The X-51A is $300 million of fun. Can we spend our money smarter and build a better future?

Summary:  We cannot find the few dollars needed to study serious threats like Climate Change and Peak Oil. But the military effortlessly obtains funds to study star travel. Our nation’s physical infrastructure rots. But the military effortlessly obtains the funds for beyond-cutting edge projects like the WaveRider X-51A.  Is this how empires die? Can we do better, like develop new forms of energy (which we’ll desperately need).

Contents

How should we invest in our future, to improve our prosperity and national security — so that our descendents will think of us in admiration, instead of as oddly dressed fools? Let’s look at compare the WaveRider to one of the many possible areas for R&D projects: new forms of energy. What might happen if we funded these at far higher levels? We might get ample clean energy for the 21st century. (update: or not. These are all lab-stage projects, and as such we cannot count on them).

  1. WaveRider x-51A
  2. Focus Fusion
  3. National Spherical Torus Experiment
  4. The Polywell
  5. Tri Alpha Energy
  6. Other fusion projects
  7. For more information
  8. See the Future! Videos and graphics.

(1)  WaveRider x-51A hypersonic cruise missile

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Speed: Mach 5 and beyond)

Coolness factor: warp 8.

Factor for smart use of scarce funds: bimbo 8.

Purpose:  Nothing worth $300 million. But we’ll be ready when Mars attacks!

Results so far: 4 built (non-recoverable single-use). Three tests, one partial success & two failures.

Big lie: it’s a step towards hypersonic passenger travel!

Cost: Secret. Estimates of funds spent so far are $250-300 million, plus more on the previous projects.

For a more information see: GlobalSecurity and Wikipedia.

Focus Fusion. Click to enlarge.

(2)  Focus Fusion

From the website of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc.:

… is a high-tech research and development corporation specializing in applications of plasma physics, including fusion power and intense X-ray sources.

Our lead project is the development of an inherently clean fusion energy generator using a device called the dense plasma focus (DPF) and hydrogen-boron fuel, an approach we call “Focus Fusion.”

This work was initially funded by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is now backed by over forty private investors including the Abell Foundation of Baltimore.  LPP’s patented technology and peer-reviewed science will guide the design of a compact, environmentally safe and virtually unlimited source of energy that would be at least ten times cheaper than any existing sources.

Our research team has already achieved major experimental milestones, including the achievement of plasma confinement at energies equivalent to two billion degrees, high enough to fuse hydrogen and boron. We intend to win the race for this ultimate energy prize by demonstrating the scientific feasibility of Focus Fusion at our laboratory in Middlesex, NJ.  Non-exclusive licenses to government agencies and manufacturing partners will aim to ensure rapid adoption of Focus Fusion generators as the primary source of electrical power worldwide.

For more photos, videos, and links see this page at ALT FIN ENERGY, and the Wikipedia entry for Dense Plasma Focus.

Click to enlarge

(3)  National Spherical Torus Experiment

From their website:

Cost: $100 million from 2009-2015 (from slide 53 of the 2012 budget ppt)

The National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) is an innovative magnetic fusion device that was constructed by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Columbia University, and the University of Washington at Seattle.

First plasma was obtained on NSTX on Friday, February 12, 1999 at 6:06 p.m. NSTX is being used to study the physics principles of spherically shaped plasmas — hot ionized gases in which nuclear fusion will occur under the appropriate conditions of temperature, density, and confinement in a magnetic field. Fusion is the energy source of the Sun and all the stars. Scientists believe it can provide an inexhaustible, safe, and environmentally attractive source of energy on earth.

Magnetic fusion experiments use plasmas comprised of one or more of the isotopes of hydrogen. For example, in 1994, PPPL’s Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) produced a world-record 10.7 million watts of fusion power from a plasma comprised of equal parts of deuterium and tritium, the fuel mix likely to be used in commercial fusion power reactors. NSTX is a “proof of principle” experiment and therefore employs deuterium plasmas only. If successful it will be followed by similar devices, eventually including a demonstration power reactor, burning deuterium-tritium fuel.

NSTX produces a plasma that is shaped like a sphere with a hole through its center, different from the “donut” shaped plasmas of conventional tokamaks. This innovative plasma configuration may have several advantages, a major one being the ability to confine a higher plasma pressure for a given magnetic field strength. Since the amount of fusion power produced is proportional to the square of the plasma pressure, the use of spherically shaped plasmas could allow the development of smaller, more economical fusion reactors. NSTX’s attractiveness may be further enhanced by its ability to produce a high “bootstrap” electric current. This self-driven internal plasma current would significantly reduce the power requirements of externally driven plasma currents required to heat and confine the plasma.

For more information see the NSTX Project Home Page and Building Components of the NSTX.

(4)  The Polywell

Great potential.  Lots of misinformation circulating about it.

The Polywell’s developers founded EMC2 Fusion Development a charitable research and development Corporation, to develop frontier energy technologies with an emphasis on fusion.  From their website:

Successfully Completed in 2008 – Fusion R&D Phase 1: Validate and extend WB-6 results with WB-7 Device; test confinement behavior with detailed diagnostics.  Required 1.5 years (2008-2010) and $1.8 million.

In process – Fusion R&D Phase 2: Design, build and test larger scale WB-8 Polywell Device. Estimated to require 2 years and $7 million (provided by the US Navy. Results to date are confidential.  Here’s what little we know, from the reports on the Recovery.gov website:

  • “As of 2Q/2011, the WB-8 device has demonstrated excellent plasma confinement properties. EMC2 is conducting high power pulsed experiments on WB-8 to test the Wiffle-Ball plasma scaling law on plasma energy and confinement.”
  • “As of 3Q/2011, the WB-8 device has generated over 500 high power plasma shots. EMC2 is conducting tests on Wiffle-Ball plasma scaling law on plasma heating and confinement.”
  • “During 4Q of 2011, EMC2 has modified the electron injectors to increase the plasma heating. The higher plasma density in WB-8 prompted the need for higher heating power. We plan to operate WB-8 in high beta regime with the modified electron injectors during 1Q of 2012.”

Next –  Fusion R&D Phase 3: Design, build and test full scale 100 MW Fusion System. Estimated to require 4 years and $200 million. Now under design.

Tri Alpha Energy. Click to enlarge

(5)  Tri Alpha Energy

We know little of Tri Alpha. No website. Only dribs of information, mostly from rumors and a few papers at conferences.

If these stories are correct, this is an amazing project:  early stage R&D conducted on a large scale with all private capital. I cannot think of any parallel.

(6)  Other fusion projects (with Wikipedia links)

The future!

(7)  For more information

To see all posts go to the FM Reference Page Peak Oil and Energy.

