[FoRK] Losing my religion

Damien Morton dmorton at bitfurnace.com
Sat Feb 13 16:49:10 PST 2010

On Sun, Feb 14, 2010 at 8:36 AM, the magnetic field around the entity
designated Jeff Bone had a tremor and emitted the following signal:

> Comrade Damien says:
> > Have to make sure we dont put a company that can go bankrupt in
> > charge of a ELE sized chunk of rock in earth orbit.
> I'll grant you this:  it's *sort of* a legitimate concern.  The ELE part /
> risk management is a legit concern;  whether the original actor(s) can go
> bankrupt or not isn't really the concern itself, you just need to ensure
> that you've got a safety net for that and other possible business risks, so
> that if there is a business fail the mission can roll over to some
> appropriate party without compounding existential risk.  But practically
> speaking, there are no single private entities that could even begin to
> think about doing this in the next 10-20 years independently.  Such a thing
> is more likely to be taken on by a consortium.

Its an absolutely legitimate concern. Anything that can move that amount of
mass around is also a weapon.

> And guess what?  Governments fail, too.  Even big ones.  We've lost 1
> superpower in the last two decades, gained another, and are on the verge of
> losing another one (the US) and gaining another one (India.)  What would you
> rather have in charge of this?  A bunch of profit-motivated independent
> companies with fractional-share ownership in the outcome, or a single point
> of failure in some national government?

Sure. They fail. But they are transformed rather than disappearing. There
was significant continuity in the soviet space program - it continues
today. Hasn't just vanished. I suppose you could say the same thing of
companies, c.f. Iridium, now a branch of the military.

> I sure as shit know *my* answer to that.  You think I've got a misplaced
> and overblown distrust of governments, but I think any answer to the above
> other than "a bunch of private companies working together" betrays a
> misplaced animosity towards the private sector.  I don't like single points
> of failure.  I don't like monopolies.

Sure, after all, its just a bunch of people working together, whatever you
call the group and however its funded. Probably the only entity we have
discussed so far that has the multi-decade vision needed is your friend, the
space geek. Im sure he is quite capable of working in the private sector,
but has chosen the public sector as the best way of achieving his life

> > Right. Because corporations have a longer term vision than those in
> public
> > service. This is an incontrovertible truth, and everyone knows it.
> Look, if you're going to bother to argue, at least build a stronger
> strawman.  I *already* stipulated --- in the *very post* you are responding
> to, indeed within the next few lines of what you're quoting --- that the
> private sector (often, though there are increasing examples to the contrary)
> suffers from the problem of short-termism.  And the characteristic time
> horizon for operating businesses (rather than early-stage ones) is
> characteristically *even shorter* than the election cycle.

That wasn't a strawman. That was pure sarcasm. Not intended to withstand the
intense radiation emanating from your skull.

>  To wit, third paragraph down from the quote you are responding to I said:
> > Can politicians inspire greatness?  Absolutely;  no less than any other
> individual, and perhaps even more.  But the system itself is not reliable;
>  it  is not set up properly to maintain focus and resources on long-term
> goals.  The left often bemoans the problems created by the short-term profit
> obsessions of Wall Street and the private sector that, supposedly, undermine
> the ability to achieve long-term goals, to act responsibly and
> sustainably...  How odd then that they don't recognize the same cyclic
> pathology --- arguably worse, even more inevitable and severe --- in our
> system of government itself, exactly analogous, with only a slightly lower
> frequency.
> Get that?  Read it again for comprehension.

Oh yeah. My mind must have glazed over at your strawman. The one where "the
left" bemoans short term profit obsession in corporations, while completely
being unaware of the 4 year election cycle. How could they be so focussed on
the evils of capitalism as to miss a basic fact known to most people with a
10th grade civics education? How do these people manage to get through life
at all?

> Specifically, the (US) public sector operates at about 7.92744799594e-09 Hz
> whereas the private sector operates at about 1.26839167935e-07 Hz.  That's
> obviously a big difference but it guarantees that projects that require,
> say, 10+ years are problematic in either instance.  On the other hand, the
> private sector has three things going for (at least) that the public sector
> does not:  you get more parallel exploration of the opportunity space (i.e.,
> competition) and indeed, less centralized failure modes, and you've got
> ample existence proofs of private-sector planning ability that has that
> decade-like horizon:  *any* startup *starts* with the assumption of 5-10
> years to liquidity.  If the private sector couldn't operate on plans of that
> timescale, no new companies would ever get started.

Yeah, the usual way, the world over, of handling the relatively fast
election cycles and even faster business cycles, is to set up
an independently funded institution - so that they don't have to worry so
much about funding, and can instead focus on the steps needed to be taken to
achieve a longer term goal.

