Saturday, October 21, 2017

Eating The Seed Corn

The title comes from a well-worn phrase, which I first consciously took notice of while listening to a brilliant Dan Rather CBS radio essay from the early 1980s (which disappeared into the seam between old tech and the Internet-Is-Forever era) and for which, should anyone have a transcript or the actual recording form, I would pay real cash money.

The subject, at a time when Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff was a best-seller, and going to become a movie, was the American (and human) drive to reach out into space, versus the short-sighted drive of jackassically ignorant congressional (but I repeat myself) appropriators to slash funding for pure exploration. Hate on Dipshit Dan all you want for any number of Usual Suspect Liberal Retardation, but he came up as a local Texas newscaster in the era of Kennedy, NASA, Mercury/Gemini/Apollo, and in that one essay, from before the Challenger disaster, he beautifully encapsulated and expressed why we should always be reaching for the next milestone in space.

And he got, and expressed, in a way that I still mostly remember 40 years later, that cutting NASA (as the idjits in Congress were then doing, which led in a straight-line way to killing the astronauts on Challenger just a few years afterwards), was the equivalent of a tribe or civilization "eating the seed corn," consuming the grain now for a short-term gain and a quick meal, but condemning the future to starvation and extinction.

This is your space program when the bureaucrats take over.
Makes you really look forward to handing them your healthcare, huh?

I bring it up because over at his blog, Silicon Graybeard has a couple of recent posts, one on Amazon's Jeff Bezos and his latest engine test, and the prior one noting that from beyond the edge of the solar system, Voyager just keeps plugging away.

And my rantastic observation is simply:
"Why in hell aren't we surpassing what we did 30-40-50 years ago?!?"

Voyager is great stuff from '70s tech.

Now 'splain why, with Moore's Law and a few hundred other things, no one's working on sending out a 4K camera to see the same things Voyager did, at a wee few orders better resolution.

We've proved it's doable, as Voyager flies out of the solar system.

Or sending similar packages to each planet, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, etc.

Instead of, I dunno, not spending one second of NASA budget on asstardian pseudoscience things like anthropo-fraudulent globull warming, or outreach to sixth century goat-humping superstitions.

Let alone abdicating completely more manned space travel.

I can get over no jet packs and flying cars, but going to the moon a few times, and then just...quitting?

When Matt friggin' Damon has a better grasp of what NASA's mission should be than NASA does, it's probably time to burn it down, and start over from scratch. (Or move the entire military side to Vandenburg, and lease Canaveral and Houston back to Space-X etc. The only thing NASA should be doing is running the museum and memorabilia concession sales.)

Stop screwing around. We need to science the $#!^ out of this.

I grew up a short bicycle ride from Rocketdyne (who built the Saturn V engines that sent us to the moon), and on Saturdays listened to them testing engines in the hills outside LA. Which you could hear from 30 miles away. Now half their facility is a strip mall. Two generations have been gypped out of their heritage.

Space is our wading pool. As Neil McDonough said in a viral 2014 Cadillac commercial "Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That's right, we went up there...and you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there, left the keys in it. D'ya know why? 'Cause we're the only ones going back up there, that's why."

Boom. Mic drop.

SiG points out rightfully,
"Voyager was only possible because of the orbital lineup that gave them the 'grand tour', slingshotting from one planet to the next, and completing the tour."

I get the Grand Tour thing, but we should have progressed in launch vehicles to the point that we don't care about that lovely one-time window anymore. Send craft to all of them, regularly, instead of doing the Solar System In One Tour. For the time, it was genius economy, but now it's time to dig in for the long haul, not just hit-and-run tour bus tourism.

It took one president about 5 minutes to give both the pointy heads and the ignoratii in government a vision that propelled them forward for a decade.

All I'm asking for is that, from time to time, someone else come along and get them another push. Momentum and serendipity will take care of the rest. I'm sending this on a flatscreen bigger than my parents' color TV was in 1969, from a PC with more computing power than the sum total of the entire world's space programs in 1969. Because we went to the moon.

