THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 535 September 8 - 14, 2008
Highlights this week:
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This is a Day Book. Pages are in chronological, not blogological order.
September 8, 2008
The September column is up over at Chaos Manor Reviews. I've just read it over again, and it's pretty good. That's not so much preening as relief: I seem to be in real recovery from the radiation therapy (if I'd got that much radiation in a war it would be called radiation sickness and I'd be considered a casualty) and from the now defunct brain tumor, and I have been worried about the quality of my work in the past year. It seemed to lack some of the sparkle, and it darned well did lack the preparatory work that was the hallmark of my columns for decades. I just didn't have the energy to poke around doing silly things so you don't have to.
The good news is that every morning I have more energy. I still have sleep problems, and I suspect I will collect a variety of sleeping draughts to use in alternation lest I get addicted to any one of them. Ed Hume, my favorite shrink, has suggested some which I will recommend to my primary physician out at Kaiser. But even with my sleep problems I am waking up ready to go to work rather than feeling like going back to bed, and that seems to be a trend.
The bad news is that for about a year I haven't been poking about and doing things as I used to, and I not only got way behind, but also out of touch with many of the publishers and manufacturers who kept me supplied with software and equipment for "review." I say "review" because the unique feature of my column has always been actual use of stuff to do real work, not formal reviews of the "compare 8 printers" variety. I don't have the resources to keep track of warehouses of review equipment for that kind of review; so mostly I use the stuff and say what I think about it. The technical name for that kind of column is "informed opinion" or "judgment from experience" with the emphasis on opinion rather than a claim to some kind of scientific comparisons. I'm not apologizing: the model obviously works since I have had one of the most popular columns in the industry for decades. My apology is to those who for the past year have seen little return on your efforts.
I especially apologize to those readers who have been extremely helpful and got short shrift or even worse, whose names I have managed to forget. One of the problems with radiation therapy involving the brain is that my short term memory for a while there was limited to what I wrote in my log book. I couldn't remember anyone's name. That includes people who did me enormous services, took the trouble to find stuff and send it to me, who write scripts to help my web site -- I realize that it sounds insane, but the fact is that I got some things so mucked up that I don't even know who did what for me.
It's a weird kind of memory loss: I know what people did (such as the chap who took the trouble to find and send me samples of about a million kinds of double-sided tape in hopes that one would let me put a tether on my iPhone), but I can't find out who they were, so most have not been properly thanked. That's outrageous, and now that I have my head back I may think of some research strategies, but realistically I lost a fair amount of what happened in the last 18 months, and I am astonished at how well I managed to cope. My columns and this day book aren't what I wish I had done in the past year, but objectively they ain't bad. I did keep that part up, and I did manage to finish ESCAPE FROM HELL and I'm blooming proud of what Niven and I did with that book; but the cost was high, because I had to let almost everything else go.
So: to those who feel they have been short changed in the thanks department, my apologies. I mean it. I am damned sorry. To those who still care, I invite you to send a short note saying "I am the bloke who did X" (such as sending me the amazing packet of sticky tapes). You need not send a long explanation; given that I know what to look for, I can generally find things. My problem is not so much memory as attention: I can stay focused on something but once I let it go, it takes time to get it back, and there are interruptions, so I may be looking for something I lost when an interrupt comes in that has to be processed, and I forget what I was doing.
Most of these problems are abating. I've been doing some writing, and as far as I can tell I am still smart. I am slow, a lot slower than I used to be, and I can't keep many balls in the air at the same time, but by the Grace of God and a lot more attention to keeping a log I seem to be getting past this crisis.
I recently sent out a note to a number of lists; I don't usually Spam, but I had no choice. The upshot of it is that I'm back, and I'm collecting the latest and greatest for the kind of work I do. If you have produced something I ought to know about, or represent someone who does, or have friends who represent someone who does, you do us both a favor and let people know Chaos Manor is getting back in business. And if you've done something for me and I haven't thanked you in a while, blame it on the tumor. The spirit is willing, the flesh is weaker, and you'd really be astonished at how much a large brain tumor and 50,000 rads can affect your thinking.
