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Mathieu Lonjaret
kung-fu gopher
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Restoring the North Cascades Ecosystem

In two days, the National Park Service will decide whether to reintroduce grizzly bears into the North Cascades near Seattle. If you leave a comment on their website, you can help make this happen! Follow the easy directions here:

Please go ahead! Then reshare. This can be your good deed for the day.

But if you're curious:

Grizzly bears are traditionally the top predator in the North Cascades. Without the top predator, the whole ecosystem is thrown out of balance. I know this from my childhood in northern Virginia, where deer are stripping the forest of all low-hanging greenery with no wolves to control them. With the top predator, the whole ecosystem springs to life and starts humming like a well-tuned engine!

There are several plans to restore grizzlies to the North Cascades. On the link, Matthew Inman supports Alternative C — Incremental Restoration. I'm not an expert on this issue, so I went ahead and supported that. There are actually 4 alternatives on the table:

Alternative A — No Action. They'll keep doing what they're already doing. The few grizzlies already there would be protected from poaching, the local population would be advised on how to deal with grizzlies, and the bears would be monitored. All other alternatives will do this and more.

Alternative B — Ecosystem Evaluation Restoration. Up to 10 grizzly bears will be captured from source populations in northwestern Montana and/or south-central British Columbia and released at a single remote site on Forest Service lands in the North Cascades. This will take 2 years, and then they'll be monitored for 2 years before deciding what to do next.

Alternative C — Incremental Restoration. 5 to 7 grizzly bears will be captured and released into the North Casades each year over roughly 5 to 10 years, with a goal of establishing an initial population of 25 grizzly bears. Bears would be released at multiple remote sites. They can be relocated or removed if they cause trouble. Alternative C is expected to reach the restoration goal of approximately 200 grizzly bears within 60 to 100 years.

Alternative D — Expedited Restoration. 5 to 7 grizzly bears will be captured and released into the North Casades each year until the population reaches about 200, which is what the area can easily support.

So, pick your own alternative if you like!

By the way, the remaining grizzly bears in the western United States live within six recovery zones:

the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in Wyoming and southwest Montana;

the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) in northwest Montana;

the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem (CYE) in extreme northwestern Montana and the northern Idaho panhandle;

the Selkirk Ecosystem (SE) in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington;

the Bitterroot Ecosystem (BE) in central Idaho and western Montana;

and the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) in northwestern and north-central Washington.

For more:

Draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan / Environmental Impact Statement: North Cascades Ecosystem,

The picture is from this article:

If you're worried about reintroducing grizzly bears, read it!

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There has been a new court ruling (en banc from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals) in the Abu Ghraib cases which has a profound significance beyond those cases.

The case itself is a lawsuit against a military contractor by people who were allegedly tortured by the contractor's employees at Abu Ghraib. The question ruled on yesterday was whether the "political question doctrine" bars the suit. That doctrine essentially says that when the Constitution grants authority over some question to some specific branch of government which isn't the courts, the courts don't have the power to overrule it; in this case, the defense was that because this was done under military orders and is part of the exercise of war powers, it's a political question.

What makes this especially important is that this was part of a broader legal theory pushed (very hard) by the Bush II administration, that because people (not just at Abu Ghraib, but in a wide variety of sites operated by both the military and intelligence communities) were acting in good faith under legal advice from the White House counsel that torture was legal in various cases, they should be immune to prosecution for that; and further, that because the decision to do so was made as part of the military's wartime power (which follows from the Executive's wartime power), all such questions are political questions and not for the courts to answer.

The court disagreed: in a unanimous ruling, it distinguished between things which are or are not illegal in their own right. If an action is not per se unlawful, and was done by or under the actual control of the military, the court ruled that the political question doctrine may apply – but that doctrine can never apply to an unlawful act, and that "claims [which] rest on allegations of unlawful conduct in violation of settled international law or criminal law... fall outside the protection of the political question doctrine."

That is, this is a ruling that even if something involves the military, and is done in the theater of war, that does not exclude it from the law, and "it is beyond the power of even the President to declare such conduct lawful" when it violates the law. (And torture, unsurprisingly, violates both the UCMJ and federal law)

I find this ruling important because it turns away from a direction of extreme deference towards the Executive which the courts held in the 15 years since 9/11, in which courts refused to touch nearly anything which was described as "for national security," "counterterrorism," or "part of the war effort."

