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Monday, April 19, 2010

Concord Bridge


Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, April 19, 1836
BY the rude bridge that arched the flood,	 
  Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,	 
Here once the embattled farmers stood,	 
  And fired the shot heard round the world.	 
The foe long since in silence slept;	        
  Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;	 
And Time the ruined bridge has swept	 
  Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.	 
On this green bank, by this soft stream,	 
  We set to-day a votive stone;	   
That memory may their deed redeem,	 
  When, like our sires, our sons are gone.	 
Spirit, that made those heroes dare	 
  To die, and leave their children free,	 
Bid Time and Nature gently spare	   
  The shaft we raise to them and thee.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 It was not the first shot of the Revolutionary War. That was the volley fired at Lexington which dispersed the militia on Lexington Green; but at Concord Bridge the militia stood up to the regulars and forced their long retreat to Charlestown as the Minutemen answered the call to arms. It used to be that school children learned this in fourth grade. Indeed, we memorized and recited the poem.


It doesn't help those stranded in airports, but there's a good article on understanding what's going on in the volcanic eruption. See today's Wall Street Journal "Ice Made Iceland Eruption Much More Problematic." Of course this is understanding of mechanisms without any real ability to predict what will happen next.

Airports are opening again. There are flights in Germany. With luck the ash will settle, the volcano will subside, and there won't be another for a while -- but no one really knows. There's another nearby site that may erupt. Probably won't but if there's more ash we have an explanation, and if there isn't we can explain that too. Sounds a bit like our climate models.

The best way to bet it is that this too will subside and pass away.


Obama on NASA

Dr. Pournelle,

President Obama continues to be a bundle of contradictions. When it comes to space exploration (at least into low earth orbit), he now seems to be in favor of encouraging the private sector to make new developments. Several NASA astronauts, including the usually quiet Neil Armstrong, have expressed their opposition to these new plans. As you have long advocated funding x-prizes for private industries, I wondered if you would comment on these developments? Many thanks.

E. Ashley Howell

I have many similar messages; and of course Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are very much on opposite sides of this.

My view has always been that NASA ought not have an enormous standing army that conducts its operations. We would be far better off now had we contracted to do many of the missions that NASA conducted. NASA shut down competing enterprises for decades.

If the new policy will finally end the standing army and NASA interference with developing a private launch capability this is a good thing; but the lack of any missions to be contracted is more than worrisome.

In other words, it's complicated. My presentation "How to Get to Space" is still relevant.

And I wrote this in response to the Challenger disaster. I have not changed my views. Even the amounts remain reasonable. If we wanted to get to space, we could do it this way.

I am preparing my thoughts on the recent Obama moves, but it's a complex situation. Private industry development of an orbital capability requires a fairly assured market. Prizes would do that. So could government contracts -- such as the air mail contracts the government let in the early days of commercial aviation.

There are also military missions requiring space operations capabilities. The military operates but does not build its aircraft. Alas, the Lockheed "X-33" fiasco (it wasn't an X project, and the contract ate the development funds) pretty well broke up that. We need to develop military/space developer cooperation again.

And finally:

Back in L-5 days ("We're going if we have to walk!") the late Fred Osborne was fond of saying "It is the historic role of the military to provide roads to the new frontier and protect the early settlers." There was insight in that observation.

The problem is that Obama is not interested in space, and few in the current administration have anything like the dream that John Kennedy articulated when he sent us to the Moon. Obama sees this as a way out of obligations.

I always knew that I would live to see the first man land on the Moon. I did not believe I would live to see the last one. Perhaps there will be another. Prizes would work.


Our new book has scenes set on the USS Hopper. That reminds me that I have a report I wrote when I spent several days in Hopper on her commissioning voyage in 1997.


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010   


The Education Mess

Diane Ravitch was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, but in her new book she now admits that it isn't working, and is in fact helping kill the kind of education she advocates. She continues to believe that the American public schools do a poor job, and that we can build a much more successful system of public education.

I agree with her on the first point. She's dead wrong on the second. We can't build a better system.

That's not a cry of despair, it's a statement of fact. There is never going to be a national school system much better than what we have now. It may get worse, but it won't get much better.

