“Why NASA Is Stagnant”

Today is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. As the nation celebrates that great achievement, there is also reason for solemn reflection. For while NASA was able to put men on the Moon within eight years of the Apollo program’s start, the space agency has been unable to go further in the four and a half decades since. In fact, it is no longer capable of going to the Moon and, as these lines are written, is totally adrift, with no real plan for going anywhere.

via National Review Online.

 

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“What Was the Point of Obamacare?”

Last week, the Washington Post delivered a bombshell report: “Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new marketplaces enrolled as of last month.” Instead, the overwhelming majority of those who are enrolling in insurance plans on the ObamaCare exchanges already had insurance.

The lie of the year for 2013 was President Obama’s promise that, “if you like your plan, you can keep it.” The lie of the year for 2014 is going to be the claim that ObamaCare would insure the uninsured.

ObamaCare has failed to attract those who lack health insurance, seemingly because they have decided that the premiums are too high for the bare-bones coverage the exchanges offer. In other words, the Affordable Care Act has failed to offer affordable care. Instead, most of ObamaCare’s sign-ups are merely migrating over from an existing health-insurance plan—in many cases involuntarily, after their plans were canceled for failing to comply with new ObamaCare regulations.

via The Federalist

The “point” of Obamacare seems to have been to get Americans’ health care under government control, so that the NSA and their buddies would have more data and the government could force nuns to pay for birth control – out of sheer malice.

Am I oversimplifying? Sorry – feeling cynical lately, as people quite seriously argue whether Christians ought to be formally scapegoated for the sins of the world (all in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity”, of course) or even allowed to exist at all.

Did we ever come up with a good reason why a law disliked by voters of both parties – and now proved wildly ineffective – “cannot” be repealed?

“Golden Rice Opponents Should Be Held Accountable for Health Problems Linked to Vitamain A Deficiency”

Except for the regulatory approval process, Golden Rice was ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

It’s still not in use anywhere, however, because of the opposition to GM technology.
via Scientific American

Sure – we can arrest people for interfering with scientists’ right to save the world, because scientists are so expert that they know what they’re doing and can absolutely guarantee that everything will work as promised…so that means if they’re wrong, they can be held liable for manslaughter if anyone dies, right?

Right?

Whaddya mean “that’s not how science works”?

Baby born to a mother who had taken thalidomide while pregnant. Image via wikipedia.

Baby born to a mother who had taken thalidomide while pregnant. Image via Wikipedia.

Authority means accountability. If scientists want the one, they should be ready to accept the other.

And that doesn’t even touch the issue of whether they are taking too much license with the environment we all share. I hate saying that, because I am not at all a fan of environmentalists, and I hate sounding like them. To me the question is not environment vs. science, but rather the correct way to handle risk. The history of science is full of projects that crashed first and only learned to fly after examining what went wrong the first three or seven or fifty times. Scientists don’t own the environment. We all do. That is why the correct way to win debates over whether or not there is such a thing as “genetic pollution” or whether cross-pollination issues are potentially of concern is by persuading the voters – not by punishing thoughtcrimes, as this writer advocates, by making people criminally liable for invented crimes just because those people and their hard-to-rebut arguments happen to be politically inconvenient.

…or just because the scientific community doesn’t know how to effectively rebut a valid point?

…or just because the scientific community doesn’t want to even try, because they think people should just obey?

Maybe if scientists want to go back to the good old days – when people still trusted them – they could start with an apologize for their own past lack of accountability (which is why people stopped trusting them, after all). Blind obedience hasn’t worked out very well for too many of us.

Milgram Experiment advertisement. Image via Wikipedia.

Milgram Experiment advertisement. Volunteers were treated unethically. Image via Wikipedia.

The history of science is littered with experiments that were supposed to be safe but wemt wrong. A disturbing number of these science-gone-wrong stories have occurred in the third world. Scientists have a long and ugly history of using developing-world populations as their personal guinea pigs. For example, most people have heard of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment – but how many people know that after it was exposed and shut down, the scientists moved it overseas?

The Commission confirms that despite knowledge that it was unethical, US government medical scientists PURPOSELY infected  “at least 1,300 who were exposed to the sexually transmitted diseases syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid” to study the effects of penicillin. At least 83 subjects died.”

Reading this article, it seems that wanting to experiment on third world populations is what this is all about. Poverty isn’t caused by lack of resources. It’s caused by corruption and other political problems. We already have more than enough food to feed the world. So don’t fall for the guy using Third World poverty-stricken people as meat shields: this is not about solving the problems of the poor. It’s about the question of whether scientists promising awesome things have the right to bypass that part of the political process where they have to prove their awesome products are safe and worthwhile – to our satisfaction, not their own.

