View 707 Saturday, December 31, 2011
HAPPY NEW YEAR
We’re just back (early) from Larry Niven’s New Year party.
I had some good conversations. Most of my thoughts lately are on the latest novel, and in particular, is there any way that the United States can be saved? In a sense it’s a fairy tale because we postulate a sufficient threat to us all to justify some really drastic measures.
Steve Jobs famously said that he did not build Apple Computers in the United States because there were not enough available and affordable quality control engineers and skilled technicians whom he had faith in to produce the quality products he demanded. He trusted Singapore and the Orient more.
There are many grains of truth in that. Still, in 1940 – 1945, with a population of 140 million, half the work force conscripted into the armed services thus requiring building a new work force from women, apprentices, new graduates, and people called out of retirement, we produces a Liberty ship a day, thousands of B-17’s and other heavy bombers, clouds of fighters, and enough tanks to give numeric superiority over the best the Germans could produce. Once, told that the German Panther was ten times better than the US Sherman, we said that the solution to that was simple. We would build 11 Shermans for every Panther. We pretty well did that.
We built the Empire State Building during the Depression in one year. We built Hoover Dam during the depression in 3 years. We built the P-51 from drawing board design to actual combat deployment in 105 days. We built clouds of P-47 close support aircraft. We build a mechanized army and the ships to take it to Europe. All that without computers, without robots, without Interstate highways, with a population of 140 million, beginning with an economy enthralled in the Great Depression.
And we educated a work force fully capable of doing that. We turned out a generation that could read.
If we could do all that then, can we not do it now? What man has done, cannot man aspire to? Suppose we were given the chance? You have the power, what will you do?
That’s our next book. We’re working on it. Do we live in a true Dark Age in which we have forgotten what we can do? Many think so. When I mention Jaime Escalante and what he did, most scratch their heads unable to remember who he was. Yet what man has done man can aspire to.
Those thought engulf me.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Digging through the archives I found this: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/hammer.html which turned out to be interesting. I also found this.
View 707 Thursday, December 29, 2011
Mark Steyn, substituting for Rush Limbaugh this morning, says that Newt Gingrich is wrong on first principles: it is simply wrong in a free society for the government to require you to have health insurance, and anyone who believes that is beyond the pale, a liberal or socialist, not a conservative.
In fact Gingrich hasn’t been quite so clear in his “endorsement”, but leave that. Is it true that any consideration of mandated insurance is simply anathema?
Well, we can postulate that a free country ought not dictate what its citizens should buy, and that is perhaps a fundamental principle. Yet while there is certainly a sense in which that is true, it neglects other principles and facts, none of them particularly obscure.
To begin with, it is certainly no less conservative to insist that someone pay for his own health insurance than it is to insist that someone else pay for it. If you aren’t obliged to provide your own insurance, should someone else be so obliged?
And that is the essence of the health care debate.
One answer is that no one is obligated to pay for anyone’s health care insurance. It’s a free country and you’re free to have insurance or not, as you determine by your needs and income. That was the case for most of the history of this Republic: you’re on your own. If you get sick, pay your own bills. If you must, seek charity, or else be sick, languish, suffer, and if your illness is sufficiently severe, die. This is a free country. You are free to pay your own way, but you are not free to demand that others pay your medical bills.
Of course if you have had the forethought to buy health insurance, you are in good shape. If you have not, then pay your bills. Whatever you do, this is no business of the government.
The problem is that this doesn’t really seem acceptable. People are born with defects that prevent them from getting medical insurance. Others develop problems. These people encounter the problem of “pre existing condition.” They plead they would have bought health care insurance but the pre existing conditions make the premiums too high. Others say they once were insured, but when their conditions developed, the insurance company dropped them. It is barbaric simply to ignore all these people. In order for a man to love his country, his country ought to be lovely. Look at these innocent victims. Surely we must do something?
And over time, particularly in boom times when the nation was getting richer, in many parts of the country and perhaps nationally, a new consensus was developed: first, that there ought to be a safety net, then that people have a right to health care insurance, and their birth defects, or health problems developed over time, should not prevent them from obtaining it. Nor is it fair for the insurance companies to charge premiums consistent with the risks the company is assuming.
Thus came the demand for health care insurance available to all at the same price. Of course that’s not insurance at all except in the sense that we are all insuring each other: we all pay and we all benefit. But that requires that we all pay, without exception, and that requires mandated insurance, and we’re back to where we started, except that now we find it is the will of the people that there be this universal insurance policy. Can’t we just accept that and get on with it? And thus Obama Care, modeled in some ways on the Massachusetts system implemented by the Democratic legislature of Massachusetts and the Republican Governor, then Mitt Romney.
And there we are. Meanwhile, the costs skyrocket, in large part because those who receive the benefits are not those who pay for them, and those who pay for them have no control over what benefits are paid. Everyone wants the system to deliver more but cost less. This squeezes some health care providers while opening up the gates to fraud for others. If a system were designed to insure runaway costs while infuriating dedicated health professionals it could not work better to accomplish those nefarious purposes than the system we have now. It doesn’t work, we can’t afford it, and it tramples what we once thought were liberties; yet how is it conservative to overlook people dying in waiting rooms? Or –
That discussion can go on for a long time, and involve any number of well meaning people.
It hardly matters whom we shall elect as President so long as these fundamental questions continue unresolved, and castigating one or another of the candidates as not sufficiently conservative does nothing until we establish just what is a conservative position. No one wants things to go on as they do. No one wants to bite the bullet and come out for “Death Panels” — health care committees that allocate the available health care resources. There doesn’t seem to be much desire for simply nationalizing the health care system and having done with it. And every year, we spend more money and get less for it.
There aren’t many ways out of this swamp, and none that will not infuriate some people. And it’s never going to be addressed if it becomes a third rail, a subject discussable only at peril.
It does seem to me that there is a constitutional solution: make it clear that the federal government has neither the obligation nor the power to solve it. National health care perhaps ought to be a national concern, but it is not mentioned in the constitution, and thus is not a power granted to the Federal government. If this be any government’s concern it is the business of the states. One may argue that all government ought to get out of the health care business, but that, surely, is a matter of politics; but I argue vigorously that as concerns the Federal Government, it is not politics but law. The Constitution didn’t give the Federal Government that power, just as it did not give the Federal Government the power to provide, interfere with, or regulate education.
Leave these matters to the states. Meanwhile, if the Congress wants to show how well it can provide health care and education, it has the undoubted right to take over the health care and education systems in the District of Columbia. Let it show how well it can do there. If what it does works well, it may be tried by the states. If it turns into a bureaucratic mess, the states can avoid the Federal methods.
Leave these matters to the States. Get the Federal government out of the health care and education business.
December 29, 2011 1100 AM
I’m writing this at the kitchen table on Khaos, my Mac Book Air. One set of workmen have left. They finally found the cracked and leaking six inch of gas pipe. This was the third attempt. Each previous time ended with supposed success, but turned out to be This Time For Sure. All would be well for a couple of hours and then we would smell gas. The first time was at ten PM. The Gas Company technician, a very pleasant man who turned out to have kids who read science fiction so I gave him a copy of Starswarm, was able to show us how to turn off the section where the leak was while leaving the water heaters, but because it was after ten PM he was alone and they don’t crawl under the house unless they have a partner. Yesterday the contractors came out twice, and each time thought they had found it, but last night there was once again the smell of gas. This time they actually found a pipe with an actual crack in it, and replaced it. They’ve been gone for an hour, all the relevant valves are open, there’s heat in Roberta’s bathroom which was the whole point of the operation, and there is no smell of gas in the hallway. I believe we can at last rejoice.
The moral of the story is that Roberta’s persistence in finding a reliable firm to do the work fixing her bathroom heater has paid off in spades and big casino.
Now she’s out taking Sable for a walk, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table while the plasterer fixes our ornate dining room cornice which was damaged by leaks from my upstairs bathroom, which had to be repaired and – but you get the idea. Chaos Manor has been sufficiently chaotic for the month. With luck it will all be over by Saturday. Meanwhile one of us has to be downstairs while there are workmen in the house, which is why I am working with my wonderful Mac Book Air at the kitchen table.
I’d forgotten how nice the Air is for working. My normal work position involves a Henry Miller chair and a keyboard at precisely the height I want, and big monitor screens. I don’t have any of that at the kitchen table. It takes a bit of getting used to. First I set the Air far enough back on the table so that I can rest my arms on the table and my fingers properly on the keyboard. Strange at first, but after a few minutes it turns out to be very natural.
Of course the Air saved my sanity back when I was getting my brain burned out – 50,000 rads of high energy X-rays to eliminate the inoperable lump in my head – and I was daily in the Kaiser Sunset radiology facility waiting room. I was able to work there, and that’s about the only thing that kept me sane. Clearly the treatment worked since I am still here and they can’t find any traces of cancer left.
Of course the Air saved my sanity back when I was getting my brain burned out – 50,000 rads of high energy X-rays to eliminate the inoperable lump in my head – and I was daily in the Kaiser Sunset radiology facility waiting room. I was able to work there, and that’s about the only thing that kept me sane. Clearly the treatment worked since I am still here and they can’t find any traces of cancer left.
The Mac Book Air – mine is named Kaos for the Goddess of Air – is a remarkably useful device. I don’t think it’s quite enough computer to be one’s only system, and my main machine remains Bette, a quad core Windows 7 machine and a 23” screen. If I am going somewhere for days and I need a system to set up in the hotel room and leave it in place, I tend to carry a ThinkPad; but for just knocking about writing wherever I happen to be, cruising the Internet at need, and just generally having a computer to use, the Air is wonderful. Lightweight, good battery life, gorgeous to look at, and easily carried in a small brief case or messenger bag. She’s not fast but she’s fast enough, and she’s easy to use in awkward places.
