My ex-roomieAlan Henderson once passed along an idea he'd heard from a friend of his: imagine taking high-resolution satellite images of Earth every 1,000 years starting around the time of the first large-scale civilizations in the Near East. The pictures from 4000 BC through 1000 AD would show some interesting differences if you looked closely enough. But that 2000 AD picture would be something else.
Well, now there's a book out that sorta does that, at least by comparing 1000 AD with 2000. It's calledThe World Economy: A Millennial Perspective. From the ad between pp 174-5 of the Nov/Dec 2001 Foreign Affairs:
"In this period, world population rose 22-fold, per capita GDP 13-fold and world GDP nearly 300-fold. The biggest gains occurred in the rich countries of today (Western Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan). The gap between the world leader -- the United States -- and the poorest region -- Africa -- is now 20:1. In the year 1000, the rich countries of today were poorer than Asia or Africa."
It's That Time of Year ...
... to check up on failed predictions.
And there's a whopper in the Nov/Dec 2001 issue of Foreign Affairs, promisingly -- and misleadingly -- headlined "9/11 and After," with the telling subhead "The Afghan Quagmire." As lots of other 'bloggers, especiallyGlenn Reynolds, have noted, the q-word was simply irresistible to certain media types, at least up until mid-November when the Taliban lost most of Afghanistan in a 72-hour period.
This time it's one Milton Bearden, who turns out to have been a CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986-89. The real title of his article, which runs on pp 17-30, is "Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires," and lest the implication be lost on anyone, on p 29 he comes right out and says "... arming and forming an alliance with Afghanistan's now-leaderless Northern Alliance ... to locate and neutralize the bin Ladin network and replace the Taliban regime. But that is not a wise course ... it is not likely to achieve either goal. It is more than doubtful that the Northern Alliance forces could capture bin Ladin and his followers, and there is no reasonable guarantee that they could dislodge the Taliban. On the contrary, the more likely consequences of a U.S. alliance with the late Masoud's fighters would be the coalescing of Afghanistan's majority Pashtun tribes around their Taliban leaders and the rekindling of a brutal, general civil war that would continue until the United States simply gave up."
Now, in the interest of fairness, there are also some very good things about Bearden's article; on p 20 he reminds us of how decisive was President Carter's response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, something most Americans have long since forgotten. And on p 24 he explodes the myth that bin Ladin, or indeed any Arab forces, were recruited by the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Having said that, it seems to me that many people -- usually but not always liberal-arts types -- are utterly unprepared to predict, or even adequately comprehend, positive outcomes in modern, non-linear warfighting. Precision-guided munitions that hit their intended targets 98% of the time, as opposed to gravity bombs with a performance record of 1%, or bullets (0.01%), really do make a difference. And in another generation, even the bullets will be PGMs.
Thinking About the Unthinkable
Arcturus reader and all-round Renaissance guyBill Walker writes (in response to my "Cities and Commutes" post, which disappeared when Blogger got hacked): "And the lesser number of people within the same blast radius," by which he meant that nuking "sprawl" would do a whole lot less damage than nuking cities as they were 50-100 years ago. OK, techno-nerds, time to sharpen your metaphorical pencils.
The title of this post is that ofHerman Kahn's book, by which I mean the original from the early 1960s. I'm still on the Foreign Affairs kick; having been bold enough to critique a former CIA station chief, I will now question the wisdom of a former Secretary of Defense (1994-97), William J. Perry, author of the article "Preparing for the Next Attack," on pp 31-45 of the Nov/Dec 2001 edition.
Perry writes: "The most immediate danger is of a terrorist group delivering a nuclear bomb or biological weapon with a truck, cargo ship, airplane, or boat." (p 36) This may be the most immediate danger, but it is far from the greatest danger.
Without wishing to devalue anyone's sorrow or anger, I must state that any attack on a nation the size of the United States that kills only a few thousand people, including of course the attacks of 9/11, is a pinprick. An attack which killed tens of thousands would be a somewhat larger pinprick. In a country of 285 million people producing nearly $10 trillion a year of economic output, the death toll would need to reach well into six figures -- and be concentrated among key decision-makers and highly-sought-after skill sets -- to have a noticeable effect on our capabilities. EvenCantor Fitzgerald was ready for business by the time the markets reopened, two days after the 9/11 attacks.
No conventionally-delivered nuke or bioterror weapon could seriously hamper the functioning of American society. There is some question whether any biological attack, in particular, could result in a high death toll. Contrary to certainalarmist predictions, smallpox is not contagious prior to the symptomatic (not to say bedridden) phase of the disease, and is therefore almost never transmitted to more than 1 or 2 people by each victim. Epidemics in impoverished third-world communities were routinely contained with the technology available in the 1960s and '70s.
The obvious historical example is the Spanish flu (which should have been called the Kansas flu -- it started at Ft Riley), which killed half a million people in the US, several times our contemporaneous losses in WW I. No biological attack is remotely likely to kill even one-tenth that number, and this in a country whose population has nearly tripled since 1918. (Not to overlook the obvious, we now have the ability toprevent a repeat of the Spanish flu pandemic.)
