THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 612 March 1 - 7, 2010
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March 1, 2010
Continuing last week's discussion: "It's not too late to save normal," according to Allen Frances, chairman of the commission that drafted the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association in a editorial today.
Regarding last week's discussions, my psychiatrist friend Ed Hume reminds me that the DSM actually existed in a second edition when I was in graduate school in the 50's. I expect that those who specialized in clinical psychology studied it, but I never heard of it. We were required to take Abnormal Psychology in a class not open to all students, and our textbook was Henderson and Gillespie, A Textbook of Psychiatry, which we were told was pretty well the definitive work at the time (I have no way of evaluating that judgment, but it was I think the most expensive textbook I had ever bought). I was thumbing through it Friday, and noted that the DSM isn't referenced. Neither are a number of terms in common use today, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and so forth. PTSD was commonly known as shell shock, or just 'nerves'. But that was in another time, and well before the pharmaceutical treatment revolution.
The deliberations of an American Psychiatric Association Committee may seem far removed from the problems of everyday life, but they may have more effect on the rest of us than you would at first suppose. If everything is a treatable disorder, and everyone becomes a patient, is everyone entitled to feel-good treatment? And what does that do to health care costs, given that mental health care is mandated in the health care policies?
There is mail and some discussion of the DSM over in Mail. There is also mail on the climate consensus, an independent air force, and other matters of interest; indeed there's enough interesting mail that I'm going to get to work on fiction.
I do remind you that if the Democrats get their changes through and then lose their majorities in November, it will not be possible to dismantle them with Obama in office -- unless the Democrats lose not just big, but lose enormously. Socialized medicine is hard to dismantle once put in place. It is something more than just a reconciliation; it's a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between the people and the national government.
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There are a lot of government officials who ought to be fired on the grounds that their activities are not needed. They do some of the silliest things I can imagine. In Ventura an official has told a hardware store that it cannot give away coffee and doughnuts because they don't have a kitchen with a stainless steel sink to prepare this public food. And in Orange they are taking a home owner to court because he doesn't have a live lawn -- he installed a water saving lawn. When my neighbor Ed Begley Jr. put in a water saving lawn he got a local TV special congratulating him (much to the chagrin of our neighbor Bill Nye the Science Guy whose green efforts would be a lot better known if Ed didn't get all the attention). But in Orange that's a jailable offense not to have a lawn. One presumes that in a drought a dead lawn would be a feasible defense...
The Orange family has saved some 200,000 gallons of water so far. And California is apparently is still in a water shortage despite the recent rains...
Flash: a local radio station aired the silliness, and the City Attorney of Orange has dismissed the suit, and there is embarrassment all around. A local city councilman is on the radio now saying he hadn't known a thing about this until the brouhaha erupted.
It seems to me that the City of Orange must have more employees than it needs if it has enough attorneys to take a householder to court for not having enough grass on his lawn.
I remember growing up in a land in which it was presumed that people were free to do things, and there were not silly laws about how much grass you must have on it. We don't seem to live there any longer.
There are people in this world who want to control others. They tend to become public employees. Once they have some authority they want to go justify their pay, so they find things to enforce like an ordinance that says you have to have 40% green coverage on your lawn. This one actually got the householder to court, where he had to plead not guilty. Once this became public the silliness stopped, but who is going to pay for it all? And why is this redundant employee still being paid?
But perhaps I am being curmudgeonly.
I am a bit under the weather, so this will be a light week on essays. Apologies.
The radio tells me that we are well and truly into an el nino event, which means warmer ocean surface conditions in the Pacific or at least in parts of the Pacific.
I have never seen any analysis of that this semi-periodic event does to the measurement of the temperature of the Earth. That would depend on part on just how sea temperatures are averaged into the two decimal point accurate that is published for Earth; I don't know that I have seen that formula.
I also don't know enough to know the water to air temperature transfer: warmer water presumably warms the air. It certainly has an effect on weather. More rain. Is there a good "Climate Modeling 101" textbook?
The Turkish Constitution makes the Army the guarantor that Turkey will remain a secular rather than a religious -- Islamic -- state. It has enforced that since Kemal, and, astonishingly, has not tried to run the country other than enforcing the secular nature of the state.
The population of Turkey would probably vote to make the nation an Islamic Republic with many elements of Sharia.
One element of the US-Turkish Alliance was Russia as a common enemy. That no longer prevails. Any change in Turkish policies will necessarily change all US policies in the Middle East; and, of course, the secular government of Turkey has been able to maintain reasonable relations with Israel (and sometimes a lot closer than reasonable; friendly isn't too strong a word). All that will change if Turkey becomes an Islamic Republic.
