THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 609 February 8 - 14, 2010
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February 8, 2010
This morning's Wall Street Journal has an op ed by John Hofmeister "Why the US needs an industrial policy." Hofmeister is the former President of Shell Oil.
All this is true, and I've been saying this for years. The problem here is that phrase "Industrial Policy", which means many things to many people. There is a socialist Industrial Policy that would make things worse.
There are several reasons why the United States is not competitive with the third world, and the phrase "industrial policy" doesn't specify what the remedy is. Mr. Hofmeister concludes:
I'm not sure what all this means. While I agree that creating manufacturing incentives would be a good idea, the devil is in the details: do we mean subsidies? And does paying for worker training mean paying even more money to the Department of Education and the enormous unionized education establishment? That's the kind of Industrial Policy that the Obama administration sees, and taking more of the poison that's killing us is probably not such a good idea.
One reason we are not competitive is our regulations. Some are worker safety regulations. Others are economic. Many are "product safety" regulations. Some are environmental protection regulations. All of these are arguably useful in small doses; but need they be Federal? In particular the economic regulations that impose minimum wages and the like do far more harm than good, and are probably unconstitutional in the bargain. By unconstitutional I don't mean the cases haven't been decided by the Supreme Court, of course; I mean that the very idea of a Federal minimum wage would have horrified not only the Framers at the Convention of 1787, but everyone in Congress who voted for the Civil War Amendments that the Court uses to justify the enormous expansions of federal power that happened during the 20th Century, and everyone in the state legislatures when the relevant amendments were ratified.
My proposal for an Industrial Policy is to repeal nearly all the federal regulations and leave those matters to the States. Yes, we need some environmental regulation, yes we need some product safety regulations, but we don't need enormous federal bureaucracies who continuously add more "protections" and thus more expenses to production. Some states like California are likely to continue the insanity, but here and there will be states that have goals other than government by and for government.
The alternative would be a serious reform of federal regulation and that's not likely to work. We have all seen the absurdities: stickers on lawn mowers warning people not to put their fingers under the mower while it is running. Is there a single human being likely not to already know that putting your fingers under a lawn mower while it is running is not a good idea but who, on seeing that sticker, would have an epiphany and avoid that foolish act? But so far have we come: if we don't put that sticker on there and someone manages to lose a finger or two, he can't say he wasn't warned. Those warnings add to the cost of the mower, but so what?
I can come up with endless examples of how regulations needlessly add to the cost of manufacture. We can either remove those -- not likely, given the Iron Law; decentralize and let competition among the states insert some sanity into the regulation process; or accept the regulated world and add an import tariff to compensate for the overseas competitive advantage our crazy regulations and labor laws confer on them.
I've more than once said that we need a compensatory across the board import tariff to protect jobs. It's not that Americans can't compete; it's that regulated America can't compete. Tariff during a depression is not a good economic idea, and it's very easy to get protective tariffs too high; but if we are going to insist on our goofy regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act specifying that alcoholism is a disability and thus you can't fire someone for always showing up drunk on the job, then we are going to have to pay for this foolishness somehow. A company required to keep non-competitive workers on the job isn't going to be competitive against countries that can hire the most productive workers and no one else. I know that's hard lines on the handicapped. I also know that in some cases the handicapped worker is the most productive in the shop, and he wouldn't have got the job in the first place if there hadn't been the disabilities act. I know that companies will pollute if they can save money that way. I know all the horror stories. The fact remains that unrestricted free trade in a highly regulated society is a job export machine.
We can't have all these regulations and unrestricted free trade, and until everyone recognizes that any Industrial Policy we are likely to adopt may make things worse, not better.
The same is true for education: without some stiff competition, education will stultify, and our Federal education policies eliminate competition, take away local control, and reward credentialism rather than educational productivity. Bill Gates has discovered that bringing in excellent teachers and getting rid of really bad teachers is the most effective way to improve education. This isn't precisely a new discovery, but his foundation had the resources to remove all doubt. What does this do to policy? At the moment the quest for "better" teachers sparks even more credentialism. Bad teachers can become good teachers by going to workshops; so goes the national educational wisdom. We all know this doesn't work, and that bad teachers with more and more credentials remain bad teachers only now it's even more difficult to get rid of them. Everyone knows this. But the workshops and credential factories continue and multiply.
Regulate and impose tariffs; deregulate and leave it to the states; those are the real choices for an Industrial Policy. It's probably not what we will do. I suspect we'll flounder about with subsidies and more credentialism and in general take a lot more of the poison in the hopes that more will cure us.
