THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 586 August 31 - September 6, 2009
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August 31, 2009
If anyone tried to see me at the book signings yesterday, I wasn't there. Reasons given in detail in yesterday's view, which also tells about me and the fires. All's well here, except that it's hot outside, there's smoke, and we're buttoned up with the air conditioning, and for some reason today is the day chosen for a bunch of "broadly distributed messages" from various outfits, none of which would be unwelcome (such as Kaiser) but all at once is a bit much. Anyway, the humming birds are back, the oriole is back, it doesn't LOOK smoggy outside even though the AQMD is telling us not to go out, and we're buttoned up with the air conditioning. I guess I mentioned that.
I'm also finding it hard to concentrate, so I am not getting much work done. There was a good mixed bag of mail yesterday, and there will be another today, and at some point I presume I'll wax philosophical on something; and in fact I did, but all my remarks are over in mail.
|This week:||Tuesday, September
The fires continue, but none are close to me, and the one above Alex's house is still a couple of miles from him: we are of course available if he has to seek refuge with dog and cats. We did that last year (a time I don't remember all that well, alas; I was apparently competent to deal with situations as they arose, but I remember little of it).
Mount Wilson is still in danger; in one place the fire is just across a fence from the Solar Observatory, and it's not far from the 100" with its rubber mirror. Frightening, but if the wind doesn't rise it ought to be all right. Humidity is up, and there's even a small chance of rain. Rain would settle it.
This gives a picture of the Mount Wilson situation. That's the one that worries me.
We took our walk this morning, cut short to about a mile. Sable felt as we did: we're better for it, but it's better to have done it than to be doing it. I was turning into a vegetable. The house remains buttoned up with the air conditioning on: expensive, and not really comfortable because I don't keep it cold, just tolerable. We have the fans on. The air filter works, but it's still a bit smoky in here. Outside you can smell smoke until the west wind comes up; when we started our walk the wind was from the west, but it turned while we were out. The fires are to the north east which is where Santa Ana winds come up. Devil winds would be really serious now, but apparently we won't get them this time.
I hear some announcers say that this is all due to "climate change" with the implication that it's all a CO2 problem; which is nonsense. Yes, there are more and bigger fires not, and yes, they are due to human activities: but it has nothing to do with Global Warming or human induced climate change or CO2. There are more huge fires because there are more areas that have not burned off in thirty to nearly a hundred years. They have not burned because Smokey The Bear has managed to put them out. Of course that will inevitably fail at some point. It always does. Forest Fires are inevitable unless there is active management, as in Europe and particularly German forests, or there is controlled burning. Fires are part of the usual life cycle of most California redwood and chaparral forests. Indeed some seeds won't sprout until they have been through fire.
This is known, but envir0nmentalists and lawyers and interest groups have been successful in preventing controlled burns. Eventually Smokey the Bear loses the fight, a big fire gets away from the early interventions, and you get a big runaway fire. It's inevitable, which means predictable.
Today there were two items in the LA Times that say a lot about the modern world. One was that a baby died in Belle Air because the fire engine/paramedic unit that would have responded to the 911 call when the parents discovered the 3 year old in the pool was "laid off" for the day in a cost-cutting move. LA has a plan to furlough some units in a rotation scheme. In this case a unit responded but from about 3 miles further away. The child was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. There is no assurance that an earlier arrival would have saved the child -- I have no idea how long he was in the pool -- but of course the earlier the better. The paramedic unit, and a paramedic captain, were both furloughed as part of a cost cutting move.
The second item was a tiny one on page 14: a Sacramento judge has ruled that the state cannot furlough 3 days a month the employees of the state insurance system. There can be no cuts in that vital service.
It wasn't in the paper, but I know that when I was in City Hall I had 83 Civil Service Exempt (i.e. political appointment) employees. There are now about 600. There still are about 600. There seems to be no movement to cut back on those; but fire captains and paramedic units are furloughed a couple of days a month -- and the state can't furlough employees of the state insurance system.
Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.
There is another mixed bag of mail, much of it very good indeed.
September 2, 2009
The fire danger subsides. Local TV says Mount Wilson Observatory is not longer threatened (as of 11 AM). Thanks to Jim Stewart:
we have a log of the whole matter.
