Philae Lives!

PhilaeBack on 17 November 2014, I reported, The Resurrection of Philae. It was a hopeful headline, because I was relating the fact that Philae had died. You may remember that there was a lot of excitement the world over — including here at Frankly Curious — when the Rosetta space craft managed to get into a stable orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Part of the excitement of this mission was that that Rosetta was going to look for organic material on the comet. It is widely speculated that the organic material on the Earth was seeded to it by comet impacts.

Part of this search for organic material was going to be done by the Philae probe that landed on the comet. Unfortunately, the system designed to anchor Philae onto the comet failed. This resulted in Philae bouncing around on the comet for two hours before finally stopping at the bottom of a cliff. This was unfortunate, because it meant that the solar panels on the unit would get very little sunlight. And thus, in just a couple of days — on 14 November 2014 — Philae powered down when its battery died. It was a sad day. But it wasn’t the end. There was still the hope that when 67P got closer to the sun, little Philae would power back up.

At 4:33 this morning, the world got the following tweet:

It then tweeted to Rosetta asking, “How long have I been aleep?” To which many people responded gleefully including mars_stu who responded with great cheek, “a long time… humans now hunted by apes riding horses, but don’t worry about it…”

Back in January, I had made my peace with the death of Philae, Organic Macromolecules on Comet P67. That was a very big deal. Actually, for me, that was the one big thing that I cared about. Comets are interesting in that they may well have been the primary sources of the Earth’s water and organic matter that led us to today when we have this amazing oasis of life.

In that article, I wrote:

The main thing to remember is that it is this kind of science that the Rosetta mission is all about. Here in the United States, we tend to focus on the technology side of it, “Hooray! We got a spaceship to orbit a comet! We landed on a comet!” But that’s just the means of doing something much greater. The objective of the mission is to better understand the origins of the solar system. And that work will be going on for years to come.

I still believe that. But I will admit that the fact that Philae has managed to wake itself up and get back to work is exciting based only on the cool technology that allows this. Of course, even more exciting is that Philae will get back to work. And given that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has an orbital period of six and half years, it is possible that Philae will go back to sleep in a few months, only to wake up again six years from now. And then again and again and again. This really is great stuff — the best of what we are!


Black Lives: Beyond the Numbers

Ta-Nehisi CoatesWe are in the midst of a debate around criminal justice right now, a timid one no doubt, but a debate nonetheless. In the midst of such debates it is customary for pundits, politicians, and writers like me to sally forth with numbers to demonstrate the breadth and width of the great American carceral state. The numbers are, indeed, bracing and are not hard to find. The fact that African Americans comprise some one in 200 of all known people in the world, and yet African American men comprise one in 12 of all known prisoners has always given me pause…

There should be an accounting beyond numbers for these years, something that goes beyond the failures of state budgets, something that goes beyond the the insanity of our policy. Something that captures the grandmothers beaten on traffic islands, the daughters shoved face first into the ground, the son shot while playing, the man choked to death over cigarettes, or for producing his license, or for being mentally ill, or for playing cops and robbers, or for sport. This is more than mistaken policy. This is cruelty — the long war to save the blacks from themselves.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Brief and Tragic Life of Kalief Browder

The Hastert Rule Is a Farce

John BoehnerI want to go back to that TAA voter I wrote about yesterday. It went down in flames, 126-302. This vote was followed by a vote on the TPA — fast track authority. It passed barely, 219-210. It was done this way with the hope that the Democrats would pass the TAA and the Republicans would pass the TPA. That’s because Democrats are generally in support of helping workers and Republicans are generally in support of helping big businesses that already make huge profits. But I find the whole thing curious with regard to what it says about the Republicans’ biggest excuse for never getting anything done.

I’m referring, of course, to the Hastert Rule. When Dennis Hastert wasn’t buggering little boys, he was busy making the House of Representatives totally unmanageable. And one of those ways was by explicitly adopting the “majority of the majority” rule. And Boehner has claimed to be tied to this “rule” as if it came down from on Mount Sinai on clay tablets. The idea is that the Speaker of the House cannot bring a bill to the floor for a vote unless the majority of his caucus is in favor of it. So there are 247 Republican seats in the House, so unless 124 Republicans are for a bill, it cannot be voted on — even if 123 Republicans and all the Democrats want it.

Except that this rule only exists as a convenience. It allows the speaker to avoid embarrassing his caucus as well as himself. When it came to the government shutdown in 2013, the Hastert Rule was thrown out — only 38% of the Republicans were in favor of reopening the government. Well, that’s not really true. Almost all of them were happy about it; they just weren’t willing to take any heat from the Republican base that has been led to believe that it can have everything if it is just willing to destroy the entire country.

When it came to the TAA, the Hastert Rule was even more out of alignment: only 36% of the Republicans voted for it. Of course, clearly the Republicans needed to pass the TAA if they want to give the great usurper Obama the right to made any kind of communist deal he wants — which they clearly do. So it is surprising that so many of them still couldn’t bring themselves to vote for it. They really are terrible at their jobs. Of course, when it comes to voting on it next week, maybe they will change their minds. It’s hard to say.