About fusion:

  1. Fusion energy, too risky a bet for America (we prefer to rely on war) , 4 May 2008
  2. A long-shot project for fusion power: the Polywell, 30 September 2008

About new energy sources:

  1. An urban legend to comfort America: crash programs will solve Peak Oil, 5 September 2008
  2. An urban legend to comfort America: alternative energy will save us, 16 September 2008
  3. Another example showing how energy research is just inspired guessing, since America prefers being blind, 23 September 2008
  4. Could a new “Manhattan Project” produce radically new energy sources?, 29 June 2010
  5. Eventually we’ll have unlimited cheap clean energy. But that will not help us or our kids., 15 February 2011

(8)  See the future!

(a)  See the X-51A WaveRider in action

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(b)  But even better things await us in the future

Your grandchildren might see this, or something equally awesome,  during a field trip to the local power plant. It’s a conceptual graphic of a Helion Energy generator by Torulf2, posted at Talk Polywell on 27 May 2009.

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Helion Energy

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61 thoughts on “The X-51A is $300 million of fun. Can we spend our money smarter and build a better future?

  1. So we (mostly taxpayers) are spending big bucks on not one or two, but a good half-dozen efforts to achieve containment for fusion reactions– a holy grail for over 50 years now. (Someone tell me how much we’ve spent– esp. in 2012 dollars– at least tens or even hundreds of billions.) Whether any could possibly give us useful energy in the next half century remains in some doubt. Meanwhile, almost unheralded and unfunded, research on ‘cold fusion’ goes on in numerous labs around the world. Does it show promise? Not yet, but neither is it the laughable punch line it seemed 2 decades ago. Similarly, dozens of low-budget, small-lab efforts are moving forward towards a 3rd, 4th, or 5th generation battery chemistry that will yield cells for vehicle power– some very soon, more within a decade. When will we ‘discover’ that huge power and miraculous engineering may not be the solution to humankind’s coming emergency, but rather, the results of these small, relatively low-budget University-department scale efforts.

    1. I have no idea what you are attempting to say. Do only small projects? Do only projects that experts say are unlikely to work? Do only successful projects?

      “When will we ‘discover’ that huge power and miraculous engineering may not be the solution to humankind’s coming emergency”

      I think most people know that these “may not” be a “solution”, since these projects “may” or “may not” work. But that’s neither a useful nor relevant statement. The question is should we try, or just trust to luck? And if we try, how to do so?

  2. As happens all too often with commenters on this site, this commenter is pushing a fringe lunatic crackpot scheme — in this case, “cold fusion,” a form of junk science which has been so thoroughly debunked that at this late date it should require no rebuttal. To make just one point originally made by physicists back in the 1980s, if the original cold fusion experiment data had been accurate and reproducible, all the experimenters would have died from the reported neutron flux. They didn’t.

    Commenters on this forum, as on so many other forums on the internet, seem to be a mix of cranks and kooks and extremists spouting every known conspiracy theory and debunked form of junk science and fringe theory ever concocted, with a thin layer of sensible insightful commenters on top. Physics junk science I’ve seen touted includes

    • zero-point energy (get energy from vacuum fluctuations in empty space; the vacuum fluctuations exist at a quantum level, but the second law of thermodynamics assures us they can never be made to generate useful energy),
    • cold fusion (reputable experiments can’t reproduce the alleged amounts of neutron flux produced in these experiments),
    • solar power satellites (a single SPS would require circa 400 shuttle trips to build, and these yo-hos talk blithely about putting dozens of SPSs in orbit. And we don’t even have a space shuttle anymore),
    • energy from black holes (the amount of energy required to generate a black hole of size sufficient to power a city is more than the total energy generated in the entire history of the human race),
    • sympathetic vibratory physics (touted by the 1910-era fraudster John W. Keeley; a glance at the crackpot site for this stuff suffices to deflate it — see this website),
    • stable superheavy elements (valid in theory but hasn’t worked out in practice: someone has been re-reading Samuel R. Delaney’s NOVA too many times),
    • dark matter as a power source (scientists haven’t even verified what dark matter is, much less actually observed its properties yet),
    • dark energy as a power source (ditto previous),
    • and so on.

    Economic crackpot nonsense includes: the claim that a return to the gold standard will solve all our economic problems; the claim that fractional reserve banking is a sinister conspiracy by the illuminati; that the Trilateral Commission conspires to steal the world’s wealth; that unspecified illuminati int he Federal Reserve Board have been secretly guiding civilization toward a despotic oligarchy since 1913; that bankers and marxists and fascists are all secretly part of the same “road to serfdom” based on the unspeakable evil of compounded interest; that double entry bookkeeping is a satanic plot to destroy civilization; that every copy of Quicken accounting software contains a software virus which secrety siphons off fractions of cents to the illuminati in order to fund their world-conquest plans…and so on.

    Political crackpot nonsense propounded on this and other forums includes the claim that Barack Obama is a Maoist fascist Kenyan dictator, that Nancy Pelosi is a transvestite Marxist who colludes to destroy America with a carbon tax; that Peak Oil is a vicious rumor confected in an effort to perpetrate a liberal economic putsch; that deregulation of business and elimination of the IRS would produce a fantastic explosion in GDP; that revenue can be enormously increased by cutting taxes; that the current economic collapse is due to a “lack of business confidence” which can only be reversed by eliminating the deficit; that markets stabilize themselves without government intervenation, and thus FDR caused the Great Depression…and so on.

    A good example of the economic gibberish touted by cranks on this (and many other forums) can be found in the 4.5 minute YouTube video “if I wanted America to fail” {see below}

    Honesty, FM, sometimes I don’t know why you bother continuing to put out valid accurate information in the face of such a tidal wave of nuttery and ignorance. It’s like reciting Euclid’s Elements to a cage full of monkeys.
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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ-4gnNz0vc

    1. I pretty much concur with your rundown of the various forms of junk science.

      The problem always boils down to the promise of getting something for nothing (or: more out than you put in) I think a lot of people have been acculturated by capitalist ideologies to believe that, if we’re smart enough, we’ll somehow be able to make an energy doo-dad that costs less to run than what it puts out. The problem is that physical reality isn’t very keen on transactions like that. Every single useful form of energy that humans have come up relies on capitalizing on another process that is some form of irreversible decay – be it nuclear decay, the decay of the sun, etc. That’s because that’s how the universe works. ;)

      There’s a chance that some kind of a “free lunch” energy source will be invented but, really, we’re fools to expect it. What’s going on is that humanity has kicked major ass in the technology arena for so long (wow! hundreds of years!) that we seem to now think that the party will continue forever. The pain you’re feeling is humanity starting to bump up against hard barriers involving convertibility of energy sources by density. For one example – the rocket motors built in the 60s for the moon program – our new stuff really isn’t significantly better. What we see is the gap between the mongolfier balloon and the saturn v and think that there’s a comparable gap at the top-end of technology. This is the reasoning that fuels the guys like Kurzweil, who believe that the technology ramp is endless and we all become gods of our own massive supercomputer worlds. Uh, yeah. Right. Stuff gets better, but nothing is getting surrealistically better – these things like zero point energy, interstellar exploration, warp drives, etc – they are as reality-based as the medieval peasant who prayed for rain. Basically it amounts to mankind beginning to realize we are trapped in (at most of the speeds we can do anything useful) in newtonian space and our one planet has some pretty serious limits (which we’ve already exceeded!) and our sun’s gonna expand in a handful of billion years and we’ve shit the bed. Oops.

