Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fifty Years of Human Spaceflight

Thanks to commenter Anita for reminding me of this benchmark anniversary, and Tony for adding a tidbit I hadn't known: At liftoff of the first human spaceflight, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin called out "Poyekhali!" - 'Off we go!'

In the following 50 years a total of 517 people have traveled into space, using the international definition of space as beginning at an altitude of 100 km.

Outer space has turned out to be a difficult environment for us. It is costly to reach; living there requires extensive and specialized life support; and prolonged exposure to space conditions, especially microgravity, is debilitating to human beings. The optimistic speculations of Arthur Clarke, among others, that living in space would be healthful proved (alas!) to be quite wrong.

On the other hand, what we have learned since Yuri Gagarin's single orbit 50 years ago is that humans can live and work in space. This, let us remember, was by no means a given. Until he came back to Earth alive and well, no one could be sure that humans could safely travel in space even for 90 minutes, let alone 180 days. Heart failure or deterioration, brain damage, grave psychological disorientation, were all on the table. They might make human spaceflight fatal or unacceptably dangerous, or simply render it hopelessly unproductive.

Yuri Gagarin's flight began to show us that none of these was the case. Not only can we travel in space, without excessive ill effects, for a period of months, but we can do work there. We have judgment enough to operate and maneuver spacecraft, and - even encumbered in space suits - dexterity enough to maintain and assemble them. Doing Cool Space Stuff is very difficult and extremely expensive, but it is not impossible.

It is not (yet!) obvious that there are things we can do in space better by sending people up there than by sending up only our machines. So far, the only thing that human spaceflight is uniquely capable of doing is demonstrating the possibilities of human spaceflight. But there is sufficient interest, and thus sufficient political and economic support, that we will continue to send up modest numbers of space travellers in Yuri Gagarin's footsteps. Over time we may find new reasons to send up people in more than modest numbers.


Gagarin's flight also accomplished something else that is worth mentioning on this blog, on which I spend a fair amount of time talking about blowing stuff up in space. If the Space Race of the 1960s accomplished nothing else, it gave Americans and Russians of that era a way to flex their muscles and beat their chests without resorting to fighting. This was an extremely good thing. Much as I indulge talking about it here, warfare is a bug, not a feature.


Meanwhile, here's to 50 years of human spaceflight. Poyekhali!



The image of Yuri Gagarin comes from this space oriented website. From another space site comes this image of Vostok 1 lifting off.

143 comments:

Anonymous said...

Humans in space. That single sentence holds so much promise and wonder, it has become nearly synonamous with the future.
Here's to all the pioneers.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

I hope the someone will be on the Sea of Tranquility to help celebrate on 20 July 2019!

здесь мы идем!

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"I hope the someone will be on the Sea of Tranquility to help celebrate on 20 July 2019!"

I'd rather somebody were rendezvousing with a NEO or at least trying a few months outside of cis-lunar space.

Milo said...

Rick:

"The optimistic speculations of Arthur Clarke, among others, that living in space would be healthful proved (alas!) to be quite wrong."

It's too early to completely close this avenue. We have yet to garner significant data on the effects of gravities located between zero and one gee, which is where space colonies are most likely going to be. Nor have we experimented with people acclimating to space for more than a few months (and being judged on how well they operate in space, rather than how healthy they'll be when they come back down), or even being born there. And maybe there are secondary advantages to the environment that are currently outweighed by the disadvantages, but that can become useful once we find the medical technology to remedy the latter.

But yeah, any random thing is more likely to be harmful than helpful.


"Much as I indulge talking about it here, warfare is a bug, not a feature."

Yeah. Perhaps before we're going to talk about how to blow up our space colonies, we should first talk about how to build those space colonies.

What would a peaceful interplanetary civilization look like? (Peaceful in the sense of "no war currently waging or likely to erupt in the near future", not "people have dismantled and scrapped all their weapons and now all hold hands and sing love songs". War just isn't an immediate concern when people have more important things to worry about, like the recent economic recession on Callisto, or how Iapetus's athletes are going to fare in the zero-gravity olympics.)

Rick said...

Assuming we do not majorly screw ourselves up down here, I think we will probably have human interplanetary missions in this century - at least to an NEO, a good chance for Mars, perhaps somewhere else.

And I believe it is quite plausible that war is obsolescent - at least if post-industrial civilization is viable. If this century goes dystopian, war will probably be part of the mix (and extensive human spaceflight almost certainly will not be).

But if we don't screw the pooch, warfare may continue on the path to marginalization we've seen in the past six decades.

Anonymous said...

"we should first talk about how to build those space colonies."

http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/episode/2011/03/05/march-5-2011/

Go halfway down the page to "Cooking up a new kind of rocket"

Maybe this will cut the cost of getting into orbit sufficiently that we can make a real start on that. Then there would be enough traffic to justify some of the projects that would lower costs further.

Bruce Lewis said...

Commemorative Image 1

Commemorative Image 2

***

Scott said...

*raises glass*
To all the pioneers!

mmmm... beer!

Atlanta Roofing said...

Yuri Gagarin had no control over his spacecraft. Vostok's reentry was controlled by a computer program sending radio commands to the space capsule. Although the controls were locked, a key had been placed in a sealed envelope in case an emergency situation made it necessary for Gagarin to take control. As was planned, Cosmonaut Gagarin ejected after reentry into Earth's atmosphere and landed by parachute.

Tony said...

Rick:

"And I believe it is quite plausible that war is obsolescent - at least if post-industrial civilization is viable. If this century goes dystopian, war will probably be part of the mix (and extensive human spaceflight almost certainly will not be)."

Not desiring to repopen old arguments, just introducing an alternative viewpoint, I think there will be wars and there will be spaceflight. The two are not necessary causally connected. Or if they are, perhaps not in the inverse fashion you suggest -- it's entirely possible that military and geostrategic imperatives will promote more manned spaceflight.

WRT Bruce Lewis's image links, ya just gotta lurve them French communists...

Scott said...

@Anonymous:

Microwave-driven thermal propulsion? Not sure I want to be crew on one of those.

Interesting. How does that compare to laser-thermal in terms of efficiency?

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

From a depressing angle,

Perhaps Space Flight is like most of our endevors ..

We (collective we) just dont really care enough.

The Rich get Rich get richer
The working get poorer

and the rest are apathetic.


So we dont have more Space Flight, just like we havent solved our Energy problems or a whole host of other things.

Not becuase we couldn't - but becuase we just wont.

Milo said...

SA Phil:

"The Rich get Rich get richer
The working get poorer"


Incorrect. Lower class people in first world nations today have significantly better standards of life than lower class people from several centuries ago.

Thucydides said...

Cosmonaut Gagarin's flight is pretty emblematic as to why we don't live in the Rocketverse; he was a mere passenger aboard the capsule.

The US space program was set to do something similar but the Mercury astronauts insisted they actually pilot the ship (and as highly trained test pilots they had the clout to make it stick).

WRT microwave launch, it may be somewhat easier as high power microwave emitters are at a farther stage of development than high power lasers. Liek Myrabo has done some early work on laser powered craft as well, but these "lightcraft" don't resemble laser thermal or microwave thermal ships at all (using microwave energy to manipulate the the local atmosphere or projecting part of the energy forward to create an "air spike" to deflect hypersonic shock waves for example).

As for "caring enough", the market system allows resources to be allocated where they will have the greatest return (absent distorting influences like local warlords, taxes or government regulation). Many past threads have wrestled with the problem of "why" go to space; essentially the problem is the return on investment is miniscule and very long term outside of specialized niches like communications and weather sats.

McGuffinite like 3He will become a real commodity with real market value once actual working fusion reactors are demonstrated. By analogy, people knew what oil and coal were thousands of years ago, but they were essentially valueless then as there was no known use for them. Coal became important starting about the time of Queen Ellizabeth I as England reached "peak wood"; forests were being cleared faster than they could re-grow for charcoal (the prime heating and industrial fuel, and oil became an important commodity around the time of "peak whale" in the mid 1800's, as demand for whale oil far outstripped the available supply.

Entire new industries and technologies grew out of those changes, and the shift to coal also sparked the Industrial Revolution, as thermal energy replaced muscle power.

The next 50 years should be very interesting indeed as new technologies and new imperatives drive the need to go into space.

Rick said...

Welcome to a couple of new commenters!

(When I first saw a business name in comments I feared spam, but the comment is 'real' and welcomed.)

Anonymous said...

Milo

"The Rich get Rich get richer
The working get poorer"

Incorrect. Lower class people in first world nations today have significantly better standards of life than lower class people from several centuries ago.
--------------------

Heh. Nothing like a politically charged subject. From what I have read I would disagree in principle-- At least for the past 40 years -- although that particular metric isn't the one I had in mind,

However I don't think this is the place to debate it.

------------

My point remains - Do you feel We (as collective civilization) are really doing everything we could be doing to improve things?

Or is devoting our technical prowess to advancing the cause of Twitter and Facebook really as impressive as a real human presence in Outer Space, Or ending our Fossil Fuel based Energy system?

(SA Phil)

Milo said...

SA Phil:

"Or is devoting our technical prowess to advancing the cause of Twitter and Facebook really as impressive as a real human presence in Outer Space,"

Not more impressive, no, but certainly doing far more for making people's lives easier.

jollyreaper said...


And I believe it is quite plausible that war is obsolescent - at least if post-industrial civilization is viable.


I think gangster capitalism and the tyranny of the oligarchs is the real challenge facing us right now. Depending on the way you prefer to view history, the big wars didn't represent conflicts of interests between the common man but between oligarch factions; the rest of us were just along for the ride.

Rescuing democracy and giving everyone a voice and a fair shake would have to be our most important priorities in the 21st century.

jollyreaper said...

Incorrect. Lower class people in first world nations today have significantly better standards of life than lower class people from several centuries ago.

At least in states, real purchasing power has been dropping since the 70's. There was a statistic released a couple of years back saying that forst the first time in history, the young in America cannot expect to have a higher standard of living than their parents. (that's the average american, not the plutocrats, adjusted for inflation, etc.) The era of a man with a high school diploma getting a decent factory job and being able to pay for the house, car, vacation, and stay-at-home wife is over.

Jim Baerg said...

Scott said: "Microwave-driven thermal propulsion? Not sure I want to be crew on one of those."

Why not?
I see a few safety advantages over current rockets.

1) If the propellant is hydrogen only rather than 2 tanks, 1 of hydrogen & one of oxygen the explosion hazard should be a bit less.

2) Since the exhaust speed is similar to the delta-V requirements of getting to orbit there isn't as much need to shave the mass of every component & a bit extra mass can be used wherever that would improve safety.

Jim Baerg (BTW I was the 'anonymous' who made the 1st post on the microwave powered rocket)

Thucydides said...

Linear projections are never correct in the long term, and it is perhaps unreasonable to expect that the conditions that prevailed since the 1950's would continue.

In absolute terms, "poor" people today live far better lives than aristocrats at the turn of the last century, they are "poor" relative to the middle class (who would invoke envy and terror among the Kings of the past) and of course today's rich would own entire nations of merchant princes of the past...

Like I said, the market provides a mechanism to rank ideas by their potential rates of return; just because you or I think an idea or action is a great thing to do does not make it so.

Looking back at the Space Race, massive amounts of resources were devoted to a highly symbolic event to serve the propaganda purposes of the State, not because sending people to space or the Moon was an inherently good idea.

