Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.
Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, and The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper.
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Saturday, January 31, 2004
George Will concludes that the left/right divide is defined by conservatives promoting freedom and liberals equality, that often translates as equality of dependency. Will also suggests that promoting freedom does not necessarily mean shrinking the size of government. President Bush understands this and the refusal of some conservatives to understand it is the root of their discontent with him.
Details of the President's FY2005, 16.2 billion dollar request for NASA have been leaked.
Friday, January 30, 2004
The members of the Aldridge Commission have been named.
Carly Fiorina, chairman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.
Looks like the suits at ABC have gone back on their promise and have cancelled Karen Sisco, the smartest cop show ever to air, anyway.
Forget about killing the lawyers, network program execs need to go to the wall first.
Newsmax has found a victim of that enemy of the working man, George W. Bush:
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak my mind. I lost my job this past year. When Clinton was president I was secure and prosperous, but in the last year, we had to close our operations. We simply could not compete with foreign labor. This foreign labor worked for low pay under very bad conditions.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
John Kerry actually said this in a debate in South Carolina.
"I think there has been an exaggeration," Mr. Kerry said when asked whether President Bush has overstated the threat of terrorism. "They are misleading all Americans in a profound way."
I guess we all just imagined the World Trade Center going down in flames over two years ago.
Joesph Rodota reflects on the history of liberal opposition to space exploration.
How much is private business prepared to participate in the return to the Moon. The upcoming mission by Transorbital may provide an answer.
The new space race, started by the successful flight of the Shenzhou 5, may soon be joined by Japan.
President Bush wants to increase the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. But this is not, oddly, a cause for dismay. Under Bush, degenerate behavior disguised as art is out, real art is in. Promoting Shakespear, Mozart, et al to the underprivledged will provide something beside gangsta rap music to enjoy and will have the added bonus of angering the left.
There are some signs that NASA's hitherto dysfunctional culture is slowly, painfully changing for the better. Alcestis Oberg begs to disagree however.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
According to Ed Kyle over on sci.space.policy, Sean O'Keefe has named the Crewed Exploration Vehicle Project Constellation.
Most people, including myself, think that John Kerry is a duplicitous, dishonorable lefty. Fred Barnes has an even more damning assessment Barnes says that Kerry is Bob Dole without the wit.
The Israeli's have the right idea for honoring the sacrifice of Ilan Ramon.
Valentine's Day approaches. If the love of your life is of a literary bent, then I suggest a romantic, candle light dinner, then a gift that consists of a rose and one of the following, all bound up in a satin ribbon:
Edward L. Hudgins, over at Cato, has some interesting suggestions about how to open up the high frontier of space. Privitizing the space station, for instance, seems like a good idea. So is passing Dana Rohrabacher's Zeo G, Zero Taxes proposals.
Nevertheless, the article suffers from two essential fallacies.
First, that private development of space is somehow incompatible with a NASA program of exploration. Were that the case, then we never would have settled the Americas, a process which featured government sponsered technology development programs like that of Prince Henry the Navigator and government financed voyages of exploration, like that of Columbus. Nor would we have settled the American West, since obviously the government sponsered Lewis and Clark Expedition would have foreclosed that.
The second fallacy goes like this: NASA screwed up the space shuttle and space station, therefore it will surely screw up going back to the Moon and on to Mars. But that is just as silly as suggesting that NASA took us to the Moon, therefore it could do anything.
Not, of course, that NASA doesn't have a big job at reorgnizing itself from a high tech, space taxi service into the 21st Century Corps of Discovery. But Howard McCurdy just explained to a Senate Committee how just that sort of thing can be done.
Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry discuss Kerry's colorful career.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Citizen Smash has a report of our brave boys and girls who risk their lives in Operation Martian Freedom.
While basking in the glow of his triumph, Kerry had best get ready, because the nasty part of the campaign is about to begin. Howard Dean is not the sort of guy to say, "Ah, sucks, you beat me fair and square." I suspect that Dean is already gathering juicy stuff (see below for one example) to spring on Kerry at appropriate moments.
John Kerry wasn't always proud of his service in Vietnam nor of his fellow veterans.
I guess there is one scientist, a physicist no less, who thinks that humans have something useful to do in space. I hope he gets his wish.
Monday, January 26, 2004
Brandon Crocker helps to fan the flames of the growing controversy surrounding Ridley Scott's revisionist film about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven. Then he muses about one of my favorite Charlton Heston films, Khartoum, about the Osama of the late 19th Century, who styled himself as the Mahdi.
Dennis Wingo marvels that the folks who are going to return people to the Moon will have IT tools that would have seemed--well--science fiction to the folks who built and flew Apollo.
I just finished Time's Eye, the first in a projected trilogy by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke. The premise is that aliens, for reasons unknown, scramble space/time on Earth so that in one place it's 2037, in another 1885, and another the 12th Century. The story mixes 21st Century astronauts, cosmonauts, and soldiers with 18th Century Brits, 12th Century Mongols, and 4th Century BC Macedonians. The story starts slow, but gets real interesting as the Golden Horde of Geingas Khan prepares to clash with Alexander the Great's Macedonians (with a regiment of Victorian British and Indian soldiers) before the gates of Babylon.
The story, being part of a trilogy, doesn't end with a conclusion. But it held my attention nevertheless.
Even so, Zogby suggests that Dean is surging again in New Hampshire.
Howard Dean pines for the good old days in Iraq when Saddam was in charge and all was peaceful and prosperous.
Jeff Foust suggests that expeditions to Earth approaching asteroids should be worked into the new Bush space policy. I agree. In fact, the potential minerial wealth that's in just one of those bodies could more than pay for the entire program.
Taylor Dinerman argues that Europe (especially the French) would make a poor partner for going back to the Moon and on to Mars. The French also have a--well--French additude toward space as a frontier.
Writing in Le Monde on January 22, Michael Alberganti takes President Bush’s reference to the Lewis and Clark expedition and asks if the US now considers the moon in the same category as the Louisiana Territory, that is, American soil. Of course, he recognizes that the US renounced any sovereign claims to the moon or to other celestial bodies in the 1967 outer space treaty. Even so, he suspects that the US is off on an adventure leading to “La Conquete de L’espace”. The term is current in France while, over in the US, it has not been seriously used in decades. They see America’s effort to explore the solar system as a form of space imperialism.
