Saturday, April 25, 2009

What the f**k was that??

It was a beautiful summer morning in southern California, and Karen and I were flying along in our Cessna Cardinal RG, VFR in the central valley, from LA to our vacation home in Pine Mountain Lake. We had stopped outside Bakersfield for lunch, and then continued at low altitude, just enjoying the sights.

Then, out of nowhere, there was a huge *BANG!* from the front of the plane. We quickly lost about 15 knots of airspeed. Karen looked at me and said "What the f**k was THAT?" I said, "I don't know, but one way or another, we're screwed." I immediately started looking for emergency landing sights, and quickly found one at Pixley airport. I also started talking to the controllers about the issue (I frequently use flight following on cross country trips).

The weird thing was---we were now stable. Still flying slower, but the engine was rock steady, and the plane was stable. Pixley is a cow field, with no services at all. There are a bazillion safe places to put down a plane in the central valley, so I elected to continue on to Visalia, which had full maintenance facilities. I informed the controllers.

We arrived at Visalia in about half an hour or so without incident. I set up the approach, and moved the lever for the landing gear---and nothing happened. I cycled it several times. Nothing. I tried the manual gear pump. Nothing---and no resistance. I was talking to the controllers, and we got several mechanics on the line as well. I had read that when the normal extension mechanism doesn't work, you can try somewhat violent maneuvers to throw it down and locked. I tried that. Didn't work.

It was suggested we try to pull the gear down with the towbar. So, while I slowed down to just above stall, Karen opened her door, took the towbar, and tried to pull the gear into position (this is a high wing plane). She could hook the gear leg, and she could move it, but she couldn't get it to lock.

I should be clear, of course, that leaning out of a disabled airplane trying to fix it in-flight was NOT Karen's idea of a good time! She was a real trooper throughout the event. But, she liked the next idea even less---SHE had to fly the plane while *I* leaned out the open door! I got the gear leg hooked, and I was able to move it, and I was pretty sure I could get it into position and locked---but then it occurred to me that having one gear down and locked and one trailing was a *hugely* bad idea. The mechanics on the ground concurred.

After an hour or so trying various things, we polled the assembled wisdom on the radio, and everyone agreed there was nothing left to try---it was time for my first and (so far) only intentional gear up landing. I told everyone to get out of the way, because I was coming in. I did do an extra circle of the field to let a King Air depart.

At that time in my life, I read virtually every aviation magazine in print, and I had read that if you can stop the prop prior to a gear-up landing, you can minimize prop and engine damage. I even saw a picture of someone doing it! So I turned the engine off. Damned prop kept spinning. I lifted the nose to stop it, but we stalled early due to the excess drag. A lot more drag than I expected with the gear trailing, partially down! I pushed the nose down, and we were at least sort of flying again. We banged onto the runway, and slid on the belly for a very short distance, rotating 90 degrees to the right in the process. As we rotated, a wingtip dipped and just barely touched the runway, then righted when we stopped moving. As recommended by procedure, we had unlocked the doors prior to impact. Once we stopped moving, I said “Out!”, and we quickly moved away from the plane, also according to procedure.

Well, there was no fire, and it turns out that I had successfully saved both the engine and the prop. They lifted the plane up with a hoist, hauled the gear down to the locked position manually, and later flew the plane home for repairs---no engine or prop work required. Turns out a hydraulic fitting in the landing gear system had failed, and immediately dumped all the fluid overboard. There was no way we were going to get that gear down. And you know what…we didn't sue anybody! It was an older plane, and shit happens.

Since it was all on the radio while it was happening, there was a huge press corps and general gathering watching while I was doing all of this. We made the paper the next day, and I still have the clipping. When I opened the door to do my attempt at pulling the gear down, my flight bag had bailed out of the plane. This had been noted on the ground---and the local sheriff had dispatched troopers to find it, thinking I might have been dumping drugs! They never found it, unfortunately, but to this day, in 2009, I use the flight bag Karen bought me to replace that one.

When all the commotion had settled down, and I had done my required interview with the press, we rented a car, and continued the trip.

It wasn't until hours later, waiting for dinner at the Pine Mountain Lake Country Club, that I emotionally caught up with what had just happened. I calmed down, several drinks later---.

The plane was returned to service in fairly short order, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s still flying today! As are we!



