To Stupidity…and Beyond!

I long ago came to accept the fact that any news from the aerospace world that makes it into the popular media is going to be laughably misunderstood and misrepresented. The meatgrinder of 24/7 “news” amplifies the problem as reporters rush to be first while receiving less and less editorial oversight.

One site where I didn’t expect to see this kind of nonsense was The Verge, where this epically dumb opinion piece on Elon Musk’s Mars 2.0 plans appeared. I’d say it smacks of the misleading tripe normally foisted on the Wall Street Journal or USA Today by LockMartBoeing corporate shills, but that would be unfair to misleading tripe. Nope, it’s just pig-ignorant right out of the gate:

Elon Musk is obsessed with traveling between any two points on Earth in less than 30 minutes.

No, he’s obsessed with driving down launch costs so humans can go to Mars. As anyone who actually pays attention to this business already knows. But hey, at least he consulted some experts:

“You can’t fly humans on that same kind of orbit,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for Secure World Foundation, told The Verge. “For one, the acceleration and the G-forces for both the launch and the reentry would kill people. I don’t have it right in front of me, but it’s a lot more than the G-forces on an astronaut we see today going up into space and coming back down, and that’s not inconsiderable.”

First of all, it’s not really an orbit. It’s suborbital, which is the whole point. More accurately, it’s an antipodal trajectory. And why would the g-forces (apparently distinct from “acceleration,” but we’ll let that one slide for now) necessarily be more than what astronauts experience? It’s not like they’re being strapped to the nose of an ICBM. Sorry, but “I don’t have it right in front of me” doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this guy’s expertise.

Mind you, I can’t see your typical airline passenger being willing or able to pull 3 or 4 g’s for extended periods of time but I do think there are enough people of means who’d be willing to spend serious money on a suborbital hop that actually took them somewhere. Unless the radiation environment fries them in their seats, that is:

Another problem with ballistic trajectory is radiation exposure in the vacuum of space, Weeden added. To be sure, astronauts on the International Space Station are largely shielded from this radiation, thanks to Earth’s magnetic field, which deflects most of the deep-space particles. But his indifference toward the impact that these interstellar concepts would have on human bodies is classic Musk.

Ignoring the “interstellar concepts” bit, we’re expected to believe there’s no way to keep a suborbital P2P trajectory below the Van Allen belts? Or shield the cabin? Planning for radiation exposure is already a major factor in long-haul polar routes. If only someone had studied these problems before! Oh, wait…someone did:

One of the most striking conclusions to come out of the DOT paper is the effects this type of futuristic travel could have on pilots. “The pilot will have to deal with activities ranging from direct control of the vehicle to oversight and situational awareness to planning,” the paper’s author, Ruth A. MacFarlane Hunter, a national expert on logistics and emergency management and a registered professional aeronautical engineer, wrote. “The much larger array of instruments and situations may require the pilot to quickly shift to a different activity using different instruments.”

Sigh. There’s a lot of good info in that paper, which happened to be one of my sources while doing research for Perigee. There’s also some ill-informed crap, notably this: “The pilot will have to deal with activities ranging from direct control of the vehicle to oversight and situational awareness to planning.

How does any of that differ from the current environment, other than altitude and Mach number? There’s no doubt it’ll require a level of piloting skill not currently demanded of your average graybeard plying the airways in a 787, but I think they’ll be able to find a few who can handle it. There’s a lot of ex-military and even Shuttle pilots out there flying the friendly skies. And those guys aren’t exactly working alone, either. Oversight, situational awareness, and planning…sounds a lot like mission control to me. That’s why airlines have operations centers that rival what you might see at NASA: it’s a complicated business where things happen fast, and nobody expects the pilots to do all the work themselves. Hell, we don’t want them to. That’s also why we have dispatchers and load planners and ATC specialists and performance engineers: so all the pilots need to do is check our work and fly the airplane.

United’s operations center in Chicago, IL

What scares me is this came from a Department of Transportation aeronautical engineer – in other words, someone who ought to know better. No wonder we have to put up with so much nonsense from the regulators…

This type of display, and the responsibilities of taking off and landing an interplanetary rocket full of men, women, and children, might be too much for normal pilots to handle. In fact, it could cause the pilot to have a total nervous breakdown.

