Some more of my daughter’s art.

I’ going to be travelling the next couple of days so there will be no updates.  Sorry about that.  I’m still having to get used to maintain a daily schedule.  Not up to having pages ready to go ahead of time yet.  We’ll get there.

I recently introduced my daughter to blending stubs.  She’s been experimenting with them.  Most of her “models” are pictures of K-Pop stars.  That’s one of her current interests.



Once Again “Compromise”


In 2015, a racist scumbag (I refuse to name him–let his name be lost to history) who shall henceforth be known as “some asshole” shot up a church.  According to his own screed he did this to “inspire” others to rise up and join him in some kind of racist jihad. (Part of the reason I am using that term for “holy war” is because it would annoy the asshole that much more.)

Notice that “inspire” bit.  People weren’t listening to him.  He was a racist asshole and, as such, nobody paid any heed to what he said.  They certainly didn’t join him in his self-proclaimed jihad.

Well, a certain segment immediately rose up and insisted that far from trying to inspire others to his own vile ways that were his own responsibility, he was actually inspired by widespread racism in the US as a whole and in the South in general.  In particular it was those Confederate Flags!

Actually, most of those people wouldn’t recognize the actual Confederate Flag:


That was the flag of the Confederate States of America.  How often do you see this flag flying anywhere?  What you see is the following:


Close variants of this flag were the battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia, the Army of Tennessee, and the second Naval Jack (flag flown at the bow of a ship or boat where an “Ensign” is flown at the stern).  This wasn’t a flag for politicians or decision makers.  It was a flag for the poor saps who fought in the lines and on the ships.  Many of these men were conscripts given no choice in the matter.  Many of the volunteers had no interest in the subject of slavery and just wanted to defend their homes against what they saw as “northern aggression”. (One can believe they were wrong while still recognizing their own position as an honorable one.)

But, the flag had to come down people were told and they started coming down.

That wasn’t enough.

Next it was monuments to generals and soldiers who fought in the war.  The most prominent to come under fire was the Stone Mountain monument but others were also targeted and removed.  Most, if not all, were and continue to be removed based not on votes showing a clear wish of “the people” but on the basis of protests carried out by a tiny fraction of the population who make up for their lack of numbers with the volume of their demands.  In fact, so far as I know, not one was removed based on a popular vote or even a reasonably reliable poll.  Just lots of screams by loud protesters and politicians saying “fine already!”

And the politicians give them what they want.  If the politicians don’t?  Why then the loudest among the protesters will take it anyway as in the case of Durham, NC where vandals pulled down a statue and seemed confused about why they were being arrested for vandalism.  Or even starting to dig up a buried Confederate General.

So would this ongoing removal of memorials be enough?

President Trump suggested that the people going after Confederate memorials now might go after Washington or Jefferson next because they were both slave owners.

Apparently he was right.

CNN commentator “I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue or a Robert E. Lee statue they all need to come down”.

A tile decoration in a New York city subway that merely bears a coincidental resemblance to the battle flag/navy jack has to be changed

A pastor in Chicago demands that Washington Park and Jackson Park (named for Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democrat Party) need to be changed because of their views on slavery.

And if they get their way, will that be enough?

Look, I’ll be blunt here.  A statue is not going to turn an otherwise decent person into a racist.  That a school is named for a person who fought or led troops in the Confederacy isn’t going to make its students suddenly go out and hate black people.  None of this actually perpetuates or creates racism.  And while actual racists might point to those symbols, taking away the symbol isn’t going to make them any less racist.  It just adds fuel, and  a sense of being justified, to their hatred.

The people behind these movements know this.  They are not stupid.  They know that none of this will accomplish anything toward the ending of racism.  So, since they know this will not accomplish their stated goals we have to look elsewhere for what their real goals might be.  Actually, you don’t need to look very far.  The people pushing behind these movements gain power and influence by their perpetuation.

