Make it so

May 3, 2015

Who needs reaction mass? And who understands the physics behind this?

I ran across a mention of testing an EM drive in vacuum a couple of weeks ago but didn’t pay it much attention because of where I found it. Then Paul sent a link to this article at a NASA site which makes me take it more seriously.

If you’re interested in space flight, RTWT. It could be a game-changer.

Evaluating NASA’s Futuristic EM Drive
April 29, 2015 by José Rodal, Ph.D, Jeremiah Mullikin and Noel Munson – subedited by Chris Gebhardt

A group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has successfully tested an electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive in a vacuum – a major breakthrough for a multi-year international effort comprising several competing research teams. Thrust measurements of the EM Drive defy classical physics’ expectations that such a closed (microwave) cavity should be unusable for space propulsion because of the law of conservation of momentum.

EM Drive:

Last summer, NASA Eagleworks – an advanced propulsion research group led by Dr. Harold “Sonny” White at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) – made waves throughout the scientific and technical communities when the group presented their test results on July 28-30, 2014, at the 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

Those results related to experimental testing of an EM Drive – a concept that originated around 2001 when a small UK company, Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd (SPR), under Roger J. Shawyer, started a Research and Development (R&D) program.

The concept of an EM Drive as put forth by SPR was that electromagnetic microwave cavities might provide for the direct conversion of electrical energy to thrust without the need to expel any propellant.

This lack of expulsion of propellant from the drive was met with initial skepticism within the scientific community because this lack of propellant expulsion would leave nothing to balance the change in the spacecraft’s momentum if it were able to accelerate.

What amazes me (and apparently many others) is that you don’t need to haul along a bunch of reaction mass to throw away behind you in order to accelerate.

Heinlein wrote an article about interplanetary travel at constant acceleration. (He and many others have written novels based on that assumption, of course.) The travel times are remarkably shorter than building up an initial velocity and then coasting – which is how we do it now. The critical factor in using constant acceleration has always been carrying the reaction mass you needed to expel in order to get the acceleration.

Even a constant acceleration of 0.1G (0.98m/sec2) makes a huge difference in travel time.

And now – maybe – that’s not necessary after all? Wow. I don’t know if Larry Niven would classify this as an example of his reaction-less drive but I think it’s pretty close.


Can we end the "War on Drugs" yet?

May 3, 2015

News from Houston, Texas: read it and fear your government.

My emphasis in the final line because the idea that los Federales can highjack your equipment for a criminal purpose – without your knowledge – and leave you without recourse from your insurer is adding injury to injury.

Judge: Feds owe trucking company nothing over DEA informant murder (update)
Posted on April 28, 2015 | By Dane Schiller

Officers from multiple agencies work at the scene of a shooting in which Drug Enforcement Administration informant Lawrence Chapa, who was posing as a truck driver to infiltrate the drug world, was shot to death at Hollister near Champions Walk Lane Monday, Nov. 21, 2011, in Houston. ( James Nielsen / Chronicle )
A Houston-based federal judge ruled that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does not owe the owner of a small Texas trucking company anything, not even the cost of repairing the bullet holes to a tractor-trailer truck that the agency used without his permission for a wild 2011 drug cartel sting that resulted in the execution-style murder of the truck’s driver, who was secretly working as a government informant.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, which was made public late Monday, heads off a potentially embarrassing civil trial that was supposed to start early next month at the federal courthouse.

Andy Vickery, a lawyer representing trucking company, said he was floored by the ruling.

“She is basically saying you can’t sue the feds,” he said by phone.

And he emailed this reaction:

A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys. He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out. The bad guys outwit the cops. Your company’s driver is killed. Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.

Query: is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?

Answer: Nope.

He said an appeal is already in the works.

