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Sandmonkey gives us a compelling rant about events up to last Thursday, and commenter Pablo at Protein Wisdom extracts a money quote:

This is a revolution without leaders. Three Million individuals choosing hope instead of fear and braving death on hourly basis to keep their dream of freedom alive.

Mikey NTH, on the same thread, differs:

Without a strong, disciplined force on the ground or nearby the destruction of an autocracy can lead to worse tyranny as the only people with that sort of discipline are usually the worst people ever – the wanna-be tyrants who are not only because they were suppressed.

In the Age of Alinsky I wonder about that, I really do.

Certainly Mikey NTH has internalized the way it’s gone, with some slight differences in detail, throughout the Twentieth Century. The Revolutionary Forces coalesce around the Great Leader, who inspires them to overthrow the Tyrant; the Great Leader then is installed as head of State, from which eminence he gradually tightens control over the people until another Revolution is incited to overthrow the Tyrant. From Lenin to Mugabe is no distance, and it is, after all, how Egypt ended up with Naguib to Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak in the first place.

But revolutions have also failed, and their failure reveals the weak spot: the Great Leader. Identify, Isolate, Target! People like Sandmonkey get tossed in jail, or worse, because the Tyrant and his goons can read ol’ Saul as well as anybody, and may well be smart enough to invent the procedure from first principles, even if they can’t condense it to aphorism. In the Standard Model, if you can prevent the Great Leader from arising in the first place the Revolution never condenses from an inchoate fog of resistance to a force capable of sweeping away the Old Regime, so you try to identify proto-Leaders, isolate them, and target them for assassination or incarceration. Sandmonkey might be such a proto-Leader, and in any case there are plenty of jail cells and bullets are cheap. If a Leader arises anyway, it becomes vital to take him out by any means necessary, because then the Revolution will disperse back into its component individuals.

Here in the U.S. the tea parties have handled this by simply not having identifiable leaders. Sarah Palin is an important inspiration for the tea parties, and so is Glen Beck, but shooting or jailing either or both of them would have no perceptible effect on the organization of the tea parties, which is dispersed to the point that when people with Führerwünsch arise, they get slapped down by the tea partiers themselves. (This is what’s really at the root of the controversy over CPAC.) The tea partiers don’t want an identifiable leader, because if one such existed he or she could be isolated and targeted. Maybe somebody should write a book about the principle.

Without knowing anything at all about Egypt other than superficial crap like pyramids, I would have to recommend something like that to the Egyptians who want change. Don’t organize using the Standard Model, with a Leader and cells and an identifiable thrust. You don’t kill an amoeba by poking it with a sharp stick. You don’t need a notochord, let alone a backbone, because they can be cut and the organism dies. You don’t want a vertebrate Movement, you want a slime mold that gradually takes over. Keep it simple, keep it fluid, keep it chaotic in the modern mathematical sense, with orbits individuals will follow as a consequence of the situation rather than pursuing a detailed Plan that can be disrupted.

In Sandmonkey’s followup he proposes something of the sort:

…start registering the protesters. Get their names, ages, addresses & districts… with such Proper citizen organization and segmentation, we’ll have the contact information and location of all the protesters that showed up, and that could be transformed into voting blocks in parliamentary districts…

Yep, that’s the way to do it, with an important addendum: no Great Leaders! Local committees need chairmen and identifiable figures to rally around, but don’t let it get farther than that. Make the organization wide, not tall; the organizing principle should be the visit to somebody’s house, the tweet, the Facebook post — the Internet can facilitate it, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. You can plot over coffee in somebody’s house just as well or better than you can using the Web, and even with curfews there’s no off switch for that procedure.

Sandmonkey also cites, without identifying them, the two hazards likely to frustrate this: impatience and reliance on the Standard Model. He exhibits the impatience himself:

Mubarak is still President, Emergency law is still in effect, the parliament hasn’t been dissolved, new elections haven’t been called for and the constitution is still that flexible document that the ruling party can change whenever they see fit.

He wants the changes right now, and that isn’t going to happen. Organizing into voting blocs of neighbors and acquaintances who can reassure one another is the right way to do it, but it won’t take visible effect for a long time.

The other protesters haven’t understood yet, but the Government does:

The participants will start complaining about the lack of direction or movement leaders. The government will start complaining that the protesters haven’t offered a single person to represent them and negotiate with the government for them…

In other words, the protesters want a Leader to make speeches and rally around, because they want Standard Model reassurance and don’t understand that that creates a weak spot. The Government, too, wants the protesters to name and rally around a Leader, because once they do, a single 7.62 round (or bribe/intimidation/threat against family) breaks the Movement into nonthreatening individual bits.

The only thing that might work is the bottom up, leaderless approach, and the real danger there is that people will give up and stop pushing — which is why the lists and low-level organization are needed. I don’t know if it will work. I’m pretty sure the classic approach won’t.

