THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 633 July 26 - August 1, 2010
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July 26, 2010
The July Mailbag is now posted at Chaos Manor Reviews. Sable is due for her final post-op examination after her knee rebuilding surgery.
If you missed the Flash Opera, look here.
Sable's sports operation is pronounced a complete success and now all she needs is exercise to build up muscle again, meaning that it's OK to take her up the trail to the top of Mulholland. Which presumably is good for me as well. Anyway, she's fully recovered except for growing her fur back and now that the days are getting shorter that will happen. Huskies grow fur when days are shortening. They shed governed by temperature, generally all at once after a number of hot days. They really hate being clipped. Sable is a great deal furrier than our previous huskies. Reds often are. Her weight is about right, too. Anyway she'll get another checkup in 8 weeks.
The new fear is deflation. There's also the plea that we don't really understand deflation. Roosevelt didn't understand it either, although the New Deal took a number of measures to combat it, including requiring farmers to pour out milk and slaughter little pigs in the hopes of driving prices higher (see Amity Schlaes The Forgotten Man for a lot more on that.) What the New Deal did understand was that deflation brought about a nasty spiral, and the Great Depression hung on and on and on. Japan, having been the model for economic growth -- I suppose not many remember when Japanese visitors drove a real estate boom in Hawaii -- suddenly went bust and a deflationary period came with a long period of slow economic growth. People talk about the lost decade. Deflation, slow economic growth, and rising unemployment all went together.
I am not an economist. I was an Operations Research (OR) guy. Shortly after I got into the OR business they decided to rename it "Systems Analysis" and there were claims to universal wisdom of the systems analysis application, but even though my job title was Systems Analyst for a few years, I always called myself an OR guy. Operations research was the practice of isolating a problem, studying what people were doing, trying to construct a model of what was going on, and looking at the model to see what different practices would do. With skill and a great deal of luck you might find a new way to do things that made the outcomes better. A good part of the value of Operations Research was looking at the situation to see just what it was you wanted: just what is a better outcome? Indeed, that often turned out to be the most important part of the OR experience.
The classic example of OR was the Battle of the North Atlantic. The tactics of the destroyers and aircraft were chosen to optimize the chances of sinking German submarines. The OR people looked at the problem and decided that this wasn't the criterion at all: what was really wanted was for more cargo to get to Britain. Instead of using tactics to optimize the chances of sinking German subs, choose tactics to break up the submarine wolf packs, keep them submerged, prevent them from attacking convoys. The new tactics didn't sink many German subs, but they greatly increased the amount of cargo getting through.
Economists don't seem to use an OR approach to the study of American economic policies and tactics. A real OR study of our economic policies would, I suspect, bring into question a number of assumptions about what is and is not success; or it seems that way to me.
As an example; for a number of years we had the North American Free Trade agreement. Ross Perot worried that the "giant sucking sound" you heard was the export of American jobs to Mexico. Indeed, a great number of maquiladores, factories just across the border in Mexico, sprang up, and a great number of jobs were moved to Mexico. Most of those were light manufacturing, labor intensive work making consumer goods. The result was lower prices of such consumer goods. That brought down prices in the US, and one supposes that it cost some US jobs, but the times were pretty good. Most of the maquiladores were built with US capital and much of the profit returned to US owned companies, while at the same time the presence of good jobs in Mexico lightened the pressure on the US borders.
Then came Wal-Mart (and others, but I particularly remember Wal-Mart) which put pressure on its suppliers to bring prices even lower. The way to do that was to export the jobs from Mexico to China while at the same time insisting on unrestricted free trade with China. (The Chinese began by demanding "most favored nation" status, meaning that they'd get as good a tariff deal as Mexico.) Chinese labor was cheaper than labor in the maquiladores. The result was the ruin of many of the maquiladores. The jobs were exported to China. I don't know if the reciprocal free trade with China brought about more US export, but it doesn't seem to have. I know that in the case of intellectual property, there tended to be the export of a few US copies followed by the widespread availability of the property -- books, movies, software, music -- in Chinese editions that didn't pay any royalties back to the US. Perhaps there were compensating sales I don't know about. Mostly, though, jobs flowed to China.
