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Saturday, February 20, 2010


Space X's Falcon 1

Comment about the recent Obama revision of NASA's programme has been mainly focused on the cancellation of the programme to go back to the Moon.

On the 1 hand
The Obama administration is killing Constellation, NASA's ambitious back-to-the moon program. The decision represents a thunderous demolition of the Bush-era strategy at the space agency, which had already poured $9 billion into a new rocket, the Ares 1, and a new crew capsule, Orion.

And on the other
Provides $18.7 billion for NASA. Combined with the $1 billion provided to the agency in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, this represents a total increase of more than $2.4 billion over the 2008 level.

Funds a program of space-based research that supports NASA's commitment to deploy a global climate change research and monitoring system.

Funds a robust program of space exploration involving humans and robots. NASA will return humans to the moon while also supporting a vigorous program of robotic exploration of the solar system and universe.

Funds the safe flight of the space shuttle through the vehicle's retirement at the end of 2010. An additional flight will be conducted if it can be completed safely before the end of 2010.

Funds the development of new space flight systems for carrying American crews and supplies to space.

Funds continued use of the International Space Station to support the agency and other federal, commercial, and academic research and technology testing needs.
Funds aeronautics research to address aviation safety, air traffic control, noise and emissions reduction, and fuel efficiency.

The important thing is the highlighted bit - all the rest is unchanged or reduced promises. And that bit is being farmed out. They are proposing
Spend $6 billion over five years to jump-start private companies to take over the job of launching astronauts and cargo.

What has actually happened is that the space shuttle is being closed down & America has no way to get its people onto the jointly owned International Space Station (which has cost $100/150 bn) except as passengers on the Russian one. This is not only humiliating, since the Russian space budget is 1/20th of NASA's it suggests NASA is screwing up.

So far & away the most important thing the US is going to do in space will be done not by NASA but by private enterprise using NASA's pin money.

$6 billion paid to contractors will help fund private spaceships, some of which NASA will then use to keep their own space station project going. NASA jettison any thoughts of a near term return to the Moon - Obama has promised America will do so, some unspecified day long after he is gone but that means less than the similar promises back to Nixon. For this NASA gets $18.7 billion a year, say $187 billion, inflation adjusted, over 10 years & hands over 3.2% for the real work. Could anything show more clearly that NASA is simply a massive bureaucratic parasite sucking up money & perhaps more importantly public goodwill towards space development and preventing it & human progress?

Imagine if 100% rather than 3.2% of this was given to a Space X-Prize Foundation, which should be significantly more efficient than normal outside tendering because it doesn't pick & choose preferred bidders. With a budget like that they could offer prizes of $100 bn immediately in the sure knowledge that they wouldn't all be won within 5 years. Considering that the full run of initial X-Prizes proposed by Jerry Pournelle (orbital fleet, space station, lunar base & solar power satellite system) comes in at $29bn it is obvious what a waste this is.

My guess is that $100 bn properly invested in cutting edge technology would do more to "stimulate" the US economy than all Obama's real trillion in government bureaucracy & pork barrel "stimulus".

The Washington Post did 2 articles on this - 1 from the boss of the X-Prize Foundation who sees this $6 bn as a big step forward & the other on the other side. Because the former is correct the other is thus more interesting. It starts
The private sector simply is not up for the job. For one, NASA will have to establish a system to certify commercial orbital vehicles as safe for human transport, and with government bureaucracy, that will take years
which is a quite amazing piece of double think. That the private sector should not be replacing NASA because NASA is so bureaucratically top heavy that it will destroy anything. The article does say the $6 bn will not be enough, even though private enterprise is more efficient, which is a fair point. The obvious conclusion should be that NASA should be eviscerated & the money go to people who can but this option seems ideologically off the writer's radar. This is like saying, in 1901 when the Wright brothers landed, that the private sector cannot build aircraft because the government wouldn't authorise them to - that alone can explain why, 53 years after Sputnik, we are still on the ground.

It seems to be off Britain's too but that is for another time.