The main thing is that every time that John Boehner mentions that Hastert Rule, he should be laughed off the stage or screen or podium. There is no Hastert “Rule” — there is only a Haster Excuse. It is just a way for the Republican establishment to use its power to push its agenda. I’m not suggesting that listening to the majority of Republicans is a good idea. But to pretend that this is what John Boehner or any other Republican House Speaker is doing is just ridiculous.

Obamacare Is Cutting Healthcare Costs — Republicans Refuse to Admit It

Paul RyanThere is one thing that all Republicans know: Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster that is destroying the great system that we had before — “The best healthcare in the world!” But their real problem with it is not the policy. As I’ve discussed a lot around here: Obamacare is the most conservative healthcare reform that could work. All the supposed conservative alternatives since have been brainless ideology that would have made the situation worse — things like tort “reform” (not allowing patients to sue when they’ve been harmed) and allowing insurance across state lines (destroying local control and causing a race to the bottom).

The one thing that Republicans have focused on has been the individual mandate. And that has been a winner. The truth is that no one likes it. It’s like how people like Social Security but don’t like payroll taxes. But you can’t have one without the other. The individual mandate is what allows Obamacare to work. Otherwise, people would have an incentive to put off buying insurance until they were sick. This would result in the risk pool being expensive, resulting in high insurance costs. After all this time, you probably know the drill.

But the Republican hatred of Obamacare has no bounds. And there is no rationality to it, so they hate everything in the healthcare law. Of course, if someone mentions pre-existing conditions or coverage of college students, Republicans will always claim that they too will have those things once their replacement comes out — right after America turns into a land of fairies and elves and everyone gets all the cotton candy they want. But one thing Republicans only scoff at are the measures in the law designed to lower healthcare costs. And not surprisingly, no amount of data is going to stop them from thinking that.

A recent study reported in Health Affairs highlights the way that one of those measures is working. Michael Hiltzik has the details, Here’s Another Way Obamacare Is Changing US Healthcare for the Better. One way that healthcare costs more than it should is by not properly treating a patient. If a patient comes in with chest pains, gets released with antacids, and then comes back the next day with a heart attack, it costs a lot more money than if the chest pains had been properly treated in the first place.

Obamacare deals with this issue by cutting back on Medicare reimbursements to hospitals that have too many of these kinds of re-admissions. This is an especially big deal because hospitals are probably the single most dangerous place to be in terms of getting a disease. So there really is a lot that hospitals can do to improve the situation. The authors of the study looked at these re-admission rates and found that Obamacare really was changing behavior and reducing rates. Hooray!

This didn’t stop Paul Ryan — now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — from saying this week, “The whole law’s a lemon.” But of course he would. For him, like all Republicans, the complete catastrophe of Obamacare is definitional. It’s interesting to contrast this with Medicare Part D. Many Democrats were against it. But after it was in effect and working as it was supposed to, the Democrats changed their position. But such open mindedness is asking far too much from Republicans.

Morning Music: Léo Ferré

Avec Le Temps - Léo FerréI can never stay away from France for long. The country calls to me. And today, it calls to me in the form of Léo Ferré — even if he isn’t technically French. He was a chanson singer who was very popular after World War II for several decades. Of course, he is hardly known in the United States. And I mean that in the sense that Jacques Brel is popular in the United States, even though almost no one I know has ever heard of him. (It’s always annoying to have to say, “He wrote ‘Seasons in the Sun.'”)

Whereas Brel was more of a storyteller, Ferré is more expressionistic. But it is difficult to nail him down. He produced a lot of music. Here is his song “Avec Le Temps” — which means “With Time.” It starts off, “With time, they go away, everything goes away.” And it ends with, “With time we don’t love any more.” But it isn’t bitter — just resigned, the way that we all are when we get into the later years of our life. I think it’s called wisdom.

Anniversary Post: Flag Day

American FlagOn this day in 1777, the stars and stripes were adopted by the Second Continental Congress as the official flag of our country — or at least our little rebellion. To be honest, I’m not fond of it. It’s badly designed. There’s a blue rectangle in the upper left hand cover with a variable number of stars. Don’t get me wrong: I like one star for each state. But I don’t like them relegated to the corner in such an awkward way. And the 13 stripes representing the first colonies? I really don’t care. Maybe we should have eight red stripes to correspond to the eight slave states at that time. Not that they weren’t all culpable.

Soviet UnionAnyway, I remember telling my first wife that I didn’t like our flag. She snapped at me, “What do you want? Three stripes like Italy?” I was too shamed to respond, but the truth is: yes, I would prefer that. But what I had in mind was the Soviet Union’s flag, which I still think is gorgeous. But there are many beautiful flags today. I like the simplicity and the symbolism with the Japanese flag. Israel’s flag is arguably better on these counts. Canada has a very fetching flag. There is much to say for Papua New Guinea’s flag with the Southern Cross and its national bird, the raggiana bird-of-paradise. I could go on. And on. And on. There are only a handful of flags that I like less.

Papua New GuineaNot that any of this matters. A nation needs a distinct flag and we have that. But it annoys me that we could never change it. If anyone tried, Americans would rise up and claim that it is a wonderful flag and we could never admit to being wrong. Just as our 225 year old Constitution is the best one imaginable (except it isn’t), our 240 year old flag couldn’t possibly be improved upon. So we are stuck with it.

Happy Flag Day everyone!