Saturday, January 30, 2010

Libertarian, except for the cool stuff...

Everybody gets their back up when defending their favorite tax sinkhole. TVA, CDC, FDA... there's always some more-or-less explicitly unconstitutional federal agency to which Joe or Suzy Taxpayer secretly scribbles love notes on the back of their Tea Party-issue Gadsden Flag post-it notes.

Even the most Heinlein-quoting, Ayn Rand-lovin', taxation-is-theft Wookie suiters get all weepy when NASA takes a shot in the payroll, when the simple fact of the matter is that the only spaceships the federal government has any constitutional business building should be run by the USAF and have frickin' laser beams on them.

It's a good thing NASA didn't exist from the nation's founding, or Lewis & Clark's canoe would have taken thirty years to build and contained strips of birch bark from 72 different Congressional districts. If we want to see progress in space, we need to tell NASA to go research airfoil shapes and just declare everything that happens above X miles to be extraterritorial and tax-free.

They’re worried about funding the ISS? Auction it off. You don’t think that people will pay big bucks to go gambling in a casino with zero-g hookers and blow? It'll be the only way to get regular folks into space, too, because they're not going to pay astronauts to mix Long Island iced teas in those weird drinking squeeze bulbs.


Anonymous said...

Like our government is going to allow that. They won't be able to tax things to the hilt. If you try to fly out from another country, they'll make it illegal to go to the countries that allow it.


WV: uneutpo - government run utopia

Blackwing1 said...

I'll give big, hearty, "Yay-men!" to that. I've been saying for 30 years that if we really want "exploration" of space, we should just declare that any profits from above low-earth-orbit are tax-free for the next couple of decades. Just one nickel-iron asteroid...

Tam said...

Hey, if maid service is what it takes to get me into space, I'll do it. I'd change spoogey zero-g sleep webbing on the Casino Orbitale (ex-ISS).

RobertM said...

The private market is the future of space flight. As much as I like the idea of NASA, I can live without it. As you said, the USAF and frickin' lasers is what the gov should be paying for.

Neutrino Cannon said...

Still, as far as wasteful pork entitlement programs go, NASA is pretty small.

Robb Allen said...

Pork is pork. The small stuff hurts like the big stuff since it's easy to say "it's pretty small" and then end up with thousands of small things.

I keep APOD on my iPhone and drool over the images every day. As much as I love my family, I would gladly volunteer for a one way trip to Mars. But it's clear that the gov't isn't going to get us off this mudball (too hard to tax the Loonies / Martians)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but NASA now isn't at all the NASA of then. And in the 1960s the US government was about the only outfit with the investment capability.

From JFK's "Go for it!" to landing on the moon in just seven years. Pretty danged good, if you ask me.

Think spinoffs. Racers like Nomex. The need for miniaturization led to your having a PC or laptop. NASA's needs led to the private sector doing high-tech R&D which otherwise would likely required many more years for achievements.

NASA began as a goal-oriented outfit. Once the Eagle had landed and then made it home, the process-oriented people took over. So, yeah, nowadays, privatization is about the only answer to our not falling back, scientifically, to second-class status.


Tam said...


"Sorry, but NASA now isn't at all the NASA of then."

Almost all government departments, bureaus, and programs start out well; for instance, the House of Representatives was 59 dedicated patriots who had never met a career politician...

Ken said...

Hoooome, home on LaGrange...
Where the space debris always collects...
--sing it with me!

Brad K. said...

@ Ken,

I prefer "Carmen Miranda's Ghost I Haunting Space Station Three", by Leslie Fish (an SF Filk Song). Or the collection of short stories by the same name, edited by Don Sakers.

Or that delightful Disney ditty from the Tom Tryon film, about "seven moons above" or something.


Lewis and Clark were military. While we may not have designs on conquering the moon, if we don't claim it we might face China, Russia, the French, the Germans, the Iranians, or the Israelis telling us, "Uh, no thanks. Find your own moon/asteroid/hole in orbit. Go now, before we open fire."