The news is full of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac takeovers, and it needs commenting. I'll let a bit of the chaos die away before I do that, but readers will remember that I've had my concerns about those lobbying for profit government sponsored companies for years now. The intention was to get more people owning houses. The only way to do that was to make it easier to to get mortgages. That put more people in the market. When more money and people chase goods, the price of those goods usually rises, particularly in goods that take a while to produce: the lag between deciding to get into housing development and actually having products to sell is quite long. Expand the number of buyers with money fast enough and a bubble is inevitable.
The bubble was an unintended consequence for many of those who founded and supported Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- but it was also a foreseen and much desired consequence for many of the supporters and stockholders of those weird firms. The opportunity for mistakes that would enrich the stockholders and executives was tremendous. It took no great amount of insight to realize that there would be mistakes, and they'd all be in the direction of short term profit for the companies. Of those who realized this there were some who tried to fix the problems (damned few), some who leaped to get in on this predictable opportunity, and some who sat back and did nothing while letting the lobby funds and contributions flow in.
The failure of these firms is serious. Very serious. And we have not seen the worst of it.
As to whose fault is was, it was the fault of people in both political parties who either took advantage of the situation or did nothing while collecting campaign contributions and the other benefits from a powerful lobby interest. A pox on all of them. There's plenty of blame to go around for everyone from Barney Frank to the current Speaker to the last Republican Speaker. A pox on all of them, but fixing blame is not going to take care of the situation, which is very serious and is going to get worse.
I'll get to mail later; it's getting late and there's other work. Monty has a very good letter about wind energy over there. More later.
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|This week:||Tuesday, September
The Current Election
I don't really intend this to become a political day book. There are plenty of those, and while I think I have enough experience in both political philosophy and practical American politics to add a bit to the discussions, partisan political commentary is not what I want to do. On the other hand, it's impossible to ignore the election. I'll try to confine my comments to items that may add to understanding of the political process rather than just zingers.
Full disclosure for those few who haven't figured it out: I am no fan of McCain and I detest the Country Club Republicans who took over when Newt Gingrich left the Speaker's Office. I was one of Newt's advisors and while he and I have and had our differences, I think the country is very much worse off without him as Speaker, and we wouldn't be in the mess we are in had he remained. But while I have disdain for the the Country Club Republicans -- to put a fine point on it see Exeter's speech to the Dauphin -- I have even less regard for the anti-Clinton establishment who have taken control of the Democrats. And no, that doesn't make me an admirer of Clinton and the New Democrats; it does mean that I think the New Democrats (who have been thoroughly defeated) are more likely to pay attention to realities than crazy theories; and this isn't true of those who are now running things. I'm a lot more afraid of the Daily Kos than I am of Bill Clinton.
There are a lot of Republicans I'd rather see running for President, but McCain has made promises I believe he will keep, which makes him something a lot better than a standard Country Club Republican. To me the ideal outcome of the election would be McCain wins, and the Democrats lose some seats but retain a majority in the House, with the Senate nearly divided. That would give the Republicans a chance to reflect and perhaps even get back their soul. It might even spark the more thoughtful among the electorate to understand that politics can't be left to the nutcases and those out in the fever swamps of ideology, or to those whose only goal is trading favors and playing the old games of privilege at the expense of the population. It might get those who think they haven't time or interest in politics to realize that just because they are not interested in politics doesn't mean that politics is not interested in them. It might persuade Americans to take back their government.
America used to be run by about 50,000 self-selected precinct and party workers, few of them ideologues. I explained some of that in my introduction to Heinlein's Take Back Your Government (I understand that Baen is negotiating with Spectrum Agency to get it out again as an eBook [Spectrum is agent for both me and the Heinlein Estate.].)
This may be a pivotal election, but not for the reasons most think. What I hope will happen is that it will make the sane people in both political parties understand something we have always known: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Part of that price is that one must be involved. You can't just leave it to those with an axe to grind. We have run that experiment, and we know the outcome.
