Monday, August 6, 2018

Exploring Mars Lander Configurations

I have corresponded on-line with many people who want to explore what might be feasible as a Mars lander vehicle.  I worked out a configuration sizing and performance analysis,  and coded it into a spreadsheet.   This uses nothing more than algebra and the rocket equation.  I used it to get these results in this article.  If you want a copy of this spreadsheet,  email me.  I would be happy to forward it to you.  This article,  among other things,  is a user's manual for that spreadsheet.  It addresses one-stage,  two-way,  reusable vehicles;  and two-stage,  two-way,  non-reusable vehicles. 

There are 4 worksheets in the spreadsheet.  One ("misc"),  is where among other things,  you can guess realistic estimates of vehicle inert mass fraction,  by stage if multi-stage.  Two other worksheets address one-stage and two-stage vehicles.  If two-stage,  all of the descent is handled by one stage,  and all of the ascent by the other.  In all cases,  the same max payload is used for both ascent and descent calculations. 

The fourth worksheet is an exploration of re-engining a vehicle with a different propellant combination,  at the same propellant total volume.  That proved not very practical,  because the oxidizer and fuel tank volumes must also change.  That is a core rebuild,  not just a re-engine effort. 

If instead,  you want to know what the now-cancelled Red Dragon might have done at Mars,  I worked out a reverse-engineering analysis with minimal but realistic assumptions some time ago,  based on posted Spacex data.  It covers cargo Dragon,  crewed Dragon,  and Red Dragon.  That article is posted at as the article dated 3-6-17 and titled "Reverse-Engineered Dragon Data".

"Mars Landers My Way"

Here is a crude but well-in-the-ballpark way to estimate the size and performance of aerobrake/retropropulsion-type Mars landers from the payload masses they must carry.  These would be large vehicles operating between low Mars orbit and the surface.  End-of-aerobraking would be too low for using chutes.

Flight requirement conditions are 3.55 km/s orbital velocity,  0.70 km/s remaining velocity about 45 degrees downward at around 3-5 km altitude for heavy vehicles coming out of aerobraking entry,  about a 2% empirical "kitty" for gravity and drag losses applied to ideal delta-vee,  and a factor 1.5-to-2 scaleup on the min landing delta-vee,  for direct retropropulsive landing without chutes. That's about 1.05-to-1.4 km/s min to land.  An on-orbit rendezvous and maneuver "kitty" is modeled as a user input factor Frm (greater than 1) applied to the ascent delta-vee. This is only slightly greater than one,  if no orbital plane change is required.

Vehicle design requirements depend upon whether the vehicle is one stage or two.  If one stage,  for design purposes, the ascent and descent payloads are assumed the same at the user-input design maximum value.  If two stage,  the same payload assumptions are true,  plus stage 1 is sized for the descent delta-vee,  while stage 2 is designed for the ascent delta-vee.

The inert mass fractions for each stage are user-input values.  Caution should be applied to select reasonable values for designs that must include landing legs,  heat shields,  enough structural robustness to handle rough landings and whatever degree of reusability that the user intends,  and excess vehicle volume to enclose bulky,  low-density payload during aerobraking.  This volume may require pressurization,  and may even need to be compartmentalized under pressure.  It is recommended that these inert fractions be 10% or greater,  even for a simple 1-shot design.

The propulsion model is very simple:  a user-input value for the average delivered Isp out of the engines.  This should be a realistic value factored for real efficiencies and any off-angle mounting effects.  The effective exhaust velocity model is Isp x gc, for use in the rocket equation. Metric gc = 9.807 m/s^2.

Descent engine thrust sizing is based upon 0.7 km/s to be "killed",  along a slant path about 7 km long (assuming a 5 km altitude at 45 degrees),  at the vehicle descent ignition mass,  and Mars gravity (0.384 gee). This is for the total of the descent engines at near full thrust.  It is effectively a 3.6 standard-gee initial deceleration requirement applied to the max descent mass.  (This velocity change is factored-up for losses and maneuvering effects.) 

Ascent engine thrust sizing is based upon a force ratio factor (3) applied to the local weight of the ascent ignition mass at Mars gravity (0.384 gee) to achieve about 2 Mars gravity's net upward acceleration.  It works out to about a 3 standard-gee requirement. Rapid accelerations ease control problems by taking advantage of pitch and yaw inertia.  If accelerated rapidly,  the vehicle does not have time to change attitude significantly. 

For single stage designs,  the greater thrust requirement of the two,  is actually used.  For two-stage designs,  the thrust requirement (and user-input Isp) can be different for each stage.  Throttle-down capabilities and number of engines making up the thrust are not specified in this sizing procedure.

One-Stage Vehicle Sizing:

User inputs are max payload mass Wpay (kg),  specific impulse Isp (sec),  inert mass fraction Win/Wig,  landing velocity scale-up factor RV (min 1.5,  max 2),  and ascent rendezvous and manuever "kitty" Frm (recommend a number between 1.05 and 1.10 as long as no plane changes are required). This Frm factor applies to delta-vee,  not sized propellant mass.  A summary of results takes the form of an overall weight statement with overall mass ratio and total delta-vee shown. 

Exhaust velocity Vex (km/s) = Isp (sec) x 9.807 / 1000
Required delta-vee capability dV (km/s) = 0.7 * RV + 3.55 * 1.02 * Frm (first term descent delta-vee,  second term ascent delta-vee)
Mass Ratio MR = exp(DV/Vex)
Propellant fraction Wp/Wig = 1 - 1/MR
Payload fraction Wpay/Wig = 1 - Win/Wig - Wp/Wig (infeasible if negative or zero)
Ignition Mass Wig (kg) = Wpay/(Wpay/Wig)
Propellant Mass Wp (kg) = Wig*(Wp/Wig)
Burnout mass Wbo (kg) = Wig - Wp
Thrust requirement Fth (KN) = larger of {Wig * 3 * 9.807 / 1000 or 3.6 * 9.807 * Wig / 1000} pending number of engines and which are used

Two-Stage Vehicle Sizing (stage 1 descent,  stage 2 ascent):

User input max payload mass Wpay (kg),  specific impulses Isp1 and Isp2 (sec) for stages 1 and 2,  inert mass fractions Win1/Wig and Win2/Wig for stages 1 and 2,  landing velocity scale-up factor RV (min 1.5,  max 2),  and ascent rendezvous and maneuver "kitty" Frm. A summary of results takes the form of descent and ascent weight statements,  with stage mass ratios and delta-vees shown.