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Fix

Sometimes, on rare occasion, I’ve been known to rant about the level of disregard for the original intent of the Constitution, and numerous other Evils in politics and government today. It occurred to me that, to be fair, I should say what needs to be done to actually fix the problems.

Here’s The Fix:

The Constitution and all relevant laws will be modified or deleted as required to accommodate the following changes:

1) In addition to current requirements, an individual must speak, read, and write English clearly to be a US citizen. At least one natural parent must be a citizen for “birthright” citizenship to apply.

2) In order to vote in federal elections, a citizen must also meet one of the following two sets of requirements:

Set A)

I) Be at least 25 years old
II) Own property. Property ownership for this purpose must include the individual’s primary residence, and no more than two individuals may claim the same property/residence for this purpose.
III) Pass a competency test to demonstrate minimum competency in:
a) US History, with emphasis on the Constitution
b) Basic mathematics
c) Basic logical reasoning

Set B) Be at least 18 years old, and be a military combat veteran

3) In order to run for any federal office, a person must be a citizen eligible to vote, and meet the following additional requirements:

A) House: Be at least 30 years old, or 18 years old and a military combat veteran
B) Senate: Be at least 35 years old
C) President:

I) Be at least 40 years old
II) Completed at least one full term as Governor of a US State, or one full term as a US Senator

4) Except in time of war, federal taxes and spending may never exceed 10% of GDP. In time of war, non-defense spending may never exceed 10% of GDP.

5) Social Security and Medicare shall be phased out over 20 years after The Fix as follows:

A) Anyone currently 60 or older gets full current benefits
B) Anyone currently under 20 gets zero benefits
C) Anyone between 20 and 60 will get pro-rated benefits

6) The income tax shall be abolished by freezing all current income tax rates, and then reducing each by 10% per year until the income tax is eliminated.

7) Other Amendments not-withstanding, the Bill of Rights shall remain in full effect, but shall apply only to actions taken by the Federal government, and shall have no impact on the states. States are free to adopt any, all, or none of the amendments, at their sole discretion.

8) The doctrine of specific enumerated powers shall be in full effect. Any power not specifically delegated to the federal government by the constitution, shall not be exercised by the federal government.

9) Any state may secede from the union on affirmative vote of 2/3 of its citizens. Terms of the divorce shall be mutually agreed by a panel consisting of the Governor of the State, the US President, and a third individual chosen by those two.

10) No one may serve in the House of Representatives for more than 12 years. No one may serve in the Senate for more than 18 years.

11) All current federal laws must be renewed within 10 years from the date of The Fix, or they expire. Each proposed renewal must be by individual vote of each legislator, with a recorded vote by name.

12) The commerce clause is amended to make it explicit that congress can forbid restrictions on trade between the states, but not impose them. All laws currently restricting trade between the states, or restricting behavior not clearly, obviously, and directly related to trade between the states, are repealed.

13) Patents and copyrights shall be limited to not more than 10 years. A 5 year extension may be granted for substantive, material changes only, but under no circumstances may any patent or copyright last beyond 20 years.

14) No monopoly authority of any kind shall be granted to the post office.

15) Delete the two year restriction on military appropriations

16) The borders shall be secured sufficiently that illegal entry is reduced to less than 1% of all entries, by reasonable statistical estimate.

17) For 5 years after The Fix, a citizen shall be required to show a government issued photo ID in order to vote in federal elections. After 5 years, the ID must be directly traceable to citizenship documentation in order to vote.

18) The Second Amendment shall be amended to read: “The right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

19) The federal budget must be balanced, except in time of war. In time of war, the non-defense related part of the budget must be balanced. The debt existing at the time of The Fix shall be repaid over a period of 100 years. Additional debt incurred during future times of war shall be repaid within 20 years of incurring the debt. No debt may be incurred except in time of war, although a reserve account amounting to 10% of the federal budget may be established. Existing non-defense deficits must be reduced by 10%/year until they are eliminated.

20) Allowability of evidence in federal crimes shall be based on the reliability of the evidence, not on the method by which it was obtained.

21) The 10th Amendment shall be strictly construed. No power shall be exercised by the federal government unless explicitly authorized by the constitution.

22) In the 14th Amendment, “due process” shall be construed to mean that laws and rules set in state statute are followed, and does not imply any specific content restrictions to those laws and rules.

23) The 17th Amendment is amended so that Senators shall be elected by the state legislatures, as originally specified.