That means that, no, getting whatever they’re demanding now will not be enough.  Declaring “that’s enough” will mean an end to their power and influence.  Nothing will ever satisfy them because for those who have acquired a taste for power and influence that hunger is a bottomless pit that can never be sated.

Giving them what they want, in the hopes that they’ll go away, does not get rid of them.  It merely tells them that they can keep making demands to get still more.  Much like the Danes of a day gone by:

Rudyard Kipling

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: —
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!

Snippet from a Work in Progress

From one of my current works in progress, which I hope to release sometime later this year.

Kreg had not quite reached the board leading across to the barge on which Zhagu’s wagon was secured when he heard a feminine shriek.  Fatigue fell away as he dashed up the board.

The back of Zhagu’s wagon hung open.  Kreg did not see Zhagu anywhere nearby.  Pawfy lay crumpled next to the wagon, his right cheek blazing scarlet in the light of the setting sun, his eye already swelling shut.

A dark form loomed over Fhwey at the back end of the wagon.  The bottom of her tunic was flipped up.  The figure’s hands tore at her breeches.

Fwhey shrieked again.

“Leave…my…sister…alone.” Kreg’s voice cracked with strength that surprised even him.

The dark figure turned.  Kreg recognized Dovthi.

“Sister?” Dovthi sneered. “That tale?  Everyone knows she’s your whore.”

“Let her go, Dovthi,” Kreg said. “This can end right here.”

“You’re right in that.” Dovthi drew his sword. “It ends here, Bvaykoo.” In Dovthi’s mouth, Kreg’s sobriquet was a curse.

Kreg ducked aside at Dovthi’s rush, grateful for the long days Kaila had drilled him in fighting on the tossing deck of a ship.  His own sword whispered out of its sheath.  He tossed the bow aside.

From the corners of his eyes Kreg could see others running toward them.  Kreg thought he recognize Mosho and Zhagu but he could not take time to look to confirm.  Dovthi occupied his attention.

Metal rang against metal as Kreg parried Dovthi’s next attack.  Kreg stepped back at the ferocity of Dovthi’s swing.  Again, Kreg raised the sword, ready to parry, only just before the swords met, Kreg twisted his wrists, dropping the point of the sword as he took another step back.  Dovthi’s sword flew through the space Kreg’s sword had occupied and whistled past Kreg, the point a mere handwidth in front of Kreg’s face.

Not meeting the expected resistance, Dovthi found himself twisting too far in his attack.  Kreg’s own sword came up again.  Kreg stepped forward, extended.  The point of his sword struck just below Dovthis’ right arm and penetrated.  Kreg withdrew, pulling the sword free.  Blood sprayed in spurts from the wound.

Dovthi turned back, raising the sword for another strike.  Kreg caught the strike on his own blade before it could gain any power.  He slid his blade down Dovthi’s hopping it over the guard and raked the tip along Dovthi’s forearm.  More blood spattered and the sword dropped from Dovthi’s hand.

Dovthi’s left hand came across, seeming almost to float of its own accord, to cover the wound in Dovthi’s arm while his life pumped out of his side.  He sagged to his knees staring up at Kreg with hatred that Kreg did not understand.  After long seconds, like a felled tree, Dovthi toppled to the deck.

Kreg gasped for breath and looked to the shore.  Mosho stood at the foot of the plank that led from boat to shore.  Zhagu stood just behind him, one hand over the lower half of his face, his expression unreadable.

“The only reason I do not kill you right now,” Mosho said, “is that I saw Dovthi draw first.”

The manifest unfairness of Mosho’s words struck Kreg like a blow.

“You will leave now,” Mosho said. “Leave and do not return.  If I ever see you again, I will kill you.”

Kreg’s hand tightened on the grip of his sword.

Mosho smiled. “Do you think you can take me?  Hwume!”

Beyond Mosho, on the shore, Hwume met Kreg’s eyes and shrugged.  He drew an arrow and fit it to the string of his bow.

Kreg nodded. “I’ll go.”

