THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 603 December 28, 2009 - January 3, 2010
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December 28, 2009
Happy Birthday Phil
The new tradeoff:
How you gonna keep them in the sociology department if you let them have physics labs?
We can hope you are correct, but in most cases the rebels have succeeded only when there were no supporters for the regime. Castro's success is the best example of that. When the army won't fire, the demonstrators win; but Napoleon's whiff of grapeshot ended the French Revolution, and the US was built on the premise that local militia and insurgents have little chance against a government with regulars who will fire when ordered to. The Constitution has that less in its bones, so to speak, and that was the reason for our distrust of standing armies.
Iran can count on some pretty fervent supporters, including suicide bombers of its own. The appeal of democracy goes down to a certain level of the population, but how much further is something Westerners can't really measure. The appeal of the mullahs runs strong; and the Revolutionary Guard is not faltering. We can hope, but we will be wise to watch and wait. The West's cultural weapons of mass destruction are at work in Iran, but we can't do much to hasten their effects; while western cheering a Iranian civil wars will endear us to neither side in the long run.
The above items perhaps ought to be in Mail, but they are appropriate for the day, and I'm about to go up and work on a naval battle involving galleys, so I'm a bit pressed for time.
Happy New Year.
The Cloning of Fannie and Freddie, by Jonathan Koppell, in today's WSJ is worth your time if you are interested in financial policies. It's complex but the political analysis is insightful.
|This week:||Tuesday, December
Today's LA Times had a disturbing article: there is a small school district that works. Students are enthusiastic. It isn't a newcomer to the scene -- in fact it was chartered long enough ago that it didn't seek to have a High School in the district. Unfortunately, the high school to which it is supposed to send its students is a disaster, so the small district tried to add a high school to its charter. That was blocked by court action from -- well, from the disastrous high school. Now it seeks to add charter high schools, and that seems to be working, but of course that is opposed by -- the disaster of a high school.
Which, I think, says all that is needed about the disastrous school policies of the United States, and how the Iron Law dooms this nation to inferiority.
The Courts imposed this mess on us. In the name of equality they required the states to finance local schools, removing the local school controls over financing. This has bankrupted states while destroying education. Those who fomented this insane experiment in "equality" over local control should feel proud: the result has been a wholesale transfer of resources to the least competent and most ineffective schools. Reinforcing failure has been the official education policy of the entire United States. Schools are rewarded for the number of students they can dragoon into their system. It doesn't matter if the students want to go somewhere where they might learn something. It's policy.
No education study has ever shown that spending more money benefits the students. We have run that experiment thousands of times now, and it has never worked. What works is rewarding good teachers, having principals who care and who weed out the ineffective teachers -- and who insist on discipline.
If we want to remain competitive in the world economy we will need better schools. We know how to get them: it's called transparency and subsidiarity, which is to say, give control over finances and curriculum to local school districts. That will result in some spectacularly bad schools as ideological fanatics gain control in some places, but the overall result is competition for results while saving money. It worked in the past: the US had the best school system in the world at one time. It could work again. Of course rebuilding will take decades. We have to undue the effects of decades of ghastly policies we all understand to be ghastly, to the point that given a choice most teachers won't send their own children to public schools, and darned few of the political, social, and commercial leaders will allow their children into a general public school. Here and there are enclaves of good public schools, but the egalitarians relentlessly search them out to flood them with compulsory diversity (and undermine discipline).
Apparently we will continue to sow this wind.
Getting a late start. My mind is buried in medieval sea warfare.
I have seen no real reason to revise my initial views about the johnson bomber. I am told that we have spent $40 billion on improving airport security measures. That doesn't take any account of the millions of hours of time wasted by air travelers. We're locking the barn doors within weeks of seeing the horses stolen -- and inconveniencing everyone while doing it.
The johnson bomber (Roberta wants credit for inventing that term) has presented us with an insoluble dilemma. The result will be billions of dollars spent in the hopes that no one else will be able to try this. It won't work. I am astonished that a graduate engineer was unable to devise a working bomb: it just isn't that hard to think of ways to bring down an airplane if you don't mind getting killed doing it, no matter what the security measures. And nothing they do will make it safe to stand in the resulting long security lines. What happens when a roll-on explodes on a Friday afternoon in the security line at Washington National? What will we do then, shut down the entire air travel system?