And even a tactical nuclear weapon would, in most places, produce no higher a toll than 9/11. Turning to p 271, "Airblast Effects," ofArsenal: Understanding Weapons in the Nuclear Age, we find formulas for calculating overpressure, in particular:
PO = 14.7(Y/R3) + 12.8(Y/R3)1/2
PO is peak overpressure in psi; Y is weapon yield in megatons; and R is radius in nautical miles (x1.15 for statute miles). Note that the radius of blast effect scales as the cube root of weapon yield, so for a 1-megaton weapon the distances are exactly 10 times what they are for a 1-kiloton weapon. A few minutes of figuring establishes that the 5-psi overpressure radius for a 10-kiloton tac nuke is 0.489 nmi = 906 m = 2,970' = 9/16 of a statute mile.
The 5-psi overpressure radius describes the area within which most structures are destroyed; it is also the circle within which there are likely to be as many fatalities as there are outside the circle, and in an area of roughly uniform population density, the total number of fatalities will be close to the the total number of people inside the circle (without necessarily being those same people, you understand). So in this example, a terrorist attack using a 10-kT warhead would result in a devastated area of almost exactly 1 square mile. This seems formidable until we consultthis source, which states: "In 1990, 78 percent of Americans lived in metropolitan areas .... Between 1960 and 1990, the total land area in [US] metropolitan areas more than doubled, from 308,000 to 673,000 square miles." A quick check here to grab the right number and divide it by the area given above establishes that the average residential population density of American metro areas in 1990 was only 370 persons to the square mile! A randomly-placed atomic bomb in a populated area would thus kill far fewer people than the 9/11 attacks. A carefully-placed one, eg in a downtown area during working hours, might conceivably kill as many as 10,000 people, but there are only a relative handful of urban areas with the requisite density.
Contrast this with the premiere weapon aimed at us back in the bad old days, the SovietSS-18 mod 4 ICBM, which carried 10 550-kT hydrogen warheads, to be detonated about 6,500 feet above their targets (unless, of course, the targets were missile silos, in which case they would detonate as close to the surface as possible). Each bomb would have leveled 67 square miles and, weather permitting, set fires over an area of perhaps 100 square miles. One missile could thus devastate an area over 30 miles across and, even with poor aim, kill several hundred thousand people.
To truly wound the American economy and polity would require the destruction of an entire city, which can be done only by multiple independently-targeted thermonuclear warheads delivered by an intercontinental ballistic missile. And a killing wound is possible only by EMP.
But without an ABM system in place, we are wide open to just this possibility, and of course to the possibility of losing hundreds of thousands of people in an accidental strike on a city -- from one missile, not a full-blown nuclear exchange. ABM technology is not about stopping hundreds of missiles and leaving the rest of the world vulnerable to a decapitating first strike by the US. It is about keeping Americans from the grievous harm resulting from one missile.
So when Perry writes "... if the present impasse in the consultations on missile defense continues, it could lead China to dramatically increase the long-range missile modernization program it now has under way and could lead both Russia and China to provide missile and counterdefense technology to nations hostile to the United States" (p 43) -- a fair description of "moderate" and Democrat opinion on the issue -- it is simply a massive non sequitur. A missile defense capable of intercepting a single accidentally launched ICBM before it incinerates an American city, or a single deliberately launched missile before it sends most of the country back to 1820, is a threat to no nation. It is, rather, an excellent insurance policy against the ghastliest of accidents and the deadliest imaginable act of terrorism.
The Best Bounce Message Ever
Or, at least, the one I'm most proud of. As most of you reading this are now aware, I just sent out my self-described e-mail etiquette-violating post-holiday "newsletter." An organization associated with two of the recipients responded with this, which as Dave Barry says, I am not making up:
"(Organization) automatically screens all e-mail for inappropriate subject matter (i.e. material that is discriminatory, hateful, vulgar, pornographic, sexually-explicit, or obscene). This e-mail contains information that is considered inappropriate for the business environment and will not be forwarded to the intended recipient. If you believe that your e-mail was stopped by mistake, please forward your mail to (address) for review and final disposition."
I guess cat poop "is considered inappropriate for the business environment" at (Organization). Funny, I think it's inappropriate for the home environment, which is why I went to so much trouble to get rid of it. What, I wonder, does (Organization) do with its cat poop? Try to bounce it in software? Hah!
OK, this is another "day in the life" post, so the techie brigade can skip it. ;)
First, a couple of serendipitous events I forgot to mention earlier: while in Florida, we visitedGuana River State Park, where my mother and She Who Must Be Obeyed went shelling and I laid around looking at things through binoculars. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a pair of porpoises, frolicking proverbially just beyond the surf. They were the first ones I'd ever seen in the wild. The other serendipitous event consisted of picking stuff out of the neighbors' trash in a walk with my mom on Boxing Day (12/26). I'm getting some insight into where my ability to ignore social conventions comes from.