We could build a better school system by the simple expedient of abolishing the Department of Education. Some of us thought we could manage that when Reagan was swept into office, but the liberal establishment with the support of the teachers unions wouldn't permit that: and Reagan needed Congressional support for his defense measures. Some of us remember that when Reagan took office, only ten years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States looked to be in bad shape, with too many overseas commitments -- what Walter Lippman called drafts on our power -- and too little actual power, either military or diplomatic. The military needed a big shakeup and buildup, we needed to look into our overseas commitments, financial reforms were desperately needed, and the liberals, knowing all this, were willing to help -- provided that they got their share of liberal programs. The Department of Education was one of their bastions, and they would fight to the death -- or at least to the death of the Republic -- to prevent it from being abolished.

The result was that the Department of Education was headed by people who didn't believe in it and who tried to make fundamental changes in it. Over time they began to believe they could wield the power of the Department to Do Good. They may even have done some, but not much, and the existence of the Department and the continual influence of its career administrators continued its centralization of education and thus continued the utter ruin of American public education. Again, none of this is new. In 1983 the National Commission on Education, headed by Nobel Laureate Glenn T. Seaborg, wrote that "If a foreign nation had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war." I've been pointing this out for years. We have a system of public education indistinguishable from an enemy attack -- and it has been getting worse since the Seaborg report.

One way it got worse was the conservative attempt to make it better by imposing No Child Left Behind. As many of us pointed out at the time, the only way to be sure that no child is left behind is to see that none get ahead. If you are dealing with class averages and minimum scores, it's trivially true that your best investment is in the marginal students who are almost able to pass the test. The result is triage: bright students are ignored. Average students get minimal time. Dull average gets  the most time. Really dull gets no time at all. The result is a rising median score, kudos for the teacher, and more federal money for the school.  That may not be the results the parents and taxpayers intended, but it's what they get -- assuming that the teacher has been successful. Success is likely, though. It's a lot easier to coach dull average into average than to inspire bright average to be superior. Which has the better effect on society?

Nationally we have opted for equality over excellence. That means that nationally we ignore bright students unless they fit other profiles. Since bright students tend to have bright parents, and many understand what's going on, they tend to take the bright students out of the public school system. That too has obvious effects.

The remedy to all this is obvious and has been for fifty years: transparency and subsidiarity. Local control of local schools including local school taxes. The results will be mixed, of course. Some schools will become worse. Some won't. Whether the averages change is not important. We all know, although few of us say it anymore, that 90% of human progress is the result of about 10% of the population. Those numbers are neither fixed nor rigidly accurate, but they're close enough. The first goal of a tax paid education system should be to see that the 10% get a good start. That's unfair to the other 90% in the short run, but it's more than fair over the long haul. We used to know that. Most of us still know that, but we don't say it very often now.

The situation with public schools is not likely to change. As a result, bright and bright average kids from wealthy households tend to go to private or religious schools, to their advantage over bright kids whose parents can't afford that. One presumes there are also some parents of bright kids who keep their children in public schools because they believe in their principles and are against hereditary privilege.

Meanwhile the public schools absorb ever increasing amounts of tax money. Their pensions alone are now one of the largest items in the enormous California deficit.

And they never catch wise...

I said this some time ago:

I have always thought that Congress, which has the undoubted right to run the DC school system any way it wants to, should make that the shining example of how schools ought to operate. THEN we might listen when the Department of Education tells the rest of the country what to do. But for the moment I believe the DC school system is actually the worst in the US. Of course the Washington educrats still assert the right to tell the rest of the country what to do. Why not?



I said this last year and the year before. I see nothing to revise:

Note on the Afghan War:

I don't know what the proper strategy for Afghanistan should be, now that we are in there. I do not want to bring a defeated army home, and we have committed ourselves to some kind of successful outcome.

What I do know is that it is not in our interest, and it is probably beyond our ability, to set as a goal the submission of the provinces to Kabul.  Afghanistan makes nothing we want. Its commerce isn't important to us. If it deserves charity and help, let it look to Moslem institutions: the Gulf Kingdoms have plenty of such resources, and there is need for what we can spare in nations that don't have claim on Islamic resources. What we do want is that Afghanistan not harbor our enemies, either in Kabul or in the provinces.

