THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 594 October 25 - 31, 2009
This site looks better if you set your default font to Georgia.
Highlights this week:
For boiler plate, search engine, and notes on what in the world this place is, see below.
For Previous Weeks of the View, SEE VIEW HOME PAGE
If you intend to send MAIL to me, see the INSTRUCTIONS.
This is a Day Book. Pages are in chronological, not blogological order.
October 26, 2009
We had breakfast after church this Sunday with our energetic friend Joanie who retired as an assistant principal in Glendale then became principal of a Catholic school in Los Angeles. That got me thinking about the abysmal public education system in the United States.
This morning's Wall Street Journal has an article: "Diamond Industry Makeover Sends Fifth Avenue to Africa" about how Tiffany is training diamond cutters in Botswana.
It seems to me the two topics are related. If a Fifth Avenue company can train people in Botswana to cut diamonds, surely there are Americans who can learn to do that job? So what's the problem here? Education system, regulations on hiring and firing, worker attitudes? If New York City can't compete with Botswana (and Canada!) as a place to teach apprentice diamond cutters, in just what jobs can we compete? There was nothing about that in the Wall Street Journal article; apparently it's just a given that corporations don't want to invest capital in creating high skill jobs anywhere in these United States. Should we all be concerned?
Regarding education, nearly everyone knows that:
(1) The single most important factor in education is the classroom teacher. Study after study has shown that getting the best teachers is more important than class size, administration, textbooks, or anything else.
(2) If the bottom 10% of teachers were replaced by average teachers -- not outstanding, just average -- the US education system would be enormously improved.
(3) Very little of what is taught in education classes in college has any utility whatever for any purpose other than gathering "credentials".
(4) The "credential" system for teachers has absolutely no value in predicting who is or is not a good teacher, and the "qualification" system is more concerned with preserving the jobs of those who teach teachers than with anything of any value whatever to improving education.
(5) The best thing science and math teachers can study to improve their teaching ability is more math and science; confidence in one's knowledge of the material makes for a better teacher. Even so, there will be mathematics and science experts who simply can't teach. They're fairly easy to detect, and can either be retrained or not: that too is either fairly easy or impossible.
(6) The entire system is designed to protect bad teachers and preserve their jobs; it is the Iron Law in action in spades with Big Casino.
If you have not seen my previous notes on this subject (from last week) they are here.
I am sure the other reason Tiffany didn't consider the US as a location for their diamond cutting factory is the US financial and regulatory environment; perhaps that's more important than education systems. But for whatever reason, there won't be high skill jobs for Tiffany for America. You can still have breakfast outside the store, though.
The video is well worth watching. It is apparently established that more energy comes out than goes in -- sometimes. As to the obligatory skeptic, I have encountered Richard Garwin before, and he has always put his politics ahead of his judgment; his "analysis" of Strategic Defense was a travesty of physical analysis, and his candidate for basing ICBM's was so ridiculous that I had real trouble getting my staff to take it seriously long enough to do an actual analysis.
I have no idea what is going on with "cold fusion" or whether it's any kind of fusion at all. I do know that several physicists whom I respect take the data seriously. I have also seen non-fusion explanations of the bursts of output based on chemistry -- the palladium stores energy and gives it off unexpectedly, then recharges -- but apparently that explanation doesn't cover all the data, and the hypothesis has been tested.
Clearly something of this sort would quite literally change the world if it can be harnessed. Hot fusion has been coming in about twenty years for the past forty years (it's always twenty years away) and while it's possible to do hot fusion by brute force, it's expensive and the path to any kind of reliable commercial energy source is unknown. I don't expect to live to see practical hot fusion. I am not quite so sure regarding cold fusion. It's unlikely but there's still data to be accounted for.
As to the original announcement, their real regret is that the word "fusion" was used. The energy burst was certainly there. That was the phenomenon that ought to have been analyzed, and it was not a fraud; it was just ignored. The whole incident is another reminder of why Big Science can really Fail Big sometimes.
