THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 613 March 8 - 14, 2010
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March 8, 2010
Apologies. I got caught up in the glitterama of the Oscars, and when they were over I found I wasn't able to finish the column, so I'm working on that. I'll get caught up today or tomorrow.
I do note that there's a buzz about that Pelosi is planning a trap for the House Democrats. The scenario is that they'll be tricked into voting for the Senate Bill with the understanding that parts of it will be fixed in 'reconciliation', but once that is done it will be rushed to the White House and signed into law as is, complete with the Louisiana Purchase, the Union Cadillac Exception, the Nebraska Grab, and all its other defects. I pass this rumor along as-is; it seems an extraordinary folly to me.
Actually, part of it is probably clearly wrong: it won't be rushed to the White House. Whatever the intentions of the bill's managers, they will make some show of effort to make the promised changes, and when that fails, the failure will be blamed on the Republicans. Plausible deniability, they used to call it.
Over the weekend Obama has made speeches denouncing the insurance companies. Prominent in the denunciations is his accusation that they are turning people down who have pre-existing conditions.
Well, of course they are. That's what insurance does. It forms pools of people with similar risks, and sets a premium. The premium must pay for the costs of doing business (selling the insurance, collecting the premiums, paying the claims, etc.) and then pay all the claims.
If you require them to add higher risk people to that pool, then the premium will have to cover more claims: which means that it must go up. This is elementary and surely there is no one who does not understand that? When insurance companies have to accept people with pre-existing conditions, they have no choice but to raise rates.
The result is easily predicted.
The media are running Obama quotes to the effect that it is time to give the American People more power over their health care insurance. That may be true, but unless you believe that you have more power over your VA and Medicaid health coverage, the current Obamacare package won't accomplish that. The Obamacare package will drive insurance companies to raise their premiums: they will have no option, since they must accept people with pre-existing conditions. The bills also specify services that the health care policies must cover, including mental health, and probably a lot of specialized services.
If you like your present health care, be prepared to say goodbye to it, or to pay more for it.
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In this morning's Wall Street Journal Diane Ravitch tells "Why I Changed my Mind about School Reform". I have generally found Dr. Ravitch worth reading, but I haven't agreed with her much.
Ravitch was one of the early advocates of increasing Federal power over schools by mandating federal standards. Eventually this became the Kennedy-Bush "No Child Left Behind" disaster, which Ravitch and many others supported. I didn't like it much at the time, largely on the principle that the Federal government has no business being involved in education. Of course I was opposed to "Federal Aid to Education" from the beginning before there was any. Sputnik ended that debate as we strove to create an education system that would aid in winning the Cold War. The results were about what I expected them to be: a great increase in bureaucracy, some initial results that seemed favorable -- after all, a great deal of money was shoveled into places that had been strapped, and new brooms tend to sweep cleaner -- followed by more great increases in bureaucracy.
I was initially in favor of Head Start which came with Federal Aid to Education, and it still seems like a good idea, but objectively you can't find the difference between Head Start kids and those who didn't get its benefits a few years after they leave the program. When Newt Gingrich was about to become Speaker I tried to interest him in getting the Head Start rules changed to encourage teaching Head Start kids to read -- that would actually provide them with a real Head Start -- but the education bureaucracy stopped that. My proposed amendment to the Head Start Act would say "Nothing in this act shall be interpreted to mean that appropriated funds cannot be spent on reading instruction" as well as some language encouraging reading instruction. My son Richard, at that time a Congressional staffer, looked into some of that. Alas, all that fell by the wayside. The Head Start people say they are allowed to teach reading, but they adhere to the NEA standards about "readiness", which means in effect that there is no reading instruction in the Head Start pre-school classes. Regarding readiness: for centuries, English upper and upper middle class children were taught to read by nannies before the kids ever got near a school Of course people who can afford a nanny come from higher socio-economic backgrounds, but so what? They're human kids, and to say that those of different backgrounds and incomes can't learn to read at an early age is to make some biological statements for which I find no evidence at all. Most of the "reading instruction theory" including all the stuff about "readiness" appears to be designed to explain why the kids don't learn to read and it's not really the teachers' fault, and --.