Steven Den Beste used to blog about energy (the USS Clueless blog might still be around) and pointed out with very hard numbers why it was unlikely for "green" or other technologies to displace thermal coal or nuclear plants. If you thought arguing facts with Tony is hard, just be glad Steven no longer seems to be blogging....

Rick said...

Heh. Nothing like a politically charged subject.

No kidding!

My view - for the record, so to speak - is that markets work pretty well for a lot of things, but have important limitations. Notably, in spite of the increased use of 'contractors' in recent years, pretty much no one recommends using mercenaries in place of national-type forces.

I could expand on this point, but don't particularly want to belabor the issue. If I decide to blog about politics, I'll start a political blog.

(I don't actively discourage political discussion in these comment threads, and you the community here have an impressive history of self-restraint, something the Internet is not particularly famous for. But I don't plan to actively encourage political debate here either, except to the - unavoidable - degree it is relevant to the overall discussion.)

Milo said...

Thucydides:

""green" or other technologies to displace thermal coal or nuclear plants."

Solution: build nuclear plants.



Rick:

"Notably, in spite of the increased use of 'contractors' in recent years, pretty much no one recommends using mercenaries in place of national-type forces."

People fighting out of patriotism for their country are far more willing to risk their lives than people fighting for money.

Having soldiers under direct control of the government also makes it easier to ensure that they play by that government's rules, and those of the international community.

Note, though, that while fighting isn't typically done by contractors, building military equipment largely is.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

I think the Energy situation is a pretty good example of the market driven system not bringing about a good solution.

Market realities push everything towards Fossil Fuels.

However Fossil Fuels are not a good solution to the problem.

Even if Nuclear were less regulated - it still has too long of a return on investment to be economically competitive.

And left to their own devices Wind, Solar, Tidal would never survive to grow into competitive industries.

In some ways we did more in the 1960's and 70's than we do today towards moving away from Fossil Fuels.

I think the problem is Markets generally favor the short term gain. But not every problem has a short term answer.

Thucydides said...

SA Phil

Like I said, the hard numbers don't lie. Look up this blog, read through the archives and you will see the sort of solutions we really need are scaled far beyond anything that "green" technologies can provide. Wishing does not make it so.

Solar may be the only technology that is scalable, but would require a huge jump in scale like Solar Power Satellites or the perfection of new and highly efficient technologies like optical rectenna.

http://www.denbeste.nu/archives.shtml

jollyreaper said...

Steven Den Beste used to blog about energy (the USS Clueless blog might still be around) and pointed out with very hard numbers why it was unlikely for "green" or other technologies to displace thermal coal or nuclear plants. If you thought arguing facts with Tony is hard, just be glad Steven no longer seems to be blogging....

I'm familiar with the base load argument and how you need coal or nukes to provide it. But what of the talk of smart grids doing load balancing to allow renewables to generate the necessary base load? And even if it was only good for half and you still need coal to pick up the slack, then that means you can cut your coal needs by half.

The figures for atmospheric pollution death are supposed to be around 13k per annum in the US. That's higher than the annual average for nuclear by about 13k but an exploding coal plant won't render vast tracts of territory uninhabitable for 20 years.

jollyreaper said...

There are some things I consider to be too important to do for profit. Making cars? Making computers? Sure, for profit, competition between multiple manufacturers. That's fine. Education? Law enforcement? Prisons? None of that should be operated for-profit. They won't be made to pay for themselves, they'll be made to pay for the investors.

Getting the politics and social evolution right is important, not just for the present but for making a plausible mid-future. Glossing over that part is like forgetting to put the bathrooms on the Enterprise. :) Even if the home society is on habitats and terraformed planets lightyears away and the story is set with the expeditionary fleet, what happens back home has a great effect on what happens out there.

Thucydides said...

From a Libertarian (or libertarian) perspective, the role of the State is to provide for the defense of citizens, protect their rights and provide an impartial arbitrator in case of disputes.

Even education can be and is "for profit", see Montessori, Waldorf and other school systems (even public schools work to maximize their take of bureaucratic budgets, that being the "profit motive" o0f bureaucracies. We can deal with perverse incentives later).

jollyreaper said...


I think the problem is Markets generally favor the short term gain. But not every problem has a short term answer.


In economic discussions, the markets tend to get treated with the same sense of religious awe and conceptual incomprehension as computers. I mean, just look at the approach people take!

Q: We have a problem with education in this country.
A: We'll give every kid a computer!
Q: And step 2?
A: There is no step 2. Give them a computer and all the problems are solved.
Q: There's a few shortcomings in your plan.
A: Like what?
Q: Well, they don't have access to electricity for one thing.

And how about for businesses?
Q: We are falling behind in everything. The Chinese are eating our fast food lunch. Waiting for them to keel over from diabetes and heart disease is not an option. What are we going to do?
A: We're throwing $500 million behind an e-initiative!
Q: Derrr, what?
A: We're buying computers and putting them on everyone's desk. We're putting up a new, very expensive website with an awesome flash intro.
Q: Why?
A: It helps explain the logo change and new mission statement.
Q: Ooookay. Now tell me about the computers.
A: Everyone gets a computer!
Q: And?
A: Computers increase productivity.
Q: What, just by their very presence? You don't even have to take them out of the box?
A: Right. It's like a blessing from the techno-fairy! It's even better than getting electrolytes.
Q: Electrolytes?
A: It's what productivity craves.

Q: So, we've got this huge crisis. We had a huge budget surplus that was squandered with tax cuts for the wealthy, drastically increased spending on unfunded programs and two enormous elective wars that have driven us to ruin. What's the solution.
A: The free market. *smug smirk*
Q: I don't understand.
A: We're going to kill medicare and give everyone vouchers. They'll then be able to go out to the open market and negotiate individually for medical care. The market will optimize everything.
Q: But that violates everything we know about economics. You get better prices and economies of scale by negotiating together. That's why Walmart can buy stock for lower prices than the mom and pop. How will making every senior do it optimize anything?
A: You have the operator reversed. It's not maximizing value for the seniors, it's maximizing wealth extraction for the health care providers.
Q: Oh, now it makes sense. Ghastly, horrifying and evil, but now I see where you're coming from.

Honestly, it seems like for all our technology we haven't come very far from the ancient days. In times past, we cut open animals and looked at their entrails to tell the future. We called that an augury. These days we cram data into computer models optimized to support our preconceived notions. We call this forecasting.

Listening to the economic plans on the TV, I can't shake the image of throwing virgins into volcanoes or flagellants whipping themselves during the Black Death. There's plenty of enthusiastic support for superstition and magic but nobody actually wants to talk facts.

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper

How can you square your contempt for the cluelessness of politicians and businessmen with the belief that they constitute some kind of sinister oligarchy leading nations of dupes around by the nose?

jollyreaper said...


How can you square your contempt for the cluelessness of politicians and businessmen with the belief that they constitute some kind of sinister oligarchy leading nations of dupes around by the nose?


Politicians != the ruling class. Politicians = well-paid servants.

There's a difference between "stupid all around" and "good for them, bad for us." Stripping the assets of a company to maximize profits this quarter is good for the shareholders -- they're looking to cash out. It's good for the execs with golden parachutes. It's bad for everyone else in the company who still need a job next quarter. But then there's the case of execs whose livelihoods are tied up in the company and have no escape plan and think they're doing the right thing but aren't very good at their jobs.

So when you're talking about people sawing the wings off the plane, whether or not they have a golden parachute and an escape plan isn't very important to you but does help to explain their motivation. Someone without a parachute and is sawing away likely believes they're doing a good thing. Someone with a golden parachute doesn't care because he's got his own cushy way out.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Politicians != the ruling class. Politicians = well-paid servants."

This oughta be good...okay, who is the "ruling class"?

BTW, you are aware, aren't you, that if you have a retirement plan or a commercial insurance policy, you are one the "shareholders"?

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

Individual people are smart -

But People as a collective are dumb.

This counts extra for political parties.

I think that squares it all nicely.


------
As to Energy - whether you discussed it on the Blog or not- There would be more than enough total energy availible through renewables. Its an insane amount of energy, really. 100% renewables wouldnt support our current grid or Industrial system though, although that could be changed.

However going 100% renewable is not what I said. I said move away from Fossil Fuels. I advocate Nuclear power + renewables.

The limit of fossil fuel energy production should be a methane reclaimaion->Natural gas process. Since the Methane to CO2 cycle is a net gain greenhouse gas effect wise.

The market wont solve the problem because Energy=Food Production Capacity. Without enough Energy people starve to death. So waiting for true scarcity to drive price based incentives will only "solve" the problem in the most Machiavellian sense.

-------
The problem with the ideologies is they don't tailor the cure to the problem.

The "libertarian" style market system wont fix the Energy problem.

But neither will the "Democrat/Progressive" idea to tax carbon and create unsustainible prices.

Ultimately the Energy problem is an Engineering problem. It shoud be treated as such. The Politics are just prattling nonsense by people not trying to solve the problem.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Ultimately the Energy problem is an Engineering problem. It shoud be treated as such. The Politics are just prattling nonsense by people not trying to solve the problem."

Which is why I thank Bog (in my own own little sweet, ignorant agnostic way) every day that technocrats don't run the world. No matter what the perfect theoretical engineering solution may be, it has to be filtered through economic reality. You simply can't change the inertia of industry, economies, and cultures overnight. Whether you like it or not, whether you think it's Machiavellian or not, people have to feel pain to institute real change. The only way people feel pain and realize relief is through economic channels.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

Technocrat - heh

Such a thing is a Science Fiction creature.

And possibly pure handwavium, since none have ever been in power.

-----------
I would suggest solving the problem with the minimum of climate change and loss of life is a admirable goal in and of itself.

And the cheap energy at the end of that tunnel would have more economic benefits long term.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Technocrat - heh

Such a thing is a Science Fiction creature.

And possibly pure handwavium, since none have ever been in power."


I suggest you google "Technocracy" and "Technical Alliance". Like a lot of things discussed in SF, technocracy and technocrats are real, if not all that successful.

"I would suggest solving the problem with the minimum of climate change and loss of life is a admirable goal in and of itself."

I would suggest you take that up with the Chinese and Indians, who happen to collectively outnumber the West, and who want energy to expand their economies now, even if they have to burn all of the coal and oil in the world to have it.

"And the cheap energy at the end of that tunnel would have more economic benefits long term."

If it were cheap, it would have been put into production already. The reality is that all of the direct and indirect means of extracting energy from contemporary sunlight are marginally affordable per kilowatt hour, compared to pteroleum, which is the concentrated and compressed sunlight of millions of years. Also, while there is a lot more uranium around than we once thought, there is a limit to it, especially in easily extractable concentrations. To get more you need a conveniently close (but somehow survivable) supernova and a few hundred million years of star and planet formation.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

I would suggest you take that up with the Chinese and Indians, who happen to collectively outnumber the West, and who want energy to expand their economies now, even if they have to burn all of the coal and oil in the world to have it.

============
Which only reinforces my point.

If we had solutions - this wouldnt be the case.

I fail to see how allowing the eventual shortage/desperation situation that is at the end of their expansion does anything but make the problems worse.

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Tony,

I suggest you google "Technocracy" and "Technical Alliance". Like a lot of things discussed in SF, technocracy and technocrats are real, if not all that successful.
------

Ah the old "Do your own research" ploy. Well done.

How about an example of an actual Technocrat and resulting nightmare scenario instead?


(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Tony,

If it were cheap, it would have been put into production already. The reality is that all of the direct and indirect means of extracting energy from contemporary sunlight are marginally affordable per kilowatt hour, compared to pteroleum, which is the concentrated and compressed sunlight of millions of years. Also, while there is a lot more uranium around than we once thought, there is a limit to it, especially in easily extractable concentrations. To get more you need a conveniently close (but somehow survivable) supernova and a few hundred million years of star and planet formation.

