Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Space-Launch Mass Drivers and von Neumann machines: Science meets Science Fiction

The notion of gun-propelled launch goes back to Jules Verne. Such Mass Drivers have been envisioned in numerous Sci Fi tales, including Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Heart of the Comet by Benford & Brin. We've also seen them portrayed in Buck Rogers, Babylon 5 and Halo. Now, two researchers propose that a space-capable mass driver may be feasible. Startram would act as an electromagnetic catapult, using maglev technology, to accelerate and launch spacecraft into orbit, without using rockets or propellant. James Powell and George Maise take a highly optimistic view, claiming that a system capable of launching payload into orbit for less than $40/kg could be built using existing technology—if we were to gather substantial international support.

Sloping a launcher along the western face of Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador or Mt. Kenya would allow a very profitable/cheap launch system for cargo. But see the concept for a 1200 km long version (to spread out the g-load) for passengers! And yes, we studied stuff like this long ago, back when I worked at CalSpace.

A slanted mass drive along Chimborazo (and yes it needs to be near the equator) would need "super-capacitor" surge capability, far exceeding the ability of nuclear plants to deliver in real time. But here's how you do it:

You have several nuclear power plants--but their main job is to raise/pump water to several big/high artificial lakes. When you fire, you DRAIN those lakes through many-many-many rapid tubes to standard hydro-power turbines. The nukes are just for steady replenishment of the lakes.

This is highly do-able with existing tech. Especially if you have whirling tether grabbers awaiting in low earth orbit. These could snag the cargoes and give them circularization momentum... or else act as electrodynamic tugs from there.  (To learn the principles involved, see my short story Tank Farm Dynamo.)

Hence, the cargoes might not even have to take along the fuel to circularize and the tethers themselves use solar power to replenish the donated momentum. Again, there's nothing to research... just develop. We could be doing it within 5-10 years.

==Autofacs and von Neumann Machines==

Philip K. Dick’s 1955 post-apocalyptic story, Autofac, short for Automatic Factories, was one of the earliest fictional portrayals of nanotechnology and self-replicating machines – an example of von Neumann probes, which he called “Universal Assemblers.” Carl Sagan and Freeman Dyson both argued that the reason we have observed no self-reproducing probes in the universe is because the probes would spread like a cancer; building such probes would be suicidal to their creators and destructive to any species they encounter.

Indeed, Dick’s Autofac is set after war has devastated much of Earth; robotic autofacs scavenge and monopolize the planet’s remaining resources (“We mere people come second.”), to build devices that humans no longer need. Humans have lost the ability to communicate with or control the autofacs, as they continue their relentless autonomous activity: “Maybe some of them are geared to escape velocity. That would be neat – autofac networks throughout the universe.” Would it really? My next novel, Existence, will offer a new take on some of these probes…

==Terminator Goggles==

Augmented Reality is soon to arrive: Google Goggles are smart glasses with heads-up display that will stream in real time to a screen in your field of view, providing GPS, facial recognition, web info, entertainment (and ads)—operated by voice control and/or head motions. Image recognition tech will overlay names of colleagues or buildings, background on historic landmarks or artwork, restaurant or movie reviews. Will all this expand soon (as I portray in a coming novel) to plaster everyone on the street with nametags? Perhaps credibility ratings ... or the opinions and "reviews" of past dates or spouses?

==And more Science Fiction==

An article about our ongoing efforts to use science fiction as a tool for teaching and stimulating bright minds -- Reading for the Future -- has been published in the December 2011 issue of VOYA (the magazine for young adult librarians).  It's a worthy effort that will continue at this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, next August. Read about how Sci Fi can help save the next generation and civilization! Tell teachers and librarians. And consider helping. Also see a collection of resources for using Science Fiction in the classroom.

Isaac Asimov identified three basic types of science fiction scenarios: What if, If only and If this goes on…. Paul Di Filippo has written - in a cover piece for Salon - a fascinating review of two recent sci fi novels exploring Big Ideas of the ‘What if’ category. In Arctic Rising, Tobias Buckell spins a massive geoengineering project to counter climate change. Meanwhile Matt Ruff’s The Mirage is an alternate history in which America is a backward, fundamentalist nation, breeding terrorists responsible for destroying the World Trade Towers of Baghdad…Well worth a look.

And now Elon Musk, of SpaceX, claims that within ten years, he will be able to send passengers to Mars (and back!) for $500,000. Science or science fiction?  Only a fool would bet against Elon.  So I might as well sign on!

61 comments:

sociotard said...

Did Mr. Transparency ever comment on the "Company demands facebook login and password" story? It honestly really bugs me, even more than the non-reciprocal drug testing. Seriously, everyone above middle management should have to take scheduled and random drug tests and have the results emailed to all the lower levels. And now, apparently, they should lose their online privacy rights too.

And now for something completely different:
I have no idea how likely it is to come to be, but I love it when people plan on scifi solutions to real world problems:

To Avoid Shutdown, Torrent Site Will Host Servers on Flying Drones

LarryHart said...

Reposted from the last thread. Sorry to interrupt a new topic, but I wanted this seen today, the day following the Illinois primaries:

I work 30 miles from home, and I pass through many different towns and cross a county line on the way. So I see several different taxing jurisdictions which affect gas prices. As such, I know where I'm going to find the cheapest gas and the more expensive gas. There's a station close to work in DuPage county that is typically 10 or 15 cents cheaper than the stations closer to home in Cook County. But when prices shoot up 25 cents overnight, for some reason, the one close to home lags the rest by a day or so. Thus, if I notice (as I did Tuesday morning) that the "cheap" station is suddenly going for $4.49 instead of the $4.24 of the previous day, it's an early warning system to buy my gas at home that very afternoon, before the price at my home station also rises.

This time, it was weird, though. As I said, Tuesday gas by work went from $4.24 up to $4.49. That price increase was also reflected in stations closer to home, so I know I didn't just dream it or misread the sign. However, Wednesday morning, a mere 24 hours later, it was back to $4.24.