Or like Frenchmen killing Africans.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
John Kerry is a genuine war hero. Unfortunately his record after the Vietnam War is one of duplicity and dishonor.
Unfortunately, Mr. Kerry came home to Massachusetts, the one state George McGovern carried in 1972. He joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and emceed the Winter Soldier Investigation (both financed by Jane Fonda). Many veterans believe these protests led to more American deaths, and to the enslavement of the people on whose behalf the protests were ostensibly being undertaken. But being a take-charge kind of guy, Mr. Kerry became a leader in the VVAW and even testified before Congress on the findings of the Investigation, which he accepted at face value.
I find this to be a fascinating commentary on the regard real women have for our really manly President.
Looks like Opportunity has landed on Mars and is sending back pictures. Meanwhile Spirit seems to be on the mend. Kudos for the folks on the Mars Exploration Rover team.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
Max Boot suggests financing the President's space initiative either through a prize ($20 billion for the first person to go to Mars and return) or (and I think this is more workable) commercial sponserships and media deals to partly defray the costs.
Rumor has it that Spielberg is considering making a film about a differnt kind of ET. One that is not nice or cuddley.
Friday, January 23, 2004
Alan Boyle reports on his readers' suggestions on what to name the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle.)
Walter Mondale has endorsed John Kerry. Another reason to vote against Prince John, even if it means crossing a field of broken glass bare foot to do it.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Jim Oberg patiently explains why going back to the Moon and then to Mars won't cost any where near a trillion dollars.
Charles Krauthammer mourns the collapse of Howard Dean.
Dean as Democratic nominee promised not just happiness but glory: a Republican landslide of biblical proportions. Big majority in the House. And so many coattailed new senators that Bush could have begun repopulating the Supreme Court with 42-year-old conservatives (like Miguel Estrada) who would serve forever.
Buck up, Charles. Miracles can happen and Dean could recover, in time. If not, then John Kerry is a north eastern liberal and Wesley Clark is, if any thing, crazier than Dean, but in a quieter, creepier way. John Edwards is a slick southernor, so to be sure he bears watching.
This story, about a certain type of African American who was apparently the victem of institutional racism, demonstrates the limits and absurdity of diversity.
Deborah Orin suggests the possibility of a brokered Democratic convention.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Jim Oberg discusses how the President's space initiative is being executed so far.
Hubble may not be dead yet.
Some of you who have been belly aching about the President's space initiative might want to consider what sticking to the status quo would have entailed.
Robert Moran wonders if we'll see every political party's nightmare and every political junky's dream--a brokered Democratic convention.
Carl Cannon points out that while exploration is in the American tradition, so is mindless criticism of the same.
Before Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark to explore the vast lands obtained in the Louisiana Purchase, critics protested the rationale of the expedition. "A great waste, a wilderness," complained a Boston newspaper. "We are to give money of which we have too little, for land of which we already have too much." Federalist politician Joshua Green added that the endeavor was "a shameful gross speculation, pretending to bring we knew not what, situated we knew not where, and [with] no more right to it than … to land in the moon."
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
I witnessed this incident on television and all I can say is, where is Simon from American Idol when we need him?
Alan Boyle muses about the latest craze, astro environmentalism. The movement is composed of astro environmental wackos, apparently.
Helium 3 may make the Moon the Saudi Arabia of the 21st Century.
John Edward, uber rich personal injury lawyer, US Senator, candidate for President, and defender of the little guy, may have amassed a huge, personal fortune on the basis of junk science.
John Derbyshire staggers into the sort of error that one does when one accepts as true certain dubious suppositions that, upon close examinations, are not.
I'm starting to think that the only things I agree with my president about are war and tax cuts. Last week's proposal for a return trip to the moon by 2015 and subsequent manned missions to Mars was of a piece with so much Bushism: pointless, or positively harmful, festivals of bureaucracy paid for out of public funds. There were in fact two of these horrors last week ? this one, and the proposal to spend tax revenues on programs to encourage people to get married. The week before, it was a scheme to hand out greencards, together with full access to government services, to illegal immigrants. The week before that,... Oh, I forget.
OK, I understand that a lot of people are red faced at the President because he proposes spending and other disagreeable things. But each of these proposals ought to be judged on the merits, not rejected out of hand because one is mad at the President.
The Bush proposal isn't all bad. We are going to dump the shuttle, and bail out of the international space station with as much haste as is decent ? both decisions long overdue. The notion that our government should be paying to put people into space, though, remains.
Just like the government pays for people to travel through the air, on the ocean, and over the ground, though to be sure some of that is through indirect subsidies and tax breaks.
Given that, as the excellent UPI Science News report by Frank Sietzen and Keith Cowing says:
I'm not sure about that. So far 17 Americans have died as the direct result of space flight tests/operations, in the Apollo fire, on board Challenger, and on Columbia, in 43 years. In ten months of operations in Iraq, 500 Americans have died, yet the occupation of that country remains fairly popular. Who can bet that even that many will have died conquering the Moon and Mars?
I am a big fan of space exploration, but cannot see any point in government programs to send human beings out there. That is just not necessary for any national purpose. I feel sure that by the end of this century the solar system will be teeming with human space travelers; I just don't want any of that funded from my tax dollars.
In other words, space will be the very first frontier that was ever explored, exploited, and finally settled without any government participation. If we had done the West like that, there would have been no Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, no cavalry outposts to deal with the Indians, no subsidies for the transcontinenental railroad, and no land grants. I'd love to see how that would happen.
What kind of space program would I like to see? Well, I think that first of all, I'd distinguish between the necessaey and the cool: between things we must do in space and things it would be nice to do.
Fair enough, though Derbyshire seems to based the dividing line on his gut feelings, rather than on any objective analysis.
The things we must do are all military. The main one is, protection of our assets in orbit. When a US Special Forces scout in the Hindu Kush gets down from his mule, unpacks his laptop, takes a GPS reading and calls in an air strike on an al Qaeda camp in the next valley, he needs to know that GPS satellite is in orbit and functioning. If it is, then he is the Angel of Death. If it isn't, he's just a guy with a mule and a game of solitaire. This is important. Similarly with spy satellites and military-communication satellites. This is vital to our national defenses, and it's government business. Whatever we decide to spend on space rockets, satellites, and space research, this has the first claim. So far as I know, none of it requires any human beings in space.