Hope, like the inspiration for this, comes from Tunisia. After all the hooraw and scrambling, I still haven’t seen the name or picture of an identifiable Tunisian Great Leader in the Press, which is as or more anxious to identify one as the Government must have been — and for the same reason: it allows them to simplify their approach because only one person or a small group need be addressed. If the Egyptian protesters can build their organizational strength without creating a Leader for the World to identify and attack, they might have a chance.

Michael Lewis tells Steven Colbert about somebody who bought twenty million nickel coins, a million dollars’ worth, from the U.S. Mint. Jeremy Taylor at TV Replay snarks, “So hotshot financial types are hoarding nickels, apparently. This can’t be a positive sign for the economy.” (h/t Reynolds)

Let’s do some arithmetic, shall we?

According to the U.S. Mint, a nickel coin is 25% nickel, the balance (75%, duh) copper, and weighs as close to exactly 5.00 grams as the Mint can get it. That’s a total of 100 million grams, which is 100,000 kilograms or 100 tonnes, containing 25 tonnes of nickel and 75 tonnes of copper. (In the video clip, Colbert remarks that “…it must weigh a ton.” Guess again, Stephen.)

In English measure, that’s 27.55778 (short) tons or 55,115.57 pounds (avoirdipois) of nickel, 82.67335 tons or 165,346.7 pounds of copper.

On the London Metal Exchange as of 22:30 GMT 5 February 2011, copper is bringing $4.5296 per pound, and nickel $12.7346 per pound. If we assume that refining costs are nil, the copper is worth $748,954.41232 and the nickel would bring $701,874.737722, for a total of $1,450,829.15; our investor’s strategy is looking pretty good; he’s already made a profit of almost half a million dollars, and prices are still going up. Of course, refining costs are not nil — the coins, being part copper and part nickel, would count as scrap to be refined, and their worth is correspondingly reduced; by how much isn’t quickly Googleable.

But — If our wise investor is an American, things look a little different. The proportions of nickel and copper in a 5¢ coin have varied over the years, because the nickel is the last American coin whose value as metal should be approximately equal to its value as money. The Mint has adjusted the mix, now more nickel and less copper, now the other way, to keep the metal value close to par. Please note that, like oil, the prices on the LME are primarily quoted in U.S. dollars — and, like the price of oil, the price of metals more nearly reflects the value of the dollar, or rather of its inverse. The investor hasn’t made any money — the not quite one-and-a-half million dollars is worth, now, what the million he paid for the coins was not long ago.

The investor isn’t turning a profit, he’s hedging against inflation, and not doing too badly at it. Primary metals like nickel and copper are used in manufacturing and industry in general, and demand for them (and therefore what people will pay for them) is trending a bit downward as the world-wide recession takes hold. Their prices don’t move fast, except for minor fluctuations, so they aren’t bad inflation or deflation hedges if you’ve got the scratch to buy enough to make it worthwhile; 100 tons is a pretty small metals holding. For those of us whose bank accounts don’t have seven or more figures before the decimal point, it isn’t possible to trade primary metals in large enough quantities to make it a useful investment.

What this does tell us, though, is that it’s time to take a tip from Argentina, or (better) from those who managed to survive the Seventies. If the price of a nickel as metal has gone up by half again, it means the price of stuff at Wal*Mart is just before doing the same, and we’d do well to stock up on stuff instead of keeping the bank account flush. The talking heads will be telling you not to do that, because if everybody does it makes the problem much, much worse — but I lived through Dick and Jimmah, and I can tell you without fear of contradiction that when they aren’t making reassuring noises on teevee, those same talking heads are paddling like mad, trying to get rid of dollars and buy stuff that will be worth something after the prices spike. Effum. If you can do it, buy stuff and don’t keep money. “Every man for himself” is the rule they’ll be going by; no reason to bail them out.

Real Estate Agents are a catalyst for regulatory fascism.

BJTexs alerts me via email to a Reuters story about a visit by President Obama to central Pennsylvania, where he spoke about the wonderful Green Future. Far below his feet as he pontificated lies the Marcellus Shale, one of three known large shale formations in the United States (there are many smaller ones) which contain vast quantities of natural gas, the cleanest fuel available in any quantity. Unfortunately shale gas production requires “fracking”, which amounts to setting off small explosions far underground.

The world is full of ignorant people who react with alarm to any change in their local environment, and who are not willing to invest the time and attention necessary to find out what is actually going on and what the real consequences might be. To such folks, “explosions underground” are an automatic negative. Oshitoshit, what if it blows up my house? Never mind that they’re a mile away straight down, or that the people setting them off have a vested interest in keeping them contained (if the overlying rock is broken, the gas gets away before it can be harvested); it’s an automatic this is different and therefore bad and I’m agin it!

