Missing The Point

Over at Popular Mechanics, Erik Sofge says that NASA misses the point with its new video game. Unfortunately, he misses the point himself, setting up the age-old and false dichotomy between humans and robots:

The game serves as an epitaph for what appears to be NASA’s lost decade. The agency failed to stay on time or on budget throughout the life of the Constellation program, its highest and most expensive priority. But while manned spaceflight foundered, unmanned exploration thrived. The modern-day equivalent of Aldrin and Armstrong are Spirit and Opportunity, robotic vehicles that survived years longer than expected on the surface of Mars. The rovers uncovered signs of water, and paved the way for the discovery of actual Martian ice by other intrepid bots.

The success of the rovers—and the increasingly tepid public response to shuttle launches or to the astonishing fact that there is a space station orbiting the planet—has called into question the relevance of astronauts. Moonbase Alpha, in its own small way, only hurts the case for humans in space. If the game featured an all-bot lunar mining facility, players would be spared the burden of gradually, tediously fixing a life-support system. Critical decisions such as whether to carry a wrench or a welder (apparently, NASA doesn’t plan on producing a moon-worthy toolbox by 2025) could be replaced with, say, a simulation of the powerful, spider-like ATHLETE robot’s perilous navigation of craters on the dark side of the moon. Instead of being given control of the array of awe-inspiring bots currently in NASA’s labs, such as the humanoid Robonaut 2, players can deploy toylike rovers whose arms and integrated welders make the astronauts piloting them even more redundant.

Apparently, he suffers from the exploration delusion. If it’s only about exploration, then yes, robots are more cost effective (though not more generally effective). But when you start to say that robots can do it better, it begs the question of what it is that they’re better at. While they can be good helpmates, they are ultimately useless for allowing humans to experience space first hand, and that’s ultimately the real market for human spaceflight, albeit not government human spaceflight. Robots can make it easier for humans to go but they don’t make them superfluous. He also has bought into the popular perception of the new policy:

Even if it was possible to build an astronaut game that’s both exciting and realistic, why bother? It will be more than a decade before humans even attempt another trip outside of Earth’s orbit. If NASA wants to inspire the next generation of astronauts and engineers, its games should focus on the real winners of the space race—the robots.

No one knows when we’ll go beyond earth orbit again, but a decade is a long time. When I see the kind of progress that SpaceX has made in seven years, I’ll be very surprised if there aren’t private trips at least around the moon, if not landing, by 2020. Of course, the new policy makes that more likely than the previous one did, and the previous policy hadn’t a prayer, or even a plan, to meet President Bush’s original VSE goals. And the notion that government ten-year plans are the key to opening up space is one that should have died with Apollo, which wasn’t at all about opening up space. I’ll also say that if robots are really the “winners of the space race,” we’re all losers.

Not Forever

I’m often annoyed by the straw-man argument/complex question (and aren’t all complex questions a form of straw man?) that opponents of life extension toss out: “Why do you want to live forever”?

It’s not about living forever — it’s about living as long as you want to live. Robin Hanson has the same problem.

I can’t say now that I won’t be tired of life in a hundred years or so, but give me a chance to find out. I do suffer from ennui occasionally as I get older, but I think that most of it comes from not feeling as physically good as I did when I was younger, and not having the financial resources to do all the things I’d like to do. Fix those problems, and I might in fact be willing to at least take a trip to Mars, if not a one-way one.

Killing Us Slowly

Why it’s a bad idea to put the government in charge of our nutrition (and health care in general):

According to Scientific American, growing research into carbohydrate-based diets has demonstrated that the medical establishment may have harmed Americans by steering them toward carbs. Research by Meir Stampfer, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, concludes that diets rich in carbohydrates that are quickly digestible—that is, with a high glycemic index, like potatoes, white rice, and white bread—give people an insulin boost that increases the risk of diabetes and makes them far more likely to contract cardiovascular disease than those who eat moderate amounts of meat and fewer carbs. Though federal guidelines now emphasize eating more fiber-rich carbohydrates, which take longer to digest, the incessant message over the last 30 years to substitute carbs for meat appears to have done significant damage. And it doesn’t appear that the government will change its approach this time around. The preliminary recommendations of a panel advising the FDA on the new guidelines urge people to shift to “plant-based” diets and to consume “only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.”

