Wednesday’s Book Review: “Stillpower”

stillpower-kramer-garret-9781608321858Stillpower: The Inner Source of Athletic Excellence. By Garret Kramer. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2011.

I am not much into self-help books, and I would probably not have picked this up except for several positive comments about it that I read on-line. I am, however, deeply interested in the study of the history of sports and the manner in which it permeates society. Accordingly, philosophy in sport is a topic of great importance to me. This book, while not intended specifically as a study of sports philosophy, serves that role very well. Garret Kramer is a writer, speaker, athlete, and coach with a unique perspective on the power of the inner self to overcome obstacles.

He asserts that athletes are taught “willpower” from the time they begin competing and it becomes second nature to them. They play through pain, impossible situations, etc. They are taught to “grind it out” and to “force it” regardless of what takes place around them or what they need or want. The mantra of the athlete is “no pain, no gain” and it means much more than physical conditioning. Kramer believes that this “willpower” should be replaced with “stillpower,” hence the name of this book. I am reminded of the biblical injunction in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” It emphasizes an inner peace regardless of the circumstances of one’s life. That is a conception that I believe Kramer would accept as one way of gaining peace and assurance.

Kramer’s philosophy is simple to state, even if it is difficult to implement. He believes that success in athletics may be most readily attained through clarity and creativity, judgment and quality of life, insight and mindfulness, and peace and perspective. Fundamentally, this book is about creating a clear and quiet peace of mind. It takes its example from sports, and it is focused on enhancing performance through better understanding and mental condition, but it is applicable to many settings far beyond the court, field, or park.

There is little here that I have not heard before, but the manner in which these ideas are assembled and presented in Stillpower, as well as the persuasive reminder that its offers, makes this is a useful book to read and ponder. Additionally, it is an entertaining, accessible, and insightful reading experience. Enjoy.

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Redirect: “How Do You Stop Astronauts Going Mad?”

A recent story by Paul Marks appeared on that discusses the history of “space madness.” It was a real thing, that proved actually not to be anything. The story quotes me, It is located here. Enjoy!

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The Cardinals and the Counterculture Catcher

Ted Simmons

Ted Simmons

Should the St. Louis Cardinals catcher of the 1970s, Ted Simmons, be in the Hall of Fame?I think it would be great, but it won’t happen unless the Veteran’s Committee acts. “Simba,” as Simmons liked being called, became an all-star catcher soon after he took over as the Cardinals starter in 1970. A true product of the 1960s counterculture, Simmons featured long locks and a stridently leftist political philosophy. He often played hurt and always played hard.

Only average defensively, Simmons wreaked havoc on pitchers. Seven times he batted above .300, six times reached twenty homers, and eight times exceeded ninety RBIs. He switch-hit home runs in a game three times and established the National League career record for home runs by a switch-hitter (182). Although not a threat to steal, Simmons had enough speed to amass 477 doubles.

Simmons had just turned nineteen when he played his first games for the Cardinals in 1968. He went on to play in the major leagues for twenty-one seasons and thereafter entered a front office career.

As Simmons made his way through the minor leagues in the latter 1960s he continued to take classes at the University of Michigan, and his experience in Ann Arbor had a catalytic influence on the rest of his life. The University of Michigan campus was one of the nation’s most radical, with the leftist Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) founded and based there. They  were against the war in Vietnam, in favor of civil rights for African Americans, and in opposition to the status quo in the America of President Richard Nixon.

Most important, and this disturbed the button-down corporate nature of the Cardinals, Simmons flaunted his individuality from the time of his appearance in St. Louis until his departure. He became a rebel in shinguards. Most of Simmons’ teammates enjoyed what they thought of as his extravagant flakiness. Joe Torre called him “a flower child” with a broad grin.

Almost immediately, Simmons ran afoul of the Cardinals over his contract. After batting .304 in 1971 and emerging as a star for the Cardinals—but still making only $14,000 for the season—Simmons wanted a big raise in 1972. He did not make enough as a major leaguer to buy a house for his family and had to live with his wife’s parents during the off season. Simmons believed he deserved $30,000 in 1972, but General Manager Bing Devine offered him a contract for the next season that was in the low twenties. He refused to give Simmons a big contract too soon for fear of raising the mark for future negotiations.