And, suddenly, all is well. The gas lines are fixed, the plasterer is done, Roberta is back from her walk, and I can go back up to the office. I can say I enjoyed resuming my affair with Khaos. She really is gorgeous.
For some of my early impressions of the Mac Book Air, see http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2008/Q2/view512.html
At work at the breakfast table with Khaos, the Mac Book Air.
Khaos at work. The Mac Book Air (mine is an old one, of course) is my favorite carryable if I need to get some real work done.
Did the real Cheetah die in 1938? A chimp named Cheetah died at 80 this week, but the conspiracy theorists claim that the real Cheetah died, and this one is a fake.
There was apparently a major problem with the site today. It has been hacked up and fixed, although there’s now contemplation of some internal structure changes (which you won’t see). I believe all is well there now. Thanks.
View 707 Wednesday, December 28, 2011
The house has been filled with workmen again, and Niven came over with some contracts for the Chinese translation rights to MOTE and HAMMER. Fairly decent payments for five years worth of translation rights to old books. Print is still worth something.
Once Niven was here the dog made certain that workmen or not, we were going to take a hike. She likes Larry. She’s also insistent. We set out with a goal of going about halfway up, but we got to talking, and there were lots of gophers, and it was a very pleasant day. The upshot was that we went all the way up to the summit, 2 miles and 700 feet elevation, and by the time we got there we had a new character, a better story line, and a pretty complete reshaping of the book. It’s going to be a humdinger. Maybe it will be around and worth something forty years from now.
We continued the discussion and notes over lunch, and I pretty well exhausted myself physically and mentally. I have a lot of fiction work to do. Things may be a bit thinner here for a while as I work on this. I know where we have to go, and it’s time to get us there.
I have chosen some mail comments which I include here because I haven’t time to write my own essays on the subjects, and I think they are important topics that need consideration.
For amusement you may want to look at http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/12/15/climategate_police_action/ . In particular, play the video; it’s both amusing and chilling.
Thanks to Tracy.
Subject: The green police are taking it to a new level:
Brain-Eating Amoeba Fatalities Linked to Neti Pots
I seem to recall you recommending a high-tech version of this device.
Tim of Angle
I do use a nasal pump, and I have always used Los Angeles tap water out of the hot water tap, along with the powder that comes with the pump. The brand I use is Grossan, and at one time I had a link to their site, but they seem to have changed hands or something. It’s easy to find if you’re looking. I always clean the system before and after use, but I have taken no other precautions. Those who live in water districts that might allow amoeba to infest the tap water, or those who draw their own water from wells or cisterns, should be more cautious and probably boil hell out of the water before using it, or use some other source of water. Injecting amoeba into ones sinuses is not likely to have a good outcome.
On the other hand, I have been using the Grossan nasal pump and their powder for more than a decade, and they have proved to be the best way I know to deal with pollens, allergies, and other sinus problems. My experiences have been entirely positive, and I’d hate to be deprived of the system. Prior to getting the Grossan pump I tried a number of things in desperation, including “Fresh Snake Biles” in a rather evil smelling concoction I would not recommend to anyone else. The “Snake Biles” actually worked, but nowhere near as well as the Grossan, and I haven’t been tempted to try to find any more Snake Biles.
Clearly I won’t be responsible for anything that happens to a reader who tries a nasal pump. I’m not a physician. I can only say that my experiences, using Los Angeles tap water from the hot water tap have been positive and pleasant with what I consider a good outcome and this has been the case for a decade.
Spengler > Civil War as the Second-Best Option
Spengler is at it again. He takes Voltaire’s saying that the best is the enemy of the good and examines the current Middle East with an eye to what is good for the U.S. He says civil war is the second-best option, and is therefore better than some other outcomes:
“The best has been the enemy of the good throughout. Pursuing the fantasy of a “best” option — stable and democratic Muslim states — has cost us too much blood and treasure, and above all, far too much in terms of the morale of the American public. . . . I warned in April 2008 that: “it was illusory to believe that the US was capable of creating a stable to regime to replace [Saddam]. To prevail in the regime meant an unending series of small interventions and unending chaos in the region, with hideous humanitarian consequences. Cardinal Richelieu had the stomach to pursue such a policy towards the German empire during the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648, but not Bush. Yet a Richelovian policy towards the Middle East, horrible as it would be, is the inevitable consequence of American interventionism.” [end of embedded quote]
“Americans are not cold enough to initiate a Richelovian campaign of destabilization. But whether we like it or not, a general destabilization has overwhelmed North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Central Asia. We did not seek it. We did our best to prevent it. Our hands are clean. Unlike the Reagan administration, which did its best to prolong the Iran-Iraq War with its million casualties, the Bush administration tried to avoid such conflicts. Now that we are stuck with humanitarian catastrophes of biblical proportions, we had better make the best use of them. Never let a crisis go to waste, as somebody said during his 15 minutes of fame.”
<snip> “The analogies to be drawn between America’s strategic situation today and the Peloponnesian War are few; those with the Thirty Years War, much closer to our own times, are strong. It is dreary stuff; there is no-one to root for, no white hats or black hats, just a mass of misdeeds that killed off about two-fifths of the people of Central Europe between 1618 and 1648.”
He finishes with: “Like it or not, circumstances will force us to think this way. Might as well get a head start.”
The question is, what are our international obligations? Are we to be involved in territorial disputes in the Middle East (or in Eastern Europe? Caucuses? How did the American people get saddled with such obligations.
The only acceptable answer, at least to me, would be that the American interest is best served by our interventions; an international rescure, it would seem to me, should be subject to a Congressional resolution. But then I have been against all our interventions since the Cold War ended. I think both the United States and the world would be far better off had we invested the $Trillions our wars have cost in the development of American energy sources and energy independence. Had we declared war on energy shortages we would long ago have won that war, and we would not be in such crushing debt. But then I said that prior to our interventions.
I have great admiration and regard for our military, who have performed well and efficiently while suffering from a lack of mission definition; but had they been put to work drilling oil wells and building Space Solar Power Satellites we’d be a lot better off, and while such developments always cost lives, I expect there would not have been thousands.
We are the friends of Liberty everywhere. We are the guardians only of our own. I see no need for a policy different from that, but I am willing to have it debated. Perhaps we ought to intervene to prevent genocides, but our record in that regard is not so great. We stopped the slaughter of Albanians in Serbia by giving part of Serbia to the Albanians; the result has been the genocide of the Serbs in that area. It is not clear that this was in the US national interest. Perhaps it was a moral triumph although neither the Serbs nor the Russians believe so, and the people of the Lower Danube have not really recovered from the economic damages we inflicted on the area. As to Iraq, the story there is not over: I hear little from the Kurdish region of Iraq. I think that silence will not continue. We have withdrawn from Iraq; we are not loved there; and we have left behind auxiliaries who helped us and to whom we have an unfulfilled moral obligation. Civil War between the Sunni and the Shiites in Iraq is not improbable. Iranian intervention is not unlikely.
We did go abroad seeking dragons to slay. There have been consequences. There will be more.
The below is from a friend of mine and contains information I believe of importance to you and our country. You can find out more about Dr. Kupper at his website: http://chinaresourcesgroup.com/about.html
Cheap energy = prosperity!
Drill here, DRILL NOW!
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired.; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Avoider of Yard Work
Subject: Harbinger of the Near Future
For anyone watching the events unfold in the world economic arena for the past two years, it is has been obvious that China has become extremely concerned regarding the devaluation of the U.S. dollar under the policies of the Obama administration. This includes, most notably, not only our massive foreign debt, but the policies of the Fed and Treasury in just printing increased amounts of paper money to put into circulation. It is a classic case of the debasement of the U.S. currency. Consequently, China has increasingly lost faith in the value of the U.S. dollar, both short term and long term, to serve as the defacto currency for world trade. When China suggested, last year, that a new currency be created for world trade, preferably through the IMF, this idea was quickly shot down by the U.S. and Europe.
The response of China would naturally be to either replace the U.S. Dollar with the Chinese Yuan or to make the Chinese Yuan a currency equal to the Dollar as the vehicle for foreign trade. About two years ago, China began, on a limited basis, to utilize the Yuan as the basis for trade with selected countries in Southeast Asia. Following the typical and rational Chinese approach, they experimented with this for the past couple of years and found that using the Yuan as the basis settlement of trade between China and these select countries was working quite well. Now, in what I consider to be a major step forward, and one which seems not understood or appreciated for its significance, the Chinese have expanded this to the their trade relationships with Japan. In this morning’s report on CNN, in the discussion of the meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister and President Hu Jintao of China, the following sentence appeared, buried in the overall story of discussing Japan’s desire for China to control North Korea.
“Both sides also signed energy conservation and environmental protection agreements, along with an announcement that the two sides will use their own currencies in bilateral trade rather than U.S. dollars in an effort to encourage economic cooperation”
This now means that trade between the world’s second and third largest economies will now occur using the Chinese Yuan and the Japanese Yen, and not the U.S. Dollar. The Chinese Yuan is becoming the currency for trade in Asia. Probably in another 2-3 years, the Chinese Yuan will become a freely convertible international currency and come to dominate trade not only with Asia, but with Europe. The age of the U.S. Dollar as being the predominant world currency has now begun to become a memory. True, it will take several more years for the figures to be revealed and reported in world currency markets, etc., but with this announcement between the second and third largest economies in the world, the roadmap is quite clear for the future.
