THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 548 December 8 - 14, 2008
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December 8, 2008
The December 2008 Column International edition is finished, and should be posted on Chaos Manor Reviews tonight or tomorrow morning when Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey can get to it. It has some of my observations on high technology and the economy, and the story of my conversion from an Active Directory domain to a workgroup for my operations at Chaos Manor.
It also has book reviews, and a story goes with that. Over the weekend Roberta has been reading Charles Murray's Real Education, Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality (Crown). Roberta has been reading it over the weekend and has made notes. I'm also reading it. Murray says many of the things I have been saying (and Roberta believes) for years, and a review of that book is a splendid opportunity for me to do the essay on American education that I've been promising since before The Lump in my head cut way down on my energy levels. What I'll do is write a review essay and put that in Chaos Manor Reviews, and when it's -- sometime this week, I think -- I'll point to it in here.
It is time and past time to reform the American education system from Kindergarten through Graduate School, and recognizing Murray's "simple truths" is a good place to start. As to why this is important, the economy isn't going to recover until we do something about the education system. It's that simple. We can insist on all kinds of regulations to improve working conditions for American workers, but if we do that, those workers must be much more productive than their near shore and off shore competition. That's no longer a given, and the failure of the schools to be what they are said to be, investments in our most important resource, is a major reason for it.
I'll be working on this for much of the week; I should have it done by the weekend so it can go up next Monday. Perhaps before.
I continue to find the Washington news fascinating. President Elect Obama and Speaker Pelosi seem determined to be serious people, doing serious work. They're now facing what Jimmy Carter called 'the ravening wolves', which is to say Congressional Chairmen, and what Obama is saying about the economy sounds as if he knows what he's doing. We'll see, but he has my best wishes. This country is in trouble, and unlike in the 1930's, there are very few untapped sources of government revenue, meaning that the temptation to bail ourselves out by inflating the currency is enormous. We all know what happened to the Weimar Republic in the 1920's and to Brazil more recently. So far Obama seems to understand the danger. I sure hope so.
This is a political question, and it is NOT one that the courts can or should resolve. Congress has the power of impeachment. The parties to some extent plus the voters control nominations. The voters control elections. This is simply not a matter for courts, even less than some of the imbecile decisions from Earl Warren and others were matters for the courts.
Courts can apply law. They are not supposed to make it. In the case of Constitutional Principles, each branch of government is equally responsible.
We should long ago have changed the law about birth conferring citizenship to children of non-citizens (actually to have clarified it because the reconstruction amendments were mostly concerned with the freedmen and didn't intend to make Chinese immigrant children citizens). We didn't change it and it may be too late to do that; but that is another matter entirely. Whatever we do is not likely to be retroactive.
Trying to get the courts to throw out an unambiguously elected president won't work, and indeed the Legions would, I suspect, strongly support Obama even though they don't like him -- especially since McCain would tell the nation to defy the courts if they tried this kind of interference. Fortunately the USSC knows this. Nothing will come of these appellate suits, which will be dismissed without hearing arguments.
If the Garmin radio commercial irritates the heck out of you, try
Colonel Couvillon recommends
1830: A good writing session today. I have finished section 3 of Mamelukes, and tomorrow I start the last one. I need to create Venice in about 1530...
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|This week:||Tuesday, December
This morning my cold is worse. Sore throat, voice vanishing, head stopped up. All normal, but terrifying since my voice coming apart was the most noticeable symptom of the problems caused by The Lump. Then last night about midnight the Internet died. I simply could not connect to it. Result: panic. I power cycled the cable modem and the D-Link Gaming Router. I tested my internal network: worked fine. Running perfectly. Moreover, my iPhone (iPhone 1, not the new models) connected to the Internet just fine. So I ran scared. Then about one AM it started working again.
Three things are clear. My panic threshold is lower than it used to be; I am still as compulsive about making things work even when there's nothing I can do as I ever was; and the problem was with Time Warner Cable which was doing some kind of update, nothing I could have done would have helped, and I should have just gone to bed. Oh. Well.
And KFI our local Clear Channel station now sounds like Public Radio, complete with whiny collectivist voiced woman demanding that we send money, faked news stories, and rants. It's for whatever Christmas charity they're supporting. I presume they are doing it that way because they don't really want anyone to donate money.