When Simmons could not reach a contract price with the Cardinals, he met with Marvin Miller of the Major League Players Association to discuss options. Simmons decided to challenge the reserve clause by playing without a contract in 1972 and announcing his intention of becoming a free agent in 1973. He became the first major league player to work without a valid contract when the 1972 season began.

As the season progressed and Simmons had a banner year behind the plate while playing without a contract, the owners got worried. Major League general counsel John Gaherin told Bing Devine, “Get a hold of this. We don’t want to test it [the reserve clause]. Sign him. Don’t let him go through this year without a contract.” August Busch put incredible pressure on Simmons to sign. One night he cornered Simmons in Red Schoendienst’s office before a game and lectured him on duty, responsibility, and loyalty before offering him a contract in the high twenties. Simmons countered with a lecture of his own on duty, responsibility, and loyalty and suggested that Busch should have some toward his players, before telling the owner what he could do with his new offer.

Simmons refused to budge in his demand for $30,000, and as the season wore into late June his well-publicized campaign gained adherents. He helped his cause by excellent play on the field. Many fans publicly announced that Simmons deserved his $30,000, and that Busch should give it to him. When he gained an invitation to the All-Star game in July, the dispute reached a new level. Gaherin asserted that major league baseball had to settle this problem with Simmons, that a test of the reserve clause would only bring defeat to the owners and thereby allow players to move at will. “Fellas, this is the twentieth century,” Gaherin explained. “You can’t get anybody, drunk or sober, to agree that once a fella goes to work for the A&P [store], he has to work for the A&P the rest of his life.”

simmonsThe confrontation reached a climax the morning of the All-Star game in Atlanta. While preparing for the game, Simmons received a phone call from Bing Devine who asked to meet with him about the contract dispute. When they met Devine offer him a two-year deal too good to pass up: $30,000 for 1972 and $45,000 for 1973. Before agreeing Simmons went back to his room and called his wife, “Maryanne…here’s what’s happened. I’ve got to do this.” He signed the contract on August 9, 1972. The Cardinals bought off a young and hungry player who needed the money to support his family. Seemingly, Miller and Simmons both recognized, the major league owners would do almost anything to prevent a test of the reserve clause.

Simmons did not regret making the decision to sign this contract. It was the largest salary he had ever known, although he would later make more money per season than any other catcher, except Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench and Boston’s Carlton Fisk.

Like a lot of Cardinals players who had their own perspective on the world, however, manager Whitey Herzog sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers for the 1981 season. The clubhouse was not big enough for both of them. There Simmons helped the Brewers win the second-half American League East title in the strike-split season and hit a crucial two-run homer in game three of the division playoff as the Brewers staved off elimination. In 1982 he led Milwaukee all the way to the World Series.

Simmons closed out his career during 1986-1988 as a member of the Braves’ self-dubbed “Bomb Squad” of utility specialists, playing first base, catcher, and third base, and serving as a valued pinch hitter. In October 1988, Simmons became director of player development for St. Louis.

So what about the Hall of Fame? With the entry of Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez into the Hall, why not Simba?

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Baseball’s New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998”

baseballs-new-frontierBaseball’s New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998. By Fran Zimniuch. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

One of the most significant changes to Major League Baseball (MLB) in the latter half of the twentieth century was its transformation from an insular regional set of two leagues with eight teams each into a national organization with 30 teams. It deserves a good history; unfortunately, it has yet to receive one. I had hoped that Baseball’s New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998 would succeed here, but this book is poor discussion of the subject. Its sophomoric narrative takes the reader on a magical mystery tour of individual decision to expand into new cities and to create a divisional, two-league system of professional baseball.

The author begins with the iconic story of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants making the move to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, at the end of the 1957 season. It is once over lightly at best, despite there being excellent historical research and writing from which to draw in crafting this section of the book. Indeed, author Fran Zimniuch’s skimpy three-page bibliography did not even cite Neil Sullivan’s indispensable The Dodgers Move West (Oxford University Press, 1987). I am surprised by this omission.

But this is just the beginning. The author barely mentions the situation that led to MLB expansion. There were three important franchise shifts predating the Dodgers/Giants transfer that spoke volumes about the era of expansion about to be inaugurated. The moves of the Boston Braves to Milwaukee and the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore in 1953 and the Philadelphia A’s to Kansas in City in 1954, along with the later Dodgers/Giants shift suggest that the longstanding business situation for the MLB was no longer tenable. I could add to this the move of the Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1960 as another indicator of the same situation.

