THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 625 May 31 - June 6, 2010
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May 31, 2010
The Vice President laid the traditional wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery today.
Jeanne Robinson, RIP. Spider has sent a long a beautiful letter to friends. You can find it on his web site.
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|This week:||Tuesday, June
Today is full of dismaying news. First, the hole isn't plugged. In fact, while President Obama was telling us that the maneuver to fill the pipe with driller's mud would have a 60% chance of plugging it, the operation had been called off, apparently by the people who have their boot on BP's neck. The government has given the Attorney General orders to make sure the boot stays in place. The effect of that on actually plugging the hole isn't known, nor is it known whether the AG will go to Louisiana, where I am sure more lawyers are needed.
Not that I am carrying any brief for BP. I don't know the whole story -- I doubt anyone does -- but all the evidence I have seen points to BP always taking the cheapest course even when the cost differences involved are a few million to tens of millions of dollars in operations that bring in billions. Of course managing economic risks is part of what capitalist ventures do. The problem here is that the consequences of failure are borne not merely by the capitalist venture, but by all of us. It's another case of thr rewards of success going to the private venture, while the cost of failure is borne by others. We've seen a lot of that in the past few years. Both the Creeps and the Nuts like that sort of "gamble."
We all know how the Creeps played with Credit Default Swaps and such. The Nuts do it a bit differently but the results are the same. The Nuts, for example, insisted on minimum wages for Samoa; that ran the cost of fish processing up, so a number of canneries closed their Samoan operations and moved to other places in Asia where there is no minimum wage. Now the Nuts are sending a few tens of millions to Samoa to bail out the collapsing economy. The economy wasn't in collapse until the fish processing plants closed eliminating one of the major job sources. Of course that's small potatoes compare with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac injecting more and more money into the housing market, buying up bundles of junk mortgages and using those piles of junk bonds as security to borrow more public money to inject into the housing market. Meanwhile the Nuts insisted that we spread housing ownership around, meaning that finance companies should ought to make loans to nearly anyone who wanted in on the American Dream of housing ownership. Which of course led to the sob stories about the gardener with a $40,000 a year "stated" (i.e. not verified or even documented) income being able to "buy" a $450,000 house that, after the collapse of the bubble, turned out to be "worth" about $200,000; now the poor chap is being foreclosed and evicted. It's the end of his Dream. Etc.
Decoupling risk from consequences didn't work too well in keeping the economy going. How well has it worked with deepwater oil drilling?
Actually, a lot better than it did with the housing market. We've heard a lot about the terrible damage from the oil torrent, and it is certainly frightening; but it turns out not to be quite so big in the context of other oil spills. I first heard that this morning on the Rush Limbaugh show. Rush is seldom my primary source of information, but this morning he gave his source, Dr. Roy Spencer, whom we've recommended here in the past. Limbaugh shows Spencer's chart on his web page, and it's instructive. Yes, it's a disaster, but it's not large in comparison with previous -- even frequent -- disasters. This isn't the end of the world as we know it. The torrent has to be stopped, the oil has to be contained, the hole has to be plugged, and the longer that takes the worse it will be, but the Persian Gulf recovered from the world's worst oil spill (deliberate at that) and the Gulf of Mexico will recover from this one.
That doesn't excuse us from the obligation to learn more about containing these disasters, and my recommendation is that every oil pumping operation should be subject to a separation tax devoted to funding the creation of Civil Defense organizations, a recovery force of specialists, and research and development of recovery methods. I'm no great fan of bureaucracies, but sometimes they are necessary. Fire Departments are bureaucracies. Volunteer fire departments work in some places, private fire fighters have been advocated by strict libertarians, but I'm quite pleased with the Los Angeles Fire Department. I gather that New Yorkers are fond of the NYFD; and indeed mot places I go seem happy with the local fire departments. But that's another discussion about details: the most important thing needed for the future is to re-create Civil Defense, not just for oil spill containment but also hurricanes, earthquakes, twisters, etc.
We can be dismayed that the hole is not plugged (the Top Fill attempt apparently was stopped by the US government, perhaps for good reasons); but at least we know this isn't the worst disaster of the Gulf and isn't the end of the world as we know it.