Exhaust velocities Vex1 and Vex2 (km/s) = Isp (sec) x 9.807 / 1000 for stages 1 and 2

For the ascent stage required delta-vee capability dV2 (km/s) = 3.55 * 1.02 * Frm
Ascent stage mass ratio MR2 = exp(dV2/Vex2)
Ascent propellant fraction Wp2/Wig2 = 1 - 1/MR2
Ascent payload fraction Wpay/Wig2 = 1 - Win2/Wig2 - Wp2/Wig2
Ascent ignition mass Wig2 (kg) = descent payload mass = Wpay/(Wpay/Wig2)
Ascent propellant mass Wp2 (kg) = Wig2*(Wp2/Wig2)
Ascent burnout mass Wbo2 (kg) = Wig2 - Wp2
Ascent thust requirement Fth2 (KN) = Wig2 * 3 * 9.807 / 1000

For the descent stage required delta-vee capability dV1 (km/s) = 0.7 * RV
Descent stage mass ratio MR1 = exp(dV1/Vex1)
Descent propellant fraction Wp1/Wig1 = 1 - 1/MR1
Descent payload fraction Wpay/Wig1 = 1 - Win1/Wig1 - Wp1/Wig1
Descent ignition mass Wig1 (kg) = Wig2/(Wpay/Wig1)  recall that the ascent stage ignition mass is the payload for the descent stage
Descent propellant mass Wp1 (kg) = Wig1*(Wp1/Wig1)
Descent burnout mass Wbo1 (kg) = Wig1 - Wp1
Descent thrust requirement Fth1 (KN) = Wig1 * 3.6 * 9.807 / 1000

Payload Volume Estimates

User inputs include the average bulk density of the payload materials,  and an effective packing fraction for how tightly-together the individual items are spaced.  A minimum value of the payload bay volume is then based on the sized max payload mass:  vol (cu.m) = Wpay (kg) / (1000 * specific gravity * packing fraction).  This is true for any design.  The vehicle dimensions depend upon what specific configurations are to be analyzed. That is beyond scope here.

One-Stage Vehicle Performance Estimates

The nominal design performance estimates presume the same max payload in ascent as in descent.  The vehicle is presumed to be fueled on-orbit about Mars,  and must return to orbit for any refueling.  The descent and ascent delta-vees are used separately to determinine mass ratios,  to define the individual descent and ascent propellant masses,  and thus the ascent ignition mass.  Results take the form of a two-burn weight statement,  with two mass ratios and two delta-vees shown,  and an overall payload fraction.  Also shown are the mass percentages of propellant capacity used in each burn.  Because thrust is defined from initial descent ignition mass,  this ignition mass value is taken to be a design limit.  Because the propellant tankage is of fixed size,  the design total propellant mass is taken to be another design limit.

If used for a one-way descent,  there is no need to carry the ascent propellant,  and its mass equivalence may be added directly to max payload.  This stays within both the ignition mass and propellant mass design limits.  The results are reported as a one-burn mass ratio and delta-vee,  with percent of propellant capacity that is actually loaded also shown,  plus an overall payload fraction.  This payload is very much larger than the nominal design value for two-way operation.  To recover and re-use the vehicle,  there must be propellant refueling capability on the Martian surface. Using user inputs for payload mean density and packing fraction,  a min payload containment volume is also defined and shown.  This payload is the largest for the one-way descent scenario. 

If propellant refueling capability is available on the surface,  then a one-way ascent also becomes possible at somewhat-increased payload.  One will hit the max ignition weight limit before hitting the design propellant capacity limit,  for any properly-sized design.  Using the ascent delta-vee and max ignition mass,  the burnout mass can be determined,  and with it,  plus the inert mass of the design,  can also be determined the ascent propellant mass,  and the total payload that can be carried,  which will exceed the two-way design value.  These results are presented as a one-burn weight statement,  with mass ratio,  delta-vee,  and percent of propellant capacity actually loaded.  Payload mass fraction is also shown. Such a vehicle could be refuelled on-orbit,  and re-used.

Overall,  the nominal one-stage two-way vehicle configuration design result is a very large vehicle that carries a rather small payload on the design two-way mission.  This very same design can carry enormous descent cargo if used one-way,  then refueled on the surface.  It also gets a significantly improved ascent cargo,  if operated one-way from the surface,  having been fueled there.

Typical One-Stage,  Two-Way,  Reusable Results

Figure 1 shows where some of the numbers used in the analysis came from.  The 3 ton payload presumes a man with suit and spares,  and a month's open-cycle food, water,  and oxygen,  all masses half a ton.  A crew of 3,  plus half a ton of instruments and equipment,  and a one-ton rover car,  totals to 3 tons of payload.

 Figure 1 -- Design Analysis Assumptions for One-Stage Two-Way Vehicle

This figure includes a result from a semi-organized way to guess a ballpark inert mass fraction for the vehicle structure.  That figure also shows the basic assumptions made about the lander configuration.  There is a center cylindrical core containing the propellant tanks,  a sealed engine compartment,  and a crew control cabin that could also be an abort-to-surface escape capsule,  somewhat similar to the Red Dragon concept from Spacex.