When six of the sixteen franchises in MLB move because of dire financial straits over a seven year period there should be cause for alarm. More than this, these changes suggest that there were other cities that might be capable of hosting major league franchises, and the expansion of the two leagues was the both possible and potentially lucrative. At the same time, the cities fled by MLB franchises had local and state politicos who railed at the lords of the game and demanded that new franchises be established.

The ploy of establishing another major league, the Continental League, which seemed a possibility as the 1960s began also meant that the time was ripe for expansion. Zimniuch has a chapter on this important story, indicating that it served as an important impetus for expansion. Russell D. Buhite, The Continental League: A Personal History (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) had not yet appeared when this book was written, but for those interested in the subject Buhite’s work is the gold standard on the subject.

The vast room available for expansion after all the franchise shifts led some very aggressive western and southern cities, to say nothing of New York, lobbying for badly wanted major league teams. The AL and NL refused to budge and this prompted William Shea and others to press for action, eventually scaring MLB owners into granting two expansion teams in each league, one of them in New York.

There is a considerable business, economic, and political story here, one that is essentially lost in Zimniuch’s account. MLB owners were brought kicking and screaming to expansion, but did so in ways that gouged new owners and created an inherently weak set of expansion teams that could not contend in the leagues. Of the four teams created in the early 1960s—New York Mets, Houston Colt 45s/Astros, Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels, and Washington Senators—the Mets although hapless at first became the first to win a championship in 1969, while the Angels did not do so until 2002. Neither the Astros nor the Senators ever did so. This approach to expansion saddled these new teams with longstanding second class status, something Zimniuch fails to makes clear in this history.

The book continues with this general approach to the subject through the various waves of expansion until the last teams were added in 1998 to create two leagues of fifteen teams each. We learn about the individuals drafted from other teams for each expansion team, and a bit about the on-field activities of these franchises. We learn almost nothing about the politics, finances, or structure of the MLB and how it changed through this expansion process. Every single time a wave of expansion took place there were negotiations over stadiums, infrastructure, territorial rights, league relationships, etc., etc., ad nauseum, but you would never know about it from this book.

Whatever merits this book has relate more to the discussion of on-the-field activities than the business history of the MLB. It is very much a traditional baseball book that does little to enhance serious understanding of how and why the expansion of franchises took place. Let me suggest just a couple of areas worthy of consideration. Why did some franchises—Kansas City Royals, Florida Marlins, and Arizona Diamondbacks come to mind—enjoy success fairly early in their histories? Why did others toil in mediocrity for so much of the time? Are there structures to how ownership groups approached the management of the team, capitalization, etc. that affected on-field success?

There is an important story to be told here, but Baseball’s New Frontier utterly fails to illuminate it. I wish I could be more positive, but this book is virtually useless for anything but the most cursory overview of this fascinating and significant subject.


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Major League Baseball, the Cardinals and the Browns, and the Challenge of “Small Markets”

Sportsman Park in St. Louis, where both the Browns and the Cardinals played their home games until the Browns left the city.

Sportsman Park in St. Louis, where both the Browns and the Cardinals played their home games until the Browns left the city.

Not until the 1960s did baseball executives begin to use terms like “small market” to describe the unique challenges of operating a successful major league franchise in an environment that did not generate the type of revenues available to teams in such cities as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Even so, one of the most successful teams in the National League has been the St. Louis Cardinals, a franchise operating throughout the twentieth century in an increasingly “small market” city with exceptional success. In 1900, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States, behind only New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Since then the city has experienced a gradual decline in population, and by definition also a gradual decline in market for its sports teams. In 1996 it ranked 47th in the United States.

Population of St. Louis Compared to Other MLB Cities, 1900-1960








1 New York NY NY NY NY NY NY
3 Philadelphia PHI PHI PHI PHI PHI LA
10 San Francisco BUF LA PIT PIT BOS STL

While New York and Chicago retained its place in the forefront of the American cities, St. Louis declined so significantly that its cross-state rival, Kansas City, actually overtook it in population by the time of the 1990 census and in 1996 ranked 33rd in the United States to St. Louis’ 47th place. Such non-major league cities as Nashville, Jacksonville, San Jose, and Columbus outranked it in population by 1980. A corresponding drop took place during the 1980s, to the extent that by 1990 St. Louis was ranked 35th, and the decline has not yet abated.

