Archive for November, 2012

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Travel by asteroid

November 15, 2012

David Hardy painting of an asteroid-based spaceship

For a long time scientists and science fiction writers have postulated using an asteroid as either an orbital base or a non-FTL starship. Books like Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow use spacefaring asteroid ships because it appears to be a monumental problem to lift enough material out of Earth’s gravity well to build a starship from scratch. John Ringo’s Troy Rising series uses an asteroid, melted and inflated, as a fortress to defend Earth from aliens entering through a hyperspace gate.

SPOILER AHEAD! In fact, Ringo goes farther and, using an Orion-style nuclear bomb drive, turns his fortress into a mobile battle platform, taking it through the gate and to the battle.

I just finished Dr. Travis Taylor’s new book, A New American Space Plan, and I was struck by something that I never really considered much before. Maybe we can get to Mars using current, or near-future technology. NASA is now setting its sights on a mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid. (Or it was last I looked. NASA plans change every day.) Beyond that – let’s say we want to go to Jupiter – it’s going to be orders of magnitude more difficult. When the AE-35 antenna pointing unit failed in “2001” – OK, Hal did it, but still – they happened to have the parts or whatever to fix it. They didn’t have to, but were prepared to.

So let’s say we’ve got a Discovery-class ship, three crew in suspended animation, two minding the store on the Long Trip Out. Something breaks, or the classic Dramatic Meteor Impact happens and breaks something – something that is not available on the ship. We’re basically screwed. Don’t tell me 3D printing technology will save us. It won’t build a microchip for a really, really, long time. And a whole antenna, say 20 feet in diameter? Probably not. We don’t have Ringo’s fabbers, and if we have to wait for those, we won’t go to Jupiter for a long while.

We could do it by what Robert Zubrin, author of the “Mars Direct” concepts, derisively called the “Battlestar Galactica” approach: a gigantic fleet of ships, traveling together for mutual aid and protection. But if lifting one ship’s parts out of the gravity well is hard, lifting 20 is a lot harder.

So let’s see…maybe we can grab a Near-Earth Asteroid, bolt a bunch of stuff on it, drill it out or blow it out with nukes, and build a habitat inside. Maybe not for hundreds of people – let’s say, 50 or so. That’s a lot of lifting but not as much as the other alternatives. Ion drive, solar sail, Orion or Orion-derived nuclear pulse drive – any of them would probably work. It would just take a while to go someplace.

Look at it as if you are driving your motor home cross country and have to take your machine shop along because nobody stocks parts for your vehicle. The bigger the vehicle, and the more people, the more likely it is you can fabricate what you need. And most of the mass is nickel-iron asteroid, which is also providing a lot of radiation shielding. Instead of thinking of a trip to Jupiter as taking a few years, maybe you’ll take decades. Running a closed environmental system like that isn’t easy, but it’s easier than a lot of the alternatives. Eventually we’ll have some better drives, and we can get around the system faster.

Has anyone ever calculated how much toilet paper is needed for a five-year trip?

I don’t see this happening in the next 10 years, but it could be done a lot sooner than most every other idea I’ve heard for deep space interplanetary travel as long as we lack a superdrive. Those are based mostly on magic and good intentions right now.

Once we know how to do that, we can build bigger ones and send people to the stars. By then we should have a pretty good idea which ones have planets we could live on.

I wasn’t a fan of the NASA asteroid mission scenario until now. Now I hope we can get there. We won’t just be learning how the solar system is put together, but how to build a better spaceship.

A pity, though. I kind of like the Blake’s 7 Liberator as a spaceship design. Of course, it was built by aliens…

Blake’s 7 “Liberator” – lots cooler than flying a hunk of rock!

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Recent observations on our second-term ObamaWorld

November 14, 2012

The “tax the rich” mania in France is now bad enough that the world’s 5th richest man, Bernard Arnault, is applying for Belgian citizenship. He is a self-made multi-billionaire, not one who inherited his money, and he’s apparently had it with the confiscatory tax laws in his native country.

Now Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, is applying for Australian citizenship. He says it’s out of a love of the country, but maybe his accountants are telling him what’s coming up for him. (Ok, I can’t stand it…the Woz is going to Oz. There, I had to let that out!)

George Lucas sold LucasFilm to Disney before the end of this year for over $ 4 billion. you can’t tell me his accountants didn’t warn him what was coming up next year.

