THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
Monday, October 12, 2009
View 591 October 5 - 11, 2009
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October 5, 2009
My thanks to all those who responded with suggestions about newsgroup, newsgroup browsers, newsgroup servers, and the whole subject. I will be including a section on newsgroups in the column that should be up later this week, and thanks, I think I have enough information; I'm astonished at the response I got from a note posted late Sunday night. Thanks again, and thanks also to those who renewed subscriptions.
I'm working on the October column. The theme is mostly Internet Security including the new form that attacks are taking, and what users need to be aware of.
There is an article in today's Wall Street Journal, "Google and the
Problems With 'Net Neutrality'"
I am not blindly against regulations; but I am also aware that regulations require enforcement, enforcement creates a bureaucracy, and once created the Iron Law will apply to that bureaucracy. Die Buros immer stehen, and if there's not a problem for them to solve, they'll find one. Swanson's conclusion is "the last thing we need is a new heavy hand weighing down our most promising high-growth sector. Better to maintain the existing open-Web principles and let the Internet evolve." I tend to agree with that: the Net ain't broke, and we don't need vague new rules for fixing it; and in our litigious society, every new rule will generate a hundred lawsuits, injunctions, threats to investors, and disincentives to make new investments. Leave well enough alone until you can show us some real problems, not theoretical speculations -- and when you do find real problems, be sure your cure is not worse than the disease.
On newsgroup readers, incidentally, the overwhelming number of recommendations is for Mozilla Thunderbird, with the new Windows Live coming a respectable second.
I just got this from an advisor. Heads up!
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October 6, 2009
I am grinding out the column, and I will have to
deal with this
There is an editorial column in today's LA Times
They propose that California lead the way by taxing sugary beverages at a rate of a penny an ounce. It might be an interesting experiment. At least it's not proposed as a federal matter. If we're going to have a nanny state, it ought to start as a state matter. Of course it won't raise the revenue they think it will, but that's all right too.
I prefer freedom to the nanny state, but we don't have that. Note, though, that this is a precursor of what will happen if there's a federal health care plan: at that point, it won't be a matter for California. It's only logical: we're paying for your insurance. How dare you abuse that by drinking Orange Crush or Pepsi or Arizona tea with honey? Pay your fair share.
The logic is impeccable.
There's a second article in today's Times, Jonah Goldberg on expanding the House of Representatives.
In the original House, each Congresscritter represented 30,000 people. There was criticism even then: the House was too small, and would be oligarchic; the districts too large for the Representatives to know well. Madison's prophecy was that the House would be filled with elites whose aim would be "the permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many." Considering that there was more turnover in the British House of Lords than in the US House of Representatives back when the Lords was hereditary and their lordships actually possessed some political power, this was prophetic indeed.
Today each Congresscritter represents 700,000 people. If we went back to approximately the original ratio today, we would have 10,000 Members of Congress. The result would be government by committees and parties, of course, and elevation to the leadership elites would be the main object of professional politicians. Management of House debates would be a fascinating problem.
We aren't likely to try this, but it might be interesting.
Yesterday I noted Amanda Congdon's latest video, and remarked that the video was convincing. That wasn't accurate, and I have added the following to my comments:
October 7, 2009
I haven't given up IE yet, but do note the risks here. I am astonished that Microsoft hasn't fixed this yet.
I became aware of this just as I was finishing the column.
Late News: Amazon Kindle goes international. The implications are obvious. The future of publishing is changing rapidly, and needs more attention than I can give it before deadline time. More later.
Five days since the last official sunspot. http://www.solarcycle24.com/
Still catching up. Column is done and will be posted tonight or tomorrow. The theme is security. I also address the FTC power grab, and bunch of other interesting stuff.
I meant to mention What We Would Have Told Obama, by three physicians, in Monday's Wall Street Journal.
