Back to previous post: Leviticus 19:33-34

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Arrr!

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 19, 2005

Two Thousand Years and it’s Still True
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:56 AM * 39 comments

From another book George didn’t read at Yale:

When resources are exhausted, then levies are made under pressure. When power and resources are exhausted, then the homeland is drained. The common people are deprived of seventy percent of their budget, while the government’s expenses for equipment amount to sixty percent of the budget.

— Sun Tzu
The Art of War


Comments on Two Thousand Years and it's Still True:
#1 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 11:08 AM:

Wow, so fuzzy math's been around for that long...

#2 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 11:41 AM:

Is it possible that this administration has lost the Mandate of Heaven? As I recall, neglect of necessary public works maintenance in preference for spending money on Imperial favorites, or to gratify Imperial whims, with resulting natural disasters, was one sign that Heaven was turning its face away. Failing to respond promptly and effectively to crises was also a sign that the Emperor had turned away from the path of righteousness and was anyone's game.

Mencius was pretty direct about what the people were entitled to do when a dynasty has lost the Mandate.

#3 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 11:57 AM:

Bother. Those percentages are tickling my memory, and I can't catch it. It's a line from either Shakespeare or Donne, about Princes who in war time increase taxes, then don't bring them back down in peace time. Not that that's this government's problem.

#4 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:01 PM:

While Sun Tzu is certainly correct about this -- I can't figure out how to quote his remarks on the necessity of intuitive sagacity without quoting the whole chapter on spies -- I can't help thinking about Von Moltke's remarks on the suitability of energetic idiots for command.

(George himself is a lazy idiot, which means he is just what you want for guarding the paint depot, but most of the people around him are energetic idiots.)

#5 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 01:05 PM:

"Have some tea my lord some chrysanthemum tea,
It's an herb that's superb for disturbances at sea...
When the shogun is weak, my lord,
The tea must be strong, my lord."

Quoting Sondheim's Pacific Overtures from memory, since it's been running through my head since reading this.

#6 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 01:16 PM:

I think Rove's attention was focused on the next line: "Therefore a wise general strives to feed off the enemy. Each pound of food taken from the enemy is equivalent to twenty pounds you provide by yourself."

#7 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 02:47 PM:

Princes who in war time increase taxes, then don't bring them back down in peace time. Not that that's this government's problem.

Any support for the notion that this administration has brought to a head the past 25 years' tendency back to the licensing of private tax collection?

The natural Bush response to disaster is, in so many words, cutting government programs while maximizing windfall profits to our corporate feudal overlords.

As someone mentioned in the course of another thread, the problem with that model is, feudalism recognized obligations in both directions.

#8 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 03:02 PM:

A feudal system of government is characterized by four things.

  1. Differing legal rights and obligations by class.
  2. Automatic class change when specific quantified requirements are met.
  3. Creation of legal or social bonds by means of public oaths, taken before witnesses.
  4. Creation of hierarchy by the voluntary subordination of one of a pair of equals to the other.

What we're seeing now isn't feudal at all -- Wessex Model or even Red William style feudalism has a lot going for it -- but rather an attempt to impose an aristocratic autocracy. It's generally a very bad idea to confuse Ancien Regime France with a feudal system. It wasn't even close.

#9 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 03:05 PM:

Stone Boats, built by Bechtel and Halliburton and guarded by mercenarie....

#10 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 04:09 PM:

I was looking up NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle (and isn't that a really good name, folks) and thinking that I'd seen the ideas before.

About 30 years ago.

Shuttle-derived heavy lift...

Using the External Tank in orbit...

And it's going to be paid for by not flying the Shuttle.

Is manned spaceflight important? Maybe not. But they're talking about spending 7 or 8 years, minimum, to put a new manned vehicle into service, using technology which has mostly been thoroughly worked out. Which means that it's Russian launches which will have to keep the ISS operating, and, last I heard, that depended on American subsidies.

It looks like it's a good time to start offering evening classes in Chinese at Houston.

#11 ::: Garrett Fitzgerald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 04:22 PM:

Vicki, I keep trying to make that scan to:

Excuse me, my lord.
May I request, my lord,
Permission, my lord, to speak?
Forgive me if I suggest, my lord,
You're looking less than your best, my lord,
There's powder upon your vest, my lord,
And stubble upon your cheek.
And ladies, my lord, are weak.

#12 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 04:39 PM:

Did Andover not require David Copperfield? Micawber knew it too:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six, result misery."

Of course, in his personal history, when expenditures exceeded revenues, some of Daddy's rich friends just bailed GWB out.

