Category Archives: Political Commentary

Back To The Moon

An Apolloistic interview with Bill Posey. I really hate this sort of thing:

Going to the Moon again would be exciting, but NASA’s already-minuscule budget (a mere $18.5 billion in 2016, compared to $585 billion for the Department of Defense) means that the agency can probably only afford one big dream at a time. Do we go back to the Moon or do we press ahead on visiting Mars? Right now, Mars is winning by a landslide. For the last few years NASA has been focused on its Journey to Mars, with no plans to send people back to the Moon.

“This bill proposes not just a visit to the Moon but a presence on the lunar surface,” Casey Dreier, space policy expert at the Planetary Society, told Motherboard. “This isn’t wrong by any means, but it’s one of those things that if you do this, you just won’t go to Mars for a long time.”

In fact, if we changed course from the Journey to Mars to Journey Back to the Moon, we might not see footprints on Mars in our lifetime. “It would put us back at least a generation,” Dreier said.

a) There is, and should be, no relationship between the NASA budget and the Pentagon (or any other agency’s) budget. Each agency’s budget request has to stand on its own. And as usual, note the assumption that we have to choose between one destination or the other. Some people, including the so-called experts, cannot conceive of the possibility of doing both.

Note the implicit assumption of the next question:

Given NASA’s already underfunded budget, do you think it would be worth abandoning a mission to Mars to go back to the Moon? [Emphasis added]

It’s a matter of prioritization, and we’ve asked NASA to prepare a roadmap of what steps they’re going to take in a timeline given current funding, for increased funding or decreased funding. What steps are you going to take to get to the Moon? They have discovered there are resources on the Moon that they can make fuel out of, you know launching from the Moon, you can see many, many reasons why it’s good to have a Moon base. And that’s part of the process of getting to Mars. It’s been awhile since we’ve been on the Moon and we’ve had some technology to catch up on and practice so those are all important.

And note the omission in the next response:

I’m excited about any private industry that plans on doing any space exploration. One time NASA came up with a series of different ideas, they would touch an asteroid, land on an asteroid, then it changed to a bigger mission and then smaller mission but there was no tie-in to a Mars mission. A lot of the private sector are ready, willing and able to explore and mine asteroids so that we don’t need to do it. Anything that you can find in the phonebook that the private sector is doing, the government doesn’t really need to be doing. Exploring an asteroid is one of those things.

Hey, Bill, did you know that the private sector is interested in mining the moon, too?

And here comes the Apolloism:

Do you have a special memory from working on Apollo 11 that you’d like for the next generation to experience?

What inspired me so much was President Kennedy’s speech from Rice University, that was so inspiring to me when he said we’re going to put a rocket on the Moon. I wanted to go to work on that rocket and have my fingerprints on that rocket that takes men to the Moon. So that was a big inspiration for me and I think returning to the Moon will also re-engage the public’s interest in the space program and inspire a new generation of American students to study engineering and mathematics where we currently lag behind other students in competing nations.

How do you see NASA handling itself as we move forward between finally choosing between going back to the Moon or going straight to Mars?

We’ve spent somewhere between $20-24 billion on what we call “missions to nowhere” and we can’t do that again. The NASA budget is now about one half of one percent [of the GDP]. During the Apollo era it was 4 percent of the GDP, I would love to see it at 1 percent. Neil deGrasse Tyson explained very well one time, space is the only thing that Congress spends money on truly to benefit the next generation, and I think that’s a true statement. I’d like to see congress spend 1 percent, I’d even like to see a constitutional amendment requiring that 1 percent be spent on human space exploration each year so that we will have the survival of our species.

With all respect to Neil Tyson (OK, I don’t have that much) it’s mindless to have an arbitrary percentage of the federal budget for anything, let alone NASA. The only way to determine how much budget NASA should get it so decide what it’s going to do, come up with a set of plans to do that, and estimate the costs. Right now, I’d say that NASA has plenty of money, or would if people like Bill Posey didn’t force it to waste money on a giant rocket and capsule that it doesn’t need, in order for him to revisit his lost youth. The three billion a year that he’s forcing the agency to spend on SLS/Orion would go a long way, perhaps all the way, both a lunar return and a Mars mission in the next decade (with public/private parterships using Commercial Cargo and Crew as a model) if NASA was allowed to spend it instead on things it actually needs to do both those things

Donald Trump

…and the revolt of the unseen:

one day, the Deplorables, standing athwart history, yelled “Stop!” They saw their taxes given to crony capitalists, welfare recipients, and government employees; they saw their plants close and their jobs go overseas due to government regulations and taxes; they saw veterans used and abused by a dysfunctional Veteran’s Administration; they saw their cities erupt in protests and violence based on “Hands up, don’t shoot” lies; they saw their police officers assaulted and murdered by ideological thugs; they saw Islamic jihadists commit mass murder; and they saw the government schools force their kids to read Heather Has Two Mommies but otherwise leaving them uneducated.