So are we “interplanetary” or “interstellar?” I’m confused. This reminds me of the kinds of knee-jerk scaremongering from the early days of spaceflight (not that I was there, but I do read a lot).

There’s plenty enough to pick at without adding ill-informed assertions to the mix. For instance, I don’t see how this is going to be affordable for a very long time – certainly not in time for it to help bankroll Musk’s Martian dreams. Passenger safety is a huge concern – it’s also going to be a long time before this system is reliable enough to start selling tickets.

The riskiest phases of flight are takeoff and landing. When you’re talking about a spacecraft the size of an A380 doing that on its tail…well, that’s a whole new level of pucker factor. Everything we do when building an airliner’s flight plan considers the loss of an engine at the worst possible times: takeoff roll, over water, over mountains, on final. And if a big jet happens to lose everything (exceedingly rare, but it has happened), it can still glide. A BFR falling to its landing pad won’t have that option. If it loses power, it’s toast. Even a helicopter can autorotate and not fall out of the sky.

But if everything works – and I think it will, eventually – it’ll be awesome. Sign me up.



A Republic, If You Can Keep It


Of the many memorable quotes from old Ben Franklin, his observation on the type of government established by the Constitutional Convention may be the most prescient: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Keeping our Republic is entirely up to us, because if enough of us desire tyranny (or can be fooled into voting for it), then it’s over. No amount of resistance can stop the destruction of our system once there’s a critical mass of voters behind it. There will always be people who look to exploit the ignorant among us. And right now, far too many of us have no understanding of our constitutional system and the rule of law.

The Constitution is not some nebulous idea foisted on us by a bunch of privileged white men: it is the guard rail they established to protect future generations of Americans from a government that they expected to eventually try to exceed the boundaries set for it.

Because they knew. From history and personal experience, they knew the extent to which men were corruptible and power-hungry. Our Founders understood human nature better than most, and Franklin in particular had a way of distilling complex thoughts down to their memorable essence: “Make yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.”

Think about that. There will always be grasping people with ill intentions who’d like to take advantage of the rest of us who only desire to be left the hell alone. So they pester, cajole, snipe, intimidate, and bully until we knuckle under because we’re otherwise too busy living our lives to care enough to push back.

So don’t be a pushover. Don’t be passive. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you compromise just a little bit more, maybe the other side will finally accept your good intentions and leave you alone.

How’s that worked out through history?

It’s cynical, but that’s where we are now. Our choices are reduced to a fully armed and operational, out-in-the-open Democrat Socialist party versus a neutered and flaccid Whig Republican “party.” One caters to the Politically-Connected Rich while claiming to be the party of the poor and downtrodden, while the other represents the Chamber-of-Commerce Rich as it pretends to represent us knuckle-draggin’, gun-totin’, Bible-thumpin’ Real Americans.

Bitch, please.

No wonder we’ve been left with such miserable nominees. The fix was always in for Hillary, and I’m not convinced Team Donkey didn’t tip the scales for Trump either. The Wikileaks dumps pretty much confirmed that he was her preferred opponent from early on.

Well, be careful what you wish for. No matter what else happens, Trump is a disruptive force in a system that is ripe for disruption. That doesn’t mean it’ll turn out well, just that it’s going to happen. If he loses, the disruption will be confined to the GOP (which richly deserves it and will hopefully emerge stronger – again, no guarantees).

But if he wins…

Look: much as I would’ve preferred someone else, Trump’s our guy. He’s a loudmouth, thin-skinned ignoramus who will probably do something stupid and/or impeachable within his first year in office.

But so will Hillary, if she hasn’t already (which she has). Assuming the GOP retains Congress, they’re far more likely to go after Trump than Clinton. It’s always easier to pick a fight with your own side when you know the other side would happily burn down Capitol Hill while their buddies in the press pin the blame on you. And once again, enough of the public will buy it to make a difference.

Maybe. It feels like something is changing, like enough of us are finally learning how thoroughly corrupt the system is.