Real Estate Agents (I refuse to use their self-congratulatory neologism) feed on such concerns. The median real estate agent holds the attitude that anything not part of the daily experience of Victoria Regina depresses property values and is therefore Evil, and is just as ignorant as her clients. Not only are explosions underground likely to Depress Property Values, the facilities needed to set them off — drilling rigs and associated paraphernalia — are ugly (i.e., The Virgin Queen never saw one) and therefore ab initio impermissible. They reinforce the concerns of the (other) ignorant people in attempt to get the new process forbidden. This sets up a positive-feedback cycle, in which the ignorant express concern, the real estate agents fan it for their own interests, which generates more concern from the ignorant.

Enter the regulatory fascists, who pounce on that cycle, adding a little pat to amplify it on every round. There are lots of people working for EPA who are genuinely (if ignorantly) concerned about environmental protection, but like any other regulatory agency EPA is at root a bureaucracy, and the goal of any bureaucracy is to expand its brief, so that the agency grows, providing more and more slots for managerial-level bureaucrats and more opportunities to establish their importance by telling more and more people what to do. Empires are built by bureaucrats battling for budget; nations decay by “putting first things first!”; when you have a bureaucratic empire dedicated to Basic Protections it produces the worst of both worlds. Genuine concerns are fodder for the cynical, who can use them to establish a new Department of XX, with the one who established it promoted to GS-12 and put in charge supervising it.

Never mind that the resulting Luddism is likely to destroy their own basis for a decent life style — they are firmly in the “static analysis” camp, totally ignoring any by-effects of their actions. They get promoted, with a bigger salary, a nicer office, and subordinates to order around, and tacitly assume that that’s the only effect. Everything else is outside the building and outside their own tightly confined orbit, and therefore will continue to support them as it always has.

Real estate agents are a vital cog in the Ned Ludd cycle, because they are one of the two classes of people (the other is lawyers) whose work habits are snakelike, yielding plenty of free time for meddling, and whose interests can be served by nudging Government into action. In every town and city, real estate agents are important players in City Council meetings or equivalent, setting up ever more complex rules for how people’s houses and public lifestyles may be arranged. The people whose lives are thereby affected typically have jobs and other interests, making them less inclined to participate in town politics and leaving the field open. The real estate agents are therefore ideal candidates for intervention to fan the flames into a conflagration of Thou Shalt Nots.

The only hope here is a sad one: the activities of the Luddites, combined with the ultimately Fascist growth of regulatory power, have now become so destructive that many people now have time on their hands to spend looking into local Government activities, because they’ve lost their jobs and are simply trying to stay afloat against the tide of interference. This is where Tea Parties really come from, and there is some slight prospect of their being effective in breaking the cycle. Assembling on 12th St. NW with pitchforks and torches may become necessary, but it’s a distasteful prospect. We’d be much better off if we concentrated on educating, or squelching, their local enablers, which can be done without abrasions or contusions if we’re careful.

Wisconsin announces tax breaks for businesses moving there from Illinois, and Dan at Chicago Boyz takes approving notice:

We may as well pick off what is left of the Illinois corpse before other states do.

One of his commenters is less approving:

Wonderful. Will the incoming Illinoisians do the jobs Wisconsians won’t do or will they steal jobs from Wisconsins?

You really needn’t worry too much, Tehag. Our experience here in Texas is that it isn’t a problem. The bigger problem is new arrivals bitterly complaining that some nicety available in California, Illinois, New York, or some other blue enclave isn’t available here, and for that we slap them upside the haid and remind them why they had to move in the first place.

It’s not just a new company, it’s a new business — but the business was there before, it was just elsewhere. Immigrants bring with them the customers they had before, which means they also need employees, and experience says a lot of the employees in the old location don’t follow along, preferring to stick it out in their familiar haunts. Whether or not that’s wise, it means the business needs new employees. Competition isn’t an issue — we have free trade within the United States, and a company that competes with a Wisconsin firm from its base in Illinois doesn’t become more competitive by moving.

Tax breaks for companies moving in make a lot of sense, especially if the taxes are somewhat burdensome. Of course they’ll be less or the company wouldn’t move in the first place, but a temporary bit of relief is just that, relief.

Back in the Sixties a man called Robert W. Townsend wrote a short, snappy book on business management called Up the Organization. It’s still very much worth reading today, for the whiplash when you see some of his numbers if nothing else — his breakpoint between a wage slave and a responsible employee was twenty-five dollars a week, for instance. Much of his advice, especially about central control of far-flung enterprises, is timeless even in the age of the Internet, and will be when Star Trek-style transporters replace the telephone.

Townsend spends a good bit of time on disruptions, extraordinary events that put a large burden on management. One of his dicta is “Three moves equals one fire” — even if the insurance covers the cost, replacement of the infrastructure of the business takes a long time and causes confusion, and loss of production while rebuilding allows competitors to rush in where they couldn’t before. A two year tax break sounds about right to relieve the average business from the burdens of one-third of a fire, and Wisconsin businesses won’t see any new competition, just the same old same old with a different Zip code. The delay while the newbies rebuild might even give the guys who’re already there a chance to poach a little revenue, hmm?

