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It looks like I don’t get my full year. In fact if I get another month or two I can count myself very, very lucky.

The cancer and associated infections are bad enough, but I discover something about myself that I would have never expected: I am subject to extreme panic attacks.

The attacks don’t seem to have any origin, rhyme, or reason. They just force my entire bodily resources into sucking air in and out of my lungs. That being the case, it doesn’t leave much room for additional efforts.

My son, James, is easily capable of blog posts and short emails, and to take over the blog if he wanted it. But unfortunately there is no way I can patch this together well enough to make the sequel to “Temporary Duty” work.

So those of you who contributed with that in mind? You got cheated, and I’m sorry.

Thank you and God bless you, to each and every one who responded to the appeal. I’m sorry I couldn’t return your efforts in kind.

If there are more announcements to be made, please watch this space.




The portable oxygen concentrator came today. There are some issues, but it’s working well enough to make it clear that it was a wonderful idea. The best thing is, I don’t have to run it on full speed. A relatively small supplement keeps my head clear, and (surprisingly enough) if my head’s clear and I have enough air the pain isn’t so bad. One of the things I’ve realized since I started being more aware is that I don’t have my phone download cable with me. If I can get it I’ll post pictures, but that would be tomorrow at the earliest.

What I have to do now is refrain from using it as 100% support. The doctor has prescribed exercises to extend and renew my lung capacity, and if I do them I can be autonomous without having to carry the machine around. If I just use the machine instead of doing the exercises, I’ll end up tethered to it. I may anyway, eventually, but I don’t need to be setting myself up for that from the get-go.

My normal response to donations is to reply to each one with a “thank you”. In this case, that won’t be very practical — several thousand such replies would be necessary, and having to wade through them one at a time (the only way I can do it with my email program) would sort of cancel the good effects. But in every case I have, at minimum, looked at the name and location/address and sent a mental thankyou across the ether — and a couple of curses; some of you have no business digging into your own resources to support somebody else.

Several people have offered alternate therapies and/or treatments, and some of them look plausible. In every case I will, at minimum, investigate them further, with gratitude for the concern that led to the offer. And with the new clear-headedness, it becomes fairly obvious that simply discarding the notion of trying to treat this is foolish. The doctor is sly. At my last appointment, he simply mentioned that the next time we see one another there will be much more to discuss.

I can never quite believe I have that many friends. I still can’t believe I deserve that many friends. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

…but what it is, is an email sent by one of my cousins, who is apparently on a goodly number of amusing-stories mailing lists. Factual account or not, it’s illustrative of a point I’d like to make later.

Actual letter from someone who farms, writes well and tried this:

I had this idea that I could rope a deer, put it in a stall, feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then kill it and eat it.. the first step in this adventure was getting a deer. I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not seem to have much fear of me when we are there (a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while I am in the back of the truck not 4 feet away), it should not be difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head (to calm it down) then hog tie it and transport it home.

I filled the cattle feeder then hid down at the end with my rope. The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed well back. They were not having any of it. After about 20 minutes, my deer showed up– 3 of them. I picked out a likely looking one, stepped out from the end of the feeder, and threw my rope. The deer just stood there and stared at me. I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold.

The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation. I took a step towards it, it took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope .., and then received an education. The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, they are spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.

That deer EXPLODED. The second thing I learned is that pound for pound, a deer is a LOT stronger than a cow or a colt. A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope and with some dignity. A deer– no chance.

That thing ran and bucked and twisted and pulled. There was no controlling it and certainly no getting close to it. As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it occurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined. The only upside is that they do not have as much stamina as many other animals.

A brief 10 minutes later, it was tired and not nearly as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I managed to get up. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly blinded by the blood flowing out of the big gash in my head. At that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison. I just wanted to get that devil creature off the end of that rope.

I figured if I just let it go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die slow and painfully somewhere. At the time, there was no love at all between me and that deer. At that moment, I hated the thing, and I would venture a guess that the feeling was mutual.