I consider this the same as an individual throwing down his weapon in front of a hostile enemy, and hoping for a peaceful change.

Throwing open the doors to commercial interests, historically, tends to invite more mercenary adventures, more brutality and unregulated abuse, than peaceful sharing of bounty and opportunity. I thought the unicorn farts were coming from the White House. Huh.

Not that I have strong feelings about a space effort.

Oh, and you might glance at your computer, your microwave, your nifty food preservation and preparation stuff that came from research into a manned space effort. Are you willing to cede the possibility of additional breakthroughs in science, nutrition, information technology, communications, transportation, and energy - to a foreign power, not necessarily feeling benevolent to the US? As in, sure, we will show you how to build a clean and safe fusion reactor that toasts bagels and converts plastic waste to dog food - for half the grain you raised this year and all the rifles in your army. Sorry, we just ran out of oil for you. Pay in rubles, please." I am not that sure Hilary or B. Hussein wouldn't sign something like that. Especially if it would run union-operated hospitals.

Stretch said...

As a business model "The Man Who Sold The Moon" is hard to beat.

Don Meaker said...

Burt Rutan and Tam would get along just fine.

Don Meaker said...

actually, letters of Marque and Reprisal would be issued against other nations space assets.

Imagine the Buran returning to Mother Russia with the Hubble in its cargo bay, and being sold at auction...

Now imagine the Hubble with a self=destruct device going off half way down.

Anonymous said...

The role govt should be playing is creating an environment where R&D and risk-taking is worth the effort. Then, just get out of the way and let the entrepreneurs blaze a trail to the moon. You'd get your microwaves, nomex and Tang by the boatload, and then some.

Blast Hardcheese said...

Tam, I'll see your comment about the only good gov't-built spaceships and raise you:

They should be run by the USAF, have frickin' laser beams, and be propelled by EXPLODING ATOMIC BOMBS MUUUAHHAHAHAHAAAA!

Er, excuse me. Orion still gets me excited. That's the original, honest-to-Dyson Orion, not the wussy thing NASA's trying to get going.

Oh, and "Zero-G Hookers and Blow" would be an excellent band name.

perlhaqr said...

Shorter Brad K.: "Capitalism scares me."

Flight-ER-Doc said...

It isn't just the wasteful pork: It's the overt hostility to anything not invented by or for NASA, and the abject incompetence demonstrated by NASA in spaceflight. Once the first flights were done (say, the end of Apollo) that was enough - all NASA or the government should (arguably) be doing is basic research that nobody else is willing to do (deep space?) and helping private industry get off this rock.

Instead, the government has entered into treaties that prevent a lot of private exploration of space...passed laws that make it hard to impossible for private space launches (like the FAA nearly preventing 'SPACESHIP ONE's flight, because of licensing issues of the 'spaceport').


And Tam's analogy is excellent: I usually say that it's a good thing the government wasn't in charge of discovering a polio vaccine....else we'd have really damned nice iron lungs today.

Anonymous said...

Harsh, but real...and hilarious, as is prerequisite around this place.

The key elements:

"...the only spaceships the federal government has any constitutional business building should be run by the USAF and have frickin' laser beams on them." Yep.

And "Casino Orbitale"...I'd buy shares in that enterprise (heh) right now.

As I commented at Marko's the other day: many "Libertarians" don't have the first clue of what "libertarianism" is all about.

Al Terego

Scooter said...

You make a very good point.

Actually, several good points...for those of us who grew up watching Star Wars a dozen times when it came out and seeing regular launches of humans into space on the Idiot Tube, there is certainly a romantic attraction to space travel and the idea of taking a backseat to further exploration is a bit stingy. Hearing, "Ni How, Tu!" from the Moon would be a bit of a letdown.

Commercial ventures would surely do a better job in future development if they could attract not only the talent, but the investors. You'd need billions to start from scratch and even Branson and his bucks are proving it to be a difficult venture.

