Complexity and Size…the silent killer of Progressive dreams

I don’t want to crow that I have pondered these things for some time but I have recently seen a couple of posts on some sites where people are beginning to wonder about the problems of size and complexity and interconnectedness that are at least a chunk of the problems bringing the Euro down and that I also think had.   I think that its still a nascent thought but R. Fernandez had a pretty good post here that tied this together

I think some of this is in response to the Rauche Book Demosclerosis The Silent Killer of American Government, (which is mentioned in the Belmont Club piece) but I think that this is just one part of the overall puzzle.

demosclerosis…. which Jonathan Rauch defines as “government’s progressive loss of the ability to adapt” as a side-effect of the postwar style of politics that emphasizes interest-group activism and redistributive programs.”   In Phillip Longman’s book review of Rauch’s  Demosclerosis: The Silent Killer of American Government. – “Rauch rightly asserts that the “American system of governance today is much less at the mercy of any narrow manipulative few than at any time in the past.” The era of back room bosses who called the shots in service of rich patrons is long gone. But that has hardly brought about a more effective, or even more equitable, government, Rauch observes, because it has been replaced by a coalition representing virtually everyone. “We have met the special interests and they are us,” Rauch writes. “Much as mutual funds have offered ordinary people the access to almost every type of productive investment, so interest groups have offered ordinary people access to almost every kind of redistributive investment.””

Space the lost frontier? Losing other things…

There was a flurry of space interest coinsidering with the shutdown of the Shuttle and the announcement of the Senatorial Launch System, then some good traffic on visiting asteroids etc. Now it seems to have fallen of the face of the earth.  It’s this kind of thing that drives me nuts, we live in such a press release driven world that there tends to be these booms and busts of interest and its all about as artificial as much of the rest of the so-called news.  I know that I can in fact keep up on what’s going on via various web sites and blogs, but I find it disturbing that the there is no concerted effort to keep space front and center in the american people’s attention. 

And no I am not saying NASA should be flogging its programs, but the rest of the space world should be, not only US but the world, there is interesting stuff going on around the world, from the first Chinese docking, to the flyby of the big rock tomorrow etc, etc, that there is never a paucity of things that could be used to keep people’s interest tickled.

I am a bit afraid that the likely coming downturn (recrash…zombie cat bounce…) is going to crush eSpace, maybe not, most are probably fairly well isolated but maybe not if things really go bust.

On another topic…….

Talking about busts I have a feeling that the administration and others may have absolutely no idea the devastation they are looking at if the military downturn turns into a bust due to one force or another.  A huge amount of the US industrial base depends on defense spending for some of its more profitable work.  Maybe (hopefully) not its base, but the stuff that really makes the books sing every once in a while.  I know the vendors who do work for the company I work for, while they may curse us quite frequently, also love us for the ‘quality’ of the work with contract out as well.  Us and dozens of other defense related companies. 

Generally the economic multiplier effect of a defense dollar is over ten, in space or aviation it can be nearly twenty, things like green tech are probably decent but sub ten, automotive is in the same range, but get to more basic stuff and its a few turns at best.  And if you start subtracting a lot of those 10 to 20 X multiplied dollars and either don’t spend them or spend them on more basic products, you are going to see a much more massive downturn than expected.

Hopefully the grownups all realize this and are planning for it…….Oh, yeah, there are no grown ups….there is only us.          Maybe we’re in trouble.

Post a Post

Ok so this is pitiful. Have had several opportunities to post with the iPad and did not so here I am, end of the evening, out of energy and just writing an explanation of why I don’t have a real post….so that I can post something.   But there you are.  Hopefully tomorrow I can do better.  FInish Elgin Chapter 1 and start on two…probably just about on target for NaNoWriMo at least.


The Parties are dead, What next?

Another great commentary by Walter Russel Mead at ViaMeadia. Parties are becoming more like handles, like conservative, progressive, rather than controlling organizations. A big downside is the rise of populism/direct democracy which i believe to be seriously flawed, we need political damping rods and consensus builders and laws that form a coherent (and simple) system not an ad hoc set of isolated statements of one time (often getting badly aged after a very short time) principle.

Move along, nothing original to see here…. but maybe some interesting links..

As Russel Mead at Via Meadia writes to great effect the Great Loon, the Duck of Death is dead

And here is Russel Mead’s interesting take on protests etc.  A very insightful piece that hit home once more regarding something that puzzled me… ” There was a time long ago when political protest really mattered.  The Vietnam protests didn’t end the war (and didn’t keep Nixon from carrying 49 states against George McGovern in 1972), but they helped end the draft.  The civil rights movement led to some of the most profound social changes this country has ever seen.  Before that, there were labor and suffragette marches…”     ” But these days the old style protests remind me of political conventions: empty and pointless (though noisy and publicized) rituals.  “  And he draws a comparison to the conventions.  Once the conventions were important, before mass media and instant communications, but now they are just rituals the politic druidic class still hold.  In the old days a mass rally meant something, life for the working class was twice todays and wages closer to subsistence, and brutality was expected of the police, going to a rally meant something. Today it’s not much more than a smelly holiday.  Not to say that there aren’t some grievances and suffering…but OWS is more theater than struggle.   And then Amity Shales had this to say about what these folks want, vs what they need.