Trucking company owner Craig Patty has said that the truck was used and damaged in a drug sting against one of Mexico’s most violent cartels without his permission and that his family lived in extreme fear they would face retaliation from the cartel, even though they had no idea what the government was doing. […]

Patty’s truck was impounded and later released to him, but was out of service for months. The DEA refused to pay for the damages, as did Patty’s insurance company, which ruled that the truck had been used in a criminal act, and therefore the damages weren’t covered.

DEA delenda est!

H.T. Paul


Yeah, let’s do that

May 2, 2015

Here’s recent e-mail from Chip Mellor at the Institute for Justice.

IJ’s fight to end civil forfeiture continues with a new lawsuit on behalf of Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner in rural North Carolina who had $107,702 seized last summer by the IRS. Despite a policy change by the IRS last fall indicating that they would no longer pursue such cases, the DOJ filed a civil forfeiture complaint in December against Lyndon to forfeit his cash without even accusing him of a crime.

After Lyndon’s case was brought up in congressional testimony this past February, the U.S. Attorney in charge of Lyndon’s case told Lyndon’s lawyer, “Whoever made [the document] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case. Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. My offer is to return 50% of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.”

Lyndon, however, is unwilling to give the government a single penny of his hard-earned money and teamed up with IJ to get his money back. You can read more about the lawsuit in the New York Times article[…]

The NYT article is fairly short and worth your time.

And here’s a video IJ produced about this case.

So, yeah, let’s "ratchet up feelings in the agency." That sounds like an excellent idea to me… just in a different manner than Steve West (the U.S. Attorney quoted above) has in mind. Maybe a 50%, across-the-board staff reduction at the IRS would do it? Then we could look at DOJ too?

The gall of a government lawyer saying, basically, "shut up before we get really ticked off" piques my ire. It’s a stereotypical lawyer’s line, isn’t it? What do you call 5000 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

And the idea of a government attorney haggling over $50,000 gives you some idea of how much "justice" is going down at the Department of Justice. That’s a whopping 0.0000157 of the $3,176,000,000 Congress enacted for the 2015 US Budget. No reflection on Mr. McLellan’s business, but it’s like the Mafia shaking down kids with lemonade stands. (Except the thugs’d have too much pride, I think.)

That 0.0000157 is impressive! They only need 63,520 more cases like this one to pay for this year’s Federal spending. Hey, don’t laugh… you could be next.

I think someone needs to quit his government job and go find a real one. Maybe one where he’s not biting the hand that feeds him.

More seriously, Congress needs to call its damned dogs and put a clear and definite end to civil forfeiture.

Update 5/14
More e-mail today from Mr. Mellor:

Less than two weeks after IJ announced its involvement in a civil forfeiture action against Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner in rural North Carolina whose entire bank account of more than $100,000 was seized by the IRS, the government has admitted defeat and dropped its case against Lyndon. This means he will get back all the money he worked so hard to earn.

The case has made national headlines, including The New York Times, Drudge, Fox News, Forbes, Vox, and MSN.com. You can read early coverage of the dismissal in the Raleigh News & Observer piece below.

All the best,

Raleigh News & Observer
Prosecutors drop IRS seizure case against Fairmont convenience store owner
By Anne Blythe
May 14, 2015

Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner in rural Robeson County, became an emblem for the many ways that IRS seizure and civil forfeiture laws have dogged run-of-the-mill business owners who operate with cash.

For nearly a year, the 50-year-old Fairmont man has been fighting the federal government to recover the $107,702.66 seized from his business account without any allegations of crime.

On Wednesday, nearly two weeks after The New York Times profiled his struggle with the government, McLellan received a welcome call from his lawyer.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker, the top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of North Carolina, had dismissed the case that since July had blocked his access to his money.

Thank goodness for the IJ. I don’t know many more practical ways of spending your money to fight government overreach than by donating to IJ.


