Galactic I trademark Jim Davidson

The Iconoclast in Space

Occasional essays on significant topics from the Iconoclast's perspective.

Goring sacred oxen is my specialty.

Frontiers in Space

The essay below is an item distributed from my old CompuServe account. While it was the basis for some other materials on the same subject, it seems worth publishing in its unexpurgated entirety. The fact that it is a response to some semi-literate ramblings by another space enthusiast may enhance the challenge of understanding the complete context of the message, but none of the substance requires further elaboration than that provided below. Enjoy!

To: Various space enthusiasts, most of whose addresses are out of date.
Re: England and America

Dear Rick:

Now THIS is getting interesting to the point of keeping me amused (I know how important that is to you).

Before I continue, anyone who is _not_ amused and wants to be disincluded in this list, please let me know. Most of the folks who got my New Year's message were picked because they might respond well to such thoughts, but since Rick replied to the whole list, I am doing likewise (with a few exceptions due to losing track of some email addresses).

You wrote, "The one thing the last few yers [sic] has taught us is that it is not the government or the people that open frontiers, but both. (and often unintenionally [sic]) It has also proven the extremists on both sides to be wrong."

Perhaps you have some examples you'd care to share. The currently ongoing government shutdown [very early 1996] suggests to me that the so-called extremists who claim that we can survive without nearly as much government as we have seem to be right. With airfares dropping by 10%, and about 750,000 nosy bureaucrats out of work, I don't have anything to complain about.

You then note, "You cite Jefferson. Forgive my heresy, but in the quote cited he was wrong."

Well, of course you are a heretic, but not for suggesting Jefferson was wrong. He was certainly very wrong in holding slaves, in not settling his debts before his death, and, as a result, not being able to free them posthumously as he had promised. However, he did show how very limited government can really kick butt, spending a trivial amount of money to more than double the size of America, spending a far less significant sum to have it scouted by several pathfinders, and encouraging large numbers of people to move way out West.

However, the quote I cited is not only pure Jefferson, it is one of his purist moments of truth. It is such a moment of gold, I'll quote it again for those who may have misplaced my earlier email.

A little further on, this bold statement is clarified, "...no shilling was ever issued from the public treasures [of the British crown for the assistance of the Americans] till of very late times, after the colonies had become established on a firm and permanent footing. (Ibid.)"

Now with regard to your examples:

"It was British government funds that led to soem [sic] of the prime navigation tools needed to make the voyage across the Atlantic,"

First of all, this example does not countervail in the least Jefferson's argument that America was conquered at the expense of individuals. He doesn't say America was reached thanks to the navigation tools of individuals, although that is largely the case.

Perhaps you are thinking of the Royal Greenwich Observatory which did help in the development of some of the key navigational instruments, including ephemeris, chronometers, and other tools. But that institution was founded in 1675 by King Charles II. From Jefferson's perspective, that must have seemed "...of very late times..." indeed, given the founding of Jamestown in 1607 , the founding of Massachusetts in 1620, etc.

[Editor's Note: Harvard University was founded in 1636, almost 40 years before the Royal Greenwich Observatory.]

Just which "prime navigation tools" invented by researchers associated with the Royal Greenwich Observatory were "needed to make the voyage across the Atlantic"? These tools were certainly useful, making trade more efficient, but were they "needed to make the voyage" or just needed to make it faster?

With particular regard to chronometers, work begun by Robert Hooke in 1653 working with Robert Boyle led to Hooke's law, which as you know involves the elasticity of springs, and thus is essential for spring-driven chronometers. He did this work at Oxford, and further research is needed to determine if he was working under a government, private, or ecclesiastical grant. (I'll post results on this point soon.) [Editor's Note: Well, I didn't post those results. Some recent research indicates that Hooke published a proof of Boyle's law before Boyle, and probably did his work on the spring constant and ship's clock while paid as a lecturer at Gresham College. No sign of government funds, even for the watch he gave King Charles II in 1658, which included an inscription claiming it would keep time properly through 1675, the very year the Royal Greenwich Observatory would be founded by that very King. It would seem we owe the opening of the frontiers to individuals, not to governments, after all.]

the brilliant Robert Hooke from a photo of his statue Hooke also developed a practical system of telegraphy in 1684, which in a later electrical variation proved to be very important to the development of the West. His chronometers were suspended by a universal joint which bears his name, and proved useful, though not especially suitable for shipboard use.