Over time a good part of the US economy shifted from making consumer goods to opening containers of consumer goods made in China. The Mexican economy was hit even harder as the maquiladores began to shrink, then close.
The result was lower prices of consumer goods, but also unemployment in the US and Mexico.
No one seems to recognize this as a self-inflicted deflationary spiral, but I do wonder if we didn't do exactly that to ourselves? And meanwhile we continue to impose all kinds of regulations -- many very good I am sure -- on American businesses. Minimum wages, safety regulations, work rules, retirement packages, health care -- all of which raise the price of American labor and make it far more profitable to export a job than to create one.
I have for a long time thought that imposing a 10% across the board tariff on imported goods -- all of them -- would make considerable sense. It might even slow down the self-inflicted deflationary spiral of lower cost goods and rising unemployment. And note that unemployment isn't free, as witness the continuing extension of unemployment benefits. Money paid as unemployment compensation is extracted from the still-profitable part of the economy, and of course unemployment compensation taxes make US labor more expensive, and thus encourages job export: job export brings lower prices and more unemployment.
I haven't made a formal model of any of this, because I don't really have the resources to do it; but my back of the envelope OR calculations make me wonder just what we're doing, and now that deflation is up for discussion, perhaps some foundation or university that does have the resources might want to turn an OR man loose on the spiral of declining prices and rising unemployment and slow, slow, economic growth. At what point does this spiral become another depression?
I'm just saying...
And the latest horror from the Gulf is that now that the torrent has been capped, the cleanup crews are having trouble finding oil to clean up. The storm churned up the oil, and it seems to be cleaning itself. I do worry a bit about the "dispersion agent" (read detergent) but that is supposed to be biodegradable. As is oil over time. The ecology of the Gulf will shift for a few years, and it may not return to precisely what it was. There are likely to be some blooms and die-offs (blooms eat up the food, things die, decay eats up the oxygen, and there can be several iterations of that spiral).
The Gulf is big. Keeping the oil at sea and off shore, keeping it out of the marshes and wet lands and the shallows is the important thing. Keep the oil out there, recover what you can, and let nature take its course. It costs money and time and work, but it's not the end of the world. It's a major oil spill. It won't be the last -- it many not even be over -- but it's an oil spill, not the Apocalypse.
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I think you may have oversimplified the causes of World War II. In Europe there was German irredentism coupled with National Socialism, and a host of other factors. I would not say that Hitler's resentment of American tariff was the major cause. In the Pacific Japan sought to build the Greater East Asia CoProsperity Sphere, had adventures in China including setting up puppet states in Manchuria as well as colonies, and yes, sought reliable sources of oil. The attack on Pearl Harbor was not a rational act: as their best strategist feared, Pearl Harbor awakened a sleeping giant and gave the US a sense of terrible purpose.
Regarding implementations, trade agreements do have time limits; but I was not advocating an instant imposition of tariff so much as trying to point out that Free Trade has costs.
Those costs are quite possibly more political and social than economic. I am familiar with the free trade argument from economics. I pretty well accept it, although I don't know too many economists who think that building an economy in which you import consumer goods and export capital, import debt and export obligations, and watch as much of what you do make -- intellectual property -- is exported in small quantities is remarkably stable.
Granting that for the most part Free Trade is the best way to bring down prices and increase availability of many goods. I grant that exporting jobs may make sense economically. I certainly grant that highly protective tariff is a great way to generate inefficiency.
What I question is whether those are the key values for the Republic.
When a job is exported, eventually someone is unemployed. It may not be the person whose job was exported, or even the person whose job that initial person took, but somewhere down the line a job is lost. Someone is unempl0yed and goes on welfare. We have just lost an independent citizen and gained a new dependent. This isn't necessarily a disaster, but as the numbers rise it can be. It can mark a change in electoral attitude.