That being said, I'd be sorely tempted to empty out the bank account and even sell off some AR's and other hardware for a weekend at the "Golden Nugget Orbital Hotel and Casino."

Playing craps in zero-G would be very interesting, as would the hookers and blow.

pdb said...

This post is truth.

Obama defunding NASA is the best thing that could have possibly happened for the future of manned space. It would be even better if he would reduce their funding until they functioned like the old NACA.

Additionally, the point of Apollo was to win points during (cold)wartime. It was a total dead end and possibly wasted 30 years in the efforts to make America a spacegoing nation. Instead of building infrastructure stepping stones, we built a pretty awesome disintegrating single shot totem pole.

Jenny said...

I confess my not-so-secret libertarian sin is the national parks/forests/BLMs. I know it's blatantly unconstitutional (something about 10 square miles?) but but but... :)

And the Space Race was military underneath all the PR, yes? Best I can see the root motivations were ICBM development and securing the orbital high ground.

Finally.. spin offs. Meh. I've seen precious few government developed projects that turned out half as well as private research. No reason to think NASA spinoffs now or in the future are any different. It wasn't NASA that gave me a tiny computer, it was two guys on the left coast who hated each other's guts and kept trying to outdo each other.

I *heart* capitalist competition. :)

So I'm just as happy if NASA goes away, AS LONG AS restrictions on private efforts are eased to let 'em into the field. Because a limited hamstrung space presence is better than none at all.

Lewis said...

OK, kids, just remember: unconstitutional is unconstitutional, even if it's really cool. Unconstitutional is unconstitutional, even if it means we have microwaves and Tang. Words have meanings, right?

And as far as that goes, I still remember, to this day, the moment when I said to myself, "Hmm, heavy boost rockets with really good telemetry were needed to hit that round chunk of Stilton floating in the sky. Hmm, heavy boost rockets with really good telemetry. Now what ELSE could those be used for? Hmmmmm, Moscow, anyone?"

Nathan said...

Funny you should mention Lewis and Clark. Lewis did have some kind of fancy folding canoe or longboat designed and made out of metal and canvas. He thought it would be easier to carry in portages. Its fabrication delayed the start of the Expedition, and it proved to be pretty much worthless in the end; as I recall from reading Stephen Ambrose's marvelous book on the Expedition, it was used once, was quite unsatisfactory, and ended up buried (and abandoned) in a cache of supplies the expedition left when it went overland across the Continental Divide.

Tam said...

Brad K.,

"I consider this the same as an individual throwing down his weapon in front of a hostile enemy, and hoping for a peaceful change."

I guess you skipped over my bit about USAF spacecraft with laser beams, huh?

And read Lewis' post at 3:35 pm.

Nathan said...

Heinlein, as usual, had the right idea -- let the military build their own spacecraft, and let private industry build freighters and passenger ships.

If we'd let industry loose after July 1969, there'd probably be a Luna City today.

Beaumont said...

There was a pretty good scifi story (can't recall the title) about a washed-up NASA astronaut who falls thru a wormhole into a parallel universe where NASA never existed. Lunar colonies since 1970,asteroid mining, you grok the idea. The folks over there couldn't figure out why the guy cried so much.

Anonymous said...

From Joe in PNG

I'll second PDB's point. While Apollo was a Crowning Moment of Awesome, it probably was not the right way to do it. It was too expensive, too gimicky, and once it was done, too unpopular. It may have been better to go with the original Von Braum plan.

Anyway, to use an analogy, it's kind of like duplicating our modern air traffic system in 1910. The technology, infastructure, and market is just not there. Not yet.

Anonymous said...

Honda recall is all the news for the last few days. To paraphrase Madison, I am not able to put my finger on that section of the Constitution that provides any authority for the government to tell Honda it has to do anything except pay taxes.

But were I running or working at Government Motors or Chrysler, it would be sweet to have the government hammer the competition.

Perhaps that is the point.