It was a quarter a gallon higher JUST on the day of the Illinois primary elections.

Could that have been done on purpose for some reason?

Jumper said...

Lately I figure a realistic Mars mission would take a lot of supply missions first. A years worth of food, fuel, and tools need to be there prior to human arrival. Taking several years to reach Mars is cheaper than fast transits, as I understand it. So there is that cost saving.

Also I wanted to thank Rewinn for his wise commentary in the prior post.

Von said...

http://www.slingatron.com/Publications/Linked/Slingatron%20Mass%20Launchers%201.pdf

Slingatron Tech. may be more affordable. Here is a link with math, for those interested in mass drivers.

Dave Rickey said...

Google Goggles: I want, but not for the reasons Google wants me to. Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted 360 degree wraparound vision, and the technology for doing it has been available for the last 10 years or so. The catch being that the display glasses have been way too expensive. If Google puts out a consumer product based on that display, I'll finally have my Bug Vision(TM).

--Dave (actually, for various reasons I'll probably settle for a window towards the bottom of my FOV that gives a compressed version of the view my eyes can't see)

alanuk said...

I see the limiting factor for mankind at the moment is energy.

We need energy sources with a higher energy density than fossil fuels. And current nuclear fission has too many complications.

For example the power requirements to fast change an electric powered 747 (not that one exists) is in the low GW range. I assume an electromagnetic catapult is in the TW range? or higher?

I've not seen the evolution of energy technology discussed as part of the fermi-paradox/drake equation.

What if fossil fuels had been scarce on this planet? (Which would imply helium scarcity). Technological advancement would have stalled in the 17-18th century. The industrial revolution would not have been possible. A plausible technology path would be organic, but I'd cant see how any form of space mission would be possible.

Our level of technology progress was only possible with fossil fuels. Just simple materials like iron production stalled when wood became scarce, and only became viable again using coal. The same applies to all minerals.

And taking current areas of research and extrapolating. A polywell/Dense plamsa focus fusion reactor would make space travel around this solar system viable for humans (travel times).

At fusion sub light speeds missions to near solar systems (unmaned) become plausible.

I'm kinda hoping that the Fermi-paradox is not indirect proof that fusion is not possible. And we are in a very rare position that fusion is within our grasp.

Tim H. said...

According to the wikipedia article, EMC2 will be working on WB8.1 this year, so I'm hopeful. Polywell fusors displacing coal fired plants would be even better than the S-Prism variant of IFR replacing conventional nuclear power. What ground transport might look like when electricity becomes very affordable? Rail becomes mostly electric, long haul trucking fades, it gets expensive to live beyond EV delivery truck range, and plug in hybrids make economic sense, I like that the gas motor only needs to start when you're 80 klicks on the way, if I could afford one. Carbon-based energy doesn't have to get more expensive for this to happen, electricity only has to get more affordable.

duncan cairncross said...

Tim H said
electricity only has to get more affordable.

Not really - electricity is already a lot cheaper than petrol

We need cheaper batteries - lighter would be good as well

Batteries are just a bit too expensive and heavy

We (DIY guys) can buy batteries for about $300/Kwhr - or $300 for 3 miles of range

100 miles range costs ~$10,000 and weighs ~ 200Kg

There are a number of promising technologies that look to reducing the cost and weight by a factor of 3 - then EV's will become ubiquitous

Tim H. said...

The cheaper electricity gets, the easier it is to embrace EVs. Another interesting thing, with plug-in hybrids, short range ceases to be such a deal killer. Not as clean as some would like, but a useful intermediate step until we get something like Heinlein's "shipstones".

Hypnos said...

David, I’ll try to answer point by point. And keep this in mind, I’m bringing up this points as much out of a spirit of contrariness as out of personal belief. I actually want to believe that the West has found some mechanism for bettering humanity and achieving real universal progress. It’s just that after studying environmentalism and the history of contemporary Africa (through my girlfriend who’s getting a doctoral degree in African cultural studies, focusing on the ex-Italian colonies in the Horn)

“Only one civilization even created systems of law that over-ruled men. Only one created a diamond shaped social structure or effective processes of reciprocal accountability (that are always imperfect and always under threat.”
I don’t know enough about the history of jurisprudence to chime in on the first point. But the diamond shaped social structure existed for such a short period of time, and for such a small proportion of humanity, that I wonder whether it really was the product of Western ingenuity, or an accident of history quickly remedied. And most importantly, it could be argued that the diamond was created only for the imperial core of Western civilization, the United States, by plundering the resources of much of the rest of the world. In that sense, the USA are the top 5%, taking 25% of global resources for themselves. Europe and the Anglo-Sphere, as the imperial periphery, get the rest of the spoils. The rest of the world is sacked much like Roman provinces were.
When you look at the world as a whole, the wealth of the West was only achieved by plunder of other civilizations. And when some of those civilizations started rising up and reclaiming their place at the table, Western elites shifted back to plundering their own populations.
.
On women liberation and racism:
There were plenty of tribal societies with full gender equality, especially in Africa. In a lot of conquered cultures the predominance of men over women is the result of conversion to Christianity (or Islam) brought about by the West. And the concept of race as a biological concept was pretty much invented by the West, chiefly Northern Europeans, to justify its treatment of Africans. The Romans had no such concept of biological race – they only discriminated based on cultural achievement. You could see some of that lingering in more Roman-influenced colonial powers, such as France, where African elites were considered French if they absorbed the culture. No such thing was possible in the British Empire, and the United States were (and in many aspects still are) one of the most racist societies on Earth (probably beaten by Japan though).