If the health care debate still interests you, this is worth reading. Apparently it's now down to stunts, with bug White House photo-ops complete with White House issued white coats for a couple of hundred physicians selected because (among other reasons I am sure, but this was was prime) they were Obama supporters and campaign donors. This is not to say that such physicians are not worth listening to, but in fact they didn't say anything other than 'Hurrah for Obama' as they appeared in the Rose Garden in the white coats they didn't think to bring to a White House reception. (Who would? The few times I have been invited to the White House I wore my best dark suit and a not very daring tie).)
Palmisano, Plested, and Johnson (the three authors) point out that the system we have works pretty well, and the proposed system would not be kind to Medicare. Medicare already underpays physicians (compared to what the treatments cost). Of course the article -- Palmisano is a former president of the AMA -- isn't very deep, and mostly repeats what has been said, but the point is that it doesn't take a very deep or profound analysis to say that the middle of a Depression is hardly the proper time to make drastic changes in our economic system, and restructure nearly 20% of the economy -- and also to make official a great number of expensive entitlements. Perhaps we need to say explicitly that everyone is entitled to some minimum level of health care, and that the rest of us are obliged to pay for it; but having said that, the devil is still in the details, and we are still in a Depression; and it is not at all clear that this is the right time to put that principle into public law.
The system we have may be expensive, and certainly isn't perfect. The principal flaw, in my judgment, is the present inability to change employers without losing health insurance. Fixing that won't be simple, but it would be a lot easier than revamping the whole system. Meanwhile, none of the proposals I have seen address the problems of supply of health care workers. That isn't even being debated, and yet it should be. We don't want to break what we have by trying to fix it. My physician professor friends tell me that good teaching resources are harder to find than you think, and staffing new medical schools and teaching hospitals with good people will be far more difficult than most of us outsiders even suspect. I have no way to know if this be true, but it surely needs to be part of any debate on health care reform, since the "reforms" are going to raise demand enormously, and if the demand rises there will have to be some kind of increase in supply.
All this is obvious; but it doesn't seem to be obvious to the White House or the Congress.
I have to get to work, but in another forum there is a discussion of whether or not Israel has the capability (leave out the will for the moment) to take out Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons. My preliminary analysis, not based on anything but very open sources, is that they do not -- and even if they do, the task is so difficult the Israeli authorities could not have much confidence in their ability. I suspect that taking out the Iranian nuclear capability would take the entire USAF resources and at least ten days. It might even require nuclear weapons. Understand, my experience in hardening targets is forty years old, and largely centered on silo hardening at that, but I was the originator of the "dirty thirty" basing concept known as "Citadel", an armed very hard Command Authority base (think Cheyenne Mountain on steroids; see Footfall for a loose description) and I did study the subject -- forty years ago.
In any event, I think it would be an enormous mistake to equate Iran with Iraq. The Iranians are Persians, known for millennia as the most subtle of people, and not to be compared with Saddam Hussein. They haven't all their eggs in one or even a few baskets, and those baskets are likely to be hardened. There are thriller novels about Israeli special ops teams contaminating the Iranian nuclear facilities with biological (I think one used nuclear) agents, but I think those are science fiction: to the best of my knowledge contaminating agents work very well against very cautious people, but those who are more daring and less caring for their decontamination workers have other options.
My conclusion from these musings is that we had better learn how to life in a world with a nuclear Iran. The current Administration is not going to join Israel in a preemptive attack, thus beginning yet another war in the Middle East and inviting retaliation against the Great and the Lesser Satans. If we have any actual plans for facing this contingency I don't know of them.
October 8, 2009
I am running far behind today. I'll get to today's essay but no for a while. The latest column is up at Chaos Manor Reviews, and if you haven't seen that, please have a look. It should start a discussion of the need for FTC rules governing blogger reviews; an Iron Law grab as far as I am concerned.
Today's Wall Street Journal headlines that "New Math Boosts Health Plan." Some new calculations claim that the Health Care Plan (whatever it is, since it's hardly final) will reduce the deficit. Given that all the health care plans make some form of health care a free good for many new millions of people, the notion that it will save money is ludicrous, and it's hard to understand how anyone would believe that for a moment. It's going to cost money -- every such plan always has. It's going to cost a lot more than we project. Every such plan always has. This is the Bullwinkle the Moose principle: "This time for sure!"
