A weird, weird day

by guest blogger Ken

Not trying to monopolize Jon’s blog or anything, but I’m sitting here staring at my ISU diploma, hand-signed by possibly the single most important name to date in the space field, a science fiction writer nonpareil, a scientist, and a visionary. Arthur C. Clarke has taken the next step in the circle of life, and the world is a poorer place for it.

Dr. Clarke first became personal for me back at the Space Generation Forum at UNISPACE III in 1999. when he gave a personalized video address to the SGF. During his brief talk (pdf)he mentioned something along the lines of the energy requirement to get a person into orbit really wasn’t that bad, it’s just that the means we’ve invented so far to impart the energy aren’t terribly good, because they require that it be done quickly via a rocket, which has all kinds of design issues. What if you traded intensity for time? What if you used an elevator instead?

I wasn’t terribly familiar with the idea of a space elevator at that point, but during my ISU studies I found a French-language copy of “The Fountains of Paradise” and read it far more quickly than I expected. This was also about the time that the idea of carbon nanotubes as a 4th form of carbon started circulating more widely. Suddenly the idea seemed much less sci-fi.

I also read K.S. Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and watching the mental image of the broken line of the Mars elevator wrapping itself around the planet was most unsettling. Later, the idea of using the Moon as a ‘practice run’ for an Earth elevator ( a Lunevator, perhaps?) made the rounds, and I became even more intrigued as it would be a great way of proving out most every concept needed for a Terrevator. Still, the disturbing question lingers in my mind of what happens with the counterbalance on the Earth side of EML1 if the line should break?

That’s for folks far more edumacated than me to figure out, but I do consider the space elevator to be the permanent solution to space access, just as I consider Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) to be one of the permanent solutions to energy access.

Which brings us to the latest issue of adAstra, the magazine of the National Space Society, with a cover story on SBSP. Stories is more accurate, as the feature covers 20 pages with graphics. Good graphics too, highlighting how the process would work and what it might look like. My ex NSS-NT chapter president Bill Ledbetter (one of the key behind-the-scenes guys at the 2007 ISDC) has an interview with Dr. Peter Glaser, one of the key figures in SBSP history. Background on the NSSO report last year is provided, and Al Globus touches on how the Moon can help, including the notion that launching the entire infrastructure from Earth would put an unknown strain on the ecosphere, which has had to endure only sporadic and widely-spaced launches so far.

Lots of other good articles as well, like a 50 year timeline of space, and the graphics have been stepped up a notch. I even like the advertising, like the ad for the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge. There’s a great review of “The Lunar Exploration Scrapbook”, and an article on the guy behind NSS’s Online Library. Since the 2008 ISDC is coming up in May, there’re a couple of ads for that. I personally think last year’s ads were a bit more informative, though not quite as pretty, but I’m clearly biased towards all things relating to the one I helped put together. 😉 [including contacting the publishers last year and getting them to exhibit their Launch Magazine at the ISDC]

Overall, I’m quite impressed, and as I would say over at the Lunar Library, this one’s definitely a Full Moon.

I also reflected a bit today on yesterday’s post, and the dire economic forecast. I was right when I said that the market needs to reprice properly, and was a bit surprised when I read the A section of today’s WSJ. It also spooked the crap out of me, and I won’t say more as I value my job, but I honestly had no idea.

Seeing a couple of emergency vehicles pulling up at the Countrywide building down the road late in the afternoon just put a surrealistic edge on things.

I do want to note that most of the effects of what I described involve the folks that have been playing around with the funny money, not John and Jane Doe on Main Street. For them, life will mostly go on pretty much as it always has. Businesses will close, and new ones will open up. Medical emergencies will continue to chew up past savings and future earnings. The credit card (or I guess for most folks these days, payday loan) companies will continue to abuse you. All of the regular dynamics of a vigorous and free market.

The problem is that when someone gives you a bit of capital and you lever it up enormously, and then that someone comes in to ask for their money back, you then have to unwind 30 or so associated transactions to get the free and clear title back on the cash that’s being given back. Because of the clearing periods written into the contracts it has to be done quickly, and when you’re getting lots of redemptions the velocity just accelerates, creating disjunctions in the market that introduce even more price misinformation because rumours start flying and people stop making fully-informed decisions. This is why the government is working so hard to keep liquidity in the market, to ease the friction, but the problem is that there is already way too much liquidity from 15 years of pumping M3 money supply into the markets (thanks a lot, Greenspan. not). We’ve been lucky in that most of it has been parked overseas to date.

The main solution that I see is that the private equity and hedge funds need to disgorge all of the capital they sucked out of the economy. When someone’s getting a billion dollar paycheck because they managed to lever up a bunch of companies with $400Mn loans on $150Mn of assets and then booked their ‘capital gains’ up front (and only paid 15% tax on) so they could live a priveleged life, then I really don’t feel a whole lot of empathy for them. That capital needs to be in the companies, consarn it, not their pockets.

Which brings to mind one of the things that has been bugging me. For the record I am an atheist, but I recognize and respect the fact that our nation is largely populated by believers in Allah/G-d/God. Given that fact, and the moral code underlying these beliefs, I have to wonder about the amoral ethics that seem to be driving much of modern American business practices. It’s almost as if people check their values at the office door, perhaps out of fear for their job. I mean seriously, is it Christian to give a 70 year old woman a 30-year refi mortgage with monthly payments greater than their Social Security checks? What kind of creature does that? Most people will not consider me to have any moral authority or foundation for righteous indignation by virtue of my atheism, which I really don’t care about, but I don’t think one needs to be a Christian to ask WTF? Y is this going on?

As I said, a weird, weird day.

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2 Responses to A weird, weird day

  1. Anonymous says:

    one doesn’t have to be a christian to make loans.

  2. Karl Hallowell says:

    Humans have a remarkable capacity for delusion, rationalization, and deception not just of others but also themselves. This is just par for the course. I’m not being cynical here, these are just negative qualities that show at times like this.

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