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CATEGORY: Science, Space

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This is way cool:

Built for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Orbital Express vehicles are aimed at demonstrating autonomous spacecraft refueling and servicing techniques [video, image].

For military uses, such capabilities would allow reconnaissance satellites to keep station over specific areas of interest and tank up on vital propellant later, though the technology could also aid general-use spacecraft in need of periodic equipment repairs, replacements or an orbital boost, mission managers said.

“I think it’s extremely valuable for the entire space arena,” Kennedy said of Orbital Express’ goal, adding that the mission could help ease the stringent requirements of long-life satellites. “Maybe you can accept a level of imperfection that will allow you to go up later and perform upgrades and perform repairs, and put more propellant onboard to get the job done. That will be a sea change in the way we do business.”

Need to clean a little space debris off the camera lens of a reconnaissance satellite? Call in the Orbiter Express and have them fill ‘er up and check the oil while they’re at it!

And if the Orbital Express carries some decent road maps with it, they can franchise the damn thing and make billions.

Actually, I said this is way cool. It’s actually super way cool. This is from the Orbital Express website:

The goal of the Orbital Express Space Operations Architecture program is to validate the technical feasibility of robotic, autonomous onorbit refueling and reconfiguration of satellites to support a broad range of future U.S. national security and commercial space programs. Refueling satellites will enable frequent maneuver to improve coverage, change arrival times to counter denial and deception and improve survivability, as well as extend satellite lifetime. Electronics upgrades on-orbit can provide regular performance improvements and dramatically reduce the time to deploy new technology on-orbit. The Orbital Express advanced technology demonstration will design, develop and test on-orbit a prototype servicing satellite (ASTRO) and a surrogate next generation serviceable satellite (NextSat). The elements of the Orbital Express demonstration, coordinated with Air Force Space Command and Air Force Space and Missile Command, will be tied together by non-proprietary satellite servicing interfaces (mechanical, electrical, etc.) that will facilitate the development of an industry wide on-orbit servicing infrastructure. NASA will apply the sensors and software developed for autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations to reduce risk for collaborative human-robotic operations in space for the NASA Exploration Initiative.

The proto-type did indeed launch this week, rocketed into orbit with 4 other satellites on a gigantic Atlas V booster. ASTRO represents an extraordinary leap in our space capability. And, an ironic twist to the saga of the Space Shuttle.

It was the Space Shuttle that was supposed to be able to go up on a regular basis and service satellites. This was back in the 1970’s when it was thought the Shuttle would be carrying out about 30-35 missions a year including the civilian and military shuttles.

Many people forget that the Air Force was supposed to be a partner with NASA in the Shuttle program. From 1984-92, 14 of the 57 Shuttle missions had military payloads, some of them top secret. But the Air Force found it was much cheaper to launch their satellites using our conventional boosters, leaving NASA as the sole proprietor of what most experts consider a most inefficient system to launch satellites into space.

The Orbital Express promises to alter the way we build and maintain satellites – commercial and military. This will lower costs while allowing for continuous upgrades. Apparently, future versions will be able to rendezvous with orbiting supply satellites, take what it needs for servicing be it fuel, electronics, or whatever and then make its way to the bird that needs work. It’s equipped with a sophisticated robotic arm that can carry out repairs or replace components – all directed remotely from earth.

In a few years, it will be hard to imagine how we ever got along without it…

By: Rick Moran at 3:12 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)


I always knew politics in Texas was, well, different than other states. Larger than life characters pepper the history of of the Lone Star State, their peccadillos and peculiarities the stuff of legend.

But reading about what was in a memo that the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee passed around to his fellow lawmakers; a memo that highlighted a group that posits, shall we say, an alternate view of cosmology as well as a counterintuitive reason why this alternate view has been suppressed, takes the adjective “colorful” to a whole new cosmic plane:

It’s not surprising that the earth doesn’t move for Warren Chisum, and maybe it’s not surprising that he blames a Jewish conspiracy for it.

Still, it’s enough to set the world a-spinning that the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the most powerful committee in the House, distributed to legislators a memo pitching crazed wingers who believe the earth stands still—doesn’t spin on its axis or revolve around the Sun— that Copernicus was part of a Jewish conspiracy to undermine the Old Testament. That would be the same Old Testament that was written by the folks Chisum’s friends say are conspiring to undermine it.

Indeed, I had to check my calendar to make sure I wasn’t living in the 14th century. After reassuring myself that in fact, the year was 2007, I clicked on this link and couldn’t stop laughing:

“An electromagnet and computerized sensor hidden in its display stand cause the Earth to levitate motionlessly in the air.”

Could God have engineered something like that for the real Earth?

Um…I suppose so. If God were a jokester.

The Earth is not rotating…nor is it going around the sun. The universe is not one ten trillionth the size we are told. Today’s cosmology fulfills an anti-Bible religious plan disguised as “science”.

The whole scheme from Copernicanism to Big Bangism is a factless lie. Those lies have planted the Truth-killing virus of evolutionism in every aspect of man’s “knowledge” about the Universe, the Earth, and Himself.

Do you think we should tell these folks to stop using telephones and watching TV? You see, most communications are relayed through space satellites that are in geosynchronous orbit above the earth. That means that the satellite is in an orbit about 26,000 miles above the earth travelling at orbital velocity of about 17,500 MPH. This positioning allows the satellite to maintain a nearly constant spot above the earth. It sort of puts the kibosh on the idea of a fixed earth in that the satellite sure is in a hurry going absolutely nowhere if the earth indeed didn’t rotate.

And perhaps it best that we not wonder about how the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I’m afraid of the answer these folks might give.

These people are even loonier than their cousins in the creationist movement. I’ve heard creationists talk about the universe being 6,000 years old which by definition, would make the cosmos a considerably smaller place than it is for the rest of us. But a non-rotating earth? A non solar orbiting planet? Truly, remarkably dumb. Do these folks realize that we’ve actually been up there to see for ourselves, that we’ve sent thousands of satellites into orbit while hurling dozens toward the sun and the planets? What kind of trickery do they think is at work?

