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The last vehicle Dad ever bought:

Derelict Dodge Pickup

1978 Dodge, unused for a while

He bought it new off the dealer’s lot in late ’77 and drove it until he died in ’82. For the first two years of that he drove it every day to work, nineteen miles along Texas back roads from the farm to the steel plant. During that time it picked up the only damage it ever suffered, a slightly crumpled right front fender courtesy his beté noire, a particular farmer who always pulled out into the road without regarding the traffic. There were several along the way who sometimes did that, but this one was hereditary — either he or his father had been road hazards since 1952, when Dad first started making the trip daily. Dad often took a longer and twistier alternate route that had the advantage of not passing that particular driveway, but on that day he’d had trouble sleeping and was late getting off… he replaced the flimsy aluminum grille and pounded/pulled the fender back into shape, but it was still a little lumpy because he had no talent for what the Australians call “panel beating” and didn’t consider a truck worthy of professional attention.

We were living in San Antonio at the time he died, and Mother and Dad had already been planning a trip down there to bring me a bunch of stuff we’d left at the farm for storage. Dad had built a camper shell out of two-bys and 3/8″ plywood and loaded everything up, so everything just stayed in the truck for a while after his death. Sometime in late ’82 we went up there to visit Mother and drove the truck back, and I’ve had it ever since. The homebuilt shell came off in the mid-Eighties. Sometime in the Nineties I had to have some work done, and the shop fouled up. After that it was hard to shift and didn’t want to stay in second gear without the driver applying pressure to the gear lever. More important, the rear main seal leaked, coating the clutch with oil. Sometime around 1998 or 1999 it became undriveable; I didn’t have the money to get it fixed and had several alternative vehicles to drive, so it got parked. When we moved in 2000 we towed it here, twenty miles through town on a nylon tow strap, and it’s been sitting where you see it since then.

It’s a 1978, a D50 if I recall, anyway a half-ton stepside with the Slant Six and three-on-the-tree standard transmission, wood-strip bed floor and low-end cloth upholstery. During that period Dodge built factory custom vehicles with big engines and special trim under the name “Li’l Red Truck”, and that body style was the starting point. One of my son’s older contemporaries took it in his mind to reproduce the Li’l Red Truck on a 4WD chassis, and was casting about for a suitable donor. Another guy about the same age (I shouldn’t call them “kids” any more, but that’s how I think of them) recalled Dad’s truck and offered me $500 for it. That’s low — on the collector market it would go for twice that, and I suspect that this particular fellow took a substantial cut; it’s a known part of his personality — but I’m far away from cities and moneyed collectors, and I’ve reached the point in my life when I need to get rid of projects I’ll never complete, so I took him up on it. It’s a good deal for the buyer. The truck has no serious rust, and the only real deficiencies are the crumpled fender and the plastic pod surrounding the dash instruments, which has crumbled to shards in the Texas sun.

The driver showed up on Saturday to take it away. I’d intended to get more pictures when it got loaded on the flatbed, but my camera battery was flat and my phone tells me taking pictures is “Forbidden”, I don’t know why. None of the wheels turned when it was winched onto the transport, which surprised me a little. It isn’t astonishing that the transmission was locked up, but I hadn’t really expected the front brakes to be seized as well. Never mind — the tow cable and winch were plenty strong. I handed the driver the title and went inside, because one of the traits I share with Mother is not wanting to watch as people (or sentimental things) ride off into the sunset.

I’d wanted to fix it up and drive it again, but that was no longer anything resembling a reasonable prospect. Goodbye, old truck.That leaves me with only three derelict vehicles in the yard, and one of them belongs to somebody else and isn’t my fault. Anybody need a ’94 Buick Century that’s been T-boned?

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As noted by Kathy’s correspondent. err…

“Yo, Roscoe, it’s that time again. Pay up.”

“Um, I’m real sorry, Guido, I just don’t have the money.”

“That ain’t how it works, you know that? The deal is, every Saturday.”

“Yeah, I know, an’ like I said, I’m sorry, I just don’t have it. I was gonna knock over a liquor store last night an’ get it, but…”

“But what?”

“But I looked, an’ my gun license is expired, see? Ran out last Wednesday, an’ the office don’t open ’til Monday morning. I need to run down there, an’ then I’ll get your money, Tuesday morning for sure.”