I keep hearing about the Lexus whose accelerator gets stuck and the car can't be stopped. When I was a lad, the simple thing to do was to turn the ignition off if something like that happened. The engine stops, and you can coast to a halt. Or, with a stick shift, take the car out of gear. I've not tried to put my Explorer in neutral while going fast, but I presume you can do that; of course if you're suddenly going 100 mph and coming up on a canyon you might not think of that. But what genius decided that we are all safer for not being able to remove the key to stop the engine when the car is running? I do not understand the logic here. I was always taught that if the throttle got stuck -- there were throttle controls on cars when I learned to drive -- you take the key out of the ignition. The car will stop.
What is the logic of not allowing the ignition to be turned off while the car is running?
(I have just been told that with the Lexus, no key is inserted to begin with; there is a button you can press and hold for three seconds (at 132 feet per second) which will stop the ignition. Read the flipping manual if you don't know that. All your fault if you don't RTFM.) I still don't understand the logic of making it hard to turn off the ignition when the car is running.
All of which probably shows just how far out of date I am:
and Peter Glaskowsky adds
The last time I had to turn off the ignition on a car was with my International Harvester Scout, which had power steering and brakes but was steerable and stoppable without them. I forget the emergency; it was way off road in the Arizona desert. My Bronco could also be driven safely without power on, but it wasn't fun without the power steering. I never tried it with the Explorer.
When one is going 132 feet per second and the accelerator is stuck there isn't a lot of time to think of what to do; taking it out of gear seems reasonable if that will work, and I expect that is what one ought to learn. Is that the logic of making it impossible to turn off the key? Still, I'd rather be steering a powerless car than continuing to go under power. It's going to stop if the ignition is off, although I expect it will take longer if you don't have power assist -- assuming that adrenalin isn't a power assist.
I gather that with some cars you can turn the key off without putting it in park; in others you can't. Perhaps I am mistaken. With the Lexus in question there isn't any key to begin with, and at 132 feet per second there's not a lot of time to look up in the manual what to do...
Bottom line here:
Especially if there isn't any key to begin with. I suppose they ought to train new drivers to put the car in neutral if the accelerator is stuck. Note that one of the fatalities was in a car driven by a Highway Patrolman (off duty). One presumes that Highway Patrol officers know how to drive; yet he was killed about four seconds later. A passenger in the car was on 911 reporting it at the time of the crash. So it's not entirely obvious what one ought to do: Now we know. Get it out of gear but leave the motor running...
For platinum subscription:
Platinum subscribers enable me to work on what I think is important without worrying about economics. My thanks to all of you.
Did you subscribe and never hear from me? Click here!.
|This week:||Tuesday, October
We can also add this:
I don't like either article, but facts are stubborn things. It has ever been thus in Afghanistan: the one thing that unites Afghanistan is their hatred of armed Afghanis in their country; while the non-Pashtun areas are united in their determination that Kabul's writ does not run in their homes. It will take a very long time to change these attitudes.
I agree with the generals: the only way we could remake Afghanistan is through a very long term effort in which we make long term commitments to friends and allies, and take on the long term task of protecting isolated villages, avenging those of our friends who are killed or kidnapped, and in general making Afghanistan a protectorate essentially forever.
It is not in the national interest of the United States to do this. The people of the United States would have to pour blood and treasure into an area -- it is not a nation -- that has no products we want, is the world's largest source of opium, and which has been the graveyard of empires from the time of Alexander the Great. Yes, we can do it, at a cost of somewhere between 100 and 1000 troopers a year for the next thirty years, and commensurate amounts of blood and treasure. The costs will also include disruption of the lives of the troops deployed. The costs will include rehabilitation of the wounded and shell-shocked. It will be divisive for as long as we are there. The benefits will be blooded veteran Legions, but Legions deployed in Afghanistan cannot be deployed elsewhere without forfeiting the mission.
And make no mistake: once that mission begins, it cannot be ended in my, and probably not in your, lifetime.
Are the people of the United States ready to make such a commitment? If we are, can we commit the next generation? And the next? Does the United States have the will and stamina to continue an expensive war with very little visible progress, a war costly in blood and treasure, with maimed troops returning to be rehabilitated if possible but at least partially disabled for life? And keep in mind the lack of visible progress. A village here, another over there, in which the locals finally decide to open a market in the hopes that we can prevent them from being slaughtered for doing so; followed almost inevitably by an IED placed in that market, with consequent casualties, a military surge in that region in hopes of finding the culprits who may have come from far away -- You can write the scenarios as well as I can. Progress will be slow. How long will the American people put up with this before they heed a political leader who promises to stop the bleeding? Particularly if there is some scandal (think Watergate) and a demand for Change We Can Believe In This Time For Sure.