Kreg wiped the sword on Dovthi’s tunic and slammed it back into its scabbard.  His eyes dared Mosho to demand its return.

Mosho said nothing.

Kreg looked to where Pawfy lay.  Fhwey had dropped from the back of the wagon and huddled next to him.

“I’m sorry.” Kreg squeezed his eyes tight.  He had hoped to help them.  His one consolation was that they at least in no worse state than when he had found them on the streets.

Kreg walked to the end of the boarding plank and looked down, meeting Mosho’s eyes.  Mosho stood aside.  Kreg marched down the plank to the riverbank, then up the hill, mercenaries and merchants parting before him.

If you liked the above, it’s from my sequel to my fantasy novel The Hordes of Chanakra.  You can find the first volume here:

$4.99 in Kindle Store, Free to read in Kindle Unlimited, $14.99 in Paperback

Pulled into an alternate world mired in the middle ages, Kreg finds allies in Kaila, a rough swordmistress, and her wizardly father. He’s also found their foes – an unending horde pouring forth from the small nation next door.

Now, he’s in a race against time to find the true source, before everything he cares about ends in fire and death!

People are out of their minds.

So there is this:

(Saved the video as an MP4 in case the source gets pulled but my current WP account doesn’t allow uploading videos.)

This is a particularly egregious example but it’s an example of something I have seen here and there for some time with some growing frequency, folk wanting to start a race war between their minority group and, well, the rest of us.

And what’s this claim that there are more of them then there are of us?  Perhaps he doesn’t know what “minority” means?  Or maybe his neighborhood has a high percentage of a particular racial type and he just doesn’t get that it’s not necessarily reflective of the rest of the country.

So my reply to this rather ignorant and pathetic individual:

Child, there are over 100 million gun owners in the United States. Use that “technology” you are touting so much to look up what the real numbers of people of different backgrounds in the US are.

Bluntly, if every single one of the black adults in the US were among that number they would still outnumber your “side” two two one. That’s not counting that they have enough extra guns for each, on average, to hand two to friends who don’t currently have guns.

Now, many of them hate the white supremacist types as much as you do, even while recognizing their right to gather, speak, and march the same as they recognize those rights for you and those like you.  Remember, that “Unite the Right” group (what a misnomer) numbered 400 out of about 300 _million_ people.  If there were a thousand for every one who didn’t show up that would still be less than 2/10 of a percent of the total population.  They’re nothing.  The only reason anybody gives them any notice at all is that the media gives them an inordinate amount of attention. (Ask yourself why that is.)

So, for the most part, those “white supremacist” types are nothing more than meaningless noise of the “let him speak that men may know him mad” type. Most folk are just as opposed to them as you are.


You seem to want to make it a purely race thing. Anyone not of your skin color is the enemy. If you do that, you force people who would otherwise be on your side into the enemy camp. Simple self preservation will require them to fight back.

Now go look at those numbers up above again. I would strongly advice against you pulling that race war trigger.

You really would not like the result.

“A Good Family Man”

Once up on a time it was high praise indeed to say of a man that he was “a good family man.”  Television and movies celebrated fathers who cared about, and took care of, their families.  Today, if you say that people look at you like you’re from another planet.

This is underscored in media representations of fathers.  Once, fathers presented as positive models in shows like Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best.  Dated those shows may be and yes, sometimes the father was the butt of the joke (they were, after all, comedies), but that did not take away from the fact that these were loving families that cared about each other with fathers that were devoted to their families.

Contrast that with more recent fare where you have shows like Married with Children where the point of the show appeared to be how much these people hated each other.  Or perhaps Home Improvement where the father was the incompetent moron who caused all the problems.

In older shows, when you had a single father (Ben Cartwright in Bonanza, Lucas McCain in The Rifleman, Steve Douglas in My Three Sons, and so on) it was usually a widower.  (And before you get started, there were shows about single mothers who are widows as well–Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.)   Of course, even in modern ones, when you do have a single dad it’s often a widower because, well, over the years 1993-2007 (a range for which I happen to have found figures), the mother gets custody 83-85% of the time.  More often these days the shows are about single moms.  These are rarely widows.  Either they left (for entirely justifiable reasons, of course), or were left by the fathers.