Meanwhile, we still have the problem of the costs of regulations, some of them quite worthy. We recently celebrated an anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. That Act had admirable goals, and apparently remains popular: but it imposes costs. It tells employers that they cannot hire simply on the basis of efficiency and productivity -- and they must be prepared to spend money proving compliance with the law. The same goes for Affirmative Action. With the best of intentions compliance can be expensive, and proving compliance even more so. All these regulations may be wonderful, but they raise costs, and in a free trade environment those costs will result in job exports.
And when a job is exported, we lose a citizen and gain a dependent. A Republic needs citizens. I do not think the Free Trade advocates think much about that problem. Many that do believe that sound economic policies will use the savings gained by the lower prices of the imports to generate new jobs and grow the economy. The problem here is that the economic policies are assumed: in practice, any savings realized by exporting a job end up going to paying for unemployment benefits, increased benefits for those employed, more regulation of those who are employed, and raising costs of employment. While, of course, those whose jobs were exported are now inclined to favor more benefits to the unemployed. I do not believe those feedback loops are properly considered in debates on tariff policies.
I would rather have a Republic in which the spiral is up: fewer dependents and more self-sufficient citizens. This was, of course, the goal of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: more homeowners, thus better citizens. It had the consequence, not precisely unforeseen, of creating a housing bubble by injecting too much money into the housing market. Tariff policies can have highly unpleasant consequences, and all such matters ought to be thought through.
And we still have the deflationary spiral.
One thing learned from the Wiki leak of 91,000 classified documents:
It's probably not a great idea to allow PFC clerks to bring their own DVD's to listen to while on duty in places where there is classified information. I am not at all sure that listening to records (or whatever is on those disks) while on duty is all that great an idea to begin with, but I am quite certain that allowing them to bring writable disks, and giving read/write drives to listen to the music with, while connected to a network of classified information is not good security practice.
It's tough nowadays, what with tiny SD cards and tiny thumb drives capable of holding tens of gigabytes. I know that at one time the Agency simply epoxied all the USB drive slots on their machines. I don't know how that worked out for them. Keeping information secret is tough; but surely supplying read/'write drives for listening to recordings you brought from home is probably not a great idea, and it should not take very much reflection to realize that.
For those who don't know what I am talking about
Alas, I am not making this up.
July 28. 2010
A Federal Court has ruled that Arizona can't enforce Federal immigration laws, in part because that would overburden the system. The problem is too large, the system is overburdened, and we just have to put up with it. The states can't stop illegal immigrant, and the Obama Administration doesn't want to. The Federal government did manage to put up signs in some border areas warning US citizens to stay out of the area because of the danger of criminal activities. Celebrations broke out in many government offices when the ruling by Federal Judge Susan Bolton was handed down.
Arizona officials say the cheering among those opposed to state enforcement of immigration law may be premature; Arizona officials are still entitled to enforce Federal Law. Federal Law still requires legal aliens to carry identification papers.
The parts of the Arizona Law that echoed Federal Law by making them State Law were enjoined. Beyond that it's hard to tell.
The border remains out of control. What happens next is not so easy to determine. Arizona officials say the important part of the new law remain. We haven't heard the last of this. Illegal immigration remains an important issue to the American people. One would think it would be important to those who would now take any job they can get were that job to become available.
A number of studies have shown that the one of the most effective ways to improve a school system is to rid it of the worst teachers. It gets bad teachers out; it improves the morale of the better teachers; it motivates the not-lousy but lazy teachers; and it saves money. Everyone benefits, including the kids who get a new teacher very likely to be better than the one that was fired.
Something like that is happening in the District of Columbia.
