One can be smart, without being really intelligent. A crocodile can be smart, but it is not really intelligent. And this true not just of individuals, but of civilizations.
We live in the age of stupid. A major freeway which I know all too well, has proclaimed itself “smart”, according to the giant, very bright LED panels along it. Those “smarts” involve red lights on access ramps. By smoothing the flow in, they are supposed to make traffic smoother. And they do. On the freeway. The freeway flows a tiny bit better, but traffic jams on the streets and roads leading to said access ramps extend now for miles, and the global gridlock is worse than ever, because those blockages in turn block streets and roads parallel to the giant freeway (those secondary thoroughfares used to carry traffic parallel to that of the freeway plus local traffic; now they are parking lots).
When Obama climbed on the throne, he proclaimed that everything would get “smart”, just like He is. Example: the “smart” electric grid (as if grids had not been maximally smart before). It is true that Obama became president with what, in retrospect, were smarts tricks… rather than substance (as the ongoing crash of Obamacare demonstrates… accompanied, as it is, with the crash of nearly anything Obama touched; OK, today China’s president Xi shamed Obama into signing the Paris climate accord, COP 21, so maybe I should say thank you for consenting to save the planet a bit).
The productivity in the US, (and other leading Western countries) keeps on going down. Why? Education has been going down. We enjoy the age of stupid. We wallop in stupidity. And it shows:
The age of stupid was inaugurated by Ronald Reagan, a remarkably stupid B movie actor whose first claim to fame had been to make the PUBLIC university of California, which had been specifically founded to provide FREE topmost education to the students of California, into an institution which only the rich could attend. Why? Because the stupid Reagan thought that was smart that only those who have money would have the keys of the world. (Then they would give careers to uneducated losers such as himself.) Reagan’s career started as a sport announcer on the radio: he was always owned by bosses full of money, and reacted to rich masters as dogs do, salivating, wagging his tail, barking in their defense.
Now, Reagan’s obscene mentality has conquered the world. It has become smart, hip, fashionable, to proclaim that Reagan was great. Even the French press views Reagan as a great president (for doing what he did not do, namely bringing the USSR down). And modest people, the non-rich, get as good an education as Reagan did, learning increasingly nothing, and most of what they learned, strictly by serving the rich.
Obama has proclaimed himself an admirer of Reagan, and a devout follower of the Financial Times. His presidency was under the sign of this doubled headed vulture.
Reagan, a creature whose fate barred him from higher mental pursuits, extolled instead the base notions of profit and greed. Profit and greed, said Reagan, were the highest, ultimate, most lofty, and most motivating pursuits of man. And a magnificently programmed Obama bleated faithfully behind. So Obama, smartly following orders, set-up Obamacare. Obamacare is characterized by insufficient spending control: so that healthcare vultures can prosper with ever more profits and greed. That, according to Reagan, Obama’s guru, will insure better health care, because greed and profit are much motivating than care (Reagan and company claimed). That’s all very smart, makes us all smart, because it is such a deeply flawed logic: greed and care do not apply to the same modes of brain operations. When one provides with care, one is not spurred by greed. These are antagonistic modes of mental operations.
Obama also decided to apply profit and greed to space: surely, that would be smart (his guru Reagan had said so). If there was profit and greed in space, space would open up, prosper, get smarter. Thus, instead of two private rocket launching companies contracting with NASA, the smart Obama fostered the creation of several others. Not understanding that the number of rocket scientists and technicians is limited.
This flurry of new space enterprises was the case of “private” companies, founded and funded… by the government. Bezos’ Blue Origins is government subsidized, because Bezos’ business, Amazon, does not pay taxes (a tax exempt status the worst of terrible men, Donald Trump, has proclaimed he would change, in his mental imbalance).
Space X, led by a self-taught engineer, Musk, smells even better: Obama gave him direct and indirect subsidies, and that was it.
Tall, telegenic Obama signed with tall, telegenic Musk a Space Act Agreement (SAA) “to develop and demonstrate commercial orbital transportation service“. (Notice the stupidity: with whom do you “commerce” in space? You set up space stations for plutocrats, thanks to their tax-exempt status?)
All this makes Musk very profitable. Penniless when Obama ascended the throne, Musk, propelled for years by billions of Obama dollars, was soon worth more than 12 billion dollars, all by himself. Let’s hope Musk is grateful and remembers who made him, after Obama retires.
In 2011, SpaceX estimated that Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket development costs were on the order of $300 million. Cheap. Investors were thrilled. Indeed, NASA evaluated that development costs would have been $3.6 billion if a traditional cost-plus contract approach had been used. (Indeed development of the new Ariane 6, which uses existing French military rockets for boosters and the existing Vulcain Hydrogen engine, will cost at least 4 billion Euros.)
Let’s stop here for a moment: Space X is supposed to be a private company. However, it develops rockets miraculously at 1/12 of their real cost, says NASA itself. Explanation? NASA has got to be making the difference (it’s helping Space X is in myriad ways). Obama invested 12 times more public money in Space X than the extremely wealthy private individuals who profit from it. Jesus turned the water into wine, Obama turned NASA into a cash cow for his friends. Mooo. Honni soit qui mal y pense.
Can the USA do with four, five, or more rocket companies?
Why not? Because launching chemical rockets is a flimsy business. In the Sixteenth Century, a Chinese inventor has been rumored to have strapped himself to a rocket propelled kite, and gaily went out in a puff of smoke. The fundamentals have not changed since: we still use chemical propulsion.
