Friday, August 22, 2014

Extremism in Any Form is Evil

Update:  8-28-2014:  A version of this made the op ed page of the Waco,  Texas,  "Tribune Herald" Thursday 8-20-14.

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Muslim extremist organization we call ISIS has brought to a head a very serious question:  what do we do about evident evil operating in our midst?  Mr. Foley’s murder is not the only crime  committed by these people:  thousands have already died at their hands in Syria and Iraq.         

ISIS is an example of religious extremism in operation “at full tilt”.  These are people who believe that God has told them to kill those who think differently from them,  in any way.  They believe so strongly in this,  that they are willing to commit any atrocity,  no matter how evil,  “in the name of God”. 

My reading of the Bible and multiple other religious texts leads me to believe two things:  (1) these scriptures are complicated and self-contradictory enough to support any interpretation one wants to promulgate,  simply by taking things out of context,  and more importantly (2) if that little voice inside you says “kill for God”,  that ain’t God you are listening to.  It’s Satan (or whatever name in any religion for the personification of evil). 

We are now faced with the rapid spread of a very evil idea across much of the middle east and Africa,  plus some other places,  including here at home.   Since before the 9-11 attacks,  we have been trying to fight this evil idea with military force,  and with police work.  In all the decades since,  we have not succeeded. 

We have also completely failed to recognize that it is not exclusively Muslim extremism that threatens us!  There have been Christian extremists willing to kill doctors and bomb clinics over here,  for many years now.  “Killing for God”!  That’s really Satan’s work. 

You must remember that all religions can be corrupted by the evil of extremism. 

Governments around the world have completely failed to stand up to this evil in any effective way.  You don’t fight a bad idea with weapons,  you fight it with a better idea. 

And that means that you demonstrate publicly and frequently why your idea is good,  while simultaneously demonstrating publicly and frequently why their idea is bad.  Our government is so hog-tied with “political correctness” that it has not ever done this,  and to this day it cannot,  “for fear of offending someone”. 

Not offending the bad guys?  That’s utter bullshit!

Folks,  the only folks who should be offended by such a message are the evil extremists themselves!  I really don’t care if I offend them,  they are Satan’s minions!  Death is too good for them,  but very expedient for the rest of us.

What all of us really have to do is get the truth out there,  to prevent the further spread of this evil religious-extremist idea,  no matter the religious label it bears. 

And spread it has,  especially among the uneducated and the downtrodden,  which is something I can understand.  Why educated persons would fall for an extremist creed is something I do not personally understand,  but the available data says that they do:  the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan for one,  who held a doctoral degree in the mental health field. 

Since governments around the world,  especially ours,  are paralyzed by political correctness and completely ineffective,  this counter-message has to come from the grassroots.  I don’t care what religion we are talking about,  if there is a preacher of whatever stripe promoting violence and hostility from his pulpit,  then remove him!  Cast him out as the servant of Satan that he is.  Period. 

The rest of you,  testify to your neighbors,  especially those of other religions,  about how God does not demand that we kill unbelievers.  Right now,  it is crucially important that the good majority of Muslims speak out in exactly this way,  for it is Muslim extremists who are killing the most people right now.  But,  that does not let the rest of us off the hook!

It’ll take at least 2 or 3 generations to rid the world of this evil,  but we can do it,  all of us,  together.  Doesn’t matter what your faith is. 

The hell of it is,  political extremism is just as evil.  Examples include the Nazis,  the Fascists,  and the Communists,  just in the 20th century.  I see political extremism on the rise all around us,  right here in the US,  and it will eventually be just as deadly as religious extremism,  to the continued existence of a free people. 

Think about that,  before you forward your next political-email hit-piece.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Realities of Air Launch to Low Earth Orbit

Air launch to LEO works better if you take into account the three top items in their order of importance:  (1) staging speed,  (2) path angle at staging,  and (3) staging altitude.  These three items are not even close to equal importance,  speed is simply everything (an unfortunate technological fact-of-life).  You get do-able second stage mass ratios starting about Mach 5 to 6,  and reasonable second-stage mass ratios at about Mach 10,  for two-stage vehicles. 