All of which is great news for both the DC kids and the US in general. I have always said that the best thing the federal government can do for education in the US is to construct in the District, where the C0ngress has undoubted constitutional authority to impose any rules and procedures it likes and to spend as much as necessary, an exemplar school system that would be the envy of the world. It could experiment with different measures, facilities, and salary structures, bonuses for effective teachers, all implemented in various charter schools. Since the District already spends more per pupil than just about any other school district in the nation, it wouldn't even be expensive.
The good news is that Ms. Rhee seems to take that notion seriously. The bad news is that she may not be able to do it, and the Obama Administration isn't supporting her.
Attempts to get statements of support from the office of the Secretary of Education have not been successful.
The American education system largely exists to preserve the jobs of bad teachers -- at least that seems to be its major purpose. Perhaps this is a chip in the defense of the worst. Perhaps not. Congress has the power to do as it wills in the District, but education reform and demonstrating what good policies can do has never been important to Congress. Perhaps another Congress will have different views. Without decent public education American prosperity is unlikely. There's a lot at stake here.
Helmholtz once said the most practical thing in the world is a good theory. There are engineering details here, but it's sure a way to expand the number of geosynchronous satellites. Forward had a lot of theories that turned out to be practical.
Bob Forward was an old friend. Long before he became a science fiction writer he was an SF reader. One day he called me to invite me to bring Niven to lunch at his lab out by the Malibu Pepperdine. We went, and it became a friendship. Over the year he took Niven and me as his guests to a meeting with Stephen Hawking, dinner with Roger Penrose, and a number of other fascinating scientific discussions, and Niven and I reciprocated by introducing him to some of our friends.
Forward always wanted to be a science fiction writer, and he became a good one. He wrote his first novel using vi on a Hughes mainframe. Or at least he tried to. I think he gave up and got an actual text editor after I showed him Ezekiel in action.
July 29, 2010
No one has had time to do any detailed analysis of the 91,000 documents leaked by Julian Assange and his Wikileaks organization, but from what we can see now I have two conclusions, one tentative, and one in which I have great confidence.
The tentative conclusion is that the documents told the public nothing that informed citizens, including me, didn't already know and were not in discussion. The war was not going well, there were a number of incidents of less than optimum tactics and command and control, brute force tactics were not going to secure the Afghan provinces, the "President" of Afghanistan was a politician, corruption is rampant in Afghan politics, the "President" of Afghanistan is in realty no more than the Mayor of Kabul (not even Grand Duke; he has to rely on a number of rent-seeking allies even to have his writ run in the suburbs and immediate vicinity), etc., etc. For two thousand years the only thing that unites Afghans is the presence of armed foreigners on Afghan territory. That unites them -- against the foreigners, even if the foreign army -- possibly especially if -- the armed foreigners are in the service of the Khan in Kabul. News flash from my reading of the leaked documents: that's all still true.
My firm conclusion is that the Wikileaks are an act of treason. They release the names of Afghan allies: villagers who have been converted to the notion of liberal democracy, and clan leaders who decided that the Allies are in Afghanistan to stay, and can eventually win, and that it is better for their clansmen to cooperate with the Allies than with the Taliban. Those names are now released, and those identified are doomed, as are their families. The Taliban and al Qaeda have long memories, and there is much to be gained by making examples of those those who collaborate with the West.
A corollary conclusion is that the current US goals in Afghanistan cannot now be achieved. This is a direct consequence of the Wikileaks. I hasten to add that I have always had grave reservations about those goals, largely because I was pretty sure that something like Wikileaks would happen: the names of collaborators is such an enormously attractive target that it would attract a lot of effort, not only by the Taliban and al Qaeda, but also by the intelligence services of countries who do not want the US to succeed in the Great Game in Afghanistan, and also by free lance secret sellers. The Taliban and al Qaeda would have paid enormous sums for the information now available on Wikileaks; only now they don't have to, and they can apply those resources to other objectives including making hideous examples of the collaborators and their families. It may take weeks, it may take longer, but the atrocity stories are already in the making.
There are several conclusions.
