The Abandoned Frontier

Mark Steyn reflects on the passing of John Glenn. I don’t agree entirely, and I think he misses some key points, one of which was that Apollo was a battle in the Cold War that didn’t have much to do with space. With regard to Charlton, anyone who thinks we’re in technological decline, and unable to do great things any more hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been happening in microelectronics, microbiology, and yes, spaceflight. I’d suggest that Mark read my recent essay on the need to get over Apolloism.

[Update a while later]

Henry Vanderbilt weighs in over at Arocket:

Apollo was amazing, yes. But it did things the brute-force, massively-expensive way. Just look at the size of a Saturn 5 ready for liftoff, versus how much came back. Multiply that by the size of the payroll for the hundreds of thousands building and operating it, spread over a handful of missions a year. That’s a lot of expensive aerospace talent and hardware spent on every mission – billions worth.

Of course, they had no choice but to do it that way. They had an urgent national goal, a tight deadline, an effectively unlimited budget – and a 1962 technology base. One example: The computer that flew a Saturn 5 weighed as much as a small car – and was less powerful than the chips we put in toasters.

Two things happened after Apollo, one immediately bad, one eventually good.

The bad thing is that in the seventies, bureaucrats took over, and did what bureaucrats do: They carved into stone doing things the Apollo way. Shuttle resulted: gorgeous, yes, but only somewhat less expendable and slightly less labor-intensive than Saturn 5. And, alas, somewhat more fragile.

For decades this bureaucracy defended their billions-per-mission turf and defeated all efforts to do things less expensively. (In fact it’s still trying, with a MANY-billions-per-mission bastard offspring of Shuttle and Saturn 5 called “Space Launch System”.)

But the other thing that happened is, back in the eighties a few of us saw this bureaucratic logjam forming, and looked into whether space really had to cost billions per mission. We concluded it didn’t. We began pushing the different approaches it’d take to get costs down to where all the useful things we might do in space begin to be affordable.

It took a lot longer than we hoped getting into this. But thirty years later, commercial space companies are doing things at a tenth of traditional NASA costs. And that’s even before the really radical new technologies kick in, like the reusable flyback boosters just entering test in the last couple of years.

I won’t defend the wasted decades. (It wasn’t us wasting them, though at a number of points we could have been less naive about how ruthlessly the bureaucrats would defend their turf.)

But at this point, despair over the wasted decades is obsolete. Costs are coming down fast, huge possibilities are opening up. We could still blow it, yes. But compared to even just five or ten years ago, right now the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

Henry Vanderbilt
Space Access Society
(founded in 1992 with the intent of being no longer needed and disposed of in five years. yeah well.)

As I said on the Space Show the other week, the future for human spaceflight has never been more exciting.

Wi Fi

A new technique that reduces power consumption by five orders of magnitude.

This is the only down side:

Aside from saving battery life on today’s devices, wireless communication that uses almost no power will help enable an “Internet of Things” reality where household devices and wearable sensors can communicate using Wi-Fi without worrying about power.

Just what we need: More devices to become a part of DDOS botnets.

Repeal, Delay, Replace

That’s the Republicans’ plan to undo the legislative atrocity that is ObamaCare.

[Update a few minutes later]

Democrats plan a fight to save ObamaCare. I agree with Stephen Green:

If you — or GOP lawmakers — aren’t mentally prepared for the howls, the accusations of racism/sexism/etc, the tales of woe, and the panic-mongering, then you don’t understand how Democrats play this game.

The ugliness hasn’t even begun to begin.

Sadly true.


Is it killing us?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that some 75 million Americans now suffer from metabolic syndrome. If sugar consumption is the trigger, as 50 years of research suggests, then it might be as much of a direct cause of diabetes as smoking cigarettes is of lung cancer. Without sugar in our diets, diabetes might be an exceedingly rare disease—as it appears once to have been.

When Yudkin and others suggested as much in the 1970s, the consensus opinion among nutritionists and physicians was that dietary fat was the primary dietary evil; they considered sugar relatively benign. We have been living with the consequences ever since.

It’s worth noting this in the context that lifespan has fallen for the first time in decades: “If you like your longevity, you can keep your longevity“:

In story after story, we read about demographers and medical experts puzzling over what’s gone wrong. They point to heart disease, obesity, drug use, stroke, Alzheimer’s, suicide. The USA Today article notes that since World War II, it’s been rare to see a rise in U.S. mortality rates, and such spikes have usually been linked to highly specific events such as the spread of AIDS in the early 1990s, or a “nasty flu season” in 1980. By contrast, what we’re seeing now are rising mortality rates involving a broad range of causes, especially among middle-aged Americans.

Missing from all these accounts is a single word that ought to command unblinking attention: Obamacare.

While I agree that wrecking the medical-insurance industry is part of the problem, and may account for the most recent decline, it’s compounded by criminally awful nutrition advice from the FDA. One way or another, federal policies are killing us by the millions.

[Update early afternoon]

Draining The DC Swamp

…by moving its denizens out into the real country:

here’s my plan: During the next four years, the Trump Administration — and Congress — should plan to move at least 25% of the federal workforce located in the Washington, D.C. metro area to other locations around the country: Places that are economically suffering (which will have the advantage of making federal workers’ salaries go farther) and that need the business. Should Trump get another four years, he should do it all over again.

What’s interesting is that Vox (of all places) has a similar proposal, from Matt Yglesias:

The poorest places in the United States have been poor for a very long time and lack the basic infrastructure of prosperity. But that’s not true in the Midwest, where cities were thriving two generations ago and where an enormous amount of infrastructure is in place. Midwestern states have acclaimed public university systems, airports that are large enough to serve as major hubs, and cities whose cultural legacies include major league pro sports teams, acclaimed museums, symphonies, theaters, and other amenities of big-city living.

