Friday, February 22, 2002

Speaking of Coyotes...

...and government solutions, Antony Swenson's latest reminded me of this story which was forwarded to me the other day:

A few years ago, Sierra Club and the United States Forest Service (USFS) were presenting an alternative to Wyoming ranchers for controlling the coyote population. It seemed that, after years of the ranchers using the tried and true methods of shooting and/or trapping the predators, the tree-huggers had a "more humane" solution. What they proposed was for the animals to be captured alive, the males castrated, then let loose again ... and the population would be controlled. This was ACTUALLY proposed to the Wyoming Wool and Sheep Grower's association by Sierra Club and USFS. Well, all the ranchers thought about this amazing idea for a couple of minutes. Finally, an old boy in the back stood up, kicked his hat back and said, "Son, I don't think you understand the problem. These coyotes ain't fuckin' our sheep, ...they're eatin' em."

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Lessons Learned

Jay takes my throwaway blog on NASA and drag racing and makes a silk purse outta a sow's ear. I would only want to emphasize that six hundred dollar hammers are, most assuredly, not the doing of the rank and file military. They are a product of legislative pork. As far as recent successes go, the ethic in our military, from watchstander to battlegroup, is to pass on the gouge.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Chief Pennington tries to have it both ways

Pennington finally gets back on message (proven leadership as NOPD reformer), but his initial negative campaigning has taken a a lot of the strength out of a really well done campaign TV ad. In it, we see a montage of various individuals and families, presumably New Orleaneans, all watching the the same George W. Bush speech from their respective living rooms. In the speech W praises Pennington by name before the narrator cuts in with some motherhood and apple pie (or rather red beans and rice) about rooting out corruption and turning around the city. All in all it is a well made and positive spot. the only problem is that since before the run off, Pennington's people have been excoriating Nagin for being a closet Republican and a tool for the man. One radio spot I remember had a guy with an, er, "urban" accent saying,"Ray Nagin contributed money to George W. Bush, instead of OUR candidate, Al Gore!" Needless to say, that ad went over like a lead balloon given Bush's near universal approval rating at a time when even Gore supporters blanched at the prospect of Al as a wartime leader. Interestingly enough, when GWB was here a few weeks ago, he was completely mute on the subject of the subject of the next mayor and the candidates seemed to be conspicuously absent. Anyway, I can't see the Chief's camp getting away with bashing Republicans on one hand and then running on the accolades of their still very popular national leader.

On another note, it seems that either Nagin is enjoying overwhelming support or his campaign is cyber savvy and very organized. I say so because every phone and cyber poll the local TV stations have run in recent nights have been ridiculously pro Nagin, to the tune of 94% to 4% in one case! Given that Nagin is president of the local Cox communications, I expect he's got some cyber savvy people on his staff.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Racefans! Hotrodders!

The Captain blogged a bit on drag racing and it brought to mind a conceit that I have long held regarding private versus public enterprise. Because the US government achieved such spectacular results by throwing men and money at lofty goals (e.g. fission bombs to win WWII, a man on the moon before the Soviets) many think that such is the best or only way to meet any daunting task. In fact, most government sponsored attempts to tackle tough problems are wastefully inefficient at best and killers of initiative and invention at worst. Here I except the military because that organization actually has to produce and, consequently, is filled with and led by people whose nature it is to do so. Similarly, the aforementioned Manhattan and Apollo Projects were executed by people driven to succeed. In the former the impetus was their own survival while in the latter it was the promise of the stars. Cruel irony it is then that NASA and the pork patrons who feed it are actually a barrier to achieving cheap, regular, space flight. See Rand Simberg for lots of great stuff on that point.

Anyway, what does drag racing have to do with all this? Let me explain. Growing up on a small ranch in central Florida, I turned out to be a little of a motorhead by necessity; the trucks had to run reliably and economically. Being a teen I naturally perverted this useful knowledge to make my own cars run unreliably and uneconomically (but extremely fast when they did run). One of my heroes was Don Garlits, whose Museum of Drag Racing was an hour or two (depending on whether I took my car or one of the trucks) up I-75 near Ocala. I remember watching a retrospective on his career in the early nineties. It seems that when he started in the fifties it was just a bunch of good ole’ boys racing railbuggies on the beach for bragging rights. Top speeds at the end of the runs were exceptional if they were in the three digit range. By the end of his racing days some forty years later, Garlits had earned millions as he and others assailed and broke record after record. Theyused to say 200 mph at the end of the run was impossible. During his long career Garlits shattered the 250 and 300 mph barriers. Along the way he pioneered numerous safety and engineering innovations, from the rear engine (after a shattered flywheel took part of his foot) to streamlining. He even experimented with a gas turbine dragster, which, although it didn’t pan out, was cool. Meanwhile, his colleagues were also breaking records and developing innovations, some, like multiple intake and exhaust valves per cylinder, would eventually trickle down to the daily driver. So while Garlits and his cohorts accomplished much in the comparatively short and ongoing history of drag racing, there was one thing none of them ever did. No one got a penny from the government to make a faster or safer dragster. OK, yeah I remember the poster of the Navy dragster on the carrier deck, and there is this today, but the government then and now was just a sponsor like Crane Cams or Home Depot or anyone else, with no control over design or operations. Not only did drag racing improve overall automobile performance by pushing the envelope, it did so while creating wealth by building automotive industries to support the sport. And it entertains millions. Corporate partners win because these millions see their logos on the cars they sponsor. Cars that win attract the most sponsorship money so there is constant pressure to improve. This simple recipe of reward for success has generated the constant improvement endemic to drag racing. (BTW Stock car racing severely limits engineering modification and hence that sport has become more about drivers than cars.)

Meanwhile over approximately the same span of time NASA, generously manned and funded, has not similarly transformed. Sure the shuttle is “reuseable,” but only to fit the congressional requirement and as a means to ensure jobs prepping it for the next mission. The best NASA can come up with these days is the “Faster, Better, Cheaper” program in which private sector advances are integrated into design of probes etc. Given the fact that NASA is a government organization whose priority is continued funding and not building a better rocket, you’ll never get cheaper and probably won’t even get faster. You might get a little better since they are not reinventing so many wheels. The government should shut NASA completely down and outsource its nonmilitary orbital lift requirements. I can’t wait to see a red, white and blue, supermodified single stage to orbit shuttle sporting corporate logos and launching from a mall parking lot near you!

Monday, February 18, 2002

Wasn't there something like this in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? FWIW Heilein first envisioned the waterbed as well. Wackadow.
Now it's getting really interesting...

The other day Pennington had another surreal press conference. He stood next to his wife with his hand on her shoulder (creepily twitching) as she tearfully exclaimed that the rumors that he beat her are completely unfounded. Somehow they tried to twist the anonymous mailing (supposedly from the cop who responded to a 911 at the Pennington home) to being associated with the Nagin campaign. No one is biting. Nagin has not gone really negative to date and need not given his polling. Anyway, the letter predates both Nagin and Pennington's entry into the mayoral race and was dismissed in the primaries by the cognoscenti. IMHO Jefferson and his DC lackeys are getting desperate. They should have stayed on message. All they are accomplishing now is to make their man look increasingly squirrely.