Monday, October 16, 2017

A Faustian Bargain, and Buyer’s Remorse

The idea of Faust comes from a German legend, where Faust was a great scholar who was unhappy with his life.  In a bargain with the devil he exchanges his soul for unlimited knowledge and pleasure.  Faust, with the aid of Mephistopheles, corrupts those he comes into contact with. [i]

Isn’t this the storyline we see playing out in today’s reporting of the Weinstein scandal?  In this case, the only question is who is playing the role of Faust and who is Mephistopheles?  The news would have us believe Weinstein is Faust and he has corrupted all the women, but is that true?

The idea that actors and actresses have exchanged sex for fame was familiar to us since I was a young boy seeing the images of beautiful women on the screen.  The idea of the casting couch and the role it played in securing prime roles was not a secret even to a hick from upstate New York.  So, I have to ask the question; were the young men and women drawn to an industry known for its sexual proclivities na├»ve or where they entering into their own bargain? Who was really selling their soul for fame and riches?

Don’t mistake my question as sympathy for Weinstein.  His abuse of those who were powerless to stop it is terrible.  I am just pointing out he was and is a part of a much larger corruption where morality is routinely sacrificed for personal desire.  We see this in the condemnations of those who now seek to distance themselves, but counted him as a friend when they wanted his money or influence.

The only innocents I see in this whole affair are the children cast to the wolves by their parents in an attempt to gain their own riches.  Mayim Bialik (“Blossom” and now “Big Bang Theory”) wrote an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times[ii] where she discusses her experiences, starting as an 11-year old in an industry that objectifies women.  She is being condemned by many for blaming the victims. 

How better to ensure a continuation of the status quo than to hang up a single evil villain, beat our collective breasts about his sins, and then -- when the dust settles, return to business as usual.  I think it would be equally effective if we just bound his hands and threw him off the castle rampart into the moat.  If he drowned we would forgive him, if he lived we would repeat the process.  Unfortunately, most of the castles are occupied by those who’ve made their own bargain.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

When Institutions Crumble, What Remains?

I wonder how those who lived through the gaslight era viewed the future as they left the 19th and began the 20th century?  Did they view the passing of the century with the same dread and hard feelings we are experiencing as we leave the 20th century behind and plunge into the 21st?
There are a couple of significant differences between then and now.  For example, our government and its currency was based on our holdings in gold, rather than the faith and confidence in an institution called the Federal Reserve.  The Fed, as it’s known, is an extra-governmental organization that controls the real fiscal policies of the US and to a now decreasing degree the world.  What happens, as we are beginning to see, when the world and the citizens lose confidence in both the institution, and America’s ability to pay its ever-increasing debt?  Will we become a super-Venezuela with the political elite and rich cloistered behind their walls getting all they need while society collapses just outside?
Colleges were a very small segment in the grand scheme of America.  They began as institutions to train the ministers of the religions that came to America to escape persecution, and then grew as centers to educate the elite who would run the country.  I was not there, but it seems they held, for the most part, to the principles of the age of enlightenment.  Following the second World War, the US government created the GI Bill enabling tens of thousands who might otherwise never attend college to improve their education, social standing, and financial well-being.  This in turn created a new wealth for the colleges and an escalating expansion to keep up with the demand.  A demand that was further advocated by the political and educational leadership that saw great benefit in the institutions.  At some point the concepts of education seemed to have changed from exploration and enlightenment to indoctrination, as well as wealth accumulation for the institutions and their professors/administrators.  As legions of graduates leave with little prospect for great jobs that will reward them both professionally and financially what will happen to these institutions?  If we consider them an industry, as I think they should be considered, we will see a market correction where only the most adept will survive as the market draws down.  What kind of carnage will result from this abandonment of liberal education?
How about the idea of justice, and the American judicial system?  I imagine there has always been at least two standards of justice in America.  One for the rich, and the other for the rest of us.  I think it is also safe to assume the minorities have never received “equal justice” under the laws, for the system has historically been rigged by those in power.  But with today’s instant communication any idea that someone is presumed innocent until convicted has been tossed out the window.  We see that in the Travon Martin case, every police shooting, the kangaroo courts of colleges with student sexual misconduct, and celebrity scandals where we rush to judgement and condemnation based on one-sided news reporting.  We have replaced real courts and real judges with reality courts and judges who render verdicts in civil cases so the audience can set in judgement as well.  Finally, is there any hope of minority defendants getting a fair trial?  Who decides what fair is when we have entire movements intended to overthrow the legal system to get their own version of fairness.
The political institutions and parties were well established and accepted.  The Democrats were clearly the party in power in the major cities, and at the federal level, although there was just enough opposition from Republicans that they occasionally rose to prominence.  Racism and discrimination was accepted nationally, with the only question being the degree of openness.  Within the major cities of Boston, New York, and Chicago the political machines ruled with sufficient efficiency to keep any opposition at the token level.  In Chicago, it was a Republican machine, NYC was Democratic.  Third party candidates made some noise, but were one-trick ponies that never seriously threatened the system.  Today we see the crumbling of those two political parties as their complete inability to solve problems is paraded before the people on a daily basis.  The President gained the office because the average citizen grew tired of the lies and manipulations of the parties, and his opponent represented a failed political oligarchy, which assumed too much of its followers.
With the shrill whine of a Democratic Party's political elite increasingly out of touch with the middle American, and an opposition Republican Party that appears to be increasingly defined by their own ineffectiveness, it seems only a matter of time, and not too much time at that, before the institutions they control cease to function, and then to exist.  What will replace them? 
I think the next quarter of century will be an interesting time as we move from the historical concept of the United States to whatever replaces it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

