Friday, July 21, 2017
Shuttle accomplished much. And she was all we had. And yes, I loved seeing her fly, and I can’t listen to ‘Fly Columbia’ without a tear. And if that doesn’t get to you, and you can hear Fire in the Sky without emotion, then – well. It’s not my place to insult my readers.
Dr. Jordin Kare, The Bard of Man in Space. RIP
He was never as famous as he should have been, but he was instrumental in keeping the dream alive after the the Apollo program ended as anyone, and he inspired interest in the Shuttle when it was all we had.
He also kept alive the concept of laser propulsion, including launch to orbit but ground based lasers, long after Arky Kantrowitz pretty well despaired of it’s acceptance in his lifetime. He did serious work for the space program; but he will be longer remembered for his songs.
From September, 2010:
I make no secret of having mixed emotions about the Shuttle. The design was wrong and the design criteria included requiring the services of the large standing army of development scientists who had made Apollo possible. Had I stayed in the aerospace industry, say in Operations Research at North American Rockwell – I would doubtless have benefitted from Shuttle. And in 1980, when we were preparing the transition team papers for the incoming Reagan Administration, the Administrator of NASA came to Larry Niven’s house to plead the case for continuing Shuttle on the grounds that it might be flawed, but it was all we had. (It had not yet flown an orbital mission.)
And it was all we had for manned space flight, and it was possible that it could evolve into a truly reusable space ship. It didn’t. From the first Shuttle required operation of the Shuttle main engines at more than 100% of their design rated thrust, and that meant that after each flight they had to be reconstructed. Shuttle was a rebuildable spacecraft, but it was not reusable in the usual operational sense – refuel it and fly again. And over time we found that the Shuttle annual budget was independent of the number of flights. Shuttle ate much of the dream of manned space flight.
Worse, NASA Houston and the standing army insisted on keeping the low pressure pure oxygen space suit system rather than developing the NASA Ames higher pressure air suit. This compromised all the Shuttle EVA missions since it required pure oxygen prebreathing, meaning that the pressure in the Shuttle on missions in which an EVA was planned had to be at low pressure pure oxygen; and that in turn meant that the number of molecules of cooling ‘air’ would be low, meaning that many of the electronics in Shuttle had to be shut down until after the last EVA.
There were other flaws. And yet: Shuttle accomplished much. And she was all we had. And yes, I loved seeing her fly, and I can’t listen to ‘Fly Columbia’ without a tear. And if that doesn’t get to you, and you can hear Fire in the Sky without emotion, then – well. It’s not my place to insult my readers.
A long time ago Larry Niven pointed out to Carl Sagan that every time Carl and his people won the argument that robots would do, and we did not need a manned space program, he lost more support for space. The American people were willing to pay to send humans to space. They were not so concerned with taxing themselves to send robots and only robots. Exploring the universe has a purpose, and part of that purpose is to find new resources, and new habitats, for humanity. As Tsiolkovsky said long ago, the Earth is too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in. And as I said long ago in A Step Farther Out, 90% of the resources easily available to the human race are not on the Earth at all. Even inefficient space exploration has a high potential payoff.
It may be that I am part of an irrelevant and bygone era, but if so, then so are you all. Arthur Clarke said it well: if the human race is to survive, than for most of its history the word ‘ship’ will mean ‘space ship.’ If we do not go to space, all of humanity will one day be part of an irrelevant and bygone era.
I used to see Jordin at conventions, and made a point of finding him. It was always worth doing. We were never close friends, but he was a good friend. Farewell to the Bard of Man in Space.
I don’t like to say it because it sounds like despair, but it’s becoming more obvious that Republicans can’t rule; at least these Republicans can’t. Having passed bills to repeal Obamacare back when they knew President Obama would veto them, they can’t do it now that they have a President who would sign it. The only remedy here is to do it: send the bills through, and record the votes. Then we’d have an idea of who not to invite back to any party function, fund raising event, or even barbeque or baby kissing; let them caucus with the Democrats if they like. And raise their own money.
Yes, I suppose I don’t mean all of that, but Obamacare? The very notion that I am responsible for everyone’s medical problems has not been debated openly; and there has been no real debate on the utter unconstitutionality of a national entitlement to health care. No State dared try it; not the richest, nor the poorest.
Federal aid to education worked so well, didn’t it? It converted a fairly decent system of education in many states that scaled down to something awful in a few – converted that to something near awful in all. That’s improvement? And we move further down the path.
The only way that sending the tax collector (followed by the hangman for those who refuse) to finance education is justified is the theory that education is a good investment: educated students make better citizens who cost less to govern, and some will go on to create jobs and find other ways to enrich us all. It may even be true – if done right. It’s demonstrably not true now. Now the schools exist to make sure that anyone who gets “credentials” will never have to work a day after a few years working in a state educational institution. This does not seem like a good investment to me.
