THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 559 February 23 - March 1, 2009
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February 23, 2009
They just aren't putting enough hours in the day. We get up, have breakfast and read the paper, and take our walk, and it's pretty well noon. Add anything having to do with the house -- like a dead rat somewhere in the attic or walls, garbage to be taken out, boxes of books and mail piled up in the living room -- and more time is gone. And suddenly it's time to head up to the Monk's Cell to work on Mamelukes, because that book has got to be finished and soon. There are many other things to work on, and I can't get to them until I get Mamelukes out the door.
Fortunately I am not scrambling for money. Like everyone else and particularly writers, my pension savings were eaten badly by the crash. It was my own fault. I was telling everyone including you to put a good part of savings in gold a good 18 months ago, but I wasn't in very good shape then and didn't take much of my own advice. The real estate bubble was easily foreseen, and we had a lot of discussion of the absurdities of the bubble. There was a lot on Black Swans here. And still we were pretty well all bitten. but, as I said, thanks to subscribers it isn't a full blown crisis -- so long as I keep on working, which I am doing. And so long as I can stay interesting, so you'll keep subscribing.
It's well worth your reading; and it was a complete surprise to me.
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|This week:||Tuesday, February
We're back from our walk and I'm still trying to catch up. I may even be making progress.
We continue the fighter/airpower discussion.
Back later for more.
The financial news is not good. We have now lost about half the capital value of the market, meaning that pensions and savings are diminished in advance of the inevitable heavy tax on savings known as inflation. Make no mistake: Inflation is a tax on savings and fixed incomes. It can amount to as much as 100% of those savings and fixed incomes, and has done so in circumstances of lower inflation that we face now. Obama says he will cut the deficit; it will be interesting to see how he intends to do that.
If the stimulus bill were an honest stimulus bill it would have had provisions for a number of orders for F-22, Armored personnel carriers, ammunition and expendables in general, and refurbishing of the Legions. It might even had had a pay raise for the Legions' families, who spend most of their income. There would have been a lot more for infrastructure, and less for frivolities that have been proposed for every budget for a generation but generally turned down as frivolous. Carter complained of the ravenous wolves meaning his party's committee chairs; Obama simply let them write the stimulus bill. He can hardly be astonished at the result.
There is more on the "miracle cleaner", and other matters. Lots of mail today. Meanwhile I am off working on Mamelukes.
Escape From Hell by Niven and Pournelle is now available. Get yours now!! Tell your friends!! And we had a very good book signing Saturday. For a picture taken at the book signing see http://file770.com/
I am reminded in the SFWA discussion group that SFWA maintains Writer Beware, an examination of scams and questionable offers of agency and publishing affecting new writers. It's well done, and maintained by people who know what they are doing. If you are contemplating making any kind of deal, see http://www.sfwa.org/Beware/ first.
February 25, 2009
The world keeps catching up with me. Today I had to go to the Apple Store. The story will go in the column. It was a pleasant enough experience. I also had to go to the bank, and we had our walk, and the day has just been sort of used up, and now it's late; time to go do at least a few words on Mamelukes. I have up some mail; more later.
The President's speech last night left me with the impression that he's
trying hard but doesn't know what to do. That was the thesis of Lawrence
Lindsay's article last week in The Weekly Standard.
I find The Weekly Standard a mixed bag, but its sometimes on target, and I think this article is quite relevant. It was written before the speech, but I saw nothing in the speech that would have changed it.
The Republican response was about as good as might be expected. The Republicans aren't the sole authors of this mess, but their spending spree certainly contributed to the perfect storm. As did getting into war rather than going for energy development. Alas, the Democrat energy program won't do much to generate real and usable kilowatts.
Philip Jose Farmer, RIP http://www.pjfarmer.com/
I have known him for thirty years, since I became a member and then President of SFWA. We were not close friends, but we met every year at conventions when we were still going to them. We'll all miss him.
February 26, 2009
Wendy All brought over the printed text of a project Niven, Wendy, and I worked on back in the 1980's. It's called A LABOR OF MOLES, and it's about Avogadro the Mole, a young mole who lives in a mole civilization (no humans around) where moles are intelligent, and badgers are tame and help moles with things that need strength, and the enemies are of course weasels. The mole civilization is complex, and has many rules, all well designed rules but make for static civilization; this is the story of the beginning of Mole enlightenment, so to speak, and the value of curiosity and scientific inquiry.
I've been reading over it, and it's really well done. There were legal reasons why we didn't go on with it back in the 1980's, having to do with where Wendy was working at the time. She's the artist and her illustrations are wonderful.