What Do American’s Think About Flying in Space?

Space-X Dragon 3
Boeing CST-100
This morning’s news carries a headline in Bloomberg Technology “Americans Will Head to Space Again Without a Russian Taxi.”  The article talks about the efforts of Elon Musk’s company Space-X, and the Boeing Company's progress in qualifying a capsule for manned-flight.  Allowing us to move away from our current dependence on the only NASA approved space capsule, the Russian Soyuz, as our ride to the international space station.  NASA’s last flight with the Space Shuttle was in August 2011.  If all goes well we could perhaps have a capsule ready for routine use by 2019, but 2020 seems more likely.  If we keep to this timeline, it will mean the Russians have met our needs for almost ten years.
Exploration is one of the essential qualities of mankind.  At least it used to be.  What would the world look like if the Queen of Spain had not financed Christopher Columbus’s failed venture to find a shorter route to China?  With the exception we would be tearing down someone else's statue, I think it would look almost exactly like it does today.  For within the human spirit, others would have stepped up to finance and sail in search profit and knowledge.  But we have lost the fire that John Kennedy ignited when he decided we must compete with the Communists of the USSR and reach the moon by the end of the decade, and we have lost the ability to reach the consensus that Lyndon Johnson played against as he sank massive numbers of dollars into the race to the moon.
Today NASA, and our space program, has become just another of the on-going and self-justifying bureaucracies without the clear national vision it once had.  You need only look at the fact we’ve been willing to use the Russian Uber service while we putzed around seemingly without purpose and clearly without vision on how best to get ourselves into low and medium earth orbit. 
In the same amount of time that NASA, with scientists, mathematicians and engineers, using slide rules and less computational capability than an apple watch took to organize and run three building block programs that took us from single person sub-orbital flight to landing two astronauts and a dune buggy on the moon, we may be able to approve one or two different capsules able to reach the international space station and return with two or three passengers.
Off-hand I’d say we Americans don’t think too much about flying in space, and that is unfortunate.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

She is Like an Addiction.

The Media Just Can’t Put Her Aside
“At this point, what difference does it make?”  That quote kept flashing through my head.  I could only smile at the outrage she now feels as a politician who so eagerly sought his support for the last 20 years.  I could not watch this without chuckling at how she can draw herself up in defense of women after spending so many years defending the exact same behavior in her husband.
There was a headline I saw today Washington Examiner.  “Hollywood is brave as long as the targets are easy,” an article by Becket Adams.
I think that applies equally well to this interview of Ms. Clinton.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tilt-Rotors: Good but Sliced Bread is Still Better.

In the 1980’s the concept vehicle V-15 proved that tilt-rotor technology had matured to the point that maybe we could build a vehicle to overcome the speed and range shortfalls of the helicopter.  After much development, strong lobbying efforts by industry to overcome Congressional skepticism, and the normal growing pains of any new advanced technology, we have proved the V-22 Osprey brings a new dimension to the battlefield.
Operations worldwide have shown it to be more rugged than its critics foretold, and suitable for a wider range of missions than even its supporters imagined, but it is not the be all, end all of small cargo aircraft.  It is pretty expensive to operate and maintain, and it is not able to fit in even our largest cargo aircraft so getting to the remote areas where we go means it has to ride on a ship, or fly there itself.

