Elitism, Mars and JoeAm’s House

If you were fighting the rain last week, perhaps you missed the video from the U.S. about “Seven Minutes of Terror“, the Curiosity expedition to Mars. “Curiosity” is a nuclear powered robotic rover that will help earthbound creatures decide if there is a different place that can sustain human life. Gadzooks, but NASA marketed this expedition well, selling it like a real-life suspense story. I’ll link to two absorbing videos at the end of this article.

This is not a technology article, however. So if you detest science, just wade a little more and I’ll get to the point.
The seven minutes of terror is the time between when the rover’s pod hit the Martian atmosphere to the time it touched down on Mars. One of the videos focuses on the reactions of the Jet Propulsion Lab’s blue-shirted technicians as they monitored the fruits of their work during the tense seven minutes. A guy is reading readouts into the microphone, most incomprehensible on the tape. Speed. Distance to surface. Checkpoints.
Curiosity below parachute; photo from orbiter
  • Entering atmosphere.
  • Popping parachute.
  • Popping capsule base so instruments can read positioning.
  • Dropping the crane and rover from the pod.
  • Maneuvering sideways away from the parachute and toward the landing zone.
  • Firing retro-rockets to stabilize the flying crane and slow its fall.
  • Lowering the rover on a tether while continuing to drop.
  • Touchdown and cutting the tether; wild cheering, hugging and backslapping.
  • Crane rocketing off to a safe distance, splashing into the sandy dirt.
  • First thumbnail photo and more cheering, hugging and backslapping.
Seven minutes of faith in a machine; faith in Man’s accomplishments.
We will post appropriate photos in the gallery of the Church of Man. If you do not yet belong to our Church, please read the formation announcement in the pertinent article here.
The Mars landing was almost as dramatic as the first manned moon landing.
No, folks, it was not done in Hollywood.
Unfortunately, it is reported that China is angry and has summoned the US Ambassador to report for a lecture. Evidently China has claimed Mars because of the historical precedent that it is called “the Red Planet.” They don’t like the U.S. dropping one-ton off-road vehicles onto their dirt.
Well, that will play out as will nine-dash crayon drawings done by a Chinese seventh grader that authorizes Chinese warships to cruise off the coast of Luzon.
I think that whole nation is smoking dope.
The cost of the Mars venture is $2.6 billion.
At an exchange rate of 41.83 pesos per dollar that is:
  • P 108,758,000,000 or 108.8 billion pesos.
That would feed a lot of Filipinos, eh? Build a lot of classrooms.
It would feed a lot of homeless Americans, too; give them a good meal, a bed and a shower. It would bail out a lot of underwater homeowners or college graduates sucking on loan payments.  Or help fund Social Security.
But the U.S. chose to invest the money in Mars.
Good idea or bad? THAT is the point of this article, or the essential question at least.
I happen to think it is good, and here are the reasons why:
  • The U.S. needs to stay ahead of China in the space race because space is a military place. You lose that edge and you risk everything. China is not yet a peaceful and constructive player in the World community.
  • The money gets paid largely to American companies and workers, so it is not much different than a road infrastructure project aimed at righting the economy; it is just a very long road taking some eight months to traverse. It is a lightly traveled road, but so is that freeway between Clark and Subic.
  • The technology advances will eventually find their way into civilian uses, like smaller cameras and computers and useful health care equipment. Or 100 pound parachutes that can withstand 65,000 tons of snap. What the hell was THAT sucker made of?
  • We can have a colony on another planet when our earth implodes in about 200 years. Survival of our dysfunctional, stupid, destructive species. I’ll go out on a limb and say that is a good thing.
  • It is great television. Better than movies and fake stuff.
A parallel dilemma.
Our neighbors and friends are always asking for money. They are poor. But we (our family) choose to invest  our money, instead, in ourselves (a car, a large house), savings for our son’s college and savings for my wife (I’m older and will bite the dust while she is relatively young; she has no career or professional training).
It is the fundamental question on which all political theory rests. Take care of the poorest or take care of a few select people.
Well Marx and Engels and Adam Smith had a few things to say about this. They beat it to a pulp, socialism and capitalism. And history has played out and capitalism won. Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barak Obama in the U.S. are beating each other about the ears regarding the single issue: invest in the people, or invest in the wealth-builders?
Socialism or capitalism?
At the core of the highly successful capitalistic American economic beast is the human drive called “motivation”. Often it looks like aspiration or ambition. Sometimes it morphs to greed. But it is the fundamental drive to produce and excel. This is the beast that Ayn Rand spent several thick novels addressing. The societal advantage of egoism and productive might.
When individual effort and achievement is siphoned off to take care of non-achievers, over-all achievement slows and productivity goes stagnant. And poverty and malaise grow.
That’s why the grand ideal of communism is deader than Aunt Maude’s dog that was run over by the morning milk truck.
My neighbors will never grasp the concept, but I think the Philippines is best served by a pyramid of capabilities where a pinnacle of productive might is sharpened and raised for the ultimate benefit of the base. I think when my son is 45 and sitting in the legislature or running his law practice or business, trained in American disciplines, the neighbors will be much better off for it. When he has lived a standard of living that is high and aspires to make it higher, the neighbors will benefit.
Beneath the highly productive pinnacle we will see emerge a happy-go-spending middle class.
Elitist? Hmmmm.
Uncaring? Hmmmmmm.
I’ll coin the term “economic elitism” for consideration for the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary. It means an investment in a small set of wealth-builders whose success flows down to the broad population. Other economists refer to it as the “trickle down” theory, but that to me suggests it is just money moving down a pipe. No, no.
It is the BUILDING of the pipe.
It is investing in the productive enterprise that MAKES the money. It is not just taxing and passing around money like the church panhandlers do at offering time.
“Economic elitism” favors the few. It says that in a class of 400 high school graduates, 20 will contribute in a material way to making this a better, richer Philippines. Find them. Train them the way China does its athletes. Obsessively.  Make sure they thrive and stay in the Philippines.
Do a good job taking care of the other graduates. But do a sterling job of finding and polishing the jewels.
That is the point of this article. Filipinos are smart but not many are trained in productivity. Most are corrupted by values of subservience, the trade of favors, and ego over humility as it hampers discovery. So train them to think differently. Don’t spare the funds. Develop a set of unaffiliated, super-smart thinkers and producers. Tell them to make the nation tops in Asia. Fast track them into positions of authority. They’ll know what to do.
That would be the kind of elitist program the Philippines could use. In 100 years, there might even be a Filipino on Mars.
And so, to understand what quality elitism is, I refer you here to two videos that may possibly have redefined American willingness to invest in the elitism  . . . and the paybacks . . .of space travel:

