Stars and Stripes Forever

Four decades after the last astronauts landed on the moon and planted an American flag in lunar soil, scientists wondered: ‘Does that star spangled banner yet wave?’

Finally new images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) have given proof in the night, that the flags are, indeed, still there.

All but one of the six flags left by American astronauts remain standing, according to an analysis of the shadows they cast on the surface of the moon.

During each of the six American moon landings, astronauts left American flags behind as symbols of their nation’s scientific and engineering achievement.

The first was the monumental July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landing — in which Neil Armstrong declared on live television, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

The final mission was Apollo 17 on December 14, 1972.

Scientists used new, detailed images from NASA’s lunar camera to determine that the flags were casting shadows that circled them as the moon moved in its normal orbit — proving that they were still standing on their poles.

‘From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11,’ Mark Robinson, an investigator with the lunar satellite program, wrote on Friday.

‘Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!’

The American missions to the moon remain the only manned flights to touch down on a heavenly body.

Dr Robinson wrote that one of the most common questions he and his team have received since the launch of the lunar orbiter in 2009.

‘Personally I was a bit surprised that the flags survived the harsh ultraviolet light and temperatures of the lunar surface, but they did,’ he wrote.

‘What they look like is another question (badly faded, perhaps?).’

The conditions on the surface of the moon are harsh. Temperatures swing between 250 and -280 degrees Fahrenheit

Attribution: Daily Mail

Joke of the Day

When Albert Einstein was making the rounds of the speaker’s circuit, he usually found himself eagerly longing to get back to his laboratory work.

One night as they were driving to yet another rubber-chicken dinner, Einstein mentioned to his chauffeur (a man who somewhat resembled Einstein in looks & manner) that he was tired of speechmaking.

“I have an idea, boss,” his chauffeur said. “I’ve heard you give this speech so many times. I’ll bet I could give it for you.” Einstein laughed loudly and said, “Why not? Let’s do it!”

When they arrive at the dinner, Einstein donned the chauffeur’s cap and jacket and sat in the back of the room. The chauffeur gave a beautiful rendition of Einstein’s speech and even answered a few questions expertly.

Then a supremely pompous professor asked an extremely esoteric question about anti-matter formation, digressing here and there to let everyone in the audience know that he was nobody’s fool.

Without missing a beat, the chauffeur fixed the professor with a steely stare and said, “Sir, the answer to that question is so simple that I will let my chauffeur, who is sitting in the back, answer it for me.”

Um…Duh

A Stradivarius violin – possibly worth several million dollars – has been handed in at a Swiss lost-property office after a hapless musician left it on a train.

“The owner had lent the precious instrument to a musician friend who took it on a train last Friday but forgot it when he got off at the Bern station”, police said.

After a fruitless search by train staff, surveillance cameras spotted a passenger walking off with the violin at a different station and police launched an appeal for help.

The violin turned up Sunday in the lost-property office at Bern station.

Police did not disclose the names of anyone involved, nor the value of the instrument.

Around 600 violins made by Italian master craftsman Antonio Stradivari are still in existence. One fetched almost $14 million at a 2011 charity auction for victims of the Japanese tsunami.

Joke of the Day

Kirk was telling his colleagues about a strange dream he had the previous night.

He dreamt he was in the middle of the action in the old west riding a stagecoach.

All of a sudden, a cowboy riding a horse appears on the right side of the stagecoach and a horse without a rider pulls up on the left.

In a swift move, the cowboy bends down, pulls open the door of the stagecoach and jumps off his horse into the coach. Then he opens the door on the other side and jumps onto the other horse.

Kirk, confused by the events that were happening so swiftly, yelled out to the cowboy, “What do you think you are doing?”

The cowboy replied, “Nothing. It’s just a stage I’m going through.”

Beware the Fairness

from: Erick Erickson at Redstate

Congressional Republicans led by Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming have begun negotiating behind closed doors with liberals like Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois to raise Americans’ taxes. They introduced their internet tax as an amendment to a Senate small business bill, but that bill stalled. Now they are confident they can sneak the internet tax into a lame duck session of Congress, just in time for Christmas shopping.

