Why This Blog Bores People About Space Stuff

As a follow up to today’s rant over our “allies” in Europe, over at USS Clueless, Steven den Beste has an excellent disquisition on the fundamental differences between Europe and the U.S. They don’t, and cannot, understand that the U.S. exists and thrives because it is the UnEurope, that it was built by people who left Europe (and other places) because they wanted freedom.

I say this not to offer simply a pale imitation of Steven’s disquisition (which is the best I could do, at least tonight), but to explain why I spend so much time talking about space policy here. It’s not (just) because I’m a space nut, or because I used to do it for a living, and so have some knowledge to disseminate. It’s because it’s important to me, and it should be important to everyone who is concerned about dynamism and liberty.

And the reason that it’s important is because there may be a time in the future, perhaps not even the distant future, when the U.S. will no longer be a haven for those who seek sanctuary from oppressive government. The trends over the past several decades are not always encouraging, and as at least a social insurance policy, we may need a new frontier into which freedom can expand.

Half a millenium ago, Europe discovered a New World. Unfortunately for its inhabitants (who had discovered it previously), the Europeans had superior technology and social structures that allowed them to conquer it.

Now, in the last couple hundred years, we have discovered how vast our universe is, and in the last couple decades, we have discovered how rich in resources it is, given will and technology. As did the eastern seaboard of the present U.S. in the late eighteenth century, it offers mankind a fertile petri dish for new societal arrangements and experiments, and ultimately, an isolated frontier from which we will be able to escape from possible future terrestrial disasters, whether of natural or human origin.

If, as many unfortunately in this country seem to wish, freedom is constricted in the U.S., the last earthly abode of true libertarian principles, it may offer an ultimate safety valve for those of us who wish to continue the dream of the founders of this nation, sans slavery or native Americans–we can found it without the flawed circumstances of 1787.

That is why space, and particularly free-enterprise space, is important.

Getting The Business

Over at Samizdata, Tom Burroughes asks:

Here’s a poser for today – Have any fellow bloggers come across an example on a television drama programme in the UK which has ever portrayed a businessman or woman in straightforwardly good light, with no qualifications, ifs or buts? I haven’t. Check out the average British soap shown mid-evening to see what I am getting at. It is pure negativity towards any activity remotely creative or positive. And of course we soak it up because when coming home from a hard day at the office, factory or wherever, our mental faculties are at their least sharp.

It’s not just the UK. I’ve had a long-standing theory about this, but never taken the time to do the statistical research necessary to validate it. I think that one of the reasons that film and television writers seem to despise capitalism and business is that they themselves work for one of the most vile and cutthroat industries on the planet, and they extrapolate that experience to conclude that all businesses and businesspeople are like the ones for whom they toil. Rarely will you see a realistic story about an industrial concern, because the writers have absolutely no experience or familiarity with such a business.

Think about it. When a business is depicted on television, is there some sort of pattern as to what kind of business it is? I think so. When the kind of business is not crucial to the premise of the show (e.g., LA Law, NYPD Blue), but is merely a backdrop for the stories to play out, they are predominantly businesses that would employ people who write for a living–newspapers, entertainment industry, advertising.

Especially advertising. Cast your mind over sitcoms over the past three decades, in which the work environment plays a key dramatic (or comedic) role, and I suspect that you’ll realize that the protagonists work at ad agencies out of all proportion to the number of people who do so in real life. Examples: Bewitched, Thirty Something, etc. (One notable exception that occurs to me, which was really out of character, was that Fred MacMurray in My Three Sons was an aerospace engineer in Southern California. I still think that’s neat.)

Assuming that this is correct, and not just an impression, I suspect that it’s because television writers, in order to make ends meet between sought-after television or film-writing jobs, work at such places, because there’s much more demand for it, and it engages a similar talent. It’s easier to write what you know, so it’s natural for them to use such businesses as a foil for their comedy and drama. And in conversations that I’ve had with friends and acquaintances in that business (and in the entertainment industry), the common theme is how terrible it is to work in such places, and how scum almost invariably rises to the top. And this isn’t surprising, because firms like that, which are in the very business of creating fiction and image, will value and reward people who are good at that, particularly in selling themselves. And such people, in fact, may not be good at very much else.

In a company that manufactures a physical product, incompetence, lack of realism, and management inability can quickly result in tangible, measurable failure. On the other hand, an entertainment or advertising firm will often promote those who excel at unreality, even if they have no ethics or management capability. So it’s not surprising that such a place can be a terrible place to work. And if television and film writers’ only exposure to the business world is in such businesses, perhaps it’s not surprising that they portray business in such a bad light.

They Should Be Worried

The paper formerly known as the Paper of Record informs us that our “allies” are concerned that we won’t consult them when it comes to continuing the war.

Some choice bits:

The three countries pinpointed by President Bush as an “axis of evil” ? Iran, Iraq and North Korea ? reacted angrily today…

Guess the truth hurts, huh, guys?

…while commentators in many other nations, including European allies, bristled at what they saw as the combative, go-it- alone tone of the State of the Union address.

Bristle away. We took the hit alone. We can deal with it on our own.

If you expect us to take your advice, step one is to offer some that’s sensible. Such a commodity has been in short supply from the Continent in the last few months (not to mention the last few decades).

Over in Russia,

Mr. Rogozin said it appeared that America had forgotten that North Korea had imposed a moratorium on the production of long-range missiles…

No, we haven’t forgotten. We just know that they’re congenital liars, so such an “imposition” is meaningless.

…that Iran had offered assistance to the Bonn conference on the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan…

Would that be the same Iran which, as I type, has special forces in Afghanistan training insurgents to undermine that interim government?

…and that an earlier Washington statement had called for “smart sanctions” against Iraq.