This morning we did Christmas in the Manifold household. You may infer what you will from our respective gifts: Leigh Ann got a Dremel tool, a jig saw, etc, while I got software and a desk lamp. Our "children" were not excluded -- they were fed special canned food and given small toys as stocking stuffers, and the feline dependents got another window perch, a fleece-covered plastic framework which clamps to a window sill. Very popular, especially in southward-facing windows on cold, sunny winter days.
A few days ago Iwrote something about the book. Now for the movie.
I've only seen it once, but plan to see it at least once more. The good news is that it's decently executed, a solid three-star film that leaves the moral seriousness of the book fundamentally intact while being approachable for those who haven't read LOTR. The production values are excellent.
There are some unfortunate omissions, the greatest of which, to my mind, was the veneration of Galadriel by Gimli; the scenes in Lothlorien completely omit their dialogue and the healing of a historic distrust. In the odd (but not necessarily bad, and probably inevitable) category are the brevity of scenes involving travel and complex dialog, and the tremendous dilation of fight scenes. The first episode of combat in Moria, as it reads in the book, would appear to last only a few seconds; in the movie it goes on for several minutes. Entire chapters of travel, meanwhile, are reduced to a minute or less on film.
On the unambiguously positive side, the movie is visually stunning, with entirely appropriate casting, costuming, and set design. It seemed to me that this extended as far as making Liv Tyler, who plays Arwen, look like -- at least in her first scene -- Edith Bratt, the woman with whom Tolkien fell in love while still in his teens and married several years later; she became the model for Luthien Tinùviël in the Silmarillion, who was in turn the model for Arwen Undòmiël. The acting is uniformly competent. The special effects and backdrops are very well done; Isengard, Minas Tirith, and the pillars of the Argonath all appeared to have been designed with careful attention to the book. Perhaps best of all, the intrinsic danger of using the Ring is repeatedly emphasized, and the bad guys are effectively portrayed as "the peril of the world."
And the final scene, showing Frodo and Sam looking out over the jagged ranges of the Emyn Muil, is as perfectly composed as one can imagine. In that frame is captured not only the physical difficulties, but also the spiritual struggle which lies ahead.
What we may look forward to in The Two Towers, then, is tremendous battle scenes when Eomer's Rohirrim surround the orcs, in the battle of Helm's Deep, in the destruction of Isengard by the Ents, and in the ambush in Ithilien by Faramir's patrol. The journey of Frodo and Sam is likely to occupy only a small portion of the movie. And in The Return of the King, the battle of the Pelennor Fields is likely to take up much of the running time.
Myletter to the editor on cloning ran today.
Xmas Brush With Greatness (?)
We attended Mass on Sunday morning the 23rd withmy sister and family here, then a Christmas Eve candlelight service with my mother here, where the pastor is the father of Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland. This would probably mean a lot more to me if I were 10 or 20 years younger.
Holiday Status and Administrivia
I'm posting this from my mother's house in Jacksonville, using her PC -- and therefore also using her AOL account, so now I know what those of you on AOL are experiencing when you read A Voyage To Arcturus. Not as bad as I'd feared, but not all that I would wish, either. In particular, some of the hyperlinks aren't obvious, so you might try pointing at anything underlined, bolded, or in italics. Not all such punctuation implies a link, but most of it does.
Otherwise, we're hanging out with my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. Returning to KC late Wednesday the 26th. Don't expect to see a lot of new stuff here before Thursday.
The Holly and the Ivy
Or, a rather unconventional Christmas message.
Actually, since even the phrase "unconventional Christmas message" is practically a cliché, I should perhaps mention a few things that this post is not: an ironic retelling of the Gospel story of Christmas, a snide attack on retailing, or a completely secularized homily about how we should all be nice to each other.
It is sort of about paganism, though. A couple-three weeks back, in the course of using a rental truck to bring a few thousand pounds of fill dirt over to the house and fill in some holes we'd dug -- it's a long story involving a damp basement, now thankfully waterproofed --She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested that we seize the opportunity to use the truck to get a Christmas tree. So off we went to Warren's Christmas Tree Farm, hereafter WCTF,which is quite an operation.
WCTF is located on the exurban fringe of the KC area, on the Kansas side, about 25 miles south-southwest of downtown KC MO. Large new houses on half-acre lots are popping up in the neighborhood, but it still has very much a rural midwestern feel: rolling hills, open pasture and cropland bordered by windbreaks of mature trees, and patches of forest on hilltops and along creek beds.
There were at least a hundred vehicles parked in a field when we got there, nearly every one of which had brought an entire family; people swarming around the various spots at which one selects an already-cut tree, or picks out a still-growing tree to be cut, or picks up one's prepared order -- trees are trimmed slightly and wrapped in plastic mesh for easy transport. The cashier is in a barn, along with urns of hot chocolate and wassail, prodigious quantities of greenery, a straw-covered floor, various knick-knacks for sale, and a live choral group.