Despite the gash in my head and the several large knots where I had cleverly arrested the deer’s momentum by bracing my head against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground, I could still think clearly enough to recognize that there was a small chance that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility for the situation we were in. I didn’t want the deer to have to suffer a slow death, so I managed to get it lined back up in between my truck and the feeder – a little trap I had set before hand..kind of like a squeeze chute. I got it to back in there and I started moving up so I could get my rope back.

Did you know that deer bite?

They do! I never in a million years would have thought that a deer would bite somebody, so I was very surprised when … I reached up there to grab that rope and the deer grabbed hold of my wrist. Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse where they just bite you and then let go. A deer bites you and shakes its head–almost like a pit bull. They bite HARD and it hurts.

The proper thing to do when a deer bites you is probably to freeze and draw back slowly. I tried screaming and shaking instead. My method was ineffective.

It seems like the deer was biting and shaking for several minutes, but it was likely only several seconds. I, being smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by now), tricked it. While I kept it busy tearing the tendons out of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that rope loose.

That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the day. Deer will strike at you with their front feet. They rear right up on their back feet and strike right about head and shoulder level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp. I learned a long time ago that, when an animal –like a horse –strikes at you with their hooves and you can’t get away easily, the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and make an aggressive move towards the animal. This will usually cause them to back down a bit so you can escape.

This was not a horse. This was a deer, so obviously, such trickery would not work. In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy. I screamed like a woman and tried to turn and run. The reason I had always been told NOT to try to turn and run from a horse that paws at you is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head. Deer may not be so different from horses after all, besides being twice as strong and 3 times as evil, because the second I turned to run, it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.

Now, when a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not immediately leave. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. What they do instead is paw your back and jump up and down on you while you are laying there crying like a little girl and covering your head.

I finally managed to crawl under the truck and the deer went away. So now I know why when people go deer hunting they bring a rifle with a scope to sort of even the odds. All these events are true so help me God…

An Educated Rancher

The Corps of Engineers is going to open the Morganza Spillway. By the time you read this, they may already have done so. This is a big, big deal.

Left to themselves, rivers flowing through flat country change course all the time. There’s a positive feedback mechanism: If a loop or bend starts, the water has to flow faster to get to the end in the same time, and “centrifugal force”[1] makes it faster on the outside of the loop. That erodes the outside bank and deposits sediment on the inside, and the loop grows bigger and bigger until the same effect at the “neck” of the loop wears through, whereupon the loop becomes an isolated slough and the river flows straight until the next loop starts to form.

Most of the middle part of the United States is relatively flat, largely because the Mississippi and its tributaries have eroded it down over the eons. The natural course of those rivers would be a series of growing and shrinking loops, with annual floods spreading over wide expanses of surrounding land. That’s not convenient for the people living nearby. The loops increase the length, making barge traffic take longer, and an incredible amount of American commerce goes by barge up and down the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the rest of the system. Some of the most valuable farm land in America is found in the flood plains, where the river has deposited sediment in earlier epochs, and if the river changes course that farmland can disappear under water. That isn’t the worst part, because a roughly equal amount of new land would then be exposed — but our land use patterns are based on fixed boundaries, and if the river takes a hundred acres away from one farmer and gives it to another, it causes all kinds of legal problems. Rivers are also commonly State or National boundaries, and that can be a big legal problem. There are already many places where the boundary isn’t the river any more, it’s where the river was at some earlier time.

That’s especially important at a place called Old River. In a delta, which is by definition quite flat, rivers deposit sediment that eventually blocks their path, which results in the water seeking a new outlet. Every river delta has multiple mouths that switch off over time as the sediment builds. The channel that passes through Baton Rouge and New Orleans has been building up sediment for the entire time the country has been settled, and water had begun to flow via the Old River through the Atchafalaya, bypassing the settled areas. That process would naturally result in the Mississippi using a new mouth of its delta, ‘way to the west of the main settlements, and that would be a financial problem verging on disaster, not just for the people of Baton Rouge and New Orleans but for the country as a whole. There are billions, possibly trillions, of dollars in capital infrastructure along the existing path — barge and ship terminals for everything from exported grain to imported LNG, and the support for those — that would be rendered worthless by the change in the river’s course. At best they would all have to be rebuilt. At worst it might mean moving two major cities lock, stock, and liquor stores. Keynesians would rejoice, but that wouldn’t just be a broken window, it’d be tearing down the shop and the city it’s in.

