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Monday, July 20, 2009
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Dear Doctor Pournelle,
That John Derbyshire column on the fortieth anniversary of the first manned lunar landing was just about the saddest and best example I have yet seen of why the United States of America is entering a Dark Age.
Leave aside our rapidly waning ability to educate out of their natural state of barbarism the majority of our children. Never mind the stultifying dead hand on the wheel of our increasingly vapid cultural "elite" vaguely pontificating from their Penthouse Towers on the meaning of "is", or whether Information Wants Anything.
Forget even the latest "gee whiz" gimcrackery offered up daily by the Priesthood of Science and Engineering as new means of avoiding the ever present fear of boredom, enabling all the better the stultifying juggernaut of the media to stuff empty heads with yet more emptiness (of course it is a silly, impossible concept, but they manage it nevertheless!) via iPhone, iPod and soon enogh, I expect, the iBrain directly linked to the latest sound and fury signifying nothing.
No, forget all of these signposts on the road to the New Dark Age. Look only to the collapse of The Derb. When someone who is ostensibly one of the Best and Brightest of those that GOT IT, "it" being that we are now in the first years of what will be (Deus volent!!!) someday, by those who come after, as a Dark Age, when one such as The Derb can actually with all due consideration and gravitas write, on the Fortieth Anniversary of the only tihng our era will be remembered for (it it is remembered at all),:
"Nothing unexpected turned up. The voyages, Apollo 13's malfunction aside, went rigidly as planned. We found what we expected to find: dust and rocks. then we have lost."
That's just infuriating in its vapid lack of knowledge of what Apollo accomplished. Just simply wrongheaded and dumb, and this from one who ought to know better, and in all ilkelihood does know better. Wherefore the Brain Cloud?
Uh, Derb, Apollo discovered Helium Three in that lunar "dust", which was not expected at all. Helium Three could enable a form of clean fusion that could power the world at about five tiems current levels for, oh, a thousand years. Apollo also found out that the Moon was created when the Earth was hit by something big enough to shatter it into about a trillion pieces, and that news was, if you will excuse my being literal, literally and figuratively earth shattering.
If we have communicated so poorly what we did forty years ago to One Of The Ones Who Gets It, one of the ones most disposed -to- Get It, then we have well and truly lost. End of game. Roll the Fat Lady out for her aria. Turn off the lights, this parties over.
How can I say it better than this Data Point does: Yesterday, in a full day of work and play on the web, other than your pointing to the Derbyshire column and associated comments, I saw not one mention of the fortieth anniversary of the Eagle.
It has become a non-event. Why do the loonies even bother to claim we never landed on the moon? After all, it's already as if we never had.
So The Derb points out, as have I, that we are about to Pull The Plug on it all:
: "A "next-generation" manned space program called "Constellation" is on NASA's drawing board, but nobody thinks anything will come of it, and Congress is already quietly turning off the funding spigots.
Americans who travel beyond the atmosphere in the future will do so in privately financed vehicles, or on seats rented from other governments still keen to explore "the insufficiency of human enjoyments" on their citizens' behalf. Apollo was an extravagance, a folly. But what a glorious, soul-stirring folly!"
So we have lost the rear guard action. The battle was done long ago, an unmitigated disaster, the King and Emperor dead on the field, but we had a chance, for some years a glimmering shimmer of hope, that we might salvage a "Dunkirk", (I expect half of your readers need that explained to them. I weary.), to perhaps snatch something from the calamity that was the post-Apollo era.
That era has ended. As I previously noted, it is likely the current Presidential Commission on NASA's future will provide a convenient "fig leaf" for a decent burial of any NASA dreams of venturing beyond Low Earth Orbit.
I respect The Derb for what he has accomplished and written prior to this effusion of despair, but I find it simply disgusting that he can be so craven in defeat. the Not to mention, I would have quit, walked out and gone home to watch the Eagle land, than let any Merchant Prince, even of such a lordly breed and pedigree as an English Pub Owner, stop me from watching the one (dare I repeat myself?) THE ONE AND ONLY EVENT this Early Dark Age will EVER be remembered for, if it is remembered at all.
George Orwell in "1984" had it wrong. Imagine not a boot stamping on a human face forever. Imagine instead a fat human face, eternally grimaced in idiot laughter .
Imagine the moon, with its dozen sets of foot prints, eternally watching as the children of the Earth turn their backs on their heritage, and waddle back into the darkness.
Despair is a sin, but it is also a sin to lie, especially to oneself.
The Last Battle is begun. It is for private enterprise to take up the fight. They can be the Irish Monks, on the edge of civilization, preserving and protecting the flame of hope. A New Byzantium if you will, though Byzantium eventually fell, though not before passing the flame to the West.
I hope someday they will laugh at us in our folly, as the human race looks back and down on this time and place from its lofty perch among the stars.
I hope Heimdall will someday shine in the evening sky.
Cyberattack; Argument against wind power
Sad to hear you are feeling ill. I wish you and Roberta health and pray for same. +++++ Do you credit the reports that North Korea is behind the alleged cyberattack on the US? I am reminded of The Mouse That Roared and the dreaded Q-bomb. The idea that NoKos are internet savvy enough to launch such an attack is beyond my imagination. But I draw my conclusions from my gut and not my head. Where is the hard data to support this far-fetched notion that a nation with less internet literacy than Latvia perpetrated a cyberattack on the US gov't?
Last, I offer a long (151 slides) presentation of an environmental heretic's argument against wind power. http://www.slideshare.net/JohnDroz/energy-presentationkey-presentation The key slide is number 78. His point in short: Wind power does not deliver the CO2 reduction its advocates promise and can never replace other energy sources.
Live long and prosper h lynn keith
TSA budget excerpt
“Enhancing the Security of the Nation’s Transportation System
• Devotes nearly $6 billion to the multi-layered, risk-based aviation security system. “
This would buy ten million handguns with ammunition and holsters to be distributed to former military Officers and senior NCOs. Which would make you feel safer?
Netbook OS personal observation
I just read your comment in Thursday's View about a streamlined OS for netbooks.