I am never going to be the blog-media-news miner that Instapundit is.  Here is the latest on the SLS fiasco from Rand Simberg, the Space Launch System is a works program, yes well paid and aerospace is effective economic multiplier but the money could be spent to so much better effect!

(edits, still not getting all of this right the first time)

What is the meaning of the word Customer?

cus·tom·er   /ˈkʌstəmər/  noun    

  1. a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron
  2. Informal. a person one has to deal with: a tough customer; a cool customer.


Origin: 1400–50; late Middle English; see custom, -er1; compare Middle English customercollector of customs < Anglo-French; Old French costumier,cognate with Medieval Latin custumārius;see customary

American Psychological Association (APA):

Customer. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved October 19, 2011, from website:

Chicago Manual Style (CMS):

Customer. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: October 19, 2011).

Modern Language Association (MLA):

“Customer.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 19 Oct. 2011. <>.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):, “Customer,” in Unabridged. Source location: Random House, Inc. Available: Accessed: October 19, 2011.

BibTeX Bibliography Style (BibTeX)

@article {Dictionary.com2011,
    title = { Unabridged},
    month = {Oct},
    day = {19},
    year = {2011},
    url = {},


So I have a discussion about this word with someone, they insist that when it is used in company documents the word customer means the corporate entity the counter party (other person) represents and not that person, and moreover that at work I am representing the company not myself.

The word  corporation  ( ˌkɔrpəˈreɪʃən/ [kawr-puhrey-shuhn]  noun :an association of individuals, created by law or under authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of the existences of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its members.) is clearly a person in the eyes of the law. 

So I get that we have caught bureaucrati-itis or tech-speak-itis from lawyers and MBAs and use the noun ‘Customer’ when referring to the organization/people we do business with.  The use of the word Customer is a reasonable short hand personalizing while generalizing the business relationship vice the more functional terms of buyer, contractor, purchaser, user, etc.   And its also obvious that I represent the company not myself when on company time and talking business. 

But when I read a direction that says Customer I assume that this means the person and company since one or both could be within the meaning of the word.  The word is singular and while intellectually I realize a Corporation is a person and the person I speak with only represents that company there is clearly good reason to think that the intent of the instruction is aimed at the person and company.

In fact in business development we are supposed to know both the company and its stated goals / objectives and the person/people we interlocute with because it’s critical to building a relationship. In fact we always speak of the customer as the person @ the company when getting down to details and putting plans together.

So why is it that when I suggest that at the point of direction we use the word company (which was the intent of the direction) and not customer (which I think could mean the company or the person or both) do I get crap?  

Is it because the word is the safe lawyer one?  Is it that the processes we are so proud of mainly aimed at covering the company’s and maybe the bureaucrats ass rather than being easy to use/understand?  Is it also possible that they understand that ambiguity is in fact in the interests of some folks because it provides more opportunities to pin a scapegoat if something goes south?

Sorry a long a wordy rant on a stupid topic I know. 

But I hate it when I hit a walll when I’m quite willing to accept the other persons viewpoint as valid while they see my point of view as stupid/invalid/worthless. I don’t like being any of those things….though I’m sure I am every once in a while….but of course not on this topic.

Sigh…I still need to go and do some meditation techniques I guess, good night.

Space – Dreams – Mind – Future Mil

International Space Station's Expedition 29 crew on September 17, 2011, while cruising over the Indian Ocean near Australia and south of Madagascar

 Is it only after certain brute needs are met that we can look up and see the wonder, the beauty of the world around us? And if you are trapped in the mental, social, and light smeared deserts where too many of us live in, does it takes a special imagination to see beyond the here and now?

SNC Dream Chaser Docked with ISS

Sierra Nevada Corporation dreams big with the Dream Chaser, a crewed spaceplane based on the NASA/AF experimental lifting body designs from the ’70s (It was the crash of one of these that was a lead in to the Six Million Dollar Man TV show by the way, not to put you off.)