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Friday, February 19, 2010


Eric Drexler spotted this in a report about the future, or otherwise, of fusion power.
Buried among the discussions of plasma physics, neutron fluxes, and a host of practical engineering concerns, there is a page that briefly notes the “Achilles’ Heel” that makes the rest look like an academic exercise. There is no mention of the problem in the introduction or the conclusions:

From page 22:

Fusion fuel is cheap, but the capital costs are high. This may be the Achilles Heel of economic fusion power. The capital costs must be lowered by significant amounts — an order of magnitude of cost reduction would be highly desirable but probably not attainable. Traditional cost cutting efforts offer marginal improvements and will not be sufficiently effective. Innovative approaches that promise orders of magnitude cost reductions on major items must be aggressively pursued… [This will require] new fabrication and production technologies….

Emphasis added.

Translation: There is no known way to build a remotely economical fusion power plant, even if the fuel is free and the plasma physics works perfectly.

This is not the last word for fusion powered space ships which can let the energy escape out the back end & aren't in populated areas so for both reasons don't have such materials needs. Also the power to weight ratio of a controlled hydrogen bomb is a massive asset in space. However it does mean no commercial fusion for generations until there has been a revolution in engineering & materials - at which time everything else will cost less & solar power satellites will be able to supply unlimited power extremely cheaply.

In the opposite direction we see, via Next Big Future the cost of ground based solar power units dropping fast. This seems to be a general engineering trend - complex materials costs keep falling.
Scientists at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel claim they have found a way to construct efficient photovoltaic cells costing at least a hundred times less than conventional silicon based devices, and with 25% energy conversion efficiency.

... the low cost of the proposed device is based on the low cost of PS I in comparison to silicon. While one square meter of PS I should cost around $1, a similar area made of silicon should cost around $200.
I suspect that over time this will also make solar power satellites cheaper though the main factor in their cost is that square miles of incredibly thin reflective tin foil don't weigh much much compared to Earthbound structures & don't require any maintenance out there with no weather.

The main problem with solar is that it doesn't work at night. This could be solved with a worldwide grid & if the world got together to create one it would probably make solar competitive (as well as reducing costs everywhere in the same way that the national grid reduced the need for back up generators) & would make electricity a worldwide tradeable commodity. If the international community really wanted to cooperate to end recession, using technology immediately available that is what they would do. Cheap solar merely significantly enhances the argument for the G20 to get off their arses & write the cross border treaties to allow it.

Cheap energy plus freedom equals prosperity.
Jerry Pournelle

UPDATE This article give a view of how solar is becoming competitive in the US & thus growing fast. It should be pointed out that it is, so far, only competitive this way with government support but the trend is clear.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010


It is astonishing how fast the entire fraud has fallen apart. Perhaps less surprising that the BBC are still pushing it though gently. Even here they are being much more cautious. In response to a email from me about the BBC claiming "scientific consensus" existed Roger Harrabin at first doubted they had said it & then said the phrase had slipped through (& then placed me on his barred email list).

Roger Harrabin on the Gabby Logan Show BBC Radio 5 Live, 11th February 2010: "...phrase like climate change denier have absolutely no place in the debate whatsoever."

In a report into Al Gore's climate change beliefs broadcast on the 6'o'clock news on BBC radio 4 on Friday 12th October 2007 Mr Harrabin used that, now unacceptable, phrase.

However covering the language the BBC use does not mean they are in any way more committed to honesty than they were. For that to be the case the BBC would have to have publicly apologised for previous lies & censorship, fire at least many of those involved & set up some trustworthy oversight system that would catch future propagandism. None of that is even up for discussion & indeed Harrabin's reaction shows that virtually nothing, except in the most cosmetic form, is up for discussion.

Nonetheless the BBC serve the truth by doing an interview with professor Jones in which he inadvertently admits:

Neither the rate nor magnitude of recent warming is exceptional.

There was no significant warming from 1998-2009. According to the IPCC we should have seen a global temperature increase of at least 0.2°C per decade.

The IPCC models may have overestimated the climate sensitivity for greenhouse gases, underestimated natural variability, or both.

This also suggests that there is a systematic upward bias in the impacts estimates based on these models just from this factor alone.

The logic behind attribution of current warming to well-mixed man-made greenhouse gases is faulty.