While not the best for cloud computing (or, as we called it at Compaq, "Application Service Providing"), Microsoft already has a good standalone OS for netbooks: Windows XP.
I was in Costco yesterday (you'd think I lived there!) and stopped by the laptop display. There were three netbooks there and all had Windows XP with Service Pack 3.
When I first read of Google Chrome OS, my first thought was that it would make less of an impact than their browser (Do people use Chrome browser?) if Microsoft already has something in the wings. It appears they do.
“I think it a good sign for the health of our democracy that someone with her lack of competence should find greener pastures in the private sector.”
Jerry, I think you were not quite responsive to your questioner. He is saying something that I’m reading a lot. She’s stupid, she’s not competent, she doesn’t know anything, she never could have handled the job of vice-president or president... It’s a source of wonder to me that people can think that someone who was, as near as I can tell, a successful mayor and a successful governor is likely to be stupid or incompetent. What people really mean is, they were not impressed by her performance in interviews. For every other endeavor in our lives, we understand well that being a glib interviewee is not the only determinant of competence. I know plenty of smart skillful people who frequently say things that sound dumb; I’m one of them (at least the second half of the sentence). But in politics, the sound bite has taken over.
I admire Sarah Palin, and I am astonished at her ability to persevere given the many tasks she has. She was at least as qualified by experience to be Vice President as Obama was to be President, with the exception of the Ivy League education and general membership in the intelligentsia. The most important qualification for President is judgment. The President is surrounded by experts: what is required is the judgment to choose the right people, and decide on the right course of action. No one can be an expert on all the matters on which a President must make decisions.
Palin made one truly great speech, and several very good ones. She doesn't do hostile interviews well. As to judgment, we have her record at Mayor and Governor.
July 14, 2009
Dear Dr Pournelle,
I would say the possibility of judicial activism is the flip side of Common Law. The antidote to it is not "strict constructivism", whatever that is supposed to mean, but Roman Law. When Common Law is combined with a strong civil society, it allows judges to rein in the excesses of the legislative and executive branches, but does not guarantee it. Conversely, Civil Law never shielded Louisianans from abusive judges.
In my opinion the most distressing decision of the Court in recent times was in Kelo vs. New London, that gutted the Fifth Amendment for all practical purposes. The constructivism vs. activism pseudo-debate would not have made a difference there.
As for Sotomayor, abortion advocates may find to their dismay her positions are not as stereotypically liberal as they'd like.
-- Fazal Majid
There is no Common Law of the United States, although many of the states do base their legal system on the Common Law. The Common Law is judge-made law, and much of it is based on reasoning. What would a reasonable person do in these circumstances?
Kelo vs. New London was more complex than most suppose. It is certainly distressing. It also leaves the issue to the states, and many in many states the people have acted to protect property rights. If the issue is one of simple justice the matter is clear enough, but there is another issue, namely where does the Federal judiciary get the power to interfere in what is a local matter? I am not so certain that this is obvious, just as in the New London Firemen Case I am not certain that the Federal Courts have the power to tell the New London city council that it cannot seek to avoid lawsuits. I say not certain: I believe that the test was fair, I believe that the Congress has the Constitutional power to enforce the equal protection provisions, I believe that Congress has acted -- and I am not at all sure I understand what the law demands in that case. And I don't live in New London.
Sotomayor in her opening statement promised adherence to existing law, not "justice" as she understands it despite the law. Of course she could be "just saying that." She could also be speaking what she thinks is truth. In any event it is certain she'll be confirmed.
'We used to keep written records of the decisions made at meetings and officials had to initial them and indicate whether they approved or disapproved.'
-- Roland Dobbins
When briefings were done by ViewGraphs drawn on acetate one was perhaps more careful. I still prefer written work, but lectures without slides are seldom successful now.
Subject: Apollo 11
In your post of Saturday July 11, 2009 you talked about the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. There is a back-story that very few people know about the return of the Apollo 11 capsule which I thought you might find interesting. In researching my fathers work in the Air Force, I discovered the following story:
There was a little known group based out of Hickam AFB in Hawaii in the 1960s and 1970s that had a major hand in making the Apollo 11 return a success. This group and its mission was classified until the mid 1990s. The only reason I knew about it before then was that my father was a pilot and the commander there in the mid 1960s.
The group was the 6594th Test Group and their mission was to "catch" camera satellite capsules returning from orbit. Yes, they "caught" them with a C-119 or a C-130 dragging hooks out the back. They snagged the parachute with these hooks and dragged the capsule into the aircraft. If they missed, the package hit the water and very quickly sank to avoid discovery by the Soviet Union. They supported the Corona satellite reconnaissance program, which President Clinton declassified in 1995.
My father had (my mother still has) a hook and a plate with a capsule parachute embedded in it from my fathers time there. Almost no one knew about it then and very few know about it now. Even when it was declassified, there was little talk about it and evidently it didn't make enough of a stir for anyone to really notice.
I had thought that a documentary or a show on Discovery channel or some other media outlet would have been made by now but that seems to not be the case. Well, here's a story that involves that elite group of people. It's about a weather forecaster in the Air Force who had access to the pictures from those capsules, although he didn't have clearance for the actual project, and how he helped make sure Apollo 11 made it safely back to earth.
The Apollo 11 astronauts probably would have died had this young Air Force Captain not endangered his career by going out on a limb with information only he knew and that had been secured by men like my father. My father wasn't involved with this particular mission as he was stationed there quite some time before this occurred, but he paved the way for those who were involved.
I've posted this story in other places because I think it's a fascinating story and one that should be told. I hope you find it interesting as well.
A devoted fan and one time correspondent, Eric F
Early reconnaissance satellites took physical film images. They were de-orbited and parachuted to a water drop; and nearly every one of them -- perhaps all, for all I know -- was recovered. This program was discussed in the Open Space and Peace Symposium hosted by Edward Teller and Stefan Possony at the Hoover Institution sometime in the early 1960's. I gave a paper at that unclassified conference. I also invited Poul Anderson to come to the conference with me, and stayed at his house that week. Teller proposed "Open Space" reconnaissance, which eventually came to pass.