A couple more notes on that subject: my mother taught first grade in rural Florida in the 1920's; essentially all her pupils in this rural Florida classroom learned to read in first grade. As mother put it, "A few didn't, but they didn't learn anything else, either." My wife's reading program has been teaching pre-school children to read for decades. It's not a smooth and pretty program and the graphics are "way behind the times", but it works. Seventy lessons of about a half hour each teaches the kids to read English so that they can read all the words they know -- their reading vocabulary is their speaking vocabulary -- and they can pronounce the most common words in the English language, plus the tens of thousands of phonetic words like multiphasic and diethyledimethyltoluene. It's just not true that Head Start kids are not "ready" to learn to read. We know how to teach them. We just don't try, just as we don't really try in the first and second grade. There's always an excuse why the kids didn't learn. But I've rambled enough on this.
It is good to see that Ravitch and many of the early supporters of No Child Left Behind have come to their senses.
Her rejection of charter schools is not so encouraging. It is certainly true that charter schools don't always work. Why would they? The charter school movement is a way of returning local control to local schools. Their success or failure is going to depend in part on the competence of those who run the schools, and some of them are founded on goofy concepts.
Transparency and subsidiarity work. I don't say they will always work. Freedom by definition includes freedom to do the wrong things as well as the right things. The point is that local control has the possibility of working. Local control has the possibility of firing bad teachers, hiring teachers who know their subject in preference to teachers who know the educational theory but are a bit unclear on the actual subject matter they teach, and in general trying different concepts. Local control has the possibility of seeing someone else succeed and trying their ideas. None of that is possible with the federalized education system we have now, in which the unions control hiring policies and professors of education control "credentials", and attending a "workshop" on teaching science is considered more important than taking a physics course.
But at least there is now some rational dissent from No Child Left Behind. We can pray there will be more. We've already thrown enough kids under the bus. The only way No Child Left Behind can work is if no child gets ahead, and that ought to be obvious to anyone who pays attention.
One last commercial for my wife's reading program. It really does work. It's old fashioned and a bit clunky looking, but it does what it's supposed to do: it teaches children to read in seventy half-hour lessons, and it works with kids from 5 (we've seen it work with younger) to adult. By work I mean it teaches them to read the English language. If you have kids in public school, you might think of supplementing their instruction with half an hour a day for a few months. Just as insurance. If they race through the program, they can read -- a fairly large minority of kids will learn to read no matter what kind of instruction they get -- and if they go through it more slowly they will learn to read. Either way it's cheap insurance.
The morning's LA Times has Jonah Goldberg's "Where feminists get it right." He concludes
When I was on the lecture tour one of my best lectures was on civilizing influences. It usually began with the story of how my Viking ancestors used to raid Ireland for slave girls. "They thought they were bringing home slave girls, but by some magic transformation the girls became wives. And over time they ceased their Viking raids."
Historically, the way women are treated in a society has been a pretty good indicator of the level of civilization. Historians used to say that fairly often. Of course most of our teachers now are too busy taking courses in how to teach history to find time for reading history.
And it's still fairly quiet on average. With an El Nino coming. May be interesting times for snow next winter.
I note that ComicCon (San Diego, July 22 - 25) has been sold out, but they were kind enough to send me an invitation and will have badges for me and Roberta. I was a speaker at ComicCon in its early days when not so many people came to it, and they've been very nice to me ever since. I haven't been in a while, but I have a yen to go this year. I probably won't make all of it, but it will be fun to see some old friends assuming I can find them in the crowd. Sable get a vacation from us, and gets to see what our friends who stay here will let her get away with. It should be fun.
I have never done a graphic novel or comic episode, but I'm sporadically working on a Chrissie Claus story. Chrissie is Santa's teen-agegranddaughter. Her father didn't want to go into the family business, and Chrissie has been raised as a fairly normal girl despite the fact that her mother is an elf princess. She seasonally goes up to help Santa. If you're not familiar with Chrissie and you like comics, you'll love Chrissie; at least I do. I don't suppose I'll have it written by July and it certainly won't be in print by then, but Chrissie is fun. I don't get much time to work on her story, what with Mamelukes (I keep thinking the end is next week, only it hasn't been) and Lucifer's Anvil with Niven. It's a full life, if a bit harried.
