Science Monday: The Martian

I have not read the book (yet) or seen the movie (yet), but I thought this interview with the author was intruiging:

Weir gets into one of the big reasons I support the space program and wish we had one that was ten times bigger. As long as the human race is confined to this planet, we are vulnerable. A single event can render us extinct or at least destroy our civilization. I’ve long thought we should build a vault of human knowledge so that, in the event of a survivable catastrophe, civilization could eventually be rebuilt. But the ultimate “civilization insurance” would be space colonization.

That’s decades away. As Weir notes, the big problem is getting things into orbit, which remains hideously expensive. But I also love his approach to this problem: let industry figure out how to get cargo into orbit cheaply (with NASA funding cutting edge research). That might mean new rocket tech, that might mean magnetic slingshots, that might mean a space elevator.

The solar system, if not the universe, is there for the taking. Do we dare do it? The difference between doing it and not doing it may very well be the long-term survival of humanity.

Oregon Shooting

Yesterday, we had another mass shooting, this time at a community college in Oregon. You know what happened next. Before we even knew how many people were dead, Barack Obama was giving an angry press conference, blasting Second Amendment advocates and calling for more gun control, whether or not it had any relevance to this incident. Liberals, predictably, loved it.

The blogosphere has filled with the usual array of anti-gun deceptions and distortions. So here’s a free guide to the facts:

  • Gun violence is way, way down, not up. We are at violence rates we have not seen since the 1950’s. This has happened without any significant gun control.
  • Mass shootings are not rising, not how matter how much people try to pretend they are. What’s changed is not the frequency of shootings; what’s changed is the instant politicization of it. Past Presidents did not address the media before the bodies were even cold to demand more gun control.
  • When Barack Obama says these events don’t happen in other countries, he is wrong.
  • When people say there have been masses of school shootings, they are wrong.
  • It’s Friday, so they are probably out there saying “all the studies” show that gun control works. This is not true. It’s totally not true.
  • By the weekend, they’ll be back to complaining that the NRA has blocked any research into guns. This is also not true. The study linked above was funded by the Bloomberg school. Only federal funds are blocked. And given the shenanigans the CDC and EPA have been up to with public health issues, I don’t think that’s completely unreasonable.
  • Australia will be dragged out as an example of what we should do. Keep in mind two things. First, after Australia banned guns, their rate of gun violence did come down. So did ours. Faster. Second, Australia took away millions of guns. When people cite Australia as an example, they’re not talking about background checks. They are talking about taking away millions of guns.

One last thing. I hate doing this. I hate that when there is a horrible tragedy, I have to take up my keyboard and answer this stuff. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The Left takes the floor to cry out for gun control — no matter what the facts on the ground — after every single tragedy. They know, on some level, that what they’re suggesting would have, at most, a minor effect. But they can’t resist it because gun control is basically a moot issue. It’s not happening. So they feel they must exploit every tragedy to try to crack the edifice of the Second Amendment.

It’s hard to blame them if they honestly believe that gun control works. But then it’s hard to blame us when we points out … that it doesn’t.

That’s all I’m going to say on this subject. I’d much rather mourn the dead. And praise the heroes.

Not So Secret Service

I’m shocked, shocked that this sort of petty vindictiveness is going on in the Obama Administration:

An assistant director of the Secret Service urged that unflattering information the agency had in its files about a congressman ­critical of the service should be made public, according to a government watchdog report released Wednesday.

“Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out,” Assistant Director Edward Lowery wrote in an e-mail to a fellow director on March 31, commenting on an internal file that was being widely circulated inside the service. “Just to be fair.”

Two days later, a news Web site reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had applied to be a Secret Service agent in 2003 and been rejected.

That information was part of a Chaffetz personnel file stored in a restricted Secret Service database and required by law to be kept private.

Lowery, you may remember, was put in place to clean up the various scandals. Chaffetz had very publicly grilled the Secret Service on their security lapses, hooker scandals and drinking scandals. But Lowery’s response was basically “how dare you!”

Again … I’ll just stand here looking surprised.

Not As Bad as All That

My stance on voter ID laws is pretty simple: as long as it is easy for residents to get an ID, I’m in favor of them. You can’t fish without an ID in some parts of this country so I see no reason why voting shouldn’t require an ID. Most other countries require them. While I don’t think there is the massive vote fraud Republicans allege, I don’t think the problem is as minuscule as Democrats like to pretend (it’s kind of hard to measure how much voter fraud is going on when you don’t require ID). Voter ID seems a fairly minimal requirement … if an ID is easy to get.