Space X uses primitive propulsion: RP1, rocket grade kerosene, basically the same as civilian jets. The more sophisticated US and European rockets use liquid hydrogen.
The flimsiness of space rockets and their engines presents the same problem as it did eight centuries ago: it requires minute attention to detail to make it work. If we had enormous power at our disposal, we could insure wide safety margins. But, for that, one would have to have more than chemical propulsion. Musk has claimed he could divide by ten the cost of launches with re-usable rockets. Experienced US companies, the Russians and Europeans aerospace engineers, beg to differ: they have long pondered the re-usability of flimsy rockets.
(Ariane Espace has now ‘project Adeline’ to recover the expensive parts of Ariane 6, mostly engine and electronics, using drone technology, in the long run; but that completely different method from recovering the entire fragile, heavy rocket would use only 1/17 of the fuel of Space X fuel stage recovery, with much fewer stresses…)
The Russians have launched more than 1,700 Soyuz, with a failure rate of 1/39. Ariane 5 has launched successfully more than 70 times in a row, putting a record 11 tons in GTO (Geostationary Orbit, 36,000 kilometers up) in August 2016. Space X had two total losses out of 25 commercial launches… making it even worse than the notorious Space Shuttle.
Not all is bad about Space X. Musk’s notoriously bold technological spirit is refreshing, a bit like Donald Trump is refreshing. It is actually the sort of spirit which animated the Nazi engineers who developed the V2 (and then Saturn 5 in the US). There is little doubt that, to relatively little cost, one could fly heavy duty missions to Mars of Enceladus (a satellite of Saturn which has a huge ocean of water, and may harbor life, as the Cassini spacecraft, flying through plumes, found them laden with organics).
If anything, Space X forced Ariane Espace to decide cutting its launch cost by half (by scaring the French into developing Ariane 6, while forcing the Germans to give up on Ariane 5).
Yet, fundamentally, the ecology pushed by Obama of having many rocket companies cannot work. The serial explosions of Space X, in spite of its massive NASA support, demonstrate it.
At this point, rockets are too flimsy: they require great expertise from enough technicians and engineers. Say the total mass of these ‘rocket scientists’ is M. Obama decided to divide M by 6, on any specific rocket project. However, suppose one needs M/2 to operate one rocket project safely. Then Obama’s naive strategy of the more, the merrier, will lead to serial explosions, as observed. Obama, never an expert, does not seem to understand the notion of expert. Greed does not grow experts, education does.
Instead, one should go back to the strategy of the 1960s, as led by president Kennedy: big private-public projects, with clear state exploration goals. This actually built up on a strategy launched by president Roosevelt, and pursued by Eisenhower. Massive public spending on education, infrastructure, science, technology, and associated defense projects.
Efficient, large scale Space colonization, ultimately, will rest on new science, thus new education. Ultimately commuting to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) safely, efficiently, will require completely new propulsion and, or, material science (futuristic material science would allow to deploy enormous wings, and de-orbit softly, cooly and thus safely).
As I have long argued, i is clear that, to go to Mars, we need nuclear fission engines (because of radiation away from Earth’s magnetic shield, we cannot stay in space the 18 months it takes now; a nuclear fission engine could get to Mars in just 6 weeks). Space X cannot develop this: it does not have the expertise. Yet, the US has operated nuclear fission rocket engines before, and now NASA, following Russia, is warming up to the possibility again. Nuclear propulsion is what needs to be financed, instead the musky greed of eight century old technology.
The philosophy that greed does it all, is deeply flawed: otherwise crocodiles would have inherited the Earth. It is a philosophy by imbeciles, for imbeciles.
History shows that imbecility is what kills most civilizations. Imbecile leaders, though, favor imbecile followers, and an imbecile mental ecology. Nowadays, though, there is just one civilization, on one planet, and, if it dies, there is no replacement. That is why it is so important to deconstruct the planetary, Reagan-Thatcher inherited mood that greed can replace expertise.
… While it keeps on festering, NASA’s internal watchdog, Paul Martin, called out his federal agency’s decision to allow Space X to lead the primary investigation of Space/Greed X explosion in 2015, observing it raised “questions about inherent conflicts of interest”. It is telling that the US administration, which has invested more in Space X than the private investors who stand to profit from it, is not interested by what happened to the public’s money.
Space X’s waste of taxpayer money similar to that of big banks. Both are protected by complexity so great, it escapes (according to plan) the understanding of the Commons. When the government gives your money to plutocrats, no question stands scrutiny. All the billions given to Space X, a dubious tech company, is as much money not given to fundamental research (where government is irreplaceable).
Our spaceship Earth, mismanaged by our stupid and greedy leadership, threatens to get completely out of control. All the ways out involve much more advanced technology (whether we opt for world war, or peace and concertation). Hence it is important to realize that the role of government is that of leader in matter of science and technology. And that the mood which shall lead cannot be just greed, but the most noble aspects of the human spirit.
It is the present oligarchic system which is the source of the present pandemic of stupidity. Because, given the same level of education, few brains think less well than many brains. For example, now in the US it’s down to just two minds: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both of whom have been associated to extremely unsavory characters over the years. Anyway, how come those two are supposed to think and debate for us all? Well, for the same reason that Space X got many billions of public money. Greed. Not the honor of the human spirit.