy/equipment/funding/time and set up number of masses (such as Ceres) in slingshot trajectories that add momentum to Earth's orbit. (You recapture and reset the tractor masses after each pass.)

That way, you are not just limited to the moon at certain alignment. You can add as many masses as your budget can afford.

(But, as always, if you have the energy/equipment/funding/time to do something that significant to a whole planet, then for a vastly smaller cost you can probably replicate the result in some other way. Same with terraforming Mars: for the same cost, you could probably create a solar-system-wide non-planetary civilisation.)


In other news, the sun has woken up grouchy.

Paul451 said...

More "grown-ups" totally not giving into ignorant panic and overreaction (and one adult being childish and irresponsible and wonderful):

(Charges have now been dropped after the public outcry. I don't know if she's still expelled.)


Ah, zero tolerance, another "reasonable" panic. After all, what if and What If and WHAT IF? And therefore, This. And if I don't agree, I clearly don't care about children and any criticism can be safely ignored.

Paul451 said...

And while I'm spamming the thread, I've noticed that this...

...type of overcharging seems to be a more and more common tactic by prosecutions, and is fully supported by the courts and juries.

Ian Gould said...

Hey, Governor Romney: about that 47% of Americans who wouldn't vote for you because they were dependent on government hand-outs.

You won the majority of the vote in 8 of the 10 states with the highest percentage of working age adults on Social Security Disability - and all five of the states with the highest percentage of working age adults on Social Security Disability.

sociotard said...

New Zealand politician fails the replicant test

Anonymous said...

CHRIS Hadfield, not Mark. I hope that was a typo? The guy has been rocking space awareness for the masses for quite some time. Chris, not Mark. MARC Garneau is another CDN astronaut. Reading 'Existence' and really loving it. Don't much care for Prof. Noozone though.

Alfred Differ said...

While I respect the need for orbital lasers to zap the bad guys on the ground, I'd prefer sending the good guys to deal with the rocks by asking them to strip mine them down to dust and selling what they can on the market.

If they miscalculate orbits and send stuff crashing down on us... well... we will have those lasers.


Jonathan Roth said...

Swiss banking secrecy article:

sociotard said...

People keep going after the Swiss when the City of London Corporation is arguably much worse, and relates to banking haven protectorate colonies (cayman isles, etc)

Londinium Delenda Est!

matthew said...

Still no peer review, but getting weird. More cold fusion, or what my department head back in college called "con-fusion."

So, do you think that Rossi is a scam artist or trying to go the Shipstone route? Or is the SHipstone reference lost on 99.99% of readers?

sociotard said...

Smart people on XKCD destroy that Cold Fusion article

Paul451 said...

The main thing to realise is that the principle author (Levi) is a friend of Rossi, and has been involved in Rossi's company from the beginning. The observation was done at Rossi's "factory", with all equipment supplied by either Rossi or Levi. The other "researchers" were merely observers, they had no involvement in any part of the test and had to take on faith that the power input was being measured correctly.

It's about as far from "independent third party" as it's possible to get and not actually have your mother write the report.

They measured the power input after it had been through Rossi's converter. They back-calculated the output calorimetry by using a camera to record surface temperatures. Both methods would be clumsy and error-prone even if Rossi wasn't a known fraud. It's hard to imagine coming up with a worse test protocol when there's so much doubt about Rossi and the claims being made so extraordinary.

And it's not like it's difficult. It's a water heater. You test it by heating water by a certain amount, and measuring the raw energy entering the entire rig [before it is converted by the device's controller] from a source provided by someone who has no prior connection to Rossi. An insulated tub, a large brewers or lab thermometer, and a timer. Make sure to stir the water/etc between readings to avoid measuring hotspots by, errr, "mistake". Bam, done!

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. At least in the new Star Trek movie they portrayed it as endothermic. 8)

Jerry Emanuelson said...

In 1989, I tried to repeat the Pons-Fleischmann "cold fusion" experiment on several occasions. I was finally able to get excess energy from the experimental setup pretty consistently.