24) The 16th Amendment is repealed. No income tax shall be permitted at the federal level.

25) The 26th Amendment is repealed.

Not that complicated, really. We just need to go back to the vision of limited government that the founding fathers intended. By outlining the specifics that are needed, I have now retained my moral right to whine about the way things are.

That right is very important to me!



Monday, April 20, 2009

Out of the Bottle

Any good libertarian is familiar with the term “statist”, referring to people who have an exaggerated belief in the value of large government. A term that sounds similar, but is very different, is the term “stasist.” A stasist is someone who believes that things are pretty much fine the way they are (or at least some things are), and shouldn’t be allowed to change. An example of a “stasist” would be someone who advocates arbitrary restrictions on hiring and firing, in an attempt to keep things the way they are, and prevent change. There are many other examples.

While stasists abound in the political arena, stasists completely dominate in the area of human genetics. Everyone thinks things are pretty much fine, and if you suggest otherwise, people look at you funny. Trust me on that one!

Before going forward, there’s an annoying tendency during these discussions for people to say something like “But your environment has a lot to do with it!” They say it as though it’s relevant to the conversation, which it rarely is. The characteristics that people manifest are almost invariably a combination of genetics and environment. For this discussion, I am only referring to the genetic component of what gets manifested, and not making any claim that genetics determines everything.

It doesn’t. But it matters a lot more than many people are willing to admit.

There are three areas of human genetics where we need to break out of the stasist attitude. We will eventually do so in any case, but the sooner the better. They are:


This is one of the few things that has improved substantially in the transition from Bush 43 to Obama. It’s not that cloning is really that important, as an end in itself. Many people would enjoy cloning their favorite pet, and I might not mind raising a clone of myself at some point in the future, but that’s peripheral. Cloning’s real value is as a tool. It’s one way to obtain an individual’s stem cells, which can then be used for numerous medical objectives. But much more importantly, if we’re going to be working to make genetic improvements, as I strongly suggest we should, it will be invaluable to have multiple copies of identical base material.


We are programmed to die, and it doesn’t have to be that way. At the ends of our strands of DNA, there’s something called a “telomere”, sort of an “end cap” to the DNA strand, that holds the strand together. Every time the DNA strand divides, a little bit of the telomere is stripped off. When it degrades too far, the cell dies. What we see as aging is the outward manifestation of that DNA degeneration, and cell death.

There’s an upside to this, of course. If cells can divide and divide for ever and ever, that can be bad too. We call it “cancer”.

Early in our evolution, this balance was not a problem. The vast majority of people died from other causes long before aging kicked in as the limiting factor. So, cancer was prevented (most of the time) in a way that, practically speaking, had no real consequences.

Things are different now, and a very substantial fraction of our population now dies from DNA degeneration…from aging. We can fix that, but in order to do it, we need a concerted effort to understand how this mechanism works, at the molecular biology level. To find solutions, we need to tinker…try this, try that…and see what works. And see what doesn’t. A stasist attitude toward the human genome will not allow that, and the overwhelming stasist tendency in this regard must be overcome.


This is the issue that tends to cause otherwise rational people to start babbling incoherently, and foaming at the mouth (intellectually speaking). So, it may be helpful to clear a couple of things up.

First, I am not some megalomaniacal villain, looking to populate the world with my clones. I have at least my share of genetic defects. Most of them have been handled with modern technology, but if I could correct them, I would.

Second, I am a libertarian at heart, after all, and I am not proposing any coercive measures. None. We can make a difference by simply getting out of the way, and letting Darwin do his work, instead of structuring society in a way that seems almost designed to promote the survival of the unfittest.

Fixing the DNA of genetic defects like me is not currently possible, but is absolutely plausible. A virus invades cells, takes over the genetic replication process, and produces copies of itself, rather than copies of the genetic code of the original organism. So, suppose we could figure out the change in my genes that would be necessary to correct my miserable eyesight. Conceptually, a virus could be engineered that would take over my existing cells, and replace my existing genes with the code for corrected eyesight. I’d have a cold for a few days, and then I could see well. More importantly, we could make it possible that no one need be born with poor eyesight ever again.

This is just one of the almost endless improvement opportunities available. But to do it, we need to give up on the stasist notion that the human genome is just fine the way it is.