For an anti-BP ramt (and some juicy rumors) see Mail.
The other dismaying news is from the Middle East. Of course most news from the Middle East is dismaying. It needs analysis, which I'll get to in a bit. First some news from Chaos Manor.
Thursday we are off to the Carolinas for the ConCarolinas convention. This morning the vet examined Sable and she's in good condition, recovering nicely, so the house sitters won't have to work too hard taking care of her. We always have someone stay over in Chaos Manor when we're both away. We'll be back Sunday night. I don't know how much work I'll be able to do keeping this place up while we're on the trip. This has been a year in planning, and we haven't been to an East Coast convention in some years. (I know that Charlotte isn't really on the coast.) Anyway we're looking forward to the trip and seeing our eastern friends.
Sable is up to a mile walk in the mornings, which is good for us as well as for her. She's back to her job of making sure these humans get exercise, and I suspect some of the last month's funk has been that we didn't get out much. We've been taking Sable out for the past few days, and it's sure helping me recover from whatever I got last month. Today after getting Sable home from the vet I took another mile walk to the barber shop, and while that's tiring, it seems to have done me good.
It shouldn't be a surprise that vegetation isn't a good thing....
Presumably all my readers are aware of the Israeli forcible boarding of the Turkish flag ferry boat that was part of a flotilla of ships bringing food, school books, and other "humanitarian aid" to Gaza. The boarding action was resisted, the boarding party felt itself in danger, and after either Israeli fire or an exchange of gunfire, nine of the flotilla passengers were dead and others were wounded. Egypt in protest has opened the border between Egypt and Gaza. Turkey, formerly Israel's only real ally in the Middle East, has withdrawn its ambassador and made other hostile diplomatic rules -- and promises to send more blockade runners.
It was predictable and predicted from the moment that the "humanitarian" flotilla sailed out of Turkey (and other countries) for Gaza that some sort of martyrdom event was in the cards. Turkey isn't known for its fanaticism, but there are reasons for that. Anyone who has studied the history of the Turks would know that it has produced dedicated and courageous soldiers. Since Mustapha Kemal the Turkish military has been secular, but the nation is visibly moving toward dedication to Islaam. This is hardly the first re-conversion of the Turks. Kemal Ataturk was able to substitute devotion to the nation -- nationalism -- for dedication to Islam and to abolish the Caliphate. Over time nationalist fervor has been waning, in part due to the contempt of the intellectual classes; but as nationalist fervor wanes, Islamic fervor has grown. It was predictable that some of that fervor would find its way into the "humanitarian relief" flotilla that sailed with the announced intention of breaking the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The Israeli response was strange. The flotilla -- which included some small ships, but also a large 600 passenger ferry -- was warned away. Israel ordered the ships to put into the Israeli port of Ashod, where the cargo would be inspected, contraband seized, and genuine humanitarian cargo transported to Gaza. It wasn't made clear who would pay for that transportation. Israel justifies the blockade because Hamas controls Gaza, and Hamas is named as a terrorist organization by the US, Canada, the European Union, and other nations. The US is, or was, in a declared war on terror, which presumably means on terrorist organizations. Israel is in a declared state of conflict with Hamas.
I say it that way because under the laws of war blockades are legal during a state of war. The right of blockade has been recognized for a long time. There are conditions: it can't, for instance, be a "paper" blockade. It must be enforceable and enforced. But under international law, actions taken during enforcement of a blockade are explicitly not piracy or piratical acts.
Thus the question of whether Israel has the right of a belligerent to conduct a blockade will be central to the "defense" against the charge of piracy. I put "defense" in quotes because it is extremely unlikely that there will ever be any kind of World Court or other international judicial body hearing or trial in this matter.
There is also the question of effectiveness: is the interception of seagoing vessels justified, given that the Egypt/Gaza border is entirely porous? Egypt has opened the border in protest of the latest incident, but in fact that border was open before: there is a sophisticated tunnel system. Some of the tunnels have rails. They are large enough to admit missile parts. The Israeli blockade has made it difficult to get rockets and rocket fuels and warheads into Gaza, but they still get in. While this has no effect on the international legality of the blockade -- Germany traded freely with Sweden during World War I while the British enforced a strong blockade of Germany -- it should figure in Israeli calculations of cost and effectiveness. If it costs enough to enforce the blockade, and it's not stopping the accumulation of weapons in Gaza, is it worth the cost, fuss, bad press, and the alienation of Turkey?
