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Comment Re:Good for SpaceX (Score 4, Insightful) 75

You can have $70M of your taxpayer dollars used on his rockets, or you can have $160M of your taxpayer dollars go to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Your choice.

* Cheaper by 55%
* Built entirely in America
* Doesn't give money to a country we're sanctioning
* No design elements from the 1970s
* Company is doing innovative things to drive down costs even more in the future
* Slightly more likely to explode

Seems like a good thing to me.

Comment Re:Title is wildly misleading (Score 4, Interesting) 107

Solid rocket motors have tradeoffs. In some circumstances, they make sense.

They are long-term storage-stable. Build it, stick it in a silo somewhere, and leave it be for a few years, it will still launch just fine. Hypergolic liquid-fueled rockets can't be kept ready-to-launch for more than a few days*, and cryogenic liquid-fueled rockets can't be kept ready-to-launch for more than a few hours. This makes them particularly preferable for military uses, everything from little anti-tank rockets to ICBMs. This also reduces the number of ground crew needed - you don't need to worry about fueling, just electricals and signals.

They have extremely high levels of thrust, due to the extremely high energy density. The Shuttle's SRBs were each twice as powerful as the largest liquid-fueled rockets. This makes them very popular as boosters.

They have a lot of impulse per unit volume. What most rockets care about is impulse per unit mass (aka specific impulse), but some cases care about volume. If you're launching from an aircraft, like Stratolaunch or Pegasus, this matters. If you have constrained volume because you're in a fixed-size fairing, this matters. If you're launching from a submarine, this matters.

It's also often a matter of economies of scale. Countries with military missile programs (which have many reasons to go solid-fueled) often use them for other things as well, either to subsidize their military-industrial complex or to take advantage of existing scale to make civilian rocketry cheaper, depending on how cynical you are. The US, masters of solid-fueled ICBMs, used a pair of massive SRBs on the Space Shuttle, and will use them again on SLS, if that ever flies. The ESA's Ariane 5 uses SRBs based on a French SLBM. Japan may not field ICBMs, but they too have a reason - the first stage of this rocket is almost identical to the booster of their H-II rocket.

The higher stages are solid-fueled presumably to maintain that low-ground-crew capability, and the minor reduction in drag can't hurt either.

Comment Re:"self investigate" == alt.right (Score 1) 789

The difference, as I see it, is that "incorrect news" or "wrong news" lacks malice - it may have been wrong, but it was intended to be true, and either accident or negligence caused it to not be. "Fake news" was known by its peddler to be false, and yet was pushed anyways because The Cause mattered more than The Truth.

Comment Re:National instant-runoff (single transferable vo (Score 1) 637

You are mistaking cause and effect. The third-party candidates suck BECAUSE we have a tiered FPTP system. Anyone smart enough to be a viable third-party candidate is smart enough to know that the best way to help their cause isn't to run separately, but to try to assimilate their cause into one of the major parties. If we had a system that eliminated, or at least ameliorated, the spoiler effect, smart and capable people could run as third-party.

Comment Re:Condorcet's Voting paradox (Score 2) 637

A Condorcet paradox is not guaranteed to exist in any given set of candidates and voters. In many cases, there can be a candidate who would win a 1-on-1 simple-majority election against all other candidates, and is thus clearly preferable - and there are voting systems that are guaranteed to elect that candidate *if* they exist. Simple plurality (aka first-past-the-post) is NOT one of the voting systems that can find such a candidate, and in fact is probably one of the worst systems possible for finding the more preferred candidate.

The fact that there cannot be a "perfect" voting system across all possible sets of candidates and voters does not mean that there is no difference in quality between the real voting systems that we have to choose between. There is indeed a vast difference between this crazy, unevenly-proportioned multi-level plurality system we've inherited, and the more modern voting systems such as instant-runoff, two-round, approval, or range voting.

(And when you consider the expense that we go to during our electoral campaigns, we quite clearly can afford to replace our voting system.)

Comment National instant-runoff (single transferable vote) (Score 5, Insightful) 637

The electoral college is obsolete. The transportation/communications difficulties it originally solved are long gone, and the laws forcing electors to vote a certain way have rendered moot the additional check on demagoguery it was intended to be. Now, it's just a way for a minority of obsolete voters to get an outsized say in national politics. Eliminating the electoral college should go without saying. But why assume that we must use a simple plurality of the popular vote?