Now there's more of the whining. I miss the adds. Maybe I am just mean spirited?
I had some thoughts on the economic crisis while reading the financial news this morning. This whole mess started because people began to cease payments on the impossible loans they had taken out. That caused panic in the financial institutions. The real estate bubble burst so that more and more people were holding mortgages for more money than the property was worth. The Treasury proposed a $750 billion fund to buy the most toxic bad commercial paper. That might have worked had it been done, but Congress refused, turning the emergency action into a giant pork bill.
I suspect it's too late now, but perhaps not: suppose that as properties go into default, the Government (1) takes over the property, and (2) takes over the payments, paying, say, 90% of the payments that the mortgage buyer had been getting. This should stop the panic and restore confidence in the market, because the cash flow would be 90% of what it had been. It punishes them for buying bad paper, but those who can't survive a 10% cut in income from bad mortgages shouldn't be in business in the first place.
Now the government has to get rid of the property. The simplest way is to rent it to the occupants. The rent can be adjusted for "compassion." That probably won't bring in anything like what the government is having to pay, but it will be some return, and while no doubt some of the occupants will be deadbeats who aren't going to pay anything to anyone, it is a mechanism to prevent the well intentioned but -- I guess the charitable word is imprudent -- people who "bought" the property. It will also prevent a flood of homeless people. Property that can't be rented to occupants can be rented at market prices; there are plenty of rent management firms that would love to take that work under the usual multiple listing rules so no great expansion of bureaucracy is needed.
Incidentally, any bureaucratic positions created should have a termination date certain. Set if for 10 years, and on that day the agency and all its employees vanish. What we don't want is another agency whose survival depends on there being an economic crisis, as, for instance, the welfare bureaucracy would vanish if there were no welfare recipients because they were all either working or supported by charities.
It's probably too late, now that the pork is flowing from Washington without much effect on the stock market; but I wonder if that wouldn't work? I suspect it would be a lot cheaper than the floundering around that's going on now.
Limbaugh is funny today. In Poland the environmentalists called police when they found illegal logging going on in a nature preserve forest. They also issued a press release with the usual language. Turns out the culprits were a clan of beavers building a dam. There is as yet no word on the value of beaver dam stock.
I just got an email that begins
It gives various sites to visit so that I can find out what happened. I wouldn't go to one of those sites unless I had an isolated system I used for scam investigations. It's not real, and don't fall for it.
And Another Warning:
They're coming. Veringa! Gort! Veringa!! Klaatu barata nikto!
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December 10, 2008
I suppose it was mean spirited to complain about the KFI/Clear Channel charity advertisements, but it wasn't what they were advertising that got to me, it was the way they went about it, having the "stars" speaking in an thoroughly unnatural unctuous mode. Today they are finished with their big event, but the collection continues, and this time the advertisements are from Salvation Army people who aren't concerned about their ratings. Them I don't mind. It was the improbable spectacle of people who spend most of the year building a reputation for misanthropy trying to sound as if they cared one whit that got to me. That and a terrible head cold.
When I was an assistant scoutmaster one of the Troop's compulsory activities was the annual Christmas dinner preparation: using the huge kitchens of St. David's (in those days Troop 139 was sponsored by Campbell Hall, which was founded by the Campbell brothers, and Alex Campbell was the pastor at St. David's and thus the church was a cosponsor of the Troop) to cook up six big turkeys with stuffing. We would then have the boys, in uniform, deliver them to one of the downtown missions, alternating among several including the Salvation Army. There were multiple purposes to this. The obvious one was to deliver the meals. Equally obvious was the lesson or charity to the boys. Less obvious was to have the boys see just what it's like on skid row, and to have the inhabitants there see clean cut disciplined young men. I suppose you had to be there, but I found that one of the more rewarding experiences during that time. (My role in the Scouts was as Hikemaster, and we annually went up to the High Sierra on the Silver Knapsack trail, fifty miles in the Sequoia National Forest. Some of that went into Lucifer's Hammer.)
Anyway, reading over what I wrote yesterday sounded unduly sour.
As to my cold, I think I am recovering.