The 20,000 pound prize posted by the British Board of Longitude inspired another individual, John Harrison, to work for over 35 years on the subject of chronometers. Harrison was a carpenter who became a clock maker, and while his first working shipboard chronometer was tested successfully in 1728, he was not awarded the prize until 1762 with the advent of his 4th chronometer which was still too bulky for really practical use. Now tell me, Rick, was Harrison the individual responsible for that invention, or was it the (governmental) British Board of Longitude that brought forth that invention? My position is that the prize money was certainly motivating, but was not the money which paid for the work. Jefferson's position would clearly be that this chronometer was "...of very late times..." and the money spent in 1762 by the British Board of Longitude, if that was indeed public money, was spent long "after the colonies had become established on a firm and permanent footing."

So what prime navigation tools were you referring to? The ones Columbus used to navigate with in 1492? These were clearly not paid for by British public monies.

But you will soon respond with specifics [Editors Note: He never has responded with specifics, presumably because he has none.] so let us move on to your next example:

"British troops (Leading local militia in many cases) who kept us from becoming French subjects (and inadvertantly [sic] training the leaders who would then defeat them...an interesting parallel to our cause),"

Now, having just spent a week in Paris in September, I can concur that I am much relieved that I'm not a French citizen. (By the way, citizens are literally denizens of a city, but the term connotes the population of a republic, such as the French Republic. Subjects would be the population of a kingdom, as in "Subjects of His Majesty George III." If the British troops hadn't been around, we would not be "French subjects," in my opinion, just as we are not today British subjects.)

However, let us ask Thomas Jefferson about those British troops which kept us from becoming French "subjects." He would note that the seminal conflict, 1754 to 1763 was, "...of very late times..." given that he was writing his Summary View in 1774. He would also, a year later, be quite vexed about those British troops who decided to seize the arms of the Massachusetts farmers (who had, you'll agree, a natural and inalienable right to keep and bear arms).

Those same British troops were posted to keep the American colonists from violating the terms of the 1763 treaty which provided protection to the Indian nations who were allied with Britain from any colonists settling West of the Appalachians. Now, does that constitute government funds being expended to help " ...America [be] conquered, and her settlements made and firmly established" or does it constitute hindrance? I vote hindrance, and any review of Jefferson's writing on the subject would reveal that he would have concluded the same.

Those same British troops were used to enforce the Stamp Act, the Tea Tax, the Townshend Acts...do I need to go on? Are you really suggesting that those British troops were anywhere to be found in 1607 or 1620 or 1650 or 1675? Out there pounding the turf, protecting those settlers from Indian attacks? Hell no. Busy in Britain or India is more like it. [Editor's Note: The East India Company established its first trading post in India in 1613, and other significant posts on the Subcontinent throughout the 17th Century.]

Shall we talk about frontier forts? You recently wrote an essay claiming that governments went out onto the frontier and built forts, around which traders and settlers congregated. Know any really old forts on the North American continent? Perhaps you would name Fort Ticonderoga. That was founded by the French as Fort Carillon in 1755, long, long after the region had been thoroughly explored by traders and settled by farmers. [Editor's Note: Military fortifications are generally built to protect something of value, such as a trade route or a resource base. Things don't have value unless there are people around to create value.]

Was there a fort on the beach head at Plymouth? No, there was a rock.

Was there a fort on the James River near Jamestown? Curiously, there was, built by the settlers at the expense of the London Company. It was men of the London Company who manned it and men of the London Company who died there. British government troops didn't arrive in Virginia until much later, long after an individual named John Rolfe first cultivated tobacco there. (Rolfe went on to marry Pocahontas in 1614; you may have seen the cartoon, but you should certainly read the book.) You see it was the tobacco which made Virginia worth keeping, and it was an individual who came up with this idea of cultivating tobacco in large farms in Virginia.

