Author Archives: Kevin Boyd

Yes, Space Tourism Is Worth Dying For

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It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1910.

In the wake of the tragic crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo  and the death of one of the pilots, there are questions being asked about commercial space flight. There are some who want to end the space tourism industry before it even gets off the ground. It’s “too risky” and “it’s a boondoggle for millionaires” they’re saying.

One of the articles that has already come out in the wake of this tragedy (remember, never let a crisis go to waste) is from Wired Magazine’s Adam Rogers. He says we should end this program because “it’s just the world’s most expensive roller coaster.”

SpaceShipTwo—at least, the version that has the Virgin Galactic livery painted on its tail—is not a Federation starship. It’s not a vehicle for the exploration of frontiers. This would be true even if Virgin Galactic did more than barely brush up against the bottom of space. Virgin Galactic is building the world’s most expensive roller coaster, the aerospace version of Beluga caviar. It’s a thing for rich people to do: pay $250,000 to not feel the weight of the world.

People get rich; they spend money. Sometimes it’s vulgar, but it’s the system we all seem to accept. When it costs the lives of the workers building that system, we should stop accepting it.

If we accepted that silly notion, the Panama Canal, which opened up the U.S. West Coast and indeed the entire Pacific to what eventually became a more globalized economy would’ve never been built. After all, countless tens of thousands died to build it. How about flight? While developing and advancing the concept of manned flight, countless pioneers and inventors gave their lives and hurt themselves severely. Remember, flying commercially was once a privilege of the wealthy until after World War II. Even NASA’s Apollo program suffered loss of life. If we had stopped when “workers building that system” die, we would never progress technologically or in exploration.

But Rogers really makes his true objection known and it’s only somewhat towards Virgin Galactic, it’s towards the history of exploration, space travel, and economics.

Governments and businesses have always positioned space travel as a glorious journey. But that is a misdirect. It is branding. The Apollo program was the most technologically sophisticated propaganda front of the Cold War, a battle among superpowers for scientific bragging rights. Don’t get mad—that truth doesn’t diminish the brilliance of the achievement. It doesn’t mean that the engineers weren’t geniuses or the astronauts weren’t brave or skilled. But it does make problematic, at least a little, the idea that those astronauts were explorers opening up a new frontier.

Historically, frontiers have always been dicey. What the average Western European thought of as a frontier in the 1600s was someone else’s land. And the reasons for going toward frontiers have always been complicated by economics. Was Columbus brave? Sure, probably. But he was also looking for a trade route. Were the conquistadores intrepid? Yeah. But they were looking for gold and land. Do human beings have a drive to push past horizons, over mountains, into the unknown? Manifestly. But we always balance that drive and desire with its potential outcomes. We go when there’s something there.

Yes, that’s generally how things work. People seek to pursue better economic opportunities and go get “something”, whatever that is. This is a good thing.

The best case example is the California Gold Rush. Gold was discovered in the California territory in 1849 and people came there from all over the world to come look for gold. Now most people who went there did not find gold and many went home with only as much or even less than what they started with. However, an entire state and even an entire half of the United States was built as a result of it. Steamships expanded service to the West Coast, merchants built businesses to support the prospectors, farmers all over the Pacific region found new markets for their food. An entire state was carved out of the desert, to support and grow that state and that region, the Transcontinental Railroad was built, which opened up the entire West for settlement and development. This was all because people sought gold in 1849.

What Rogers thinks is that governments and central planning are the best ways to explore space, and don’t kid yourself crony capitalist projects like Elon Musk’s Space X (which survives solely due to subsidies and cronyism) in that same category. However, central planning will not take humanity into the stars. Government-run manned space programs such as the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station have the following things in common: over budget, unfufilled expectations, and behind schedule. If NASA was in charge of discovering the New World, they probably would’ve never left port.

What space tourism has the potential to do is to build the infrastructure to go back to the Moon and to Mars and more importantly go there to stay and colonize it. Space tourism is a funding source for companies to develop launch vehicles and orbital vehicles, which can lower the costs of launching a cargo payload into space. Eventually, the plan is to build orbital hotels and space stations to enable space cruises and longer stays in space. All of this infrastructure can become dual-purpose to sustain a Lunar and eventually a Martian colony. Not to mention, the dream of measuring transcontinental air travel in minutes instead of hours.

We as a species need to keep looking outward and more importantly, we need to get the hell off of this rock as Chris Byrne says in his excellent piece he wrote after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. We don’t need to go to Mars and back to the Moon just to plant a flag and bring home some rocks, we need to go back to stay. We need to go further into the Solar System after that and eventually leave our Solar System and colonize the stars. We need to become an extraplanetary society.