They have a composite fuselage built and have experimented / developed (like Virgin Galactic) a hybrid rocket motor.  A hybrid rocket motor has a solid fuel but liquid / gaseous oxidizer. You don’t have to deal with the complex plumbing of a pure liquid motor or the uncontrolability of a solid. They are talking to Scaled Composites/Virgin Galactic about catching a ride into the stratosphere on a White Knight II.  I’d even guess a sub orbital launch from a WKII is likely. I then hope they talk to SpaceX about a ride to orbit on a Falcon.  There is no reason these various guys shouldn’t be looking at cooperation as their technologies mature, or not.  Its possible the SpaceX dragon will be a wonderful cargo hauler but not a real solution for crew return or maybe won’t really be reusable….

There seem to be a lot of people dreaming about a lot of options, far and away above what NASA has been able to do for most of my life.  I can only hope this continues. 

And by the way, the guys who are supporting this stuff, they’re all in the 1% the OWS crowd are against.  When OWS talk about bankers, they almost have my sympathy, but when I look to eSpace and Steve Jobs, even Gates, then that faint flicker, flickers out.

You have to have big assets to make big dreams real, and as long as they are spending it on this sort of thing, I’m all for them keeping every last cent of what they make in the money world. 

Article Front Piece

What happens when your memory is so faulty you don’t even know your memory is faulty?

I was reading an article in an actual paper magazine Brain Power that was discussing the problems of a patient with a particular type of brain damage. The patient had a form of amnesia that let him remember old information, from before the brain damage, but not since, the person can do all the normal things, dress and take care of themselves, but they are living in an eternal now. And because all they have is a fixed past and an utterly confusing now their mind basically fills in the gaps, without ongoing memories the persons brain/mind cannot do the sort of ‘running average’ comparison of the now with the near, recent, etc past that keeps us (most of us, relatively) grounded in the hear an now.  So this person asked a simple question about where they are and why, would come up with various stories, from the nearly right to the utterly fantastical and apparently believe them and operate as if they were true. 

So maybe writing Sci Fi requires a certain amount of amnesia?

Baen Article header
Beating the Decline..

There is a very interesting article at Baen the premier outlet for Sci Fi these days particularly Mil Sci Fi.  Mr. Dunn has done an excellent job of outlining the current trajectory of the mil world from the threat to the budget and the current reaction of the Tech Services, the Navy and Air Force, I eagerly await the second part which will deal with the ground forces. 

The situation in grunt land has always been more complex than that in the technical services, not to say that the sea or the air are simple, just simpler, on land you have the interaction of so many things that it is hard to readily predict what will work and what won’t.

I can hear a lot of cat calls regarding the fact that Navies and Air Forces have made huge missteps. And I agree but in general those mistakes while suboptimal where still better than what came before.  In the mud its not clear that this is always the case. Now I’m not talking about weapons like nukes or even heavy artillery, these are technical services, but as we have found out in Iraq and Af’stan its boots on the ground that matter and a thousand little actions that eventually spell success or failure.

In the J.S.Zaloga book Panther vs. Sherman focusing on the battle of the bulge the author re-examines the face off between these two tanks. And while in most pure technical terms of armor, gun, ground pressure, engine power, the Sherman comes off the worse, in fact tactically it often won. For many reasons, reliability, more vehicles, fighting from ambush, generally more agile, better visibility. 

While better equipment is often an amplifier, training, logistics and morale are generally more important once you have reached reasonable parity.  You are not going to beat even a PzKfWgn II with straight up lancer charge. But there is no reason that an armored force couldn’t be fought to a standstill by folks on horses given horse portable anti tank weapons, equivalent logistics and lack of air superiority (Russia in Af’stan anyone?)

Precision weapons and ubiquitous day/night recon and observation are having profound effects on open field warfare.  And the emergence of extended urban/sub-urban campaigns are making things even more difficult.  Then there is the emergence of powerfully armed subnational or non-national forces whose operations are distributed temporally and geographically, to such an extent that they look like policing problems, but are really outside of the scope of traditional police force, since they are often heavily armed and operate largely within the law except for occasional egregious exceptions…..

So I’ll be interested to see what Mr. Dunn has to say in his second article.

Rage Against DCA

When you travel to the northeast you have a series of not good options for transfer hubs.  There is Chicago, La Guardia , Kennedy, Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington Dulles and DCA, Ronald Reagan International, Washington District of Columbia.

I actually prefer smaller aircraft these days, the Embraer 145 and 170/190 mainly because you either get an aisle or window seat, I’m a big guy and I and my seat mates hate it when I get a middle seat. So that means that I tend to fly through the smaller airports when I can.  Cleveland has been a favorite but its likely the United buy out of Continental will curtail that option. That means DCA which some people find surprising.

DCA is actually a very small airport with a lot of flights.  It has very good links to the rest of the country east of the great plains because it’s a taxi ride to congress and the rest of the gov’t.  All the state capitals (like say, Indianapolis) have pretty good service albeit on regional or smaller mainline jets. Early in the day and later in the afternoon there are all sorts of options to provide your Gov’ts functionaries access to each other. 