Around this core is a conical volume containing the ascent or descent cargo.  There are a heat shield and extendible landing legs attached to the cargo deck,  that in turn is the frame tying the vehicle together.  The conical cargo volume is pressurizable in a compartmented sense,  and can serve as considerable crew habitation volume.  It is deliberately sized to contain a large amount of low density cargo at low packing fraction.  The overall shape resembles the old Gemini capsule.

Because the engine compartment is otherwise sealed,  the engines can fire through openings in the heat shield without any closures during aerobraking,  since there is no through-flow into a dead-end passage.  A static gas column is the best insulator of all.

Figure 2 shows the sized results at 330 sec specific impulse (a typical figure for a fairly large expansion bell,  using storables like MMH-NTO).  The most notable result item is the low payload mass fraction,  because of the high inert fraction more-or-less inherent with this kind of design.  A higher-specific impulse propellant combination (such as liquid methane - LOX) would offset the inert mass fraction effect some,  and push the vehicle to a higher payload fraction. Liquid methane - LOX is thought to be producible on Mars,  given an adequate source of water ice. At 330 sec (storables) and 0.2 inert fraction,  payload is just over 2.1% of ignition weight.  At 360 sec Isp (more like liquid methane-LOX),  this rises to just over 8.0%.  

 Figure 2 -- Sizing and Nominal Performance Results for One-Stage Two-Way Vehicle

Figure 3 shows the descent and ascent performance possibilities obtained with surface refueling of this very same vehicle,  using the sized ignition mass and sized propellant quantity as hard limits.  Ignition mass sized the engine thrust,  which requires a thrust increase if it grows.  The propellant tanks are of fixed volume,  which renders max loaded propellant mass a constant. Note the remarkably-large payload mass fraction available in this vehicle if operated one-way in descent,  assuming surface refueling for re-use.  The effect during ascent is much smaller,  but still considerable,  for a surface-fueled,  one-way ascent. For 330 sec and 0.2 inert,  the descent payload fraction rises from 2.1% to over 52%,  and the ascent payload fraction rises from that 2.1% to about 9.2%. 

Figure 3 -- Performance of One-Stage Two-Way Vehicle Operated with Surface Refuelling

Overall, the conclusion here is that,  given the "right" propellants compatible with surface refueling, this rather limited two-way payload capability dramatically grows into a very versatile one-way capability,  made reusable in that mode with that surface refueling. This kind of design approach offers great promise of long and versatile service life without any need to develop new vehicles.

One final observation:  it might be wise to upsize the design thrust per engine in a multi-engine cluster,  in order to cover an engine-out situation.  This requires increasing further the engine turndown ratio,  plus shutting down even more engines later in the trajectory, in order to stay within a nominal 3-4 gee ride limitation.

Two-Stage Vehicle Performance Estimates

These estimates are easier and less extensive.  The vehicle is fundamentally non-reusable.  The ascent stage and mission payload are together the payload of the first stage (descent stage).  Each stage is already a one-way,  one-use item.  There is only nominal design performance at max payload to evaluate for each stage.  You do the ascent stage first at the ascent delta-vee,  then use its ignition weight as the effective payload for a descent stage evaluated at its delta-vee.  These numbers are computed as part of the sizing process.  They get reported as a two-stage combined weight statement,  with mass ratios and delta-vees for the two flight segments.  Overall payload fraction is also shown.  Propellant tanks are always filled to capacity in a vehicle delivered to low Mars orbit.

The only variation would be to replace the ascent stage with a simple payload pod of equivalent total mass to the ascent stage.  This is the only way available to increase the payload mass deliverable by a descent stage to the surface.  The disadvantage is that this delivery of increased cargo delivers no ascent stage at all.

Typical Two-Stage,  Two-Way,  One-Shot Results

The assumptions and configuration approaches for the two-stage,  two-way,  one-shot design are given in Figure 4.  Note that there is no backshell for the hypersonic entry.  Instead,  exposed structures need a thin coat of an ablative,  perhaps Avcoat.  The plasma is quite hot,  but the flow velocity and its heat transfer scrubbing action are much reduced,  compared to the windward side of the heat shield.  The descent stage propellant tanks are tapered,  so as to be out of direct windblast,  even at fairly high pitch or yaw angles during hypersonic entry.

 Figure 4 -- Assumptions and Source Data for Two-Stage One-Shot Vehicle Design

What obtained was a very much smaller lander-and-ascent vehicle,  as described in Figure 5,  which gives sized data and nominal performance,  plus a max cargo delivery variant without an ascent stage. Replacing the ascent stage with a cargo pod significantly increases the deliverable payload mass.  I used a 10% inert fraction for this cargo pod,  on the assumption that it be designed as pressurizable and compartmentalizable.  That way,  additional habitable space could be brought down by this variant.  The "standard" form with the ascent vehicle has a pressurizable cargo bay,  but it is quite small,  too small for an extended visit without some augmentation sent down by other means.

Figure 5 -- Nominal and Max-Cargo Variant Performance for the Two-Stage One-Shot Lander

There is one design possibility here that could possibly reduce inert weight further,  something that directly increases payload fraction in any scenario.  That would be to use the ascent engines as part of the descent engine count.  That would reduce the number of engines to be incorporated in the design,  but it would require a switchable propellant interconnection between the two stages,  one that must be disconnected entirely,  before the ascent stage can lift off.  Whether the engine count reduction reduces inert weight more than the propellant interconnection hardware increases it,  is an unknown that remains to be seen. That level of detail requires real detail design,  which this configuration study is not.

One-Shot Versus Reusable Effects

The one-shot,  two-stage vehicle carries the same payload as the one-stage reusable vehicle,  but is very,  very much smaller overall.  In part,  this is the staging effect,  which for this application is going to be inherently non-reusable.  When required delta-vee is high,  the propellant mass fraction is also very high,  with an exponential dependence.  Since propellant mass fraction,  inert mass fraction,  and payload mass fraction must add linearly to unity,  then for a demanding delta-vee,  often the payload fraction is quite tiny,  or even infeasible as a negative number. Staging is a way to reduce the required delta-vee on each portion of the vehicle,  so that feasible payload fractions result. 