We also need to give up on the illusion that we can stop this from happening. Anything that humanity can do, someone will do. We can keep America behind the times for a bit, with misguided rules and restrictions, but we can’t stop it. The djinni is writhing out of the bottle as I type, and it will never go back in. We may be able to guide it to some extent, but not stop it.

Just as well, really. We can make ourselves better. And we should.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Leaving the nest

The weather was the best around here in months, and I took advantage of it! I flew for 2.5 hours, my longest flight yet in Phoenix, my little Challenger II LSA. I landed at 4 different airports, and it was the first time I re-fueled away from home, and then continued the trip. At least, in this incarnation!

I have been keeping track of the fuel burn since I decreased the prop pitch. I originally set my cruise rpm at 6400-6500 with the new pitch, and got a burn of 3.6 gph. About what I got before with full throttle cruise, around 6200-6300 rpm. The last two tanks, I increased to 6500-6600 rpm, got a few extra mph, and increased fuel burn to 3.8 gph. Certainly not a crushing penalty! I’ll be bumping that up to 6600- 6700 rpm, and see what happens with that. There were a couple of cases during the flight where I was very happy for the increased climb capability of the decreased pitch.

Since the wind was fairly calm, I decided to go over the mountains into the Tahoe basin, fly across it, and then land at Truckee airport. When I went through Spooner pass, it was tempting to fly straight across the water to Brockway pass, but I was spooked about the prospect of flying 10 miles over water. In retrospect, since I was 2200 ft above lake level, I probably could have made it to shore at any point with an engine failure, but I wanted to fly over my house and take a picture anyhow, which I did. There are enough beaches around the lake that it would have worked at any point, but I didn’t quite realize how big a fraction of the Tahoe shoreline is just big rocks!

I tuned in the Truckee AWOS (first time I’ve used that in this incarnation), and while the normal runway is 28, the winds, still moderate but higher than at Carson City, were favoring runway 19. It’s shorter than 28, but at 4600 ft, “short” is relative! When I switched to the CTAF, the place was a complete zoo. Someone was waiting to take off from runway 28---waiting for a plane that was taking off from runway 10! They may both have had headwinds. That kind of thing happens out here with some regularity.

One thing happened that was a little weird. The pilot on 28 deferred to the one taking off on 10, and I was just getting ready to turn base for 19. I told her I didn’t need much runway, and wouldn’t get to the intersection with 28, and that I’d report stopped, and she said that was fine. I stopped and made the call, but she couldn’t hear me! But I could hear her. She kept asking if I was down. Unicom said they saw me stop, but they couldn’t hear me either. I could hear them fine. In the air they could all hear me fine. The radio worked fine for the rest of the day.

Truckee is at 5900 ft elevation, and the relevant mountain pass is somewhat closer than it is from Carson City. So, I decided to give the climb performance a more difficult test, and headed straight for the pass. There was a great alternate landing site about halfway up (ski resort parking lot!), so I had that covered. By the time I crossed the 7200 ft pass, I was only at 8000 ft. Not awful, but less than I wanted. Still, a good test!

I am definitely noticing a difference with the engine temps with the lower prop pitch/higher rpms. The EGTs are both higher. They had been running around 950, and now they typically run 1000-1050. But, on descent, I need to watch to make sure they don’t overtemp when I reduce power. It never used to do that, but I was never making descents from 8500+ft before, so I don’t really know the cause. When they brush up against 1200, they drop immediately with a substantial power reduction, and then I increase the power until I find a stable setting. As I get used to it, I’ll probably get to the point where I just set it right on initial descent---but I’m not there yet.

The CHTs went up only very slightly with the pitch decrease/rpm increase, but now one of them is acting flakey. It will be cruising along at 210-225, and then all of a sudden, drop down to 125-150, and bounce around there for a while. Eventually, it will go back to 210-225. Is it even possible from a physics standpoint that the cylinder head could cool that much that fast, and then wobble around? There’s no discernible change in engine power or sound, and the EGT remains stable. My guess is that this is a gauge problem, maybe caused by additional vibration from operating at a consistently higher rpm? Thoughts appreciated!

After clawing my way back in to the Tahoe basin, I was once again tempted to go over water to Spooner pass on the other side. But, there was another pass visible that I had never noticed before, which was a much more direct route home. I looked at the chart, but I couldn’t get a clear sense of the elevation of that pass (no road), so I stuck with my original route. I did climb up to 9500 ft for the first time, and at that altitude I’m sure I would have made the other route. Maybe next time. 9500 ft sure didn’t look very high, since most of the ridgeline I was flying next to was barely below that. Definitely still climbing, though. At 9500 ft as a realistic altitude, I can definitely get to pretty much everywhere around here, without excessive diversion to find lower terrain.

