THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 850, December 6, 2015
Grandmothers with guns
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
It appears from a recent news story as though Russia now has the ambition to build, by the year AD 2030, a permanent lunar base. So perhaps I will be able to take a vacation to the Moon during my lifetime, even if I have to learn the Russian language, da? Mind you, if it is anything like the Russian gulag described in Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, perhaps I'll stick around and help them break free.
Recently, I have written about how I feel cheated that the flying cars and trips to the Moon that I was promised as a youngster have not come about. I can still remember when Pan Am was promising to fly people to the Moon, real soon now. Below is the membership card for one Etta B. Richards who seems to have bought into the First Moon Flights club. If the graphic is anything to go by, Pan Am seems to have expected passengers to carry their own O2. Or perhaps their own luggage?
Or maybe they simply didn't anticipate any technological improvements to space suits in the years between their promises being made and the utter failure of management to make the airline successful in December 1991, when it shut its doors forever. Presumably there is now no way to "cash in" on the promises Pan Am made to ever fly anyone to the Moon.
Keep in mind that it isn't something in my imagination. People actually did travel to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. People with ham radio gear actually heard these space travellers talking, and could triangulate their signal location and distance as coming from Earth's Moon. People actually sang songs about how everybody was going to the Moon. Here, for example, are the Three Degrees.
Recently, in e-mail correspondence with Bumper Hornberger, he suggested that some things I was saying reminded him of some ideas that Harry Browne had apparently filed off the serial numbers from and placed in one of the books he promoted during his 1996 book tour, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.
Now, I've known Bumper for many years and corresponded with him quite a bit. Naturally, I was somewhat surprised to learn that he hadn't known how I felt about Harry. I shared with him this link from a very early Libertarian Enterprise. http://www.ncc-1776.org/tle1996/le9611a06.html
It is as though he doesn't even know who I am. And, really why should he? Why should you? How well do any of us actually know any of the rest of us? Some people, for reasons of distraction, lack of self- reflection, and general obliviousness, seem not to even know themselves.
My interest in space activities began a very long time ago, in 1968. Not everyone reading this essay was alive at the time, so to many of you it may seem quite odd that my family didn't own a television set until that year. My father felt that television was a waste of time. As a nuclear physicist and world traveller he had quite an excellent grasp on technology. At the time he was programming advanced computers to evaluate intricate physics problems.
But that was the Summer when Abbie Hoffman and his young activist friends learned exactly what to expect when you throw baggies full of human faeces at armed men. The Chicago police were, needless to say, not enthusiastic about this activity, and used their batons to illustrate their displeasure. The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year was one of the things my father thought to experience by watching the family's new television. We also watched the Republican convention, and, I think, election night coverage of Nixon's victory.
November turned to December and the television stayed in the living room, where my brothers and I gathered around it to hear Frank Borman reading from the Book of Genesis as he, James Lovell, and William Anders orbited the Moon. It was quite breathtaking watching the launch, seeing the news coverage, and watching the splashdown. And, being a very young child, these things had a big impact.
The television was banished to the basement in the New Year, and authoritarian decrees were made about how much time could be spent watching it. Probably these decrees improved the overall school performance of us youngsters, I don't know. But I do remember the entire family travelling to Taiwan in 1969.
My father, in addition to having written one of the first reports about the difficulties with nuclear reactor accidents describing and using the term "melt down" was, I think, responsible for quite a bit of nuclear energy proliferation during his life. He was in Norway in 1955, writing about the worst case scenarios for Norwegian fishing vessels powered by nuclear reactors at a time when the Norwegian government was considering whether to ditch diesel engines for their fishing fleet. (If a ship with two diesel engines loses an engine, it limps home with the other. If both engines go out, one can perhaps supply parts to get the other running. If a ship with a nuclear reactor has a reactor emergency and the reactor material melts down through the bottom of the ship and ends up spread over the ocean floor, the ship is dead in the water.) He was in Brazil in 1954, the Philippines in 1968, Taiwan in 1969, and saw quite a few other countries in his life. I got to go along to Taiwan with the rest of the family.