March 10, 2010
I finished the column. It will be posted at Chaos Manor Reviews tonight or tomorrow.
You may find this interesting.
The Verdict Is In Paul Elias http://www.wcfcourier.com/news/national/article_6fd203c3-91c2-50c1-ab13-f0a643f78a4c.html
What is a jury for? Modern trials and technology are changing that. Originally a jury was composed of people who knew the local situation and the local customs and law.
Today a jury seems to be composed of people oblivious to the real world, who avoid newspapers and television, and live as recluses, and who have time to sit through a long trial and are not smart enough to avoid being trapped into jury duty. This makes little sense as a means of dispensing justice.
I'm not sure what we ought to do about that. One changes the system slowly and with trepidation.
March 11, 2010
I finished the column. It will be posted at Chaos Manor Reviews tonight or tomorrow.
I was going to write on this today. I don't at all disagree; I have never said that repeal of ObamaCare is the only thing needed. ObamaCare is not just a "reform" though; it's a fundamental change in the way we do health insurance.
Reform would be laws that set it up so that employees who get health care insurance paid for by their employers would have some rights of ownership in the policy. The rules that make most health care insurance paid for by employers, not the insured, pretty well make the present system inevitable. Changing it is tricky, but there are ways. ObamaCare would in effect make private insurance unaffordable by mandating that insurance companies have to accept applicants without regard to prior conditions. This means an enormous rise in premiums, high enough that very few will buy such policies: most will have to go to the "exchanges" and take the public option that's implicitly included in any such system. Since that isn't insurance at all, it's an entitlement, it means the end of the health insurance system as we know it.
Still, it's well to be clear: defeating ObamaCare doesn't fix the problems CP describes.
Note, by the way, that the Democrats are now so desperate to pass this that they are willing to promote a constitutional crisis, by invoking "the Slaughter Rule" in which the House rules, without a vote, that if it passes an amended version of the Senate Bill, it can be "deemed" to have passed the Senate Bill without actually having done so. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20000241-503544.html One wonders what the Senate will think of this.
The health care crisis is provoking a real Constitutional Crisis. We don't really want the courts involved in the legislative process any more than we want the President dictating rules to Congress. (Nor, I think, would Congress put up with it, but that's another story.)
If we're going to change the very nature of the health care system -- some 15% of the economy -- we need to do it through a real consensus, or at least by following normal rules. Apparently Pelosi and the Nuts don't accept that. They intend to do this by any means necessary.
Final comment: Apologies, but I am not sure that because you have had these problems, we will all be better off if everyone has them.
He's writing about the Health Care Bill and the 'reconciliation' process that House Democrats wanted to use -- the House passes the Senate Bill, then tries to modify it in a reconciliation process intended to be used on appropriation bills, bypassing the Senate rules on length of debate -- and he concludes that she probably doesn't, but she's very good at pulling rabbits out of a hat.
If the House Democrats led by Pelosi's Nuts had the votes, they wouldn't be contemplating the "Slaughter Option" we noted above.
This is an impending Constitutional Crisis. Is there that much need for a health care bill? CP makes a good point but is the need so urgent as to completely change the rules in order to "fix" his problem?
Mary Kissel, editorial page director
of the Wall Street Journal, has an op-ed piece that is in lart part a report
on the views of Jairam Remesh, Minister of Environment and Forests in India.
It's worth your attention. Minister Ramesh says
That's a very reasonable position, and I'm happy to agree with it. I am said to be a Global Warming Denier, but I've never said that. My position has always been that we are without sufficient knowledge, which is a literal translation of "agnostic". As I said more than twenty years ago, a Bayesian analysis of the policy dilemma presented by Global Warming indicates that the best policy is to reduce uncertainties. We haven't been doing that very well, but it's still a better policy than adhering to very expensive policies that fundamentally transform the economy and build more and more structure that has to be supported no matter what the outcome. It's just generally better to know what we're doing.
Mr. Ramesh makes it clear that even if everything the environmental evangelists say is true, AGW is not India's major environmental problem, something that ought to be obvious to anyone who knows as much about India as the average viewer of Slumdog Millionaire must know.