I had not known about this incident. Thanks!
I shared Col. Couvillon’s thoughts on MacNamara with a co-worker & got this back:
I was on my midshipman youngster cruise in Subic. The USS FLINT (AE 32) was getting a bunch of new sailors. I was on the quarterdeck when this older Seaman Second reports aboard in a set of grubby dungarees. To me as a 19 year old he was older than dirt. Needed a shave, needed a haircut…
Nobody liked the guy. A complete loner. But, a super engineman (the A Gang guys words - not mine). I got assigned, I'm sure as a joke, to help him rebuild one of the emergency diesels. I learned a lot. Anyway, still a pariah, but everyone knew he was a wiz with the diesels.
Had a CO's personnel inspection one Friday morning, then the XO was planning on early liberty. The Chief Engineer and the A Division officer were really worried about this guy. Always grubby. Never left the ship. Needed to hide him somewhere. He missed fall in for inspection and I knew those two were very happy not seeing him. But, here he comes wandering onto the flight deck in his dress uniform. A perfectly cleaned and pressed uniform. You couldn't miss his many rows of ribbons especially the little blue ribbon covered in stars on top.
He was with the Riverine Forces in Vietnam for a couple of tours. He was still a grubby little engineman who kept to himself but after that inspection nobody said boo to him.
Thanks. And see below
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
July 15, 2009
up or out (Continued from last week)
Reference the letter from Steven:
I had to boot just such a man out of the Army shortly before I left. He was my generator mechanic when I was a Headquarters Company Commander. Absolute wizard with any sort of diesel engine you put in front of him. When we first occupied Tikrit our company settled into what used to be one of Saddam's son Uday's smaller palaces as a base. There were 4 large Caterpiller Generators there that looked like they had not been maintained in months if not years. Within 24 hours of occupying the place he had the first 2 up and running and we had reliable power. Soldiers were taking hot showers within 2 days.
He was only a Spec 4 and was reaching his limit. Liked the Army and would have stayed. He went to work for one of the large contractors for probably many times the pay. Is that poetic justics somehow?
I could tell so many stories about up or out. It would be a boring subject if it weren't so infuriating.
That "grubby" sailor with the "Blue Ribbon"
You posted a letter in Current Mail for Tuesday, July 14 that was especially poignant. I refer to the one about the rather "grubby" sailor, an Engineman Second Class, that a friend of your correspondent, as a young Annapolis cadet on summer cruise, worked with rebuilding diesels. The story that ended with:
But, here he comes wandering onto the flight deck in his dress uniform. A perfectly cleaned and pressed uniform. You couldn't miss his many rows of ribbons especially the little blue ribbon covered in stars on top.
I'm from Missouri, if only by extraction. So naturally I said to myself "Show me!"
Here he is:
"*Michael Edwin Thornton*, (born March 23, 1949 in Greenville, South Carolina), is a Medal of Honor recipient for actions as a United States Navy SEAL <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy_SEALs> Engineman Second Class during the Vietnam War. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War>
From his citation for the Medal of Honor:
"By his extraordinary courage and perseverance, Petty Officer Thornton was directly responsible for saving the life of his superior officer and enabling the safe extraction of all patrol members, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
This quote from Engineman Second C;lass Thornton is the long of it:
""You can only take your memories and your word, and your honor to the grave."
For the short version, well, here, have have a look at the man.
I would have any man with that face cover my back anywhere, anytime, any situation. "We are born with one face, and then by our actions receive the face which we deserve!"
I deem that that young man had a rare privilege as a nineteen year old midshipman.
By the way, Thornton received a commission in 1982, and retired as a Lieutenant. Maybe that was the best way to "hide" him from the skipper?
The up or out policy is deeply flawed. For arguments in its favor see below.
Say "Well Done!" to Buzz
Dear Doctor Pournelle,
As a result of further thoughts upon the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, I found myself visiting Colonel Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin's website of www.buzzaldrin.com.
I sent a short email to the general information contact address offered there, in the hope it, or some sense of its content, might reach the former Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 11.
It occurred to me that it might be fitting if, for the fortieth anniverary of the first manned lunar landing, as many people from the readers and subscribers of Chaos Manor as might care to do so, would send a short electronic note of thanks and congratulations to the Colonel.
I have not been able to locate contact information for either General Michael Collins or Commander Neil Armstrong, though if anyone here has access to such information that may be shared, we might include them.
For any that might care to, here is my letter, and my permission to use it, adapt it, embellish it in your own communications to Colonel Aldrin et. al.
Body of letter follows-
Dear Colonel Aldrin,
I have no idea if this message will in time be passed along to you, but in the sincere hope that at least some sense of its content will be communicated to you, I wish to communicate to you my thanks for your services to the United States of America and humanity.
In a long life of many accomplishments and honors, it may be that any one signal moment may come to stand for all of those moments worthy of recall.
Close upon the Fortieth anniversary of your successful July 20, 1969 landing of the Lunar Module "Eagle" upon the Sea of Tranquility, Luna, I offer to you: "Well done, sir!" Well done, indeed, for all such worthy moments from your illustrious career.
I hope that your fellow members of that elite "club" of lunar pedestrians, as well as all other other pioneer spacefarers from all nations, shall be as well and as long remembered as will be yourself, General Collins and Commander Armstrong.
I am certain in my hope that those names will still be known and honored by our descendants, millennia hence, on myriad worlds.
-end of letter
If a few dozen, or even hundred, such letters were received by the Colonel, well, that would bne great. These guys never got half the thanks they deserved, or the honor they earned.
There are sundry and worse things to do with five minutes of your life.
"She doesn't do hostile interviews well"
But then the fact that we know that fairly unremarkable fact shows more about her enemies than her. We can't know if Barak does because the media has never given him anything but the slowest of balls. As a private citizen on July 26th she will be able to pick & choose who she speaks to though it is possible this will not absolutely prevent such interviews. A significant proportion of the things she is denigrated for saying were actually said in interviews with Ms Fey. This may be a breakthrough in modern news reporting.