Los Angeles pays over $8,000 a year per student to each school. If they were to offer me $8,000 a year to educate 100 10th grade students, paying me only for those who demonstrated previously agreed to standards of progress and otherwise leaving it to me to hire a hall and assistants to do the teaching, do you think I’d do well? I do. I’d be arguing to add a grade a year to my school, and profiting every year. And if I couldn’t do it, the kids would damn well still have got a better education than what I saw last time I visited a classroom.
John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty:
Were the duty of enforcing universal education once admitted, there would be an end to the difficulties about what the State should teach, and how it should teach, which now convert the subject into a mere battle-field for sects and parties, causing the time and labour which should have been spent in educating, to be wasted in quarrelling about education. If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them. The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State’s taking upon itself to direct that education: which is a totally different thing. That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating.
Of course we’ve forgotten all that. If we ever thought about it. The purpose of today’s public education is to see that all teachers’ union members are paid until they die.
And in a lighter vein:
SUBJ: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Apropos of nothing – this is just too damn good not to pass along.
“Man hurt after blasting wheel with shotgun”
“Stupid is as stupid does.” – Forrest Gump
Yeah I know this guy is a poster child for natural selection.
But. . .
How many (of us!) can TRULY say we have NEVER, EVER been SORELY tempted to shoot a piece of recalcitrant hardware?
I suspect most (of us!) have never heeded such temptation. But I will confess, when I was younger and my passions were yet unmellowed by a couple score of years . . . I was DAMNED close a time or two.
Don’t look so smug.
(Waaaaay) back when Johnny Carson was still hosting The Tonight Show, I recall a guest he had one evening. The guy had finally gotten fed up with the coke machine in his gas station stealing people’s money. He drew his pistol and shot the machine.
(Suddenly Keenan Wynn’s famous deadpan line from _Dr. Strangelove_ springs to mind, to wit: “You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.” But I digress.)
Carson interviewed the guy in a light-hearted fashion and give him an award for “The Best Use Of A Slug In A Vending Machine.”
The audience cheered uproariously.
I opine that in the heart of every member of a technologically-advanced society lurks a tiny little Luddite spirit thirsting for revenge.
But perhaps that is more true than you think.
The end of the internet startup
We haven’t had a major new technology company in more than 10 years.
Silicon Valley is supposed to be a place where a couple of guys in a garage or a dorm room can start companies that change the world. It happened with Apple and Microsoft in the 1970s, AOL in the 1980s, Amazon, Yahoo, and Google in the 1990s, and Facebook in the 2000s.
But the 2010s seem to be suffering from a startup drought. People are still starting startups, of course. But the last really big tech startup success, Facebook, is 13 years old.
Until last year, Uber seemed destined to be Silicon Valley’s newest technology giant. But now Uber’s CEO has resigned in disgrace and the company’s future is in doubt. Other technology companies launched in the past 10 years don’t seem to be in the same league. Airbnb, the most valuable American tech startup after Uber, is worth $31 billion, about 7 percent of Facebook’s value. Others — like Snap, Square, and Slack — are worth much less.
So what’s going on? On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, I posed that question to several technology executives and startup investors.
“When I look at like Google and Amazon in the 1990s, I kind of feel like it’s Columbus and Vasco da Gama sailing out of Portugal the first time,” said Jay Zaveri, an investor at the Silicon Valley firm Social Capital.
The early internet pioneers grabbed the “low-hanging fruit,” Zaveri suggested, occupying lucrative niches like search, social networks, and e-commerce. By the time latecomers like Pinterest and Blue Apron came along, the pickings had gotten slimmer.
But others told me there was more to the story than that. Today’s technology giants have become a lot more savvy about anticipating and preempting threats to their dominance. They’ve done this by aggressively expanding into new markets and by acquiring potential rivals when they’re still relatively small. And, some critics say, they’ve gotten better at controlling and locking down key parts of the internet’s infrastructure, closing off paths that early internet companies used to reach a mass market.
As a result, an industry that used to be famous for its churn is starting to look like a conventional oligopoly — dominated by a handful of big companies whose perch atop the industry looks increasingly secure. [snip]
It didn’t take the Deep State to get control. As Adam Smith said. Whenever two capitalists get together, they conspire to keep newcomers out of their business. One way is to get government to impose regulations which add greatly to startup expenses
All Men Are Created Equal
I have never in my life read or heard the phrase “all men are created equal” to mean that all people are equal in all of their abilities. It was evident to me as a five year old in first grade that not all of the children or adults were of equal ability. I have always understood the phrase to mean that all people are born with the same basic prerequisite of life, the need for sustenance, which implies the need for nourishment, shelter, and security in one’s self. This prerequisite is there no matter how dull or brilliant, no matter how physically incapable or capable a person is.
