THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 298 February 23 - 29, 2004
Highlights this week:
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 - 7,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here.
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February 23, 2004
I'm putting the rest together now. I have begun work on Mamelukes, and I'll need to go to an uninterruptible place to work on that, and I have errands. It has been raining in Los Angeles, and I spent part of yesterday doing the Henry's 208 Raindance patching places where the roof leaks. That's preferable to the problem of my neighbor Michael Cassutt who has a skunk under his house...
So I am dancing as fast as I can.
Web traffic is ghastly and my constant interruptions are probably due to rain and Adelphia's servers going in and out. I sure hope they get their act together.
Subject: Taking Care of the Guantanamo Detainees
|This week:||Tuesday, February
The debate over Iraq continues, and it's probably time to deal with it, but I don't have that time just now.
I can specify a few principles.
The argument seems to be that "they hate us, they are coming after us, we can't stop that, so it is better to fight in Baghdad and Damascus than in Boston and Detroit."
We will leave out whether Baghdad or Damascus are themselves actual threats greater than Riyadh or Tehran just for the moment. The argument is that we have to fight and it is better for us to fight on someone else's territory; and it is impossible to defend ourselves by means short of aggressive preventive war.
The answer to that is that this is nonsense. First, it isn't impossible to defend our borders, despite the contrary evidence from drug traffickers. The problem has never been the ability, but the will. Example: let us suppose 100 million visitors to the US. If we were to spend an average of $100 per visitor checking credentials and rejecting those who have no business here, that would be $10 billion a year: a fair amount of money, but cheap compared to a war.
There are some 6,000 miles of borders. (I made that up, but it's not an unreasonable number.) At a capital expense of $1,000 per mile this is $6 billion. That's not enough, but at $10,000 a mile we have a capital cost of $60 billion. Raise that. Call it $100 billion to build fences, real and electronic. That's a capital cost. Now station the Army at critical border areas, and encourage citizen militia to aid in border control, and go all out: it still won't cost more than $40 billion a year for physical border control. Assume we have to pay 6% on the $100 billion for capital equipment, and we are up to $10 billion for checking credentials and such, $6 billion interest, and $40 billion for physical border control, for a total of $56 billion. This is still less than the cost of war, and much of the money is spent on salaries and other payments to people in the US who will spend the money in the US.
And by not having the Army overseas and in the faces of our enemies, surely we lessen the provocation? We lessen the incentive to "come after us," and at the same time we make it far more difficult to that. Will this make us "safe" in the sense that there will be no more terror incidents here? Unlikely. But it is certainly reasonable to assume that these measures will hold the casualty rate to under 1 citizen a day -- which is what we are paying now.
Of course there is more to security than this. To the $56 billion a year for border control we need to add money for intelligence: physical, agents, and of course bribes. Silver bullets have won quite a few wars in history, and there is no reason to assume they have lost their effectiveness.
Now is this a policy of "isolation?" Hardly. Let me summarize:
Control of the borders.
Don't tread on me: we remain armed. This will certainly cost less than sending the army overseas, particularly since the Guard and the Reserves can understand they are unlikely to be deployed overseas except in the case of real declared war.
Seek energy independence. No means I think of cost anything like what wars cost.
Countries have interests, not friends. We are no different. We avoid entangling alliances.
We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but guardians only of our own. We will protect our people, we will protect our interests, we will protect the sea lanes; but we have no Jacobin obligation to make the world safe for democracy. It is enough for it to be safe for our republic. Other nations have resources. Let them employ them.
Avoid the territorial disputes of Europe, and the Near East, and Asia, and everywhere else unless those directly threaten us. We may be dismayed at the way Serbs treat Albanians, and how the Albanians we have empowered treat Serbs, but it is not our job to set up proconsuls in Kosovo and Belgrade and make aristocrats out of UN bureaucrats. If nations want to lord it over others, let them pay for the privilege, and do so without us.
And we reserve the right to use preventive war, but we make it clear we do so only when we have good grounds. Afghanistan was such a place. Iraq was, as it turns out, not, although Saddam Hussein did his best to convince us he was a real threat and not a paper jackal. Let that be a salutary lesson to others...