Looking at a supportive interview she did (Limbaugh's)
last October she said "I guess that message is they do want me to sit down
and shut up. But that’s not going to happen. I care too much about this
great country" & other things on the same line, which, if she is as genuine
as I think, means she isn't leaving.
I think it is possible, indeed rather human, to honestly convince oneself that she (or almost anybody else one doesn't like) is stupid or too inexperienced for the job but not while saying that Obama is clever or sufficiently experienced.
It is not really proper to enlist the opinions of those who are no longer able to give them but in experience terms she is certainly far more experienced at government than the unnamed female VP Heinlein produced to give a happy ending to Expanded Universe & "Sarah Barracuda" seems capable of being similarly determined.
People often rise to the office. Palin will have an opportunity over the next few years to present herself -- assuming that she wants to.
July 16, 2009
I met a man yesterday wearing one of those "Army Strong" t-shirts the recruiters give out. I assumed it was his son who was joining up, but no, it's him. At the age of 40, with a degree and a career that no longer supports him and his family, he's getting into shape for the rigors of Basic Training and will then go to Military Intelligence. Apparently his old career simply tanked in the current economy and he now plans to spend the next 20 years as a soldier, which carries health insurance for the whole family and other benefits and a nice pension at the end of it. There's a $400,000 life insurance policy as well at no cost. I've observed over the past 40 years that the US military,especially the Army, has become very family-oriented and I suspect that this gentleman, who will start his career as an E-4, has lots of company in his age cohort. I think he will do well because he seems excited about his future. For him it's more than the job. He's excited about his new job and the career possibilities.
One of the reasons I did not stay in myself was the lousy pay when there was a draft and an unlimited supply of manpower. In a way, this was the genesis of the "Up or Out" policy you complained about. It did tend to keep people in the service who were lazy, unmotivated and there just to get their 20 years in and a pension. I crossed swords with more than one as a General Staff NCO...and some of them were field grade officers. My father got out because a drug company tempted him with a salary that was two and a half times what he made as a full Colonel with medical pay, plus a new car and stock options. (Worst mistake he ever made, of course. He really loved the Army and he took a pay cut 18 months later to go back to being a surgeon.)
We have a smarter army these days, but one that still has significant problems with retention and op-tempo. It really does need to be better and the silver lining of the current economic situation is that we may get a lot of rather mature people in staff positions who have life experience beyond high school. "Up or Out" may still be needed to assure quality performance across the board.
Oh, and signs that the stimulus is working: The Veterans Administration gives Category A patients Travel Pay when they make their appointments. These are the veterans who don't have any money and get their treatment and meds without co-pays. The amount used to be calculated on one-way travel with deductions. Now it's calculated at the full government rate of 48 and a half cents a mile and paid both ways. Those in rural areas actually come out ahead for showing up for their appointments and since missed appointments are a constant problem it's a way to solve that problem as well. Tax free cash that's more than lunch money. (I'm Category C, so I don't get anything from this.) It's a very sneaky way to push money directly into the economy and all it took was a simple administrative rule change. There are several million veterans affected by this change.
The new Legions are forming.
Forget Windows 7, the most useful thing that Microsoft will do this year is host the videos of a famous lecture series given by Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman back in 1964, so anyone can watch them and see a brilliant man engaged with the workings of the physical world and the people he is trying to get hooked on physics.
Bill Gates Makes Feynman Lectures Available Online | News | The Mac Observer
This looks worthwhile, installing the silverlight plugin is not too high a price to see these.
I've nothing to add to those comments.
An engineer reminisces about Apollo:
I think you’ll find these interesting: an interview (from the 30th anniversary) and a recent article from Jack Crenshaw, a former NASA engineer who helped design the lunar trajectories: <http://www.resonancepub.com/interview3.htm> and <http://www.embedded.com/218401508>.
"The up or out policy is deeply flawed". Yes, well, so are all human institutions. Let us recall the reason the policy was put in place.
We are all well-acquainted with the Peter Principle: if someone is doing a good job, promote him. Eventually he will reach a position beyond his capabilities. At this point, no longer doing a good job, promotion is no longer an option. In government bureaucracies, the person is likely to remain in this position, doing a lousy job, until retirement.
Such was the US military prior to WWII. Sure, you had your good engine techs, but you also had raftloads of Peter-principled officers and NCOs marking time until retirement.
Up-or-out was the answer to this: if (nay, when) someone is promoted beyond his competencies, he will eventually be forced out, making room for someone else. Up-or-out is not a perfect system - it costs you your great diesel tech - but it may still be better than the alternative.
I know that was the rationale. It may make sense for certain levels of the officer corps. It does not make sense for everyone. Not every good soldier is a good leader. The Specialist ranks were supposed to be the remedy for that, but they have not been.
And of course one remedy is not to promote beyond competency, but that is an ideal difficult of achievement.
Note that the US military requirements today are quite different from those of the period between the World Wars.
This piece is quite a worthwhile read. It is long because it contain a listing of (some of!) the abuses of presentation and the outright lies propagated by the news and entertainment media about Palin.
The media blitz against Palin is extraordinary. One wonders at the long term effect. It's one thing to say if you can't stand the heat you ought to get out of the kitchen, but is it required to set fire to the griddle as a test? But perhaps I exaggerate.
I do know that this affects strongly the incentive for people who are not part of the smart set to become involved in politics beyond the local level. It appears that "qualification" must include getting past certain gatekeepers. This is to the benefit of the gatekeepers. The effect on the nation isn't as clear.
Could we be wrong about global warming? By Doyle Rice
Hmm, now where have I heard this before? Of course, the obvious answer is to throw out these erroneous data. Al Gore can't be wrong. He's got a peace prize! Cap and trade will save us all.
Re: Hank Brandli
From the article: "Brandli...believes that if there hadn't been a Corona program, there would not have been a DSMP."
You know, people often wonder why NASA funding fell off so precipitously during the last twenty years. It seems to me that for a very long time, the DoD needed a "cover" for why it was developing all these expensive space systems; we didn't want it to be blatantly obvious that we were creating and testing and deploying strategic military technology. Once Reagan got into office we became much less concerned about overt activity; and once the Soviet Union collapsed, nobody really cared anymore...