==========

I did say cheaper energy at the end of the tunnel, did I not? I thought I had said the upfront costs make the market system not a viable solution.

You are actually turning my own arguement as to why market forces arent working - into a reason why the problem shoudln't be fixed.

That really is unproductive and wont solve anything long term. Which was my entire point.

Long term - Energy will be cheaper. Much cheaper. Nuclear, Wind and Solar all are expensive short term and cheap long term.

----------
As to the Uranium "shortage"
Thorium can solve the fuel problem, so could using plutonium.

Not to mention our current reactor designs/usage methods are terribly inefficeint from a fuel standpoint.


(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Which only reinforces my point.

If we had solutions - this wouldnt be the case.

I fail to see how allowing the eventual shortage/desperation situation that is at the end of their expansion does anything but make the problems worse."


It's the difference between is and ought. Yes, we ought to be able to bring things in for a soft landing. But what is going to happen will be determined by the inertia of economies and societies, which sometimes requires crashes to change behaviors.

"Ah the old 'Do your own research' ploy. Well done."

Please don't behave like a petulant undergrad. I gave you the google references so you wouldn't have to take my word for it, not because I was trying to appear supperior.

"How about an example of an actual Technocrat and resulting nightmare scenario instead?"

Soviet Russian five year plans.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Soviet Russian five year plans

============
I disagree that was a technocracy

That was an agenda impossed by politicans/autocrats to get a certain level of industrial capacity.

Those plans were not really developed by engineers and scientists. Not in any real sense.

(SA Phil)


PS - Petulant Undergrad? Heh- add in a little dash of ad hominem?

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"I did say cheaper energy at the end of the tunnel, did I not? I thought I had said the upfront costs make the market system not a viable solution."

Long term costs won't be that much less, because the solar energy infrastructure has to be maintained and expanded indefinitely. Photovoltaic cells eventually degrade, and windmills have finite service lives before replacement too. As fossil fuels become less available, solar technologies will become relatively less expensive, but they will never be cheap.

"You are actually turning my own arguement as to why market forces arent working - into a reason why the problem shoudln't be fixed."

No, I'm saying that the problem won't even exist, except in the mind of activists, until the market says a problem exists. That's just human nature.

"That really is unproductive and wont solve anything long term. Which was my entire point."

Can't resist the demonizing impulse, can we? (That's okay, I can't resist myself sometimes, but we should really try as hard as we can.)

"Long term - Energy will be cheaper. Much cheaper. Nuclear, Wind and Solar all are expensive short term and cheap long term."

Propagands nonsense. See above.

"As to the Uranium "shortage"
Thorium can solve the fuel problem, so could using plutonium.

Not to mention our current reactor designs/usage methods are terribly inefficeint from a fuel standpoint."


We get a thousand years out of thorium, plus another three hundred or so out of efficiently processed and reused uranium (ignoring U-238 and plutonium proliferation). Extens this to maybe 2000 years by use of solar resources. It's still not endless, and it will definitiely get expensive by the end. So?

jollyreaper said...


BTW, you are aware, aren't you, that if you have a retirement plan or a commercial insurance policy, you are one the "shareholders"?


If I don't have preferred stock for voting rights then I don't have jack. And if I do get a proxy for voting, that's basically a placebo. Has no more effect on the course of events than the baby seat steering wheel has on the course of the mum's car.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"I disagree that was a technocracy..."

Not in any sense that the philosophical technocrats would have accepted.

"That was an agenda impossed by politicans/autocrats to get a certain level of industrial capacity.

Those plans were not really developed by engineers and scientists. Not in any real sense."


It was as close as anybody ever got. It was a disaster and yet people still try to excuse the theory while condemning the practice.

That's why I'm glad technocracy never took off in the US. The "if only the right people were put in charge" impulse would have hurt a lot of people in the name of helping them before common sense set in.

"PS - Petulant Undergrad? Heh- add in a little dash of ad hominem?"

Were you making uncalled-for snide remarks? Yes. It's only ad hominem if it ain't true.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"If I don't have preferred stock for voting rights then I don't have jack. And if I do get a proxy for voting, that's basically a placebo. Has no more effect on the course of events than the baby seat steering wheel has on the course of the mum's car."

Immaterial. You're one of the shareholders (however indirectly) whose profits corporate officers are trying to maximize. And you directly benefit the second you receive a retirement payment or take an insurance payout.

And that's the minimum amount the average person could be involved. Most people also have their own personal investments, either directly in stocks or through mutual funds.

We're all riding the same horse, and have the same accountability, j. Don't ever try to convince anybody -- but particularly yourself -- that we aren't.

jollyreaper said...


Immaterial. You're one of the shareholders (however indirectly) whose profits corporate officers are trying to maximize. And you directly benefit the second you receive a retirement payment or take an insurance payout.


So how does it work if my pension fund is invested in Enron and, in the interest of the collective shareholders, of which I am one, they manipulate the energy market where I live and drive prices up 500%? Is this now my fault? What if my pension owns utilities and thus I own a minuscule share of the reactor down the road. When it melts down because of cost-cutting and shoddy maintenance do I not have any room to complain because hey, it's my company, too? When I vote for the guy who says he's going to stop the war and shut down the extralegal prison camps and he does the exact opposite, it's my fault, too?

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"So how does it work if my pension fund is invested in Enron and, in the interest of the collective shareholders, of which I am one, they manipulate the energy market where I live and drive prices up 500%? Is this now my fault? What if my pension owns utilities and thus I own a minuscule share of the reactor down the road. When it melts down because of cost-cutting and shoddy maintenance do I not have any room to complain because hey, it's my company, too? When I vote for the guy who says he's going to stop the war and shut down the extralegal prison camps and he does the exact opposite, it's my fault, too?"

In legal terms, you were a member of the conspiracy that made all of those things possible. In practical terms we can't go after everybody that participates, when it's the whole of the people. But placing blame on somebody else, as if you had had nothing to do with it, is disingenuous.

jollyreaper said...

In legal terms, you were a member of the conspiracy that made all of those things possible. In practical terms we can't go after everybody that participates, when it's the whole of the people. But placing blame on somebody else, as if you had had nothing to do with it, is disingenuous.

By being born in this country, you agree to comply with and be bound by the following terms of use. Neither the management nor its affiliates make any warranty, express or implied. Management will not be held liable for damages to life, limb, or property.

If you don't like the EULA, go be born somewhere else!

Thucydides said...

I'm with Tony here

If you have ownership you are responsible in direct proportion to your ownership. If you don't like what is going on you can take action as a shareholder, gather enough other shareholders together to comprise a voting block or divest your shares.

Really, there are LOTS, of things that we can do. I admit that most of us have limited time and resources compared to (say) full time political activists but you can focus your efforts on some issues.

Incidentally, most of the examples being touted here often on examination turn out to be regulatory failure rather than market failure. ENRON took advantage of the fact that California deregulated the energy market but left high barriers for new entrants into the market to sell energy at peak demand prices. They also had armies of lawyers who scoured regulatory loopholes; for the longest time it actually wasn't clear that ENRON had broken any laws at all.

Since politicians and bureaucrats had messed up the market by ensuring supply and demand could not match up, the main blame on ENRON was hubris and committing accounting fraud to pump up stock prices rather than ditching bad investments and taking their lumps. Cold comfort for the people who rushed to invest in ENRON due to greed rather than using their due diligence to find out what was really going on (and the "its too good to be true" law does smoke out accounting tricks and protect investors).

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"By being born in this country, you agree to comply with and be bound by the following terms of use. Neither the management nor its affiliates make any warranty, express or implied. Management will not be held liable for damages to life, limb, or property.

If you don't like the EULA, go be born somewhere else!"


No. Just don't condemn others when you benefit yourself. I know it makes it a lot less easier to posture alongside other members of your oh so socially conscious clique, but thems the breaks.

jollyreaper said...


Incidentally, most of the examples being touted here often on examination turn out to be regulatory failure rather than market failure. ENRON took advantage of the fact that California deregulated the energy market but left high barriers for new entrants into the market to sell energy at peak demand prices. They also had armies of lawyers who scoured regulatory loopholes; for the longest time it actually wasn't clear that ENRON had broken any laws at all.

Since politicians and bureaucrats had messed up the market by ensuring supply and demand could not match up, the main blame on ENRON was hubris and committing accounting fraud to pump up stock prices rather than ditching bad investments and taking their lumps.


So in this case less government is the problem and more government is the solution? :)

From ye olde Wiki:
In economics, regulatory capture occurs when a state regulatory agency created to act in the public interest instead advances the commercial or special interests that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. Regulatory capture is a form of government failure, as it can act as an encouragement for large firms to produce negative externalities. The agencies are called "captured agencies".

When the Supreme Court rules money is free speech, how can the citizens out-compete corporate lobbyists?

jollyreaper said...


No. Just don't condemn others when you benefit yourself. I know it makes it a lot less easier to posture alongside other members of your oh so socially conscious clique, but thems the breaks.


And here comes the talking down to from the condescenti.

Rick said...

Geeks behaving badly ...

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"And here comes the talking down to from the condescenti."

Cute and informative.

Raymond said...

Le sigh. Do we really need to go through the usual rounds of "j'accuse"? Are we really going to repeat the same endless rounds of "the market breeds greedy bastards and short-term thinking" vs "you just don't understand how the real world works"? I'd rather skip the usual conservative vs liberal slugging match, thanks.

However, Thucydides:

"In absolute terms, "poor" people today live far better lives than aristocrats at the turn of the last century, they are "poor" relative to the middle class (who would invoke envy and terror among the Kings of the past) and of course today's rich would own entire nations of merchant princes of the past..."

That's a load of dinofeathers, for any useful definition of the word "poor".

"Even education can be and is "for profit", see Montessori, Waldorf and other school systems (even public schools work to maximize their take of bureaucratic budgets, that being the "profit motive" o0f bureaucracies. We can deal with perverse incentives later)."

For-profit education can occasionally work, for certain niches which a public system is unwilling or unable to support. for the purpose of imparting a general education to the vast majority of citizens, however, public can't be beat.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I'd rather skip the usual conservative vs liberal slugging match, thanks."

So would I. My objection is to the continued heaping of blame upon some disembodied Them, who are somehow screwing po' li'l' ol' Us, regardless of the political motivations of the accuser.

"For-profit education can occasionally work, for certain niches which a public system is unwilling or unable to support. for the purpose of imparting a general education to the vast majority of citizens, however, public can't be beat."

Neither is factual, AFAICT. Private education that is non-profit -- even if expensive -- has a good track record for producing professionals. It doesn't have a good record (for certain values of "good") for reinforcing the currently popular cultural and social myths.

Public education, while attempting to reach the masses, generally doesn't produce professionals and leaders, except by accident. It simply doesn't insist on standards of excellence with every student as private education usually does. Any high levels of success are generally up to the student and his family.

What public education really excells at is indoctrination of the masses. In fact, in the US at least, many public education schemes were originally embraced by the public because they could be used to provide Americanism indoctrination to immigrant children.

jollyreaper said...

That's a load of dinofeathers, for any useful definition of the word "poor".

Based on my definition of a few hours ago, that's not quite the way you'd want to put it. Horsefeathers is a more polite way of calling BS. Dinofeathers is a way of saying it may be true but you don't like it, usually on grounds of personal aesthetics. It also grudgingly admits that whatever factual arguments you're using in the matter, you're ultimately arguing from the heart.