One pundit today says that Palin must avoid press conferences because she wouldn't be able to explain why she "disagrees with the overwhelming scientific consensus on man-caused Global Warming." Wow. If that's their idea of the kind of tough questions that will show Palin is an idiot, they've got a surprise coming. Another question has to do with earmarks and the bridge to nowhere. That one's a bit tougher, but every politician I ever heard of has had learning experiences, and has been faced with conflicts between one's principles and the realities of politics. A good example is McCain on immigration: he is still in favor of what amounts to amnesty for illegals who don't become criminals, but he has also said that he accepts the decision of the American people that there can be no discussion of "comprehensive reform" until the borders are secure. (Aside: I'd rather he changed his attitude, but I am convinced that McCain is a man of his word; and that beats the daylights out of the official Obama position on immigration.)
In the case of earmarks and that silly bridge, I can easily see how a young and inexperienced governor could be talked into not opposing what looks like a boon to the state; after all everyone else is doing it. I can also see her husband and friends taking her into the woodshed for compromising principles, and coming out more determined than ever. I know people that has happened to. I could even find some related incidents in my own life. I'm just glad she got the experience early on.
Immigration is important. The American culture has thrived in the past, but that was when The Melting Pot was both the ideal and the practice: one came here and learned to become an American. The problem is that The Melting Pot isn't what those who praise "diversity" are after; and even if that became the goal again, there's only so much of any one culture that the pot can melt. The pot is pretty nearly full: it needs to be given a chance to do its thing, lest we lose what made us America.
Got some work done on Mamelukes yesterday. I seem to have a bit more energy every day. Now if I can just survive until I get the book done I won't have to work so hard. If I get that book done, and my proposals for The Mask on the Wall and the new Niven/Pournelle book done, I should have an income again. (Not that I've been entirely without an income: your subscriptions have kept me going through this rather interesting year of research into cancer survival, and the Platinum Subscriptions have freed me from having to run around looking for speaking engagements and magazine articles and the other stuff that free lance writers have to do. You all have my thanks. Alas, subscriptions and renewals have fallen off recently, which isn't astonishing.)
Meanwhile I also got the column up yesterday. http://www.chaosmanorreviews.com/
We were down at the beach house on August 31, and didn't see the Sunday papers, so we missed Lynn Johnston's final "For Better or for Worse" strip. The strip had got so complicated that although I noticed that something was odd about it the last week, I didn't cotton on to what it was until I read that.
It's all explained here http://www.fborfw.com/strip_fix/archives/003336.php for those who have any interest in it. As to why I do, it's hard to explain, but I did find it interesting, not just as a lesson in constructing a serial graphic novel.
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September 10, 2008
Bad night last night. Tomorrow I see the internist about sleeping potions.
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. Has everyone lost their minds? Obama isn't stupid enough to say that with reference to Palin, and McCain should be smart enough to just chuckle at Obama's "insensitivity" to lipstick and hockey moms and shut up. Obama stabbed himself but not badly. The Republicans ought to have people smart enough to accept that kind of break without running out to call attention to it. Ye gods. "Let's get some lipstick on this pig" is pretty standard exhortation from sales managers who have an inferior but highly profitable product to push.
Of course "insensitivity" is an uncertain term at best, but more used by Obama's side than McCain's. When I was younger what is now a mortal sin was merely a social fault. Of course one does not speak of rope in the house of a man who was hanged.
Incidentally, one does wonder what happens if you put lipstick on a pit bull? Not that I understand what pit bulls have to do with Alaska. I thought they went in for wolf/dog breeds up there. In Call of the Wild, Buck is nearly killed by a bulldog. Of course London didn't make Buck a wolf/dog but everyone remembers him as such anyway, and as I recall he ends up with a pack of female wolves...
The Fannie Mae Freddie Mac disaster continues to terrify Wall Street, as it should. The taxpayers get to bail out those who were foolish (or very smart), and Barney Frank will see to it that nothing much changes once that is done. There will still be lobbying and lobby funds, and there will still be government absorption of the losses with private exploitation of the profits. There will still be too much money chasing houses, artificially driving up the prices.