True, so far. However:
Nor does missile defense. I confess to being somewhat less than passionate about missile defense. It all seems to me a bit like anti-submarine warfare. We have had close to a century of R&D on that, and I am reliably informed that when the U.S. Navy conducts exercises in submarine detection, those exercises still occasionally end with the "hunted" sub surfacing impudently well within torpedo range of the hunters. Face it, the odd missile, like the odd sub, will always get through. If you accept, as I certainly do, that losing two cities is much preferable to a nation-crippling loss of two hundred cities, then missile defense research is worth while; but I wouldn't throw half the defense R&D budget at it. The best defense against nationwide destruction remains good old-fashioned deterrence.
Two fallacious assumptions here. First, that space based missile defense systems will never require human maintenance, unlike--say--the Hubble telescope. Second, that "deterance" will always be the "best defense." That's not a princible that applies to any weapon system other, apparently, than nuclear tipped missiles.
It is possible to think of other space-based military threats. Orbiting mirrors, focusing the sun's heat, could fry slabs of enemy territory. Large rocks hurled at the Earth from space (or from the moon, as in one of Robert A. Heinlein's stories) could be as destructive as nuclear weapons, without all the nasty radiation... and so on. We need to think about these next-level threats, but we don't need to spend money on them yet.
Why not? I would conceed that right now not a lot of money, but the proper time to deal with such things is not when the Chinese or someone else start building such horror weapons.
That's pretty much it for the necessary. Everything else is just cool. The cool can be further subdivided into showbiz and science.
Not the encouragement of commerical ventures? Interesting.
Space showbiz is just starting up, in the form of space tourism. I think this is going to be a big thing in this new century. Two tourists have already gone up, and two more are waiting on line. The past quartercentury of neoliberal economics has spawned a huge, worldwide class of billionaires to whom the cost of going into orbit ? $20m or so ? is no problem. Private enterprise is very nearly ready to take up this particular challenge. Space Adventures of Arlington, Va. will sign you up for a suborbital flight on whichever private-enterprise firm gets the equipment working first. The cost is a mere $100,000, and they are taking deposits. The movie and media companies will be right behind the tourists. I think this whole side of space development can be left to the private sector.
For the things Derbyshire describes, he's likely right. But I could see, for instance, a lunar resort attaching itself to a government operated lunar outpost. That's the sort of public/private synergy I've discussed before.
So, in theory, could science. Organized enthusiast groups, together with universities, could do great things. I confess I find my fiscal-conservative principles weakening here, though. I am a huge fan of space science, and I can't say I mind the thought of government helping out with the expenses.
Derbyshire again reveals that he's motivated more by gut feelings than any kind of objective analysis. Robotic space probes could be privitized far easier than human space travel, simply because they are cheaper. This is a loop hole one could drive the star ship Enterprise through, except:
However, I would exclude manned space flight from that. It's just too expensive, with too little scientific return for the buck. What we mostly learn when we send human beings into space is the effect that space travel has on human beings. That is mildly interesting, but it can't compare to the orders-of-magnitude increase in sheer knowledge brought to us by unmanned craft like the Voyagers, and instruments like the Hubble telescope. (Yes, I know Hubble needs manual servicing. For the cost of that servicing, though, I bet you could put up a replacement Hubble every five years. A shuttle flight costs half a billion dollars.) A mere 40 years ago, our best images of Mars were of a fuzzy pink blob with some splotches of white and brown. Now we have detailed maps. This is real science, this is really worth doing.
Must we go through the hoary old robots vs humans argument? Humans are more expensive to transport into space and to maintain. (I think, though, attention should be applied to lowering that expense. If you compare the amount of energy it takes to transport someone from--say--Los Angeles to Australia and someone to Low Earth Orbit, you find that it's about the same. There's therefore no reason, given the development of technology and the economics of scale brought on by a large market for sending people to LEO--tourism, for example, which Derbyshire conceeds--why a ticket to LEO should cost much more than a ticket to Sydney.
Humans, by their nature, are better scientists than are robots and are likely to be until we build something akin to Star Trek's Commander Data. Humans can observe, process information, and react far more efficiently than robots, especially those controlled over tens of millions of miles with ten or twenty minutes elapsing between command and action.
Derbyshire goes on to talk about the sort of science that he finds interesting, all of it worthy, then he commits his next error.
None of it needs human beings in space. None of it needs colonies on the moon or Mars. (Well, the moon would be a lovely place to put certain kinds of observatories...but space will do.) And the worst news is, that expenditures on manned space flight suck away funds from all this worthwhile science.
We've covered the robots vs humans controversy. Derbyshire's statement also contradicts one item on his science wish list involving cheaper ways to get to and travel around in space, most useful where humans are involved. His last statement is false as well. Greater expendatures are made for robot space probes when they have been contemplated as precursors for human expeditions. When space spending has been cut, it almost always has been to fund social programs.
Not only are there no scientific arguments for human beings in deep space, there are no arguments of any other kind, either.
Here we go into more folly.
? Economic? Mining the asteroids, beaming solar power down to earth? You could dredge up minerals from the deepest ocean trench, or from beneath the mile-deep Antarctic ice cap, 10,000 times more cheaply than you could get them from asteroids, and I have yet to see any solar-power proposal that would not be an environmental catastrophe. (All that energy has to go through the atmosphere.)
I wish Derbyshire had quoted a study to back up his "10,000 times more cheaply" claim, not to mention the idea that maybe space natural resources would be used to manufacture finished products in space. His astonishing claim about space based solar power being an "environmental catastrophe" is not, so far as I know, shared even by the most hysterical enviromental group. Of course he doesn't mention Helium 3.
? Spinoffs? If you want to invent the nonstick frying pan, set a bunch of materials scientists to work on it. Give them a nice lab and lots of frying pans. Nobody needed to go into space for that.
The spinoffs argument is useful to counter complaints about "all that money" being spent on space exploration. Again, cutting space historically means more spending on social programs, not other kinds of science.
