THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 582 August 10 - 16, 2009
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August 3, 2009
The July Chaos Manor Mailbag is up at Chaos Manor Reviews.
The Cash for Clunkers program continues to demonstrate why the government ought not be entrusted with something as complex as health care. The program needs more cash; it's authorized until October, but it will be out of money tomorrow. They have to hire new temporary workers to process the applications. Dealers have spent hours and days submitting applications, most of which have been rejected on various grounds. One local dealer tells local news that not one application has yet been approved. The backlog is growing.
As a "stimulus" program this may be working, but it reminds me a bit of Roosevelt's Department of Agriculture forcing farmers to pour milk on the ground and kill litters of baby pigs in order to keep agricultural prices up. Many of the cars traded in work just fine, but they are destroyed if they are part of the "Clunker" program. Somehow paying people to destroy working cars doesn't seem like precisely what the Framers had in mind in 1787. Destroying property is not the obvious path to wealth.
Refunding the Cash for Clunkers program comes up in the Senate next week. The Republicans cannot stop it. Whatever happens, the program has demonstrated the government's abilities to manage a relatively simple used car trade-in program; surely that can be used to infer the government ability to manage health care which is about 15% of the US economy?
It is now clear that the Health Care takeover will, eventually, finish off most of the private health care alternatives: there's no real way a private company can compete with tax supported competitors no matter how inefficient the government option is. And of course once the government program becomes a monopoly as it inevitably will, there is no mechanism for finding the "true" price and value of various services. We can look at other governments and their health care plans. Someone should study Sweden, which has a program that many say works fairly well. I don't know enough about it to comment. One would think that if the Swedish or any other health care program worked very well, that would be at the forefront in the discussions.
Limbaugh has a new policy. He runs Obama quotes at normal speeds if he wants you to hear and remember what the President said about such matters as health care, as for instance when he wants to demonstrate some inconsistencies in the campaign promises with recent statements; but if there's something of substance in the President's statements they are speeded up so that one cannot understand them. I understand neither his logic nor the speeded up quotes, but I cannot think this is good entertainment much less a contribution to understanding.
The President's logic is vulnerable to logical analysis, but of course it's a lot easier simply to ridicule his ideas without actually stating them. Refutation of that which one has not heard is fairly easy to do.
Limbaugh has recent remarked on the Homeless World Cup, of which I had
never heard. The official Homeless World
Cup site immediately became unavailable, but I was able to get to
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August 4, 2009
However, as Mark Horning observes:
I suspect the real economic impact falls between these views.
My own view is that the program has probably done more stimulation of commerce than the rest of the Great Stimulus Package, so why wasn't it in that bill in the first place? I still do not agree with the whole notion: we are encouraging people to buy new cars when the quite possibly cannot afford them, we are encouraging one industry in favor of another, and we are trying to build wealth by spending government money to destroy property; I'm not really in favor of government interference in the markets to begin with. If it has to be done this seems less harmful than some of the programs that were in the stimulus packages. At least the money goes through the commercial system. At least we think it will. As of now, I know of no dealers who have actually been reimbursed.
I've heard on the radio that the doomed cars end up in China. How and why isn't clear. Perhaps the Chinese get them for loaning the US Government the money to buy the Clunkers in the first place?
In any event, we do have a preview of the government's competence to handle programs of this sort. The current performance may have some bearing on government competence to manage health care.
On the subject of health care, I must again commend the Los Angeles Kaiser Permanente system. They're doing some rebuilding at the Sunset Complex (having built a new hospital and much more at Panorama City). One result of the rebuilding at Sunset is to make getting from the parking complex to the actual clinic a rather tricky affair. Roberta went with me on this expedition, and at one point trying to get from the car to the medical suites was so complex I thought of dropping bread crumbs to help us find the way back.
Perhaps there's a lesson: a new way to allocate scarce medical resources. If you can't find the offices...
But in fact we did find the places we needed to find, everyone we met was competent and pleasant, and while no one truly wants to hang out in the oncology clinic, Kaiser has made it about as pleasant as it's ever likely to be. My thanks. I hope they continue to thrive.
Today was my regular appointment with the oncologist. I also got a whole body x-ray and they took out a number of blood samples, some for the oncologist and some for my regular family physician. We'll hear from them in a week, so I suppose we should hold off on rejoicing, but the conclusion as of Noon today is that barring something odd in my blood or bone x-rays, I'm in pretty good shape. You're safe in subscribing: I'll be around another year. Again barring something odd showing up in my blood work, they don't need to see me until next February.
