THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 580 July 21 - 27, 2009
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July 20, 2009
From the time I was in high school I knew I would live to see the first man land on the Moon. I did not suspect I would live to see the last one.
Nor indeed do I think I have seen the last one. The Moon has many resources. Mankind needs them. We know how to build a lunar base, a permanent settlement on the Moon. As to who would go live on the Moon, I can only cite the experience of the Lunar Society: We began a registry of people who would be willing to go settle on the Moon. Conditions were: married couples only, both being technically qualified in some way. At least one of the couple will have a Ph.D. or other advanced technical education, or demonstrate mastery of a needed trade (such as welding, heavy machine operations, etc.) Couples will invest $100,000 in 198x dollars, for which they receive shares; the Lunar Society has first refusal option on those shares if you want to sell them. Return to Earth is at the convenience and necessity of the company: you have no right to return. Your retirement on the Moon is assured although you may be required to participate in maintenance activities even if disabled by injury, illness, or age. Children inherit shares and are guaranteed an appropriate education. Government is discussable at a later time, but for twenty years operates much like a ship at sea with a Captain and a council of officers.
We discontinued the registry because we were overwhelmed. We simply didn't have the resources to check qualifications and keep records; there were far too many volunteers, many of them obviously qualified. It was very clear that a very large number of highly educated people would volunteer to go live their lives on the Moon. While I make no doubt that enthusiasms have waned since that time, there is still no shortage of intelligent people who would emigrate to the Lunar Surface. We can build lunar colonies. The star road takes a fearful toll, but there are still those willing to risk it.
When is another matter. I may not live to see another man land on the Moon -- but I could.
Solar system exploration from an established Lunar Base is much easier than doing it with an Earth base. Indeed, exploration and exploitation of the solar system become inevitable once the Lunar Colony is established. I try to describe some of this process in Exile and Glory!, from Baen: a series of connected short stories leading to a novel. The link above leads to Amazon; the direct link to Baen is http://www.baen.com/author_catalog.asp?author=jpournelle . I also discuss some of this in A Step Farther Out, which you can get from Baen as an Ebook http://www.webscription.net/p-922-a-step-farther-out.aspx . When it will happen, I can't say. It may require Waldemar XXII (Larry Niven's name for a dictator who decides to just do it) or it may require no more than rational discussion. But it will happen. Clarke was right. For the human race to survive, for all but a tiny part of its history, the word ship will refer to a space ship.
Niven will be over shortly for our conference and walk.
Limbaugh is running excerpts from Obama speeches, but "speeded up" so that the President sounds like Donald Duck. I can't make out the words at that speed, so all I really hear is the commentary afterwards, which of course does go at normal speed. In my judgment this practice is unfair, and does not contribute to rational discussion. I would urge everyone who feels as I do to let Mr. Limbaugh know that this practice is not a good idea.
It may be that his hearing loss makes him unable to realize just what the effect is.
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July 21, 2009
It has been hot in Los Angeles, after a very mild June. It's also the silly season, as Eric notes:
Say it isn't so!
They've put off Sotomayor's confirmation vote for a week. Senator Sessions wants to study her record. Since it is unlikely that he'll actually be doing that, one may wonder, idly, what this is about. Most such Washington moves have some purpose, but we are not likely ever to find out what it is. The Washington kabuki plays continue.
If the Senator wants to study something, he might try the Health Care Bill, which, so far as I know, not one Senator or Member of Congress has actually read. Indeed, I suspect that those who wrote the Bill have not read it: that is, it's a work of a committee, each of whom has an agenda, and there's no one whose job it is to look at everything to represent the interests of the American people.
Obama supports the health care bill, continuing to promise that people will be allowed to keep the health care plans they have now; while others, who have read that part of the Bill, say this is not true. There are other details, each of which will be important, but since we don't really know those details, we can't discuss them.
We can look at principles. We are told that we will increase health care coverage while reducing health care costs. I don't know how this is to be done, and I have heard no rational explanation for the claim. I do know that it's unlikely that rushing to pass a Bill that no one understands and almost no one has read is not the best way to accomplish that noble goal.
