The Bull

The argument is often made that although some group committed a violent aggression, they were provoked into it by an act that was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The South at Fort Sumter; the Russians in 2022; the Nazis: all those have had that argument made for them.

mRNA vaccines

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about the new mRNA vaccines, but one objection that seems well grounded is that they can be rather rough on people. Boosters, in particular, can make people quite sick for a couple of days and occasionally even put them in the hospital. This was apparent in the trial data when it first came out, and has only been confirmed since.

This effect is understandable if you look at the way they work.

The God of War

If Elon Musk’s Starship works – and there’s no reason it shouldn’t – it will expand access to space to a degree that will seem ludicrous. At present, getting into low earth orbit costs in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars per kilogram. Starship could lower that to tens of dollars per kilogram. At present, the number of launches to orbit is in the double digits per year, with the larger launchers delivering on the order of ten tons. Starship, with both stages being fully reusable, could do more flights even just using a single spacecraft; and it is so large that each flight could deliver on the order of a hundred tons. And Elon is building not just one Starship or four Starships but a factory for Starships; we saw something of its production rate when Starships were being crashed on what seemed like a monthly basis during landing tests. Multiply all those factors together, and we’re talking perhaps a thousandfold increase in launch capacity.

But what is to be done with all that capacity? Elon has been saying that the idea is to colonize Mars, but how that would pay off is not clear. Mars has a mere wisp of an atmosphere (and that mostly CO2) and very little water. The soil is actively hostile to life (that being one of the few things wrong with the movie The Martian: he couldn’t have grown his crops). Living there would have to be done inside a pressurized bubble, and would require most supplies to be transported from Earth, at least until a very substantial local economy had emerged. Even living in the most hostile desert on Earth would be far easier. For a settlement to be viable, it would have to export something to pay for all those imports – and no, Halliburton isn’t going to drill for oil there, as some clowns were imagining when Bush Jr proclaimed his Mars initiative: there probably isn’t oil on Mars, and even if there were lakes of oil on Mars, it isn’t valuable enough to pay the return freight, even at Starship rates.

But there is a different Mars that pays very well: Mars the god of war – though he can be fickle.

Nord Stream

The bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines has occasioned a lot of speculation. But what people don’t seem to realize is how easy a job like that is to do. Seymour Hersh published an elaborate conspiracy theory involving the US armed forces plus the Norwegians, with a minesweeper, deep divers, airplanes, and such.

But it could have just been three Poles in a fishing boat.

Lightning rods

Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod, they told me in school, and ever since then we’ve had lightning rods to protect us.

So where are they all?

The Ukraine war

It shouldn’t be that hard for people who sympathized with Putin to turn around and sympathize with Ukraine now, and it can be done with complete intellectual consistency, but few seem to be managing it. It’s like telling a woman that she shouldn’t taunt her man, and then switching to her defense when he snaps and starts chasing her with an axe. Yes, you’ve been proven right, but it’s no time for gleefully saying “I told you so”. Some provocations should not be given, but some reactions are far more than the provocation deserves.

Virtual-reality lynch mobs

Back when Facebook bought Oculus, there was lots of talk about them having some master plan for integrating virtual reality into Facebook: for making virtual reality “social”. There was no real need to suppose they had any such master plan: an alternate explanation was that they found the technology interesting and promising, and wanted to be on top of it, wherever it was going. At any rate, if they did have some master plan, we haven’t seen much of it in the intervening years. There have been some offerings: one gives people the sense of being in a conference room and seeing crude 3D avatars of the other participants. It doesn’t really give Zoom much competition. But now we are to have the “Metaverse”: whatever that is to be, Facebook will be putting lots of time and money into its development. To emphasize its significance they are renaming the whole company “Meta”. And indeed there are things that can be done with more time and money.

One of them is enabling online lynch mobs.

Putting a vaccine out quickly, part 3

If anyone had been in the mood to argue with my previous missives about getting a vaccine out quickly, they could have easily found an objection. “You’re only addressing testing”, they might have said, “and the real problem is manufacturing. It’s fine to test a vaccine fast, but the real struggle is going to be in the process of gearing up to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses. Even most of the regulatory work deals with details of manufacturing. And since we can do testing in parallel with gearing up for manufacturing, and the gearing up for manufacturing will take longer, we don’t need to do testing as fast as you suggest.”


I’ve forgotten where I read it, but Von Moltke (senior), after winning the Franco-Prussian War, had a flatterer compare him to Napoleon (the original Napoleon, of course, not his nephew Napoleon III whom they’d just defeated). Von Moltke demurred, saying that he had only proven his skills in advances, while Napoleon had been good at retreats, and that retreats are much harder.