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« A Clash Of Religions | Main | Heal...Heal! »

The Ignorance We Fight

I found a dumb letter to the editor in my new hometown paper this morning (scroll down):

Use money for space travel to develop alternate fuels

Commercial space travel is a dubious and dangerous prospect for mankind ("Private rocket wins $10 million prize," Oct. 5). It is bad enough that governments are devoting scarce resources to space travel while there should be an intensive program to develop nonpolluting energy sources. All would benefit if a replacement were found for nonrenewable fuels.

Commercial space travel as well as governmental space programs will benefit only the very few and the very rich. Each venture pollutes and helps to destroy the upper layers of Earth's protective atmosphere. The few who will partake in space travel will leave the rest of God's creation choking on rocket fumes.


Royal Palm Beach

Even ignoring the scientific ignorance about "rocket fumes" (it's quite possible and even likely that most rocket exhaust in the future will be di-hydrogen monoxide, or a combination of that and CO2), the good rabbi manages to combine the fallacy of false choice (the notion that money not spent on space will be spent on alternative fuels, particularly absurd in the case of private space travel), ignorance of economics (all innovations initially benefit the wealthy, who provide the initial markets needed to drive down the price to those less so), and the mistaken notion that there will be "few" going into space, and that there is no benefit to anyone doing so.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 12, 2004 09:02 AM
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Maybe the good rabbi would support rockets propelled by alternate fuels? Ethyl and furfuryl alcohols are derived from biomass, for example, as is the fairly energetic hydrocarbon limonene (and the fumes from the latter are sufficiently pleasant to be used in air fresheners and 'green' floor cleaners.) And, of course, hydrogen can be 'renewable' (although the hydrogen used in rockets currently isn't.) For that matter, hydrocarbons can be synthesized from CO + H2 (Fischer-Tropsch) and the syngas for that can be derived from gasified biomass.

Technical solutions to political or philosophical problems aren't always (or often?) a good idea, but maybe asking Goldstein about these possibilities would make him think things through more carefully.

Posted by Paul Dietz at October 12, 2004 09:33 AM

don't dismiss the dangers of di-hydrogen monoxide. my teenage son and one of his pals spent one fine day walking the streets of Blacksburg collecting signatures on a petition to ban the substance. they got 300 signatures. one lady was so moved by their pitch that she teared up as she signed the petition. this in a town known for its Polytechnic Institute and State University with some 25,000 students. yep, dangerous stuff.

Posted by chris at October 12, 2004 09:40 AM

Not DHMO! You mean we've been putting that killer into our atmosphere with most of our launches? How DARE we!

We should immediately restrict all spaceflight by all parties, to prevent the further contamination of space with DHMO. I submit that a treaty should be put forth at the UN to enforce an international ban on DHMO release in space.

Posted by Big D at October 12, 2004 09:42 AM

Perhaps the Rabbi, since he is most likely a fairly jesuitical debater of theoretical points, would appreciate the fact that his terms are so poorly-defined that his advice is meaningless?

Id est, what would a "nonpolluting energy source" be? Perhaps we can all agree on human muscle power, but otherwise mules shit, coal brings black lung and smokestack fly ash -- more carcinogenic than Agent Orange -- oil and gas and ethanol and any other combustion fuel brings NOx and global warming, nukes bring tricky disposal issues for long-lived isotopes, wind farms wipe out birds, solar must be collected with pure silicon, expensive and polluting to manufacture . .and we can go on and on.

Practical economics is always a choice among alternatives, of which there is almost never a cost-free alternative. Practical sound government largely consists of leaving these choices to the aggregate wisdom of the people, not asking a Politburo to impose them. (The Rabbi could usefully reflect on the Soviet record on the environment, which resulted not from any failure to wish the environment well, but merely from the incompetence of any central authority to fully predict the consequences of national-scale environmental decisions.)

However, in his defense, we might assume the Rabbi lives in a world in which a benevolent all-knowing authority directs all our lives for our ultimate good. In his view, we can still ask Our Father to make the right choice and impose it on our brother and sisters.

It's sad his world isn't real.

Posted by Carl Pham at October 12, 2004 09:53 AM


Now you now why I call Blacksburg the Berkley of SWVa.

Tell me Chris, do the Hippie protesters still gather round the Post Office down there?

Yep, all the dihydrogen monoxide is really wrecking the New River.

I am hoping to get down to Eggleston and dive the Whirl Hole before it gets too cold.
More damn big catfish than you have ever seen in one place and Muskies the size of small cudas! A 74ft deep natural section in the river. A most unique geological feature. The cold should have killed off the algal bloom by now and hopefully the vis is in the 20+ foot range.

Posted by Mike Puckett at October 12, 2004 09:53 AM


At least you can be proud of the guy who wrote the letter taking them to task on the Assault Weapons Ban.

Posted by Mike Puckett at October 12, 2004 09:56 AM

Earth is "The rest of God's creation" to this man.

Doesn't that sound like it should be in the lower post where gravity ends 20 miles up?

Posted by Al at October 12, 2004 10:09 AM

I have had to deal with religious zealots who use the "If God had wanted man to fly, he owuld have given himg wings".

Admittedly, I am somewhat religous (up to but stopping at the point of shoving it down someone else's throat) and versed enough in the Bible to generally hold my own with them.

