May 14th, 2014

#4222: The space in government's cranial cavity.

Karl Denninger discusses our stupid space policy.

Really, when I think about the stuff that really matters to the long-term success of our country, it occurs to me how much of that shit has been completely and thoroughly bungled by every President since Kennedy--and he was no great shakes, either, though he got some of the larger details right.

The best thing ever done by a Democrat politician in the past sixty years was Kennedy's emphasis on space exploration. That was forward-looking; it led to a technological explosion that was rivaled only by WW2, and one of the follow-on effects of the Space Race was the creation of entire industries that simply did not exist--could not--beforehand. (I'm looking at you, personal computers.)

But other than that, Kennedy was an idiot, like nearly every other President we've had since except for Ronald Reagan. Reagan understood the unsustainability of socialism and the policies that informed every other President's decisions. Reagan's policies were predicated on the fact that we must choose our future and that the only way we could do that was to be strong and take the long view.

Unlike just about every other President since Kennedy, who thought only of the next news cycle and election season, who took to heart their ivy league educators' insistence on the Marxist view of history, who--consciously or not--seem to think that government funds just appear magically in a giant money basket.

Although a lot of my commentary in this vein centers on the nonexistence of a coherent energy policy, it really does apply to other areas of our government as well. Our energy policy is nonsensical at best; you'd think we'd have learned our lesson after the Arab Oil Embargo, but we didn't, and that's why we continue to buy oil from all over the world--and pay their prices for it!--rather than exploit our own domestic sources and let the rest of the world go scratch.

An energy policy that makes sense, long-term, in a few easy bullet points:
* Rein in or abolish the EPA.
* Stop importing petroleum and exploit domestic sources.
* Make it easier to expand refinery capacity, so we don't have to run refineries 24/365 and buy refined products from other countries.
* End use of coal and gas for power generation. Use nuclear, and use the waste heat for synthesizing petroleum fuels from coal/gas. Take steps to enable "too cheap to meter" power generation.
* Sell surplus of fuels/crude to other countries.
* End all energy subsidies.
This policy makes sense. It is therefore politically impossible, but a man can dream, can't he?

"Too cheap to meter" electricity is the centerpiece of this. If electricity is too cheap to meter, people will naturally switch to things that use it rather than continue to buy petroleum by the gallon. The result is greatly reduced tailpipe emissions and an immense drop in the need (real or imagined) for the EPA.

And without making gasoline illegal, I might add; under this plan it would still be available, and people who preferred internal combustion could still use it. Notice that under this plan petroleum fuels (synthetic or not) are still available, and "Big Oil" is still making and selling the stuff...but it's primarily an export rather than an import. It reverses the flow of wealth, and as a bonus it turns the US into the world center for the development of electric vehicles and infrastructure. (Because "too cheap to meter" won't work on the power grid we have now; this I know.)

But it is, as I said, politically impossible.

Our space policies have been similarly brain-dead. One of two things should have been done: either NASA should have been abolished after 1975, or it should have been allowed to continue running at the pace of the 1960s. The NASA budget was never a significant fraction of the total federal budget, but after Nixon it was a shadow of its former self. They didn't cancel Apollo 18 because they wanted to, after all. (Though it must be said that if they hadn't canceled Apollo 18, the Johnson Space Center would not now have its lovely lawn ornament....)

The Space Shuttle was needlessly complex, but it was further overcomplicated by Congress treating the thing as a source of pork. Challenger exploded because the SRBs were manufactured thousands of miles from Cape Canaveral; shipping them required that they be manufactured in segments and Morton Thiokol had already paid all that money for their Congressman. Because they were built in segments, they had to be assembled on-site, and that required some kind of easy-to-assemble sealing system (the o-ring joints) and we know how that worked out. The Shuttle required SRBs because NASA hadn't been given enough money to build their original design, which had a booster that was flown back to the launch site by a pilot. (But you can go back even farther that that: the X-15 program was working its way towards an orbit-capable vehicle...only after Yuri Gagarin, the program was canceled so all the space money could go to NASA. But since the X-15 was primarily a military program it's a different ball of wax.)

In the decades that I've paid attention to the matter, NASA's budget has never been as much as 1% of the total federal budget--not even during the Reagan years--yet it has always been the first thing on the chopping block whenever the herd in Congress began browsing around the "cut spending" trough. The social spending apparatus of the federal government burns through fifty-odd NASA budgets per year (at about $4 million per minute, it spends the equivalent of NASA's budget in five days) yet somehow NASA is always the biggest target for cutting "waste".