#13 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 06:04 PM:

Tired old stupid old idiot ways of doing things that didn't get off the ground 30 years ago, either. Recycled junk engineering. Ptui.

#14 ::: Paul in LA ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 06:17 PM:

Care to reference the quotation? Because whomever translated it has BUTCHERED the text to make it sound modern.

#15 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 07:12 PM:

What's disappointing about the new shuttle-based program is that the current system of just handing out fat cheques to the Shuttle companies for every launch will probably continue. On the other hand, anything - anything - is a better idea than the Shuttle. Just doing Apollo again or adopting Soyuz would be a better idea.

The solid-rocket boosters, the external tank, and the Shuttle main engines are all pretty good technology. The Apollo-style capsule & lander similarly. And the "just scale it up" idea I've been reading about for decades finally seems to have taken root at NASA, even if they're stuck procuring it from the same tired old collection of subsidized aerospace firms.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 07:19 PM:

My big question RE the new moon trips:

What are you going to do once you get there?

There are some vague hints at checking out the water reserves at the south pole, but then what?

#17 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 07:34 PM:

Re: moon trips

Wouldn't it be a lot easier to finish the station and build the moon ships in orbit? Then the heavy lift wouldn't have to go nearly as far; the lift getting off the moon isn't as difficult. Or is this too simple for GW's little brain?

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 07:45 PM:

P J Evans:


No matter where you put the parts together, you would still need to put everything that's going to the moon into orbit.

In fact, the ISS is in a bad orbit . . . highly inclined and expensive to get to. (It was a concession to the Russians.)

You'd be better off just using the most economical low earth orbit you can get to from Canaveral and putting the pieces together there.

No matter what you think of the plan, I can't imagine Bush had the slightest input. Thank God.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 07:58 PM:

LEO is a good idea; higher might be better for launching, but, yes, the stuff does have to get there. I just thought it was dim to build heavy-lift just to get people to the moon. That's a lot of metal that's not being re-used. (Have you read The Moon Goddess and the Son by Kingsbury? He was using fuel tanks to build a station in LEO, with further travel using a yet-to-be-developed propulsion system, and underground bases on the moon.)

#20 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 09:16 PM:

What are you going to do once you get there?

Firstly, thoughts about what happened to dinosaurs and phrases like "don't put all your eggs in one basket" and "blessed are the pessamistic, for they hath made backups" come to mind. This actually answers "why would we go?"

What would we do? A common science fiction theme, mining. Base to go to the asteroids, for mining. Dangerous medical research where the bugs can't get loose into the general population (see above about "eggs"). Maybe not so dangerous medical research for those times when one's experiment does not quite go the way one plans (aka "oops"). Materials research in an environment where vacuum is the norm, not created. And then there's the Hilton family, the Marriotts and possibly Disney, for where there is cash, there is a resort.

#21 ::: Charles Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 09:50 PM:

Reason #356 why I am a bad person: when Lin mentioned the Hilton family in conjunction with uses for the moon, my first idea was rather different from what he actually meant...

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 09:59 PM:

Well, they might do that also, since one particular member seems to be longer on money than sense. (Tourism may be a cash cow on the moon, also, if the hotels appear in any form.) Then there's Virgin Spaceways or whatever it's being called. I'd think they'd be very careful with the tourists, though, since it is a hazardous environment.

#23 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 10:34 PM:


Look, I'm old enough to remember whole hubristic L-5 deal. Read Destinies magazine, went to what in retrospect where kind of scary pep rallies for space at SF conventions. Never *wore* a "L-5 in '95" or "Lunar Mine in '89" shirt, but thought I they were kool.

I am still a rocket nerd.

I want to know what justification the U.S. government has for this particular proposed transportation system. Exploration? Testing out reactors and water harvesting gear?

I want to know that it isn't going to be another "Look what we can do!" exercise.

#24 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 11:03 PM:

Taking our minds off Iraq, Afghanistan, and Katrina? Making us think there's a way out of the hole we're in?

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 11:20 PM:

That's what Reality TV and sports are for!

Look, that goofy semi-religious eyes-on-the-stars stuff doesn't cut it for me any more. Past a certain point, it won't cut it for taxpayers either, maybe when they realize that 99.9999% of them won't even be able to afford even a *suborbital* flight and once they turn off the CNN coverage will still be dealing with the same shit we're dealing with now.

I want space exploration, and eventually space settlement. That's not the point. I want to know *specifically* what *this proposed program* hopes to accomplish.