A guy in Massachusetts responded to Rep. Gifford’s being shot with a snide remark to the effect that that left 534 to go — something many people have said or heard in private conversation, and it probably isn’t unheard of on the Internet, though I haven’t seen any myself. Ho, hum, right?

Except that Travis J. I. Corcoran is a gun dealer owner, and Massachusetts and Fed cops descended on his store him, confiscated his stock guns, and got his ISP to “403 Forbidden” his Web site. Dustbury , Roberta X, and others around the blogosphere have taken notice, with the gun blogs in the lead (as might be expected), and it’s getting a little attention from the MSM.

Borepatch notes, inter alia:

It’s not like there isn’t a ton of case law on how the First Amendment applies to threats of political violence. Arlington will lose this, if it ever gets to trial. Post Heller and McDonald, they’ll lose even worse. Idiots.

The problem is — no, they won’t. Oh, I reckon Massachusetts and the Feds will lose the case, but neither the cops and agents who did all that nor the supervisors who sent them there will lose anything whatever. Massachusetts taxpayers, and likely general American taxpayers, will pay Corcoran some (probably large) amount of money, Corcoran’s lawyers will latch onto a goodish chunk of it, and the people who invaded an American citizen’s home and confiscated his possessions will get, at worst for them, a couple weeks suspension (with full pay) and chiding notes in their files, probably not even that — and life will go on. For them.

That’s wrong. It used to be, and ought to still be, that the people who did the damage pay the penalty. It’s still mostly true in criminal law, but civil law has been so distorted by the “deep pockets” concept that genuine tortfeasors (lawspeak for “bad guys”) who happen to be Government employees rarely lose a dime, or a minute’s sleep, over it. Employees of private businesses who lose on those grounds generally lose their jobs if the company thinks they really did the deed, but apparently Government employees can do no wrong — it’s the taxpayers who hired them (and who may be as outraged as anyone at their employees’ behavior) who end up paying. It seems to have started with Civil Rights suits in the Fifties and Sixties, but it’s metastasized.

Corcoran himself seems to be keeping his cool over the incident, suggesting that people donate to their Church instead of to him. I do have a suggestion for him, though:

Sue the bastards personally.

That is: get a list of the people who participated in the raid, whether on the ground or by ordering or supervising from the office. Sue them, each and severally, using John and Jane Doe for those the agencies won’t name, for a modest amount by court case standards — fifty grand or so, something that would be lost in the rounding errors for a Government agency but will hurt like Hell if a private individual loses it — plus a proportionate share of Court costs and lawyer fees, plus the totality of any and all amounts the individuals are compensated by their employers for their loss. Make them pay, rather than enjoying a windfall at taxpayer expense. If the agencies try to burden the taxpayers, take the money and enjoy it.

Is that possible? Damifino. I’m not a lawyer. But if it could be made to work, it would send up a red flag for cops and Government agencies everywhere — if your supervisor tells you to do something that’s unconstitutional or otherwise out of line, and you go ahead and follow the illegal order, you can be hurt, personally, in your own precious self and pocketbook, rather than getting a week’s vacation and a little praise with faint damns[1] and getting on with life as if nothing had happened.

As I said, I have no idea if it’s possible or could work. But something needs to be done to restrain the epidemic of police and Government intrusion on people’s private lives on little or no ground, and making the individuals involved personally responsible for their misbehavior would go a long way toward getting that started.

UPDATE: Commenter GuyS clarifies: Simple ownership of a firearm requires a license in Massachusetts, and Mr. Corcoran is a gun owner; the post has been edited to reflect actual conditions, with strikeouts for replaced text.

The excuse for armed intervention is that Corcoran’s tacky remarks call into question his qualifications to be a gun owner. IMAO the intervention itself calls into question the qualifications of any and all participants, direct or indirect, to participate in American citizenship, but that’s just me.

Read Can’t Hark My Cry’s comment, and weep.


[1]I am indebted to Spider Robinson for that phrase. I hope he didn’t copyright it.

To double space or not? Farhad Manjoo at Slate is against it, most vehemently, and Norm Geras agrees. Moe Lane means to go on, as does Meghan McArdle.

Hmph. It’s just Yet Another Example of bastardizing an originally flawed, but essentially decent, system in the name of Art.

Double spacing originated in the days of typewriters as a convenience for typesetters. The period (“full stop” in BritSpeak) is such an insignificant little dot that it can easily be missed in a sea of monospaced Courier font, especially when (as usual with older typewriters and/or careless typists) the page also had a goodly number of spots and blemishes created by bits of congealed ribbon ink flung up by the flying typebars. Double spacing provided a bit of emphasis, allowing the poor fellow rowing the Linotype machine to detect the ends and beginnings of sentences without stopping to inspect the manuscript with a magnifier. Properly typeset print, even today, puts an em space between sentences and en spaces (smaller) between words, then adjusts their sizes proportionately as part of justifying the line.