Astrononymous said...

> They should be run by the USAF, have frickin' laser beams,
> and be propelled by EXPLODING ATOMIC BOMBS

Like this? Scroll down to see the picture of "Project Orion Battleship Vs. MiG-105 Space fighters".

Glenn Reynolds wrote a few articles about Orion for TCS back in September 2002; see "The Road Not Taken
" and "The New Space Race".

Here's an excerpt from "To Mars By A-Bomb" (BBC, 2003), and another project Orion video here.

And someday, they'll finish making "Man Conquers Space".

The film Man Conquers Space looks like a documentary made today,
and is peppered with archival footage from the dawn of the space age
during WWII, through to today, narrated by the people who were there -
the engineers, the astronauts, the scientists, the visionaries,
the politicians.

Until then, we have to settle for Teaser III and the Cinema Sequence trailers.

And you can download Carl Bussjaeger's novel Net Assets as a free 1 MB PDF file here. Think of it as the Unintended Consequences of space flight.

TJP said...

"Throwing open the doors to commercial interests, historically, tends to invite more mercenary adventures, more brutality and unregulated abuse, than peaceful sharing of bounty and opportunity."

This argument only works if one ignores the mercenary adventures, brutality and unregulated abuse (as if regulated abuse is better) of every government that ever existed. Governments have better funding than pirates, so it's much harder to dispose of the bad ones.

I don't have a copy of the Holy Statist Scriptures of the Central Government handy, so I'll just go ahead and shoot from the hip and post my observation that corrupt people may be found in both private industry and government agencies.

I have no doubt that governments have done great work, or that NASA has produced tremendously useful knowledge. The problem is that there is a collection of activities which are illegal according to the Constitution, and a government agency never closes its doors, no matter how dysfunctional it happens to be.

That such agencies cannot receive important pricing information from markets guarantees they'll get their marching orders from political bodies. That's why 1960s taxpayers got moon landings and we get polluted GISS surface temperature records.

Astrononymous said...

> Governments have better funding than pirates

There are Pirates & Emperors (via Reason).

Ken said...

To pdb's point, yes, ending NASA could be a boon to private space, but there's still EPA, OSHA, FAA, and the aforementioned Air Force (just to give the alphabet soupers a pointy end to work with) to keep us down where we belong.

In closing: Blast Hardcheese, we put our faith in you (and Punch Rockgroin, and Rip Steakface, and Flint Ironstag, and Gristle McThornbody, and Big McLargehuge, and...).

Ken said...

Addendum: I rise to thank Astrononymous for posting the link to Net Assets. It is timely and potentially rewarding reading.

jimbob86 said...

".....breakthroughs in science, nutrition ....."

Such as Tang and TV dinners? No thankee. With "breakthroughs" like that, I'll just keep slogging along with, you know ..... Real Food.

Processed "food products" are part of the problem, not the solution, IMO.

Matt G said...

Some of the X Prize type contests that NASA has been putting on lately have yielded excellent results, with basically a 10:1 R&D return.

alath said...

Re, libertarian "except..."

This is the inherent problem. Everyone is a libertarian about the liberties they approve of, and opposed to the government programs they're opposed to. To actually elect a libertarian government, we would have to all respect liberties even when we disapprove of how they're excercised, and object to pointless government programs even when they're beneficial to us.

You see this on gun boards all the time. Everyone agrees with the libertarian position on 7 out of 10 issues. The three they don't though, they're REALLY adamant about and they'll NEVER support any candidate who takes those three libertarian tacks. On the gun boards, these three issues are usually borders/immigration, recreational drugs, or a foreign war of which someone is enamored.

As long as these folks' most passionate issue (or 2 or 3) requires authoritarian methods, they'll never vote for a libertarian.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a time in the Advanced Design department of the Space Shuttle program in Downey. There were a core of true Space Cadets there, always trying to dream up ways of getting us all into space. The problem was then, and is now, that NASA is openly hostile to the entire concept of 'man in space', because it takes funding away from their pet little experiments. They hated the Space Shuttle, and couldn't wait for the day it got cancelled.