Meanwhile, Chaos Manor remains buttoned up with air conditioning due to air quality conditions. We're hoping the sea breezes will be back and we can go back to opening the windows to let the house cool off at night and turn off the air conditioners entirely.
Of course the danger will go on for months, until there's a hard rain. We still have the real fire season with Santa Ana winds to get through.
Actually JPL was never in danger, but Mount Wilson certainly was. Mount Wilson was where Hubble discovered that nebulae were in fact other galaxies, and the universe was much larger than we had imagined...
The cause of the Station fire is under investigation. One fire official is saying it was human caused. Another says we don't know. They'll continue to investigate. All of which means that unless someone saw it being set, we won't know (and actually not even then since people haven't always seen what they say they see).
We do know this: without human interventions, it's unlikely that any of that area would have gone fifty to a hundred years without burning off. In that sense the big fire was almost certainly "of human origins". One of the inhabitants of Big Tujunga is lamenting that their playground was burned off, and now it looks like the Moon. "It was so pristine," he said. No one seems to be telling him it will all be back, and recently burned is as "pristine" as no burn for a long time. Fires are inevitable, and the longer an area goes unburned the more combustibles accumulate and the hotter and more devastating the fire when it eventually gets started.
The hills above our house burned off about 25 years ago. It's undoubtedly time they burned again. I'm not looking forward to that, but it would sure be better if it were burned off at a time when it would be easy to control and there are plenty of resources to contain it because there's no other big fire. Of course that won't happen. The lawsuits would be ruinous, so when it does burn off it will be part of a disaster and everyone will be terrified. That's known as rational allocation of resources. Hurrah for the lawyers.
I had severe Internet connectivity problems yesterday. So did several advisors. Apparently it's under attack.
If you have works covered by the Google Settlement, today is September 2; September 5 is the last day to opt out. If you do nothing you have opted in. You then have until January to list the works you claim and decide which ones may be displayed by Google under their agency arrangement (that you have accepted by opting in).
If you opt out, and they continue to display your works, you have the right to sue Google. Good luck.
I have found this advice from Michael Capobianco, former SFWA president regarding making claims under the Google settlement:
NEWS 1:30 PM the incident commander says "we are not out of the woods on Mount Wilson yet."
I try to listen to rational arguments for positions I don't hold, but it's sometimes hard to find them. The Wall Street Journal episodically allows one Thomas Frank, a liberal democrat, to write a column he calls The Tilting Yard for the Opinion page. I was once given a commentary radio show on KPFC (Pacifica Foundation station in the LA Area), but that was back in the "fairness doctrine" days. I was the conservative fig leaf, a term that Bill Buckley used when he advised me to quit that particular job. But that was long ago.
In today's WSJ Mr. Frank offers the opinion that the
Democrats have won the intellectual debate, they just haven't been good at
presenting their position. The column is available here
After reading that I suspected that Mr. Frank was chosen as the WSJ fig leaf for the intellectual weakness of his arguments, but I think I recall that he has presented better efforts in his time. He asserts that because some of us have insurance, we are all involved in paying for each other's care. I can't believe he believes this. Or that anyone can. He goes on to other logical fallacies, eventually concluding on no grounds I comprehended that health care is a public good.
If this is the best the Democrats can manage, it's no wonder that they are losing the debates.
Of course there are public health issues when it comes to communicable diseases, but many of those were curtailed with the advent of AIDS when it was clear that the old mandatory tracking down of sources of sexually transmitted diseases was unacceptable to many AIDS victims. I don't intend to argue that; my point is that if you choose to pig out on Twinkies and take no exercise, you are not really a danger to me. Of course if you insist that I pay for your health care, I may acquire along with that financial obligation some rights of control over your behavior, and I will probably insist on exercising them.
Surely Mr. Frank has not presented the strongest arguments for the Democratic plan?
September 3, 2009
For those concerned: my ISP had a server problem for a few hours last night. All fixed. Thanks to all who inquired.
Obama is going to engage personally in the health care debates. The stakes are about as high as they can get, now. It is said that he's going to actually talk specifics. Whether the result will be any actual bill as opposed to the ever-changing stack of paper that we see today isn't known. We live in interesting times.