“Only one made the future a major agenda item, with the assumption that things will NOT be the same for our grandchildren. And that might, just might, be a good thing.”
Or a bad one. As I said the jury is still very much out on that one, and things are looking down on the wrong side now. We are utterly refusing to deal with the climate crisis, with the pinnacle of Western civilization, the USA, shrouding itself in outright denial, and we are also refusing to deal with the energy resource crisis, telling ourselves that tar sands or shale gas or another rape of the Earth on a massive scale will just be the thing that keeps us going forever. Again, the USA is the leader of this macabre movement. All this to preserve the idea of infinite material growth – that our grandchildren will have more. Will they be better because they will have more things to play with? I doubt it.
John Stuart Mill called for a “steady state” to be the crowning achievement of Western civilization. This obsession with continuous material improvement might well be a betrayal of Enlightenment ideals.

Hypnos said...

“If sensible and enlightened westerners do not win their current culture war, one can easily picture Diamond's scenarios coming true.”

They can also become true as a consequence of Western ideals triumphing, and the world collapsing under the weight of unsustainable growth and environmental devastation. One can imagine the new civilizations arising from the ashes trying to pursue a much different model of development.

“It is pure mythology to claim non-western nations were better, overall, re the environment. China today is an ecological disaster area and there were frequent mini-collapses across the rule of prior dynasties.”
The environmental devastation is very much a result of Western-like development inspired by a Western ideology, communism. Remember Mao banned all Chinese traditions and brought about the greatest destruction of the cultural heritage of a civilization in history, with the Cultural Revolution. And as I said, yes, the Chinese empire suffered plenty of collapses, but as a result of its conservatism it never overshot its resource based so much that the collapse completely destroyed the civilization as it happened with Rome. A sustainable core always persevered and rebuilt.
Does the West have such a sustainable core to start rebuilding?


“Sure, Mexico and India were richer, RELATIVELY, before contact with the west. They were also extremely stratified, with 99% of the population living in grinding poverty and no hope of change.”
80% of the world’s population lives in grinding poverty with no hope of change NOW. We have not abolished stratification, we have only made it global.

“It is the rise of our present day standards... by which we regret the crimes of Cortez... that shows why the West must continue strong for another generation.”
These standards were never applied to anyone outside of the West. They still aren’t. This is the core of my critique. This is the same as Enlightenment thinkers calling for “universal” human rights that excluded the vast majority of the world.

When Latin American countries attempted to develop much as the USA and the Europe had done, through industrial protectionism, their governments were overthrown and substituted with compliant dictatorships that opened their borders and allowed the plunder to continue. Unsurprisingly, they remained poor. They are only starting to develop now, as rival powers against a weakened West. The same is true across most of Africa and Asia. Local elites obviously share a large part of the blame, but then again a local elite enriching itself while acting as a conduit of wealth towards the imperial core is the standard modus operandi of any empire. It is even applicable to the US South!
In conclusion, everything you say about the West could be true… if hippies ruled it. As it is, it is just another empire, careening towards its likely demise.

Jumper said...

Now Harrison Ford can stop griping about doing that "impossible" scene in Blade Runner.
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/story/2012-03-20/see-around-a-corner-camera/53668372/1

Ian Gould said...

Unlike Hyponis, I'm not going to embark on a lengthy debate with you David.

I would however still like a definition of Western Civilization.

Ian Gould said...

I will however note quickly that physical anthropological evidence shows that malnutrition and poor nutrition were far more common in Europe, including England, than in either India or China prior to 1800.

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

Did Mr. Transparency ever comment on the "Company demands facebook login and password" story? It honestly really bugs me, even more than the non-reciprocal drug testing.


I know you mentioned that you can't afford to turn down a potential job offer, and I'm actually in a similar position myself, being outsourced at the end of June. And this is more of a hypothetical question for me, since I don't HAVE a facebook page. But I think I would balk at such a demand, even with the stakes as high as they are.

All the publicity about identity theft and protecting your online presence, and now you're SUPPOSED to give someone else the means to impersonate you?

Seriously, what if they were asking for the keys to your house, the combination to your personal safe, and the entry codes for your safety deposit box?

I would actually consider the possibility that the question is actually a character test--that to pass the test, you have to show you've got integrity enough to say "no thanks."

Chimeradave said...

I'd still rather have a space elevator, but it soulnds like we could accomplish this quicker.

Tacitus2 said...

To Hypnos and LarryHart

Consider if artifically low energy prices are not the equivalent of the free/cheap food provided to the Roman masses to keep them from getting ugly.

Continuing my neo Roman coinage riff:

Sometimes an Emperor would issue a coin to remind the masses of his generosity regards the public dole.

It might be ANNONA or ABUNDITIA, both with an image of a goddess holding a horn of plenty.

We could have the TEXACO guy holding a gas nozzle. Or heck, just a free gas card with the current president on it.

Tacitus
(going off to dig in a month....starting to go full 2nd century on y'all)

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

We could have the TEXACO guy holding a gas nozzle. Or heck, just a free gas card with the current president on it.


I don't disagree with your assessment of cheap energy policy, except for your (increasingly unhealthy) invective toward the current president in particular. At the moment, gas prices are shooting through the roof, and Republicans are in all-out "blame Obama" mode, the implication being that THEY (Republicans) could do better at keeping prices low, while HE (Obama) is hopelessly incompetent at doing so. Newt Gingrich explicitly promised gas prices of $2.50 if elected.

So how President Obama is in fact guilty of pandering to the voters by keeping energy prices artificially low is beyond me.

atomsmith said...

No love for the launch loop? :(

next door Laura said...

LarryHart

You misunderstand me. By specifying the "current president" I meant only to imply that it is a common trick done no matter the orientation of the chief executive at any given time. I think I am in fact more tolerant of the current Chief Executive than y'all are of the last one!

But as has been said so often, internet posting is an imprecise way to sketch mammoths on the cave walls...

And as to how Pres.Obama might "pander" there has at least been some chatter about tapping the Strategic Reserve. But probably just chatter.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

(I know that's really) Tacitus2:

You misunderstand me. By specifying the "current president" I meant only to imply that it is a common trick done no matter the orientation of the chief executive at any given time.


Ok, gotcha. I can see what you meant to say. So as Rosanne Rosannadana would have it, "Oh, that's very different. Nevermind!"