The tax sounds innocuous enough. The tax is hiding under legislation called the Marketplace Fairness Act. The Act purportedly just harmonizes state laws so internet sales are also taxed. After all, it is not fair that Amazon does not charge all its customers sales taxes. It puts them at a competitive advantage over mom and pop shops.

Heck, I don’t shop online to avoid sales taxes. I do so for convenience and because I hate people and don’t want to interact with people in a store. (kind of kidding) I don’t really care if I have to pay sales taxes online. It just sounds so fair.

As we’ve learned from Barack Obama, beware politicians peddling fairness. Republicans doing this are about to open a pandoras box and, behind closed doors, they admit they know it. Are you ready for your downloads from iTunes to be taxed?

The nation has thus far successfully shielded the internet from Washington taxation and regulation for decades, and the Marketplace Fairness Act would break the floodgates open. Even more troubling, the Marketplace Fairness Act establishes a pretty solid precedent that the federal government can step in to regulate state tax policy. After all, this legislation attempts to exert federal regulatory power over state internet tax policy with state complicity.

Once Congress has opened the pandoras box of federally authorized internet sales taxes, it is only one step away from taxing internet downloads, not just goods purchased online.

But here’s the other troubling thing. The Marketplace Fairness Act, for the first time, establishes a national sales tax. It does so by hiding behind the states. They told us the individual mandate wasn’t a federal tax either.

Here’s the situation. As you may know, the Supreme Court has long held that a business has to have some physical nexus in a state to be subject to sales tax collections — an storefront, distribution center, etc. This is based on the fundamental principle of no taxation without representation.

States have tried to weasel their way around this, but each state taxes goods in different ways. Some taxes, for example, don’t tax baked goods, but do tax candies, even if made in a bakery. So your cake is not taxed, but if you buy fudge at the bakery it is. And it’s not just states, there are over 7,500 different local tax systems, many with special tax holidays or exemptions for different products. Trying to move these varied tax systems to the internet would drive up the burdens of businesses online by forcing compliance with the various taxing schemes of 50 states.

That actually puts a heavier burden on online vendors than brick & mortar local vendors, who only have to comply with the taxes of the state they reside in. Then there are the compliance costs. How does a candy company in Georgia that sells fudge to someone living in Iowa handle a tax dispute with Iowa tax authorities?

MFA would destroy the concept of states as laboratories of democracy that allow businesses to move between states based on better business environments. Today, a business located in New Hampshire charges no sales tax, but if MFA passes, overnight they could be forced to collect taxes for dozens of states with no escape.

Now, let me explain what is really going on here. States have grown huge and bureaucratic. Instead of downsizing and becoming more efficient, states have decided to just look for a new tax scheme to fund the leviathan. They see online sales as the way to go. iTunes downloads will be next. Congressional Republicans are helping.

But consider that there is a carve out for businesses that sell less than $500,000.00 a year online. As Senator Jim DeMint notes this is a pretty good admission that the law will be a burden on businesses.

Proponents of MFA also like to brag that Amazon now supports their internet tax bill after years of opposition. That’s true, but there is a simple reason why: Amazon’s future business model of same-day delivery requires them to have distribution centers in nearly every state in the nation. You see, MFA won’t affect Amazon, because like Target or Walmart expanding to every state, Amazon will be forced by current law to collect sales taxes. So of course Amazon now supports MFA, this is nothing more than a big corporation using Washington politicians to punish their competition, like the many small business sellers on Ebay.

Senator Enzi and the Republicans joining him should be ashamed that they are willing to open a new front in Congress’ quest to tax everything. The Marketplace Fairness Act should really be called the Marketplace Fleecing Act

Blind Mice…No More

An injection into the eye could one day restore sight to the blind, scientists say.

The jab has already been found to repair sight in blind mice, leading to hopes for new treatments for human patients.