Companies all over the US are laying off people now, and some are brave enough to say publicly that they are reducing staff or cutting hours because of the impending impact of Obamacare.

There is no evidence the estimated $ 2 trillion in cash US companies are sitting on will be invested any time soon. They held onto it all through the last four years to keep it from being misspent by the Obama Administration. That will make job growth all the more difficult. This is not an environment in which companies want to take risk!

Meanwhile, we still practice the politics of distraction. It worked so well pre-election, why stop now? The General Petraeus affair is much more important than the administration’s mess of Benghazi, isn’t it? And the media cheerfully report it. We love the lurid details, but now we have had so many such affair revelations, how new and scandalous is it, really?

I think the media folks are really kind of pissed when they have to deal with Benghazi. Isn’t that old news? And it’s not like it was Watergate, or something big like that. (Even though no Americans died as a result of Watergate…)  John McCain’s response to a reporter today was pretty good, and very honest. Bless him.

I don’t really know what the fuss is all about, after all. We’ve already seen over the last four years that the Obama Administration can shred the Constitution, that Supreme Court justices can pull the most ridiculous reasoning out of thin air to justify a decision, and that lies made by government officials are routinely reported as truth. And the President’s Press Secretary just says, “Well, he didn’t know about that.”

Through all of this, Democrats were still re-elected, or were elected over Republicans in a number of Congressional races, and the President was re-elected. Apparently nothing that is done by this government that is unlawful or immoral really matters.

What are we to do, anyway? We can’t affect Washington. Voting for candidates is always about finding the lesser of the evils, right? It will never be better…might as well watch TV, lose ourselves in video games, and let the politicians take care of us. Thank God Apple has given us such wonderful toys with which to distract ourselves.

Even if we would rise up, they own the military. They will always be able to compel our obedience at the point of a gun. Tar and pitchforks lose out to tanks. I remember the so-called student uprising in China a couple of decades ago. It looked like there was hope…then there was none.

Do I think it could come to this? Perhaps. I fear not enough Americans care enough to give “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” should that be what is necessary to preserve our Republic.

Good Lord, I hope it does not come to this. But I find no alternative right now. In Europe, the downward spiral has been going on for some time. But they have had us to help bail them out. What happens when we need the bailout? Will China do it?

I think that is unlikely. I hate to sound so depressing, but I have only seen evidence since the election that our leaders  either caving in or making only a feeble attempt to slow the slide somewhat.

How do we stop this?

 

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He won it fair and square, he did…

November 12, 2012

A short piece on the interesting numbers coming out of the election, over at Keep Americans Free!

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Bill Kristol caves, buys in on the Obama tax meme

November 12, 2012

Now, in full disclosure: I subscribe and read The Weekly Standard, and I like a lot of the articles I’ve read over the years. But over the last few years I’ve noticed that Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol, who edit the magazine, have become bughouse nuts.

A couple of years ago I went to a downtown Chicago hotel to hear Fred Barnes speak at an event put on by the Heritage Foundation. (A group I highly recommend, by the way.) Barnes, who I enjoyed on Fox New’s opinion panels, was rambling and, I’m sorry to say, pointless. I don’t know why. Soon after, though, I noticed he was making less sense on Fox, and last I saw he isn’t on anymore.

Bill Kristol has always seemed a little more aristocratic to me, even though he doesn’t come from those roots. His father, Irving Kristol, is considered the “Father of Neoconservatism,” which means he was an influential writer but nobody but the MSM ever came up with a definition of neoconservatism. They just called it “those nuts who think we should go to war with Iraq.”

Just for background, neoconservatives are generally considered to be those who formerly were liberals, but who rejected certain parts of the liberal agenda, but not always all of it. The term got tossed around a lot post-9/11 because publications like The Weekly Standard were strongly in favor of going into the Middle East and, to put it simply, kicking some ass.

They were not alone in this, of course. However, I would be willing to bet that a lot of the folks who became neoconservatives were against the Vietnam War, and not necessarily for the right reasons, just anti-war in general. Many neocons are of Jewish decent, and Jews have been Democratic-leaning for many years. (In fact, Irving Kristol wrote a piece entitled “The Liberal Tradition of American Jews,” in which he attempts to explain why American Jews cling so tightly to the liberal beliefs of the current version of the Democratic Party, even when it rejects support of Israel. Google it.)

