The Hypocrisy Of Senator Shelby

Clark Lindsey points out the difference between the senator’s view of the space industry, and that of other industries. Somehow, I suspect that his views would be (or at least appear to be) more consistent if he were a Senator from some other state. But as is, the disparity is jarring.

[Wednesday morning update]

Here’s more on the latest nonsense from the senator, at the Orlando Sentinel, and Space Politics. Note the comments.

The latest mantra from the Ares defenders is apparently to pick up on Doug Stanley’s comment that the committee didn’t have enough time to properly evaluate it. The response to this, of course, is that if they didn’t, then Doug didn’t have enough time to select it, either, because he had about the same amount of time, if not much less. The Augustine panel worked this for most of the summer. ESAS only took sixty days.


Tigers And Twins

Tied in the bottom of the eighth. Detroit, and Michigan could sure use a win here for morale, given their economic straits.

[Update a few minutes later]

Whooooaa. The Tigers are roaring. Top of the ninth. Men at first and third, no outs, with Polcanco one and one.


Dang. Ordonez must have hit into a double play (I’m just following a game track). It’s the bottom of the ninth, still tied. The pressure is on the Detroit pitcher to keep the game going.

[Update a few minutes later]

Well, the pitcher(s) (they made a change in the inning) did their job. It’s the top of the tenth.

If the Tigers lose this, Ordonez, despite the fact that he got them here, will be the goat. It was theirs to win in the ninth, and they choked.


OK, Detroit got a run in the top of the tenth, breaking the tie. Now it’s all up to the defense. Unfortunately, the Twins got a triple in the first at bat…


Well, they’re tied again, with runners at first and third, with one out. The Twins may be about to put the Tigers out of their, and our, misery.


Well, Detroit keeps it alive, and gets out of the inning.


Top of the twelfth, and the Tigers have the base loaded, with one out. If they can’t win now, they don’t deserve to.

[A few minutes later]

Bases loaded, and once again, they stranded everyone. And I can’t find TBS on DirecTV.

[A few miutes later]

OK, I found TBS on channel 247, but contrary to reports, it’s not showing the game.

[late update]

Well, it looks like Detroit played true to form, and let the Twins have it in the bottom of the twelfth, by a run. At least fans don’t have to torture themselves figuring out how they’ll screw up next.

The Ends Of Life

National Review has come out with an editorial against a recent editorial in Nature, advocating a change in the legal standards of death to facilitate organ donation. While I agree that we should be very careful in doing so, and I also agree that this could actually reduce the number of people willing to donate, I disagree that it’s not worth discussing, or considering, as the NR editors believe. Here’s the key point that I think both sides miss:

The editorial asserts that current law misunderstands death as an event rather than a process — which hardly justifies refusing to wait until the process is over. This argument merely puts a “scientific” gloss on a value judgment. Nature argues further that current law supposedly pushes doctors to lie about when death has occurred to get organs. But it is the utilitarian, parts-is-parts attitude toward human life that pushes some doctors this way, and that this proposal exemplifies.

…The editorial concludes that “concerns about the legal details of declaring death in someone who will never again be the person he or she was should be weighed against the value of giving a full and healthy life to someone who will die without a transplant.” Whether someone is actually dead is not a “legal detail.”

The problem is that death is a process that the law doesn’t recognize and that yes, whether someone is actually dead (at least in conventional terms) really is a legal detail (for instance, it varies from state to state — what is legally “dead” in CA may not be in NY). This is the problem that cryonicists have had for decades, except in their case, they want to donate their own organs to their future selves, and thus they tend to have a self interest in getting a legal declaration of death as soon as possible, even if not clinically dead.

As I wrote years ago during the Ted Williams controversy (one that has, unlike Ted himself, become recently resurrected in a macabre way):

The popular and conventional view of death is that it’s a discrete condition; now you’re living — now you’re dead. The weary declaration of the sawbones is just a formality — we all know from the movies that when the bad guy has been shot down violently, screaming or groaning, or breathed his last, he’s dead, or when the heroine gently closes her eyes, she’s gone to a better place, never to return.

