THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 540 October 13 - 19, 2008
Highlights this week:
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This is a Day Book. Pages are in chronological, not blogological order.
October 13, 2008
Friday the 13th Falls on Monday
Actually all is well, except that the mild but chronic state of chaos has increased to acute: we now have 3 dogs, 2 cats, and four humans here, with the possibility of another cat and two more humans if the Porter Ranch fire gets any closer to Niven's house. Alex and Dana are here, and the TV crews are broadcasting from about 1/2 block from their house in Sylmar so we may be pretty certain that the fire is under control in that area. It did burn up the canyon where the hang gliders land for those who remember their place, and the fire people stopped it at the canyon lip; which is where the TV crew from Channel 7 (ABC) has set up.
Meanwhile it's burning toward Niven's house from a fire that started about 2 hours ago in the brush a couple of miles east of them. It's north of the freeway and the Santa Ana winds are moving it south and west; it's no more than a mile from Niven's house. They haven't been told to get out yet. If they do, they're welcome here of course.
Sable has been persuaded to permit the two invading dogs although she does get very upset if either of them plays with her toys. The forced socialization is good for her; she's a Prima Donna, and she ought to learn to get along with other dogs her size. She thinks smaller dogs are puppies with bad manners and she puts up with them, even likes them, but when they get to be about her size she wants to be ignored. Now she hardly can be, and that's turning out well, except for sharp barks and snarls when the others discover another of her possessions. Oddly enough the competition for human affection is much more controlled.
So Chaos Manor is chaotic as one might expect, but all's well. I doubt I am going to get much work done, though.
The Battle of Sadr City.
- Roland Dobbins
A crucial event in the war. I was -- to put it mildly -- not in favor of the invasion of Iraq, but once we were there, the situation was different. Another scene of helicopters leaving the embassy with former friends of America hanging on the landing skids would have been more than I could take, and I suspect more than the Legions could stand. Republics bring home armies that think they won and then were stabbed in the back at their peril. We convinced the Army that the Viet Nam War was lost when in fact it had been won, and dodged that bullet; but one can't keep doing that.
I thought to my horror that I had mislaid the copy of Bugle Notes that was given me my first day at West Point, but it was hidden behind an autographed Heinlein in the book case I keep for treasures. While I thought it lost I googled in vein for Macarthur's message from the far east. It has been watered down to little. But I found Bugle Notes, and there on the second page of Cadet Lore (which is to say, stuff you bloody well better have memorized by evening of your first day) I found it, on the same page as the Principles of War:
From the Far East I send you one single thought, one sole idea -- written in red on every beachhead from Australia to Tokyo -- "There is no substitute for victory."
There was a time when every cadet learned that on his first day at West Point. I am not sure that is still so.
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|This week:||Tuesday, October
1400: Well, it's afternoon, and the house is mostly back to normal. Alex and Dana have taken their dogs and cats home, and Sable has discovered that she's back as Prima Dona and queen of the house, but having the menagerie here was fun. I'm about to go out and buy more dogfood.
Niven's house is safe, but things did get close. Tile roofs help a lot, too. They'll get the fires out eventually. Meanwhile I have to get back to work. First thing I have to do is write a review of Zubrin's How To Live On Mars for The New Atlantis magazine. I'll probably do that tonight. Also, for the first time since last January I can see wood on top of my desk. Mostly I piled things into boxes to get them out of the way, but some of the boxes will leave forever. I also need to get back behind the computers to the book shelves and get rid of a lot of books that hide back there and haven't been looked at in two years. There are a tonne of games I haven't done anything with in years and they need to go. And I have to get some book plates made so I can sign them and send them to platinum subscribers.
In a word, I'm about a year behind in detail work, but I'm beginning to catch up; and the interesting thing is that it doesn't daunt me. Back in July and August the prospect of doing much of anything not routine was terrifying; I presume it's a side effect of the radiation, although perhaps the steroids they had me on had something to do with it? In any event, in September I began to think it possible to do new things, but I still wasn't DOING them; I had Eric come over and do system construction because I wasn't up to it, and my desk got new archeological layers. Today that trend was reversed, and I am digging in, first the office and then the Great Hall.
What's astonishing to me is that I managed to get the bills paid, write these pages, and get something like columns and mailbags done for Chaos Manor Reviews. I have to read them over so I can see what I said. I first did this with dread, but it turns out they ain't too bad. My autopilot must be better than I thought.