A feathery T-rex? Say it ain't so!
http://weirdthings.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/penguintrex-460x206.jpg

Feathered velociraptor? My childhood has just been ruined.
http://cas.bellarmine.edu/tietjen/AnimalDiversity/DF0.gif

I know what the paleontologists are telling us, I know the facts are on their side, I know this is the more correct interpretation than Jurassic Park. But but .... aw, dinofeathers.

This is as opposed to coming around to someone's point of view that you greatly detest and disagree with such as "We've been crashed in the mountains for three weeks, I guess it might be time to start thinking about who we eat first." Dinofeathers is really not quite the term to describe that situation.

Raymond said...

jollyreaper:

Then I'll go with the term I had in mind in the first place: horseshit.

The comparison with eighteenth-century aristocrats is a fairly useless one, and rankles me to no end whenever I hear it repeated. Sure, a few metrics have improved sufficiently across the board (infant mortality comes to mind), but aristocrats enjoyed secure supplies of food, generally lavish accomodations (even without central air conditioning), and aside from the occasional war or revolution, had little reason to worry about their existence a month hence. Truly poor members of society don't have that same cushion, even if they have plumbing.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Public education, while attempting to reach the masses, generally doesn't produce professionals and leaders, except by accident."

With all due respect, I think we're working on much different definitions of "professional" here, and I believe yours is too limited. Perhaps it can be chalked up to different standards of education between Canada and the US, but up here we're quite capable of producing professionals of every stripe, educated in public primary and secondary schools, and with degrees from public universities (which are, btw, generally the most highly regarded post-secondary institutions within the country).

"It simply doesn't insist on standards of excellence with every student as private education usually does. Any high levels of success are generally up to the student and his family."

I think the "private education insists on higher standards" idea is a myth. Private education can easily (and frequently does) devolve into chasing test scores and donations, regardless of profit status. There are exceptions, of course, where the best teachers are found and paid handsomely, entrance exams are difficult enough to weed out substandard students, and scholarships are provided to a few to reduce the overt suggestions of privilege - but those are pretty rare, and almost certainly out of our price range.

I come from a family of teachers, who have worked in both private and public education, and none of them were mediocre teachers, nor interested in their students' mediocrity. And they would find your comments about indoctrination rather offensive.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"The comparison with eighteenth-century aristocrats is a fairly useless one, and rankles me to no end whenever I hear it repeated. Sure, a few metrics have improved sufficiently across the board (infant mortality comes to mind), but aristocrats enjoyed secure supplies of food, generally lavish accomodations (even without central air conditioning), and aside from the occasional war or revolution, had little reason to worry about their existence a month hence. Truly poor members of society don't have that same cushion, even if they have plumbing."

It depends on which poor you're talking about. In the undeveloped world? Yeah, things haven't improved much. In the good ol' US of A (and Canada)? There is good nutritional security, increasingly better medical security, and no real economic reason to not have four walls and a roof. And while the poor in rich countries have mostly to worry about where the next handout is coming from, 18th Century aristocrats had a real risk of falling out of court and/or social favor, which could lead to some pretty drastic consequences. Except possibly for private space and access to flunkies or outright slaves, I'd rather be poor in the US today than rich in Western Europe in the 18th Century.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"With all due respect, I think we're working on much different definitions of "professional" here, and I believe yours is too limited. Perhaps it can be chalked up to different standards of education between Canada and the US, but up here we're quite capable of producing professionals of every stripe, educated in public primary and secondary schools, and with degrees from public universities (which are, btw, generally the most highly regarded post-secondary institutions within the country)."

I didn't say that our public schools didn't produce professionals and leaders. It's just not anything like one of their priorities. And our public colleges can be very fine here too. Even the ocscure state college I went to provided a quality education, for those that sought to make the most of it.

But that's my point. In public schools you have to want more to get more. In private schools no matter what you want, they try to get your best out of you.

"I think the 'private education insists on higher standards' idea is a myth. Private education can easily (and frequently does) devolve into chasing test scores and donations, regardless of profit status. There are exceptions, of course, where the best teachers are found and paid handsomely, entrance exams are difficult enough to weed out substandard students, and scholarships are provided to a few to reduce the overt suggestions of privilege - but those are pretty rare, and almost certainly out of our price range."

I did use the modifier "usually". And I think your view of private education is pretty negatively biased if you think high standards are rare or unreasonably expensive in private education. I've worked with the youth of America in several different settings. And the private school product has been significantly better, on the average, than the public school product. I don't think it's exactly dumb luck.

Also, the Roman Catholic high school I went to was expensive, but not exhorbitantly or exclusively so. The student body was essentially lower middle class. The distinguishing difference between us and the kinds in Rosemead or San Gabriel Highs was a willingness on the part of our parents to acrifice a little to pay for a good college prep education.

"I come from a family of teachers, who have worked in both private and public education, and none of them were mediocre teachers, nor interested in their students' mediocrity. And they would find your comments about indoctrination rather offensive."

All teachers indoctrinate. I have yet to meet a teacher, good or bad, that was all data, no values. The indoctrination I was talking about WRT public schools is the political demands placed on curiculum, so that, for example, every public school system in California has a requirement to teach the contributions of women, various ethnic groups, entrepreneurs, labor, etc. In the private schools I went to, there was definitely values indoctrination, but when it came to imparting the story of whatever subject, whoever did something did it - man, woman, black, white, laborer, or industrialist. IOW, the social indoctrination message was left for religion classes. Hard subject had hard information, without a social agenda.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"There is good nutritional security, increasingly better medical security, and no real economic reason to not have four walls and a roof."

A) Less than you'd think. Obesity rates in people below the poverty line are significantly higher, and much of that can be traced to the relative costs of healthy food. It's surprisingly hard to eat even halfway decently on the tiny amount welfare provides (even in Canada, where welfare payments aren't nearly as generous as certain pundits here like to claim).

B) Medical care is more available here to the poor, but things like dentistry and psychiatry still aren't covered - and there's a long-established correlation between mental illness and homelessness, not to mention the higher depression and suicide rates in poor households.

C) There's a chronic shortage of affordable low-income housing just about everywhere in North America (perhaps excepting Florida). There's also an endemically high unemployment rate for youth and other segments of the workforce, due mostly to a dearth of entry-level jobs (not to be confused with near-minimum-wage retail jobs, which don't pay enough to support a family on their own, and have little opportunity for advancement).

jollyreaper said...

Agreed with you on the horseshit part. Joe Scalzi had a good essay on what it means to be poor. To be poor means you know the price of everything. To be poor means you're too far behind to ever get ahead. To be poor means you have to work twice as hard just to tread water and be condescended to by people who think you're poor because you're lazy.

Now when I look at some royal histories, there's not a lot of security! Backstabbings, poisonings, intrigues and betrayals. That's not fun. But it's also not fun to know you have food and shelter but it can all be taken away with the next layoff, to know one illness or accident can leave you homeless.

Thucydides said...

"Poor" people in Western societies have access to food. shelter, medical care, transportation and entertainment that would be far beyond what aristocrats of the past could get for any price.

Yes, it still sucks to be poor relative to people around you, and yes, a certain percentage of poor people are afflicted by disease or drastic misfortune, but these are beside the point of the argument.

An interesting point about "affordable housing"; in my home town, the city owns and operates such a huge block of subsidized housing that most property management companies have long abandoned that segment of the market. Individual landlords are often harrassed by City Hall to the point they throw in the towel, and of course low price alternatives like rooming houses were zoned out of existence decades ago.

Once again it is regulatory failure, since the politicians and bureaucrats have effectively choked off supply and prevented the market from clearing.

Raymond said...

Rick, you mind rescuing Tony's last comment from the Warp? I'd like to respond, but I'd like everyone to read what I'm responding to...

jollyreaper said...

Rick, you mind rescuing Tony's last comment from the Warp?

Could you imagine if 40K had nicer deities? I would so worship Donysius. "Wine for the wine god! Upchuck for the porcelain throne!"

Speaking of dark gods, did you see Denny's is having a Baconalia? Who is the fell god of pork they're making tribute and obeisance to? I believe the last one was Senator Stevens. (I still think "Bridge to Nowhere" would be a great album title.)

Raymond said...

Thucydides:

"'Poor' people in Western societies have access to food. shelter, medical care, transportation and entertainment that would be far beyond what aristocrats of the past could get for any price."

If by "poor" you mean the relatively poor and/or the working poor, then possibly. These would be the ones who struggle, but (generally) get by with less. I think their access to proper food and decent shelter is more limited than you're allowing, as food bank usage rates and low-income housing waiting lists would attest, but those are a matter of degree. And we could do more to foster an environment where they can do better for themselves - the specific means should be left as an exercise for somewhere else, or we'll all get dragged down into the usual debate about the market, which will convince no one of anything (as usual).

The segment I was mostly referring to, though, was the impoverished - the ones hanging on by a thread, if at all. The homeless and/or mentally ill (and those two frequently go together), the ones without any job to speak of nor any means of holding one. An 18th-century aristocrat's life, however tenuous the court's favor, would be an improvement.

"An interesting point about "affordable housing"; in my home town, the city owns and operates such a huge block of subsidized housing that most property management companies have long abandoned that segment of the market. Individual landlords are often harrassed by City Hall to the point they throw in the towel, and of course low price alternatives like rooming houses were zoned out of existence decades ago."

Low-income housing has never been a prize to property management companies. And there are, frankly, two fairly different types of affordable housing: that which is intended for (relatively) poor working families (which often is sold instead of rented, and can give a starting point for building equity), and that which is intended to warehouse un- or under-employed families and the aforementioned impoverished (who couldn't afford market-rate housing of any sort, anywhere).

The first type is easier to incentivize (or outright require) developers to include in housing starts, and can be made to work relatively seamlessly - my hometown, Edmonton, started doing this on a larger scale when the housing market there became insanely overheated, and it eased the pressure for those families who didn't benefit quite as directly from the oilsands construction boom.

The second type, well, despite decades of study and even more debate, there aren't any good answers.

As far as rooming houses go, they're still around, but a) they're not actually any more affordable on a monthly basis, and b) they're usually dangerous shitholes.

Raymond said...

jollyreaper:

I was always more of a Prometheus & Epimetheus guy myself.

Thucydides said...

WRT which gods we favour (or who favour us) I always lean towards Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy.

On the larger meta issue of resource allocation, I will reiterate several points, then withdraw so we don't get into a flame war.

1. "Capitalism" isn't about accumulating money, it is about the accumulation and use of capital (which includes all available resources, but money is usually a good stand in for the amount of resources you can access)

2. The patient accumulation of capital is a trait that has been fairly limited in history; most people preferring to smash and grab other people’s capital. Samuel Huntington’s book “Who are We?” discusses the issue; one of the reasons for American exceptionalism is the fact that the founders came from a wave of settlers with particular beliefs grounded in Protestant dissent, the role of Government, God and the State, which included the idea of hard work and saving as an individual and social virtue.

3. The market provides signals as to where these resources can be best invested. The "Local Knowledge Problem" http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html means no one will ever have perfect access to information, and your own personal needs and desires reflect what is an acceptable investment and ROI for you

4. Market distortions induced by oligarchies, bureaucrats and politicians cloud the issue by preventing you from receiving clear signals of what is the best investment or ROI. The issue of investors seeking “tax efficient” investments over high ROI investments (or because these have become the way to achieve the best ROI) is a broad example, politicians pouring billions of dollars into failed companies like GM are essentially overriding the market information and negating the choices of millions of investors, consumers and taxpayers. Soviet era “Five Year Plans” did the same thing with entire national economies.