As far as what should be done with Mr. Chisum, I think if everyone in the country pointed their finger at him and laughed, that might approach a punishment that befits his stupidity. Calling for him to resign would only make him a martyr. Directing ridicule and scorn in his direction would be more effective in countering his bizarre beliefs.


Joshua Marshall fleshes out the whole rancid story, including tracing the memo I linked above back to a Georgia House member with peculiar beliefs.

By: Rick Moran at 8:32 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (9)

CATEGORY: Science, Space

This is one of those stories that, if you’re a science buff whose enthusiasm far outstrips your actual knowledge of the subject matter, makes the hairs on the back of your head stand up and goose pimples appear.

Apparently, one of the great mysteries of the universe is being unravelled as I write this – and in spectacular fashion:

One of the greatest mysteries of the universe is about to be unravelled with the first detailed, three-dimensional map of dark matter – the invisible material that makes up most of the cosmos.

Astronomers announced yesterday that they have achieved the apparently impossible task of creating a picture of something that has defied every attempt to detect it since its existence was first postulated in 1933.

Scientists have known for many years that there is more to the universe than can be seen or detected through their telescopes but it is only now that they have been able to capture the first significant 3D-image of this otherwise invisible material.

Unlike the ordinary matter of the planets, stars and galaxies, which can be seen through telescopes or detected by scientific instruments, nobody has seen dark matter or knows what it is made of, though calculations suggest that it is at least six times bigger than the rest of the visible universe combined.

The significance of this is absolutely startling. And like all other scientific discoveries I’ve tried to understand over the years there is a terrific detective story at the heart of it – a story that reveals the best of who we are as a species as individual scientists, struggling to understand what was previously unknowable, shine a light into the darkest places of the mind to illuminate the fundamental mysteries of the universe.

The search for dark matter began in earnest once scientists realized that all the matter in the “visible” universe – including objects and phenomena not only open to study in the range of visible light but also x-rays, gamma rays, radio waves the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums – made up only a small portion of the mass of the universe. Something else was there – something exotic and mysterious. It’s existence was inferred in a variety of way but most importantly, by a phenomena known as “gravitational lensing.” Basically, this effect is achieved as very, very distant light is “bent” when it passes through a large astronomical body like a galaxy or a cluster of galaxies. The image behind these bodies appears much bigger and a variety of observations can be made that led scientists to the belief that the visible matter in the lensed object couldn’t account for all the “bending” in the light. Something else was at work, something unseen.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope and a bit of creative thinking, scientists have actually been able to “map” an area of space and image dark matter:

A team of 70 astronomers from Europe, America and Japan used the Hubble space telescope to build up a picture of dark matter in a vast region of space where some of the galaxies date back to half the age of the universe – nearly 7 billion years.

They used a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, first predicted by Albert Einstein, to investigate an area of the sky nine times the size of a full moon. Gravitational lensing occurs when light from distant galaxies is bent by the gravitational influence of any matter that it passes on its journey through space.

The scientists were able to exploit the technique by collecting the distorted light from half a million faraway galaxies to reconstruct some of the missing mass of the universe which is otherwise invisible to conventional telescopes.

“We have, for the first time, mapped the large-scale distribution of dark matter in the universe,” said Richard Massey of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, one of the lead scientists in the team. “Dark matter is a mysterious and invisible form of matter, about which we know very little, yet it dominates the mass of the universe.”

And in what surely must be considered a moment of triumph for cosmologists, this study’s observations have confirmed the theoretical – a red letter day in any theoretician’s life:

One of the most important discoveries to emerge from the study is that dark matter appears to form an invisible scaffold or skeleton around which the visible universe has formed.

Although cosmologists have theorised that this would be the case, the findings are dramatic proof that their calculations are correct and that, without dark matter, the known universe that we can see would not be able to exist.

“A filamentary web of dark matter is threaded through the entire universe, and acts as scaffolding within which the ordinary matter – including stars, galaxies and planets – can later be built,” Dr Massey said. “The most surprising aspect of our map is how unsurprising it is. Overall, we seem to understand really well what happens during the formation of structure and the evolution of the universe,” he said.

Now the challenge will be to figure out what dark matter is made of. Already, these observations are being put to good use:

“Now that we have begun to map out where dark matter is, the next challenge is to determine what it is, and specifically its relationship to normal matter,” Dr Massey said. “We have answered the first question about where the dark matter it, but the ultimate goal will be to determine what it is.”

Various experiments on Earth are under way to try to find out what dark matter is made of. One theory is that it is composed of mysterious sub-atomic particles that are difficult to detect because they do not interact with ordinary matter and so cannot be picked up and identified by conventional scientific instruments. Comparing the maps of visible matter and dark matter have already pointed to anomalies that could prove critical to the understanding of what constitutes dark matter.

If the past is any guide, what we find will elicit more goose bumps as discovery by discovery, the universe gives up her secrets to the inquisitive minds of scientists.

I have always found it laughable that there exists a school of thought that mankind’s greatest achievements were actually the result of intervention by aliens from another civilization. The pyramids, the Nazca lines, even Stonehenge, according to this “theory,” were all built by aliens because we humans just aren’t clever enough to have done it ourselves.

Discoveries like this prove that the alien hunters consistently sell our species short. We have in the past and will continue in the future, to use our minds and imaginations to the utmost to solve the riddles of our existence – without the help of anyone else.

By: Rick Moran at 4:29 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (13)

Pajamas Media linked with Blog Rounds:
CATEGORY: Science, Space

This picture and what it represents gives me goosebumps:

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TO A casual observer it could be the psychedelic creation of a mischievous puppy that has dipped its paws in paint. But it may be one of the most extraordinary pictures ever snapped.

It is, scientists said yesterday, the glow from the first things to form in the universe, more than 13 billion years ago. Snapped by NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, the bizarre objects must have existed within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.