? Romantic? I am as susceptible to the romance of space travel as anyone ? more than most, probably, having spent most of my adolescence reading very little else but science fiction. I can't see that it is any business of government to cater to our romantic impulses, though, beyond a few low-cost ceremonies to keep our patriotism warm. Let's have a sense of proportion. In any case, what could be more romantic than the first evidences of a non-human civilization? A robot's-eye view of the oceans of Titan? Pictures from the beginning of time?
I'm not sure what Derbyshire's point is. Is he for romance or not?
? Species survival? I'm fatalistic. In any case, people who talk about self-sustaining communities in space, or on other planets, underestimate the degree to which this planet is a vast support system for us, very difficult indeed to replicate at any scale. We are centuries away from self-sustaining space colonies. Forget about it.
This sounds like a "space flight is utter bilge" argument. It also contradicts Derbyshire's statement that the solar system will be teeming with humans by the end of the century. We can certainly have self sustaining settlements by 2100.
? Political? Do I want the first person on Mars to be Chinese? Frankly, I couldn't care less. What difference would it have made to any American if the first man on the moon had been a Russian?
Quite a bit, obviously. Conceeding space to an unfriendly power is a prescription for conceeding the future to that power.
National-prestige extravaganzas ? pyramids, ziggurats, treasure fleets, grand mausoleums ? are strictly for despotic empires. We are a practical and commercial republic. Let's keep it that way.
Sounds like a "republic, not an empire" argument, as from Pat Buchanun. Of course the United States is both a republic and an empire. And Derbyshire should read The Prince for how prestige benefits a republic.
Going back to the Moon and on to Mars involves certain risks. But the folks at NASA seem to be preparing to deal with those risks with great eagerness.
Monday, January 19, 2004
Greg Klerkx has some suggestions to improve the President's space intitiative.
His book on the space program can be found here:
Considering his bizzare performance after getting wacked in Iowa, I wonder if Howard Dean is a Viking berserker. I do hope that my fear that he is too insane even to be nominated by the Democrats proves unfounded, because this fall will not be as entertaining as it could have been.
John Edwards was being ambivilant about going back to the Moon on Face the Nation.
Come to think of it, I saw Kerry at an Iowa campaign rally tap dancing around the space issue, trying to be both for and against space exploration.
Via Jeff Foust.
One of the minor nits I have about the President's space initiative is that it perpetuates NASA's modern tendency to have boring names for proposed space vehicles. Crewed Exploration Vehicle somehow does not sing as well as--say--Mercury, or Gemini, or Apollo. So, as a public service, I should like to suggest the following.
For the Earth to LEO (space station) version of the CEV, I suggest Valkyrie. For those not versed in Norse mythology, a Valkyrie was a divine being who carried fallen warriors up to the Norse version of heaven, Asgard.
For the lunar version of the CEV, I nominate Artemis, after the Greek Moon goddess.
For the Mars version, Ares of course.
Addendum: Alan Boyle is also soliciting names for the new space ship.
Taylor Dinerman agrees with your humble servant that a Republican Congress is unlikely to eviscerate Bush the Younger's space initiative in 2004 as the Democrat Congress did his father's in 1990. Jeff Foust suggests that the time of political crisis for the plan may be in 2009.
This approach raises some interesting possibilities and concerns. Five years from now—January 20, 2009, the end of a hypothetical second term for Bush—the shuttle will still be flying, the station will be in the final stages of assembly, and the CEV will be undergoing unmanned tests. With few significant achievements during that time, it certainly would be possible for Bush’s successor to redirect the program to different aims, including those that don’t include missions to the Moon or Mars, with little wasted money. (If Bush loses in November, his Democratic successor will almost likely junk the plan in favor of something else.) However, if Bush and NASA succeed in selling the plan to the American public, it could survive a change in administrations.
Clarence Page, who ought to know better, takes up the mantra about the President's space initiative: It's all about oooiiillll!
Seems to me that even if Page's ranting were true, then so what? If we can make money and create jobs while exploring the universe, then all the better.
Via Paul Spudis
Virgiliu Pop offers an interesting retort to those who whine about "all that money" spent on space exploration when "children are starving."
The high profile of space exploration makes it appear more expensive than it actually is. The uninformed, yet caring citizen, is under the earnest impression that the money would make a genuine difference in the fight against poverty. The real dimensions of the social needs are, in reality, out of proportion with the money spent in space – be it in the past, now or in the immediate future. Otherwise, there won't be any social needs left after the Congress stopped funding the Apollo missions to the Moon.
Read the whole thing. It's a little controversial, but bears thinking about.
Saturday, January 17, 2004
Film maker Ridley Scott is being accused of distorting history and even of catering to Muslim fundementalists in his up coming film about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven.
Friday, January 16, 2004
The Motley Fools think that one could get very rich off of going back to the Moon, if one is careful.
President Bush, finally out of patience with Democrat obstructionists, has named Judge Pickering to the federal bench as a recess appointment. Prediction: Teddy Kennedy will get really angry now.
Ken Silber has an interesting proposal to finance the President's space initiative. Thirty year space bonds backed by space property/mining rights.
Via Glenn Reynolds.
Check out the 2001: A Space Odyssey exhibit site. This is what we thought the future was going to be back in the late 60s.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Charles Krauthammer approves of Bush's space initiative, not because it is "grandious", but because it is sensible.
Here's a transcript of NASA Administrator O'Keefe's press briefing that took place after President Bush's speech.
Algore takes time out from ranting about global warming, in the midst of the worst snow storm in a long time in New York, to denounce the President's space initiative.
Your humble servant makes the case for going back to the Moon.
Stanley Kurtz has another post on the Bush plan to go back to the Moon and on to Mars in which he repeats a misconception:
Space is not like the American West. It is much more physically challenging, relative to our current level of technology. Given the history of failed projects and cost overruns, it becomes increasingly clear that space may prove too expensive to conquer at our current (or even near-term future) technical level.
I have to respectfully disagree with the what Kurtz calls the "Mars as Everest" view of things. Simply defined, that seems to mean that destinations like the Moon and Mars are like Mount Everest, to be visited because they're there, but not to be settled or exploited.