“We.e.ell… all right, I can see you ain’t got much choice. But Tuesday morning for sure, you got that? And it’s gonna cost you an extra ten percent late fee…”

Yeah, riiiiiiight.

 

The concepts of “voting”, “payment”, and “work” are more or less arbitrary labels pasted on divisions of an überdenk that might be labeled “choosing among alternatives”. Economists know this, but because they tend to lump them all in “payment” the general public is often confused. Sitting through a teevee ad, for instance, is work, in the sense of an activity performed in the hope of a payoff in the form of an enjoyable diversion later; it’s also payment, in the sense that it’s a resource, the time you could have used to do something else with a different payoff, that you’ve expended and will never get back; and it’s voting, in the sense of choosing that particular program and its accompanying ads instead of hitting the clicker to get another.

Kathleen Parker has lost her job as an MSNBC CNN presenter, and that, along with the cases of Keith Olbermann, Rick Sanchez, David Shuster, Alan Colmes, Campbell Brown, John Roberts, Larry King, Harry Smith, and others, gives me the sense that some people who should have been paying attention have begun to do so. It’s long been a mystery to me why the stockholders and investors who finance the news business, and the advertisers who pay for it, haven’t noticed what’s going on and taken steps to change things.

[Thanks to Monster, in the comments, for pointing out I’d got Ms. Parker’s affiliation wrong –ed]

It’s no secret, and hasn’t been for a long time, that “news” as seen in the papers and on teevee has a strong element of entertainment, and often becomes entirely thus. News presenters, regardless of the channel in use, must compete with alternative uses the consumers of their product have for their time. Nor is it particularly obscure that entertainers — actors, singers, “celebrities”, teevee “personalities”, writers, et. al. — are overwhelmingly “liberal”, i.e., leftoid, and have been for a long time, or that news presenters, drawn as they are primarily from the ranks of entertainers, share that outlook on life and politics.

The general decline of the news business, as business, is not unacknowledged, either. Quite the contrary: the loss of viewership in teevee news and readership in newspapers and news magazines is a common theme. What is obscure, though, is that the losses aren’t perfectly even. It’s clear, if lamented, that the traditional outlets, the Big Three networks and the classic newspapers like the New York Times, are the biggest losers, and that first the cable networks, then (more recently) the Internet and blogosphere, have gained at their expense. What perhaps isn’t clear in the fluid situation is that even the “new media”, however defined, have definite winners and losers among them, and that there is a common denominator that can predict success or failure.

Put simply: go moonbat, lose your general audience. The principle is perhaps less apparent because the big successes in the blogosphere have been the leftoid-oriented ones, with Daily Kos and Huffington Post as exemplars. What is perhaps missed there is that blog consumers aren’t a “general audience”. The overwhelming majority of people either don’t pay attention to the Internet at all, or use it for eBay, Freecycle, Craigslist, and the like, or participate in “social media” like Facebook or Tumblr, where Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are much more significant than Hosni Mubarak or even the President, the Congress, or local political affairs. Blogs attract the committed, the concerned, and the indignant, and such people are a minority, whether right or left; general audiences get their information from the traditional or “mainstream” media — teevee and the newspapers, with “teevee” including the cable channels as over-the-air television becomes less and less relevant.

Among those alternatives, the pattern is clear and has been for quite a while. Go left, lose “share”; go right, gain audience. Fox, which is not so much “right” as it is trying to dance on the double yellow, outdoes most of the other cable channels combined; MSNBC and CNN, committed to the leftoid “narrative”, hemorrhage viewers. The New York Times and its wannabee imitator in Los Angeles see declining circulation; the Wall Street Journal gains at their expense. Even among the old “big three” over-the-air teevee networks the pattern is visible. ABC sticks firmly to light entertainment; NBC goes for drama and mostly leaves the politics to its cable subsidiary; CBS, most committed to the leftoid “narrative”, is somewhat less successful.

Why haven’t the stockholders and investors seen this pattern long ago and taken steps? They get their money and share value from advertisers, who purchase their product in the hope of attracting “eyeballs” whose owners might be influenced to buy the product. For at least the past decade the general audience has been changing the channel, voting against leftoid views and for right-tending ones by refusing to expend the effort to wade through the ads when the accompanying program doesn’t fit their inclinations; they will neither work to consume the ads, nor pay their time and attention for something they don’t value, so they vote with their remotes. Not a few advertisers have begun to take notice and shift their ad buys to things that attract more consumers, which cuts into revenue and makes investment in the losers less attractive. Tax laws and the regulatory environment have obfuscated the relationship between corporations and their owners, the stockholders; nowadays, an investor who thinks corporate policy is destructive of current or future profit sells the stock instead of lobbying the Board of Directors.  Still, though, one would think that people whose income depends on the success of the company would be agitating for its management to take appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate the losses.

