Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sticking Point

Even a blind sow -- as they say -- drags home the occasional worn-out tire; and so it is with Our Local Fishwrap (and Post-Literate Gazetteer). They may not quite grasp it, but they've dug up a story at the intersection of small-government libertarian/conservatism and flat-out libertarian anarchism.

See, it's magnets. Magnets of the sort used in military hardware. Since Anderson, Indiana's Magnaquench was purchased by "Chinese investors" (and we're not talkin' Taiwan) , Uncle Sam has had to import every last neodymium magnet in every last missile, servomotor and so on and so forth -- and so has the guy that makes your headphones (maybe these folks? [I'll take the SR60i model, John]) and the sole-and-only nation from which they are imported? Yep. Our pals in Red China.

On the one hand, every business that starts up over there is another bunch of folks earnin' actual foldin' money and getting a better notion of the bigger world; I still hold to the same opinion I did when the Brits handed over Hong Kong, that it was just a matter of time before the dynamic go-getterism of the tiny former colony infected the rest of China and transformed it.

--On the other hand, that's not likely to be a fast or painless process and it won't surprise me if China manages to come to blows with some other nation or nations in the process. So what're the odds suppliers to our .mil folks might need magnets in a hurry and find there are none to be had? Should we roll those dice?

On the other other hand (or is it a foot?), about the only way to bootstrap the industry back up is for Congress to start requirin' in-country sources for all such componentry, which is plain meddling.

Balanced on the remaining foot? Lemme put on my Wookiee slipper an' point out that in Libertaria, the military are all private firms and not very large ones at that. Where they buy their arms, armor and CCC gear is their own lookout. (Where is Libertaria anyhow, and why can't I buy a bus ticket there?)

Meanwhile, back where I live, the skilled magnetizers at Thomas & Skinner point out that the guys who know how are not gettin' any younger -- and they are getting jobs in places other than the magnet biz. If we want to keep on -- if we even want to keep up -- now's the time to start.
P.S. See previous post. Magnetic Springs dries up and then -- not quite a generation later -- the magnet biz starts departing. H'mm.


Divemedic said...

Absolute libertarian government resembles anarchy, which is essentially a power vacuum. Nature tends to fill those. For an example, look at the state of affairs in Somalia.

Of course, it isn't like pure Democracy works, and neither does any other pure government theory, including Socialism, Communism, or Monarchy.

That is why our government, as laid out in the Constitution, seemed so ingenious- it was a mix of many different governmental forms, and was intended to be a balance.

Too bad it didn't work, either.

Ed Rasimus said...

You highlight a conundrum of policy. We've magically converted Communist China into Free-Market China under single-party government. That's arguably a good thing for them and better than the alternative.

But, we've seen massive outsourcing from the US. That's neither good nor bad. We reduce costs to consumers, we convert industries to more productive and environmentally friendly, but we also lose some jobs and impact individuals.

Along the way we get calls for protectionist policies, often justified in terms of diversifying sources or reducing dependence on foreign single source suppliers.

What to do, what to do? Hint: less government is always the right answer.

Ken said...

Libertaria is the stop just before (or after, I can never remember which) Willoughby.

Joe Allen said...

If you're looking at a set of Grado's, the real deal is the SR125i.

That's the peak in the value for price curve in their line - they are very close to the RS1s for a quarter the price.

parabarbarian said...

I remember when Congress let the Apollo program peter out with no replacement in sight nor any effort to shift emphasis to a "free" market. A few year later, you could find guys with a PhD in Engineering and ten years experience designing spaceships running a McDonald's franchise.

The stupidity of governments is a plague on the land.

Anonymous said...

I'll second Joe's recommendation -- I like my SR60s, but they do feel a bit low-bid.

Dixie said...

... are all private firms and not very large ones at that.

A private military wouldn't have to be big, they could pare down to just fighting men, and contract out all the non-shooting jobs. Heck, the sheer virtue of them being private would allow them to be 1/4 the size. (chuckle)

Ed Rasimus said...

Ahhhh, Dixie, it's an uncomfortable fact of military life that the non-shooting jobs are often shoulder-to-shoulder with the shooters and it really helps if everyone can become a shooter on short notice. Enemies have a nasty habit of not making distinctions and it actually is a very good tactic to cut the supply of beans and bullets to the shooters.

Geodkyt said...

Ed for the win!

As a former infantryman, I have no use for contracting out logistics (for instance) to guys who don't think of themselves as "military".