There is no absolute safety. We can devise means to raise the probabilities of safety. Those measures include profiling. We all know this. That won't be perfect either, but it will be more effective than what we have. At some point we have to come to some decisions on just what we are protecting, and why. In my Operations Research days the primary requirement was to come up with the right criterion of success: what were we trying to optimize? The classic example was protection of ship cargoes: until the OR people got involved, escorts including shore-based air patrols had put the number of enemy submarines sunk as the criterion to optimize; the OR people pointed out that what you really wanted was to optimize the tons of goods that get through. That required an entirely different attack technique. Once the new procedures were put in place, fewer enemy subs were sunk (or known to be sunk) but far more supplies got to England. (I use this old example because it's well known, clearly not classified, and easily understood; some of the projects I worked on don't meet any of those criteria.)
What is it we are trying to optimize in air travel safety procedures? Roberta suggests it is minimizing bad headlines from things that happen on Obama's watch. I expect that's right, and that it's not a lot changed from Bush's time; but is that the criterion the rest of us would choose?
Meanwhile, Farouk has burned off his johnson and wins a Darwin award; what does al Qaeda get for that sacrifice? What will it mean for the rest of us?
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December 30, 2009
First some good news. The Perky Pet Deluxe Oriole Feeder appears to be working. A story goes with that. For years I have been feeding humming birds outside my office window, using a standard humming bird feeder. Then a few years ago I discovered that we have orioles in the neighborhood, and while they would try to feed at my humming bird feeder they didn't seem very happy. When I read up on orioles I found out why. They can't feed while flying; they have to perch, and while the standard humming bird feeders may have a small perch, the holes in the feeder itself are quite small, making the whole operation difficult (and if the perch has been broken off, impossible) for the orioles. Then I found in my local Petco a standard oriole feeder: it has three perches, larger holes, and is an orange color -- orioles like orange. The result was that over the years I'd get orioles outside my window. They had to share with the humming birds, who resented the larger birds, but the humming birds just had to make do. One humming bird was so aggressive in defending this free lunch counter that I ended up putting out a standard humming bird feeder as well as the oriole feeder. That all worked fine and sometimes in summertime I'd have a score of humming birds plus two orioles all outside my window.
Then last fall the bees discovered the feeders. They soon filled the oriole feeder with dead bees, and drove off both hummingbirds and orioles. Moving the feeders around didn't help much. It didn't take an hour for the bees to find the new location. And they were very aggressive about driving away the birds.
Eventually I found on-line a feeder that claimed to have small weight-activated screens over the feed holes. Bees couldn't get to the liquid, and when the bird perched it would uncover the access point. I ordered one and it came about three weeks ago. By this time there were no orioles left here. They'd all flown south. There were a few hummingbirds, but the weather was good, there were plenty of orange blossoms, and the bees seemed a bit less active, so I let things sit while the bees and hummingbirds came to an uneasy truce, with the bees getting into the feeder to drown and the hummingbirds managing to get some nectar although with difficulty. When the feeder emptied the bees stopped coming. Today, though, it's raining, and I noticed a couple of forlorn humming birds trying to get something out of the feeder which remained empty except for dead bees, so I got out the Perky Pet feeder and figured out how to assemble the little protection shutters. They click into place, and each shutter has a very small hole in the feed cover; the hole is too small for a bee, but it looked as if it might be about right for a hummingbird, meaning that the hummingbirds wouldn't have to perch. The click into place assembly seemed a bit precarious, so I used a dot of Gorilla Glue on each one, then filled it.
I can report that it works just fine for humming birds. I managed a picture of one happily sucking up nectar while flying (he's not in the picture below, because his wings made things cuzzy; you can see the seed eating birds over on the balcony wall).
Of course I won't know if the opening mechanism works for orioles until the orioles come back next spring, but I can say that I've seen several disappointed bees decide there was nothing there for them. So that's the good news for the day.