The science is not settled, however unsettling that might be.

There is a tendency in the IPCC reports to leave out inconvenient findings, especially in the part(s) most likely to be read by policy makers.

Which leaves nothing but the corpse left.

Meanwhile the net continues to be the place where real news is reported:

WattsUpWithThat has been doing what he calls his IPCC scandal du jour as "peer reviewed" claim after claim is proven to be wholly untrue, coming from WWF alarmist pres releases & the like:

17th Jan - IPCC's claim that the Himalayan glaciers would all melt by 2035 was not only wholly untrue & based on no evidence whatsoever but completely impossible

18th Jan - hid fact that warming would cut number of people facing water shortage.

23rd Jan - IPCC scientist admits they knew glacier claims were fraudulent but were politically useful

23rd Jan - A whole range of claims allegedly "per reviewed scientific papers" which weren't but were only alarmist propaganda from government funded fakecharities like WWF.

24th Jan - Fraudulently linked warming to natural disasters

25th Jan - Quoted paper on IPCC claim about coming destruction of 40% of the Amazon said no such thing.

25th Jan - whole range of claims were lies/gross exaggerations.

30th Jan - IPCC claims about melting ice on mountains based on anecdotes in climbing magazine & speculative student dissertation

2nd Feb - IPCC says "two so-called errors in the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC, the first dealing with losses from disasters and the second on the subject of Amazon forests. The leadership of the IPCC has looked into both these instances and concluded that the challenges are without foundations" but not why.

4th Feb WSJ article points out how IPCC report s censored mention of the benefits of warming

6th Feb - Claims about African crop yields to fall are fraudulent

8th Feb - Australian drought claims fraudulent

9th Feb - "Has no scientific merit"

Feb 16th - Hurricane data fixed

Feb 17th They doubled the increase in Arctic sea ice.

On the, behind closed doors, East Anglia University "Inquiry" into the emails, chaired by a Scottish civil servant who protected his bosses during the scandal about the Parliament building 1 of the 5 people chosen, ostensibly because they had no previous commitment on warming, resigned as soon as it was proven he had pushed alarmism. Another, found to have been even more devoted hasn't yet.

The British Parliament is going to do an inquiry & the terms of reference & some people involved make it look like relatively straight.

Rats deserting sinking ships time - Sir David "by 2100 Antarctica will be the only habitable continent" King denounces CRU & IPCC for "crossing the line" by overstating. To many of these to be worth quoting but the egregious Sir David is a particularly ridiculous case.

And East Anglia U refuse to my reply asking that they & Prof jones aploogise for rudeness about me in one of the emails nor to justify it. I guess that shows ethical standards at the UEA so I guess they & all alarmists who don't disagree with them will have no objection to anybody saying, with evidence, that every one of them are wholly & completley corupt, lying, murdering, thieves, deliberately accepting government money to promote fascism & unfit to mix with decent human beings. No offence to any alarmist or anybody at UEA.

Oh yes - and it has been the 2nd snowiest on record worldwide

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I have held up Ireland as an example of successful economic growth, having averaged 7% a year from 1990 to the start of the present recession. Now their "bubble" has burst & it is widely thought of, not least by the Irish themselves, as having been a mirage. This letter appeared on Jerry Pournelle's site & I wish to give my opinion.:

The early stages of the Irish Celtic Tiger boom were certainly built on export growth. At the height of the boom Ireland was the largest exporter of software in the world (India was second). Intel, Dell, HP, Google, Microsoft, Apple and PayPal, amongst others, all had significant presences here and still do, with the exception of Dell.

However a funny thing happened on the back of all the export growth. Wages went up and interest rates dropped to very low levels. In addition the banking market opened up here and so 100% mortgages became much easier to get. In some cases it was possible to get 110% mortgages for a new property. Also, the government offered significant tax incentives to developers to build in certain areas of the country. Finally, property here is only taxed when it is sold, in the form of a stamp duty on the sale. In addition a capital gains tax is payable on the profit made from selling any property that is not one’s personal private residence. So, you had a workforce with rising wages and access to cheap money, builders incentivised to build and a government incentivised to encourage building because it collected taxes on each transaction. The consequence was a huge increase in demand for property and a consequent inflation of property prices.