That’s why the example of Ms. Parker is encouraging. Clearly MSNBC hired her in an attempt to attract more of the general (i.e., rightish) audience, but selected her on the basis of conformance to the general bent of opinion in their presentation. Unfortunately, the only person more contemptible than a traitor is  a quisling; right-oriented viewers didn’t follow her to her new venue because she was seen as abandoning support of her previous positions, and left-oriented viewers weren’t attracted by her conversion to what they see as perfectly ordinary views. Result: the program had dismal ratings and didn’t last long. The case of Arianna Huffington is equally or more instructive. Ms. Huffington originally abandoned somewhat-rightist views to found what became a vibrant left-oriented community; the Huffington Post has, of late, become increasingly strident and doctrinaire, and Arianna, an opportunist of the first water, has packed her valuables and left the ship ahead of the general rush to the lifeboats. Neither Ms. Parker nor Ms. Huffington is likely to miss many meals in the near future, but they are no longer occupying the soapbox.

Add to that the general failure of MoveOn’s demonstrations this weekend and the increasingly shrill, violent, and desperate tactics of public Unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and one gets the heartening sense that the people financing it all are beginning to see and read the writing on the wall. Even the New York Times has recently published at least one article that backs away from full-throated support of leftoid causes, and it’s interesting and amusing that that article’s byline is of A. Sulzberger, son of the righteous (or lefteous) “Pinch”, whose inheritance is at risk. The implacable irony of the Left and Progressivism is that its main support has come, for at least the past half-century, from the wealthy and the elite who saw opportunities for profit, both in money and in social acceptance. If the investors and stockholders have begun to see loss instead, it may be that a sea-change has indeed begun.

Stormy Rose was born Sept. 13, 2008. We’d already settled on “Rose” or “Rosie” as the name if the new arrival was female, but that was the day Hurricane Ike hit the South Texas coast, and the addition seemed appropriate. The day was warm and humid, cloudy, with winds from the southeast. Her mama delivered her in the middle of the paddock, and she was small enough (and cooperative enough) for me to pick her up and carry her to the covered stall, where she and mama lived for a month or so, until she was strong enough to hold her own in the company of the other critters.

Rosie the Donkey

Rosie, with mama hidden behind

She’s been a good citizen of the paddocks, though she doesn’t like a couple of people and has been known to kick, not viciously but enough to emphasize that she didn’t care for the treatment she was getting. We’ve handled her regularly since Day 1, so although she isn’t trained she responds well, comes when called, and readily suffers the little kids to ride on her back as somebody else leads her.

Unfortunately the carrying capacity of this habitat is strained at best, plus the fact that her daddy is becoming incestuously interested. Animals don’t know or care much about genetics, and their genes are well enough mixed that breeding daughters to fathers and mothers to sons is common, so really it’s a matter of fastidiousness by the owners. The real problem, though, is that with two other donkeys, six horses, a cow, and uncounted barn cats around the place, she isn’t getting the attention she deserves. I decided she needed a new home, and it didn’t take long to find someone who was delighted with both her coloring (which is somewhat unusual) and her manners, needed a companion for the foal they were raising, and seemed like good people who would treat her right.

She’ll be off to her new family sometime this weekend. That’s mixed emotions for me. I am continually surprised by how well I like and get along with the horses, but the donkeys have never been my favorites — not that I can’t handle them well enough, simply that I don’t care about them as much as I do their larger compatriots. It was my wife who delighted in them, and I always wanted her to have things that would make her happy, but since the stroke she can’t leave the nursing home, much less get out and about with the critters, and I’m gradually tapering off the animal collection. Still, though, any critter you’ve held in your arms as a baby has an emotional impact, and I can’t be totally indifferent to that.

Baby Stormy Rose

When She Was a Baby

Goodbye, Rosie. You’ll have more and better grass in your new home, and fewer others to compete with for your owners’ attentions. I’ll watch the trailer leave, glad for your improving fortunes and sad for the gradual diminution of my own.