The fires are more or less under control -- not contained -- and Mount Wilson is safe. I have opened my windows. There's a little smoke, but it's not bad. I have a ton of work to get done, and not a lot of oomph for doing it, but there's nothing for it but to do it.
But first a nagging question:
Is there a baseball expert in the house? I am not a big baseball fan, but I have some curiosity about the rules. In a Weekly Standard article by Joe Queenan this week's Standard has a line about a ruling: a player hit what he thought to be a triple, and took his base. "Initially, the second-base umpire ruled that Franceour had trapped the ball. But now ... the umpire consulted with his colleagues and reversed his own decision." The runner was declared out.
I don't understand this, or have I made too much of something simple? I don't know what "trap the ball" means, and a Google search turns up the interesting fact that baseball apparently was once known as trap ball or something of the sort, but doesn't explain to me what it means to "trap the ball" as opposed to catching it. My guess would mean that the ball hit the ground as the fielder grabbed it, which means he failed to catch the ball before it hit the ground, which isn't exotic. Alas, Queenan assumes his readers know all this, so it's not explained.
The article is about an unassisted triple play, very unusual, that ended a game between the Phillies and the Mets. That once again betrays my ignorance of baseball rules. Apparently Second Baseman Eric Bruntlett was close to second base because the Mets, with men on first and second and with no outs, decided to try a double steal, so both runners took off on the pitch. Thus when Bruntlett, in position because of the runner on second, caught Franceour's line drive (1st out) he only needed to step on second base to get the second base runner out (2nd out), then he tagged the first base runner (3rd out) who was too close to second to get away or get back to first.
I suppose the rules say that you can't steal third on a caught fly ball? I vaguely remember from the few games of baseball I was allowed to play -- being a year younger than my classmates, a nerd, and somewhat afraid of being harmed by a fast-moving hardball, I was inevitably the last to be picked for a team, so I didn't get a lot of experience at this -- that you could "tag up and run" to steal a base, meaning, I think, that if a fly ball were caught you could run to the next base only if you had been touching the base you were on after the hit. Or something like that. So that one is comprehensible if a little vague.
But I do not confidently understand what happened the previous inning when it was first ruled that a ball had been trapped, then later ruled that it was caught. What does it mean to trap a ball?
[Answered below. Thanks to all who wrote me on this.]
Noon: evacuation orders have been rescinded, and much fire equipment is being returned to headquarters. Meanwhile, no one knows what started the fires. My guess is that they won't ever know. How could they? Unless, of course someone reliable saw something, and people haven't always seen what they will swear they saw... This is, of course, a murder investigation now that two of the firemen have been killed.
Very clear. Thanks! In this case he was about 2 feet from the base, so he could step on it; at which point the chap running for second was very close, and easily tagged out. Unassisted triple play, apparently only the second one in major league history that ended a game. Mostly I wanted to understand the rules. When I was young and attempted to play baseball few explained these things, and the Britannica was not entirely clear on American game rules (or on cricket for that matter)!
The latest news is that they have concluded that the Station Fire was deliberately set. No further information, but I will check my sources.
September 4, 2009
They have laid Michael Jackson away in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn. A long time ago, as part of our research for Inferno Niven and I wandered freely in the Great Mausoleum, and visited the exhibition room at Forest Lawn where the Founder's ribbons and orders are displayed (one order was created by the Founder: it consisted of12 Cal Tech professors and Nobel Winners plus the Founder). In those days there was no restriction of access. The radio today tells me they only allow family members in the Mausoleum now; but I wonder if that is not a temporary matter due to the great attention being given Jackson's interment (some radio people have dubbed it an encryption).
Forest Lawn in Glendale was once a major tourist spot for visitors to LA (and for some LA residents; it's traditional in Los Angeles to neglect the tourist sites unless one has visitors to show them to). It was featured in Waugh's The Loved One and other literary works. It's an interesting place to spend an afternoon, with the Great Mausoleum being the high point.
We have another mixed bag of mail, including a longer discussion of baseball rules, and the subject of Deserving and Undeserving Poor regarding Health Care.