The way to lower prices is to increase supply, or decrease demand. If there's some other way to accomplish this, I have yet to hear of it. The Bill under consideration seems to increase demand (or at least increase the number of people entitled to make demands, including those with pre-existing conditions). I do not see how it will increase supply. There are other ways to reduce costs -- reform of the "punitive damages" system which allows enormous fines to be levied under civil rather than criminal rules comes to mind -- but the likelihood of any tort reforms in this Bill is essentially zero. Most of the "cost reduction" provisions don't seem likely to be wildly successful.
The President insists that the Health Care bill be passed right away. The silly season continues.
ROBUSTNESS IS UNAVOIDABLE with the consumption of YU WAN MEI products
I once heard MIT economics professor Lester Thurow lecture on health care. I wish President Obama had heard it. There are limits to what we can do. When your supply of resources is lower than the demand -- the necessity -- then you must allocate those resources. How? To whom do you give, and to whom do you deny? In today's system money is a major factor, but not the entire one: those who enrolled in a program before they needed it have fared well. But at some point, one must save money. One of Thurow's images of resource allocation during periods of hardship was the practices of the Inuit.
I understand that Mr. Limbaugh is getting a lot of email about the speeded up rebroadcasts. He seems certain that they are all from liberals. Apparently he has no trouble understanding the speeded up speech. I don't share his ability. To me it sounds like Donald Duck, and I can't make out two consecutive words. It is also demeaning. I cannot think that anyone not already committed to Limbaugh's views will find this distortion attractive. If the goal is to reach anyone not already committed, speeding up your opponent's voices until they sound absurd does not seem to me an effective technique. I wish he'd stop doing it.
I missed this in May. Peter Glaskowsky reports:
More when I learn more.
July 22, 2009
What we haven't seen is a careful analysis of who isn't already covered, and of those, who should be covered for what. Much of the talk is about getting health insurance even if you have pre-existing conditions. Suppose the pre-existing conditions are: grossly overweight, no exercise for years, high cholesterol. Who must issue a medical insurance policy to that application, and at what rate? If the rate must be the same as that for a person of the same age who exercises, has normal cholesterol, and is somewhere near normal weight, then how much higher must that person's rate be so that both can be covered?
These are the difficult questions, and I haven't heard them debated. It's easy to see why they aren't debated. We'd have to talk about individual responsibility, and the difference between citizens and subjects. We'd have to talk about liberty and equality. We'd even have to discuss charity, and the subject of "deserving" and "undeserving" poor. And until those discussions happen, this isn't rational debate, it's political strong arming. And that is why everyone is in such a tearing hurry to get this passed, and now.
These are the times that try our souls.
After reflection I thought this worth commenting on. First, regarding Peggy Noonan: I don't read all her columns, so I don't know all the things she says now. Sometimes readers call my attention to something she has written and I read that, and I may recommend that piece. Sometimes I don't find her arguments attractive, but I often do. She generally starts with what seem to be fairly sound principles. She doesn't always reach the conclusions I would have, and sometimes I think she's flat out wrong. I suspect that many readers would say much the same about what I write.
Ms. Noonan's views on Sarah Palin are not mine. I don't know what Governor Palin's political future will be -- I suspect that Palin herself isn't certain just now -- but she has many qualities. She lacks experience, particularly in foreign policy, but she certainly has as much experience in foreign policy as the current President, and far more as an executive/supervisor or even as an active politician. At the moment she wants mostly to be left alone, and I see no reason not to do precisely that. Time enough to reassess Palin when we have reason to. When she decides what she wants to do will be time enough.
As to Peggy Noonan, I didn't agree with her comments on Sarah Palin during the election, and I haven't cared for her latest contributions on the subject, but I don't think she quite deserves the hit piece referenced above.
It's difficult to write about the current political situation. There's not much to cheer -- and that includes the political leadership. That's one reason I haven't had as much to say as I might. It's clear that the nation is in dire straits. Between them Cap and Trade, and the Healthcare Bill threaten the very essence of the American political system. The Change You Can Believe In will make the United States into a country similar to the European socialist states. Once that happens it is very difficult to get out of that condition and return to freedom.
