Be Careful What You Wish For

Senator Lieberman is about to start up his Enron investigation. The conventional wisdom in the press is that this will uncover all kinds of skullduggery linking the Bush Administration to the failed company as a result of campaign donations and close ties of the principals to the Administration members, including W.

But the Democrats will have to be very careful when they turn over that particular rock–you never know what will crawl out. According to Accuracy In Media:

…it was the Clinton administration that did favors for Enron, and received large donations in return. Time magazine reported in 1997 that Clinton chief of staff Mac McLarty reached out to Enron Chairman Ken Lay, at President Clinton?s urging, and for nine months closely monitored a $3 billion dollar power-plant project in India. Four days before it was announced that Enron won the contract, it gave over $100,000 to the Democratic Party. Robert Rubin had worked closely with Enron when he was with Goldman Sachs. He recused himself from dealing with Enron matters during his first year in the White House as Clinton?s economic adviser, but not when he became Treasury secretary in 1994. According to the Houston Chronicle, Enron got permission to build a pipeline from Mozambique to South Africa after National Security Adviser Anthony Lake threatened to withhold aid to Mozambique if it didn?t approve the project….

Also, from the Center For Public Integrity:

Kenneth Lay, chairman and chief executive officer of the Enron Corporation, accompanied Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown on the trade mission to India in January, 1995.

In India, Enron signed a contract for a 2,000 megawatt power plant in Dahbol worth an estimated $400 million. Enron also won a contract to build a $920 million power plant on the West coast of India and a $1.1 billion contract for offshore gas and oil production.

Rodney L. Gray, chairman and chief executive officer of Enron International accompanied Brown on the trade mission to Russia in March and April of 1994.

In Russia, Enron signed a deal to develop a market for Russia gas in Europe.

During the 1991-92 election cycle, Enron gave $28,525 to the Democratic party while Brown served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Enron gave $42,000 to the Democratic party in the 1993-94 cycle.

Sounds like “Enronomics” might turn out to be a double-edged sword…

US, Banana Republic

Reader Robert Martin has some further thoughts on the airline security fiasco.

They’re all worth a read, but I particularly agree with his final comment.

In all, the visible presence of heavily armed troops in airports is only a public relations gesture that makes no genuine contribution to security. It serves only to fool those who will be fooled by such things. In the meantime, we get to look like a banana republic that is anticipating, undergoing, or recovering from, a coup.

Afghan (And Space) Tourism

According to the Telegraph, Afghanistan is getting ready for tourists again. It may be that this is the first industry to recover in that beleaguered country, and it will be a significant one, since now many who had previously barely heard of the place will be interested in seeing it.

I find this personally interesting because I think that it says something profound about the nature of the modern economy that could have an impact on our future space activities.

There is a long-standing debate in the space policy community as to whether space tourism (assuming that it occurs at all on a large-scale–that it will occur on a small scale now has an existence proof in the person of Dennis Tito) will be a cause or a consequence of space development.

Most “traditional” space analysts believe that if space tourism occurs, it will happen after technology has sufficiently advanced to make space travel affordable. They make the historical analogy that tourism has never before led the development of a frontier, and it won’t do so for space either.

I (and some others, such as Dr. Patrick Collins, an economist at the Japanese Space Agency and Tom Rogers at the Space Transportation Association) argue that absent a large market like tourism, the costs of space access will never be reduced, because it is not fundamentally a technology problem–it is a problem of lack of economies of scale.

Furthermore, historical analogies on this particular subject have little relevance because the nature of the economy has changed. In the past, tourism was not a major part of the economy. Now, depending on how you do the bookkeeping, it is perhaps the second largest industry in the world, after energy.

In this formulation, developing a robust market for public space travel will create the infrastructure, both for earth-orbit transportation, and on orbit, that will enable many of the other things that space enthusiasts propose (e.g., solar power satellites, space manufacturing, lunar science bases, space settlements, etc.).

One other related item.

NASA Watch provides a link to a story in the Hunstville Times about the closure of the Space Camp in California, due to declining attendance, and increasing debt load of the Space Camp Foundation…

The story describes the bare fact that attendance is down, but doesn’t discuss any possible reasons for it.

