THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 579 July 13 - 19, 2009
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July 13, 2009
If you missed the weekend, I had a short reaction to John Derbyshire's lament for Apollo 11 as a magnificent folly. It's worth your attention.
Likewise, "The Seinfeld Hearings" by Randy Barnett in today's Wall Street Journal is worth your time; the discussion on judicial activism is a start, at least, and his suggestions on what ought to be asked in confirmation hearings make sense.
My view of judicial activism is this: it is one thing for the courts to uphold legislation that may or may not contradict the Constitution. This is a matter of concern and debate, but that's not what I mean by judicial activism. To me, judicial activism begins when the courts make rulings in the absence of legislation. For example, one of the most bizarre activist rulings of the Warren Court held that the upper houses of every state were unconstitutional, and presumably had been from the moment the Constitution was adopted. For centuries we had operated with unconstitutional state legislatures. This in the total absence of any legislation.
In my judgment, Brown vs. Board came close to judicial activism. It's not that "separate but equal" is a desirable doctrine; the question is, do the courts have the constitutional authority to enforce equal protection of the laws? Certainly Congress does: the power is explicitly given in the Amendment. Brown vs. Board created a great deal of controversy and strife and occupied a lot of court attention; but in fact the various Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were what really ended segregation.
Roe vs. Wade is another case of judicial activism. If the Congress had enacted some kind of abortion rights act and there had been a court challenge of Congress' right to do so, it would not have been. I don't believe that Congress has the authority to begin with, but that's quite a different matter from whether there is some hidden right in the Constitution that forbids the states from making abortion a crime. Discovery of that hidden right was judicial activism; upholding Congress' right to regulate abortion would not have been.
Judicial activism/judicial restraint in my judgment has to do with separation of powers, not with liberal vs. conservative views.
Today, of course, we want to know that the courts will uphold good laws and strike down bad laws. Good laws are those that reflect our political reviews, bad laws are those we don't have the political muscle to repeal.
Barnett proposed that instead of asking about previous Court decisions, the confirmation hearings emphasize discussion of various clauses in the Constitution. What are the Privileges and Immunities addressed by the 14th Amendment? (Barnett gives us a hint: they included the right to keep and bear arms.) Are there limits to the Necessary and Proper clause? And so forth.
I expect Sotomayor to be confirmed by an overwhelming majority whatever happens in the confirmation hearings. I also believe that Barnett's approach to what the hearings ought to be about is correct.
Just as I was ready to post this, I heard a Sotomayor sound bite on the judiciary and the law. I could not agree more with what she said. Unless she is flat lying, she certainly has the proper judicial attitude.
Today's Wall Street Journal has an article by Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, entitled "What Detroit Can Learn from Silicon Valley." I don't know how much you'll learn that you didn't already know: perhaps a lot, depending on how much you've thought about bailouts and their near and long term effects, and how much you know about China's investment strategies. I recommend it to your attention.
And finally today's Wall Street Journal had the lead headline "CIA Had Secret Al Qaeda Plan". When I saw that I told Roberta "I hope to kiss a duck they did," to which she agreed. Good heavens, we certainly needed plans to deal with Al Qaeda, and while some of those could and should have been openly discussed, others by their very nature could not be. As to whether those plans were presented to the Congress, wouldn't it depend on how far the planning went? The law provides that CIA operations need Congressional approval before implementation, but surely there's no requirement that every operation being discussed needs to be broadcast to a potentially leaky organization? The Congressional Intelligence committees and staffs have been known to leak, sometimes badly. We could name members who have been less than discreet, and some who have been known to let politics influence their oversight decisions. While it's necessary to have some Congressional oversight over covert operations, it's a delicate question as to just how much there should be, and at what stage it ought to begin.
Charles Brown, RIP
An old friend. I met him first in Chicago in 1962. Marsha had a badge that said "Marsha Almost-Brown". We were never close, but we were certainly friends, and for a long time. He'll be missed.
I saw this in the SFWA conference:
I don't know Clifford Meth, and but it doesn't matter: He's not in London. This is a scam, and if you correspond with the facebook supplied address you will end up talking to Nigeria. Apparently this sort of scam happens often now.