Fast forward to Dr. Berners-Lee, whose original specifications for presentation of material on the World Wide Web were based on his awareness that wildly varying displays were in use. His intent was not that it be pretty, but that it be more or less equally comprehensible on almost any screen. One of the resulting decrees is a property of HTML that has frustrated people who want to make things look nice ever since: All white space is presented as a single space, except paragraph breaks, which are two lines.

What, the SOB couldn’t even define a <tab> for paragraph indent? Sadly, no. The good Doctor was a geek, and geeks are always prepared to abandon common practice and substitute their own judgement. Printers, beginning with Gutenberg and continuing since, had worked out the system: en spaces for words, em spaces for sentences, indents to flag paragraphs, a nice (as in “carefully considered”) adaptation of best practice in written manuscripts, and a nice (as in “it works well”) balance between readability and a certain pleasing symmetry. Berners-Lee made many decisions that seem to me shortsighted or simply wrong — it still pisses me off that he didn’t include a simple line-drawing facility, making the simplest two-dot scattergram into multiple KB (or MB!) of bandwidth-hogging image — but the clunky, blocky paragraphing is arguably the ugliest.

It was most problematic to graphic designers, whose attempt to migrate from the wide open spaces of magazine and advertising layout to the more-confining practices and presentations of the Internet was frustrated by the limitations of HTML. Some of the features and facilities could be perverted into forcing the production of attractive layouts; wide (mis-)use of the <frame> and <table> tags and copious instances of &nbsp; in the source could, and did, approximate the flexibility they were used to, but many of the remnant features, particularly Mosaic’s stubborn insistence on re-scaling and re-arranging things to fit different screens, frustrated their attempts to replicate their print-based efforts. Dammit, that’s hideous! It doesn’t look anything like my layout! Well, no, it doesn’t — but a monitor screen is not a magazine page. It might be argued — and I did, elsewhen — that the designers should have made more attempts to conform to the medium rather than trying to force new pixels into old paradigms, but if there is a more stubborn class of people than artists in full musth I have not yet encountered them.

The solution (?) was technology, in the shape of wide penetration of many-pixeled monitors, and Cascading Style Sheets. CSS allows close control of layout and design, at the expense of greater bandwidth. Web pages can now have multiple columns, designers can now specify typefaces and graphics and expect them to be presented properly, and (best of all) the classic system of paragraphing, complete with indents and single line spacing, is possible. CSS permits its own perversions, of course; there are a number of Web pages and blogs I no longer visit because careless or pugnaciously specified page widths or complex layouts “break” my screen. In the end, though, and modulo bandwidth availability for the remaining poor souls on dialup, CSS has been a worthwhile advance.

One of the features of CSS is abandonment — finally! — of Berners-Lee’s diktat that all whitespace reduces to a single space. People whose aesthetic, developed over decades of typewriter-pounding, demands two spaces after the full stop can now have their preferences honored. To my eye the result isn’t attractive when incorporated into fully-justified text, because when the spaces are stretched to make the line fit the gap is larger than results from the em space between sentences in book typography. Of course, if I think graphic designers should have accommodated themselves to video screens rather than forcing the result, I certainly have no standing to demand that the conventions of print typography should rule. If that’s what Meghan, Moe, and others want, they can and should get it.

Modest proposal: treat the system that converts what the author typed as a siliconized implementation of the Linotype operator — which it is — and what the author types as “manuscript format”, which it is. CSS should recognize the sequence period-space-space as a sentence end, and substitute period-em space. That’s what the typesetter did in days of yore, and to my mind the result is prettier. Authors whose thumbs hit the space bar twice after a period by reflex are accommodated, Gutenberg’s decision that sentences need to be set off with a bit of extra space is likewise adhered to, and nobody’s cold dead hands need be pried off the long thin bit at the bottom of the keyboard. How about it, W3C?

“Congress Outlaws The USAF”, Strategy Page snarks. The story doesn’t support the headline — it’s about application of the “Anti-Deficiency Act”, or ADA, to cost overruns on Air Force contracts, which is causing heartburn in the top brass:

Scary inspections have become fashionable again, along with fiscal responsibility. Commanders who don’t get with the program are headed for early retirement. This has happened to 14 air force generals and dozens of colonels in the last three years.

Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, the goal of the headline is a good idea. A separate Air Force, with its own supporting bureaucracy, is a notion whose time has come and gone. The following is the text of a comment I left on the story, slightly expanded and edited.

The rule of thumb — not perfect, but a good first approximation — is: Could [service] win a war all by itself?