The resultant property bubble can be illustrated as follows: A developer decides to build a new housing estate in three phases. Let’s say phase one is sold for €500,000 per house. Typically phase two will sell for €600,000 and phase three will sell for €700,000. During the property bubble phase three houses would sell just as quickly as phase one. An astute buyer could buy a phase one house for €500,000 but not transfer title to their name. When phase three was released at €700,000 that buyer would put their (never occupied) house back on the market at €650,000. They were guaranteed an instant profit of €150,000 with minimal tax implications because title for the property would transfer directly from the developer to the eventual buyer. My figures are probably not quite right but this sort of thing went on all the time: It was a Ponzi scheme. Despite these tax dodges the government raked in huge amounts of money and there was no incentive to slow the market down. The government used the extra cash to expand the public service sector. Notably, funding to the public health service doubled but I for one cannot see any increase in efficiency or improvement in patient service. Iron Law, anyone?

So, at the height of the bubble the banks were lending stupidly large amounts of money to both developers and private buyers who had no hope of paying back the loans unless the bubble continued. Of course it didn’t. Once the subprime crisis in the US started, the exposure of the Irish banks became obvious. The banks very quickly stopped lending but were still left with exposure to a whole bunch of loans that couldn’t be repaid. In late 2008 we came within 12 hours of a total banking collapse with a subsequent exposure of €400 billion. That’s half a trillion dollars and it’s a lot for a small country with a population of less than 5 million. Luckily the collapse didn’t happen but right now the government is buying up €50 billion in bad loans from the banks in the hope that they will start lending again. However it won’t work as the banks desperately need to recapitalise so they are pocketing the money from the government and are not lending to anyone. Worse still, the banks are likely to go cap in hand to the government looking for more money to recapitalise. Meanwhile the government is having to contend with an overpriced public sector and also nearly half a million unemployed people.

Are we in a death spiral? Not yet, but we are perilously close. Tax revenue is still dropping and unemployment is still rising. While both trends are slowing down they need to reverse, and soon. The cost of unemployment benefit is approaching €100m per week. We can’t raise taxes because salaries are dropping. The banks won’t lend money to keep small businesses going. Currently we are very exposed to Greece going down as the market will almost certainly come after Ireland next. If we were outside the Euro we could devalue our currency but that’s not an option. Finally, no-one has a clue how to get half a million people back to work. And the reason we’re called PIIGs is probably because we’re up to our ears in the brown smelly stuff.

Watch this space.


I feel the disappointment with the Celtic Tiger is greatly overblown. There is considerable schadenfreude among economists, politicians & the anti-free market ruling class in the rest of Europe who did not manage to get their economies into the same happy state of growth & had thus been predicting, for at least a decade, its imminent collapse. Their joy is clear because it alleviates them from having to explain to their own people why they couldn't.

However It should be remembered that Ireland went from 2/3tds to 4/3rds of British per capita GNP by achieving an average 7% growth (we managed 2.5%, usually). Their economy has now declined by 12.4% over the last 2 years whereas Britain's has fallen 4%. However we are borrowing money at 12.5% of GNP annually while Ireland is making strenuous efforts to balance its budget. Without that artificial stimulus we would therefore be in a similar position, as would the USA & many other countries.

Ireland's growth to a point where it matched the per capita income of the USA was not a bubble. It was achieved by cutting corporation tax to 12.5% & cutting regulations, particularly those on housebuilding. It achieved nearly 20 years of growth which is longer than bubbles last. If there was some overselling of houses - well so what - they are now in a market correction but it will correct itself. The fact is their government is solvent, at least by comparison to ourselves, its markets are free and its taxes are low. All this suggests it will be back into growth before us.

A problem they do have is that they are part of the Eurozone whose value is run in accord with the needs of all the Euro economies of which Ireland as a very small part indeed. That meant they couldn't earlier set interest rates at a level which would discourage housebuilding speculation & they can't now allow their currency to fall, as Britain & America's is. They would be better off out but that is their decision & while it makes the process of cutting government spending much more painful than it need be it does not affect the underlying strength of the economy.

