THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 648 Movember 8 - 14, 2010
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November 8, 2010
What happened in Calif0rnia? The nation went Republican, but not in California, even though California voters are disgusted with their politicians of both parties. In California there was a clear Democrat sweep. Why?
Disgust, I suspect: the two major candidates had a lot of money. They didn't work very hard to raise more -- and they spent it on negative advertising. There was no campaign theme. Carly Fiorini make a big point of saying she would not be loyal to her own party, but not much about what principles would guide her in her decisions. Meg Whitman ran on a platform of personal ability and management experience, but demonstrated very well that she didn't know how to manage a campaign, and relied on not very competent campaign managers and advisors. The result wasn't very appealing.
Meanwhile, there was no party building, either by the Republicans or the Tea Party. There wasn't any dynamism. It's may well be that a Tea Party opponent to Barbara Boxer would have lost, but it's not certain; what was certain is that California is in an impossible financial situation, and neither candidate seemed by positive about what has to be done. Meanwhile there was a bewildering array of propositions some deliberately crafted with confusion in mind. The voters were bombarded with a media blitz that became wearying, with nothing new or clever said; just repetitions and denunciations. The voters were treated as gullible fools and acted accordingly.
There was almost no attempt to connect the state elections to the national agenda. There was little actual debate on policies. No one came out four square for lower taxes and lower spending, not in any believable way. The vast sums spent on the campaign weren't used in any attempt to build a party structure or to detect independents likely to vote Republican can get them to the polls. The campaign advisors seemed to believe that the national debates would somewhere trickle into California, the most organized large state in the country.
I could elaborate on that, but to what point? The voters weren't shown anything that looked like real choices, and there weren't any dynamic candidates. Almost every election was a choice of the least undesirable candidate: no one sparked much enthusiasm.
The Wall Street Journal reports today (in an opinion piece) that "Net Neutrality Goes 0 for 95". That is, of the 95 Congressional Candidates who promised to vote for Internet Regulation to promote "net neutrality", 95 failed of election. Whether this was the key issued in each of those districts is not clear. Probably it wasn't. But the result does show that being in favor of regulating the net is not sufficient to get you elected; and it's probably a fair inference that most of the country likes the unregulated net and doesn't want the government regulating it.
I rejoice: Walker has finally recognized that Prisoner Cole is Diana. It took the big stupe long enough; the twins would have known their mother instantly. Now we can get on with getting her out of there. The kids need their mother. For those who haven't the foggiest notion of what I'm talking about, don't worry about it. I have not lost my mind.
has some interesting numbers, assuming they are true (and I have no reason to disbelieve them). I have my own views, which tie into my concern that American companies are more interested in "growth" than in profits. .
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November 9, 2010
The news is full of it: a mysterious missile launch off the California coast, north of Catalina Island. A video tape was shown on local CBS News. Officially the US Navy and Air Force have no idea of what it was or whose it was. It was certainly real enough; whether the military is as nonplussed as is being reported I do not know.
It's easy to speculate. One speculation is that this is a demonstration by China, but the timing seems odd for that. Other speculations come to mind. Who has missile submarines? Could this be some kind of private launch, similar to Captain Truax's Sea Dragon concept? That seems exceedingly unlikely, since the operations involved would be likely to attract attention well in advance, and what would be the point of a stealth launch.
From the video this does not appear to be a large toy rocket; it looks to be far bigger than that (by orders of magnitude from what I can see). News reports say that NORAD doesn't know what it was, but it wasn't ours. If true that is of great concern: we ought to know who can and would do something that spectacular. The fact that we don't argues that this is some kind of amateur operation, but why anyone would do it without announcement isn't clear. Certainly no flight plan was filed with the FAA, and we can see an airplane on approach to LA in one of the video recordings. Very odd.
This isn't the place to watch for breaking news; when we know more we can discuss the meaning and implications.
11:00 -- the Pentagon says it still doesn't know who launched this. More speculation that it's a private or amateur launch. I find it intriguing, but a bit alarming. I have seen no serious analysis of the size, range, and payload of this bird, or whether it was a deck launch or a sea launch.