How we achieve that result isn't entirely clear, given what we have already done with troops and drones; but surely the objective ought to be clear? We don't need to establish democracy in Afghanistan, which is as well, since it is beyond our abilities.



Every now and then I realize that there's a lot of stuff on this site that most readers never find. For example, digging about I came upon another resource I keep here: The Lays of Ancient Rome. I say why they are valuable in the notes that begin this, so I won't repeat them here. It won't take long to look at this and see if there's anything of interest to you.

I also found this Survival essay, and while some of the books it lists are out of print, none of it seems to be out of date even though it was written twenty five years ago.







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Wednesday,  April 21, 2010

The Ratings Game

The Congress is debating a new set of financial regulations, and the Republicans are dithering: should they just stop it cold, or should they try to amend the proposals to be more acceptable and possibly even useful? And of course it's all in rush. The Democrats don't expect to have much power after next November -- certainly not as much as they have now -- so it all has to be done in a rush. Pass something so the Democrats can campaign on having curbed Wall Street.

The last time we really rushed to reform things on Wall Street Sarbanes Oxley. It was a disaster and no one quite knows how to get out of it.

Note that neither Republicans nor Democrats have anything to say about the ratings companies. That's interesting, since if the junk being peddled by Wall Street had not had really great ratings we wouldn't have had a disaster. And some of that junk was obviously junk to anyone who looked at it. Some of it was bundles of over priced real estate sold to people with no down payment and "stated income". Anyone in his right mind would recommend against buying that. Yet that stuff got ratings comparable to Treasury Bonds, and insurance companies, pension funds, widows and orphans, careful investors bought it as part of blue ribbon portfolios. When the bubble collapsed, there was no consequence to the ratings companies.

As a matter of fact, four of the ratings companies are designated by law. If you are trying to market your stuff to pension funds and such, you must have a rating from one of the designated companies.

Say you are the investment officer for a big pension fund.  Do you look at a potential investment, say, Consolidated Dust, and go to Moody and Poor with a check and a request for a rating? You do not. Moody and Poor doesn't work that way. Consolidated Dust pays Moody and Poor for their rating. The officers of Consolidated Dust know this, and also know that their company has few assets other than big warehouses full of dust. The bottom has fallen out of the dust market, but if someone would just consider dust will come back and their warehouses contain a big asset that would justify a good rating on Consolidated Dust bonds.

So how do you get a favorable rating? I don't know.

Let me tell you a fairy tale.

Once upon a time the CEO of Consolidated Dust went to the investment bank Goldie, Locks and asked for help. Goldie, Locks went to Moody and Poor and said, "Well, our clients pay you millions a year for their ratings. We're very pleased to recommend you to them. Indeed, we like to have all our clients rated by the same agency, and yours is the one we've been choosing. Change of subject. We have a new client, Consolidated Dust. They'll need a rating." Shortly after, Moody and Poor rated Consolidated Dust Bonds as AA, not quite as good as Treasury but pretty good stuff and with a high return rate. Then Goldie, Locks bundled the Consolidated Dust bonds into a derivative and got a rating on the derivative, and sold that to others, and Goldie, Locks collected commissions on all those transactions, and everyone was happy for a while. And when it all collapsed, Moody and Poor told everyone how sorry they were, but after all, it's not an exact science, and...

Back to reality. If Standard and Poor had rated the junk derivatives built out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac "stated income" loans as junk, nobody would have bought that. In particular, the big pension funds and other major investors wouldn't have bought it. There would have been a lot less money injected into the housing market, the bubble wouldn't have inflated as much, and there wouldn't have been more money to loan $450,000 to a gardener with a stated income of $50,000 a year. He wouldn't have bought the house in Orange County and when it was foreclosed been the subject of a Times article about the ruin of the American Dream. Heck, unemployment might be as low as 7% now, assuming that there was a Great Recession in the first place.

I don't know how to regulate the ratings agencies. I do know that having the rated pay for their rating seems like a bad idea, and I am quite sure that writing those four particular agencies into the laws and regulations so that they can never have competition is a terrible idea.