With staging and inherent non-reusability,  there is no need to build the structures capable of withstanding the rigors more than once.  That leads to lower inert fractions,  reflecting the more fragile structure.  That is why the stage inert fractions in the two-stage non-reusable vehicle are lower than the inert fractions in the one-stage vehicle that is intended to be reusable.  Lower inert fractions also lead to larger payload fractions,  for any given delta-vee and its corresponding propellant fraction.  The two effects together produce the great disparity in ignition masses for the two designs.

Propellant Selection Effects

The propellant combination assumed for both configuration designs was the well-known storable combination MMH-NTO.  Storables require simple,  lightweight tankage,  and are good for long times between firings (days,  months,  even years).  Cryogenics can only use simple,  lightweight tankage if the time between loading propellant and its use is relatively short (hours-to-days only).  Otherwise,  they need insulated tanks or Dewar flasks,  and perhaps powered cryocooler rigs.  This increases inert mass fractions,  a choice which has since been added to the spreadsheet's "guess-the-inert-fraction" feature.

For nozzles firing into vacuum, or near-vacuum as is the Martian atmosphere,  expansion bells can be large,  and the specific impulse higher than at sea level on Earth.  That is where the 330 sec value used in the design study came from.  This value of specific impulse is easily converted to a good approximation of the exhaust velocity,  for the purpose of doing configuration studies with the rocket equation.  For a real detailed design,  you need to do real engine-nozzle ballistics with a real engine design. That is out-of-scope here.

Higher specific impulse is higher exhaust velocity,  leading to smaller propellant fraction for a given delta-vee demand. The one-stage reusable vehicle configuration is right at the "hairy edge" of feasibility with 330 sec of specifc impulse,  with the result of a very low payload fraction.  For a given payload requirement,  that makes the vehicle ignition weight very large. 

MMH-NTO is not a combination currently contemplated as a possible thing to manufacture on Mars from local resources.  The mild cryogen combination liquid methane-LOX is a good candidate for local manufacture on Mars.  Its vacuum-bell specific impulse will be nearer 360 sec.  That is a significant increase in specific impulse and effective exhaust velocity over the storables,  leading to a significant decrease in required propellant mass fractions.  For the same inerts otherwise,  this could be a significant increase in payload mass fractions. 

The first inclination is to try this higher specific impulse in both designs.  However,  mission practicalities say otherwise.  The two-stage one-shot lander is sent from Earth to Mars orbit,  or to a direct entry.  The journey there is months long.  That is fine for the storables,  but not for the mild cryogens.  Inert mass fraction must increase for the insulated Dewar tankage and cryocoolers required for the months-long voyage to Mars.  Plus,  the design is inherently one-shot.  It will never be refueled for any reuse,  precisely because it is two-stage.  Thus the storable design is simply the better choice for that application.

The one-stage reusable design is similar,  in that at least initially,  the right choice is storables,  because of the months-long journey to Mars.  The design as it is,  simply cannot afford the weight of insulated Dewars and cryocoolers,  even with the higher specific impulse.  When I plug in 25% inert and 360 sec specific impulse,  payload fraction drops to zero.  Such a vehicle would have to be shipped empty to Mars,  and its propellant supply shipped separately,  until propellant production is established on the surface of Mars.  That is just not very practical.  An empty vehicle is no good for direct entry,  and cannot maneuver itself,  even if separately braked into Mars orbit.

However,  once propellant production is actually established on Mars,  vehicles with simple lightweight tankage,  previously operating on storables based from Mars orbit,  could be landed and re-engined with liquid methane-LOX engines,  and operated for relatively short flights from the surface of Mars reusably,  and locally refuelled.  In that case,  the specific impulse is now 360 sec,  with the inert fraction still only about 20%.   Unfortunately,  the fuel to oxidixer volume ratios are wrong for this,  being about 2-to-2.7 by mass for the storables,  and in the vicinity of 3.25 for the mild cryogens.  What that really says is that you design the thing to use liquid methane-LOX from the outset,  or else you design it to use MMH-NTO storables from the outset.  Re-engining is not really an option. 

Not only the engines,  but also the tankage volume ratio in the center core,  must be substantially altered to allow the use of mild cryogen propellants made on Mars.  That is a major structural design change.  This is not a very practical thing to attempt. 

Overall Conclusions

Either design approach will work. 

If one-shot,  use a two-stage vehicle using storable propellants.  It can land about 3 tons for a 22.2 ton vehicle,  using those storable propellants,  from either low Mars orbit or direct entry.  Replacing the ascent stage with a cargo pod,  it can land 12.4 tons in that same 22.2 ton vehicle.  The ascent stage can take that same 3 tons back to Mars orbit.  Available cargo volume convertable to habitation space is quite limited,  being around 20 cubic meters nomimal,  and only 82.9 cubic meters if the ascent stage is replaced by a cargo pod. 

If one-stage and reusable,  and refuelled in Mars orbit from a storable propellant supply kept there,  the vehicle can land about 3 tons in each flight,  in a vehicle massing 269 tons at ignition.  It can carry the same 3 ton payload back to Mars orbit.  These are the same storable propellants as the two-stage non-reusable configuration. 

Replacing the ascent propellant with cargo as a one-way descent trip,  means that 140.7 tons can be landed without the possibility of reuse. Similarly,  if refuelled with storables on the surface somehow,  it can bring 24.7 tons of payload back to Mars orbit.  The same 269 ton ignition mass limit applies to the two-way and one-way cases.  Cargo volume potentially habitable is over 469 cubic meters,  based on the cargo descent with no ascent. 