Democrats, of course, have been milking this issue for a while now, claiming this is really about suppressing the votes of black people. This week, they seemed to get a big confirmation of that:

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s website says their office at the Clarke County Courthouse is still open, but soon a lot of others nearby won’t be. On Wednesday, the agency announced that it would close 31 offices throughout the state, leaving 29 counties without a place where 16-year-olds can take a driver’s test, whether they pass on the first try or not.

That’s an inconvenience.

But there’s something bigger happening here.

In 2011, Alabama lawmakers approved the state’s voter ID law, making it illegal to vote in Alabama without a government-issued photo ID.

For most folks, that’s a driver’s license.

Depending on which counties you count as being in Alabama’s Black Belt, either twelve or fifteen Black Belt counties soon won’t have a place to get a driver’s license.

Counties where some of the state’s poorest live.

Counties that are majority African-American.

So the state is shutting down DMV’s in counties that are mostly black. Sounds like the Republicans are trying to stop black people from voting, right? Well

Secretary of State John Merrill, Alabama’s chief election official, said late Wednesday that the state’s closing of 31 county driver’s license offices won’t leave residents without a place to get the required I.D. card to vote.

Merrill said state election officials “will issue (photo voter I.D. cards) on our own” at county Board of Registrars offices. “Every county has a Board of Registrars,” he said.

Merrill said his office will have brought its mobile I.D. van to every county in Alabama by Oct. 31. He said the van will return to counties when requested. “If they can’t go to the board of registrars, we’ll bring a mobile crew down there,” Merrill said.

So … no, this isn’t going to shut thousand or millions of black Alabamans out of the polls. It just changes where they’re going to get their IDs. Now it’s not clear that the registrars can handle this, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. And we should be aware of the expense involved in getting some of the documentation needed for an ID (e.g., birth certificates). But it’s clear the initial headlines were overblown.

I’ll pretend to be surprised.

Obama Dithers, Putin Moves


Claiming to target ISIS, Russia conducted its first airstrikes in Syria, while U.S. officials expressed serious doubts Wednesday about what the true intentions behind the move may be.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, including arms, transportation, communications and control positions.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter countered that claim.

“I want to be careful about confirming information, but it does appear that they (Russian airstrikes) were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces,” he told reporters. ISIL is another acronym for ISIS.

This isn’t the only place in the Middle East where the Russians are moving. They are also disputing our authority to act and trying to forge ties with Iraq. When the nuclear deal with Iran was struck, I noted that, while it wasn’t great, it did advance an important objective: trying to keep Iran from falling into the Russian orbit. But whatever Obama has gained there, he’s rapidly pissing away elsewhere. The Russians are now fighting or forging alliances with Iran, Iraq and Syria — basically that Shia half of the growing Sunni-Shia regional conflict. This potentially gives them access to even more oil as well as warm-water ports. It also makes the situation much more dangerous.

For a long time, Obama’s been dithering on Syria, Iraq and ISIS. There’s a reason for that, of course: it’s not clear what we can or should do. But it’s possible to avoid protracted entanglements while not looking weak and indecisive. Putin is moving into the vacuum Obama has created. And we may be paying for it for a long time.

In the age of Obama..

The world is all upside down. The Social Justice Warriors have presided over a period when the rich have gotten richer than ever, and at a record pace. And ironically one of the biggest winners, Mr. Bezos, who raked in $16 billion in one year, runs a newspaper that makes him a ton of money peddling the SJW bullshit to idiots.

Then again, the crime syndicate in charge has had a lot of such first. Evil Boosh was a warmongering monster that made everybody hate and want to attack America. But the worst humanitarian crisis caused by war can be laid directly at the feet of the incompetent idiots showing us that it is amateur hour at every level of this administration. At least the crisis is fucking over the Europeans mostly right now, but the morons in charge will find a way to make Americans not just pay for their mistakes, but to make them suffer as well.

I won’t bore you with other such contradictions, ranging from environmental disasters caused by the very agency trying to destroy our economy with burdensome regulations that it is immune to and seem to mostly exist to help enrich connected rich people like Mr. Bezos in the first place, to the massive surveillance state created by the most open and ethical administration ever. Obamacare? That promise that it would save everyone big money, insure all the uninsured, and generally heal the sick across the board if we just let our betters pass it already? Yeah, it is costing us an arm and a leg, has barely covered a fraction of the uninsured they tauted would all disappear, and is replete with waste and horrible and destructive regulation that’s causing far more harm than if we had kept the status quo.