We don't starve now in the first World because we have entire supermarkets full of packaged and canned goods, because back 200+ years ago, Napoleon needed a better way to feed his armies on the march.

Originally invented to feed Napoleon's armies; now available everywhere near you.

Discovery drives technology, and technology changes the world.

It's long past time to give the fat kid on the swing another push.

Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, et al aren't our fiction, they're our future. Exploring, and eventually colonizing, everywhere we can go, isn't just what we can do, it's what we should do. Auto-opening doors are on every 7-11; pocket flip-open communicators are so 1990.
It's time for transporters, and warp drive.

I'm fine with going forward one step at a time, even missing my generation's turn, as long as we're going forward.

And given what we spend, versus what they deliver, it's time for NASA to either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

Space isn't going anywhere. But we should be.


loren said...

Ever notice how all the SF with a positive message (Star Trek for one) doesn't include welfare plantations? Kinda hard to soar like an eagle when your legs are knee deep in turkey shit.
On a more practical note. Kennedy sowed the seeds of disaster when he organized a race to the moon. To win we developed a program that was a dead end. Like giving Columbus a fleet and him coming back in a row boat with a few conch shells.
We won but had no follow up to what was essentially a stunt. We had to start over with a "cheap" shuttle. We all know how that worked out. Now we can't even get into orbit until our "new" lift vehicle comes online in a few years or maybe some tech billionaire comes up with something congress can't fuck up.
We could of had a program that staged from orbit using nuke engines but of course those are evil or some shit cause of Hiroshima or maybe 3 mile Island.

Jim Rock said...

Nuke? No. Google up Roger Shawyer and his EmDrive.
Uses no fuel, makes for a lighter and cheaper spacecraft.
Fast too. Solar system in months, not decades.

RandyGC said...

And every time we have a near approach by a potential planet killer asteroid I'm reminded of Larry Niven's statement that such events "...are Mother Nature's way of asking "Hey, how's that space program going?""

Anonymous said...

As a GenXer I remember Reagan and every president since give a state of the union speech and declare,just like the kennedy speech, that we're going to Mars or back to the moon to stay or whatever and nothing ever happens. We've got the ISS which is of debatable utility and probably wouldn't have went anywhere either except that it reinforced globalist wet dreams.

I was always enthusiastic about the space program. I had family who worked in it from the beginning and a few that work in related aerospace/technology companies now. The current state of NASA and that high tech sector is that the same PC SJW cancer infesting society at large has spread very deep in all of them. They're not about getting the best and brightest in their fields and finding the best engineering minds. Now it's more about HR, PR, credentialism and most importantly making sure teams and departments look like Benetton ads competence be damned. The stories they tell during family reunions are kinda sad sometimes.

Maybe we have to face up to the reality that the nation that sent men to the moon, saved Apollo 13 and sent voyager out of our solar system simply doesn't exist any more. America in many ways peaked in the 60s and early 70s and has been in decline ever since. Space is for nations who are ascendant, have a strong national identity and mission and who are unapologetic about their achievements or their conquests. We are definitely not that nation any more. I'm afraid we are going to come to the heartbreaking realization that America, as it was, is in fact dead and that this century unfortunately belongs to the Chinese.

RSR said...

This graphic describes what is actually "Eating the Seed Corn" -- that is entitlement, welfare, and payments on the national debt...