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|This week:||Tuesday, July
I had the radio tuned to Rush Limbaugh and I have heard -- I believe I have heard -- one of the most radical statements I can recall in years. Unless I am mistaken, Limbaugh is saying that judges ought to ignore precedents in favor of justice. He used as an example Roger Taney's ruling in the Dred Scott Decision. If we had not ignored that precedent we would still have slavery. I believe I heard him say that.
Of course slavery was ended by the 13th Amendment. That was a legislative, not judicial, act.
Ignoring precedent in favor of justice invites judges to substitute their opinions for the law, and to legislate from the bench. It is precisely what, I would have thought, we do not want. It is certainly not what the Framers intended.
The hearings are not going to change the outcome here. Sotomayor will be approved. We will have our wise Latina on the bench, with a wise Latina's view of the nature of justice. The question is, will she apply her sense of justice, or will she apply the law in her decisions? I know which I would prefer.
July 15, 2009
The referenced article summarizes the current situation and what the education establishment says about it. All of this summarizes what is well known, and has been known for years. A lot of children in the American school system, including some in what are considered "excellent" schools, are not learning to read, and the reason is faulty instruction based on faulty theories. It's a good article.
Mrs. Roberta Pournelle, my wife of fifty years, is a reading specialist with experience in teaching children to read in both expensive private schools and juvenile detention schools. She has developed a reading instruction program that works: it is based on systematic training, and in 70 1/2 hour lessons will teach just about anyone able to recognize English alphabet letters to read just about any word in English whether they have seen the word before or not. Obviously if they have never heard the word they won't know what it means, but they can ask someone or look it up -- and often they will have heard the word and actually know what it means. Depending on the child, some can have a fairly extensive speaking vocabulary.
As the article shows, much of the official doctrine for teaching reading is not only deeply flawed, but counter productive. You can find out about her reading program from her web site.
At the moment the ordering mechanism is broken, and we are about to move her site to a different host and set it up with Paypal. Meanwhile, if you want to order a copy, it can be done by mail, or with Paypal to me. The program is old and not fancy looking; but it works. It runs on any machine that can run Internet Explorer.
Learning to read is probably the best head start a child can have. Alas, the government's Head Start program does not do that. It is the official view of the education establishment that children of Head Start age are not "ready" to learn, even though children of that age do learn if taught properly. When my mother was a teacher in rural Florida in the 1920's, it was expected that just about every child would learn to read in first grade. (I asked about exceptions, and she said "Well, there might be a few that didn't learn to read but they didn't learn anything else, either.")
Note that some kids learn to read without systematic training. That's good, but systematic training is better. Completing these seventy lessons will let children get on with the job of learning to understand what they are reading, and not memorizing long lists of words.
Roberta's program works. If you know children who are having reading problems, or are about to enter the school system, let their parents know about this program. I am trying to get the ordering mechanism set up properly, but meanwhile, you can send me email on how to order a copy.
July 16, 2009
Signs of the times: A reader sends this photograph from his local post office:
I am not sure any comment is needed.
I am not sure what significance Obama's pitching skills have to his abilities to be President of the United States, so I think I will pass on today's major media buzz.
Meanwhile the Sotomayor kabuki performance grinds on. Senator Franken asks her about an old Perry Mason show; it turns out neither of them could remember much about it, and it sure looks as if she somehow knew the question was coming but hadn't had time to bone up with the answer. Not good kabuki. Also a bit irrelevant for establishing her qualifications as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of these United States; but perhaps a bit more interesting in forecasting Al Franken as a Senator. Franken's election assures her confirmation.
It is not clear to me what the proper Republican strategy ought to be in this performance. It is a small opportunity for the Republicans to establish what principles they favor and how their principles differ with the Democrats, but that takes considerable skill. Sotomayor continues to insist that she regards the law as supreme, and that her personal beliefs do not determine her decisions. She said that in her opening statement in a paragraph I could easily have written, and she has repeated it in answers to questions. Attempts to show that she doesn't mean it by citing her "wise Latina" speeches -- she has given essentially the same speech about five times, usually to groups of young people as a motivational speech -- haven't been terribly successful. Of course the "wise Latina" view is bad judicial philosophy if strictly applied, but it does make for a good motivational speech, and doesn't seem to have stirred up much controversy until her present nomination. In any event the point has been raised. It need not be brought up again.