For this reason alone, space tourism and indeed the dream of exploring space is worth dying for. All throughout human history, humans have been willing to risk everything for new ideas and to build a new world. Sometimes and in fact all too often, this risk has cost lives for what many saw as frivolous pursuits. Risk is what makes new discoveries rewarding and we as a society have become too risk adverse.

To explore a new frontier and to build a better future for all of humanity is certainly worth dying for and space tourism, which can lead to the opening of space to the masses, is certainly worth the risks.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Your Halloween Costume Fails Compared To This Cute Mini-Rand Paul

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Here we have a little kid dressing up as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, complete with mini-suit, the hair, and a Rand Paul for President button.

All I have to say is “awwwwwwwwwwww”

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

TLP Roundtable — Should We Require The Labeling Of GMOs?

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Welcome to the first of a new weekly feature here at The Liberty Papers, the TLP Roundtable where the contributors give their opinions on a topic that’s generating a lot of discussion.

This week’s topic is mandatory GMO labeling. Colorado and Oregon have ballot measures on Tuesday asking the voters of their states whether or not they believe food companies should label their GMO ingredients. Supporters of the measures believe that GMOs are harmful to the environment and humans while opponents believe that GMOs have been proven safe.

The contributors found themselves overwhelmingly against mandatory GMO labeling. One of our newest contributors, Joseph Santaniello, wrote a piece opposing Oregon’s ballot measure on this issue, Measure 92.

Chris Byrne:

“I have no problem with it voluntarily but am against it as a regulatory mandate…. and I’m against it in general as a lover of science and truth; because anti-GMO hysteria is pandering to the stupid, the ignorant, the anti-science, and to those who would manipulate them for their own personal agenda and benefit”

Chris wrote a piece on this topic on his personal blog a year ago, that he wants you to read.

Tom Knighton:

“While I generally approve of laws that empower consumers, and I don’t see this as creating an undue burden on businesses, I also believe that laws should actually accomplish something of benefit to society. Despite countless memes floating around social media, there’s no compelling argument that GMO foods are any less safe than non-GMO foods. With that in mind, I can’t support a law that does nothing but fuels a ridiculous hysteria.”

Christopher Bowen:

“Being a liberal libertarian on a site that uses the Gadsden Flag as its avatar, I’m used to pissing people off, and now it’s time for the tree huggers to get in line. There is virtually no compelling evidence that genetically modified food is even an inconvenience – let alone a threat – to people. Yes, it can be peoples’ preference to not consume any food with GMOs; that’s their right. But forcing it on other people, codifying untested science into law, and not giving me the ability to make my own educated decision is beyond the pale.

With that in mind, “let the market decide” is not necessarily the right move, either. By the time the “market” has education, there could potentially be a public health scare. Only a strict constitutionalist would argue that the government does not have the right to regulate food, if only to make sure that what we buy is indeed what we’re getting.

I have an alternative solution, and it serves as a test: instead of mandatory GMO labeling, if we really want the government that involved, let’s instead have it so that “organic” is a distinctly enforceable label, with layers of testing, peer-review and regulation before a company can put “organic” on its food. Most of the liberals I talk to want nothing to do with that for various reasons, but that just goes to show that people are generally OK with government overreach as long as it’s something they agree with.”

Matthew Souders:

“Although I think the fear of GMOs is both overwrought and scientifically baseless at present – I am not wholly persuaded that GMOs are and always will be 100% safe. I don’t think the GMO label is necessary, but I think people have a right to know how their food was prepared and asking companies to provide a label is not an undue burden with any real cost (they already have to have labels…this just adds to what needs to be on the label). As such…if people want to be stupid and fearful, that’s their business…and if it turns out that GMOs become dangerous someday, we’ll be in a better position to respond.”

Sarah Baker:

“If the market demand exists for information, the manufacturer will voluntarily provide it. As an example, baking soda is nowadays often marked “aluminum free.” But all baking soda has always been aluminum free. Baking powder sometimes has aluminum. Manufacturers got tired of explaining that their baking soda—along with everyone else’s—was sans aluminum, and started putting that information right there on the package. A market demand for the information arose, and manufacturers responded by voluntarily altering the packaging to provide the desired information.