Subsidiarity and transparency.
The editorial in today's Wall Street Journal "Democratic Climate Revolt" is cause for some rejoicing: even the Democrats are getting concerned about the consequences of "green" legislation, and even more so about the EPA trying to regulate CO2. Alas, the cost of getting the EPA out of the CO2 regulation business is likely to be even more earmarks for subsidies on turning food into fuel, which will make food prices higher. It's probably true that "this is the first good thing ethanol has done," and that as the Journal concludes it's better than nothing, but note that doing something sensible -- actually, undoing something that everyone knows is just wrong, namely declaring CO2 a pollutant and letting the EPA regulate it -- has a cost.
Remember that when you're thinking about Industrial Policy. The more we regulate the more this kind of horse trading becomes inevitable.
Subsidiarity and transparency.
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February 9, 2010
I don't do breaking news, but this one was unusual: President Obama took over the morning White House press conference.
This was his first press conference since last July. That in itself is worth comment. He held the record for the number of press conferences held by a President-elect, and as of July he was headed for a new record -- even though he hasn't held a press conference since last July, his number for the first year wasn't far below that of Clinton and Bush -- but then, suddenly, he stopped. For a while no one noticed, and despite his promises about open government, the Washington press corps didn't have much to say on the subject. Perhaps one reason for the sudden halt in press conferences was the lack of the teleprompter: it was in a press conference that Obama said the Massachusetts policeman who arrested his Harvard friend and forced the President to hold the hastily arranged "beer summit". Since then the teleprompter has been his almost constant companion, even in small meetings with only a couple of dozen people. There may be a message in there somewhere.
Apparently the President went out to make headlines to support his upcoming "Summit" on healthcare. He's also frightened by the Tea Party movement and his continually plummeting popularity in the polls. His charm is his best weapon, and he want chances to use it in places where he can take his teleprompter.
The "Summit" is a trap, of course. One hopes that the Republicans will understand this and not be trapped. There are indications that they do. In an open letter to Rom Emmanuel, the Republican leadership said
The President's press conference this morning made it clear that the starting point is exactly this, and what Obama wants is some kind of bargaining session that will allow what these plans -- schemes is a better word -- to pass.
The Republican response ought to be a polite regret and a decline of the invitation. The "summit" can't help them or the American people, and becoming implementers for the enormous Democrat majority that can't agree on anything is terrible politics. It will lose most of the momentum built up in the last few months.
It may be that the Republican leadership is finally learning the true lesson of the Massachusetts election: it wasn't a Republican win, it was a Democrat loss, just as 2008 was largely a Republican loss helped along by the charm and personal magnetism of President Obama. The Republicans have got to shed any delusions of grandeur about their sudden popularity. They aren't popular. They're just less unpopular than the Democrats. The real news is that the latest polls show the US population's approval of Congress at about 10%, and actual hatred of the Congress somewhere near 40%, with Obama's personal popularity around half but his political approval considerably lower.
In a word the nation has lost confidence in the ability of the political class to govern. With good reason.
The Tea Party movement is still a "good government" -- googoo, in professional political science terms** -- movement, and probably ought to remain so; but it's not going to last without getting involved in party building. It should be cautious about that. The best thing that could happen to the country would be for the Tea Party movement to bring the Democratic Party back to the center from its McGovern Wing capture, while helping to liberate the Republican Party from the rapacious wolves who took over after Newt Gingrich resigned. At the moment the two parties have become the Nuts and the Creeps; see my essay on that. Getting back to saner government 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished...
If you want to see why we have to get out of the mess we are in, see for example today's articles on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Try "No exit in sight for US as Fannie, Freddie, flail." It opens:
When you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging, but the Democrat leadership and in particular Barney Frank and Chris Dodd don't believe that -- or perhaps they do believe it and don't care.
Then there's Elizabeth Warren's "Wall Street's Race to the Bottom" which begins
Her remedy is creation of the CFPA, a new bureaucracy which will regulate things to protect consumers.
She's a smart lady, but she also believes that government can fix things, and apparently believes that we can create bureaucracies that will operate differently and won't be subject to the voracious wolves. It's the latest in a long series of promises by those of the regulatory persuasion. My experience is that the only winner is The Iron Law.