"Forty years after Neil Armstrong made his historic first steps on the moon, Apollo 11 is beginning the same trip to the lunar surface this week via the internet.
The website WeChooseTheMoon.org was launched today, sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum to recreate the lunar mission minute-by-minute as it happened back on July 20, 1969.
Using archival audio, video, photographs, and computer-generated animation, the site will let space fans experience the four-day trip to the moon's surface beginning with the anniversary of Apollo 11's launch this Thursday. The site will also feature "real-time" transmissions between the astronauts and NASA flight controllers that can be followed both on the site and through Twitter."
Maybe I'm old and thick, but I did not get the same thing from reading John Derbyshire's column as you and your other readers. What I read was an expression of very much how I feel - a quiet realization that our generation squandered the one truly amazing thing we ever did for just "dust and rocks." Petronius even made this point by asking where were all the remembrances on the 40th anniversary of this monumental accomplishment? For me, Derbyshire was bemoaning the greatest missed opportunity of all times being relegated to "an extravagance, a folly." He is quite right to say so considering what NASA and our politicians did with the greatest of endeavors. It does not matter what gains the human race received from our race to the moon. What matters is what gains humans perceive we gained from going there. I find most people wonder why it was even done and considering where our ventures into space stand today they are right to do so.
But I firmly believe that mankind's expansion into space was never in the hands of government to start with any more than Europe's expansion into the New World was a function of the governments of the time. Just as business was primarily responsible for growing The Colonies, so too will business be responsible for expanding our presence in outer space. I think they will also do this despite the best efforts of our government to get in their way. The temptation of all those resources is just too great and the entrepreneurial spirit of Man too strong for any government to restrain for very long. As you say, it may not be English that is spoken but a human voice will speak from other stars one day.
Ted Sturgeon once said that NASA's most amazing accomplishment was to make mankind's greatest accomplishment look dull. The truth is that the standing army ate the dream. NASA was full of people who were devoted to making America a spacefaring nation; but it was also a bureaucracy that demonstrated the full truth of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy.
Petronius and The Derb on the space program
Petronius included this in his commentary on Derb's column:
"The Last Battle is begun. It is for private enterprise to take up the fight."
My comment on this is 'Good luck on the permits.'.
There is exactly zero chance of private industry, or at least private industry in the West, operating a sustained private enterprise space program.
Lets postulate for a moment that some private entity came up with a design for a reusable launch vehicle that would allow them to launch 100 tons into orbit twice/week per vehicle. And further imagine that they had enough financial resources to build and operate their own private launch complex. As a final exercise in imagination, imagine that they also had completed engineering drawings, including FFP bids for all the hardware, for the space and ground facilities for a space-based solar power system as described in one of the other links this(last?) week. In fact, imagine anything you want, up to and including a reactionless propulsion system running off D-cells. Six each.
Having imagined all this, can you imagine, in your wildest, most optimistic dreams, that they, operating as a private entity, could EVER, in their or their grandchildren's lifetimes, jump through all the bureaucratic hoops necessary to get permission to proceed with the construction and operation of such a system? And once it was built, operate it in legal and regulatory peace? In the USA that we currently celebrate as the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave' there would be industries created whose sole purpose would be to file legal challenges against not only the 'private industries' involved, but individually and collectively against any bureaucrat or bureaucracy that had the temerity to approve such an endeavor. Not to mention environmental impact of the conversion of a significant portion of the remaining rain forest into legal documents.
Nope, if private industry is going to have a space program, the only POSSIBLE way would be to buy some small country conveniently located on/near the equator and conduct operations from there. Even then the US would almost certainly use 'whatever means necessary' to make sure it never happened. After all, SOMEONE has to save the planet from rapacious capitalists. At any rate, it is definitely NOT going to happen here.
I think that is what The Derb had in mind when he wrote his column. It is not that the trips to the moon and other follow on programs building on them were prima facie unworthy, but that long before the final Apollo launch it was obvious that the liberals had successfully killed not only the program, but the concept, to the point where the whole thing was an exercise in futility. After all, how could anyone justify shooting billions of dollars into space (the terminology used at the time) when those same dollars could be used here on earth to help the needy and end poverty forever? An exceedingly powerful argument, whose fruits we are now enjoying.
Things are not quite that bad. We did build an aviation industry, and we do have some decent space commerce laws.
And the reality remains: 90% of the resources available to mankind are in space, not on Earth. That reality remains. But of course there is the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.
July 17, 2009
Asia Times on China and radical Islamic terrorism
I am retired military, a Viet Nam war Vet and mostly live in Viet Nam these days. I do try to keep up with current Asian affairs. As part of this effort, I read the English language newspaper "Asia Times." "Asia Times" is Hong Kong based and as Hong Kong is part of the PRC and I suspect is frequently used to "unofficially" float "trial balloons.
I found this article quite interesting, especially when you consider the source. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/KG17Ad02.html
The fact remains that radical Islamic terrorism is ultimately much more dangerous to China than it is to us. All in all, this article is an interesting look into what may be going on in the upper levels of the Chinese government. While this article doesn't summarize that well, it goes into thoughtful detail about the convergence of Chinese and American interests in the "Global War on Terrorism."
The question is, "Has China realized this?"
The article implies that the answer is, "Yes."
What are some likely ramifications? The article goes into detail.
My 2 Xu
or "Linh My" American GI
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
Be of good cheer! Obama is demonstrating once and for all the utter folly of liberalism...and I note that Governor Palin still has the country club Republicans terrified. It's worth remembering just how she wound up as Governor of Alaska - serve a short but high-profile stint on their Oil and Gas Commission, then go for the big job. She's repeating that now. I think that 2010 and 2012 will see a dramatic turn in the electorate.
As to the wreckage that NASA has made of the space program, I still try to keep my head up. Frankly, we need to go back to basics and work out the problems of getting into low earth orbit economically. Once we do that, lunar and Mars expeditions are well within the reach of existing technology. The real problem is getting a President and NASA Administrator who regard space exploration as something more than a vote-buying scheme or a photo opportunity.
