Manned Space Flight Pavlovian Reaction: Pet Peeve Knee-jerk Triggered!

Over on the inestimable Fr. Z blog, the topic of funding NASA for manned space exploration came up. I opined:

We’ve learned more, by far, from unmanned exploration, particularly the Hubble and the planetary probes, than we’ve ever learned from manned space exploration, on both a total and bang-for-the-buck basis. If you want science, fund unmanned space projects. If you want to indulge your dreams of SciFi space fantasies, then fund manned exploration – but the Enterprise is not going to be beaming anybody up any time soon.

One of the most tempting errors regarding technology is the assumption that solutions to any problem are just a matter of time. Back in the day,  Buckminster Fuller, a prime victim of this sort of thinking, predicted that we’d be traveling faster than light by now – because, you see, if you plot the top speed at which people travel over time, you’ll see this exponential hockey-stick: in 1700, we could go maybe 40 mph on a fast horse; by 1850, maybe 100 mph on a fast train; by 1950, 600 mph in a jet; by 1970, thousands of mph in a rocket – well, plot that out, and by 2000, you’re at warp factor 5 or so.

Didn’t happen, and doesn’t show any signs of happening. We may not get faster, or cheaper. We may not figure out how to keep people alive on long trips or alien planets – at least, not any time soon. Throwing money at it may not make it happen. We need more than blind hope and space cowboy dreams. Do the hard science first.

Given the above reality-check, meaningful manned exploration of even our own solar system will require planetary-level resources – it’s an estimated $trillion to get a couple guys to Mars, and that’s the kind of estimate a sane man would triple. And that’s just a brief trip to Mars, no colonies or anything.  “We” can afford meaningful manned exploration only if “we” means all or most of the industrialized nations acting together.  Would that be a good thing?

Sure, I’d love it if people were rocketing around in space, colonizing planets, and in general living out our Star Trek fantasies – but I’d like a LOT more data on how we intend to do it. For example, people speak of colonizing Mars. Let’s take a look at that:

The Trip: can we keep a large enough group of people alive and healthy for the many months, possibly years, in space it will take to get them to Mars? This is unknown – there’s radiation, there’s bone and muscle loss, there’s psychological stress. Sky Lab, ISS, moon trips – these are nice, but they don’t really answer the question. But, assuming we could –

Living on Mars: keep in mind that the bottom of the ocean and the South Pole are both far, far more habitable and inviting for people than Mars – so, just for a test run, why don’t we build a self-sustaining colony in one of those places? Y’all remember Biosphere 2? How about we get something like that to work, first off, then replicate it in a harsh environment, then run it  for a couple decades without inputs from outside? Once that’s been done, *then* let’s talk about building colonies on Mars….

Cost: it cost a couple hundred million dollars to run the Biosphere 2 experiment in the incredibly friendly environment of Tuscon, where you could drive a semi right on up to the building if you needed anything at any point, most noticeably during construction – and it failed! Now, add the little problems of 1) incredibly more harsh an environment; 2) incredibly farther away; and 3) incredibly harder to get to. Soooo – how much will it cost? How about a rough estimate of a hundred gazillion dollars… Point: nobody knows, and I don’t think anyone can even plausibly guess. A LOT, is all I’m saying.

Hate being a wet blanket – I really love the *idea* of zooming around in space. It’s just that the reality is rather discouraging, and should not be ignored by gung-ho fan club.


More Thoughts On College

Here, at First Thoughts, is this link, to an article about the coming collapse of American colleges, from the Daily Caller (whatever that is).  I’ve made related comments here.

Key points:

– except in a few highly technical fields – medicine, hard sciences, engineering – the actual training received to get a college degree matters little economically. Just ask any English major working at Starbucks.

– the cost of college, especially in hard economic times, is rarely worth it except to those highly-trained specialists mentioned above.

– the chief purpose of college is to enforce a certain cultural uniformity on the ‘product’ (standard disclaimer: I have a lovely undergrad degree in classics and a Master’s in Finance and International Business. This is not sour grapes.)