An Australian astrophysicist, Ray Norris, said the NASA team may have found “the holy grail” of astronomy.

What the ancient objects are remains a mystery. One possibility is stars, the first to light up after the dawn of time. They would have been “humungous”, said NASA, “more than 1000 times the mass of our sun”. Or they may be “voracious black holes”. While black holes are invisible, heat emitted by matter plunging into them can be detected.

“Whatever these objects are,” said Alexander Kashlinsky, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, “they are intrinsically incredibly bright and very different from anything in existence today.” The image was made by Spitzer shooting pictures of five areas of the sky. All light from stars and galaxies in the foreground was then removed, leaving only the ancient infrared glow.

Those photons of light in the above picture travelled 13.7 billion years to end up on my little old blog. To someone like me, a scientific dunce but an enthusiast nonetheless, it’s things like this that make me wish I worked harder in school and applied myself more – especially in math. If you’ve ever read Stephen Hawkings A Brief History of Time or Timothy Ferris’ The Whole Shebang, you realize just how extraordinary the universe really is. And judging by this picture, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s out there and what awaits us as we begin in earnest to reach out and touch the face of eternity.

By: Rick Moran at 6:41 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (8)

Doug Ross @ Journal linked with Bonaduce vs. Connor, part II
CATEGORY: History, Science

We who live in the 21st century suffer from a breathtaking conceit regarding our ancient human ancestors. We believe that the poor dears were ignorant little children, occasionally making a breakthrough discovery to move the train of human knowledge along (some even going so far as to believe that aliens were responsible for it all rather than people) but by and large, seeing the ancients as a dirty, doltish bunch of superstitious ignoramuses with no indoor plumbing and an unhealthy reliance on the mystical in their everyday lives.

This ignores the facts of archeology which paint a much different picture. About 50,000 years ago, our ancestors created art on the walls of caves outside of Lascaux, France that rivals in realism and talent anything that Renaissance painters could do. The Polynesians populated the Islands of the Pacific by crossing expanses of ocean that wouldn’t be duplicated by Europeans for thousands of years. Going the Polynesians one better, it is still a mystery how people from Southeast Asia managed to make it to New Guinea 50,000 years ago.

The Egyptians moved blocks of stone weighing tens of thousands of pounds with little more than levers and rope (the block and tackle pulley system was waiting to be discovered). By sheer brute strength, they carved and maneuvered these stones, stacking them so perfectly that the tolerances achieved would make a modern engineer jealous.

The irrigation system invented by the Mayans was so sophisticated that nothing comparable would be seen until the 19th century. The Mayans also made an unbelievable leap of knowledge by coming up with the concept of zero in mathematics; as counterintuitive in its own right as the invention of quantum mechanics.

And then there were the Greeks. What we know about this astonishing culture has piqued our curiosity and excited our admiration since Medieval times. It’s what we don’t know about them that may, in the end, prove to be even more incredible than anything we could have imagined:

A computer in antiquity would seem to be an anachronism, like Athena ordering takeout on her cellphone.

Known as the Antikythera Mechanism (Nature)But a century ago, pieces of a strange mechanism with bronze gears and dials were recovered from an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Greece. Historians of science concluded that this was an instrument that calculated and illustrated astronomical information, particularly phases of the Moon and planetary motions, in the second century B.C.

The instrument, the Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the world’s first computer, has now been examined with the latest in high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography. A team of British, Greek and American researchers deciphered inscriptions and reconstructed the gear functions, revealing “an unexpected degree of technical sophistication for the period,” it said.

The researchers, led by the mathematician and filmmaker Tony Freeth and the astronomer Mike G. Edmunds, both of the University of Cardiff, Wales, are reporting their results today in the journal Nature.

They said their findings showed that the inscriptions related to lunar-solar motions, and the gears were a representation of the irregularities of the Moon’s orbital course, as theorized by the astronomer Hipparchos. They established the date of the mechanism at 150-100 B.C.

While scientists now know pretty much what the Antikythera mechanism did, we still don’t really have a good idea of what it was for. Possible practical uses for the device include:

  • Astrology was commonly practiced in the ancient world. In order to create an astrological chart, the configuration of the heavens at a particular point of time is needed. It can be very difficult and time-consuming to work this out by hand, and a mechanism such as this would have made an astrologer’s work very much easier.
  • Calculating solar and lunar eclipses.
  • Setting the dates of religious festivals connected with astronomical events
  • Adjusting calendars, which were based on lunar cycles as well as the solar year

This new research indicates that the Antikythera mechanism could predict eclipses to the hour of their appearance as well as the orbits of at least Venus and Mars.

The Antikythera mechanism featured wheeled gears whose sophistication and exactness wouldn’t be seen again until the watchmakers of the middle ages. What this device hints at is the probability that much human knowledge and many technological leaps were lost to history following the fall of Greek civilization. Why didn’t this kind of knowledge pass to new generations of humans so that they could build upon and improve what was already done?

Roman stupidity probably had something to do with it, an empire always more willing to plunder and destroy rather than save and study – except that which could assist them in their conquering. And the fall of that empire which plunged the Europe into the so-called “dark ages.” Of course, while barbarians were running wild in Europe, Muslim culture was in full flower, making their own scientific advances. The Muslims, in fact, admired the Greeks immensely and much of what we know of them is largely given to us by Muslim scholars who saved what they could following the great upheavals in Europe.

The Antikythera mechanism reminds us that the human capacity for making great leaps forward in knowledge is not something limited to modern technological man. Throughout the history of our species, these astonishing breakthroughs have occurred in every culture and during every epoch proving that we really are quite clever when we put our minds to it.

By: Rick Moran at 5:36 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

Doug Ross @ Journal linked with Quagmire II - Democrats advocate 'pulling out'
CATEGORY: Ethics, Politics, Science

Rush Limbaugh should be royally ashamed of himself.