There is no scenario where re-engining the two-stage one-shot vehicle to use liquid methane-LOX produced on Mars makes any sense.  That is because nothing about this design is reusable in any way.  That eliminates the point of any surface refuelling. 

Re-engining the one-stage reusable vehicle to use liquid methane-LOX produced on Mars also makes no sense,  because the oxidizer and fuel tank volumes are all wrong in the very core of the vehicle.  This is a major redesign and rebuild problem,  not just an engine replacement problem. 

Finally,  it makes no sense to design the vehicles from the outset to use liquid methane-LOX propellants,  because of the increases in inert fractions to counter boil-off losses during the months-long transit to Mars,  plus the fact that,  initially,  such propellants are simply not available at Mars.  Those increases in inert fraction negate the gains in propellant fraction at the higher specific impulse.  In point of fact,  payload fraction gets zeroed. 

Whichever approach you choose,  go with storable propellants such as MMH-NTO.  Personally,  I like the one-stage reusable design,  because of what it can do if used as a one-way descent vehicle.  The tankage is just twice as lightweight.  I also like two-way reusability based from Mars orbit,  if sufficient propellant can be shipped there from Earth. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Mr. Trump has apparently stepped across the line into treason.  Many observers have noted serious wrongdoing,  a few so far have even used the word “treason”. 

Mr. Trump has weakened the western alliance for Mr. Putin by denigrating the allies at every turn (the G-7 meeting in Canada,  the NATO summit in Brussels,  his visit to the UK,  etc),  and imposing unnecessary tariffs,  trying to start trade wars with them. 

Soviet Russia and now Putin’s Russia has been trying to weaken our alliance unsuccessfully for over 7 decades.  Mr. Trump has done it for them in only a year and a half. 

At the Helsinki summit news conference,  Mr. Trump then gut-punched his own intelligence community to stick up for Putin.  He defended Putin against reporters’ questions.  The smirk on Putin's face was evident.

At the same news conference,  Mr. Trump then tried to blame poor relations with Russia on Mueller's investigation.  He so obviously still believes the fiction that Mueller's investigation is solely just a witch hunt against him.  It is not. 

Mueller’s investigation began before Mr. Trump became President,  and its charter was to find out what exactly happened regarding election meddling,  how they did it,  who exactly did it,  and did they have any help on the US side?   Exactly as it should be. 

The “collusion” thing is but a small piece of that investigation,  dealing with the “did they have any help on the US side?” question.    That’s no witch hunt,  that’s quite a proper question to investigate. 

Billions have seen this play out on live television the last couple of weeks.  Weakening the western alliance for Putin’s Russia is at the very least “providing aid and comfort to the enemy”,  as one of the two Constitutional definitions of treason has it.  Only two witnesses are required.

The House of Representatives brings the charges as Articles of Impeachment.  The Senate then tries the case,  with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding,  not the Vice President.  It takes a 2/3 majority to convict.  That is what the Constitution says.

It is now urgent for the House and Senate to deal with this apparent treason.  If they do not deal with this fairly quickly,  they are complicit in it,  by any possible reasonable standard.  And you,  the American people,  must hold them accountable at election time.  This is way more important than any conceivable party politics. 

Update 7-19-18:  Notwithstanding the various quite pathetic walk-backs of what Trump said in Helsinki and afterwards,  it is quite clear what he said and meant in Helsinki,  and to the allies in the month preceding.  If that combination is not treason of the “aid and comfort” type,  it is perilously close,  and merits severe corrective action. 

There is no question that the House and Senate need to deal with this,  and quickly,  and it appears that the majority of Americans are aware of this.  The fate of the western alliance that has kept the world more-or-less at peace for 70 years is at stake.  But what I see are politicians mostly scrambling to give misbehaving Trump another “pass” for their own political advantage,  instead of doing their sworn duty for the American people.  They are thus complicit in Trump’s treason,  in my opinion.

At this point,  all I can recommend is voting for “the other guy”,  no matter who it is,  in every election from 2018 onward.  I don’t see how we could do any worse.  We might do a lot better.  This is way beyond any party politics in its seriousness,  which is exactly why who the “other guy” is,  does not matter.  Just replace the whole misbehaving lot!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Immigration Politics and the Nazification of America

This article appeared in essentially its submitted form,  in the Waco Tribune-Herald,  on Saturday,  July 7,  2018.  It takes on the immigration and refugee problems,  which are but one piece of a larger pattern that I see as the gradual nazification of America.  That is a path to our destruction as a nation.


The Immigration Problem 

There are really three separate parts to the general immigrant problem:  temporary guest workers,  refugees (asylum),  and undocumented children (DACA).  These are all quite different.  There is no one-size-fits-all thing to do about them,  no matter how inconvenient that might be for politics.

Temporary Guest Workers:

There two categories here, termed “skilled” and “unskilled” workers.  Skilled workers (and families) get H2 visas,  and there aren’t very many of these.  This category is not a worry for our purposes here.

Unskilled workers also divide into “agricultural” and “other”.  The agricultural workers and their families get H1A visas,  and are also known as “migrant farm workers”.  The “other” get H1B visas,  and many of these also bring their families. 

Most of these “other” are in construction work,  and more recently lawn care and many other unskilled jobs.  The quota for H1A and H1B visas is not strictly enforced (there being some exceptions granted once the cap is reached),  but generally speaking,  there are only something like 100,000 to 150,000 of these in any given year.  The term of the visa is only a year.  The idea behind them is “seasonal work”.

The size of the labor market these people fill is a big chunk of the number of undocumented aliens in the US:  something like 10 or 12 million people.  Assuming an immigrant family is two adults and 4 kids,  and that both adults work,  that’s at least about 3-4 million jobs they fill.  Fewer kids,  more jobs.

The market demand is thus quite out-of-line with the legal supply:  3-4 million jobs to fill,  versus 100,000 to 150,000 guest worker visas available,  in any given year.  These people have to eat,  so they will come to the US for that work,  they have no other feasible choice. 