Over Spooner pass, I considered turning north to go home since I had gotten a late start, but decided to continue, so I turned south toward Minden airport to get fuel. Just when I was getting ready to turn base, I heard a King Air call in on downwind behind me. I told him I’d try to clear the runway quickly, and he came back with a cheery “No worries!” Still, I landed a good ways down from the threshold to minimize ground time, and didn’t roll more than a few hundred feet before making the turnoff. After getting them adjusted at the annual, the brakes work GREAT.

What’s amazing about this is that a radio isn’t legally required for any of these airports! They are all uncontrolled fields. I don’t think I’d feel at all comfortable flying around in this beehive completely out of comm, legal though it would be. On the other hand, I *LIKE* the fact that this is a very active GA area, with everything from gliders, trikes, and powered parachutes, through Citations and King Airs, and everything in between.

After refueling, I took off for Alpine County airport. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of the Carson Valley, just before the Sierra Nevada mountains start to rise sharply. The normal pattern is right traffic for runway 35, so I set that up, and landed without incident---until I noticed once on the ground that I had landed slightly downwind! Hadn’t done that in a long time. I hadn’t spotted the windsock from the pattern. I had originally intended just a touch and go, but it didn’t feel quite right, and that was why. So, I made a full stop, taxied down to the end of runway 17, and took off. I lifted off quickly, but I wasn’t happy with the climb rate given the rising terrain in front of me. Runway 17 points toward some very high terrain, even though there is a sharp drop off at the end of the runway, leading down to a valley before the mountains start in earnest. I thought about turning to follow a canyon, until I realized I wasn’t sure which way the water was flowing. So, I did a steep 180 instead, and headed north toward home, with a new respect for how tightly that little CWS can turn around!

On the flight back, I noticed a slight vibration, sort of a flutter. I’ve noticed this before, but then it goes away. It only seems to happen at certain combinations of airspeed and rpm, but not consistently, and I haven’t been able to characterize it. It may be related to being slightly uncoordinated; I guess I haven’t fully internalized the additional rudder needed with the doors on yet, since I noticed the ball off center a couple of times. It doesn’t feel like it’s the engine itself, which still seems smooth, and I don’t feel it in the stick or rudder. It’s not severe, but it’s distracting. Anybody have any idea what this might be?

By the time I got back to Carson City, I was tired, cramped, and stiff. If I’m going to fly any distance in the little beast regularly, I am going to DEFINITELY need to get better seats. More weight---Hoorah! Not the tightest pattern I’ve ever done, and I bounced the landing. Not a BIG bounce, mind you, and it was on the mains, but still---

I’m a big believer in silly milestones, and with this flight, over 10% of the total flight time Phoenix has is mine, 32 out of 311 hours.

Overall, just an AWESOME day!



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

People DO care!

Despite all appearances to the contrary, people do care what I think!

At least, Arbitron does.

Karen and I have been selected to record what radio stations we listen to for a week, and get added in to the ratings pool.

After all of the entertainment he's provided to me over the years, I'll be happy to contribute to Rush getting another buck or two!



Saturday, April 4, 2009

What, me worry?

In the summer of 1994, I was sitting in first class in an American Airlines DC-9, sipping a drink at 35,000 feet, and contentedly watching the world move past below.

And then, I had a revelation. The nature of the universe became more clear, and I knew that I needed to get religion. This will come as a total shock to people who only knew me before that time.

But…which religion? I considered many, and the finalists were LDS, Judaism, and Buddhism. At the end of the day, I found all of the COTS offerings wanting, so I wrote my own code, and created Myquaos.

I describe Myquaos as a combination of Christianity, Buddhism, and The Force. But, it doesn’t really follow any of those particularly closely.

Of course, any good religion needs Commandments, and the 10 Commandments of Myquaos are listed below. If they appeal to you, perhaps you are a Myquasian, as I am.

Over time, I have very fitfully worked at fleshing out the Myquasian religion. I would appreciate your input on the issue.



The Ten Commandments of Myquaos
(Listed in order of precedence)

I) Thou shalt not take thyself, nor anything else, too seriously.