The calorimetry was crude, but the deuterium oxide would be boiling or near boiling, while the identical distilled water setup would be at 60 to 80 degrees C.

After less than 4 days, though, the one-ounce palladium electrode in the deuterium oxide would begin to fall apart, and I would have to re-fire the electrode carefully in a partial vacuum at 800 degrees C, and cool it very slowly.

I came to the conclusion then that it was an energy storage phenomenon. I didn't have the resources or the knowledge to pursue this any further.

I have always wondered why the world is divided between cold-fusion believers and those who consider the phenomenon to be crackpottery. It could be something else entirely, like a very important energy storage phenomenon.

What would have happened if the first lead acid batteries had been claimed to be nuclear fusion? Experimenters would have been working for years trying to explain why they produced a certain large amount of energy, and then fizzled out. The electric automobile starting system might have been delayed by decades.

Tony Fisk said...

It always struck me as a bit unfortunate that Pons and Fleischmann erupted on stage at about the same time as Steven Jones just down the road was reporting that muon-induced fusion was looking a little more feasible than Alvarez had thought (having had his wild five minutes of thinking the world's energy problems were over). Mind you, the break even point is still a ways off.

(Unlike P&F, Jones' results have been validated. However, the situation probably hasn't been helped by Jones' theories about the twin towers being demolished)

Tony Fisk said...

...That is , of course, 'Steven', *not* 'Stephan' Jones

Tony Fisk said...

In other news, CSIRO scientists are now able to print organic solar cells on A3 sheets of paper. At 10-50W per m2, this is about 1-5% efficiency (cf 20% for high quality and expensive silicon)

Tacitus said...

Regards the various political dust ups.

Just back from overseas so have been following at a distance.

I am glad Robert is not impressed, as he is generally a sensible fellow.

But what is being alleged...IRS pressure on what is effectively the main political opposition movement to the administration, is chilling. Coupled with what also looks to be dubious monitoring of journalists it should set off alarms bells across the spectrum.

By the "looks guilty" principle a Republican administration should get understanding nods of acquiesence by monitoring (and sufficient IRS monitoring will deter participation) the financing of the Occupy movement and so forth. Heck, I do not even recall shady outfits like ACORN getting the scrutiny they deserved during the W years.

Maybe I will be reassured with a little more time. But this is an instance where Medium Well grilling in front of skeptical House committees would be salutary.

captcha for the day cluetly mitt. No, he did not have much of one

rewinn said...


ACORN was not a shady outfit.

ACORN was the target of a criminal conspiracy to smear it with videos so crudely edited that any person of goodwill would have noticed that the "pimp" never appeared in the same frame as the person he was pretending to talk with. It disappoints me that an otherwise-rational conservative should be so loose with the facts, but this does help illustrate the collapse of today's "conservative" movement.

matthew said...

Under G. W. Bush the IRS went after Greenpeace and the NAACP.
But to be fair, targeting overtly political 501(c)4 groups for special examination is what we should *want* our IRS to do. Both sides of the political spectrum. Dammit, that is what an auditor is meant to do.
The press scandals are much, much more serious and relevant to this group in particular. The AP monitoring is bad. The scrutiny that was aimed at the Fox reporter is much worse.
The Obama administration is deep in the weeds on this one.

Tacitus said...


You seem a bit peckish today. I have had experiences with ACORN independent of the videos to which you refer.
You are entitled to your opinions, which I uniformly respect.
Please reciprocate.
Some btw are starting to speak of the collapse of the modern progressive movement.
Such reports are often premature.


Acacia H. said...

That said, unions are going to have to smarten up and move to using online social networking tools to become more democratic in nature. It would be nice if they actually saved up union dues for use on strikes (ie, paying union members from the fund while striking instead of spending all that money on politics)... though more democratic use of funds for lobbying would also be handy.