The need for sustenance implies the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is, that to lead a rational life, one must be free to obtain their sustenance, secure in the knowledge that the fruits of their efforts will not be summarily seized by another, and that their efforts will not be arbitrarily impeded by another. The whole edifice of Western law unfolds from this first principle.
There is the implication that the law should neither penalize on person’s efforts nor favor those of another. There is the implication that one must be judged for one’s actions, not one’s appearance or beliefs. In short, there is the implication that all persons are equal UNDER THE LAW. But, nowhere is there the implication that all persons are equal in their abilities.
To attempt to create a society in which all persons are equal in their abilities is to contravene the principle that all persons are equal under the law. You must use the law to impede the efforts those who are able and favor the efforts of those who are not. Such a system is not even communism, where the efforts of the able are not impeded, but their fruits are seized for the not able. Such a system will not let the able produce at all. This is the society that the far left would impose on the West.
If anything in nature is self-evident, it is that all men are not created equal. When I was young I said openly – even in my days of flirtation with communism – that 90% of humanity were dependent on the other10% to keep them out of utter poverty. Probably I was wrong. But men are not created equal.
That does not mean they are not human.
A long dialog and other discussion of Global Warming from 2010:
And more, including some lengthy words on education:
Actually more rational than most discussions are now.
Globalize the Presidency:
A Modest Proposal
We now have proof, from Trump Jr. himself, that he and friends tried to outsource oppo research to foreign spies. How very globalist.
In normal times this would earn condemnation even from his party. But these are not normal times. I therefore predict that the Republicans will normalize this abnormality. So of course one calls on foreigners to meddle in elections!
I am reminded of some incidents from Ancient Greek history, where a citizen of a city-state is exiled, but returns at the head of an army from another city-state. That’s treason, of course, but sometimes it worked.
Why did Russia meddle with the Presidential election? Because that office has global reach. It’s only reasonable for other nations to want a say in the American Presidency; it has an effect on them.
So here’s a modest proposal: make this official. Globalize the Presidency. Let citizens of other nations lobby and fund and campaign openly. Perhaps let them vote, at, say, 1/100 of a vote each. More if they pay off our debts.
If the idea is to get our debts paid, isn’t there a more easily accomplished way? Levying tribute on others is a long and well established procedure. Today it’s the have nots levying tribute on the haves (only the State is pleased to do it fir them; the State is always pleased to do it for them). The Constitution was intended to prevent that, and did so for a while. It’s remarkable: those who possess the best arms are deferential to those who march and swagger and set fires, then run away. It will be interesting to see how long that lasts; and then to see just whom the army will obey.
To the victor belong the spoils. The strong do as they will, and the weak suffer what they must. Sometimes the strong forget that, and act as if they were the weak.
Current Status of Space Law and Private Property
Hello Dr. Pournelle,
I grew up reading your books, which helped to nurture my interest in space. My aptitudes were not the best fit for a STEM career, but I have pursued the study of law as it relates to space. I will probably be pursuing related doctoral work in the fall, and as an LL.M. student got to successfully represent North America in an academic competition on the subject before an ICJ panel in Jerusalem back in 2015.
Linked is an article I’ve written defending the 2015 U.S. law declaring private ownership of extracted space resources legal. Whatever percentage of your audience which is willing to pay the exorbitant paywall fee might be interested: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14777622.2017.1288515
I’ve co-authored another, shorter, article on the same topic with a lawyer for a new space company–it can be requested here https://iafastro.directory/iac/archive/browse/IAC-16/E7/2/32435/ or from me–but I don’t think I have a direct link for it as of yet.
University of Mississippi School of Law, 2013 (J.D.), 2015 (LL.M.)
At least for the next 500 years we are unlikely to encounter any space resources owned by aborigines. That does not stop someone from claiming them as “the common heritage” or some such. In the current climate those claims may prevail. You go find it, taking all the risks and paying the price. I’ll be happy to share it with you.
Thanks for the kind words.
In case you missed this:
George Mosse Lectures On-line
I expect you will be glad to know that the University of Wisconsin has four series of lectures recorded by Dr. Mosse — a total of 122 lectures recorded between 1969 and 1982 — in mp3 format, available for free download at: http://mosseprogram.wisc.edu/mosse_audio_lectures.htm.
Best prayers and wishes for you and Mrs. Pournelle.
Mosse was the best lecturer on Western Civilization I have ever heard. I wish those had been available when my boys were growing up.
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.