The problem with that view is that, if space is "hard and expensive", then so were the Americas back when the first explorers reached the New World. Leaving aside the effects of hostile natives, the early settlers found the elements very difficult to survive. Several settlements, such as Jamestown and Plymouth, experienced "starvation winters" for the first couple of years or so until agriculture took hold.
It could be argued that the settlement of the Moon and Mars will be easier than that of Virginia or New England. We've had decades to study exactly how people would survive on those bodies, how to deal with the elements, and how to exploit local resources. When the first settlers go, they will be far better prepared than the folks who landed in the Americas. Far fewer, I suspect, will die on the Moon and Mars than did in America the first few years.
Kurtz has one point, though. We have treated space as Mount Everest, thinking that all that was necessary and possible was to plant the flag and take a few pictures. But I suggest that this additude has held us back, dampened enthusiasm for what we used to call the Conquest of Space, and given the "space haters", as Kurtz calls them, ammunition with which to oppose initiatives such as the one Bush proposed yesterday. Very few people will ever visit the summit of Mount Everest. It's easy to oppose billions for that. But many more people can hope to visit and even live in a new land, whether it's California in the 1840s, or Mars, perhaps in the 2040s. It's much harder to oppose that dream.
So is Russia.
India seems to be enthusiastic to join the push to the Moon and Mars.
The Children's Defense Fund says that space exploration is harmful to children and other living things.
James Lileks likes going back to the Moon and on to Mars too.
Okay, let's have some more:I have a dream. I believe that this nation should put a man on the moon by the end of this decade and keep him there. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard and expensive and boring and lethal and just might – might – give people something to watch that’s more important than Paris Hilton pitching a fit because she chipped a nail.
Looks like the Europeans like the Bush plan.
Dennis Powell knocks down some of the arguments against going back to the Moon and on to Mars.
Is Howard Dean in the process of blowing it? Maybe so, but at any rate the Democrat Presidential race is beginning to get far more competitive than it was just a week ago.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Let the enemies of freedom tremble in fear. Dennis Miller will soon have his own show again.
Here's the text of the Bush announcement.
Stanley Kurtz provides a critique of the libertarian view of space exploration. Rand Simberg gives a tart response.
As expected, President Bush proposed transforming NASA from a high tech, space taxi service to a modern day Corps of Discovery. Now the nit pickers and critics are going to weigh in. (My only complaint, by the way, is that the pace is a bit slower than I would like.)
Aside from that, I can already hear it. The deficit is too big. We need to spend more money on educationhealthcaretheenvironment. NASA can't do it. Not enough private sector involvement. Why are we ditching the shuttle? What about the space station?
No doubt there will be more I haven't thought of.
Some details can be worked out by the new Aldridge Commission. If there are public hearings (and I suspect there will be) I suggest that anyone with concerns and/or suggestions should attend.
My last thought for the time being is that if we get bogged down in arguments over details and implementation, there will still be people going to the Moon in the fullness of time. But they will speak Chinese.
Jim Oberg suggests visits to Earth approaching asteroids.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
When I think of exploration, on this the even of the Presidential announcement that hopefully will transform NASA from a high tech, space taxi service to a modern day Corps of Discovery, these lines from Tennyson come to mind:
Come, my friends,
If some sneer at such sentiments as religion, then let us make the most of it. This time, let us get it right.
Anne Applebaum, who embaressed herself last week by writing a screed against space exploration, proves herself a glutton for punishment by this week whining about the mail she got.
Although I've grown used to this phenomenon, I was nevertheless completely unprepared for the passions sparked by a column I wrote last week ["Mission to Nowhere," Jan. 7]. I meant to point out, in a mild sort of way, that human space travel might not be absolutely necessary, that it might cost more money than we can afford at the moment, that robots do most of the work better, and that the notion of humans living on Mars might be pretty far-fetched.
Write something controversial, even offensive, moi?
In fact, the e-mail onslaught ran about 60-40 in my favor. Many of the positive missives came from scientists, even ex-NASA scientists, and ran along the lines of "thank God someone has said the emperor has no clothes."
I'll bet they were from the robots uber alles crowd too. Of course, Applebaum does not reveal who these people are.
But the negative ones were remarkable both for the level of anger and for the fact that most contained no rational arguments whatsoever.
Sort of like Applebaum's original article. In any case, I'd love to review that e-mail. Maybe Applebaum's definition of "no rational arguments" is really "arguments I don't understand."
She goes on to ridicule space travel as some kind of combination of religion and political idealogy. Then she proves her ignorence of history.
The Apollo missions were halted because there wasn't anything to do on the moon and the public grew bored.
This is a canard often put forth by the space haters, as Stanley Kurtz calls them. Actually what truncated Apollo was an additude by political elites at the time that "all that money" would be better spent on social programs.
The space shuttle, as a Brookings Institution budgetary study reports this week, was conceived as a cheap way of sending humans on as many as 60 missions a year. The cost and complexity of keeping people on board alive quickly led to a radical downscaling of the program to an annual average of five missions, and even those had limited scientific capability. And until the Challenger crash -- let's be honest here -- the public had lost interest in the space shuttle as well.
The space shuttle was compromised by politics from the beginning. It was built for half of the development money NASA requested, was envisioned to satisfy all the launch requirements of the United States (impossible for any single vehicle to achieve), and was operated by a government agency. Of course it was expensive and unreliable. But there is no law of nature that suggests that space travel should be expensive and unreliable.
"Are space missions risky? Yes. So? So's walking down the street."
Then perhaps Ms. Applebaum should learn a little bit about the subjects she choses to write about and try to be a little less condescending.
Homer Hickam, one of my favorite authors, weighs in about the new Bush space initiative. He is favorable, as one might expect, but he makes a crucial mistake:
Let's be clear. Space is a nasty and cruel place for human beings. The analogy that going into space is like Columbus sailing off to discover the New World followed by hordes of immigrants is ludicrous. The moon isn't the Bahamas and Mars isn't New England. Antarctica is the better analogy. The world has been mucking around down there for over a century but I don't see too many towns sprouting up on the ice. Yet what's happening there is productive. The scientists and engineers who have journeyed to that far-away place are there to try to figure out some things, such as how the Earth works.