...mainly because there are no voters in space.

Other people--who are much smarter than I am--have talked about ways to fix all this. But again, it's politically impossible, because the people who really care about this issue are by far and away outnumbered by the people who would much rather ride the government gravy train (full throttle all the way, to the end of the line in Clayton Eastwood Canyon) and see any non-social expenditure as a threat to their way of life.

This set is not limited to the takers, of course, but also includes the government itself. Particularly those who derive their power from distributing the government cheese.

It's almost like the great explorers of the Renaissance being told, "Stop all that fiddling around in boats! You're just throwing money into the ocean, when we have problems to solve here in (Spain/Portugal/Italy/England/France/etc)." The money spent on exploring the world was negligible compared to the benefits and the long-term successes, and it was also negligible compared to the money spent on domestic programs. The difference is, the people in charge back then understood what was at stake, and could see what would happen if they recused themselves from playing the game.

In many ways, though, the energy policies and the space policies suffer from the same basic defect. That defect is the ruling class of the US thinking, "Hey, we're all friends now, and everything will be fine!" The Arab Oil Embargo happened because Nixon was a jerk, not because the arabs didn't like us. We're different! We're nice to everyone, and they like us! Look at how they smile at us and shake our hands when we go to big important summits in posh places around the world! We're all in the same club, so of course our interests are the same! Right? And if we have to make noises about "sanctions" and such, they'll understand that we just have to do that for the rubes back home and that we don't really mean it, and we'll undo the sanctions quietly after the whole mess dies down. Right?


Denninger concludes (emphasis removed), "Thank the last several Presidents and Congresses -- they're all responsible for this."

Indeed they are.

#4223: Waking up with a headache.

That's something I don't normally do these days, and haven't had happen for a while. Ordinarily the alarm clock wakes me up before that can happen, and even on days when the alarm clock is not set I still wake up to hit the can thanks to having plumbing that's almost 47 years old, and I'll normally nibble on something to shut my stomach up, before I go back to bed.

Not so today. I did have to hit the can, but had absolutely no interest in food...and so now I sit here with a headache. Yet more proof as if I needed it) that my hunger reflex is all screwed up. Argh etc.

Making things even more entertaining? I had to run the heat this morning. Woke up and it was balls cold in the bunker, so I cranked up the thermostat. Cripes.

(Actually, because I had to run the AC over the weekend, technically I cranked down the thermostat and switched modes, but you know what I mean.)

* * *

Last night I made a delicious banana cake with cream cheese frosting. They came from a box and can, respectively, but it's still good.

* * *

One of the issues I have with my wife's motorcycle is how notchy the gearshift gets when it's thoroughly warmed up. When I start the thing up and take it over to #PROVING_GROUNDS, the shift lever is beautifully smooth. When it's time to come home after a couple hours of practice, though, it's incredibly stiff.

Now, part of that might be that Mrs. Fungus has not yet progressed to the "shift to 2nd gear" stage of things. The past few times has been mainly getting her used to the bike and learning how to make smooth starts and stops, and learning how to make the bike go where she wants it to go, including making decently tight turns rather than broad sweeping ones. Much of this involved her not having to look at the controls, which--again--is something she could only get with practice, hence "getting used to the bike".

She's doing very well. Every time we go out, she gets better; it's just that she's starting out with zero experience. She never rode a mini-bike or anything, and never drove a manual transmission vehicle before. She's ridden bicycles, of course, but when you ride a bike you don't have to split your attention between throttle and clutch and brake and gearshift and turn signal and--

(No I am not making her use turn signals yet. That will come much later.)

So she can start and stop the bike, using throttle and clutch and brake correctly, and she can make nice tight turns. She's learned how to find neutral, too. But because she's not shifting gears yet, she's riding around in first gear, and I think that's why it's so stiff after a training session. At least, I hope it is, because it's going to be a little while before I can buy a service manual for the bike and double-check the adjustments. (I would hope that the guy who sold it to us had checked all that stuff, but I certainly don't assume he did.)

* * *

Anyway, today the projected high is 57, though at 1:35 it's barely 55. In the latter half of May. Yeah.