All of which is depressing. The Tea Party movement and populism have no idea of what they are taking on. Unfortunately the party leaders do, or think they do. Both parties can go mad on regulation that is intended to do one thing and accomplishes quite another without actually doing much about what it was intended to stop: if you don't believe that, contemplate Sarbanes-Oxley, passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support and big Republican enthusiasm in the wake of the Enron scandals. It's easy to generate populist enthusiasm for revenge on the big guys in Wall Street, but building government power to do that is not a good idea.
My advice to the Tea Party leadership is to be cautious, but caution can't rule forever. The movement exists on enthusiasm, and as Boss Flynn noted in his book, that enthusiasm doesn't last all that long. GooGoos come and go. The machine remains.
All that said, the Massachusetts victory was bracing, and makes it clear that there's still a good chance for these United States. Maybe God does look out for us. We've got a chance to get out of this hole. Have some tea. A tea summit is better than a beer summit.
**Note: I think the origin of the term googoo comes from Edward J. Boss Flynn's political autobiography "You're the Boss". I note to my horror that the book is not only out of print, but that used copies sell for horrendous amounts. I once assigned that book as a text in a sophomore American Politics class, and I believe Heinlein drew from it in his "Take Back Your Government". I note that Heinlein's book isn't currently available through Amazon either. You can get an eBook copy from Baen. I'm a bit concerned that such basic works are out of print and not easily found. Flynn's book is easily read and fairly revealing. For those who don't know, Flynn was Tammany Hall president and political boss in Bronx, and accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta; his views of the American political process are still very much worth thinking about. It's the way politics used to work.
Fortunately protected mode is on by default, and this can't be the worm that got me; I never turn off protected mode. Does no harm to check, though.
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February 10, 2010
I have a medical appointment at 1100, so today's View will be a bit late. I'll probably write some of it on the MacBook Air while I'm in the waiting room. I have a suggestion from Ron MacKinnon that I connect the infected drive I removed from Emily (see the column) to a Mac system running OS X; that should let me copy any files I like from any hidden or controlled folders, and that certainly won't have any danger of infection for a Mac.) I'll try that when I get back.
There's a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Newt Gingrich and John Goodman in today's WSJ that's worth your attention. It's mostly obvious things to do, of course, but it certainly makes it clear that the Republicans are not hiding their health care "ideas". As the pull quote for the piece says, "We don't have to study lawsuit reform one minute longer." Everyone in the nation understands what ought to be done about medical lawsuits, and just about everyone agrees that it should be done, but the Plaintiff Bar association owns a major share of the Democratic Party, and they're not going to allow that. Since legal reform is the easiest way to make major reductions in the cost of health care, and it's not going to happen, a good part of any discussion on health care is simply irrelevant.
The President's invitation to the Republican Leadership is either a trap or a naive cri de couer from an inexperienced president desperate to have something to show for his first term. One can feel sorry for him. Harry Truman once said that he got the to Oval Office, saw what needed to be done, issued the necessary orders -- and absolutely nothing happened. Of course Truman understood himself: it was Truman who told the story about Sam Rayburn coming to his office the night before he was sworn in.
"Harry," he said. "Guess this is the last time I can call you Harry. Harry, after you take office there are going to be all these really smart people come to you with the damndest complicated schemes you ever heard of on how to fix everything, and Harry, they're going to try to tell you that you're smart enough to understand them. Harry, you just keep remembering, you ain't that smart."
As I say, Truman told that story on himself. I do not suspect that the current President would ever say such a thing; he's pretty certain he's among the smartest people in the room. Perhaps he is, but if he isn't, there's no one around to tell him different. In a Roman triumph a slave stood behind the celebrant whispering in his ear "Remember that thou art but a man." We used to have something similar in the Invocations at inaugurations, but we've given that up. No one is going to tell Obama "You ain't that smart." They're more likely to tell him "They just don't understand things as well as we do."
Trap or plea for help, this is not the time for the Republicans to compromise on ramming through something that the American people hate. This is the time to screw up their courage and just politely say no. Common sense says health care costs can be reduced, but not with this enormous "reform". It's time to go at it one small piece at a time, and tort reform is the obvious beginning. Secondly we need to put decisions in the hands of the payers, not the consumers; but that will take longer and is more difficult. Tort reform first and look at what happens then.
After which it is time to apply common sense to the Global Warming and Climate questions. There again there are some obvious common sense measures all sensible realists can agree on. I suppose it's too much to hope for.
Now I have to get out of here. This is a quarterly meeting with the cancer specialist; so far as I know there's nothing to report.