This is the point at which some people would go into rant mode about how crass it all was. But it didn't feel that way to me; it simply felt charming, and rather innocent. Everyone seemed to be having a genuinely good time, including the employees. The hordes of children were excited but not obnoxious. And from a "process standpoint," as we say on my day job, it was all very well designed and executed: maximum throughput with minimum hassle.
I also noticed that the only overtly Christian imagery anywhere at WCTF was the fish symbols on the backs of a lot of the customers' cars. Everything else could have been lifted straight out of northwestern Europe prior to evangelization, ie 300-900 AD depending on location, ranging from France to Scandinavia. It just so happened that while we were waiting in line in the barn to pay for our tree, the choral group was singingThe Holly and the Ivy, a scantily Christianized hymn of the nature religion of my distant ancestors.
Of course, this is not a unique perception -- plenty of people in this part of the country avoid explicit observance of Christmas precisely because of things like The Holly and the Ivy, and the New Testament gives them an out in Romans 14:5-6a: "One man prefers one day to another; another man approves of every day. Let each one be convinced in his own mind; for he who favors a day favors it for the Lord." (Lattimore translation)
This isn't the place for a sermon on Romans 14, though I'll probably write one eventually; the relevant point this time is that I have once again surprised myself by joining the mainstream. A filtered paganism, blended into American Christianity, holds no threat for me; if anything, it's rather sweet. I am fortunate in many ways, not least in the history of my forebears; the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was relatively voluntary, and the disestablishment of the Church in America kept it from becoming the ossified monopoly it often appears to have become elsewhere in the world. My own experience has been one of deliverance from bitterness and alienation rather than descent into them. So I can think of this season as a time to remember a gift from beyond the world, the beginning of a victory that makes every other victory possible.
Other than thegrim scenario I came up with the other day, there hasn't been any alternate history in here yet. So it is with great pleasure that I pass along the following, from my ex-roomie, Alan K. Henderson, speculating on a Pat Buchanan-ish America eschewing war in the Pacific, circa 1941:
"What if we left Japan alone? Instead of eastern Asia being dominated by two evil Marxist empires that have a long history of animosity toward each other (China, Russia), that region would have been dominated by one evil Marxist and one evil feudalistic/fascist empire that have a long history of animosity toward each other. We would not have militarily fought the Cold War in Vietnam or Korea (since they would have been Japanese provinces, assuming the USSR would not have seized the latter in a later war), but our troops may have been lured elsewhere. Without the Vietnam experience, might our leaders have been more eager to send massive troop deployments to fight Communism in Angola or Ethiopia? And where would the first nuclear bomb have been dropped -- and by whom?"
Since I doubt that Alan and I are the onlyHarry Turtledove fans around here, feel free to send in your own ideas.
Do I Know How to Call 'em, or What?
The title of this post is a copy of Glenn Reynolds' frequent (and justified) crowing over having correctly predicted a news story. I'm unlikely to ever matchInstaPundit, but I inadvertently anticipated one of today's lead stories.
Behind the bland headlineCircuitry Advancement Wins Award is the #1 science story of the year.
Of course it was nanotech. Future generations will wonder why we didn't drop everything else for an all-out push to develop molecular manufacturing and cell repair. But we'll get there soon enough anyway.
For further reading: Yahoo! maintains aNanotechnology Full Coverage section, which points to, among many other things, this astounding development.
Regardinga certain earlier entry, the Emir of McMullenstan answers "yes," and asks the elegantly simple follow-up question: Why is America good?
Send your answers in to the Emir, and don't forget to copy theAnarch of the Manifold Autonomous Zone to become eligible to win a swell prize!
(You may also send suggestions regarding the swell prize, which must be inexpensive enough not to arouse the wrath ofShe Who Must Be Obeyed.)
The Sky Tonight
There's a really nice conjunction of the Moon and Mars; it's worth stepping outside to take a look at -- weather permitting. The bright thing rising in the east is Jupiter. More infohere.
Example Nanotech Story
Graze (midwesterners don't surf) on over to UniSci and check outProtein Structure Reveals Elegant Water Flow Solution. Wretched technical nit-pick: Since 1 Å = 0.1 nm, 2.2 Å is actually 0.22 billionths of a meter, or 220 trillionths of a meter, not "22 billionths of a meter" as stated in the article -- that would be 22 nm, the diameter of a large molecule containing hundreds of atoms. A single small atom, like hydrogen, is about 1 Å across.
Nanotechnology will be a regular topic here on A Voyage To Arcturus. Much of the gritty, practical work of getting us to the nanotech threshold will consist of elucidating protein structure and folding. UniSci has a "Special Archive" on nanotech which does not appear to be regularly maintained; a better source is theForesight Institute.
The original primer on the subject,Engines of Creation, is still the best. I regard it as the most important work of non-fiction published in my lifetime.
An Extraordinary Commentary
Thanks toInstaPundit for pointing to this white-hot commentary by legendary Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. Get a kleenex box first. This is not for the faint of heart. Also contains R-rated language.