 

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (spelling optional) is much in the news as a particularly notable example of the general ferment in the Middle East[1]. News channels, both classic and modern, carry breathless description of outrages committed by him, in his name, or in challenge to his power, all constrained by the limited access any Western organization has to Libya.

One subthread of that discussion concerns Gaddafi’s appearance, which is certainly distinctive. Stoaty concentrates on his face, but it’s worth remembering that he’s been around for forty-two years come September; I’m no judge of male attractiveness, but my mirror tells me I’m a good deal the worse for wear since 1969. That’s a sideshow, though. Put him in nondescript clothing on a modern Western street, or behind the counter at a stop&rob, and few would recognize him, although many would come away thinking, now where have I seen that ugly b*ard before? But that’s never how he presents himself. Moving among Westerners in business suits, where status is established by subtle distinctions in materials and tailoring, he shows up in a comic-opera dictator outfit, with quasi-military tailoring applied to bright colors, jingling medals, enough gold braid to blind in a strong light, and a hat that would please a Girl Genius jägermonster; the pictures we have of him hobnobbing with Arab leaders show him in something much more subtle, even casual, well-cut and -fitted outfits (still with a faux-military flavor) with muted decorations and insignia against robes and ostentatious displays of wealth. In either case he stands out like a collie at a cat show, and it’s impossible to conclude that it isn’t deliberate.

His behavior is cut from the same bolt. Blustery demands and showy behavior — a Bedouin tent (with modern upgrades) in the garden of the Hôtel Marigny, female bodyguards in camo or military-style uniforms, enough hot cars to satisfy Jeremy Clarkson; showy “covert” operations that somehow always lead back to Tripoli and its First Citizen; getting the U.S. Navy mad enough to bomb his house. At home, longwinded speeches to adoring crowds chivvied there by the police, mingling with the Common Folk in carefully arranged photo ops, massive public buildings with gold-leaf ormulu, and handing out largesse at random intervals.

It’s a mishmash of motifs from Byzantine emperors, Caliphate sultans, Russian czars, and every cliché of the Twentieth Century strongman, from the bright uniforms of South American militarists through Hitlerian motorcades and Soviet-style children’s recitals to Chinese flag-dancing, not omitting the architectural excesses of Ceauşescu. It is simply impossible to believe that a man so easily able to adapt his flamboyance to the circumstances in which he must operate could be so self-unaware as to do that in all seriousness. Kim, Mao, Hitler, Castro, and a host of others are or were consistent, showing the same face to all comers; it is the very adaptability of Qaddafi, calibrating his behavior to create maximum outrage in the audience before him, that screams conscious intent.

It’s performance and conceptual art, is what it is. Look out, Blue Men; never mind Dada; Christo was a piker. If Qaddafi falls and the contents of his palace become known, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find movies about about regimes, from Duck Soup through Sound of Music to Downfall and The Last King of Scotland, and well-thumbed copies of RoseLee Goldberg, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Ursula Meyer, and Joseph Kosuth among his effects. This is not to say the man had no serious intent, especially at first, or that his depredations weren’t as vile as those of anyone short of Pol Pot, but there is simply too much of an element of self-caricature there to assume he wasn’t at least partially aware of it. Even his fall, which now seems inevitable, combines the appalling, the comic, and the trite — partisans! confused, self-aggrandizing speeches! cheering demonstrators! machine-gunning the protesters! factions! abdications to Paris! umbrellas! secret police! hostages! executions! — in such conjunction as to make you wonder where the cameras are and where the director sits.

There probably isn’t much to learn from Qaddafi’s reign from a political science standpoint, but future historians (perhaps with time machines) will study it long and hard from an artistic standpoint. The man’s canvas was the world, his subject ruling, his methods drawn from eclectic sources and his own imagination. It’s really too bad he was such an ass. But, then, artists often are.


[1] Which is something of a misnomer, though useful shorthand for “places with longstanding domination by Islam”. The peoples of North Africa are identifiably Arab, but their culture and genetics are quite different from those of the Levant and Mesopotamia, just as Italy is quite distinct from Sweden.

Dan Riehl goes ballistic on Jazz Shaw, squish:

Hot Air front-paging this item by Jazz Shaw is little more than self-serving, hypocritical BS, designed to capitalize on the anti-teacher meme out of Wisconsin by re-visiting an old story.