Clearly a Navy or an Army could do so, although the definition of “war” might have to be unrealistically constrained. The Air Force was invented on the assumption that it could, too, largely by being the deliverers of nuclear weapons. Experience over the last half-century suggests that there is no way to constrain the definition of “war” such that the Air Force could win one unless the original idea were carried out, i.e., “bomb ‘em back to the stone age” with nukes. The very suggestion is now politically unacceptable, and experience with Islamists and other irregulars demonstrates that it isn’t true, anyway, so long as some population remains. The war isn’t won until you have 18-year-olds with guns on the ground in the (former) enemy’s territory — and, as much recent experience demonstrates, that condition is necessary, but not sufficient. An Air Force can’t provide “boots on the ground” by its very definition. Neither can the Navy — but that’s one of the things Marines are for.

What is left is a (lower case) service organization, providing capabilities to the other Services that they don’t need all the time and thus don’t want to include in their capital budgets or which are organizationally better done independently for commonality. Fast logistic support, “trashhauling”, falls into the latter category, for instance — the Army will use it most simply because of volume, especially in expeditionary mode, but delivering stuff from home base to where it’s needed is more like FedEx or UPS than anything else. Sign here, please.

Big UAVs are a similar case. They go with satellites, a world-wide capability some local portion of which is called upon by the other Services when needed. Same for delivery of precision munitions, same for bombing at the interface between “tactical” and “strategic”, that is, taking out the enemy’s behind-the-lines logistics, from ammo dumps to manufacturing and production of fuel and weapons. All of those are (lowercase) service functions, called upon when needed by warfighters and remaining in potentia otherwise. If it weren’t for treaties and customs that enforce a dichotomy between uniformed Service members and civilians as regards killing people and breaking things, they could be done by civilians on contract. Imagine a big UAV orbiting over the battlefield with a load of precision-guided munitions, and a system enabling ground forces to designate targets and call for bomb release when needed. The UAV is simply transporting stuff to where it’s to be used. Is there any reason, beyond Laws of War treaties, why it shouldn’t say “MilEx, a subsidiary of Federal Express” on the side, instead of USAF?

So what does that leave? Air superiority and mass strategic, probably nuclear. Yes, those are hard to fit into the paradigm, but for the rest what we see is the Air Force evolving into an on-call support organization for the other two. Is that worth the organizational complexity and expense of maintaining a separate uniformed Service?

The Navy is strategic and diplomatic; it also transports the Marines, which are the President’s sidearm, useful for small-scale conflicts on short notice. The Army is either defensive, responding to invasion, or expeditionary, doing defense on other people’s real estate so’s it doesn’t break our stuff. The Constitution makes a sharp distinction between the two, based (it’s clear from contemporary writings) on their potential for adventurism. The Navy is hard to use for that for many of the same reason(s) an Air Force doesn’t win wars. The Army’s capability is hobbled by the two-year limitation. People who protest Iraq and Afghanistan (and formerly Viet Nam) have a valid point which they, themselves, sacrifice in their moonbat “pacifism”: The United States is, or should be, non- and anti-Imperialist in the military sense while being quasi-imperialist in the commercial. The Army/Navy split supports that ideal. Combining the two and adding a third uniformed “Service” violates it.

Special Forces are actually simple. They are Marines, original concept version (forming large, Army-like bodies of Marines is an aberration). This is most evident in the case of the “Green Berets”, a small, fierce ground-fighting force transported by the parent Service, precisely the role of the USMC vis-a-vis the Navy. The very grouping of the different Services’ organizations into the category “Special Forces” demonstrates the essential commonality, after a period of interservice rivalry consequent to their formation.

Watching from outside the System, it’s actually a bit amusing to see budgetary and political constraints forcing a reversion to something closer to the Founders’ vision. The national Army becomes less and less significant except as training, cadre, and organization; large forces, when necessary, are formed from State Guard units. In a world where effective military equipment is beyond the financial reach of ordinary citizens, this is probably the best compromise between raising Armies of armed citizens and modern needs. The Navy’s aircraft carriers are useful (and used) for gunboat diplomacy, 21st Century version; it remains to re-emphasize small units for anti-piracy and commerce guarding, and tentative steps in that direction are being made, though hobbled by a fixation on the prestige of “deep bottoms”. As that evolves the need for a separate, uniformed Air Force becomes less and less evident. The services provided by the air arm are necessary, even vital. It’s not at all clear that an independent bureaucracy is the best way to provide them.

SF great Fritz Leiber’s short story “The Beat Cluster” appeared in the October, 1961, issue of Galaxy magazine, and has been reprinted several times. Its premise is a Fifties-style space station like the one in the opening scenes of 2001, built by a sizeable work force and inhabited by good, upright strivers — but having attached to it a series of balloon-like structures inhabited by beatniks who came there originally as construction workers and decided to stay on, improvising habitats from inflatable structures originally intended as temporary fuel storage. The “Beats” occupy themselves with poetry, jazz, and the making of “guck”, algae and water in smaller balloons that must be gently agitated in the zero-gee conditions so that it can produce oxygen and precursors to foodstuffs. “Rocking the guck” (you’d have to have been somewhat tuned in to “beat culture” in the early Sixties to get all the implications of that) is an essentially mindless occupation all the inhabitants of the Cluster engage in while composing poetry or music, or thinking about new space-related inventions, which they can do because they’re all ex-workers on the station.