But, the London Company? Yes, Virginia, there was a London Company, composed of stockholders living in and about London. Sounds like individuals to me. If it sounds like a government agency to you, you are very misinformed. Socialism wasn't even invented until 1848, and wasn't popular until the 1930s.

So we then come to your greatest example, "and City of London management of the banking, insurance and trade industries that kept things stable enough for the founders of the East India and Hudson's Bay companies to create profits."

Whoa, Nelly! Check your sources and cool your jets. I'm pretty sure the British East India Company didn't do much conquering or settling in America. They did all their work in India and the Far East. Of course, they had a few British naval vessels to call on for back up, but they also had several large fleets of their own. Perhaps you are referring to the profits that the British East India Company garnered by the enforcement of the Navigation and Tea Acts which prevented British Americans from getting tea from anyone but the British East India monopolists? Of course, public monies were spent in keeping the Americans drinking that East India tea, but I doubt if Jefferson was very enthusiastic.

Go get the figures on the British East India Company. It didn't become profitable until long after America was settled. Indeed, it was founded in 1600, for the purpose of breaking the Dutch monopoly on Eastern trade, but it didn't become profitable until 1708, mostly because the Dutch fought back. Vigorously.

What of the Hudson's Bay Company? Ian Randall Strock [one of those on the distribution list whose email address, irs@something.com created some question about the IRS listening in; he was] can tell us much more about the history of the Hudson's Bay Company. It was founded in 1670 and was hugely profitable by 1672, so I hardly think the intervention of the City of London was significant in its success. Rather, its success was guaranteed by a government-decreed monopoly on the fur trade.

However, I'm quite sure the Hudson's Bay Comapny did its work in Canada, mostly around the Hudson's Bay area. That is the great big huge bay that sticks into central Canada. Checking a map, we can readily see that Hudson's Bay is nowhere near the Massachusetts, Virginia, New Hampshire, or even Pennsylvania colonies. So Jefferson, while impressed by their exploits, was probably not referring to them in his Summary View.

Did the Hudson's Bay Company conquer America? Sure did. Kicked some Royal French butt. Did they settle America? Sure did. Several cold cities in the northern Canada frontier owe their existence to the Company, including one that has a nice little rocket range (Churchill). Was it public monies they expended? Nope. It was the money of "gentlemen adventurers" as their charter so boldly states.

What would Jefferson have said about the Hudson's Bay Company in reference to his claim that individuals conquered America, settled her shores, and bled for the right to claim the land? He would have pointed to them as prime examples of what he meant.

Dr. Robert Zubrin has added ample historical research to the case against government settlement or even exploration of frontiers. In describing the various British naval expeditions to find the Northwest Passage, he has pointed out that many of these great ventures expended huge amounts of capital, sent hundreds of men to their deaths on ill-stocked ships, and found nothing but ice. How was the Northwest Passage found? Not in 1719 by James Knight in association with the Hudson's Bay Company, but in much more modern times ["...very late times...," 1903-06] by Roald Amundsen. Did Amundsen have hundreds of men, dozens of British Naval vessels, or tons of salt pork to feed his crew? No. He had a tiny ship (the Gjoa) built for a crew of 6, loaded mostly with ammunition for the rifles with which he and his men killed dozens of caribou along the way as they explored the region.

Spending hundreds of thousands of British pounds in the 1700s and 1800s is roughly the equivalent of spending billions on a Federal boondoggle today, especially if you factor inflation into the picture [As brought to you by the Federal Reserve scheme.] And one naughty Norwegian in a little boat finds the Northwest Passage without spending any British crown treasure. Hmmm. Add to that the hundreds of British sailors who died of starvation on ice-bound naval vessels because their bureaucracy-bound leadership was too stupid to suggest they go kill some caribou, and you have some idea of my picture of the modern American space program.

You also wrote, "The line between government and business in those days was almost non-existant [sic] at the top levels and many of the gentlemen involved held seats in Parliament."