This is worth your attention:
Another indication of just how bad an idea No Child Left Behind was; alas, whatever the results of the next election, this is likely to get worse. Ideology dominates both intellect and common sense. Alas.
And now I have errands.
October 15, 2008
Dragging McCain across the finish line?
The debate is tonight. McCain has one chance to make it clear that Obama is indistinguishable in policies from McGovern. Obama's "Tax cut" will actually be a payment to a rather large number of "taxpayers". That is, anyone who sends in an income tax form is considered a taxpayer; but about 40% of those pay nothing. Some number of that 40% actually receive a "refund" although they didn't actually have taxes withheld; it's called "earned income credit" although how that income was "earned" is not clear to me.
It doesn't take a Ph.D. in political science to realize that those getting an earned income credit "refund" are likely to vote for those who offer to increase that payment. Obama's exact plan is a bit hard to discern, but from everything he has said, his tax cut would send checks to 40% of the taxpayers. At that point we may be beyond recovery: we will become a one party state.
Now I suppose the United States can survive as a federalized unitary socialist state built on class warfare lines, with the very wealthy who don't pay much in the way of taxes, those on the dole, and the unionized public service employees, teachers, and lawyers entirely dominating the political systems. It won't be the same country I grew up in, but then we don't now live in the country I grew up in. Alas, I suspect that's what's at stake here.
Does Size Matter?
This isn't an essay, it's just speculation.
The justification for enormous payments to management in financial services is that it takes extraordinary talent to run those huge financial empires. This is likely to be true. Unfortunately, the net result in most cases is about 20 years of prosperity, with the management geniuses able to get 1/2% more return than a less able manager -- then the whole thing collapses. The managers of the big investment banks managed to lose more in the last crash than all investment banks have made cumulatively since investment banks began. Many walked away with big parting bonuses, too, since they were too smart to have all their savings in their own institutions. It turns out that some of the managers weren't smart enough to get into mortgage swaps and complicated derivatives they didn't understand, and their banks only lost maybe half their values. Of course they don't get paid as much as the super smart guys who were able to shave that extra gain from derivatives for a few years. They aren't the smartest guys in the room.
Now every political theorist who ever lived -- well perhaps I exaggerate, but very nearly every one of them -- has been certain that enormous differences in wealth between the richest and poorest are not good for Republics. Aristotle said that rule by the middle class (what he called democracy) works pretty well and that the middle class are those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation. Other political theorists have pointed out that having a few very wealthy people in a middle class society isn't harmful, although it's usually better if the wealthy don't flaunt it: note that in Zurich there are very few mansions even though some people are a lot richer than others. Today in the US the very rich really aren't even as you and I, and some of them are very glad to make that clear to all of us.
But it isn't the existence of the wealthy (who have money, and whose manner of making more is usually pretty invisible) that infuriates people, it's the existence of those who make more in a year than most of us will make over our lifetimes, and make it by moving money around in circles. Few envied Jack Welch his enormous pay when he was running GE. The managers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even before they collapsed, were making more than Welch while setting things up to ruin the whole game. Incidentally, I have heard that about 1/4 -- 25% -- of all the sub-prime mortgages were to speculators, second and third houses bought for flipping -- and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were buying those mortgages up to repackage and sell just like they were buying up mortgages for first time home buyers and other owner-occupied houses. Since the purpose of Fan and Fred was, according to the legislation that set them up, to increase the number of people owning homes -- a noble and laudable goal, which increases the numbers of people who have a stake in the Republic, and become part of the middle class -- since the purpose of Fan and Fred was to increase the number of people who owned homes, and a good quarter of the sub prime mortgages they were financing were to speculators, it's pretty clear that Fan and Fred exceeded their charters, and their executives were guilty of exceeding their authority. I doubt that was technically a crime, but it sure looks fishy.
Many economists, notably including David McCord Wright, have studied Marx. Marx predicted the division of the population of the earth into two classes, the bourgeoisie who owned everything and the proletariat who owned nothing; and that the ownership class would shrink to tiny, and the proletariat would grow and grow; the owners would hire soldiers and police (the running dogs of the bourgeoisie) to suppress the proletariat, and might even experiment with socialism and doles, but eventually they were doomed. Wright speculated that this didn't happen to the US because of the anti-trust acts: industries weren't permitted to coagulate into one great big industry and then combine with other monopolists into cartels.