Back from our walk. I have been posting mail. Some is interesting. There is mail on education that stimulated two long responses from me; have a look.
Corruption in Illinois Governor's Office. Astonishing.
A few questions: Obama has not communicated with Bloggo about who should be the new Senator, but Bloggo knows that the SOB won't give him anything for appointing the SOB's choice for the office; whereupon the SOB's choice withdraws from consideration. One suspects that Obama made it clear he wouldn't play ball, but doesn't quite dare say that he was approached.
I am a bit concerned about the Fed involvement in state government at the highest levels. I don't concede jurisdiction. The Feds shouldn't be involved in this.
A great example of scientific acumen...
December 11, 2008
I have lost a week to a cold, but the cold is over. Alas, I see that the fever to bail out everyone is abating: I don't think Washington will bail me out, so I guess I have to get back to work.
Obama's appointment of Daschle was a bit of a surprise, and must have some roots in political obligations. I doubt that Daschle brings much to the Cabinet. I had expected someone with better qualifications, such as, possibly, Lester Thorow. There is no "solution" to the "problem" of health care. It would help to have someone in charge who understands that: that there are a series of choices, none of them perfect. Health care can absorb infinite resources; it also requires some hard choices. Taxing young and healthy working people to extend the life of an aged drunk on skid road may or may not make sense, but in a country that has put egalite at the top of the list (far above liberte) it is required. I say this as the recipient of your generosity: my Kaiser dues are paid largely by Medicare, and I'd never have been able to afford the treatments that saved my life.
I am very glad I don't have to be in charge of "solving" the health care "problem."
Regarding the auction of Obama's Senate seat: I find it impossible to believe he didn't see something like this coming because I don't think you can go up through the Chicago machine starting as a community organizer and rising to Senator without knowing how that machine works; but I am certain he stayed as far away from this as he could, and let it be known who he preferred without attempting to make any kind of deal. He has a very delicate balancing act to do here: he is the product of Chicago politics but clearly hopes to be above all that now, and given the ferocity of the Clinton attack machine it's pretty clear he had no involvement with the Chicago machine while in the Senate. If there was any real dirt in his background it's inconceivable that we don't know about it.
And we can all hope that the office will make the man. He has a rendezvous with history, and I think he knows it. I wish him well.
December 12, 2008
Arthur Kantrowitz, RIP, November 29, 2008
I learned of his death when I began writing the entry that follows. I knew Arky Kantrowitz from the early days of the L-5 Society; he was Chairman of the Board. I used his research on laser powered space launch systems in many of my stories, most notably in the stories collected in EXILE -- AND GLORY!. Some of those stories were nominated for awards. Arky was well known for his spacefaring advocacy, and also for his passionate arguments for a science court to supplement the US Court systems. My friend Ben Bova worked with Kantrowitz at AVCO Everett. He got a lot done in 95 years. RIP
And now the bad news...
Or at least the threat. Obama has appointed his energy and environmental team,. Now it's not all bad. Steven Chu clearly knows a lot about physics and energy, and his energy research goals are well worth supporting. Good research will always pay off, and supporting good research will entice more people into science and engineering, and I make no doubt that Dr. Chu has the acumen to see that much of the money will be well spent. I have long said that I consider the NSF budget money gives me the best return for my tax dollars.
The rest of the team is another story. Many of them have to be either deluded or mendacious.
The late Arthur Kantrowitz was an advocate of a science court system to supplement the US Court System. (more) The devil is in the details in such matters. Is this to be a legal and Constitutional Court, or a public forum? Who is to enforce its rules of evidence? How will the expert jurors be paid? But given all those questions, the need is apparent: we have seen the need in the rush to judgment about global warming and its causes, the total distortion of the dangers of dioxin, the silicone breast implant lawsuits, and a bunch of other cases which transferred billions and billions, enriched lawyers, and contributed to the economic collapse of the nation.
Kantrowitz was often accused of elitism, and of course he was guilty because he was right: there are many questions of great importance that must be settled, and entrusting the settlement to juries not merely ignorant of the science involved but possible unable to understand the scientific reasoning, is to say that the eloquence of lawyers, themselves often unable to understand that actual arguments, should be the deciding factor. This seems a dangerous way to decide questions of great importance.