Mary Kissel concludes:
Your tax dollars at work: I recently got a first class letter from the government telling me that in a week I will get the census form and I should eagerly fill it out and send it in. I am not sure what benefit that does for me or the Republic.
March 12, 2010
The March column is posted at Chaos Manor Reviews.
I paid the bills yesterday and discovered that beginning in January -- I think it began in January -- an outfit called HelpMeDownload.com in Great Britain began charging me $9.98 per month. Actually it may be 9.98 pounds, since there's a note that this is a foreign exchange transaction. Attempts to reach them by their 800 number phone gets a loop message saying that all their operatives are busy, stand by. Half an hour of hearing this on my speaker phone convinced me they aren't going to answer.
I called my Visa account line and was told that this is monthly, all right, and if I didn't order it I need to call during office hours in Dallas to dispute it, so I will. Meanwhile I looked up HelpMeDownload.com and found there are a lot of complaints posted from people who have been charged and never signed up for it. There are also what purports to be replies from Help.Me.Download, so the company exists and you can get them to remove their charges if you work at it.
I have no idea what "service" HelpMeDownload.com provides. I infer from some of the complaint posts that it may be associated with SKYPE and those signing up for SKYPE have been bitten by this. It may be associated with AVG, but I don't use AVG nor does anyone else here. I'll deal with this through my Visa company but meanwhile you might want to look at your credit card bill to see if there's charge from HelpMeDownload.com. If you did order their service, please tell me what service you ordered and what HelpMeDownload.com did for you.
I am no expert on climate data. I have been persuaded that NASA's earth surface temperature data from satellite observations is more accurate than the more traditional measurements, but on reflection I don't know why I think that. I would presume that satellite observations of temperatures at various altitudes would be obtained more conveniently than by launching weather balloons, but I'm not sure how we calibrate those observations. I presume they are compared to readings taken by balloon operations so that we can compare satellite observations with the much older balloon data. I also presume that those data have been preserved, and are available to anyone who needs them.
Perhaps my assumptions are wrong. I don't know, really. There are circulating emails about US climate data that raise disturbing questions. Most point to this web site as their source.
That site quotes Goddard's Hansen as saying
I am still looking for a good textbook at the Climate Science 101 level, because I have only a vague understanding of how we now determine the temperature of large areas such as the Arctic. Extrapolating station measurements by 1200 km seems a bit extreme -- it's a bit like determining the temperature of San Francisco and Phoenix by computing the average temperature in Los Angeles, which is so absurd that I must be misunderstanding something. I know the Arctic is more uniform than California and Arizona, but I can't think it is absolutely uniform. Moreover, does this mean that satellite temperature measurements can't be taken over the Arctic? Don't we have any polar orbit satellites to measure temperature data? If not, why not? I'd think that one of the very first things to demand, a reliable way to measure temperatures at all latitudes.
Now critics of the Climate Consensus are quick to say deception and fraud. I don't leap to that conclusion; but I do think some elementary explanations of just how these temperatures are recorded to an accuracy of fractions of a degree. Was 2005 the warmest year on record? Didn't seem that way to me, and if any large part of it was based on extrapolations of 300 to 600 miles, I'd be even more skeptical since "warmest" refers to a lot less than a half degree.
I do believe it is time for NOAA and NASA to issue a report in comprehensible language on just how these temperatures are determined. How do we determine the temperature of the Arctic in 2005, and how do we determine how much of the Earth's temperature for 2005 is to be determined by the Arctic temperature (what weight is given it in computing the average) and why do we believe that we are justified in giving credence to two decimal places -- to one decimal place -- to a degree, for that matter -- to these measurements.
We know that the world was warmer in the Medieval Warm period. We know that there were dairy farms in Greenland, vineyards in Scotland, longer growing seasons in central Europe, and mild conditions in China during that time. By "know" I mean that we have records and reports. These are gross estimates, and I have no idea how they translate into any single temperature for the Earth; but surely they have some credible weight?
We know that the world was colder from about 1350 to 1830. We "know" this from reports of solid ice in the Hudson and Holland's brackish canals; by the loss of the vineyards in Scotland and nearly all of England; by crop records, including from the Orient and the Middle East. It was just plain colder back then than it is now.