Oh, one particularly interesting example of “single fathers” was My Two Dads.  The mother was sleeping with two men, had no idea who the father was, so both came to take care of the child.  While kudos to the characters for rising to the occasion in the end, getting to that point relies on remarkably poor decisions on all three of the adults’ parts.

So where are the good fathers in recent years (for which I’ll say mid 80s or later–yes, that’s not so recent, but then, I’m not so young).

A surprising one is John Matrix in Commando.  He’s a single father, who appears to have a great relationship with his daughter.  No mention is made of what happened to the mother but given the totality of the film I’d guess he’s probably a widower.  And Matrix’s entire motivation throughout the film is to get his little girl back safe.

Another one is Adam Gibson in The 6th Day.  Gibson, a devoted family man, sees an “imposter” taking his place in his home and attempts to overcome tremendous obstacles put in place by the bad guys in his effort to return to his home and family.

Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon.  A major part of his character is his devotion to his family (and the stress of dealing with a daughter reaching an age where her becoming sexually active is a possibility) and, indeed, that family and its devotion to each other is a large part of what brings Riggs back from the brink of his own personal Hell.

Gomez Addams in the Addams Family movies (okay, I prefer the 60’s TV show, but the movies are great too).  His utter devotion to his family is unquestionable.  (Okay, there’s the modern portrayal of Wednesday, which is part of why I prefer John Astin’s version.)

Then there’s the single dad with kids who need to “rescue” him by trying to get him a girl. (Sleepless in Seatle would be the archetype of this.) Kind of a reversal of the parent/child role where the child “takes care of” the parent instead of the other way around.

One movie deserves special mention:  “The Family Man” staring Nicolas Cage.  During the “glimpse” Jack Campbell gets to see what life would be like as a devoted family man–considerably less wealthy than he was, but surrounded by people he loves, and who love him.  The glimpse ends, the “angel” (I can argue that it’s actually a demon straight out of Hell) takes it away from him and, although they try to graft on a “happy ending” by showing a possible reconciliation between Jack and the woman who was his wife in the “glimpse”, he can never have that life.  Even if they do get together they are older.  Her father in this reality is dead.  The house they had is owned by somebody else.  And neither of them is the person they were in the “glimpse”.  So that life is closed to them.  Will they make a decent one from where they are “now”?  We’ll never know.

Frankly, you have to look far and wide to find strong, loving, caring fathers dedicated to their families in movies and TV these days.  They’ve fallen out of favor.   And whether this is art imitating life, or life being influenced by art, we’re seeing a lot of disparagement of the family, and the roll of strong, caring, involved fathers in it in society.  I suspect it’s a little of both in a kind of feedback loop.

As it stands, my personal goal is to be the kind, caring, compassionate father seen in many of those early sitcoms (and if you say “Patriarchy”, you just prove that you haven’t paid close attention to those programs.  Yes, the division of labor between inside and outside the home was different from what is common today, but if you look at the division of power and who generally got there way, you’d see something quite different).  One could do worse than choose John Astin’s Gomez Addams or Fred Gwynn’s Herman Munster as a role model.

One could do a lot worse.

One might, for instance, choose Al Bundy (Shudder).

Free Speech, What Would Cap Say About Nazis?

I don’t have to guess what he would say.  I can look at what he did say.

I grew up on superhero comic books, among other things.  And, to be honest, a lot of my personal and ethical philosophy was influenced by them.  And Captain America was one of the biggest of those influences. (And Superman.  Everybody snickers when he says he’s here to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  Only he’s not joking.  Or he wasn’t back in the day anyway.)