But real life, and death, is a bit more complicated than that. It is not an objective, scientific condition, but a legal one, declared by a doctor or coroner. It’s like baseball. A ball thrown over the plate is not a ball or a strike until the umpire calls it.

The reality is that life and death are not binary states — from one to the other is a gradual transition. Rather than an instantaneous transformation from living to resting eternally, the body gradually shuts the plant doors and turns out the lights, one by one. Cells die individually, and the rhythm of life slows steadily to a halt.

But even that halt can be restarted with defibrillators and enthusiastic inflation of lungs with oxygen. In fact, modern hypothermic surgical techniques take a patient into what most would think a state of death (no heartbeat, flat-lined electro-encephalogram, no respiration) and then return them to life. In fact, during the properly performed cryonic suspension, such resuscitation is done (after a legal declaration of death), though under deep anaesthesia, to allow proper circulation of the cryoprotectant fluids throughout the body and particularly to the brain.

There’s no point at which we can objectively and scientifically say, “now the patient is dead — there is no return from this state,” because as we understand more about human physiology, and experience more instances of extreme conditions of human experiences, we discover that a condition we once thought was beyond hope can routinely be recovered to a full and vibrant existence.

Death is thus not an absolute, but a relative state, and appropriate medical treatment is a function of current medical knowledge and available resources. What constituted more-than-sufficient grounds for declaration of death in the past might today mean the use of heroic, or even routine, medical procedures for resuscitation. Even today, someone who suffers a massive cardiac infarction in the remote jungles of Bolivia might be declared dead, because no means is readily available to treat him, whereas the same patient a couple blocks from Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills might be transported to the cardiac intensive-care unit, and live many years more.

So it’s not as clean cut as the NR editors might like it to be. Doctors have to make a decision in order to save lives, and sometimes they have to confront ugly choices about which life to save, in a real-life lifeboat dilemma. There is only one death that is real and irreversible, and that is (as I describe at the link) information death (and some people think even that may be ultimately overcome through quantum mechanical dervishes of one sort or another). If we’re going to have a useful ethical discussion on this issue, we have to come to terms and some kind of agreement on basic assumptions, not about when death occurs per se, which will always be somewhat arbitrary, but when we can consider someone available to be a donor. It’s not a pleasant conversation, but it’s a necessary one, unless and until the NR editors can come up with a better and more objective definition of their own.

The Olympics Fiasco

Did the president learn anything from it? It doesn’t seem so. In some matters, he’s a very slow student.

As Bill Whittle notes, this is pretty good evidence that these con artists (as with the famous quote about the Bourbons) have both forgotten , and learned nothing. As a commenter over there says, it is sort of entertaining, in a tragic way, to once again be alive in an era in which the country is run by clowns.

Just In Case You’re In A Boycotting Mood

Here’s a list of projects in which Hollywood people who have defended the child rapist are currently involved.

Of course, I’ve been boycotting Hollywood for years, but not necessarily for political reasons — I just don’t find the cost or time worth going out to the movies for most Hollywood products. If I were dating, of course (as I haven’t for years), I might feel differently. But probably not. I’m creative enough to find other things to do on a date.

Translating Doug Stanley

Ray, over at VSE Restoration, provides the subtitles:

Once the White House embraces a direction for U.S. human spaceflight, Stanley said NASA should then be allowed to conduct a thorough architecture study to include apples-to-apples comparisons of the cost, safety and risk of the Augustine panel’s options, as well as alternative scenarios the panel might not have considered.

May I use my cynical filter to translate?

Once the White House embraces one of the Augustine committee options, NASA human spaceflight management should then be allowed to do an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the Augustine committee options, as well as alternative options the panel might not have considered that happen to serve NASA interests really well. They should then be allowed to discard the selected Augustine option, and pick one that benefits certain portions of NASA rather than the people of the United States.

In addition, Stanley urged that NASA be allowed to determine the true cost and risk of commercial crew transport in low Earth orbit.