If the market demand does not exist, then such a law merely amounts to forcing an expense on the manufacturer, which will be passed on to consumers who do not want or need the information. I would let the market take care of this issue entirely. Those manufacturers who wish to attract the niche market of non-GMO consumers are free to do so. The rest can field phone calls, emails or web traffic, like poor old Arm & Hammer who keeps having to explain that a product made of 100% sodium bicarbonate has no percentage points left over for aluminum.”

Brad Warbany:

“I’m tempted to be against it. Considering how much my wife spends at Whole Paycheck on organics, I can only imagine our grocery bill would increase substantially if she started buying non-GMO!

But more seriously, I’m in favor of labeling, and against mandatory labeling. Mandatory labeling is only appropriate when something contains a known health risk. At this time, there is no significant evidence that GMO foods are more risky than non-GMO foods, and until/unless this changes, it should be handled by voluntary market action.”

Kevin Boyd:

“I have to concur with all of my fellow contributors that there is no sound scientific basis to believe that GMOs are unsafe. I also agree with most of my fellow contributors that there is no justification to require the labeling of GMOs on foods. I also agree with Joseph in his piece that these labeling schemes are crony capitalism to benefit Big Organic. I also agree with Chris Byrne’s blog post on this topic.

There are already voluntary non-GMO labeling schemes out there to cater to the consumers who demand non-GMO foods. If these products are not widely available, it’s not because of a conspiracy by Monsanto, but because there is a lack of demand for them. As to Chris Bowen’s point about government regulation of organics, I would argue that we already have it with the current USDA Organics program, which expressly forbid GMOs. Whether or not the program is any good or effective is certainly up for debate.”

What do you think about GMO labeling? Is it something that should be required by the government, something left to the private sector, or there’s no need for it? Let us know in the comments!

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Why FIRE Is Wrong To Criticize Utah State For Anti #GamerGate Speaker’s Cancellation

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Let me get this out of the way before we get started. For the most part, I like the work that FIRE does on free speech issues on university campuses. Universities are meant to be a place where ideas can be expressed freely, and all too often that’s no longer the case for many reasons.

I also deplore death threats and believe they have no place in political discourse, on either side of any political issue. Anyone who issues death threats for the purpose of silencing speech should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for terrorism, because that’s what this is.

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s get into the story. A couple of weeks ago, Anita Sarkeesian, who is a feminist speaker and opponent of #GamerGate (if you need a #GamerGate 101, read Christopher Bowen’s piece on the topic) canceled her scheduled lecture at Utah State University due to death threats and the fact that Utah universities allow concealed weapons at universities.

The Salt Lake Tribune has more:

In a phone interview from San Francisco, Anita Sarkeesian said she canceled Wednesday’s lecture not because of three death threats — one of which promised “the deadliest school shooting in American history” — but because firearms would be allowed in spite of the threats.

“That was it for me,” said Sarkeesian, who has kept multiple speaking engagements in the face of death threats, including one last week at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. “If they allowed weapons into the auditorium, that was too big a risk.”

She also pledged never to speak at a Utah school until firearms are prohibited on Utah’s campuses and called for other lecturers to join her in boycotting the state.

The USU police and the FBI determined that the threats against Sarkeesian were not credible. Also, Utah passed a law in 2004 that banned universites from restricting guns on campus. Whether or not you like that law, that is the law in Utah.

USU police though offered to tighten security at Sarkeesian’s lecture:

Sarkeesian said she asked for metal detectors or pat-downs at the entrance of the Taggart Student Center auditorium, but USU police said they could not prevent those in attendance from carrying weapons into the lecture if they had concealed weapons permits. Though she said, “in hindsight, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with any weapons in the auditorium.” Police instead promised more officers and a backpack check at the doors. Sarkeesian said she asked whether police could screen the audience for guns and let them in if they had permits, but Vitale said campus law enforcement officers believed that would have been needlessly invasive for the audience.

“If we felt it was necessary to do that to protect Miss Sarkeesian, we absolutely would have done that,” Vitale said. “We felt the level of security presence we were putting into this was completely adequate to provide a safe environment.”

In this era of where we read about police officers violating the rights of the citizens they’re supposed to protect and serve, it’s good to see the USU police try to balance Sarkeesian’s safety with the rights of the audience. However, this wasn’t good enough for Sarkeesian and she cancelled her speech.

It’s clear that Anita Sarkeesian canceled her speech to make a point about concealed carry on campuses and this is a political stunt, not a threat to free speech because the university tried to work with her on security. The university did their job. For more on the gun control implications, read this.

Now enter FIRE’s Gina Luttrell who on their official blog criticized the university for not doing more to prevent the cancellation.