The purpose of FHA and its children was to encourage more home ownership. How does driving the prices of houses up accomplish that? And make no mistake, guaranteeing loans to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get loans very directly drives up prices; do it enough and it creates a bubble. The purpose of bailing out Fan and Fred is to drive housing prices back up. Follow the money. Who owns those bad loans? Follow the money and you'll see why Fred and Fan can't be allowed to fail, must be allowed to drive housing prices up, and can't be tamed.
We haven't seen the end of this. And getting the government deeper into it isn't going to help.
I believe you have “White Fang” and “Call of the Wild” mixed up. White Fang (I think he had another name but I can’t remember it) was indeed a wolf/dog, and was nearly killed in a (human organized) dogfight by a bulldog. Buck was a dog who ended up with the female wolves… at least that’s how I remember it. My memory has started to play tricks on me sometimes…
Of course you are right. I read both novels and everything else London wrote in 7th grade, and perhaps again as an undergraduate but not since. Thanks. Still good stories.
I have to agree with Obama on the lipstick thing. Mostly. He threw that one in and it wasn't a polite thing to do, but no one was genuinely outraged, and in fact no one gave a damn, and the presidency of the United States ought not be decided by either a lapse in manners or pretended outrage. It was stupid and unprofessional of the McCain managers to react to that, and were I the candidate or his campaign manager I'd take a hard look at those who suggested it would be a good idea to react. Me, I'd fire someone for that: you don't give the opposition any kind of opening by reacting to trivia, and nailing a scalp to the wall might enlighten some others. Phony outrage is very bad tactics.
September 11, 2008
A Black Day to Remember.
It is also the birthday of our Husky Sable, and I will have a picture of her later today. She's being groomed. She doesn't like being groomed but she loves having been groomed....
I am off to the doctor for sleeping potions.
This story has gone far enough. But:
Subject: Obama and lipstick.
I've watched the clip in question, and I truly don't understand how anyone could possibly construe his comment as applying to Palin.
He was using a very common expression with regards to McCain's policies. No matter what anyone thinks of Obama's politics, I doubt you'd be able to find anyone who would seriously believe he'd call a woman he doesn't know a pig. He's far too polite an individual for that.
This silly overreaction is akin to the reactions the undereducated have over the word "niggardly".
I agree entirely. And I repeat, fake outrage is unbecoming and unseemly. If I were running McCain's campaign I would fire at least one of the idiots who decided to react this way, and certainly the person who decided to make an ad. Obama is right, the nation should not be governed by silly discussions of irrelevant matters.
More when I get back from the doctors. Thanks to all who have advice; I have printed out much of it which I will show to Dr. Spencer.
1400: I'm back with a bunch of sleeping potions I'll try in alternation. Of course my intent is to get back into normal sleeping patterns. Now I'm off to get a birthday present for Sable. Sable is our red Siberian Husky, and she's 6 today; we got her in November of 2001, and there are puppy pictures somewhere on this site. I'll try to find them. I really need to organize this place or at least make a good index, but I don't suppose I will.
Anyway, Sable went to the groomers, and she looks great. I have errands just now (and, yes, they include getting dog treats -- this is the empty nest dog after all). I'll see if I can get her to pose for a birthday picture when I get back.
Meanwhile I find I have about 20,000 electronic pictures, none organized, and it's time I tried to put them into some sort of order; it's worse than the shoe box of prints! I can't find much, and when I do find them I am not sure what to do with them. I probably ought to look at both Mac and Windows programs, but at the moment they're all on Windows machines as is FrontPage 2003. FP 2003 is awful at importing pictures across a network, blowing up a good part of the time. Sigh.
Anyway, she looked like this when she was little. She remembers being under my desk and every now and then tries to get there again and is unhappy that she won't fit.
September 12, 2008
The CEO's of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac got a total (between them) of $20 million in bonuses for running their companies into bankruptcy. Shouldn't they be paid in post-dated stock of their companies?