There is little the US can do in this matter. There never was a lot we could do -- Turkey is after all a sovereign nation -- but neither Bush II nor Obama seem to have appreciated the gravity of the situation.
I have long had an admiration for the Turkish Army. The Turks were our allies in Korea, and they sent some very effective fighting forces quite early in the war. http://www.korean-war.com/turkey.html
Lordy lordy won't you listen to me
March 3, 2010
I am not an admirer of Thomas Frank, the house liberal columnist of the Wall Street Journal -- in theory I suppose he adds 'balance' to the WSJ stable, but I have found his arguments less than impressive. However, he has today raised an important point in his weekly column. This week it's entitled "A New Age of Monopolies", and the subject is important.
I have not seen Lynn's book Cornered, but the subject is important. We have over time allowed a fundamental shift in our economic methods. It is not as if we were never warned. Karl Marx observed that the tendency of capitalism was to concentrate economic power into fewer fewer hands. He was not really interested in "bourgeois government" certainly not in its preservation, and thus did not write much about how the capitalists tended to use government and regulation to accomplish this goal, but he could have. He wasn't the first to note the tendency, of course. Adam Smith describes the process and notes that when capitalists get together they conspire to use government to restrict competition.
It used to be that the route to success was to satisfy customers. Over time the route to company "growth" and investor wealth has been in financial manipulations to allow companies to buy out their competition. It is one thing for a company to increase market share by making and selling products and winning customer loyalty; it is entirely another for it to grow by using borrowed money to buy out the competition.
The economist David McCord Wright thought that one reason for the failure of Marx's predictions about economic history was the US Anti-Trust activity. I think he was right. The concentration of political power leads to bad results -- "all power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely" is a simplification of a universal principle. I would say the same is true of the concentration of economic power. And, of course, when a company becomes too big to fail the result is usually a continued concentration of economic power plus the addition of that power to the political power of the government that bailed it out.
I make no secret of my opposition to concentration of power, economic or political. As an example (unlikely, Deo Gratia), I would hate to see Microsoft buy out Apple no matter how many pledges the new company might make about preserving Apple's "integrity". I shudder whenever I hear that one corporate giant is trying to buy out another; the result is seldom good. Let them compete by offering better products, not by devouring each other.
I have a dental appointment in a few minutes.
March 4, 2010
We are headed for what may well be a constitutional crisis, so of course the news distribution system has broken down. The essence of the conflict was given in public remarks by Representative Paul Ryan during the health care summit at Blair House. Those remarks have been published on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal this morning, which then did an editorial about them.
The problem is that while the editorial is available on line, and references the Ryan article (a summary of what he said at Blair House), the link in the on-line editorial leads to a small extract plus an offer to sell you the rest of the article. I presume that's good for the economics of the Wall Street Journal, but it makes it harder for those of us trying to follow the arguments.
Much of Ryan's speech can be found in a Washington Post article
The substance of Ryan's remarks -- questions, really -- go to the financial manipulations used to justify the ObamaCare bill, The President pretends that he answered those questions, but in fact he did not, and he is now falsely claiming that much of this was settled at the summit, when in fact it was not. This is one of those cases where the gory details are important.
Ryan said at the summit:
He then proceeds to do that.
Well, first off, the bill has 10 years of tax increases, about half a trillion dollars, with 10 years of Medicare cuts, about half a trillion dollars, to pay for six years of spending.
Now, what's the true 10-year cost of this bill in 10 years? That's $2.3 trillion.
It does couple of other things. It takes $52 billion in higher Social Security tax revenues and counts them as offsets. But that's really reserved for Social Security. So either we're double-counting them or we don't intend on paying those Social Security benefits.
It takes $72 billion and claims money from the CLASS Act. That's the long-term care insurance program. It takes the money from premiums that are designed for that benefit and instead counts them as offsets.
The Senate Budget Committee chairman said that this is a Ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff proud.
There is considerably more, none of it answered by the President. As Ryan says, he is not demeaning the Congressional Budget Office for its evaluations of the bill; he is pointing out that the information they were given is incomplete because the evaluation was restricted to the bill itself. The true cost of ObamaCare is much higher than the official estimates have said they are; and it will add a very great deal more than a dime to the deficit.
We have a system that's not working very well because it does not control costs, and we are about to substitute for it a system that has even less cost control and hands out even larger entitlements to even more people. We are building a Ponzi scheme, and it will be decided by Party whips, not by any consultation with the American people. That will create a real constitutional crisis within the next decade, and possibly sooner. It's not too late: Pelosi says she has the votes to ram this through Congress using 'reconciliation' procedures, but there's some doubt about that.