I think I am in fact more tolerant of the current Chief Executive than y'all are of the last one!


On another site I used to frequent, I had a conservative friend who I've mentioned here. I don't use "friend" loosely...a bunch of the posters on that site used to meet in person at the small press comics show called "SPACE" in Columbus, Ohio. The guy I'm talking about was a pal in every way except for politically. I used to give his depiction of the conservative view great consideration.

When Obama became president, the guy seemingly went insane. I don't know how else to describe it. Anything bad was Obama's socialist fault. He insisted that any day now, Obama was planning to institute Ayn Rand's "Directive 10-289" prohibiting individuals from switching jobs or moving. Even though the guy had a scientific background, he insisted that the cold midwest winter of 2010 proved that Al Gore was lying about global warming. He called ME out for slandering conservative because I dared to imply that conservatives claimed Obama was a Muslim.

Point being--my converstaions with you are very much like my conversations with him pre-2008. And sometimes, I'm guilty of expecting the inevitable.

My bad.


But as has been said so often, internet posting is an imprecise way to sketch mammoths on the cave walls...


Or has been also said in Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comic, "Intent and outcome are rarely coincident."


And as to how Pres.Obama might "pander" there has at least been some chatter about tapping the Strategic Reserve. But probably just chatter.


It's been said he might pander that way, sure, but I see no sign of him actually doing so. That was the point I was actually making, even if you weren't the appropriate target for the argument: that there may be all sorts of socialist/Marxist/Muslim/authoritarian things that one might imagine President Obama engaging in, the right campaigns against him as if he has self-evidently fulfilled those expectations, even though he really hasn't.

alanuk said...

TimH. I'd upgrade to an EV tomorrow if they had a better range, for one simple reason. Torque - lots & lots of Torque.

Although EV's are really just a distraction. As a society the important applications which we have no good solution for are

a) Container shipping. China is planning to build a fission powered container ship, which might not go down too well with the international community. ITER/NEF are too big. Polywell/DPF (or other small sized reactor) is the only viable tech.

b) Mining. Typically mines are in remote regions. Its easy to transport fossil fuels on site. Setting up a fission/ITER/NEF plant is too complicated. Connecting to the grid is not always available. A few shipping container sized polywell/dpf's would be ideal.

c) Mineral purification. We have to re-design most purification methods. To complicate matters mineral ores are getting less pure, requiring higher energy inputs to extract & purify.

Cost is complicated, and misses the point about utility. Even if wind power was 1/10 of the cost of a polywell you would have to use a polywell for many applications, container shipping for example.

What POTUS should do is give one billion in funding to every single hot fusion project. It would kick start a new era for the US. Drill-baby-drill is looking back at the past, portable fusion is the future.

Ian Gould said...

Science question time:

The latest metamaterial device renders an object inside it invisible to magnetism.

http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-03-magnetic-cloak-physicists-device-invisible.html

So what happens if you take a bunch of these devices and almost surround a magnetic source with them?

Can you, in effect, focus and magnify a magnetic field?

Ian Gould said...

In terms of storing energy for use in remote locations or for mobile uses, hydrocarbons are still the best available technology.

1. An 80-90% reduction in fossil fuel use, is just that an 80-90% reduction, meaning we can continue to use fossil fuels albeit at a lower rate, indefinitely.

If total consumption of fossil fuels dropped significantly, there'd be enough left to power those specialised uses for millenia.

2. As a STORE of energy, plant-derived hydrocarbons work just as well as fossil fuels.

Even if bio-fuels aren't viable as a primary energy source, they'd make a perfectly acceptable way to supply energy to remote locations and to ships at sea.

Considering the monetary and energy cost involved in transporting fossil fuels to remote areas and storing them, they also function more as a store of energy rather than as a primary source.

3. If the price of contaienr shipping or mining goes up, the market mechanism will cope with tat as it does with any price increase: demand is reduced and people start looking for alternatives.

In the case of bulk sea freight, fuel costs are a small component of total cost - the main costs are the cost of loading and unloading, capital depreciation ad wages.

That's why it costs me about the same to ship a 20 foot container unit to Australia from New Zealand as it does from the US.

At a rough estimate, a doubling of fuel costs might result in a 10% increase in freight costs.

Unmanned robotic ships, which are under development now, and at-sea container transfer without the need to dock would reduce freight costs by enough to more than offset a doubling in fuel costs.

Joel said...

Off topic but interesting.

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/122989-1-5-billion-the-cost-of-cutting-london-toyko-latency-by-60ms

Redundancy, faster network communication between the UK and Japan, and investment in infrastructure for the benefit of some of mankind - all thanks to algorithmic trading.

Somebody owes those financial parasites an apology.

RandyB said...

David and Ian,

I don't want to pollute the new thread rehashing the same old stuff unless somebody desperately sees interest in it. Just wanted to say it's best to leave it there. Maybe we'll pick it up again when it inevitably comes back in the news.

But (at considerable risk of being a schmuck), I just can't resist answering Ian's question, about whether I believe the Chinese communist party won't use torture: I don't believe any communist when they claim to oppose torture.


As a fan of the movie, THINGS TO COME, I always had to snicker a bit at the "space gun" at the end. It'll be ironic if the next man to walk on the moon gets there after being launched by that way.

David Brin said...

Hypnos said: "it could be argued that the diamond was created only for the imperial core of Western civilization, the United States, by plundering the resources of much of the rest of the world."

Except... um... that the absolutely diametrically opposite thing happened. The fastest growing middle classes are all in developing nations. Especially those financed by the greatest foreign aid program the world ever saw: Walmart.

This is so blatantly a case of truth-is-opposite that it rivals the other BiG Left Lie... that violence has increased... when it has plummeted.

"There were plenty of tribal societies with full gender equality, especially in Africa."

Prove this. Almost every time it has been promulgated, it was later disproved. Or take the "gentle" bushmen or !Kung people. They ARE gentle... day to day. But one fellow actually asked: do you know someone who was murdered, or who killed another? It calculated out to Detroit on Saturday night.