This seems like part of the general war on science. I think that the disastrous FDA food pyramid is driven by a combination of political correctness (it’s evil to use grain to feed cattle when children are starving in India), and corporate lobbying by Big Grain (funded by us, of course, via farm subsidies). But it’s one thing to have FDA recommend things — we can always ignore them if we inform ourselves. Much more troubling is having fascist nannies like Nurse Bloomberg force us to follow their recommendations.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Glenn has a question:

In an age when aggressive government agencies in places like New York City seek a greater hand in shaping Americans’ diets, the next set of guidelines, published later this year, could prove more controversial than usual because increasing scientific evidence suggests that some current federal recommendations have simply been wrong. Will a public-health establishment that has been slow to admit its mistakes over the years acknowledge the new research and shift direction? Or will it stubbornly stick to its obsolete guidelines?

Can we sue them and jail their executives, like we’d do if they were drug companies . . . .?

No, because you see, the drug companies are all about corporate greed and profits, whereas the bureaucrats have nothing in mind but our good health.

The Next Step

…of finding health-care deform unconstitutional:

The ruling represents a setback that will force the Obama administration to mount a lengthy legal defense of the law. The suit, filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (pictured), alleges that the law’s requirement that its residents have health insurance violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Virginia’s lawsuit is one of several trying to undo the health-care law. Another large one was filed in a Florida federal court by a handful of state attorneys general.

In his opinion, Judge Hudson ruled:

The guiding precedent [on the Commerce Clause] is informative but inconclusive. Never before has the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause been extended this far. At this juncture, the court is not persuaded that the Secretary has demonstrated a failure to state a cause of action with respect to the Commerce Clause element.

In other words, off to discovery we head.

If the Commerce Clause allows the federal government to do this, it’s hard to imagine anything that it doesn’t allow it to do, and the days of enumerated powers are over. And of course, that was the point of Jim DeMint’s questioning of Elena Kagan, and why he’s voting against her (as anyone who cares about the Constitution should) — she sees no limits to the power of the federal government.

The Parasite Has Been Growing

…while the host has been losing weight:

[Rasmussen] asked likely voters — his usual sample, which tilts more Republican than all adults — whether increased government spending is good or bad for the economy.

The results were unambiguous. Good for the country? 28 percent. Bad for the country? 52 percent.

He got similar results when he asked whether increasing the federal debt is good or bad for the economy. Likely voters believe it’s bad for the economy by a 56 percent to 17 percent margin.

There is some dissent, from the voters Rasmussen labels the Political Class. These are voters who trust the judgment of America’s political leaders over that of the American people, who do not believe the federal government has become a special interest group and who don’t believe government and big business work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

In other words, they’re the people the New York Times’ David Brooks refers to as “the educated class.” Or those voters in Cambridge and Brookline who stuck with the Democratic nominee in the special Senate election last January.

Around here, we refer to them as the parasitic idiot class. And David Brooks is at the head of the class.

[Update a couple minutes later]

This seems related: thoughts on the academic/industrial complex. I wonder if it will survive the bursting of the academic bubble?

[Update a while later]

Gee, this seems related, too. Electric car subsidies as handouts for the rich.

And thoughts from Roger Simon on the continuing myth of Democrats as the party of the people:

We live in an era — the worst economically since the Depression — when the daughter of the first couple of the Democratic Party has a multi-million dollar, Marie Antoinette-style wedding with port-a-potties almost as luxurious as a toilette in Baden Baden; it’s self-proclaimed environmental leader, the first global warming billionaire, sprouts “green” McMansions from Nashville to Montecito; and its already multi-billionaire senator from Massachusetts moors his yacht in another state to escape taxes we hoi polloi could only dream of paying.

But wait, as they say, there’s more. At this moment, two of their leaders from a supposedly disadvantaged minority are about to be tried for ethical transgressions (read: thievery) even Congress couldn’t sweep under the rug. Never mind that these transgressions mostly exploit the very minority these people purport to represent. It’s part of the game. Convince minorities they should act like victims. Extort guilt payments from the majority and keep the change. Meanwhile, nothing improves for the minority because it would interrupt the system.

They’re the new Bourbons, of whom it was said that they have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing. But I think they’re in for a big lesson this fall.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!