When I was in practical politics I was part of the Reagan team, and his Eleventh Commandment ("Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican") prevailed. Now that I am no longer in politics I no longer feel bound by that dictum; but I do think there are better things to do than write hit pieces about Peggy Noonan. Maybe I'm just getting mellow with age?
July 23, 2009
The President of the United States says he doesn't know all the facts of the situation, but he is commenting on it nevertheless, so I suppose I am not too out of line here.
First, what facts do we know?
A prominent Harvard professor, weary and I am sure frustrated after a 20 hour trip home from China with all the frustrations of dealing with Customs and Immigration and TSA, comes home to a rented house a block from Harvard Square to find that the front door lock is broken. There's no one home. The professor and his limousine driver attempt to break into the house.
A neighbor, apparently unable to recognize her neighbor, calls the police. Now I've lectured at MIT more often than at Harvard, and the last time I was near Harvard Square was about twenty years ago, but as I recall it's a fairly upscale neighborhood. I have no idea how many attempted break-in calls the local police get for that area. I wouldn't think too many.
The police respond. For reasons not clear, the incident ends with the arrest of the professor, who is black, by a white sergeant. The sergeant was later reinforced by a black uniformed patrol officer (I infer this from the only photograph I have found of the incident; it was taken on the front porch of the house). The arrest was for what is usually called contempt of cop. At some point in the proceedings the professor, who has among his former students the President of the United States, says words to the effect of "You don't know who you are dealing with. I am a powerful man, and you're going to regret this."
I don't know any more facts, but some inferences are obvious. First, I suspect that anyone reading this would, after a visit to China, a 20 hour flight on modern airlines, dealing with TSA and Customs and Immigration, be sick and tired of authority and people with badges and power, and ready to mouth off at any insult real or fancied. I certainly would be. Then he gets home and his door is broken. Why, at this stage of his life, he's living alone in a rented house and doesn't know his neighbors, isn't known, but it may be relevant. That in itself is a stressful situation. I know that when we go out of town we have a house sitter, but we also let the neighbors know we'll be gone, just as they tell us of their plans when they're going to be away. Professor Gates apparently didn't do this.
We also have this comment from local news:
which provided the URL to the cached arrest report.
Again, I don't know the facts. I can't be certain that the arrest report is accurate. Assuming it is, what we have is a tempest in a tea pot. I suppose it is symbolic, but I disagree with the President on what it symbolizes. It would seem to me that if the nation has got to the point where we have a black President, and a prominent black Harvard professor feels powerful enough to threaten a police officer and to continue to shout at him in front of both police and civilian witnesses, then it's pretty clear that whatever racism there was in that situation there was at least as much on the professor's part as on anyone else's. I doubt that one becomes a police sergeant in a community like Cambridge while being an open and arrogant racist.
On the other hand, we can all understand the irritation of a man who has to break into his own house only to be confronted by the police demanding to know who he is. If the police report is at all accurate, that irritation went to extremes in this case. The professor showed his ID, and the policeman was leaving the premises. The professor followed him outside and shouted at him.
The best legal outcome here is that we forget it. No great crime or damage has been done -- at least not damage repairable by punishing anyone. The damage is to the nation and to the idea of national unity, and neither disciplining the cop nor fining the professor will do one bit of good in repairing that. The only good that can come from considering this incident would be for all of us to stop looking for ways to play gotcha, and I fear that's not very likely. In any event, it's more of a problem for the City of Cambridge than for the President of the United States.
The United States has dodged a bullet: after the President's impassioned plea to get the Health Care Bill through in August, the Senate Majority Leader announced that there won't be a vote until September.
July 24, 2009
All's well, but I'm late. I've been working on Lucifer's Anvil. We're still in the clockwinding stage, creating characters, making scenes, meaning that there's a lot of research and just plain skull sweat involved. For instance, if you want to write from the viewpoint of a sixteen year old pirate lad in Puntland province of Somalia, you can't just make it up. Terrain I know about, and perhaps some of the colonial history and, but there are tribes, and -- anyway, it takes a bit of work. I think I'm doing that.
