View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with the Beat and you, our readers.

In a previous article, I explained that the commercialization of space is underway — whole new futures are available. Many readers contacted me to say they cannot see the economics of space travel — yet. Rockets and technology development are expensive. What the heck are investors thinking? Big risk, little apparent gains to make.

Okay, Falcon 5 flew and delivered a satellite into Clark Orbit (23,500 miles above the equator, geo-stationary). What's the big deal, we've been doing that for 30+ years. The big deal? 10% of cost by the same sized rocket, in real $ terms just 10 years ago. Falcon rockets' 1st stages land upright, ready to reuse. That is a big deal. But still, is that enough of a return for the billions invested?

When we moved onto our small farm in 1989 there was almost no ground bird population and only one pair of Turkey Vultures. So rare were the raptors (of all kinds- owls, eagles, Osprey, hawks) that bird watchers would come from all over New England to catch a glimpse. By the time we left, in 2007, on any summer afternoon, there were over ten Turkey Vultures flying. Similarly, in 1989, there were no bear sightings, no Mountain Lion either. But by the time we left, weekly roadkill on the Hutchinson River Parkway of Mountain Lions had the police worried. And bears regularly walked through our high-tensile electric fencing as if it wasn't even there.

What happened in those 18 years? DDT finally leeched out of the system and the food chain came back – insects- birds-rodents-and the predators they feed. Our population of Bob White quail went from zero to a regular flock of over 30 spotted any beautiful June day.

Date: May 18, 2018

Shifting Population

The immigration issue is complex, much more complex than simply calculating how many people have visas, those that do not, and those that want to travel over borders worldwide. No, what is complicating the whole issue is that at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, 65% of the working population of America – yes, even during that industrial boom – was involved in agriculture and fishing. Farms, farm suppliers, produce shippers, cattlemen, fishermen, all the way to milk deliverymen and women – 65% of the working population earned their living and worked in the food business. That is not counting bars, eateries, cafeterias, delis, and the like.

So, if you worked in the food supply business, then as now, you lived outside of the cities. As agriculture and cattle ranching and fisheries all have become massive in size, requiring fewer people to maintain that productivity – and as delivery systems have become massive in size (40% of all food takes the train - most a mile or longer in length traveling from California to NY) – the whole business of food has downsized labor needs in favor of new technology. Yes, there are exceptions, especially on a seasonal basis – bringing migrant workers in from Mexico, Haiti and other lands – but these people are not part of the census of residents.

Date: May 7, 2018

The Problem With Morality

People use the words "tribalism" and "opposite sides" to describe American moral ethos these days and I feel they are labeling the outcome, not the cause. If we do not understand the cause, the core reasons for people's decisions, for their seemingly intractable immoral positions, then they will never have any reason for listening, for reevaluating their position in the coming years. Whole civilizations have faltered in these divisive circumstances before.

Date: May 4, 2018

Copyright and Patent Issues Facing the USA

Basically, copyright and patent protection is a way to give the little person a fair chance to make their mark in business, art, and society. How do these protections work? When filed with the proper office, you get a piece of paper that says your invention (whether it be words on the page or a description of a mechanical device or a design) is indeed yours and the clock starts ticking. What clock? Again, very basically, you have a limited time to profit on your sole control of your invention and anyone who "knocks you off" (copies you) is wrong and can be stopped, either in a court of law or by international police action (such as customs people seizing fake Luis Vuitton imported handbags).

Date: April 27, 2018

New Govt Strategy: Space Is Only GOP Business

Hidden in the background noise of world affairs leaking and being generated from the White House was the appointment and swearing in of Congressman Jim Bridenstine as new head of NASA, who said, "NASA represents what is best about the United States of America: We lead, we discover, we pioneer, and we inspire."

Date:  April 20, 2018

New Careers In Space

A young person asked me the other day about careers in space. There’s always exploration – astronaut training as mission specialists all the way up the capability level to actual commander of a space craft. But what struck me was that the possibilities for millions of jobs are quickly forming in fields that no-one previously ever thought could possibly interest anyone except technocrats.

Currently there are five companies building and strategizing rocket systems to go and mine the asteroid belt. Anything bigger than a tennis court that they dislodge – that could fall out of orbit and impact the Earth – would take out a large city. Anything the size of a NASCAR oval could spell the end of life on Earth as we know it. And to mine the minerals and resources on these asteroids they need to move them close to Earth.

Now, why should you care? It's good free-enterprise commerce, no? Well, perhaps, but as we all know, until regulations are put into place, new experimental procedures – good commerce or not – cause disasters. The Titanic comes to mind. As does the Hindenburg. As do hundreds of people trapped in sub-standard buildings that pancaked down when an earthquake hit.