So it was that on 20 July 1969 while the entire world crowded around television sets, I was with faculty and staff members of the National University in Taiwan at a community centre watching a very pleasant- sounding Chinese gentleman, sitting on a bar stool in front of a replica lunar landscape, explaining in Chinese what the astronauts were saying. In the background one could hear Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, if one listened closely. I asked my mother whether we could get the very nice Chinese man on the television to be quiet so we could hear the astronauts and she explained somewhat gently that no such possibility existed.
As you can imagine, I watched the Apollo 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 missions with great enthusiasm. I was also very excited about Skylab as it represented the possibility of a permanent human presence in Earth orbit. The Apollo-Soyuz joint mission in 1975 was also very exciting because it suggested that Americans and Russians might be able to do something in the future other than nuke-bomb each other and the rest of the world back into the Stone Age.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise to anyone that I was exactly the kind of guy that Keith Henson had in mind when he and some friends organised the L5 Society. I joined up in 1977. I think my membership number was 7778 or something ridiculously simple like that. I read the L5 News with great enthusiasm every time an issue arrived in the mail.
Trips to the Moon? Where did that idea come from?
In 1981, I gave the valedictory speech for my high school graduating class, cribbing shamelessly from Jefferson's preamble to the Declaration of Independence, cashed my National Distillers & Chemical Corp National Merit Scholarship check, and headed to New York City to attend Columbia University. While there, I studied astrophysics, partial differential equations, linear algebra, programming in the now-forgotten Pascal language, EMACs, history, and economics.
My extra-curricular activities included forming with Carmi Weinzweig a joint chapter of the L5 Society and Planetary Society. Doing so required a trip to Boston to have a very nice seafood meal with Eric Drexler and Chris Petersen. I began to learn about an evil influence named Mark Hopkins and efforts to counter his attempts to subvert and destroy everything useful about the L5 Society, in my opinion. I watched with great enthusiasm as a group in Texas launched (to an apogee of about 250 feet) the Percheron and, a year later, to about 200 miles altitude, the Conestoga I private rocket system.
9 September 1982 First Successful Private Space Launch
It seemed clear to me that despite the failures of Percheron, OTRAG in Libya, Starstruck (ARC) in Liberia, Robert Truax's Volksrocket, and Gerald Bull's super-gun in the Caribbean to create the break-out into space, the Conestoga's success would really change things. I decided that I wanted a career in the private space industry that seemed to be coming to life in Houston, Texas.
So, naturally, I went to work in 1983 for a bank. After all, the National Merit Scholarship, John Jay Scholarship, and Kansas Scholar awards had only gone so far to covering the cost of my education at Columbia University. A friend of mine was very bored at his job in Midtown Manhattan, only a subway ride away, and he wanted to help his boss, Mike Toohey, find his replacement. I interviewed and got the job.
One benefit of joining First Chicago National Processing Corporation was learning exactly how much corruption pervaded the New York post offices. Another benefit was MCI Mail, an early type of e-mail (with numerical email addresses, if you can imagine) which connected, delightfully, to the USEnet newsgroups, including sci.space. I became somewhat notorious for a number of posts there, and in sci.chem, including a widely quoted post on the toxicity of plutonium.
Another benefit, of sorts, was managing a team of 13 weekend shifters, reconciling $45 million a shift in payments to big name companies, and getting paid the scrawny wages that banks pay. After the bank gave up on postal disservice in Manhattan and moved to Secaucus, New Jersey, I bought a moped. With this tiny vehicle, I crossed the Hudson either by the Lincoln Tunnel, or, after the cops in Weehawken objected, by the George Washington bridge. To my complete surprise, my moped was still parked on campus when I drove my station wagon back to New York from Houston in October 1985, having completed my bachelor's degree the previous May. It hadn't even been tagged by any graffiti artists. So I hauled it back to Houston. Yes, all-nighters were involved.
That same month, I visited what might have been the very last meeting of L5 Houston, except for myself and another fellow who volunteered to take active roles. So the L5 Society chapter in Houston lived on for a few more years. When it became clear in 1988 that the fascist enthusiasts of public-private partnerships were determined to destroy the grassroots elements of L5 in order to celebrate Nazi war criminal and concentration camp brutality enthusiast Werner von Braun, I helped the core members incorporate the Houston Space Society.