We are still printing money like it is going out of style and living large on borrowed money. The economy, which has been in recovery since 2009 when Black Jesus took office is in shambles, but the same idiots keep telling you all is well. Employment numbers are abysmal. Income inequality – another one of the big talking points of the SJW crowd – is at its worst. And the stock market, which had rallied primarily because of insane government spending and an ever devaluating dollar, is giving back every gain it has made.

Robots are taking the manufacturing jobs and even the McJobs, now that the SJW are pushing for insane wages for what amounts to entry level work any bozo off the street would be able to do. Cost of living is flying up, and the only reprieve is the fact that despite their promise to make us pay a shit ton more for energy usage, oil prices – you know that commodity they have been telling us for decades was just about to run out – have plummeted. And that happened despite efforts by this administration to do otherwise, although they are trying to take credit for this now.

Green energy has failed miserably (Volkswagen anyone?), across the board, and yet, this has not deterred the priesthood. After all, they have made more money than ever peddling this bullshit.

And the abuses of power continue as well. The IRS Scandal still remains unanswered. And they are not the only big government entity screwing over political enemies of the left. From the EPA to the DOJ, they are going after any and all that dare point out how corrupt these bastards are. Veterans are being fucked over. Whistleblowers that dare tell the truth about the abuses of this administration get crucified and destroyed. A criminal that has basically shown she shouldn’t be given any kind of security clearance is the top contender to replace Obama as the “Capo di tuti capi”. And the list goes on and one.

I guess, I think, my point is that these people are crooks and liars, and the true believers can’t be bothered either way. Long live the free-loaders!

The Daycare Dilemma

Once again, folks, we see the Law of Unintended Consequences in effect:

Programs for young children — whether you call them day care or preschool or even third grade — serve two purposes. On the one hand, they are educational settings that are supposed to help foster the kids’ long-term development. On the other hand, they are safe places where parents can put their children so they can go do other things during the day — things like work for a living. In an ideal world, of course, they do both. The best preschool programs have been shown to have significant lifelong benefits for their students, and they’re doubtless a huge help to parents too. But a sobering new analysis by Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber (yes, that Jonathan Gruber), and Kevin Milligan of Quebec’s effort to expand access to child care on the cheap is a painful reminder that the two issues can come apart.

The program was designed to increase mothers’ labor force participation rate, and it worked. Lots of people used the system, lots of moms went to work, incomes and GDP rose, and the program was quite affordable to the taxpayer. Kids’ test scores stayed flat.

But contrasting trends in Quebec kids with kids from other Canadian provinces, the authors find “a significant worsening in self-reported health and in life satisfaction among teens” who grew up exposed to the program* along with a “sharp and contemporaneous increase in criminal behavior among the cohorts exposed to the Quebec program, relative to their peers in other provinces.”

What happened was that the government of Quebec decided that everyone deserved cheap daycare — as a little as $5 a day. And a lot cheap daycare is what they got. With such a huge influx of children, poor quality daycare providers proliferated. And many of these providers were much worse than, you know, parents. Worse, many of them were focused on academics, at the government’s urgency. But most research (and almost all parents) will tell you that learning social skills is way more important to preschoolers than learning their ABC’s.

I’ve written about the idiocy of the push for universal pre-K numerous times. You can also check out Megan McArdle, who goes into detail about why the push for universal pre-K is ill-advised. Note, importantly, that the federal push is for more academics and “accelerated learning” — precisely the emphasis that has produced such a disaster in Quebec.

But this about more than the expected Democratic push for universal pre-K. This about the expected Democratic push for federally mandated everything. There is nothing more dangerous than good intentions. The Democrats have given us a series of financial reforms to “protect Americans” that have created a series of financial crises (with Dodd-Frank likely to precipitate the next one. They’ve poured money into making sure everyone can get a college education … which has made college obscenely expensive. They’ve given us “universal healthcare” that has caused insurance rates to skyrocket. And they’ve created a free public education system which is one of the worst-performing in the developed world.

The push for universal pre-K is on. Let’s use Quebec as an example of what not to do. Because it would really be a tragedy if one of the more functional parts of our education system — the dynamic and mostly private pre-K system — was wrecked the slime engine of big government.

There is No War on Cops

Over the last few weeks, we have been subject to a constant stream of stories about the War on Cops. According to these stories, a combination of anti-cop rhetoric, rising violence, disrespect for law enforcement and cultural decay is resulting in cops being gunned down all over the country.