In other words, NASA should be allowed to ignore the potential of commercial crew transport in low Earth orbit, and instead continue to buy crew transport services from Russia while NASA spends decades and tens of billions of dollars to build a government-designed and government-operated crew transport “business” to compete with U.S. commercial space business, but that does nothing to address national needs like security and commerce.

There is no need for a NASA evaluation of “the true cost and risk of commercial crew transport in low Earth orbit”. We already know that such a generic NASA evaluation of “commercial crew transport” is sure to conclude that a NASA-designed and NASA-operated crew transportation system is by far safer, simpler, sooner, better, faster, and cheaper than any imaginable commercial crew transportation. Why even bother with the evaluation when you know its conclusion in advance?

Obviously, Dr. Stanley has a lot of ego (if not a lot else) invested in this mess, and it’s understandable that he’d want to do everything he can to preserve the status quo that he created. But if I were General Bolden, I wouldn’t let any of Mike Griffin’s former minions anywhere near evaluation or policy going forward.

[Update mid morning]

Speaking of Doug Stanley, he was one of the speakers at a half-day symposium on the Augustine results, held at the Space Policy Institute a week ago. Dwayne Day has an interesting report in today’s issue of The Space Review.

I’m struggling to understand the logic here:

According to Stanley, the architecture that emerged from ESAS was the result of a number of assumptions they made when they started their evaluation. Had some of those assumptions been different, their architectural design would have been substantially different. As an example, if the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV, now named Orion) had not been required to go to the International Space Station, then they would have produced a requirement for only a single launch vehicle rather than the Ares 1 and Ares 5 combination that they ultimately produced. On the other hand, if the requirement had only been for the CEV to go to the International Space Station, they would have selected an EELV (i.e. the Atlas or Delta). Stanley said that now that the assumptions have changed, it was entirely legitimate to question if NASA was developing the right architecture.

So, he’s saying that the concerns about “human rating EELVs” were bogus? That it was safe enough to send crew to ISS, but not to LEO on the way to the moon? And that if they were only going to the moon, they would have gone with a Saturn V-like architecture? But doesn’t that violate the (dumb) rule about not mixing crew and cargo? I’d like to see an elaboration on this.

I found Tom Young’s comments quite tendentious (that’s the nicest word I can come up with off the top of my head):

Young connected those past efforts at acquisition reform to what he considers the current claims that commercial crew is the way to substantially decrease costs to the government. “There is no magic,” he warned. “When someone comes along and says ‘I’ve got this new magic solution,’ my advice is to run for the hills.”

I’m aware of no one who proposes a “magic” solution. I am aware of a number of people who have proposed solutions based on solid engineering, and not driven or constrained by the need to maximize employment in Huntsville and other places. Now it may be that it requires political magic to make that happen, but if that’s the case, we should be honest and say that, instead of setting up straw men and denigrating people who propose it as technical and accounting charlatans.

Young took several questions that were focused upon his remarks about the lack of a credible commercial crew-to-orbit industry. How can such an industry become credible without government supporting it? “You really have to be careful about what you mean by ‘commercial’,” Young replied. “You cannot have government provide 100% of the funding and do no close monitoring.” The only way to do it is to put private money at risk. “The private sector invests in providing a service that somebody comes along and buys. I don’t see an industry that is investing the capital that is necessary, and to the extent. I’m also skeptical of providers where there is only one market.”

First, no one has proposed that government provide 100% of the funding for COTS-D or commercial exploration. Nor have they proposed that there be no government oversight. But the government oversight in this case comes from the fact that progress payments are based on achieved milestones, rather than cost plus profit. My mind is continuously blown by people who don’t seem to understand this concept, and think that the latter provides better value to the taxpayer than the former. As for not seeing an industry investing what is necessary, he needs to take off his blinders. Elon Musk and his other investors will be very surprised to hear that they haven’t been investing what is necessary. And the notion that there is only one market (as another panelist said as well) is nonsense on stilts. What is Bob Bigelow? And ISS? Not to mention Space Adventures? Chopped liver?

There’s a lot more to comment on from the other panelists, but that’s all I have time for right now.

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