The Deplorables had been neglected, forgotten, and abused for so long that the Ruling Elite just assumed they would fall in line as they always do. The Ruling Elite didn’t notice that the Deplorables had been pushed to the brink of despair. They were humiliated by unemployment and the foreclosure of their homes; they were sick and tired of twentysomethings defining marriage and bathroom policy for them; they felt threatened that their guns would be taken from them; they cried at the sight of their neighbors’ sons coming home in body bags; they were fed up with being called racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, xenophobes, and Islamaphobes.

What can’t go on forever, won’t. One day, about two years ago, the Forgotten Man, the faceless American, finally awoke from his slumbers. He looked around and saw the devastation, and he knew the promise of American life was no longer open to him. And so he screamed, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” The cry went unheard by the Ruling Elite. One man did hear it, however. That man was, of course, Donald J. Trump.

For better or worse, Trump did get people to the polls who don’t normally vote.

When Evidence Says “No”

…but doctors say “yes”:

WHAT THE PATIENTS IN BOTH STORIES had in common was that neither needed a stent. By dint of an inquiring mind and a smartphone, one escaped with his life intact. The greater concern is: How can a procedure so contraindicated by research be so common?

When you visit a doctor, you probably assume the treatment you receive is backed by evidence from medical research. Surely, the drug you’re prescribed or the surgery you’ll undergo wouldn’t be so common if it didn’t work, right?

For all the truly wondrous developments of modern medicine — imaging technologies that enable precision surgery, routine organ transplants, care that transforms premature infants into perfectly healthy kids, and remarkable chemotherapy treatments, to name a few — it is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous. Sometimes doctors simply haven’t kept up with the science. Other times doctors know the state of play perfectly well but continue to deliver these treatments because it’s profitable — or even because they’re popular and patients demand them. Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.

Even if a drug you take was studied in thousands of people and shown truly to save lives, chances are it won’t do that for you. The good news is, it probably won’t harm you, either. Some of the most widely prescribed medications do little of anything meaningful, good or bad, for most people who take them.

My faith in the medical profession has never been high, and stories like this do nothing to raise it. If you want to be healthy (and in some cases just stay alive), you have to be pro-active.

[Update a while later]

I hadn’t read the whole thing when I posted this (I still haven’t; it’s long), but I found this interesting:

In the late 1980s, with evidence already mounting that forcing open blood vessels was less effective and more dangerous than noninvasive treatments, cardiologist Eric Topol coined the term, “oculostenotic reflex.” Oculo, from the Latin for “eye,” and stenotic, from the Greek for “narrow,” as in a narrowed artery. The meaning: If you see a blockage, you’ll reflexively fix a blockage. Topol described “what appears to be an irresistible temptation among some invasive cardiologists” to place a stent any time they see a narrowed artery, evidence from thousands of patients in randomized trials be damned. Stenting is what scientists call “bio-plausible” — intuition suggests it should work. It’s just that the human body is a little more Book of Job and a little less household plumbing: Humans didn’t invent it, it’s really complicated, and people often have remarkably little insight into cause and effect.

“Bioplausible” also applies to terrible dietary advice: If you don’t understand biochemistry (and unfortunately, most nutritionists and even many MDs don’t) it makes sense that eating cholesterol gives you high cholesterol and eating fat makes you fat. You are, after all, what you eat, right?

Note also the story about the blood-pressure meds that have no measurable effect on reducing rates of heart attacks. I suspect that, like cholesterol lowering, such drugs are treating a symptom. It’s why despite my life-long high BP (really, my only health risk other than bad choice of parents), I resist using drugs to lower it, because I really have never had any evidence of other issues, and keep a close eye on things like peripheral arteries, carotid blockage, liver function, eye health, etc.

The ASAP

wonders why NASA is considering crewing the first flight of SLS/Orion:

In a statement at the beginning of the Feb. 23 meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), chairwoman Patricia Sanders said that if NASA decides to put a crew on the first SLS/Orion launch, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), it must demonstrate that there is a good reason to accept the higher risks associated with doing so.