The pledge drive continues this week. All those who have not subscribed should do so. All those who haven't renewed since 2008 should do so. Well, perhaps I put that a bit too strongly: really, I am not after anyone's rent money. This is a public site, and it will always be free, but it won't be here if we don't get subscriptions. There's no real danger just now -- thanks to all those who recently renewed or subscribed -- but it's always in the background. Thanks to all of you who keep this place open.
And now I'm off.
1330: back from Kaiser. The cancer specialist doesn't think he needs to see me again until August, but the lab did take about 8 vials of blood. If something is in there that shouldn't be, they'll want me sooner, but we can be hopeful. I'd have thought it made more sense to take the blood first, and next summer I'll remind them of that a week before I go. Should have thought of that myself. In any event, I don't seem to be deteriorating, although when I came home I got my doubts.
I have a MacBook Pro that I can only call schizophrenic. I log in as jerryp, in most places the machine thinks I am jerryp, but the home page is named jerrypournelle, and this causes a mess with some networking. I am not at all sure what's going on here. The problem seems to date from Snow Leopard. It will network with Windows machines, but the windows machines can see it but they can't log on to it although I have set sharing. I can share among Macs, and push and pull Windows systems with a Mac, but it doesn't go the other way.
I need also to rename my Macs. Is there any penalty for doing that? It's astonishing how much there is left to learn about these systems for me.
There is a simple solution to the Haiti missionaries. Hillary Clinton quietly tells them to pardon those people and send them home, or we are taking our marbles and going home. This farce has gone on long enough. The missionary people may have been arrogant, and the parents who handed over kids pretending they were orphans were understandably mistaken, but there was nothing criminal here, and Haiti has no business wasting scarce resources and good will on this prolonged exercise in "sovereignty". It is time to end the farce. It has already cost Haiti a great deal in donations and sympathy.
If you want an insight into the liberal mind, see Thomas Frank, The Tilting Yard, "Washington's Deficit of Trust", in today's Wall Street Journal. Frank is the journal's liberal fig leaf, and presumably is one of the more intelligent liberals, with his own weekly WSJ column; and he demonstrates that he has no idea of what conservatism is or much about conservative thought.
He says that last year we had a crisis for conservatives but they are making a comeback. He has no notion that those who were heaved out in 2008 were not conservatives at all. The losing party last year were Republicans, led by the country club wing. Neoconservatives have never been conservatives at all: they were hawkish in the Cold War, and have a preference to deregulation in finance, but they also went for "big government conservatism" -- and of course there is no such thing as "Big government Conservatism". Conservatives are not anti-government. We understand thoroughly that human nature is what it is, and many are led into temptation who cannot resist it; better to "bind them down with the chains of law and the constitution."
Frank speaks of his belief that the conservatives believe in "the essential villainy of government", proving once again that liberals simply do not understand. Government is not essentially evil; but given the fallen nature of man, you have to assume that if you give great power it will be used, and given enough power it will attract evil men. It is not a coincidence that the wicked brother often survives to become king -- one of the reasons for not having kings. Government is not villainy. It is, in the words of Franklin, "like fire a dangerous servant and a fearful master"; but he invented the Franklin Stove to make more efficient use of fire, and would no more have given up government than he would fire. That ancients always believed that good government was the gift of the gods, and the Framers understood that good government requires hard work and resistance to the temptation to try to accomplish too much. The knowledge of the world does not lead to perfection and attempts to establish perfection through knowledge -- through acquiring the gnosis and applying it -- have always been the door to disaster and worse.
Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. You cannot have both freedom and equality imposed by law. You can have charity or you can have entitlements, but the more you have of the latter the less you will have of the former -- and the less you will have of freedom. This isn't really controversial; it's inherent in the terms. You are free to equalize yourself with the poor, but there is neither freedom nor charity in forcing that equalization, and we all know it. Moreover, equalization is done by a ruling class forcing others to share; little of their equalizations affects those who enact them. Not in their fundamentals. Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd were generous, but still thought themselves powerful enough to play "waitress sandwich" games in DC restaurants -- and the press corps all knew it. Such is equality.
We used to learn these facts. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. Now they are cliches -- but not less true for being ignored.
Thomas Frank sincerely believes that we face a crisis of confidence because the Republicans blackguarded government, and no wonder government is ineffective: the bureaucrats are hunkered down, afraid the tea party movement.