5. Since neither you nor I have perfect access to information, and our interpretation of information is different anyway based on our individual goals and desires, the only way to achieve certain large scale goals in an efficient manner is to forge a large scale consensus (i.e. everyone seems to agree that Facebook and Twitter are great products) or seize control of the market and ignore market signals. This can produce mega projects like the Autobahns or Apollo, but at the cost of diverting capital away from other projects, starving parts of the economy or inducing black markets to satisfy frustrated demands.

So despite the various flaws, we are living in one of the best systems ever conceived. Once again, it is not the responsibility of the State or some indefinable “them” to fix problems, it is up to you and I. I used to have a tagline on another blog I co wrote for that sums this all up:

“Freedom is a self help project”

jollyreaper said...

Not seeking flames either. My interpretation:

1. Resource allocation is the name of the game. Everyone wants a fair shake but it is human nature to desire a fairer shake than the other guy. In a balanced system, the give and take of negotiation should allow everyone to get all they need even if its not all they want.

2. People on the short end of the stick will argue for social justice and complain about how the system is screwing them. When they get the long end of the stick, they'll argue in favor of protecting the system that has given us all so much.

3. The ideal the Founding Fathers had for this nation was that our political leaders would be disinterested -- not in the connotation of apathy but by not having a dog in the fight, impartial mediators. This is a standard they fell far short of in their own lifetimes.

4. Everyone is the hero of his own story. Few people will say "I got where I am due to nepotism, connections, and abuse of power." It's always made more flowery and triumphant. I worked hard. I earned this.

5. Consequently, people talk about enjoying competition and earning what they get but what they're really after is a rigged game. Nobody who is a proponent of survival of the fittest is actually willing to actually live by those rules, being driven from his business and home and out into the cold streets because the other guy has a better idea.

6. Thus few people live by principles. I call it the lost wallet theory. Most people will argue that a wallet of theirs that is lost should be returned with the money inside. When they find a wallet they say they deserve to keep the money as a finder's fee and will return he wallet if they feel like it. It's the ethics of self-advantage. Someone who is willing to stick by his principles even when it is to his own disadvantage is someone you can trust.

7. Final observation: iron law of institutions -- "The proposition states that the people who hold power in institutions are guided principally by preserving power within the institution, rather than the success of the institution itself." So no matter what the genuine good idea was that got the ball rolling, you always end up with bastards in charge. Your communist revolution gives you a Stalin, genuine problems with the Kaiser gives you a Weimar Republic that gives you a Hitler. Capitalism gives you robber-barons and bureaucrat flunkies. Communism gives you Party bosses and apparatchiks. The problem is not peculiar to a given idea like capitalism or communism, it is the inevitable result of any organization staffed by humans because of human nature. You see the same dynamic in organized religion, charities, science fiction clubs, even sewing circles.

jollyreaper said...

Barring any improvement in the human condition, I'm predisposed to systems that have checks and balances with proper regulatory oversight. I prefer decentralization and competition so that inefficient businesses really are allowed to fail and be replaced. Our monolithic consolidation of industries in end stage capitalism are every bit as bad as the state-owned industries of communist governments -- in both cases "too big to fail" and no longer subject to proper competition.

I believe that negotiation between equals will allow for the most honest discovery of a price. Negotiations between weak and strong will never be equal because the weak lack leverage. If the weak can negotiate collectively, then there is parity. If the weak together become strong and the strong is now weak by comparison, now we're back to inequality.

How to make this work? There's no way to set it in stone. It would have to be a continuing process of seeing how things work, how they don't work, making changes, see how they work, and being completely honest with ourselves. There really are selfless people out there but our problem is that the sociopaths usually manage to find themselves in charge of everything. I don't have a good answer for that. The best kludge fix I can think of is keeping things decentralized so that the collapse of a government whose internal flaws and contradictions have become too great to survive will not take out adjacent polities.

For the record, I think that communism as practiced in the 20th century has been some nasty business. It's not really what Marx and Engels were talking about. Then again, Christianity in practice has fallen far short of what Christ taught. Human nature again. Capitalism is in the process of devouring itself. Capitalism was a better answer for many people in the 20th century but by no means ideal; communism may have killed more people overall but capitalism took second place not for lack of trying. There certainly has to be a better answer out there. Our job is finding it.

Tony said...

Let's have a little bit of clarity here:

Too many calories of fatty and/or starchy foods is not the same thing as not enough calories of anything.

Having to live with relatives or in a shelter while waiting for low income housing is not the same thing as sleeping in the street because the only decent housing (if you call a mud hut or cardboard shack decent) is out in the country, while what little work and food there is to be had is in the city.

Being in a position to complain about inadequate mental health care is not the same thing as having good healthcare mean an annual visit from a hastily trained nurse who's mission is to hand out condoms and tell you about the importance of taking chloroquine and worm pills you can't afford.

Tony said...

Re: John Scalzi

I can't even begin to describe my disgust at him writing about poverty in America from his nice residential farm in Ohio. I strongly endorse the idea that everyone should read his essay. It can be found here.

If you've been anywhere in the undeveloped world for any significant length of time, I have no doubt you will share my disgust at what Scalzi thinks poverty means. If you haven't been outside the West or the wealthy parts of the East, read the essay carefully and try to imagine a world where at least two thirds of the dilemmas he cites can't even exist, because there are no government services, housing, food, or medical care.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

What fraction of (at least) 100 million people was capitalism responsible for killing?

Raymond said...

Tony:

"In public schools you have to want more to get more. In private schools no matter what you want, they try to get your best out of you."

It's been my experience that you have to want more regardless. Some schools and some teachers may be better at encouraging or convincing you to want more, but you can't force someone to learn.

The advantage that private schools have, in general, is the ability to impose selection criteria on entrance (not that all do, mind you, but they can), and to require higher standards to continue at the institution in question. I have, however, seen specialized public schools which do the same thing, with largely the same results - something which can be done if the public school system is given leeway to set up specialty schools and allow a fair degree of choice between schools in a district (something Alberta did quite well when I went to school).

"And I think your view of private education is pretty negatively biased if you think high standards are rare or unreasonably expensive in private education. I've worked with the youth of America in several different settings. And the private school product has been significantly better, on the average, than the public school product. I don't think it's exactly dumb luck."

I don't think it's dumb luck, I think it's selection bias - private schools are able to screen out the worst students (both in terms of aptitude and attitude), and retain the best. To what degree this is done depends, of course.

As for my views of private education, negative or otherwise, see my response below.

Raymond said...

Tony (cont'd):

"Also, the Roman Catholic high school I went to was expensive, but not exhorbitantly or exclusively so. The student body was essentially lower middle class. The distinguishing difference between us and the kinds in Rosemead or San Gabriel Highs was a willingness on the part of our parents to acrifice a little to pay for a good college prep education."

And here's where the differences in era and locale become more apparent. A few things, in no particular order:

- Catholic schools, at least in Alberta, weren't private schools per se, but essentially a parallel public system. There were a few Anglican private schools, but they were quite expensive, and most of them were boarding schools.

- We were required to take provincially-mandated tests every three years, culminating in diploma exams worth half your mark in any given core subject. This was required of private schools, as well, and they were required to teach the provincial curriculum as a minimum.

- The curriculum was essentially "college-prep" across the board. The expectations of public schools were set so that decent marks and a high-school diploma was sufficient to get into just about any public university. For those who wanted more, Academic Challenge and International Baccalaureate were commonplace (and could usually get you credit for a couple first-year university courses).

- I grew up in an upper-middle-class home, in a neighborhood with a fairly wide spectrum of wealth, and went to church in a ward chock-full of professionals of every stripe. Parents were frequently heavily involved with their children's education. And nobody really talked about private school as a serious option. (Boarding school was used as a threat for a couple kids I know, though, and there were a couple families who did home-schooling for religious reasons.) Not for lack of funds or interest, but simply because the public school system had good options available, without even having to drive across town.

- Because of the above, private education just wasn't that common, even in the demographics you'd expect it to be. The public system where I grew up was well-funded and vibrant, with lots of great teachers and even more good ones. So there is at least one example that I have a great deal of experience with (on both sides - my mother still teaches in that district) where a properly-constructed and well-funded public school system can render private education unnecessary except in a handful of niches.

jollyreaper said...

jollyreaper:

What fraction of (at least) 100 million people was capitalism responsible for killing?


1. The numbers are all estimates so we can't get an accurate count.
2. As Colin Powell said, "We don't do bodycounts." At least not anymore. So it becomes even more difficult to get accurate numbers.

With those two caveats, I'd say capitalism's death toll is lower than communism's but higher than any reasonable person would want -- in other words, a fraction of the toll for communism but a significant one. The numbers would consist of the following:
1. Industrial accidents due to negligence, greed.
2. Wars waged by capitalist powers in support of capitalist ideology. It'll be tough to figure out who's to blame for each particular death. 2 million estimated dead Asians in Vietnam, how many to blame on the capitalists and how many on the communist? Hard to say.
3. Do we attribute to the count all dictators on our payroll? Do Pinochet's dead count? How about Saddam? Do we blame the Shah's killings on capitalism and draw the line at the Ayatollahs or do we consider them part of the legacy of our mistakes? Do all the dead from the Iran-Iraq War count to capitalism from both sides or can communism claim any credit there? Labor activists killed by right wing dictators, does that count?
4. Cancers and diseases caused by the pollution of capitalist industry.

Now certainly the communists weren't good stewards of the Earth. I'd say their record has been even worse on that count than in the West. But consider how hard big business has pushed against environmental laws. It becomes incredibly difficult for the people to have a voice. Business isn't just sitting there like a willing genie saying "We will do the work of the people, whichever way you vote, we have no will of our own." The businessmen have an agenda, push for it, and the people have to work extra hard to counter it if they so choose.

Let me put it this way. If I believed in judgment day, I would not want to stand before the throne of God and say "Hey, at least I wasn't as bad as Hitler." That's not really a resounding defense. If capitalism could be put to that same judgment, saying "Hey, at least I wasn't as bad as communism!" sounds just as lame.

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper

Your list of direct, military or police casualties of capitalism is pretty weak, IMO. Vietnam? That was ultimately a civil war that we wouldn't have even been involved in except for the Cold War. (It would be very interested to learn who you blame for the Cold War...) The killings of their own people that various US clients were responsible for -- how many would they have killed on their own, regardless of who sponsored them? How many would alternate leaders have killed, for what reasons, in what contexts? At least with communism we know that the Russian Empire never starved millions of people to death as an act of policy, and the French colonial puppets in Cambodia never killed a million people over ideology. The Balck Book of Communism was a serious, documented indictment. The response, The Balck Book of Capitalism, was a collection of undocumented opinion piece essays. Yeah, right...

WRT industrial accidents and polution, any numbers you could come up with would be highly speculative and could vary widely based on nuance of definition. So I salute you for not trying. But, by the same token, What was the toll of early or unnecessary (by our standards) deaths from bad medicine, poor transportation (which effects food supply and the mobility of people to find better living situations), subsistence level calorie production (leaving people nutritionally vulnerable to weather, crop diseases, and passing armies), and any number of other pre-industrial conditions? Capitalism may have its problems -- what human institution doesn't? -- but it's hardly been an unalloyed disaster for the human race.

Tony said...