Per this:
> > Yep. All those dilapidated budgets, empty buildings and decade old
> computers
> > are just too competetive. [sic]
> It's not true competition;  that's just the point.  It's a massive,
> illusory and pathological distortion of the overall landscape, with chilling
> effects that have nothing to do with the actual potential of the existing
> quasi-monopoly and everything to do with the structural deficiencies it is
> caused by and has caused in itself.  That was *the whole point.*  Are you
> capable of understanding *anything* I say, or does the "Bone said it ->
> disagree" filter just impede that?  Do you actually have some kind of
> argument?  If you do, I wish you'd (and / or e.g. Aaron, etc.) would make it
> rather than just kvetching and being disagreeable for no apparent reason.
> What's your thesis, Damien?  Private space stuff can never work?  I don't
> get what you're attempting to say.

Thesis is that NASA isn't competition at all. Business isn't prevented from
entering the space launch field.

In practice, the ideal is to have an institution, like NASA, that has long
term goals and also has the role of stepping in and maintaining strategic
capabilities where business fear to tread.

If a business steps up to the plate and is providing, e.g. high orbit
launches, then NASA should step back and let them have it, while maintaining
the capability to do the same in case said business withdraws services for
whatever reason. In fact, I am sure NASA and the military would be more than
happy to employ whatever launch facilities the private sector can come up

As for this bullshit:
> > highly productive ecological niches such as throwing billionaires into
> minute-long zero-g experiences on the border of the atmosphere. The vision
> is breathtaking.
> Consider where our vaunted program started out:  throwing tin cans with
> radios into low, decaying orbits.  Then animals.  Breathtaking vision
> indeed.
> You've got to start somewhere.  At least these guys have some idea of how
> to make this happen incrementally, in a bootstrapped fashion, playing for
> itself as they go.  That's probably a MUCH more reliable path --- however
> reliable it might be --- than relying on the fickle winds of public funding
> and political commitment.  And FWIW, the manned part of this is really not
> the low-hanging fruit;  the private, commercial, and independent but
> unmanned possibilities are really the short-term opportunity.  The tourism
> stuff is just PR and incremental early revenue.

The thing is - they are following, not leading. They are following stuff
that has been done in NASA and DARPA and repeating it. 50 years ago we could
put astronauts into low earth orbit. Its been done. Even stuff like the
Rutan mothership and its launch payload. Been done. Maybe not in carbon
fiber, so it can be done 20% better now, but its been done.

> But if you actually look at the business plans for even the tourism stuff
> --- and I'm not talking about the vomit comet nonsense of e.g. "Virgin
> Galactic" but the decade-out private station "space hotel" stuff --- that
> quickly gets into merely-wealthy reach as private cost-per-pound to orbit
> drops.  This stuff all scales just like anything else:  non-linearly.  They
> aren't unreasonable extrapolations.

None of this scales while we are riding into space on chemical rockets. The
specific impulse doesnt scale. It hasnt moved in 2000 years since
Heron's Aeolipile. It s*imply doesnt scale. It gets you absolutely nowhere.
Whatever space dreams you have are dead. Whatever dreams of visiting other
planets are gone. Done, buried, rotten and eaten by worms. If youre lucky,
you might get a roller coaster ride on the Virgin Galactic, but  Branson
isnt doing that for commercial reasons, hes not planning on making money out
of it - its a frikken PR stunt, like projecting his face onto the moon with
frikken laser beams. He's doing it for pure ego and because he is of an age
where he saw the Apollo series as a child and was inspired, like the rest of
them - the money men who are toying around in the space business, and thats
fine, but dont come to me all like "private industry will get us there" -
thats where the pure bullshit lies. You don't see any public corporations,
the ones with the real profit concerns, dipping their toes into the hobby
space market, do you?*

Let me offer one other anecdote about the brokenness of the system.  This
> is, of course, anecdotal to the point of being questionable folklore, but
> it's illustrative if not actually true.  Astronauts needed to be able to
> write in space.  What did we do?  Spent millions inventing the pressurized
> cartridge ink pen.  What did the Russians do?

What does this have to do with anything? Meaningless drivel. Blah blah blah.

> I've said this before, I'll say it again:  the problem isn't purely public
> vs. private;  it's not socialism or whatever vs. undiluted capitalism.  It's
> what happens when you try to hybridize the two or coexist and collaborate in
> some way in some endeavor.  The resulting chimera is a god-awful monster.  I
> can't think of any exceptions;  maybe one of you can.

Yeah sure, whatever you fear the most. Except, you wouldn't even be thinking
about this stuff without the existence of that god awful monster. Instead of
rolling around in your sandpit eating dirt, you were rolling around eating
dirt and looking up, wondering. Because of that chimera. I was too. Be

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