For one, the press has moved from transparent bias to outright collusion. They feed debate questions ahead of time to their favored candidates, while soliciting hostile questions to use against the designated opponent.

Is there a qualitative difference between private and public corruption? I think so. Trump has no doubt cut many corners, screwed over many people, and cooked many books in his day (I’m frankly surprised that the Clinton Crime Family hasn’t dumped more than they have. Maybe he’s cleaner than any of us thought). Meanwhile, the FBI Director lays out a bulletproof case for multiple indictments of Queen Hillary but in the end pulls his punches because “she didn’t mean it” or some such twaddle. No matter that intent isn’t required when we’re talking about violating the Espionage Act. I’m no lawyer, but I can read.

Which all brings us to the Unforgivable Sin: the loss of our rule of law. Our society can withstand a lot, but when it becomes clear that the law only applies to certain people then things sour quickly. This why I went from Never to If I Must to Enthusiastically Trump: when one side gets a pass on the worst kinds of corruption and abuses of power while the other side is continually harassed by “neutral” government entities, what are we to think? What are we to do when the whole system feels like it’s hanging by a thread?

For starters, we vote against the corrupt. We’ll figure out the rest later.

In the meantime, don’t feed the wolves.

About Ohio

This week, a lot of attention will be fixed on my adopted home state of Ohio. You might have heard there’s kind of a thing going on up in Cleveland, what with Trump University Pledge Week the Republican National Convention being in town. It promises to be a bigger media circus than normal, as the news outlets are just praying for a Black Lives Matter/White Supremacist throwdown in front of Quicken Loans Arena. There’s more than enough stupid on all sides for a Republican version of the Dem’s riotous 1968 Chicago convention. They’d no doubt love to see it.

Well, screw you guys. Here’s how we do things up here:

We have a lot more in common with the good people of Charleston, who unified in defiance of the out-of-town race-baiters who hoped to tear the city apart after last year’s church massacre. The hard lessons of Reconstruction taught us a thing or two about how to deal with carpetbaggers.

Having said that, I have been a conflicted Ohioan for over twenty years now. “Conflicted” because this means nearly half my life has been spent in a state – nay, an entire region – that is supposed to be anathema to a genteel Southern boy.

In other words, I’m supposed to hate it up here in Yankee Land. But here’s the weird thing: I don’t. In fact, there are a couple of things about it that are actually preferable. Excluding the suicidally dismal months of January and February, it ain’t bad. We’re in the middle of a glorious summer and fall is unfailingly spectacular.

Maybe I’m sentimental because this is where our roots have grown, but it’s been a good place to raise our kids despite not being one of the USA’s more exciting regions (or just maybe it’s because of that). Admittedly, I like that the area we live in has a lot more in common with West Virginia and Kentucky than those poor benighted Yankees up in Toledo and Cleveland. But don’t get me started on our ridiculous taxes; that’s what’ll lead me back down south before anything else. And please don’t ask me about the @#$&! Buckeyes. Ever.

And whereas southerners have a mostly well-deserved reputation for eccentricity, the people here are for the most part polite and level-headed. I married an Ohio country girl and wouldn’t trade her for all of the debutantes in Charleston. Not to say that all midwesterners are corn-fed pragmatists, nor are all southerners high-maintenance hysterics. But after dating far too many of the latter in my youth, my first experience with the former quickly showed which type I prefer.

So this week, the rest of you will get to see what we’re really made of here in boring old Ohio. I’m hoping it remains as good as that video. Let the carnival barkers and sideshow acts stay under the GOP’s circus tent. The rest of us have better things to do.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math…

Said every journalism school graduate everywhere. I don’t want to hear another damned word about Fox News’ presumed stupidity:

No one can accuse the Scots of not giving this 110%…

Just keep thinking to yourself, “THIS IS CNN,” in your best James Earl Jones voice. And while we’re on the subject:

“What is ‘Your Ass or a Hole in the Ground?'”

That is not an SNL skit, it is a real screen-cap of real CNN anchor and pompous empty haircut (but I repeat myself) Wolf Blitzer, on the real Celebrity Jeopardy in 2009.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled blogging.