      Technology has hard limits because physical reality has hard limits. The more we understand them the more clever we get at working within them, but they don’t go away. In fact, the more we understand them (generally) the more we realize how actually hard they are. The modern diet of optimistic science fiction is the fodder for these new cargo-cults of pseudoscience; they will continue to flourish as mankind gets more desperate and ignorant (thanks to nobody’s being interested in learning science anymore) – we may as well turn to religion; prayer works 50% of the time for binary outcomes, after all!

      Crackpot science is today’s deus ex machina. It’s a rotten plot device.

  3. Incidentally, for those interested in the actual peer-reviewed science of nuclear fusion power, a small but meaningful advance was reported today. A new type of lining for tokamak fusion reactors, using a tungsten-beryllium alloy, has shown better erosion characteristics and less energy loss than the previous type of lining. This means that ITER and other tokamak-torus design fusion reactors have gotten a little bit closer to the breakeven point at which as much energy comes out as goes in. Progress has been very slow on nuclear fusion over the last 50 years, and the jury is still out as to whether this technology will ultimately prove economically and technically practical at industrial scales, but at least reports like this are based on peer-reviewed verified science.

    General pop sci article on the new fusion reactor lining “How to Line a Thermonuclear Reactor“, ScienceNow, 16 August 2012 — and the highly technical original scientific journal pdf: “Study of JET conditioning with ITER-Like Wall“.

  4. Better to spend the money on stupid stuff than on threats that do not exist. The stupid stuff is obvious and hardly a threat to civilization. Climate change? Peak oil? That could run us into hundreds of trillions for nothing.

    Why does oil cost as much as it does? The Saudis et al. have a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Peak oil? At least 100 and maybe 200 years away.

    Climate change? A LOT of folks are hoping for a return to little ice age conditions – we are over due for the next major ice age. I think that is what we should fear. Heat is easier on civilization than cold.

    Polywell is getting as much money as it needs for now.

    We will muddle through.

    1. Wow. Three quick notes:

      (1) Every expert I’ve read agrees that oil production will peak eventually (that’s not “running out”). The debate concerns the date. Since we don’t have the necessary data, most expert forecasts vary from the next few years — Goldman Sachs, Sadad al Husseini (ex VP Aramco) — to 2030 (see the citations in the IPCC reports).

      Good research probably can narrow that range, allowing better planning. Probably a better course of action for a great nation than faith-based hope — or aggressive guessing.

      (2) “Why does oil cost as much as it does? The Saudis et al. have a lot of hungry mouths to feed.”

      I don’t know what that means. Oil is aprox $110 (Brent) — up 11x from the February 1999 low — because the Saudi Princes will pump enough to pay the bills and maintain the global economy — but no more. They announced this in April 2008. They will not increase production above current capacity, preferring to leave the oil in the ground for future generations. This dashes hopes that they would increase production to 15 million b/d.

      (3) “A LOT of folks are hoping for a return to little ice age conditions”

      I have never read of anyone hoping for that. That’s crazy.

    2. One of the reasons why oil costs as much as it does is probably because the Saudi Arabian economy is almost entirely dependent on it — oil is estimated to be responsible for 45% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP, 75% of their budget, and 90% of their export earnings. I’d think that’s quite an incentive for them to keep prices high, wouldn’t you? (In fact, the nation might not even exist today if it weren’t for oil, since it was one of the poorest on the planet between its creation in 1932 and the discovery of oil in 1938.) Not only that, the staggeringly wealthy Saudi nobility also know that there’s a lot of social as well as political unrest in their country and oil is probably the only thing which makes it possible for them to continue experiencing and enjoying their lives of unparalleled luxury beyond the wildest dreams of most Saudis. Even as late as 1960, the majority of Saudis were still nomadic but oil revenues have made it possible for the nobility to create a better standard of living for the people as a whole than they were previously accustomed to (even though the nobility benefits infinitely more than the common people do).

      It’s not exactly a secret that if (more likely when) the oil revenues eventually dry up, the country will quite likely be thrown into turmoil and the House of Saud stands a good chance of being overthrown. (This could have wider implications throughout the Islamic world given that the two most sacred sites in the Islamic faith — Mecca and Medina — are both located within Saudi Arabia.) In many respects, Saudi Arabia is a ticking time bomb which is just waiting to go off…and the House of Saud probably knows this very well, which is probably one of the reasons why they will not increase production even if they could. Indeed, the possibility should not be ruled out that they literally cannot increase production, because there’s every reason to believe that once they reach that point (whether now or in the future), they will do everything in their power to conceal this information from the rest of the world until it becomes impossible to hide it any longer…simply because they have every reason to do so and no motivation to do otherwise. Given how dependent the Saudi economy (and the status of the royal family) is on oil, the chances are that the way we would most likely learn about the Saudis being unable to increase production — that is, before the Saudi government is ready (or is forced to) acknowledge it publicly — would be if a high-ranking official defected and decided to blow the whistle, which is a pretty big “if.”

    3. (1) “One of the reasons why oil costs as much as it does is probably because the Saudi Arabian economy is almost entirely dependent on it”

      This is a commonplace argument. It doesn’t make sense. They’re dependent on oil sales, so they must sell enough to pay the bills. They will sell more than that only if they can invest the proceeds to earn a higher rate of return than oil in the ground. Since they foreign investments are quite conservative, that’s almost certainly not true.

      Hence their April 2008 policy announcement that they’re not increasing oil production capacity over the current target of 12 million b/day (they’re now pumping aprox 10 million, roughly at their OPEC quota).

      (2) It’s not exactly a secret that if (more likely when) the oil revenues eventually dry up, the country will quite likely be thrown into turmoil and the House of Saud stands a good chance of being overthrown

      That’s not a secret, it’s a wild guess. Nobody knows what will happen 50 years or more in the future. BTW, the Saudi wells will not dry up for many generations. Texas oil production peaked aprox 1970, yet 40 years it still produces a lot of oil. We don’t know when Saudi production will peak; some experts see that as a decade in the future.

      (3) “Saudi Arabia is a ticking time bomb which is just waiting to go off”

      Perhaps. Probably not.

      America has become a nation of drama queens. In a discussion of almost any subject people bring in the “ticking time bomb” scenario. Energy, climate, politics, America, Europe, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, pollution, demographics, etc etc etc.

      (4) What happens when Saudi production peaks?

      Oil prices will rise (or start their long rise). Saudi income probably rises. This has been modeled frequently. Even a rapid decrease in production (eg 8%year, quite fast for onshore fields) probably would be more than offset by rising prices — as rising world GDP could be met only by demand destruction or increased use of alternative sources.