And with all of the occurring, we proceed in our own ignorance to have Presidential primaries where the debates remain centered around religious values, abortion rights, divorces, and a host of extraneous issues. In our own ignorance, we continue down the failed road of European socialism and have become a nation of entitlements and cheap currency. There is a dearth of leadership in our nation, and the fault lies with both political parties.
= = = = =
School Lunches in Los Angeles
In light of recent items you posted regarding the new lunch program put together by the LAUSD, here’s a link to Megan McArdle’s comments on why, despite a very successful pilot program, the lunch program is a miserable failure.
Among her remarks:
* This is one more installment in a continuing series, brought to you by the universe, entitled "promising pilot projects often don’t scale <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/01/the-value-of-health-care-experiments/70106/> ".
* Sometims the "success" of the earlier project was simply a result of random chance, or what researchers call the Hawthorne Effect.
* Sometimes the success was due to what you might call a "hidden parameter", something that researchers don’t realize is affecting their test.
* Sometimes the success was due to the high quality, fully committed staff.
* Sometimes the program becomes unmanageable as it gets larger.
* Sometimes the results are survivor bias.
"So consider the LAUSD test. In the testing phase, when the program was small, they were probably working with a small group of schools which had been specially chosen to participate. They did not have a sprawling supply chain to manage. The kids and the workers knew they were being studied. And they were asking the kids which food they liked–a question which, social science researchers will tell you, is highly likely to elicit the answer that they liked something.
That is very different from choosing to eat it in a cafeteria when no one’s looking. And producing the food is also very different. Cooking palatable food in large amounts is hard, particularly when you don’t have an enormous budget–and the things that make us fat are, by and large, also the things that are palatable when mass-produced. Bleached grains and processed fats have a much longer shelf life than fresh produce, and can take a hell of a lot more handling. Salt and sugar are delicious, but they are also preservatives that, among other things, disguise the flavor of stale food.
I think one anecdote in the article is particularly telling. People complained that salads dated October 7th were served on the 17th–and the district responded by first, pointing out that that was the "best served by" date, not the date when the food actually went bad; and second, removing the labels because they were "confusing". Now, as anyone who has forgotten to eat a bag of lettuce knows, while it may not actually be rotten after 10 days, it probably doesn’t look much like something you’d eat voluntarily. This is not something that you can change by stamping a different "sell by" date on the container. If that were my choice, I too would come to school with a backup bag of Cheetos."
It’s worth reading the whole thing. And maybe follow it up with some readings on systemantics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systemantics
View 707 Tuesday, December 27, 2011
I am weary of saying that I am not an apologist for Newt Gingrich, then writing as if I am; but the headlines give me little choice. I have long said that Newt would not have been my first choice for President, but he is an old friend, and he would be a far better President than our current one. The nomination ought to be based on rational discussion, not on headline gotchas. There is a sense in which the future of the Republic depends on this principle. The Internet Age followed rapidly on the TV age which followed the Radio Age, and all of those had enormous effects on the way we choose our national leaders. Now we have Facebook and Twitter, and instant polls, and what gets lost in all this is any rational discussion of issues.
As for example the Wall Street Journal front page headline” Gingrich Applauded Romney’s Health Plan” (link) which begins “Newt Gingrich voiced enthusiasm for Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health-care law when it was passed five years ago, the same plan he has been denouncing over the past few months as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination.”
Way down in the page 4 continuation it says
At the same time, the essay cautioned that the Massachusetts plan may not work. It warned that the state has an "exhaustive" list of health-coverage requirements that prohibit insurers from offering basic plans with high deductibles. It predicted that state residents earning little more than $30,000 a year—the threshold for an individual to qualify for subsidized coverage—would be "in jeopardy of being priced out of the system." Instead, the newsletter said, "we propose that a more realistic approach might be to limit the mandate to those individuals earning upward of $54,000 per year."
It also gave a nod to the concept of making it easier for Americans to purchase insurance across state lines, an idea widely backed by Republicans as a mechanism to make coverage cheaper through competition.
A follow-up August 2006 newsletter from the center called Mr. Romney’s plan "the most interesting effort to solve the uninsured problem in America today." It praised "a Republican governor working with a Democratic state legislature to find a bipartisan reform that is based on market-oriented principles." (link)
The entire article comes closer to a rational presentation, but the entire front page is not. Nor, despite the argumentation posing as a front page news article, is it clear that Mr. Gingrich’s position on the Romney plan for Massachusetts is not consistent with principled conservatism. I would have thought that the notion of state’s rights and allowing the states to experiment with solutions to very sticky problems was almost the essence of the Constitution of 1787.
Certainly the conservative position on health care is that it is not a national “problem” to be “solved” by national action. Whether or not any government actions can “solve” whatever is meant by the problem of health insurance, I for one am glad of the Massachusetts experiment. Like X projects in aerospace, it is an experiment that gives us some data rather than models and theory; and I cannot think that Gingrich’s “approval” of the Romney plan is somehow indicative of any betrayal of conservative principles. If some kind of universal health insurance program is going to work anywhere, it should work in Mass., a wealthy and highly educated state able to afford it if anyone could.
Any discussion of conservative principles and health care has to begin with some facts. One of those facts is that the courts have in essence nationalized a form of universal health care: they have decreed that emergency rooms cannot turn people away for lack of insurance or other means to pay for the treatment they demand. Moreover, there is, I think, a general consensus among the American People that the spirit of this mandate is acceptable: people should not die in hospital waiting rooms while trying to prove they can pay. Of course that seldom happens, and often the treatment demanded is not urgently needed, but we are agreed that people ought not be denied emergency care.
That simple principle works with some populations with strong moral and ethical principles that include limits on what they think they are entitled to. It works in many American communities to this day. It may work in Massachusetts for all I know. It does not work in Southern California, where eleven hospitals have closed their emergency rooms, and the once world class trauma center network we had is nearly forgotten. The hospitals close their emergency rooms because they can’t afford to keep them open: the alternative would be to close the whole hospital. (Another alternative, triage in the waiting room doesn’t work and subjects the hospitals to crippling law suits. The Courts in essence won’t permit it.)
And that is the essence of the “health insurance problem.” Insurance is not welfare, and requiring equal premiums for all insured – granting the ‘right’ to insurance for those with pre-conditions at the same premium as those in good health – is not insurance at all. The obvious strategy for those with crippling pre-conditions is to buy the insurance, while for those in good health it makes sense to buy no insurance at all until symptoms appear, then rush out and buy it. Given that rational economic strategy of the customers, the obvious rational strategy of insurance companies is to declare bankruptcy, and for their executives to get into some other line of work, possibly as welfare administrators.
As Mitt Romney has repeatedly said, in Massachusetts they had about 8% population without health insurance. Everyone else was satisfied with what they had. The plan, which was passed by a Democratic Party controlled legislature, attempted to deal with that situation and provide for the 8%. In theory it wouldn’t affect anyone else. How well it works is worthy of study, but it is the business of the people of Massachusetts, not mine. In Los Angeles County we have had eleven emergency rooms close down, considerable stress on those remaining, and the loss of our once renowned Trauma Network. I don’t know what the situation is in Boston. Were I in the health care business I would pay more attention.
The real question is, who is obliged to pay for what? If an elderly uninsured person has a heart attack and requires emergency care, who is obliged to pay for it? What is my personal obligation? And for that matter, if I have a heart attack, should you pay for it? (I will quickly acknowledge that when I did have medical problems, I had no lack of free expert advice from readers and subscribers, for which I am extremely grateful; but I think that is a different matter. None of that was compelled.)
That is really the essence of it all: who should be compelled to pay? Should the physicians and technicians be compelled to render their services for free? That seems unfair. It is also unlikely to produce a good supply of highly educated and qualified physicians, nurses, and technicians. And yes: I do understand that the supply has in the past been artificially limited (or at least that this is contended) in order to keep the price of those services artificially high, so the compulsion is not so monstrous as it seems – but that leads off to another question about who is compelled to pay for medical and technical training, the costs of such education, and the monstrous quality of the school system. And we haven’t time to deal with that.
We don’t even have time to deal with the question of “who must be compelled to pay and for what?” – yet that is the essence of the “health insurance” problem. When I was young the matter was simple enough. You paid for your own medical services, and if that proved to be beyond your means you sold property, or borrowed money, or did whatever was required; or you didn’t pay and the doctors gave you what service they thought you might deserve of their charity. There wasn’t much medical insurance as such. There were charity hospitals, mostly run by Christian religious organizations.
Health Insurance became widespread largely because it was a way for employers to compete for good workers during a labor shortage in a time of wage controls: the business could deduct the insurance payments as a cost of doing business, while the insurance benefit was not taxed as income for the laborer. The result was widespread insurance among the employed, and that led to the situation of establishing one’s insurance status when being admitted to hospital – and that led to the horror stories of people dying in the waiting room while filling out forms. And that made health insurance a political problem.
But the political problem never really addressed the question: Who must pay for what? What are you obligated to pay for my health problems?
Once we establish that principle we can look at mechanisms for dealing with it; and having a cold look at this first principle should once and for all establish a simple fact: it is not a federal problem. It may be a state problem: Massachusetts chose to make it one for the people of that state. That will depend on the ethical and moral principles of the people of that state: and given the relentless war on religion, that may be an interesting picture. Perhaps the answer is simple: a relentless drive for entitlement to the masses at the expense of the productive. This has happened before through history. The Framers of our Constitution hoped to avoid this at least on a national level by limiting the power of the federal government: but leaving matters to the states means that states will approach such matters in different ways.