There’s a problem with this narrative, however: it’s not true:

So far, 2015 is on pace to see 35 felonious killings of police officers. If that pace holds, this year would end with the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades. Here’s a graph depicting annual killings of cops with firearms from Mark A. Perry at the American Enterprise Institute:


That’s raw numbers. It doesn’t account for the huge increase in the number of cops out there. If you look at the rate of killings, 2015 will be one of the safest year for cops … ever. The only year that was safer was … 2013. Thanks to this plunge in anti-police violence, law enforcement is no longer one of the most dangerous jobs in America (although police still have a very high rate of suicide).

With the murder of police officers having dropped to thankfully low levels, however, even small changes can appear proportionately large. If ten more cops are killed in one year than the last, the media talks about how cop killings are up 25%. But then they fall eerily silent when killing drop 25% the next year. In fact, as Jesse Walker points out, the media have dragged out the War on Cops every time the numbers have spiked up:

For years now, any cluster of violent attacks on police officers—or even a single attack, if it seems particularly cold-blooded or gruesome—is prone to prompt people to warn that a war on cops is underway. Then the cluster passes and the fear subsides until the next spike begins, at which point, like a hive of amnesiacs, the media start trumpeting a war on cops once more. Yet if you peer past the inevitable year-to-year zig-zags in the numbers and look at the long-term trends, police in the U.S. have been less and less likely to be either killed or assaulted on the job.

So why does this matter? The murder of police officers is awful. Why should we care about whether or not there is a War on Cops? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on reducing the numbers of officers killed, regardless of whether the war exists or not?

Well, there are two reasons this is important. First of all, moral panics bring with them changes in laws and prosecutions. The panic over non-existent satanic cults put innocent people in prison for decades. The moral panic over terrorism, an all too real danger, has given our government the power to track our phones, hack our computers and assassinate us without trial. The current moral panic over sex-trafficking is empowering the government to jail consenting adults and shutdown websites that protect sex workers from violence. And the moral panic over all this stuff is what drives civil liberties violations like warrantless wiretaps and asset forfeiture.

Second, we’ve been here before.

In 1963, JFK was assassinated. Before JFK’s body was cold and continuing into the present day, various pundits have tried to blame his murder on “right wing rhetoric” (which apparently motivated his killing by … a devout Communist).

In 1995, a terrorist blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, murdering 168 people. Before the smoke had cleared, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich were being blamed for their “extreme anti-government rhetoric”.

In 2009, census worker Bill Sparkman committed suicide and tried to stage it as a murder. Before the investigation even began, his death was being blamed on extreme anti-government rhetoric.

In 2011, a nut tried to murder Gabby Giffords and did murder six people, including nine-year-old Christina Green. Before the bodies were cold, it was being blamed on right wing rhetoric. Attention particularly focused on an electoral map produced by Sarah Palin’s PAC, which had a crosshair on Giffords’ district. In the end, it had nothing to do with the murders.

Did the Left really think that these tragedies had anything to do with rhetoric? Some, probably, but even lefties aren’t that stupid. The real reason they tried to blame these horrors on “rhetoric” was because they wanted to shut someone up. In all these cases, we were in the middle of intense debates about the size and scope of government, debates the Left was losing. Blaming horrifying tragedies on right-wing anti-government rhetoric was a way to delegitimize the opposition; to make it seem like being in favor of welfare reform meant you were also in favor of blowing up government buildings.

One of the threads of the supposed “War on Cops” has been blaming said war on “anti-cop rhetoric”. Since Ferguson, the country has been engaged in a growing and long-overdue debate about policing. We have 80,000 SWAT raids in the country every year. We’ve sent billions in military gear to every law enforcement division in the country, even to towns of a few thousand residents. We are on pace for over a thousand citizens to be killed by police this year. And people are starting to ask questions about whether all of this carnage is necessary.

The attempt to blame these killing on anti-cop rhetoric is an attempt to silence this debate1. It is, in particular, an effort to silence Black Lives Matter, which has been called a hate group by some and … stop me if you’re heard this before … been blamed for the murder of cops in the immediate aftermath before anything is known (only for it to later be revealed that the killing had nothing to do with BLM).

There have been some anti-cop elements at BLM rallies, no question. But using such assholes to tar the entire movement would be like … oh, I don’t know … taking a picture of some asshole with a racist sign at a Tea Party rally and claiming that represents the entire movement. The thing about BLM, however, is that unlike other Left Wing movements, they’ve put forward actual policy proposals. And as I’ve pointed out, these proposals are quite reasonable. You might disagree with some of them, but you’d be hard-pressed to label them as “anti-cop”.