When I call for a LOGPAC 'cause I running on fumes in the beans, bullets, and bandaids categories, I DO NOT want people whining "But I'm just a deliveryman! I don't want to get shot at!", unless they are whining while running that convoy through to my position.

No logistics = no shooters. Maintenance, training*, medical support**, LOCAL WEATHER FORECASTERS***, etc., they all fall pretty much into the same categories.

About the only things you CAN "contract out" are those office jobs that can be handled from 2000 miles away. But even in the clerical billets, SOMEBODY has to play Radar O'Reilly for the firebase, and it helps if he (or she) really is a clerk, not just a grunt who can type 10 words per minute or faster with three fingers.)

Members of the military (REMFs, Snake-Eaters, Crunchies, BODATs, Red Legs, Propeller Heads, Squids, Zoomies, etc.) have one thing that distinguishes them from ANY contract employee. . . they are all fellow members of the Tribe (unless that contractor was and still thinks of himself as a tribesman). Even those "effeminate little girly men in funny clothes with silly habits in [insert rival service here]" are fellow tribesmen.

As one old Royal Navy saying goes,

A messmate before a shipmate. .

A shipmate before a dog. . .

A dog before a soldier. . .

And a soldier before a civilian.

(Hey, dogs are cute, and they DO smell better than us grunts, plus a dog will never steal your smokes, beer, or girlfriend, so I'll give the boys at Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash LLC. a pass there.)

* I do not want contract civilians doing the majority of my training. Oh, teaching specific skill sets are fine; but troops pay attention to someone they see as the older tribal warrior teaching them how to stay alive. I used to do this for a living, believe me, it makes a difference. Recruits get "adopted" (indoctrinated) into the tribe by other soldiers; contractors do not have the same impact. Without that indoctrination, what you have is a mob of individuals with some really cool skill sets, but you do NOT have a military force.

** Oh, recovery/rehab hospitals outside the theater are very useful, and can be (mostly) staffed by contract civilians. But whn I call for a MEDEVAC, I want a bloody MEDEVAC who will come in because a fellow member of the tribe needs help, even though the PZ is still hot. I want my stabilization teams to work as far forward as they can, because it's a fellow tribesman who is hurt -- even though the battalion dressing station is under fire. I want docs who patch them up as best they can, even though the enemy counterattack is coming in, or guerilla hit teams have been harassing the field hospital for weeks. . . beucase the docs aren't going to let FELLOW tribesmen down. Tribalism in the military matters.

*** Sometimes you need LOCAL info. I need that crew to keep hanging around, even if stuff looks pretty bad -- becuase the hairier it gets, the MORE IMPORTANT that detailed local weather becomes. I want a tribesman figuring out how my artillery will fly, whether the birds can come in, and if THIS location is going to get localized weird weather effects. You know, some of our current tribesmen (USAF) go BEHIND enemy lines to gather weather data for combat forecasts.

Drang said...

Private Military? See 30 Years War.

Again, sounds good in El Neilandia, doesn't work out so good in practice.

Old Grouch said...

"...about the only way to bootstrap the industry back up is for Congress to start requirin' in-country sources for all such componentry, which is plain meddling."

Or maybe cut back the regulations and other bureaucratic roadblocks that make it impossible/unprofitable to actually make anything within the United States.

Cheap labor isn't the only reason manufacturing moved offshore.

Dixie said...

Enemies have a nasty habit of not making distinctions and it actually is a very good tactic to cut the supply of beans and bullets to the shooters.

I was thinking more of the stateside "desk jobs" when I made the comment. I've never seen the wisdom in putting a guy in a support role (anything from cook to medic to working the firebase canteen) and not making him a fully trained and equipped trooper.

Roberta X said...

Old Grouch: Amen! --But we should not hold our breath.

On the ideal composition of a fighting force, I don't know enough to venture a real opinion. I am interested to hear those who have seen the elephant sharing RAH's "everybody fights" approach from Starship Troopers.

Geodkyt said...


I have not seen the elephant myself, but I spent eight years training for it under those who had -- and six of those years training others, many of whom did go.

Heinlein's "everybody fights" rule was applicable ONLY to the Mobile Infantry. "In the MI, everybody works, everybody fights." -- not, "In the TF Army, everybody works, everybody fights."