Anyway that ate up my morning, and I'm not sorry. I find that I don't have an electronic copy of the final draft; only the printed copy that Wendy and her husband discovered recently. On the other hand I certainly do have a copy of the next to final draft with 85% (perhaps as much as 95%) of the story. Turning it into something readable gave me some meat for the next column, too. It turns out that Microsoft "protects" you from early versions of Word, and it takes considerable machination to get around that so you can open and read documents in old Office formats. Interesting. But it can be done. It also turns out I didn't have to do it, but I thought I had to before I thought to look in another place for a copy.
I'm a bit excited about this project because I think this book can do some real good. It's readable, and while it's not at all preachy -- it's a darned good story of moles vs. weasels, with the complex mole civilization in the background -- it very much shows the value of a scientific method: not just asking questions, but how questions are asked; how to think of the questions to ask. I would have loved to read this book in 6th grade or before (Roberta thinks it's suitable for grades 5 - 8). Heck I love reading it now. With luck we'll have it in shape to send to our agents in a month or so.
If these numbers are wrong someone will tell me. Assume 3 million real estate loans in default. Assume an average of $3000 a month for payments. That's nine billion dollars a month. Call it ten billion a month. That adds up to $120 billion a year, a healthy sum, but had that been paid, there would have been no collapse due to "toxic" mortgages and mortgage based securities. In return for taking over the payments the government, through FHA or some such, would own the properties. It could then make deals with the occupants, to let them lease the properties -- indeed to make lease/purchase agreements with the occupants. That could include former owners. Affordable payments could be arranged; there would be no panic sales, no cluster of For Sale signs in neighborhoods, and while the Real Estate Bubble would certainly have been pricked by the news, it wouldn't have collapsed. Of the government's $120 billion a year -- make it $125 to include the costs of administration off all this -- at least half is recoverable in that the government owns the properties and they are surely worth at least half what the government will have to pay for them; probably more than that, but say half.
Then for a net cost of about $70 billion a year, we have staved off most of the collapse. Tax revenues won't be in collapse because the market doesn't crash to 50% -- maybe to 75% max?
Of course we will never know, but ten years worth of my plan would cost less than we spent in the first "bailout" and a lot less than the second bailout, and probably less than the third. No institutions would have collapsed, and would have had a chance to restructure and get out of the mortgage based securities gambles and the odd derivatives based on them. And of course it would be made clear that this was it: the government wouldn't be doing this on new transactions after the bailout was in place.
Sure: there would be bailouts for the undeserving, the silly people who were conned into buying houses they could never afford, but then all they get out of that is a few months or even years of low rents; they'll never be able to pay off the mortgages and take possession. Some bankers and financial institutions would make out like bandits, and not much could be done about that, but it's part of the cost of a period of craziness -- and it's still a lot lower cost than we are paying. Revenge on the bad guys may make us feel better, but driving Lehman Brothers out of business was costly to all of us; more got hurt by the collapse than just some greedy bankers and mortgage lenders.
Well, it's all speculation because we didn't do it. My question is simple: did none of the smartest people in the world think of it? If they did, why wasn't it at least debated? The original Paulson plan seems to have been along these lines -- the government would buy up toxic assets -- but that soon went down because the Congress had to wet its beak.
And here we are.
My view on the audio reader built into the Kindle 2 is considerably mixed. After all, a copy was bought to get it into the Kindle. If I buy a copy of a book and hire you to read it to me, surely that is not illegal, nor does it harm the author; why, then, should it be illegal or unethical to have a machine do it? I guarantee you that I would not prefer a machine read book to being able to read the book, or to have it read to me by a human being, or to have it read to me by a professional as Audible Books and other such services do; indeed, a few minutes of listening to a machine read book would probably induce me to buy the Audible books copy...
There is a lot of good mail including some news on Solar Power Satellites, and a report on the crumbling Global Warming "consensus."
Meanwhile my thanks to all those who recently subscribed or renewed subscriptions.
February 27, 2009
Obama announces that the war in Iraq will come to an end, and we'll get all but 50,000 troops out of there by August 2010. It's not clear to me what this means, but given the state of the economy and the triumphalist attitude in Washington it has been inevitable since the election. It's probably time. We'd certainly have been better off if we'd never gone in there, and trying to run the world is a very expensive proposition that we can no longer afford. I doubt we can afford to leave 50,000 troops in Iraq. Empire is expensive, particularly if it is done without exacting tribute from those protected by the Legions.
This would be a good time to refurbish the Legions, but it's not clear that this will be part of the "stimulus" package.
If we intend to remain the -- or, in this age of rapid technological advances, even a -- primary world power, we will need a full strategy of technology. I dealt with this in my paper on Megamissions, available here. That was written as part of a speech I made in 1994, and was specific to the subject of space power, but it applies to all branches of the Armed Services. If we're bringing the Legions home -- and we have to -- we really need to think hard about what we want them to do in future; what we want them to do will depend in part on what they are able to do; and what they are able to do depends in large part on what technologies we develop now. I am not entirely certain that this is clear to those who run the White House.