II) Never let your sense of morals stop you from doing what is right.

III) Thou shalt not initiate physical force against another sentient being.

IV) Thou shalt not lie.

V) Thou shalt honor thy agreements, when voluntarily made.

VI) Choose something that makes a difference to you, and go out and change the world.

VII) Thou shalt not whine.

VIII) Do not delay action by waiting for certainty or perfection.

IX) If you find an activity inspiring, pursue it vigorously to uncover its spiritual significance.

X) Do good, avoid evil, and celebrate life!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Class "M" Planets!

To my mind, space travel and other worlds have always been the heart of good science fiction. I’ll enjoy a non-space-technology story every once in a while, but if it doesn’t have spaceships or aliens, I usually get bored fairly quickly.

Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is among the best science fiction ever written. The books were published in the early 1950s, and they assumed the presence of millions of habitable planets in the galaxy, many of which had people on them. I grew up with science fiction so early in life, that it never seriously occurred to me that there might not be other planets with life on them. But, outside of the science fiction world, that view was far from universal. When I wrote a paper on life beyond Earth for my freshman astronomy class at CalTech, it was greeted with tolerant amusement. Both generally and in the scientific world, the notion that there were other habitable worlds out there…worlds we might go to…was viewed with great skepticism.

Now, we are finding them!

Weird worlds so far, to be sure. None of the “Class M” planets that were so prevalent on Star Trek yet. Most of the planets we’ve found are large, several times the size of Jupiter. Some are so large that there is debate about whether they are really planets, or failed stars. Some orbit far from their suns, and some orbit so close that they scream around their parent stars. So far, there have been no “mirror Earths”, just waiting to be colonized.

However, this doesn’t indicate in the slightest that those habitable planets don’t exist! The fact that we haven’t seen them is due to the limitations of our current search techniques. We are still in the very early stages of learning to find planets around other stars and, not surprisingly, it’s easier to find big ones, than it is to find small ones like Earth.

But, we are trying:

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has always been the most reliably awesome part of NASA, and this is no exception! Scheduled for launch within the next decade, the SIM PlanetQuest mission will search 250 neighboring stars for Earth-like planets.

I’ve said for a long time that if you give Hollywood 16 pixels of an Earth-like planet, they’ll build an entire civilization around it! Perhaps Captain Kirk’s great, great grandfather will be born this year. On the other hand, with the depressed level of public interest in space currently, maybe it will take 64 pixels.

In this “Other Worlds” section of my blog, I’ll be reporting on updates in the search for, and exploration of, new worlds!

I’m seriously considering working with the National Space Society (NSS) to reactivate their speakers program, which has apparently gone dormant. The first part of that effort would be to develop a series of slick visual presentations for the speakers to give. There’s an enormous amount of artwork available free from NASA, and when we’re reporting on a private company, I’d be surprised if that company wouldn’t be happy to provide us with zingy promotional images and footage.

The danger, of course, is if we try to make it “educational”, or “informative”. That will turn the whole thing into a real snoozer. It has to be entertaining, above all else. That means a lot more visuals, and a lot fewer words. Curiously, that’s exactly what worked for me whenever I was making a pitch for a project to the Governor here in Nevada. He was a very intelligent man, but he just didn’t have the time to listen to a lot of long-winded, droning information, no matter how “vital” I thought the information was. I had to condense complicated technical and economic issues so that they were interesting, persuasive, and deliverable in a very short time.

This should be an interesting project!



Check this out!

Check out the site, "Transterrestrial Musings", by Rand Simberg. I've known Rand for over 3 decades, and he's both smart and entertaining. But, beware! His site is not for the faint of heart. He doesn't suffer fools lightly, he calls it like he sees it, and points to things that most others miss.

In other words, my kind of guy!



Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The 3rd Party Paradox

I’ve cycled through a number of party affiliations over the course of my political life. When I was poor and ignorant, I registered Democrat. When I was still ignorant, but no longer poor, I re-registered Republican. When I finally gained some more detailed understanding of both my own views, and the positions of the two major parties, I re-registered Libertarian. And, at various times for short periods, I was registered as non-partisan.

While I’m currently a registered Republican, I’m really best described as a recovering Libertarian.

I had been very active in the movement to build space colonies for many years, but I finally concluded that the cost was just prohibitive with current technology. I lost my faith in that path, but I still wanted to make a difference in the world. If I couldn’t build a new, free world, I could at least try to make this one freer.