In other words, it’s about self-governance (as opposed to top-down experts telling us what to want, think, feel, need, desire, use, and not use).

And the people who want the right to override our political processes – because they are quote-unquote ‘experts’ – have a history of being ethically stunted people who view the developing world as their own personal sandbox for exploitative experimentation.

But medical ethicists say that even if today’s research is not as egregious as the Guatemala experiment, American companies are still testing drugs on poor, sometimes unknowing populations in the developing world.

Many, like Markel, note that experimenting with AIDS drugs in Africa and other pharmaceutical trials in Third World countries, “goes on every day.”

“It’s not good enough, in my opinion, to protect only people who live in the developed world — but all human beings,” he said.

via ABC

Scientists have relied on bullying to artificially manipulate outcomes – in the case of GMO foods, they have forced people to falsely equate GMO foods with lower-risk foods. Yes, lower risk. There is a risk in GMO foods, and the scientists want us to behave as if there isn’t. That’s the heart of the matter right there – that is what they want, but they are not willing to do what they have to do to earn the outcome; they want to manipulate the outcome dishonestly. They want to deny the existence of real issues that could or do exist. They want to skip the part where they have to persuade us, and their preferred method for doing this is to replace self-governance with top-down bullying – using the three-step “impending doom” song-and-dance beloved of “progressives” everywhere:

  1. Make optimistic promises about how great the results of the proposed policy will be, then treat those promises as if they’re fact. (How could you be against ending world hunger?)
  2. Make dire predictions of impending doom if the policy is not implemented, and act as if criticizing (or even evaluating) the policy equals wanting that horrible doom to fall. (You don’t just want to end world hunger, but you want everyone to starve and die!)
  3. Ignore or, if necessary, deny the consequences if these grossly exaggerated and highly improbable predictions are incorrect.

There is always risk in science – that is why we don’t hold scientists accountable for the deaths their mistakes cause, even though science has caused a steady stream of death and mutilation. We know that science is frequently wrong. The flip side of this is acknowledging that scientists don’t really know, and aren’t honestly in a position to guarantee safety or certainty. Some of the worst atrocities in the history of science come from scientists losing their objectivity – forgetting that they don’t really know. Getting carried away.

It is accurate and correct to perceive GMO products as risky – potentially very risky – to both health and the environment. It isn’t “anti-science” to point out that risk warrants caution. We don’t actually know they’re safe. Note that the people insisting that we should accept they are safe are people who want all the profits while we are stuck with all the risk. (Normally risk and reward go together, but of course it’s always nicer if you can keep the reward and give some other poor slob the risk.)

The honest way to handle it would be to admit that consumers have good reason to prefer non-manipulated foods – and to price GMO foods less, accordingly. But they don’t want to do that. They want to make it so that you can’t tell if a food is GMO or not. They want to replace non-GMO foods with GMO foods.They want to own the food supply.

And, no, the fact that they’re willing to forego profits doesn’t mean anything – not when you’re talking about a product with the power to foster dependency and create market dominance. Remember when Nestle gave away baby formula? WHOOPS!

If their real goal were to prevent vitamin A deficiency, it wouldn’t be hard to dispense vitamin A to all at-risk populations without forcing farmers into accepting crops that may be wonderful or may cause serious problems.

“Should government force businesses to hire felons?”

Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the use of background checks in hiring is racially discriminatory. In 2012, the EEOC issued “guidance” to the nation’s businesses, citing statistics showing blacks and Hispanics are convicted of crimes at significantly higher rates than whites. Therefore, the EEOC ruled, excluding job applicants based on their criminal records would have “a disparate impact based on race and national origin.”

The EEOC did not say past felonies could never be considered in job applications. But the guidance made clear that an employer who chooses not to hire a felon could have to present a detailed defense to the EEOC. “The employer needs to … effectively link specific criminal conduct, and its dangers, with the risks inherent in the duties of a particular position,” the guidance said. Employers who cannot prove to the EEOC’s satisfaction that excluding a felon from a particular job is a “business necessity” could be in trouble. And whatever the outcome, the company could have its hands full with a costly lawsuit from the government.

“One bright-line policy you should not adopt is having a no-felons policy,” EEOC commissioner Victoria Lipnic told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a March 2012 speech. “If you have that policy, that’s going to be a problem if you’re subject to an EEOC investigation.”

