Monday, October 17, 2005

Designing the Jeep/Humvee of the Future!

Okay, so that's it for gerrymandering. Yes it was a long road. Circuitous and even long-winded. But I think you'll agree that I explored this matter... this guild protection racket by the Political Caste ... a bit deeper than you've seen it before. Perhaps a shorter version will find a published home. If not, well at least spread the word.

The gist?

1. I am very skeptical of state-by-state attempts to fix the problem, which are usually utterly hypocritical. I plan to vote (with a pang) against Prop 77 here in California, simply because if it passes, it might prevent the change in power in the US House of Representatives that we all desperately need, so that one of our branches of government will start investigating once again. (If ever we needed divided government!)

2. Still, an experiment in franchise-based reform is called for, so let's choose one state. One that was already a core site of desperate voting problems. Let's pick Ohio. Urge everybody you know, in Ohio, to vote yes on redistricting reform! If it passes there, then it will prove that it really can happen. Maybe we can get up a groundswell to deal with the problem nationwide. I don't expect it. But miracles happen.

3. Meanwhile, if you find yourself in a ridiculously gerrymandered district, where your (legislative) vote has been rendered meaningless in November even if you agree with the party of the district, there is another way. Urge everybody you know to re-register in the party of the district. Be a member of that party and speak up to empower the moderates of that party, especially in the primary. The only election when your vote can matter.


The Humvee of the Future!

I just returned from four days at the Army’s National Training Center, at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert, to inspect & drive Humvees, then participate in a unique on-camera team/marathon to design a replacement vehicle, suitable for the 21st Century.

 It was all for a new History Channel show that should air in spring of 2006 called The ArchiTechs. (Tune in!) A fun, exhausting rush, playing soldier designer with five other guys, all of them super-bright. And we came up with a doozy of a vehicle.


The Great Purge Redux

Ah, but it was more than just fun with skill,applied to a patriotic cause. My trip only reinforced a growing conviction about something that is desperately worrisome going on in America today. Perhaps the most worrisome thing, though not a single pundit or politician seems in a hurry to address it.

Many of you have heard this before, but I am charged to say it again. We are living through a deliberate and relentless drive, on the part of a small minority of super-empowered fanatics, to purge, oppress, harass, intimidate and re-shape the highly professional and apolitical United States Officer Corps.

Please, all you liberals out there. Do not automatically fall in line behind C. Sheehan and Truthout and those oversimplifiers who are currently dissing the US Military. This is a trap and it only serves the interests of those fanatics. Why maintain a divide that should not exist? Between you and the crew-cut, conservative, but intelligent and values-rich men and women who have dedicated their lives to our protection. (Especially since the military was the first nationwide institution to desegregate, remember that?)

The members of our military - and especially the US Officer Corps - are VICTIMS right now, not villains. Their professionalism in the Balkans and Afghanistan (two operations whose success reflected on an earlier era of maturity and competence) was everything we could have wanted from an agile, calm, determined, skillful and decent Pax Americana. The current Iraqi mess - a flip into apparent incompetence - cannot be their fault! Indeed, right now these soldiers, airmen and marines are suffering and dying in a war whose surficial aims had some worthy elements. (Can anybody deny that it was a horrid betrayal to leave Saddam in charge, in 1991? Or that we owed it to the Iraqi people to somehow help get him off their necks?)

But the WAY in which it has been done... so blithering, costly, bloody, clumsy, with the only long term beneficiaries being Tehran and Riyadh.... This intervention followed doctrines that were systematically the opposite to every doctrine that worked so well in the Balkans and Afghanistan. It could not have been worse planned and more horrifically executed had it been designed with that purpose in mind.

(How ironic that conservatives told us for decades "We lost Vietnam because of meddling by amateurs, by politicians." Only now amateurs meddle daily in Iraq, to a degree that would have made LBJ blush. And one of those amateurs was the same fellow at the helm when we lost Vietnam.)