The molecule is injected into the eyes and acts as a ‘photoswitch’ that turns on light sensitive cells.

It allowed genetically programmed sightless animals to temporarily see. The researchers are now working on a better compound that could eventually cure people with degenerative blindness.

It could help those with the genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa – the most common inherited form of blindness – as well as AMD (age-related macular degeneration).

In both diseases the light sensitive cells in the retina – the rods and cones – die, leaving the eye without functional photoreceptors.

Professor Richard Kramer, of California University in Berkeley, said the chemical called AAQ acts by making the remaining, normally ‘blind’ cells in the retina sensitive to light.

AAQ (acrylamide-azobenzene-quaternary ammonium) is a photoswitch that binds to proteins on the surface of retinal cells. When switched on by light AAQ activates brain cells in much the same way as rods and cones are triggered.

Prof Kramer said: ‘This is similar to the way local anaesthetics work – they embed themselves in ion channels and stick around for a long time so you stay numb for a long time.

‘Our molecule is different in that it’s light sensitive so you can turn it on and off and turn on or off neural activity.’

Because the chemical eventually wears off it may offer a safer alternative to other experimental approaches for restoring sight – such as gene or stem cell therapies – which permanently change the retina. It’s also less invasive than implanting light-sensitive chips in the eye.

Prof Kramer said: ‘The advantage of this approach is it is a simple chemical which means you can change the dosage, you can use it in combination with other therapies or you can discontinue the therapy if you don’t like the results.

‘As improved chemicals become available you could offer them to patients. You can’t do that when you surgically implant a chip or after you genetically modify somebody.’

Co-researcher Dr Russell Van Gelder, an ophthalmologist at Washington University in Seattle, said: ‘This is a major advance in the field of vision restoration.’

The blind mice in the experiment had genetic mutations making their rods and cones die within months of birth and inactivated other photopigments in the eye.

After injecting very small amounts of AAQ into their eyes, light sensitivity was restored because the mice’s pupils contracted in bright light.

The mice showed light avoidance – a typical rodent behavior, impossible without the animals being able to see some light.

Prof Kramer whose study is published in Neuron is hoping to conduct more sophisticated vision tests in rodents injected with the next generation of the compound.

Dr Van Gelder said: ‘The photoswitch approach offers real hope to patients with retinal degeneration.

‘We still need to show these compounds are safe and will work in people the way they work in mice but these results demonstrate this class of compound restores light sensitivity to retinas blind from genetic disease.’

The current technologies being evaluated for restoring sight include injection of stem cells, gene therapy to insert a photoreceptor into blind neurons to make them sensitive to light and installation of electronic prosthetic devices to stimulate blind neurons.

Prof Kramer said several dozen people already have retinal implants and have had rudimentary, low vision restored.

Eight years ago his researchers developed an optogenetic technique to chemically alter potassium ion channels in blind neurons so a photoswitch could latch on.

Potassium channels normally open to turn a cell off but with the attached photoswitch they were opened when hit by ultraviolet light and closed when hit by green light – activating and deactivating the neurons.

Prof Kramer said new versions of AAQ now being tested activate neurons for days rather than hours using blue-green light of moderate intensity.

These photoswitches naturally deactivate in darkness so a second color of light is not needed to switch them off.

He said: ‘This is what we are really excited about.’

‘However, clearly it is still at an early stage and more extensive trials are needed to confirm the safety and effectiveness of this kind of treatment.’

Colorado Massacre: No Causes, No Cures

By Michael Medved

After the grisly massacre in Colorado no one will attend weekend showings of The Dark Knight Rises with expectations of a rollicking, uplifting, feel-good night at the movies. But even before its association with horrifying images of real-life mass murder, this final installment in the current Batman series suffered from serious deficiencies in terms of its fun factor. It’s wrong to suggest that the movie provoked the killings in its midnight Aurora premiere, but those crimes do, in a sense, expose the nihilistic darkness at the heart of the film that’s become dominant in far too much of today’s pop culture.