It's possible that some Democrats will come to their senses. That's pretty well the conclusion of the Wall Street Journal editorial (hardly surprising), which has many other insightful conclusions. I don't usually echo such matters, but this one is important because it will generate a real constitutional crisis. This nation won't recover from these crises until there are two parties able to govern without attempting to force fundamental changes on the nation absent any overwhelming mandate to do so. The Democrats thought they got such a mandate in November 2008; at least some of the entrenched Democrat leadership were able to maintain that they had, and given the President's popularity and his platform of 'change we can believe in' there was some evidence of this.
That's no longer true; the elections of November 2009 showed that in November 2008 a great part of the nation was weary of the Republican leadership -- the Creeps -- and rejected them, and now they were rejecting the Democrat leadership -- the Nuts. There is a desperate need for sane center-right government in these United States. This health care crisis is but the first of the series of constitutional crises coming up. Using Chicago politics to ram through ObamaCare is only the first stage.
We will have more and worse crises until we have Republicans vs. Democrats rather than the Creeps and the Nuts. Defeating this Chicago Politics 'reconciliation' is an important step toward that. The Democrats may not have the votes to begin this crisis: it's vitally important that the Independents in this nation make it clear to their representatives that whatever the solution to our health problems, fundamental changes to American society ought not be made by devious manipulation of Congressional rules.
We are told that Green Jobs are the wave of the future, and the basis of our new economy. We can hope that works out better than the Electric Zamboni worked at the Olympics:
On access to WSJ articles:
I do the same, particularly when someone who subscribes to WSJ sends me a link. It's made a bit more complex because I am a subscriber and sometimes it recognizes me. I am not really complaining about the WSJ practices. They continue to survive and to keep a reasonable editorial staff, although of course most of their reporters are on financial beats (as they should be). Information may want to be free, but the gathering and confirmation of information and preparing for its publication costs money. In my case we operate on the public radio model (thanks to all those who recently subscribed or renewed during our last pledge drive), but that model doesn't scale well.
I met Tom Bethell a long time ago on a trip to Moscow sponsored by the World Journalism Association. I've told the story before: we were in the hotel bar, and discovered we both had Atari Portfolio computers. Tom was a two-finger typist and used his to knock out a column while we talked. Alas, as a touch typist, I couldn't keep up; the little keyboard was too small. I was learning the two-thumb method until I got an iPhone.
Anyway. Tom's monthly column in the American Spectator on "Why Are We in Afghanistan?" which is in fact a good question. He is more eager simply to get out of there than I am, as his series of questions shows. His argument is similar to mine: winning a favorable outcome requires us to make promises we cannot keep, and a sustained will we do not have.
As evidence of our failing will:
The United States Army, at least under present control, considers the threat to diversity more important than the jihadist war.
Now had we never gone into the Middle East in force in the first place, we would not be targets for jihadist martyr candidates, and we would not need an Army that understands and can fight against jihadist enemies; but we did not choose that route. We won't get those crosshairs off our back simply by getting out of the Middle East now. Nor will we get across the notion that it's not a good idea to attack the United States by holding critical-incident stress-management sessions.
To make things worse, apparently the Army is being converted into a counter-insurgency nation building force, to the detriment of its ability to fight real wars. I do not think that insurgency is the real threat to the existence of the United States. Wealthy Republics have ever had this dilemma, particularly when they go to play imperialist. Yes, one needs troops whose main job is controlling puppet states and colonized territories. One also needs Legions who can win wars.
Converting the Legions into limitanei is not a particularly good solution to the problem posed by Bethell's question: "Why are we in Afghanistan?"
And how many victories will an Army that needs critical-incident stress-management sessions be able to win?
And see this. Fortunately we have not come to this. Yet.
March 5, 2010
Today's news is full of students protesting the higher tuition fees and general cuts to the University of California and California State Colleges. Some students and one professor were arrested. I don't have other details, but I do have a question for the rioting students: "You want me to pay more taxes so that your tuition will be lower. What are you learning that will benefit me? What is it you intend to do that will make my investment worth while?"
I suspect that what I will get in answer is a lecture on human rights and entitlements, not an actual answer to the question.
Now there's no questioning that California State University education costs too much; but it has been designed to cost too much. Back in 1970 I was a consultant to the blue ribbon commission that was planning the reconstitution of the California education system. There was a master plan: it called for the elevation of the various state teachers colleges to full general college status. The California State Colleges would be the primary undergraduate education system, and they would not have PhD programs. They were not to be research universities. They were state colleges whose primary mission was to turn out terminal BS and BA degree students, including school teachers. They were also more or less independent: the State Colleges would have a general Chancellor, but the various college presidents were not really subordinate to the Chancellor. They were not community colleges, but they were closer to that than to being independent universities. The costs were to be kept low with the goal being free tuition.