"The Romans had no such concept of biological race – they only discriminated based on cultural achievement."

Where do you GET this stuff?????????

In fact, Hypnos YOU are an example of what is right about the West. Your habit of self-aimed criticism... or rather being willing to aim crit at your own culture... is something relatively unique in history but extremely common in our culture. It is why we spot errors and mass movements zero in on them. Like Tobacco smoking, virtually eradicated in Blue America. Environmentalism has much to accomplish, but it is very very busy.

Look, I am not calling you wedged for having the value system of questioning the west's flaws. I think you would gain dredibility if you did not do so with such tired and inaccurate cliches! In fact, there is a lot to criticize and accurate crit can do a lot of good!

Reducing the footprint and increasing the efficiency of a middle class life style is absolutely urgent! If the world goes middle class (as it is, rapidly) but does so with American levels middle class consumption of resources, we are screwed. Efficiency in energy, packaging, transport, and compacting down our luxuries has to be ten-fold... TWENTY FOLD! Remember? I wrote EARTH?

But I also know history really really well. And if you can name a past culture you would actually prefer to this one, I would love to hear it... and make you defend your choice.

==

Ian I leave "western civilization" deliberately vague. There are preliminary signs that one of its centers may soon be Brazil. I'd love to see one in Djakarta.

David Brin said...

== Political Miscellany ==

Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up? A funky video mash. Very funny. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxch yi14BE

I keep consulting with various branches of our “protector caste”... the military services, homeland security, and some “agencies.” I can’t tell you about some of the “future studies” I’ve been involved in. But there is this one onbservation:

Absolutely all of the elite officers of these services is convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that Human Genrated Climate Change (HGCC) is both real and one of the greatest challenges of our time.

The US Navy is striving with great intensity to prepare for an Arctic Ocean that is ice-free for large parts of the year. Nor are they the only ones. Canada is shifting most of its military budget northward. The Russians have moved an entire division to the Siberian northern coast. And dig this. The Russian Navy’s top priority and pride ins the SIX brand new, double-hulled, nuclear powered icebreakers thay have recently put in service. And a year or so ago, the Northwest passage opened so wide that a flood of cargo vessels raced through it from China to Europe. And prospectors are sifting the sea floor, where Peary once spent a summer dragging sledges over ice-continents in search of the Pole.

Are all of these groups (and a myriad more) absolutely convinced that absolutely every single aspect of currect climate theory is absolutley proved in all levels, in all ways? Of course not. They can’t afford prim dogmatism. They have to pragmatically prepare for the world that appears 95% likely (by preponderance of evidence and expert calculations) to be coming.

On the other hand, there is a word for people who refuse to take reasonable precautions, demanding instead (at the behest of a couple of coal-billionaire brothers) that climate theory be absolutley proved in all levels, in all ways.

That word is imbeceilles.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Hypnos

Just to add a tiny bit to David's comments
In tribal societies the largest cause of death is murder - just think about what that means compared to modern societies

The rape of the old Asian societies, all of their resources shipped back to (mostly) Britain

That does not pass the sniff test - Britain and later Europe traded with the Asian empires because they could produce things that were wanted there in hugely greater volume

Steel/Iron, Cloth

There was some upper class robbery but the main flow was the products of the industrial revolution going East

RandyB
"I don't believe any communist when they claim to oppose torture."

I could probably say I don't believe any American when they claim to oppose torture.
Or Brit or Capitalist
All with about the same amount of justification - which is very little

It is noticeable (by those of us that are not Americans)that America has a history of disparaging dubious practices and then performing them with vigor when the opportunity arises
- Unrestricted submarine warfare
Evil when the Germans do it - perfectly OK in the Pacific against the Japanese

A lot of Americans (and probably Brits -but they are quieter about it)
Have the "It's OK if WE do it"
But it's NOT OK - and worse it's counterproductive

David Brin said...

Duncan, actually, one thing Hypnos got right was that the Chinese were self-sufficient and wanted only silver from western traders, till they hit on sending in opium, to drum up a Chinese market for drugs. Whose fault? Certainly the callous East India Company and British govt. But also a Chinese ruler caste that deemed trade to be an unsavory passtime and foreigners to be unworthy of study or understanding or exchange.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi David

The Opium wars were a huge blot on the fairly grubby history of the Empire

China was self sufficient by virtue of its internal capabilities - Until the Industrial revolution got into its stride
Before 1800 China was "ahead"
By 1860 - well behind

Japan was a different kettle of fish with political isolation

Each "empire" was different but on the whole it was by producing more and cheaper goods that the Europeans came to control so much

Even back in Roman times I am not convinced that warfare and conquest "made a profit"

You can sack a country and steal its treasury - but will that pay for the forces you need to do that?

If I was the leader of a country being attacked I would spend my money on mercenaries - or send it away so you would sack an empty treasury

Ian Gould said...

"That does not pass the sniff test - Britain and later Europe traded with the Asian empires because they could produce things that were wanted there in hugely greater volume

Steel/Iron, Cloth

There was some upper class robbery but the main flow was the products of the industrial revolution going East"

Duncan, the British and the other imperial powers forced their colonies to buy those "products of the industrial revolution".

Why do you think it was a revolutionary act for Gandhi to spin cloth?

If they weren't making an obscene profit off that trade why were they all at such pains to maintain a monopoly on trade with their colonies?

Why did latecomers like Belgium Italy and Germany go to such pains to acquire colonies?

duncan cairncross said...

"Duncan, the British and the other imperial powers forced their colonies to buy those "products of the industrial revolution"."

Nonsense - the imperial powers reduced the choice "to buy our cloth"
But the product was wanted
Even when it was opium!


"Why do you think it was a revolutionary act for Gandhi to spin cloth? "

Timing is all!
By Gandhi's time cloth could be made cheaper in India - and was

100 years before that it was much cheaper to use machines to make it in Birmingham

Obscene profit - YES

But a profit from trade - not tribute

Ian Gould said...