I was recently reminded of this squib I wrote several years ago:
I was reminded of that because there seems to be some new interest in THOR, or "Rods from God". See
On Iran: I found "Why the Mullahs are Vulnerable" by Con Coughlin insightful and worth reading. I am glad I don't have to set US policy on this: it's not at all obvious to me what our official response to the riots ought to be. We shouldn't be seen as interfering in their domestic affair.
I didn't have that view when the government was the somewhat corrupt but basically pro-Western royal regime. The Shah and his Empress were basically enlightened and the White Revolution he favored was building a middle class; Carter's failure to prop up the Shah was one of Carter's worst failures in his failed government; but that was in Cold War days when the US was targeted by 25,000 nuclear weapons. Different times, different policies. Supporting an ally is not quite the same thing as interfering in another country's domestic affairs, and yes, I understand the irony here. But it's another debate.
In today's world we do not have the means to bring down the Mullahs, and even if we did it is not clear that we ought to do so. If you want to bet on a horse race you need a horse, and we don't have one. Last time we thought we could interfere with a Middle East country's governance we supported Chalabi against Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athists, and we all know how well that turned out.
One thing is certain: the Western cultural weapons of mass destruction are working in Iran, and if we can manage not to unite the young Iranians against us -- making it look as if we are about to impose our candidates on them, or blowing people up with drones would likely do that -- time is on our side. I have more than once said we ought to have Internet competitions in Iran with the prizes being blue jeans, iPods, and rock music; but that's another essay.
I do think we might want to remove some of the Iranian exile resistance movements from the terrorist watch lists; or at least consider it. But it's hardly my field of expertise. Iranians are not Arabs, they are Persians, and their culture is Muslim but not Arabic. Kadisiyah ended much of the culture forged from the work of Alexander the Great, but not all of it; and much of the great High Muslim Culture was from Persians and Kurds (kin to each other; neither is Arab). Much of the history of the West was influenced by the existence of Persia. One would hope that the US has experts in Iranian culture within the Foreign Service. Of course the Foreign Service is another story by itself.
In any event, I found Coughlin's essay worth my attention.
We keep forgetting why we have the Lesser Depression (excuse me, Great Recession?). "The Price for Fannie and Freddie Keeps Going Up" by Peter Wallison reminds us of just how we got into this mess. If you don't already know, read it; if you do already know it won't hurt to learn it again.
Aristotle said that democracy is rule by the middle class, and the middle class are those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation. He also believed that democracy was a degenerate form of government, doomed to fall into a civil war until brought out of it by a dictator who would end the class warfare. The solution to that degeneracy, according to Socialists and some other political theorists including at least some Distributists, is to make certain the middle class stays large and that the gap between classes is not enormous.
And that kind of consideration sparked the drive to make home ownership more widespread in American. A laudable goal, explicitly written into law in 1993.
And of course the Republicans thought they had something more important to do, and did nothing until it was too late. One reason no one did anything was reluctance in a democratic society to crack down on what was, after all, considered a good thing, spreading home ownership. Home owners are almost by definition middle class.
We can see how it all happened; it's detailed in Wallison's srticle. And we're still not over the effects. The road to the Minor Depression was paved with the best of intentions.
December 31, 2009
Happy New Year
The day started with a trip to the doctor. Roberta has a virus and we won't be going out tonight, so I'll miss Niven's New Year party, and we have to cancel plans to have a few friends over tomorrow for blackeyed peas and rice -- a Southern New Year tradition but also a pretty good dinner dish.
I'll have more on the year another time. There is mail today.
I've recently been corresponding with Fred about his 1981 -- note that year -- Harper's article on the DC school system. It could have been written last week. Little has changed, and one may predict that little will change; but if we need evidence that Federal control of schools is not a great idea, understand that DC is constitutionally governed by the Congress, and the appropriations for DC are about as high per student as anywhere in the world.
I recommend the article to your attention. It's the sort of thing I used to subscribe to Harper's for, but when they stopped running anything but the straight liberal goods I gave that up. I still read Atlantic.