13 Responses to “Elitism, Mars and JoeAm’s House”
  1. Anonymous says:

    There was a time in the Philippines before Martial Law when one had top an exam to get the job. No brown- nosing a local politician for endorsement to the job. In short, a meritocracy. Politicians in power view these people who shine as threats to them. Poor people don't have a chance with this kind of "leaders". DocB

  2. Anonymous says:

    I like your small set of wealth-builders model. But as DocB above is saying, it could threaten the old guards. -ricelander

  3. Thanks for the historical perspective, Doc. I didn't know that. There is a term for those in charge who choose not to hire the most capable people because they fear that their own capabilities will be shown as inadequate. Professional cowards.

  4. Glad we are on the same page. heh

  5. arkads says:

    I hope the government leaders will read the last five paragraphs. Nice idea. Hope you can share that to local government/private leaders as well.

  6. There has to be an alternative to the current way of doing things, and an alternative to turning the nation over to foreign managers. I leave it to readers to do the advocating. I just make sure they are filled with new ideas, perspectives and approaches to things. Good of you to stop by and read the article, and especially for taking the initiative to comment.

  7. Joe,You brought up a good question re the $2.6B expenditure for Curiosity. It brings up the issue of priorities and priorities, as we all know, depends on where you sit. It's a never ending debate.But regarding your statement: "When individual effort and achievement is siphoned off to take care of non-achievers, over-all achievement slows and productivity goes stagnant. And poverty and malaise grow."I think that is more ideology than fact. I'm neither advocating socialism or putting down capitalism. I think is a mix is best. Here's my ideological statement. A society that has affordable or, better yet, free education and health care, social security, and even affordable public housing for those who can't make it is more conducive to productivity. First, you provide the tool, education, for anyone who wants to use them and you keep them healthy. Second, you give them a certain level of security, a safety net, that takes away some of the fears from taking risks. And risk-taking is what drives development. Governments should look at education and health care like they do public infrastructure. They are roads to get you to where you want to go should you decide to take the trip. Public infrastructure is covered by taxes and available to all including those who don't pay taxes. Social security and affordable shelter should be safety nets for the inevitable ups and downs of economies. They serve to tide productive workers over until the economy recovers. Besides, someone who works on a salary all his life deserves a decent retirement. But you also have to provide welfare and housing to free-loaders. Otherwise, your taxes will go to police forces, judges, and prisons instead of social security and infrastructure including education and health.Free-loaders are a fact of life and they will always be around. But at least they won't have society to blame if, despite the availability of universal education and health care and good social safety nets for those who work, they remain unproductive. That's just me talking.

