Tuesday, January 22, 2013

No Death Star means more signatures needed for future petitions

On December 14th of last year, Kotaku reported Petition to Build the Death Star Gathers Enough Signatures to Rate a Response from the White House.  A month later, The Guardian was among many to relay the White House's response.*

White House Death Star petition is a no-go
Petition urging building of Star Wars-style weapon system rejected as 'administration does not support blowing up planets'
Conal Urquhart and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 12 January 2013 07.16 EST
Paul Shawcross, the head of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, outlined the reasons why the White House was not planning to build a Death Star, an artificial planet used with devastating consequences in the Star Wars films.

He said the estimated cost of $850 quadrillion would not help deficit reduction plans and asked: "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"
The original has a clever title, This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For, which I thought was one of the best things about the reply, along with a listing of all the science and space accomplishments of the Administration and a burnishing of Obama's nerd credentials.

As for the cost the official response cited, it came from Centives, a blog written at the time by a couple of economics undergraduates at Lehigh University.  It turns out to be a severe underestimate, as the figure is for just the steel.  One reader noted in comments that the total cost of modern warships is ten times that of the steel alone.  Add cost overruns, and the price would be about one sextillion dollars.  That's one followed by eighteen zeros.  No wonder the people at The Monkey Cage blog wrote Death Star? No thank you.

The story didn't end there.  Fast Company as republished in Scientific American reported the next reaction by the Obama Administration.

Tired Of Star Wars Fans, The White House Is Raising The Bar On Online Petitions
By Anya Kamenetz
January 18, 2013
Want an official response from the government? You'll need to collect at least 100,000 signatures.
Under its We the People initiative, anyone is able to submit a petition on any topic, and if it receives enough signatures, the White House staff pledges an official response. At first, that number was 5,000. Then it rose to 25,000. But after a recent petition asking the administration to build a Death Star from Star Wars forced a (hilarious) official response, the bar now's been raised to 100,000 signatures.
Mother Jones elaborates on this news in the aptly titled "My God, What Have We Done?": White House Staffers React to Insane Online Petitions.  That makes me glad I didn't sign the petition.  That way, this was not my fault!

*I found two other articles worth reading about the release.  PoliticusUSA added visuals to the response in the good-natured No Death Star, ‘The Administration does not support blowing up planets’.  So did Wonkette, who added their trademark snark in Obama Administration Crushes Nerds’ Dreams, Will Not Build Death Star.

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