Our marketing guy scribbled up a briefing chart in his spare time that showed a passenger payload container for the Space Shuttle, seating (IIRC) 45 passengers in the small version, 60 in the medium version, and up to 90 passengers in the large version. There were lists floating about even then that showed huge numbers of people willing to spend LARGE amounts of money to ride on the orbiter. Enough that even though the real cost of each orbiter flight was between 350 to 400 millions dollars a shot, we could have payed a substantial percentage of the full launch costs on some missions just by taking a few passengers along. NASA was absolutely, adamantly against it.

A wayward NASA type happened to be passing through the department, saw the passenger payload cannister chart, and turned into a raving, foaming at the mouth lunatic. Something about 'we're trying to do real science, not a @#$!% tourist program.

When the very first commercial space passenger flew up on the Russian launch vehicle, NASA was screaming up one side and down the other that there was no way in hell that a civilian cash-paying individual was going to step one foot on the Space Station. They screamed about it right up until he was standing on the threshold, and then the Russians played their trump card - no tourist, no supplies. NASA didn't have a choice, and they still don't, but it still really pisses them off to this day.

I think one of the reasons it infuriates them so is that they hold out a ride on the Space Shuttle as the ultimate job incentive. Check all the right boxes, be a good little boy/girl, don't piss anybody off, and you might, just might possibly get on THE LIST. Don't toe the line, or suck up to everyone above you, and you'll never see the inside of the orbiter.


Anonymous said...

BSR has just enumerated, in microcosmic detail, why .gov does not belong in any exclusive capacity in any field except the battle field. Those demigods, jealousies, and vested interests infect every field of endeavor, but in the real world, their hindrance to productivity and innovation will eventually slap them down.

And Alath points out why pure libertarianism probably can not exist; it diverges from Constitutionalism in that the border thing and those foreign wars (redundant) are exactly where government Constitutionally does belong.

Blast Hardcheese said...


Doubleplusohhellyeah on the Orion links you posted. IIRC, they even had come up with a way to launch one from the ground. A large plate of graphite would act as a good launching pad, and would not contribute to fallout. Of course, the propellant bombs would have to be sufficiently 'clean'.

Also IIRC, the Orion concept is one of the few propulsion methods that becomes more efficient at larger masses. The more payload you launch, the less relative amount of propulsion you need.

All in all, a very cool concept that should have been further developed.

Flight-ER-Doc said...

And the original orion (project bang-bang) is an example of how governmental screwing in things it doesn't understand holds back progress: Orion died because of the treaty preventing 'militarizing' space...and the only people who had nukes then (or now) are governments for military purposes.

Anonymous said...

You can't blame Tang or TV dinners on NASA. OTOH, they also can't take credit for instant coffee, freeze-drying, computers, or microwave. Those were WWII.

NASA may have been a popular and efficient vehicle for distributing tax money, but it's not a patch on a rip-snorting World War.

Sooner or later, every statist realizes this.

jeff said...

Fuck NASA.

FWIW, Back to the Moon by Homer H. Hickam Jr. is a great read.

Dustydog said...

Careful now! Go too far down this road, and you'll realize that Lincoln was wholly wrong, and that the Confederacy had absolute legal standing to secede from the Union.

It takes a strong mind to even consider the idea that abolition of slavery and preservation of the Union were unconstitutional and totalitarian.

Once you agree that freeing the slaves was a moral necessity, you don't get to pick and choose which moral necessities other people want.

Kristopher said...

Non-sequitor, Dustydog.

Just because it is in the Constitution, does not make it moral.

Generally, Libertarians consider the Constitution itself to be an unlawful coup-de-tat, only barely ameliorated by the BoR.

We trot out that document mostly to gig conservatives with it. The leftists are shameless, so we hardly bother with them.

Tam said...

"Dustydog" is obviously new here.