Note that Israel isn't blameless here. Israel retains a monopoly on much of the energy -- fuel oils, gasoline, and electricity -- that flows into Gaza, and powerful interests in Israel want to keep it that way. They make lots of money out of this, and they have powerful lobbyists. Blockades and scarcity drive up prices and profits. The terrorists don't really care about this. They'd denounce Israel no matter what the Israeli policies might be. More neutral observers find it unsavory at best, and are influenced by the practices.
Israeli policies are somewhat limited because Israel has real democracy, complete with Iron Law bureaucracies, voting blocs, powerful lobbies, and all the other accouterments. Terrorists don't have such concerns. Hamas is popular in Gaza -- few doubt that it would lose in genuine and open elections -- but in fact it doesn't depend on public opinion in Gaza, and some of its orders come from other places including Iran.
The United States is technically a democratic republic but has been moving closer to democracy for decades. US politics being what they are, the pro-Israeli bloc is powerful in the United States. For a long time most of the pro-Israeli vote went to the Democrats and thus was less important to the Republicans, but after the conversion of the Commentary intellectuals from democratic socialism to neo-conservatism there was a movement in Republican circles to try to win pro-Israeli votes and beyond them "the Jewish vote." That latter, stubbornly, has remained with the Democrats; but many Republicans have hopes for a shift.
This is the background to the current crisis.
Israel strategy is important to the survival of Israel. It's easy enough for American intellectuals -- including me -- to come up with advice for the Israelis, but we don't live within rocket range of enemies who have no compunction about firing unguided missiles in the general direction of cities, suburbs, and schools; nor are we surrounded by enemies who have vowed to exterminate us.
One of Aesop's fables concerns a fox who chased a rabbit. When the fox failed to catch the rabbit, his friends laughed at him. The fox answered "I was running for my dinner. The rabbit was running for his life." I am very critical of many Israeli policies. I fumed at some of those policies and practices when I visited Israel, and I wonder if some of the needless irritants did not greatly contribute to the collapse of the good times when we could take a bus from Jerusalem to Jericho, then up the Jordan Valley to the Sea of Galilee; when much of Judea and Samaria was open to tourist travel. That all ended, and while I'm pretty sure it ended because of Arrafat's greed, I can see that some of the Israeli practices may have contributed -- perhaps greatly contributed -- to the popularity of Arrafat, which was, after all, built in large part on hatred of Israel.
I left Israel convinced that I don't know how to run that country, and I am very glad that my life and that of my family do not depend on my figuring out what to do. I'm only running for my intellectual reputation.
June 2, 2010
Joel Rosenberg's views on the Israeli blockade fiasco and my comments are in mail. For those who want more, I recommend "Siege Fatigue and the Flotilla Mistake" by Ronen Bergman in today's Wall Street Journal. It gives considerable background, and I find nothing I firmly disagree with. I do continue to wonder why the Commandos were chosen for the Intercept. I'd have thought the Riot Police more appropriate. Arming commandoes with paint ball guns does not make them well trained in non-lethal use of force. Armies are good at breaking things and killing people, and these troops were specialists at such things. Of course few countries have riot police trained to land from ropes on helicopters.
Today's Wall Street Journal today has a number of articles worth your attention on subjects of interest. I particularly recommend the editorial "Buffet and the Ratings Cartel". I am still convinced that the ratings companies are very greatly responsible for out present economic disaster.
My son richard, who is peripherally involved in Wall Street operations, comments:
I don't have the answers to those questions. I suspect there's a reason why the answers are not generally known.