If we make the commitment, will we keep it? If we make the commitment and do not keep it will we be better off then than now? If the Legions pledge to protect, then are brought home to leave their friends to be slaughtered, how will that affect our military strength.
These are the factors we must consider. They are not the facts I would prefer. But once again I ask: those are the costs, and I do not think I have overestimated them. What are the benefits?
So what should we do?
The objective is that Afghanistan not harbor our enemies. We neither want nor need anything Afghanistan produces. We just don't want their territory used as a base for our enemies.
Perhaps the cheapest way to achieve that is to make it clear what we want, and what we will pay to achieve it: silver bullets are often a key to victory, especially if backed up with the quite real promise of return if we do not get our money's worth. If that seems craven or futile, what are the alternatives?
We have considerable mail on auto ignition, education and diamond cutting, and other topics from yesterday.
October 28, 2009
A reader pointed me to an article about Stewart Nozette that doesn't tell much I didn't know, but does quote me about him. I remain astonished.
I have got three new subscribers from this...
which tells how we were able to be so successful in our first efforts in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the definition of success was not building a centralized democracy run from Kabul.
I have one more proposal about Afghanistan: we should buy, on the open market, all the poppy crop. All of it. Let them grow and harvest the gum: we buy the gum. We can burn it, take it home for pharmaceutical purposes, sell it in China and India and Pakistan (perhaps we can have a war to force the Chinese to buy it? That has happened before) or just destroy it on the spot, but it would still be cheaper than letting it be sold to refiners and then trying to stop it from being smuggled into the US. Oh, yeah, the drug lords would find other sources, but this way we are not the enemies of the poor schlunks who are just trying to grow a crop. Even the Taliban used to let them grow the stuff, but then would try to stop the distributors from doing anything with it. I doubt that worked out very well for them. Not my problem.
Putting more money into the opium trade will drive up the supply, of course, but even so it will be cheaper than what we are doing; and enriching local tribal khans -- sometimes called warlords -- will help keep Al Qaeda out of their territories. Silver bullets often work wonders, and are sometimes cheaper than real ones. And no, that's not Danegeld. The Afghan warlords didn't invade us last night, and we're not paying them cash to go away. We're paying them cash to make our enemies go away. Hire and purchase...
I'm a long way behind in my work, and I have to get to it. Thanks to all who recently subscribed or renewed.
There is considerable mail including a letter from Wina Sturgeon, and a note about Google's malicious censorship according to China...
If you can read and hear powerpoint (.pps) files, this is worth your time. Pictures of Earth
October 29, 2009
If you can read and hear powerpoint (.pps) files, this is worth your time. Pictures of Earth
The news today is that there's yet another "final" health care bill, this one with the public option. Since the purpose of all this is to end private health care insurance and drive the US to a European style single-payer system, the details aren't really important: the real question is, do we want or need the end result? Once the "comprehensive reform" process gets started, it will be hard to stop.
It is simply not true that if you are satisfied with what you have, you will not have to change it. Any "comprehensive reform" will have at least the provision that health insurance cannot refuse applications for pre-existing conditions, nor can it charge more to those who are already sick than it does to those who buy the policy when well; plus mandatory coverage of all kinds of conditions and treatments depending on the effectiveness of lobbyists in getting their clients services (mental health, maternity, various forms of counseling, osteopathy and chiropractic, homeopathic medicine, etc.) included, meaning that those who can't use those services must pay the same premiums as those who do. Those conditions alone will force premium costs up. Adding more people to the rolls whether they can pay or not will also force premiums up -- or will require subsidies, meaning either higher taxes or more operational expenses to be paid for with more borrowed money and thus increased debt.