Read the column. It gives rare insight into the nonsense that a great number actually believe.
February 11, 2010
Rush Limbaugh today is concerned about Obama's recent statement that he is 'agnostic' on the subject of raising taxes on the middle class, which is to say those with family incomes of lower than $250,000 a year. You may recall that during his campaign the strongest promise he made was that if your family income was less than $250,000 a year you would not see one dime of tax increases. Not one dime.
Now Obama's "I am agnostic" statement was made without a teleprompter, and might just be a case of getting the wrong word. He may have meant 'adamant', one of Steve Jobs' favorite words. Adamant comes from Greek and denoted a very hard substance, as in the adamant sickle used by the Titan Chronos to castrate his father. If Obama really meant "agnostic" meaning literally without knowledge (as in ignoramus, or we know nothing, one possible finding of a grand jury) and usually taken to mean having no strong opinion or program of action on an issue, such as being agnostic as opposed to being atheist or religious, then it is a very major change in policy, and a probably disastrous one for the Democratic Party. If it is such a change in policy this is an odd way to announce it. It tells the ravenous wolves that they are free to raise taxes on the middle class. I expect it was a misstatement that is being allowed to stand as a trial balloon. If so, that balloon ought to be shot down, promptly and vigorously, and the Democrats should be put in a state of terror.
Note that the new Obama budget has a number of hidden budget increases built into it: it moves a number of "temporary" budget items into the permanent non-discretionary budget base, apparently enough to just about offset his "freeze" on future spending. Perhaps that too is a mistake, or some trick by staff officials, but the President ought to be asked about this at his next press conference. One supposes there will be press conferences? Alas, we have no equivalent of the British Parliament's 'Question time', so there's no requirement of press conferences other than public demand.
Given that Washington is shut down by the latest indicators of global warming, perhaps it will be a while before there can be a press conference? On the other hand, maybe this is the right time. Surely the press can get to the White House, the President is already there, if there is Internet connection anywhere on Earth it ought to be from the White House, and the President isn't going to be traveling for a few days. Ideal press conference time.
Karl Rove today advises the Republicans to accept the President's invitation to the health care summit. "Republicans and the Health-Care Pow-Wow". He thinks it's a good idea and will provide some good Republican sound bites, a show case for proposals on tort reform (probably the single most needed health care reform) and other Republican "ideas".
I'm not so sure. It's a political spectacle, and Obama's people control all the rules. One has no choice but to be respectful to the President -- he is, as Clinton once observed, the only President we have -- and the President has all the power to set the rules on what is covered, what is recorded, what is televised. Newt Gingrich was usually able to hold his own in some of those shows, but Clinton snookered him on more than one occasion -- and they had mutual respect for each other as well as for their offices. They also thoroughly understood each other. I don't think the current Republicans have the skills -- and the whole thing is kabuki theater to begin with. What purpose is served? The President wants any bill he can get. The Democrats want some way to escape the general hatred of Congress -- bad enough that the people hate the Congress, but it's clear that the Democrats run it with their extraordinary majorities of 2008. "We put you guys in charge, and you blew it," is a fair summary of the tea party movement. Why help bail the Democrats out?
I have mail from tea party hosts -- they don't like to be called leaders -- reminding me that the tea parties are not nailed to the Republican Party. I understand that. Neither am I. At the moment, though, the Republican vector is toward less government, as historically it was until the Big Government Conservatives after Gingrich changed that. Presumably they have learned a lesson; it is one we should not let them forget. Reagan intended to eliminate the Department of Education (a consummation devoutly to be wished); he was thwarted by the ravenous wolves, and he had the Cold War to end. No one is talking about eliminating whole government departments now, but if anyone is going to do it, it will probably be Republicans, not Democrats.
But let me repeat: if we don't have a viable two party system, a way to turn out unsatisfactory political leaders without the election being taken as an invitation to remake the fundamentals of the nation -- as the 2008 election was interpreted as a mandate to turn the nation into a European model socialist state with socialized medicine and expanded welfare and a huge increase in the portion of GDP disposed of by the government, with full Industrial Policy and the rest -- we are in deep trouble. If each election is an institutional revolution, and the stakes escalate with each election until losing the election is ruin for a large number of people -- the subsequent history is pretty clear. Institutional civil war is not stable.