Re: Raymond

You do realize that your impression of public schooling comes from the perspective of an unusual situation, don't you? Where I come from, and in most places in the US, private schools are not a niche solution, but the only opportunity for a decent primary and secondary education. Also, in some ways, good public schools in relatively wealthy neighborhoods have the same virtues that US Americans would consider those of private schools. IOW, they are exceptions that prove the rule.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"You do realize that your impression of public schooling comes from the perspective of an unusual situation, don't you? Where I come from, and in most places in the US, private schools are not a niche solution, but the only opportunity for a decent primary and secondary education. Also, in some ways, good public schools in relatively wealthy neighborhoods have the same virtues that US Americans would consider those of private schools. IOW, they are exceptions that prove the rule."

Oh, I know. Alberta in general, and Edmonton Public in particular, got quite the rep in the educational community for being rather forward-thinking and competent. It's the example which demonstrates that generalized failures of public education are matters of execution, not inherent flaws in the concept.

As for the wealth issue, the key is that education funding was distributed by the province on a per-student basis (in fact, a per-credit basis), with additional funds for IB and AC programs. This means that the good schools weren't limited to the wealthy neighborhoods (mine was, like I said, fairly broad in its economic demographics). And, before you ask, all the schools I went to were as ethnically diverse as you could get in a mid-size Canadian city (which is actually pretty diverse, when you look at the stats).

IOW, it's not the exception which proves the rule. It's the disproof which indicates the theory is incomplete.

Tony said...

Re: Raymond

Please accept my apologies in advance, but Alberta -- and even Edmonton in particular -- is so unrepresentative of public school demographics in North America as to be a ridiculously biased sample. You mention ethnic diversity? It's not ethnic diversity that's an issue, it's large urban islands of ethnic near homogeneity, combined with negative social and cultural conditions that would be beyond the imagining, much less the experience, of the vast majority of Western Canadian educators.

In those places public schools are where the kids of parents who don't care about or can't afford a good education for them are dumped. Educators there count it a victory if they can get 50% of their kids to graduate high school reading at a sixth grade level and capable of doing enough math to fill out their tax returns. The kind of public schools you think are eminently possible are just foreign to that environment.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"...It's not ethnic diversity that's an issue, it's large urban islands of ethnic near homogeneity, combined with negative social and cultural conditions that would be beyond the imagining, much less the experience, of the vast majority of Western Canadian educators."

Maybe. Alberta still has to deal with some pretty steep class divides, urban-rural splits, and the siren call of the oilsands (where a teenager can drop out after grade ten and make over fifty grand to start, plus expenses). And my grandmother taught in the Hutterite colonies, which have some...difficulties of their own.

As an example of something closer to what you're talking about, we'll see how Toronto Public's new all-black school turns out. And yes, there's still identifiable differences in graduation rate and post-secondary rates amongst the black population in Toronto - of which there's a lot, since we end up with the majority of the African and Caribbean immigration to Canada - and those differences are enough to be a problem.

jollyreaper said...


Your list of direct, military or police casualties of capitalism is pretty weak, IMO. Vietnam? That was ultimately a civil war that we wouldn't have even been involved in except for the Cold War. (It


I fail to see how that changes my assertion. None of the 20th century proxy wars would have amounted to much if third parties didn't get involved to make it their fight. The US and USSR pumping arms in to their chosen side of the conflict makes it bigger, bloodier, and longer-lasting. If left to their own devices the wars would have been settled far sooner.

would be very interested to learn who you blame for the Cold War...)


Giant heaping pile of blame, cut right down the middle and dished out to both sides. There were some crazy, paranoid bastards on both sides, pigheaded fools unwilling to see reason. Not much could have been done vs. Stalin aside from containment but after he died, we were pretty much locked on the disaster course. The communists were jealous of and fearful of the west. The capitalists were fearful of the threat represented by exported revolution and the threat to their own self-interest. On either side it amounted to comfortable men trying to secure their own positions against an enemy they saw as irrationally dedicated to their own eradication.

The killings of their own people that various US clients were responsible for -- how many would they have killed on their own, regardless of who sponsored them? How many would alternate leaders have killed, for what reasons, in what contexts?


Well crap, couldn't you handily dismiss Stalin's purges the same way? He wasn't wedded to the idea of communism -- any system he could gain control of would have served him just fine. You could say he'd have happily carried out the same purges if he was a tsar's son rather than a communist. You could dismiss Mao's madness as sheer megalomania. See the previous comment about none of the communist regimes actually putting into practice the communism espoused in the books -- it was just red-flavored totalitarianism. And the Dear Leader in North Korea, isn't he just carrying out the Asian tradition of a hereditary monarchy? Couldn't you translate his title as "emperor" and lose nothing?

Capitalism may have its problems -- what human institution doesn't? -- but it's hardly been an unalloyed disaster for the human race.

Depends on who you talk to. I'll take it over absolute monarchy, theocracy, or any other flavor of totalitarianism but for a large portion of the human race it's just oppression by another name. I think capitalism needed the threat of communism to bring out its best qualities. Without that threat it's grown malignant. We can do better.

Rick said...

Le sigh. Do we really need to go through the usual rounds of "j'accuse"? Are we really going to repeat the same endless rounds of "the market breeds greedy bastards and short-term thinking" vs "you just don't understand how the real world works"? I'd rather skip the usual conservative vs liberal slugging match, thanks.

Alas, apparently we do. After the first dozen or two comments that were actually on topic, this thread is about as lame as the typical comment thread on a political blog.

Which is pretty lame.

jollyreaper said...


Alas, apparently we do. After the first dozen or two comments that were actually on topic, this thread is about as lame as the typical comment thread on a political blog.

Which is pretty lame.


Back in the other thread we've got brainjars and space elves!

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

You know what? Rick's right. I'll allow you to have the last word.

Raymond said...

Rick:

More on-topic, then: where'd my GD jetpack? We've been putting people in space for fifty years!

Also: how do we replace the crop of science teachers which came out of the space-race-era focus on science education? They're starting to retire en masse, and there's shortages (especially of math and physics teachers) all over the place.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"More on-topic, then: where'd my GD jetpack? We've been putting people in space for fifty years!"

YOur physics teacher should have taught you why jetpacks arei mpractical.

"Also: how do we replace the crop of science teachers which came out of the space-race-era focus on science education? They're starting to retire en masse, and there's shortages (especially of math and physics teachers) all over the place."

My college (the second time around) astronomy teacher was one of the original Space Age science teachers. In 1959, he basically got the equivalent of a football scholarship to study science, funded by the federal government. We could do the same thing all over again, but to be economical it would take focussing of the grant system on math and science and making it much more performance based. Of course, this is politcally impossible.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Your physics teacher should have taught you why jetpacks are impractical."

Sarcasm, man.

Although...Rossy's jet-wing-thingamabob is pretty impressive.

"My college (the second time around) astronomy teacher was one of the original Space Age science teachers. In 1959, he basically got the equivalent of a football scholarship to study science, funded by the federal government. We could do the same thing all over again, but to be economical it would take focussing of the grant system on math and science and making it much more performance based. Of course, this is politcally impossible."

Why so politically impossible? I paid for half my university on a scholarship from the faculty of science, and I had to get top marks in the city to do it. Nobody complained. Just make a similar program, federally funded, and make it the top five (or ten, or twenty, or whatever) in a given jurisdiction.

jollyreaper said...



"Your physics teacher should have taught you why jetpacks are impractical."

Sarcasm, man.


Dinofeathers!

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Why so politically impossible? I paid for half my university on a scholarship from the faculty of science, and I had to get top marks in the city to do it. Nobody complained. Just make a similar program, federally funded, and make it the top five (or ten, or twenty, or whatever) in a given jurisdiction."

In the US, admissions under such a program, if based solely on academic merit, would heavily favor white and Asian students. If you know anything about US race politics, you can draw your own conclusions about whether quality input would be a priority over spoils taking. And, to be 100% honest, the alumni of such programs, even the black and hispanic ones, would all try to find jobs in middle class suburban schools.

Maybe we have to triage the fates of urban youth from our thoughts about the future, but I don't think that's a step most people are prepared to take. Nor, I think, are they prepared to relinquish the current leveling impulse that keeps us from doing it.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"The problem is not peculiar to a given idea like capitalism or communism, it is the inevitable result of any organization staffed by humans because of human nature."

Okay, so let's make a government not staffed by humans. How do you suggest doing that?


"It would have to be [...] being completely honest with ourselves."

I believe this is at odds with the inevitable result of human nature you were mentioning.

jollyreaper said...


Okay, so let's make a government not staffed by humans. How do you suggest doing that?


Was gonna delegate that one to the mice once they'd finished belling the cat.

Anonymous said...

AI's taking the place of elected officials? Every four years we vote to scrape them or not...

Seriously, I wonder what human spaceflight will be 50 years from now. Personally, I think that by 2061 there will be small manned scientific outposts on Luna, Mars, may be some asteroids, the Galleian moons of Juipter, and perhaps Titan. Most manned spacecraft would be involved in taking supplies to those bases and rotating crews to and from Earth, with a few survaying various planets and moons for new research sites.

Ferrell

Milo said...

Ferrell:

"Personally, I think that by 2061 there will be small manned scientific outposts on Luna, Mars, may be some asteroids, the Galleian moons of Juipter, and perhaps Titan."

I really don't think we're going to get farther than Mars without advanced fusion tech or some similarly powerful source of propulsion.


"Most manned spacecraft would be involved in taking supplies to those bases and [...]"

Supplies are just routine cargo shipments. That's an ideal role for automated ships.


"with a few surveying various planets and moons for new research sites."

The expense of sending crewed missions is such that I expect we will not launch any people at all until we've already determined exactly the site we want to visit using robotic probes. (Usually orbital, although on Titan the opaque atmosphere may make it more convenient to scout around using a robotic aerial vehicle.)

jollyreaper said...

Automatic governments? We have the Culture example with super AI gods. An alternative was in the disappointing posleen war novels. Probably not the first place.

The aliens were beneficent engineered weapons. They are hardcoded to fight and the ability to make weapons are encoded in their genes. Yeah, warhammer 40k orks with the serial numbers filed off.

Anyway, their government such as it is consists of a computerized resource allocation system. They don't know how it worms having inherited it. They do what they do with conquering planets and the system dispenses rewards. They can't touch the source code, can only work within the established rules. There's guesswork as to how the system will reward their behavior.

Come to think of it, the darknet economy in the daemon/freedom story was a bit like that as well with the addition that the users could contribute new ideas.

The one thing you can always assume is someone will try to game a system like that and there's no better way to do that than get yourself in charge of making the rules. But that would be scary if you were in a limited system like a colony ship, lost the root password and were at the mercy of an uncaring expert system whose rules you did not thoroughly understand. Kafka meets Gibson.

Rick said...

Back in the other thread we've got brainjars and space elves!

Which are kinda cool. These political back-and-forths, not so much.

What is worse, they tempt me to weigh in. But I know how I react when I'm reading an interesting science or space blog and it suddenly launches into a wince-inducing political screed.

I prefer not to chase off commenters who contribute a lot to this blog, but would probably not stick around if I dragged out my own political soapbox all the time.

Rick said...

Ferrell --

Personally, I think that by 2061 there will be small manned scientific outposts on Luna, Mars, may be some asteroids, the Galileian moons of Jupiter, and perhaps Titan.

I think that's optimistic by a factor of 2 or 3, but I could easily be wrong - the X factor here is basically funding level, not underlying technical capabilities. IOW, we can do that stuff fairly quickly, once someone bellies up to the bar and opens a checkbook.

jollyreaper said...