P.S. Derb is dead wrong. When President Reagan started the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet leaders asked their Academy of Sciences two questions.
Can we do this?
Can the Americans do this?
The answer was, "No, we can't do this. But the Americans? They can put a man on the moon...and if they can do that, they might well be able to pull this off."
Less than a decade later, the Soviet Union became a bad memory.
Intimidation is a very, very powerful tool of diplomacy.
V/R: Mike McDaniel
by now you've seen this many times but maybe .....
The space age isn't over. It hasn't yet begun
I must disagree with Bob Ludwick, re: your July 16th Mailbag. I have a friend (more of a little brother, really) who graduated from the University of Texas Aerospace Engineering program. He turned down major bucks to work for SpaceX, (www.SpaceX.com), because he has the dream. 60-75 hr weeks, 50k something a year to be on the edge of space. SpaceX has facilities at the Reagan Test Site (RTS) on Omelek Island at the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) in the Pacific Ocean. They are home-officed in California, but how long that will last is anyone's guess. They have designed and tested an engine (Merlin) capable of use in their single engine configuration (Falcon 1) platform and in a nine burner config (Falcon 9) as well. They have launched the Falcon 1 successfully several times; most recently on July 15, 2009 when the Falcon 1 Flight 5 vehicle precisely placed Malaysia's RazakSAT into Earth orbit. As I understand it, SpaceX has a lock on the NASA COTS contract for suppling the SkyLab, alright ISS, whatever, (using the Falcon 1) after the space bus is retired. They are currently mission rating the last few of the nine Merlin engines scheduled to go up on the Falcon 9 later this year, as well as the first Dragon man-rated capsule. Nine Merlin engines power the Falcon 9 first stage with 125,000 lbs-f sea level thrust per engine for a total thrust on liftoff of just over 1.1 Million lbs-f. My Bro is currently involved in testing an engine (MVac) for use in vacuum, and a thruster (Draco) for same. Bit of a funny... at the McGregor, Texas test facility they have a test stand 235 feet tall they named the Big Falcon Test Stand (BFTS) guess what it's really called. I am not too concerned about the West getting into space as the trip is well underway. Wether or not it lifts off from American soil is sadly up to our worthless government. Best Wishes for you and yours!
And there are other private space companies. We can hope.
July 18, 2009
Man in Space!
Your readers may feel some nostalgia for these, which were posted on the ANALOG readers' forum by Brian Clark. I remember watching these as a young kid of 7 or 8. The way the future was, or was supposed to be.
Disney's Man in Space (1955)
From Slate's Big Money, an article the rise of urban survival training market, especially at OnPoint Tactical.
The business owner profiled was just scraping along, but now is making good money with the demand increase that tracks along with firearms and ammunition.
The actual issue here is the poor quality-control of Amazon's Kindle DTP process (the Kindle store is flooded with low-quality/duplicative/ unlicensed/miscategorized books), and the fact that the customers got refunds has been entirely overlooked.
How many folks who knowingly or unknowingly purchase pirated works (books, DVDs, etc.) end up getting refunds?
*That's* the real story here, IMHO.
-- Roland Dobbins
Roland Dobbins wrote:
> How many folks who knowingly or unknowingly purchase pirated works > (books, DVDs, etc.) end up getting refunds?
- Roland Dobbins
I will have more to say on the Amazon 1984 event next week. There's much to think about here.
Dear Doctor Pournelle,
The thoughtful and chock full o' insights article from The Spectator by Mary Wakefield that was linked and commented upon in Current Mail for July 16, 2009, was, well, not a "bad" piece, but it could serve as a fair to middling example of the sort of Pollyanna wishful journalism that had a small role to play in getting us into the current hole we are in, space travel wise.
Ms. Wakefield made much of:
"Space Planes" of a sort, while they are indeed being designed and built by a number of start ups (and more power to them!), are all, as far as I know (I am not an expert, just an informed lay observer. If someone can correct me on this, I will be all aglow with joy) sub-orbital craft. They have an important role to play, but they are but a stepping stone to the true space plane.
The delta-vee to achieve orbit is roughly an order of magnitude greater than that needed to achieve the arbitrary fifty mile altitude of "space". The thermodynamic load of re-entry likewise is an order of magnitude (or more!) greater for orbital return as compared to that for a sub-orbital re-entry. These "day tripper" spacecraft are an important step, but themselves will not start us on our journey to the stars. The bar is set atl Low Earth Orbit. I don't know who first said it, but I call it Heinlein's Law: "Once you are in Earth orbit, you're hallway to anywhere/" Failing that, you are nowhere. It sounds harsher than I intend, but is one of those Cold Equations that doesn't care what we think.
Another common misconception (which you have often pointed out) is also in the article:
The first statement is true. The second runs into another Cold Equation, the one that says if you use the atmosphere for your oxidizer tank, you have to stay in the atmosphere and deal with that old Devil of the coefficient of friction. The deeper and longer and faster you are in the atmosphere the greater the frictional heating. It goes up as the square of your speed, if my high school physics is correctly recalled.. This fact does battle with the good old rocket equation, which tells you in no uncertain terms what amount of of reaction mass (fuel plus oxidizer) you need to get the whole shebang into orbit.
If you use the atmosphere as a substantial amount of the reaction mass needed for that orbital delta vee, you quickly reach a point where, in order to get enough speed to make the whole effort worth the while, you have to stay so deep in the atmosphere scooping up that "free" oxidizer that the frictional heating of the leading edges of the craft melt just about anything we have to build them from. This goes double for those fershlugginer air scoops, where you have to throw in compression heating as well.
This explains, in part, why so many rocket scientists have gray hair and prefer to build disintegrating totem poles. Until materials science catches up (and they are dancing about as fast as is humanly possible of late) with those Cold Equations, space planes of the horizontal take off variety are still over the horizon.
I love the Space Plane initiatives, though, because they Build The Dream. They raise the profile of Space as a literal,, actual place and not some fantasy land. Once a few thousand self selected "movers and shakers" have seen the black sky and curved horizon from fifty miles up, big things will happen quickly.
