THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 556 February 2 - 8, 2009
This site looks better if you set your default font to Georgia.
Highlights this week:
For boiler plate, search engine, and notes on what in the world this place is, see below.
For Previous Weeks of the View, SEE VIEW HOME PAGE
If you intend to send MAIL to me, see the INSTRUCTIONS.
This is a Day Book. Pages are in chronological, not blogological order.
February 2, 2009
Friday the Thirteenth falls on Friday this month. Beware.
I wasn't going to watch the superbowl, but I got sucked in. I haven't played football since high school (where I was no good at it, being a grade ahead of my age and thus smaller than the others, and unable to throw or catch due probably to disinclination to practice having projectiles hurled at me).
There were several pieces on today's Wall Street Journal editorial page. I'll have something to say on them when we get back from our morning walk. Meanwhile, for those who believe that the New Deal ended the Great Depression, I recommend those; and I continue to recommend Amity Schlaes The Forgotten Man, which recounts just what did happen in The Hundred Days and afterwards.
In case you're wondering, my Firefox tab list is full, and I have to delete many of them so the little wheel will stop spinning. I find many I went to as mail recommendations, didn't put in mail, and there they sit...
Time for our walk. In fact I'm late. Firefox had a crash message and I needed to fix it, and I should have been getting dressed.
Another gleaning from my Firefox open windows. This one I recommend. It doesn't take long to read:
He quoted both Heinlein and Ortega y Gasset. While Robert had many missteps -- after all, he ran for State Assembly on the Ham and Eggs ticket -- he's always worth listening to; while Ortega ranks with Vilfredo Pareto in his social analytical ability.
"The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
~ Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988)
"The common man, finding himself in a world so excellent, technically and socially, believes it has been produced by nature, and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly endowed individuals which the creation of this new world presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all these facilities still require the support of certain difficult human virtues, the least failure of which would cause the rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice."
~José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955)
The Ortega quote sums up nicely one reason for my concerns about threats to America (see my comments last week). I will add that it is incumbent upon the elites that they provide a way for those less gifted to contribute to the society -- and to know that they are contributing and useful. And society that operates as if some great part of the population is surplus and purely a burden -- whose only contribution to the society is their progeny -- is not a stable society and will not last long. Depend on that.
I note that California is bankrupt but cannot touch the bloated education costs: we spend more than most and get far less than most. Our California education system is broken from first grade through college. I guess the grad schools are pretty good.
For platinum subscription:
Platinum subscribers enable me to work on what I think is important without worrying about economics. My thanks to all of you.
Did you subscribe and never hear from me? Click here!.
|This week:||Tuesday, February
Flash: Zimbabwe just cut twelve (12) Zeroes from its currency. When will we be doing that?
Off for my walk, back in a bit.
I need to get to work. There is considerable mail, all of interest, and some with long comments from me, so consider today's mail a part of today's view...
February 4, 2009
I am off to the oncologist. I expect this is routine.
1400: It was routine. They have taken blood to look at proteins, but my next visit is scheduled for six months. The MRI shows nothing of importance. The Lump is gone and the wreckage is fading away. I still have some balance problems, and my voice sounds funny to me, but that's apparently mostly due to brain sunburn, so to speak.
So now to get back to work. If I'm going to live a few more years, I'll need to make some money.
The police have arrested a glazier for breaking a bunch of windows; apparently he intended to go offer his services to those whose windows were broken. He used a slingshot. The window of my Explorer was broken a few weeks ago by a small pellet (or rock, but something small). I had assumed a pellet gun, but a slingshot would be just as likely. I doubt it was the same person or the same motive.
It reminds me of Bastiat, That which is seen and that which is not
seen. Google is taking forever to do anything today -- ah, here it is.
The bad news is that the "stimulus" bill, which is the largest appropriations bill in the history of the world, is still on track for passage. It nationalizes a lot of the economy, and once those steps are taken, the Iron Law of Bureaucracy will see to it that the institutions created by it will remain. Forever. I have a few more words on that over in mail.