Because let's face it. Unions are dying. Republicans are trying to speed them along into death. And they're needed - especially for public sector jobs (governments make for horrific monopolies, and unions help break up the monopolistic power structure and give employees a voice, so long as it's not abused). What's more, young people aren't as interested. So if unions were to move online and increase the engagement of members... they'd begin to flourish once more... and become healthier organizations in doing so.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

The reason I lean toward the crackpot label for cold fusion was the early result that said there was a helium byproduct. They neglected to control for helium in the refinement of the palladium rod. Produce it without using helium as an inert atmosphere and the result vanished. I was sitting in a lecture hall listening to the speaker describe the current state of affairs when he mentioned how the rod was produced. EVERYONE groaned (including the newbie students) when he got to that part. The groan was the kind that says "We've been played for suckers" and actually got angry for some people. Does that help explain it? 8)

A few of us did realize that the palladium rod provided a hydrogen storage technique that didn't require high pressure tanks. In later years I saw people playing on that idea with cheaper lattices storing hydrogen for fuel cells. If you ever want a commercially viable automobile that uses hydrogen as the fuel, this is probably the only safe way to do it. The hydrogen 'tank' must release its contents slowly if cracked open at STP conditions and at a faster rate at higher temperatures.

LarryHart said...


But to be fair, targeting overtly political 501(c)4 groups for special examination is what we should *want* our IRS to do. Both sides of the political spectrum. Dammit, that is what an auditor is meant to do.

I'm going INSANE hearing about how the leftist Obama administration used the IRS to abuse those innocent Tea Party groups, when the elephant in the room is--why are overtly political organizations getting that 501c status in the first place? Why does Karl Rove's group get treated as a "social welfare" organization that doesn't have to reveal its donors instead of a political organization that does not?

It seems self-evident to me that the IRS spotlighted right-wing organizations because right-wing organizations sprang up like weeds after "Citizens United" to take advantage of the opportunity to pour money into elections.

It seems also self-evident to me that the reason "left-wing" organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, etc were not targeted is because they have already been largely DENIED any sort of tax favoritism based on their being political organizations. I know that I can't deduct contributions to any of those organizations.

This particular scandal sounds as if those who are caught cheating are full of self-righteous anger at the witnesses to their transgressions.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys
I have just read this book - and I'm recommending it to all of you

I would love to know what you think of it

Tacitus said...


So, would you favor denying 501c status to the Tides Foundation (now called Tides Center I believe). It is an organization in part founded by the late George Soros. It funds a variety of programs-of variable merit imho-on the progressive end of the spectrum.

It for instance helps fund Media Matters, regarded by conservatives as little more than a Ministry of Truth for the current administration.

I am always willing to meet folks half way. I think many, perhaps most of the 501c outfits should be stripped of tax exempt status. The issue here appears to be overt targeting of some varieties of public speech.

David is likely to move topics soon, but I would like folks to cast their votes....

If the information leaking out is true, was the IRS "attention" to these groups politically motivated? And do you approve or disapprove?

Probably a few low level flunkies will take the fall for this one, but in my opinion-which I do not ask anyone to share-this is just more politics The Chicago Way.


who encourages you to imagine isomeric cases with future Republican administrations.

Ian said...

Has Eric Weinstein developed a Theory of Everything?

matthew said...

I have no problem with the IRS examining critically the "political use" of monies across the entire liberal / conservative / authoritarian / liberty coordinate spectrum. Let the bureaucratic system go wild.

rewinn said...

@ Tacitus2 said...
"...You are entitled to your opinions, which I uniformly respect.
Please reciprocate...."

Does "respect" mean letting pass the denigration an organization that has done a great deal of good for America, and is best known for being the object of a successful criminal conspiracy by your political allies?

You are certainly entitled to your opinions, and I haven't even hinted that you shouldn't voice them. Please allow me my observation that the conservative movement is collapsing in part because its fondness for strategies and tactics such as it used against ACORN, and partly for allergy to inconvenient facts, such as that the W IRS did target organizations such as the NAACP, Greenpeace, etc.

I do respect you for neither raging or fleeing as some others have done. This all may not be pleasant to read but a good doctor does not shrink from giving bitter medicine.