It was perfectly timed for the rise of the Boomer generation; The Hobbit had become an immediate children's classic in the decade before the birth of their first cohorts, so many of them were introduced to Tolkien's enchanting invented world while still in grade school. Word of mouth, and the spiritual perplexities of adolescence and early adulthood in the minds of millions of budding idealists, did the rest.
Tolkien liked individual Americans well enough, but was not fond of them in groups, despised American culture even as its market-driven energies made him rich, and was horrified by the sex-drugs-rock&roll culture that appeared during the final decade of his life. The Matthew 13:24-30 scene that is the English-speaking world has something to offend everyone. I nonetheless hope and believe that he had some understanding of how his work blessed a vast number of people who were products of a very different educational system and who embraced -- among other things -- music he could not appreciate.
For it is all of a piece: the music, the times, the friends, the beliefs, and the book. The application process for the University of Chicago, at least in the 1970s, required the applicant to pen short essays about three books of his choosing: one non-fiction and two fiction -- by which the applicant felt most influenced. Everyone I ever knew well enough at Chicago to ask about this told me that one of their fiction choices wasThe Lord of the Rings. It cut completely across personalities, native regions, religions, and even majors. Tolkien may have inadvertently done more to bridge CP Snow's "Two Cultures" than any other 20th-century academic.
As a meditation on the dangers of power, the book is without parallel, and I have often thought that one of its most crucial passages is Galadriel's explanation to Frodo that to use the Ring, his will would have to be trained to the domination of others. Contra many critics, Tolkien was no Luddite. What he loathed about Europe in the first half of the last century was not its technology but its all-too-common treatment of individual human beings and human values, ranging from shabbiness through authoritarianism to mass murder. The Ring was not the Bomb -- rather, it was something very much like what the Bomb was built to defeat.
InJ.R.R Tolkien: Author of the Century, T.A. Shippey characterizes the chapter "The Council of Elrond" as the keystone of the trilogy and ranks it among the greatest accomplishments of English literature. There will undoubtedly be a boom in Tolkien criticism in the coming months. One obvious (to me) aspect of LOTR which I have never seen in print -- OK, now, all you liberal-arts majors groping for a dissertation topic be sure and give me full credit on this -- is that the arguably four most prominent characters in the book map directly to the Four Living Creatures of Revelation 4:7, which in Christian tradition in turn represent, or are represented by, the Four Evangelists. Going further back, closely similar imagery appears in Ezekiel 1:10.
Now to avoid spoiling things just in case there's somebody reading this who hasn't read LOTR at least half a dozen times, the four characters I have in mind are 1) a king, 2) a servant, 3) an "everyman" character with whom countless readers have felt an especially close identification, and 4) a divine representative who occasionally flies around on the back of a giant eagle. Thus "the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle." (RSV)
The remarkable thing about all this -- and about the numerous other Biblical and variously Catholic allusions strewn throughout the work which others (far more qualified than I) have spotted and commented on -- is that at least initially, Tolkien had no idea where he was going with the book. His publisher wanted a sequel to The Hobbit. He decided to center the story on the Ring, as bequeathed to a nephew of the protagonist of the earlier book, rounded up some characters, started them on their way, and got stuck in Bree with a proto-#1-major-character (see above). After a considerable interval, he got off the dime (shilling?) and from then on always knew his final destination. But in his own famous phrase, "the tale grew in the telling" -- in a "subcreative" (Tolkien's own term) process something very much like aHayekian spontaneous ordering -- helped along by constant nagging from CS Lewis, who insisted that Tolkien bring a new installment to each weekly meeting of the Inklings.
Thus are epics produced -- not necessarily planned, at least not at first (though Tolkien did an enormous amount of planning and outlining later, to achieve internal consistency on matters as initially unnoticeable as two characters on the same date, but widely separated in geography, seeing the Moon in the sky in the same phase). The necessary elements were a good imagination and the right friends. About which I will have more to say in a future post.
I Get Letters, Cont'd
The original announcement went to 95 addresses. I got 10 bounce messages and one "remove us" -- evidently somebody different getting e-mail at one particular address these days -- leaving 84, of which I happen to know that 2 addresses are no longer active, leaving 82 (86.5%). I then got 20 replies, which is 24.4% of 82. Any of the 20 would be printable in a family newspaper and none made any reference to my checkered career.
So now I owe a bunch of people personal notes, and am therefore more-or-less immediately posting this as a kind of placeholder. The generic reply is thanks, great to hear from you, long time, hope we can meet physically at some point, and thanks for not dredging up any interesting incidents from my past.
I will try to set aside some regular time for individual responses. Be aware that the turnaround time on these may be a week or more. I will also occasionally solicit particular reactions in the form of "what 3 things would you take to a desert island"-type questions. Don't answer that; it's not a real one.
As already noted, however, geeky techno-replies make it through my defenses every time.
Speaking of anniversaries, space buffs may recall that this week is the 29th anniversary of the return ofApollo 17, the last manned mission to the Moon. The returning crew took the most famous full-Earth photograph ever during the trans-Earth phase of the mission.