In a shocking display of insensitivity, not to mention gracelessness and incivility, Limbaugh accused actor Michael J. Fox, who carries on a daily battle with Parkinson’s disease, of exaggerating the symptoms of the disease in several political commercials for Democratic candidates:

To Rush Limbaugh on Monday, Michael J. Fox looked like a faker. The actor, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has done a series of political ads supporting candidates who favor stem cell research, including Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, who is running against Republican Michael Steele for the Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes.

“He is exaggerating the effects of the disease,” Limbaugh told listeners. “He’s moving all around and shaking and it’s purely an act. . . . This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn’t take his medication or he’s acting.”

Limbaugh went on to say that it was the only time he had seen Fox exhibit symptoms of the disease and that “he could barely control himself.”

Limbaugh must have realized how extraordinarily stupid and insensitive his remarks were because he apologized for them later in the show. What possible good that did except highlight the broadcaster’s utter contempt for common decency is beyond me. Apologies don’t get it done in this case.

Perhaps Limbaugh should be sentenced to a class on how Parkinson’s progresses and what the afflicted must deal with every day just to get out of bed. Here’s a description of the disease from the National Institutes of Health:

The four primary symptoms of PD are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. PD usually affects people over the age of 50. Early symptoms of PD are subtle and occur gradually. In some people the disease progresses more quickly than in others. As the disease progresses, the shaking, or tremor, which affects the majority of PD patients may begin to interfere with daily activities. Other symptoms may include depression and other emotional changes; difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions. There are currently no blood or laboratory tests that have been proven to help in diagnosing sporadic PD. Therefore the diagnosis is based on medical history and a neurological examination. The disease can be difficult to diagnose accurately. Doctors may sometimes request brain scans or laboratory tests in order to rule out other diseases.

Limbaugh’s reference to Fox being off medication fails to take into account that even if the patient is on one of the many drugs that help alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease, that each day is different for the Parkinson’s patient. Altering dosage as well as changing medication is a frequent necessity in order to allow the Parkinson’s sufferer to live something close to a “normal” life.

The left, of course, is having a field day with Limbaugh’s ignorant and ill tempered remarks as well they should. But perhaps they should also be wary of casting the first stone in this case. The shameless exploitation of people like Fox and the late Christopher Reeves in pushing embryonic stem cell research in a political context is dishonest, appealing as it does to a voter’s pity when the only basis for deciding whether such research should be funded by the government must be the quality of the science that could be achieved.

And in that case, there is much room for disagreement.

Speaking purely as a secularist, the scientific argument over the efficacy of using embryonic stem cells vs. adult stem cells (which, in fact, have no restrictions when it comes to funding), has yet to be resolved. In fact, the evidence suggests that even the so called “undifferentiated” embryonic stem cells supply little additional value to the cause of research given the enormous strides made in recent years using adult stem cells.

The scientific debate has taken a back seat to what many pro-life advocates see as using the fruits of abortion to advance human knowledge. While some of their arguments are compelling, the fact remains that under the law, an embryo is not a person and therefore can be treated as any other body part that is donated to the cause of science. Embryonic stem cell research is perfectly legal. The question is whether or not the government should fund it.

To determine whether or not our tax dollars should go toward this kind of research, the exact same criteria we use to decide whether to fund other scientific projects should be used. And in that respect, advocates for embryonic stem cell research have failed so far to make the case that using embryos is different than using adult tissue. It’s that simple. And for Democrats to play to the pity of voters by showing a wheel chair bound Christopher Reeves or a palsied Michael J. Fox and hint that if only those evil, mean, nasty Republicans could be defeated, Reeves would walk and Fox would be cured is nothing more than a disguised attack ad which uses a disgusting appeal to emotionalism. It is dishonest. It is exploitive. And Limbaugh was correct in calling attention to this shameless display of political tomfoolery.

But in typical Limbaugh fashion, the broadcaster had to go beyond the mundane kind of criticism levelled here and seek out controversy. It’s one of the reasons I stopped listening to him years ago. As his fame has increased, so too has his need to stand out. And sometimes – like yesterday – he goes too far out on the limb and he’s forced to make a hasty retreat.

Except in this case, the branch broke before he could scramble back to safety.

Limbaugh owes Fox more than an apology. If he were an honorable man, he would have Fox on his show to discuss the ravages of the disease and help his audience understand how cruel a life becomes when suffering from such a debilitating illness. Perhaps then, both Rush and his listeners will understand how truly despicable his comments about Fox were and why such a storm of condemnation has so righteously broken about his head.

By: Rick Moran at 6:23 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (38)

CATEGORY: Politics, Science

You got to hand it some some global warming advocates. When it comes to getting revenge on anyone who would dare question their precious suppositions on climate change, they’ve demonstrated the uncanny ability to channel the ghost of Torquemada while recreating the horror of the Salem Witch Trials:

A U.S. based environmental magazine that both former Vice President Al Gore and PBS newsman Bill Moyers, for his October 11th global warming edition of “Moyers on America” titled “Is God Green?” have deemed respectable enough to grant one-on-one interviews to promote their projects, is now advocating Nuremberg-style war crimes trials for skeptics of human caused catastrophic global warming.

Grist Magazine’s staff writer David Roberts called for the Nuremberg-style trials for the “bastards” who were members of what he termed the global warming “denial industry.”

Roberts wrote in the online publication on September 19, 2006, “When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards—some sort of climate Nuremberg.”

Gore and Moyers have not yet commented on Grist’s advocacy of prosecuting skeptics of global warming with a Nuremberg-style war crimes trial. Gore has used the phrase “global warming deniers” to describe scientists and others who don’t share his view of the Earth’s climate. It remains to be seen what Gore and Moyers will have to say about proposals to make skepticism a crime comparable to Holocaust atrocities.

If Gore and Moyers are smart, they’ll keep their mouths shut and pretend they’ve never heard of Mr. Roberts. This won’t be too difficult due to the fact that few serious people have heard of Grist Magazine whose internet tag line is “Doom and Gloom with a sense of Humor.”

