NASA Space Vikings spark inquiry from Congressional stiffs


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For Ved Chirayath, an aeronautics and astronautics graduate student and amateur fashion photographer, a photo project that involved NASA researchers dressed as Vikings was just a creative way to promote space science. “I started this project hoping maybe one day some kid will look at it and say, ‘I want to work for NASA,’ ” says Chirayath, a student at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who also works nearby at NASA’s Ames Research Center…

He never suspected that his fanciful image would put him in the crosshairs of a government waste investigation triggered by a senior U.S. senator.

Earlier this month, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, wrote to NASA chief Charles Bolden, asking him to investigate whether Chirayath’s photos involved the possible misuse of ARC funds and staff time. An “interested observer” had brought the photos to Grassley’s attention, Jill Gerber, the senator’s communications manager, tells ScienceInsider. In his 10 July letter, Grassley raised concerns about NASA spending on “non-mission critical activities” and asked Bolden to help him “better understand the participation of NASA employees and resources in this for-profit photography exhibit.”

Soon, agency investigators were asking questions—much to Chirayath’s surprise. “They made contact with just about every person who took part in the shoot,” he says. But there’s no smoking gun, he adds. His effort was strictly not-for-profit and didn’t involve ARC funds…

Being legal, being legit, of course, doesn’t mean a whole boatload to a dillweed bumpkin like Grassley. He’s still whining over the invention [and cost] of color TV.

Last year, Chirayath began working at ARC, where he helps develop small, compact research satellites known as “CubeSats.” The technology, developed in part at Stanford, reminded him of Viking explorers who, from the eighth through 11th centuries, “travelled farther and saw more in much smaller ships than had been used before their time.” That connection inspired his Space Vikings photos, which led to a shoot this past December at a Palo Alto park on a weekday afternoon…

After he posted the pictures online, Chirayath heard rumblings from co-workers that a blogger took issue with the executive staff’s appearance. He thought little of it until investigators started asking questions.

NASA News Chief Allard Beutel says that although the agency has yet to send an official reply, it has concluded that “there were no taxpayer funds used” for Space Vikings. “The employees were on their time, not on work time.”

The flap has left Chirayath perplexed. “NASA can’t afford to promote their missions in this way and this is partly why I started this project,” he says. And that’s ironic, he adds, because “more was probably spent in taxpayer employee man-hours investigating me, my exhibition, and those involved than it might have cost” to produce the photos professionally.

Our Congress-critters do little enough work of any kind – especially productive work. Most of their time is spent promoting their re-election [inquiries like this one qualifies in Iowa] and fronting the various lobbyists who own everything including their underwear.

For a clotted turd like Grassley to whine about a non-profit event promoting NASA is beyond absurd. He should stick to the promotion of racist code words, Herbert Hoover economics and scratching his butt in the nearest corn cob silo.

Saving the orange by altering its DNA


Burning infected trees

The call Ricke Kress and every other citrus grower in Florida dreaded came while he was driving.

“It’s here” was all his grove manager needed to say to force him over to the side of the road.

The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. Mr. Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Natural, sat in silence for several long moments…“O.K.,” he said finally on that fall day in 2005, “let’s make a plan.”

In the years that followed, he and the 8,000 other Florida growers who supply most of the nation’s orange juice poured everything they had into fighting the disease they call citrus greening.

To slow the spread of the bacterium that causes the scourge, they chopped down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and sprayed an expanding array of pesticides on the winged insect that carries it. But the contagion could not be contained.

They scoured Central Florida’s half-million acres of emerald groves and sent search parties around the world to find a naturally immune tree that could serve as a new progenitor for a crop that has thrived in the state since its arrival, it is said, with Ponce de León. But such a tree did not exist.

“In all of cultivated citrus, there is no evidence of immunity,” the plant pathologist heading a National Research Council task force on the disease said.

In all of citrus, but perhaps not in all of nature. With a precipitous decline in Florida’s harvest predicted within the decade, the only chance left to save it, Mr. Kress believed, was one that his industry and others had long avoided for fear of consumer rejection. They would have to alter the orange’s DNA — with a gene from a different species.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an excellent article on the battle to save Florida’s citrus crops. Though Monsanto represents genomic crop research about as much as Ted Nugent represents American rock music – we often see the worst of capitalist robber barons accepted on the Left as defining contemporary botanical science. And that just ain’t so.