I read this comic way back when,  It was one of my favorites at the time and the lesson it gave stayed with me over the years.  Freedom must be freedom for everyone–whether we agree with them or disagree with them.  Even when we are violently opposed to them.  Perhaps especially when we are violently opposed to them.

So what did Cap have to say on that subject?

cap freedom of speech neonazis 1

cap freedom of speech neo nazis 2

cap freedom of speech neo nazis 3

I am pretty much a free speech absolutist.  Does not matter how odious one finds someones speech.  Censorship is not appropriate.  Violence is not appropriate.  The correct response to odious speech is more speech.  Speak in opposition.  Point out why they are wrong.  You can point out why they are wrong, can’t you?  Clearly, unemotionally, and objectively?  (If you can’t, you might want to ask yourself why that is.)

But recognize that the people saying words you despise have the same right to speak them that you do yours.



Wait. What? Guns?

This is going to be short, I think, because the point is not a subtle one.

So we had the scene in Charlotte.  Bigots of one stripe opposed by bigots of a different stripe having a big to-do.  And then a bigot drives a car into a group of bigots killing one and injuring others.

It would be funny if it weren’t tragic, or if my sense of humor were only a tiny bit darker.  It’s already pretty dark but not quite that dark.

That would be enough but Shannon Watts, spokesperson for the astroturf Bloomberg Front “Moms Demand Action” just had to open her yap and blame the event on the guns and the NRA.

What?  The NRA supports car rights now?  Or maybe the stupid twit doesn’t know the difference between a car and a gun?

No shots were fired at the event.  Not one.  By anybody.

Oh, some people were legally armed.  But not one gun was fired.

We all know that Ms. Watts will wave any bloody shirt she can in the service of Bloomberg’s “cause”.  But could she at least wave shirts where a gun was actually used?

Who Gets First Amendment Protections?

I have seen the claim made that Freedom of the Press only applies to “journalists” and if one is not a journalist by some definition thereof, one is not entitled to that protection.  Similarly, the question arises as to what constitutes as “church” and thus deserving of Freedom of Religion. (And if they could figure some way to limit Freedom of Speech to a particular recognized “class” of people, I’m sure they’d try to do that too.)

Both of these questions completely miss the point.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The rights of the First Amendment, like all the rights in the Bill of Rights, are rights of individuals.  Of the people, each and every one of us.  Every person has Freedom of the Press.  Every person has Freedom of Religion.  Every.  Single.  Person.  And thanks to the Fourteenth, they don’t just restrict Congress, but also the individual States.

With that in mind, Freedom of Speech protects what you say or otherwise communicate communicate to a person or group of people directly, face to face, as it were.

Freedom of the Press protects what you write or otherwise render into a form to communicate with people removed in time or space.  At the time of the writing of the Constitution that meant either writing letters or printing using a printing press (thus “of the press”).

Freedom of Religion isn’t just a matter of what recognized church you belong to, but a protection for your individual beliefs whether part of an organized religion or not.

In the movie Sergeant York, there was a scene where Alvin York, having once been a violent individual and after having his own personal “Road to Damascus” moment, refused to have more to do with violence.  When conscripted for World War I, he tried to register as a Conscientious Objector.  However since the church he attended did not forbid fighting in wars he was denied this. (I refer only to the movie here and am using this fictional example to illustrate the point.) This, I believe, was an incorrect application of the First Amendment.  His believe, the Sergeant York portrayed in the moive, was non-violence.  That the church he happened to attend did not share that belief did not mean his belief should not be protected under the First Amendment. (And as a hedge against someone using such a claim to cover cowardice–well, there are plenty of non-combat positions that are just as dangerous as foot-soldier.  The Army Ambulance Service in WWI would come to mind.  Or courier and other jobs that bring one under fire without oneself doing the shooting.)

Peaceable Assembly, your right to get together with others generally making it easier to apply that freedom of speech.  Of course note that word “peaceable”.  Throwing stones, breaking windows, generally interfering with other people trying to go about their lawful business is not peaceable.