The University system, with Berkeley and UCLA as the flagships, were not primarily undergraduate institutions although each of the Universities had undergraduates. They were research institutions, and intended to advance knowledge; they were also considered elite undergraduate institutions, and admission to them was competitive and limited. Undergraduate education was not their primary purpose. Research was supported in part by the state of California but also by the usual ways that research institution seek financing of their projects.
Of course the master plan didn't last. The California State Colleges agitated and lobbied to become real Universities with PhD programs and full graduate schools. Once they got that status the graduate schools become more important than the undergraduate classes. The graduate schools got more of the state funds, and the undergraduate departments began to raise tuition. It was a foolhardy act to allow these undergraduate institutions to pretend to be first class graduate schools (or to become first class graduate schools, which a few did in some departments). Graduate schools operate on publish or perish rules, and consume a great deal more money per student than do undergraduate schools. Graduate schools employ graduate students as teachers of undergraduates, thus lowering the quality of undergraduate education (one of my sons was taught linear algebra by a graduate instructor who didn't speak English, and his story is not uncommon). Despite employing graduate students to do the work of faculty members, the costs continue to rise. Undergraduate education is inevitably sacrificed to the higher calling of the graduate departments.
In fact the state would be better off if it abolished the California State Universities entirely, converting some of them back into California State Colleges (general undergraduate teaching institutions) and others into State Teachers Colleges or Normal Schools. It might be desirable to convert one or another into a specialty technical school, and of course the Polytechnical Schools worked fairly well as undergraduate engineering schools before the general conversion of the Colleges into Universities. Schools specializing in the arts and the entertainment industry might make a great deal of sense. Understand, I am not in one paragraph trying to describe a complete master plan; the master plan we developed back in the late 60's was detailed and I'd recommend it over what we got after it was adopted. What I am trying to get at is that we have entirely lost sight of the purpose of tax-supported educational institutions. We now pour tax money into state subsidies of various social sciences not just on one or another research institution but in several institutions. None of them can show much return on that investment: surely one such subsidized department would be enough? Perhaps two for competition, if we knew what they compete on. For more on this theme see my essay on the Voodoo Scienes.
Other states have the same problems. I am open to the "investment" argument: that taxpayers may receive a return on their investment in subsidizing undergraduate education; but I suspect that none of the rioting students, nor the rioting faculty members, could answer my question about what return I might expect on investing in them.
It is also questionable how much return we get on the investments in the general University of California research university system. We all know that Berkeley and UCLA and UCSD (formerly La Jolla) have produced world class scientists, and are home to some important institutions such as the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Scripps Institute, Jonas Salk Institute, and such like; and it's not at all hard to argue that the return on some of our investments in the University of California (as opposed to the California State University) system have had spectacular payoffs. The question is how much taxpayer money should be involved in such matters, and that is a matter open to debate. Again I call attention to The Voodoo Sciences.
It is time for the people of the United States to take a hard look at their university systems. Understand, I said hard look: I would strongly oppose eliminating them. What they need is restructuring by people who have their purpose in mind. They are not charitable institutions. The money they spend is not their own, nor is it voluntarily given. Every dime ought to be spent for a real purpose, not because some member of the administration, faculty, staff, or student body is "entitled" to it. Alas, the "entitlement" argument became prevalent back when we were rich and could afford to let these institutions be built by intellectuals and unions. We were foolish to listen to those arguments then. Now it is worse than folly: we're bankrupt, the college and university systems are bankrupt, a crash is inevitable, and what we will lose in the crash is all chance of getting a return on our public investments.
They were not built to distribute largesse to entitled people. They were not built to treat the talented and untalented as "equal" or "entitled". They were built as investments, and unless they can answer hard and specific questions about how our investments are being handled without invoking entitlements due to administrators, faculty, staff, or students, they are frauds and ought to be closed and their assets sold at public auction.
Niven came over for a hike, and we went up the trail to Mulholland, about 2 miles each way and about 800 feet altitude change. It was a good walk, and we got a lot done on the book. The working title is Lucifer's Anvil, but that may not be the published title. We'll see. It will be a good book.
I have several recommendations for Peggy Noonan's essay on Obamacare, What a Disaster looks like.
The Egregious Frum on a roll
In line with the mail
item about self publishing, it turns out that Wideman's son works for
Lulu, the self publication assistance organization. That may or may not be
March 6, 2010
I took the day off.
March 7, 2010
I am mostly working on the column. The Iraqi election seems to have been a success, according to al Jazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/ . There is even an al Jazeera op-ed saying so. More when we know more, but I find the news enormously encouraging so far.
I still believe that the best you can hope for in Iraq is a Federation, perhaps like the Swiss Confederation; it's not quite as bad as Afghanistan that way, but it's close. But today's events do make it a bit more likely that at least that will be achieved, and that's something.
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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