Yeah. Pretty funny.

Roberts himself is something of a newt:

David was born and raised in the South. A revelatory summer working in Yellowstone National Park convinced him that it was not the world, but just the part where he lived, that sucked, so he moved out West. After way too many years in Montana pursuing graduate degrees in philosophy (no, really), he was lured out of the academy by the siren song of the heralded internet “boom”—about six months too late. He was sinking ever further into the Seattle swamp of tech work, having already hit,, and Microsoft, when the fine folks at Grist threw him a life preserver in December 2003. (Total profits from stock options: $57. Meaningful work: priceless.)

What we have hear ladies and gents is a gen-ew-wine, dyed in the wool, bona fide moonbat. In fact, the blurb about placing global warming skeptics on trial in some kind of international forum is given after Robert’s enthusiastic response to a book on global warming written by none other than George Monbiot.

That’s right. The namesake of the sobriquet “moonbat” inspired one of his disciples to prove just how truly moonbatty he really is by advocating putting on trial people who disagree with him.

I love it when life serves up little tidbits of irony like that. Almost makes one want to believe in the fates. Or at the very least, destiny.

Is this attitude widespread among the advocates for drastic action on climate change? Probably not so with scientists. But listening to Al Gore recently and his global warming “deniers” rhetoric, one gets the sense ( always gets the sense with Gore) that he’s about ready to fall of the deep end. Gore takes rejection of his pet theories the same way a schizophrenic takes someone challenging his visions of demons perched on the shoulders of people sitting next to him on the subway.

When someone tries to explain to the mentally ill that their delusions are nothing more than a manifestation of the symptoms of their sickness, they earnestly try and convince the skeptic that yes indeed, you have a little man with horns and a tail standing on your shoulder as we speak and he’s whispering into your ear right now. For Gore and many of his global warming warriors, this kind of crazed earnestness brooks no opposition and overcomes any latent intellectual curiosity they may have about the subject.

Indeed, this idea that global warming skeptics are no better than climate nazis is becoming more and more acceptable among the Luddites, the greenies, the greedy NGO’ers (who profit most handsomely by advocating governmental “solutions” to global warming), and that small subset of westerners who, bored to tears as the result of accumulated fame and wealth, seek out other avenues to relieve their ennui. The fact that people actually listen and take seriously drug addled actors, musicians, and the like on such an enormously complex subject like global warming tells you how far western civilization has fallen in the last decade or so.

In fact, among the more level headed advocates for global warming – scientists who might know a thing or two more than Al Gore about the subject – this political tactic is odious:

The use of Holocaust terminology has drawn the ire of Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. “The phrase ‘climate change denier’ is meant to be evocative of the phrase ‘holocaust denier,’” Pielke, Jr. wrote on October 9, 2006.

“Let’s be blunt. This allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. This allusion has no place in the discourse on climate change. I say this as someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system,” Pielke, Jr. explained.

I too, over the last year or so, have become convinced that human behavior is responsible for at least some of the rise in temperature we’ve seen this century. But you can still color me a skeptic regarding catastrophic climate change. And it doesn’t help when people like Al Gore are either too ignorant to know any better or lie through their teeth about the state of the current debate over global warming. Roy Spencer:

As part of the current media frenzy over the “imminent demise” of Planet Earth from global warming, it has become fashionable to demonize global warming skeptics through a variety of tactics. This has recently been accomplished by comparing scientists who don’t believe in a global climate catastrophe to “flat-Earthers,” those who denied cigarettes cause cancer, or even those who deny the Holocaust.

It is interesting that it is not the scientists who are making the comparisons to Holocaust-deniers, but members of the media. For instance, Scott Pelley, who recently interviewed NASA’s James Hansen for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” has been quoted on the CBS News PublicEye blog saying:

“There is virtually no disagreement in the scientific community any longer about ‘global warming.’ … The science that has been done in the last three to five years has been conclusive.”

Pelley also posted this quote to the same blog:

“If I do an interview with [Holocaust survivor] Elie Wiesel, am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?”

In fact, as Spencer points out, there is enormous disagreement over many, many aspects of global warming across the scientific community. About the only issues there seems to be a consensus on are that it is getting warmer and that mankind plays a yet undetermined role in the process. Beyond that, there is an emerging consensus that the burning of fossil fuels may be the engine driving the climate spike. This position has been vigorously challenged by dozens of respected meteorologists, atmospheric physicists, and other scientists who wonder that if this is so, where the hell did all the CO2 go? It isn’t where it’s supposed to be (in the lower atmosphere) nor is it anywhere that it can be reliably measured. The models are all screwed up which have sent the physicists scrambling back to their drawing boards looking for a reason.

Ultimately, the biggest global warming skeptics are the scientists themselves. Even those who are part of the global warming consensus on climate change are constantly challenging their own assumptions, their own conclusions. This is what a good scientist does. Perhaps Roberts and Monbiot should start their show trials with them. If they are apostates in any way, doubting Thomases who question the dominant groupthink on catastrophic global warming, perhaps they can keep them in line by threatening them with star chamber proceedings.

Those of us who may not be scientists but who follow the debate with an open mind realize that bullies like Gore and the rest of the agenda driven left who seek to use the issue of global warming to initiate drastic economic and societal changes had to bring up Hitler sooner or later. It is their answer for everything and everyone who disagrees with them.

And it is getting very, very, old.

By: Rick Moran at 3:08 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)

CATEGORY: Politics, Science

It is an unseemly thing to be debating how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and occupation by US troops. I’m absolutely sure that most opponents of the war feel that way. They would, I’m sure, wish that we would all just sit back and accept the politically motivated study released today that purports to show 600,000 more Iraqis have died since 2003 than would have if we hadn’t invaded:

A team of American and Iraqi public health researchers has estimated that 600,000 civilians have died in violence across Iraq since the 2003 American invasion, the highest estimate ever for the toll of the war here.