In particular, if by suitable invocation of war powers, the President (or his attorneys, or a military officer) can declare even torture to be legal, then surely there is nothing else which they can't declare to be legal. A ruling that this was possible in such a case would therefore be a nearly infinite barrier to any claim against something which the Executive branch had touched – giving heavy legal weight to Nixon's infamous idea that "when the President does it, that means it's not illegal."

In an era where mass surveillance is a routine part of our domestic policy and assassination of our foreign policy, such questions become profoundly important: they are the difference between a single person being able to make these decisions, without any possibility of review except what they personally request, and having a system of laws by which the people can have a say in what is and is not acceptable.

This is only an appellate ruling, so it isn't binding on other circuits and could be overturned by the Supreme Court. However, the Fourth Circuit is generally known as a fairly government-friendly circuit, and with SCOTUS down to eight members, they may be unwilling to take such a case, preferring to leave it in the circuits until and unless a circuit split arises. Even more however, cases such as this one are particularly likely to end up in the Fourth Circuit, because that circuit includes both Virginia and Maryland, where many of the players in such fields are located. This means that this ruling is likely to carry substantial weight in these matters going forward.

It's only a small step, but it's a significant one – a step towards checking the power of a President to do quite literally whatever they want, something which our Constitution works hard to avoid.
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Any developers out there interested in joining our mission to lift a billion people out of energy poverty?

We're looking for all skills: mobile, backend, frontend.

No remote workers at this time, but you have your choice of either San Francisco, USA or Nairobi, Kenya.

If you're even a bit interested, reach out to me and I'll be happy to chat!
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Twenty-odd years ago the two tonne SOHO observatory was launched into orbit a million miles away. It's still working. But three years after launch it had an upset and stopped communicating. The recovery story is quite heroic. But first, the three errors which almost lost it: "the Investigation Board has determined that the first two errors were contained in preprogrammed command sequences executed on ground system computers, while the last error was a decision to send a command to the spacecraft in response to unexpected telemetry readings. ... two anomalous command sequences, in combination with a decision to send a command to SOHO to turn off a gyro in response to unexpected telemetry values, caused the spacecraft to enter a series of ESRs, and ultimately led to the loss of control."

"The SOHO Mission was interrupted on June 24, 1998, while the SOHO Team was conducting a series of spacecraft gyroscope calibrations and manoeuvres. Operations proceeded until 23:16 UTC when SOHO lost lock on the Sun, and entered an emergency attitude control mode called Emergency Sun Reacquisition (ESR). The SOHO Team attempted to recover the observatory, but SOHO entered the emergency mode again on June 25 02:35 UTC. Recovery efforts continued, but SOHO entered the emergency mode for the last time at 04:38 UTC. All contact with SOHO was lost, and the mission interruption had begun. SOHO was spinning, losing electrical power, and no longer pointing at the Sun.
Expert ESA personnel were immediately dispatched from Europe to the United States to direct operations. Days passed without contact from SOHO. On July 23, the Arecibo Observatory and Goldstone Solar System Radar combined to locate SOHO with radar, and to determine its location and attitude. SOHO was close to its predicted position, oriented with its side versus the usual front Optical Surface Reflector panel pointing toward the Sun, and was rotating at one revolutions every 53 seconds. Once SOHO was located, plans for contacting SOHO were formed. On August 3 a carrier was detected from SOHO, the first signal since June 25. After days of charging the battery, a successful attempt was made to modulate the carrier and downlink telemetry on August 8. After instrument temperatures were downlinked on August 9, data analysis was performed, and planning for the SOHO recovery began in earnest"
- wikipedia

Much more detail elsewhere:
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The LSST project ( is looking for a project manager for its data management pipeline. It's an amazing project that will make a massively detailed movie of the sky - see the website for details. From the beginning, the project has spent a lot of thought and development on the software problem: managing a 3.2 gigapixel camera producing 15 terabytes of data a night requires some state-of-the-art tech.

If you're interested in helping run the data management group, please check out the job posting:*93B3F1ED4FBF8FB3
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Cougar Mountain West #1
The big-ass white volcano is Mount Rainier.
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I'm on a boat!  (Warning:  Audio/lyrics NSFW!)

This is cracking me up, but for the more moving version, the 4k chase plane footage of the landing is better:

I got tears in my eyes watching them stick the landing yesterday.  It's the most amazing thing I've seen in spaceflight since I was a kid.  Amazing what we can accomplish sometimes.
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