January 1, 2010
Happy New Year
The Rose Parade is done. I confess I get up to watch that (on TV, not by going to Pasadena). Roberta got up for most of it but went back to bed. She's still under the weather. We sat home alone last night, enjoying each other's company, so it was a pleasant evening.
I had a disappointment yesterday: I have a new laptop coming, but UPS tried to deliver it yesterday at noon. We were home, but apparently didn't hear the door bell. Now they won't attempt to deliver it again until Monday, and I can't find any way I could drive out to Sylmar or wherever it is they have it in storage. Of course I really didn't expect it to arrive before next week, so I ought not be upset that I had a chance to get it earlier and didn't -- all of which I suppose says volumes about human psychology in general, or at least mine in particular. Missing an unexpected opportunity ought not cause unhappiness but of course it does. We have an insufficient appreciation of Matthew 20 I think.
There is a lot of mail, some interesting, and I'm trying to catch up...
How fragile is our economy?
Perhaps we can sue him as taxpayers?
January 2, 2010
I have been a bit under the weather today, and the day was pretty well devoured by locusts. I should be better tomorrow. Hate to lose a day.
One radio commentator said that the mortgage relief program numbers are out. I can't find them, and I missed what he said, but one number stuck in my head: $800,000 per mortgage adjusted. I don't know if I believe that, or if it just means the program was expensive and didn't provide relief to many people. I would imagine that the average underwater mortgage was considerably smaller than $800,000, meaning that there must be a lot of employees feeding off the program else why didn't we just buy the mortgage? Doubtless I missed some of the details.
Random Musings on Climate Change
I've been trying to track some of the details in the Earth Temperature model, and it's even more complicated than I thought. Of course it would be. Fifty years ago we didn't have so many data sources. Now we have a lot, but many didn't exist formerly, so how can we compare the number we calculate for Earth temperature today to the completely different number that made use of far fewer data points fifty years ago? I still haven't seen any actual explanation of this; some hand waving. Hansen and Goddard claim it's all open and published, and when I follow the link I find some explanations, but it doesn't seem complete to me. I still don't know how much earth surface, water surface, under water, air at altitude measures each contribute to the single figure of merit.
Do ground temperatures dominate? They certainly must when you consider the assumed temperature in 1880, because that would be mostly what we have (along with a few sea temperatures, but I doubt there were many weather balloons back then to get upper atmosphere temperatures). And of course we have more temperatures from North America and Europe than from Asia and Africa, and more from Mediterranean and South Africa than from the rest of the continent, and in 1880 I doubt we have many from any part of Africa at all, so how we compare -- to a fraction of a degree -- the 1880 temperatures to those of 2003 I still don't know. I am sure it's explained somewhere. Whether it's explained well enough to justify betting a substantial part of the economy on the answer is another stoory.
Apparently the acceptors -- as opposed to the deniers -- accept the notion that since there is warming, CO2 has to be part of the reason for it, and since people add CO2 then AGW must be real, and proved, and how can you deny it? And the evidence shows that from 1880 to 1940 the temperature wiggled about but eventually had risen about .2 degrees, and we can count the 1940 measure -- however obtained and from what data is not so clear, since it isn't likely we were getting much data from China, or Russia, or a lot of places we get temperatures now -- as the "normal" temperature. In 1880 the Earth was .2 below that and now it's somewhere above it. Perhaps as much as .8 above it although most don't think so. And I am still trying to figure out how we know what it was in 1880 to a fraction of a degree. But then I am a denier, and according to some of the acceptors, deniers are enemies of mankind, and ought to be silenced for the good of all of us.
Anyway I did get this:
USHCN stations are part of GHCN; but the data are adjusted for various recording and protocol errors and discontinuities; this set is particularly relevant if studies of US temperatures are made, whereas the corrections have little impact on the GLOBAL temperature trend, the US covering less than 2% of the globe.
So apparently the final average is weighted by surface area, which is fine for modern times, but I wouldn't think we had very good data outside Europe and part of North America for 1880.
