Friday, April 18, 2014

Congrats to Spacex

News reports today (Friday 4-18-2014) show (1) successful launch of Falcon-9R,  (2) successful injection of Dragon onto orbit,  targeted for rendezvous with ISS Sunday,  and (3) data received from 1st stage of Falcon-9R for 8 seconds after (after !!!!) landing in the Atlantic.

Congrats to Spacex!!!  Very,  very,  very well done!!!


Update 4-27-2014:  news in the last few days indicates two things:  (1) Spacex is suing the US government to break the government-mandated monopoly held by ULA in the military payload launch business,  and (2) it appears more and more likely that Spacex will build its private launch facility in far south Texas.  Both are very good news indeed.

Update 5-15-14:  In recent days we have seen a court-ordered stay forbidding the purchase of RD-180 engines from Russia for ULA's Atlas-5,  followed by a vacating of that very stay,  based on government agency testimony.

Testimony that buying those engines from a company run by an individual under sanction,  does not violate said sanction!  "Curioser and curioser," said Alice.

And,  we have seen that same Russian company,  via its sanctioned executive,  say that it will not sell any more RD-180 engines to the US for purposes of military launch,  nor will it provide product support for those already sold.

Now,  ULA has engines in inventory to support the next block of military launches using Atlas-5,  but will get no product support from Russia anymore.  This is the block of launches that Spacex was denied access to competing for (provoking the lawsuit).

Does it not seem stupid in the extreme to depend on rocket engines from what is now a hostile power,  for our military space launches?  Does anybody else get that impression?

Please comment!!


Update 8-7-14:  News releases indicate that Spacex has decided to build their all-commercial launch facility in South Texas.  That is wonderful news.  From there,  there's plenty of dry-land options available to recover and re-use first stages from Falcon-9 and Falcon-Heavy (same article,  just 3 at a time).  Prospects for dry-land recovery are not so good for any of the Atlantic coast launch locations.  Re-usability issues must have figured into that location decision.

A few weeks earlier,  Musk revealed Dragon version 2,  the manned capsule.  It's quite spacious inside.  The all-propulsive pinpoint landing without using parachutes is very,  very intriguing.  No one has offered hard numbers,  but the heat shield is good enough for a free-return from Mars,  which is far beyond what is required to return from the moon.  Thus,  that capsule could be re-flown dozens,  perhaps a hundred,  times from Earth orbit before needing heat shield replacement.  Musk really is quite serious about re-usability.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fixing Government

This started as a conversation between two friends of mine over an article from Harvard Business School.  One of them sent it to me for my take. 

Here is the original article,  which you may interpret for yourself:

The following tidbit from Harvard Business School about world rankings of countries may inject a little reality into the basic political belief system of many (or maybe its too late):
… While the U.S. enjoys the second highest per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $45,336, it ranks in an underperforming 16th place overall [world rankings]... The U.S. ranks 70th in health, ... 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety.

More surprising is the fact that despite being the home country of global tech heavyweights Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, and so on, the U.S. ranks a disappointing 23rd in access to the Internet. “It’s astonishing that for a country that has Silicon Valley, lack of access to information is a red flag,” notes Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which oversees the index.

If this index is an affront to your sensibilities, the U.S. remains in first place for the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, adult onset diabetes and for believing in angels.
New Zealand is ranked in first place in social progress. Interestingly, it ranks only 25th on GDP per capita, which means the island of the long white cloud is doing a far better job than America when it comes to meeting the need of its people. In order, the top 10 is rounded out by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia.
Unsurprisingly these nations all happen to rank highly in the 2013 U.N. World Happiness Report with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden among the top five.
So, what of the U.S? In terms of happiness, we rank 17th, trailing neighboring Mexico.
We find ourselves languishing for the very fact we have allowed corporate America to hijack the entire Republican Party, and some parts of the Democratic Party. This influence has bought corporations and the rich a rigged tax code that has redistributed wealth from the middle class to the rich over the course of the past three decades. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has retarded our social progress.
America’s rapid descent into impoverished nation status is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools and bridges are falling apart, and our trains — none of them high-speed — are running off their tracks.
With 95 percent of all economic gains funneled to the richest 1 percent over the course of the last decade, and a tax code that has starved the federal government of revenues to invest in public infrastructure, America will be a country divided by those who have and those who have not… 

My friend Ed Coleman’s take on it:

This is a tough story to read . . . but believable.  I do not blame the entire sad state of affairs on big business and rich people.  I suggest some of the problems belong to the conservative evangelical religious people, political ideologues of all persuasions and the out of mainstream media folks. The cable and internet has become an outlet for extremists, liars and haters.  The sad part is the public seems very vulnerable to these organizations and people.  I have no simple solution and can only hope that this too will fade into the past.

Ed Coleman 

My friend Byron Hinderer’s take on it:


I agree with you to a degree. .

However, I believe the disaster began with the greed plus economic power of big banks, big business and power brokers. 

The disaster has been and is being supported by their using the mainstream media to so effectively propagandize so many well-intended but economically gullible persons into believing in the bogus religion of "ultra-conservatism/Libertarianism".   

The propaganda of this religion is incredibly convincing and enticing to persons who have no real clue about banking, big business or macro economics -- but think they do. 

What the ultra-conservatives/Libertarians have been conned into believing does not even begin to solve the nation's problems. Instead, it exacerbates the disaster! 