Compared to five other Midwestern cities—Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Milwaukee—St. Louis has also lost a great amount of ground as a major population center. Indianapolis, which has never been a major league baseball city, began ranking in the top 15 of U.S. cities by 1970 and by this measure should have received its own baseball franchise. From this chart, additionally, it looks as if both St. Louis and Cincinnati lost much of their porimacy in supporting major league franchises in the 1980s and that if decisions were made on that basis alone they should move elsewhere. Moreover, Milwaukee, which has always been considered a marginal major league city, should be able based to support a franchise very well based on population statistics. Of course, these population statistics only speak to the city itself, and the St. Louis metropolitan area has a base that is large enough to sustain its activities, but nothing compared to what Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and other major areas routinely demonstrate.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century St. Louis supported two MLB teams, the Browns and the Cardinals. They were quite competitive through the middle 1920s insofar as their attendance was concerned. Neither team was stellar, but the Browns made a run at the pennant in 1922 and finished a close second. During the time of the two teams’ co-location, the Cardinals outdrew the Browns in home attendance—25,784,213 to 15,377,027—for the entire period that they shared the city of St. Louis between 1902 to 1953. For this 51-year period, the Cardinals averaged 505,573 per year to the Browns’ 301,510 average per year. But until the Cardinals began to dominate the National League with their first World Championship in 1926, the two teams were essentially even in their ability to draw fans. The Browns actually outdrew the Cardinals—8,353,058 to 7,073,290—through the 1925 season, the Browns averaging 363,176 attendees to the Cardinals’ 307,534 per year. For the period between 1926 and the last year the Browns played in St. Louis, 1953, the Cardinals averaged 692,989 spectators per year to the Browns’ average draw of 260,147.

Of course, during the period 1926-1953, the Cardinals won nine pennants (with seven World Series championships), and that certainly made a difference. Also, the Cardinals finished second or third 12 additional times. The Cardinals were an exceptionally strong team that competed well every year. During the same period, the Browns won one pennant (1944) and finished second or third only three other times. In 1935, with a team that finished seventh in the league, thank goodness for the hapless Philadelphia Athletics, the Browns drew only 80,922 spectators.

Cardinals-Browns Attendance

Nothing points up the lack of paying customers that the Browns experienced in the early 1950s better than a humorous story of Bill Veeck, who owned the Browns between 1951 and its move to Baltimore in 1953. When one of the Browns’ faithful asked Veeck what time the game was that day, Veeck supposedly responded, “anytime you want, what time can you be there?” In was not quite that bad, but close. Using his now famous stunts, give-aways, and hucksterisms Veeck boosted Browns’ attendance from 293,790 in 1951 to 518,796 in 1952. But it was a case of too little-too late, and for comparison the Cardinals drew over one million each of those years.

There was a direct correlation between the attendance and the won/lost percentage for both teams. The better the team on the field, the greater the likelihood of drawing large spectators. Interestingly, in 1944, the year that the Cardinals and the Browns both won their league’s pennants, the teams drew virtually the same numbers. But the Cardinals’ attendance exploded in the postwar era while the Browns’ turnstiles collapsed. Despite Veeck’s efforts to boost Browns attendance, stunts such as the dwarf Eddie Gaedel batting and the desegregation of the Browns in 1951 while the Cardinals waited until the end of the 1950s, nothing seemed to work.

It became obvious that the two teams could not remain in St. Louis together. One had to leave, and the Browns left for Baltimore where they became the Orioles. The Cardinals went on to remain a powerhouse in the National League, winning nine more pennants and five World Series between 1954 and the present. But the city remains a smaller market than many others. Through strong management the Cardinals have proven that success is not dependent on having money to burn. And burning money has not really been overwhelmingly successful for other franchises as well. Big spenders have more options, no doubt, but that alone does not guarantee success.