"...a Chinese ruler caste that deemed trade to be an unsavory passtime and foreigners to be unworthy of study or understanding or exchange."

Except that up to his 60's (when he apparently had a stroke and his favorite wife who he appears to have loved dearly died) the Qianlong Emperor was intensely interested in the west and hosted a whole string of western embassies and (primarily Jesuit) scientists.

Chinese failure to industrialize in 19th century was partly due to chauvinism and conservatism, it was also the result of the Unequal Treaties which granted the Western Powers unrestricted access to Chinese markets and the cessions that saw those same Powers granted monopoly rights to control key industries and infrastructure: including steamship services on the Yangtse; railways in most of the Eastern provinces and most telegraph systems.

It's also a bit rich to complain about Chinese incompetence, conservatism ,corruption etc when the most competent and honest Chinese officials were regularly targeted by the Western Powers and forced from office.

(Examples include Lin Zexu, Dong Fuxiang; Gong Yixin and Zeng Guofan)

Nyctotherion said...

My question about the "Company wants to see your Facebook profile" story is that it would appear to violate federal guidelines regarding 'protected classes' that cannot be discriminated against by employers.

How can anyone have even a sanitized, corporate-friendly FB profile that rigidly avoids revealing the subject's race, religion, gender, sexual preference (which isn't quite a protected class but should be), etc. Such a profile would appear fake to even the most casual inspection.

And be fruitless. Even a sanitized profile would give enough identifiable information to connect the subject to his other profile via friends list, and cross-referencing other data would identify the subject's non-FB internet activity.

I think there may be a case for prohibiting employers from such privacy intrusion on the basis of 'protected classes', since you would never know whether you were passed over because of your religious beliefs or sexuality.

Ian Gould said...

"Timing is all!
By Gandhi's time cloth could be made cheaper in India - and was

100 years before that it was much cheaper to use machines to make it in Birmingham

Obscene profit - YES

But a profit from trade - not tribute"

So a 100 years of technological advancement led to a higher cost of cloth?

What was your expression? nonsense.

Indian cotton producers were required by law to sell their cotton exclusively to British merchants - at prices also fixed by law.

when Indian farmers responded by switching to other crops they were again forbidden by law from doing so.

In the 18th century, India was the world's largest exporter of cloth and clothing and England was one of the largest markets for Indian exports.

Tariffs on Indian exports, monopolization of Indian cotton production and unrestricted exports of British cloth to India and legal restrictions on the production of textiles and clothing in India funded the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

(It's also noteworthy that the British effectively banned trade between their colonies. If British textiles were able to compete with Indian textiles here in Australia, for example, the British wouldn't have felt compelled to impose tariffs of several hundred percent on Indian textile imports to Australia.

Ian Gould said...

To switch topics:

Has anyone done work on a hybrid Mass Driver system that accelerates a vehicle to, say, Mach 3 or Mach 4 before it uses on-board engines for the rest of the trip to orbit?

Compared to a Maglev system capable of accelerating something all the way to orbital velocity, the cost and complexity of such a system would be greatly reduced.

Clearly the cost savings wouldn't be as great and you'd be introducing a whole other set of potential failure modes but it might be worth considfering as a transitional step/proof of concept.

Hypnos said...

“The fastest growing middle classes are all in developing nations. Especially those financed by the greatest foreign aid program the world ever saw: Walmart.”
Not really. Those middle classes are growing fast in countries that are rival powers to the West much like Germany and America were to the British empire in the late 19th century. America was the biggest trade partner of Britain, and that still didn’t change its status as a challenger. To make a telling comparison (lifted wholesale from John Michael Greer’s blog) 19th century America had no respect for copyright, much like China, stealing technologies and intellectual property from Britain all the time. Quite revealing is the encyclopedia Britannica, which was copied wholesale except for the entry of free trade, which was changed into an apology of protectionism, which is what America nascent industries needed.
Walmart has nothing to do with growth in the middle classes of emerging economies. In fact, those middle classes are growing just as the Western ones are shrinking – and there is a direct link there. The wealth we used to take out is now staying put, and we are suffering the consequences.

“Prove this. Almost every time it has been promulgated, it was later disproved. “Or take the "gentle" bushmen or !Kung people. They ARE gentle... day to day. But one fellow actually asked: do you know someone who was murdered, or who killed another? It calculated out to Detroit on Saturday night.”
I don’t believe in the myth of the noble savage. Violence has a role in every human society. But the !Kung present a good example of gender equality, with defined but flexible social roles (women generally gathered but could become hunters) and liberal divorce traditions (women could divorce their husband whenever they so wished).

On Roman racism: it is quite an historical consensus that Romans had little or no concept of biological race. They despised white but barbaric Germans much more than black but civilized Egyptians and Ethiopians. Skin colour does not future prominently in Roman texts, and Roman citizens of African descent rose to high roles in Roman society. Septimius Severus, a Libyan, became emperor.

Hypnos said...

“But I also know history really really well. And if you can name a past culture you would actually prefer to this one, I would love to hear it... and make you defend your choice.”

Well I’d probably choose 1960s California!

Contemporary Western society is superior to all that preceded it in terms of material comfort, mostly as a result of exploiting fossil fuels. I’m not denying that. I am only questioning the idea that this comfort is a result of an objective superiority of Western society in terms of moral values, rather than the result of improved ability at conquest and plunder. I also question the universality of this model in the face of declining resources and growing environmental impacts.

The example you make of colonies wanting Western manufactured good is actually the tell-tale sign of material exploitation. Colonies had their local industries destroyed and were reduced to exporting raw materials at a pittance and importing manufactured goods at high prices, to the benefits of the empire they belonged to. A similar relationship existed between the US South and Britain at first and the US North after that. As a result the South remains underdeveloped to this day.

It is quite evident from the data that the trick to industrial development is protectionism. That is how all Western nations but Britain (which got there first and didn’t need it) developed. And that is the avenue that was denied to developing nations – to the point of forcibly removing their governments and substituting them with compliant, if brutal, dictatorships – because, as it is indeed happening now, it would have deprived the imperial West of a reliable source of wealth.