Conservatism is enjoyment, not permanent revolution. It took a while to get into this hole. It will take longer to get out. First we stop digging. Then we begin to dismantle parts of the huge structure. But we must not do it by turning out all the civil servants. Devolving many of their tasks to lower levels, subsidiarity and transparency, those are vectors. The Department of Education is, I think, an exception; but most government programs began with good intentions, few of those who run them for us are villains, and people made dependent on government cannot simple be turned out to starve. Transitions take a long time: what's important is to get the vector in the right direction, and it's very likely that the only way to do that is to completely change the leadership in both parties. We have to make elections a way to choose those who will lead, not simply choose between the Creeps and the Nuts.
If you want to hear about impasses and compromise, try this"
For some pictures of the snow, try:
Of course it's global warming.
Now do understand: there's some sense in the notion that it takes increased energy, coming from somewhere, to transport the gigatons of water so that it can become glacial ice. There are also obvious feedback loops. Ice is reflective. How do you get the water from the seas, and from lower latitudes, up to the higher latitudes so that the glacial creep begins? And what causes it to run away, so that in under 100 years Britain went from deciduous trees to tens of meters, then kilometers, of ice? That ice has to start with evaporation, and that takes heat and lots of it. Needless to say, none of the great comprehensive climate models can explain the sudden transition from temperate to Ice Age, nor do they show any mechanism for recovery from an Ice Age once begun.
Clearly there has to be an energy source for an Ice Age climate change. What we don't have are good and valid theories on what causes the Ice Ages. Benjamin Franklin speculated volcanic clouds making the world colder -- he came up with that theory when observing a volcanic eruption in Iceland while on passage to (possibly from, I forget) a diplomatic mission to Europe. Franklin speculated on global cooling; he didn't think about the energy required to transport all that water to the glacial area. Other since have thought about it, but few that I know of have any testable hypotheses.
I note that current global warming theories are now accepting the unprecedented snowfalls as evidence of the truth of AGW. There seems to be no real consensus among them, though, and some are still showing the lack of snow for the Winter Olympics also as evidence for AGW. Apparently anything is evidence for AGW to some who call themselves scientists, but this isn't science. Note the similarity to Freudianism which was once a science by consensus even though there wasn't a falsifiable hypothesis in the doctrine: whatever happened could be explained, including results directly contradictory to previous predictions. Freudianism was accepted as science for a long time, and even today few denounce it: it has been "superseded" is about the worst any will say -- but it is as dead as the dodo, having wreaked its corrosive effect on the culture -- and having raked in an awful lot of money for its practitioners.
Meanwhile, Washington is still shut down. If, after this, we have an early spring, you may be sure that this is a sure sign of global warming -- or if we have a late spring, why that too will be support for the AGW hypothesis. It might be a good time to nail down the AGW consensus people: what might happen that will not be support for the AGW hypothesis. If they say that AGW cannot produce flying purple people eaters before next fall, that at least is falsifiable, and we should be on the lookout in places where purple people eaters are usually seen.
There's mail today including a discussion of tariff and regulation, and some observations about the new DSM.
February 12, 2010
Today is the last day of the Winter pledge drive. This site operates on the public radio model: it's free, but unless we get enough subscribers it will not stay open. Subscribe today! If you have not renewed since 2008 or before, renew your subscription today! That way you can be sure we'll still be here, day after day -- well, all right, I'm sort of repeating the KUSC announcer. KUSC is the local classical music radio station here, and I have used it as the financial model, including the pledge drives. They're successful, so why shouldn't I be? Of course they have both more listeners and larger expenses than I do. Anyway, my thanks to all those who have recently subscribed or renewed. Subscribe now. It only takes a moment.
1115: We are back. It is a bright sunny day in Los Angeles, not a cloud in the sky and warm enough that some neighbors were out in tee shirts.
While we were out one of my neighbors was jubilant because Philip Campbell, editor of Nature, "was forced to resign", and that meant global warming was unraveling and --
Actually, it's not that much of a story. You can read it all at:
and I don't have a lot more comment. Campbell is certainly an expert on the peer review process, and as an editor of a major magazine he was expected to comment on Climategate. His comment was not one I would have made, but choosing an investigative panel of people who had no opinion on the subject but were familiar with the subject matter would be impossible. The important point is not that AGW believers were appointed to the panel, because of course they would be; what I don't know is if there are any "deniers" of stature on that panel, and that we haven't seen.