August 5, 2009
More than 70% of US carbon-free electricity c0mes from nuclear (US: 104 commercial reactors), according to Duke. That's higher than I would have guessed, given that there are still some big dams out there. France (58 reactors) and China (11, building 24) are also big on nuclear power.
Back before we invaded Iraq I suggested that instead of sinking the projected $300 Billion (that's what they said it would cost before we went in) into the war, we should build one hundred 1000 megawatt nuclear power plants; the resulting savings would make the economy hum, and keep oil prices low. Of course that didn't happen -- but it still could.
Roosevelt floundered about trying, abandoning, and retrying all kinds of complicated schemes and plans, some large, some small, in an attempt to end the Great Depression. They didn't work very well, and we had a new crash in 1938, the Depression within a Depression. One anti-depression measure of the New Deal was TVA. Part of that was created by confiscation of private power plants, but some of it came from building new dams and eventually steam plants. Electricity prices fell. The resulting cheap energy was important in the industrialization of the South. TVA was arguably the most effective and far reaching program of the New Deal.
For those interested in just what was tried, and what did and didn't work, and how people thought in the days of the Great Depression let me again recommend Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man. Obviously she has a partisan view, but much of the book quotes from the news of the time, and it gives a very good picture -- including of measures that didn't work, but seem to be attractive again.
Low Cost Energy plus freedom brings prosperity. It may take a while -- given the hole we are in -- but it's faster than all the miracle cures. The good news is that we've already allocated more money than we'd need to build new power plants. They'd take a while, but once built we'd have them. Low cost energy plus freedom brings prosperity. What else can we be sure of?
Kaiser has a new system for allowing us to see our lab results. I got a notice that mine were done last night. I'm no physician, but all my stats seem well within the ranges they give as normal. It does look as if I'll be around for a while. Now if the weather would abate.
Of course this means I have no excuses for not working. We did our mile walk this morning, and I feel a lot better than I did when I got up. The only way to get my work done is to do it...
The Clunker discussion continues in mail, and then you can find out how to launch your own satellite for $8,000 only.
I have have heard from Larry Weed, and with luck we'll have more on progress in using computers in medicine.
August 6, 2009
The weather broke but we seem to have some kind of bug that prevents us from taking advantage of it. This will be a lazy day with little getting done.
Connections: today I ran across several articles denouncing "Big Pharma" and the notion of patents on drugs. Without those patents the drugs would be cheaper, and many people who can't afford them would have the drugs. Moreover, health care costs would go down, so we would be better able to afford the -- now seen to be increasingly expensive -- Obama care.
Of course the answer to this is that there wouldn't be the newest drugs if no one would patent them. Who would invest in developing them? Who would pay for the enormous costs of clinical trials and tests? Most new drugs are developed in the US, and there's a reason for that.
But that means that drug developments are dependent on seeing profit potential, and that too is unfair. Perhaps better to abolish Big Pharma and have national academies and national research laboratories: public funding. Let rational science determine where the research funds should go, don't leave it to profit-driven managers!
Of course that means setting up budgets, and committees, and ways to dole out the research funds: i.e. building bureaucracies to spend tax funds. That gets us into the whole notion of institutionalized research fund allocations. How well have they worked? How efficiently? We have some examples of success. The Manhattan Project comes to mind, and Los Alamos continued to turn out good research during the Cold War. The Manhattan Project was short term, there was something of a focus to the Cold War research projects.
Arsenal systems do work. The Soviet Union was able to do competent military related research and development. It wasn't so good at producing good stuff for the civilian side. In general, outside the military field, the Soviet system was a bust.
We also have spectacular failures of government research bureaucracies in the Western world. Of course we'll do better than the Soviets. Our bureaucracies are just better than those set up by the Soviets. We're certain of this.
The private patent system has worked quite well. I leave it to the readers to decide whether exchanging this for a government consensus system will have equally successful results.
While we are thinking about the subject, think about the problem of funding contrarian views. We don't know how to do that when there are political implications. Think of Global Warming.
But of course if we set up a general health care system, we will need to reduce costs. What is seen and what is not seen? Seen is the "obscene profits" from a few patented drugs, so that Big Pharma rides on the backs of the poor and sick. That's easily fixed.