I have no definitive answers here, but it does seem to me that before we talk about the mechanisms of “solving the health insurance problem” we deal with the more fundamental question: “who must pay for someone else’s health care?” and on what moral or ethical principle is that obligation based. Until this is answered we have only the simple principle of “democracy”: You have it, and we want it. Republics fall when that becomes the basis of government, and the rich turn to a protector, usually a ‘friend of the people”. The result is seldom to anyone’s liking, as we say with the Soviet experiments.
Of course that kind of democracy usually does produce a ruling class.
I do understand that politics takes over from rational discussion. When that happens the trumpets of leadership become uncertain. The personality substituting for Rush Limbaugh, for example, is today in near despair, while desperately proclaiming Newt Gingrich a liar for his comments on Romney’s Massachusetts health care. After all, didn’t he approve it? But it’s a bit more complex than that. Newt is wrong to impute to Romney a desire to impose the Massachusetts plan on the nation. I don’t recall Romney ever wanting to do so. He has, correctly, defended the state’s right to the experiment.
Newt is correct in denouncing Obamacare and saying that the Massachusetts plan must not be imposed on the United States. He was correct when he said it was an interesting experiment. He is playing politics when he attributes to Romney a desire to impose this on the nation. I certainly would not have advised him to do that. I will say that Mr. Gingrich has been far less negative in his campaigning than his Republican establishment enemies have been.
Newt thinks a lot and he says what he thinks. It was true when I was associated with him and it is true now. He generally surrounds himself with smart people who are not afraid to tell him he’s wrong, and he tends to enjoy those discussions. This is a very good practice for a legislator. It is less so for a commander in chief, but it is not a fatal flaw for a president. The President of the United States is not the Emperor. His whimsical decrees do not have immediate effect. The most important requirement for President is a dedication to the Constitution. That, I think, applies to every one of the Republican candidates.
Reagan once told us as a general rule to nominate the most conservative electable candidate. That was good advice then and it still is.
Mail 707 Monday, December 26, 2011
Long time readers will remember Karen Parker:
Hello Jerry, and Merry Christmas
(This is the second day of Christmas, after all, two turtle doves, etc etc)
On Saturday (Christmas Eve day) I purchased a Kindle edition of Starswarm and began reading it on my iPad. I finished about 1:00 AM that evening. What a wonderful Christmas present! Thank you!
Even though I’m 60 years old, I still enjoy so-called “juvenile” science fiction, and this is among the very best, right up there with the best of RAH, and better than even some of his. And not one, but two, new, to me at least, ideas – the Starswarm entity itself, and the idea of an embedded connection to an AI program, from infancy.
I also read with great interest your introduction, and it reminded me of my first experiences with writing on a computer. In 1980 I joined Bell Labs, and very quickly learned to use the UNIX system for writing. In this case it was via a line oriented text editor (at least initially, within a year of so we’d transitioned to “vi”, a screen oriented text editor), writing files for nroff/troff, which used embedded formatting commands somewhat similar in concept but not in detail to HTML. Like you, I found the ability to change something without retyping the entire page was a massively liberating experience, which I put to good use over the following years, when I averaged between 40 and 70 internal papers a year for several years. So thank you, too, for a pleasant walk down memory lane.
Thanks for the kind words.
I was looking for something else and found myself at http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives2/archives2mail/mail292.html . It’s another walk down memory lane. Not so terribly long ago, actually. By the way, you can find the many of the old Chaos Manor Views by going to http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/view.html, and similarly for mail. These claim to show how to find any of them from inception on, but apparently don’t actually point back to the very early View and Mail. The very first View was http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives/archivesview/view1.html
The first Chaos Manor Mail is at: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/ancient/mail1.htm
After the first three, mail went to /archives/archivesmail#.html where # stands for a number between 4 and 83. It gets more complicated. At some point I’d like to do a better index to some of the early stuff: early being 1998 and on. I fear all the old Genie archives are long lost, and I doubt that McGraw Hill kept the BIX archives. Perhaps MIT kept the MC and TOPS20 correspondence, but I doubt it’s easily accessible. I suspect that much of the early history of the Internet is going mythical…
The first View and Mail went up when BYTE unexpectedly shut down, and the first few weeks were frantic as I tried to build this place and come up with a way to keep it going. That was in 1998, so clearly we were able to do it.
One of the earliest public users and proponents of using word processors was the late William F. Buckley, Jr. who wrote his columns and novels on one beginning with the Zenith Z-89 in 1982.
“I began using a word processor, commonplace now at Yale, 15 years ago. Most writers will acknowledge that the word processor is conclusively useful in editing. There is the convenience of instantly reshaping a sentence or paragraph with this or that emendation or addition and then looking at it and evaluating the integrated modifications. I think it safe to guess that most writers who began composing by hand or on the typewriter have traveled, since word processing came in, through the predictable stages.”
Yes. We corresponded on this, a very long time ago. On paper, I think.
Stars Wars Holiday Special
The video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbF_ecnlyTk includes the entire show including commercials. I found the GM commercials alone worth the time to watch.
Live long and prosper
h lynn keith
I fear it was not to my taste, but à chacun son gout .
Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Kim Jeong-il’s official funeral is scheduled on the day of the Mass of the Holy Innocents?
Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
A good question.
Sometimes the truth hurts, and this may be it.
In the coming New Year, 2012, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union address will occur on the same day.
This is an ironic juxtaposition of events:
One involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to an insignificant creature of little intelligence for prognostication.
The other involves a groundhog.
Niven was right.
Merry Christmas, Dr. Pournelle! And may you have a Happy New Year. In other news, I thought you might find this:
interesting. It’s pretty horrific.
A free market will provide what the customers want. Morality comes from elsewhere. Chesterton is often quoted as saying that when a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing, he will believe in anything. This isn’t strictly true, although Father Brown, one of Chesterton’s characters – if you don’t know the Father Brown detective stories you may be in for a treat – comes close to saying it.
What is true is that without God it’s very difficult to derive a system of morality and ethics that forbids or even discourages the harvesting of organs from criminals. Niven’s The Jigsaw Man (published first in the Ellison edited Dangerous Visions) shows what happens next: if there’s enough demand, and no taboos, a supply will be found. This is being illustrated quite well in today’s China. It’s even logical, given a belief in the legitimacy of the People’s Republic; the question is, at what point does it become a constitutional right under a Supreme Court of the proper political correctness?
Plants no longer to be given Latin name ‘so they can be classified before they die out’
Plants no longer to be given Latin name ‘so they can be classified before they die out’:
“It was once the lingua franca of science, used to name animals and plants with precision. But now botanists will no longer be required to provide Latin descriptions of new species. The move is part of a major effort to speed up the process of naming new plants – because in many cases it is feared they might die out before they are officially recognised.
This link was sent to me labeled as ‘the ultimate dumbing-down’.
Neither you nor I find this astonishing. And the education system continues…
Hidden Dragon: The Chinese cyber menace [printer-friendly]
A current fairly extensive summary of the Chinese cyber menace:
Apparently a workmanlike crew: “what’s striking is that all these attacks happen between 9am and 5pm Chinese time,"
As Dan Simmons reminded us (in his excellent "message" at http://www.dansimmons.com/news/message/2006_04.htm) ,
“Thucydides taught us more than twenty-four hundred years ago … that all men’s behavior is guided by phobos, kerdos, and doxa, Fear, self-interest, and honor."
Responsible capitalism is self-interest mitigated with honor — in the sense of doing things right and considering also the rights and interests of others. Irresponsible capitalism is unmitigated self-interest – caveat emptor.
Fascism and communism replace self-interest and honor with various degrees of fear, which gets worse, the worse the tyranny, ending with unmitigated fear as the only motivator.
Socialism attempts to replace self-interest without creating fear. That leaves honor — which is probably the laziest of the three drivers — as the only motivator for independence and excellence.
Honor is also the most easily perverted, because it is defined in a cultural context. Suicide bombers are honorable, in their own light … (which is NOT an endorsement of either them, or a system which finds honor instead of horror in such actions).
Actually it depends on your brands of fascism and national socialism, doesn’t it? Mussolini claimed to be restoring national honor and that share of glory to which Italy was entitled as the descendent of Rome, and held honor and patriotism in high regard. He did not in general reject conventional behavior although he often disregarded its restrictions.
Without a fountain of honor and justice and morality it becomes difficult to decide what is honorable and what is not. In modern France, the society is becoming anti-Semitic because there is a demand for toleration of the Islamic population and its prejudices. Hardly unpredictable. But then the victory of Charles the Hammer at Tours appears to be undergoing renegotiation.
National Health Care by Yuri Maltsev
I thought you might be interested in this, it is a presentation by Yuri Maltsev. The talk he is giving is about his experience with the Soviet system. Formerly of the Soviet Union, he is now an educator in Wisconsin, a prof. of economics with close ties to the medical profession. He speaks about nationalized health care with some authority and much consternation.
Instructive. Thank you.
The resurrection of a 1932 Japanese juvenal SF novel may explain Ian Plimers enthusiasm for fictitious CO2 eruptions calculated to rival the human flux:
Miyazawa Kenzi, 1932: Gusukô Budori no Denki (A Biography of Gusukô Budori).
Translation of the quotation by Kooiti Masuda
Will it become warmer if carbonate gas increases in the atmosphere?
Yes, it will. It is even said that the temperature of the earth since its birth has been basically determined by the content of carbonate gas in the air.
If the Carbonado Island volcano erupts now, will it emit carbonate gas much enough to change the climate?
Yes, I have calculated it. If it erupts, its gas will soon join the upper-level winds of the general circulation and will cover the whole earth. It will prevent radiation of heat from the lower atmosphere and from the surface, and I think that it will warm the whole globe by five degrees on the average.