Regardless of the specifics of Utah’s open carry laws, universities do absolutely have an obligation to make sure that reasonable steps are taken to protect speakers—particularly when credible threats are made against them or when there may be violence toward them for their speech. Utah State should have worked harder to ensure that Sarkeesian would be safe speaking on its campus. Frankly, it’s difficult to believe that this would not have been possible to do while also staying within the bounds of state and federal law.

What more does Luttrell and FIRE want USU to do? They tried to work with Sarkeesian on a security plan that would’ve been compliant with Utah law against a threat that the FBI and USU police deemed to be non credible and Sarkeesian rejected it in favor of a political stunt against guns on college campuses. Instead of attacking the university, FIRE and Luttrell should be attacking Sarkeesian for trying to frame her attacks on the Second Amendment as a free speech issue. At the same time, you can’t force someone to speak somewhere they’re not comfortable speaking for whatever reason.

The answer to attacks on freedom is not to restrict freedom. It’s truly disappointing to see organizations give the cover of defending civil liberties to those who are attacking freedom, in this case giving the cover of defending free speech to a woman who is trying to restrict the right to keep and bear arms on campus.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Here’s A Crowdfunding Idea, A Volunteer Brigade To Fight ISIS

Crowdfunding through sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe has made everything from business startups to trips a reality for many that otherwise would not have been. The beauty of crowdfunding campaigns is that it provides a way for people to leverage their social media networks and real life friends to collect and pool together small contributions into a large sum of money for a purpose. Crowdfunding also builds grassroots support for projects, big and small.

If crowdfunding can be used to launch a business or a documentary, can it be used to recruit and fund an all volunteer brigade to fight ISIS? Best-selling sci-fi author and U.S. Army veteran John Ringo seems to think so. On Friday, he posted a status update on his Facebook wall that he was considering such a concept:

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As Ringo points out, members of Dutch and German biker gangs are fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria against the jihadist scourge that is ISIS. A couple of Americans have already volunteered to fight alongside the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia. However, there’s nothing on the scale that Ringo* is envisioning. Ringo is envisioning something like a non-Communist version of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers who fought for the Communist-aligned Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s.

As for the legal issues, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has warned against volunteers joining the Syrian Kurds due to the YPG’s ties to the PKK, which is a Turkish Kurd political party on the terrorist lists of both the United States and the European Union. The U.S. State Department advises that serving in a foreign military is not grounds for loss of citizenship on its own. However, if that foreign military is facing combat against U.S. forces, that could be grounds for loss of citizenship.  A possible grey area is that U.S. law appears to state that serving as a commissioned officer or non-commissioned officer in a foreign military could be grounds for loss of U.S. citizenship. It’s important to note that I could not find any attempts at prosecuting members and commanders of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade or attempting to strip them of citizenship for their role in the Spanish Civil War.

Similiar legal issues were raised over the summer when Americans who served in the Israeli Defense Forces were killed in Gaza. Americans have had a history in serving in the Israeli Defense Forces and other foreign military units such as the French Foreign Legion.

So legally, serving with the Iraqi Kurds shouldn’t be a problem. However, serving with the Syrian Kurds could be legally problematic, given their ties to the PKK. However, the PKK itself is fighting alongside the Iraqi Kurds and the U.S. is arming other Kurdish organizations designated as terrorist organizations to fight ISIS. My guess is, the U.S. would turn a blind eye to Americans fighting ISIS, regardless of what units they’re with.

As for the crowdfunding idea itself, I like it. This could be a way for Americans who are frustrated with the current U.S. policy towards ISIS to step up and do more. They can give money to help American (and likely other foreign volunteers) equip themselves to fight an evil enemy. This unit can be recruited from social media. An example of this is the Donbass Battalion, which is a Ukrainian militia unit fighting against pro-Russian and Russian forces in the Donbass War in Eastern Ukraine. As its commander admits on this Vice News documentary, they recruited on Facebook and relying on donated weapons, uniforms, and provisions.

This is part of a trend of decentralization in warfare that’s going to become more common. As the enemies of freedom are often stateless, the forces of liberty need to decentralize and use the funding mechanisms of peace to respond accordingly. As has been shown in Ukraine, the enemies of liberty and freedom are still often powerful states, so a decentralized means of warfare is often a necessity.

As everything else has become decentralized and crowd-driven, why should warfare be any different?

*Ringo isn’t the only one with this idea. One friend of mine, who has military experience as well, is working on a similiar project as well.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
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