Only now, to make things (vastly) worse, there is a relentless purge of the US Officer Corps, ongoing as we speak. This should be THE giant scandal exploited by the Democrats, who - if they were smart - would overcome their distaste for people with crewcuts. (Get over it!) People with crewcuts who stand between our Constitution and the cold wind. People who stand between our rights and a return of the Old Darkness.

Enduring insurgent bombs on one side, political meddling, rampant cronyism and corruption on the other, things would be bad enough for our military men and women. But the Great Purge adds pain upon pain and gets worse every year, as over a hundred fanatical neocongressmen appoint just as many 18 year old religious fanatics to each of our military academies, in an orchestrated effort to stock zealots at the bottom of the Officer Corps...

... while Donald Rumsfeld and his henches continues to ream and harry and harass those apolitical and superbly educated flag officers at the top. (The US Officer Corps is the 3rd best-educated clade in American life, after University professors and medical doctors. Get used to it.)

I know many officers who are bearing up, silently, under pain inflicted by monstrous, super-empowered amateurs, perching atop their chain of command, using them as toy soldiers and ravaging the careers of any who resist.

The fact that no democrat will step forward to document and then denounce this travesty not only reflects sixties era reflexes that are way out of date.

It also makes me deeply ashamed.



Rob Perkins said...

My understanding was that Rummy and his faction didn't actually want to leave Vietnam, and that Congress pulled the funding out from under the faction he was a part of.

Can anyone definitively refute that? If not, then Rummy's performance at the end of Vietnam is not as detrimental to his merit reputation today.

Also, it galls me a bit to suppose that someone as bright as Rummy couldn't take a lesson or three away from Vietnam, and apply that to how Iraq is prosecuted. Therefore, I don't suppose it, any more than I suppose that Dubya is a booze-swilling, coke-snorting party boy today. (He appears to me to be fully in the "clean" bits of Christian Fundamentalism.)

Also, I consider the military caste the *second* best-educated group. In the main, I think academia has hyper-specialized so much that it's hard to find usefulness in about half the offered courses at any university. In comparison, the military gets more done, faster. (Doctors train their own, adjutant to universities.)

I reserve the right to be spectacularly wrong about that, of course. :-)

Anonymous said...

"The fact that no democrat will step forward to document and then denounce this travesty not only reflects sixties era reflexes that are way out of date."


First, you are egregiously mischaracterizing mainstream Democrats -- the actual men and women who run for office and are able to get the cash to run a campaign. Real lefties -- the annoying, marginalized cranks who actually do worship '60s tropes and hold bizarre ideas about the military -- consider mainstream Democrats sell-outs.

Second, you're asking the wrong people to do the job.

No matter how well informed and sincere, any Democrat who did this would be laughed out of the room, at the instigation of and to the great benefit of the ideologues. It would wed the notion of reform as an issue favored by meddlesome liberals.

It would take a principled conservative taking a stand to make a difference. "Military / Industrial Complex" would be a far-left shibboleth if Eisenhower hadn't denounced it.

Unfortunately, principled conservatives who haven't sold their souls to ride the coattails of the neocon / religious right crusade to power are even rarer than pragmatic Democrats.

Maybe they'll relocate their cojones and sense of outrage now that the Bush administration's boots have been revealed to contain feet of clay.

"the military gets more done, faster."

Within their specified field of competency and endeavor. Individually greatly competent, en masse as wedded to bureaucracy and ritual and reflexive ass-covering as any other large group.


Anonymous said...

I agree, Colin Powell should be speaking up about this.


reason said...

Better still Colin Powell AND Wesley Clark.

Rob Perkins said...

You mean, Wesley Clark, the Fox News Military Analyst?

Anonymous said...

You mean Colin Powell, who fed false information to the UN and the world?

Sorry. I used to kinda respect him, but after his pathetic performance with the Bush administration in the leadup to the war in Iraq, nope. He sold his soul (or at least his credibility), and didn't even get anything for it.