Business school is particularly transparent in its function of simply screening applicants for the right stuff: to get an MBA, one must prove one can follow orders, put up with arbitrary rules and structures, complete boring tasks in a timely fashion and, more fundamentally, live quietly in a world with a certain set of economic and social structures. (for example, does bother you much that the CEO gets 100 times the pay of the janitor? That the C-suite guys and gals get to do all the jetting around and tropical vacations as a reward for laying people off? Business school tests if these things bother you enough to do anything about them. From the hiring company’s POV, any hesitation or reservations about the morality of what the company does is anathema. An MBA pretty much guarantees that won’t happen.

Anyway, will today write a large check to my eldest son’s college. He’s learning classics, Latin, philosophy – you know, the kind of economically useless stuff that makes a man educated. I’m happy to do it, because I know college doesn’t create jobs anyway – people create jobs, and good people create good jobs.


Sex, Love and Lies.

Great essay here, by Anthony Esolen,  Professor of English at Providence College.

Topic under consideration: “Let us consider the one form of sexual behavior that almost nobody defended before the sexual revolution, and that almost nobody opposes now: fornication.”

Key point: “And yet what we are talking about is deeply destructive, because it is fundamentally mendacious. When we lie, we harm not only those we deceive. We harm ourselves. If we continue in this deception, we become hardened liars, in the end perhaps deceiving no one but ourselves.”

Longer quote, then go read the essay:

It will not do to say, “As long as people are honest with one another, fornication is all right.” The point is that they cannot be honest with one another in that situation. The supposed honesty of detachment, or deferral, or temporizing, or mutual hedonism, only embroils them in a deeper lie. The body in the act of generation says, whether we like it or not, “I am reaching out to the future, to a time when there will be no turning back.” The body, naked to behold in love, says, “There is nothing of mine that I do not offer as yours. We complete one another, man and woman.” Such affirmations transcend the division between the private and the public. They are therefore only made in honesty by people who are married—who have acknowledged publicly that they belong forever to one another and to the children they may conceive by the marital act.

Bottom line: the widespread acceptance of fornication has resulted in America (and most other 1st world countries) becoming a nation of liars. The foundational lie is the one we tell ourselves. Get in the habit of lying to yourselves, and you become effectively immune to the truth.

The next short step, as memorably stated by Pontius Pilate, is to ask: Truth? What is that? And so the entire world is deconstructed into sawdust, full of sound and furry but signifying nothing. Start with the lies you tell yourself and your prospective partners, end up swallowing lies that enable, but ultimately crush and consume, your life.

The readily identifiable lies are just the visible symptoms: Life isn’t so sacred; animals are people, too; justice is something you vote for and hand over to a government for execution (in the many senses of that word); the enemy isn’t really human, so we don’t have to bother about what we do to them; suffering is the worst thing that can ever happen to a person, therefore all is justified in ending it; the ends justify the means.

Related thoughts, expressed in a previous post, here.

How do we avoid concluding that one simply cannot trust an unrepentant fornicator? By noting that humility demands that we can only very cautiously trust ourselves?

Divorce & College: Two Cases of Fantasy Meeting Reality

This article about how divorce is losing its luster reminds me of this essay here on this blog, about how the percentage of people getting college degrees in America has not increased in 40 years, despite the incessant claim that a college degree is a meal ticket to a better life. In both cases, despite the received mythology and the stories they tell themselves, people come to see the truth, however dimly or haltingly.

In the case of college, it works like this: some careers are off limits to those without a college degree or 3, mostly for good reason – you want your doctor, lawyer and research biologists to be very well trained in their specialties, and that’s unlikely to happen without years of schooling. Many other jobs are largely restricted to college grads, despite there being little if any connection between the work and the degree. Do cops, airline pilots or managers of insurance adjuster really gain anything from college that couldn’t easily get elsewhere? Historically, people did these jobs without college degrees. Now, the college degree starts out used as a filter to keep down the number of applicants, then habit eventually enshrines it as law.

But for most ways of earning a living, having a college degree is pretty irrelevant to the job. (Note: I have a couple of nice college degrees, so this isn’t just sour grapes).  What your average guy sees: I can spend 4 years getting a college degree, going into debt or living in poverty or living at home, and – then what? I’ve always wanted to be a brick layer or auto mechanic or artist or – whatever. Maybe I should pursue a course that gets me where I’m going directly. Plus, I hear about all these people with English degrees not working, or doing jobs they could have gotten without a degree, and they’ve wasted years of their lives, years of earning potential, and possibly gone into debt – in order to sling coffee at Starbucks?