Consequently I haven't been paying a lot of attention to news. I've seen nothing to change my opinion about the Gates incident. Even those who think well of him -- I've never had much reason to form an opinion on him myself -- are a bit embarrassed. But as I said earlier, the incident doesn't merit national attention, and to the extent that national attention is paid to it the results are not likely to be good for the country. The best outcome for all concerned is that the whole mess be forgotten. Of course it won't be. There will be those who want to use it as a weapon to wound the President, and others who want to use it to form some new shakedown, and yet others who will muse about the history of US race relations but won't go so far as to say that past history justifies present incivilities. The incident itself doesn't warrant further comment, but I suspect that what is made of it may require further thought. I sure wish it wouldn't, though.
Generalizations from the Gates incident aren't likely to be helpful.
Then we have the diversity puzzle. Is there a generalization from the
Phoenix childhood rape incident?
Which is to say, how much diversity do we want to import into the US? I understand that we aren't supposed to judge cultures, but is importing this cultural standard a great idea? Or is this something we can't talk about?
In the past we expected the Melting Pot to make Americans out of those who came to this country. Today we not only don't expect that, but in our schools we are taught the value of diversity; the Melting Pot is a positive evil according to many of our school teachers and their professors. Do we really want to import the cultural meme that makes an 8 year old girl a guilty party? It isn't as if we hadn't some expectations. Bing "teen age rape Liberia" to see what might reasonably have been predicted some years ago, and think about the implications of our immigration laws. Yes, the Melting Pot was able to work miracles in the past. Can it do so in future? It seems to be being overwhelmed -- and many of our intellectuals don't want it to work at all. So we have diversity. But aren't there some cultural memes we are simply better off without?
But, I am told, we should not impose our cultural values on others? Indeed. But then I'm not advocating sending the Marines to enforce our cultural views on the rest of the world.
July 25, 2009
A slow day. Apologies. There is mail.
July 26, 2009
I first put this in mail but decided the matter was of general interest an importance.
Air Force Association on F-22
I was at one time involved in such matters, but it has been a good while, and I can claim no special expertise beyond the generalizations given in my Megamissions paper (which I think is still worth reading.)
The British at one time had a naval policy of having a fleet able to defeat the next two fleets in the world; but at that time Britain had an Empire and relied on it for a number of things. The US is not an empire, and we don't seem to be learning how to be one. The question becomes.; how large a force does the US need to defend our legitimate foreign policy goals We already spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined. This may be excessive, depending on what we think we must do with that military.
I'm not at all convinced that we need NATO now that the USSR is gone. I am not sure what good it does us to have pledges from Germany to go to war if someone attacks us. I am thoroughly unaware of why we might need the Georgian army to help us if we are invaded. I can see that our commitment to them is valuable to them, but I am not certain I understand the value to the US of the US guarantee to Germany and potentially to Georgia.
The size of the Air Force is dictated to a large extent on what we intend to do with the Air Force.
I am more and more convinced that a revision of The Strategy of Technology adapted to the post Seventy Years War times is needed. I'm trying. Really I am. Thanks to subscribers I have been able to do some work on such projects, and maintain this place.
But even a strategy of technology will be different for a Republic than for an Empire. And until we know what we want to be it is difficult to devise a proper strategy.
It is always better to have overwhelming force: this prevent wars. But overwhelming force is expensive. How many of these aircraft does it take to deter a potential enemy? And deter him from what?
The world is not really paying the US to be the world police; and it is doubtful if we can afford to be that now. These are the times that require a complete rethinking of our national goals -- and that must be done by the citizens at all levels, not merely be left to lobbyists. Of course just because something must be done does not mean that it will be. Methinks the lobbyists and politicians will prevail again. Still, we retain the forms of a republic, and the means to transform ourselves into a Republic. We also have the smarts to become a competent empire, but I doubt it can be done with the present leadership or the present attitudes of the American people.
There is mail, including some remarks on science and CO2.
David Smith sends this.
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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