The counter argument is that we'll save all those costs and keep the premiums down by eliminating fraud and waste. The rest will be covered by soaking the rich, and that won't affect the middle class. You can believe as much of that as you want to. Oh -- and there will be taxes on "medical devices" such as walkers, wheel chairs, tampons, condoms, crutches, Ace bandages, diabetes meters, blood pressure meters, thermometers, splints, braces, joint restricting boots, MRI and X-ray machines, and other such devices, thus raising their prices without increasing profits. What that will do to investment in research to improve such devices isn't known, but I think it's predictable. Generally such taxes tend to restrict entry into an industry, thus consolidating it with fewer firms and less competition. Adam Smith wrote about such matters a long time ago.
When all this is finished we will be getting health care at least as good as we have now, without significantly increasing costs or taxes, and lowering the percentage of GDP that goes into health care. You may believe as much of that prediction as you want to.
We are also told that the recession is over, because government has spent enough money to have the GDP go slightly up. Given that unemployment is still rising, you can believe as much of that as you want to as well.
We are moving toward the European style of modern state. It is change you can believe in. It is not too late to stop this trend, but the hour is late. Of course nearly everyone who reads this already knows it.
Next Tuesday's election is crucial to the health care debate. Both sides will be analyzing it to see what, if any, effects the national opposition to health care will have on elections.
I am sure most of you know this, but by-elections of this sort are nearly always determined the by the ground game: who can get their voters to the poles? It is an election among the committed.
The liberals have union troops to work this. Our side is not so well organized, and the Republicans have been notoriously lax in organizing precincts.
It is likely too late for those who care to go join a precinct organization. It is not too late to contribute. If everyone who has a strong opinion identifies one neighbor who feels the same way, and sees to it that that neighbor gets to the polls, the outcome of the election would be dramatically affected.
It is not too late to take back your government.
In general, Americans get the government they really want, and they get it good and hard....
October 30, 2009
Another work day.
Tuesday's election remains crucial. The vote will be small, so the turnout will be important. For once I urge you: vote, and make certain at least one other person of your persuasion votes. The ground game is important.
You may believe as much of the economic recovery news as you want to. Until the healthcare and cap and trade uncertainties are resolved, there isn't going to be a recovery, we will not be producing much, credit will be tight, and no one dares hire people when there's no indication of how much the next worker will cost. Moreover, few "small" businesses want to grow until they know what new regulations and costs adding the 50th employee will subject them to.
None of this takes genius to understand, nor do I think it is much in dispute; but in this land of hope and change few among our masters act as if they ever heard of the notion, or that it matters. Perhaps government owned facilities will be the future employers. Government motors, arsenals and Navy Yards, scientific laboratories, condom manufacturers, medical equipment manufacturers -- government can invest money, and deal with the regulations. Perhaps that is our way out.
There are pro and con pieces in the Wall Street Journal today on net neutrality. I have yet to see what is happening that need regulation; it all looks as if they are trying to fix something before it breaks. Perhaps that's a good idea, but it isn't always so.
Or it may be simple: somewhere out there is someone doing something without permission, and that has to be stopped. So far everything not prohibited is permitted, at least in some spheres, and that has to be stopped.
Pardon my gloom. I actually have to go out to Kaiser and get my glasses adjusted again, at least to undue yesterday's adjustment. I also got my regular seasonal flu shot and I suspect that is making me moody. At least I have some notions on what to do about Mamelukes, and I need to get to work.
October 31, 2009
All Hallows' Eve
I pretty much took the day off.
November 1, 2009
All Hallows' Day
We had perhaps half the number of kids ringing the doorbell last night. Whether this is due to the economy I do not know. It's a guess. We live in a quiet middle class neighborhood, and for years we've noticed kids who don't live anywhere near us coming around. We assumed they were brought in by parents looking for a safe neighborhood. Most visitors in previous years were costumed, but many were not, and some were wearing obviously home made costumes. This year I think just about all were in costume, some fancy, most not. We recognized most of the neighborhood kids, and some who clearly are not from around here, but there were a lot less of them. I don't really know how the economy affects Halloween door to door activities.
I've been very much under the weather yesterday and today. I''ll be back on the job tomorrow. I have put up a mixed bag of mail, all interesting, no single topic.
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.
If you have no idea what you are doing here, see the What is this place?, which tries to make order of chaos.
For platinum subscription:
If you subscribed:
If you didn't and haven't, why not?
Strategy of Technology in pdf format:
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
For the BYTE story, click here.
Search: type in string and press return.
The freefind search remains:
Entire Site Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.