Hearing that, many employers might say: This is crazy. There are companies that will reject a job candidate because he posted something embarrassing on his Facebook page, and the Obama administration is warning businesses they’ll be in trouble if they don’t hire convicted felons?

Of course a business, after a background check, might well choose to hire a felon. But that is the employer’s decision — not the Obama administration’s.

via Washington Examiner

This was an op-ed about an Obama nominee (whose nomination is now squelched), but the policy itself seems to be a real policy (http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm).

Screen for felony convictions, and you may be sued.  That’s an actual warning to American employers, courtesy of the Obama EEOC.

via CFIF

What a horrible burden to put on businesses. It’s almost as if Obama wants to drive everyone out of business.

The Texas suit alleges that the EEOC’s guidelines on employers’ use of criminal history effectively intrudes on the State of Texas’ “sovereign right to impose categorical bans on the hiring of criminals.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the EEOC’s 2012 guidelines would serve to force Texas employers to hire felons under threat of disparate impact investigations and suits prompted by the EEOC.

Currently the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has an absolute ban on hiring felons to become law enforcement agents, one that is supported by Texas law, but may violate the EEOC’s guidelines.

The parade of horribles caused by following the EEOC’s authority includes hiring felons as  “[t]roopers, jailers, and school teachers.” In the alternative, ignoring the EEOC’s guidance would risk a hellstorm of Title VII disparate impact investigations, a significant burden even if the investigation is found to be frivolous.

via blogs.findlaw.com

Harsh Words

It’s important to note that Woody Allen was never prosecuted in this case and has consistently denied wrongdoing; he deserves the presumption of innocence. So why publish an account of an old case on my blog?  Partly because the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award to Allen ignited a debate about the propriety of the award. Partly because the root issue here isn’t celebrity but sex abuse.

via NYTimes.com.

It’s obvious why the NYTimes is writing about this now.

Because they are hoping to circumvent the part about a fair trial.

Some people believe that, trial or no, Woody Allen should be presumed guilty – enough so to preclude him for winning career awards. He should be shunned from society.

The case could be made that this is true: Woody Allen’s relationship with the girl who eventually became his wife could be the basis of such a claim.

But sex abuse charges from people who refuse to take it to court are not.

If you want this thing public – and you want him shamed – then you’ve got to do it via due process; you can’t use your as-yet-unproven status as victim to circumvent his right to testify on his own behalf & face his accusers.

It isn’t that I like or approve of Woody Allen. I think he’s despicable.

And it isn’t that I approve of what he did, or even doubt his guilt. I’m sure he’s guilty of doing something slimy, and I heartily disapprove of doing slimy things to children.

But if you have the chance to put a criminal behind bars, and you don’t want to do it – you don’t want to face questioning; you don’t want your details to be made public; you don’t want the accused to have a chance to defend himself – then you don’t have the right to banish this person just on your say-so.

That right goes hand-in-hand with the right to endure cross-examination.

Even if you’re a crime victim.

Also: someone needs to tell Dylan Farrow’s mom that it’s unhealthy to obsess over the past, and it’s even more unhealthy to use one’s kids as weapons against one’s ex-husband. If the Farrow family wants justice, there’s only one right way to go about it, and it doesn’t involve using a son and a daughter in ways that are guaranteed to wreck everyone’s life – not just his but all of yours.

Revenge is the temptation of evil. It is different from justice. That’s exactly why due process was invented in the first place. If you want revenge, leave me out of it & take your public spectacle somewhere else.

“Should Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter really judge what’s news?”

Where did you first learn about Amazon’s crazy plan to deliver packages via drone? “60 Minutes”? The New York Times? Increasingly, the answer is likely to be Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo, and that’s just how the online giants like it.

Those companies aren’t news providers in any traditional sense, but they’re trying harder to become the go-to place where their users learn about current events. It opens up new streams of revenue for the companies, but some experts wonder what it will mean for how we consume news.

”Facebook’s algorithms don’t spring out of nowhere,” said Jeremy Gilbert, who teaches media product design at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “Why does Google favor one source over another?”

They are not necessarily malevolent forces, but Internet companies’ power to influence what citizens read and see—and what they don’t—is becoming greater.

via PCWorld.

An education problem – when now even many teachers don’t understand why Wikipedia isn’t the same as a credible source, when Encyclopedia Britannica has almost as many errors, and the mainstream news sources have cut back on reporters in favor of more reliance on press releases, unsourced stories, and even outright op-ed masquerading as news….do we even have any such thing as a credible source?

