Category Archives: Social Commentary

Going Paleo

Here’s an article on a retro diet.

My problem with this isn’t the diet per se (though I do like me them carbs) as the need for exercise. I read somewhere recently that there were huge health benefits to walking five miles a day. I can believe it, but who has the time? The only way I can imagine doing that is if I raised my desk and worked from a treadmill instead of a chair.

The thing that I find most irritating about the criticism (as well as in the health-care debate) is the declaration of life expectancy as a useful parameter. I don’t know what the life expectancy of paleolithic people was, but I’ll bet that diet was not a big factor in determining it. It’s important to understand that average life expectancy isn’t the age at which most people die. If it really was thirty, it was likely due to a) high infant mortality and b) a very violent lifestyle, in which the men were likely to be killed either hunting or fighting other humans, at a fairly young age. I suspect that if you manage to become an “elder” (i.e., someone in your thirties) you’d live a long time.

The Day Has Arrived

Time for solidarity in defense of enlightenment values.

Brendan O’Neill says, though, that we’re missing the real point — that the real cultural enemy isn’t extremist Islam, but the multiculturalists within. But Nick Gillespie explains why it’s important nonetheless. And Mark Steyn has more thoughts.

[Update a few minutes later]

People will see what they want to see.

[Update a while later]

Who decides
what is provocative?

How Much Does Safety Cost?

And how much should it cost? Over at my Pajamas Media piece this weekend, frequent TTM commenter “bbbeard” comments:

SpaceX has a launch record of 3 complete failures and two successes. What is disturbing about the SpaceX failures is that they hinged on relatively major oversights. Take the Demo2 flight, for example. SpaceX’s post-flight analysis showed that incorrect propellant utilization parameters were uploaded into the engine computer, a textbook case of sloppy configuration control. There was a recontact during staging, which initiated a slosh event — that was not mitigated because the LOX tank had no baffles. These are the kind of rookie mistakes that get you labeled as a “hobbyist”. It will take more than two successful flights to show that Elon Musk’s company has outgrown its hobbyist mentality and is ready to tackle human spaceflight.

Safety is the elephant in the foyer that you have not addressed. STS has suffered two launch failures in 132 missions (counting Columbia’s foam strike as a launch failure) — and what no one in NewSpace seems able to admit is that that loss rate is unacceptable. You can deny all you want that NASA is up to the job of designing a vehicle significantly safer than STS, but it is a fact that Ares is being designed to tough and unprecedented requirements for loss of crew rates — and Atlas and Delta never were. You claim Atlas has an “unbroken string of many dozens of successful flights” but by my count only 20 of the 21 flights of Atlas V have been successful — and that is an unacceptable loss rate. Only 2 out 3 Delta IV-Heavy flights have been successful — and that is an unacceptable loss rate.

Unlike SpaceX, the engineers at Boeing and Lockheed are the best in the business. But they were never directed to make Atlas and Delta reliable enough for human spaceflight. Using those platforms as human launch vehicles would be a step backward from STS safety levels, which are already unacceptably high.

What your argument boils down to is that you, Rand Simberg, think that the extra reliability that Ares aspires to is not worth the price tag. You may be right, you may be wrong. But why won’t you explain that that is your argument, instead of simplistically blaming NASA for poor cost control?

Man, there’s a lot to unpack there. I don’t know if I have time to deal with it right now, but let me at least lay out the issues. One is what an “acceptable” level of safety is (particularly relative to the reliability required to deliver a satellite worth a billion dollars). Another is how it is achieved. A third is how much it should cost to do so. A fourth is how much someone who had pretty much the same experience as other “professionals” in developing rockets for the first time can be said to be a “hobbyist.” (I would note as an aside that I don’t intrinsically accept “hobbyist” and “amateur” as pejoratives vis a vis “professionals” — many amateurs and hobbyists can be better than professionals — they just don’t choose to do it for a living. Space historian Henry Spencer comes to mind. I don’t think that there is anyone on the planet who is more familiar with both space history and space technology than Henry, but it’s not his day job.)

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out how to earn a living myself, so have at it in comments for now. I may weigh in later.