Translator Masuda goes on to relate this to how Arrhenius;s work on CO2 was received in Japan:
Fellow of the Department of Physics
We’ll see. I have no more confidence in Japanese models than in anyone else’s. No less, either. I will agree with Freeman Dyson that we don’t understand the effects. I also advise research on methods for dealing with possible problems including both warming and cooling, and increased atmospheric CO2; these are not likely to be solved by cap and trade.
My understanding is that the Senate two-month compromise payroll tax-cut extension does retain the House’s provision that Obama must decide on the Keystone Pipeline within 60 days.
A quick scan of news stories seems to back that up – from http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/20/politics/congress-payroll-tax-cut/index.html, "While there are sharp differences over how to proceed, both the House and Senate versions of the legislation extend the tax cut, unemployment benefits and the doc fix. Both measures also would push for presidential action on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico…"
Meanwhile, a nameless White House official claims that Obama will simply deny permission for the pipeline if forced to decide in sixty days. But then he said he’d veto any bill with a pipeline decision deadline, and that promise seems to have evaporated.
Boehner’s problem seems to be that many House Republicans simply don’t want to vote for something as demonstrably impractical as a 60-day payroll tax-cut extension. Everybody who’d be involved in administering that seems to agree that it’ll be a huge pain, fwiw. Expensive too.
Senate Republicans seem to be better than their House colleagues at voting for something ridiculously impractical, on grounds it’ll get fixed later, FWIW.
On principal, I agree with the House Republicans – do it right the first time rather than let it drag on into next year. There’ll be more than enough other things for the Congress to deal with next year.
Practically speaking, they seem to have been massively wrong-footed by the Democrats, helped by media coverage unclear at best and far too often partisan. (Newt, as you note, could have warned them that media malpractice would happen.) Will they stick to their guns, or just pass the Senate 60-day mess next week? Good question.
Well, we know the answer to that now, don’t we.
View 707 Monday, December 26, 2011
Happy New Year.
A professor in Maryland has an article in the New York Times about word processors and novelist. He doesn’t seem to have done any homework at all. He references a 1985 Stephen King preface, and is apparently intent on digging about in the Microsoft archives, but he hasn’t bothered to talk to the people who were actually writing with computers in the 1979-1984 era. It took mo no time at all to Google up “LORD OF CHAOS MANOR : Hoping for a message from a long-lost friend” from the Los Angeles Times, and it was a quite late development. The LA Times article even mentions the 1982 novel Oath of Fealty, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, which was a New York Times bestseller and for a while was on the list of the best 100 science fiction novels of all time. Considering that it was written in the dawn of the computer age, it holds up pretty well after all these years, and still sells quite well in eBook editions. Of course it was written on Z-80 computers – Niven had Tony Pietsch build 2 duplicates of Ezekial, one for himself and one for his wife Marilyn on the theory that he’d have a spare if ever needed. I managed to write the first science fiction novel using a computer. The late Dr.Robert Foreward of Hughes Laboratory wasn’t far behind: he used a UNIX system and an early UNIX line editing language called TECO that I had experimented with during a visit to MIT and decided was too difficult.
The LA Times article gets one thing wrong: although old Ezekial, my friend who happened to be a Z-80 computer, was given up for dead, he was revived at the request of the Smithsonian. I got him back together and shipped him off, then went to Washington to unpack him. The Smithsonian only wanted him for a display as the first computer to have been used to write a science fiction novel, but I wanted to wake him up so he could see where he was. I did that, and he got a good look before I put him back to sleep. For years he was in the hall of communications and computers, next to an old Imsai 8080. They closed that wing for refurbishment, and I think he’s back in the basement. For several years I used to say to people “How many people have you met who have their personal computer on display at the Smithsonian? In future the answer will be all of them.”
I wrote the first articles on Writing With Computers for BYTE and an unsuccessful McGraw Hill spin-off back in 1979, and in 1980 I started doing a BYTE column. At first it was just a series of articles on small computers, but BYTE’s Carl Helmers liked it and it became Computing At Chaos Manor. Meanwhile I kept writing science fiction and Niven and I produced Footfall, published in 1985. It was a New York Times #1 best seller.
As to the origins of word processing, the main contenders in the 1978-1981 era were WANG dedicated word processors and S-100 computers running the CP/M operating system. Barry Longyear wrote his SF works on a Wang, and Asimov’s published an article by Longyear and me in the form of a disputation. I contended that it was better to use a general purpose computer rather than a dedicated word processor. Events proved me right.
After IBM came out with DOS the picture changed from CP/M to DOS as the best selling operating system and Microsoft early on saw that word processing would be a major seller, but when Microsoft Word first came out it wasn’t good enough to induce Niven and me to change. We continued to use a series of programs, from the early Electric Pencil to Tony Pietsch’s WRITE to Semantec’s Q&A Write for quite a while until the Microsoft Word Czar Chris Peters asked us what it would take to get us to go over to WORD. We told him, and he did it. Since Microsoft had integrated the CDROM version of Bookshelf, an excellent spelling checker, and a thesaurus into Word we changed over, and we’ve used WORD ever since despite a concerted effort by Word Perfect to get us into their camp. Word Perfect’s spelling and grammar checkers were (then) better than Microsoft’s, but the Bookshelf and Thesaurus features were decisive.
There’s more on this in an old interview I did http://www.whedon.info/Joss-Whedon-SciFi-com-talks-to-SF.html . If Professor Kirschenbaum want to know more about the early history of word processing, I’m easy to find.
Bette, one of several computers I write with now. Zeke, my old friend who happened to be a Z-80, ran at 1 MHZ, featured 2 64-Kilobyte 8” floppy disks, and 64 Kilobytes of memory. Bette has 4 CPU chips, a terabyte of disk storage space, and 8 gigabytes of memory. And she runs considerably faster than the 2 MHZ that Zeke eventually upgraded to.
Another place to find more on this is http://use.perl.org/~Mark+Leighton+Fisher/journal/30464.
And Eric Pobirs has found in one of my anthologies, Black Holes, I mentioned using a computer write this stuff on, including a story of my introducing Niven to small computers. I think I’m probably safe enough on my claims…
I wrote the above after a number of readers referred me to the NYT article. My thanks to all of them. Here’s one:
Word processors and Authors article (NYTimes)
"The literary history of word processing is far murkier, but that isn’t stopping Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, from trying to recover it, one casual deletion and trashed document at a time."
When I read this article I thought back to all the stories you related in the old Byte magazine column you wrote, Chaos Manor. In those stories over the years I got the sense that not only were you an early adopter of technology, but you USED it regularly to get work done. So it occurred to me after reading this article in the NYTimes that the Professor from UMD, was concentrating on what seemed to be a very narrow group of well known and big name authors. People who had money to buy products like Wang word processors (Stephen King) while interesting for historic value, don’t really cover enough of the ‘range’ of the history of word processing software as it came to be defined.
So I wanted to toss this article over the fence to you. And ask, can this guy do a better job of covering the ‘history of word processing’ than he seems to be presenting in this article? I’m sure you have some both historical and anecdotal evidence to further lengthen the timeline beyond the ‘Late ’70s’. But I don’t want to be too presumptuous, I could just as easily be wrong, and off-base by thinking word processing was adopted earlier than the NYTimes covers it. But I thought at least a primary ‘source’ should be consulted, and you were the first person I thought of. Happy New Year to you. All the best. And I will always fondly remember reading, and will continue to read Chaos Manor.
By the time I got Zeke, there was a technical book store called “American Word Processing” in the Silverlake district in Los Angeles. It wasn’t very large, but it carried books on small computers, and of course sold BYTE Magazine. Most Word Processors were dedicated Wang systems and were mostly used in legal offices. Barry Longyear got a Wang about the time I got Zeke, and we debated over dedicated word processors vs. “real computers” but in private (by letters!) and in published articles.
While searching for other stuff, I found this early discussion of what this place is about. It seemed appropriate to reference:
View 706 Sunday, December 25, 2011
We had a nice day. Roberta sang at the midnight mass Saturday night, and again this morning, so we’ve been a bit short of sleep, and I’m heading for bed.
Merry Christmas to All, and a Happy New Year.
I have run this on Christmas Eve most years. Last night I didn’t get anything up because we had to get Roberta to the choir on time.
O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
Look now! For glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
the world has suffered long
Beneath the heavenly strain have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
the tidings that they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
and hear the angels sing!
And a Merry Christmas to all who keep the peace.
Mail 706 Friday, December 23, 2011
· Social Security Trust
· Mad Max and the Melting Pot
· Inventing the future
· Paying people not to work
· Reactionless Drive
·Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle available on Kindle and Nook. Compares favorably to Heinlein juveniles according to many reviewers.
“Apparently we’re a tasty, terrorist threat. I guess we were also amazed at what can pass through security in one airport, but not in another.”
The TSA Security Theater continues. It’s the most expensive show on Earth, and likely to remain so. The costs are enormous, and the benefits hard to ascertain. If the TSA budget were cut in half, is it likely that the costs due to terrorist incidents would go up by $2 billion a year?
Jerry Pournelle says that unrestrained capitalism would lead to sale of human flesh in the marketplace.
But I thought he meant slaves, not cuisine.
Words fail me.
Texas schools: first to reach the Accountability Plateau?
An addendum to the previous discussion of the comparison between education results in Texas and Wisconsin:
Obama Administration Education Secretary Duncan is dissatisfied with the performance of Texas schools:
But it seems that the recent stagnation of test results in Texas may simply be the result of Texas having been an early adopter of the kind of accountability standards that other States are now adopting. When first adopted, those standards produced substantial gains in performance, but recently performance in Texas has leveled off. Maybe that will happen in other States, too.