      For comparison, Brent oil prices have risen at aprox 20%/year since the February 1999 low — during which time world gdp has grown rapidly.

    4. America has become a nation of drama queens. In a discussion of almost any subject people bring in the “ticking time bomb” scenario.

      The powers-that-be have carefully acculturated our society with that idea. Everyone needs to learn that Jack Bauer can and will do anything that he “has to” in order to accomplish these very important objectives. This trains the sheeple that when the powers-that-be say “you must pay more taxes!” “we must attack Iran!” or whatever, that that’s what’s going to happen and the ends, after all, justify the means. I occasionally watch television if I’m trapped somewhere without a book and, inevitably, the shows all seem to be about two divergent memes:
      – Deal with your life the best you can while hoping for a Deus Ex Machina break that will magically elevate you up the class heirarchy and then your life will be great!! In the meantime, though, run up lots of debt and be a good consumer, sit down, shut up, ignore the man with the gun who’s watching you.
      – The way to accomplish anything worth accomplishing is to not acknowledge rules. The ends justify the means, what the powerful choose to do will happen, might makes right, and besides if you get in Jack Bauer’s way you’re going to wind up wearing a toe tag.

      People aren’t being drama queens, in other words. They’re being stupid. They have been weaned on a diet of glittering lies and now they’re stupid; it’s the only way they can be.

  5. ITER and the rest of the toks are a joke. The neutron/tritium economy is quite close to an engineering impossibility. This has been known for 40 years. But the project keeps a lot of physicists and engineers off the plebeian dole.

    1. I am too often astonished by the willingness of people to contemptuously dismiss the work of experts.

      The ITER and NIF are considered unlikely to work by many scientists in this area, such as Robert Hirsch. But they tend to be cautious in their forecasts, like most real experts. They people working on this projects are not fools.

    2. Please cite the peer-reviewed scientific journal articles providing evidence for your claims.

    3. My request for journal citations was directed at M. Simon, not FM, by the way. Sweeping claims (“engineering impossibility”) demand sweeping evidence.

    4. I suspect you’ll wait a long time to get M. Simon to support his views. We’ve done this exercise before.

      There are some others (eg, the US naval blockade of Iran in August 2008 here and here). But these give you a sample of his style. If only every website had a Smackdowns page the Internet might be more useful.

      This shows, IMO (guessing), the deep dysfunctionality of today’s America. Discussions on both left and right are dominated by myth — pleasing myths. This allows certain kinds of people to thrive and become leaders. The right is amnesiac about two centuries of economic history in the same ways as the left is about history of climate variation (eg, the little ice age, the dust bowl). This is a disturbing similarity to 1984.

      The common element of the Left and Right is that they’re both us, and both easily manipulated.

  6. Well fractional reserve banking is a problem when the returns do not match the requirements to keep the system stable. Do the math. Or as we like to say in engineering – run the numbers.

    1. “Well fractional reserve banking is a problem when the returns do not match the requirements”

      I don’t understand what you’re saying, or its relevance to this thread. I wonder if it’s the usual sort of conservative boilerplate, faux economics.

      It’s a correct statement, if correctly placed in context. Two brief notes can help.

      (1) Fractional reserve banking is ancient, going back to the gold smiths of the ancient world. As described in the Britannica, in the modern sense it “originated with the Amsterdamsche Wisselbank (the Bank of Amsterdam), which was established in 1609 during Amsterdam’s ascent as the largest and most prosperous city in Europe.”

      (2) Even during the era of hard banking in 19th century England, fluctuations in cash flows and asset values led to massive bank failures and depressions. It’s an inherent feature of modern economic systems. Such as the great canal and railroad booms and busts.

    2. That’s a good catch. Still, I don’t understand what you’re saying, or its relevance to More’s statement about crazy beliefs — like “fractional reserve banking is a sinister conspiracy by the illuminati”.

  7. Energy is life. As an engineer I think the “If I wanted America to fail” video expounds considerable truth. It is an old story. Civilization works hard to succeed and then the success and the habits of that success are taken for granted and failure ensues. A little regulation here. A little restriction there until it piles up to “we must bribe the officials” to get ahead. Corruption and sloth sets in and then a reset starts the game over.

    We are currently in the reset phase.

  8. OK for the math challenged. A bank (the only bank) has $100. It loans out $1,000 (10% reserve requirements or some such – lets keep she numbers simple) . It loans at 5% a year. So it takes in (if everything is working) $50 on its $100 deposit. Lets say things go bad and it calls in the $1,000 In an economy that only has $100 of real assets in the bank.

    Any one see a problem? The economy with fractional reserve banking will grow faster – until it hits a wall. Now of course there are other factors like growth, technology improvements, investment, capital accumulation. etc. But I have outlined the general problem. If the bankers do a good job of choosing good investments – great. If they over invest Uh. Oh.

    1. A brief history lesson (since the previous one seems to have been overlooked).

      • Fractional reserve banking has been around in various forms for thousands of years.
      • Fractional reserve banking has been a feature of rapidly growing western nations for two centuries.
      • Fractional reserve banking in its current form has been a feature of modern nations (eg, England, US) for a century — during which they’ve seen some of the fastest economic growth ever seen in history.

      I don’t see the problem (not that the system is perfect, or cannot be improved). I don’t see the point of your statement.

      Nor are the sneers about “match challenged” relevant, IMO.

    2. I was just pointing out the problems. I have nothing better to offer. As I said above you get greater growth. And since you didn’t point out my spelling errors I will ignore yours. ;-)

      There is a problem with doing the math? i.e. a thought exercise? Most people don’t do even the simplest ones. Even on engineering blogs. BTW being a member of the “Illuminati” I never blame them for anything. I usually pin it all on Bilderbergers or secret UFO mind rays. Possibly the Rockefellers in a pinch although I owe some of my schooling to them. – Well that proves it doesn’t it. What ever “it” is.

    3. (1) “I was just pointing out the problems. I have nothing better to offer.”

      You didn’t show any problems, and admit that modern credit systems “get greater growth”. I’ll repeat my reply: “I don’t see the problem (not that the system is perfect, or cannot be improved).”

      As for your math, all businesses can fail due to bad investments. That’s an inherent aspect of capitalism. Banks are no different in this respect from other leveraged businesses.

      (2) “There is a problem with doing the math? i.e. a thought exercise?”

      No. You said “for the math challenged.” Since nobody disputed your math, your sneering remark was both inappropriate and irrelevant to my reply (much like your comment about “return to sailing ships”). These rhetorical tricks don’t work here, and are called out as nonsense.

      (3) “And since you didn’t point out my spelling errors I will ignore yours. ;-)”

      Nobody cares about spelling and grammar here. Just accuracy of facts and logic. And the clash of values.