Tacitus said...

No, he or she does not.

ACORN was at best an organization with lofty goals and sketchy supervision. As you are an attorney in Washington State and clearly feel strongly on the issue I suppose I should ask if you were involved in that case?

Appreciate the link. Salon is not entirely sans bias but it is always good to see a bit of perspective. A list of organizations over the years who had been glowered at by the IRS would make for interesting reading.

And to restate my previous queries, do you feel Tides should have identical scrutiny? If there was ideological intent in the current IRS matter, what would be the appropriate remedy?


TheMadLibrarian said...

Actually Tacitus, I am in favor of critically looking at any tax-exempt organization that turns around and immediately starts pumping money into political advertising There is a spectrum of difference along the way, and the bigger, more blatant examples ought to get the ban-hammer faster than lesser offenders.

czededr: Czech cedar?

Alfred Differ said...

Referring to these groups as 501c groups isn't good enough folks. The number that comes after the c is important.

501(c)3's are intended for non-political causes that benefit the public. They can dabble in political things a little bit, but if their budget devoted to these tasks goes about 20% or 25% (I forget exactly) they get stripped of their non-profit status when the IRS catches on. ANY political activity can draw an auditors attention, so it is important to keep good books and draw a clear line between efforts that influence politics and those that don't. Hopefully the auditors agree.

501(c)4's are intended for non-partisan activities that DO get political. Everything such a group does can have political intent. If I form a group dedicated to teaching and defending the historical meaning of liberty as the framers of our Constitution understood it, my group would be non-partisan in the sense that I care about the cause, but would certainly pick sides in elections because some candidates defend liberty better than others. The trick to this is to speak to the cause and not about the candidate and it isn't easy to do for certain causes.

We want 501(c)4's to exist because we want someone to represent causes besides our partisan parties. This is a useful category for public service oriented companies.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I was unaware of the difference; thank you Alfred.

zealously rpointen: yes, we are.

Tacitus said...

Indeed, a useful post. Thanks A.Differ.


Alfred Differ said...

Glad to be of service. 8)

I used to help run a 501(c)3 that had a sister organization that was a 501(c)4. We intentionally off-loaded all political activity to the other group to avoid any possible risk with the IRS. Together we still had to avoid picking sides in partisan elections and spending money in such a way that looked like we did, but both groups were extra cautious because we could afford high priced lawyers. If your pockets are deep enough you can try to tie up the IRS lawyers for awhile, but a failed audit later can result in retro-penalties that make the trick unpleasant. Whether it is worth trying that anyway to win an election is debatable.

In this case, I wasn't surprised the tea party folks got extra scrutiny. Many of the people involved were noobs from what I could see. The auditors probably DID have reasons to target them that have nothing to do with politics. Unfortunately, it all looks like politics after the fact.

I will admit that I don't mind the IRS taking a beating on this, but I suspect they were doing their jobs and just didn't think through the political ramifications. Someone high up is a dunce.

Alfred Differ said...

oof. It's late. We COULDN'T afford the pricey lawyers.

Leave out one silly negation and the whole story falls apart. Sigh. 8)

Paul451 said...

"the Tides Foundation (now called Tides Center I believe). It is an organization in part founded by the late George Soros."

[citation needed]

Tacitus said...


Jacob said...

I'd prefer to see 100% Audits of everyone/company in such a way that it takes Zero Effort/Expense and in a way that has a net zero cost to the tax payer. Unfortunately, aspects of this aren't going to happen.

In Georgia, Business Auditors take in 11 times more than they cost. So if we spend 1 Tax Dollar going after financial crime, we get 11 Dollars in Recaptured Revenue. (Sorry I don't know the numbers of Audits of individuals.) This suggests that the last part of the equation should be somewhat easy to handle.

Suppose we took a portion of Recaptured Revenue and dedicated it to cost reduction/elimination on those are Audited. We can improve on the burden aspect of audits.