The one place where Ireland's economy is in danger & which is not discussed, is their energy supply. They have gone hysterical about nuclear, partly because the English plant in Sellafield across the Irish Sea makes it patriotic to be anti-nuclear & partly because it is generally fashionable (remember Ireland fashionably led off in Europe in making smoking in public places illegal). At present they produce $7.75 of GNP per kwh of electricity. This is the highest ratio of any developed country (Britain is 3rd at $6.14) & it is likely to get worse because part of their power comes from the Hunterston nuclear power plant in Scotland which is being extended beyond its official retiral age. When Britain faces blackouts it looks unlikely we will be willing to export electricity there. That could, of course, be settled by Ireland by making a decision to go nuclear or even expand their conventional power. Indeed seeing how well they have done with that much power shortage already it is clear they have the potential to grow even faster than they have been doing.

So do we if we adopt the policies that have worked there.

Jerry Pournelle has also reprinted this as part of the ongoing discussion. He conclude in response to my last paragraph that
Cheap energy plus freedom equals prosperity.
which covers it succinctly. I wish most Nobel prize winning economists knew as much.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Means a new birth; regeneration From Wikipedia
Palingenesis (from Greek palin-, again, + genesis, becoming, birth) is a term used for analogous concepts in historical law, philosophy, theology, politics, geology and biology.
Which does seem to fit the concept of a conservative intending to rebuild America by returning it to its basic principles.

OK it doesn't prove anything but it is the sort of improbable coincidence that gave Victor von Doom a name suiting his character.

Call it serendipity.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010


This is the argument for seateading
Think of the state as a business—but one with enormously high barriers to entry and enormously high exit costs. As it would in the business world, this set-up breeds sclerosis, inefficiency, and the tendency to treat customers like dirt.

From Patri’s point of view, Milton’s path of steady, sober education about the advantages of liberty wasn’t changing the basic negatives very much. And although David might be right that government isn’t even necessary, the fact remains that governments, however inefficient, control virtually every chunk of planet Earth. Winning control of a piece of land almost necessarily involves bloodshed, with very little likelihood of success. High barriers to entry, indeed. ....What if you could just move—not just you, but everything you own, including your home, and, if your neighbors agreed with you, your whole community? What if you could move all of it where no government would bother you at all, and you could make a new, better society?

The downside of it is that, whatever the political costs & it is quite likely the community of other world governments would be unsupportive, the cost of building land from the waterline up is considerable.

What about buying up a country going out of business, California is going bust. It is also the biggest state, population wise, in the Union. 37 million or 68 Wyomings. When it goes bust, if the Federal government doesn't bail it out, receivers would normally be put in. Suppose it were split up into about 20 new small states, cities indeed pieces of barely inhabited desert or mountain to have their State constitutions written by whoever does or guarantees paying off as much of the debt as the receivers think can be done. Unlike Greece, California has a heterogeneous cosmopolitan population not wedded to their own statehood. Some of these new states would have similar problems to the old but some would be likely to do well. If libertarianism is correct then somebody buying up a relatively small amount of coast & setting it up with the free market institutions that worked for Hong Kong might build a great city. Los Angeles was not founded on a more prepossessing site.

However for this to work it has to be, while under the sovereignty & protection of the US, not under to much bureaucratic control. The Founding Fathers had an idea along these lines. They called it the 10th Amendment.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
They did not envisage a centralised state but one where the central government, as well as protecting from foreign enemies & providing common economic rules worked more to restrain nannystating by individual state governments than to do its own ruling. The great advantage of federalism is that it allows social experiment whereby different states try different solutions & the most successful get adopted by others. A strong central government prevents experimentation by deciding what is best for everybody & enforcing it. The US Supreme Court has reinterpreted the Constitution to give it the power to enforce a national heath service, uniform schooling, treating CO2 as a pollutant etc but none of these are in the original wording.

A new US State free to enforce only the rules it wanted would be a very attractive place & would make most of the Former Californian Republics prosperous & indeed solvent. They would have most of the theoretical advantages of seasteads with none of the downsides.

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