So the Corps of Engineers built the Old River Control Structure, which forces the river to continue on its present path, and the Morganza Spillway, which is designed to relieve pressure on the Old River structure when conditions make it necessary. That has had all kinds of undesirable side effects. The major one, from the point of view of the engineers, is that the buildup of sediment has continued, requiring building higher and higher levees along the river banks. There are lots and lots of places where the river is considerably higher than the surrounding land, and if the levees ever break it’ll be like popping a balloon — it’s hard to tell just where the water would go, but it’s certain that wherever it went it’d be expensive for lots of people. Another is environmental problems. In order to keep the river moving at all, and therefore transporting at least some of the sediment to the Gulf of Mexico instead of blocking traffic, more and more water has to be forced into the main channel, and that starves the rest of the delta of sediment. Looking at a time-lapse map of Louisiana can be eye-opening. Places that used to be dry land are now swamp; places that used to be swamp are now open channels, many of them to the Gulf, because there’s no sediment to keep them built up. Not only is the land area of Louisiana shrinking at a remarkable rate, the simplification of the delta means if the water does start flowing it will move fast instead of slowing and spreading. Levees and spillways and control structures have turned into a Red Queen’s race, with the engineers running as hard as they can to keep the present conditions in place.

Now we have major flooding in the entire Mississippi river system, and face Hobson’s Choice: either let some of that water go where Nature would have put it long ago, or let several major cities along the rivers flood out completely. It’s already been done further upstream, to the vocal displeasure of local land and business owners and Governments, but if the Corps of Engineers loses the race and the Mississippi goes to Morgantown the diversions in Illinois and northern Missouri will look like kids playing mud-pie.

Letting Baton Rouge and New Orleans turn into backwater (literally!) villages would be a big economic hit, but that would play out over some time. The immediate problem would be the oil industry. A vast amount of oil passes through South Louisiana because the network of delta channels allow easier access for tankers than is available in Houston, Orange/Port Arthur, or Mobile. There are refineries, storage tanks, pipeline facilities, tanker offloading ports, and a thousand thousand other bits scattered over the whole area that might get flooded, and parts of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be affected. Even shutting them down or curtailing operations to cope with the unexpected water will form a bottleneck that will make it harder to get fuel to the people who need it, and raise the prices. If they get destroyed the impact will be huge.

Greens will approve, because the new path would restore sediment deposition to an area that’s been starved of it for years with huge impact on the ecosystem and habitat. I probably ought to cheer, because that would be very good for Texas, which is the only place even partly prepared to take up the slack. Overall, though, it would be a bad thing for everybody in the country, as the oil business, already suffering from natural, technical, and Governmental disasters, reels from the impact. Keep your eye on the news. Morganza is intended to relieve pressure on Old River, and the impact of opening Morganza is going to be big. If they ever talk about opening Old River, be prepared for the job of essentially rebuilding everything economically important in a triangle whose corners are approximately Lake Charles, Freeport MS, and Memphis. The idiom used in my childhood was “Katie, bar the door”. In this case, though, Katie barred the door long ago, and is now trying to cope with battering rams.

[1] Yes, an oversimplification. It’s useful as a first approximation.

So you’re not good with tools, eh?

Oh, not everybody, of course, and if I’m misjudging you, feel free to go elsewhere. But I get it a lot from intelligent people — “Oh, I’m just not handy. When I try to do things it just turns into a botch.” Their screws end up with the heads stripped out, their nails get bent and go in crooked, and their saw cuts meander all over the place (should they be brave enough to try using a saw in the first place).