What is not seen?
Welcome to the future.
August 7, 2009
I suppose it's all right to wish myself a happy birthday. Anyway I have done so. I seem to be under the influence of some kind of bug, but I'm fighting it. My birthday present was a call from the oncologist: my blood work looks fine.
The bad news is that swine flu is getting universal, and that may be what has laid Roberta and me low...
I watched the Town Hall Riot http://www.zimbio.com/Town+Hall+Riot and I am not sure I know what I saw. There was little background data, and I didn't even see the date give, but I gather it was early August 2009 (i.e. a couple of days ago). What I did see was chaos. Clearly nothing useful was going to happen while dozens of people stood around chanting "Hear our Voice" -- that appears to be what they are shouting. Whether or not it was a good idea to close the doors to the meeting room isn't clear to me. The whole thing seems reminiscent of the days when I used to lecture in universities on the subject of Carter's Era of Limits and the national malaise: often a claque of students, sometimes students and faculty, would chant things like "Small is Beautiful" and "Soft Path" to see to it that I did not speak.
Sometimes the situation would sort itself out, and I could get on with the presentation. Sometimes nothing could be done: those who came to hear me talk weren't able to. I'm not sure what makes this situation different from then. A congresscritter attempts to hold a meeting with constituents, and a group shows up chanting slogans and making any kind of discussion impossible.
There are ways to show opposition, but what I see on that video is not one I would support. Of course I don't know what the chanting was in response to. I gather that some believe the meeting hall was too small and had been packed with pre-selected supporters of the congresscritter. I wouldn't be astonished to find this is true. I'm not sure that justifies closing down the meeting by chanting. I certainly saw no debate of the issues here -- in fact, if I hadn't been told, I don't think I would have known what the issues were.
I'm no longer a political manager and I don't have any advice on political tactics. I do try to address issues but my activities are pretty well confined to rational debate. I didn't see any rational debate going on at this disturbance.
I gather there are other videos of other conferences in which there were actual questions asked and unsatisfactory answers given. That, it would seem to me, would be a far more effective tactic than using chanting claques to disrupt a meeting. The health care bill is a bad deal; there are plenty of rational arguments against it. A great number of people voted for Obama because they thought he was some sort of moderate, a New Democrat, a kind of black Clinton. They did not believe they were voting for Jimmy Carter. Many are becoming disillusioned.
I would think the best tactics now would be to nail this down: Obama is far to the left of the American People, and so long as Obama and the current leadership control the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party does not represent the American people. I think this is now fairly obvious. It is not obvious that Town Hall Riots are a good way to make this demonstration. Better would be questions in Town Halls, and for there to be questions there has to be order.
Everyone should understand something: the Nazi Party was the National German Socialist Workers Party. It was not the Christian Democrats, or any kind of conservative or monarchist party. It was the Socialist Workers Party. In Italy, Mussolini built the Fascist movement, but Mussolini was a socialist from the beginning, and died a socialist.
Political riots, disrupting political meetings: these were tactics used to take power (by showing that government was ineffective, and wasn't working). Those tactics ultimately aren't useful to fundamentally decent people, because decency places heavy limits on how far one will go. We don't have enough goons to play that game.
The heat wave has broken in Los Angeles. It's cool out. Of course I feel as if I'm freezing. I'm getting more certain that it's swine flu. I don't know if it's related to the weather, but:
It is 27 days since the last official sunspot. We have had a month of the blank sun.
August 8, 2009
I spent the day more or less in bed with what appears to be swine flu. It's not awful, but it sure sucks the energy out of you. Lots of liquids, stay warm in mostly in bed. It sort of goes away, but I sure didn't get much done.
August 9, 2009
Better today. Managed to get to church and lunch with friends afterwards. I seem to be recovering. I've still got aches, but I should be able to get some work done. Thanks for your patience. I am now trying to get the column done. It was sort of due last week, but there was no way I was going to go that. Today I have a bit more energy.
There is a series of pertinent letters and comments on the health care situation over in Mail. There's also one on organlegging and a bunch of other interesting mail.
I have been clearing up older mail including some I did not read: I have apparently been in a funk longer than I thought. This came in June 30|
I have seen nothing about it since. Anyone know anything here? Faster than Light anything changes the universe.
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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