In memorium, Ted Kennedy. He was said to be a model of civility.
"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution . . . "
Speech on the Senate Floor
Since we are in the Ice Age cycle, this is possible. As we said in Fallen Angels, sometimes it's time to throw another log on the fire. We really don't know. I am certainly more afraid of ice than warming.
Harry Erwin tells me that the latest edition of SCIENCE breaks the news of discovery of magnetic monopoles. I haven't seen the article. The existence of monopoles is allowed in Faraday's Laws as I understand it but my physics is rusty enough that I can't predict what new sciences we may enter as a result of this discovery. It may be a Really Big Deal. We'll have to watch and see. [But see below]
I wonder what this does to the climate models on whose predictions we are supposed to bet the future wealth of the world? As I have said before, it would be well to understand the situation before putting a sizable portion of our wealth in play. If there are mutually expensive alternatives, the best investment is to find out which alternative is likely. It is not clear to me that we know whether Earth is warming or cooling, although the best best is warming by about a degree a century for a few more centuries but definitely cooling on a scale of millennia. Those are but inferences, but I think they are based on as much evidence as the current Global Warming measures.
If we don't understand the effect of water vapor on climate, just what DO we understand?
September 5, 2009
So it is one more theoretical existence proof, but no one has found one to play with.
There is mixed mail, including a question of the greed of doctors.
For those contemplating self-publishing, it will be worth your while to read
If you say Travis Tea rapidly it may give you some notion of what was up; it's an amusing story.
And here is a story that boggles the mind:
One wonders if now is not the time to buy gold. One ought to have at least some, I think.
September 6, 2009
The column is due tomorrow so I have to finish it today, so this will be short. This morning we went to visit St. Didacus school in Sylmar where our friend Dr. Joan Schoff is the new principal. I was quite favorably impressed with the classroom materials we saw and the general plant layout. Of course schools are different now. When I went to St. Anne's in Memphis in the 30's all the teachers were nuns, there were two grades to the room, and all the seat/desks were rooted to the floor in rows and columns all facing the front. Sister's desk was on a platform perhaps 6" tall. Little of that remains in today's classrooms. (When we moved to Capleville the local consolidated public school had two grades to the room and about 25 to 30 pupils per grade; I think Memphis city public schools had only one grade per room.) St. Didacus is certainly better equipped than anything I encountered before high school. Of course the school doesn't have the discipline problems that the public schools have to put up with. It does get good results.
When I got home the local talk show was talking about the dismissal of a Communist green czar from the White House. It seems to be breaking news, but I haven't been able to find much. I presume the main street media will eventually get to it, but for the moment I find
http://www.vanjones.net/ on Jones himself, and:
Here is Fox opinion
I hear also a giggling George Stephanopolous saying something about this being a stealth firing over the Labor Day weekend. There was a communist in the White House. How droll. I do wonder if Bush had an advisor who turned out to be a member of the John Birch Society that discovery would be considered equally amusing. Ah well.
Of course every President has had problems with improperly vetted people, but listening to the radio clips of Jones' previous speeches and routines I do wonder that no one looked a bit further into his connections. He seems to have had some openly radical views quite out of keeping with the platform Obama ran on. Of course much of what Obama is doing lately seems a bit out of keeping with the platform he ran on.
A more fundamental question would be these "czar" positions, which require no Senate confirmations They are almost precisely the opposite of what the Framers intended. Perhaps their existence needs rethinking.
Incidentally, the Intelligence Czar makes $197,000 a year; Hillary Clinton makes $186,000 as Secretary of State. Of course she had to be confirmed by the Senate. The Intelligence Czar did not. Now it may be that Admiral Blair was an excellent choice for the job; but why is he exempt from Senatorial approval when the Director of the CIA must be confirmed?
Of course I understand the President's desire for a team independent of the ravenous wolves in Congress, where any Senator can put a hold on any confirmation, and in general bring the process of government to a halt; but that's a comment on current practices, where everything becomes political. It didn't used to be that way.
So it goes.
After Poul's death Karen Anderson moved to Southern California. I see her most meeting nights at LASFS. Her household was ordered to evacuate the premises during the fire, but she's back home again and all is well. She 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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