I conunter: "If God hadn't wanted man to walk on the Moon, he would have given Verner Von Braun a heart attack!"

Anopther good One is to ask them if God would have gave them wheels and an internal combustion engine if he wanted them to drive to Church.

Part of this I think is simply an expression of the tendency to condemn what we don't understand.

I think it a selfish tendency that at its sub-conscious root is a desire to prevent someone else from obtaining a capability/advantage they themselves cannot hope to master/obtain for themselves.

Much like hoplophobia, or the fear of firearms. This is related to the fact that some people resent others having an advantage they cannot obtain or feel compelled to master tehmselves so they wish to bring everyone else down to their level of mediocracty.

Please Rabbi, leave God out of this. If he hadn't wanted us to colonize space, he wouldn't have made so doggone much of it.

Posted by Mike Puckett at October 12, 2004 10:25 AM

Gee, thanks Rand. I haven't had a good eye-bleeding in a while...

Posted by J. Craig Beasley at October 12, 2004 10:28 AM

A rabbi? This sounded like an unepmloyed high school dropout.

Posted by B.Brewer at October 12, 2004 11:06 AM

Chris, I think Penn & Teller and maybe Bureaucrash have gotten signatures to ban that darned di-hydrogen monoxide, too (Corporations bottle and sell it to people! To drink! Aiiiieeeee!)--I wonder how many unique names they came up with? Maybe I'll get such a ban placed on the ballot in Florida. Like every other initiative here, I'm sure it'll pass.

God forbid that rich people do something before the rest of us can. Why space is used as another battleground in the war between the classes is beyond me. It's not like private space travel will be any different than any other new technology. For instance, my brother just bought a DVD burner. It wasn't more than a few years ago that it would've cost him thousands of dollars. Ditto digital cameras, flying, flatscreen TVs, etc., etc., etc.

Posted by Pro Libertate at October 12, 2004 11:20 AM

leave God out of this. If he hadn't wanted us to colonize space, he wouldn't have made so doggone much of it.
LOL, Mike.

Good one! I'm stealing it. :-D

Oh, yeah, and Rabbi - get a life. And a clue. Yeesh.

Posted by Barbara Skolaut at October 12, 2004 12:23 PM

Heavens, it really didn't take long for the issue of Space Travel for the Rich to reach our shores. I predict John Edwards will speak to it next (g).

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at October 12, 2004 12:31 PM

I'm a Christian, as were many of the first Astronauts (remember the Christmas '68 Bible reading from the moon?).

My attitude is that if "The heavens declare God's handiwork" as it says in the Bible, it is our duty to go check it out.

Posted by M1A1 at October 12, 2004 01:48 PM

Mike Puckett

"Please Rabbi, leave God out of this. If he hadn't wanted us to colonize space, he wouldn't have made so doggone much of it."

In fairness to Rabbi Goldstein, he railed against government spending and rocket fumes destroying the atmostphere, not the easily disproved "God Doesn't Like It" arguement.

Posted by Brian at October 12, 2004 01:49 PM

One thing I have noticed is that no one has pointed out that most of the real technological innovations in the last fifty years have come from our exploration of space. Name one innovation that cannot be linked to space. Fuel cells? batteries with longer lifespans? How about more efficient engines? If space travel now can bring about a change in the fuels used tomorrow, that would be a good thing I think.

Posted by Randy Wright at October 13, 2004 03:00 AM

Randy: no one has pointed that out because it isn't true. You are confusing 'space has applied technology X' or 'space has made improvements to technology X' with 'technology X comes from the space program'.

Posted by Paul Dietz at October 13, 2004 05:54 AM

You folks ALL forgot that money is a zero sum game. We cannot create new wealth, we have only the amount of wealth that OGG and his wife Oggette had when they left the cave and began to plant wheat. WAY back there in the Tigris Valley. If you have a dollar in your pocket, it's based in the three clam shells and two wart hog hooves Ogg had in his pouch. Those 5 items make up the sole source of currency, worldwide, as we know it.

So money spent on that darned silly space stuff is "wasted".

What we need is the next prize!! The "X" Prize is done. I will pay $6.87 for the "WHY" prize. Answer the simple question, "WHY" do the leftists continue to blame Mr Bush and Haliburton about the price of oil, and still refuse to let us drill for or refine oil here at home. The Prize will be paid when someone proves that the leftist tree huggers are actually anti-technology morons, who at best are ludites and at worst are at least as power hungry as the Taliban. The prize winner must also prove that the leftist morons really want us to return to Ogg's cave so the world will be safe for all the littel bunnies and red peckered pond newts. The prize wil have an addendum amount if and only if the proofs include internal ABC abd CBS memoes signed by Dan Rather and Mark Helperin. The addendum amount is $.13 bringing the total amount of the "WHY" prize to a whopping $7.00 or one quarter of a wart hog hoof.

Posted by Steve at October 13, 2004 07:48 AM

The Bible tells us to make the desert bloom. Mars is a desert.


Hmm renewable fuel sources only. . .hmm. . .

Timberwind using a breeder reactor? ;-)

Posted by at October 13, 2004 11:18 AM

Rabbi Goldstein is an idiot.

He is confusing public financial resources (i.e. tax payer's money) with private financial resources. As far as I know, all of the participants in the X-prize as well as the X-prize money itself, was all private capital.

Posted by Kurt at October 13, 2004 02:10 PM

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