#26 ::: Jackie M. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 01:56 AM:


Is that pun on "levees" purely accidental up there?

#27 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 03:30 AM:

From the reports, I can't see much direct point to the plans for continued manned exploration by NASA. At best, there's the application of Rutanesque materials tech to the structures -- carbon fibre rather than aluminium honeycomb.

30 years ago, the tech they're talking about was the latest thing. Maybe it isn't worth a new engine design -- the Shuttle Main Engine is pretty good.

Apollo did pour a lot of money into a few places in the southern USA, and doing something like rebuilding the Michoud plant in New Orleans is going to put money into some pockets there. It all reeks too much of "trickle down", but most of the money NASA spends does get paid to Americans who spend it in America and get taxed in all sorts of ways.

And I'd be a little uneasy about relying on SRB technology. If they could ship it in one unit, so it dodn't have to have the sort of joint which failed... Shipping the parts is the downside of the NASA pork barrel.

And I'm not sure that it's a good idea to use the External Tank approach. Ride on top of the booster, not strapped to the side.

It sounds a lot as if Boeing were to build a new airliner by bolting a new passenger cabin to a set of 747 wings.

#28 ::: rob ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 07:24 AM:

In Dutch, the expression "gone to the moon" has about the same meaning as the English "gone to the dogs", so.....

#29 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 08:30 AM:

I got the impression of "quick, what can we build with the parts we have, that will get a crew to the moon and back?" I didn't get the impression of serious planning for "where do we go from here?" or "what will we do next?"

#30 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 08:35 AM:

And how is this scheme "quick"?

OK, so this history of rocketry has a lot of complicated bits, like the actual rockets, reused. The Russian designers did a lot of it in the fifties. But it meant they could get the thing flying sooner.

NASA are talking 8 or 9 years, even using all the 30-year-old tech.

#31 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 08:57 AM:

I meant quick in the sense of "how fast can we get an answer out?" And some of that tech is more like 40 years old. (There is a Saturn 5 engine in front of Rocketdyne in Canoga Park; anyone wanting to take it out will have the area up in arms: it's a landmark!)

Actually, I'd think there are people in NASA and other places who've been thinking about this for years, and could get it off the ground maybe a bit faster. Possibly there are plans somewhere in the files.

#32 ::: S. Dawson ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 09:19 AM:

Vassilissa, it's the conclusion of Donne's "Love's Growth."

As princes do in times of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace,
No winter shall abate this spring’s increase.

#33 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 09:42 AM:

"Well, they might do that also, since one particular member seems to be longer on money than sense. "

Ms. Hilton has actually done something with what she was given. She inherited money, yet works for a living. She's made a unique move; replacing "envy+lust" with "avarice+lust" as a road to modelling success.

She's famous for being famous, and getting rich from being rich. It is an achievement.

I don't like what it says about the rest of the US, but she has made far more than she will inherit [has inherited? ]

In short: I think she's a horrible tacky person, but I admire her pure capitalistic talent.

#34 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 09:53 AM:

The moon would be a great site for astronomy. Craters provide natural shapes for large dishes, and if you build them on the far side, you're shielded from the earth's visual light and radio pollution. It would be easier to service than the Hubble.

#35 ::: James Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 10:18 AM:

"The moon would be a great site for astronomy. [snip] It would be easier to service than the Hubble."

Aside from the fact that the US can get to LEO with crewed ships currently in stock but hasn't had the technology to send people to the Moon for about thirty years.

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 12:23 PM:

They can service Hubble, but don't want to do it. Someone might get hurt. The astronomers and cosmologists aren't happy with that decision. (I'm not happy either; I think of Hubble as 'my idiot nephew' because of all the bits of optics my sister worked on.)

#37 ::: Jackie M. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 12:59 PM:

Someone could just as easily get hurt constructing/servicing a moonscope. Where hurt = dead.

No, the argument has to be, we're going to Mars, might as well stop at the Moon on the way out. The Moon is not an end unto itself.

But it's all just smoke and mirrors. The only reason I can think of for this country, let alone this administration, really pursuing either the Moon or Mars is, well, contractors. Somebody has friends at Lockheed as well as Haliburton, and with no tangible wars to fight they're going to need another source of income to keep their share prices high.

Public opinion and the polls certainly can't be the motivating factor -- it's too expensive, and there's just not enough support.

#38 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2005, 10:08 PM:

And the other piece of comment spam.

#39 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2005, 05:12 PM:

"Victorious warriors win first then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first then seek to win."

-Sun-tzu, The Art of War

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.