He goes on to explain why, from the conservative viewpoint:

Far beyond teacher union abuse, it is the collapse of morals and values, especially in urban settings, that is the key driver in so many of our schools falling apart. But the same squishes now railing against the evil teachers unions — because they empower Democrats to beat their squish Republican candidates in the Northeast — hike up their skirts and run away the minute a Jim DeMint, or someone else starts talking social conservatism. (punctuation modified slightly —ed.)

Like a lot of socons, Riehl’s right about the basic source of the problem. There is a real and worrisome breakdown of the social arrangements in this country, and many (if not most) of our problems can be traced back to it. ‘Way out here among the Great Flown-Over, I seem some glimmerings that the underlying society may be righting itself somewhat, but starting as it is from a long way off plumb the progress is slow, however encouraging.

Where Riehl and a lot of others fall down is in explaining why there are “squishes”, Republicans who go along with Democrats when the chips are down. He thinks it’s craving for media approval and “collegiality” among lawmakers, and there’s likely a component of that, but it’s not the main reason people don’t immediately cleave to Jim DeMint and others.

Let’s be brutal, shall we? Social Conservatism means Pussy Patrol and doorbreakers. Both of those are total violations of any principle of limited government, fiscally responsible or otherwise, and both of them are just Same Old, Same Old with different labels.

There are far too many abortions in this country. I cannot think of a worse condemnation of any society than to note that a substantial fraction of its young women prefer to kill their children rather than bear them. But that’s a symptom, not a cause, and treating symptoms without addressing the underlying cause is effort wasted at best. More often, it constitutes draconian measures that not only exacerbate the problem but cause new ones. Protecting the Unborn requires at minimum the ability to discover they exist, and that, in turn, requires the Pussy Patrol, empowered to examine young women at will in order to find out if there’s an Unborn to Protect. It’s not just that this would require a massive apparatus of Investigators, Examiners, and Regulators, the constitution of which tosses any smallest pretense of “limited, non-intrusive Government” in the toilet and flushes twice; it’s also that any volunteers for that duty are immediately suspect, for reasons it would be otiose to elaborate.

And, of course, we already have just such an apparatus in place, empowered to intrude upon the private lives of the people to any degree desired, up to and including sending as many goons as may be convenient to break down doors and carry the miscreants off to durance vile. Never mind that both historical and minute-by-minute current experience demonstrate that Prohibitions are useless and ineffective in the very best case — demonstrations of futility simply generate further clamor for Bigger Better Stronger Intrusive Expensive Law Enforcement; dammit, that shit is bad for you! Well, so it is, no question. Why is that any of your f*ing business, asshole?

If you consider and declare yourself a “social conservative”, there is at least a three nines chance[1] that you do so on the basis of Pussy Patrol, doorbreaking, or both. Oh, I know, you don’t call it that — you’re “pro-life” or “anti-abortion”, or you support the “War on Drugs”. Euphemism does nothing but obfuscate, and that only temporarily; the reason for your frustrated indignance is that the leftoids and quasi-liberals see past the words, where you would prefer that they didn’t and in fact angrily deny that they’re doing so.

Unfortunately for you, they are doing so. There is no difference, none, between “death panels” considering “appropriate care” a.k.a. euthanasia and “practices panels” dedicated to censuring abortion doctors. You might want such a difference to exist; you might declare with angry self-righteousness that such a difference does exist; you’re wrong, the leftoids and libtards know it, and they sneer at you with good reason. There is no distinction, none, between a Federal apparatus to ensure people don’t ingest trans fats and/or salt and one to prevent people from doing lines of coke. You might want to make such a distinction; you might pretend that such a distinction exists, from either ignorance or deliberate fabrication; you’re wrong again — the only important distinction is between sending armed Enforcers to monitor and enforce The Rules for substance ingestion, and not doing that; the people you denounce are simply following your lead, and repurposing the apparatus you set up to suppress your version of “bad for you” to go after their version of the same thing.

A socon is inevitably going to be a “squish”, because at some point the essential identity becomes apparent, even if not publicly acknowledged. It may be that social conservatives and fiscal conservatives can get along, temporarily, but it can only be temporarily, because when the choice of whether or not to fund an intrusive State apparatus comes up, they can’t refuse to do so for the leftoids without cutting off support for the intrusiveness they themselves demand.