Yes, we’ve finally corralled the idiots at Foggy Bottom who think that sanctions have any useful effect other than giving Saddam an excuse to starve his own people while he builds weapons and palaces.

The problem is, you European elites set entirely too much store by what people say, while ignoring what they actually do. Probably the same reason you thought Bill Clinton was so wonderful (in addition to the fact that he, unlike many of us, loved to smooch your arrogant keisters).

Josef Joffe, a German foreign policy analyst, said: “What was particularly striking is the way Mr. Bush countenances the projection of American power from anywhere to anywhere. He described America in a truly global war able to fight anywhere. There is no allusion to allies at all. But in practical terms, the U.S. cannot fight wars without allies.”

Oh, we have allies. It’s just that they apparently don’t run the governments of Europe. And in fact, if need be, we can do quite well without allies, at least without Euroweenie ones. It will take longer, and cost more, but if you don’t understand that it’s a price that we’re willing to pay, then you don’t understand anything about America.

“We tend to see Sept. 11 in parenthesis, an aberration that is now behind us,” said Fran

What A Difference A Year Makes

Not to mention a new NASA Administrator.

Last year, when Dennis Tito showed up in Houston to train for his flight, the door was almost literally slammed in his face. Mark Shuttleworth (could they have come up with a better name? The irony is that he’ll be going up on a Soyuz) has been welcomed to Johsnson Space Center with open arms.

It sounds like he’s setting a good precedent for public space travel.

All For One And One For All

Fresh from the X-33 debacle, the iron triangle of the aerospace industry is coming up with a plan for a new round of corporate welfare, under the pretense of lowering launch costs.

Now don’t get me wrong–no one wants to lower launch costs more than I do. It’s been a personal crusade for more years than I like to think. My business plans and personal plans rely on it. But if a definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over, expecting different results, then NASA and the Air Force have to be, at this point, certifiable.

The activity to bring NASA and the Air Force together is being led by a group, called the One Team, that is undertaking a four- month RLV assessment. The goal is to devise a program that would build on funding from both government departments and could see first flight of a prototype system around 2007.

“One Team,” eh? 2007, eh? Well, five-year plans are in the best tradition of Lenin, Mao, etc. To heck with this competition nonsense. We don’t need no stinkin’ markets…

But finding a way to combine the civil space and military requirements won’t be easy. Already, analysts assessing the two constituencies’ needs are finding that they don’t coalesce in several areas.

No kidding?

Once upon a time, there was a launch vehicle program. It was supposed to meet NASA’s needs in space, to provide cheap transportation to the space station that they were going to launch once upon another time, and it was to be called the Space Shuttle. And it came to pass that the evil King wouldn’t allot the funding for it unless it received the blessing of the knights of the realm (aka the Air Force). The knights wanted it to not only go into space, but to be able to carry 65,000 lbs. into space, and to have a landing cross range of a thousand miles. And so it grew. Then the various lords of the manor said, “but it must provide jobs for us in the fiefdom of Houston. And Huntsville. And Cape Canaveral.” And the Duke of Rockwell North American said, “but we accepted the blame for the loss of Sir Apollo 1, in the deadly conflagration, the fault for which was rightfully NASA’s, and so it must also provide us jobs in southern California.”

And thus was born a vehicle designed by a committee, and it was good. Except it only flew a half dozen times a year, and cost over half a billion dollars a flight.

Well, there is one hopeful thing about the article. At least they are no longer deluding themselves that a single vehicle can satisfy both NASA and DoD requirements. However, they continue to delude themselves that one vehicle can satisfy DoD, and another one NASA. This is about 90% as foolish as the Shuttle “one-size-fits-all” assumption.

The problem is that we lock ourselves into failure with our assumptions.

The thinking goes something like this. Space vehicle development is very expensive. Therefore, we can only develop one vehicle. Therefore we have to make damn sure that we develop the right vehicle, so we have to do lots of studies, and have lots of government reviews, and make sure that the risk is minimized, and that we don’t lose any vehicles. All this, of course, makes the vehicle very expensive to develop (and operate), and thus is the prophecy fulfilled.

And of course, since both agencies want to do such trivially few activities in space, there is no way to get the costs down, because there are no economies of scale.

But NASA will continue to develop technologies, because when you’re a technology hammer, all problems look like nails–never mind the fact that the problem of launch costs is not a technological one.

If they could take just one percent of the money that they plan to waste^H^H^H^H^Hspend on technology development on market research and analyses to figure out how to generate much larger traffic models, they’d be way ahead of the game.

But that won’t provide jobs in Houston, Huntsville, Cocoa Beach, Canoga Park and Orange County.

Bloviation From Pyongyang

If you’re interested in a view from an alternate universe, you may be interested in news from the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK). When a country has to include both “democratic” and “republic” in its name, it’s a safe bet that it’s neither…

Anyway, there are several amusing articles there, with titles like, U.S. use of biological and chemical weapons assailed, KCNA on U.S. futile attempts, Bush’s projected trip to S. Korea opposed, and Full play to advantages of Korean socialist economic management called for.

Some of the articles are en espanol. Don’t ask why.

They also have an enlightening article about the Dear Leader, called Anecdotes about President Kim Il Sung. It’s a real hoot:

…when the president gave field guidance to Kaesong area on September 14, Juche 61 (1972). He asked officials there what was the special food of the area.

None of them could give a correct answer to the questions repeatedly put by him in the course of the on-the-spot guidance.

While visiting factories in the city he met old men who had lived there for years and found out that loach soup was a special food of the city.

And he made sure that a new restaurant was built there to serve only loach soup to the customers.

Markets? We don’t need no stinkin’ markets! We’ve got a leader.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!