Hear, hear! (3)

April 26, 2015

Daniel Hannan (member of the European Parliament) writes:

It’s time to introduce a voluntary fame tax

I’ve just come across an utterly brilliant idea for tax reform, one that would elevate and improve our public discourse. It comes from my friend James Hannam, who is standing for election as a councillor in Kent, and for whom I went canvassing over the weekend in the gorgeous village of Sissinghurst. […]

James’s suggestion is as follows. The sorts of people who get recruited by political causes as celebrity supporters – television personalities, comedians and the like – should have to pay a special “fame levy” of around 20 per cent of their income. This tax would reflect the fact that they get paid to do really cool things, and are at the same time asked to opine about politics without the bother of getting themselves elected to anything.

It would, however, be voluntary. All the celebrities would need to do, to avoid the toll, is sign a public declaration to the effect that they wanted to opt out.

They’d be free to sign or not to sign. Either way, the rest of us would know whether or not to take them seriously when they assured us that they “wouldn’t mind paying a bit more tax” in order to “make society fairer”.

H.T. Jeff G


Economics humor

April 26, 2015

I know… sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Via CoyoteBlog


The battle over unions in Wisconsin

April 26, 2015

Here’s a recent article in National Review about an on-going political battle in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘I Thought It Was a Home Invasion’

Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking.

She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram.

She wasn’t dressed, but she started to run toward the door, her body in full view of the police. Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door.

“I was so afraid,” she says. “I did not know what to do.” She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police. The dogs were still frantic.

“I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.”

She got the dogs safely out of the house, just as multiple armed agents rushed inside. Some even barged into the bathroom, where her partner was in the shower. The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee.

“I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted.” Wrong thing to say. “This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.”

They wouldn’t let her speak to a lawyer. She looked outside and saw a person who appeared to be a reporter. Someone had tipped him off. […]

Most Americans have never heard of these raids, or of the lengthy criminal investigations of Wisconsin conservatives. For good reason. Bound by comprehensive secrecy orders, conservatives were left to suffer in silence as leaks ruined their reputations, as neighbors, looking through windows and dismayed at the massive police presence, the lights shining down on targets’ homes, wondered, no doubt, What on earth did that family do? […]

Largely hidden from the public eye, this traumatic process, however, is now heading toward a legal climax, with two key rulings expected in the late spring or early summer. The first ruling, from the Wisconsin supreme court, could halt the investigations for good, in part by declaring that the “misconduct” being investigated isn’t misconduct at all but the simple exercise of First Amendment rights.

The second ruling, from the United States Supreme Court, could grant review on a federal lawsuit brought by Wisconsin political activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the first conservatives to challenge the investigations head-on. If the Court grants review, it could not only halt the investigations but also begin the process of holding accountable those public officials who have so abused their powers.

But no matter the outcome of these court hearings, the damage has been done. In the words of Mr. O’Keefe, “The process is the punishment.”

I’ve read a couple of accounts of this affair over the last few years and my impressions are:

First, that those in favor of strong public sector unions in Wisconsin are using their official powers to try to silence those who would limit the power of public sector unions (teachers, police and the like). Since I agree that the power of public sector unions often needs to be curbed, I’ve supported Governor Walker.

Because there’s something wrong with a system where legally-required union dues can be used by union leadership to support politicians who, in turn, are the people the unions negotiate their contracts with. Just look at one example of what’s happened in California when a situation like that is written into law.

My second impression, though, is that the worm has turned. The rise of unions was no walk in the park and the story of how unions came to be is filled with examples of those who opposed them using the force of the State against them. (Of course, most of those early struggles weren’t on behalf of public sector workers.)

All of which brings me back to my usual position: if we don’t want events like these to happen, we need to limit the State’s power so that those who would abuse that power can’t. It sounds as though Wisconsin needs to work on its law for John Doe investigations.


Bad forensics

April 25, 2015

Here’s an article from the Washington Post about problems with forensic hair analysis. Many folks have been pointing out the pseudo-scientific nature of hair analysis, bite-mark analysis, and the like. for some time now. It’s good to see it getting more attention.

FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions. […]

The State is not always or necessarily your protector.

H.T. Paul


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