But I’d be willing to bet that the problem isn’t that you’re bad with tools. It’s that you don’t have any tools.

Yesterday I had occasion to use a “tap”, which in this context means a device for making screw threads in a hole, so I borrowed one from my boss, who used to run a big machine shop and has a lot of the leftovers. Here it is, along with the handle it’s used with:

3/8-24 UNF Taper Tap and Tap Handle

3/8-24 UNF Taper Tap and Tap Handle

That’s it, at the bottom. The thing at the top is the interchangeable handle; the square part of the tap goes into the chuck, so you can turn it. To use the tap, put the tapered part into the hole (which has to be pretty exactly the right size) and turn as if you were screwing it in. When the straight part starts coming out the back, the hole’s tapped properly.

Now look closely at it. The first thing you should notice is that it’s shiny, but not glittery chrome-plate shiny — it gleams rather than sparkling. That’s because it’s made of good metal and polished, not plated. What you can’t see is that even the thread-cutting part is equally polished, as is the tapered entry section. Polished metal slides smoothly, and when it cuts it leaves an almost equally polished surface. As a result, the only effort required to use it is the actual effort of cutting metal — there isn’t any drag or friction. Using it is easy.

I could have bought one at the hardware store, of course. It would have cost about $30, and I would have been awfully tempted by the one beside it that was only $12. That one, too, would be shiny, but it would be plating, not polish; the cutting part wouldn’t be polished, so it would be a lot harder to use and the threads it made wouldn’t be as smooth and accurate. If I didn’t know Jerry that’s the way I would have had to go, and it wouldn’t have bothered me a lot because I’ve done a lot of thread-tapping in the past, and I know how to compensate for the deficiencies of the tool. If you don’t have that practice, if you tried to use the cheap one you wouldn’t do a good job — you might even break it off in the hole, which is a huge problem.

And that’s the problem you have with tools. When you need one, you look at the rack and think, “Well, I don’t do this very often, so I don’t need to invest a lot of cash. I’ll just get the cheap one.” That’s exactly backwards. A skilled craftsman can make do with cheap tools when it’s necessary, but an unskilled or unpracticed person, one who doesn’t use tools often, should always get the best ones available. Tools wear out, too, and become damaged in use. A skilled craftsman can compensate for that, and in some cases can fix them. As a person new to the work you should throw worn or damaged tools away, no matter how much of a pain in the wallet it might be.

One of the biggest things is screwdrivers. You’ve got a screwdriver, right? — tucked away in a utility drawer or somewhere out in the garage. Go fetch it (I’ll wait… ) Now look at the point.

If it’s one designed for slotted screws, is the blade, the very extreme end of it, flat and straight and the same thickness all across? Are the edges of that part sharp and well-defined? Well, no. The end is sort of narrow and round… what you have there isn’t a screwdriver. It’s a dull poniard, suitable for plunging into somebody’s back — or into your hand when the thing slips, as it will. Furthermore, you probably had no idea that the concept of “fit” applies to screwdrivers, but it does. The blade should be thin enough to just go in the slot of the screw, with little if any slop or rattling around, and it should be wide enough to go at least two-thirds of the way across the screw, preferably all the way. That’s why the heads of the screws always turn out scarred and distorted, and the screwdriver keeps slipping off and marring the rest of the work, if it doesn’t actually plunge into the base of the thumb you’re using to hold the piece. The screwdriver doesn’t fit the screw, and in any case it’s round-pointed instead of sharp. It doesn’t help that the screws you’re trying to turn came with the thing you’re trying to assemble, and are therefore cheap, which means they’re made of soft metal that distorts easily even with a good screwdriver. You haven’t a chance with the thing in your hand.