I do wonder why more people aren't talking about this. The Democrats want to regulate everyone.

I don't know how to do it. A government agency that provides ratings seems like a terrible idea -- but at the same time, anyone with half a brain should have seen that the Big Four ratings of all those crazy derivatives couldn't possibly be right. Maybe there needed to be a government whistle blower. Of course such a person would have spent his life in Congressional Hearing Rooms as Barney Frank and Senator Dodd sought to protect Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and protect the rights of everyone to the American Dream of home ownership.

But surely it's worth debate in the Congress?

But See Below


Moody’s Profit Rises 26% as Demand for Ratings Grows (Update2)

April 21, 2010, 2:56 PM EDT



Fred On Everything: Witch Medicine in Mexico 

Dear Dr Pournelle,

You'll usually post links to Fred Reed's site when his articles agree with your point of view. However, this article shows how universal healthcare should work, as it is done in Mexico:


I live in Ireland, which has a bizarre hybrid of approaches to healthcare, but somehow muddles through.

Best regards,


I have no experience with Mexican physicians or medicine. I have confidence that Fred reports what he sees and doesn't make much of it up. I have no evaluation of the Mexican system, but I am not astonished that the best of it is pretty good. The question would be what's available in places that don't have large foreign writer colonies (such as San Miguel de Allende), and I just have no idea. How many physicians are there in El Arco in Baja?

Continued below





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Thursday,  April 22, 2010

It's time to panic. That's the thrust of an article by  J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley. His article, "Hot Today, and Tomorrow,", was in today's LA Times, and while I can't find it on line, substantially the same thing is here. I found that link on his rather confusing web page. The major point is

according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years.
If global temperatures continue rising at the rate they have risen for the past generation, then the world of 2100 will be 2.3 degrees Celsius – that’s 4.1 degrees Farenheit [sic]-- hotter than the world of the 1970s. If global warming accelerates, however, as industrializing China, India and other countries pour more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and as Indonesia, Brazil, and others cut and burn their forests, the world in 2100 will be 5 Celsius -- 9 Farenheit -- degrees hotter than the world of the 1970s.

He goes on to list the horrors of such a world*, although it's not clear to me what his sources are. Perhaps he doesn't need any, being a professor of economics at a major US university. He also makes it clear that we probably won't find any technological remedies: the prudent thing to do is to form what amounts to a world government that will force us to use less carbon. Oddly enough, this economist, who appears to be very familiar with the effects of climate change, has little to say about the economic effects of his carbon taxes and reduced energy production, although you'd think that as an economist he'd know a little about that.

In any event, if you're saving up to send your kids to a major university, understand that this is what they'll be learning, and if you live in California you're paying taxes to pay Professor DeLong and his colleagues to spread the word.

I do have a question. While I don't know how NASA knows that we've just had the warmest year since 1009 AD, it does seem reasonable to ask why it was so warm in 1009 AD when there weren't any automobiles, and how the Earth managed to get from 1009 AD to present without overheating, and what happened to bring about the cooling of the Little Ice Age.

I will say that DeLong seems to be sympathetic to nuclear power, but he doesn't spend a lot of time talking about it; at least a search of "Brad DeLong Nuclear" turns up several bits about nuclear weapons, but he doesn't seem to have written much about power plants. I hasten to add that the piece above is exactly on target. One wonders why promoting nuclear power isn't part of his panic proposals?

While we're on the subject of what they're teaching in our colleges, this morning's LA Times has an article by CCNY Sociology Professor Frances Fox Piven entitled "Lamenting Acorn" which is exactly what the title says it is: a lamentation of the death of Acorn and the hope that it will be back, stronger, as the voice of the people. (I can't find a link to it yet, but it hardly matters: it's not particularly noteworthy.)

Perhaps Acorn can answer the question of how NASA Goddard knows that 2009 was the warmest year for a thousand years, and how we managed to avoid the warming trend that must have preceded the Year 1009. Or at least how NASA Goddard managed to compute the temperature of 2009 so that we can all see how that was done.



* The horrors include tornados in Los Angeles, the California Central Valley turning into Death Valley, famines all through Asia, and general disaster.