Oh, and for all of you poised over keyboards, ready to explain in detail the Society-Wrecking Effects of Eeevul Drugs and/or Murdering the Unborn — save your effort. Monitoring the doctors to prevent abortion and monitoring the doctors to prevent end-of-life “abuses” are the same thing; if you have one, you will get the other, eventually if not immediately, because the issue is “monitoring the doctors”, not the specific subject of the monitoring. Doorbreaking to stop drug abusers is the same thing as doorbreaking to ensure a healthful diet; the only difference is the specific substance(s) being anathematized, and the issue is “whether or not to engage in doorbreaking”.

You can’t have one,
You can’t have one,
You can’t have one without the oo-ther!

Pretending otherwise is either self-delusion or deliberate falsehood. You pick.


[1] That is, p => 0.999, or 99.9% chance — “three nines”.

Norm Geras comes across a discussion of the multiverse hypothesis, and plaints:

Come on, help me out, someone who understands the science. It’s a question I’ve posed before, but I’m still none the wiser more than five years later. The context of my question is the hypothesis that ‘our universe may be just one in a vast collection of universes known as the multiverse’; and the question itself is prompted by this sort of thing… There has to be a way of explaining this that saves it from its prima facie air of total unreasonableness.

The problem is, Norm has it backwards. (This happens a lot.) The anthropic principle, which is what is being invoked at the “this sort of thing” link and is causing him puzzlement, doesn’t specify a cause, much less declare humans the cause of anything. Where a causal relationship exists, it goes the other way.

There are a lot of things in physics that are (currently at least) unexplainable — not just “we don’t know”, with the implication that maybe we could find out with the right experiment, but inexplicable a priori. For instance, there’s a quantity called the “Fine Structure Constant“. Its value is so close to 137 that for years it was thought to be an integer, and because it’s calculated as mass/mass it has no units, so it’s the same in the metric, traditional, and furlong-footnight-stone systems. There’s no discernable reason it should have that value; scientists have been looking for the “why” ever since it was first defined, with no tiniest glimmer of a way to find a clue, much less actual evidence — but if it were different we wouldn’t be here, because many processes go the way they go because of that value.

The anthropic principle doesn’t say the fine structure constant has that value because we’re here; it says we’re here because the fine structure constant is what it is — if it were different it would still be what it was, but there wouldn’t be any physicists to calculate it. It answers the “many worlds” and “multiverse” hypotheses by saying, in effect, “So the f* what? Pay attention, people!” As such, it’s philosophical guidance for scientists rather than a physical law.

The principle is contentious because it is mainly aimed by physicists at mathematicians. Mathematics is perhaps the ultimate anthropopism; it’s not at all clear why it’s possible to use math to support descriptions of the Universe, no causal relationship that means the math operators must have physical meaning. It is and they do, but it’s purely a matter of pragmatism. At the higher levels, mathematics is a way for people who find card games and World of Warcraft boring because they’re too simple to entertain themselves and one another. The fact that it often turns out to be useful is merely a delightful coincidence, made more emotionally satisfying (to the mathematicians) by putting the nerds who couldn’t play dodgeball in school at the top of the “scientific” heap.

Mathematicians delight in contriving new, complex, and abstruse gimmicks and pursuing them to their conclusions, sharing them with other mathematicians in a genius-version of “can you top this?” Oddly enough, in many (perhaps most) cases the puzzles they solve for their own amusement turn out to have physical meaning, and physicists are accustomed to finding some effect and going to the mathematicians looking for a way to describe it usefully. Meanwhile the pure mathematicians are off in their usual flights of fancy, formulating mathematical systems that don’t have real-world application for their own edification and entertainment. The anthropic principle is physicists saying to mathematicians (and physics theorists, who are today mostly mathematicians in lab coats) that such pursuits are the equivalent of playing Solitaire instead of finishing up that proposal, and could you get back to some useful work, please?

5  REM C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup\publicunion.bas
10 FORM UNION
20 DEMAND MORE MONEY
30 GET MONEY FROM SYMPATHETIC LEGISLATORS
40 GIVE MONEY TO SYMPATHETIC LEGISLATORS
50 GOTO 20

CTL-ALT-DEL

Kathleen McCaffrey at Legal Insurrection joins the chorus:

I think it is of the utmost importance that [Mubarak] be tried and imprisoned for perverting the law and will of the Egyptian people for so long. Actions have consequences.

I and a couple of other commenters disagreed, eventually leading to the inevitable moonbattery:

Ah, some are defending Mubarak. Well that is interesting… If you can be a dictator for 30 years and just take your retirement when things start to get edgy, that’s a freebie.