The tax cut provision of the "stimulus bill" seem aimed at solidifying party control: most of it is transfer payments to people who don't now pay taxes. In the US 40% don't pay federal taxes. If any large number of those are given money as transfer payments they will learn to rely on them. At which point they will be motivated to vote. And community organizers will see that they do vote. Now understand: many of those who get negative income taxes do necessary work and they aren't very well paid. The question becomes, is that a federal problem, and should it be dealt with by transfer payments? Because once this is instituted, it's going to be pretty permanent. Those affected by it will be mobilized to defend it, and it will mean more to them than it does to those opposed. So it goes.
It does look as if we are going to have a sea change, a fundamental change in the relationship between the United States and its people. There was such a change during Roosevelt's time, when Washington went from being a small town in Maryland to the Capital of a Federalized United States. There sill be another, I think, now.
The Daschle story illustrates it nicely. Here is a Senator from a small state, a man of charm and ability. He failed of reelection, went to work for a law firm although he is not a lawyer, and the firm thought enough of his abilities that it put at his disposal a limousine and driver at a cost which we can estimate from the fact that Daschle's taxes on that perk came to some $128,000. He became a multi-millionaire in a short time after leaving the Senate in 1994. (He spent 4 years in the Air Force as an Intelligence Officer, and the rest of his career from 1978 is in the House and Senate.)
His skills, in other words, are in government. Naturally he was hired by a lobbyist firm after he was defeated for Senate; and one notes that his skills as a lobbyist were worth millions, on which he mostly paid taxes except for overlooking the use of his limousine and driver. Why were his skills worth so much money? Because no firm dares not hire someone like Daschle. Bill Gates tried that for a while: at one time the only Washington office Microsoft maintained was a sales force. This continued well into the 1990's when the government began to annoy Gates and try to break up Microsoft. Naturally. Government hates being ignored. Gates was not paying his feudal fees to the Lords of Washington, and had to be punished for it. He learned his lesson, and now Microsoft spends millions on Washington lobbying, with parties for Congressional Staffers, "information trips", and the whole panoply of perks that government employees in all branches -- Legislative, Executive, and Regulatory -- have come to expect.
The flow of money to Washington continues and grows, and always will. No one can escape paying tribute to the Lords of Government. The "stimulus bill" will bring change we can believe in -- change in the same direction as before, under Roosevelt, under Johnson, under Clinton, under Bush: greater growth in government, larger government payrolls, more perks for the Lords of Washington.
And I need to remember to be thankful. I am cancer free. Despair is a sin. I am free to write this essay and you are free to read it. And Moore's Law continues to empower individuals. We each of us have more computing power than the government ever had before the turn of the Millennium. Perhaps we will learn to use that. And some day we will open up a new frontier. Frontiers always have more freedom. There are novels in that. Come to think of it, Charlie Sheffield and I wrote one of them...
Now back to work.
Is anyone else finding Google very slow? Actually, I think, the problem is FireFox.
February 5, 2009
Reprinted from View 91, March 7, 2000:
I am still looking for the doggerel, and Google doesn't find any hits on "sound munney", "munny" or "muney". I once had the book, or pamphlet, rather, but I don't recall how long it has been; and I can't find it. Any help appreciated.
I HAVE FOUND IT and thanks. See here. Thanks to Stephen Drake.
The debate on the "Stimulus" bill goes on. It is the largest spending bill in the history of the world. It is also clear that whatever this is, it is not an economic stimulus package; it's not going to rescue the economy, and it's not really anything like the WPA which at least produced buildings and roads and trails and some long term infrastructure changes.
Were it confined to buying products, building roads, it might make sense; but this isn't sensible at all. When Paulson proposed a $750 billion buyout of toxic assets as an emergency measure it might or might not have made sense if done quickly; but this doesn't do that. This seems like a long wish list of projects that many think would be very nice, but which we never could have afforded when we were prosperous, leavened with some projects that seem ludicrous on their face; and none of it looks to be geared to retiring the toxic packages that caused the problems in the first place.