One of the best parts of being me is that if I'm wrong someone will tell me soon enough.

Subj: Congressional interest in rating agencies

It turns out not to be quite the case, that Congress has taken no interest.

I'm too lazy to look it up, but I remember seeing video archives of hearings in which the SEC Chaircritter said her agency is in the process of writing the rating agencies out of SEC rules, and I think I remember Barney Frank saying he was going to write them out of the law.

Alas, I also remember hearing some testimony -- perhaps from a ratings-agency-critter? -- about how it's really hard to do much more than refrain from granting the agencies official recognition in law or regulation, because courts have ruled that their opinions fall under "free speech".

A little Googling did yield these links:




thomas.loc.gov seems to indicate that the bill announced in the first link apparently stalled in the House after being reported out of committee. The bill announced in the third link covers lots more topics besides rating agencies, and I can't tell whether the "credit rating agencies" the bill dealt with are the securities rating agencies or consumer-credit-rating agencies, or both. thomas.loc.gov seems to indicate that it passed the House and is now before a Senate committee.

There's also the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission at fcic.gov. I've viewed archived videos of several of their hearings, and at least one Commissioner promised a witness that the rating agencies would be roasted in due course. This link says they've just subpoenaed Moody's "for failing to comply with a request for documents in a timely manner":


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

So apparently there has been discussion, but I don't see much of it. I do know that Barney Frank got a 1000+ page House Bill on consumer protection through regulation passed, and Chris Dodd is working on a 1000+ page Senate version, and I wasn't aware that either had anything to do with the ratings agencies. There may be something in there -- in 1000+ pages that no one has read in its entirety, who knows what may be in there -- but there's been little to nothing in the debates.

I would think myself that anything so complex that it takes 1000 pages and the creation of new agencies to solve would be done very carefully; and that it's obvious to me that the big crash came because the ratings agencies  allowed pension funds and other such institutions to invest in crazy derivatives by giving those derivatives ratings of sound risk when at least one of the derivatives was created so that someone could bet against its success. The crisis came when too big to fail organizations got involved, and most of them can't invest in stuff without ratings, or so I understand. I don't claim to be an expert on high finance, but it does seem to me that those who look to reform Wall Street by protecting investors and consumers might want to start with a reform of the ratings system. People who want to invest in Blue Chips ought to have a reliable way to determine just what is a Blue Chip -- and the Blue Chip designation ought not be for sale.

We're in an almighty hurry to reform Wall Street. Perhaps we ought to slow it down until Moody's gets around to compliance. It's not like there's all that money out there just straining to get at strange derivatives.

Were I in charge, I'd be looking at a different matter: how can we set up Wall Street so that it doesn't matter to us whether a Big Bank fails? If there were 50 major banks instead of just the Big Seven (or Big Five depending on who you read) then the failure of one or two wouldn't be devastating to everyone, and we wouldn't need so much regulation. The problem with Big Capitalism is that it tends to concentrate power. This was Marx's observation, and it's true. Adam Smith observed that capitalists tend to conspire to use government in their favor, and that has been going on forever. Some big bubbles and crashes of the 19th Century were blamed on speculators, and Andy Jackson killed the Bank of the United States as one remedy.

An institution that is too big to fail is one that must either be prevented from taking certain risks -- i.e. to have regulators substitute their judgment for that of the institution's controllers -- or be allowed to take crazy risks but then be bailed out when they go sour. This is gambler's heaven: I make the bet and keep the winnings, but you pay for my losses.

Honest ratings and institutions we can allow to take high risks and suffer the consequences of failure. Those seem to me a better remedy than the competing 1000+ page Frank and Dodd bills. Instead of 1000 pages of new law creating new agencies and new regulations, perhaps we ought to look into reforming the ratings agencies, and applying anti-trust law to breaking up institutions so they are not too big to fail. At least we ought to be talking about that.


The public employees union bussed in thousands to Springfield Illinois to protest any adjustments to state employee pensions and wages. Our Masters show their strength. This will continue. Rush Limbaugh gives us the image of a tick demanding that you feed the dog more...


Not of general interest yet, but a glimpse of things to come.