But industrial decline has left these cities overbuilt, with shrunken populations that struggle to support the legacy infrastructure, and the infrastructure’s decline tends to only beget further regional decline.

At the same time, America’s major coastal cities are overcrowded. They suffer from endemic housing scarcity, massive traffic congestion, and a profound small-c political conservatism that prevents them from making the kind of regulatory changes that would allow them to build the new housing and infrastructure they need. Excess population that can’t be absorbed by the coasts tends to bounce to the growth-friendly cities of the Sunbelt that need to build anew what Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland already have in terms of infrastructure and amenities.

A sensible approach would be for the federal government to take the lead in rebalancing America’s allocation of population and resources by taking a good hard look at whether so much federal activity needs to be concentrated in Washington, DC, and its suburbs. Moving agencies out of the DC area to the Midwest would obviously cause some short-term disruptions. But in the long run, relocated agencies’ employees would enjoy cheaper houses, shorter commutes, and a higher standard of living, while Midwestern communities would see their population and tax base stabilized and gain new opportunities for complementary industries to grow.

In this context, it’s worth noting that LBJ treated NASA as a sort of “Marshall Plan” for the south, which persisted in its poverty after the Civil War. Only the Cape is really geographically needed; the other centers could have been elsewhere.

Of course, the down side for this proposal (for DC-area residents) would be a plunge in housing prices.

Trump’s Federalist Revival

I hope that Kim Strassel is right:

President Obama never held much with laws, because he failed at making them. After his first two years in office, he never could convince the Congress to pass another signature initiative. His response—and the enduring theme of his presidency—was therefore to ignore Congress and statutes, go around the partnership framework, and give his agencies authority to dictate policy from Washington. The states were demoted from partners to indentured servants. So too were any rival federal agencies that got in the EPA’s way. Example: The EPA’s pre-emptive veto of Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine, in which it usurped Army Corps of Engineers authority.

One revealing illustration from EPA world. Under the Clean Air Act, states are allowed to craft their own implementation plans. If the EPA disapproves of a state plan, it is empowered to impose a federal one—one of the most aggressive actions the agency can take against a state, since it is the equivalent of a seizure of authority. In the entirety of the presidencies of George H.W. Bush,Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the EPA imposed five federal implementation plans on states. By last count, the Obama administration has imposed at least 56.

Much of Mr. Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma’s AG was about trying to stuff federal agencies back into their legal boxes. Most of the press either never understood this, or never wanted to. When the media wrote about state lawsuits against ObamaCare or the Clean Power Plan or the Water of the United States rule, the suggestion usually was that this litigation was ideologically motivated, and a naked attempt to do what a Republican Congress could not—tank the president’s agenda.

The basis of nearly every one of these lawsuits was in fact violations of states’ constitutional and statutory rights—and it is why so many of the cases were successful. It was all a valiant attempt to force the federal government to follow the law. And it has been a singular Pruitt pursuit.

It will be refreshing to have someone rein in the EPA by running it, instead of having to continually take it to court.

[Update a while later]

Will Trump finally provide an opportunity to sell “progressives” on the virtues of federalism?

“Turnabout is fair play” is a deeply human sentiment. In politics, it’s both tedious and fun, because while reciprocity is satisfying, hypocrisy is annoying.

For instance, when Republicans take control of the Senate, Democrats instantly become sticklers for procedure, precedent, and constitutionalism. When Republicans lose the Senate, it’s “Democrats, start your steamrollers.”

While “You did it, so now we can too” is a perfectly natural attitude, it encourages cynicism precisely because it renders principles into arguments of convenience. When President Obama was testing — and exceeding — the limits of his constitutional powers, liberals grabbed their pom-poms and cheered. Now that Donald Trump is in power, they’re rediscovering that constitutional safeguards are there for everybody.

When Obama grew the deficit, Republicans and tea partiers insisted there was a debt crisis. Now, the president-elect says we must “prime the pump” with up to $1 trillion in deficit spending, and the former deficit hawks slumber in their nests. Regardless, that excerpt from A Man for All Seasons is not intended to imply that Trump is the devil — or that Obama is. Suffice it to say that one partisan’s devil is another partisan’s angel. I’m more interested in breaking the cycle and seizing an opportunity.

I’m looking forward to it. Who knows, maybe even Trump can be convinced.

[Update a while later]

Trump is putting together the most business-friendly cabinet in decades:

Conservatives had expressed considerable reservations about Trump’s professions of conservatism, during both the primary and general-election campaigns. In the days after the election, Trump’s meetings with Obama on the ACA and with Al Gore on climate change prompted renewed concerns about Trump’s true direction. Even while the first few nominations got announced, some wondered whether they reflected vice-president-elect Mike Pence more than Trump, and when other shoes would begin to drop.

So far, though, Trump seems intent on creating the most conservative and business-oriented Cabinet in decades. If Horowitz was correct and “personnel is policy,” then conservatives should find themselves pleasantly surprised and encouraged thus far with a 180-degree change of direction these key appointments promise. The inauguration on January 20th marks the date in which conservatives might find their own version of hope and change.

Unfortunately, what we really need is a market-friendly one.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Trump’s selections indicate that massive deregulation moves are coming. Well, we need it, after all the unconstitutional and unlawful overreach of the past eight years.

[Update a while later]

Getting back to the original post topic, Trump has nominated a powerful defender of states rights.

John Glenn

Farewell to a war hero, and hero of the early space age. The last of the Mercury Seven has gone to the stars. In the interest of de mortuis nil nisi bonum, I’ll ignore his political career for now.

[Update Friday morning]

One of John Glenn’s last acts was to praise reusable rockets.

[Update a while later]

[Update late morning]

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!