  8. Anonymous says:

    From: Island jim-e (aka: The Cricket)1. As regards the topic of Elitism,"favored-treatment" byvirture or superior status– preceived or actual–earned/deserved/acquired by merit,actions, education, etc.: a. Questions please: How many gold, silver, bronze medals were awarded the philippines sports "gods"-role models in any Olympic game to date (plus total income acquired for islanders from winnings/proceeds, etc.) b. How many millionairs are created each year (average) in the philippines by islanders or OSW? c. How many billionairs are created each year in the philippines economic strata? d. How many Nobel Prize Winners to date/total/avg. each year? e. How many annual scientific papers/awards each year? –vs.— f. How many babies are born/die (plus mothers deaths) each year?2. Question please: Where is the written proof that a few rich, fat cat, greedy families, dynastic dominators,crooks, vampire developers are "giving anything back"to create a better community, society, economy? Percentages andprojects outline would be appreciated to show that the "elite"produce positive trickle-down (besides pissing on the peons)please!3. As regards the subject of MARS (GOD OF WAR-PHALIC SYMBOL)(I prefer the candy type bar myself) I suggest we wake-up and spend our tax dollars for our "earthly" benefit, education, information, resource management, investigations and other "earthly adventures" to allow thebird (parrot/dove) of paradise to survive. The positiveside of finding out if we can live in a ice-cube (mars/space)is that we take on the bodies of roaches!4. My suggestion is to put family needs (survival/comfort)first before wasting time with worshiping the fewflashie "peacocks" that find ways and means to "pee-on-us"! Better by far to attend to the peoples needs andkeep the so-called superior "privledged" (usually bystacking the decks, double dealing and manipulationsof rules, regulations,laws to feather their beds atthe expense of civilization)–locked awayfrom public contamination!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Note/disclaimer with all due respect to thesponsor and readership–sorry to be sooowindy (I had too many beans for dinner!)Chirp!

  10. Yes, I agree with that, fundamentally, which is why I am a huge Obama fan and would not want elitists like Romney in charge. Still, I think the Philippines is a mass of educated mediocrity blocked from achievement by a huge stone of oligarchy. I look at the senators and see family men and women, not executives. And I don't see entrepreneurs taking advantage of the opportunities that are here, or getting the funding to do so. There is a reason call center managers bemoan the fact that they can't get enough people who can think on their feet. So in terms of political ideology, I agree with you. In terms of bringing the Philippines to life, I think we need a different kind of elitism than oligarchic.

  11. You're excused. And thanks for the counter-perspective. Does Mars make Snickers? I'm a Snickers guy. I think the oligarchs indeed are missing a few bulbs in the chandelier of patriotism.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I'd agree to your sense of elitism favoring the smart but poor or the deserving but not well-connected notwithstanding my naive, middle class sensitivity. Pinoy leaders however are not good on following up these programs after a time, buffeted as it were by the change in political fortune and priorities. We've had before Balik Scientist program, ladderized medical schools, science high schools, university scholarship programs but I don't hear any of those anymore. We also lack inspiring leaders like CNN Hero Efren Penaflorida who succeed without self- pity despite being poor. We're smart but cannot rise above being petty and shallow and envious. Is that what you're trying to get across, JoeAm?DocB

  13. Yes, follow-up and discipline hereabouts is weak, which points to the need for solution: more rigorous development of disciplined managers who aren't constantly diverted by this detail or that. Consider all the effort that goes into writing and debating laws, only to have them languish because no one enforces them and the courts are so screwed up, there is no place to adjudicate the disputes. So fix the courts and enforce the laws. Otherwise, don't even bother writing them.So, yes, you have exactly pegged what I am driving at.Speaking of self-pity, have you heard Ms. De Lima's wailing about how everybody ganged up on her? Poor her. She can't come to grips with the notion that people want an independent judiciary, not Aquino's hatchet judge running things.

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