Windows 7 PCs with multitouch screens now have a new series of apps focused on play.


And the beat goes on.

Hi Jerry,

The article is available online now, and will be in the 4/26 print edition. The article covers the courting--or lack thereof--of book publishers by Amazon, Apple and Google for their support in the e-book platform wars http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/

All the best,

Jim Woodinville, WA

If you are interested in the publishing business and have not read this you probably should read it.





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Friday,  April 23, 2010

We went to the LA Opera last night. Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized), written in 1910 and opening in 1918. According to the program notes, this opera "established [Schreker] as the preeminent opera composer of his generation, whose works would dominate the stages of central Europe in the years after the First World War."

Couldn't prove it by me. I had never heard of him, which is probably my failing, but this 2010 production of The Stigmatized was the first production of any Schrecker opera in the United States, and it was produced here as part of the "Recovered Voices" program that sought to bring out of hiding the works condemned by National Socialism as "Degenerate Art" and suppressed. Schrecker was turned out of his post at the major Berlin conservatory in 1933, and his works were certainly suppressed after that. Perhaps, had he like Brecht and Schoenberg and Korngold  come to the United States -- to Hollywood  -- he might have had his premier earlier. Schoenberg and Schrecker were turned out at about the same time, but Schrecker died of a stroke not long afterwards.

I would not have thought that Schrecker was the preeminent opera composer of his generation, but I am no expert. In any event, I didn't much care for this one. That may be my failing, but I note that the LA audience, which gives everything a standing ovation, didn't stand until the popular conductor Condon was brought on stage, and even then many kept their seats. Also, about a third of the patrons were gone when Act III opened. My own dislike is generic: I don't much like operas in which there are no arias and duets, and what you hear is sung dialogue with music background -- like watching a movie with great background music, but the actors sing their lines to no particular tune or melody. This reminded me of Thea Musgrave's Voice of Ariadne, which I didn't like much either, for the same reason. I understand that it's old fashioned curmudgeonry to want at least one tune or theme to remember, but there it is.

In any event, if the music of the lines isn't memorable, then the lines and story have to carry the event, and Schrecker was a thorough Freudian. Real Freudians don't believe that anything people do makes sense, and that was certainly the case here. There wasn't a rational act in the entire performance. People did just what they pleased, and what they pleased changed by the quarter hour. Useless nobles kidnapped and raped at whim, but one shouldn't judge them for that. The daughter of the condotierri captain is in danger of being kidnapped but the Podesta isn't concerned. All kinds of crazy things happen. The girl seduces the hunchback, but then spurns him for a ne'er do well who condescends to be in love (at first sight) with a mere bourgeois girl even if she is the daughter of the commanding officer of the city's entire military force in war time. The hunchback (born noble) realizes that his noble friends are rapists and pederasts, but one shouldn't judge, one shouldn't judge. He won't take part in their festivities, but he won't blow the whistle on them either. The townspeople will just have to get used to losing a girl or two a week.

And yet. I'm not sorry to have seen it. My hearing isn't what it should be and is getting a lot worse, so I have no right to opinions about anything at all subtle. The theme notes from Forza del Destino (which Schrecker at one point pays an homage to) are about as subtle as I'm likely to appreciate now. People with much better hearing than me tell me there are some glorious passages in Schrecker's background music. Alas, while I understand a bit of German, I had to keep looking up at the translations, so I missed much of the interplay between the poetry and the acting. The acting was done well, and the staging was interesting given that Director Ian Judge was stuck with the huge highly raked rotating stage in dead center (it's needed for Wagner's Ring and it costs too much to strike and reassemble).

The singers were great, given that mostly they didn't have any great music to sing. They were good actors, and they looked the part (mostly: with equal opportunity at work, we get Koreans as nobles in Medieval Genoa, so one does have to suspend disbelief a bit). All told it was an interesting experience and I don't regret it.

But I sure don't remember any melodies.


Obama seems to be saying that the new regulations will stick it to the man and put Main Street in charge of Wall Street. Given that the principal architects of the plan, and the principal lobbyists for it, are all part of Wall Street, and the thrust of the proposed laws is to restrict entry into Wall Street to those already there, this is pretty clearly not true. This is one more instance of capitalists using government to restrict competition, and make permanent oligopolies by making it impossible for anyone new to become competitive. So it goes.