First (and of lesser importance), this was an act of treason. The US cannot of course try the Australian editor of Wikileaks for treason, but I do wonder if Australia doesn't have a case. The Aussies have lost troops in Afghanistan and if they stay around they will lose more. In the US treason consists of levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. I put it to you that when the Legions are committed and the costs are billions, this is war; and little that anyone could do would give more aid and comfort to our enemies than giving out the names of our friends, converts, and informants in Afghanistan. Of course, as a matter of honor we are obliged to offer aid and sanctuary to our friends and allies and their families .
Second and more importantly, the war is now unwinnable under our present definition of win. Therefore, we need a new set of goals and a strategy for Afghanistan, and we need to start adopting it now. Whether or not establishment of a liberal democracy centered in Kabul was ever possible, it is not possible now. The Wikileaks have made it clear that Afghans who cooperate with the US must do so openly and be prepared for the consequences: you will not do so covertly. We also know from Wikileaks -- of course we knew it all the time -- that the presence of armed US soldiers in Afghanistan are great causes for resentment. We need to get them out of there. Up to now we have been able to generate some cooperation by means of raining benefits on those who cooperate. After the coming atrocities that's going to be a lot tougher.
As a first cut at our new strategy for Afghanistan, see "The CIA Solution for Afghanistan" by Jack Devine. Devine was the CIA official in charge of "Charlie Wilson's War" against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, and has more experience in this kind of war than any of our generals. The Afghan War was never a war for the Legions, whose very presence in Afghanistan tended to unite the Afghans against us.
As I have said before, there's little in Afghanistan that America wants. Assuming the newly discovered mineral resources are as valuable as some estimate, the US isn't going to get them. China, and Pakistan, have greater interests and are closer. Factor Russia with its long history of interest in the area. Add India to complicate the matter. The people of the United States aren't going to profit from expenditure of US blood and treasure in the land that has resisted every foreign occupation since the time of Alexander the Great.
What we do need is to deny Afghanistan as a sanctuary for our enemies. That is achievable. Devine's article is an overview of how.
The Wikileaks told the public nothing it needed to know; but they have made the Afghan War unwinnable under the previous definition of win. It is time and past time to reconsider what our objectives are. [And see below]
While we are thinking of what we need to do to get out of our crisis, we need to consider "the Japan Syndrome". Start with an article in today's LA Times by Steven Hill.
Understand that Mr. Hill is the author of the recently published "Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age." This article is part of the case for less growth and more stability, and examines "the Japan Syndrome." Also note that unlike Europe with its odd work habits and high unemployment, Japan is a nation of hard workers and has, during the "lost decade", had unemployment under 5%. Yes, that's coupled with low economic growth and it was a time that created few multi-millionaires, let alone billionaires. Japan favors stability over growth. One of its methods is restrictive tariff. They don't in general call them tariffs; instead they use various health and safety regulations; but the effect is much the same. And of course they invented "just in time" inventory control and rapid turnover of resources.
Stability and opportunity are often in opposition. For generations the United States managed that balance. Cheap energy and freedom work, and work well. We've proved that. The question is whether we can return to that as we enter the Obama Great Recession which is being called The Summer of Recovery.
July 30, 2010
The concern is that she is insufficiently enamored of the tea parties.
I don't agree with that concern, but I do understand it. What I'd like is for all the tea party people to read what she says, and read it carefully. She's not responsible for the subtitle: editors do that. This is not a column against the tea party. The heart of her column is this:
Her point is that it's not enough to reject what's happening to the country; what's needed is to build a party that can win elections and stay in office. Reagan won and was reelected, but he couldn't make it stick. The day after George H W Bush (Bush I) took office, there wasn't a Reagan man in the White House other than Dan Quayle. The Ruling Class Republicans came in with a vengeance. The Republicans compromised with the Democrats to raise taxes. The public responded by electing Clinton as President with a Democratic Congress, was aghast at the result, and turned out the Democratic Congressional majority that had survived Reagan. The result was Clinton in the White House and Gingrich as Speaker. Then came Bush, and the era of public spending, and the country turned out the Creeps to bring in Hope and Change. And once again we've had enough.