And finally petition government for redress of grievance isn’t just the write to circulate petitions for signatures but any matter where you communicate with government officials to ask that they resolve something that you believe they are doing wrong.  There is no guarantee that they will do that, of course, but you are allowed to ask without censure.

Furthermore, these things need to be interpreted as broadly as possible.  Freedom of Speech doesn’t just mean spoken words, but anything that one person does to communicate a message to others.  That could be sign language, gestures, performance art, and, yes, burning flags or books (so long as they own the flag or book–destruction of someone else’s property is rightfully a crime).  The only real limit on any of these is the point where it infringes on someone else’s rights.  And, no, being offended does not qualify.  There is no right not to be offended.

People ask, “but what about when they say this horrible thing?”  Well, the answer to odious speech is more speech.  If somebody is out there extoling the virtues of communism, then speak out about how it’s a horrible system that leads to wholesale deaths.  If someone advocates slavery, speak out in favor of freedom.  If you find something offensive, then don’t silence them.  Explain why they’re wrong.

Just a word of advice.  If you want to convince people, you might want to have a little more in your toolkit than insults for those who disagree with you.

Blast from the Past: A Passion for Space

Little has really changed from when I first wrote this several years ago.

I’m a big proponent of space science, don’t get me wrong, but my major interest in the “space program” when I was younger was the idea that maybe someday I could go, I could walk on the moon or mars or visit, maybe live in, a space colony.  That was what I wanted: “I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom…” and if not Barsoom, then at least the real Mars.

When it became clear that it was never going to happen, a lot of my passion dried up.  Oh, there was still the academic interest in space science, in understanding the sun and the planets, in maybe seeing if there is life on other worlds, in the solar magnetosphere and its motion through interstellar space.

But the passion that used to drive me was gone.

That’s where NASA (and their political masters) dropped the ball, IMO.  While I have nothing against the folk doing Space Science, I really think most of whatever budget they had should have been doing toward “access to space” technology.  Improving rocket reliability.  The strong, yet lightweight structures for flight airframes.  Real hardware rather than whole forests of paper.  Stuff done to bring, and presented as bringing, us closer to the day when you and I can go.  We needed the space equivalent of the NACA cowl and 4 and 5 digit airfoils so that private companies could build private hardware that could carry private, commercial passengers to private space stations.

Instead we got Shuttle, and no new human carrying hardware until, well, nothing yet.  [Ed:  Dragon by SpaceX is supposed to carry human crews to the ISS but still has not done so as of this writing.] And with Shuttle gone, we’re left with even older technology (Soyuz) to get humans into Space.  I mean that span carried us just about from the Ford Trimotor to the Boeing 707.  Yes, space travel is hard, but more than 30 years after Shuttle’s first flight we don’t have anything better?

That passion got ignited again back on the old electronic service GEnie (the capitalization is correct.  It was owned by General Electric).  Geoff Landis made the offhand comment that “what we needed was a rocket that individuals could make and that could carry a person up a hundred miles or so.”  I took the idea and ran with it.  Geoff and I did a bunch of back and forth.  Some other people stuck there nickel’s worth in.  And the result was the SpaceCub concept.  We presented it at the NW Space Development conference.  New Scientist included a bit about it.  I was interviewed for an AAAS broadcast (I really wish I could find tape or transcript for that).

For a while there, it looked like I was going to be able to go somewhere with it.  At the college I was attending we had a visiting scientist from Russia.  He put me in contact with his old professor.  The professor put me in contact with someone from Energomach (manufacture of key rocket motors–including the verniers from the RD-107/108 that Geoff and and I were looking at for SpaceCub).  And . . . well, there was no money for any “and” and I had to move on with the task of getting a job and providing for myself.

The real problem, even more than money, was the legal issues.  I looked at the treaties of which the US was a signitory.  I looked at the law, as it existed then.  And, well, it looked pretty bad for anyone wanting to actually try something like SpaceCub.  So, well, my old web page about it is still up, but that’s as afar as it ever went.

