Everybody Get On

Most people who have flown are familiar with the Southwest Airlines “cattle call”. For those who don’t know what it is, I will give a quick explanation.

Southwest doesn’t give assigned seats for their flights, rather they issue a letter to you, A B or C. When you get to the gate, they simply say “group A get on” and that is what happens. Those who check in earlier receive the preferential section and therefore the best shot at getting those invaluable exit row seats. The problem with this was that people would begin lining up hours in advance of the flight. They had separate lines for the A, B and C sections. If you were in the rear of the section A people, there is no shot at the more valuable seats, but at least you could still get an aisle or window.

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“Simple” Old Technology

It only looks simple in hindsight, when compared to modern technology. But at one time “simple” technology was state-of-the-art, the most sophisticated equipment available. And however simple it seems to us now, it was generally more complex to operate than the machines we use to do the same jobs. The parallel trends throughout recent human history have been of machinery becoming simultaneously simpler to use and more complex in design.

Here’s an account by a railroad enthusiast of the many tasks he must perform to get an antique steam locomotive up and running. I’m sure professional crews did it faster, back in the day, but the point is that a lot of work has to be done — and done in precisely the correct way and in the correct sequence — before the locomotive will move. How long does it take to start a Boeing 757? A few minutes? And compare the modern Boeing, which can be flown by two people, to large piston airliners of sixty years ago, whose power, fuel, electronic and navigational systems were so complex to operate as to require an additional one or two dedicated crew members. The same trend is evident in automobiles, which are easier than ever to drive, and extremely reliable by historical standards, while being tremendously complex under the hood (and in the computer).

To paraphrase Saint-Exupery, the steam train was once as radical as space ships are now; one day our modern Boeing will be as much an antique as that old locomotive seems to us. Life in the old days was not simpler. People had fewer options than they do now, and task-for-task many of the things they did required more work, often much more work, for the same results.

Related: More “Simple” Old Technology

Cutting Edge Military Theory: A Primer (Part II.)

Part I. in this series dealt with the topic of COIN, which is not a theory but rather a type of warfare. Part II. appropriately begins with the late theorist Colonel John Boyd, whose many contributions to American military thinking went generally unrecognized in his own lifetime, except for a narrow group of senior officers and political appointees. A group that included Dick Cheney, who as Defense Secretary in the first Bush administration, reportedly sought and followed Boyd’s counsel in regard to revising the warplans for Operation Desert Storm ( what John Boyd would have thought of the current Iraq war, I’ll leave to others, but that Cheney was deeply impressed by Colonel Boyd and his ideas in 1991 is difficult to dispute). In the aftermath of the Gulf War, USMC General Charles C. Krulak wrote:

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