The first reform of schools should be the realization that the vast majority of children with intelligence of dull normal up can be taught to read in first grade. Those who don’t learn to read should be held back until they do so; the presence of illiterates in classes from second grade up is disruptive and absorbs far too much of the teacher resources which ought to be dedicated to the education of the children who already can read.
When I was in grade school up through 7th grade there were two grades per room with one teacher and no teacher aides. There were about 20 students per grade. My first three grades were in Catholic schools in Memphis in a middle class parish school. After that I was at Capleville, where the pupils were farm kids collected by school bus from a radius of about eight miles. There was no teacher time to be devoted to illiterates, but in fact all the children at Capleville could read, including a girl about 14 in the 5th Grade. She was of course somewhat retarded and known to be, but she was pleasant, wasn’t expected to learn much, and married a farmer at age seventeen having reached 7th Grade.
Our attempts at equality have resulted in a disproportionate percentage of educational resources being devoted to the below average students. This is dangerous to a republic that must compete globally: Steve Jobs famously said he didn’t make Apple Computers in the United States because there weren’t enough quality control engineers and technicians; the schools weren’t turning out people who could make elegant products. This is worth thinking about.
We need excellence. We also need Good Enough.
Social Security Trust Fund Redux
I am unsure of your view of Social Security when you write that Congress
"set it up so that the money that goes into the Trust Fund is replaced by
Treasury Bonds so that government spending can continue to rise
monotonically". I can understand arguing against having any government-run
pension system, but here you seem to be objecting to the Trust Fund being
invested in treasuries. What else would the fund administrator invest in?
Would you prefer that the federal government hold trillions of dollars of
corporate securities? Talk about government control of the economy! What
exactly should the Trust Fund be invested in?
The problem is that the income from Social Security is spent on current expenses. This means nothing has been saved, and the deficit grows exponentially. The Trust Fund trick allows ever growing federal spending, with the result that sometime in the past week or two the debt exceeds annual production. That means that the US owes an entire year’s productivity. This is an enormous sum.
Investment of a Trust Fund of compulsory savings has to be done very carefully; and of course if we had a balanced budget or anything like one there might in fact be a big pot of cash burning a hole in the government’s pockets; but we do not seem to have to worry about that problem. If the Trust Fund were being used to pay off the debt — but then that’s but a dream, isn’t it?
Is it really this bad?
I’m happy to be living NOT in California for a variety of reasons. The article below reinforces how bad it is getting, and I appreciate the references to historical barbarism. Is it really this bad?
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
As a native of Modesto, I found the following article especially interesting. In it, Dr. Hansen chronicles the central valley’s descent into barbarism.
I know that the knee-jerk reaction by many conservatives will be to demand tighter immigration controls, and that can’t hurt. But it’s not the full solution. When I lived there (until 1994) I had few problems either with illegal aliens or their children whom I taught in schools. The real problems were the welfare recipient descendants of Europeans in places like Keyes and Waterford, living in trailers and in houses absolutely crawling with roaches.
You live only 200 miles or so south of Fresno, do you not? Do your observations match those of Dr. Hansen?
Hanson lives in the Central Valley and describes what he sees. He is to the best of my knowledge a truthful man. In Los Angeles the Mayor is instructing the police not to impound the automobiles of illegal aliens caught driving without a license, and there are areas of the city that are in essence “abandoned areas” for some law enforcement purposes. And of course in Arizona there are official abandoned areas posted with warning signs.
Most illegal aliens in Los Angeles are looking for jobs and stability, and many have been quite successful at total assimilation. The US Melting Pot works – if it is not overwhelmed. It’s not a matter of immigration, legal or illegal; it’s a matter of quantity. The Melting Pot can assimilate only so many in a given time. If there is a saturation, or worse, a rejection of the whole notion of assimilation and a turn to “diversity” as a goal, the result may not be what you expect. America has always been very nearly unique in that you could learn to be an American. You can’t learn to be French, or Swiss, or German; but anyone could learn to be American, and people from everywhere have done so.
But that assumes that there is an American culture.
California meets Road Warrior
I guess you guys in California need to learn how to deal with Reveneurs.
When the government abrogates responsibility for its citizens, then the citizens have a right to abrogate the government.
What would happen if every customs agents’ car was destroyed after a ticket was written, and no witnesses came forward?
The short answer is Civil War.
Economist on the economics of future planning wrt climate change and other..
The author of this Economist ‘Free exchange’ column seems to be right
up your alley in taking the long view.
I have never believed that I can predict the future, but I have long believed that Dandridge Cole was correct when he said you can’t predict the future but you can invent it. There is also prudence: some actions have quite predictable consequences.
My notion of inventing the future is to work on developing more efficient and plentiful sources of energy and raw materials. That was the theme of A Step Farther Out, which is still worth reading.
Michelle Obama’s Unsavory School Lunch Flop [Plus: Watch Gaza Terrorist's Reaction...]
The Los Angeles papers and talk shows have been having a field day with this: the kids won’t eat the ‘healthy’ food, and now that there is neither strawberry nor chocolate milk, they don’t drink milk either. This is compounded by the entitlement meals: some kids have no choice but to take the school lunch, but often they won’t eat the ‘healthy’ parts.
I have considerable sympathy for the school authorities in their dilemma, but political correctness gets in the way of everything. I intend to deal with some of this in my next novel.
Pakistan: Man cuts off teenage wife’s lips and nose; police refuse to register a case against him
And from the women’s rights organizations we hear – dead silence. From the majority of the mainstream media we hear nothing. At least AFP, normally rather apologetic, did mention it. The real problem is that this is normal rather than the exception.
The French Army under Napoleon thought they were carrying Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity across Europe on the points of their bayonets.
Comet Lovejoy Plunges into the Sun and Survives – NASA Science,
Comet Lovejoy Plunges into the Sun and Survives:
The NASA site even has a little video, which actually shows a surprising sight.
Subject: Atheist messages displace CA park nativity scenes
Excerpt from the article:
…atheists got all but three of the spaces this year because of a new lottery system…
…Two individuals got 18 spaces. One person can request a maximum of nine…
Yes…everyone has 1st Amendment rights…but when two people win 18 of 21 spaces, and you are only allowed to bid on 9, I think the odds are pretty high that the process was subverted.
A nation that works at destroying its own culture probably will not survive as a nation. Why should it?
Paying people to be unemployed, and penalising employers
You occasionally remind readers that unemployment benefits work out as paying people to be unemployed, and that regulating firms’ working conditions and pay levels works out as penalising employers for employing workers. You usually summarise this by pointing out that if you subsidise something (the former) you get more of it, and if you tax it (the latter) you get less of it. It’s like making a horse pull a cart through a noose around its neck instead of a proper harness.
Pretty obviously, things would improve if we simply stopped doing these wrong things. It’s not so obvious that that’s not enough. Unemployment benefits started out from things like the Elizabethan Poor Laws and Bismarck’s Welfare State, not simply out of charity but from a hard headed realism that wanted to buy off the social unrest that was already around and growing from people without work or personal subsistence resources (the technical name for that is "Vagrancy Costs").
It worked, sort of, in the short term, but at the cost of growing the underlying problems for the future – our present. The spread external cost of having the poor around had just been switched for the spread external cost of funding unemployment benefits – even if the accounting in some countries makes it look as if the unemployed are paying for it themselves out of previously accrued payments. But that also means that just getting rid of the things that make things worse, that already grew the underlying problems, would just switch back to the external cost of having the poor around – only now at the higher levels that have been allowed to grow. That means something structural that favours unemployment even when the rest of the economy has been stimulated, so that you have to over-stimulate beyond the optimum for employment to pick up or get a jobless recovery because of an underlying mechanism that is growing all the time.
Economists have actually been looking into this general class of problems – externalities – for about a century, and they have learned a few things. Pigou worked out one approach, and later Coase worked out another. Pigou’s approach was to use subsidies or taxes precisely in order to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t, but in a careful way that actually reduced overall costs. Common sense tells us that taxes and subsidies always make a net burden, whether directly or from the need for funding elsewhere. But the net actually comes from the excess of the cost over the benefit, an excess which comes about because there is a distortion away from the optimum you would have been nearer without intervention. Pigou’s insight was that, if there was already a distortion anyway and you pushed the other way with subsidies or taxes instead, you could get nearer the optimum and maybe even hit it if you had enough information (a near miss didn’t matter much, because the amount of sub-optimality is a second or higher order function of the "distance" from the optimum – "close enough for government work"). Of course, there is still the cost of churning everything through the government, so Coase’s approach of engineering out the externality with property rights is often better, but it may have the hidden catch of yet another material external cost from having to police the property rights. Either way, getting nearer the optimum is always a change from the status quo, and not only does change itself have a cost but also someone’s ox is almost bound to get gored – the optimality is an aggregate, not always an improvement for everyone involved.
What has all that got to do with the price of fish, i.e. unemployment? Simply that there are both Pigovian and Coasian solutions to it. Since unemployment benefits etc. are already handled through governments, and wages are what Keynes called "sticky", Pigovian wage subsidies – that is, wage subsidies that get nearer optimality rather than overshooting it – are faster acting than the Coasian solutions (which include Distributism to make the resources needed for work the workers’ property and slavery to make the workers into property, so they raise other issues). That means subsidy levels have to be set similarly to unemployment benefits or somewhat below, so that people still need paid work but they can afford to work for a wage lower than they need to survive that is low enough to price everybody into work (and to compete with overseas workers, among other things) – a top up wage, not a living wage, whatever that is. After I had done some work of my own in the area (in Australia), I looked around and found that two professional economists had independently come up with something broadly similar: Professor Kim Swales of the University of Strathclyde, along with his colleagues (in the UK), and Nobel winner Professor Edmund S. Phelps, McVickar Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University (in the USA). So I wasn’t simply kidding myself that I knew better than professional economists, since some of those had come to the same thing, albeit using different analysis and pathways to get there.