The problem is that access to reliable information is necessary to a functioning civilization – it is necessary for economic growth, for political well-being, and for social cohesion.

“When Privacy Is Becoming Expensive”

Silicon Valley has destroyed our ability to imagine other models for running and organizing our communication infrastructure. Forget about models that aren’t based on advertising and that do not contribute to the centralization of data on private servers located in America. To suggest that we need to look into other – perhaps, even publicly-provided alternatives –is to risk being accused of wanting to “break the Internet.” We have succumbed to what the Brazilian social theorist Roberto Unger calls “the dictatorship of no alternatives”: we are asked to accept that Gmail is the best and only possible way to do email, and that Facebook is the best and only possible way to do social networking.

But consider just how weird our current arrangement is. Imagine I told you that the post office could run on a different, innovation-friendly business model. Forget stamps. They cost money – and why pay money when there’s a way to send letters for free? Just think about the world-changing potential: the poor kids in Africa can finally reach you with their pleas for more laptops! So, instead of stamps, we would switch to an advertising-backed system: we’d open every letter that you send, scan its contents, insert a relevant ad, seal it, and then forward it to the recipient.

Sounds crazy? It does. But this is how we have chosen to run our email.In the wake of the NSA scandal and the debacle that is Healthcare.gov, trust in public institutions runs so low that any alternative arrangement – especially the one that would give public institutions a greater role – seems unthinkable. But this is only part of the problem. What would happen when some of our long cherished and privately-run digital infrastructure begins to crumble, as companies evolve and change their business models?

Now that our communication networks are in the hands of the private sector, we should avoid making the same mistake with privacy. We shouldn’t reduce this complex problem to market-based solutions. Alas, thanks to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial zeal, privatization is already creeping in. Privacy is becoming a commodity. How does one get privacy these days? Just ask any hacker: only by studying how the right tools work. Privacy is no longer something to be taken for granted or enjoyed for free: you have to expend some resources to master the tools. Those resources could be money, patience, attention – you might even hire a consultant to do all this for you – but the point is that privacy is becoming expensive.

And what of those who can’t afford tools and consultants? How do their lives change? When the founder of a prominent lending start-up – the former CIO of Google, no less – proclaims that “all data is credit data, we just don’t know how to use it yet” I can’t help but fear the worst. If “all data is credit data” and poor people cannot afford privacy, they are in for some dark times. How can they not be anxious when their every move, their every click, their every phone call could be analyzed to predict if they deserve credit and at what rates? If the burden of debt wasn’t agonizing enough, now we’ll have to live with the fact that, for the poor people, anxiety begins well before they get the actual loan. Once again, one doesn’t have to hate or fear technology to worry about the future of equality, mobility and the quality of life. The “digital debate,” with its inevitable detours into cultural pessimism, simply has no intellectual resources to tackle these issues.

via FAZ.

“Your Phone Number Is Going To Get A Reputation Score”

Now Telesign wants to leverage the data — and billions of phone numbers — it sees deals with daily to provide a new service: a PhoneID Score, a reputation-based score for every number in the world that looks at the metadata Telesign has on those numbers to weed out the burner phones from the high-quality ones. Yes, there’s yet another company out there with an inscrutable system making decisions about you that will effect the kinds of services you’re offered.

via  Forbes.

Because privacy is apparently only for Silicon Valley CEOs….and that’s the way Americans want it?

I asked the company to score me and a few of my colleagues to get a sense of how this will work. The range is 0 to 1000, with 0 being a gold iPhone and 1000 being a burner phone that’s only used to order drugs and kill people. Luckily, none of us got that latter score. My office landline scored a 100. Two of us got 10s for our mobiles, and two others got a 200. I also got to see where all of the numbers had been registered and who provided their service.

These are all high quality scores, says Jillings, who explained that anything below 200 will tell a company to roll out the red carpet for you. He didn’t seem to think the differences in the scores mattered and could not explain what might account for the 10 – 200 range, though one of those 200-scored accounts is less than a year old. Between 400 and 600 would lead to a fuller review, and anything over 600 would be flagged as a potentially fraudulent or abusive account, and likely blocked from signing up for that service.

So now your social equivalent-of-credit-score will be tied to your phone number, and people can decide whether to do business with you based on whether you’re worth it.

Nice.

How unfortunate that our nation is populated by people who will be too busy worrying about whether their score is good enough to actually be concerned with the basic quality-of-life issues they’ll be handing over.

Because today’s public school education does not cover what feudalism is, or how it starts.