You now have most of the context for my presence in Houston as a Rice University graduate student at the Jesse H. Jones graduate school of administration. It probably also makes sense to point out that I was an anti-war activist at Columbia University, and an anti-war and anti- draft-registration activist in high school. While I was attending Columbia in 1983, Barry Obama was writing a detailed report on Students Against Militarism for the Sundial magazine, and possibly for the CIA. I wasn't attending meetings at that point, owing to my new job at the bank. But he did interview me for about ten minutes on campus one day, asking whether I thought I would be active in the group the next year.
Thus, my appearance as a student at Rice was much like my appearance as a student at Columbia. Grungy clothes, buttons expressing concern about nuclear war, the draft, racism, and other matters. In just such attire, during my first week of graduate classes, I showed up at the Jones school computer lab to get familiar with the Macintosh. There was a whole row of them, and I sat down at the first empty one, just inside the door. Next to me was a second-year student that I later learned was Caroline Williams. She was always wearing a dress, heels, pearls. Picture June Cleaver from "Leave it to Beaver" and you'll have the idea.
There was a software application on the Mac that would play tunes. It had a little tinny speaker. Having dealt with a number of computers, I had little trouble getting the mouse to point at the drop-down list and pick out the first tune on the list. The first tune was "Battle Hymn of the Republic." So it's speaker begins to play that tune, synthesised and not too shabby a rendition. Immediately this woman sitting next to me sits up, turns her head and says, "Wail! When mah grandmothuh would heah that song, she would get up and leave the room!"
I stared. I admit it. I was rude, I looked at her, I translated her dialect into standard television sounds in my head, and I stared. I was, frankly, puzzled. Then it dawned on me that I was now deep in the South, and that the war for Southern Independence, also known there as the War of Northern Aggression, was not over. The clock on the computer said it was 1985, but apparently the war hadn't ended for everyone in 1865. Indeed, Texas was one of the last states to be presidentially certified as "pacified."
So I looked at the Mac, made it stop playing its song, found "Dixie" in the drop-down list, and got it to play that. The lady next to me smiled and said, "That's bettah." A few minutes later, my assignment complete, I left and shambled back to the Graduate House, a converted motel formerly called the Tidelands II, complete with roaches. I puzzled over the fact that 120 years and some six generations after a war, none of the issues involved had been resolved. War still didn't solve problems.
So, that's pretty much who I was in April 1986 when I applied at Space Services Incorporated of America for a job as Summer Intern. The guy who had the job the year ahead of me had continued to work there part time, keeping their Lotus macro software applications running. Yes. Lotus 123, the spreadsheet programme, with its macros, was being used to display line graphs of new home floor plans, maintain a detailed business plan for the aerospace company operations, and maintain financial data for David Hannah, Jr.'s extensive real estate operations in Houston. Down the hall, in the same suite of offices, was a guy running an oilfield services company in which David was an investor. At the far end, the corner office was occupied by astronaut Deke Slayton.
It took me about two weeks to be fully up to speed on coding in macros. Over the Summer, I asked some of the company people, especially Gary Gartner and Mark Daniels, if I could put together a market research survey for the academic community. I sent out my worksheet to several hundred university professors with a known propensity to want to launch payloads into the sky, including astronomers, meteorologists, physicists, and others. We got back around six dozen replies, including roughly 45 payload opportunities.
Like my predecessor, I managed to arrange to keep working with Space Services part time during the second year of the MBA programme at Rice. This brought me into more regular contact with Deke Slayton, including a memorable forty-eight-hour festival of pain when Mark and I wrote a complete proposal for the Air Force "Medium Launch Vehicle" to put GPS satellites into various orbits.
Most of the proposal writing we did at the time took place in the conference room at the Space Services office. All around the wall of that room were trophies taken by Deke on various hunting trips. The giant caribou trophy with its enormous antler rack guarded the main entrance to the room. There was also a beer keg in its own cooler, and some awards and mementoes from Deke's career as a test pilot and astronaut. About 5 p.m. each day, Deke would stop by to tell us to "hang it up." To me, this idea, that one should stop work because a certain time of day had been reached, always seemed absurd. Sometimes I would exchange a look and a smile with one of the other team members labouring away at some densely worded proposal.
It should come as no surprise that Space Services was not a winner with the Medium Launch Vehicle. But they were able to come up with a very good design called Starfire based in part on the Black Brant IX rocket system which won two contracts with the University of Alabama at Huntsville's Centre for the Commercial Development of Space. The Space Services team managed to build and launch each Starfire for a third the cost and in about half the time of a similar NASA suborbital flight.