But, not long after the X-Prize was announced.  The specs for the prize matched what SpaceCub was intended to do, carry passengers to a height of 100 km (international definition of the beginning of Space) and bring them back to Earth, and do it over and over again with minimal time in between flights.  I spoke to one of the folk there and he swore up and down that they weren’t influenced by SpaceCub but, well, as Geoff said, before we came along nobody was talking about manned suborbital flight.  Then after we started getting some press, suddenly they were.  I don’ t know.  I have my suspicions, but I don’t know.

Apparently the Rutans and Richard Branson think the legal issues can be dealt with since they’re building a business to do what SpaceCub was supposed to do for (admittedly relatively well-heeled) individuals–private, human carrying rocket flights into space.

And so, my hope is back a little bit.  But I’m afraid it’s not hope resided in NASA or the government, but in the Rutans and Bransons of the world.

Robots are going to put us all out of work!

That is a refrain I hear all the time.  Automation, will take over people’s jobs and put them out of work and we’ll end up with endless numbers of people for whom there are no jobs.

But is that really how it works?

Liberal political commentator Sally Kohn seems to think so:

Solar labor inefficiency crop

She is clearly advocating here a means of producing energy that requires 40-80 times as much labor to produce a given amount of “product” (in this case energy).  Exactly the opposite of what automation does.

Automation, the use of robots, produces more with less labor than was possible before.  That means we don’t need as many people to fill the need for whatever we’re producing.  And that means the “excess” people are out of work, right?

Sorry, but that’s not how it has ever worked except in the very shortest of terms.

Producing more with less labor has been the spur for economic growth since before recorded history began.

In early agriculture, farmers planted crops by poking a hole in the ground with a stick, dropping seeds into the hole, then closing it by stepping on it.  One person could raise enough food that way to feed him or herself with very little surplus.  Just about the entire population had to be full-time farmers.

Along the way somebody discovered that if you dragged the stick along the ground you could create a furrow, preparing a field for seed in less time.  This rapidly turned into the scratch plow pulled at first by other people and later by animals.  One person could keep more land in cultivation, meaning you needed fewer people to produce the food for your population meaning more people were freed up for other activities.  People could become artisans, and craftsmen–specializing in those activities and not simply performing them as a sideline between stints in the fields.

It is no coincidence that the flourishing of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Nile valley, and the Levant arose following the invention of the plow–other things too such as the potter’s wheel, which also allowed fewer people to produce the pots and urns that people needed.

So it has been throughout history.  Western (i.e. European) civilization took off when extensive use of water mills, and later steam power, took the place of muscle power for industry.

One of the steps along the way, an early example of automation, the use of punch-card controlled looms for making textiles, led to actual protests.  A movement started by a probably mythical individual by the name of Ned Ludd, protested the new looms, claiming that it would put weavers out of work.  The protests involved both violence and sabotage.

Of course, the use of the new looms proceeded apace and, contrary to the fears, the economic growth more than absorbed any weavers displaced by the automation process.  Nor was the displacement as bad as expected because by producing more textiles more cheaply, international trade increased the quantity demanded.

Interestingly enough, a number of former third-world nations (even before the term “third world” was coined) have used textiles as an entry point in bootstrapping an industrial and manufacturing economy.

And so it has gone ever since.  Machine tools.  Assembly lines.  Railroads.  Modern shipping (compare the crew to cargo ratio of a modern container ship to an old merchant sailing ship).  Industrial robots of increasing sophistication.  And now robots that are poised to take your order and make your food in fast food establishments.  All of them ways to get the same job done with less human effort.  The latest round is no different from any of the previous ones.

What all of them do is to free up people to do other things.  This is the core of economic growth and we all benefit from it.

If you don’t believe that, I invite you to try to live as that prehistoric farmer family did–feeding yourself by poking holes in the ground with a stick (no cheating by dragging the stick to create a furrow).

Good luck.