There ought to be an investigation into the Climategate affair. More than one. I predict an impartial investigation will find that there is no unambiguous evidence for human induced global warming, and that the warming we are experiencing, such as it is, is a lot less dangerous than the cooling we feared a generation ago. Cold is scarier than warm. Way lots more CO2 is probably dangerous, but some increases in CO2 are beneficial to plants, and some warming plus more CO2 is good for crop yields. It was a lot warmer in the period when the Vikings planted their colonies, and it was a lot colder during the Little Ice Age.
Of course having said that I suppose I have disqualified myself from having an opinion, since Deniers aren't worth listening to...
There was a firestorm of protest from copyright owners, and a lawsuit by a consortium of some copyright holders, The Authors Guild, and the Publishers Association. They then negotiated a settlement with Google, purportedly on behalf of all copyright holders.
The settlement basically says that for any author who agrees with the settlement (opts in), they will pay a nominal amount (about $50) for having copied the work without permission -- I call that paying for the insult -- and authors may then opt out of the Google Books publication scheme. Authors must claim their insult money by opting in to the settlement. Those who do that and don't opt out of Google Books accept that Google gets to "publish" the work non-exclusively, sell a copy to anyone who wants to buy it, and split the money with the copyright holder. There are other details, but that's the essence of the settlement.
The settlement is under fire from many authors -- Ursula Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild over it, and SFWA opposes it. The Authors Guild defends the settlement.
Google's defense of their book scanning operation is given here:
The article is worth reading. He states the case for Google's actions and the proposed settlement as well as anywhere I have seen.
I have mixed emotions on all this. My original impulse was to opt out. Up to now I have done nothing, but I am now inclined to accept the insult money, then opt out of the Google Books publishing operation because I think I have better publishing options. At the moment all that's moot because the settlement is under fire from the government, and the Court hasn't accepted it yet, and there will be appeals. I doubt I will live to see any of the settlement money, and I suspect that neither will my children. The only people who are going to be paid are lawyers, most of whom have already benefited, and will get lots more.
Google's concern was sparked by a move by libraries to discard unwanted books. Many of those are copyright orphans -- someone probably owns the copyright, but doesn't know it, and many copyright owners don't know the work exists. Those who say Google ought to have asked people to "opt in" on having the works scanned must not have thought too hard about this: how can you choose all but only those works whose copyright owners don't know they are copyright holders? The search would be prohibitive, which is why Google decided to "scan them all, let the owners sort them out."
A number of my friends are so incensed over Google making this copy without their permission that they never get beyond that. The fact is, though, that most of our works have been scanned many times by many people, and often published on pirate sites. Everything the late authors Jack Chalker and Poul Anderson ever wrote was posted on scribd, a commercial profit making site which was perfectly willing to respect valid DMCA takedown notices, but wouldn't pay attention to anything else. A DMCA notice requires the one sending the notice to say under penalty of perjury that he is either the copyright owner or authorized to act for the owner. The scribd flap and the strange actions of the Electronic Frontier Foundation who sent a threatening attorney's letter to the Science Fiction Writers of America defending scribd's right to leave the entire estates of Jack Chalker and Poul Anderson on their site until the widows sent the proper paperwork is given in my daybook, and summarized in a column, and need not be repeated here. SFWA caved and abolished it's copyright committee, and authors are now on their own; the Guild does more to defend author rights than SFWA now. My point is that Google isn't the only offender, and Google is at least trying to do the right thing, unlike straight out pirates, and places like scribd who are "defending your right to post what you want to post" (even if you don't own it, unless the owner sends the right paperwork). The Guild, the publishers, and Google haven't reached the perfect agreement for protecting author rights while saving orphan works from extinction; but they are trying, and I think in good faith.
And, note, there are many who think it's all moot to begin with. Eric Flint of Baen Books, who has more data on the actual results of piracy than anyone else I know, is convinced that efforts to suppress piracy is a waste of time. I don't know his exact position on the Google Settlement. I'd think that given his conclusions on electronic piracy -- it doesn't have much effect on real sales, and for some authors may even serve as free advertising, and authors are probably better off writing more and ignoring piracy -- I'd think it would be "take the money and run." It's certainly what I am tempted to do.
Yet another chapter in the evolving world of publishing. It's all fascinating and this is certainly not the last of the discussion.
February 13, 2010
Greece is in the spotlight, but Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain are all in the sinking boats: they owe far more than they can pay, their economies are headed down, unemployment is up, and they can't get out of the problem by devaluing their currency because they don't have a currency. They're all using Euros now.