I Told Orville and I Told Wilbur…

“…that thing will never fly.”

Behold the Sky Whale:

I’m not sure how this thing found its way onto a “serious” news organization’s website, but apparently CNN is easily fooled. Which we already knew. Just remember this is an artistic concept that would be a better fit for Deviant Art instead of a major news outlet. But io9 is a whole other kettle of fish…frankly I expected more informed commentary from their readers, or at least not trashing of commenters who do in fact know what they’re talking about.

If you haven’t noticed, this is exactly what I was cranked up about in my last post: people with actual expertise offering informed criticism are ignored (if not outright ridiculed) by those who don’t have a freaking clue. Because they’re a bunch of armchair quarterbacks or unimaginative dullards or have been brainwashed by The Man, or something.

But, but–look at the pretty pictures! Clearly, aerodynamicists and engineers aren’t capable of such out-of-the-box concepts because they’re constrained by the shackles of their corporate overlords. Or maybe physics.



By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them

Pogroms didn’t end with the Nazis, they just shifted their target: Can We Finally Start Talking About the Global Persecution of Christians?

To weed out the infidels, according to news reports, the terrorists asked people for the name of Muhammad’s mother or to recite a verse from the Quran.

And that wasn’t even the worst terrorist attack of the weekend.

The Washington Post reported that one British mother and her young children survived when captors who shot her allowed her to leave on the condition she immediately convert to Islam. The siege of the mall, which included the taking of hostages, lasted four days. Three floors of the mall collapsed and bodies were buried in the rubble.

And that wasn’t even the worst terrorist attack of the weekend.

Read the whole thing, but here’s another snippet to keep things in perspective:

We’re talking about Christian persecution by Muslims because of a particularly macabre issue: Jews have already largely been driven out of many Muslim countries.

Lela Gilbert, a journalist who writes about Jewish and Christian persecution, tells of encountering jihadi graffiti in Jerusalem that read “First comes Saturday, then comes Sunday.” She didn’t get the meaning at first. A friend explained that it referred to Jews worshiping on Saturday and Christians on Sunday and, more subtly, about the order that non-Muslims would be targeted.

Coming soon to a civilization near you.

Where Things Stand

Jonah Goldberg is right on target, as usual:

…a man who came into office hell-bent on restoring faith in government is on the verge of inspiring a libertarian revival.There have always been (at least) two Barack Obamas. There is the man who claims to be a nonideological problem-solver, keen on working with anybody to fix things. And there is “The One”: the partisan, left-leaning progressive redeemer.

The dilemma for Obama is that neither is panning out because both incarnations rely on trust. The president never had much trust among Republicans, and he lost what he had when he opted to steamroll the stimulus and, later, Obamacare, on a partisan basis.

Of course, that’s not how most Democrats have seen things. They’ve seen the last five years as a tale of Tea Party–fueled madness and racism. The conviction that conservatives are crazy, stupid, and/or bigoted in their opposition to Obama is what has allowed the two Obamas to exist side by side. Both iterations could blame the Republicans for any shortcomings or failures.

And then the floodgates opened. The IRS compromised the integrity of the domestic agency that is supposed to be the most immune to politics. Worse, the White House’s best defense was that it was simply asleep at the switch as the agency went rogue — in ways that just happened to align with the president’s oft-expressed ideological and political preferences.

This one’s hard to clip from because every paragraph is worth reading. So hop to it!


About Boston

Not much to say, really, except that it’s more proof that we live in a world full of depraved people with sick ambitions.

I’m sorry…you thought I was talking about the Boston Bomber?

After a tragedy the normal person responds by falling to their knees in prayer. The compassionate person responds with concern for the affected. The professional reports the facts and differentiates between speculation and confirmation.

It is the desperate and professionally and spiritually anemic who heartlessly view tragedy as a chance to settle some imaginary score. These individuals are baselessly impugning innocent groups and in doing so, inadvertently impugn themselves and their profession.

Get over yourselves. For one day, get over yourselves. For one day realize the purpose you claim to serve and distribute what the authorities are confirming as fact. Practice actual news gathering.