The big problems with ordinary wage subsidies are that they need huge amounts of funds and – particularly if they go directly to actual and potential employees, as in a Negative Income Tax – that means huge net outgoings while wages slowly and stickily adjust downward enough to price everybody into work. The three of us found the same way around the problem: integrate the wage subsidies with the taxes paid by employers as a tax break per worker, so that actual wages paid out don’t have to fall even though their net cost to employers does, and so that no funds actually have to be paid out by the government but rather the pre-tax break gross tax goes up – something I term virtual wage subsidies. This bigger gross tax does not mean any short term changes to net tax, apart from oxen getting gored in industries that have already paid for equipment to replace labour, say (the system is revenue neutral in the short term and at least budget neutral after that, since tax revenue only falls in lock step with falls in unemployment benefits as employment improves – which raises other taxes). However, it does mean some big numbers in the intermediate calculations, which might frighten some people even though they don’t correspond to anything real any more than the displacement of a ship nearly fitting a dry dock means you need that much water in the dry dock to float the ship. Professor Phelps’s version uses the kind of taxes the U.S.A. already has and applies the tax break using a sliding scale, which keeps the numbers small at the expense of needing more administration and policing. Professor Swales’s and my version uses the broad based VAT/GST we already have in our countries, though I wouldn’t recommend introducing one just to use as a carrying tax – it hurts a lot of other things too.
Well, if this is so clever, why isn’t everybody rich? All three of us researchers have tried to get the message across to our respective political establishments, only to be repeatedly listened to politely and then sidelined without being given sound reasons, or indeed any. It’s almost enough to make you think there are vested interests in keeping people dependent on a drip feed only they can provide…
Anyhow, readers might be interested in this for its own sake, and who knows, some aide to Newt Gingrich or someone might pick up on it and pass it on to him. If anybody wants to know more, when I last checked some of Professor Kim Swales’s and his colleagues’ work was at http://www.faxfn.org/feedback/03_jobs/jobs_tax.htm#23feb98a , some of Professor Edmund S. Phelps’s work was at http://www.columbia.edu/~esp2/taxcomm.pdf (see also his book "Rewarding Work"), and I have some at http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl/publicns.html#NWKART1 , at http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl/publicns.html#LIBRESLN (a Liberal Party Resolution) and following, and at http://alsblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/pml-on-tax-reform (a Henry Tax Review submission) – but my numbers are a bit out of date by now. Professor Kim Swales’s modelling indicates that, as my work suggested, there is no overall cost as both GDP and employment levels increase – GDP about half as much as employment levels in percentage terms.
There are some other issues to do with one country’s economy and tax/subsidy system interfacing with those of others, but that’s a whole other story for another email. Suffice it to say that other externalities are at work there, too, so that when a company outsources, that’s the economic equivalent of a wealth transfer – a giveaway – when one country gets some of another’s tax base.
I would like to believe that we understand the principles of managing an economy, but I don’t believe it. That’s why my ‘solution’ to most of these matters is to get out of the way, and in particular, allow the States to do as they want but be very careful about Federal regulations, labor laws, even child labor laws; let the states have minimum wages, but do not impose such federally; and in general, let the Federal government do what it was formed to do, and stop trying to run the country from Washington.
I don’t think we really understand economic engines. To the extent that we do, Pareto seems closest to me, but he is not much studied now. If we could make every Congressman and Senator read The Road to Serfdom at least once every term it might help, but better would be to keep them from trying to do too much.
The biggest danger is the federal education system. The only way to be sure that no child is left behind is to make certain no child gets ahead. Fortunately the rich don’t believe that nonsense and send their children to places that try to get them ahead. A nation with no kids getting ahead is doomed. Of course as Galton observed in Genetic Studies of Genius , although families of great men are more likely to produce great men, most great men do not come from the families of great men; which was why his “Eugenics Society” tried to find bright people and encourage them to marry early by making early marriage affordable. That would be politically incorrect now.
A society that does not value the smart kids regardless of social origins handicaps itself enormously. We have chosen that primary hamper. Leaving this to the states would at least give some states a chance at setting up systems that favor the bright and able and disciplined over the stupid, disabled, and undisciplined. Insistence on equality of education will result in an economy incapable of sustaining itself.
It does seem to me obvious that paying people to be unemployed will produce as much unemployment as you will pay for.
Rocket Reaction and the Dean Drive
Here’s an article I’ve written about the Dean Drive, from the perspective of what makes a rocket work. I’m a long term researcher in this area, and I have a short video demonstration which proves that Inertial Propulsion does exist. I’m sending this article to you, to publish as you see fit, due to your association with individuals who actually witnessed the Dean Drive in operation. – JV PS: As you advise, I’ve written my million words. ; )
Rocket Reaction and the Dean Drive
A lot of well educated people will say that the Dean Drive isn’t possible, or that it violates the known principles of physics. But this belief isn’t actually true, as can be seen by comparing the operation of mechanical thrusters in general to a rocket’s reaction.
When someone sees a rocket, they will often know that the exhaust is the reaction mass, and that Newton’s Law states that every action has an equal but opposite reaction. When the fuel burns, it releases energy, and this energy is carried by the products of combustion, which is the exhaust. So it is the exhaust which applies force to the rocket. This means the exhaust is the action mass, under Newton’s Law. And the exhaust is also the reaction mass, as we all know, rebounding in the opposite direction to the force it applies. However, the rocket’s movement is NOT a reaction. It’s actually the result of the fuel’s energy being applied to the rocket, with or without an engine and nozzle. (Remember Project Jason.)
Newton’s Second Law of Motion states:
When an external unbalanced force is applied to an object, the change in the object’s momentum is directly proportional to, and in the same direction as the resultant force.
So a rocket’s movement is the RESULT of the applied force. It’s obviously not the reaction, since the rocket can’t move in the direction which is opposite to the applied force. Therefore, the exhaust is the action/reaction mass and the rocket is the responding mass. The same mass which applies a force also experiences the reaction force, and the mass which responds to the applied force experiences Newton’s resultant force. And these same three Newtonian forces are also involved with centrifugal force machines, including the Dean Drive.
The most common argument against mechanical thrusters such as the Dean Drive is that they violate Newton’s First Law, which requires an external force. (Everything has inertia and an external force is required to change speed or direction.) But if you tie a rock onto the end of a string and whirl it around, the First Law proves that your hand IS external to the rock, or it couldn’t apply a force which changes the rock’s direction, from a straight line inertial path to a circlular movement. The force your hand applies, through the string, is referred to as centripetal force. The action of applying this force produces a reaction, in the form of centrifugal force, and this reaction is felt by your hand, as an outwards pull. The reaction is not felt by the rock, which does not experience any outwardly directed force. Instead, the rock experiences Newton’s resultant force.
With a machine, the central shaft which is turning a weighted spoke is the source of the force which acts to pull the weight’s mass into a curved path. But it isn’t only this shaft which feels the reaction force. It’s also the entire mass of the device which is connected to the shaft, through the bearing supports, and the entire mass of the ship which is connected to the device. Only the mass of the revolving weight feels the resultant force. Unlike the resultant movement of a rocket propelled by a reverse stream of exhaust, the movement of a ship propelled by a Space Drive is in the same direction as the reaction force. Reaction mass does not have to be expelled, because it moves in the desired direction of travel. This makes the Dean Drive a Reaction Machine, rather than a ‘reactionless drive’. Unlike a rocket’s Reaction Engine, which quickly runs out of fuel, a Reaction Machine can continue cycling indefinitely, producing an essentially unlimited number of DeltaV maneuvers, as long as it has a power source such as solar energy.
All of this is within the accepted constraints of the known laws of physics. Which, of course includes the Conservation of Momentum tenets. The Conservation Law states: Angular Momentum is conserved, in the absence ot external torque input. The driving motor is external to the revolving mass and can in fact input additional torque when needed.
Here’s a link to a video which shows a simplistic Reaction Machine in operation:
This device produces a variety of reactions during the first jump sequence. The last of these reactions causes an extraordinary downwards hop from a point in mid air, where there is nothing to push against. The video includes a second prototype, as a control experiment, whose motor does not tip backwards, relative to the base frame, and this device does not produce an airborne thrust impulse. To my knowledge, this Reaction Machine is the first device shown to produce a thrust impulse in free fall, so it is the first publicly demonstrated working Space Drive. The momentum responsible for the downwards hop does seem to carry over to the next jump. Unfortunately, one weight slipped out of synch, so the subsequent operation became erratic. But one unsupported hop proves the principle.
We are now in the Age of the Space Drive. Commercial Space is wide open. Reaction Machines can get us there, and do so economically. I predict this will include the advent of the Self Launching Satellite (SLS).
View 706 Friday, December 23, 2011
· Silly Defeat or Gotcha?
· Iraq and Kurdistan
·Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle available on Kindle and Nook. Compares favorably to Heinlein juveniles according to many reviewers.
Absurdity or Gotcha?
House Republicans on Thursday caved to demands by President Barack Obama, congressional Democrats and fellow Republicans for a short-term renewal of payroll tax cuts for all workers.