Of course the Bahamas and New England were "nasty and cruel" places four hundred or so years ago when the first European settlers arrived. But people were able to settle and prosper there nevertheless, even though many died in the process. That's why we used to refer to, in the days before political correctness, "taming the frontier."
Also the reason why there aren't that many towns in the Antarctic is that economic development of that continent is forbidden by treaty. One doesn't get too many settlers if they can't make a living where they propose to settle. If we can avoid turning the Moon and Mars into science reserves, then I suspect that the economic opportunities at those places will be sufficient to attract settlers.
Paul O'Neil is already back peddling. But of course he is.
Rand Simberg is disdainful of Stanley Kurtz's analysis as being insufficiently nuanced.
Stanley Kurtz muses briefly about the military implications of the new push beyond LEO. He agrees with your humble servant that China is the new rival in a new space race.
Glenn Reynolds sees the analogy of the opening of the American West to proposals to do the same with the high frontier of space. It starts, it seems, with the Bush proposal being the equivilent of Lewis and Clark.
Monday, January 12, 2004
Howard Dean's proposal to repeal the Bush tax cut and then cut payroll taxes is a net tax cut for the rich and a tax increase for everyone else.
Brendan Miniter agrees with your humble servant that sending America back to the Moon and on to Mars is a political winner for President Bush.
Further, Mr. Bush's space initiative offers a positive vision at a time when his Democratic rivals are immersed in petty political squabbles. What's more, the initiative has allowed the president to seize the mantle of John F. Kennedy by embracing a visionary project. The Democrats look small-minded when they take the line that space missions are too expensive in this era of budget deficits. That's got to hurt for the party of big government.
Just heard on Fox News, quoting a Draft Hillary Clinton ad about to run in Iowa. "Howard Dean, Doctor Assisted Suicide for the Democratic Party."
International participation in the Bush space exploration plan will likely be structured differently than the space station. I also suspect that the players will be different.
Looks like Paul O'Neil is about to be the latest person to go up against George W. Bush and lose.
Professor Gerald Degroot thinks that President Bush is on to something with his idea to explore the Moon and Mars.
Via Chris Hall
The first poll about space taken after the announcement of the Bush initiative has some interesting results. People are in princible in favor of space exploration, but that drops when the question offers a choice between it and education, health, and/or welfare.
The problem is that the choice doesn't exist. The United States is already spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year on education, health, and so on and that is not going away just because people are going to the Moon and Mars. Nevertheless, I think this is tha mantra that will be taken up by opponents like Howard Dean.
Stanley Kurtz examines those of us who believe that in space resides the future of the human race (he directly quotes both Rand Simberg and your humble servant) and those (like the hapless Anne Applebaum) who find the whole idea tedious. Kurtz declares himself to be in the middle where he suggests most of the country is.
I think some of his conclusions are wrong. If the Moon and Mars are "like Mount Everest" it is only because we have been treating those places like it. With the new Bush policy, that may be be about to change.
Jeff Foust has an interesting rundown on the Democrat candidates' reaction to the Bush space policy initiative. Cutting through the rhetoric, it seems to me that the reaction (except possibly the one from Wesley Clark) is, "NO!"
Howard Dean squirmed last night, as only a guilty white liberal could, as Al Sharpton inflicted a good, old fashioned mau mauing upon him.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
It seems I'm not the only one who finds that the Dean Campaign strongly resembles a cult.
The Chicago Tribune, favorably disposed toward the idea of exploration beyond LEO, has a fun thought:
What better way to unlock mysteries than to do it in person? There may be more dream than reality in what Bush wants to do. One official said an astronaut trip to Mars wouldn't take place for at least a decade.
Well, he has flown high performance jets and is likely to be a healthy man in his late sixties. What a cap to a brillient career it would make.
Via Jeff Foust.
Howard Dean likes to boast about his nearly six hundred thousand internet supporters. But President Bush has compiled an E-Mail list of six million supporters.
Saturday, January 10, 2004
The following might be entitled, "How to Go Back to the Moon and Crush Your Political Enemies Along the Way"
The Bush Administration is embarking on a complete redirection of the United States space program toward space exploration and technology development. I am convinced that they are doing this for sound, public policy reasons. But no White House undertakes a major new initiative without a full awareness of the political consequences if it is comprised of smart people. And the people of the Bush White House are some of the smartest in the history of the Republic.
For starters, despite some grumbling one sees in the media, the initiative will pass the Congress. All indications are that, unlike Bush 41, the Bush 43 White House has done its due diligence, checking with the Congress, NASA, and certain select others to ascertain what is feasible. Also, the initiative suggests a modest five percent increase each year over the next several years in NASA’s budget, not the horrendous half trillion dollar fantasy that NASA sprung on Bush 41 fifteen years ago. Finally, no Republican Congress (the Congress that rejected Bush 41’s Space Exploration Initiative was run by liberal Democrats) is going to deny a Republican President a major initiative in an election year.
My prediction is that the new initiative will be rammed through the House by a comfortable margin. It may take some deal making and sausage making to get it through the Senate intact, but it will pass there as well.
Of course this year is an election year. Bush’s space initiative has had the salutary effect of maneuvering his Democrat opponents into opposing something that the public—at least recent polls indicate—seems to be for. Howard Dean or Wesley Clark will have to explain to people why they are against an initiative that will not only expand the opportunities for science and commerce beyond the heavens, but will stimulate economic growth and job creation in certain states like California, Texas, and Florida. I suspect they will have great difficulty in doing so and will wind up losing votes.
There are two objections to the initiative that quickly fall apart on close examination and are contradictory as well.
First, say the naysayers, we cannot embark on a program of space exploration while there is a deficit. Leaving aside the fact that a twenty billion dollar a year NASA by 2010 (and likely more in the next decade) is not exactly a budget buster, complaining about the deficit has never been a political winner in the United States. Just ask President Walter Mondale or President Robert Taft.
Second, say the naysayers, we need to spend the money on other things, most likely social programs. That argument was potent enough to truncate the Apollo Program in the early 1970s. It is not very potent today. Americans have had thirty years of failure in social programs to come to the realization that spending hundreds of billions on the poor and the oppressed do not necessarily translate to actually helping the poor and the oppressed.