Whenever Americans find themselves transfixed by stories of senseless slaughter, there’s an irresistible impulse to seek causes and cures. We’re supposed to probe some chain of cruelty and complaint that impelled the alleged lone gunman (and it’s almost always a lone gunman) to undertake his deadly rampage. Custom also calls for earnest pronouncements by every preening pundit on social and governmental changes that might prevent such carnage in the future.

Concerning causes, we usually hear about the devastating impact of adolescent bullying, the influence of violent media imagery, the breakdown of the family, or, more generally, the toxic nature of our “sick society.” When it comes to cures, the most common recommendations involve tighter regulation of guns, or new restrictions on brutal entertainment, or more emphasis on character building in school, or more antibullying protections, or mental-health programs, or enhanced economic mobility, or smaller class size, or more spirituality in public life, or some idealized combination of all of the above.

Of course, none of these causes or cures seems to fit comfortably with what we know of the alleged shooter. Like the alleged killer’s Colorado counterparts who perpetrated the Columbine massacre in 1999, the evidence suggests that the suspect was a bully rather than the bullied: with a reported height of 6 feet 3, he no doubt would have cut a hugely intimidating figure on the night of his alleged crime, dressed in black ninja garb with body armor and gas mask. Moreover, preliminary information hardly suggests the suspect is a troubled loser on the margins of society; instead, James Holmes compiled an impressive record of academic achievement (in the challenging field of neuroscience) with no reported record of prior arrests or serious psychiatric problems.

As for the recommended reforms that might prevent such nightmarish scenarios, the inevitable and simplistic case for gun control remains illogical at best, feeble at worst. For instance, Norway imposes fierce regulation on all private ownership of firearms, requiring detailed rules for use and even storage as well as a rigorous and restrictive licensing process. None of this prevented the monstrous Anders Behring Breivik from butchering 77 of his countrymen in a 2011 killing spree that lasted far longer and took a much heavier toll in human life than the movie massacre in Colorado.

All civilized societies enforce unequivocal laws against murder, let alone wanton slaughter, so it’s difficult to argue that a determined killer planning to break such clear-cut rules will somehow stop short when it comes to violating far more complicated and obscure strictures on firearms ownership. The stories from Aurora also concentrated on the tragic case of one 24 year-old victim, Jessica Ghawi, who previously survived a bloody gun massacre at a shopping center in Toronto only to succumb to this latest outrage in the Rocky Mountains. Advocates for gun control (filmmaker Michael Moore particularly prominent among them) regularly lift up Canada as an enlightened example of tough, common-sense firearms regulation, which may in fact reduce, but hardly eliminates, gun violence.

Meanwhile, the incidence of homicidal violence in the United States has dramatically declined over the last 30 years, even as gun ownership has soared in every segment of society. According the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall murder rate peaked in 1980 at 10.7 per 100,000 people and then fell by more than half to 4.8 in 2010—a much more substantial drop in the murder rate than in tightly gun-controlled Canada, by the way.

But America’s ongoing reduction in violent crime also undermines a favorite talking point of many conservatives, who try to blame media violence for brutality on the streets. Anyone who believes that the reduction in the murder rate in the United States since 1980 is either the result or the cause of a corresponding reduction of violent imagery in movies, music, or TV has paid no attention to long-term trends in popular culture. Movies that once qualified as R- or even X-rated now easily slide into the catchall PG-13 parental-guidance designation for any child above the age of 12—as did the deeply disturbing and gratuitously sadistic The Dark Knight Rises.

Director Christopher Nolan seemed deeply determined to channel his inner Mel Gibson and to create a comic-book classic that might be subtitled “The Passion of the Batman.” The Caped Crusader suffers broken bones, bloody beatings, and exquisite tortures, all for the sins of citizens who mostly reject and despise him in a two-hour-and-45-minute ordeal. The deafening soundtrack, featuring a relentless and brutalist film score by the redoubtable Hans Zimmer, may count as the most earsplitting and headache-inducing sonic assault in major-motion-picture history. As my fellow film critic Joe Morgenstern sagely observed in The Wall Street Journal, the film “makes you feel thoroughly miserable about life. It’s spectacular, to be sure, but also remarkable for its all-encompassing gloom. No movie has ever administered more punishment, to its hero or its audience, in the name of mainstream entertainment.”