Payton Comes Around

Remember a few weeks ago, when the Ares huggers were seizing on comments by Gary Payton that cancelling Ares would double costs for the Pentagon’s solid motors? It never made any economic sense, but it was used as cudgel, however dull, in the battle over the new policy. Well now he’s saying that not only will the effect be trivial, but that it actually benefits the DoD to have more users of the EELVs:

Q. What does the cancellation of Constellation mean for the Air Force?

A. If there are increases to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) annual launch rate, that’s a good sign. Right now, we have a plan for United Launch Alliance to do eight launches a year, notionally five for the Air Force, two for the National Reconnaissance Office and one for NASA. So if we can increase that one for NASA up to two or three per year, that would be great for everybody, because we would be buying more rocket engines per year and flying more rockets per year, and that helps with the proficiency of the launch crews…

Q. Are you concerned about the Constellation decision’s impact on the solid-rocket motor industrial base?

A. We’ve come to find out that it has a trivial impact on space launch because we don’t use the big 3½-meter segmented solids on our EELVs; we use solids that are about 1½ meters in diameter.

Well, pardon me, but DUH.

I could never understand why the Pentagon went along with Constellation in the first place.

[Via Parabolic Arc]


…that is of no interest:

Stroilov claims that his documents “tell a completely new story about the end of the Cold War. The commonly accepted version of history of that period consists of myths almost entirely. These documents are capable of ruining each of those myths.” Is this so? I couldn’t say. I don’t read Russian. Of Stroilov’s documents, I have seen only the few that have been translated into English. Certainly, they shouldn’t be taken at face value; they were, after all, written by Communists. But the possibility that Stroilov is right should surely compel keen curiosity.

For instance, the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded. In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR’s downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983—a crime that was not only monstrous but brought the world very near to nuclear Armageddon. These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:

Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.

Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?

And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending Soviet troops’ April 9, 1989, massacre of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.

Stroilov’s documents also contain transcripts of Gorbachev’s discussions with many Middle Eastern leaders. These suggest interesting connections between Soviet policy and contemporary trends in Russian foreign policy. Here is a fragment from a conversation reported to have taken place with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad on April 28, 1990:

H. ASSAD. To put pressure on Israel, Baghdad would need to get closer to Damascus, because Iraq has no common borders with Israel. . . .

M. S. GORBACHEV. I think so, too. . . .

H. ASSAD. Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.

M. S. GORBACHEV. But this is racism, combined with Messianism!

H. ASSAD. This is the most dangerous form of racism.

One doesn’t need to be a fantasist to wonder whether these discussions might be relevant to our understanding of contemporary Russian policy in a region of some enduring strategic significance.

As she points out, there should be at least as much opprobrium for defending, or being associated with communists as there is with Nazis. They did, after all, murder many more people. Instead, their fellow travelers continue to travel freely in academia, and pollute the minds of our youth. And as the documents show, they continue to run Europe as well.

[Update a few minutes later]

I hadn’t read the whole thing when I first posted this. Here is another gem:

And what of Zagladin’s description of his dealings with our own current vice president in 1979?

Unofficially, [Senator Joseph] Biden and [Senator Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for “human rights.” . . . In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.

Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden’s political opponents didn’t try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.

You should really read the whole thing.

Reinforcing Racism

Some disturbing, but not surprising (at least to me) counterproductive results:

Chatman attributes the low climate scores in area and ethnic studies precisely to the instruction students receive in those classes. “Students in area and ethnic studies should have learned to recognize prejudicial communication and should be more sensitive to communication that might be prejudicial,” he writes. Whereas a math student might hear a remark and think nothing of it, an African American Studies student might discern prejudice and stereotyping. Does this mean that students in area and ethnic studies are more perceptive and accurate in their assessment of campus climate, or have they acquired in their classes a “warped lens” (Chatman’s term) that sees social life in overdone racial categories? Chatman even draws a logical possibility that might appall area and ethnic studies instruction, that is, that the climate in those fields is a lot worse than it is in engineering classes and labs. One wonders how area and ethnic studies professors would feel if they were ordered to undergo diversity sensitivity sessions themselves to try to straighten out their problems.

One suspects they wouldn’t take it well. I’ve got a better idea. Don’t guarantee student loans for anyone majoring in this crapola (along with degrees in “education”), and watch it dry up and blow away.