"Chart 2 traces Public Goods and Payments to Individuals as percentages of federal-program spending (not including interest on the debt) from 1970 through 2014. During this period — when large annual deficits became routine and debt grew from 36 percent to 103 percent of GDP — Payments to Individuals soared from 36 percent to 75 percent of annual spending while Public Goods plunged from 64 percent to 25 percent. Tracking spending to GDP, also shown on the chart, reveals a similar pattern: Payments to Individuals grew from 6 percent to 15 percent of GDP while Public Goods fell from 11 percent to 5 percent. The two signal innovations of post-1960s government — continuous borrowing to support regular spending, and spending primarily on private consumption — were concurrent. (Incidentally, essentially all of the fall in Public Goods has been in national defense; domestic public goods have stayed about constant, with the exception of increased spending on law enforcement — reflecting the costly “homeland security” measures introduced after 9/11 and also the continuing growth of federal criminal law.)

From here:

SiGraybeard said...

To follow up on RSR's The two signal innovations of post-1960s government — continuous borrowing to support regular spending, and spending primarily on private consumption — were concurrent. continuous borrowing to support continuous spending would be impossible if we worked with real money, instead of the Keynesian "created out of thin air" fake money that we're stuck with. Nixon got us off the gold standard, but probably because LBJ's "guns and butter" spending policies got us so far behind the redeemable value of the dollar (in gold, that is) that his hands were tied. He could have kept us on real money, if he had the balls, but didn't.

I think the information theory of money explains this really well. With interest rates suppressed to nearly zero and not the market rates to "increase spending and get the economy moving", the most important signals that money carries are corrupted, which leads to systemic malinvestment and "stupid spending" everywhere. Virtually everything wrong in our country can be tracked back to government intervention and stupid spending. There's a difference between real economic growth and inflation: value is created as opposed to prices going up. Naturally, their definition of growth includes useless inflation.

Apollo was almost killed off before we made it to the moon, with the welfare warriors of the day screaming about spending money here on earth instead of in space. There were supposed to be more missions than Apollo 17, and there were plans that would have had colonies on the moon and trips to Mars by about 20 years ago. All of that was corrupted by the money grubbers. The shuttle was gutted and reduced to a ghost of what it was supposed to be. The space station was likewise gutted and reduced in capability. It really was more like the orbiting wheel in "2001: A Space Odyssey" on the original drawing boards.

NASA is nothing but a self-perpetuating, arthritic bureaucracy. Don't count on them for anything. I know a lot of people bad mouth Musk and Bezos for taking advantage of NASA spending to get their companies booted up, but they or someone like them are our only hope.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who's retired from NASA, he got there when the guys who did Mercury, Gemini and Apollo were still there. He left because he got sick of the BS.

I'm a space-age kid (born in 1963), watched the first moon landing on a black-and-white TV that was smaller than I'm using as I type this (in color no less). In 1969 (at least for a 6 year old first grader) there was NO limit to what we could do, and I just KNEW that all those astronaut and space related toys I had were going to become REAL in my lifetime. Hell, I thought I could grow up to be Major Matt Mason!

Now we haven't sent humans beyond low-earth orbit since before I left grade school, and I'm unlikely to live long enough to see us go back to the moon or one of the other planets. First NASA gave up on the big, ambitious projects (like the Galileo craft that went to Jupiter and was recently burned up there to keep it from contaminating one of its moons) in favor of smaller and cheaper projects (one of which I recall failing because the specs for the engines were given in Imperial but the company that built them used Metric), and finally their mission became making Muslims feel good about themselves.

Private companies launching satellites is all well and good, and they can make money doing so, but will they get us to another planet? Only if they can find a way to turn a profit, and I don't say that as a bad thing, that's what companies DO. Add to that the fact that profits are generally only considered "next quarter" or "next year" at the latest, long term investment just isn't likely.


Mark D

RSR said...

Politicians don't talk about it b/c it's a fast track to losing an election... But it was by and large Baby Boomers who elected politicians that increased the national debt, spending tomorrow's money on their increased comfort in yesterday and today, and created an insolvent entitlement system (not too different from crisis already realized in corporate pensions that can't create money out of thin air or indefinitely borrow...). So not only are young folks/working generation paying the debt and interest for their parents, they are also paying their parents salary (social security) and for their healthcare (medicare). And because that entitlement spending is already increasing and involvement, the only way to keep that house of cards from falling down is to import young immigrant laborers who will contribute more than they collect in the near future -- and that immigrant labor competes with the working population for jobs and reduces wages, further reducing young folks standard of living... But even massive immigration is only a stopgap and creates an eventual entitlement crisis, if not a cultural/political one sooner... The worst part is federal decision makers/elected officials/politicians have been aware of this for decades.