California still has no budget. One problem is that the California Constitution guarantees some portion of the state budget to the schools. It is clear that the schools have pretty well squandered that money, and now gobble up funds needed for the ordinary, necessary, and proper function of state government. California has committed too much money to too many activities, including billions for stem cell research, that so far have produced little besides bureaucracy with its inevitable pension obligations and indebtedness. It isn't that the people working for those bureaus are bad or evil people; they are, in the British phrase, redundant. They aren't needed for the government, but we don't seem to be able to simply cut our losses and give up.
Some years ago California was fairly well run. The schools got results. The state budget was under control. Then came boom years. State revenue rose. The mad race to find unfulfilled needs and meet them by spending money began. After all, there was plenty of money where all that came from. The result was predictable. If you shovel too much money into the education system, you don't get improved education, you get larger education bureaucracies. For years California adopted and required a system of reading education that was pretty well guaranteed to leave a number of children unable to read. Even those officially reading at grade level were not really reading, in that they had no real way to attack a word like polymorphic or dichloroethane or any other phonetic word they had never encountered in their controlled vocabulary books.
Of course some children learned to read despite all this. One can learn to read without systematic phonics training -- but many don't. Memorizing word lists isn't learning to read. For more on that, see Roberta Pournelle's reading program.
Whether California can get over its past and restructure isn't clear.
A good point. There is more discussion of Apollo and aftermath in mail.
July 17, 2009
Golden Anniversary Day
This is the fiftieth anniversary of the smartest thing I ever did in my life. Roberta and I were married in Seattle fifty years ago.
I am a wordsmith by trade, and I find I get complete unglued when I try to say anything about this. I just don't know what to say. The day won't go as it should. We should be having an enormous party with all our children and friends and a big celebration with flowers and singing and dancing. Roberta deserves all that and a lot more. It isn't happening, and that's all my fault. I don't seem able to make things happen the way I used to.
Today is today, and it is the fiftieth anniversary of the best thing I ever did. Happy Anniversary.
July 18, 2009
We'll be busy all day.
And in fact her entire column is worth attention. Thanks.
July 19, 2009
11:30 PM Spent the last 2 hours watching the conclusion of Meteor. I had though last week's opening episodes were bad. This was worse. It's as if they are trying to get people sick of stories about big things hitting the Earth. The sub plots were as if they had footage from some other stories and glued them into this. And the heroine, the genius who can save the Earth -- the only person who can! -- spends the entire story from opening scene to end trying to get from Baja California to JPL; but instead manages to get to Taft, California, which is well north of Los Angeles, Pasadena, and JPL.
Fortunately the asteroid is deflected away after it enters the Earth's atmosphere, because it is a very slow asteroid. It crosses from the Belt in days, but it takes a hour after entering the atmosphere before it impacts. At least I think that's what happened. I admit I stopped paying a lot of attention to the pretended science -- there was even something about an event horizon.
Well, it's over. I can hope it will be forgotten by the time Lucifer's Anvil comes out.
For a few notes on getting to space, see my comments to this mail.
I have put together a very large and mixed bag of mail for Sunday including many thoughts on the up or out principle. I do not think we have reached any consensus nor will we, but the subject is worth rethinking. Some people really are career company commanders; their troops are loyal, they are steady and competent, and have neither the desire nor the competence for field grade operations. But this is probably enough discussion, which began the previous week.
I will remind you of some of my previous papers on getting to space. Most are summarized in the paper Space and Space Power, which links to the most important ones. I clearly need to update and reorganize, and I clearly need to work on revising A Step Farther Out to demonstrate the need for continuing space investigation and space plans. I have said this many times and will say it again now: 90% of the resources easily available to mankind are not on the Earth. Getting access to metals from space is not simple, and some of the details are very hard to do; but they are not in fact harder than building world commerce was hard. Space operations are actually pretty simple given energy and reaction mass, both of which are available in space.
And if you have not seen my comments on Apollo as a magnificent folly, it is worth your attention.
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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