  9. FM:
    I usually agree with this argument (basically, we overfund a bloated DoD, defense contracts that do our nation no good service, and maintain an unnecessarily large standing army while our nation crumbles around us), and I’ll be the first (in uniform, at least) to say our military needs massive cuts as its very existence is now anachronistic given the current and foreseeable future environment. But I find fault with the one weapon system you chose to focus on here – the X51.

    The X-51, like all of the X Program testbeds are just that, testbeds. Whatever the investment initially spent, they can have far greater return not merely in a deliverable weapons system immediately after testing, but in advancing larger science as well. But my major gripe is this: we need the X-51 and a future hypersonic weapons platform to replace ICBMs in a conventional role.

    If the US will ever be able to downsize its unnecessary and wasting standing military, we need a global strike capability in the form of a cruise missile that can travel at these speeds to reach targets faster than manned bombers (or deployable armies) ever could. Without a future capability like this, we’ll be tied to the specious argument of somehow needing and maintaining a huge air force, army, and navy to be able to deploy troops and hardware around the world at a moment’s notice to handle any type of flare up. With weapons like this, we can have more strategic clarity for the 21st century and what our nation needs from a military that’s already won the Cold War. Without an existential threat, we can and should easily migrate to strategic assets within our air force and navy to provide timely and critical force projection through platforms that do not require or entail massive deployable armies.

    Without whatever a successful X-51 program can deliver for us, we’ll be tied to maintaining our ICBM inventory in the hopes that we can somehow retrofit them with conventional warheads to use in a non-nuclear capability but this is horribly dangerous (what would the Russians or Chinese do if they all of a sudden saw a US ICBM entering boost phase? And how could we not expect them to keep developing ABM assets?). Without a future hypersonic platform for weapons delivery, we’ll be tied to needing a standing army to deal with things that should be able to be dealt with through strategic assets.

    What’s your take?

    1. (1) “But my major gripe is this: we need the X-51 and a future hypersonic weapons platform to replace ICBMs in a conventional role.”

      Why? We have never had this capacity, and have done OK.

      (2) “we need a global strike capability in the form of a cruise missile that can travel at these speeds to reach targets faster than manned bombers”

      Why? We have never had this capacity, and have done OK.

      (3) “(or deployable armies) ever could.”

      That makes no sense to me. There are very few circumstances when a hypersonic cruise missile is a substitute for ground forces.

      (4) “Whatever the investment initially spent, they can have far greater return not merely in a deliverable weapons system immediately after testing, but in advancing larger science as well.”

      Yes, they “can” — as in serendipity. Something that happens rarely. It’s an insane basis on which to spend hundreds of millions, when we have clearly defined vital and immediate needs.

    2. we need a global strike capability in the form of a cruise missile that can travel at these speeds to reach targets faster than manned bombers (or deployable armies) ever could.

      Ballistic missile submarines. We are already way overarmed in terms of global strike capability and there isn’t a country on earth that can threaten the US – only “US interests”
      “Threatening US interests” is code, of course, for “stopping the US from doing what it wants.” And, perhaps in that light, the ability of US interests to be threatened a bit more, would be a good thing for everyone including the US.

    3. FM and Marcus:

      (1) “But my major gripe is this: we need the X-51 and a future hypersonic weapons platform to replace ICBMs in a conventional role.”
      Why? We have never had this capacity, and have done OK.

      We never had this capability because we have a military infrastructure that doesn’t require it. Why have a hypersonic cruise missile when we can easily enough deploy a carrier strike group, tens of thousands or troops, or a few waves of manned bomber missions? Our current military inventory doesn’t require us to think smartly or efficiently about how better apply kinetic responses to targets. If we had a working hypersonic platform, IN LIEU of massive and expensive cold war solutions to future problems, we could start trimming those back.

      (2) “we need a global strike capability in the form of a cruise missile that can travel at these speeds to reach targets faster than manned bombers”
      Why? We have never had this capacity, and have done OK.

      see above; our military is still modeled, maintained, and funded at cold war levels. This doesn’t need to be but we do 1) because we can’t stop thinking in Cold War terms about a changed world, and 2) this translates into the way we fund, field, and posture our defensive/offensive capabilities. Now I’m not totally naive in this; I know the x51 won’t immediately replace all of our anachronistic defense posture, but there’s A LOT else we could cut in the defense budget first before we start dipping in to research programs. I kind of look at this issue in parallel to what happens in a military or civilian organization when the budget gets tight for the year; what’s the first thing to get cut: training and education programs. This is shortsighted and the easy way out. It’s also counterproductive to the health of the future force.

      (3) “(or deployable armies) ever could.”
      That makes no sense to me. There are very few circumstances when a hypersonic cruise missile is a substitute for ground forces.

      It’s simple psychology on our part. If we maintain an unnecessary standing army in the face of an absent existential threat, we’ll find a way to use it. We don’t need ground forces at the level we maintain but will continue to have them because it’s easier for a president to mock the War Powers Act and deploy them whenever he wants for as long as he wants. Part of the development and any future fielding of an x51-type weapons systems will need to have a healthy Congressional debate about why we need a weapon like that and what can we trim from inventory (or strategy) that this can replace. It *should* force us to reassess our our posture and solutions.

      (4) “Whatever the investment initially spent, they can have far greater return not merely in a deliverable weapons system immediately after testing, but in advancing larger science as well.”
      Yes, they “can” — as in serendipity. Something that happens rarely. It’s an insane basis on which to spend hundreds of millions, when we have clearly defined vital and immediate needs.

      Again, I’m not being naive about what the testbed “could” deliver for us, but there are much more wasteful and fraudulent systems and manpower levels to cut first. We can’t just start cutting things like NASA, DARPA, and other high-cost, low-deliverable programs involved in research because it doesn’t immediately turn a buck for the defense industry or their Congressional lackeys. Agreed, we do have vital and immediate needs relating to our education system, infrastructure, medical system, future power grids and energy requirements, etc, but we can slash our defense budget by at least half first without cutting research projects.

      we need a global strike capability in the form of a cruise missile that can travel at these speeds to reach targets faster than manned bombers (or deployable armies) ever could.
      Ballistic missile submarines. We are already way overarmed in terms of global strike capability and there isn’t a country on earth that can threaten the US – only “US interests”. “Threatening US interests” is code, of course, for “stopping the US from doing what it wants.” And, perhaps in that light, the ability of US interests to be threatened a bit more, would be a good thing for everyone including the US.

      I’d largely agree but the Ohio class SSGN could cost as much as $4B a copy (again, I’m talking once-nuclear assets re-missioned into a conventional role). I don’t know what the overall cost comparison is but it would be interesting to see a forecast of the costs of the AF’s next-gen bomber plus the future SSGN against the hypersonic cruise missile.

    4. I don’t believe flights of imagination like this provide a sound basis for military strategy. It’s interesting speculation, but a daft basis on which to spend billions.