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Something Fun for a Friday: Dance the Night Away

Mission to Mars (2000) was far from being a great movie. Parts of it were good, parts of it no so much. A lot of it was alright, but not memorable. It has considerable NASA propaganda in it; one of my guilty pleasures. With a cast that includes Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, and Gary Sinise it deserved a better script. But there is one one great scene; a zero g dance segment to Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.” Here it is. I’d love to do this myself someday. Something fun for a Friday. Enjoy!

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Lefty: An American Odyssey”

leftyLefty: An American Odyssey. By Vernona Gomez and Lawrence Goldstone.  New York: Ballantine Books, 2012.

Vernon Louis “Lefty” Gomez was a solid pitcher for the New York Yankees between 1930 and 1942. A seven-time All-Star and a five-time World Series Champion with one of the greatest Yankee dynasties ever, Gomez played for a time with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio.

He retired at age 34 with a career record of 189–102, four 20 win seasons, and a 3.34 ERA. Not bad overall, but not enough for Hall of Fame induction until the veteran’s committee in 1972 got him into Cooperstown. Always a colorful personality, his humor made him a sought after speaker on the sports and corporate circuit for years. Married to Broadway actress June O’Dea, although it was an often rocky relationship, he finally died in 1989 at age 80.

This is the story told in Lefty: An American Odyssey by his oldest daughter, Vernona and co-author Lawrence Goldstone. It is a rather sweet-hearted portrait, as one might expect from a loving and not a little worshipful daughter. It is a credible intimate account of life with the Yankees, and thereafter, about an effervescent personality who strode across the Major League Baseball scene with some of the giants of the game. It is probably as much as we need to know about Lefty.

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Apollo 13 and Nostalgia for an Earlier Time

The launch of Apollo 11 in 1969.

The launch of Apollo 11 in 1969.

A cultural debate has raged during the first part of the twenty-first century over the meaning of the Apollo program. Much of the recollection of Apollo’s legacy revolves around ideas of ‘progress’ for the American nation. At the same time, Apollo signals nostalgia for the past in which society, culture, economics, politics, and other attribute of the public sphere seemed to work better.

Apollo nostalgia manifests itself in several ways. It may be found in numerous popular conceptions of Apollo, especially in film, literature, music, theater, and advertising. In each of these arenas three great themes played out in the nostalgic past of Apollo. Apollo nostalgia hearkens back to an era of the 1960s in which order ruled and all seemed in its place. Central to this, in the pre-Great Society and pre-social reformation era, white men oversaw America in a “Leave it to Beaver” type of existence where women were docile helpmates, ethnic and race relations favored American-born whites, and all understood their place in the system.

Most important for reinforcement of this issue, the system worked and in memory enjoyed efficiencies lost in a post-modern, multicultural setting. Apollo nostalgia revolves around the issue of mythical recreations of an era of the 1960s in which order ruled and all seemed in its place. Even Norman Mailer (1923–2007), as much an embodiment of the 1960s counter-culture as anyone, ranted about this aspect of Apollo while covering the Moon landings in 1969. Mailer expressed fascination and not a little perplexity with the time warp that he witnessed at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. He railed against an overwhelmingly white male NASA steeped in middle class values and reverence for the American flag and mainstream culture.

Mailer grudgingly admitted, however, that NASA’s approach to task accomplishment—which he viewed as the embodiment of the Protestant Work Ethic—and its technological and scientific capability got results with Apollo. Even so, he hated NASA’s closed and austere society, one where he believed outsiders were distrusted and held at arm’s length with a bland and faceless courtesy that betrayed nothing. For all of his scepticism, for all of his esotericism, Mailer captured much of interest concerning rocket technology and the people who produced it in Project Apollo.

Mailer’s critique foreshadows by twenty-five years a powerful nostalgia that has grown up around Apollo as a program that was done right, in no small part because it took place within the cultural confines of an era before the social revolution of the 1960s. Nothing captures this nostalgia more effectively than the feature film, Apollo 13, a 1995 docudrama directed by Ron Howard . Set in 1970 when an explosion crippled a lunar landing mission and NASA nearly lost astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert, it has been recast as one of NASA’s finest hours, a successful failure. At 56 hours into the flight an oxygen tank in the Apollo service module ruptured and damaged several of the power, electrical, and life support systems. People throughout the world watched and waited and hoped as NASA personnel on the ground and the crew worked to find a way safely home. It was a close-run thing, but the crew returned safely.

