Glad This Didn’t Happen During the Cold War…

I’ve been studiously ignoring the news but this penetrated my anti-media barrier thanks to my spouse:

Meteor explodes over central Russia, 500 people hurt

My first thought was, “Thank God this didn’t happen during the Cold War!” The Soviets were so batsh*t paranoid that they would have started with the assumption it was some kind of attack just like when they shot down the Korean airliner.

For all of the doom and gloom today about terrorism, global warming (or whatever apocalypse is fashionable this week) young folks should remember that no problem we face today was as serious and as dangerous as Cold War balance of terror. We faced the very real prospect that within the space of a mere hour, every major city and piece of infrastructure in the developed world, the communist and (it would turn out) India, would have been utterly destroyed along with most of the people inside them. Civilization would have ended for centuries. It would take just one hour for it all to end.

The post-Cold War revelation of just how ready the Soviets were to empty the silos, and how they almost did once out of shear delusion, are easily the scariest thing I ever read.  The world could have ended just because a bunch of political zealots caught, in what was effectively a absolutist religious delusion, could have destroyed civilization for absolutely no valid reason at all, not even a reason valid in their ideology.

The Soviet Union would turn out to have been an utterly militarized state whose ruling caste was totally convinced not only that America spent its every waking moment trying to destroy them but that the “scientific” doctrine of Marxist historical inevitability made an eventual American attack as certain as the predicted orbits of the planets. Leftists scoffed at Cold War CIA estimates that the Soviet Union spent 20% of its GNP on the military. The CIA was in fact wrong. The Soviets actually spent 40% of their GNP on the military. Basically WWII, never ended for them and the Soviet Union was a military with the bare minimum civilian sector necessary to support it. They thought themselves constantly at war.

All the Cold War era arguments in the West itself about the West’s role in creating the Cold War turned out to be utterly moot.

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The Kiwis Fly a De Havilland Mosquito!

For most WWII airplane buffs, the De Havilland Mosquito holds a special place of interest. It was the last major wooden military aircraft in an era of when aluminum airplanes had otherwise swept the skies. Made of special plywood of balsa sandwiched between birch, the Mosquito proved faster than any comparable metal aircraft. It’s feats are legendary.

Because of the wooden airframe, few Mosquitos survived more than a decade after the war. Because of its basically two piece construction, in which nearly the entire fuselage and each wing were made in two pieces which were glued together, any rot or decay anywhere in a major section caused the scrapping of the entire aircraft. While you can leave a aluminum airframe setting out in a field for decades without harm, the Mosquitos airframe would disintegrate into air unworthiness in a just a couple of weeks if not cared for. Because of the fragility of the wooden airframe, I thought that no flying examples remained.

Imagine my surprise then when, while researching a software testing framework called “Kiwi” I stumbled upon a video of new Mosquito restored (more likely almost completely rebuilt) by a team in New Zealand.

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Information is scarce but Wikipedia says:

One aircraft, Mosquito FB.26 KA114, built in Canada in 1945, has recently completed restoration by Avspecs Ltd, Ardmore New Zealand and flew for the first time on Thursday 27 September 2012. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth flights were watched by several thousand spectators at a special air show at Ardmore on Saturday 29 September 2012. The restored Mosquito is owned by Jerry Yagen and is heading to its new home at the Virginia Military Aviation Museum, in Virginia Beach, USA, as soon as transport logisitics have been worked out. A complete set of forms, jigs and molds will allow for new Mosquitos to be built.

Frankly, I think they’re missing a market here. With everything supposed to be “sustainable” and for some reason wood and other biological materials considered sustainable (despite a long history of being emphatically not sustained in the least) a proven all wood airframe might be a selling point.

The Kiwi’s really impressed me with this aircraft. The restored Mosquito actually makes up for the Hobbit movie.

Just Another Mickey Mouse Argument on Copyright Law

 Virginia Postrel  makes some good arguments against the current mess of copyright law, but both she and most others neglect what I believe to be a primary driver for major corporations seeking ever broader copyright protection: franchises.

Until we address the need of corporations to protect franchise in which they are still creating new works, we won’t make any progress on copyright law.

In mass entertainment, a franchise is a connected series or group of works sharing common characters, plots etc produced over relatively long span of time. Franchise characters or settings become recognizable brands in their own right. Recurrent characters like Sherlock Holmes became franchises long before the term was coined. In the modern era, Star Wars, Star Trek and various Disney properties are examples of major franchises. Star Wars and Star Trek have produced a vast number of secondary works from novels to games, not to mention the toys, T-shirts and, according to some, religions. Disney has been in the franchise business since the end of WWII. Many credit Walt Disney for creating the artistic franchise business model in the first place.

Traditional copyright law predated the evolution of the franchise and instead assumed that copyright protected discrete works e.g. a single short story, novel, song etc made by a single artist.

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Defined Benefit Pensions Reduce Customer Value and Threaten Companies

Hostess is being bought down by in part by unfunded defined benefit pensions forced on the company by its unions over the last 50 years. In a previous post, I explained how, as a company’s products age, its profit margins decline and pension costs consume an ever increasing percentage of revenue.

Defined benefit pensions are especially destructive:

In economics, a defined benefit pension plan is a major type of pension plan in which an employer promises a specified monthly benefit on retirement that is predetermined by a formula based on the employee’s earnings history, tenure of service and age, rather than depending on investment returns.


The most common type of formula used is based on the employee’s terminal earnings (final salary). Under this formula, benefits are based on a percentage of average earnings during a specified number of years at the end of a worker’s career.

Obviously, if the pension payout is based not on the success of investments or current company revenues but instead on the particular worker’s performance years or decades ago, a company has to make up any difference between investments and pension cost with current revenue. Revenue diverted to pensions contributes nothing to value for the current customers who provide the revenue. The current customer literally doesn’t get what they paid for. If they had instead bought the product from another company identical in all respects to the first except for the defined benefit pension cost, they would have paid less and/or gotten a higher value.

The value delivered to the customer is the single determiner of business success. High pension costs undermine delivered value and thereby harm both the customer and the company.

It was Taiichi Ohno most often credited with formalizing the business folk wisdom that all business profit arises from value delivered to the customer.

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