By Jim Davidson
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken
him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock And the rain descended,
and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not:
for it was founded upon a rock.”
~ Jesus, Matthew chapter 7, verses 24 & 25
For many years, I’ve been looking for a free country. You see, back in the 1980s, despite my sadness about the failure to adopt the reforms proposed by Senator Frank Church, the utter failures of the special committee on assassinations, and the ongoing difficulties with the military industrial financial pharmaceutical complex it seemed possible that I was living in a country that was sufficiently free that I’d be able to build a space business to take me out to the asteroid belt.
Freeman Dyson had said that “once we reach the asteroid belt, the IRS will never find us,” and that seemed good, to me. Gerard K. O’Neill had illustrated the how and the why of building colonies in space, rotating them for gravity, and using in situ resources to have a high tech civilisation. My path seemed clear.
My friend Gary Oleson spoke with Howard Stringer, who was the president of the Houston Space Society in May 1990. Howard came to the “mailing party and barbecue” at my home where we assembled the 1,100 issues of our newsletter, previously “The Colonist” and now “The Journal for Space Development.” Howard asked us core members of the group a very interesting question.
“What can the Houston Space Society do in the next ten years that would completely change how people think about space?”
About ten seconds went by and the whole room was still. About fifteen of us looked from one to another, and I glanced down at the carpet. Then I replied, “Well, we can figure out a way to put one of our members in orbit.”
David Mayer looked right at me and said, “Art Dula can get us a contract with the Russians to put someone on Mir. So we just have to get the ten million or whatever dollars together.”
Alvin Carley said, “You know, as a charity, we can hold a raffle. We could sell tickets and give the trip away. That would boost our membership, for sure.”
“Or, we could do what MTV has been doing with their sweepstakes giving away Bon Jovi’s childhood home. Have a 900 number and get people to call in to get involved,” was Dave’s immediate rejoinder.
Building A Dream
That was how it all began, one sunny afternoon in Friendswood’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, a not-yet-incorporated part of Harris County, Texas. Art went to Moscow in October and brought back a contract. Meanwhile, David, Howard, and I had incorporated as Space Travel Services. We arranged the contract terms with Art, we arranged with two accounting firms to handle the free alternative entries by mail and including them with the phone calls so the sweepstakes would be legit. The first accounting firm backed out, but we didn’t think anything of it.
We hired a publicity firm that had a stellar reputation in Houston right around then. We wrote the rules. We set up the announcement. We did some advance publicity in early December 1990. We engaged a firm to handle the incoming calls and we arranged with one of the 900 service providers to give us a phone number and handle the toll collections. I wrote the business plan, we raised the funds we needed. We booked a room and held a press conference.
It was 10 December 1990 when we agreed that I should brief my friend Courtney Stadd. At the time, Courtney was the executive director of the National Space Council, so we felt he would let us know if we needed to revise our plans, or even cancel our event. He briefed the council. They told him to have no further communications with us. Meanwhile, they put plans in place to destroy our venture.
You can read about our announcement in the 18 December 1990 issue of the New York Times and in a number of other newspapers. There were many gratifying responses. A little later, Dave pointed out a letter to the editor of the Houston Post in which a reader said she was going to the gym every day because she now had a *chance* to fly in space. She was enthusiastic about that chance. It seemed we had changed how people were thinking about space, and it took less than ten years to get it done.
There is an aspect of being disillusioned which is powerfully good. After all, if you are under an illusion that things are one way when, in fact, they are very different, then the plans you make and the actions you take can be terribly misaligned with reality. Reality will always insert itself into your activities. So, in our case, reality did.