There is no more justification on the Left than there is on the Right for opportunism. Admittedly, I don’t get upset over Republicans and conservatives letting themselves be overwhelmed by the bigotry of the Tea Party and other looney brigades. I can rationalize it away and say they deserve the diseases they catch from those they’re in bed with. But, the Left faces a comparable danger of anti-science, anti-intellectualism, Luddite behavior from that segment of environmentalism that treats the world as a religious temple rather than the sum of knowable processes.

From that first Earth Day I attended in Amherst, Mass, I have counted environmental activism as part of the responsibilities I accept as a concerned human being. That concern includes educated, material and scientific grounding for the positions I fight for.

A long, detailed and accurate article worth reading. Take the time.

Creep-of-the-week turns himself in for child porn after computer virus tells him to pay a fine

phony FBI virus
Click to enlarge

A 21-year-old man turned himself in to police and confessed to downloading child porn after he received an FBI warning message telling him he was the subject of an investigation that actually turned out to be a scam.

Jay Matthew Riley walked into Garfield District Station in Woodbridge, William County, with his computer and asked if there were any warrants on file for him.

He explained that a message popped up on his screen while he was watching child porn, ordering him to pay a fine or else he would be the subject of a criminal investigation.

But the message was actually a computer virus which has been infecting computers since early last year that the FBI actually warned about on their website.

When police searched Riley’s computer, they found inappropriate messages and photos of underage girls. One was a 13-year-old from Minnesota…

The virus is known as Reveton ransomware, which is designed to extort money from its victims after they click on a compromised website

The message says the user’s Internet address was identified by the FBI as having been associated with child pornography sites or other illegal online activity…

To unlock their machines, users are required to pay a fine using a prepaid money card service. Otherwise they will be subject to investigation.

Har!

Thanks, Honeyman

Judge orders stripper’s life savings returned with interest…one year after state trooper confiscated it as drug money

A Californian stripper will have her life savings of over $1 million returned to her almost a year after it was confiscated by a Nebraska State Trooper who thought it was drugs money.

Exotic dancer, Tasha Mishra, 33, of Rancho Cucamonga, will be reunited with $1,074,900 plus interest, after Judge Joseph F. Batailon today found no evidence that the money was to be used in a drug dealing operation.

The million dollar fortune had been amassed by Mishra over the course of 15 years and was intended by her to be used to buy a nightclub in New Jersey and get her out of the stripping business…

Nebraska State troopers confiscated the cash on March 3rd 2012 when they pulled over Rajesh and Marina Dheri, of Montville, New Jersey, for speeding…

The Dheri’s are friends of Mishra and had been handed the cash by Mishra two days earlier and they were transporting the money across the country after flying into Los Angeles to meet the millionaire dancer.

Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Ryan Hayes issued Rajesh Dheri with a speeding ticket and then asked the couple if they were carrying anything illegal in the car such as drugs.

The Dheri’s said no and gave Hayes permission to search the Mercedes SUV they had rented two days prior.

The troopers discovered two drawstring bags containing rubber-banded bundles of cash in $100s and then seized it, believing it was related to narcotics.

The Dheri’s told the troopers that the money was for a nightclub that they and a friend were to buy in New Jersey but a drug sniffing dog found traces of narcotics on the money.

Presumably coppers know – as well as you and I know – that all American money bears traces of drugs.

Objecting, the Dheri’s told the troopers to phone Mishra who informed them the money was hers. Regardless, the U.S. Attorney’s office proceeded with confiscating the cash – telling Mishra she had no legal right to object because she was not in the car…

‘In any event, that claimant Tara Mishra earned her money by lap dancing and nude dancing does not mean that a Nebraska State Trooper can take her life savings,’ Mishra’s attorney Roger Diamond told the Journal Star…

joseph_f-_bataillon_district_judge

U.S. attorney Nancy Svoboda said blah, blah, blah.’

Judge Bataillon ruled otherwise after Mishra provided evidence of earnings on tax returns and paper details of the agreement to buy the bar in new Jersey…

In general, Bataillon said, the government ‘left too many unanswered questions and had a general failure of proof in this case.’ – according to the Journal Star.

He directed the government to return the money, plus interest since the day it was taken.

Always nice to see the little guy win one against ignorant coppers, blindered bureaucrats and the government. I wish Tasha Mishra and her associates well in their new business.

I suppose I should say I hope officials in the Nebraska State Police learned something from this disaster – but, frankly, I think that’s unlikely. Change is too difficult for people who run their lives like a mass-produced comic book.

Thanks, Ursarodinia