In the story, a new administrator declares the Beats parasites who must be returned to Earth and their habitats collapsed to relieve the burden on the station’s resources. The ex-officio leader of the Beats composes a poem:

Gonna be a pang, leavin’ space
Gonna be a pang.

Being both politically and technically adept, he then proceeds to collect and present conclusive evidence that providing entertainment for the crew of the station — poetry, music, and (erm…) visits with the free-thinking ladies of the cluster — combined with the large positive contribution of oxygen and food feedstocks provided by guck-production and technical innovations contributed by the Beats, adds up to a net benefit to the station that will be expensive to replace if the Beats are sent away. The administrator relents (fairly gracefully, IIRC); the Beats can stay, and the leader adds a line to his poem:

Gonna be a pang, leavin’ space
Gonna be a pang.
So we won’t go.

Now Rand Simberg, among others, notes the existence of Bigelow Aerospace, whose basic concept is inflatable orbital structures. Bigelow prefer the word “expandable” over “inflatable” because of the connotations of fragility implied by the latter, but that’s the concept — the outer skin of the habitat is made of flexible material and the inner structures are neatly folded, so that it can be launched in compact form and become comfortably large once in space. It’s not a simple balloon or bowser like the ones in the story, and the concept is well regarded (if sometimes uncomfortably) — prototypes have been launched and successfully deployed. It looks like a good way to provide astronauts and potential space tourists with large, relatively comfortable quarters for long-duration missions, including adjuncts to the International Space Station and even going to Mars. Further developments, to be used as habitats on the Moon or Mars, are already in the conceptual stages.

Of course it’s unlikely that Bigelow’s structures will be inhabited by beatniks. Among other things, there aren’t any more beatniks because their successors, the hippies, have rejected both the basically libertarian ideals of the beats and the connections with larger society (including technical competence) that the beatniks considered important. None the less, it would seem that here is another example of science fiction making a somewhat-accurate prediction of the future. Perhaps Bigelow should provide a few guitars among the otherwise highly technological appurtenances of their habitats.

DREAM failed of cloture, but an asymmetry remains. Republicans should address it in the 112th.

My personal objections to the DREAM act were to its being larded up with Democratic-party wishlist items. The basic idea isn’t evil or even objectionable, really. Mamá made it across the border before her water broke: the kid’s a citizen. Ten minutes too late: not. That’s an extreme, but minor children don’t really have a choice about going where their parents go. Mamá and Papá decided to become illegal aliens — or, more often, Papá did, and Mamá went along with it — and the kids didn’t have much input. That really is unfair.

So what would a Republican version look like?

How about this: Children brought across the border before age 18 (eligibility for military service) become eligible, upon application, for permanent residence. The five-year clock for naturalization by the normal process begins at age 18 or the date of filing, whichever is later, and it makes the kid eligible to join the military if he or she prefers that route.

In addition, that means that the new citizen is at least 22 (joins the military at age 18) or 23 (clock starts at age 18). They are therefore adults, and cannot serve as “anchors” for their illegal alien parents. That sets up a catch, in that the parents are revealed as illegal aliens by the child’s application. So: If the parents self-deport and live outside the US for at least one year, they go on the list for legal entry to permanent resident status without regards to any quotas for that country.

That’s still a bit unfair to people who’ve jumped through all the (considerable) hoops for legal entry by the normal process, but it isn’t a simple giveaway, either. I could get behind it with no trouble.

Prof. Reynolds notes the controversy surrounding the “Repeal Amendment” proposed by Randy Barnett and William J. Howell.

The idea is superficially attractive: If two-thirds of the State Legislatures vote to repeal a Federal Law, the Law is repealed. This would in some degree restore the balance of power between the States and the Federal Government.

Much of the criticism of the idea is uninformed to the point of stupidity. The Constitution was designed to be amended at need, and criticizing a proposed amendment on the ground that major changes can only be made by Supreme Court decision(s) tosses the original concepts of the Framers in the toilet. However, the fact that stupid people make stupid remarks about an idea doesn’t enshrine it as wonderful.

The Amendment, as proposed, is unlikely to do much damage — the very idea of getting 67 or 68 State Legislatures (depending on whether or not Nebraska is involved) to agree on anything makes herding cats look simple, so the likelihood of its being actually implemented is vanishingly small. It might be useful as symbolism, but symbolism, while important, is not enough.  If disenfranchisement of the States vis-a-vis the Federal Government were the real problem, restoring the Senate to its original status via repeal of Amendment XVII would achieve the same end with greater actual effect.