Sadly, so many persons in the US today believe ultra-liberalism and ultra-conservatism/Libertarianism are the only two viable philosophies. That is not now and never has been true.  

The ultra-liberals in our society are just as disastrously far off base -- but in an entirely different way.  This fact, however is not a valid or even logical reason for supporting the economic disaster that is ultra-conservatism/Libertarianism.  

One of the saddest and most dangerous of all human foibles is the one of a person not being aware of what they do not know, but deeply believe they really do know.  


My take on it,  sent to both:

I think you're both right.

I gauge people's beliefs (in an admittedly distorted sampling) by perusing the letters to editor in the local paper.  Around Waco out of dozens of chronic letter writers,  there's 1 or 2 so-called liberals,  and the rest so-called arch-conservatives/libertarians.  If you want to use those very misleading labels.  What they seem to believe about the hot button issues is almost always arrant nonsense.  

Each seems to believe in the associated political "touchstone" agendas,  lock,  stock,  and barrel.  Which is sad,  because those touchstone belief systems are partly right,  mostly wrong,  and for the most part entirely irrelevant,  on both sides.  The net effect is that voters on both sides are very dangerously misinformed / uninformed about what is really happening.  

This trouble extends to all arenas,  not just politics,  because everything,  even things about science,  have been super-politicized and made items of political belief instead of truth.  That's where the other groups Ed cites come into the picture.  All these different belief systems end up allying with one or the other political group in the quest for money and power (those two go together in any system where there are no controls on greed).  You cannot be a group member if you don't believe in every agenda item,  no matter how wrong it may be.  We've all seen it.  

I think the overall top-level "sketch" of what has happened devolves merely to extreme and uncontrolled greed,  and where the money is and goes ("follow the money").  We live in a corporate welfare state run for the benefit of the top several gigantic corporations. They have bought most or all of the elected and unelected government officials,  who work for them,  not us.  

Our government has degenerated into nothing but a pickpocket function to move cash from the rest of us to their pockets.  A few rich pirates have made economic slaves of all the rest of us.  Our situation is not unique,  this is a very widespread problem in both space and time.  We've seen this problem before,  in all wide-open market societies,  for at least 10 millennia.  Probably much longer than that.

This trouble is inevitable if you do not control the influence of big money in your politics,  regardless of the type of government you choose (only one example:  Russia,  both Soviet and post Soviet).  Unfortunately,  this was left out of our experimental revolutionary government design by the founding fathers.  They,  too,  suffered from it,  although they did not realize it.  It was the fundamental cause of the Burr-Hamilton duel,  among many other problems unrecognized as warnings back then.  

In two+ centuries of neglect since then by the rest of us,  that "cancer" has spread essentially everywhere in our society. It may well be fatal,  as the only feasible "cure" I see for the government portion is armed revolution.  Our government is now so wholly owned by these pirates that it is virtually impossible they would ever vote for anything to change that ugly status quo.  


Byron commented back on what I sent my two friends:


Well stated. 


My closing comments here:

There are many things the British did,  and still do,  with their politics and type of government that are objectionable to us Americans.  That is why we had a revolution a little over two centuries ago. 

But,  there are two things the British do,  that I wish we would adopt,  adapt,  and improve.  Doing this might avert a second American revolution,  but as stated above,  I see vanishingly-small probability of ever getting this done peacefully,  within the system we have.

Here are the two things:


The Brits do not allow private monies to be used in election campaigns.  Everyone gets the same tax-supported budget with which to run for office.  That means the common man can actually run for office,  something which disappeared long ago here in America.  Anyone caught campaigning with private money goes to jail,  and they really do mean it! 

The net effect is that their government is not wholly-owned by private interests,  the way ours is.  We would have to implement this at both the primary and general election levels separately,  in order to root out all the evil. 


The Brits severely restrict the time window in which the political campaigning for an office can occur.  That window is “proportional” to the importance of the office and the size of the constituency.  Anyone caught campaigning outside that window goes to jail.  Even the prime minister only has a few weeks to make his case for election. 

This has the effect of keeping their elected officials on-the-job the vast majority of their term in office,  instead of out on the campaign trail not doing their jobs nearly the entire term,  the way our system has corrupted itself.  Again,  we would need to implement this at both the primary and general election levels. 

What we face:  

Either we amend the Constitution we have and correct the corruption that has overwhelmed us,  or we have a revolution and start over with a new Constitution which includes these changes.  Or else we and our descendents all die as the economic slaves that we already are.  Either way,  it is critical to eliminate private money from our politics and our government.  I’d like to do it peacefully,  from within the system.  There’s less mess to clean up afterward. 

But,  as I said above,  I fear there is essentially zero probability of ever getting it done without a real blood-in-the-streets revolution.  An awful lot of people would have to wake up and reject all the lies and propaganda they’ve been believing,  for peaceful change to happen.  

Hope springs eternal,  though.  Please wake up out there!

Update Easter Sunday 4-20-2014:   Happy Easter to all!

This conversation about corrupted government and its potential cures continues in the comments.  Feel free to peruse them.  

In the Easter Sunday 4-20-14 Waco "Trib" is an article by Jim Dunnam about the influence of corporations vs people in our government and our public life.  It would seem that some others have noticed that we all live in a giant-corporate welfare state.  That is encouraging.