Speed at staging figures directly into the delta-vee requirements associated with the rocket equation for the second stage.  Path angle at staging gets you to a second stage trajectory that needs no lift (and no drag-due-to-lift) for a simple non-lifting ballistic trajectory to orbit.  Altitude at staging gets you some extra energy in the flight vehicle energy-management equations,  but is the weakest of the three effects,  by far. 

An all-rocket first stage airplane can do this job,  but it is of enormous size,  with some very serious structural issues having to do with landing gear loads that start to resemble a water balloon resting on nails.  That’s a common sense thing,  as well as a structural design thing.  On the other hand,  you can save weight by using airbreathing propulsion to the greatest extent possible in that first stage.  “Greatest extent” simply means the widest-possible range of speeds.  That’s just common sense.

Scramjet is neither ready-for-prime-time technologically,  nor a wide speed-range type of propulsion just yet (X-51 flew in scramjet at Mach 5 +/- 0.1).  It takes over at about Mach 4 ,  minimum,  so going for Mach 10 capability,  you cover only a delta-Mach of 6.  If your scramjet system really only gets you to Mach 7 or 8 as currently seems practical,  well,  the delta-Mach drops to 3 or 4.  That’s a lot more likely outcome for the next few decades.

The fastest turbines that ever were (those powering the SR-71),  were good only to about Mach 3.6-ish,  which is woefully short of an adequate staging speed.  So such a first stage would require rockets as well,  and also some protection for the engines against overheated inlet air,  at speeds above Mach 3.6-ish,  which the SR-71 never had.  If the turbine-powered stage can take off on only-turbine power,  then the airbreathing delta-Mach is about 3.6-ish at maximum,  since turbine supplies static (Mach 0) thrust. 

Plain ramjet technology has been well-proven in flight for many decades now,  and can be arranged to work from Mach 1.8-ish to Mach 6 quite easily.  That's a delta-Mach of 4.2-ish.  That figure is at least as good as the more realistic scramjet concepts,  and better than any of the turbine concepts.  So,  of the choices,  it’s quite simply the best,  especially when you look at technological readiness-for-application.  That’s just basic common sense plus the facts of technological readiness. 

If one were to do a combined rocket-ramjet propulsion airplane for a first stage,  we would take off on rocket at Mach 0 and accelerate to about Mach 1.8,  then transition to ramjet and climb-and-accelerate to Mach 6 as high as is feasible,  then go back on rocket power,  pull up sharply,  and accelerate exoatmospheric to speeds that would have been near Mach 10 in the air.  And,  with ramjet,  there’s less susceptibility to overheated inlet air (no turbomachinery to damage).

That switching back and forth between rocket and ramjet requires either combined-cycle or parallel-burn (with separate engines).  Combined cycle is quite simply not technologically ready for prime time,  and has always very seriously compromised the performance of both propulsion cycles,  because of the incompatible engine geometries.  So parallel-burn with separate engines really is the way to go!  Basic common sense.   

The hardest part of the design is packaging the rocket engines somewhere in the airframe,  because the ramjet will essentially fill the fuselage (a hard technological fact-of-life).  But the rocket thrust chambers are actually quite small,  and will fit inside the aft portions of the wing strakes or fillets.  Plus,  there is now aerospike nozzle technology to eliminate drag-inducing huge engine bells.  The next hardest part of the design will be inlet and combustor heat protection-as-reusable devices,  not one-shot ablatives as in missile work. 

This could have been done at least 2 decades ago.  It was not. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Education Disaster!

The Wednesday 8-13-14 “Trib” has an opinion-page article warning that the two demoted Waco ISD principals were not the sole cause of their schools’ poor performance on the new standardized tests.  I agree,  and want to present my opinion about the truth of poor performance,  and extend it to statewide,  not just Waco ISD. 

And permit me to be extremely blunt,  in the interests of total clarity.

There is a 3-part disaster that has overwhelmed the public school system in this state (and I contend elsewhere,  too).  Until those three things are all fixed,  this horrible disaster will continue.  Those three things are:

(1) Tying funding to the outcome of a low-ball standardized test,  in the name of a political slogan (“accountability”) that has nothing to do with how education actually functions in the classroom.

(2) “Social promotion”,  meaning passing students to the next grade or class,  even though they have not mastered the necessary skills to succeed.

 (3) Grade inflation,  which has made GPA’s and diplomas meaningless in both the workplace and in the hunt for admission to college.