Imagine that it's late May of 1956, the same anniversary ofLindbergh's achievement. America has four aircraft. All are owned by the Federal government, and each can carry a maximum of seven persons and has about the same cargo capacity as a tractor-trailer. There is one flight a month; each plane flies three times a year. All flights are between Washington, DC and New York City.
No one has flown across the Atlantic since 1927. Nonetheless, the aeronautical industry employs tens of thousands of people and obtains several billion dollars a year in subsidies. Flying has remained primarily a scientific curiosity, though it has found practical application intelecommunications. And of course there are unmanned "intercontinental flying missiles" (ICFMs), ready to be launched at a moment's notice to carry a nuclear bomb halfway around the world to vaporize an enemy's military base or industrial complex within twenty-four hours.
One tourist has flown, and the idea of conducting regular air tours for profit is being openly discussed, but only about one American in a million has ever been airborne. Millions of Americans suspect that Lindbergh's flight was a hoax.
This rather grim alternate-history scenario, besides inadvertently illustrating the perils of historical analogy, is how many space enthusiasts regard America's, and humanity's, position in the early 21st century. You might imagine that someone who sees things this way would be deeply alienated, and you would be right.
Indeed, mankind's failure to begin working in space on any large scale is ridiculous, and to a generation raised on Apollo, embarrassing. A few months after the Apollo 17 mission,Skylab was put in orbit. The International Space Station, nearly thirty years later, is about the same size and, like Skylab, holds only 3 people, the equivalent of 2½ of whom must work full-time just to keep it operating. One-half of one worker in space, three decades later, for at least 20 times as much money. In no other technical field, in all of history, has the same endeavor become more expensive over time. Only in spaceflight has this happened.
Detecting the leaden hand of government here is not difficult. And some of us aretrying to do something about it, but one of the greatest problems may be the bitterness of so many people involved in the nascent commercial space industry, in which the typical enterprise has the social skills of a den of badgers. ASR has sought to distinguish itself in this respect, largely at the behest of my business partner, Denise Norris.
Whether we succeed with our mission may be less important for the history of the future than whether we can help change the hearts of some of those trying to make that history.
PS - Those interested in my personal vision in this field may wish to readthis.
Chaos Is Good
Thanks toGlenn Reynolds for ref'ing this whacking great article. The penultimate paragraph is phenomenal.
Slamming Bill Tammeus
Actually apretty good guy. It just so happens that I've written highly critical letters to the editor in response to a couple of his recent columns. Here's the latest (slightly reformatted):
I don't get"Cloning begs many questions of us" (12/15).
I don't get why anyone should "react with visceral repugnance to the prospect of cloning humans."
I don't get how "cloning ... distorts the natural process of procreation by replacing it with a manipulative form of manufacturing." What about IVF, which has been around since 1978, and to which over 50,000 Americans (one of them a nephew of mine), owe their existence?
I _really_ don't get Leon Kass. Any parent who picks their spouse -- which, in this society, at any rate, is the norm -- has helped "design" their children.
And I don't get what's supposed to be wrong with "using genetic manipulation to yield designer children." A friend of mine in California takes his 4-year-old son to the hospital every few weeks because the boy has cystic fibrosis. Five percent of the entire population carries a recessive CF gene. I'll bet my friend wishes he could have done a little "designing."
Under theWeldon bill (HR 1644), any attempt my friend might have made to alter his son's genome -- and thereby save a child from cystic fibrosis -- could have resulted in a 10-year prison term.
If this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, we will find out how many parents -- and "renegade scientists" -- are willing to spend 10 years behind bars to save children's lives.
You can read some more perspectives on thishere.
Goats to Make Malaria Vaccine
Stories likethis make me wonder why anybody, anywhere, thinks that genetic engineering is wrong (here's malaria's toll).
I Get Letters
Watch this space for a report on reader e-mail, coming Real Soon Now, together with my initial gropings toward a policy thereon.
I gotthis astonishing tribute to America off of The Scene.
Given that The Guardian is notoriously left-wing, it is particularly interesting to see what impresses them about the US. Also ironic, given that most of the 52 items on the list are obvious results of vigorous economic competition.
A "no" appears to have crept into #19, but the list appears accurate otherwise. I got the title to this post fromthis.
Regarding "Cities and Commutes," my engineer buddyChris Struble writes:
"Since the invention of the automobile, we've moved all the services we want to get to (employment, schools, shopping, parks, etc.) farther and farther away from where we live. Yes, it may take the same amount of time to get there because we can go faster, but it takes a lot more energy. Energy also goes as the square of the velocity. So increasing speed by a factor of 10 increases the distance you can cover by a factor of 100, but it also increases energy cost by a factor of 100."
And: "The actual number of people one can interact with in a day is still limited by time, no matter how fast one travels."
This is irresistible geek bait foryours truly.