For sea temperatures I find this:
For both sources, we compute the anomalies with respect to 1982-1992, use the Hadley data for the period 1880-11/1981 and Reynolds data for 12/1981-present. Since these data sets are complete, creating 1982-92 climatologies is simple. These data are replicated on the 8000-box qual-area grid and stored in the same way as the surface data to be able to use the same utilities for surface and ocean data.
I didn't know what the Hadley data was so I googled it and got
so that's hardly official. Apparently the Hadley Data comes from here http://www.ncof.gov.uk/ . That opens a chart that shows enormous climate anomalies, but I wasn't patient enough to find out precisely where those numbers come from.
Hansen tries to explain some of this in a paper called The Temperature of Science, which blames most of the controversy on politics, not science. Perhaps so and I am not clever enough to follow his arguments, but I still haven't been able to figure out how he knows what the Earth's temperature was in 1880, or even in 1940.
Hansen summarized his paper:
His paper does include the chart
that shows the general conclusion that things have been getting warmer since 1880 (by 0.2 degrees up to 1940, then another 04. to 0.6 degrees from 1940 to present, and shows that sea surface and land surface 'anomalies' are about the same. Anomalies are used because absolute temperatures vary from place to place in an uncorrelated manner, so we take the difference between what we get when the measure is taken from what it was at some ideal reference value. How they determined that for 1880 to 1940 is not known to me, but apparently the sea temperature anomalies are obtained for 1880 to 1981 from The Hadley Data. I wasn't able to understand how the Hadley Data determined those values given the way primary data were obtained in 1880 or for that matter in 1940.
The heart of Hansen's paper comes at the end:
He doesn't state it, but it ought to be obvious that all the conclusions are based on the accuracies of the figure of merit calculated for the temperature of the Earth -- and those depend on having data to work with. "Where observations are sparse" is a key phrase. Go back to 1880 and observations are sparser still. They weren't all that plentiful in 1938, another candidate for the warmest year of the 20th Century.
In any event, I doubt that my poking about with this will produce much in the way of results. All my attempts to understand what's going on get me back to the same conclusions: the data show something like under 1 degree rise in temperature from 1880 to 2009, and the way you adjust the data to account for the fact that we have different data sets and different observations at different times can affect your estimate of the temperature of the Earth by as much as a degree.
Maybe the Earth is warming. Maybe it is getting colder. On the whole it's more likely that it has been warming in the last century. After all, we are beginning to see the remains of the Viking Greenland settlements come out from under the ice that the Fimbulwinter that drove the settlers out began. What the 'natural' trend (that is, the trend without CO2) would be is harder to discern, and the fact that the Earth is warmer than it would be if it were a simple black body at this distance from the Sun argues that the 'natural' tendency would be down, not up.
And I am far more afraid of Ice than a couple of degrees warming. I fear shorter growing seasons more than I fear longer growing seasons. If the climate must change -- and stasis is unlikely -- I'd rather be warmer than colder. I'd also rather be richer than poorer. Enough. It's bed time.
January 3, 2010
I am working on the year end/beginning column complete with Orchids and Onions parade. Nominations by readers for Chaos Manor Orchids, Onions, and User's Choice Awards are open until Tuesday night (January 5, 2010; call it midnight PST).
We have a once in decades cold snap in the East, and the duration of this cold wave is unpredictably long. Britain is facing one of the coldest winters in a century. Parts of Scotland have been covered by snow for three weeks. The prediction is that it will be even colder. That Anthropological Global Warming is certainly insidious. Happy New Year.
Most of us are in a state of shock as we contemplate 2009. I think this is particularly true of the independents who chose Obama and voted Democrat with the view that the Republicans had forfeited any right to rule, and this time it would be different: this would be Change We Can Believe In. That's particularly the case with younger voters, but there were a lot of older independents who thought Change ought to have a chance.
There are also droves of Republicans and Republican-inclined Independents who just plain stayed home -- more than enough to have affected both the Presidency and a majority in the House. Staying home was a vote for Obama, and most knew that; I suspect they too were hoping for Change We Can Believe In, as well as strongly believing that the Republicans had gone mad with their Big Government Conservatism. If we are going to have Big Government, shouldn't that be run by people who want and believe in Big Government, as opposed to those who reluctantly concede that we're going to have Big Government so we may as well Get Ours.