I think not wanting to leave Vietnam could be considered detrimental to Rummy's performance. But I was born long after Vietnam, and I'm a damn hippy liberal, so what do I know? :)

Anonymous said...

Your comments about the Democrats and the purging of the Officer Corps is fascinating to me. I'm afraid, though, that I'm horribly under-informed about the topic; can you (or any of your regular readers) point me at some specific examples? I'm a left wing nut who has always respected the military (three generations of military service in the family will do that to you), and if this purge really is happening, it's appalling.

Anonymous said...

Powell would be a good candidate for the job, but he did indeed participate in the pooch screwing. Apparently under duress, but the deed was done.

Of course, he could make it part of a comeback / presidential bid. "I was fooled . . . we were fooled . . . personality cult . . . fear clouding our reason . . ."


Ben Tilly said...

Rob: I'll gladly grant that most of academia is engaged in the pursuit of self-directed studies of no outside interest. That does not make them any less educated. Furthermore academia pays for itself in spades - the results from the fraction that they spend on useful pursuits is a major engine in our economy.

For a random example, take a look at the device with which you read these words. Virtually every interesting bit of its innards were invented in the last 60 years. The fundamental principles behind many of those bits were largely discovered in the same time period - in academia. If we count Bell Labs as a part of academia (I do), then that list includes the transistor, basic programming language principles, the protocol spoken over the wire (TCP/IP), the protocol used for transfering the web page (HTTP) and the format in which data is encoded (HTML).

We can go further in this case since is based on Apache, which was based on the NCSA httpd, which was developed in academia. And runs on Linux, which started by a student, who based his design on another OS developed in academia. (Unix was developed at Bell Labs then further developed at UC Berkeley. Linus learned even more from playing with MINIX, a version that was created by a university professor explicitly to be taken apart and tinkered with in courses.)

And so it goes. If you go to the companies that built the components that are involved, you'll find that a large number of them have academic roots (eg CISCO), or are based on technologies that were developed by companies with strong academic connections (eg disk drives).

Now speaking personally, I have been married to a woman as she went through both a PhD program and an MD separately. I'm therefore in a pretty good position to compare those two degrees. I'll freely grant that the MD is far more work. But in terms of learning how to think, there is no question that the PhD developed that more, and that PhDs as a group are much better at understanding than medical doctors. (On the flip side, medical doctors have a far larger body of facts that they need to grasp and apply on a daily basis.)

Given my values, I'd therefore call academics more educated than doctors.

Anonymous said...

If you want an example of redistricting reform, take a look at Iowa, which turned it over to a nonpartisan body in 1980. Apparently the districts are fairly evenly divided between the parties, too.

See this page for some more info.

Anonymous said...

Those of us in Ohio thank you for your comments and would remind you that "Do as I say, not as I do" is pretty poor form.

Buckeye Girl

JGF said...

David, the gerrymandering discussion was a good exercise, but there were two audiences:

1. Those who cared -- for us it was a huge amount of overkill. Yeah, we know our government is in deep doo-doo.
2. Those who don't care -- they wouldn't even look at it.
3. Those who don't know this is a problem -- they're way out of touch and needed a lighter intro.

As for switching to the dominant primary -- sure, makes sense. In Minnesota we can vote whatever slate we want in primaries, the only catch is we can't mix 'em. We've talked here about the switchover, but our races are still competitive (rare for most of the nation).

BTW, we use optical scanning of ballots here. The method recommended by the MIT/Caltech post-Florida debacle team. We have our flaws, but there are a few things we do better than most states.

As to the purge of the US military, be interesting to post on that to INTEL DUMP and see what they say. I don't think they'd dismiss it outright.

David Brin said...

What a great series of posts!

Buckeye Girl you are completely right! I speak in praise of pragmatism but I admit that pragmatism is not always superior, morally, to good old fashioned values-consistency!