There will eventually be generation warfare in this country at the ballot box. And unless voting trends change, the old folks will win and maintain, if not expand, their special interest group subsidies from the federal budget...


Aesop said...

Uh, no.
The Boomers weren't old enough to vote for anyone until 1963, so they didn't vote for anyone prior to Johnson.

If you want to start laying blame with the folks who elected Wilson, and later on FDR, you'd be just a tad nearer to the truth of things.

Trying to blame the grandsons for the sins of the fathers and grandfathers is frankly ridiculous.

Most of the people who put us here we born between 1865 and 1910.

Now, for grins, go look up the first great wave of immigration after the Civil War.

RSR said...

First and foremost, worth remembering that it is the Congress, not the President who sets the spending...

While I agree it was largely FDR who set the stage (and he had full control of both houses of congress for all 12 years) and the initiator of the problems, that generation didn't wholly embrace deficit spending and permanent entitlements; society at large viewed such actions as temporary responses regardless of long term plans/objectives of the elites/elected officials...

It was Kennedy w/ his New Frontier, Johnson with his Great Society, Carter's various programs (that weren't expanded further b/c of his general ineptness, in no small part due to micromanaging, despite having both houses of Congress), and Clinton's welfare being the biggest offenders in fundamentally restructuring how federal dollars are apportioned and how much debt the country was willing to incur to provide those funds to persons...

Baby Boomers (during and post WW2 definition, more rigid definition of post WW2 would not) would have been able to vote for JFK for President... But yes, Johnson most definitely and to my point, especially considering that the Democrat metamorphosis that continues to the present day really began with Kennedy-Johnson...

Kennedy-Johnson had both the House and the Senate for all 8 years.
Carter had both the House and the Senate for all 4 years.
Clinton had both the House and the Senate for his first 2 years, but massive overreach in first 2 years resulted in him losing control of both for his final 6 years.
Obama his first 2 years also had both the House and Senate, but again lost complete control due to overreach just like the Clintons...

Nixon-Ford never had the Senate nor the (more important) House.
Reagan never had the House but had the (less important) Senate for 6 of 8 years.
Bush 1 never had the Senate nor the House.
Bush 2 had final 2 years w/ Ds controlling Senate and House, middle 4 years R control of both houses, and first 2 years w/ mixed control (Ds Senate, Rs House).
And Trump is the first Republican to have control of Congress from start of Presidency since Eisenhower...

The point of control of presidency and congress is that that controls how far the pendulum can swing from laws passed to judicial appointments... And why such extensive political/cultural change has occurred in the Democrats favor in the past 60 years...

If you look at links shared, Democrat Presidency plus Democrat control of both House and Senate are when the budget went bonkers.

Rich Jordan said...

Have you ever read "A Step Farther Out" by Jerry Pournelle? (RIP, he passed away this September). A non-fiction book based on columns he was writing.

Although some of the details are dated (it came out in 1977), the overarching theme is still 100% relevant. Then he was fighting against the Club of Rome and others with a zero-growth plans that would leave the world in misery, and much of it in perpetual grinding poverty. To quote Larry Niven: "Jerry Pournelle is our to make the whole world rich... He's been building the future since I was in grade school, and he's still at it."

I had forgotten how inspired I was by it back then. Reach for space, get resources, make the world wealthy, mine the asteroids, colonize planets, all possible (but not easy). If we had the will to try.

"We still live in an age of marvels, and it’s still true that the only limit to growth is nerve."