21-Apollo-13The near disaster served several important purposes for the civil space program—especially prompting reconsideration of the propriety of the whole effort while also solidifying in the popular mind NASA’s collective genius. While one must give the NASA flight team high marks for perseverance, dedication, and an unshakable belief that they could bring the crew home safely, it is quite strange that no one seems to realize that the mission had already failed, and failed catastrophically, by the time of accident. The fact that Apollo 13 is now viewed as one of NASA’s shining moments says much about the ability of humanity to recast historical events into meaningful morality plays.

In this instance, the Apollo 13 film became a vehicle for criticism of the social order that emerged from the 1960s and a celebration of an earlier age. When the film appeared in 1995, reviewer John Powers, writing for the Washington Post, commented on its incessant nostalgia for “the paradisiacal America invoked by Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan—an America where men were men, women were subservient, and people of color kept out of the way.” In addition, Powers wrote, “Its story line could be a Republican parable about 1995 America: A marvelous vessel loses its power and speeds toward extinction, until it’s saved by a team of heroic white men.

If anything, Powers underemphasized the white America evoked in Apollo 13. The only women with speaking parts of substance was Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlin), wife of the Apollo 13 commander, whose role is distinctly one of offering proud support while privately fearing the worst, and their daughter whose role seems to be as spokesperson for the social revolution underway while consistently reflecting its least important elements. For example, she complains in a shriekish voice that the Beatles had just broken up and her world has accordingly collapsed.

The heroes of Apollo 13 were the geeks of Mission Control, with the astronauts aboard the spacecraft as spirited but essentially and metaphorically emasculated characters to be saved. Lovell, Haise, and Swigert must wait to be rescued in a manner not unlike Rapunzel, as an active helper but unable to accomplish the task alone. As historian Tom D. Crouch wrote of this film’s depiction of the “studs” in Mission Control:

The real heroes of this film are either bald or sporting brush cuts; wear thick glasses; are partial to rumpled short sleeve shirts; and chain-smoke an endless string of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. For all of that, these slide rule-wielding technonerds solve all of the difficult problems required to bring the crew home. They are, in the words of one of the astronauts portrayed in the film, “steely-eyed missile men.”

Apollo 13 the film, accordingly, venerates a long past era in American history. Indeed, it may have been an era already gone by the time of the actual mission in 1970. It is a hallowing of masculinity in a nostalgic context.

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The Antarctic and Outer Space Treaties after the Cold War: Are They Still Valid?

Artist’s conception of lunar mining, after 2020, artwork by Pat Rawlings. Many believe that the resource rich Moon may one day sustain human efforts to remain in space indefinitely.

Artist’s conception of lunar mining, after 2020, artwork by Pat Rawlings. Many believe that the resource rich Moon may one day sustain human efforts to remain in space indefinitely.

The two separate treaty regimes—The Antarctic Treaty of 1960 and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967—worked relatively well in the context of the Cold War environment between World War II and about 1990. The sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, however, changed the dynamics of geopolitics and brought changes in the manner in which the nations of the world have dealt with both Antarctica and outer space. Both treaty regimes have clear statements about prohibitions, guidelines, and objectives that served well for many years, but their place in a non-Cold War era has eroded.

Overall the evolution of policies and law governing these regions has reflected the influence of the science community on the political leadership in concert with geopolitical motivations, replacing what analyst U.M. Bohlmann called “the early hard power arguments to the quest for scientific knowledge perceived as a cultural imperative.”

In the last twenty-five plus years a series of new pressures have arisen. At a fundamental level the IGY, the problem of Antarctica, “freedom of space,” and Sputnik were interrelated and handled in an essentially similar manner. All actions were largely predicated on the belief that nothing of intrinsic value is present either in Antarctica or in space.

However, both major legal structures—the “freedom of space” doctrine ensconced in the Outer Space Treaty and the Antarctic Treaty—were fragile instruments at present and under assault from several quarters, especially military and economic interests. In both cases, a question: what would happen should something of worth be found in Antarctica or in space?

While the communities overseeing these regions continue to protect and sustain science exploration and discovery through existing treaties and policies, it is obvious that in the future efforts to allow appropriate technological development and expansion of human activities must take place.

