Apollo in the Age of Aquarius

[Amazon Link]

This book was positively mentioned by Tyler Cowen. So I got it, thanks to the ILL staff at the University Near Here, from Brandeis U.

And I am immediately saying: Professor Cowen, did we read the same book? Because I found it simplistic, meandering, and wrong-headed. And I usually start out with a positive bias toward the books I take the trouble to get from the library, because I want to believe that I haven't wasted my time.

The author, Neil M. Maher, is a professor of history in the Federated History Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, Newark.

The book purports to examine the odd coincidence during the 1960s and early 1970s: we had the Apollo Project, a—literally—unprecedented technological feat that (as Ray Bradbury put it at the time) people would "look back upon a million years from tonight". But we also had hippies, the dawn of modern feminism, the dawn of modern environmentalism, civil rights struggles, Vietnam, Commies,…

I lived through that. I know. It was a weird time to be alive. So I kind of assumed that Professor Maher would have some insights that might make things a little less jumbled in my mind. But no.

It starts off with a promising anecdote: two Apollo 13 astronauts, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert, attending, post-mission, a Broadway performance of Hair. How appropriate! Apollo 13's Lunar Module—the one that saved the astronauts' lives—had the callsign "Aquarius", and the most memorable song from Hair was… yes, "Aquarius". But Lovell and Swigert walked out after the first act, due to the production's disrespectful treatment of the American flag.

Good conflict-of-cultures story, but then things get tedious. Maher tries to show the interaction between NASA, Apollo, and all that other stuff: the military, environmentalism, feminism, politics. But he never gets beyond making tendentious conclusions and dubious interpretations of conveniently-selected facts.

Part of the problem is that Maher seems weak on the technology, probably due to lack of interest. Warning sign: on page 14 he says the Saturn V "transported astronauts through space at 17,400 miles per hour". Wince. That's near-earth-orbital velocity, Neil. The whole point of Saturn V was to get Apollo into a trans-lunar injection trajectory, requiring somewhere around 23,000 earth-relative mph.

Neither does Maher do a good job of portraying NASA's political history. Give them a slight break: they were tasked with performing a mission that was as much a cold-war gimmick with an arbitrary deadline as it was a technological marvel. Once the post-Apollo been-there-done-that attitude set in, it found itself in a desperate bureaucratic struggle for Maintained Funding, which manifested itself in all sorts of strained efforts to show relevance.

Not helping was the common fill-in-the-blank saying "if we can put a man on the moon, we can surely ________". Where the blank was filled, as appropriate, with whatever the speaker wanted taxpayer dollars spent on. Maher takes all these claims with zero skepticism.

Another irritation was in the chapter on feminism. Much is made of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, on Vostok 6 in 1963, and the fact that NASA's crew of astronauts at the time was all-dude. Maher avoids noting how much of a propaganda gimmick Tereshkova's flight was; the USSR didn't bother to fly another woman until 1982. (Sally Ride was the third woman in space in 1983.) The history of women in space is interesting, but Maher only seems interested enough to indict NASA's (and America's) disgusting sexism.

URLs du Jour

2018-04-10

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 14:24 sounds like timeless wisdom:

    24 The wealth of the wise is their crown,
        but the folly of fools yields folly.

    "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" is only a small step away from "I'm rich, therefore I'm pretty smart." A logically invalid step, but one that people make all the time.


  • Daniel J. Mitchell notes the WaPo opinion piece from five former [Democrat] members of the Council of Economic Advisers, and calls it A Deceptive and Inaccurate Call for Higher Taxes. The quintet's main point: "Don't blame entitlements" for our country's long-term, entirely foreseeable, fiscal disaster.

    That’s a remarkable claim since the Congressional Budget Office (which is not a small government-oriented bureaucracy, to put it mildly) unambiguously shows that rising levels of so-called mandatory spending are driving our long-run fiscal problems.

    Dan has the charts and links, so check that out. His bottom line is that he's (perversely) happy that "Five top economists on the left put their heads together and tried to figure out the most compelling argument for higher taxes. Yet what they produced is shoddy and deceptive. In other words, they didn’t make a strong argument because they don’t have a strong argument."


  • At Cato, Chris Edwards makes a wouldn't-it-be-nice argument about Federal Spending Rescission.

    Worried that their spending spree in the recent omnibus bill will suppress conservative turnout at the polls this November, Republicans are now considering a “rescission” package. The package of spending cuts—being designed by the White House—could be passed in Congress with simple majorities in both chambers.

    That would be nice. And a refreshing change from the normal GOP spinelessness. Chris has a number of suggestions about what spending especially deserves rescission.


  • Do you think Congress should regulate Facebook and other social media? Well, pilgrim… at Reason, Nick Gillespie describes Why You Shouldn't Want Congress To Regulate Facebook & Other Social Media.

    As Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg prepares to testify before both houses of Congress this week, a little more of the internet prepares to die.

    We are in a social panic over social media, and the final outcome will almost certainly be some sort of government regulation or self-regulation-by-shotgun (think Comics Code Authority) that will ultimately serve only regulators and the dominant companies that help to write the new rules.

    You know what's worse than Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg running Facebook? The government running Facebook.


  • At NR, Nicholas Horton reveals what should be obvious: Medicaid Expansion Is Helping Able-Bodied Adults Instead of the Truly Needy.

    Medicaid was intended to be a safety net for the truly needy. But over time, both federal and state policymakers have lost sight of Medicaid’s core purpose and turned the program into a catch-all, open-ended welfare program for non-disabled adults.

    Obamacare made this problem even worse, giving states the option to expand Medicaid to even more able-bodied adults. Nearly 13 million have been added since that expansion went live in 2014. Today, able-bodied adults in the program now outnumber individuals with disabilities — the people Medicaid was largely designed to serve — by a staggering 17.5 million.

    Medicaid has clearly lost its focus, as I detail in a new report for the Foundation for Government Accountability. The most stunning finding: At least 21,904 individuals have died on Medicaid waiting lists in states since they expanded their programs.

    As often happens, "compassionate" government programs wind up killing people.


  • And—guess what, kids?—break out the party hats and noisemakers, because it's "Equal Pay Day". Mark J. Perry has a different idea about what to celebrate:

    I'll start taking Equal Pay Day seriously when there are as many female loggers, fishers, and roofers as men.

    Which is another way of saying that I will never take Equal Pay Day seriously.