The Coming Mythology

I found this comment over at NASA Watch (in response to Mike Griffin’s latest attempt to rehabilitate his reputation) by someone who calls himself (or herself) “AresEngineer” sort of interesting:

Where’s all this “Ares is Bad, Bad Rocket” stuff coming from? Is it because the engineers on the project are saying that it was bad from the start, or because it’s easier to just parrot the news media? The media’s philosophy is “no publicity is bad publicity”, especially when they’re screaming “Ares is finished” predicated by initial findings that we need more funding for ISS and deep-space. Yes, the Augustine Commission has found a valid reason for concern. Just remember that they’re an advisory committee, not the ones that say yea/nay to the space program. And even the President can’t sack the project…only Congress can, and there’s almost unilateral support there for deep-space missions and the Ares program. And I think the whole “Ares is going we’re nowhere” is nonsense when at this hour, a 329-ft rocket is sitting in Kennedy’s VAB getting ready for it’s first test flight…Ares IX. One-half percent of the annual federal budget to fund space (and the technological fallout inventions which produce more jobs), is a great investment. If questionable programs like Cash for Clunkers went through, Auto company bailouts went through (and don’t forget the banks), U.S. Space can get it’s 3 billion a year (until launch) too.

It combines many of the prevailing false myths of space policy: that all NASA needs to succeed is enough money, and its technical choices are irrelevant; that we get more benefit from “spinoff” than the cost of the HSF program; that deep-space missions and heavy-lift in general (and Ares in particular) are synonymous, and that the former cannot be done without the latter; that having a fake rocket stacked at the Cape is somehow indicative of progress on the program.

In the coming decades, we can expect to hear this kind of thing forever: Mike Griffin’s NASA had a great idea for how to become space faring and get back to the moon, and the rocket was almost ready to fly, but unvisionary pinch pennies in the White House and Congress decided to end the next glorious chapter in spaceflight just when it was on the verge of happening. It will be very similar to the economically and politically ignorant refrain from people who bewail the short-sighted end of the Saturn program, or the wonderful SST that would have made us competitive with the Europeans, or Orion, which would have opened up the solar system with colonies on Ganymede by now if only the politicians hadn’t been such luddites and shut it down.

I’m sure that there are and were good people and good engineers working on the program, and when it’s your job to try to build something, you salute and do the best you can. And it’s hard to motivate yourself to do your best, or even go in to work in the morning, unless you believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile, so on a program like this, it can sometimes involve a certain degree of self delusion. But not everyone was so deluded, or we wouldn’t have been getting all of the inside scuttlebutt that we have been for years, from inside Marshall, Johnson and HQ, from people like this guy. And I assume that, when the program is finally put out of its and our misery, that many working on it will be relieved to not have to continue to charge that particular trench and barbed wire, and happy to be put on something with more promise, if that happens.

But there will also be people who will go to their graves cursing the philistines who couldn’t see the magic and wonder in Ares that they did, and I suspect that “AresEngineer” will be one of them. There’s nothing we can do about it — it’s just human nature — I’m just warning you now to be ready for it.

Unaccountability

Some thoughts:

The Empire State’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs New York City’s buses and subways, is not that different from Citigroup, in that it’s a supposedly independent, corporate-style public authority that enjoys the perception of a government guarantee.

Last week, the MTA consummated an embarrassingly profligate deal with its largest labor union, and yet the political class has largely escaped accountability.

Because the MTA is supposedly independent of political forces, Governor Paterson can adeptly deflect attention away from his responsibility for the deal, although the powerful transit union, of course, knows to be thankful.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s own management bureaucracy plays its role only too well. The MTA itself largely serves as a distracting generator of incompetence and intrigue, so the media doesn’t focus consistently on the fact that it’s the elected pols who are only to happy to give away the store at the expense of actual investment in transit and in the city’s economy.

Do we really want the global financial industry — necessarily affected by Citi’s outsized, government-guaranteed role — to be subject to the same poisonous and demoralizing political and public-policy dynamics as New York’s MTA?

This is where corporatism (in the interest of political correctness, I won’t call it by its true name — fascism) leads.

Long Live Space Station!

So says Jeff Manber:

By all media accounts, including that of Augustine himself on the news shows, the officials were told that going back to the Moon or on to Mars is impossible at current budget levels. I’m happy about that—because it just seems to me that the Augustine panel’s report should focus not on another hardware project, but how the federal government procures space goods and hardware.

I’ve thought from the start that a government commission deciding which rocket should be built, or where the orbiting gas stations should be located, smacks of government planning at its worst. If all of Washington, including President Obama, can agree that despite investing $50 billion in General Motors, the auto czar has no place selecting the new models of automobiles, why should it be different for rockets or lunar modules?

For me, it was kind of a Cold War throwback to have watched as members of the Augustine panel have traveled around the country listening to engineers and industry executives talk up one launch system and bad mouth another, push for one new NASA program and throw cold water on another. Think “sunshine laws” meets a Politburo meeting.

Norm Augustine should report to the president that the problem afflicting our space program is not this hardware or that program, but the way we are spending our tens of billions for space.

Exactly.

[Afternoon update]

The Space Frontier Foundation says that Ares needs a death panel:

“Derivatives of proven commercial launch systems, and new ones under development, could meet any reasonable need for heavy lift,” said Foundation co-Founder, James Muncy. “The barrier is psychological: NASA will have to stop pretending it can design cost-effective launch vehicles and instead focus on exploration systems that fit on the launch vehicles taxpayers can really afford.”

Werb concluded: “The choice is clear. We can continue funding an overpriced, government space limousine, or we can kick-start a whole new industry that will reduce government’s costs and create new jobs. The tools of private sector innovation and competition offer our best and only chance to have affordable and sustainable human space exploration.”