The figure breaks down to about 15,000 violent deaths a month, a number that is quadruple the one for July given by Iraqi government hospitals and the morgue in Baghdad and published last month in a United Nations report in Iraq. That month was the highest for Iraqi civilian deaths since the American invasion.

But it is an estimate and not a precise count, and researchers acknowledged a margin of error that ranged from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths.

First of all, the Times makes a common mistake by lumping civilians, insurgents, and Iraqi Police and Army units all together and simply referring to them as “civilians.” In fact, the study makes absolutely no effort to differentiate between civilians and insurgents, Police and army. All the researchers asked were the number of dead over the last 3 years.

But why is the study politically motivated?

This is the same crew whose 2004 study showing 100,000 Iraqi dead was thoroughly debunked by a wide variety of experts from both sides of the debate.

Fred Kaplan of Slate on the 2004 study:

“Readers who are accustomed to perusing statistical documents know what the set of numbers in the parentheses means. For the other 99.9 percent of you, I’ll spell it out in plain English—which, disturbingly, the study never does. It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000. (The number cited in plain language—98,000—is roughly at the halfway point in this absurdly vast range.)

This isn’t an estimate. It’s a dart board.

Imagine reading a poll reporting that George W. Bush will win somewhere between 4 percent and 96 percent of the votes in this Tuesday’s election. You would say that this is a useless poll and that something must have gone terribly wrong with the sampling. The same is true of the Lancet article: It’s a useless study; something went terribly wrong with the sampling.”

As you can see from the above New York Times excerpt, these purveyors of wildly exaggerated mortality have tried the same technique this time around as well: they have “a margin of error that ranged from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths.”

What’s more, this excerpt from the original NY Times article of October 29, 2004 could have been pasted into their article today:

“Editors of The Lancet, the London-based medical publication, where an article describing the study is scheduled to appear, decided not to wait for the normal publication date next week, but to place the research online Friday, apparently so it could circulate before the election.”

Funny how these studies seem to show up around election day, eh? Color me suspicious, but if the study had come out 3 weeks after the election, I would be more sanguine about the author’s motives.

The Washington Post tries to put the best face on the study by quoting non-experts who seem satisfied with the results but curiously, all seem to be unanimously against the US occupation. But putting a ball gown on a sow still gives you a pig all dressed up with nowhere to go:

Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years, called the survey method “tried and true,” and added that “this is the best estimate of mortality we have.”

This viewed was echoed by Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights Watch in New York, who said, “We have no reason to question the findings or the accuracy” of the survey.

“I expect that people will be surprised by these figures,” she said. “I think it is very important that, rather than questioning them, people realize there is very, very little reliable data coming out of Iraq.”

Ms. Whitson’s take is interesting. There is “no reason to question the findings” of a study using, despite what Mr. Waldman says, questionable methodology 3 weeks before an election. She actually wishes critics would just sit back and shut up because – and here she inadvertently debunks the study herself - “there is very, very little reliable data coming out of Iraq.”

At least give the Times credit for including some cautionary voices in its article:

Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Program on Public Opinion and Health and Social Policy, said interviewing urban dwellers chosen at random was “the best of what you can expect in a war zone.”

But he said the number of deaths in the families interviewed — 547 in the post-invasion period versus 82 in a similar period before the invasion — was too few to extrapolate up to more than 600,000 deaths across the country.

Donald Berry, chairman of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was even more troubled by the study, which he said had “a tone of accuracy that’s just inappropriate.”

In other words, the researchers were able to discover and confirm 547 dead in the post invasion period by interviewing a little more than 1800 families. And from that sample, they extrapolate 600,000 dead.

What’s wrong with that picture?

There are other sources for counting Iraqi dead. The well respected Iraq Body Count, run by academics opposed to the war, lists nearly 49,000 civilian dead since the invasion. Their methodology is sound and their numbers are based on actual reports from morgues, the media, and the military. Their number of confirmed dead is still less than half the number estimated in the 2004 Lancet study.

Someone is wildly off base here. Could it be the group that says that the US military has killed 180,000 Iraqis as a direct result of military actions?

Gunshot wounds caused 56 percent of violent deaths, with car bombs and other explosions causing 14 percent, according to the survey results. Of the violent deaths that occurred after the invasion, 31 percent were caused by coalition forces or airstrikes, the respondents said.

The fact that those three percentages totalled up equal 101% isn’t as ridiculous as 31% of deaths were caused by coalition forces or airstrikes. And here we get to the number one critique of this study and why it so totally useless:

Again, the study makes absolutely no effort to differentiate between innocent civilians and Iraqis trying to kill our troops. Nor does it differentiate between civilian deaths and the deaths in the Iraqi police and armed forces.

In addition, the study includes deaths that the researchers have arbitrarily determined were caused by the invasion but not caused by violence. If they are using the same criteria as the 2004 study, some of these causes of death include:

  • Malnourishment due to bad economic conditions as a result of the invasion.
  • Illness due to degraded health care infrastructure.
  • Deaths due to domestic violence.
  • Deaths due to criminal activity unrelated to the insurgency.
  • And “... civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.”

Of course, the political problem engendered by this pseudo-scientific hit piece is that the left will use this figure without any caveats and state flatly in their critiques of the war that 600,000 civilians have died as a result of our invasion. And by the time the study is once again debunked by those who know a helluva lot more about statistics and such than I, the lie will have taken hold and the myth will have been set in stone.

And the American people are treated to one more October surprise before casting their vote on November 7.

By: Rick Moran at 5:06 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (130)

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CATEGORY: Politics, Science

The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]

More evidence that when it comes to learning about science and technology, Americans are the smartest butter churners, blacksmiths, and wheelwrights in the world:

This is the result of a new survey of people’s attitudes toward evolution, country by country.

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What is it that the rest of the enlightened world knows and we don’t? Are all the technologically advanced peoples on this planet under some magic spell of the evil Darwinists? What are the real world consequences of this kind of scientific ignorance?