I prefer not to chase off commenters who contribute a lot to this blog, but would probably not stick around if I dragged out my own political soapbox all the time.


It's kind of fun when writers get into comfortable old age and throw all caution to the wind.

Campbell on Heinlein: "Bob can write a better story, with one hand tied behind him, than most people in the field can do with both hands. But Jesus, I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket."

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"They are hardcoded to fight and the ability to make weapons are encoded in their genes."

This would leave them incapable of developing new weapons, meaning they will inevitably be overtaken eventually by a species that's actually capable of understanding and improving its technology.

If you make orks that are hardcoded to know how to make Napoleonic-era muskets, then they're going to stop being scary around the time humans start fielding rifles and machine guns.

jollyreaper said...


This would leave them incapable of developing new weapons, meaning they will inevitably be overtaken eventually by a species that's actually capable of understanding and improving its technology.


That's actually the LEAST of the problems in the Posleen stories. When people complain about the shortcomings of military SF, this series would be one of the ones they're talking about!

Anonymous said...

Milo said:"Supplies are just routine cargo shipments. That's an ideal role for automated ships."

Yes, but only if the outposts need supplies more often than crew swaps. If not, then it would be more cost effective to combine the two functions.
Also, I should think that manned ships would be the last step in setting up a base; I obviously didn't make that clear, sorry.

Rick; I think that either one of us could be right. I hope that we are both being too conservitive! :)

Ferrell

Milo said...

Ferrell:

"Yes, but only if the outposts need supplies more often than crew swaps. If not, then it would be more cost effective to combine the two functions."

Maybe.

If the supplies you need take up a lot of mass, then it might be more efficient to send them on a cheaper and slower orbit, despite needing more ships.

Many extraterrestrial exploration proposals have all the supplies the outpost will need for its intended operative duration (or at least a pretty long time for permanent outposts) delivered before any humans are even launched. Because doing it that way lets you take it slow and easy, and that saves a lot.

Anonymous said...

Milo, I was thinking about how the Antarctic bases are resupplied and re-crewed as my model for permanent off-world outposts...a large scale initial effort then a taylored-to-suit-circumstances transport schedule that might take years, decades, or even centuries to develop them into self-supporting communities, if ever.
Of course, there are other strategies for colony /outpost building.
Ferrell

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"Milo, I was thinking about how the Antarctic bases are resupplied and re-crewed as my model for permanent off-world outposts..."

That's fine -- it's even a good fit in that it's seasonal, especially for the South Pole station. But you have to subtract aircraft and ship crews from the equation for pure cargo deliveries, which constitute most of the flights/voyages. Those really can be managed by remote control from a mission control center in some suburban office park on Earth. The only manned vessels will be designed to carry pax and deliver (relatively) immediate needs cargoes.

Thucydides said...

With the growth of alternative markets in space like Virgin Galactic's space tourism and the arrival of new competitors like SpaceX and India to provide services, I would not be surprised to see a functioning moonbase by 2061 as the costs go down and technology and practices improve through constant use.

Getting farther than that is still in the province of finding McGuffinite to lure people farther out and provide enough of a return to keep them there.

I suspect that the entire idea of a space economy is actually rather inverted, even assuming that 3He is a viable product (it is only worth $8,000,000/kg if there is aneutronic 3He fusion to use it in)) we are still talking about shipping less than a single supertanker worth to Earth to supply the baseline electrical loads. Your economy is going to be a bit sparse based on that, most of the economic activity will be internal "import substitution", and the economies will be small in absolute size and largely closed.

Rick said...

There's a comment just upthread that I truly can't decide whether it is 'real' or an unusually smart spambot!


On PMF spacecraft, I also tend to see two quite distinct classes - slow-orbit robotic supply craft for most cargo, and fast-orbit transports for passengers and some 'express' cargo.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"With the growth of alternative markets in space like Virgin Galactic's space tourism and the arrival of new competitors like SpaceX and India to provide services, I would not be surprised to see a functioning moonbase by 2061 as the costs go down and technology and practices improve through constant use."

Except that costs won't continue to go down. Right now SpaceX is operating at artificially reduced costs because it is a startup that can be written off if it fails early. As it becomes more successful, it will become more risk averse, and its cost structure -- and thus its tarriffs -- will more closely parralel those of other rocket companies, who are in business to make money and stay in business.

Virgin Galactic, if it ever does more than suborbital flights, and certainly if it gets involved in manned operations past LEO, will have similar cost structures. This means that whatever they do more ambitions than suborbital flights will be for the ultra-wealthy only, in very small numbers, with no permanence, except for maybe LEO habs housing half a dozen to a dozen at any one time.

WRT the Moon, the only reason to go back there in the near future is to satisfy a nostalgia for the past. I'm sure that before the century is out, one or two multi-billionaires will find a way to personally visit Neil and Buzz's old Tranquilitarian digs. But a base? As the Augustine commission reasoned, people who are interested in a real human future in spcae are going to be interested in the planets and asteriods, particularly Mars and NEOs. The Moon may have potential for an interplanetary society after it exists, but in the meantime, work needs to concentrate on that society someday existing. Or, as James May on Top Gear might say, "To finish first, first you have to finish."

Anonymous said...

Thucydides:

"even assuming that 3He is a viable product [...] we are still talking about shipping less than a single supertanker worth to Earth to supply the baseline electrical loads"

Deuterium-helium fusion gives some 580 PJ/ton of helium-3 (ignoring the needed masses of deuterium, which will be supplied locally rather than shipped in).

The current world electricity usage is some 60 EJ/year. But that's with many third-world people living in poverty. To estimate what it would cost to provide first-world amenitites to everyone, I took the electricity usage of Norway (just because it's the one first-world country that Wikipedia had numbers on which isn't the US, which is reputed for being wasteful even by first world standards) and scaled it up to the world population, giving 600 EJ. Hmm, only one order of magnitude higher? That's actually pretty good. (If electricity usages rise, for example because people start using electrical power for things that currently bypass the electrical grid entirely like cars, then you can get a little more, but probably no more than one more order of magnitude. There's also the possibility of the world population rising, but I think we're at least nearing Earth's carrying capacity at this point.)

So anyway, providing all this electricity means you need a little over a kiloton of helium-3 per year.

Hmm. I guess this qualifies under your "less than a single supertanker worth".



Rick:

"There's a comment just upthread that I truly can't decide whether it is 'real' or an unusually smart spambot!"

If you mean the entity going by "traffic lawyers", then that comment is just a cropped piece of an earlier post of mine, with no original contribution. Although given the choice of quotation I can't help but imagine it being pointed out in a mocking tone...


"On PMF spacecraft, I also tend to see two quite distinct classes - slow-orbit robotic supply craft for most cargo, and fast-orbit transports for passengers and some 'express' cargo."

Yeah.

Rick said...

If you mean the entity going by "traffic lawyers", then that comment is just a cropped piece of an earlier post of mine, with no original contribution.

Thanks - I've duly elfed the plagiarized bit! At least one spammer is getting a bit more clever.

Rick said...

On the next 50 years of human spaceflight, I'll just pass on this non-optimistic link that was sent to me by Winch of Atomic Rockets.

Thucydides said...

A bit of a scattershot approach at NetBigFuture, but it shows there are a lot of possible pathways to shoose from without wishing for Magitech or Mega engineering.

(OK, they do mention one Magitech item in the list; a supposed cold fusion energy source).

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/04/before-this-decade-is-out-there-will-be.html#more

Before this decade is out there will be a boom in sending people into space

There was a Salon article that talked about manned space flight ending just because the space shuttle was being retired. There is certainly a lot more that can be done with robotic exploration of space but the article is completely wrong to predict the end of manned space flight. In fact we are at the beginning of a boom in sending people into space.

Human spaceflight is not ending. NASA getting out of space shuttles is not relevant.

I think we are on the cusp of big changes in technology both for space and for energy.

Spacex Falcon Heavy should be ready in 2013. It will be able to launch 50-60 tons and will get man rated. The Falcon Heavy will lower costs to about $1000 per pound

Bigelow Aerospace, who make the inflatable space stations, is getting a big expansion, increasing staff by 11 times and increasing production

Combined the two will be able to launch space stations with volumes larger than the International Space station in a single launch.

Bigelow will be adding an expansion module onto the ISS and it could rotate (providing gravity like centrifuge forces.)

Russia is developing a megawatt nuclear power system for space

Vasimr plasma 200 kw rockets are going to be flown in space shortly and there is a roadmap and likely progress to higher power systems.

Richard Dell and George Miley have the initial funding for a development program for nuclear fusion for space propulsion. I think that they have a development path for sub-unity devices that have higher performance for maneuvering thrusters that then scales up to a nuclear fusion powered space plane in around the 2025 timeframe.

Giving Bigelow competition are some european companies with government backers trying to get to space hotels.

The energy catalyzer could be the real deal and that could change energy and space and many things and this could hit within 2 years.

Solar electric sails should have a prototype in 2012 that flies in space. That could scale relatively easily and robotic flying of many cheap solar electric sails can unlock space based resources.

Solar electric sails and other systems could also be used to shepard asteroids.

Auto-piloted robotic systems combined with super-long endurance space propulsion will enable robotic spacecraft to explore anywhere in the solar system and enable massive cost reduction and enablement of manned space exploration.

There are also new capabilities that will come from far cheaper superconducting wire, which will mean better high field magnets (which will be good for nuclear fusion).

Power beaming and fuel depots can also radically alter the near term capabilities for space development.

Tony said...

Can we Just Say No to NBF? Fifteen years ago this guy would have been all over Rotary Rocket and Kislter. We know what happened with those ideas.

Rick said...

I only just found out - they both came and went without me hearing about them at the time.

A pool of wealthy space enthusiasts means that exiguous space projects can get funding that more mundane enterprises can only dream of.

(Although 'social marketing' is probably way ahead of space anything as a way of separating investors from their money.)

Thucydides said...

I find NBF a way of discovering what is out there, without a whole lot of filtering.

Before Roton or Kissler, there was the "Conestoga" and a host of other projects, some dating back to the 80's when President Reagan first signed a bill into law which opened up space to the private market. The fact that most of these ventures never took off is probably a reflection of the limited resources and experience base these companies could bring to the table. Many of the big aerospace companies have had limited success with new projects as well despite the much larger resource pool they are working with.

For our purposes, looking at sites like NBF can provide a "what if" moment by pointing out projects you may never have heard of before. In this blog, there have been disputes over how launch costs to orbit can be lowered, with arguments drifting into near magitech like fusion rockets or mega engineering like launch loops and orbital elevators. The NBF piece shows there are other approaches, but since it does not quantify them, it is up to the reader to determine what may be more practical/cost efficient and so on.

Technology Review has a similar page on its site where people blog about various projects and ideas, and I'm sure you may have seen similar things in "Wired", "Popular Science" and so on. NBF is a more compact forum to sift through.

Tony said...

Re: Thucydides

My filters are Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. They pre-filter all the pseudoscientific (or simply unscientific) crap and vaporware. Which still leaves a lot of crap and vaporware, but at least it's plausible to some degree.

Anonymous said...

When looking at any list of new or 'promising' technology, I try to keep in mind Sturgons Law; 90% of anything is crap...mining for nuggets of gold is more of an art and not everyone has the same skill at it. Sometimes it is difficult to identify what the next technological breakthrough is until it becomes overwhelmingly obvious...

Ferrell

Rick said...

Sturgeon's Law is very applicable in this domain!

Scott said...