But then, I never claimed that my position on this issues was morally evenhanded. Only that I am honest and open. Right now what we need is honestly. Not necessarily consistency.

I am honest in telling you that I have priorities. #1 is to take back one of the branches of government from those who are using their total monopoly in power to do to us what Nero did to Rome.

It needn't even be thw WHOLE Legislative Branch. If either the House or Senate change parties, there will suddenly be investigative committees at work again on our behalf, using subpoenas to start applying accountability, aiming light upon the greatest klepto theft-festival of all time.

Redistricting in California would be the right and honorable thing, true. But is it right that the moderate people of CA do what's reasonable while Texas and Fla stay gerrymandered to the hilt? It could also be enough, all by itself, to ensure that the House does NOT change hands in 06.

Please. If it actually works in Ohio, let's all start a campaign for a nationwide movement against gerrymandering. Great! Meanwhile. the party shift mode is best.

And hurray for Iowa and Minnesota! They have always been special. I am glad democracy is alive there.

John, you are right that my piece had a limited audience. I will tighten it. But at least now people have a place they can send their friends, when spreading the word about this travesty.

As for the Great Purge, I honestly don't know what to do. Some Democratic Think Tank could actually compile statistics about forced retirements and patterns of appointments to the military academies. I cannot do that. All I have is anecdotes. TONS
of them, about our defenders who are in a lot of pain.

Rob Perkins said...

Washington doesn't actually look gerrymandered. And if you want to affect change, I suggest Illinois. The 4th Congressional District there is contiguous only because it includes a stretch of freeway where nobody has residence. And the rest of the state is hardly any better.

David, I'd suggest voting in favor of Prop 77, but I read it, and it contains one or two poison pills which merit its rejection as a bad idea, even if there were no chance of the California delegation changing hands.

Onward: What I find in academia today (which was actually the first shock of my undergraduate experience, attending an Honors Calculus Course) is mathemeticians who cannot hold a conversation, English teachers who can't understand popular literature, engineers who despise the mathemeticians and pure sciences, and scientists who cannot compose a poem. And don't even get me started on the paper-B.S.'s in business.

Because they've lost their generalism, and high-end military officers have not (purges notwithstanding), I call them "more educated" than high-end academia: They're capable of nominal leadership in addition to their chosen specialties. There's more wisdom there.

Doctors, as well, since so many of them have to adopt a bedside manner in order to function at all. Except surgeons, who I generally find to be appallingly arrogant, with broken family members to show for it.

Ah me. Every generalization has its exceptions.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the ultra-partisan Markos Moulitsas (DailyKos) is backing Prop 77 while the middle fo the road Dr. Brin isn't! Yet both have valid and respectable reasons for their positions; it's merely somewhat amusing to consider. (And not in the "darkly amusing" sense of the "party of fiscal responsibility" selling out the country to lobbyists, whose ranks have doubled in only the last four years... *sigh*...)

Anonymous said...


I went to school at an engineering college (Colorado School of Mines), and while there were a lot of engineers in my peer writing tutor sessions, we also had a creative writing publication every year. We had Joanne Greenberg as a teacher there (author of "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden") and I took a minor in Public Affairs for Engineers that was taught in
Cambridge-style tutoring.

In addition to my consulting business, I teach at the University of Colorado. And I will grant you that there are some "hyper-specialized" folks there. But there are some amazing engineers, scientists (including a new Nobel Prize winner this year for a VERY useful studies of optics) and business teachers who have a wide range of interests and are fun to talk to. I will tell you that compared to business, academia moves v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. :)

So, as you acknowledge, your experience may or may not be generalizable. I have found academics to be quite diverse.

Anonymous said...

On Tuesday Fronline on PBS had a episode on Torture by the us army and they showed two former officers in charge at Guantonimo and Abu Graib who had been removed and left the servce after Rumfeld thought they were too soft of the denaiees. Absoultley shocking was a fomer serviceman who confermed that it is still going on as of a few months ago when he was last in IRAQ.