This practice of paying people bonuses for ruining the companies seems misguided to me. I recall when the CEO of a company that went bust jumped out an 8th floor window.
Why, on September 11, do we not show an hour of the burning towers and the consequences? Why is that forbidden? I am sure there must be an official reason, but I don't know what it is.
This was in a recent Wall Street Journal article on social conservatism:
This is of a piece with the doctrine that Reason and Faith are not in conflict, and if they appear to be, we have misunderstood something. (It used to be that we had more confidence in our interpretation of revelation than in the findings of science. Actually, that was good reason; science, until the development of scientific method, was not reliable. Those were the days when Astrology and Alchemy were considered good science, and illusionists posed as scientists. Today we have enough experience with the results of applying real scientific method -- that is, framing falsifiable hypotheses and testing them by experiment, and yes, I know that's a reductionism that ignores a number of important implications -- we have enough experience with the results of scientific method to have confidence that scientific truth is important, and if science conflicts with revelation then we have probably misinterpreted revelation.
It is not automatic that "science" as expressed by a consensus is always right. As science becomes more and more expensive, the individual scientist who observes nature directly can't usually make much of a contribution: observation and hypothesis testing costs a great deal of money. The money has to come from somewhere: a government, a university, a private donor, an oil company -- and the universities now get most of their money from government. The National Science Foundation, understandably, funds studies that are approved by consensus scientists. That process often works; but it worked better when there was less obloquy heaped on those scientists who dissent from the consensus. It is rare today that NSF funds any study that goes against the received wisdom as expressed by "peer review" -- which is to say, the consensus.
Now the obvious example here is Global Warming: either you believe in Global Warming, or you get no grants from government and the peer-reviewed university communities, and worse, if you publish speculations against the consensus your tenure may be endangered; or you go to those who will fund studies against the consensus, at which point you will be denounced as a tool of the oil companies, or of kooks and idiots.
It's hard to see a way out of this consequence of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Nature eventually tells us when we are dead wrong, but sometimes it takes a long time before we notice.
Lest you be tempted to think this is a screed on Global Warming, the disease permeates many of the sciences. It is, and should be, easier to fund studies that accept the current consensus; but now there is almost no method by which an experimentum crucis to test the current hypotheses can be funded. The most drastic example of that I can think of is Duesberg, who may be mad, but who has all the credentials to be accepted as an expert on retro-viruses, but who can't get ten million dollars to test the AIDS hypotheses on which Ten Billion is spent annually. Any Bayesian analysis would indicate that if there is anything more than a .001 chance that Duesberg is right, he ought to be funded. Instead he is vilified.
It's close to lunch time and I have an engagement.
In researching Climate Change I came across this interesting site on Bayesian Analysis:
International Society for Bayesian Analysis (ISBA)
It's a pretty good summary of Bayesian Analysis.
"Scientific inquiry is an iterative process of integrating accumulating information. Investigators assess the current state of knowledge regarding the issue of interest, gather new data to address remaining questions, and then update and refine their understanding to incorporate both new and old data. Bayesian inference provides a logical, quantitative framework for this process. It has been applied in a multitude of scientific, technological, and policy settings."
Well worth study for those who have an interest in scientific method.
September 13, 2008
I have a lunch engagement, so this will be short.
Wild ride last night, watching the storm come ashore in Texas (they were Texans after all; as of Noon Pacific Time there is only one confirmed casualty in Houston) and watching the highly competent LA emergency crews trying to cope with a head-on train collision. I'm old enough to remember when those were more common, largely because in those days there were far more single track lines that had to accommodate two-way traffic. The signaling system apparently worked, but the driver did not stop at a red signal. That's astonishing.
Anyway, I am back from lunch. More later.
September 14, 2008
It's Sunday afternoon. We went to the opera last night. Got home at a reasonable hour, and I went to bed fairly early, and took my sleeping potion, but I didn't get much sleep. I've been half out of it all day. I am sure I'll be back in form tomorrow.