I propose replacing presidential voting with instant-runoff voting (equivalent to single transferable vote in elections with only one winner, which this is). It's a proven system that's been used in many other countries, quite successfully.

The system is simple. It's easily explainable - everyone ranks their choices, from best to worst, and then if any candidate wins more than half of people's top vote, they win. If not, the candidate who performed the worst is crossed off, and we check to see if anyone has a majority, repeating the process until we have a winner. It's simple enough to be easily usable with paper ballots and manual counting, and requires only a single round of votes to be cast. But it has all the advantages of the more complicated voting systems.

IRV/STV eliminates many of the problems we've seen in American politics:
1) Third parties can be more competitive, because without the spoiler effect, they don't have to convince voters en masse to defect to them, just that they would be better.
2) It separates agreement with the person and agreement with their politics. Clinton and Trump were both widely disliked as people, but they captured huge swaths of the vote simply because people agreed with the vaguest outline of their politics, as denoted by their party affiliation, and had the belief that the only practical way to support those politics was to vote for that candidate despite their personal problems. Had Democrats had a chance to vote for Sanders or Warren, with Clinton as a backup, they would have done substantially better - and perhaps Republicans would have performed better if Kasich or McMullin had been able to be people's primary pick, with Trump as a backup.
3) It encourages moderatism and discourages extremism. Because votes transfer from the weakest candidates to the strongest, and the weakest candidates are usually those at some extreme, it generally transfers votes from candidates at the far left or far right, towards the center. This is a weakness of the system in that it makes the system slow to drastic change, but it is still better than our current system which is nearly as slow to drastic change, and is worse at handling minor changes as it usually overshoots.

Comment Re:Nice try (Score 1) 302

Chinese citizens are among the most visibly affected by pollution in general, through smog, and they have sufficient communications and disposable income to organize a movement against it. That movement has coalesced and is pushing for reduced air pollution in general, with carbon dioxide as merely one of the problems. But because the movement formed while climate change was an article of discussion internationally, the Chinese movement has ingrained a fight against climate change into their philosophy.

China is far from an ideal democracy, but no government is immune to the ill will of its citizens. The Chinese government does not have any particular conflict of interests here - they need to keep manufacturing up, in order to keep their population employed, but oil and coal are mostly imported so reducing their use would actually be a minor improvement. The pressure from the Chinese citizenry isn't particularly hard, but with no reason to fight back the Chinese government is willing to go along to avoid possible unrest. And the Chinese government has historically taken a very long view compared to most Western governments, so the whole "leave a livable Earth for future generations" thing might actually matter to them.

Comment Re:Convince me of realistic solutions (Score 1) 693

Two words: Carbon tax.

Carbon taxes will make most carbon-producing activities unprofitable. Right now, coal actually requires government subsidies in order to survive. Flip that to a tax, and electrical power generation from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) ends about as quickly as new carbon-neutral plants can be built (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro, nuclear - all are carbon-neutral and cost-competitive). For the electric grid, it's not a matter of technology, merely a matter of using technologies we already have. We could have gone carbon-neutral in the 70s if we had gone all-in on nuclear power and hydroelectric. Now we have even more options.

That leaves transportation and direct industrial use. We're already starting to see a shift towards battery-electric vehicles (it's not just Tesla - out of the top ten auto manufacturers, the only ones without an actively-made electric car are Suzuki and Citroen), and gas is under $2/gal. If the carbon tax merely pushed the cost of gasoline up to European prices, around $5-6/gal, that would accelerate the movement. BEVs are only as carbon-free as the electric grid, but a) we already get a lot of carbon-free power, so it's already greener, and b) as the grid becomes greener, BEVs become greener. The technology seems to be at a level that's competitive already - it's an obvious corollary to the efficient market hypothesis that if everyone in a given field is selling something, it's profitable to do so.

There would still be some transportation burning fossil fuels (aircraft, ships, rail), some of which aren't easily electrified. Rail can probably be electrified relatively easily, but aircraft will be very hard to do). But those will merely have to shoulder the cost - and they already have huge natural economic incentives to minimize fuel consumption, which in turn minimizes carbon dioxide release.