      “costs of the AF’s next-gen bomber plus the future SSGN against the hypersonic cruise missile.”

      (a) Since we don’t have a hypersonic cruise missile, that w/b difficult to do. For that matter, cost estimates of new aircraft exceed their intital estimates by 10x. Such as the F-35, which is far overbudget AND far from its design specs. And the gap between design and completion of a new aircraft are far smaller than between early prototypes (unsuccessful) and deployment of the X-51.

      (b) “Our bombers and SSGN”…

      From 2002 to 2008 the US Navy modified the 4 oldest Ohio-class submarines into SSGNs, I believe in order to meet the START II force reduction requirements. It’s a crazy expensive dedicated platform from which to launch cruise missiles, but reasonable if the alternative is turning useful craft into razor blades.

  10. “Why? We have never had this capacity, and have done OK.”

    Good one. So are you suggesting a return to sailing ships? A return to coal fired (oil in a pinch) carriers? Get rid of airplanes and go with energy efficient balloons?

    You try stuff out in an effort to stay ahead of the competition. Maybe figure a way to turn it into an airliner. Or a platform for space launch.

    In any case at this point the Polywell budget is down in the noise level. Kept there by projects such as this. Which helps to keep the tok fools from objecting too much. The price of progress. If it works – still in doubt – It will cover the price of all our stupidity and then some. Not to worry. We will invent new stupidity.

    BTW given events in the ME we are going to need a fair number of boots soon.

    And since I am leaving bits of anomalous stuff. WW2 in the Pacific was a dope war: “Dubious Sources“, 15 August 2012. Now about Afghanistan.

    1. (1) “Good one. So are you suggesting a return to sailing ships? A return to coal fired (oil in a pinch) carriers? Get rid of airplanes and go with energy efficient balloons?”

      There is nothing in my statement to imply that we should move to more primitive technology. Zip. Nada. As a rebuttal that’s either low or dumb (only you know which).

      (2) “You try stuff out in an effort to stay ahead of the competition.”

      Ahead of what competition? With whom are we an arms race for this technology? Military innovation is not building neat tech, but military capabilities that meet actual needs. None have been shown for the X-51A.

      (3) “Maybe figure a way to turn it into an airliner. Or a platform for space launch.”

      While those are legitimate uses, neither seems likely in any reasonable timeframe. Hypersonic transport is far less efficient than supersonic transport, and that proved a commercial failure (on a large scale, it was not even close). As for space launch, NASA has proven unable to find sufficient uses for the Shuttle and Space Station to justify those investments.

      All of these look like premature technology, and as such less deserving of investment than other pressing needs. Such as development of new energy systems. Which was the point of this post.

  11. I very regularly read this weblog.

    Therefore maybe some food for thought. It is an old story (from 2004) but I think it is still topical. In the appendix a brief overview on alternative energies is given. “Fossil Fuel Based Energy – Access and Climate: a Double Clamp” by Evert Wesker.

    The list of options given in your entry are (often quite – to say the least) of a speculative nature. My view: Try to make a best bet among them. However, don’t count on them. Leaning on “faith based” energy policies is not advisable because then some nasty scenarios may become reality. (“Hitting a brick wall” with energy provision).

    Remember this list, on which energy is #1:

    1. Energy supply (absolutely vital to the next 4 on the list …)
    2. Sufficient supply of (clean!) water
    3. Food supply
    4. Environment / exhaustion of natural resources / climate
    5. Standard & quality of living / unequal distribution of wealth
    6. Health care (Child mortality, AIDS, flu, XR-TBC, malaria)
    7. Violent conflicts ((civil)wars by state and non-state entities)
    8. Education
    9. Population policies (position women vital for success)
    10. Local right of self determination / democracy

    Mazzel & broge / kind regards, Evert Wesker

    1. Thank you, two-fold!

      First, for this list. It provides the big-picture context that’s so important when considering these issues.

      Second, for reminding me of something I forgot to include in this post (It was in the draft). These are all project in the lab. Some fusion projects, like ITER and NIF, are large, late-stage lab projects. The others are early-lab stage. As you note, none of these should be counted on.! That’s important context, which I’ve added as an update.

      The point of the post was that our R&D investments should focus on actual needs. Ours often do not, since military has far easier access to funds.

      Gross mis-allocation of investment capital is an easy way for an Empire to die.

    2. FM,
      You ask too much. Focusing our R&D investments on actual needs requires critical thinking and planning at the national leadership level. What are the odds of that occurring?

    3. The Pagan,

      You are probably right, under today’s circumstances.

      Yet I ask only what we did in the past. America is the result of wise and large investments. Transportation systems from the Erie Canal thru the the intercontinental RR to the great post-WW2 airports and interstate highways. Dams, the land grant universities, the GI bill –it is a long list.

      Not all worked. Not all paid off. But all that mattered was our high batting average.

      How have we changed so that we no longer do what we once did so well?

    4. FM,
      I agree. I am old enough to have lived through all of our great advancements in Science and Engineering during the last half of the 20TH Century. We were once great. What we have become breaks my heart.

    5. The important thing to remember, IMO, is that we can again become great. We have everything our forefathers had, plus their example. We can do better than they did, as we stand on their shoulders.

  12. There was a time (1975) when government funded mostly pure science in the big research universities while applied research happened in the industrial labs. Universities seldom filed patents. Many thought doing so was wrong because it was unfair to private sector inventors to have to compete with their own government funded institutions. That bridge is long ago crossed at this point but few appreciate what we lost at that juncture. Now the debate is: What should Laviathin work on? This is part of the -we are forgetting how to be capitalists-meme.

    1. That’s a powerful and underappreciated fact! Government R&D has shifted to the military and health care (much of which benefits large drug companies). Corporate R&D has become far less research and more development. We have nothing today like Bell Labs, that did so much to establish our post-WWII technical lead.

      The net effect is a massive change in the US investment in our future.

      Combined with the vast reduction of investment in our public physical infrastructure, and you have a nation afflicted with a kind of anorexia. We refuse to invest in ourselves. This will not have a happy ending.

  13. The short answer is: “yes”

    It’s how empires die. The waverider is a symptom of an out-of-control military/industrial/congressional complex. The British empire exhausted itself financially, as did the Roman. The Ottomans – at least they lost it in battle…

    I’ve commented on this issue, before, so you already know my song. The way I see this process evolving, it’s simply that empires aggregate power (and wealth) and opportunity. After all, that’s what an empire is. So by definition, it attracts opportunists, power-hungry sociopaths, and money-hungry leeches. These comprise the parasitic load that an empire begins to collect – and it can do no otherwise because it’s very nature is to create a feeding-ground for such people.