Oh, golly, that is so far out of line it is ludicrous. The line between government and business was incredibly well defined. In those days, there was hardly any government at all. By those days, I'm sure you mean the days Thomas Jefferson was talking about in the quote you suggest is false to fact. Those days would be the days from 1607 until 1690 when Jefferson's America was being conquered, settled, and tamed.

In those days, the government was mostly the King, except for a brief period when Cromwell and his boys were playing holier than thou Protectors. As far as Parliament, are we talking about the Parliaments dissolved by Charles I, Charles II, and James II, or the Rump Parliament dissolved by Cromwell? Just what was Parliament, more notable for its dissolutions than its sessions, doing in those days? In 1651 they passed the Navigation Act which led to some nice wars with the Dutch, but that did nothing to help conquer America.

Of course, defeating the Dutch during that time did deprive the American colonists of competitively priced European goods and helped support a British monopoly on American trade. It did cause a beautiful city named New Amsterdam to become a monstrous eyesore called New York. It seems clear that America was developed and settled _in spite of_ the Acts of Parliament and not because of them.

You then note, "Oh, by the way....Jefferson so hated government that he went on to help found one of the most powerful ones on Earth."

Curious you should mention that, since Jefferson was a classical Whig before forming the Democratic Republican party. Jefferson despised the pro-government views of the Tories, even after the Revolution and the Constitution. He wrote to James Madison in 1826 that the Tory views of Blackstone were so appalling that they had to be kept from the law library at the University of Virginia.

Jefferson, who so hated powerful governments, wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which argue fervently (and well) for the concept of nullification, wherein local governments of states can eliminate the encroachments of the big national centralized government.

Jefferson helped found a very small government, and was President of it at a time when it had three Executive Departments, being War, Treasury, and State. He did not preside over a government with a department for Education, another for Energy, another for Veterans....

No, Jefferson favored small government. As do I, by the way. As Thoreau once said, "...to speak practically...unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it (Civil Disobedience, 1848)."

Taking him at his word, I will say that the kind of government that would command my respect would be much more like the government over which Thomas Jefferson presided. I can have no respect for governments which legislate morality, such as that at large in this land today.

Do you respect a government that violates civil liberties in pursuit of a chimera called the "War on Drugs" and shoots people in Idaho who don't pay the fees needed to sell sawed off shotguns, and burns people to death in Waco for not having obtained Federal firearms permits, and forced states to force people to obey a 55 mph speed limit for 20 years, and has a regulation for every conceivable use of private property, and has a law against everything from sedition to the transport of cash money legally earned across its frontiers? Tell me how much you respect a government that thought the best way to get people into space was on a vehicle like the Challenger. Tell me how much you respect a government that has spent over $9 billion [now over $20 billion] and over a decade [now 14 years] building a space station that isn't habitable yet [still]. Tell me how much you respect a government that spent billions putting men on the Moon and then pissed away all that momentum so that from 1975 to 1981 not one American flew in space.

Tell me how much you respect that government, and I'll tell you how much I want to change it.

You note, "We need the end to pull the center."

Sure we do. It was Barry Goldwater who said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. He also noted that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. I am not one of the middle-ground-seeking compromisers who dwell in the foggy bottomland of the District of Columbia. Nor will I crawl on my belly in the dirt that surrounds them while begging favors. If others think they accomplish anything by doing so, my condolences to them for the death of their dignity, and of the respect of those who have to watch the process.

You conclude, "It is in the careful manipulation of both that we shall reach our goals (Note Jerry's work on DC-X)."

Jerry Pournelle did excellent work on DC-X. Everything the DC-X accomplished it did in spite of the great huge government agency that you (and apparently Jerry) want to support in building a space station. The creation of the DC-X program was opposed by NASA. It was unfunded by NASA until they had thoroughly jeopardized its existence.

And the genius of that program was that it let private industry work without much interference, design kibbitzing, or paperwork. That allowed McDonnell Douglas to bring in people from the commercial aircraft side of the company who knew something about making things work quickly, cheaply, and profitably.