This isn't isolationism, any more than tariff for revenue is isolationism. This is putting American interests first.
I also owe you some comments on the continuing mess in Washington. Regulations make it unlikely that local telephone companies will invest in broadband "last one hundred feet." This leaves many of us at the tender mercies of monopoly cable companies. We need a more sensible policy that encourages competition.
And if we are to be internationally competitive, we need total reform of the school system. Since that won't happen from the top, the best thing we could do for the schools is cut the districts loose. The money from Washington is like dope: it comes with hidous strings.
The teacher unions exist to defend the least competent teachers, and they do it well. That wasn't the original premise of what was supposed to be a "professional society".
But this mess is in some ways worse than the Near East mess...
For more on the economy and unionism, see mail.
February 25, 2004
For those who don't know my mother was a school teacher: my concern over the state of education in this country isn't "simple teacher bashing" as some of you pretend to believe. The fact is that there is a crisis in education, and many of the best teachers know it. Worse, the Colleges of Education are so messed up that many younger teachers don't even know what is possible, and think they are victims of abuse when it is claimed they are not doing their job. Until these situations change, the US cannot possibly compete in an international market, and debate over free trade vs. tariff is moot: we won't have comparative advantage in much of anything.
One fact: almost every child can learn to read in first grade. By read, I mean be able to look at words on paper and pronounce them, so that reading vocabulary and speaking vocabulary are congruent. By almost every child I mean over 90%. I once asked my mother, a first grade teacher in rural Florida in the 20's, if she ever had any children who didn't learn to read. Her reply is instructive: "Well, a couple of them, but they didn't learn anything else, either."
As late as 1945 the notion that children of normal intelligence would leave first grade unable to read was unthinkable and any teacher who consistently got that result would either be fired or moved to another grade, and there wouldn't have been any union nonsense about protecting that teacher in a job beyond the teacher's abilities. Education results are too important to be compromised by union action for job protection.
I have said this before, but it needs repeating often: it's not the physical facilities, it's not the classroom size, and it's not the quality of education of the teacher (including useless workshops and other credential-enhancing time wasters). I grew up in rural Tennessee, where we had 30 pupils to a grade and two grades to a classroom; and the teachers were farmer's wives who had been to a State Normal School and had 2-year Associate of Arts degrees. (My mother was always ashamed that she never got a full four-year college degree, but only had a 2-year AA; she couldn't afford more education. But she taught all the kids to read.) The difference between my old Capleville consolidated school and modern schools, other than the poorest modern school spends more money per pupil than Capleville ever dreamed of, was expectations: the Capleville school board expected results, demanded results, and got results. Every one of us in the school could read. Each and every one including the 15 year old fifth grader who was simple; but she could read.
Teacher's unions exist to prevent anyone from demanding results, and spend most of their time defending incompetents, not preventing real abuse of competent teachers by arbitrary and capricious authorities. That happens, and sometimes good teachers need protection from bad administrators and school boards, but at present that is not the major problem with US education. At present the teachers unions may not be terrorist organizations but they are destroying the nation by preventing any meaningful education reform, and I don't say that lightly.
Enough. But it had to be said. I don't hate teachers and I don't hate unions. My wife's father had his house blown up by the Pinkertons because of his union activities. But just as absolute power on the part of owners and managers can be abused, and if it can be then it will be, the same is true of unions. But that's another essay. For more see mail, both letters after this bookmark.
There is a lot of mail about viruses and worms, some important, some urgent.
And if you missed this:
And for sheer amusement http://www.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,12374,1153530,00.html
February 26, 2004
Feeling safer already: and I shall show you terror in a handful of dust. But we were born free.
Subject: TSA discovers travelers have WALLETS
Like all government entites eventually do, TSA is going into business for itself.
Anarcho-tyranny, anyone? But we are at war...
Off for a walk. Back soon.
February 27, 2004
I took the day off to pay bills.
February 28, 2004
Have to clean up my desk, and get ready for the column. I haven't got a lot done this week.
But we have this warning:
Subject: Microsoft email worm du jour
- Roland Dobbins
It's another nasty one hidden in a Zip file.
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