    Rome was great – but Rome was great before it got extremely powerful and began to grow its parasitic load. Is Crassus much different from Rumsfeld? Well, Crassus was richer. Etc. Eventually, there are so many parasites in the path of the money-flow and so many yes-men in the decision-making process, the wheels come off because the empire goes simultaneously bankrupt, stupid, and led by opportunists. What we are seeing now in the US is the beginning of the wheels come off – we have politicians who are so obsessed with winning that they’re willing to accept lose/lose as long as the other guy loses more. That’s the recipe for disaster, because when those people get their hands on the money-valve (again: think Crassus) you know it’s going to be jammed wide open and the treasury will loot itself, the army will fight itself, the leaders will fight eachother, and the people will be too filled with despair to fight any of it.

    I imagine that, for the “average Roman on the street” things felt much as they do: everything’s fine fine fine fine storm clouds on the horizon wtf. It can happen very suddenly; societies evolve in a state of balance; they fail when they outgrow their ability to maintain their inner balance and topple over. It’s inevitable. It’s probably even “good” in some important senses of the word, because it argues strongly that mankind will never be united. A united humanity would look more like “imagine a jackboot on a human face, forever” than a pluralistic, secular, sustainable, peaceful, democratic, central management.

    1. Marcus,

      You have a better feel for high-tech evolution, and the mysteries of R&D, than most of us. What do you think of the civilian utility of the WaveRidder that M. Simon mentions (ie, civilian airliner or ground-orbit transport)? How do you see the various fusion projects mentioned (all in the lab; most at the early stage of lab research)?

    2. WaveRider’s a boondoggle. It’s a great idea, if you’re selling them.

      Otherwise, can anyone really say that the US is under-armed and is realistically threatened by anything other than collapsing ourselves from the inside? We are spending money on ridiculous toys like WaveRider because, apparently, the umpty-zillion-dollar nuclear-powered aircraft carrier task force groups that we already bought are inadequate for “projecting power”? I did not know that! Is there a strategic necessity to be able to instantly bomb any point on the planet? Isn’t “next week” good enough?

      By the same token: byproduct technology for civilian use – hypersonic transportation? Really? The concorde was not cost effective at $5,000 r/r 3 hrs NYC to London, that tells me that the market is really not going to sustain $25,000 r/r trips in an hour. Why not? Because even the wealthy who can afford that eventually realize that they can fly on a 747 1st class, drink some champagne, watch a movie, and get there in 7 hours for $2,000. The idea that we are on some endless technological ramp where everything has to get faster, better, cooler – is patently absurd. If you look at commercial aviation, it hasn’t gotten substantially better but it’s gotten vastly more comfortable, convenient, and safer. It turns out that’s what the market wants! Unless WaveRider technology somehow makes commercial airlines run on fucking schedule then it’s not going to improve anything for anyone other than the guys who like to sit outside the fence at Groom Lake and masturbate.

    3. Fusion? The physics of the problem combine with the engineering and go way over my head.

      I think we should be spending the money we currently spend on the DoD on researching fusion. Even it if failed, we’d a) still be spending all that money to pretty much the same contractors b) it would have the chance if it worked we’d buy the planet. I think if fusion was treated as a mega-government pure research programme, it’d basically be a great big stimulus package for all scientific research and engineering — something we’d benefit a whole lot more from than more bases and boondoggle military gear capable of fighting enemies so advanced we haven’t even made them, yet.

  14. So are you suggesting a return to sailing ships?

    I actually do. But I know we’re not smart enough to make it happen.

    The best thing humanity could do – and would do if we were wise – is ditch our technological civilization. Accept that medicine consists of mending breaks and patching teeth, but that things like cancer are a death-sentence and costly high-tech interventions are just not going to happen. Drop our medical technology back to practical stuff based on our increasing understanding of biology, but, seriously, the single biggest thing(s) that modern tech have brought to human life is the longevity gain that resulted from the discovery of the bacterial and viral models of infection. We could revert to a highly modernized version of basic medicine that cost fairly little, if we just accept that some people are just going to die at 40 of cancer every so often (they will at 45 anyway) life’s just sometimes a bummer like that. On the other technological front, yes, “sustainability” is a technology base approximately at the level of Greek civilization Ca 200BC. Small villages, a few cities, trade, primarily agriculture, no industrial civilization at all. And the population would have to be hugely smaller. Not breeding for a couple generations and letting mankind’s population drop back into the ~3-4 million range; we could all live comfortably in what was the Mediterranean area of the early Roman period (good land, decent infrastructure!) and let the rest of the planet lie fallow. We’d want a few research labs to explore science, and plenty of universities. But – all the other stuff? Seriously: mankind does not need iPods. We do not need email We do not need to vacation in Las Vegas. We do not need to fly tchochkes from China to boost a consumer economy in Germany. We enjoy these things but they’re a byproduct and a consequence of hugely integrated economies — economies that actually bring no additional value to the people that maintain them, but which are necessary to win the pointless and expensive wars of the ruling classes. Epicurus was right, in my opinion – what man needs is a good olive grove and a field he can grow wheat for bread on, and fruit trees, honey, and sweet water. The single thing that we might add to that is that modern man knows that the water should be disinfected by sunning it and filtering it with a dialysis membrane before drinking it (and not to defecate into the drinking water).

    What’s funny to me about humanity is that “our” problems (not really ours: our descendants’) all depend on the absurd idea that the population must, for some reason, grow indefinitely. 7 billion people? Is it more moral to support 12 billion people in misery or 400 million in sustainable comfort? What “we” appear to be doing is the first but expecting the second. And that relies on our absurdly unfounded idea that we’ll be able to engineer our way out of everything bad that we do. What do we base that on? Optimism. A look at the universe around us should cure every optimist; what we ought to be doing is – indeed, returning to sailing ships. But you’re probably thinking the great ships of the Napoleonic wars (which resulted in the permanent devastation of most of Britain’s oak forests and most of France’s forests, as well) Sailing ships like the ones the ancient greeks had – those were “sustainable”! And when you drop off the technology base (which can only come when you drop off the population base) then sustainability becomes even possible – a guy with a lateen-rigged handmade boat cannot deplete a shoal of fish; it’s just not possible. But you can’t gorge yourself on fish every day, either. Nor can the wealthiest part of your society accumulate great whacking piles of useless money.

    Of course this is a ridiculous idea. Rather than doing the smart thing, humanity collectively chooses to punt forward and keep the crazy train accellerating as fast as it can because maybe one of our descendants will be smart enough to keep the train accellerating indefinitely, always, forever. Yeah, you can see how that’s going to work out; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Malthus to figure that one out.

    The history of humanity since Roman times has been a dance of ever-enlarging social structures, designed to ever-increase the potential wealth and power that can be grabbed by the people who manage to finagle their way to the top. The ever-increasing spiral is necessary so that the powerful can continue to aggrandize themselves, which makes everyone else feel they have to do it, in order to protect themselves. Lather, rinse, repeat. None of this is to the actual benefit of anyone, since most people live, work, and die and primarily just want to be left alone to find mates and friends, drink and sing, dance and kiss, and do work that makes them feel they have a purpose. The requirement for ever-expanding capital-bases requires ever-expanding populations for ever-increasing wars.