If your screwdriver is for cross-slotted screws, it’s almost certainly a “Phillips patent” tool. Phillips screwdrivers come in sizes, and there’s a reason for that. Screws are also made in sizes, and using the wrong driver sometimes works but usually doesn’t. Sizes go from 000, triple zero, all the way up to #7; the ones you’re likely to encounter are #2 (most common) and #1 (for small stuff). Try to drive a #2 screw with a #1 driver, and it rattles around and you can’t get much force on it; put a #2 into a #1 screw, and the point barely catches, so when you try to twist it just breaks the corners of the slots off. Every household should have good-quality #1 and #2 Phillips screwdrivers, and know the difference, because with the right screwdriver the job is relatively easy, and with the wrong one it’s ‘way hard and may not be possible.

Like with the slotted-screw driver, the very ends of the point should be flat and straight and have sharp edges. Your cheap screwdriver is probably smooth on the edges, which makes it almost certain that if you try to put much force on a screw it will slip out and do damage. In both cases, “straight-slot” and Phillips, the point should gleam like polished metal, not sparkle with plating. Manufacturers know you see “shiny” as a desirable attribute, so they do as much as they can to make the cheap stuff glitter, but the plating is soft and slippery, and makes the problem worse, not better.

Throw the cheap Phillips screwdrivers away; if you want to stab somebody, your kitchen knife drawer has much better tools. Relegate the straight-slot screwdrivers to opening paint cans, prying things too small for a real crowbar, and chipping crud out of grooves. Go to the hardware store, go down to the expensive end of the display, and select:

One 1/4″ straight-slot driver;
One 3/8″ straight-slot driver;
One #2 Phillips screwdriver; and
One #1 Phillips screwdriver.

As you pick them out, remember the above: the business ends should be straight and polished (but not plated) and have sharp edges. That assembly will set you back around $30 – $40, which seems like a lot for something you hardly ever use, doesn’t it? Don’t flinch or waver, though, because that’s the point. Someone who uses tools every day can compensate for bad or worn tools. If you don’t have that experience you don’t know how to compensate, which means you need the best tools you can get. And who knows? — once you discover that you can, in fact, do simple jobs if you have the right tools available, you might decide to tackle more complicated stuff and discover, in the process, that you really are fairly “handy”. You might even be inspired to go hunting for a decent pair of pliers!

From Thos. Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address, 4th March 1805:

At home, fellow-citizens, you best know whether we have done well or ill. The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses, enable us to discontinue our internal taxes. These, covering our land with officers and opening our doors to their intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary vexation which once entered is scarcely to be restrained from reaching successively every article of property and produce. If among these taxes some minor ones fell which had not been inconvenient, it was because their amount would not have paid the officers who collected them, and because, if they had any merit, the State authorities might adopt them instead of others less approved,

The remaining revenue on the consumption of foreign articles is paid chiefly by those who can afford to add foreign luxuries to domestic comforts, being collected on our seaboard and frontiers only, and, incorporated with the transactions of our mercantile citizens, it may be the pleasure and pride of an American to ask, What farmer, what mechanic, what laborer ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?

How have the mighty fallen.

My son liked computer games, especially “first person shooters”, from the day he first encountered them, and while he was living at home I tried to follow along, in a perhaps-misplaced attempt at “being friends with your children”. My attempts were not met with much success, partly because my reflexes aren’t fast enough to cope with what are also called, with justice, “twitch games”, but in large part because of the issue of instructions.

Twitch games don’t, as a rule, come with instructions, whether console or as programs for general purpose computers. When they do, it’s generally a small (and easily lost) flyer, or (more recently) a “help” file incorporated into the program or device, associating keystrokes with on-screen actions. Reading it and memorizing the key-action association introduces a delay into the reaction loop of the player, who must decide what to do, remember the keystroke that produces that, and then hit the key. Twitch games require a much shorter OODA loop; the proper keystroke has to be in muscle memory, so that the decision-action step is as nearly instantaneous as possible. Successful players learn by pressing keys, seeing what happens, and incorporating that cause-effect into their reflexes. It helps that most game designers stick with the same set of keystrokes for the same or analogous actions, but it’s still a matter of cut-and-try. It’s all remarkably frustrating for an old fart whose formative years impressed “RTFM!” as a (or The) Prime Directive.