There's another good WSJ article that raises good questions: "Strategy vs. Tactics in Afghanistan" by Ann Marlow, who probably knows as much as any journalist about what is going on over there. Reading her article leaves my conclusions unchanged: there's nothing Afghanistan makes that we want, and the only way to remake Afghanistan is to give a very long term commitment of blood and treasure; a commitment that no one in authority has the power to make. It requires military officers to compromise their honor: to promise to be there for those who cooperate with the US, when in fact it is highly unlikely that we will be there in twenty years. Or ten.
The "President" of Afghanistan is Mayor of Kabul, and his writ does not run far from Kabul. His soldiers in outlying areas are less popular and less acceptable that US GI's. GI's tend to be likable. Afghani national troops tend to be either terrified or arrogant and often both. It is difficult to impossible to get the loyalty of the provinces to a Kabul government even if Kabul gives good government and is headed by a respected king. The current Kabul government has neither property.
So far as I know, those are the actual facts on the ground in Afghanistan. I leave it to you to draw the necessary conclusions. We leave the Legions in peril to accomplish -- what? What are we doing in Afghanistan and why do we keep doing it?
Yes. Of course I insist that if we leave the Legions exposed to danger we send them whatever it takes to keep them as safe and as effective as possible. Having said that : what is our strategy? Counter insurgency no matter how well conducted is tactics: and winning hearts and minds requires someone for those we have won to, if not love, at least not thoroughly dislike. I do not see to whom we want to win hearts and minds. Or why. The current Mayor of Kabul is arguably more civilized than the Taliban, and certainly more amenable to Western values. He doesn't consider women objects for enclosing in heavy cloth and insulating from education. I'd far rather see him in Kabul than the Taliban. Beyond that, it's hard to see why we are there. I am willing to listen. I don't like bringing a defeated army home. But is the current Mayor of Kabul any more likely to become a national figure able to win hearts and minds than Chalabi was in Iraq? Just asking.
June 3, 2010
.It's 10:30 PM in Charlotte, NC, which is where we are. We've been all day on the road, and the Lakers game is on. I'll try to catch up tomorrow.
We are here for CarolinasCon which this year combines with DeepSouthCon.
We had uneventful which is good flights. Every time I fly I find the airlines have worked to squeeze out a little more money at the expense of comfort and convenience, so flying is all chose and little enjoyment. In find that the iPad is great for reading on airplanes. I had mine on all day, and it was 50% discharged when we got to the hotel. The bad news is that unlike the iPhone, the iPad will not charge when connected to the ThinkPad. Fortunately I brought the -- very small -- direct charger and that's working just fine.
I haven't heard any news today, but there's no sign that there was any good news from the Gulf, or the Near East, or anywhere else. Ah well.
I read most of the Wall Street Journal at breakfast and in the airport waiting to get on the first flight, and there didn't seem to be much cheer there, either. I'll try to catch up tomorrow....
There was an interesting story about Warren Buffet and the Ratings Outfits. I'm still digesting it. Buffet said he didn't see the housing bubble collapse coming. I thought it was pretty obvious that it was a bubble and couldn't go on without more and more money being injected into the market, and that with Fannie and Freddie backing "stated income" loans something was bound to go wrong. But what was obvious to some was not seen by others.
More when I catch up. The Lakers game is on.
Charlotte and in a rush.
A question and a suggestion:
I have to say I thought the same thing when I saw the flange.
We have to run.
June 5, 2010
We are in Charlotte for CarolinasCom Deep South Con. Schedule's a bit hectic. All's well.
June 6, 2010
Anniversary of the most complex human operation in history.
We are on the way home. Packing, actually. We'll be out of here in an hour or so. Home tonight.
I have been watching some of the Sunday morning news shows which I do not usually see. I fear I wasn't particularly enlightened. The beat goes on...
10 PM PDT Sunday
Home safe, all is well. Sable glad to see us. Tired of course. Back tomorrow.
I will comment that the iPad is very easy to use on an airplane. I was also able to log in with it to the Wi-Fi in the Dallas airport. It reset the time. I downloaded a game app which I didn't actually do much with. Mostly I read an economics book which turns out to be very relevant to some plot questions I have in Mamelukes.
At CarolinasCon I was given the Phoenix Award from DeepSouthCon. John Ringo presented it.
A good trip all around.
Noon Monday: I'm still catching up.
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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