I was living in California at the time, and decided that I would run for State Assembly in District 20, centered in the Milpitas/Fremont area near San Jose. When I asked the “old hands” why Libertarians never win, I was told that:

1) We never raise enough money
2) We never get enough publicity

So, I focused the campaign on raising money and getting publicity, which we did at record levels. I raised as much money as the Republican candidate. I got an outstanding level of publicity, fully competitive with both the other candidates. And, at the end of the day, I got 7% of the vote. That’s in the very high percentiles of what Libertarians get in 3-way races, but the bottom line is, I lost. I did, however, gain some wonderful friends, and some insightful experience.

Money and publicity are not enough. The main paper in the district said I was the best 3rd party candidate they had ever seen, but they didn’t think the voters were ready for the level of reduction in government that I was proposing. And they were right. That’s not going to change, ever, with anything like the current electorate.

So, what’s the value of third parties? Paradoxically, it seems that the more “successful” a third party is, the more it drives the results farther from their objective! If they really want to be effective, people who believe in the Green philosophy should work hard for the Libertarian Party, and people who believe in freedom should work hard for the Green Party. Probably give them money, too.

People need to start looking at the results of their efforts, instead of the process. And, as a hint, philosophical pontification is almost invariably about the process, and not about the results.

There are many examples of the 3rd Party Paradox, perhaps the most visible being the defeat of Bush 41 by Bill Clinton. Ross Perot professed a desire to increase the level of accountability and responsibility in government. So, he gets Clinton elected. Smooth move, Ex Lax! More recently, the same scenario is playing out in Minnesota as I type. The third party candidate was never going to win, but seems poised on the edge of electing the candidate least sympathetic to his views.

Third party adherents try to suggest that “there’s no difference between the two major parties”, but this is, of course, patent nonsense. Both major parties have evil qualities, to be sure, but they are very different. One of the few good things that President Obama is doing is bringing this fallacy into stark relief. Even when I was an active, ardent Libertarian, I never bought in to the equivalence myth. From the standpoint of freedom, Republicans are vastly superior to Democrats, pathetic though they most certainly are in that regard.

In addition to the more public examples of the paradox, I have two painful personal examples as well. When I ran for State Assembly in 1994, and got 7% of the vote, the Democrat won with just barely over 50%. The Republicans immediately and ongoingly blamed me for costing them that election. The numbers didn’t quite add up, if you just added my total to his. But, if instead of running against him, I had actively worked for him? Dunno. It could easily have turned out differently.

And, there was an interesting Chaotic effect in that case. The State Assembly was split literally 50/50 that year, and as a result, Willy Brown retained his position as Speaker. There’s a real blow for freedom on my part! If the Republican had won in my race, that wouldn’t have happened, and I was blamed for that result. I don’t think the numbers would have quite worked, even if I had worked for the Republican---but they very easily might have, if things had been only slightly different.

The more troubling case for me was the election of 1998, where the numbers very strongly support the contention that I re-elected Harry Reid to the US Senate. I was Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Nevada for that election, and I recruited a full slate of candidates, including a strong candidate to run against Reid. The party was largely in disarray when I took over, and if I hadn’t recruited that candidate, there most likely wouldn’t have been one at all. Exit polls clearly show that, absent a Libertarian candidate, Libertarians will fairly reliably vote 2:1 in favor of the Republican in the race (a wise choice). Reid won by a few hundred votes. The Libertarian candidate got a few thousand votes.

If I hadn’t recruited a strong Libertarian candidate? Do the math. If you like Harry Reid, you should thank me. Another major blow on my part for the cause of freedom!


So, what did I do? I was the Libertarian candidate for Governor of Nevada in the year 1998, and after I lost to him decisively, the victorious Republican, Governor Kenny Guinn, appointed me to his cabinet, where I served as Chief Information Officer for 7 years. During that time, I saved the taxpayers millions of dollars, shrinking my Department staff by over 20%, while simultaneously increasing production by a like amount.

Frequently, in politics in the real world, you will face an iron clad choice between making a statement, and making a difference. Occasionally, rarely, you can do both, but the vast majority of the time, you’ll need to decide which of the two is more important to you.

Think results, not process.

So, what’s a freedom lover to do? We’ll discuss that in future installments!