What’s incredibly, damnably frustrating is that practically everything new has to be learned that way! Cell phones, MP3 players, iPods, ebooks, you name it, all have either very few buttons, each with a cryptic ideograph or no label at all and each with multiple functions depending on what other buttons or combinations thereof have been pressed, or a multiplicity of buttons presented the same way — and pushing the wrong button at the wrong time can result in embarrassment, expense, or (occasionally) damage. The designers, each and every one of them having grown up with learning new devices by the try-it-and-see method, build things to accommodate “Nintendo mode learning”, and instructions, if they exist at all, are sketchy, incomplete, sometimes contradictory or simply wrong, and in any case can only be accessed by the proper combination of keystrokes. You can’t RTFM, because TINFM[1].

This is a complaint, or perhaps it’s a wail of despair, not a serious objection. It’s all a matter of contemporaneity, of being part of the times, and a (young) person who can pick up a new and unfamiliar model of cell phone and, within a minute or so, be texting their friend in Ulan Bator and forwarding a stack of images and snatches of music along with the message, would likely be puzzled beyond comprehension by which part of a single-jack to grab. The new skill is relevant to their lives; the older one is not. Time marches on, like it or no, and the only comfort for us left-behinds is that their children will almost certainly be learning things they “don’t get”. Good ‘nough fer ’em, the geezer grumps. Daddy felt the same way — can you crank-start a Model T?

It does cause problems sometimes. A lawyer specializing in school-related cases ruefully notes that it will be necessary to learn texting in order to put proper attention to cases involving its use (or abuse). All I can say about it is, if you tough it out you’ll manage to absorb perhaps a quarter of the total; that will simply have to be enough, or you’ll have to pass those cases along to a younger partner. Clarence Darrow probably had the same problem with telephones, electric distribution, and them newfangled horseless carriages.

[1]There Is No F*ing Manual

Vision and determination.

Standing up to obstructionism.

Steadfastness against adversity.

Keeping hope alive.

No, it isn’t going to work, for reasons it would be otiose to recount. Neither physics nor engineering reward determination unless it is backed by knowledge. If you’re doing it wrong, Universe will eventually tell you in no uncertain terms.

There is a metaphor here.

A pilot refuses the “security” search: (Via Ace)

A Tennessee pilot who says he’s tired of being manhandled by security agents is waiting to see if he will lose his job because he refused a full body scan.

ExpressJet Airlines first officer Michael Roberts was chosen for the X-ray scan Friday at Memphis International Airport. The Houston-based pilot says he also refused a pat-down and went home.

The 35-year-old Roberts told The Commercial Appeal newspaper he wants to go to work and not be “harassed or molested without cause.”

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Jon Allen says a person was turned away after refusing to follow federal security procedures but declined to say if it was Roberts, citing privacy considerations.

<sneer>Privacy considerations.</sneer> You know what that means, don’t you?

It means TSA no longer distinguishes between crew and passengers for “security” concerns! If the pilot of the frakken airplane is up to no good, searching him for pen-knives accomplishes exactly nothing — as soon as he sits down, he’s got umpteen tons, a good bit of it flammable and/or explosive, driven by thousands of horsepower to aim at whatever he wants to blitz. None of it shows up on a “full body scan”, either. I suppose there are dumbass levellers who think it makes sense in terms of “fairness”, but on any rational scale it’s just loony.

I used to travel a lot, and now that I can’t afford to any more I miss being in new and different places and meeting new people. What I don’t miss is airline “security”.