Unfortunately, it’s not so clear to those who want to keep Huntsville green.

A Rare Thing

Anthony Weiner is an honest Democrat:

S: So, Anthony, I figured it out over the break. You actually do want the federal government to take over all of health care.

W: Only in the sense that the federal government took over health care for senior citizens 44 years ago.

S: You want to expand that for all Americans.

W: Correct. I want Medicare for all Americans.

Weiner wants to destroy the private sector insurance market, which accounts for 15% of the American economy, in order to have government control health-care decisions. At least, as Jazz says, he’s honest … for what that’s worth.

It’s actually worth a lot. I wish we’d see that kind of honesty from the president and congressional leadership.

[Update mid morning]

From the Trojan Horse’s mouth: they plan on a slippery slope. Gee, what a shock.

[Early afternoon update]

More honesty from the left: the history of the “public option“:

Following Edwards’ lead, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton picked up on the public option compromise. So what we have is Jacob Hacker’s policy idea, but largely Hickey and Health Care for America Now’s political strategy. It was a real high-wire act — to convince the single-payer advocates, who were the only engaged health care constituency on the left, that they could live with the public option as a kind of stealth single-payer, thus transferring their energy and enthusiasm to this alternative. It had a very positive political effect: It got all the candidates except Kucinich onto basically the same health reform structure, unlike in 1992, when every Democrat had his or her own gimmick. And the public option/insurance exchange structure was ambitious.

But the downside is that the political process turns out to be as resistant to stealth single-payer as it is to plain-old single-payer. If there is a public plan, it certainly won’t be the kind of deal that could “become the dominant player.” So now this energetic, well-funded group of progressives is fired up to defend something fairly complex and not necessarily essential to health reform. (Or, put another way, there are plenty of bad versions of a public plan.) The symbolic intensity is hard for others to understand. But the intensity is understandable if you recognize that this is what they gave up single-payer for, so they want to win at least that much.

And winning is all that matters to them.

A Farewell To Reader’s Digest

Lileks has some thoughts:

Reader’s Digest was a staple in our house, because Grandma gave it to us every year as a Christmas gift. Until I learned that it was required to make fun of it, I enjoyed every issue. Quizzed myself on the vocabulary test (It pays to increase your word power! Peter Funk was the author, I believe; the name was amusing then, and sounds like a BEFORE part of a Viagra ad now), learned to appreciate the difference at an early age between “Life in These United States” and “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” (Non fiction vs. jokes.) As a hypochondriac from an early age, I avoided “I Am Joe’s Duodenum” or “I Am Joe’s Throbbing Mass of Inevitably Non-Functioning Gristle,” and I never read the Condensed Books. By the time I came along they were mostly expanded articles, running under the “Drama in Real Life(TM)” banner, I think. We had some Condensed Books, which seemed wrong on every possible level, like compressed ice-cream or Star Trek shortened for extra commercials. What would you take out of a book to condense it? Did they just pick characters and subplots and tease them out of the story like a colored thread in a loosely-knit yarn scarf?

We used to have both the magazine and a lot of compressed books at our summer cottage in northern Michigan, and I read them voraciously as a kid. The magazine seemed to go downhill in the past years, though, and I haven’t read one since I turned an adult. I’ll always remember, though Susan Sontag’s speech to her leftist cohorts in 1982, in which she outraged them by rhetorically asking who would have been better informed about the nature of the Soviet Union, and communism in general — readers of The Nation, or of Reader’s Digest? What replaces it today as a purveyor of the truth against ideological lies (not that it itself had done that for many years)? The mainstream media doesn’t seem to think there’s much market for it.

Here are more thoughts on RD, and MBA consultants, from the other McCain.

Cindy Sheehan

…finally wises up:

I asked Sheehan about the fact that the press seems to have lost interest in her and her cause. “It’s strange to me that you mention it,” she said. “I haven’t stopped working. I’ve been protesting every time I can, and it’s not covered. But the one time I did get a lot of coverage was when I protested in front of George Bush’s house in Dallas in June. I don’t know what to make of it. Is the press having a honeymoon with Obama? I know the Left is.”

I think that the glow has worn off for the rest of us, if it was ever there to begin with. And they were never really anti-war — they were just on the other side (in this case, the Democrat side).

No Surprise To Me

Women are more attracted to men who are already taken. This matches up with my own experience that wearing a ring can be a chick magnet. It’s unfair, too, because it creates something like a barrier to entry. Errrr….so to speak.

There’s also this other shocking news:

Other researchers say the study provides interesting insights into mate poaching. “It tells us something about the role of social desirability in mate preference,” says Fhionna Moore of the University of Abertay Dundee, UK, whose own research has shown that richer women are more choosy about mates.

Richer women are more choosy about mates? Who would have guessed?

How do I get money for these kinds of studies? I think I’d like to do a study on whether or not men date women to have sex. Maybe there’s something in the stimulus bill.

[Update a few minutes later]

I would note that this is due to a similar psychology among employers — it’s easier to find a job, and you’re more attractive to them, if you already have one. It gets tougher to get one when you’ve been laid off.

The Power And Danger

…of iconography. Live by the icon, die by the icon.

By the way, I know that some people don’t like to have to watch a video, and would rather read, and I generally am in their camp. But I think that this is a more powerful presentation than it would be if Bill had simply done it in an essay. It’s only eight minutes.

[Update late morning]

I’ve added a clickable graphic as sort of a teaser. I actually think that it would be better with ROFL…

[Bumped]

[Update mid afternoon]

A new Obama logo: line by line.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!