They will come legally if possible,  illegal if not,  precisely because they have no real choice.  These numbers say most will have to come illegally,  as forced by the unrealistically low quotas.

This has been going on for many decades.  No one should be in the least surprised by this!  For those same many decades,  congresses and administrations,  one after another,  have failed us on this issue.

Because these workers are largely illegal,  it is easy to extort hard work out of them for really crummy pay.  That is definitely unethical,  if not illegal,  abuse.  If these workers were legal,  pay in those jobs would likely be higher,  and some Americans might even want some of those jobs. 

As it is,  most Americans do not want those jobs at all,  precisely because the work is hard,  the conditions very bad,  and the pay really lousy.

The common-sense “fix” is easy:  raise the visa quotas to be in-line with the size of the labor market these workers serve.  This will cost you a few more government workers to process and manage the visas,  but as guest worker pay improves,  you will need to supply less welfare support to their families.   The size of this population may drop some,  over time,  as more Americans take some of those jobs.

Demonizing for political purposes this population of guest workers,  mostly from Mexico,  is nothing but racism masquerading as national security or public safety,  there can be no doubt about that.  The statistics prove there are actually fewer real criminals among this population,  than among Americans at large.  That eliminates the only “excuse”.

Fixing this problem properly is the “right thing to do”,  and it is actually a moral imperative.  Hold your representation accountable:  it is their job to fix this,  and they have not.  And there is no defendable excuse for that lack.

Refugees (asylum):

This is a different problem,  and a different (much smaller) population of people.  These are mostly people from a handful of failed-state Central American countries,  who are fleeing for their very lives.  The types and kinds of violence vary,  but the effect is the same:  certain death.

Under our laws and policies as they have been until very recently,  every such refugee has the right to come to our border and ask for asylum.  They have the right to have an immigration judge decide their case in a timely fashion.  Since there is no one to ask on the Mexican side,  they have the implied right to step over our border and ask an official on the American side.

It is easy enough to tell who the bona fide refugees really are.  A child will cling to its real parent,  but will have to be restrained by any bad actor using that child as a means of disguise.  A nursing mother is no smuggler,  trafficker,  or gang member.  Many of these people may have been brought here by such,  but they are not such.  (The same is true of illegal guest workers.)

This does require a real,  mature,  experienced human being to decide properly,  not some underpaid dropout with nothing but a rule book to follow by rote. 

Recently,  we have seen an unfolding crisis on our border with an unconscionable change in policy. 

Policy now criminalizes any non-citizen stepping over the border for any purpose.  Thus these people were arrested for prosecution and their children taken from them.  This was explicitly stated by some in the administration to be a deterrent to other border crossers,  including future refugees seeking asylum.

A court has recently ordered these children be reunited with their parents.  The government’s obvious difficulties tracing where these kids actually are,  speaks directly to the intended harsh policy:  there never was any original intention to reunite anybody.  Instead,  children were to be taken and essentially interned or fostered-out,  and the adults summarily deported.  The President has as much as said so.

I have to point out this evil for what it actually is:  abusing refugees,  particularly children,  for nothing but political gain.  The second House immigration bill that recently failed has exactly that political gain embedded in it:  getting Democrats to agree to fund the border wall that we really do not need,  using both DACA and these interned children as bait.  Even the moderate Republicans backed away from this evil,  which is why it failed by a large margin.  And evil it is,  to ruin lives for political gain.

You fix this by not criminalizing stepping across the border to ask for asylum.  The demand is higher of late,  so you simply put more immigration judges in place to still get this done in a timely fashion.  That actually greatly reduces detention housing costs while the cases are considered.  And,  you quit putting conditions on the kind of violence we will accept as a justification:  death is just death.  That certainty is what those people fled in the first place,  in spite of the dangers along the way.

Since both laws and policies require change,  this is something that both congress and the administration must do,  no one else can.  Hold them accountable:  there is an election this fall! 

Undocumented Children (DACA):

These are the children brought here illegally,  mostly by illegal guest workers.  These children had no choice.  They fell into a sort-of unaddressed limbo in our immigration policies and laws.  Congress after congress,  and president after president, failed to deal with this.  The previous President tried a stopgap measure.  The current President is undoing that,  and is using this issue as part of the bait to get what he wants politically. 

The statistics show that the vast majority of these kids have well-assimilated into America,  getting educated,  getting jobs.  They have become exactly what we like to see in our citizenry.  There needs to be a way to make citizens of people like that,  and currently there is not one.  That is what you fix.

It starts with some sort of interview or hearing to weed out the bad actors,  but we have to ensure that this process cannot be abused the way the asylum process recently has been.  That’s the short-term solution.  It requires actions from both congress and the administration,  and only you (at the ballot box) can hold them accountable for it.

The long-term solution depends upon properly solving the other two problems:  temporary guest workers,  and refugees seeking asylum.  Solve those properly,  and the undocumented child (DACA) problem naturally goes away,  in about a generation.  At that point,  your only remaining illegals really will be the smugglers,  traffickers,  and gang members.

How to Get These Done

Step 1.  No matter which party you favor,  ditch the politics!  Don’t fall for the propaganda from either side (and it is loud and voluminous)!  Find out the facts for yourself.  Use your logic and your knowledge of people to figure out what the truth really is,  which is always one whale-of-a-lot more complicated than some idiotic political sound-bite slogan.  If you really do this,  I think you will reach conclusions fairly similar to mine.

Step 2. Decide what you want done about these problems.  I think that if you really honestly did step 1,  you will pretty much generate the same to-do list that I did. 

Step 3. Communicate what you want done,  and why,  to your representation in Congress and in the White House.  In that communication,  let them know that you are watching for outcomes,  and that you will hold them accountable.  The addresses are well known,  and obtainable on the internet.  You can now contact them by email,  but a paper letter sent by surface mail is still more impressive.