“We strongly advise that NASA carefully and cautiously weigh the value proposition for flying crew on EM-1,” she said. “NASA should provide a compelling rationale in terms of benefits gained for accepting additional risk, and fully and transparently acknowledge the tradeoffs being made before deviating from the approach for certifying the Orion/SLS vehicle for manned spaceflight.”

“If the benefits warrant the assumption of additional risk,” she added, “we expect NASA to clearly and openly articulate their decision-making process and rationale.”

The point of my book was not that NASA should simply be more accepting of risk, or be reckless, but balance the risk against the reward. In my opinion, accelerating commercial crew would be worth the risk, to end our dependence on Russia, and increase the productivity of the ISS. Redoing Apollo 8 half a century after the original as a political stunt would not.

[Update a little before 1 PM EST]

NASA is about to have a news conference, probably in response.

[Update post conference]

It was the Bills Gerstenmaier and Hill. Gerst is always deadpan, but one had the impression that he’s not enthusiastic. They’re doing a feasibility study because the White House asked, and won’t be making any recommendations, just describing would it would take in terms of changes in schedule and budget. They just want to see “if they can fly crew sooner.” They expect to have some answers in a month or so (presumably as part of the input for FY2018 budget request). I wish the White House would ask them if they could fly crew sooner on Dragon and Starliner. That would be worth doing.

I can’t believe I just typed the words “FY 2018 budget request.” Makes me feel old.

[Update a few minutes later]

[Update a few minutes later]

Here‘s Keith Cowing’s story.

[Early afternoon update]

And here‘s Eric Berger’s take.

[Update a while later]

And Joel Achenbach’s.

I’d note that the reason they would only have two crew is probably a) to reduce the number of losses if it doesn’t go well and b) more margin in the (primitive?) life support.

[Saturday-afternoon update]

Amy Shira Teitel (like me) thinks that this makes no sense.

The Cold Civil War

Kurt Schichter is afraid it’s about to get hot. But there is this difference:

Sally Kohn, a CNN commentator perfectly personifies the left’s combination of utter cluelessness and utter certainty in its own moral superiority. Drawing from her bottomless well of stupidity, she recently became infamous for wishcasting about what happens “[s]traight forward from here.” Her scenario starts with Step 1 (“Impeach Trump & Pence”) and ends with Step 6 (“President Hillary”), thanks to a Constitutional process she created herself by blending ignorance, fascism, and wanting.

Sally, however, overlooked Step 2.5, where several dozen million Americans defend the Constitution by taking out their black rifles and saying, “Oh, hell no.” I assume the patriots determined to protect the Union would be confronted, for a short and awkward time, by a pro-coup hipster army locked and loaded with vinyl LPs, participation trophies and unearned self-regard.

There’s no reason not to believe that for these seditious Democrats, the second time will be the charm.

Democrats always get angry and violent when Republicans threaten to emancipate their slaves.

Trump And The Judge

I’m no Trump fan, but I think all the pearl clutching from the media over his “so-called judge” tweet was ridiculous. So does Jonathan Turley. And as always, it’s particularly ridiculous coming from people who probably had no problem with Obama upbraiding (and in the process lying) the Justices who had honored him with their attendance at the State of the Union over Citizens United.

Cancer

as a metabolic disease. A long but interesting essay.

At least the community is starting to wake up to the hazards of sugar. I’ve seen a proposal to make food stamps ineligible for items containing it. Makes sense to me. It could help a lot with the obesity epidemic.

[Update a few minutes later]

Related thoughts from Glenn Reynolds.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Health authorities continue to fail us:

Considering the above, no one in their right mind would take any kind of dietary advice provided by the authorities at face value. It’s little wonder then that so many are taking matters into their own hands. Thirty years ago, if the USDA, AHA, or AMA told you something was bad for you, you stopped eating it. You didn’t question, because they were the ones with credibility and years of study. It was simply too much trouble for the average person to find the information they needed. Thankfully with the internet, all of the information needed is now available to anyone who wants it. We no longer have to put blind trust in authority figures because we can sift through the information ourselves and ask the right questions. If anything, the glut of information shows that the public’s trust in nutrition advice given by the authorities and media was sorely misplaced.

Same thing with climate, for the same reasons: there’s a lot of public policy, and money, at stake.