    Yes, we could step off the treadmill. I recommend it. But we won’t.

    1. marcus,

      Stay calm. Remain in your home. I’ve arranged an emergency air drop of the collected works of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. Read them until you rejoin us on the trolley going to the stars. :)

      On the other hand, my guess is that by the late 21st century the world’s population will be in full crash mode — with fertility of 1.5 – 1.9 (vs. replacement of 2.1 or so). Our descendents will let the population glide down to levels that they can sustain with comfort. Considering where automation will be by then, that might be far below current levels.

      The other likely scenario is development of the holodeck, and fertility drops below 0.1 — and we race against extinction. The holodeck answers Fermi’s question about SETI: “where is everybody?” (aka The Fermi Paradox; see wikipedia).

      BTW — this was clearly predicted in Arthur C Clarke’s story “The Lion of Comarre’ (1949), where people find machine-induced dreamlands better than life in the real world.

    2. Well said, FM.

      Although I’ve always suspected that the solution to Fermi’s Paradox is that we are looking for alien life in all the wrong ways. But I freely admit that I don’t know the right ways to look either.

    3. Some people in Greece are putting Marcus’ idea into practice: “Greeks go back to basics as recession bites“, BBC, 20 August 2012 — Opening:
      .
      .
      As Greece sinks ever deeper into the most severe economic depression in living memory, some young people are taking drastic action to change their lives. In the spring of 2010, just as the Greek government was embarking on some of its harshest austerity measures, 29-year-old Apostolos Sianos packed in his well-paid job as a website designer, gave up his Athens apartment and walked away from modern civilisation.

      In the foothills of Mount Telaithrion on the Greek island of Evia, Mr Sianos and three other like-minded Athenians set up an eco-community. The idea was to live in an entirely sustainable way, free from the ties of money and cut off from the national electricity grid.

      ‘Crisis of civilisation’

      The group sleeps communally in yurts they have built themselves, they grow their own food and exchange the surplus in the nearest village for any necessities they cannot produce.

      As Greece sinks ever deeper into the most severe economic depression in living memory, some young people are taking drastic action to change their lives. In the spring of 2010, just as the Greek government was embarking on some of its harshest austerity measures, 29-year-old Apostolos Sianos packed in his well-paid job as a website designer, gave up his Athens apartment and walked away from modern civilisation.

      In the foothills of Mount Telaithrion on the Greek island of Evia, Mr Sianos and three other like-minded Athenians set up an eco-community. The idea was to live in an entirely sustainable way, free from the ties of money and cut off from the national electricity grid.

      ‘Crisis of civilisation’

      The group sleeps communally in yurts they have built themselves, they grow their own food and exchange the surplus in the nearest village for any necessities they cannot produce.

      Now in its second year, it has 10 permanent members and more than 100 part-time residents who spend some of the year there. But the last few months have seen an explosion of interest in the community from Greeks who feel let down by the system and find life in the financially crippled cities stifling.

      Last year the country’s economy shrank by 7% and 2012 could see a similar dip; in real terms that means thousands of businesses going bust and tens of thousands of people being laid off.

      A recent survey by Thessaloniki University suggested 76% of Greeks would like to emigrate, but for those who cannot afford to start a new life abroad, going back to farming the land is an increasingly attractive alternative.

      Mr Sianos says that this year has seen an enormous movement of people from big cities to the countryside, with many contacting his community to ask for advice on sustainable living and organic farming. “The Greek financial crisis is not all negative,” he says. “It is providing a huge opportunity for people to see that the system they live in is not working, so they can begin looking for alternatives.

  15. Marcus Ranum’s comments here are so insightful that I really wish someone (FM? Marcus?) would collate them into a separate article and publish them on this site as a single discussion of these issues.

  16. Mr Maximus, I like it. This is one of your few pieces that gives specific, solid direction for what we need to do to move forward into the future.
    Instead of wasting our national efforts on ever-more meaningless political arguments and ever-more outlandish ways to defend ourselves from the imminent alien invasion, we shall devote hundreds of millions of dollars and millions of man-hours to making nuclear fusion the center of the next energy revolution, specifically Focus Fusion, the National Spherical Torus Experiment, the Polywell, and Tri Alpha Energy.

    Great. Terrific. Splendid.

    All we have to do is convince a few hundred million American citizens that this endeavor is more important than homosexual marriage and we’ll be set.
    If your view of Americans as easily led sheeple is at all accurate, then this should be a relatively easy feat once we get the nation’s elite on board.
    So now we have to convince a thousand or so of the nation’s power brokers that this is a good idea. That’s a lot of cocktail parties, but I’m game if you are.

    1. The issue is not to divert .0001 of our defense/intel budget to new fusion R&D ($100 million year vs roughly one trillion). Such a tiny decision does not require (and is unlikely to get) mass citizen involvement.

      The point here is that our large-scale national investments are tilted overwhelmingly to the military, and that has very broad citizen support. I don’t know how to change that, other than by participating in my small way in the large political project to change our grand strategy.

      Also, does Guthrie believe the US government is like some mentally-challenged person, not able to walk and chew gum at the same time (are their no newspapers in his town?). What can account for his belief that this tiny reallocation of funds requires an offset in terms of rights to homosexual citizens?

      And what are these “meaningless” political arguments that Guthrie refers to?

      Last, most subjects discussed here are accompanied with recommendations for change. Those might not match the preferences for people who think change is like that on TV sitcoms, an easy resolution in 25 minutes. Welcome to the real world.

    2. I don’t understand much of Guthrie’s comment.

      The issue is not to divert .0001 of our defense/intel budget to new fusion R&D ($100 million year vs roughly one trillion). Such a tiny decision does not require (and is unlikely to get) mass citizen involvement.

      The point here is that our large-scale national investments are tilted overwhelmingly to the military, and that has very broad citizen support. I don’t know how to change that, other than by participating in my small way in the large political project to change our grand strategy.

      Also, does Guthrie believe the US government is like some mentally-challenged person, not able to walk and chew gum at the same time (are their no newspapers in his town?). What can account for his belief that this tiny reallocation of funds requires an offset in terms of rights to homosexual citizens?

      And what are these “meaningless” political arguments that Guthrie refers to?

      Last, most subjects discussed here are accompanied with recommendations for change. Those might not match the preferences for people who think change is like that on TV sitcoms, an easy resolution in 25 minutes. Welcome to the real world.

    3. Thanks for the reply.
      “large-scale national investments are tilted overwhelmingly to the military… I don’t know how to change that…”
      This is why I think articles like the one you’ve compiled here are important. Specific suggestions are actionable. In my experience, that makes them much more useful than broad summaries of the world’s problems. Even if you or I aren’t in a position to fund or build a Polywell, maybe one of your readers is. Please, keep up the good work!

      On the other hand, maybe I do watch too many sitcoms…

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