Step 4. Actually hold them accountable at election time!  If they cannot be statesmen and do the people’s business instead of politics-as-usual,  they are just not someone you want to hold the offices,  so try somebody else.  Simple as that. 

The next election is this November.


These immigration/refugee issues are just one piece of the ongoing nazification of America.  There is also the leader-who-can-do-no-wrong cult.  And there is chronic and widespread government lying about what is being done and why.   The means and details are different than 1930's Germany,  but the overall strategies and outcomes are exactly the same.

First,  there is the in-group/out-group thing to inflame passionate support.  Groups are selected for scapegoating,  then demonization,  then abuse,  then elimination.  Same pattern as Nazi Germany,  only the details are different:  for immigrants,  separations and deportations instead of gas chambers and ovens.  Note also what is being said about political opponents.  This is quite widespread.

Second,  there is the leader-who-can-do-no-wrong cult,  which historically always leads to dictatorship.  Followers support him rabidly,  despite all facts,  and all the evident harm he brings them.  Exact same pattern as Nazi Germany.  Only the details are different,  and not by very much. 

Examples include tariffs in a trade war that will destroy heartland businesses,  a huge increase in the national debt to “finance” a tax cut that is 90+% for the super-rich,  and borderline treason by a leader who cozies up to vicious dictators like Putin and Kim Jong Un,  while insulting the leaders of our allies,  and damaging those alliance relationships. 

That is something Soviet Russia,  and now Putin’s Russia,  has tried to do without success for 70+ years:  weaken the Western Alliances.  Think “aid and comfort to the enemy”,  as one of two Constitutional definitions of treason has it.

Third,  there is constant lying by officials and staff,  although we don't call them "ministers of propaganda".  No effective difference there at all to Nazi Germany.  You can believe essentially nothing the government says.  That is EXACTLY what happened after 1933 in Germany.

If we continue down this path,  America will end up doing very great evils,  and will eventually be destroyed for it,  as was Nazi Germany.  It's the same path,  leading to the same ugly place.  Only the details are different.  And not by so very much.

My fellow citizens,  wake up!  See this evil for what it really is!  Rise up and make things different!  The Declaration of Independence says explicitly that we really can do this.  The Second Amendment to the Constitution gives you the means to make your uprising credible,  if all else fails. 

But start at the ballot box this November!  Vote for ANY alternative to this evil!  You could hardly do worse,  if you did only that.  Changing the government at the ballot box is much preferred over armed revolution,  if only because there is less mess to clean up afterwards. 

Your personal party preferences and personal ideologies have little to do with this.  Stopping the evil of nazification is far more important than any other consideration.  Simple as that. 

You all have been warned!!!!  On your heads be it,  if you do nothing!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Typical Texas Signs

Warning signs typical of Texas,  where you are expected to have at least a little bit of common sense:

I actually have one like this in my shop,  in two copies:

But I like this one even better:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

History Begins to Repeat Itself!

This is what separating and detaining families looks like at the US southern border.  This is also what US officials look like when lying about what they are doing and why.  

This is Auschwitz,  another place where families were separated and detained.  And,  where officials also lied about what they were doing and why.  

Trump’s story that the Democrats forced his hand to do this has been thoroughly debunked.  He could stop this evil with a single word. 

What this is really all about is holding children hostage to extort the money from Democrats in Congress to build the border wall that we do not need.  That has been verified.

My fellow citizens,  rise up and put a stop to this evil!  Contact your senators and representatives,  and insist that they stop this. 

If they do not,  replace them at the earliest election,  or other recall opportunity,  with someone who will.   It really is that simple.

Update 6-24-18:  I have not seen one single thing in any of the governmental actions,  or in any of the commentary,  that would induce me to change my assessment of this problem.  It is indeed a manufactured crisis to gain a political end,  and it is a real,  verifiable human rights abuse,  motivated by a political propaganda message that is essentially Hitlerian Nazi in its fundamental character.  I have also seen not one ounce of the courage required in Congress to oppose this evil,  with very few individual exceptions.  Maybe a small single handful so far.

Update 7-3-18:  I have still seen nothing to change my assessment of this situation.  As of yesterday,  it was reported that family separations finally (!!!) stopped.  But the number of children actually reunited with their parents is still,  as of today,  a number less than 10 out of over 2000 so separated.  Border crossing arrests are also reported to be down,  so this does seem to work as a deterrent,  at least short term.  But I find the cost of this "deterrent" to be totally unacceptable from a moral and ethical standpoint.  It is a human rights violation.  It is far outside that behavior recommended by all the great religions.

Update 7-6-18 There is definitely a pattern to the delays correcting by court order this atrocity.

That pattern includes and encompasses the more recent story about immigrant recruits being discharged from the military.  They were promised a path to citizenship if they enlisted.  The government has just reneged on that promise.  Can you conceive of why?

It also encompasses the toleration of Nazis and KKK'ers marching in Charlottesville,  as if their ideologies were as valid as anyone else's,  although few yet make that particular connection.  Sound familiar?  It should!

That pattern is:  select a scapegoat population,  such as immigrants,  especially those of color.  Then demonize them.  Then abuse them.  Finally,  get rid of them.  Sound familiar?  It should!

Another piece is the "beloved-leader" cult of the strongman leader.  Followers support him rabidly,  no matter how much harm he does them. Logic and facts cannot dissuade them.  Sound familiar?  It should!

Consider the effects of the trade war on the heartland figures who are Trump's political base (and largely the extreme-right wing of the GOP's base,  these days).  Or the 1.5 trillion dollars added to the national debt to "finance" tax cuts that were 90+% for the super-rich,  not them.