(Second-order effects might actually make manufacturers shift back to the West if there's a global carbon tax. Intercontinental shipping will become more expensive, so there would be an economic advantage to manufacturing close to the sale destination, possibly enough to outweigh the lower labor costs overseas. That's not directly relevant to the problem of climate change but it would certainly be a nice side benefit.)

Direct industrial use is a bit harder. Lots of industrial processes require heat, notably metal smelting and cement production, and a lot of them get it by burning fossil fuels of one sort or another. We might be able to improve on that by using solar reflector heating or electric heating, but it's probably just going to be a cost that gets passed on to the consumer and thus reduces consumption. Which still ultimately lowers CO2 production, so I'll count that as a weak win. Remember, we don't have to get to literally zero carbon emissions, we just have to get down to a level the natural carbon cycle can swallow.

And a tax on carbon dioxide would allow reduction of other taxes (in countries who have balanced budgets) or prevent the need for other taxes to be raised (in countries with imbalanced budgets). Since a lot of those taxes have no benefit beyond revenue, and have negative effects elsewhere (sales tax, income tax), we would improve our economy by reducing them.

Comment Re:On one hand, but not the other (Score 5, Informative) 95

Damage to Comcast's lines is already covered by applicable law. This is not made explicit in this new ordinance, but because the ordinance requires the attacher to both post a bond, and to indemnify (protect from legal repercussions for damages) the pole owner, it's clearly something obvious to the lawyers who wrote it.

This law also requires notification be sent to anyone whose lines are moved, and places liability for certain costs on the one doing the moving - cost for the existing user to perform inspections, and cover the costs for any mistakes made that bring it out of spec with the pole owner. And the pole owners may require approval of the contractors who actually perform the work.

Also, the law does require that the new line owner gets permission from the pole owner, and that any work that could reasonably cause a service outage must notify the existing line owners, and must coordinate with them if they choose to do so (within a certain timeframe - if Comcast sits around for a month after being told of outage-causing work, the work may proceed without them).

Comment Re:People ARE what we are sending (Score 2) 222

NASA pays SpaceX primarily to put NASA satellites into orbit, or to send NASA cargo to NASA astronauts on a space station partially built by NASA. They provided some funding to help SpaceX develop that capability. They are continuing to fund SpaceX's development of Dragon v2 (because NASA also wants the ability to send NASA astronauts to the space station) and Falcon 9 Heavy (because NASA wants to improve what NASA satellites SpaceX can put into orbit). NASA is *not* directly funding BFR/BFS development, because they don't want that (the current BFR development was funded with the *profits* from the Falcon 9 flights, just as Falcon 9 reuse was). Note that NASA also pays United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK, and Roscosmos for launch services, and has been funding development in Boeing, ULA, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin, all of whom are building things NASA wants to be able to buy one day.

The US Air Force and the NRO also pay SpaceX to put their satellites into orbit, and the USAF was among the early funders in SpaceX because they like having redundant means of orbiting satellites. I believe they are funding development of Falcon 9 Heavy in order to have a redundant means of orbiting heavy satellites. They are not funding BFR/BFS development because their job has nothing to do with Mars, unless the Russians start putting guns and soldiers there.

Comment Re:So that's how Trump's spinning it (Score 1) 843

I never said there *was* a media conspiracy, only that Trump was implying that there was. I have seen no evidence that it exists, save for the claims of Trump and other random nutjobs. Groundless claims by people with no reputation for accuracy are not evidence.

And if this election has taught me anything about the media, it's that the right-wing, not the left, has a ridiculous amount of control over press and public perceptions. They've managed to convince far too many people that Clinton's "scandals" are on par with Trump's - something that even a cursory look shows to be completely and objectively false.

Comment So that's how Trump's spinning it (Score 5, Insightful) 843

I was wondering how he was going to try to recover from his recent string of bad news. Looks like his method is to pretend it's a conspiracy by the left-wing media to ruin him with an "onslaught" of bad press. Which implies that the stories are false or exaggerated, without actually making that claim. Clever, in case he ever needs to admit that the reports are true.

Truth has no sides. Reality has no bias. If these things are true, and I have seen no indications that they are not, then the news is making Donald Trump look bad because Donald Trump is actually bad. If he steals money from charity to bribe investigators to turn a blind eye to his fraudulent businesses, the blame for the bad press afterward lies purely at the hands of Trump, not on the media and press.

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