So, maybe 30% college grads is about all the economy can take. Maybe that reality is behind the stall in the number of people with college degrees after decades of increases.

Similarly, in the first story, people have been encouraged to think of divorce as this sort of random thing that can happen to anybody, without any really permanent or damaging effects. Sure, it hurts, but the core of your being – the unencumbered Will – remains untouched.

Anybody not willfully blind to the world knows this is not true – the human wreckage from divorce is all around us. The concomitant attempts to portray happy, faithful marriage as some sort of cultural Ivory-billed woodpecker also fails pretty regularly, as there are plenty of them out there. It helps the delusion that there is often a social divide between those who see marriage as a fundamental and permanent spiritual commitment and those who see it ‘for as long as you both shall love’. This article is interesting in that the women interviewed seemed to straddle those worlds.

While the stories are sad, the trend, if that’s what it is, is encouraging. Truth making a little bitty comeback – whoda thunk it?

M-Dowd: Not Having a Great Week…

I have written elsewhere that I find Mo Dowd simply incoherent, based on reading a bunch of her Op/Ed pieces a few years back. It’s not so much that her ideas are bad as that her ideas are hard to identify as ideas at all. What, exactly, is she getting at? Upon what does she base her assertions? These are unhappy and unrewarding questions to ask of Ms Dowd’s writing, so I did the sane thing: read other things. Life’s too short for that kind of crap.

However, others, no doubt made of sterner stuff, have continued to plow through her output (so to speak) and the results have been entertaining.

Ed Peters has this to say.

George Weigel says this. My favorite part:

 Ms. Dowd believes in the sexual revolution as fervently as Archbishop Dolan believes in the Creed in which he leads his congregation at St. Patrick’s every Sunday. The difference between them is that Archbishop Dolan can rationally defend the articles in the Creed, while Maureen Dowd is impervious to the massive empirical evidence that demonstrates that the sexual revolution has been a snare and a delusion for a) women, b) children, c) men, d) marriage, e) family stability, and f) the country’s political culture (cf. Clinton, William Jefferson [whom Dowd helped save in 1998]). Interestingly enough, and in this respect, Maureen Dowd is not the linear descendant of Nast and the rationalist anti-Catholics, who were more often than not the “progressives” of their day. Rather, she is the rhetorical great-great-granddaughter of Elder W. C. Benson and his 1928 anti-Catholic screed, the difference being that Benson’s fundamentalism involved notions of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, while Dowdian fundamentalism involves an irrational and empirically unsustainable belief in the sexual revolution.

It takes a particular kind of fundamentalism to believe, in the face of what we primitives call ‘facts’ and ‘reality’, that, for example, a 3rd trimester baby isn’t a baby, or that divorce doesn’t destroy children, or that casual sex doesn’t lead to emptiness and pain, that the sexual revolution isn’t, in fact, a body of lies founded on the ever-popular ‘la-la-la I can’t hear you’ argument.  That the mental tools used to deconstruct the western world into a male-dominated hell can just as easily be used to deconstruct feminism and multiculturalism into sawdust. (DISCLAIMER: not that there’s nothing to the claims of feminists and multiculturalists – it’s just that attempting to deconstruct the West in support of their grievances is a classic snake-eating-its-tail exercise. On the contrary, all real progress has been made by appealing to the ideas held most dear in the West: women didn’t get the vote by deconstructing, they got it by appealing to men’s sense of fairness. And so on.)

And now, with any luck, this will be the last I think of Maureen Dowd and her shrieking non-thought.

Hey, one can dream.

The Male/Female Imbalance: A Couple Predictions

So, the results of making amnio and ultrasound available for selecting which children we allow to be born based on their sex is now clear. When widely available, the result is that a lot more boys than girls are allowed to live, resulting in, today, about 163 million ‘excess’ men and boys.