The standardized testing disaster is about 30 years old now.  Its hallmark characteristics are (a) the perennial promise that “things will improve because we will hold people accountable”,   (b) the perennial result that things do not improve,  and (c) the testing standard is always a minimum “low-ball” expectation of student performance. 

One operational definition of insanity is repeating the same things over and over,  and expecting a different outcome.  TEAMS,  TAAS,  TAKS,  now STAAR,  nothing about this series of test incarnations is really any different at all.  Nothing has ever improved,  excepting some very limited local exceptions (which prove to have nothing to do with testing and “accountability”,  upon close inspection). 

Question:  why are we still doing this,  when it is quite demonstrably insane? 

Answer:  follow the money.  Not only is this a mindless scheme for allocating increasingly-scarce resources from an increasingly-stingy state,  but also it has spawned an enormous parasitic business community supplying testing materials and “test training” materials for students,  for profit. 

That’s where a lot of the money now goes,  that used to go to school funding.  A lot of the rest funds the burgeoning bureaucracy instead of schools themselves.  Miseducation-for-profit.  Evil.

Anybody who has ever set a goal for others knows that you must set the mark high.  A few will reach it,  most will fall short,  that’s just life.  If you set the mark high,  many of those falling short will still perform acceptably.  If you set the mark low,  all those falling short will fail. 

All of these standardized tests have been and still are low-ball marks.  Wrong idea!  Worse-than-useless. 

Tying funding to the standardized test puts extreme pressure on schools to teach only to the test,  which is a low-ball mark,  guaranteeing failure,  actually.  Money talks louder than the law,  as we all already know. 

So it doesn’t matter that the law says “teach your subject”,  the money says otherwise.  “If it ain’t on the test,  it don’t get taught”.  Bad idea!  Very great evil!

The other two evils are older than the standardized testing disaster.  I saw their beginnings around me in the mid 1950’s. 

Social promotion comes from being more concerned about self-esteem than about demonstrable mastery of knowledge and skills.   But,  the workplace only values mastery of knowledge and skills,  it doesn’t care one whit about self-esteem!   None of my contemporaries who were “socially promoted” ever did well in subsequent grades. 

So,  social promotion demonstrably doesn’t work,  and it is the wrong preparation for the workplace.  Why are we still doing this?  Extremely bad idea! 

Grade inflation comes about from not grading student results on an absolute standard (grading-on-the-curve).  The old absolute standard was usually 70% for passing,  as determined by experience in previous centuries.  It worked then,  it’ll still work now.  Simple as that. 

Generally speaking,  there is content appropriate to each grade or course,  and test materials of many kinds have long been available to assess whether students have mastered the content.  For centuries,  this is how teachers at all levels did their jobs quite effectively. Graduating students actually knew their stuff.  But no more!

Why did we quit doing this?  It has made diplomas worthless.   Graduates are unfit for the workplace.  This is completely insane!

Final comments:

In earlier decades,  accountability came about entirely locally by the principal knowing whether or not his teachers were doing their jobs effectively.  That was his job:  to know and to act.  The superintendent’s job was to know whether his principals were doing theirs,  and to act.  The school board’s job was to know whether its superintendent was doing his job,  and to act.  All local,  with the school board accountable at the local polls.

This local control system that worked so well has been usurped by state (and now federal) bureaucrats intent on micromanaging and controlling all aspects of education to a one-size-fits-all formula.  It’s all based on the demonstrably-insane idea of low-ball standardized testing,  which today so profoundly distorts classroom teaching and curriculum away from what was developed over the centuries.  It is also very expensive to operate vast bureaucracies like that. 

Please be careful who you elect to statewide office:  they have been driving this disaster for the last 3 decades,  at the very least.  All that we really need from the state is (a) the money,  and (b) a proper list of what to teach in each grade and class (which we already have).  Local control supplies all the accountability we ever needed. 

I’m not sure we need anything from the feds.  Their money always has insane strings attached.

The rest of the insane state education superstructure that we have let build up over the last few decades needs to be destroyed,  and not replaced.  There would be a lot more money to go around directly to the schools that way. 

Beware:  this same insanity is also beginning to creep into higher education! 

To paraphrase Smokey the Bear:  only you can prevent this disaster,  at the polls.