Energy costs increase with velocity, but not as the square of velocity, KE = ½mv2 notwithstanding. Cars do not, for example, get ¼ the gas mileage at 60 mph that they do at 30 mph. And highway driving is notoriously less stressful on cars than city streets, so overall costs per unit distance may well decrease. I don't know the real relationship, though, and the increasing physical separation to which Chris alludes -- and the zoning regulations which cause much of it -- do represent a limitation of the potential gain of using cars instead of legs.
Chris' second point is dead on, and has other applications as well, notably to bandwidth. Go tothis link and read the letter at the very end, the one from the really long-winded guy, who if he had it to do all over again, would merely say that in the past decade, both the rate and size of e-mails has risen by two orders of magnitude. So we're still reading about the same number of them each day, because, whaddaya know, the days aren't any longer than they were in 1991.
The reason large cities with cars and highways are better than small cities without them is the greater potential number of interactions. One can be equally busy in both types of environments, but the possibilities of the latter can be hundreds of times greater and more complex.
Chris, by the way, counts himself as firmly in the contentment camp, making him emotionally impervious to criticism, just like me. ☺
They Said WHAT?
Over onInstaPundit , Glenn Reynolds calls this contribution from a reader "cats and dogs living together." As well he might:
"'America is far from perfect,' commented Dominique Moisi, adjunct director of the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. 'It has blundered through arrogance, selfishness, cynicism, and a great deal through ignorance.
"'But without America, the history of humanity in the 20th century would have been infinitely more tragic.'"
Les Arts Florissants
We attendedthis event Friday night. Here is the Kansas City Star review.
The Noël: Joseph est bien marié, H.534, No. 3 was especially beautiful, as was Noël: Or nous dites Marie, H.534, No. 4 the Seventh «O», O Emmanuel Rex:
O Emmanuel Rex,
Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium,
et Salvator earum:
veni, ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
"O Emmanuel/our King and legislator, the hope of nations/and their Savior:/come, and save us, Lord our God."
Ludwig van Beethoven is 231 Today
As all good Peanuts fans know, December 16th is Beethoven's birthday. A tribute to the great composer ishere.
Hey, I didn't say it was a serious tribute.
Keep 'em Guessing and Make 'em Squirm
Approach anyone you know who has strongly held political views (left, right, libertarian, populist, whatever). Ask for their reaction to this statement:
America is great because America is good.
How they respond is a better litmus test than any ideological or issue-based question could possibly provide.
Don't even bother with the full version of the quote -- "the pulpits aflame with righteousness," and all that. Anddon't claim that it was written by a famous person.
Nope, just "America is great because America is good." Yes or No?
Lefties, and populists of the Pat Buchanan variety, won't admit it. They're consumed with passion for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the taken-advantage-of. If all those poor people turn out to be living in a fundamentally decent country, maybe most of their problems are their own fault. And that just won't do.
The Religious Right won't admit it either. They've convinced themselves that America is crawling with perverts, abortionists, and atheists. It can't possibly be good. If it were, who would we look down on? Who would we call to repentance -- ourselves? Perish the thought.
And neither will a lot of libertarians. Why, just look at all the terrible things our government did! It practically invited the 9/11 attacks! And now it's becoming a police state!
This may be a whole new political axis: not left-right, not libertarian-authoritarian, not dynamist-stasist. More like content-malcontent. It's the difference between quiet gratitude and compulsive bitching.
Note that contentment does not mean complacency, and therefore does not preclude deliberate and determined action to make one's country an even better place. We do not withhold charity from people who've messed up their lives. We do not refrain from calling out wickedness -- or from self-examination. And we certainly do not give the State a free pass to act however, and upon whomever, it sees fit.
But we recognize that we are living in the middle of the most overwhelmingly successful experiment in human history. Not perfect. Just the best place in the world to live in, that's all.
Coming to you from "The Breadbasket, of which Kansas City is undisputably the capital ... that North American nation most at peace with itself. It is the nation that works best." (Joel Garreau,The Nine Nations of North America)
Cities and Commutes
On Friday, December 31, 1999, I took a walk withShe Who Must Be Obeyed down Janssen Place, the only private street in Kansas City, located in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
It was an occasion for reflection on the immense improvement in the human condition during the 20th century. In 1900, the largest employer in KC was the stockyards. The typical chicken-processing plant job today -- now considered emblematic of unsanitary, dangerous working conditions -- is far cleaner and safer than the stockyards were then. Not only that, there wasn't a water works! Water was pumped directly out of the Missouri River, run through a screen to take out the bigger chunks, placed in a settling tank to let the rest of the visible stuff precipitate out, and then pumped into factories, offices, and residences, without any chemical treatment whatsoever. Due to political wrangling, this didn't get fixed until 1928, by which time KC had the highest infant-mortality rate in the country. But I digress.
Only the wealthiest, perhaps the top few tenths of one percent, could afford the likes of the houses on Janssen Place. And not many of us could afford them now, though the portion of the population capable of buying such a house has probably risen to several percent. But most of us -- literally most of us -- can afford a house with indoor plumbing, numerous electrical appliances, an attached garage, central air conditioning, efficient insulation, and sundry other elements and devices either rare or unobtainable a century ago.