Is this a bad sign for space tourism (I don’t think so myself, but I’m interested in other points of view)?

After all, one of the indicators that many use to show support for public space travel is the large existing terrestrial space tourism market, as represented by visits to the National Air and Space Museum, and various space museums and attractions, etc., in Florida.

This article indicates that the Florida space tourism activities are down. How about attendance at NASM? How much of it is due to 911, and how much to declining general interest in space among the public?

I’ve never been a big Space Camp fan myself, and still think that there may be a market for a space tourist-themed resort that is less NASA/science/Shuttle focused.

But for those who believe, as I do, that space tourism is the best hope for a viable and self-sustaining free-enterprise space industry, these represent both encouraging (Afghan) and troubling (Space Camp) trends. Not enough data to make a judgement either way here, but after the ripples in the pond from the 911 boulder die down, it will be worthwhile to take another look at the prospects for the global tourism industry, and reassess the implications for space development.

Digital Archeology

For those fascinated by Internet history, there’s a nice little article in Salon about the successful salvaging of most of the early Usenet archives, with a lot of emphasis and quotes from the ubiquituous (at least to those of us in both the Internet and space communities) Henry Spencer.

Thanks to these packrats, Google now estimates that 95 percent of the posts ever made to Usenet are now searchable from the site. But Spencer, for one, can’t help thinking of all that’s still been lost — not just of the other 5 percent of Usenet, but also of the other early history of online communication.

Think of the Arpanet mailing lists that were the precursors to Usenet. Spencer points out that while most of the mailing lists kept archives, a significant number of them have been lost over time. “The first flame war, things like that, most certainly dates before Usenet,” he says. “And I would bet that a lot of that material is gone, because at some point, nobody thought it was worth saving.”

Oh, The Humanity

Lileks is giving Steffie Salter another rhetorical thrashing. Despite the fact that it’s more than well deserved, it still seems unfair somehow, like shooting a whale in a pail with a double-barrel shotgun. But read it anyway, for a little guilty pleasure.

Lord Of The State?

I don’t normally read Vin Suprynowicz, but he has an interesting take on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He thinks that it’s actually a metaphor for the virtues of limited government. I can’t get into Tolkien’s mind, but could be…

[Update, a few minutes later]

I see that on Samizdata, Perry de Havilland has made the same point today–the ring represents the State.

Jihad Charlie

According to Fox News, Charles Bishop, the fifteen-year-old kid who drove the plane into the building in Tampa, left a note in it expressing support for bin Laden.

We’ll see what his parents have to say about this. Was he just seeking his own enlightened path? Or rebelling against his last name?

High School Graduates ‘R’ Us

Also in today’s LA Times, in their lead editorial, (which unlike the Bill Press nonsense, is linkable), they are complaining about our new “professionalized” airline-security personnel being allowed to confiscate eyelash curlers and inspect wooden legs without the benefit of a high-school diploma.

Not too bad for the Times. They’ve only got two false premises in this editorial; usually they manage at least the trifecta.

False premise one: that a high school diploma has any value at all in assessing the ability of a person to read, write, compute or think, as opposed to simply having the sticktoitiveness to hang around the high school until the age of eighteen or so without formally dropping out. I don’t believe that has been the case for decades.

False premise two: that people who are intelligent and educated make better nail-file confiscators.

Nope. It’s a boring job. Anyone with a lick of imagination and intellectual curiosity will quickly go bonkers watching luggage entrails go by all day. Ideally, this is a job for pattern-recognition software that could flash out occasional warnings to people who are reasonably intelligent and can do further inspections, but until it’s developed, assuming that we need personnel to scrutinize our carry-ons and persons (I’d rather have them focus on checked baggage myself, since, unlike passengers and carry ons, the passengers and crew have no control over that once aboard), we need people who aren’t easily bored. That doesn’t necessarily translate to HS graduates.

I suspect that if they actually did a study, they would find close to zero correlation between what makes for a good airline screener and HS diplomas. But no fear of that–apparently the airline-security debate will remain a fact-free zone for now…

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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