For those who have any interest in history, while I was looking for other stuff, I found an essay and discussion of the First Dark Age that is worth your time. There are a lot of little tidbits hidden in this place.... A Dark Age is not merely a time in which various techniques and technologies have been lost. It is a time when the very ideas have been lost; when no one remembers that we could once do such things. Example: in the Dark Ages, a peasant outside Paris might reap three bushels of wheat for each bushel sowed. In Roman times peasants on that same land reaped ten bushels for each sowed, but that very idea was lost in the Dark Ages; which is what made them Dark. Another example is in modern education: we have lost the very idea that at one time in these United States it was extremely rare for any child to leave second grade unable to read.
Who Controls Education?
I was discussing education and politics with two friends, both of the liberal persuasion. I said that we weren't doing much for the brighter kids, and we all agreed. I then pointed out that although we are expending much of our education funding and talent on helping the left side of the Bell Curve, but it isn't doing a lot of good even for them, because we are trying to give them a "world class university prep education" and they aren't going to university. We ought to be teaching them how to do things they are likely to be doing. Again there was agreement that we seem to have lost what we once had, shop classes and vocational education in high school.
And it suddenly occurred to me. Here we were discussing what ought to be done for people we have never met, do not hang out with, and generally don't really understand. Here were three high IQ people talking about what ought to be done for low IQ people. And: the ONLY people discussing what ought to be done with/about/for the low IQ people are high IQ types who do NOT KNOW ANY LOW IQ PEOPLE, do not hang out with them, and probably cannot remember when they last met a person of, say, IQ 85, much less had any extended conversation with them.
Go further: JUST ABOUT ALL THE TEACHERS who will have to work with the left side of the Bell Curve are being taught how to teach by people who have never spent much time with anyone on the left side of the Bell Curve. None of our lawmakers spends much time with low IQ people. Few politicians actually talk with low IQ people. When they make speeches they are not really speaking to the left side of the Bell Curve.
So the people who decide what will be taught to the left side of the Bell Curve know not much more about them than you and I (and I will wager that almost none of my readers hang out with low IQ people). The people who teach the teachers who must go out and work with the left side of the Bell Curve don't know many -- any? -- people of IQ 90 and lower.
When Tocqueville wrote about America he observed that many of the services provided by government in Europe were left to "the associations" in America: to volunteers. Those of us who remember those days (actually remember a remnant of them) will recall that most of "the associations" were formed by and run by the people of the community the association served. The school janitor might get a couple of his neighbors to go help clean up and maintain the home of an elderly lady coming down with dementia. None of those involved were likely to be high IQ people. They did the work, they were proud of having done it --
Today, of course, we don't do that. Instead the government will hire someone at minimum wage to go do that.
I will continue this another time. Meanwhile, contemplate our current Dark Age in which we have forgotten all that.
If you are concerned about CERN, this ought to relieve your mind:
I have probably indicated this review of my book Exile -- and Glory! at least once before and probably more, but if you have not seen it http://www.fourmilab.ch/fourmilog/archives/2008-08/001040.html
On my radio I just heard some guy shout why did they build the space program HQ in the middle of a hurricane zone?
Well, Houston because it was where LBJ wanted it. Florida because you need eastward launch. Tropic because the nearer to the equator you are the more eastward velocity you have before you launch. And no Internet in those days. Canaveral because it was cheap at the time.
Needed a place where barges could land equipment; and Michoud where you can load barges. Rockets tend to be big. Of course the Shuttle solids had to be built in Utah for political reasons, and the RR system has a maximum length for cargo, so the Shuttle solid engine had to be chopped into two pieces. Now no one in his right mind wants a segmented solid rocket, but we got one, because we needed the Senator From Utah or we would not have a space program at all, thus the Challenger disaster which would never have happened had the SRB been built at Michoud so it could be shipped by barge.
Lehman is gone. Gold is up. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Bean has been sold to Bank of America. There will be a fire sale on non-liquid assets depressing the prices yet more. The relentless collapse of bubbles continues. Be afraid. The Dow is near 11,000 and will go lower. Be afraid.
On the good side there is progress in batteries. Now if we build nuclear plants so that we have the kilowatts...
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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