Surprisingly, there was no objection to the “unanimous consent” decree restoring the House-rejected Senate Bill extending the temporary suspension of Social Security insurance payments for two months, after the Tea Party elements of the House had rejected the bill. This is widely touted as a sign of weakness, and “caved” is the most common term used. And of course the Democrats are taking a victory lap.
The Senate quickly approved and sent the Bill to the White House, where the President signed it on his way out the door to his wonderful Christmas in Hawaii; one of the perquisites of being President of these United States.
This is widely proclaimed as a great victory for the Democrats and a humiliation for the Republicans. Perhaps so, but there is another way to look at it.
The bill, a two month extension, was passed. It includes an instruction for the President to decide on the Canadian pipeline within sixty days. It’s his move now. The extension expires in sixty days. And the House comes back to Washington in early January.
Now that it has been demonstrated that the House can act quickly when it has to, it is time to do more. It is time to enact legislation representing what will come forth next year.
Let me suggest some. First, a bill declaring that the United States no longer is interested in federal licenses for those who raise pet rabbits, nor in licensing stage magicians who use rabbits in their acts, and no money appropriated in any budget or act or appropriation or authorization shall be spent in enforcing any act or regulation concerning federal licensing of pet rabbits. Any expenditure on licensing or inspecting pet rabbits must be from a bill explicitly appropriating funds for that purpose. Anyone authorizing expenditure of federal funds in violation of this act shall be dismissed for cause from federal employment, and shall be required to repay to the United States any such money he or she spent or allowed to be spent.
The fact that it takes so many words to end the silliness of paying Federal Bunny Inspectors is revealing – and I bet some smart lawyer can find a way around this. But surely the people we have sent to represent us in the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States are clever enough to be able to accomplish this?
The bill should be passed and sent to the Senate where the Democrats can either speak in favor of paying Bunny Inspectors, or simply pass the Bill and send it to the President. He can either sign it or veto it. If he signs it then they have to start firing the bunny inspectors. Perhaps we will be lucky and the federal employee unions will strike, possibly shutting down the government in an election year.
I can think of a lot of other regulations that can be defunded by this means. The House should be digging for more. If someone accuses the House of wasting valuable federal time on trivia surely the response, after this long dance over a two month extension, is one of gaiety and mirth?
As I say, I can think of dozens of acts of this sort that can be passed, most of them by unanimous consent, and sent to the Senate; and the Speaker ought to be hard at work on them. As should Representatives Ron Paul and Michele Bachman, who are among those unanimously consenting to this “cave”. I am certain then can find practices in the TSA worthy of the attention of the House. Surely there is much in the Department of Education that ought to be examined. But the list is endless.
My point is that this has been called a humiliating defeat for the Republicans, but regarded properly it is a gotcha.
Iraq continues to boil. The Shiite Prime Minister has issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni Vice President of Iraq. The Kurds (who have a Vice President of their own) are giving him refuge in the part of Iraq called Kurdistan; in theory Kurdish Iraq is a province of the Iraqi state, but Baghdad’s writ has never run there. We now have a de facto alliance between Sunni Iraq and Kurdish Iraq. The borders of Kurdish Iraq are much clearer than the borders of Sunni Iraq, in part because the Sunni do not accept that they are a minority in Iraq; the official Sunni position is that the Sunni, who include Arabs, Turmen, and Kurds, are actually a majority in the whole country, with the Shiites (mostly Arabs but including Persians) having a majority only in certain areas, Baghdad being one of those.
The presidency of Iraq is a collective office: the President and two Vice Presidents are all in theory equal. The powers of the office have not been tested: one presumes there is the traditional power of pardon which may or may not lead to a way out of this impasse in which the Prime Minister, head of government, is seeking to jail one of the co-presidents on a charge of terrorism. Meanwhile I see little media discussion of Kurdish Iraq, which is tranquil (I wrote peaceful, but that’s not the right word), well armed with well trained militias (mostly American trained), pro-American, Sunni, and unlikely to submit to the writ from Baghdad. The American media don’t seem to have much understanding of the Kurds.
Kurds are not Arabs. Like the Iranians they speak an Aryan derived language, and consider themselves Aryan in descent. Saladin, the Saracen leader who destroyed the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and restored Islamic rule to Jerusalem, was a Kurd. He is featured in Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Talisman. His truce with Richard Lionheart effectively ended the third crusade, and he united many of the Muslim states into a new caliphate. The Lion of Saladin is still revered in many places including Kurdistan.
I am no expert on the Middle East, but I would not bet heavily on the survival of a united Iraq; the decision for the United States will come when the Kurds (with parts of Sunni Iraq) claim rights of independence and ask the United States for recognition and help. That is a very likely event in the future. Meanwhile the Sunni faction in Baghdad continues to drive out all the Christians, Sunni, and Baathists, and does not seem hesitant to ask Iran for recognition and help. I foresee interesting times in the Middle East.
Perhaps a pipeline from Canada will look attractive?
View 706 Thursday, December 22, 2011
This time for sure. Sometime since midnight last night was the winter solstice (for the Northern hemisphere), which is not the same as the solar aphelion. The aphelion is the moment of the year when the Earth is farthest from the Sun. Oddly enough that will be next summer; we’re about two weeks from perihelion. Solstice is not concerned with Earth’s eccentricity, but rather with the tilt in the axis that makes the Sun appear to travel south as the year wanes, then just before year end begin to travel north (well it looks like it’s travelling north) until the start of summer.
The solstice is the moment that the Sun is furthest south as seen from the surface of the Earth, but that sometimes happens at night, so the actual solstice day is the dawn closest to that moment; at least that’s my understanding, and apparently the way that Stonehenge and other archeoastronomical observatories were built. It’s all more or less explained at http://www.archaeoastronomy.com/seasons.html and easy enough to understand if you focus on it.
One confession: as one gets older, it takes more concentration, even if you once knew it all intuitively . So it goes. If you want to know the aphelion, solstice, perihelion, equinox, and other dates, there’s a good table of them at http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/almanac/seasondate.htm .
Of course that includes 2013 which assumes that we get past 21 December 2012, which is both Winter Solstice (North) 2012 and the end of the last Great Cycle in the Mayan Calendar. Some have interpreted this as the Mayan End of Days, others in various other ways. The Naval Observatory evidently believes there will be a year 2013. As to why the year end doesn’t come exactly at solstice (which would in fact be a logical time to begin a New Year), it’s partly Pope Gregory’s fault for only taking away eleven days, partly Julius Caesar’s fault for not taking away some more, and if you really want to know more about that you can do your own research.
The fascinating thing is that given the Internet and a good pocket phone, the annoying absent-mindedness that come with getting old doesn’t matter so much, since it’s easy enough to look stuff up when something – like the name of the girl who could do everything her famous partner could do backwards and in high heels – slips your mind even if you can remember everything else about her. I know. It happened to me yesterday. I couldn’t remember her name, nor her partner’s name, although I could remember Gene Kelley;s name and that her partner was his gentlemanly counterpart and – Well you get the idea. It took about a minute to find out her name by looking up ‘backwards and in high heels’. Absentmindedness is an inconvenience not a disability. You’d think that so long as the Internet continues to exist we can never have a Dark Age, but I’m not so sure. I dealt with that, just a bit, in my CoDominium stories.
As a nation we have certainly forgotten that once we had essentially no illiterate Americans who had been through 4 grades in school. Essentially none. We did it before and we can do it again, or more elegantly, what Americans have done Americans can aspire to. Those who say that it’s different now because we try to educate all may have a point, but it only illustrates the Dark Age we are in: if you grant that there is some percentage of the population who simply cannot be taught to read, that hardly addresses the situation we are in, where the system has in essence given up on a fairly large portion of normal and dull normal children, while at the same time charter and private effort schools in the same neighborhoods can take in all comers and have what amounts to 100% literacy. Not only have we forgotten what we have done, we apparently cannot notice what is going on around us. So it goes. Merry Christmas.
The House has decided that discretion is the better part of valour in dealing with the White House on the subject of “tax cuts.” Largely on the advice of the Wall Street Journal they have decided to defer to the Senate. Or at least the leadership has decided to: it remains to be seen whether they can actually get that “unanimous consent” that in theory is going to be required. The Speaker is acting as if this is a done deal, so perhaps so; I am no expert on House Rules. It does seem a bit odd.
Given that the Tea Party Republicans who defeated the two month extension do not seem to have had any real strategy or narrative to go with just saying no, this was probably inevitable: as Newt observed first hand, even with a lot of smart guys on your team it’s hard to win a short term Public Relations battle with the White House. The Republican leadership could not withstand the pressure. Whether this will have any long term political cost is debatable. In any event, according to the Speaker, the extension to the “tax cut” will be continued so there won’t be any unpleasant January surprises in pay checks – at least for those who still have pay check.
The US is out of Iraq and fifty seven people have been killed in bombings. Chaos is feared. There is no word on what is happening in the Kurdish portion of Iraq, but it’s hard to believe that they intend to stay in a “country” that’s having a civil war in the capital. Of course the US is not out of Germany (60,000 or so troops still there) but perhaps that is a different situation. I don’t do breaking news, but I am hardly astonished, not will I be astonished if Iraq breaks up into a Kurdish Republic, a Sunni protectorate of Saudi Arabia, and a Shiite protectorate of Iran. Breaking Iraq into three more cohesive nations was always the most likely outcome (rise of a new dictator was second most likely), but we chose to try nation building. We will be fortunate if what now results is not much worse than it would have been had we guided the breakup.
It’s the Christmas season. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God Bless the United States.
Don’t read this in Christmas season, but for the record you will want at some point to read http://www.treppenwitz.com/2011/07/who-what-where-why-and-when.html .