Since even in today’s America the movement of bureaucrats and politicians and other sundry functionaries couldn’t support a commercially viable network the hoyploy are allowed to use it as well.  And the flight links are business friendly.  So I get to pick this as a hub far more often than I want to.

There have been various efforts to close DCA over the years as a security (passengers on one side can look down the mall at congress, from less than a mile, as you land or take off) or safety (it’s a bit tricky to fly into along the Potomac, to avoid over flying things like the Pentagon, Naval Research Labs, an Air Force base, etc.)  The ride can be interesting from a sight-seeing viewpoint. But I wonder how many weapons targeting systems are tracking us as we wind down the river.  

You can see this as a test in itself… it takes a reasonable pilot to stay on the twisting flight corridor…its unlikely the 911 hijackers could have gotten close without being ID’d.  Is it possible that one of these days there will be a series of mistakes made, resulting in a shoot down?  In fact I’m (pretty) sure any active defenses are even closer to the targets and its likely the defenses are purely passive, but who knows? And of course that’s the point, and I think that’s just fine…it just makes flying into DCA a little more ‘fraught’ than I like.

Physically Ronald Reagan International is a highly constricted piece of land on the Potomac across from the center of the city.  And it’s not optimally laid out, because of the constriction and because it was designed and built just before 911. So if you land at gate 24 and fly out of gate 38 you have to climb down outdoor steps get on a bus and get driven between the two concourse arms dodging baggage trucks and backing jetliners.  I actually don’t mind the ride but the steps in the rain snow, horrid heat/humidity with my luggage is not a fav. 

Because many of the flights are direct links (the ones I’m on anyway) even when the rest of the east coast traffic goes ‘blewwey’ because of bad weather I get in and out of DCA reasonably reliably.  But also because of those same links I have sometimes run into the the timeout or other passenger unfriendly events.  Towards the end of the day pilots are getting towards the limit on the number of hours they can fly in one 24 hour period.  I was on a flight earlier this year where we pulled away from the gate, and were delayed a few minutes because of flight routing, and the pilots told us we were going to be staying in DCA because one of them would be out of hours before landing, (this happened to a flight to Indy just earlier in the evening las night.)  Another time a flight was canceled because another aircraft had a mechanical problem and my flight was relatively thinly populated so they switched aircraft.  There is no room for spare aircraft at DCA so we found ourselves staying the night. 

So to last night, cue the thunderstorms, delays and canceled flights all up and down the east coast, concourses full of people trying to get home.

Arrive in DCA on time, exchange concourses in the rain, find a seat, start writing a post on my trusty iPad.  Then I hear that my flight is now departing from a different gate, in the other concourse.  Back on the damned bus and back to the other side.  Set up start typing and time gets away from me.  Hit the line just in time to get aboard and get a spot for my roll-a-board then I dash off the message I posted last night. 

Then we sit….finally the doors close, with empty seats because the aircraft they were holding for did not leave La Guardia and they didn’t have time to get other displaced passengers aboard.  Then we push of the gate….and sit. Then the mains wind up…we’re on our way!  No we aren’t. Get out of the alleyway and the engines spool down…and we sit.  We’re going to be routed south to avoid thunderstorms in the lower flight levels. Good we’re going right?!  Spool up, wander around the airport for a while, then the engines spool down again (and by the way every time you light off a gas turbine you take hundreds of operating hours off its life, they love to run, they hate starting up and stopping. But sitting there with the engines running was burning fuel we’d need for the hop to Indy.) We sit…then the engines start and we taxi again….back towards the terminal! Then we start seeing massive flashes of lightning.  There’s a major storm cell heading straight for us!  And the engines spool down again! We sit and rock as the wind and rain lash us.  Then the engines start again! We taxi sloooowwwly past the terminals, I figure we’re staying the night.  But we don’t turn in!  Then we tuck in behind another liner, and the captain makes only the third announcement, that we’re waiting for the storms to clear our departure vector and we can call our loved ones that we’ll be late!  And the engines spool down again! 

Then finally, ‘everyone back to your seats, less than six minutes to take off!’ And we were off in about the six minutes.  Of course it was well after midnight instead of ten but we were off. 

SO? I got home, why am I whingeing? Because it was painful, every damn step was painful, getting through security, waiting, getting on, getting off, waiting, getting back on, the delay, everything! everything was painful.

Why was it painful. Probably because I was tired and depressed but mainly because I’m a romantic.   Flying should be an adventure, the power and beauty of the aircraft, the wonder and beauty of the sky and world.

We have taken a dream humanity has probably had ever since we had self-consciousness and turned it into Kafkaesque Bureau-Industrial grotesqueness.  As I said earlier in the week its like traveling on a prison tram with well behaved inmates. 

At least once in the air, I can close my eyes and dream of starships as we wing home.