There is little doubt that science education in this country is a joke. While American 4th graders score very well on international standardized tests, finishing 3rd in the most recent TIMSS Report (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), it’s all downhill from there. Our 8th graders finish in the middle of the pack while our seniors in high school are almost dead last.

The good news is that we are very big country so that we still have a fairly large pool of scientifically inclined students who get advanced degrees and fill out the ranks in industry, government, and research firms. This Rand study shows that there is no shortage of qualified Americans graduating with degrees in life sciences who go to work for our bio/pharm companies at the moment.

The bad news is also in that Rand study; other countries are graduating many more scientific and engineering students per capita and will begin to seriously press our graduates for jobs in a globalized economy in the coming years.

I disagree with PZ Meyers who was kind enough to reprint the table above. He blames “God and the Republicans:”

Americans are being rolled in large numbers by an ideological ‘elite’ nested in our churches and in the Republican party—the reason we are falling so far behind in our understanding of the biological sciences is that political and religious authority figures are lying to the people and fostering ignorance, and Americans are dumbly falling for it…and the more ignorant they are, the more they depend on those false authorities.

Americans aren’t second to last because they are “famously independent.” They’re failing biology because they’re god-soaked sheep, and the Republican party has exploited that failing.

Nonsense! First of all, the grim figures about science education in America relative to the rest of the world have been trending downward since the early 1970’s, long before the religious right achieved influence in Republican politics. It goes hand in hand with declines in our international rankings in mathematics as well which has nothing to do with God or praying or belief in the supernatural.

PZ’s explanation is simplistic. It fails to take into account the hidden failure of our science education; that poverty and rotten schools have more to do with attitudes toward evolution than “Republican elites” or even God.

It goes without saying that those school systems – mostly located in large cities and the rural south – don’t need a belief in God to keep them from understanding evolution. All they need is local government (run by Democrats for the most part) to run the schools so incompetently that students can graduate while lacking the scientific fundamentals.

This table shows the huge disparities between achievement scores by race. The crisis in science education in the inner city is a direct result of neglect as well as a cultural bias on the part of students where any academic achievement is frowned upon.

And if PZ’s explanation is correct, how do you explain this?

Between 1995 and 2003, U.S. eighth grade students improved their performance on the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) assessment, which measures mastery of curriculum-based knowledge and skills. However, scores of fourth graders generally remained flat over the same period. Both U.S. fourth and eighth grade students scored above the international average on the 2003 TIMSS, in which both developed and developing countries participated.

A ray of good news that sort of knocks some of PZ’s argument for a slight loop. During almost the exact period of Republican ascendancy, scores for eighth graders improved relative to the rest of the world. At the very least, this shows that other factors are at work when making judgements about our very real problems with science education.

I know what PZ is saying and I share some of his concerns. But to place the blame solely on a belief in the almighty or one political party is a stretch.

As for the notion that conservatives in government are playing politics with science I might ask why this is news? To the extent that the Bush Administration has injected politics into global warming research or other scientific projects one might better ask why is it that this is news when Republicans are in power and not the other party? The political arm twisting at EPA that has been going on for 25 years over second hand smoke has led to shoddy research, poor methodology, and perhaps even jiggered conclusions. It’s no accident that there were 82 studies funded during the Clinton Administration on second hand smoke effects. The trial lawyers were pleased with this avalanche of studies that they could introduce in their class action suits against the tobacco companies.

Aids research has enjoyed similar political attention from Democratic Administrations in order to pander to one interest group or another. And anyone who can’t see the politics on both sides of the global warming debate when it comes to interpreting data needs to take off their rose colored glasses and start paying attention.

My point is that there is enough politicization of science as it is. Blaming Republicans or “god-soaked sheep” is shallow thinking indeed. Better to address other aspects of the problem as well before the rest of the world surpasses us in scientific fields vital both to our economy and national security.

By: Rick Moran at 3:56 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (95) linked with Rick Moran: Let's Negotiate With Hitler?
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CATEGORY: Ethics, Science

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

Is this a great country or what?

Where else can a lecturer with marginal credentials, deep paranoia, and a self righteous streak a mile wide, play upon a gullible press eager for controversy to become an instant celebrity and a recognized “expert” on a subject so far removed from his own academic discipline it may as well be on the surface of the moon?

A University of Wisconsin-Madison part-time lecturer Kevin Barrett will be allowed to teach a course entitled “Islam: Religion and Culture” next term. If that were all the course was about, I would say so what? What’s one more leftist loony bird teaching our impressionable young about the grievance culture of Arabs, all the while dissing western civilization, and refighting the crusades?

The kids will probably fall asleep during class anyway.

But Mr. Barrett will apparently not stop with teaching the usual anti-western bromides and Arabian sob stories about colonialism and its deleterious effects on Islamic culture. Instead, this self described “Islamologist and Arabist” will take a week of class time to teach aspects of physics, metallurgy, thermal dynamics, engineering, and aviation.

Or not. You see, Mr. Barrett plans on teaching “alternative” theories of how the twin towers fell on 9/11. And in the name of academic freedom, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has given him the green light to do so – as long as he teaches “other viewpoints” (presumably what really happened) along with his theory that 9/11 was “an inside job” involving the American government.

Obviously, in order to present his theories, he must have a firm grounding in many scientific disciplines as well as some knowledge of engineering in order to debunk the established theory that two 737’s filled with hundreds of thousands of pounds of jet fuel plowed into two 110 story buildings at more than 500 miles per hour, igniting and burning the fuel at several thousand degrees causing support structures to weaken until the weight bearing beams holding up the top several floors gave way allowing the entire edifice to pancake down to the ground. But Mr. Barrett has so far not shown that he has any expertise in anything, much less his possessing the specialized and collective knowledge of The American Society of Civil Engineers whose brilliant analysis of why the towers fell is generally accepted in the scientific community as the best theory available about how the disaster happened.

This obviously won’t stop Barrett from prattling on about subjects of which he knows little and scientific concepts of which he knows even less. But it does raise an interesting question: Does the cherished ideal of academic freedom allow for teachers to have the absolute right to make gigantic fools of themselves?

