View 726 Friday, June 01, 2012
The Dragon has landed, an important step in the development of America as a spacefaring nation again. We did not develop the airlines by having the FAA build and operate freight and passenger airlines.
Dragon was developed with some government market guarantees, but it was a fixed price pay on performance contract. Some of the cargo was also pure capitalism: My son Richard is an executive with a company that sells experiment space on the International Space Station (http://moonandback.com/2012/04/09/moonandback-interview-with-richard-pournelle-part-1-nanoracks/ ) and part of the Dragon cargo – both ways – were some of those experiments. Most of it was food, water, and underwear, but there were other commercial aspects to the flight. And now anyone can design and operate experiments in space. Some of them are even cheap. For more on all this, see the rest of Richard’s interview at http://moonandback.com/2012/04/09/moonandback-interview-with-richard-pournelle-part-1-nanoracks/. And then look into his company http://nanoracks.com/.
The revised economic figures are out, and things are worse than reported. Hardly a surprise. Economic reports are always more optimistic than the reality, and they are always revised downward, usually on a Friday, and generally with language that makes it look as if it’s all trivial and routine. So it goes.
And some Democrats are defecting from the attack on capitalism. That would be a very good thing: I would be enormously pleased if there were two political parties who could be trusted with majorities in Congress as well as holding the White House. Alas, there aren’t – indeed, given the performance of the establishment Republicans after Newt Gingrich left Congress, there’s not even one. The only good things I have to say about the Republican regime after the Clinton/Gingrich period is that even a disaster like Obama doesn’t make it look very good.
Anatole France once said that a thief is much to be preferred to a fool, for a thief may upon occasion take a vacation. Substitute ideologue for fool and you get much the same thing. I prefer thieves to ideologues – and given Pournelle’s Iron Law you will not be far from both.
The good news is that it is possible – almost likely – that we’ll have a chance to straighten out this mess after next January. The enemies here are despair and triumphalism. It is possible to win, and to have in both White House and Congress people who understand that Jefferson – said to be founder of the Democratic Party – was right in observing that governments who govern best govern least.
It is also possible to lose. The election will be hard fought, the Democrats will have a ground game that will include questionable tactics, and some actual fraud. Some of us have not forgotten how Cook County delivered Illinois and the presidency to John Kennedy on election night.
The news from Wisconsin is good: no layoffs, no runaway spending, and some success in turning the school system around. What Wisconsin has achieved others can aspire to. And we note that Obama is not going to Wisconsin, even though the recall election is just a few days away. The Democrats started that recall fight. They now wish they hadn’t. But even that one hasn’t been won yet. The unions will have their ground game going, and they play that well. Wisconsin Republicans and Independents and Tea Partiers can’t relax yet.
There’s more good news. On line education is working, and more and more institutions are putting up textbooks and lectures on line. Free. I will have more to say on that presently.
It would now be possible for someone to open an unaccredited University built around a few tutors who work with students, and who direct the students to various on-line books, lectures, demonstrations, and even classes. Were I younger I would contemplate doing that myself – in many respects my undergraduate education was that way, seminars with George Mosse and others, who sent me to various classes. The same later happened with Paul Horst at the University of Washington.
There are good classes out there, from beginning calculus to highly advanced physics, and not just in the sciences. I think it cannot be long before we have great mentors accepting a few students who work with them to coordinate their studies, and students who end up with a far better education than they can obtain anywhere in the world (with a few exceptions: there are, after all, still some places who have great teachers who see students; it’s just there aren’t many).
What we don’t yet have is a means of credentialing; but that will change. As an example, I cannot think that any sane employer would not consider a student mentored online by, say, Jacques Barzun and given a certificate by him to have the equivalent of a degree from Columbia. I made that example up, of course. Another: suppose the late John McCarthy had accepted a half dozen students with whom he met online for an hour a week individually, and perhaps in a general 2 hour conference seminar; and who specified what on-line lectures and courses his charges should take. That, I think, would be superior to most anything Stanford can offer. It’s easy to make up other examples.
We don’t have anything like that yet, but I cannot think it is many years coming. As to fees, those would be negotiable between the mentor and the student. You can speculate on those for yourself.
It’s just a thought.