For example, since near the turn of the new millennium a consistent drumbeat has been raised by private citizens and some groups to overturn the prohibition against property rights of celestial bodies. They insist that the Outer Space Treaty has been the fundamental disincentive to exploit space bodies. Indeed, in an environment in which outer space is considered a “province” owned by all, as argued by Lawrence D. Roberts, there is no guarantee that any private sector investment in resource exploration and exploitation would be allowed.

lunar-x-prizeIndeed, much of this was an academic debate until 2010 when the Google Lunar X Prize offered a $20 million purse to the first team to land a rover on the Moon; with an added $5 million if the team could image a lunar landing site. More than five teams are actively working toward undertaking this mission. That monetary reward might be the first serious step toward overturning the property rights issues of the Outer Space Treaty, since whoever takes the prize will seek to exploit the Moon’s surface and the objects placed there by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

This may also jump start a return to the Moon for the extraction of resources, especially if there is a discovery of something of value that might be be readily exploited. Regardless, there are many in the space community who believe that many provisions of the Outer Space Treaty has outlived its usefulness.

Your thoughts?


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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Defense Acquisition Reform, 1960-2009: An Elusive Goal”

defense-acquisition-reformDefense Acquisition Reform, 1960-2009: An Elusive Goal. By J. Ronald Fox, with contributions by David G. Allen, Thomas C. Lassman, Walton S. Moody, and Philip L. Shiman. Washington, D.C.: Center for Military History, United States Army, 2011.

Written by the dean acquisition policy experts, J. Ronald Fox—along with the critical assistance of David G. Allen, Thomas C. Lassman, Walton S. Moody, and Philip L. Shiman, historians working on the Defense Acquisition History Project who wrote the majority of chapters 2, 3, and 4—this study offers a broad overview of fifty years of historical study on this subject. It is a useful introduction to an important subject.

During the period discussed, 1960-2009, the authors outline more than 27 major studies of defense acquisition undertaken at the behest of various presidents, congressional committees, officials in government agencies, and a host of think tanks, universities, and other organizations. The authors note the similarity of findings and recommendations emerging over all this time. Despite the disparate analysts and the specific time and circumstances in which these studies were conducted, all wrestle with the related conundrums of cost, schedule, and quality. The old adage is, pick two but you cannot have all three of these major drivers to effective fielding of new weapons systems.

In every case, recommendations for change have either been ignored or imperfectly implemented; or if implemented largely failing in their intended result. There are forces opposing any change whatsoever, of course, but regardless of whatever reforms might be undertaken the issues of failure to meet schedules, control costs, and ensure technical performance have remained. I am reminded of the famous quote from Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince: “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries” (The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., 1950, Page 21, Chapter VI).

Is defense acquisition reform a lost cause? Fox does not believe so, and his conclusion argues for several additional reforms. He notes that the organizational culture present within the Department of Defense acquisition community has established barriers to reform efforts and this is the first task to be overcome. Nothing, however, is more difficult than changing an organizational culture. While reform attempts have produced positive but limited improvements they have not changed the basic culture driving the behavior of the participants in the acquisition process.

Fox argues: “Future attempts to correct the persistent and costly problems of defense acquisition must include more effective follow-up by senior and mid-level government managers who must understand and agree with the changes that need to be made. Today’s practice of reassigning military acquisition managers, at most levels every two or three years on acquisition programs that require ten years or more to complete, is unlikely to produce lasting improvements in managing those programs. The instruments of change must be a strong secretary of defense and senior acquisition executives chosen for industrial experience, with expert knowledge and skills in defense acquisition, who understand why acquisition reform efforts of the past have failed to achieve lasting improvements, and who have strong commitments to achieving efficient as well as effective acquisition program outcomes” (p. 207).

Defense Acquisition Reform, 1960-2009: An Elusive Goal is a breathless survey of an important, but often mind-numbing subject. It is perennial in so many ways. For example, recently president-elect Trump called for the cancellation of the F-35 fighter program, a weapon system that has had its share of troubles to be sure, all of them related to cost, schedule, and performance. Once again, pick two, or so it seems. This book helps illuminate many of the longstanding issues that the defense acquisition community, the vast majority of whom are dedicated public servants trying to accomplish a significant but difficult task, have had to deal with over the years. It may profitably be read by all those engaged in these activities, as well as historians and others seeking to understand the challenges of defense acquisition.

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