Imagining this city dominated by disgusting jobs and bereft of potable water is one thing. But imagining it without the automobile -- and the limited-access highway -- is something else. Non-locals reading this may need a little help here. Kansas City is what LA was supposed to become, or perhaps what Dallas and Houston would have become had their growth been properly foreseen. Rush hour in KC means occasionally slowing down to 65 mph in the right-most lane. I have a 15-mile commute to work which almost never takes more than 20 minutes, from the time I step out the door of my house to the time I step into my cubicle.
This may be the greatest change of all over the course of the 20th century. A one-order-of-magnitude increase in commuter velocity, from 3-6 mph on foot or horse-drawn conveyance to 30-60 mph by car on city streets and highways, means a two-order-of-magnitude increase (100x) in the area which can be reached per unit time. InEdge City, Joel Garreau mentions that the average maximum duration of a commute has remained roughly constant for millenia: three-quarters of an hour is about the limit for most people.
Three-quarters of an hour on foot gets you 2¼ miles. The area of a circle of this radius is 15.9 mi2.
Three-quarters of an hour by car can get you 45 miles. The area now reachable is 6,360 mi2. (Perhaps not coincidentally, this is very nearly the size of the Kansas City CMSA.)
Not surprisingly, with this kind of technology available, even as the KC metro area grew in population by over an order of magnitude, its population density plummeted. But even if the density dropped by a full order of magnitude, each member of the population could physically reach 10 times as many other members in a given amount of time!
What this means, in turn, is that the number of possible face-to-face interactions between people increased enormously. The formula for determining the maximum number of channels of communication among all members of a group is C = (N*(N-1))/2.
Among 100,000 people in a medium-sized city, there are just under 5 billion possible channels of communication. But among 1 million people in a big city, there are just under 500 billion. As KC has grown in population by a factor of 14 in the past century, the number of possible combinations of its inhabitants has multiplied nearly 200 times.
Whatever conclusions we may draw from this, the idea that the automobile has destroyed community should probably not be one of them.
Where do we go from here?
The July 2001 issue ofAerospace America discusses NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System initiative. A sidebar discusses Moller International's "SkyCar."
Paul Moller, president and founder, says: "We think of ourselves as a very mobile population today, but we have to move at slower and slower speeds as we near our cities. Consider how much the extent of our world would change if we could move (at altitude) at speeds of, say, 300 mph, or at 175-200 mph, with the same efficiencies, at sea level."
Your homework assignment is to work out the implications of another 5x increase in commuter velocities and 25x increase in the area reachable by short trips. NASA says SATS will take 30 years to implement; Moller thinks ubiquitous air-car travel is less than a decade off.
The Real Revolution
In hisfarewell column in the NYTimes, Anthony Lewis writes:
"In my lifetime we have carried out two revolutions, unfinished but extraordinary: the ending of racial discrimination and the move toward equality for women."
A theme to which I will frequently return in this space is the perception of many non-technical people that "advance" consists only of political or social developments, with material progress strangely invisible or overlooked.
In this case, the relevant facts are:
I will not deny that there was a substantial element of "memetic engineering," in the form of moral suasion, in ending racial discrimination. Some of the most poignant episodes in modern American history were associated with that effort.
But a wealthy economy, with its underpinning of technical prowess, provided fertile soil for the seeds sown by the civil rights movement.
For more good news, readthis (the Executive Summary is just 1 page). The technological revolution is also unfinished, and it is the most extraordinary of all.
Bill of Rights Day
Today isBill of Rights Day.
Read about the Bill of Rightshere.
By Way of Explanation
I will post this message, which purports to explain what I'm doing with this thing, every month or so. Maybe every week if things get busy.
A Voyage To Arcturus is my weblog. It is named for my short-lived BBS, which ran for a few months in late '91 and early '92, and which in turn was named for theDavid Lindsay SF novel that served as an inspiration for CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters.
There are hundreds of thousands of active weblogs on the 'net in the US alone. Most are day-in-the-life, public diary-type things. A few hundred, perhaps, are political commentaries with a relatively large following, that is, thousands of regular readers; two of the best are Virginia Postrel'sThe Scene and Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit.
Barring some miraculous infusion of talent, mine will never be in a class with Postrel, Reynolds, et al. Some of what I post will indeed be in the day-in-the-life category, though I will try to make any such material relatively enjoyable. Most of it will be in the broader realm of ideas, primarily societal-technological, some explicitly political. And I expect to write a few out-and-out sermons (feel free to tell me if you think I missed my calling).
I will occasionally request feedback and quote from correspondence, so if you want to see your stuff posted here and viewed by, gosh, maybe a two-digit number of people, please comment on my stuff, or justsend something in.
My only guideline is the broad (and in context, a bit cheeky) clause in Jeremiah 15:19, "... utter what is precious, and not what is worthless ..." - at least, I'll try to avoid the completely worthless.
I hope you will enjoy what you find here, bookmark this site, and pop in every few days.