As for her comparison of the Apollo missions to being more like Leif the Lucky and his Vikings than Christofero Colon, well, perhaps. It amuses me the way we keep downgrading the cultural significance of Apollo. It started with hyperbole, we're entering a New Age, Everything Old Is New Again, etc. Then came "Aare they on the moon again? " and on we moved to the final stage of "Who cares?"
We were there no later than 1988: That year I sttended the El Toro Air Show. On a parking apron stood a row of jets, with their pilots standing next to them. The fighter jocks had the young girls clustered, the private jets had their fans lined up to talk spec;s and price. At the end of the row, in splendid isolation was a shiny white T-38 single seat jet trainer.
I recognized it immediately, though the blue "NASA" on the tail gave it away. Before it stood the pilot in blue flight overalls. He was a Genuine, Pat. Pend. Astronaut, with a signboard next to him attesting to that status. A pile of NASA "literature" next to the signboard was untouched. No one stopped to chat. The astronaut was stoic, all Right Stuff behind the mirror shades. He did not seem at all fazed by the Absolute Zero temperature of his reception. People walked by with just a glance. I commented to a friend, "That says it all about why we're going nowhere in space. When we were kids, if an astronaut had been anywhere, you'd have had to call out the riot squad to control the crowds." NASA turned Buck Rogers into the Maytag Repairman.
It's a natural, inevitable stage of human reaction to anything new and world changing. We had to go through all the levels. First we were children, in awe. Then we were adolescents, bored with it all. Then comes adulthood, mature reflection and due consideration, usually followed by determined action
You'll know we're well on our way when you start seeing the Space Companies talked about more often on the Financial News than Discovery Channel. When Wall Street realizes there are bucks in "Buck Rogers", we'll be halfway to being "halfway to anywhere".
Another clue will be when NASA is largely viewed by the government more like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency), a minor agency concerned with basic science, Applied Astronomy and bleeding edge than a gatekeeper and bus service.
Cannot be soon enough for me!
By the way, I rather like the idea of a Spaceport in Scotland. Get those engineering and financial wizards into orbit, we'll be three-quarters of the way to anywhere!
For those interested in HOW we can get to space, there are a number of items on this site. See Getting to Space for a general philosophy. For getting into details, The SSX concept, which is referenced in the Space and Space Power report is relevant. So are other papers pointed to in the Space Power paper.
For the moment we have no materials from which to make ramscoops for hypersonic flight at speeds useful for making orbit. It's a pity. But SSX, which is what we proposed but which became DC/X a scale model because of finances, probably wouldn't have made orbit but it would have, in Max Hunter's words, scared it to death. And from SSX we could have learned how to make a single stage to orbit ship.
It is not going to be easy. It's not Rocket Ship Galileo. In the old days of SF we though you could build space ships in your back yard, or just go make one with enough money. "Do what we know how to do, build a step rocket." With Delos D. Harriman financing it. That doesn't work. There are lots of details to space flight, and they're all important, and many are very difficult.
We need gravity to hold the atmosphere in, but it also makes it hard to get off the planet. Hard, but not impossible. We know how to build single stage to orbit ships. (And we certainly know how to build Saturn rockets if that's what it takes; for the kind of money we're throwing around in wars and stimulus we could build a serious fleet of expendables, get to the Moon, and learn how to live off the land (more or less; it would take some supplies from Earth, of course). We can do it, and we should do it; and if we don't, someone will. But that's for another essay and on another day.
Yes, the early SF writers made it sound easier than it turned out to be. And perhaps I didn't emphasize some of the difficulties in A Step Farther Out. But the facts remain: we have thrown away a lot more money than would have been needed to make America a space-faring nation. And we still have the ability and the money to do that now, if we want to.
I suppose I need to write some more on how we will get to space.
|This week:||Sunday, July
We have a large and mixed bag of mail.
Your correspondent Brad (Thurs, 16 July) acknowledged both the ‘Peter Principle’ and some of the downsides. He neglected to mention, didn’t consider, or was edited for brevity, one of the more tragic consequences of the principle identified.
Many of the officers/senior NCO’s who fall into the category of rising to the level of their incompetence do manage to get themselves killed. Unfortunately, all too often they have taken far too many young men with them.
And the military has the some of the most dramatic of these failures, Challenger/Discovery anyone? The Executive is not immune.
Jonathan P Gilbert “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” - Gen. George S. Patton
Clearly. And there has to be room for promotion, meaning that you can't fill the intermediate positions with time servers. At the same time, long term enlisted troops can often be the backbone of the army. See Kipling on color sergeants.
The Solution to Up or Out (that will, of course, never happen)
A far better way would be to implement a true regimental system where promotions and assecions were locally controlled. Much like giving control back to local school boards as a cure for our education system, this would allow local commanders to retain who they wanted, promote who they saw fit and move out those who had no business being there.
This would, of course, eliminate the need for much of our personnel system, which is the primary reason it will never happen. It would also concentrate way too much power in the hands of Junior and Field Grade Officers, which probably worries a certain class of people.
I will now hear many many reasons why this just could never work (even though it has many times in the past).
CPT, IN (in a former life)
Up or Out and the Peter Principle:
A software company my dad worked for a few years back had a technical career path available for those who deserved promotion for merit but were not cut out for managerial positions. Pay raises & recognition came without being attached to responsibility beyond the person’s ability. If this is done well it can be a defense against the Peter Principle.
40 year old recruit == 48 year old out on his ear
A correspondent wrote '"Up or Out" may still be needed to assure quality performance across the board.' and that today's 40-year-old recruit expected to stay in 20 years and receive a nice pension. ProblemS: that a 20 year pension in today's service delivers a pension at somewhat less that 20% of pay at the time of retirement (<40% base pay, which is less than half of total pay and allowances), that there will be a probable mandatory separation at 57 or when/if the soldier can no longer meet combat standards, and that 20 year career won't be possible unless said soldier meets promotion requirements as interpreted throughout that career. My personal experience is somewhat dated, but that "nice" family medical insurance is not all its cracked up to be, either. Military family doctors do well when not over run and understaffed, but are subject to the Iron Law in most situations. Tricare is okay if you don't have to use it for more than bandaids and aspirin.