The kind of a government that would command my respect is the kind of a government that would have _ALL_ of the space activities in this country carried out in the fashion and with the intentions of the DC-X program. Such a government would help research and development activities that could lead to commercially successful products and services that would be owned and operated by private companies.

However, I don't think we have much chance of creating such a government. Certainly, I cannot agree that building the space station represents the correct path.

When space station was first proposed, it was proposed in spite of all the efforts of Jerry Pournelle and hundreds of guys like me who wrote their Congresscritters and called the White House and sent telegrams in 1983. You remember those heady days? We wanted Reagan to announce plans for a lunar base! Weren't we kidding ourselves then.

Space station was the compromise between no new announcement and a space station plus a lunar base. Like all compromises, it was the worst of all possible options. But even then, had it been built for $8 billion and within a decade as requested, it might have been a useful thing. But here it is 1996, over $9 billion spent, and no space station.

What we have had instead of a space station has been a program to employ thousands of engineers and spend billions of dollars. Which is cool if you are an engineer or an aerospace company, unless you'd rather be an engineer working on a project that is going somewhere or an aerospace company that is making hundreds of billions exploiting a new frontier.

The only people who truly seem to benefit from this condition are the politicians who get to say, "See, I helped fight for the space station." So they get campaign contributions from aerospace companies and they get re-elected. Which is about the height of their ambition.

What of those of us who want to see the other side of the galaxy? What of those who wish to live on the Moon or Mars? Do you suppose this government commands the respect of such people? No, of course not.

Anyone who even wants to fly in space just once in their lives must be disgusted with the NASA approach to spaceflight. The shuttle cargo bay holds 35,000 pounds and has never once been used to carry passengers to orbit. The envisioned space station will have room for how many dozen astronauts (and cosmonauts)? What's that you say? About four? Gee.

Does that mean that my chances of flying in space are about the same as my chances of spitting in Bill Clinton's eye from 1400 miles away? Yup. Do I feel ripped off and cheated because I spent 14 years fighting for the government's preferred space program with letters to Congress, fundraising events, campaign contributions, a large circulation newsletter that I personally underwrote, years of organization work building and rebuilding a Texas telephone tree, and thousands of manhours of labor? You bet.

I admit that I wasted 14 years trying to reform NASA. When I figured out in 1991 that I had wasted 5 years trying to reform the National Space Society, I began to draw lessons and parallels. So by 1993, I knew that trying to reform NASA was like pissing up a rope, only one doesn't even get a warm wet feeling between ones legs. Since then I have been doing everything I can to destroy NASA.

Truly, it must be destroyed if anyone reading this post is going to fly in space. Ever. In a thousand years. As it exists today, NASA prevents private enterprise from opening the space frontier. As it exists today, NASA prevents people like you and me from ever flying in space. NASA learned the wrong lesson in 1986. It wasn't the schoolteacher who brought down Challenger, it was the schoolteacher whose death kept the shuttle program alive. If she hadn't been on that flight, the shuttle would probably have been cancelled, as well it should. Instead, the damned thing continues like a once-killed vampire. And it is ordinary people like that schoolteacher who truly want to journey through and settle in space who will one day lay that vampire to rest. [Perhaps to atone for flying Senator Glenn, NASA has agreed to fly teacher-in-space backup Barbara Morgan.]

Or not. When Sirius goes nova and inundates this region of space with so much hard radiation that life as we know it ceases on this planet; when the Sun goes into its death throes and evaporates what's left of Earth; at that far distant date no humans will be around to suffer because of it. For one of two reasons.

Either humans will be busy colonizing distant parts of the galaxy, or humans will be an extinct race long forgotten, whose steel and concrete monuments have long since washed into the sea. That is all which is at stake. Nothing as important as screwing the taxpayer out of another few billion dollars. Nothing as useful as winning the next election.

Only everything, and nothing more.

Jim Davidson
January 1996, Houston Texas



Galactic I trademark Jim Davidson
Iconoclast's
Home in Space

Copyright © 1996 Jim Davidson All Rights Reserved