One reader says "While there are exceptions, the Tea Parties seem by and large the legacy of the Reagan Revolution." This is in large part true: but do remember that the immediate legacy of Reagan was Bush I and the Country Club Republicans. The Reagan people, Democrat and Republican, never coalesced into a party built on conservative principles, or indeed any principles as all. The lesson was, I think, that the nation certainly needs to rally those who have had enough. It also needs programs that make sense.
I agree with that. This isn't disrespect for the tea party movement; it's well meant advice. We have all had enough, and the tea parties are the distillation of that. Enough! Basta! Bring it down! But rebellion is not a conservative program. Rebellion generally results in tyranny as everyone turns to the man on the white horse who will end all that disorder. America was blessed with Washington, the man who might have been our Cromwell but became our first President, consenting to live in what he called "Eight years of splendid misery" before returning to his beloved Mount Vernon. The Framers were well versed in the history of the English Revolution.
It is not enough simply to say no. That is what Noonan is saying, and it's important.
We're all aghast at the vast changes made to this country since January 2009. The next election is critical. The Nation turned out the Creeps. It's time to turn out the Nuts. Then what? We have too much government. We need to dismantle much of it. Transparency and Subsidiarity. Freedom and Energy. Enough with the complexity. The simpler you make government, the easier it is to be be competent in governing. These are principles we need to implement and which should decide the next election.
But when the election is over and inaugurations happen, you still have to govern. Miss Noonan does well to point that out.
He did not listen. He chose to take his election as a mandate. "Guess what? We won!" And now we have the most open government and the most ethical Congress in history. Or so it was said.
July 31, 2010
I took the day off. We had a very pleasant evening at a wedding reception.
August 1, 2010
As I said previously: The Wikileak documents in general told the public little that wasn't already known: that the war wasn't going as well as official stories suggested, that there had been civilian casualties, that there had been snafu and fubar incidents, that often the tactics chosen by the commanders in the field weren't the best for a Counter Insurgency war, etc., etc. One can debate whether such matters ought to be kept secret.
What is not debatable is that the names of sources, friends, collaborators, and informants are legitimately classified; that release of those names put those people in danger. I suppose others may disagree, but to me it is also clear that this release makes the war in Afghanistan unwinnable. It will take longer to regain the confidence of the villagers and chieftains and elders than we will commit. Our goal of Jeffersonian Democracy built in Afghanistan was never, in my goal, realistic, but it wasn't impossible. Very difficult, requiring a longer commitment of blood and treasure than I thought we would ever make, but not impossible. Now it is well beyond possibility.
We will be paying the price for Wikileaks for a long time. One of those prices will not be obvious: it will be in the changed attitudes of the soldiers whose reports will result in beheadings. And see mail
The Russians were particularly good at using land mines and booby traps. They were used in the Balkans. The purpose of armies is to break things and kill people. The armies that are best at occupation and military government are not the armies that are best at winning wars. At one time the Special Forces were created with this view in mind, but such forces tend to become elite general purpose forces. This can be good but it's expensive, and often does not produce the results intended.
The United States in 1943 began creating military government units. They were not part of combat units such as Patton's Third Army.
The North Korean soccer team was humiliated, and the coach was expelled from the Party and sent off to some other job involving manual labor. (He had got them into the World Cup for the first time in a long time.) There was a grand debate because the team didn't do well in the World Cup. Two members of the team who had dual citizenship with Japan went to Japan rather than return to North Korea. Good decision.
That may or may not have something to do with North Korean mines in wooden boxes now floating down the river into South Korea. http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2924019 Since mines are not usually shipped armed in wooden boxes, and few non-government people in North Korea have land mines to put in wooden boxes, one suspects that the NK government has something to do with this, and could it be related to the World Cup? Or perhaps to the US/South Korean naval exercises? We may never know.
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 COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 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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