The only career that that recruit is guaranteed is the term of his first enlistment. Meanwhile, experienced soldiers excess to the manning requirement du jour will continue to be discharged at the convenience of the service.
I wish that soldier well, but recruiters are still recruiters.
Imho, high year of tenure "up or out" programs have forced out a lot of the competent before their contributions were ended, and has reduced readiness since the end of the draft. Not Mr McNamara's only such contribution. Your service-of-choice mileage may vary.
P C costs nonexistant money
The State of Ohio has passed a law requiring the state and all the 88 county Boards of Mental Retardation to change their names, signs, and stationary to something else, I forget what. Meanwhile the state has no budget.
Webcams, printers, gizmos - the untold net threats,
"The biggest security threats to business and home networks may be the avalanche of webcams, printers, and other devices that ship with embedded web interfaces that can easily be turned against their masters:"
"The device that posed the highest number of threats was NAS, or network-attached storage, units, which were susceptible to all five attack classes considered in the study."
Oops. That is very, very bad news.
From the San Francisco Examiner.
BTW, Isn¹t it THY not THINE?
I was a teen age nerd
Why I won't be at my high school reunion...
Our friends Alex and Mina Morton took us out to dinner last night at a new local restaurant called Artisan Eats. A small sign on the wall near our table made us all grin:
“UNATTENDED CHILDREN WILL BE GIVEN ESPRESSO AND A FREE PUPPY.”
Re: dum-dum bullets
Ah yes, another "Powerpoint is DESTROYING AMERICAN THOUGHT" article.
It's a bad craftsman who blames his tools. There's nothing special about slideshow presentations that keep people from being able to collaborate, or take notes, or make decisions, or discuss things. There's no reason that you can't write up the meeting minutes and append them to the presentation file.
I _will_ say that people's presentation skills are often thoroughly rotten; if I never have to sit through someone reading 500 bullet-points at me again, it'll be too soon. But Powerpoint didn't create that situation--it just made it obvious.
Without The Hot Air
I've come across an interesting book, "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" by David MacKay. Professor MacKay is a physicist at Cambridge and he explains the math about how we use and produce energy in a way that lets you do apple to apple comparisons and which exposes many absurdities in our energy policies. What is also interesting is that you can download it for free here: http://www.withouthotair.com/
It is also interesting that the paperback is selling well in the UK, even with the free download. Amazon has a text only version for the Kindle, but the illustrations are very important for this book.
It is worth more comment than I have time to give it. And as you say the illustrations are important.
Asia's Rise? Think Again
Don't believe the hype about the decline of America and the dawn of a new Asian age. It will be many decades before China, India, and the rest of the region take over the world, if they ever do
Dear Dr Pournelle,
Your website doesn't suck. (I can't say the same for the 21st century so far...)
Your website is a pleasure to read; great content unencumbered by Dancing Hampsters. It would be more than worthwhile even if you DID require all that chrome-and-tailfin cruftware. It's even better because you don't!
My prayers for your continuing good health,
I couldn't find the dancing hampsters...
SF Writers, Survival With Style, and Despair is a Sin
I echo your thoughts that we CAN use our knowledge of science to get out of the mess into which we've put our civilization. I am increasingly admonished by your exhortations of "Despair is a sin" when I see that we're NOT doing so.
My mother recently showed some interest in reading science fiction. Since I've been reading the true quill for about 35 years I thought I could suggest some good representations. Of course prudence suggested I reread my choices to make sure they wouldn't turn her off or be over her head. One thing that jumped out at me was a scene in Starship Troopers where a future high school teacher was comparing raising a child to rearing a puppy, and showing how horribly the late XXth century people raised their kids. It read very much like a current article on education. When I showed that to my mother she was astonished it was written in 1959.
That led me to explaining that SF writing is not just about starships and lasers. I pointed out stories from Heinlein, Niven, Clarke and yourself and have added a lot to her reading list. After some discussion, I finally gave her a definition of "science fiction" and science fiction writers. The definition was greatly influenced by you as a person (as inferred from your website) as well as you're writing. Here's what I told her:
Science fiction writers look at our current world, our current technology and science, our current beliefs and values. They then project those things through the lens of scientific knowledge into the future and ask "what if?"
We also discussed current politics, in light of the Heinlein example, which led to discussing your web site and many of your recent commentaries. At one point I was amused to hear her say: "I wish HE'D run for president."
I can only agree. Thanks for being you.
Wishing you health, happiness, and prosperity,
Stephen Hawking: “Humans Have Entered a New Stage of Evolution”
Although It has taken homo sapiens several million years to evolve from the apes, the useful information in our DNA, has probably changed by only a few million bits. So the rate of biological evolution in humans, Stephen Hawking points out in his Life in the Universe lecture, is about a bit a year.
“By contrast,” Hawking says, “there are about 50,000 new books published in the English language each year, containing of the order of a hundred billion bits of information. Of course, the great majority of this information is garbage, and no use to any form of life. But, even so, the rate at which useful information can be added is millions, if not billions, higher than with DNA.”
This means Hawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. “At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information.”
But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.
Full article, plus check out the image of Hawking with Earth, Luna, and Mars in the background around him:
For those looking for Tocqueville:
Subj: Tocqueville online
A friend sent me these:
(Lots of versions) Project Gutenberg spells his name "Alexis de Tocqueville" (two l's in Tocqueville)
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IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor. If you want a mail address other than the one from which you sent the mail to appear, PUT THAT AT THE END OF THE LETTER as a signature. In general, put the name you want at the end of the letter: if you put no address there none will be posted, but I do want some kind of name, or explicitly to say (name withheld).
Note that if you don't put a name in the bottom of the letter I have to get one from the header. This takes time I don't have, and may end up with a name and address you didn't want on the letter. Do us both a favor: sign your letters to me with the name and address (or no address) as you want them posted. Also, repeat the subject as the first line of the mail. That also saves me time.
I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too... I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail.
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