Whatever the reason, some former liberals became conservative at least in terms of international affairs and national defense, but they did not necessarily reject the concept of the “limited welfare state.” Of course, such beliefs were pretty much in line with Bush 43’s “compassionate conservatism,” so it was no surprise that they supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Back to son Bill Kristol. His recent comments, which you can find on Breitbart.com, seem to indicate his support for increased taxes on the rich. He’s one of those fair-weather conservatives, like House Speaker John Boehner, who has decided that caving in to the so-called Obama mandate is the way to lead the opposition.

(Of course, no one is even bringing up the fact that the election might have been stolen. The people who should be investigating are celebrating Obama’s “historic” second term.)

But Kristol is so off-the-cuff, so dismissive, in his comments, as to irritate me far more. Boehner was always a weak conservative, if conservative at all. I though Kristol was smarter and made of sterner stuff. Apparently not:

“Elections have consequences… The leadership in the Republican Party and the leadership in the conservative movement has to pull back, let people float new ideas. Let’s have a serious debate. Don’t scream and yell when one person says, ‘You know what? It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires.’ It really won’t, I don’t think. I don’t really understand why Republicans don’t take Obama’s offer to freeze taxes for everyone below $250,000. Make it $500,000–make it a million. Really? The Republican Party’s going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires? Half of whom vote Democratic, and half of whom live in Hollywood, and are hostile to Republican principles?”  — Bill Kristol, Fox News Sunday, November 11, 2012

Except that Obama will begin with those over whatever limit he says, then lower it, then lower it again, knowing that nearly half the country doesn’t pay federal income taxes now and that the revenue generated by only taxing the “rich” (which includes small business owners, of course) is a drop in the bucket.

I agree that making Democrat millionaires pay more is a good thing. They want to, right? Anyone who wants to contribute more to the Federal coffers is invited to do so. But I don’t see Warren Buffett writing that multi-billion-dollar check any time soon, despite what he says publicly.

But all taxation is theft. Our “representatives” are no longer representing us. Using terms like “a mandate from the people” they systematically take more and more of our property to redistribute. Not all is redistributed to those in need, either, despite the protestations of these “representatives.” More and more often it is used to buy favor to help those people maintain their positions and lifestyles in Washington and elsewhere, and to entice individuals and companies to do their bidding.

So Kristol’s remark either shows a very shallow understanding of what this President has publicly said time and time again as to his beliefs about the distribution of wealth, or he has become a part of this conciliatory Washington in-crowd elitist Republicanism trend.

Now is a time for courage, for standing fast, for standing athwart history, yelling, “Stop!” It is not a time for bending to the will of this President. We will never be able to go back from the brink if we do. As it is I am afraid we may have gone too far and are destined to become a European-style socialist state. But if we are to stop it, or at least slow the decline, we must reject the conciliatory memes being tossed around in Washington. We will be hearing far more about how the Republican party needs to drop its opposition to abortion, to immigration “reform,” to the welfare state. But that just turns them into a weak version of the Democrats, and takes them away from beliefs about America that we hold dear. Maybe the Beltway Republicans will do it. Maybe even Karl Rove will do it. But those of us outside of the Beltway will not. We will not be turned away. If need be, we will reject the Republican party in favor of one that will support and champion our beliefs. And this time, a third party will have real influence and not merely serve as a spoiler.

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I never expected these election numbers

November 8, 2012

OK, I promised I wouldn’t have anything else to say, but I hadn’t seen this data since I pretty much ignored everything election-related until today at noon.

13 million fewer voters turned out nationally for this election than in 2008 – 3 million Republicans, and 10 million Democrats.

Do not consider this a mandate for Democrat policies, friends.

 

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Ben Stein on the election

November 8, 2012

I don’t believe in his stand on taxes, but this piece by Ben Stein in The American Spectator is interesting.

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My only comments on the election

November 8, 2012

Will the sun now set on these United States of America?

As Dr. Pournelle reminds us, “despair is a sin.”

But I fear greatly for our families and our Republic.

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” – Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry, one of the most important voices of our War for Independence, refused to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787 out of concern the Federal Government would grow too large, saying, “I smell a rat in Philadelphia.” His speeches became major portions of the Anti-Federalist Papers.