ICCC-4 announcement 

Today we have more Arctic Ocean ice than any time on this date for the past 9 years of Aqua satellite measurement for this AMSRE dataset. http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/en/home/seaice_extent.htm  NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has positive temperature anomolies in the Arctic. I wonder why?


I am very curious: can anyone explain to me why the warmest winter in a thousand years produced so much ice? Have I misunderstood the connections between temperature and ice?


Fred on Health Care: (see above)

I usually read Fred’s writing for the same reason I read your columns (and mail) – it generally makes me think. After reading Fred’s latest post, I’m reminded that while the health care south of the border is praiseworthy, Mr. Reed DID return to the States last year for his eye surgery. I haven’t seen or read any explanation for this.

Nat Proctor

I asked Fred and he says the Navy paid for his operation. He also says:

A fair number of people seem to think that I'm claiming perfection for Mexican medicine, when actually I (pretty clearly) offered a snapshot as we see it here. But malpractice suits mean malpractice insurance, means much higher prices and CYA MRIs and and so on for sinus infections. Most Mexicans can't afford it.

FWIW, perhaps because of competition from "free" national medicine, doctors here don't seem to work on the rape-the-public approach of the US. When Vi and I were recently in the US near Fort Meade, she had a garden-variety ear ache. A shopping-wall walk-in weekend clinic wanted $150 for an appointment to tell her to take over a hundred bucks of medicines, when all she needed, from long experience, was thirty 250mg capsules of amoxicillin, $6 generic in Mexico, prescription usually not needed  about three bucks.

When I needed Muro, opthalmic salt water for corneal edema, the Bausch and Lomb product in DC cost $23. In Mexico, about $5.59, the generic, under $3. Identical product, from B^L. It's a scam.


When I asked if I could publish that, since this is a serious subject, and I am looking for a defensible position, I got

Publish away. 

It is a serious subject. As for a defensible position, I don't know what one might be. I know for a fact that a lot of retirees here rely on IMSS; there is a table at the lake Chapala Society that signs them up. On the site of the US Consulate in Guad there is somewhere a long list of specialists and hospital recommended for gringos. While the free--"free"--clinics here don't offer Mt. Sinai level care, they come a hell of a lot closer than most Americans would believe, and on a tiny fraction of the expense.


I also have

Fred writes a big column on how much cheaper everything is South Of The Border. Yes, yes, very nice, what happens when you try to sue a doctor for malpractice?


Turns out that the Mexican Government has mandated that all malpractice complaints be reviewed by "Conamed", a government-established arbitration board. No lawyers, no court dates, no "expert witnesses" who aren't actually doctors (but _did_ stay at a Holiday Inn last night.)

-- Mike T. Powers

And it is certainly the case that any health care reform must address the antics of the tort bar. Alas in all those thousands of pages in the Act, this isn't taken up.


Volcano buffs will find this interesting. It's also terrifying

Supervolcano: How humanity survived its darkest hour http://www.newscientist.com/

Impressive photo, ash and lightning above an icelandic volcano


Mike Morris

And the Sun is very quiet (http://www.solarcycle24.com/). I predict cooling this year. Particularly in the Northern hemisphere.


Jonah Goldberg: "Dude, if I was a Viking living in Iceland a thousand years ago, and I saw some of this stuff, I would be pretty sure that Thor was angry at Loki again, or maybe he was mad at Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. But I would be pretty sure there was an angry god of some kind in that volcano."


Of course that should be if I were, but they don't teach real English now. Ah well. He's right of course. If you  like open comments, there are plenty of them after the pictures. Thanks to Joanne Dow for finding this for us.



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Saturday, April 24, 2010

.They're putting a new roof on Chaos Manor so there's even more chaos than usual here. It's also very difficult to work. And expensive, which makes work more of a requirement. Sigh.

Today we have:

Subject: The economist on climate change


You may find this article from The Economist, which reviews the current state of knowledge on climate change, to be worthwhile:


While you won't agree with their conclusions or editorial position on the need for action, I do think they presented a reasonably well balanced accounting of the evidence.