In other words (and in modern terms), everyone with a blue rope and crossed rifles. It also exempted a certain level of necessary cadre. (Who either rotated from or would end up rotating back to a combat billet eventually, even if close to the end of their service.) It also seems dead certain that there are Mi assigned to essential R&D -- you going to let propellor heads deisgn the next suit without an infantryman's input? But these are temporary assignments for any able bodied MI. . .

It merely meant that there was no safe PIO gig a able bodied and supposedly infantry officer could sit in for 20 years, safe from harm. (Yes, I have met an "infantryman" who had not spent a DAY in a line unit in over ten years, and have heard of guys RETIRING as "combat arms" who had never spent any time actually doing their supposed MOS.)

There's no able bodied infantry officers assigned to TFGHQ to supervise the sports and recreation program. Able bodied infantry officers are assigned ONLY to real infantry assignments (which may well include joint staff work at higher levels, although this isn't discussed -- note the Sky Marshal has to have combat command of both a regiment and a Navy capital ship to be eligible for the rank.)

It meant that cooks, chaplains, and similar billets INSIDE a tactical formation that didn't have combat roles per se were filled with cross-trained infantrymen as extra duties.

In the MI combat environment, there's no need for a mess sergeant -- only when you are out of battle do you need him. In combat, if you are there long enough to eat (Planet P), you'll be eating field rations, not Hot A's. So, he's double hatted as an infantry leader, and you don't have a mess sergeant who sits on the transport while the rest of the unit fights.

The chaplain can do his job as a combatant, especially since he's not also the de facto morale officer. Perhaps not as well as a dedicated chaplain would be (do you REALLY want one of your section leaders to take time out from leading his men on the assault so he can minister to the dying causalties, or acting as the de facto psychologist for the kid who is mildly wounded and about to snap?), but at least the men KNOW the chaplain is with them. (Of course, having an MOS_specific chaplain who was suit-trained, perhaps a Camp Currie alum himself, and assigned directly to the tactical force would accomplish the same, only you have one additional suit to drop. That method has worked OK for the Airborne for nearly 70 years.)

ALL of the standard logistical support that would be expected in any modern military was still present, and most of those were filled by non-infantry types, who were not stated to be part of the "everybody fights" mantra. Such as (for instance) the naval officer to handle anything more than first echelon suit work.

There are plenty of people in the TF MI division who are not, themselves, MI. (Rico even mentions them in passing in discussing the "ideal MI division" -- they are PRESENT in the division, but he doesn't bother counting them when totally bodies, because they aren't "MI" and "may not be around in combat".)

Geodkyt said...

[Second Half]

In short, I partially agree.

First, unless you have an assignment where you tend to leave on short notice for uncertain lengths of time to undisclosed locations, come back with winter tans, and seem to have more than your fair share of funerals for fellow unit members "killed in a helicopter accident, closed casket" there simply isn't that much combat going on that we can garantee everyone (or even every officer candidate) gets actual combat time most of the time. (2010 is an exception -- we are in a hot war.)

Second, There are important jobs that require a soldier's mindset. Heinlein himself discusses this through Rico's narrative. You can't replace those with contract civilians (even "civilians in uniform") -- you gotta have fellow tribesmen.

Third, I do feel that any "combat arms" soldier should serve in his type of line unit, and such service should be the normhroughout his career. By and large, this is already done, except we currently require "joint" assignments and "non-line" assignments for "breadth", especially in commission officers. (The Active Duty USAF loses MORE pilots this way -- you tell a captain he's gotta step out of the F15 and spend the next two years as CO of a K9 Squadron, and he's likely to bolt for the Reserves where they will keep him in a cockpit almost as many hours, AND he can fly for United on the side.)

Note that US Army warrant officers are already handled this way -- A WO is assigned ONLY to MOS-related billets, period. I am not aware of ANY "Branch irrelevant" billets for warrants.

But never forget that Heinlein Hand-Wavied (tm) his way around teh loggy issue by simply assigning those guys who might be wearing crossed rifles, but were filling a support role, by assignening them to OTHER branches and arms. . . but then, his MI was based on the Marine Corps of the 1920's, which WAS structured that way. If it wasn't done WITHIN the unit BY Marines who were all riflemen, it was handled by the Navy.

(Heresy, indeed to question the Admiral, I know -- but I also question the viability of staff officers doubling as combat commanders. Properly done, staff work is a 24/7/365 deal, and the staffies SHOULD be working themsleves to nubs so the CO can concentrate on being Mr. Brilliant on demand. Good staff work makes "improvisation" routine, as good improv works best when well rehearsed.)