So, we're still looking at $1000/kg for lift costs in the immediate future. Does anyone have an idea how that would scale with a serious production line (like a thousand boosters)? Could we get that down to $500/kg?

Even at $1000/kg and with a single-lift limit of 50 tons (lift costs of $50m per rocket), what could make the expense pay off?

Oddly enough, I'm reminded that my Micro-Economics textbook actually used the example of an orbital elevator versus a space shuttle for economies of scale. $50B to make the elevator, and negligible cost of lift, versus $2B for the shuttles and hellacious $/kg. I neglected to keep that text, however.

Waitaminnit! A thousand rockets lifting 50 tons each at $1000/kg is an investment of $50B for space access. Do we think that an orbital elevator could be built for that cost?

Rick said...

an investment of $50B for space access. Do we think that an orbital elevator could be built for that cost?

I very much doubt it. Set aside the speculative question of developing the main cable itself - positioning it, and developing the elevator cars that run up and down, would each be an enormous development program, probably much more than $100 billion each.

Purely a gut feeling, I should say; I don't know how you go about actually analyzing a project like this.

Thucydides said...

"The Space Elevator" http://www.amazon.com/Space-Elevator-Earth-Space-Transportation/dp/0972604502 had lots of economic calculations purporting to show the project was viable and a paying proposition. Many of the assumptions would have to be of the "and then a miracle occurs" variety, since the key technologies of carbon nanotube production and weaving long cables of that material simply don't exist yet.

Most of the book is a useful reference to the state of the art, and many of the calculations can be used; simply substitute what you feel is a more reasonable number for what the authors propose. The physics equations can stand, useful guides to how much a real cable would be able to launch, how long a car would need to ride up to various altitudes and how long cable s would need to be for various off Earth applications.

Scott said...

I know there are a number of PhD candidates working on mass producing carbon nanotubes affordably, so there's certainly a lot of effort being directed at the problem.

Unfortunately, only time will tell if all this research has more to do with monkeys and footballs than with productive endeavors.

I remember that my text specifically used $50B for the cost of the elevator, but it was getting used as the example of determining break-even costs. The author probably pulled a number out of his butt for easy calculations in the text example.

Tony said...

The problem with funding a space elevator, even if you had all of the engineering and materials problems worked out, is in identifying a plausible market with a real demand. IOW, for the plausible midfuture, space elevators could only happen as a government infrastructure project. Private concerns simply wouldn't invest.

Thucydides said...

The problem with funding a space elevator, even if you had all of the engineering and materials problems worked out, is in identifying a plausible market with a real demand. IOW, for the plausible midfuture, space elevators could only happen as a government infrastructure project. Private concerns simply wouldn't invest.

Same goes for fountains, launch loops and other megastructures. Even rocket sleds up the sides of mountains, laser launchers large enough to fire man rated capsules and huge two stage gas guns would seem to have the same chicken and egg issues.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Same goes for fountains, launch loops and other megastructures. Even rocket sleds up the sides of mountains, laser launchers large enough to fire man rated capsules and huge two stage gas guns would seem to have the same chicken and egg issues."

Well, since I don't buy into any megastructure "solution" to launch costs, I guess it's not a problem. Well, for me, anyway...

Scott said...

Tony, if megastructures are not part of your plausible midfuture, how do people get into space, and for what price?

Rick said...

Tony, if megastructures are not part of your plausible midfuture, how do people get into space, and for what price?

I can't answer for Tony (though I suspect that in this domain - unlike, say, laserstars! - our views are not radially different).

For the truly plausible midfuture, I don't think human spaceflight becomes radically cheaper, and accordingly remains quite limited in volume.

Suppose it costs $2 million to send a person into space, and $1 million/month to keep them there. If you have 10,000 short-term (average 2 weeks) space travellers each year, and 2000 long term (average 6 months).

In that case the total budget for human spaceflight is

$25 billion for short-term travel
$16 billion for long-term travel
___

$41 billion for human spaceflight, with an average of 1400 people in space at a given time.

This is for launch and life support, basically, not counting the additional cost of drive buses for deep space missions, other support, robotic missions, and so forth.

Perhaps a $100 billion world space budget, 5x the current NASA budget.

That is a lot of human space activity, but too low by orders of magnitude for colonies, space armadas, and the like.

Tony said...

Scott:

"Tony, if megastructures are not part of your plausible midfuture, how do people get into space, and for what price?"

People ride rockets, and it costs a lot of money. Someday more efficient and powerful means of propulsion will (hopefully) invalidate this analysis. Until then, manned spaceflight is for ocassional exploration and nothing else.

Raymond said...

One small quibble: I wouldn't put laser launch in the same megastructure class as space elevators or launch loops. Expensive, yes. Unlikely to appear via private investment, yes. Anywhere close to the cost of a frakking space elevator? Not a chance.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"One small quibble: I wouldn't put laser launch in the same megastructure class as space elevators or launch loops. Expensive, yes. Unlikely to appear via private investment, yes. Anywhere close to the cost of a frakking space elevator? Not a chance."

It's not megastructural, but it's megasystemic. To launch one payload, you ahve to build the capability to launch hundreds or thousands. There's no spiral development path. About the only thing that is scalable is the number of payload capsules you build. And while those may be relatively sophisticated as packaging goes, each additional one is a marginal cost on the whole project. It's big bang integration by it's very nature.

Also, each payload is reltively small. That means you either base all of your space access and commerce on small bundles and modules, or you build the on-orbit infrastructure to unpack the payload capsules, assemble their contents into something useful, and send capsules back down for reuse. Or you build a laser launch system that can put 20+ tons on orbit at a swipe. And then you do start to get megastructural.

Raymond said...

Tony:

Megasystemic, perhaps. Still a good sight cheaper than a space elevator. And the lack of a spiral development path is true, but the whole point of a laser launch system would be exactly to build the capacity for hundreds or thousands of launches.

The small-payload problem...doesn't seem like too much of a problem, really. If you're building a laser launch system, you're obviously attempting to maintain a large space presence, so on-orbit cargo processing facilities aren't necessarily a bad thing. Nor would it automatically rule out heavy-lift rockets for those payloads which can't be lifted in small modules. (Plus, it gives us a reason for the much-maligned space station.)

Tony said...

Re: Raymond

From my point of view, the difference between megastructures and megasystems is not all that great. Megastructures are a subset of megasystems like a squares are a subset of rectangles. Also, handling lots of small lots of cargo has always been considered a systemic inefficiency. That's why we have bulk and container carriers.

Raymond said...

Tony:

Scale still matters, though. Big difference between a laser launch facility plus a cargo-handling space station plus a bunch of cargo modules (even though the whole system is still kinda expensive) versus a 2000 km launch loop, much less a 45,000 km space elevator. I'm thinking an order of magnitude cost increase for each step: you might be able to get a laser launcher for 50 billion, a launch loop would cost 500 billion at least, and I'd doubt any numbers less than 5 trillion for an elevator.

As for small cargo: if the reduced launch cost via laser is sufficient to offset the overhead of smaller cargo modules, it'll be done. And that's mostly a matter of long-term demand (open question, since if such a facility were available demand may increase from present levels) and long-term accounting (open question, since I haven't a clue what the amortization period on such a thing would be).

Rick said...

I tend to agree with Raymond that laser launch is 'less mega' than launch loops, let alone elevators.

But truth to be told, all of these techs strike me as rather desperate attempts by space advocates to handwave away the awkward facts that a) space launch is expensive, and b)there is a limited demand for it.

I also take all space advocates' cost estimates with a huge grain of salt, because they have a history of grossly lo-balling costs. Case in point Werner von Braun: His technology worked, magnificently, but cost orders of magnitude more than he claimed it would.

Tony said...

Re: Raymond

The problem is still in identifying a market that justifies the system. "If you build it, they will come," is an economic argument that only works at the intersection of Iowa and Heaven (or Heaven and Iowa, I always get the two confused).

Thucydides said...

Making space pay and having fun doing it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8PlzDgFQMM

Lets watch and digest this before deciding...

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Making space pay and having fun doing it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8PlzDgFQMM

Lets watch and digest this before deciding..."


He talks a good game, but the bottom line is that he's selling vaporware to naive marks. The main engine for XCOR's Lynx suborbital spaceplane has 2,700 lbs of thrust. That's only 700 lbs more than the stabilization verniers on an Atlas missile from fifty years ago. XCOR is so far from putting even one person in orbit that it's ridiculous to think that they can.

Anonymous said...

Thucydides:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8PlzDgFQMM

He does make a few good points about the need to change the way space launch is handled, but he does have more optimisum than seems to be justified.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

Well someone is pretty confident:

http://www.spacex.com/updates.php

Why the US Can Beat China: The Facts About SpaceX Costs

May 4, 2011

Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics.

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed. But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America's commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website (www.spacex.com). We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)

The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million, which includes all the development costs for the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon. Included in this $800 million are the costs of building launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, as well as the corporate manufacturing facility that can support up to 12 Falcon 9 and Dragon missions per year. This total also includes the cost of five flights of Falcon 1, two flights of Falcon 9, and one up and back flight of Dragon.

(more at site)

jollyreaper said...

GREENBELT, Md. — The $2.5 billion in NASA’s Fiscal 2011 budget request to terminate the Constellation Program is probably “oversubscribed,” and will not cover all of the expenses expected to grow from shutting down the shuttle-follow-on effort.

Elizabeth Robinson, the former Office of Management and Budget career official appointed by President Barack Obama as the space agency’s chief financial officer, told the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium here last week that the funds are not intended to cover contract termination liability — the cost to a contractor and NASA of shutting down contractor facilities, terminating leases and the like.

Instead, they will go for the cost to the government of pulling Constellation equipment out of its own facilities, environmental remediation at those facilities, and keeping civil servants on the payroll until new work can be found for them, Robinson said.

“The program termination costs and the civilian transition costs are the primary things in the $2.5 billion,” she said.


Wow. $800 million for a fully functional manned space rocket versus $2.5 billion just to scrap the old program! SpaceX to world: "Choke on our awesome!"

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Wow. $800 million for a fully functional manned space rocket versus $2.5 billion just to scrap the old program! SpaceX to world: 'Choke on our awesome!'"

Apples and oranges. If SpaceX went out of business, it would have business and regulatory costs to address as well. And unlike NASA, which expects to have future use for its personnel, so it pays to keep them on the payroll, SpaceX would just give everybody a month or two of severance and say "Good luck." I imagine the majority of the $2.5 billion is in fact going to pay, bennies, and plant costs for keeping the NASA army stood up for the next iteration of manned spaceflight, whatever that turns out to be.

There's also the old fiscal trick of finding ways to spend your budgetted appropriations, even if there's no real need. That helps you justify the next fiscal year's budget. "See, we spent it all. Give us that much next year."

Finally, as has been previously pointed out, SPaceX is a startup that embraces risks in an effort to gain business. As soon as they become an established government contractor, with a profit margin to service, their operational methods are going to revert to the industry standard, whcih is very cautious and expensive.

Rick said...

Also, frankly, I suspect there was a whiff of somewhat cynical jobbing around Constellation.

You didn't need a crystal ball to guess that the thing would end up being canceled, but meanwhile a lot of money was getting waved around, and for industry players the temptation to cash in was very strong. So there was every motivation to write nice fat termination clauses into contracts, etc.

Tony said...

And let's not forget that a lot of the Constellation money was always intended to keep people employed in key constituencies. Nota bene: the alternate super heavy LVs presented at the Augustine commission all attempted to use as much Shuttle tech as possible. Leveraging the existing industrial base not only has technical merit, it has political merit as well.