No one in the President's office seems to be in charge of determining how to fix the economy; it has been farmed out to the ravenous wolves, who are doing what is expected. At some point we're going to have to look at what the nation needs, not just what the various committee chairpeople want. We seem to have got to the point where earmarks are about the only chance that worthwhile projects have. Imbedded in the pork are a few projects that we actually need. Few seem to come from the White House, which seems whelmed and anxious to farm out most of the details to Congress, while the President does what he does best: campaign as if he hasn't yet won the office.
It must overwhelming to sit down in the Oval Office and have to think about the responsibilities. Better to dash about making speeches, and announcing goals without specific pathways to them; but the details matter and at some point they will come back to bite. I wish the President well, but I suspect he is just now realizing the awful majesty of the task he has willingly sought.
February 28, 2009
We're back from our walk. It's a sunny day out there. Sable is wondering what happened to the nice weather: but from her view, "nice" means sunny and cold. Warm isn't her idea of good weather. For the rest of us it's a pretty good day.
I have just about got a copy of the Avogadro the Mole children's book done. It was done long enough ago that the last electronic copy I could find was in WRITE, a CP/M then DOS program written by Tony Pietsch. I've converted the files -- one file per chapter -- and I have 90% of a master copy; I'll be done by the end of the weekend.
Meanwhile, I will have this up again with comments on Monday:
but electrons are cheap to point to it today as well. It's a well done essay on the loss of public order, and although this is from Britain, it applies pretty well to these United States as well. The crisis in our education system is real; and without schools that can teach useful skills, the way out of our economic crisis will be harder and harder to find. The Administration seems to think that the answer is to abandon the high schools entirely and get more people in the ever more costly college system. That is not only needless but harmful, for many reasons which I have discussed in the past and I'll get back to another time.
The other day I was thinking about masters of the English language who did not speak English as their first language. Joseph Conrad comes to mind instantly, of course, but for some reason I thought of C. Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinson's Laws, The Law and the Profits, a biography of Hornblower, a book about Guy Fawkes and the Elizabeth/King James security apparatus, and a number of other fascinating works, almost all out of print now; and Leslie Charteris, author of the Saint adventure series. Parkinson was English but (according to one of the introductory notes in one of his books) raised in the Malay States when they were part of the Empire, and learned Malay from his nannies before he learned English; Charteris had a Chinese father and English mother, and spoke a number of languages before he began school in England.
In doing that I found that nearly all of Parkinson's works are out of print entirely, which is a blooking shame. His Evolution of Political Thought is one of the works on my list of essentials for educated persons (read it after Pratt's Battles That Changed History to get a good overview of world history; and be sure to read the preface). Parkinson''s Laws and his other humorous works on political theory are in fact a better introduction to real principles of governance than most "serious" works. Alas, few of them are to be found. Some of his works are available as used books. Many are not.
Parkinson died in 1993. By coincidence, so did Leslie Charteris.
The Leslie Charteris situation is a bit more complex. Some of his books are still in print, and the movie/TV rights are still in play. Some of the Saint books are out of print, and one, Meet the Tiger!, the first Saint novel (although Charteris very nearly disowned it later, listing Enter The Saint as the first book in that series) is available only in collector editions. I don't have any interest in a collector edition. I just want to read the book, for no special reason other than I never have, and every now and then I think about it. (At least I don't think I have; although the plot summary does stir some old memories.) Unfortunately the only copies I have found sell for fairly large sums, and neither my whim nor my bank balance is that large.
All of which gets me wondering about copyright. I am all for author's rights, and I am pretty well opposed to pirates, particularly those pirate sites that use other people's works to draw a crowd so they can sell things to them. At the same time, when books go out of print, buying used copies helps used book stores but not the author or author's estate; and if there are no used book copies at reasonable price, the content of the books is lost to the everyone.
I'm not sure where I am going with this. I confess to searching for an electronic copy of Meet The Tiger without any success. I also looked for copies of some of Parkinson's works because I think my readers would enjoy them; the only one I found was Evolution of Political Thought which is available http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=3479199 at an interesting site I know little about; since Parkinson's book is only available used, I don't think I am harming his interesting by pointing to a place (easily found with Google anyway) where it can be read. The reading software takes a bit of getting used to, and turning pages takes a long time, but you can read it.
I haven't any real conclusions here; but then I've been on record for some time as wondering about just how long an author's rights ought to be protected. I had no great objection to the old 28 years renewable before the US decided to join the international copyright convention of life plus fifty years. I wouldn't have any great objection to reducing the fifty years, and I certainly don't like adding more time as the US has done. Anyway, it's lunch time.
March 1, 2009
I am hard at work producing a final electronic copy of Avogadro the Mole. I ought to be done tonight. Meanwhile there is mail on the subject of future force structure; I'll reference it in tomorrow's view, but if you're looking for something to read, it's over there.
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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