Barrett wouldn’t be the first academic to stray from their own tiny corner of the ivory tower and branch out into silliness. Perhaps the most famous case involves the Nobel Prize winning physicist William Shockley whose startling discoveries along with his team at Bell Labs in the early 1950’s led to several breakthroughs in transistor technology which, in turn, gave us the ubiquitous silicon micro-chip and the modern world.

In his later years, Shockley settled in to teach physics at Stanford University, a job that he enjoyed and was evidently very good at. But something happened to this brilliant, stubborn man that caused him to start espousing not only theories that were for the most part scientifically untenable but also socially unacceptable.

Shockley began to espouse the “theory” of eugenics as a key that would save mankind from overpopulation. He began by giving speeches about overpopulation, an issue coming to the fore in the early 1960’s. Then in May of 1963, Shockley gave a speech at a Minnesota college suggesting that the people having the most babies in the world were the one’s least able to survive while those with the best attributes were practicing birth control and having far fewer children.

The idea was incendiary and based on poor science to boot. The theoretical notion that poor people are less capable of becoming productive has been proven to be false as even extremely modest investments in things like education and sanitation will cause the productivity of the poverty stricken to skyrocket.

But Shockley didn’t stop there. A year later, he gave an interview to US News and World Report in which he pointed out that African Americans as a group scored much lower on IQ tests while suggesting the cause was racial.

To say the good professor set off a firestorm would be an understatement. He was condemned from one side of the country to the other. In debates with opponents, his lack of specific knowledge of genetics would lead to him looking ridiculous as fellow scientists skewered his faulty conclusions. Even in later years after he immersed himself in the subject of bio-genetics, it was apparent that his theories were half baked and with little to recommend them to the scientific community.

Shockley was allowed to continue to teach at Stanford to the end of his life despite the raging controversy surrounding he and his cockamamie theories, a noble example of academic freedom in action. By the time he died, his reputation was in tatters and he had become something of a laughingstock.

But in Barrett’s case, is it really a question of academic freedom? Or is it a question of allowing someone without the specialized knowledge to give students even a rudimentary grasp of the concepts involved in the subject matter to, in effect, spout nonsense from the classroom of one of the most respected universities in America?

Why shouldn’t a Comparative Literature teacher now agitate to be allowed to teach a course in political science? Or chaos theory? Or any subject for which he has a passion? The idea that Barrett is going to be allowed to delve into subjects for which he has no formal knowledge is startling in its implications not only for the concept of academic freedom but also the very practical matter of short changing students who presumably have come to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to get an education.

Barrett may believe that the twin towers came down as the result of the US government placing explosive charges in the buildings prior to 9/11 and that the government destroyed them so that we could start a war against Islam and the Arabs. He can believe anything he wishes and should not be penalized by the school for it. But in order to “teach” such a theory while exposing his students to enough information so that they can make up their own minds about the viability of competing viewpoints, Barrett would need to give the students a solid enough grounding in the scientific principles at work in building collapse so that they would be able to judge whether the buildings fell as a result of implosion or the stresses outlined in the ASCE paper.

It should go without saying that he will be unable to do so in one week’s time. This calls into question his entire rationale for teaching the controversy in the first place in a university class devoted ostensibly to learning about Islam. What’s the point? If he’s simply going to spout his loony conspiracy theories without giving any context, any background, how on earth can this kind of shoddy scholarship be accepted by the University as proper course material?

There are many remarkable facts at large in the telling of this story, not the least of which is an eerie parallel with arguments made by proponents of Intelligent Design who wish to teach ID alongside evolution; that students somehow benefit when “other viewpoints” are revealed to them about an issue. This statement from University Provost Patrick Farrell could have been lifted from the ID vs. Evolution debate:

We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas,” Farrell said in a written statement. “That classroom interaction is central to this university’s mission and to the expansion of knowledge. Silencing that exchange now would only open the door to more onerous and sweeping restrictions.”

The problem is that there is usually a good reason that ideas are unpopular, especially scientific ones; they tend to be wrong. One wonders if some evangelical professor wanted to teach creationism “alongside” evolution whether we would hear such ringing calls for tolerance and academic freedom from liberal academics and university officials.

That example is relative to the Barrett imbroglio. There is as much scientific validity in creationism as there is in the twin towers implosion theory. Perhaps more given the circumstances of conspiracy. One could debunk the theory of government culpability in 9/11 simply by using Occam’s Razor. Is it more likely that the towers fell as a result of planes crashing into them or some gigantic plot involving certainly dozens, maybe hundreds, perhaps thousands of people all of whom have kept their mouths shut about their involvement? Anyone who has perused the pages of The American Thinker over the past two years and read in horror about the numerous leaks from the anti-Bush factions in our intelligence community would be justified in wondering why leaks about this government “plot” have not been forthcoming.

If this were just a question of academic freedom, I suspect most of us would simply roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders, chalking it up as one more example of the looniness the academy is prone to these days. But for many of us, this attempt to alter the historical narrative of 9/11 with the support of a respected university’s administration is very troubling. It goes to the heart of the the university’s mission to search for truth.

Is there truth to be gleaned from teaching that little green men live on mars? Or that Elvis is alive and well and living in Traverse City, Michigan? Or that the stork is responsible for procreation? These examples are admittedly extreme but they highlight the problem the University of Wisconsin-Madison has created for itself; where does “the free exchange of ideas” end and outright stupidity begin? And shouldn’t the intellectual mettle of a university be taken by where they draw that line?

Rigorousness in scholarship should be the hallmark of any university. The fact that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is failing in this basic academic barometer by allowing a crackpot to teach material that he is not qualified to pass judgement on is a travesty in education that the state legislature should examine thoroughly. It could be that the present administration of the school is incompetent to deliver the kind of education to their children that Wisconsin parents might expect from an institution with such a stellar reputation for learning.

By: Rick Moran at 9:07 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (40)

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