Now the Army is looking to replace the ubiquitous UH-60 with a next generation of vertical-lift helicopters and Bell/Lockheed Martin’s entry is the V-280 Valor.  A new generation tilt-rotor that looks like the offspring of an Osprey and a Blackhawk. I would say if we had all the forward basing we had in the cold war this would be an almost ideal replacement, but we don’t.
So as the Army plans for its rapid deployments the long pole in its planning will the answer to the age-old question.  “How long will it take to get my stuff to the battle?”  It was the Union’s General Nathan Bedford Forrest who coined the axiom “Get there firstest, with the mostest” as his strategy.  That is sound advice, especially in today’s world where most US military is now garrisoned in the good old US of A. 
Today, we can cram at least two Blackhawks in a C-17 and I think four will go in a C­-5.  Traveling at Mach .8 (~450 kts) they will arrive significantly quicker than if the aircraft self-deploy at Mach .4 (~220 kts).  Even with tear down and build up the force will be ready to operate before the self-deploying assets are ready because you are not burning flight hours on either the aircraft or the crews.
The V-280’s competition is the Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky S-97 Raider.  Due to consolidation within the aerospace business we have a unique situation where one Lockheed Martin division is now competing against another Lockheed Martin division.  It is as if Lockheed Martin can’t lose.

Now That's Funny, Kinda

Donna Brazile, the DNC operative who used her CNN gig to get Hillary nominated and then fed her questions prior to the debates with Trump, has this to say about the Weinstein affair.  “The Weinstein Company has just taken the lead against sexual harassment and assault.”  She clearly stands for the protection of women’s rights, when there is no risk to the DNC.
Brock Long, FEMA Director, “We’ve filtered out the mayor a long time ago, we don’t have time for the political noise.”  Mr. Long was speaking to Martha Raddatz on ABC This Week, and speaking of Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Ms. Cruz, you may recall, has been engaged in a twitter storm with the President.  So far it doesn’t seem to working at the tactical level.  The “Nasty” shirt apparently didn’t help.
Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who has been in the House since 1971, talking about the right to own a gun.  “Law-abiding citizens just shouldn’t have to carry a gun,” Rangel added. “You’re not gonna push me in that direction.”  When it was pointed out that he and his fellow politicians were protected by the Capital Police he said, “Well, that’s a little different. I think we deserve — I think we need to be protected down here.”
SNL didn’t mention Harvey Weinstein because, well “It’s a NY thing.”  (Lorne Michaels)
Vice President Pence left the SF 49’s vs. Indianapolis Colts football game this week after players on the 49’s protested during the national anthem.  There are some who accuse the VP of a publicity stunt, he knew there would be a protest so he should not have even attended.  As one pundit points out, “What only one side can protest?”  As the current left has established -- if you want to have a demonstration we will have a counter-demonstration.  Being fond of virtue signaling they shouldn’t be surprised when it comes back at them.
Colin Kaepernick is kind of like that uncle your parents always talked about, but you never saw.  He was again in the news this week, fueling the will he, or won’t he debate.  CBS said he would stand for the anthem if he were hired, and others wrote he wouldn’t.  Does it really matter?  What gets lost in all the noise is the fact he wasn’t all that great after his first season, and maybe if he really wanted to play he would be in Europe or Canada where he can stand, kneel, sit, or laydown and the world wouldn’t care.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Few Thoughts on the Bill of Rights

Before the framers of the US Constitution even finished their work on designing a government “of the people” they realized all governments had the potential to become authoritarian as the separation grew between citizens and rulers.  It was this concern that led to the formation of the first ten amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.

As I’ve previously written[i], several of these safeguards are critical to our individual rights, while a couple are relegated to the dust bin of society and see little use in guiding court decisions.  Everyone has heard about the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th amendments, and almost everyone forgets about the 3rd and 10th.  Unfortunately, it appears to me, those who should be most concerned with the guarding protections of these safeguards display a willingness to abandon them to gain some short-term political advantage. 

When a society chooses not to support the concepts behind the amendments there is little the government will do to stop that move, for it is in the ruling class interest to consolidate as much power and wealth as possible.  Each time the society casts aside one of the principles – those in power will take advantage and bring more authority to themselves.

A vocal segment of today’s young look longingly at the advertised benefits of a socialist or communist form of government, where wealth is controlled by the government, and benefits of that wealth are distributed to all based on need.  I suspect the reasons for this are two-fold.  First, they have spent their lives sheltered from the physical and emotional realities of those forms of government, and our educators have dismissed the idea of civics debate; opting for the easier course of political indoctrination.

In the course of those today’s social debate, they are willingly abandoning the ideal of a government “of the people” for the idea government will always be “for the people.”  What history should teach is with the growth of any government as the people surrender power, the elite will care for themselves, sending just enough scraps to the population so as to keep them subservient.  The analogy is of the Emperors of Rome and the great circus.

History should also help us understand the elite will use all the tools available to dissuade the people from questioning their legitimacy.  Is there really much difference between a fawning church hierarchy supporting the idea the rights of the King come from God, and a loyal and unquestioning press declaring only one-party cares about the people, when in truth no party cares?  The political parties exist for one reason only, to consolidate power and wealth to dominate the political conflict they use to justify their role. 

As we become a society focused on what is in it for me, we abandon the ideas and ideals of our founders.  I offer this one small piece of advice – be careful what you ask for, for you may receive it.
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