It would certainly be cheaper for the government simply to guarantee the mortgage payments on foreclosed properties. A government agency then takes over the property for the payments. It can be sold later to recoup at least half the cost. Yes, of course, it rewards those who sold at hideous prices, and it leaves in place the commissions paid to bandits who loaned money unwisely. That, I contend, is better than what we are doing with the "stimulus" package. Moreover, once the overpriced mortgage payments are assured there is no financial crisis.
To make this all more politically acceptable, it could contain some needed public works. The Interstate Highway system can use some repairs. There are bridges that need attention. The Air Traffic Control system needs help. There are some perfectly constitutional federal projects that would be useful and some are needed now, and may even be worth borrowing money to accomplish.
Make the payments on failed mortgages (for five years); build some infrastructure; order a bunch of American made products; fix up the basic posts for the Legions and order the equipment we will need to replace what we'll leave behind in Iraq; and the economic crisis will bottom and move upward. Of course that won't be done.
Again, read Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man. Roosevelt meant well. He tried many of these experiments. It's worth learning from his efforts.
The intersection of Star Trek Fans and Opera Fans is probably small, but for those:
I loved it!
February 6, 2009
Yesterday I noted that KUSC was having a pledge drive, and as a result I sent out a nag to those who hadn't renewed subscriptions since 2007. Thanks to all those who renewed, apologies to a few who had renewed and discovered that my record keeping is less than perfect. I had a couple of replies from people who say they used to read this web site but don't any longer, and one who said I'm no longer relevant to the changing times.
I'm not sure whether that's a comment on this site or Chaos Manor Reviews, where I continue the old BYTE column and pretty well stay to technology and comments on what's going on in the tech world. It's certainly true enough that I'm no longer part of the wonderful BYTE team with 30 editorials colleagues, and last year I didn't get to any computer shows -- I was pretty well on autopilot for much of the year as they tried to burn out The Lump in my head -- much less give out the Best New Technology and Best of Show Awards as I used to. I wish BYTE were still here, but it's not.
It's also true that small computers have gone from being a brand new thing that excited wonder, to an exciting new tool with new wonders appearing every few months, to -- well, to a ubiquitous tool that everyone uses, many understand at least well enough to get some use out of them, and an odd situation: we all have enormous computing power, but the software doesn't get that much better, and certainly not quickly. Things do quietly get better and more useful and easier to use, but the computer revolution has slowed a good bit.
I'll have more to say on that in the column, but there are some implications to consider that go beyond technology.
Stefan Possony and I were working on a book to be called The Strategy of Progress, a sort of generalization of The Strategy of Technology. The general premise is that the history of mankind is the story of how more and more of society's resources are converted into structure, until the structure -- bureaucracies -- gets in control, and that stifles innovation and rapid growth.
Every now and then productivity gets an enormous boost, and the structure loses control. The Discovery of the New World. The first and second Industrial Revolutions. The establishment of the United States and its new world order with the concept of limited government. (Note that Venice had that kind of revolution at one time, and the Framers studied the Venetian Republic in its stagnation and discussed it much in the Convention of 1787.)
And of course the Computer Revolution and the Silicon Valley phenomenon. Possony and I looked into that in some detail.
The computer revolution has pretty well slowed.
I'll leave drawing the obvious conclusions as exercises for the readers, because it's late and I have a lot of work I have to get done.
Once again, thanks to those who renewed and particularly to those who used this as an opportunity to renew as Platinum subscribers. If I ever manage to do The Strategy of Progress it will be due to you.
I see there's growing resistance to The Biggest Spending Bill in the History of Mankind.
I don't know how to get out of this mess, but I'm pretty sure that huge deficit is not the right way to go. I have no idea if the original idea of clearing out the toxic mortgage based securities in a rapid flurry as was originally proposed back last fall would have prevented the collapse of the Dow and NASDAQ but that hardly matters: the collapse has happened. Now they're moving money around to let banks buy each other, and today's WSJ says Bank of America is in trouble. I haven't read the hundreds of pages of the "stimulus" package, but the President hasn't explained to my satisfaction how spending that kind of money on a myriad of projects is going to help much.