Greece is showing the way. They are very nearly dead broke, and their only hope is that Germany will "loan" them money to bail them out. Everyone knows that these "loans" won't be paid back; how can they? Greece's obligations in public spending and pensions exceed their economic abilities, their population is aging without replacement, and the chances of getting a new economy going while keeping on with their present economic policies are approximately nil. The German voters know this and are weary of working their tails off to bail people out. They went from the rubble of 1945 through the Economic Miracle, then they took in the economic wreck that communism had made of East Germany and more or less rehabilitated that -- at least made a pretty good start of it, and the path out of those woods seems clear -- and now they are invited to "loan" money to bail out the PIIGS.
So there are signs that Germany is going to opt out -- at least to impose some economic conditions on "loaning" that money to bail out Greece. Greece is going to have to make some economic reforms and adjustments. The response in Greece is predictable: the public service unions have taken to the streets. How dare Germany put any conditions on bailing out the Greek economy?
It will be interesting to see how that game plays out. If you want more on this including pictures of the Greek civil servants in the streets, see "The Greek Tragedy that Changed Europe" by Simon Johnson and Peter Boone in the Saturday (today) Wall Street Journal. The pull quote from that article is
Hardly an unexpected revelation, but it seems to have been forgotten.
Meanwhile, California is broke, and Los Angeles even more immediately so. There is no way Los Angeles can meet its obligations; shortly it will not even be able to pay its civil servants. Some have to be laid off, and the enormous pension benefit obligations have to be got under control, salaries have to be cut, so the response of the Public Service Union is to go disrupt a City Council meeting and call for demonstrations. The analogy with Greece is interesting.
The United States has a number of states that are disaster areas, with public spending far exceeding their economic ability. They can't devalue their currency because they don't have a currency, and the Constitution says they can't make one:
Bankrupt states can't raise taxes because there's not much left to tax: already anyone who can is fleeing. California has a 20% higher cost of doing business than the average in the US, and businesses know this. Capital is fleeing the state. Interestingly the entertainment industry is mostly capital driven; this could get pretty painful. Michigan and New Jersey are in similar straits. And unlike Greece, US States can't even go to the International Monetary Fund, no matter how humiliating it is to have to go there.
Margaret Thatcher once said that the trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money. Taxation without representation is tyranny -- and also pretty difficult if you can possibly flee the jurisdiction. To your tents, O Israel!
The current administration's remedy for all this is, well, to make the American economy more like that of the European Union. Add socialism and public service unions (e.g. card check). The results can be interesting. In Spain, as an example, the average salary of an air traffic controller is about half a million dollars a year, or so I have heard (I find it nearly incredible, but then I look at some of the California civil servant salaries). It is hardly surprising that the demand for a free good is infinite, and the demand for higher wages and more economic protection has a similar vector. One can't blame people for trying, but the result is generally the same and you can see it in the PIIGS, and in California as well.
What happens to Greece, the PIIGS, and the European Union may or may not furnish some warnings for the United States, and our leaders may or may not pay attention to them; but however things go, it's hard to see an economic boom coming, not this year, and not next. Irish banks are nearly all insolvent, housing prices plummet, wages fall and unemployment rises; is Ireland in a death spiral?
You can't spend what you don't have unless someone will loan you the money. You can't build a boom by cutting spending. If you can find some money -- borrow it -- you might make some investments. The trick is to invest in things that will help build an economy. Inflated pensions and salaries aren't the way to do that. There are investment programs that help build an economy; for all the opposition to it, TVA generated energy and kept energy prices low -- a cent and a half a kw/hour when I was a lad. Low cost energy and freedom builds economies. That's an easy conclusion. Incidentally, "investing" by paying out pensions to stimulate spending and thus rebuild an economy doesn't seem to work: see the history of the Townsend Plan and look at Washington State for data on that. Massive environmental regulations don't help economies: look again at Washington State and the aluminum industry. Over-regulated public power doesn't work too well. And so forth.
Public investment doesn't work as well as private investment, but it can help a lot -- if it's investment. The Keynes suggestion of burying jugs of money and paying people to go look for them is not an investment, and we've done some things that are equivalent. They don't work.
All told, it looks to be an interesting year. There are more and more articles about The Great Depression of 2010-2011. We haven't got there yet, but Washington, Sacramento, Trenton, and Lansing can get us there. They seem determined, too.
February 14. 2010
Happy Valentine's Day
I'm more or less taking the day off, but over in mail there's a comment on Ireland and a query as to what happened to the previous boom.
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