It will cost more money. The government has no more money, and raising taxes isn't likely to produce much more revenue. Raising taxes in a Recession does not bring in much more revenue and in the decade-long framework of this analysis will have such negative effects on growth that it may actually decrease revenue. There isn't a lot more blood in the taxpaying stones. The only thing left to tax is savings and fixed income. That's done by inflation.
If the health care bill doesn't increase the deficit, it will cause even more inflation than what we face now. We all know that. The people who will vote for it know that. The people who did the "new math" know that. There's no way for the government to spend more money and not add to the deficit except to inflate the currency wiping out capital accumulations and savings. Well, there is another way, but that involves growing the economy, but that isn't going to happen given the current policies.
We all know how to grow an economy. For those who don't I refer them to what is known as The German Economic Miracle brought on by our Proconsul Lucius Clay. That is not the direction we are going. Even without health care "reform" we are due for both increasing deficits and inflation. The stagflation of the Carter era is inevitable. Be Prepared.
I will post more mail later today. We start with a quick look at Israel and Iran.
I have to confess that I have done no research in this: I merely accepted what seems to be common knowledge. Now I wonder. I have no personal experience: when Roberta left the LA County school system (not the LA public school district) we had been at Kaiser for some years, and under the COBRA program we were able to become Kaiser members (it was harder to do in those times) and take over paying our dues (which had formerly been paid by LA County). There were no difficulties or formalities -- but of course we weren't changing health care providers, nor did any of us have any conditions to complicate matters. It all went smoothly.
I have notes from some readers that imply strongly that they lost their coverage by changing jobs, but I don't have the details. I could look into all this -- one of my daughters in law is a health care compliance lawyer -- and I can do that, but perhaps we have some expertise among the readership? This is a matter for expertise well beyond any that I have. I suppose I could do on-line research, but at the moment I have no time.
It's a matter of some importance, because this issue of transferability is one of the biggest outstanding problems of the US health care system. The other is what happens if you have insurance but lose your job and can't find another? That, alas, is all too common in this Depression, and we are far from bottom in unemployment.
I agree that extending COBRA is a sensible investment; it costs a lot less than many "stimulus" programs, and does a great deal more good.
October 9, 2009
At least some Democrats understand that
there's more to health care reform than just pumping money we don't have
into the system. In today's Wall Street Journal Senator Mary Landrieu of
Louisiana addresses the costs of health care and their effects on small
Regulations and mandates have far more effect on small businesses than large, and particularly affect family enterprises which tend to be sole proprietorships. There was a time when the US government favored small family enterprises. There were even provisions in the tax laws exempting the minor children of a sole proprietorship from various encumbrances such as withholding and other matters. I don't know if those still apply because I don't have any minor children, but one reason I got out of the anthology business was that increased regulations made it more and more difficult to employ anyone just as publishers began to offer lower and lower anthology advances, and Chaos Manor many decades ago ceased to have any employees.
In any event, Senator Landrieu's article is worth your attention.
President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. The citation says his diplomacy is founded in the concept that world leaders should share the value systems of the world, and Obama is now the world spokesman sharing the values of a majority of the world population.
The Peace Prize is given by a Norwegian committee. The other Nobel Prizes are given by the Swedish Academy of Science. When Nobel left his fortune to create the prizes Norway and Sweden were one kingdom. Norway got the Peace Prize in the divorce, and it is given by Norwegian political leaders. The other Nobel prizes remain with the Swedish Academy of Science. The nomination and award process for the Peace Prize is quite different from the other prizes. Obama shares his Peace Prize with a mixed group that includes Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Yasser Arafat.
It remains a very prestigious honor. Whether the citation is correct in naming Obama the world spokesperson, and whether that is the proper role of the President of the United States, is possibly worth discussion. Meanwhile congratulations are in order.
On the FTC blogger regulation, see mail for a clarification and my comments. It's still a power grab even if it's not as grim as was first thought. It COULD become that bad. It's a matter of discretion among bureaucrats. Hurrah.