Of course, one cannot defund the space program to lower the deficit and fund social programs. That’s funny math even in government accounting.
So once again, President George W. Bush, whom his enemies persist in thinking the fool, has managed to outmaneuver his enemies and at the same time strengthen the health and vigor of the country he was elected to lead. Machiavelli would be very proud.
Tom James muses about the commercial possibilities inherent in going back to the Moon and on to Mars.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Howard Dean explains why he is consorting with a bunch of extremists in Iowa.
Frank Sietzen and Keith Cowling provide more details on the Bush space initiative. Apparently human and robot operations will be integrated.
"This should end the tired old argument between manned and unmanned space flight," a source predicted.
It likely won't, since the robots uber alles crowd is motivated partly by religion and partly by politics.
Chris Hall has some good comments about the new Bush space initiative, along with a myriad of links to others' comments.
Adam Keiper has some much needed advice for the implementation of the Bush space policy.
Thursday, January 08, 2004
It has been confirmed. And perhaps, at long last, the new Age of Discovery shall begin.
If they pull this off as advertised, I propose that we name the first lunar settlement Georgetown.
More on the upcoming announcement. I'm intrigued by this bit about NASA "ending it's involvement" in ISS by 2013. Sounds like a good opportunity for privitization to me.
Addendum: Rand Simberg's reaction to the Bush proposal, in advance of certain details, is sadly and predictably summed up in one word: "NO!"
However, I suspect that there'll be a lot of opportunities for commercial space ventures because of the proposal, if for nothing else NASA is getting out of Low Earth Orbit operations.
David Grinspoon seems to be in favor of colonizing Mars. But only if it is done is the sensitive, politically correct, multilateral way. It must not be done by Americans alone, or even in the dominate role, because that might smack of nasty things like "manifest destiny."
Seriously, it is thinking like that which makes moving to a space settlement all the more attractive, if only to be able to get away from people like that.
With the Spirit Mars rover triumphant, speculation abounds about the timing and nature of the new Bush space policy. There seems to be gathering consensus, though, that the historic moment has finally arrived to send people beyond Low Earth Orbit.
Bob Zubrin has a conversation about, oddly enough, Mars.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
With the redistricting fight all but over, Texas Republicans prepare to pick up seats in the US House. One of the Democrats targeted for destruction is Nick Lampson, who has sponsered something called the Space Exploration Act designed to get NASA to send people beyond Low Earth Orbit.
Even if Dean or some other Dem were to luck their way into the Oval Office, their agenda is essentially DOA in the Republican Congress sure to exist for the next fifteen or so years.
Bob Zubrin, of all people, appears to have written a splendid satire about the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post manages to embaress herself with a silly screed against space exploration.
The first color pictures from the NASA space probe expedition to Mars have now been published. They look like -- well, they look like pictures of a lifeless, distant planet. They show blank, empty landscapes. They show craters and boulders. They show red sand. Death Valley, the most desolate of American deserts, at least contains strange cacti, vicious scorpions, the odd oasis. Mars has far less than that. Not only does the planet have no life, it has no air, no water, no warmth. The temperature on the Martian surface hardly rises much above zero degrees Fahrenheit, and can drop several hundred degrees below that.
Sounds a lot like that desolate desert Senator Daniel Webster sneered at about a century and a half ago. You know, the one that became California and the American southwest. Ms. Applebaum seems unaware of the human capacity to make such places not only livable, but comfortable. But I suspect she would not understand the concept of terraforming.
Mars, as a certain pop star once put it, isn't the kind of place where you'd want to raise your kids.
Speak for yourself. I wonder if a Martian settlement, by its nature, would have crime, drugs, or bad schools.
Nor is it the kind of place anybody is ever going to visit, as some of the NASA scientists know perfectly well.
Note that Applebaum doesn't name the "NASA scientists" who think that, nor quote them directly.
If the average person on Earth absorbs about 350 millirems of radiation every year, an astronaut traveling to Mars would absorb about 130,000 millirems of a particularly virulent form of radiation that would probably destroy every cell in his body.
An exaguration, as Bob Zubrin has pointed out, and is no doubt preparing to do so again.
"Space is not 'Star Trek,' " said one NASA scientist, "but the public certainly doesn't understand that."
Another silly statement from an unnamed source. Also, one might say, part of the problem with the way we approach space exploration at the moment.
No, the public does not understand that. And no, not all scientists, or all politicians, are trying terribly hard to explain it either. Too often, rational descriptions of the inhuman, even anti-human living conditions in space give way to public hints that more manned space travel is just around the corner, that a manned Mars mission is next, that there is some grand philosophical reason to keep sending human beings away from the only planet where human life is possible. One actual "Star Trek" actor, Robert Picardo, the ship's holographic doctor, enthused this week that "we really should have a timetable to send a man to Mars. . . . Mars should be part of our travel plans." Naive, perhaps, but fundamentally not much different from President Bush's grandiloquent words after the Columbia disaster: "Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."
There are of course grand, practicable reasons as well, starting with expanding opportunities for commerce, science, and so on and ending with ensuring the long term survival of human civilization, considering how fragile the Earth has become.
But why should it go on? Or at least why should the human travel part of it go on? Crowded out of the news this week was the small fact that the troubled international space station, which is itself accessible only by the troubled space shuttle, has sprung a leak. Also somehow played down is the fact that the search for "life" on Mars -- proof, as the enthusiasts have it, that we are "not alone" in the universe -- is not a search for sentient beings but rather a search for evidence that billions of years ago there might possibly have been a few microbes. It's hard to see how that sort of information is going to heal our cosmic loneliness, let alone lead to the construction of condo units on Mars.
Having rejected "grand, philosophical reasons", Applebaum rejects the good science reasons.
None of which is to say that it isn't interesting or important for NASA to send robotic probes to other planets. It's interesting in the way that the exploration of the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is interesting, or important in the way that the study of obscure dead languages is important. Like space exploration, these are inspiring human pursuits. Like space exploration, they nevertheless have very few practical applications.
Now we get to the obligatory "robots uber alles" blather. Of course Applebaum seems bored even by that sort of thing too and therefore assumes that anyone who is not must be stupid.