True story: Many, many years ago, when D/FW airport first opened (and still had the slash in the name), I had occasion to go somewhere — Atlanta, IIRC. At the time, my home was about 150 miles from the airport, and one thing and another kept coming up and keeping me from leaving to catch the plane. Zooming up I-20/I-35/TX-114 got me to the airport with minutes to spare. I parked in the inner part of the “D”, which in those days was the cheap slots — you had to walk over a hundred yards to get to the terminal! — grabbed my bags and went inside. The ticket counter for my flight was just on the point of closing, but I caught the clerk in time, confirmed my reservation, paid for the ticket (ouch!), gave her my bag, and half-ran ’round the end of the counter and across the concourse to the plane, whose attendant was just in the process of closing the door. She smiled, told me where my seat was, and shut the hatch as the engines spooled up, and I went and sat down just before the tractor pushed the plane back.

Total elapsed time, from shutting the car off to sitting down in the seat: under 10 minutes. And yes, silly wabbit, when I got to the claim carousel at Atlanta, my bag was there — first one off, in fact. That’s how DFW and its sister, Kansas City International, were supposed to work. That’s how they were designed to work.

Try it nowadays.

Most business travelers are people who make, or at least charge, good money. My billing rate when I was traveling — what the boss charged the customer; I got a good bit less — was $150 an hour. That means that every time I took a flight, somebody paid a minimum of $300 just for the two hours I spent getting through security. Since I then had to come home again, the client wound up paying a minimum of $600 per trip and got nothing of value for it except “security”. That’s a tax, folks, and the fact that cash doesn’t go anywhere is irrelevant.

Security isn’t the only thing dragging travel down; in the spirit of Dante, Niven, & Pournelle, when Don Carty dies I hope he spends eternity in Hell Air’s hub waiting for the connecting flight to Heaven that never comes. But adding a tax of two hours before and (often enough) an hour after to every airplane flight is a severe drag on the system, and accounts for a huge part of the losses and inefficiencies.

This incident simply adds to the impression I got when the Draconian security measures were first implemented: it’s all theater.

Originally, the “security theater” may have had some point. Real security cannot be accomplished by patrolling the perimeter, and searching passengers and bags is the very definition of “perimeter security”. But the people, the passengers taking the planes, had to be reassured that something was being done, and the dance at the checkpoints is impressive enough to calm most people — at least, the ones who don’t have any idea what the real issues are.

But the last few times I flew gave the impression, confirmed by this story, that convincing the ignorant passengers that security is on the job is no longer the point. The screeners all but smirk. WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT, they almost shout, AND YOU WILL BY GOD DO AS WE TELL YOU. I suppose it impresses some people, and when I was in the line I went along with the program like a good little sheep.

The people who matter don’t. They go by car, or by “fractional share” bizjet, if they can; the airlines don’t get their business, and the extra expense is another load on commerce that yields no return to society or anyone else. That fits with the rest of the recent policies of Government, all of which seem designed to grind this country’s business to a halt. TSA isn’t interested in providing security to air transportation; their mission is to strangle it.

Iranian light ekranoplanes[1], via Theo Spark, Ace, and several others. The best view is at LiveLeak, though watch out — like most LL videos it starts immediately.

The utility of the machines as weapons in a restricted waterway should be apparent. Several people, including the inventors, have suggested that they need only to be fitted with sea-skimmer missiles to be a threat to shipping, including military vessels, but really that isn’t necessary and might not be practical. Missiles powerful enough to be a threat tend to be rather larger and heavier than something like what is shown could carry. The real threat would be fitting them with warheads and having the pilots kamikaze them in, or sending unmanned ones in via remote control.

But that’s all by the way, although it’s something that should be considered. The real impact is that I can hardly think of a single redneck who could see that clip and not think, “Dayum, I gotta get me one of them things!” If the Iranians could dump the mullahs and Ahmadinejad, they have a ready-made product that could earn foreign exchange in the “luxury extreme sports” market that moves two-liter motorcycles and 1000+ HP powerboats. There is always hope for the future, though it is sometimes not visible through the pessimistic fog.

[1] Also known as “Wing In Ground Effect”, WIG or WIGE. Some views of others, along with (occasionally misleading) discussion of the technology, can be found at Dark Roasted Blend here and here.

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When I Posted

November 2022