The details would fill a book, but the short version is: David and I were arrested in February 1991 for “felony gambling promotion of a lottery” which would have run to several hundred thousand counts if the prosecutor had simply looked on Dave’s bookshelf for the computer printout of all the people who had called the 900 number. Howard arranged our bail. A lawyer presented itself and was retained. Negotiations ensued. An agreed injunction in May 1991 established that we had committed no crime, the charges were dropped, the state of Texas and Harris county agreed we had been running a lawful sweepstakes, and we agreed not to do that ever again. Our business was ruined. I filed personal bankruptcy. It was just a year after the mailing party and barbecue where it had all gotten started.
Having been out of town pursuing jurisdictional arbitrage to see if we could resurrect the project, my house was bereft of utilities when we came back to Houston to sign the injunction and get on with our lives. I scraped together enough money to get the phone turned on, got in touch with a good friend in Friendswood, and started working in real estate development a week later.
December 1993 found me in South Henderson, Nevada working with Chuck Geshlider and Eric Klien on The Atlantis Project. As it turned out, it was the third such project that century. Hemingway’s cousin couldn’t make it work and Werner Stieffel couldn’t either, but Chuck and Eric were sure they had it all figured out. They didn’t. I wrote a book The Atlantis Papers to explain the constitution and the law of the new country they planned to build. As I understand things, Eric misappropriated about $250,000 raised for the founding conference as he had been startled to learn that the markets were not obeying his expectations with respect to his leveraged investments, he had margin calls to meet, and well, stop loss orders were not for him.
November 1995 found me in New York City once again. Not my favourite city, after four years studying astrophysics, economics, and history at Columbia, working at a bank, and exploring the subway tunnels and underground structures. The 1995 visit did let me meet in person my good friend Courtney Smith who had brought Mike Oliver, founder of the Republic of Minerva, to speak at his event. The Founding Conference of the New Country Foundation was epic in many ways. Architect Richard Morris showed us his designs for floating platforms, based on a patented technology of his. We spent some time in Wes McCain’s offices looking over maps of Somalia’s coast.
The years 1998 to 2001 included a number of trips for me to many parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It isn’t the case that everyone involved in that work wants me to go on at length about what we did. But it is true that I moved to Somalia, wrote business plans for a fishing fleet, a university, an electric power utility, a housing developer, a toll road, a free port, and a satellite-connected communications utility. The announcement by General Tommy Franks of NATO that it was considered policy to bomb all port facilities in Somalia in October 2001 pretty much killed that venture.
May of 2002 saw me in Las Vegas again, this time at Mark Skousen’s festival for the Foundation for Economic Education. I met Doug Casey and gave him Michael van Notten’s greetings (they had known of each other in Suriname in the early 1980s) and all those aforementioned business plans. Doug invited me to his Eris Society convention in August.
In 2006, the net worth of all the shares on the gold-gram-denominated Private Venture Capital Stock Exchange that my associates and I had purchased from Sidd Davis which were controlled by various enterprises I’d created was just over three million. It was an interesting time. By April of 2007 all that value had been destroyed, along with e-gold.com and within a few years most of the digital gold industry was gone as well.
In 2009, I concluded that something on the order of centuries needed to exist to plan and carry forward the development of not only a few free countries, but also a culture of freedom. No national government ever kept to a set of policies for that long, and the only enterprises that had a time scale on the order of centuries were religions and universities. So, my friends and I founded Individual Sovereign University. There was a very nice conference in March 2011, and a few classes were held. It turned out to be one of those “more difficult than it looks” things. Not being willing to become a marketing department for guaranteed student loans dramatically limited our early prospects for success.
My plan to build a stairway to the stars lives on. Lately, I’ve gotten into private equity, put the Houston Space Society onto firmer ground, and identified a great location for a highly profitable venture.
You’ll be hearing more about Bedrock, Colorado. It’s a place right out of history. In 1883, the miners built the general store on bedrock, thus the name. And in the 1960s, Hanna Barbera put together a theme song for a place with the same name.
If you are interested in a free country, please be advised that I wasn’t able to find one. But with your help, I’m very willing to found one. And, decentralisation being what it is, more than one would be better.
Image credit: Iurie Belegurschi/Flickr