We obviously need to change silliness like 'Print a copy every page of your Website' to send to the IRS. Any other useless busy work should be removed or modified to be meaningful.

Its an interesting dynamic in that the more we audit, the less cheaters there will be and less efficient the Recapturing of Revenue will be. However, I think we should be increasing our Financial Police Force by 10% every year until we are close to breaking even (1 Tax Dollar spent ~ 1 Recaptured Revenue). Then you monitor things over time to make sure you aren't overspending.

I would also note that the more we audit, the lower the Tax Burden will be on honest Americans.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus, sorry, but I'm not on-line a lot during the holiday weekend.

So, would you favor denying 501c status to the Tides Foundation (now called Tides Center I believe). It is an organization in part founded by the late George Soros.

Shows what I know. When did George Soros die?

But in answer to your question, my impression is that most left-leaning groups are ALREADY denied tax-favored status, and if some are not, I would gladly concede that they should be denied such status as long as the other side is as well.

My impression is that right-leaning groups are often considered apolitical while left-leaning groups are considered political. That should not be.

It for instance helps fund Media Matters, regarded by conservatives as little more than a Ministry of Truth for the current administration.

Media Matters pre-dates the Obama administration.

My impression during the Bush years was that there was a strange Orwellian-language thing going on where journalists doing their actual job--questioning authority--were considered to be acting "politically" whereas those who dutifully parroted administration talking points were "apolitical".

Such differences of basic "facts" between the two sides preculdes rational conversation.

Sorry again...gotta go...maybe continue later...

Jonathan S. said...

I, for one, want the IRS to investigate any organization claiming tax-exempt status, to ensure they're supposed to have that status, and to bust them if they're not. That's an important part of why we have an IRS.

Right-leaning, left-leaning, leaning in some completely non-Euclidean angle that drives one mad to contemplate ("Cthulhu for President! Why vote for the lesser of two evils?"), it doesn't matter. If you claim to be tax-exempt, the organization responsible for regulating that should be ensuring you're not just pulling something out of a bodily orifice. And trying to shut that down because there was a sudden spate of right-leaning organizations popping up that called for such scrutiny is a terrible mistake, in my opinion.

LarryHart said...


Sorry about my earlier quick departure. The hungry family was chmamping at the bit for lunch while I was typing.

To continue...

It for instance helps fund Media Matters, regarded by conservatives as little more than a Ministry of Truth for the current administration.

I find "Ministy of Truth" incredibly ironic in that context, as it seems to me that Media Matters tries to stick to actual facts. The conservatives or "conservatives" who regard fact-checking as propoganda and who regard right-wing propoganda as "fair and balanced" would seem to me to be victims of that well-known liberal bias that reality has.

I am always willing to meet folks half way. I think many, perhaps most of the 501c outfits should be stripped of tax exempt status. The issue here appears to be overt targeting of some varieties of public speech.

As I think I said before, I'm fine with all groups contributing to political campaigns losing that special status. I'm not even speaking so much of tax-exemption as of the ability to hide the identities of their donors. Even in the misguided "Citizens United" decisions, most of the affirming Justices indicated a belief that the proper remedy to concerns about money in politics is discolsure.

Now tell me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the desire to donate megabucks to political campaigns SECRETELY is something the political right goes for. Point as much as you like to wealthy liberal donors, but do they try to hide where their money is coming from?

So my sense is that in trying to enforce their badly-written rules, the IRS ends up targeting right-leaning organizations becuase those are the ones committing the fraud.

If the information leaking out is true, was the IRS "attention" to these groups politically motivated? And do you approve or disapprove?

As stated, I would of course disapprove. But I seriously doubt that the IRS was that interested in re-electing the president. More likely (to me) is that they resorted to stereotypes to identify groups as "political" to try to weed through the myriad applications they had for 501c(3 or was it 4) status.

Probably a few low level flunkies will take the fall for this one, but in my opinion-which I do not ask anyone to share-this is just more politics The Chicago Way

I gotta say, were I one of the IRS agents so charged, I'd be wondering out loud why all of those groups with Tea Party in their name thought they SHOULD be considered anything but political.