Now that observation needs refining -- all models do -- but there's something to it, and the increasing concentration of wealth into bigger and bigger companies with less and less competition has been accelerating. The financial collapse makes that even more likely with banks and financial institutions.
Perhaps what we ought to do in bailing out the economy is to break these things up into smaller outfits. This has the advantage that there's no sane reason to pay someone a hundred million dollars a year to run an enormous company if the company has been broken up into a hundred companies that each pay a million a year to their manager. It also has the advantage that some of those companies may actually have sane management that doesn't jump on the band wagon for derivatives and mortgage swaps and making loans that no one in his right mind would make, or whatever new scheme comes along that will bring about a slow increase in value followed by a collapse that wipes everyone out.
Another alternative is regulation. That says that a GE-12 under the general direction of a political appointee would do a great job of setting the rules for financial management. If you believe that I'd like to sell you some derivatives cooked up by a quantum physicist.
One of these days I'll have to write an essay on this stuff.
October 16, 2008
I have a ton of work to do. The debate last night was a draw in my judgment, which means it didn't do McCain much good; but perhaps I am wrong. I haven't time to analyze this.
I'm expecting the new Mac Book Pro today or tomorrow. It comes with a large drive, We'll get it set up over the weekend. As I said, I have a ton of work to do.
October 17, 2008
I am mostly doing fiction. I also have book reviews and some scenarios to do. It's BUSY around here. As usual there's mail. This site has the best mail on the web.
October 18, 208
Yesterday's mail contained a letter from Colonel Haynes that quoted an article supposedly from the San Francisco Chronicle. I am beginning to believe this was a mistake: several readers have tried to find the original, and have been unable to do so, nor have I. I don't know the origin of the text. I have several letters from readers of which the following is typical:
Re: SF Chronicle article. I note that Bill did not include a link with the article. I don't find it on the Chronicle web site. A search on a provocative phrase within the article turns up 4 hits referencing the article, all including the quote that it came from the Chronicle, and none disclosing an author. If it did come from there, it was pulled down before Google could cache it. That said, there were only two or three things in the article that I didn't notice immediately as accurate, and I'll try to trace those down later.
Until a source is found the diatribe in question should be taken as an anonymous letter. I don't find anything in it incredible, and I have seen no evidence that it isn't true; indeed much the same thing is said often, but more likely to be in the Wall Street Journal than in a San Francisco paper.
Shows what can happen when one is in haste.
I'm still in work mode. I'll get back to commentary when I get a chance, but I have got to get some of this work done. I'll continue to post mail and comment when I can.
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October 19, 2008
Not from SF Chronicle
Sorry, please disregard my previous post.
This article did not come from the SF Chronicle. It
came from a blog called ChronWatch which is idealogically 180 degrees
opposed to the Chronicle. Here's the link:
I have been a reader of the San Francisco Chronicle for twenty five years. Like many of you, reading the morning paper with my first cup of coffee has become an important tradition. While the Chron has always had a liberal bias, talented writers like Herb Caen, Art Hoppe, and Stanton Delapane made for intelligent and enjoyable reading. Recently that bias has turned into a stifling, total domination, and without the talented writers of the past. As a result, my day starts out on a down note. I feel insulted and violated. More importantly, the taste of that first cup of coffee is ruined. And, sadly, all of this occurs before the sun gets very far up in the sky.
I also decided that there is a much bigger issue I admit that when the ChronWatch concept first occurred to me, I had in mind a mere tweaking of the Chronicle's liberal nose. After getting deeper into the project, I realized that this is a far more serious issue. As the saying goes; this is a battle for the minds of the people. I have come to believe that the consequences of losing this battle are horrendous. It's no longer just a matter of choosing between a left center Democrat versus a right center Republican, an Al Gore versus a George Bush. While those are still extremely important individual issues, the real battle is over our most fundamental traditional values as a country.
Back to ChronWatch The editorial policies of the Chronicle require that they promote any liberal point of view. They have no intention of producing any semblance of "balance." ChronWatch offers the perspective so readily ignored, and even abused, by the Chronicle.
Which should take care of that.
The rest of the day was devoured by locusts.
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.
If you have no idea what you are doing here, see the What is this place?, which tries to make order of chaos.
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