Category Archives: Philosophy

Rutan and Safety

Rutan said anyone offering spacecraft for commercial service should demonstrate their confidence in the system’s safety by having their children be among the first fliers, as Branson has said he will do.

Spaceship guru roasts his rivals,” Alan Boyle,

Should cigarette makers force their children to smoke or withdraw their product? Should parachute makers force their children to skydive or withdraw their product?

This does not follow. People afraid of heights should be allowed to sell bungee jumping supplies without personally testing them. The deathly afraid maker might design better equipment than a fearless one. Makers of hazardous products do not have to partake and may be sending a clearer message if they don’t. That does not mean their product should be shunned.

It is ironic that Virgin Galactic will be required to disclose its product is quite risky. It will require flying thousands of times before showing a spacecraft is as safe as a military jet. Very little is learned from a single draw on a distribution. 98% of shuttle astronauts returned. All that Branson and his family flying prove by flying is that they are risk takers, not that his craft is safe. It is a greater disservice to create a false impression of safety than to put a product on the market where hazards are fully disclosed and no effort is made to express false confidence.

Rutan’s sentiment is a throwback to medieval food testers to test for poison. He is not alone–Transportation Safety Administration required people to take a drink of liquids they were carrying (at least in Austin). Weird.

We will have a choice of vendors for spaceflight. Some of them will fly the owners first. Some of them will fly with a pilot and others will be remotely operated from the ground.

Would customers like me to raise the price of an entry so I can fly personally before the first winner?

Mazel Tov

For those lacking patience, I give you the two-minute Haggadah.

Speaking of children: We hid some matzoh. Whoever finds it gets five bucks.

The story of Passover: It’s a long time ago. We’re slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren’t so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again. (Let brisket cool now.)

Happy Passover.

[via Joe Katzman]

No Surprise

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don’t enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Moya (Farscape)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

There’s a problem with the quiz, though (as there often are with these things).

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer the very first question:

“Peace is achieved through large single government rule (agree, disagree).

Well, I agree that this is certainly a way to achieve peace, but there seems to be a presumption to this (or at least an implication) that peace is an unalloyed good. As some anti-war types are fond of pointing out, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was largely at peace (if you don’t count the random murders and torture that he occasioned on his own people), but it was hardly a desirable state. So I answered yes, but I’m not sure how that answer was interpreted by the test creators.

Also, interestingly, I see that when I go back to look at the quiz, the order of the questions is different. They must randomize it.

[Via Alan Henderson]

[Late morning update]

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that the “peace” question lowered my Firefly score. I think that whoever wrote the question did assume that a) peace is a desirable thing, per se and b) everyone would agree with that–the only issue is how it’s best achieved. What’s the flip side of that question? “Peace is achieved through multiple government rule?” “Peace is achieved through minimalist government?” “Peace is achieved through a well-armed citizenry?” This was a really unuseful question, as posed.

If Current Trends Continue

In researching The Tragedy of the Commons, reading Freeman Dyson’s autobiography Disturbing the Universe, and checking out today’s NY Times (subscription required–at least intermittently), I reached the following epiphany. If current trends continue, the world will either be empty or full. We will each live forever or die out because our life expectancy will go to zero. The Tragedy of the Commons was coined back in 1833 by Malthusians. Dyson quipped, “we all thought that energy was going to run out in 1937” and today’s Friedman column worries that social security and medicare will eat up all the budget.

I think that it is good to have social security eat up the budget. As people start to live forever, the only way to get them to cede the good jobs is to offer them a life of leisure. Inflation will take care of any pesky budget infinities. With the right subsidies, the federal budget can be hundreds of percent of GDP. You have to recycle the subsidy dollar and tax it back multiple times per year. That brings up another thing. Taxes will either go to infinity or zero (or maybe negative infinity).

In Joe Haldeman’s Late Twentieth, society has to deal with immortality. I think that there won’t be a radical shift like he extrapolates. If you think of age as a percent of life expectancy, long lives are the same as short ones. Even with clinical immortality, there are always accidents and violence (as he proves in Forever Peace). But suppose we achieve RAID integrity and deaths could hit zero for a good length of time. If trends continued, to update Keynes, in the long run, we will all be dead–or alive.


A “knee-jerk militant agnostic“?

If someone is of sufficiently strong opinion on a matter to be militant or knee jerk about it, it’s hard to imagine that they’re “agnostic.”

In any event, as a skeptic, I can’t imagine being upset about Narnia (which I’d actually like to see, based on reviews). Or the Passion of the Christ, for that matter, though I’ve no intention of seeing it. I wasn’t even bothered by the gay shepherd movie, though I’ve no intention of seeing that, either. I was simply amused by the utterly predictable media reaction to it, in which if it isn’t a box-office success, it’s because we’re all homophobes, and if it is, it means that the nation is now all-accepting of gays, and ready to metaphorically walk down the aisle with them, sexuality notwithstanding.

A Tale Of Two Cities

Considering it’s a “shall-issue” state, I’m thinking there’s going to be a lot less looting in Texas than there was in New Orleans. Assuming that both hurricanes are equally destructive, this provides an opportunity for a controlled social experiment.