At this point I don’t know what makes me angrier: the act itself or our supposedly impartial press falling all over itself to blame it on Bible-thumping-gun-toting-Tea-Partying-rednecks before a single piece of evidence is collected. First reports are almost always wrong, especially when they are so tainted by brazen partisanship.

At last count 3 people are dead, including someone’s little boy. Over a hundred are injured, including dozens who have lost limbs. All at the hands of a creature consumed by evil and motivated by God-knows-what. I have no idea who did this or why, but it’s certainly safe to at least make that assumption.

The assumptions made by our media watchdogs are more ill-considered.

How Businesses Commit Suicide

Draconian rights-grabs aren’t just targeted at unwitting authors. If you use Instagram, you might want to reconsider your arrangement: Facebook thinks they have the right to sell your Instagram photos – without your specific consent nor for any compensation. (Hat tip: Passive Voice)

If that C/Net story is accurate, I cannot see how this ends well for Facebook or their latest acquisition, Instagram. Maybe I’m wrong – we do live in a culture that seems to desire notoriety above pretty much anything else. If you’re willing to give up your self-respect to go on reality TV for money (or not), why wouldn’t you just hand over your private photos for public use just for the pure-dee hell of it?

Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy Facebook. It’s been fun to use and has allowed me to find and stay in touch with college and military buddies whom I’d lost touch with over the years (which reminds me – if you’re a reader who has tried to ‘friend’ me, please don’t take it personally if your request isn’t accepted. I limit that account only to family and personal friends).

I’ve never been one to jump on the Facebook complaint-wagon because, hey, free is free. Ya gets what ya pays for. But this is different in my mind – they are claiming rights to things by the simple act of offering a free public service. So Facebook: YOU SUCK. And here’s why…

Zuckerberg is either 1) an evil genius, or 2) someone who just had a neat idea and was swept to a level of success he never dreamed of by luck and timing. My money’s on door number 2, but I digress…

Instagram had not made dime one in profit when he forked over a billion dollars for it. Well, now we know where he thought the value was in an enterprise which had yet to make any money.

It seems clear to me there were ulterior motives for Instagram the whole time: once the user community is big enough, how much potential revenue are you going to lose if a certain percentage walks away? And of those who miss the deadline, how many are going to take it upon themselves to put together a class-action suit for “reversion” of rights they never should’ve given up in the first place?

This might all seem like pedantic nitpicking, but we writers can be kind of sensitive to this type of thing. Depending on how this plays out, I may be dumping my Facebook account. Stay tuned.






Thursday Brain Dump

Once again, not much time for anything else so ya’ll line up at the trough…

Rand Simberg weighs in on the likelihood of Golden Spike’s commercial lunar missions. From someone who knows of which he speaks.

Aerospace companies at increasing risk of industrial sabotage from the Chinese. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Following that train of thought: European research into hypersonic suborbital airliners. Well, a guy can dream, but this looks like more EU BS. Studies are fine; research is necessary. But why pretend like they’re ever going to get serious about actually building something?

And for something more down to earth: Airline veteran turns the tables on obnoxious passengers. Takes two to tango.

End of the world watch: “QE3: This Time, It’s Personal!”: Stepping on the accelerator as we head over the cliff. Apparently the old “I can’t be broke, I still have checks!” line is a joke to some and a guiding philosophy for others. I don’t really care what your politics are, just know that this will not end well unless we can somehow grow the economy at a rate that will eventually surpass the Fed’s money-printing velocity. And let’s face it, pro-growth policies are not exactly flowing out of Washington these days. Our only real hope is the domestic energy boom underway in the Appalachians and Dakotas, which so far are not hamstrung by a need to access Federal land. If the EPA can be kept from strangling that baby in the crib, we may have a fighting chance. Better hope so, because otherwise an inflection point is coming and reality will not be denied for much longer.

What’s really infuriating about all this political theater is that those of us who’ve tried to learn History’s lessons are going to suffer from the foolishness of those who refuse to (or believe they’re smarter than their forebears). In the end, human nature is what it is. There is nothing new under the sun.