In any event, the numbers are in, and the Ones We Have Been Waiting For are now down in the polls and in public esteem, approval of Congress continues to fall, and the hopes of the American people are at a low and falling. Unemployment grows (but not as much as we predicted, so that's Good, right?) and will continue to grow for a while, but the rate of growth is down, and who knows, numbers of jobs may pick up again if we can only figure out how to get people to invest money in job creating businesses, only we're going to raise the taxes on small businesses and hand out health care entitlements and business will have to give those health care plans to employees and we can't tell you how much all that will cost, but it won't add to the deficit and we won't tax the middle class, because we don't call these new compulsory payments taxes because they are after all for your own good, and...
And I suppose that's a long enough ramble.
Next Fall's elections will be crucial. If there is no significant change in Congressional majorities, the signal will be that the American people will put up with the conversion of a society whose major benefit is freedom to one of entitlement -- in other words the establishment of Socialism. That's what is at stake, and make no mistake about it. If we are to Take Back Our Government and restore the republic, this may be the last opportunity, because once the new entitlements are in place, it will be extremely difficult to repeal them.
Then there's Climate Change, but we've had lots to say about that.
It's going to be an interesting year.
Her last venture, Talk, didn't turn out well:
After our walk this afternoon I went over to the Daily Beast to have a look; I confess it's not only my first trip there, but in fact I hadn't heard of it before, or perhaps I had and didn't remember it; but since this is what is supposed to be replacing magazines, and it's edited by one of the most successful editors in magazine history, I thought it very much worth a look.
I can't say it's going to be my cup of tea. It's not just the content, which is liberal but not unrelentingly so. One problem for me is that it seems mostly dedicated to videos. I don't have time to watch a lot of videos. Few have enough content to justify the time needed to watch them. Britt Hume's remarks on Tiger Woods are interesting -- I've been a bit of a Britt Hume fan since the days when we used to lunch together in the press room at COMDEX and I generally find his reasoning quite sound -- but the actual points made could have been made in a few hundred words that I could read in well under the time it takes to watch that.
I did find some essays, and from one I learned about the Obama Administration
That's a fairly interesting observation. I suppose it might be true, but I suspect not: I don't really think that everything is different now that The One has taken the oath of office, thus rendering resistance futile. I am still -- possibly unreasonably -- of the opinion that rational discussion is important, and that Cap and Trade and many of the other policies of this administration are not rational, but are being carried not by any coalition but by raw political power. Sometimes that is necessary: the 13th Amendment was not adopted through rational discussion, and in fact couldn't have been adopted at all in the 1860's without the Civil War and Reconstruction. It was rammed through and ratified by admitting a newly accepted state that had not the population of a large village, and enforced by military force. I do not believe that Cap and Trade, or Health Care Reform, or Immigration Reform have the moral supremacy that the slavery issue had, although it appears that Obama's justification for imposing his will in those areas is "Guess what, I won."
The Constitution tried to establish transparency and subsidiarity as the major principles of government. We have long ago left most of that behind (the Civil War Amendments being the usual justification) ; perhaps we will dump the rest of it, and go to a national Socialism. That doesn't seem inevitable to me.
In any event, I can't tell you if The Daily Beast is a harbinger of the future of magazine publishing. It is said to have a large on-line circulation, but has yet to make money.
On that score, my thanks to all those who have recently subscribed or renewed their subscriptions. As I am sure I have told you many times, this place doesn't operate on advertising: it's on the Public Radio model. It's free, you don't get socked with ads, and I try to keep the subscription appeals short. My thanks to all of you patrons of the arts...
On "anomalies": the point of using "anomaly" or difference data is to compare January with January, June with June, and so forth. Exactly what you average can vary and that will affect the actual results, but the concept is proper. An anomaly of zero means that there is no change: these data are substantially the same as the average for some longer period of time.
One thing concerns me.
I have no idea why the number of stations reporting has fallen to pre-1900 levels. I am sure some0ne more familiar with the techniques can explain.
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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