More on Health Care Portability over in mail. There is already some portability, even though politicians seem to be pretending that there is not. I have not heard of widespread problems with this.
The point is that portability and transferability does not seem to be an urgent problem, and thus does not contribute to pressure to restructure health care now. We need not rush into something so important on this account.
October 10, 2009
Anniversary of the Founding of the Republic of China
Regarding the Nobel Peace Prize, there seem to be two objections. One, that the nominations closed in February, and Obama had hardly been in office long enough to warrant getting the Prize; and second that he hasn't done anything in his less-than-a-year as President. The second objection may be valid; the first is not. There are so many people qualified to nominate for a Nobel Peace Prize -- the list includes heads of state, state governors, members of national legislatures, professors of social science (at one time I was qualified to submit nominations, although I don't think I ever did) and a whole bunch of other people. Clearly at least one of those though Obama qualified the day he took office. The point is that once nominated for whatever reason, he is considered by the Nobel Committee, which is a body appointed by the Norwegian party in power.
Now even the President has said that he probably hasn't done enough to warrant the Prize. Many tend to agree with him on that, but believe that the Committee's faith will be justified.
I have many letters pointing out the irony of giving Obama the Peace Prize, but also saying that irony died when Henry Kissinger got the Prize.
Roberta has been down with some form of flu this week, so I haven't got a lot done, and I suspect this site has suffered from the dithering. We went out to Kaiser this morning and she's got prescriptions, and we hope all will be well soon. Meanwhile I'll try to keep up. I note that the morning paper shows Obama angry with the Chamber of Commerce which opposes creating a huge new bureaucracy to protect consumers from money lenders. Another section laments the lack of credit resources.
Certainly we have had what amounts to loan sharking, with horror stories of someone borrowing $500 and years later having paid thousands, owing more than was borrowed; and enormous late fees, with no forgiveness. It used to be that if I inadvertently missed a credit card payment -- I pay all mine off entirely every month, using them as a convenience, not as a source of real credit -- I would call and a nice person would look at my records and remove the late fee. I am told that no longer happens, and that credit card companies are aggressive about applying late fees. My solution to that problem is to stop using the cards that do that, but in this land of the free apparently it is too much to expect citizens to think for themselves. Yes, I agree, much of the fine print in credit card agreements is shameful, and they seem lately to be changing the rules unilaterally.
What ought to be done needs to be done in a context of the future of the Republic, and that's a big debate; but I will say that creating a new fiefdom to be part of Barney Frank's duchy may not be the optimum solution to the problem. Perhaps there are those who trust Barney Frank to look after their interests for them -- presumably his constituents do -- but I have no evidence that he has ever acted in my interest, or that of anyone I know, or of the Republic itself, unless those interests coincide with his own, and he gets more power out of it.
Perhaps we cannot leave these matters to the states, and some national uniform lending code is needed, but I don't think this new bill that creates a new agency is the solution to the problem. For that matter, I don't think that all "problems" in a republic have "solutions" to be applied by the national government. And I really do not think that a democratic nanny state ought to replace the old republic of independent and responsible citizens.
I confess discouragement from he news last week: the interviews with the tens of thousands who showed up wanting money in Detroit. One interview subject said she was there to get the Obama money. Asked where the money came from she said Obama's stash. Asked where Obama got the money she said she had no idea, but she wanted some of it.
I am not entirely convinced that a republic that has a great many citizens with that attitude can endure. Note that Rome continued the dole as the Republic crashed, and Claudius creation of the civil service regularized the Empire and made it work pretty well, even after he was succeeded by Nero. But read Petronius for details.
October 11, 2009
Roberta remains down with the flu but recovering. I may or may not be headed for a mild form myself. Thus not a lot gets done here just now. My daughter Dr. Jennifer Pournelle is in town for a day or so, and she and I and her brother Alex walked Sable down to Art's in Studio City for a late lunch this afternoon. I feel better after the exercise so I hope that what I have is funk, not one of the variants of the flu.
I have a big mixed bag of mail. All is interesting and I have comments on some of it. There's a good dialogue on the meaning of strategic surprise.
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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