Duncan,
The Romans made massive profits from imperial conquest. Their entire economy was based on slaves (acquired from wars) and agricultural land (acquired from wars). The bread subsidy to the Roman population depended on wealth extraction from colonies. The Roman Empire got into trouble when it ran into the “limits to growth” of its time. Barren wastelands in Scotland and Ireland, utterly not worth conquering. Unconquerable German tribes across the Rhine. The Sahara desert to the south. And the Parthian Empire to the east. What you get is a boxed in empire with no further wealth to plunder, that slowly starts consuming itself until it collapses. And that’s the path we are beating for ourselves now. Just substitute oil for slaves.

Ian makes my case much better than I am doing. Industrial development was actively PREVENTED by Western powers in their colonies, as it would have undermined the source of their wealth.

Dependency theory is very much alive and kicking.

Ian Gould said...

To switch topics AGAIN:

The online version of New Scientist has this article behind a pay-wall but here's the gist:

A female chimp called Natasha displays human-like social intelligence. (Unfortunately the print version of the article is quite short and disappointingly vague about what that means.)

One interesting point the article makes is that while chimps display a number of characteristics we think of as "human" they seem to be incapable of combining them as we do.

So, for example, they possess the ability to learn and also display the capacity to employ a theory of mind, but they seem incapable of combining the two in order to teach others.

(There was also an interesting piece last week about tool use in brown bears.The amusing bit: we know brown bears are highly intelligent, but we don;t know HOW intelligent because there are very few behavioral studies on them in the wild because let's face it, they're scary as hell and ave been known to eat researchers who get too close.

Robert said...

The Brits are currently working on a Single-Stage-to-Orbit craft, the Skylon, which in theory could potentially lower satellite costs from the current £15,000/kg to £650/kg (to borrow statistics from Wikipedia). I suspect this is actually cheaper than Elon Musk's system, though a problem with the Skylon is that it isn't intended for more than low orbit (and by that I mean lower than even the Space Shuttle).

The benefit would be as a ferry. You establish through rockets a refueling center, establish several space tugs, and rendezvous the Skylon with the tugs to deliver astronauts and less durable supplies to orbit while using rockets and mass drivers for the heavy lifting.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

A few days late... but...

LarryHart,
"It was a quarter a gallon higher JUST on the day of the Illinois primary elections. Could that have been done on purpose for some reason?"

Do you guys get fuel price spikes on the last day before or after a long weekend? Could it have been the same thing: historical knowledge that there'll be a surge in purchases on primary days because of the increase in people driving to polling stations? (And this was just the first year you noticed.) Just suggesting a possible apolitical explanation.

(roperist enderat: Lowest ever polling Presidential candidate (1848))

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Do you guys get fuel price spikes on the last day before or after a long weekend?


Of course, but that's usually a jump in prices. It's rare that the price then FALLS back as quickly as it went up. It's unprecedented (in my experience) to go up AND back down that much within a 24 hour period.


Could it have been the same thing: historical knowledge that there'll be a surge in purchases on primary days because of the increase in people driving to polling stations? (And this was just the first year you noticed.)


I live in a densely-packed urban area. I'd like to say most people walk to their polling place. Realizing that some people drive even on very short trips, I'd still have to say that driving to the polling place wouldn't require any more gasoline than driving to the grocery store. For me, it's an insignificant blip compared to my daily commute.

I understand you and I are both engaging in "what if?" speculation rather than proven theories. In such thought experiments, the end result is not proof, but plausibility. "Which theory explains the known facts most plausibly?" I can't say for sure that the price spike had anything to do with election day (and I can't explain who would gain from such a move). But I don't think you've yet suggested an alternative theory that is any more plausible than mine.

Robert said...

I'd say the spike in prices was predatory in nature. It was meant to take advantage of those who do have to drive to polling stations, and take advantage of them if they needed gas. Considering the impracticality of a wide-scaled conspiracy by independent gas station owners, it was most likely a couple stations raised their prices and then the rest jumped on the bandwagon thinking there might be a spike in oil prices. The next day, prices started dropping and everyone rushed to drop prices so not to be abandoned by customers.

Rob H., who watches gas prices following each other like murmurations of starlings in the sky

David Brin said...

Ian is correct that Pax Brittanica was fairly typical, in setting up mercantilist trade patterns that favored the capital’s industries. So did Pax Romona, Pax Sinica. All empires did this and Ghandi was right to complain. It always laid seeds for disaster when the periphery would finally rebel.

(Though Pax Brittanica was improved by high-minded hypocrisy... they betrayed their high notions of being fair and noble, more often than not. But that very hypocrisy made them easier for Ghandi and others to leverage and Ghandi himself admitted it.)

Pax Americana has been different in many ways. It had its egregious hypocrisies and betrayals of principle. But the ratio was better. For example. CHINA never in its entire history had a better foreign friend than the U.S. was, from 1845 till 1945. A century during which the U.S. earnestly and repeatedly strove to get others to take their hands off China. This needs to be repeated over and over, especially to the modern Beijing leadership. They never had a better friend, ever.

As for those trade patterns, George Marshall made Pax Americana the first to impose ANTI mercantilist trade flows that benefitied farflung poor countries instead of home labor. It was a far-seeing program of staggering importance that uplifted half the world’s population into some semblence of a middle class.

David Brin said...

Ian said: “It's also a bit rich to complain about Chinese incompetence, conservatism ,corruption etc when the most competent and honest Chinese officials were regularly targeted by the Western Powers and forced from office.”

Sorry, there is a pure counter-example. The Meiji government in Japan. They faced almost identical situations and internal conservatism. The brilliant Meiji emperor (who was portrayed as a silly little dope in that horrifically awful Last Samurai movie) achieved everything that China failed to do. Blaming western meddling has a bit of accuracy... and boils down to rationalization. The Qing ruling caste ruined China. Period.
Hypnos: “Well I’d probably choose 1960s California!”