We've seen this evil before,  and spent the best part of half a million lives and most of our treasure trying to eradicate it,  7.5 decades ago.  THAT is why I specifically picked the comparison to the Nazis.  The parallel between today's America and 1930's Germany is quite eerie,  at the very least!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Yet Still Another School Shooting

The following is a column I wrote for the Waco paper,  which they chose not to use.  I wrote it in the days immediately following the school shooting in Santa Fe,  Texas.  I,  too,  am tired of seeing our schools shot up.  Here is the real,  time-proven solution to that problem,  and more such venues besides. It's not what you think.  Unless you have read some unvarnished American history.


The mass shooting problem has been hyped and politicized into a pro-gun/anti-gun debate.  That does not address the problem.  It’s past time to point out that we need to recognize exactly what the problem really is!

Just about every single mass shooting for the last several years has been some public venue that was a sitting-duck target.  Sitting-duck targets are the real issue,  and what we should do to change that,  is the problem at hand. 

Both the crazies and the terrorists are inevitably drawn to sitting-duck targets,  because they are easy to attack.  It really is that simple.  They are sitting-duck targets precisely because they were undefended,  or at best inadequately-defended,  gun-free zones.

Why the Usual Gun Control Ideas Won’t Work

The guns are already out there in the society.  It is far,  far too late to try banning guns,  which would require major changes to the Constitution.  Fat chance of that!  But,  if you did ban guns,  all you would accomplish is making the entire country a sitting-duck target. 

Here is why the entire country becomes a sitting-duck target:  the guns already out there would tend to fall into the hands of criminals and terrorists,  and then get sold black-market to crazies.  Nothing really changes except the rate of such mass shootings vastly increases.  You made it worse with your gun ban.

This last incident in the Santa Fe,  Texas,  school,  wasn't even an "assault weapon" thing.  He had a simple shotgun and a simple revolver.  Didn’t make much difference,  did it?  So,  what then is the real point of an “assault weapons” ban?  Or a clip size limit?

The main gun control idea that I see as making any significant difference would be to revise the process of keeping guns out of the hands of crazies,  with some sort of “red flag” alert process.  But that doesn’t address terrorism,  which is on the rise.

The only other useful one would be to outlaw bump stocks and trigger cranks,  which violate the spirit of the machine gun ban,  which really has worked.

A Pertinent Lesson From American History

Now,  what's forgotten here is a lesson from the 19th century gun-free American frontier towns that actually worked,  and quite well.  There are actually very good reasons to have gun-free zones,  and in a variety of venues,  not just schools.  (But that’s another topic.)

What is totally forgotten today:  once you declare a gun-free zone,  you are obligated to defend it,  in order to prevent the sitting-duck target effect.   That really is the fundamental problem we as a nation so perversely refuse to face today.

The Santa Fe school apparently had one (and only one) campus cop who actually confronted the shooter in a timely fashion.  That cop was armed,  mostly likely only with a revolver.  The shooter got him before he could take out the shooter.  Which is proof that,  in this case,  the school’s defense was inadequate. 

One cop,  if taken out,  leaves no defense.  The 19th century town sheriffs and town marshals always had a significant number of deputies.  Nobody went alone to quell problems.  It worked then,  why not now? 

News reports indicate the school officials thought they were adequately hardened against shooter attack,  because they employed two armed guards.  But,  so very clearly,  only one of those guards made it to the initial confrontation,  and he got taken out before he do anything to stop the shooter early. 


You simply need more guards than shooters,  and your guards also need to outgun the shooters.  Period!  But there are also a couple more well-proven nuances to this prescription.

One critical 19th century rule-of-thumb was “60 seconds max” to the scene of the problem.  That limits casualties,  and well-proven it was,  too.  No police department today could possibly respond that fast!

The other facet of the 19th century solution was using real peace officers actually accountable to the people,  not just hiring some outlaw gunman for protection.  Any gun-free zone guard will inevitably serve in the capacity of a peace officer.  There is no way around that. 

Applying the Prescription

The hardest part of applying that today is the 60 second rule-of-thumb to limit casualties.  Most places no longer resemble small frontier towns only 2 to 4 city blocks in size.  Adapting to the 21st century,  it means if your gun-free venue is large,  you need more than one guardhouse. 

That inevitably costs more than it did in the 19th century,  but here is where my acid test for ethics in public officials comes to the fore:  what does your official value more?  Money?  Or lives?  Look at what is done,  not what is said.  Talk is cheap. 

The mistake I see so often made today is the concept of arming teachers,  and counting on them to be your defense.  That teachers already have way too much to do is beside the point here,  that’s another article at some other time. 

Armed teachers will only have some sort of handgun.  They will not generally outgun the shooters,  even if they do outnumber the shooters.  This fails the prescription outlined above,  so it probably won’t work well enough most of the time.  In the long run,  it just gets more people killed.

So,  just do it right!  You need multiple well-armed guards,  trained to be real peace officers,  as they will inevitably be called upon to serve that role.  You need them located in enough places so that two or more can respond anywhere in the venue within a minute.   Make sure they have better guns than any of the shooters we have seen.

Why does everyone make this so hard,  when it really is so stinking easy?  JUST LEARN FROM HISTORY !!!  Don't politicize this,  just do it!

Other articles on this site related to guns,  gun violence,  mass shootings,  and gun control:

Gun Articles as of 6-1-18 (this one highlighted):
6-1-18 Yet Still Another School Shooting
2-24-18 Yet another School Shooting
10-2-17 Machine Guns in Las Vegas?
6-21-16 What the Gun Violence Data Really Say 
10-7-15 Oregon Mass Shooting and Gun Control
5-31-14 On Calls for More Gun Control
10-1-13 Government Shutdown,  Default!  Again?  No!!!
9-20-13 More Gun Control?  No Way!
2-5-13 Real Problems with the Proposed Gun Control Legislation Items
12-20-12 On the Tragedy in Connecticut
12-14-12 School Shooting in Connecticut
8-9-12 Mass Murder Shooters and Gun Control
1-13-11 On the Shooting Rampage in Tucson