The boom is over, and it's not coming back. Going into debt for non-essentials won't change that. There are infrastructure investments that are needed, and the Legions are going to need supplies and equipment; ordering things we will need and building things we must have makes sense, even if we have to borrow to do them; but borrowing to make golf courses nicer doesn't seem prudent.
The President said he would go through the budget and eliminate needless spending. I wish he'd get to that. I can open tht thing at random and find items we don't need to borrow money to do. These are hard time; usually in hard times it's not prudent to borrow money for non-essentials. If it's not prudent for the people of these United States, why is it prudent for the government? I do wish the President would explain. He has enormous charisma and a lot of public trust. So did Roosevelt. And the Great Depression lasted, in essence, until 1945.
February 7, 2009
Column is due this weekend so I'll be working on that. I see that the Senate has decided to approve some version of The Biggest Spending Bill In The History of the World. There! That ought to do it. We're saved!
Of course it's easy to make light of a serious situation. The truth is that no one really understands economics well enough to be certain what will work to rebuild the economy. I know what I would do about the economy, but I have no way to prove my solution would work. The one thing I am sure of is that it wouldn't "work" if "work" is defined as "getting us back to the boom state we were in a few years ago," That was all built on air, and one would have thought that we'd learned our lessons from the 90's, when fortunes were built on enormous price to earnings ratios, and companies were floated with prices based not on profits -- there hadn't been any yet -- or on earnings, or on cash flow, but, incredibly, on expected cash flows. Those were the days! And of course that followed earlier crashes like the 1990 bust.
I do know a few things. It's easier to divide a big pie than a small one. One gets a larger pie by adopting fewer regulations and restrictions on investors and investments and management of companies. Fewer regulations lead to larger income discrepancies between those at the top and those at the bottom. That leads to pressures for more regulations to make things "more fair." There are also "environmental concerns", "work safety rules" and a myriad of other rules that may or may not accomplish what they intend, but which certainly create a bureaucracy that will never go away, and increase the costs of goods so that those who don't have those restrictions can produce at lower costs. The result is exporting jobs, which is good for consumers -- they buy cheaper imports -- but leaves others out of work. In theory the displaced workers will retrain and learn new skills and get different and more relevant jobs. In practice they don't; they particularly don't if you combine price-raising regulations with nearly unrestricted immigration. Now add schools that have no clue as to how to train workers in skills, and set up the goal of providing a world class university prep education to everyone, forgetting that half the peo0ple are below average, and you have a formula for disaster. A sure thing, that disaster.
Those are, I would think, fairly elementary observations. The usual "remedy" here is to make it harder to fire expensive workers in order to hire cheaper replacements. That cure is often worse than the disease since it makes employers think hard about how to get along without workers they can never fire once hired. One result is that most businesses would have to go out of business rather than hire the 51st employee, for the obvious reason that regulations kick in at more than 50 employees.
And enough. I am rambling, and the column is due.
There are those who say that the way out of a Depression is government spending, and it doesn't matter a lot what the money is spent on: the key is getting money out there to be spent. We are, I guess, about to run that experiment, and like Bullwinkle pulling the rabbit out of the hat, "This time for sure!" We can hope.
There's mail and I'm way behind on the column and everything else.
I have been looking over the stimulus bill. It was supposed to get money out there and people working now. It doesn't do that.
One reason is that not even the Federal Government with ready money can get things going fast: we have so many regulations in place that you can't even spend money! Except on bureaucrats to write and check Environmental Impact Statements and things of that sort. But to actually build something takes permissions and permissions take months to get. In this Land of the Free, we can't even spend money quickly without bribing bureaucrats.
I suspect that the fastest way to get the economy going again is to suspend most of the regulations for a few years. Of course we will never do that.
February 8, 2009
Charles Platt, sometime sf writer and sometime Wired writer, has an interesting story about working at Wal-Mart
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.
If you subscribed:
If you didn't and haven't, why not?
Strategy of Technology in pdf format:
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
For the BYTE story, click here.
Search: type in string and press return.
The freefind search remains:
Entire Site Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.