Hm... well that is exactly where I was... And it was no picnic. My father was 30 feet from Robert Kennedy when he was shot. Riots and skyrocketing crime. Okay, if you had long, flowing blond hair you could whip like a snake and a rich patter of counter-culture nostrums, you could get laid a lot. If you could see the lady through the smog.
“I am only questioning the idea that this comfort is a result of an objective superiority of Western society in terms of moral values, rather than the result of improved ability at conquest and plunder. I also question the universality of this model in the face of declining resources and growing environmental impacts.”

Obviously
(1) I prefer your ideologically-propeled, counter-factual nostrums over those promulgated on the right. Yours represent the kind of self-criticism that may help us to continue to overcome our many faults.

A process of error-correction that is THE absolute proof that you are wrong in every way... and that the west does indeed, have a huge moral and intellectual advantage over every other human society. YOU and the millions who feel the way you do are that proof.

2) Nevertheless... it is utter, utter malarkey.

RandyB said...

Duncan,

"It is noticeable (by those of us that are not Americans)that America has a history of disparaging dubious practices and then performing them with vigor when the opportunity arises
- Unrestricted submarine warfare
Evil when the Germans do it - perfectly OK in the Pacific against the Japanese"


Yes and no. As much as I'd expect hypocrisy regarding two of America's progressive presidents, it's not really the same thing.

Submarines were still new in 1917. Unrestricted submarine warfare was seen in the same light as all naval warfare. That was no longer true by 1941. The U.S. was fighting by the rules as they'd already evolved.

I could come up with better examples of hypocrisy, but that doesn't mean all transgressions are equal.

For example, here's a link of photos from the "anti-war" movement that I've posted before. The second-to-last picture shows supporters of Muqtada Al-Sadr marching among them, which means that they support some truly horrific methods of torture.

Does that mean everyone else in that "anti-war" demonstration supports, or at least condones, torture? No, not the photographer, and not the cops who were assigned to be there. But everyone else? Yes.

So, if people on two sides are accused of supporting torture, one has to ask, are the methods of "torture" equal? The answer to that should be obvious.

David Brin said...

Let me add that the quickest way to end the horrific slaughter and starvation of tens of millions in Asia during WWII was to persuade Japan to stop the war.

After Midway they knew it was hopeless. Their obstinacy killed vast numbers and cutting the convoys carrying fuel etc to Japan was even more important at ending the obstinacy than the Atom Bomb.

===

onward......

Hank Roberts said...

> VOYA (the magazine for young
> adult librarians)

Could you provide that as a text file? The "VOYA" interface is dizzyingly unusable. Yes, I'm old. Your article is apparently on page 450 out of a total 104 pages, and I see no way to get to it. I can make the page zoom into my face and back easily enough. Motion sickness cue...

David Brin said...

Hank write to me at davidbrin@sbcglobal.net

==


onward

rewinn said...

The best thing about @RandyB's tarring every demonstrator with supporting XXX if one person in the crowd supports XXX is that, almost without exception, LaRouches are in every demonstration supporting or opposing everything.

By this logic, all humanity (at least within the United States) is universally supportive of each other. What a positive message!

RandyB said...

Rewinn,

The LaRouches show up at normal conservative demonstrations, like tea party events, because the law gives them the right to be there. But they're not invited.

There are even pictures online of demonstrators who follow them around with signs to disavow them. The reason we know about them is because conservatives express disapproval, and blog about it. They are on the record.

This doesn't happen with left-wing events. In fact, radical Islamists have been invited as speakers.

I will amend my remarks to say that, if you see a left-wing blogger expressing disapproval, then you can say that person might also oppose torture regardless of who does it -- depending on how and when they say it. But if it happens, it doesn't happen very often.


BTW: If any lurker gets the idea of retroactively posting something, forget it. It's probably been archived elsewhere, and we'll see when they really posted it.

rewinn said...

Now @RandyB is saying that leftists don't very often universally condemn all torture by all persons.

Too bad he has never read a blog called "Contrary Brin"!

===

P.S. I LOL'd at the admonition against faking evidence, then I felt pity.

RandyB said...

Rewinn,

By his own admission, David Brin is a liberal, not a leftist.


I said the admonition against faking evidence is for lurkers. You never know how many lurkers there are here. Modifying blog posts years later has been done a number of times by bloggers who don't know any better.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RandyB said...

Fortunately for President Bush, he'll be judged by history.

It wasn't all that long ago that people were saying bad things about President Bush's policy of indefinite detention for some unlawful combatants (just kidding, they're still saying it), and yet President Obama carries on the same policy. And the Supreme Court supports it. I think history will recognize that.

Bush's critics will be judged by history, too. We can already see when the far left opposed torture, and when they chose not to.

RandyB said...

Can't resist noticing, I guess you think Truman and Eisenhower should have gone to Spandau, too.

History will sort them out just fine.

rewinn said...

@RandyB's fighting ghosts: far-leftists ... not Dr. Brin or any of the actual leftists here on Contrary Brin, but the lurkers in the shadows who think Eisenhower waterboarded prisoners.

I feel great pity for him.

RandyB said...

I've already posted a link on the CIA's interrogation policy under Truman and Eisenhower (probably a couple of threads downward).

As for actual leftists and far leftists, that's up to you to figure out where you chose to stand.

rewinn said...

I stand with George Washington and the 8th Amendment.

I have no idea about, and care even less, about labels like "leftist" and so forth, but @RandyB's libeling of those who do is pitiable, but mostly pointless.

RandyB said...

I don't know what interrogation methods you expect from a slave owner.

I didn't libel the leftists. I said, "We can already see when the far left opposed torture, and when they chose not to."

If you want to say you saw them oppose it all the time, then go right ahead. I posted a link (multiple times) of "anti-war" leftists marching beside supporters of Al-Sadr. I didn't see anyone here willing to defend those leftists.