I was involved directly in the first of these, launched from White Sands Missile Range on 29 March 1989. By that time, I was working full time, at the lowest salary of any of my class of MBA recipients, for Space Services. I helped them compose the winning proposal text for the first flight, and for a series of six follow-on flights. My last day of work for the company was in November 1989 when Pete Armitage replaced me as the "voice of launch control" and we all watched on the television monitors as the rocket began coning, veered off course, and was destroyed by range safety, while Pete droned on about how it was another perfect flight, as I recall.
Owing to their unwillingness to find any way for me to share in the company's success, I left Space Services in November 1989. I joined Peter Diamandis's company, Microsatellite Launch Systems as director of marketing. My direct supervisor, Gus Gardellini, would often laughingly point out that I was director of marketing for a company that was so secretive, we couldn't do any marketing. To the surprise of few, Diamandis decided to work closely with a military contractor company toward the end of 1990, laid off all the employees, and was promptly informed by both Walt Anderson and Bob Richards that their investments had been provided only if the company didn't become a military contractor. You haven't ever seen any Microsatellite Launch Systems flights, and I suspect there are a number of reasons why not.
My career branched into space tourism that year, but that is a very different story, and one already told with endless shadings on actual events, by a number of other publications. Perhaps one day I'll write more about Space Travel Services, but it won't be today.
As you probably know, I haven't done much with what became of the L5 Society in recent years. After it merged with the National Space Institute to become the Nationalist Socialist Space Society, I spent part of one term on its board of directors, resigned in disgust because of shenanigans relating to using the anti-dumping laws to interfere with cheap access to space, and, in 1993, convinced the Houston Space Society to declare its independence. I continue to be interested in the success of HSS, and in eventually taking trips into space. But, David Talbot's The Devil's Chessboard and other writings by various authors have convinced me that we aren't going to get there until the people who work very actively to prevent space tourism and the human settlement of space are stopped.
I have long believed that the treaties preventing human settlement of Antarctica, the ocean surface, the deep sea beds, and celestial objects are all of a type. They are part of the world-government- craving deep state and its cronies, and they are intended to thwart anything but the most limited and fascist approaches to space activities. In order to get out from under their sway, I believe two things are vitally important.
One is free market money. I've been working on that project in various capacities since 1998. The other is free places from which to operate, including actually private, secure computer systems. I've been working with encryption tools since 1992 when Pretty Good Privacy was an MS-DOS command line programme.
So, lately, you've seen me talking about groups like SilentVault and the Digital Cash Alliance. I've learned a great deal about Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, and hundreds of other crypto-currencies. I've been following with enthusiasm the adventures of Ethereum, Ripple, and bitGold. Increasingly, people who want nothing to do with the Federal Reserve note and the lamestream banking cartel are finding all kinds of alternatives cropping up.
Also, lately, I've been talking to people about ElanVPN which is developing some excellent new privacy technologies to go with their extensive suite of superior privacy tech using an IndieGoGo campaign to crowd-source the funds.
I've been working on a business plan for a $160 million film, merchandise, and game development company that would create films and video games based on L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach books. And I've been drafting a detailed plan for the physical campus acquisition and development for Individual Sovereign University, which comes to about $100 million.
And, to fill out the time, I've written extensively about privacy technology, developed a course curriculum on data security and communications privacy, and co-authored a piece on how Bitcoin isn't, after all, being used to finance terrorism so much as oil is.
To me, all these matters are linked. The same kind of government action that has prevented, say, the Moller Air Car from being deployed as a going concern, making flying cars available to the general public in order to safeguard the profits of major auto makers and major airlines is going on right now in the space tourism field. You may have noticed the announcements, beginning about 2004, about Virgin Galactic, say, taking tourists even on suborbital space trips—and the lack of corresponding trips being taken by actual tourists.
If you want to get off this planet, if you want a flying car, if you want a much higher standard of living, if you want more real freedom, the superpowers and their nationalistic, socialistic, world-dominating ways are in the way. Since it seems extremely unlikely that those of us who want these things are going to get rid of these outfits—groups which provide tens of trillions of dollars through government contracts and direct corruption to their cronies all over the world—we are going to have to go around them.
Free market money and digital privacy are two important sets of tools in finding a path around them. And to the stars!
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