I'm not sure how much more we know, or how accurate is our knowledge; but any climate theory that weighs a 1200 kilometer extrapolation to determine the temperature of the Arctic in 2005 higher than the historical records is subject to challenge, and it would seem to me has the burden of proof to show why anyone should pay attention to it.
The Climate Science consensus is crumbling everywhere except in the US mainstream press. Even the British Left -- the Guardian -- expresses views from doubt to utter rejection. The pendulum is swinging. I don't want it to swing too far: I think we ought to keep tracking things like CO2 levels, ocean ph, glacial retraction and expansion, and all the rest. These are serous matters and ought to be taken seriously. But, as I seem ceaselessly to say lately, before we spend enormous sums on changing trends, we really have to be serious about showing that the trends we want to change really exist.
Does anyone know whether we have a good polar orbit Earth Temperature satellite, and if we don't, why not?
Peggy Noonan recalls a time when candidates were neither Nuts nor Creeps. It has been a while. Why does anyone want to be President? Washington called it splendid misery. The Congress, meanwhile, is dominated by long term members with safe seats, some of whom become fanatics. Kennedy, Dodd, Reid, Pelosi all come to mind.
Pelosi is now dedicated to ramming through the health care bill without regard to consequences. This will precipitate a constitutional crisis. It ought to precipitate some thought among sane Democrats -- there are many of them, actually -- over just what it is they want. The voters have rejected the Creeps -- the Republicans who think themselves entitled to public office and embraced weird concepts like 'big government conservatism.' Now they are ready to reject the Nuts -- the fanatical leftist leadership of the Democratic party.
The country is ready for an actual New Deal. It is not ready to transform America into yet another European style socialist state. It is ready for leadership from people who know something of the history of American exceptionalism and are not ashamed of that history. Whether we get that kind of leadership is not certain at all. We will not get it from undiluted populism. We need to restore the Republic.
It's not too late to remember this.
I haven't had a chance to download and try it yet, but this would seem to me to be a potential game changer; it enormously expands the potential Kindle format readership to include anyone with a PC Netbook among other things.
More when I find out more, but I'll be glad to hear from those who have experience with it.
March 13, 2010
I have the following mail that may be of interest:
I used Firefox with Adblock to visit the HelpMeDownload site, but I was unable to figure out what their product does or how I might have clicked on something to sign up for it. I am particularly concerned about how they got my USAA Visa card number. Because Roberta had appointments I had to drive her to, I didn't get to talk to USAA yesterday. I did get an email address from the HelpMeDownload site, and sent them a notice that I did not sign up for their "service" and I neither want nor need it. Within an hour I got a response to the effect that they would not charge me any longer. There wasn't anything about refunding past charges or what they thought they were doing for me.
I will call USAA Visa in future and see if I can get my money back, but I doubt that will work. I suspect they have my twenty bucks (two months' worth).
On Kindle PC Reader: Apparently you must already have a Kindle and be a registered Kindle owner before you can make use of the PC Kindle program. That's an Amazon requirement, and it's not necessarily permanent, but for now the Kindle Reader program for PC's is not a game changer, it's just another perk for Kindle users. Having said that, I will shortly be posting mail from Kindle PC Reader users who have been using that program for a while, and who say It Just Works. If you want to read Kindle books on your PC screen -- laptop or desktop or netbook -- and you have a Kindle, check out Kindle PC Reader.
(Note: I presume you all know that there is a Kindle Reader ap for your iPhone, and some readers have been using iPhone rather than their Kindle for reading Kindle books. Once again you have to have a Kindle before you can read Kindle books on your iPhone, same as you need a Kindle to be able to use Kindle PC Reader.)
March 14, 2010
I took the day off.
I must have a hundred emails telling me that you do NOT need a Kindle to read Kindle books on the Kindle AP on a PC or on a Mac. Apoligies.
But one thing is clear, my original supposition that this is a game changer or at least could be was correct.
The reason I didn't test this out after I got reader mail saying you needed a Kindle to make use of Kindle on PC was that I have a Kindle, so I couldn't test it. No great harm done. For the record, you can set up a Kindle account without owning a Kindle, and thus buy books. More tomorrow.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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