But worried social critics should avoid the instinct to interpret the popular embrace of such a cinematic assault as some powerful evidence of our sick society, just as the senseless killings in Colorado hardly offer proof of national disease or decline. On Aug. 1, 1966, an engineering student and former Marine named Charles Whitman murdered 16 strangers and wounded 32 others in an inexplicable rampage at the University of Texas, but we tend to look back on that era of the Great Society with nostalgia and affection as a time of hopeful innocence.

My first conscious exposure to the “sick society” mantra came two years later, after the Robert Kennedy assassination (which I personally witnessed), which, combined with the prior killings of JFK and MLK, led many prominent observers to suggest a deep disease afflicting the nation’s soul. Even at the time, that made little sense to me: as a buff on presidential assassinations, I knew that President McKinley in 1901 and President Garfield in 1881 had been shot by demented loners who bore a strong family resemblance to Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan, but few historians view that confident earlier era of economic growth and rising world power as a time of deep social illness.

A proper perspective doesn’t minimize the horror of the Colorado crimes, but should dismiss the obnoxious demands for coming up with causes and cures. There’s no cause for the killer’s unspeakable acts and no conclusive cure for senseless violence in society. Insanity and evil represent eternal and inevitable elements of the human condition. The killing doesn’t carry a politically correct point, or a particularly timely lesson, or some deeper meaning. It is, in the worst possible sense, meaningless and all the more horrible for that. The senselessness of the suffering should help us to avoid our vague, mostly groundless sense of collective guilt, but it won’t make that suffering—either on screen or in the streets—any more endurable.

Attribution: Townhall, Daily Beast

This Just In…New York City Bans Everything

There’s the smoking ban, salt, transfats,  large sugary drinks and probably more I’ve fotgotten. Now baby formula?

When will Heir Bloomberg stop?

They should rename the city’s government buildings, the Reichstag.

No one could deny breastmilk is more beneficial to a child than formula, but, here we go again. Is it the job of government to dictate it?

Evidently, Whoopi Goldberg thinks he has gone too far. Oh, she’s just fine with all the other government oversteps, but regarding baby formula, Whoopi says, “Hands Off!”

This is the way it always works. Oppression is always fine until they take away something you care about. When they finally came for me, there were none left to stand.

Mayor Bloomberg has demanded that hospitals stop handing out baby formula to persuade more new mothers to breastfeed their babies.

The New York City health department will monitor the number of formula bottles being given out and demand a medical reason for each one.

From September 3, 27 out of 40 hospitals in the city have agreed to the terms of the Latch On initiative – which will also see them stop handing out free bags of formula and bottles.

 
Ban: Mayor Bloomberg is locking up the formula at New York hospitals to encourage mothers to breastfeed their newborns

Although mothers who want to bottle feed their babies will not be denied formula, it will be kept under lock and key similar to medications.

However any mother who requests formula will be given a lecture on why breastfeeding is better by hospital staff.

‘Human breast milk is best for babies and mothers,’ said health commissioner Thomas Farley when the campaign was launched in May.

‘With this initiative the New York City health community is joining together to support mothers who choose to breastfeed.’

 
Breast is best: The Latch On program from the NY health department has seen an increase in the number of mothers breastfeeding newborns

However mother-of-two Lynn Sidnam, who formula-fed both her daughters, told the New York Post: ‘If they put pressure on me, I would get annoyed.’

Some hospitals are already operating under the policy. NYU Langone Medical Center has seen breastfeeding rates soar to 68 per cent from 39 per cent.

Medical experts support the Latch On initiative. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life as it lowers risk of ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections and developing asthma.

It is also in the health interests of the mother. There has been a link established between breastfeeding and reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

Attribution: Mail Online