Worse, there is always the risk that yet another politician will seize on the idea of "sending a man to Mars," or "building a permanent manned station on the moon" as a way of sounding far-sighted or futuristic or even patriotic.
Nope, mustn't be any of those things. Those are bad things to be.
The Chinese are embarking on their own manned space program, since sending a man to the moon is de rigueur for would-be superpowers. The result, inevitably, will be billions of misspent dollars, more lethal crashes -- and a lot more misguided rhetoric about the "inspiration of discovery," as if discoveries can only be made with human hands.
Of course as someone once pointed out, there is no such thing really as "unmanned space exploration." It's just a question of where to put the men. As anyone who is involved in such things know, eventually you have to get the men out from behind their computer consoles and at the point of discovery, as it were, to fully understand what is being discovered. And, of course, robots make very poor settlers or even tourists. Too bad Applebaum is too arrogant to understand this.
Addendum: Rand Simberg gives Applebaum the back of his hand as well.
Addendum: So does Chris Hall.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Stanley Kurtz over at NRO has some interesting thoughts about NASA Select TV.
An assessment of the military implications of China's manned space program that should serve as a sobering wakeup call for those folks who think that the flight of Shenzhou V was a stunt with no meaning beyong prestige.
The sad but funny controversy over Congressional redistricting in Texas, that featured two instances of Democrat lawmakers fleeing the state, has reached its conclusion. The Republicans are entirely triumphant and it looks like that the Democrats in Texas are headed for permenent minority status.
Private sector work related to a return to the Moon proceeds apace.
If this story in the tabloid Daily Mirror is true and Princess Diana was indeed afraid that Prince Charles wanted to do away with her, then it would only be in a long tradition of British royals offing one another.
William II was probably murdered by his brother, Henry I.
Edward II was murdered by Roger Mortimer by the arrangement of Edward's Queen and Mortimer's lover, Queen Isabella.
Richard II was killed by Henry IV.
Edward IV had Henry VI killed.
Richard III is said to have killed Edward IV, his other brother George of Clarence, and his nephews Princes Richard and Edward.
Richard III was killed at Bosworth by the forces of Henry VII.
Henry VIII sent two of his queens to the block.
Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England like a King, had Charles I executed.
Just imagine Jimmy Carter being transported to Middle Earth and trying to broker a peace agreement between Gondor and Mordor while inveighing against racism against Orcs.
Monday, January 05, 2004
The Spirit Mars Rover, and her sister Opportunity, offer a challenge.
Those successes demonstrate that despite the manned space program's current doldrums, there are plenty of individuals involved with NASA who are eager and able to rise to the challenges of the final frontier. However, summoning that spirit requires a clear vision and a specific plan. When President Bush gives his State of the Union address, Spirit will still be exploring Mars — it is likely to have been joined by its sister craft Opportunity. The names of both craft epitomize the current state of NASA's manned program. The spirit exists to send men to the moon or to Mars. The opportunity awaits. All that is needed is the vision and the plan.
There was a Dean for America campaign rally in New Hampshire recently that seemed to me to more resemble a revival meeting for a cult. And not a nice one either. The Cult of Dean reminds me of those groups that end up in a compound somewhere surrounded by the FBI and the ATF or getting ready to drink the koolaid to go meet the mother ship.
Taylor Dinnerman offers an analysis of the state of political play for things space. I think he arrives at about the right conclusions for the wrong reasons.
His theory is that Howard Dean has proposed a manned mission to Mars, which Dinnerman pegs at about $250 billion. (I will note that while the Mars Society folks put the price tag at $20 billion, even NASA has arrived at a figure of $50 billion.) Therefore if President Bush proposes something more modest, say a lunar base, then the President can claim to be more responsible than Dean.
The problem is that Dinnerman forgets Dean's capacity for duplicity and flip flopping. He was, for instance, against talking about "God, guns, and gays" until it became time to become a Christian for the guys in the pickup trucks with Confederate flags. Dean is very capable of claiming that he never suggested a Mars expedition, or never meant it, or meant it under certain conditions, while at the same time blasting Bush for sending people back to the Moon while letting children starve.
The saving grace is that Dean's stance on space is likely to be as popular as his positions on taxes and the war. Most polling shows more support for an expansion of the American space effort than existed at the middle of Apollo. So if Dean tries the starving children gambit, it is likely to fail. Especially in certain districts in California, Texas, and Florida.
Addendum: Arthur Smith over at sci.space.policy offers this rather caustic response to the Dinnerman article at something called Scientists for Dean.
Lawrence Bergreen, the author of Over the Edge of the World, a wonderful account of the great voyage of Magellan--which I am almost finished reading--used the occasion of the Spirit Mars rover to herald a new Age of Discovery.
NASA emphasizes science as the goal for the new Age of Discovery, but make no mistake, a political undertone exists. President Bush's recent announcement that he wants to return to the moon didn't come in a vacuum. It was likely a message aimed at China's ambitious space program and designed to put the Chinese on notice that we would not cede the moon to them. (For official purposes, no country can claim a celestial object as its own, but that will change over time.) And if, for example, the Chinese took aim at Mars, no doubt NASA's peaceful scientific pursuits would rapidly be transformed.
Sunday, January 04, 2004
I wonder if Osama ever imagined this happening as he plotted the atrocity of 9/11.
Zell Miller offers a caustic, but insightful evaluation of the train wreck that is the Democratic nomination race.
Jeff Foust links to an article that suggests "something big" will soon be rolled out at Bigelow Aerospace and that "NASA bigshots will play a prominent role" in the effort. Stay tuned..."
I wonder how that would play into my ideas about establishing synergies between the public and private?
The tendency of the Left to go too far out of their mad dog hatred of President Bush is beginning to get seriously tiresome. It will be their undoing.
Saturday, January 03, 2004
Looks like NASA's Spirit Mars rover has landed safely. Congratulations!
Friday, January 02, 2004
Rep Ralph Hall of Texas has crossed over to the Republican Party.
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Does Wesley Clark support an expanded, reformed space effort? these folks seem to think so. Of course I still remember the General's comments on faster than light travel.
The self inmolation of the Democrat Party that will likely take place this year will give President Bush the opportunity to effect a much needed form of the welfare state.