And why am I not picking on all those left-wing groups perpetrating the same fraud? Maybe because there aren't any?

LarryHart said...

Going apolitical for a moment, I've got a David Brin sci-fi question for our host.

I'm currently on my third reading of "Infinity's Shore", and it occurs to me that I'm confused as to whether the mythology of the goddess Ifni originates with Galactic culture or with pre-contact Earthclan culture.

Can you elaborate?

LarryHart said...

And while I'm on the subject of "Infinity's Shore", I just want to be clear (we've discussed this before) that you as the author never did specify just what offense motivated the Jophur to eradicate the g'Kek so long ago, right?

Because I'm reading the book as if my own theory is so obvious as to be self-evident: that the g'Kek once offended the Jophur so by using Jophur rings as tires.


Paul451 said...


Soros is alive and well. In early April, Reuters put his unedited(*) obituary online for about 30 minutes. I don't know if Tacitus was making a joking reference to that, or if conservative news sites ran the story and never corrected it and he actually believed it.

(* "George Soros, who died XXX at age XXX..." sic.)

Likewise, I'm not sure if saying that Tides was "in part founded by Soros" was a joke at his own expense. (Soros is a donor, but has nothing else to do with the organisation.) Ie, was he playing on the bizarre conservative obsession with Soros, or demonstrating it.

Tacitus said...

sorry Mr Soros...I had heard a report that he died the day of the Boston bombing and assumed that his passing had just been overwhelmed by the news.

in my defense I have been traveling a lot in the last six weeks..


Paul451 said...

Speaking of "liberal" political fronts (and Soros)...

"And why am I not picking on all those left-wing groups perpetrating the same fraud? Maybe because there aren't any?"

CAP lobbied the government on behalf of corporate donors who then benefited from public money.

[As a compromise, instead of fussing over how overtly political an organisation is, how about we just remove charitable status from any that don't publish a clear list of donors, and spending. Surely it's the secrecy that is more damaging.]

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry
My reading was that the g'Kek did some type of financial futures market high leverage activity involving the hydrogen breathers that did not come off and ended up owing the Jophur far more than they could possibly pay off so the Jophur "closed them down"

But I love your speculation about tires - maybe that was why they "bought the g'Gek futures"?

LarryHart said...


As a compromise, instead of fussing over how overtly political an organisation is, how about we just remove charitable status from any that don't publish a clear list of donors, and spending. Surely it's the secrecy that is more damaging.]


And ok, you've demonstrated that some liberal groups do secretly hide their donors, interestingly enough in a story that was published in "The Nation". I personally think liberals should be in favor of full disclosure of donors across the specturm--that we have nothing to lose by full disclosure, and that the right-wingers have much to lose. I can't help it if not all of my fellow-travelers agree.

Duncan Cairncross:

On the g'Kek thing, that began as my speculation as to a explanation for the feud that was specific to both g'Kek and Jophur. And as my old favorite comics writer, Dave Sim would have it, "Once a thing is seen, it can't be un-seen."

rewinn said...


Thank you for linking to a case in which ACORN was defrauded by temporary workers. You make my case: ACORN was not a "shady" outfit; it was the victim of more criminals than I had thought, and I appreciate you pointing that out (from your cite):

"It appears that a handful of temporary workers were trying to get paid for work they hadn't actually done. While we don't think the intent or the result of their actions was to allow any ineligible person to vote, these employees defrauded ACORN and imposed a burden on the time and resources of registrars and law enforcement."

Rather than try to define "shady" to include any organization that has a temporary worker who commit crimes (which surely would include elected representatives of that organization *cough* Issa *cough* Bachmann *cough* Tax Cheat Romney cough*) wouldn't it be better to accept that ACORN actually help over a million Americans register to vote and murmur at least pro forma regrets at its demise?

My points stand:
* ACORN is not a "shady" group by any reasonable definition of the word, and
* Today's "conservatives" are hurting their cause by attacking groups that help Americans vote, instead of formulating pragmatic policies.