Since the basic problem is not State vs. Federal, the Repeal Amendment would do no real good. The problem that must be addressed is the Congress’s abandonment of its own responsibilities, and until we face that directly nothing positive will be accomplished. The Congress is, or should be, obliged to make hard choices. It has, by and large, punted on most of them, especially in the last century. Soldiers faced with difficult choices suggest sarcastically, “Kill ‘em all, God will know His own.” The Congressional equivalent is “The Hell with it, the Supreme Court will sort it out.” The Court, unwilling in its own turn to accept such responsibilty, has responded with deference — the doctrine that unless some egregious violation has occurred, the will of the Legislature, being responsive to the People, controls. It is the resulting Alphonse-and-Gaston act that has done the damage.

One of the worst and most egregious examples is Wickard vs. Filburn and successors, including the fairly recent Gonzales vs. Raich. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states, in part,

The Congress shall have Power … To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

The so-called “Interstate Commerce Clause”, only four words, was apparently intended by the Framers to prevent trade and import-export duty wars among the “several States”, a major feature of the breakdown of the preceding Articles of Confederation. Together with Article I, Section 10 (which prohibits, among other things, duties and excises imposed by the States without consent of Congress) the result is that the United States is, among other things, the very exemplar of a “Free Trade Zone”.

It could be argued that no use of the Interstate Commerce Clause has been responsible — the so-called “Coastwise Tariffs” of the early 19th Century contributed greatly to the tensions that led to the Civil War, and the Jones Act had the somewhat delayed effect of essentially eliminating American shipping from world trade — but the effect of Wickard and consequent decisions based on the Clause has been remarkably perverse. Their net effect is to declare, first, that all commerce affects interstate commerce, and can thus be regulated by Congress; and second, that few (if any) acts of any person are not “commerce”. Until and unless the noxious effects of Wickard and subsequent decisions are reversed or mitigated, Article I can be truncated to “The Congress shall have Power” with no qualifications, a total inversion of the intent of the Founders.

A second, but closely related, problem is delegation. As the Congress took more and more power onto itself as permitted by the Court, it needed more and more detailed knowledge of and insight into the “commerce” it was regulating — and detailed knowledge and insight were sadly lacking among the Members. It “solved” the problem by once again abandoning its responsibilities, in this case, by assigning the task of writing “implementing regulations” to the Executive and subordinates. Under this system, the Congress writes Laws giving broad authority to the Executive without specifying any of the details of how the authority is to be exerted; the responsible Agency of the Executive then fills in the details of “implementation”, while the Congress preserves a fig-leaf of responsibility by allowing itself to review such regulations and countermand them — a power which has never been used.

As a result, most of the “Laws” of the United States today are not Laws at all — they are mere “regulations”, written by unelected bureaucrats lacking any shred of accountability to the People. That doesn’t stop them from using the Sword of the State to impose condign penalties upon any person presuming to violate them! The Congress has not (yet) so abrogated its responsibilities as to hand down the death penalty to some faceless GS-14, but the century is yet young. Worse, custom and usage has placed “enabling regulations” beneath the notice of the Courts, who address only the Constitutionality of the original Statute — which, under Wickard, et. seq., is virtually unlimited.

The Congress then whiles away its time, meeting three days a week to hand out goodies to those who meet its approval, while the Executive Agencies place an ever-tightening noose around the civil, political, and economic affairs of Americans, sustained by the perverse positive feedback of more regulation resulting in need for more detailed knowledge requiring more bureaucrats writing more regulation. Until that cycle is broken, any attempt to return to saner (and more limited) Government is at best a Band-Aid® on a gaping wound.

At minimum, two Amendments are required: One to reverse or mitigate Wickard, and one to prevent Congress from delegating its authority. The “repeal Amendment” does neither, and thus is a useless waste of time and effort designed to avoid the duties of Government while providing a stage-set of “doing something”. My own proposals along that line can be found here as they evolved, under the categories “Modest Proposals” and “Probability Epsilon”, but my current thinking is as follows:

XXVIII: The power of the Congress to regulate commerce among the several States is hereby revoked, and neither the States nor the Congress shall regulate, tax, or otherwise burden commerce among or within the States.

XXIX: Every Rule, Regulation, Order, Decree, or other Ukase of Government, however named or styled, for violation of which any Person, if convicted, may suffer loss of Life, Liberty or Property in any degree whatever, is a Law; and every Law of the United States shall be placed before, and passed by, the Congress, and approved by the President, in the form and detail in which it applies to the People.

In both cases a second section is needed, specifying that existing Laws invalidated under that Article continue in force for a strictly limited period of time; I would suggest five years, or until repealed or replaced by the Congress, whichever comes first.

Suggestions and criticisms, especially of the specific wording(s), are welcome.

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