The energy crisis we will experience if Obama's energy team gets its way comes to mind here. On the record, these people really and truly believe that man-made global warming is the most important thing in the world, and that the US has to place itself in a position of economic inferiority in order to "do its part" in reducing carbon emissions even though China and India have not bought the man made global warming hypothesis -- and, witness the enormous pollution cloud that hangs over Asia, value cheaper energy and greater production over environmental factors and won't act to reduce carbon emissions even if they do believe the hypothesis.
Indeed, my fear is that the Obama team really is sincere, and are not just cynical beneficiaries of the man made global warming craze.
Now: what makes me so certain that the man made global warming hypothesis is wrong? I am not certain of it. I am certain that the evidence I have seen so far shows that CO2 isn't the cause of the observed global warming trend which started about 1776. I am not certain that the warming trend will continue: there's increasing evidence that it has ended and we may be getting colder. I am not convinced that warmer climates such as we experienced during the time of the Viking settlements in Greenland, when Nova Scotia was called "Vinland" would be a terrible thing. I am not convinced that even if the United States bankrupts itself by driving the cost of energy here higher and higher it will make one whit of difference in the temperature of the world either in our lifetimes or the lifetime of our children.
What I would like to see is an actual scientific examination of the evidence. My guess is that a real examination will determine that we don't have enough evidence to warrant crash programs that cost trillions or even billions. My guess is that any competent and impartial examination of the theories and actual observations (including examination of the reliability of those observations -- are those numbers real or are there outside influences?) will determine that we have got to go get more evidence, more reliable observations, and much better models.
So: I can wish Dr. Chu well when he (very likely) denounces the Bush Administration for its war on science and demands that we invest a lot more in energy research and development. I can hope that he will advocate more fission nuclear power, and make it a lot easier to build those power plants. I can't say I have similar hopes for the rest of his energy/environment team.
More environmental regulation as we enter a depression is a formula for disaster. The correlation between economic growth and energy cost is high and negative: as energy costs go up, productivity takes a nosedive. From everything I have seen, Obama's energy team is unaware of this, or, more likely, doesn't care: they believe that environment is more important than jobs and the economy.
My one hope is that Obama is smart enough to realize that he is betting his career and his legacy on hysteria, not science, and he can control the juggernaut he seems to have created. Otherwise we are headed for disaster. Of course there were many Russians who kept telling themselves "If only the Tsar knew...." Hope springs eternal.
What I want is to see Arky's Science Court established: a public, adversarial, impartial examination of the evidence for and against man made global warming and the dangers thereof. And public: not a meeting of a bunch of eggheads in secret who strain like a gearbox and produce a document. Not the farce of the UN report which many of its authors repudiated. A public trial, with scientific rules of evidence.
It isn't likely, but we can hope.
December 13, 2008
I have taken the day off. My cold continues to plague me, and Roberta has it now. Tonight we go to the Academy of TV Artists to see Australia (our friends the Schoffs are members). I hope that doesn't do us in.
It was an interesting picture. An old fashioned mellerdrammer done around a politically correct theme. Kidman is still one of the most attractive women alive. It's usually difficult for actresses to transition from ingénue to mature woman roles and some never manage it at all. Kidman has done that well. This is a picture to see uncritically: just relax and enjoy it, or you'll hate it. There are few surprises.
There are several historical inaccuracies in the film; my advice is to relax and enjoy it.
December 14, 2008
I have due a consulting paper that I really need to finish. When that is done I'll get a mailbag up on Chaos Manor Reviews. I am also doing a few hundred words a day on Janissaries, and I am making notes on my next solo novel. We're waiting for publisher response to the next Niven and Pournelle proposal for hitting the Earth with something big.
And we're both suffering from colds. I thought I had licked mine last week, but it has returned, and Roberta has been laid low with it.
We expect heavy rains in Los Angeles this week. Next Friday is my MRI; we'll should see what has happened to The Lump, and determine if it has any progeny.
My thanks to all those who have renewed their subscriptions, and of course to new subscribers. Merry Christmas.
I have not seen the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, but all my SF friends are agreed: it's awful. Some were reminded of Aristotle's remarks about Euripides in the Poetics. Aristotle comments on "spectacles" as opposed to Character and Story.
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