If you'd rather keep trying to fight demographics by re-writing history, all I can say is "Please proceed!" but why not try advocating policy instead?

Ian said...

The UNDP has released the latest Human Development Report, a massive document about the state of the world.

As usual people will ignore 99% of it and flip straight to the league chart of countries by HDI - a broad measure of health, education and per capita income.

One thing that stands out: the "catastrophic" effects of austerity are virtually invisible. Greece rates as high now as it did in 2005 and only marginally lower than its all-time peak in 2006, Ireland is the same story. Iceland which according to one popular narrative is doing great because it refused to implement austerity is almost exactly the same.

It's almost as though programs to protect people from the worst impacts of the GFC were actually working.

Paul451 said...

Hmmm, coincidentally, I'm just now reading that donor anonymity for social welfare charities was introduced when Alabama tried to force the NAACP (back when it was a 501c(3)) to reveal its donors in the 1950s. The Supreme Court ruled that it opened the door to targeted reprisals against donors. ACLU has made similar arguments since then.

But I'll stick with my claim that it's better to have transparency. After all, you can still go dark if you drop the charity status. Or set up a parallel non-charity-status group for donors scared of reprisals.

Ian said...

How about requiring organizations that want donor anonymity to comply with the same fund-raising rules as political campaigns?

Jumper said...

I am not sure, but to answer the question "what difference does it make if an organization is tax-exempt or not?" has to do with money left over at the end of fiscal year. If all moneys are disbursed, there are no profits regardless. I see carry-over as a sort of money-laundering scheme. Political campaigns are notorious for moving contributions around even after elections for which the donations were nominally made.

But others more knowledgeable might correct this.

Tim H. said...

Occurs to me that considering the dubious quality candidates promoted by the "teaps", any effort to restrict the tea party movement might be a long term benefit to the GOP. Obama's only liberal compared to the opposition.

LarryHart said...

Ok, as usual, I see things aren't as simple as they seem at first blush.

So there are legitimate reasons for protecting donors' identities to allow them to support controversial causes without inviting reprisal. Just as there are legitimate reasons NOT to want unaccountable, secret money influencing elections.

I don't claim to have an answer here, but let's see if I can accurately state the problem. The laws protecting secret donations are meant to allow average citizens to support a cause without inviting reprisals from powerful interests opposed to that cause. Yet the same laws almost-necessarily allow powerful interests to clandestinely bribe politicians in exchange for political support of their agenda without the citizenry being aware of the relationship.

Is there a solution to that Gordian Knot of a puzzle?

LarryHart said...

...And let me restate the issue in another way, although this still doesn't suggest a solution.

If (for example), I donate money to the NAACP but don't want that information to be public, the reason is not because there's something shady about my support, but because I don't want the KKK showing up on my doorstep with a noose in hand.

The "mission statement" of the NAACP tells anyone paying attention what their agenda is. The fact that I (among others) donates to their cause isn't important to understanding what a vote favoring the NAACP means.

Whereas, when the Koch brothers finance candidates who refuse to accept science, those candidates actions in office are a direct consequence of the agenda of their secret paymasters. Understanding just what such candidates stand for requires knowing who is paying them.

The Koch brothers or Karl Rove (and yes, I'd include George Soros here if I saw any indication of his keeping his support a SECRET) don't hide their support for causes because they fear violence from angry mobs. They hide their support because they want their paid agents to appear to be functioning independently. Because anti-science stances might lose credibility if it is obvious they're bought and paid for by someone with billions of dollars at stake rather than honest attempts at good public policy.

So again, can we protect the one without aiding and abetting the other?

Duncan Cairncross said...

The solution to Larry's problem is simple

Small donations - could be secret
They are unlikely to distort or buy an agenda

Large donations imply significant wealth on the part of the donor - and they can "buy influence" as such they need to be public

Rich donors are not "at risk" in the same way that a poor or ordinary person is

Not sure what the transition is - how about 10% of the median wage?