But the police unions have gotten too used to being pandered to by politicians. The police unions have gotten so used to being immune from criticism, in fact, that their leader has no qualms about suggesting that people who videotape cops should be charged with felonies. In that environment, any criticism sounds like brutal anti-cop rhetoric.

I can’t blame cops for feeling that way. Your average cop doesn’t care about statistics or politics; he just doesn’t want to be killed on the job. But I do blame the politicians — including most of the Republican and Democratic presidential fields — for pandering to this. They’re supposed to look at this more objectively.

When the Left blamed Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich for the Murrah Building being destroyed, I thought it was disgusting. It wasn’t just disgusting because they were trying to milk a tragedy to political advantage; it was disgusting because they were trying to delegitimize a point of view they disagreed with. I take the same attitude toward these feeble attempts to black Barack Obama, Black Lives Matter and anyone other than the shooters for recent cop killings. It’s disgusting not only because it milks a tragedy for politics but because it is a very blatant attempt to delegitimize an important and ongoing discussion about police tactics, police brutality and accountability.

This isn’t a partisan issue, incidentally, even though I’ve “defended” Obama on this. When it comes to police excesses, the Democrats are part of the problem, not part of the solution. It’s the Democrats who have massively expanded the power and scope of government, dramatically increasing the number of times citizens interact with law enforcement. It’s the Democrats who have sent cops out to round up loose cigarettes and make sure guitar makers aren’t using the wrong type of wood. Joe Biden, current Vice President and second in the polls for 2016, has been a huge supporter of the 1033 program and has repeatedly assured police that “Obama has your back”. The Democrats may make sympathetic noises toward Black Lives Matter. But when push comes to shove, they will put their money where it always is: on powerful and expanding government.

There is no War on Cops. During Prohibition, we had a war on cops. Gangsters were gunning down 150-200 cops a year. During the 1970’s, we had a war on cops, when thugs and extremists were killing 100-150 cops a year. But right now, policing is safer than it’s ever been.

That’s a good thing. That’s a very good thing. No level of cop killing is acceptable. But we should be relieved about the immense progress we’ve made, not finding ways to leverage it into yet more power and less accountability.

1. Well, partly. The other part is an effort to tie Obama to the killings with myths about how he doesn’t talk about cop murders, doesn’t call the widows of slain cops, doesn’t send representatives to cop funerals and engages in anti-cop rhetoric. All of these are untrue. Most can be disproven with simple Google search (example). Over the last few months, I’ve been asking people to give me specific anti-cop rhetoric Obama has “spewed”. The most I’ve gotten is that he expressed sympathy for Trayvon Martin’s family (who was, um, not killed by a cop). And he criticized the police in the Henry Louis Gates incident. And, uh, he’s met with Al Sharpton a bunch of times. The latter seems to a big deal to some but the idea that someone murdered a cop because Obama met with Al Sharpton seems as absurd to me as the idea that someone shot Gabby Giffords because Sarah Palin made a map. If you look at what Obama has actually said … with his own mouth … it has been overwhelmingly pro-police.

Boehner Out

John Boehner is apparently resigning from Congress and stepping down as Speaker. I’ll most more as events warrant. We’ll have to see what the GOP does. I know a lot of people don’t like Boehner because he didn’t have enough government- and party-wrecking confrontations. He’s has had a delicate balancing act over the last few years. But I think he’s gotten a reasonable amount done with a Democratic President in charge. If the GOP goes with someone crazy — a non-zero possibility — that’s all the more reason to be nervous about a unified Republican government. Hopefully they’ll go with someone like Paul Ryan.

Governing is the art of the possible. Boehner wasn’t perfect but he found things to do that were possible. We’ll have to see if the next speaker is interested in that or is interesting in making big dramatic gestures that accomplish nothing (e.g., the recent effort to defund Planned Parenthood which was apparently part of the impetus for Boehner’s resignation).

Too Much Tolerance in Afghanistan

What the actual hell?

In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

You can read the whole thing if you have the stomach. It’s appalling. The Obama Administration, of course, is saying they just found out about it from the news.

Look, I’m all in favor of cultural tolerance. If our soldiers are guests in an Islamic country, I’m OK with not having booze or something. But this is WAY beyond that kind of cultural tolerance, especially when it’s happening on an American military base.

As Jazz Shaw pointed out over at Hot Air, this isn’t really a partisan issue, despite my snarking. For all we know, this policy has been in place for many years. But whatever the origin, this needs to stop. It’s not as if letting militia leaders rape boys is going to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.