CP, Connecticut

I agree that it's well written. It also started with its conclusion.

The essence is:

The most relevant part of that universal what-else is the requirement laid down by thermodynamics that, for a planet at a constant temperature, the amount of energy absorbed as sunlight and the amount emitted back to space in the longer wavelengths of the infra-red must be the same. In the case of the Earth, the amount of sunlight absorbed is 239 watts per square metre. According to the laws of thermodynamics, a simple body emitting energy at that rate should have a temperature of about –18ºC. You do not need a comprehensive set of surface-temperature data to notice that this is not the average temperature at which humanity goes about its business. The discrepancy is due to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which absorb and re-emit infra-red radiation, and thus keep the lower atmosphere, and the surface, warm (see the diagram below). The radiation that gets out to the cosmos comes mostly from above the bulk of the greenhouse gases, where the air temperature is indeed around –18ºC.

Now that's certainly true. It's also simple. They're admitting that we don't know why the Earth is as warm as it is. Some assume it must have to do with "greenhouse" effect and that CO2 is a big part of that. Having assumed that, the rest including carbon taxes follow.

That's not science, that's leaping to conclusions.

The fact is that the Earth has been much colder -- it was an ice ball once -- and it has been much warmer, and the current models don't have any real explanation for that. The current models can't even explain the Medieval Warm and the Little Ice Age, both of which are historical. I have no idea what the average temperature of the Earth to the nearest tenth of a degree was in 1776, but I am very sure it was considerably colder than it is now, just as I am sure that in the time of the Viking Vinland colony (when grapes grew in Scotland) things were considerably warmer than now. Until the "consensus model" explains those data points rather than simply ignoring them (or trying to suppress them as the Climategate mail indicates) I have little use for the consensus model and none at all for it as a fountain of policy.

For many, the facts that an increase in carbon dioxide should produce warming, and that warming is observed in a number of different indicators and measurements, add up to a primafacie case for accepting that greenhouse gases are warming the Earth and that the higher levels of greenhouse gases that business as usual would bring over the course of this century would warm it a lot further.

Pos hoc ergo propter hoc.

Now that doesn't mean I am willing to ignore the rising CO2 levels. What I am not willing to do is wreck the economy with carbon taxes and greater government control, particularly when the very people who want all this increased power seem lackadaisical at best about building nuclear power plants to replace the coal fired plants that produce CO2 (and which would generate electricity enough to allow us to use kilowatts for transportation without affecting CO2 levels).

Incidentally I note that the volcanic ash adds iron to the sea and seems likely to spark some plankton blooms, and that previous volcanic ash has produce seasons of slowed CO2 increases; one would think this of interest to the consensus AGW advocates, but it doesn't seem to be. And then there's this http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/
2004/07/06/tech/main627648.shtml which doesn't seem to have made its way into the climate debates.

I fear that the "debate" consists of "My mind's made up, the science is not at issue, please go away now." That wouldn't have been accepted as rational debate when I was in school, even if it were said very politely.






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Sunday,  April 25, 2010

It's 8:30 PM and I am exhausted. We met a friend for lunch at 11, then rushed off downtown to the opera house for a 1 PM matinee of Gotterdamerung, part IV and climax of Wagner's Ring cycle. Five and a half hours later it was over and we came home for dinner. Roberta has already crashed. I won't be all that long either. We're exhausted.

Wagner would have hated the staging and costumes. He had specific ideas on how his operas should be staged, and they all had to do with taking it seriously. Since the plot is  -- well, complex and full of internal contradictions -- the performance is supposed to keep you interested and deep in the story so you don't notice that it doesn't always make sense, in that people keep doing the one thing they should not do if they knew what's good for them. The surrealistic staging and costumes of this production didn't allow that.

On the other hand, Wagner would have been very pleased with the orchestra, and enthusiastic about the singing performances. Since Siegfried was directed to ham up his acting to the point that it was almost a caricature, that would not have thrilled Wagner, but he'd have loved the way they treated his music. Anyway, five hours of that is enough to exhaust anyone. Or so it was for me.

So I didn't get much done today and I'm about to crash.








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