Bullshit, Anon4PYWEBap. I’m trying to defend the Iranians, the Zimbabweans, the North Koreans, and even the Chinese. Mubarak himself, as an individual or even a tyrant, barely registers on the importance scale.

There are many more tyrants in the World, some of them worse than Mubarak on his worst day. Our goal should be to get rid of all of them. The task is made immeasurably more difficult if the tyrants know that, if they lose their grip on power, they will end up being nibbled to death by ducks. Tyrants have the machineries of State under their fingertips, and can (and demonstrably do) take whatever measures they think they might need for self-protection. The net effect is tighter tyrannies that are more difficult to dislodge, everywhere.

The majority of recent tyrannies got that way via the Road to Hell. The median tyrant of the last century or more took power by promising to fix the problems — Hope and Change! — with the support, however enthusiastic or grudging and cynical, of the populace. They gained the position of Great Leader, set out to implement the New Program, discovered opposition, and thought, well, just this teeny-weeny bit of oppression will solve the problem… rinse and repeat. Even Pol Pot, author of some of the most horrific acts of the Twentieth Century, started out with a vision of what problems existed, a program to fix them, and the support of Teh People. The ones who aren’t or weren’t actively insane, as Pol Pot clearly was, never intended repression or atrocities. They got there via the slippery slope of “I have to stay in power to fix the problems, this challenges my power, this is therefore part of the problem that needs fixing.” If you went back in your time machine and brought the Hosni Mubarak of 1980 to the Egypt of 2011, he’d very likely be in the streets wearing a bread helmet and protesting Teh Regime.

“You got me into this, you and your mother,” Mubarak reportedly told [his son] Gamal. “You have ruined my history in Egypt.”

Revenge can be soul-satisfying, but its results in the real world are generally nasty. Which would you prefer: Hosni Mubarak living a life of ease in the Gulf States and hobnobbing with Saudi Princes on a basis of near-parity, thus inspiring Muammar Qaddafi to expect the same soft landing — or a frail old man subjected to a show trial for Crimes Against Humanity while Mugabe and the Iranian Mullahs hire more “security” thugs, and the Chinese Politburo rounds up dissidents? If you chose the latter I regard you as a damned fool — noun and adjective both judiciously chosen — inspired by the same destructive impulses that guide the tyrants.

It’s not at all clear how many tyrants would be willing to let go if offered a soft landing. It is totally clear that if the soft landing isn’t possible, such retirements will not occur. What will happen, guaranteed, is more firing squads, broken heads, jail cells, and Internet clampdowns, as the remaining tyrants move to reinforce their power base. Displacing Mubarak may or may not be a good start; that waits on events. What is beyond doubt is that every call to punish the Eeevul Tyrant generates a significant increment in repression elsewhere. If that’s what you want, go for it.

Marketing, properly understood, is a complex and difficult task. Problems arise when it is seen as a label to slap onto “sales” to increase the prestige of the sales force. The general disrespect for marketing comes from the fact that this happens ‘way too often.

A salesman can sell refrigerators to Eskimos. A marketer examines the various Eskimo tribes in depth, and identifies which ones have needs and/or aspirations that will make them susceptible to the salesman’s blandishments and which of the Company’s products might be most easily represented as useful to the prospective customer(s). The salesman who poses as a marketer ends up selling his preconceptions to management rather than challenging his preconceptions by researching the matter, resulting in difficulties that may approach disaster.

Which is where private space comes in. Pure engineers have a tendency to build cool toys without regard to whether or not anybody would want them (other than themselves; they wouldn’t be building the toys if they didn’t think they were cool). The World is littered with the sad remnants of companies that had a cool idea, but didn’t identify and address a valid market. Simply being cool is sometimes adequate for consumer goods. For big-ticket stuff, marketing needs to find out who needs it and might be willing to write a check if the sales force can convince them that that’s better than either doing without or doing it themselves. This may (and often does) include telling the engineers that their cool toy needs to be modified, which causes resentment because “marketing” is often “sales” with a new label.

It looks as if SpaceX and Bigelow, in particular, have in fact identified markets for their stuff and tailored their products to best penetrate those markets. This stands in contrast to many others, who (at least in retrospect) have been building cool toys and trying to find a use for them — Rotary Rocket comes to mind, as (sadly enough) does Rutan. The company that succeeds will employ really good marketers, not just clever engineers and good salespeople.

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When I Posted

February 2011
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