This should be a head-slapping ‘duh!’ moment, at least in hindsight. So let’s do the more challenging thing and imagine what the future holds (I’ll do this before reading the whole article, just so I can have that little laugh we philosopher types have when we figure out by reason what the researchers try to figure out by data collection.  Petty, I know, but fun.)

– Supply and demand says the value of girls and women will go up – but that’s the dollar value, not the intrinsic value. What that means is that, far from being treated with more respect, women and girls are becoming, more than ever, tradable commodities: A girl is in no position to realize her enhanced value, but her dad or uncle or mom or brother sure is. They can arrange a marriage at a price, force her into prostitution or simply sell her into slavery. In fact, history shows that slavery flourishes whenever labor is scarce – and sexual labor is going to be very much in demand as those 163 million guys read the writing on the wall.

– People of child-bearing age will continue to not see the big picture. You might think that a Chinese or Indian dad or mom, looking around at all the boys who will one day almost certainly want a wife, might think: wow – the smart money is in having a daughter! She’ll be the bell of the ball, and have her pick of husbands. We’re holding the hammer – we could cut all kinds of deals with the parents of our future son-in-law, to mitigate the issues that arise out of not us having a son. You would be wrong. Aborting girls has been going on for about 2 generations now, and doesn’t show signs of letting up.

– You thought you were worried about the safety of your little princess now? How about in a world where girls are snatched off the street and sold to a pimp or slave broker half way around the world, never to be seen or heard from again? This is beginning to happen now, and will probably get a lot worse before it gets better.

– 163 million guys with nothing much to look forward to. That many people would be about the 4th or 5th largest country in the world. Traditionally, men have fought and killed each other for women about as much as they’ve fought and killed each other over anything. How this will shake out is anybody’s guess: everything from duels to the Rape of the Sabine Women to all-out wars are in play. Nations might start looking for wars as a way to keep internal unrest down, or action might be more local. The prediction is that there will be violence.

– Net outcome: the ubiquitous availability of abortion on demand has created a world where women and girls are less safe, less respected and less free, and far more likely than boys to get murdered in utero, sold into slavery or prostitution, and generally dehumanized into commodities. And the boys aren’t necessarily better off – they become a ‘problem’ to ‘manage’ – and states have a very bloody history of how they handle problems of that sort.

Footnote 1. Using ultra sound means you have to let the child develop first – none of this insensate amorphous blob mythology. That means these little girls not only get murdered, they get to die in agony. May God have mercy on our souls.

Footnote 2. How do Progressives understand all this? I have very impoliticly opined, without proper introduction or warning, that Progressivism is really stupid, and thereby damaged a valuable friendship – but, come on! There seems to be this belief that Progress is what happens when properly enlightened (read: socially liberal) people get their way. Well? You got your way, resulting in, among other things,  an uptick in slavery and a rapidly decreasing degree of  freedom enjoyed by women and girls around the world. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that none of the people who support the ‘rights’ and policies that have unceremoniously deposited us at this unhappy historical juncture are losing any sleep over it. But they should be.


Art, Animals and a Little Girl

Here is an essay at First Things regarding Aelita Andre, age 4, who produces art like this. We are supposed to use the occasion of Miss Andre’s opening in an art gallery to reflect on the bankruptcy and nihilism of the current art world. Into the argument are dragged, barking, mooing and so on, animals that have been trained to put brush to canvas – in an art culture that oohs and ahs over the ‘art’ of animals, a little girl’s paintings just make her – and by extension, each of us – another animal.

Except that doesn’t work for me. For one thing, her art is clearly the work of a human being. While there are plenty of artists whose work you could convince yourself is hard to tell from animal’s ‘art’, Miss Andre is not one of them, and it’s not close.  Second, her use of color is astounding – if she is picking out and matching those colors, she’s a genius. Finally, her sense of design is very advanced – she fills her canvases in satisfying and creative ways, every time (which, BTW, is how you can often dismiss the animal art – they don’t get design, it seems).

So, rather than causing me to moan about haw tragically bad modern art is – it is tragically bad (See: LA Cathedral) – instead, I’m thrilled to see a little girl display some aspects of real artistic genius.

Now, if she’s still painting like this when she’s 20 – or even 12 – we can revisit the issue.