The LA Times today has a front page article about the horrors of buying high deductible health care insurance, which results in putting off preventive measures like colonoscopies and blood tests, which results in tragedies for some people -- in the customary mainstream news narrative it is told from the viewpoint of someone forced to buy cheap health insurance, and who has bad fortune after that -- which results in more emergency room visits which results in higher costs for everyone. The remedy, of course, is Obamacare, or even better a national health service with free medical care for everyone. It's a harbinger of a coming assault. Liberal papers, newscasters, bloggers, talk shows, and random people interviewed on the streets will be telling this tale in the months to come. Stand by.
Of course no one is asking why you and I ought to be paying for someone else's colonoscopy, or how a national health care system will include illegal immigrants who now use the emergency rooms as free clinics -- or for that matter how we can convince citizens who don't take part in preventive care to do so now. I note that Kaiser has been on a hard campaign to get more people into the preventive care system, but I suspect Southern California Kaiser is fairly unique. I make no secret of my satisfaction with Kaiser here in LA: I have never had an unpleasant experience there, and I find their copayment charges to be reasonable: high enough to discourage frivolous visits and low enough to be affordable to nearly anyone (five bucks); and the present campaign to get more people to take advantage of preventive care seems to be working as well as any such campaign can work.
But then if I thought there were some kind of possibility of cloning our local Kaiser system into a national health care system I'd be tempted to support the notion. The probable outcome of doing that, alas, would be the destruction of the system as the Iron Law works its inevitable way.
But we can look for a new bombardment from the liberals complete with sob and horror stories, all with the intent of convincing you that Obamacare is both fair and cheap. It's coming.
International reaction to monetizing the debt continues. The Fed, already deeply in debt, buys Treasury bonds, which of course are long term debts, in the hopes of keeping the price of treasury bonds high and inducing someone who isn't running a printing press to buy more bonds. All this assumes that bond investors won't realize what's happening. Of course there will be some who don't.
This is inflation pure and simple, printing money. The result is predictable, and foreign countries understand that very well, and don't like it much. This storm isn't over.
We will be looking at the effects of the big Obama Expedition to the Far East for some time. There were two messages: Obama's words which say that US economic dominance is over:
Whether he intended to say this may be questioned, but it certainly was taken that way. The other message, though, was the Expedition itself. "See the President in all his Glory; the United States is still a very powerful nation. See our opulence."
Which message will be taken more seriously is worth discussion.
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Which is interesting, but it is still speculation.
It doesn't look like any contrail to me. It looked like a solid rocket. The angle would be from a thousand feet looking out toward the sea. I suppose it's possible. As I have said, this is not the place for breaking news. I'm through speculating until I know something. It remains odd to me that no one seems to know.
Perhaps it's an optical illusion. I'd prefer to think so. The Pentagon is now saying it's an optical illusion that makes it appear to be rising. Of course they could be right. Observers can't seem to agree whether it was traveling east or west (toward them or away from them) which may be significant.
So we now have:
I guess that's enough. I'll wait until someone is sure.
October 10, 2010
Founding Day of the Republic of China
Everyone seems nonplussed by the "missile" that "rose" from the snark-infested waters off Catalina. I spent some time last night looking at the video, and I conclude that it had to be an airplane contrail. Had it been an actual rocket launch, it would have been seen by someone not in the path of the incoming aircraft. Of course it was seen by those, but it looked to everyone not in the right place like a contrail, and thus wasn't noticed. When there's an actual launch out of, say Vandenberg -- which is a lot farther from Los Angeles than the supposed "launch site" of this supposed missile -- people all over LA and Malibu see it. The fact that no one in Malibu saw this as a missile is pretty telling. What they saw was a contrail, and without the sun behind it and not being in its path they didn't see it as being on the horizon.
The two links above make it clear how the illusion works.
The only thing that makes me doubt it is that James Pike is loudly insisting that it was a contrail, and I find it odd to share an opinion with him; that may be unique.
Have a look at the contrails picture and you'll see how it works. Meanwhile I can assure you: had it been a real missile, it would have been seen and reported by people from Palos Verdes to Malibu, not just from one helicopter at a particular place. And there would have been reports from Catalina Island, which is inhabited. Twin Harbors would have been about 30 miles from the launch site. They would have seen it and been awed. There have been no reports of seeing a missile launch from Catalina. None from the ranger station on Santa Barbara Island. None from the air traffic coming in to LAX.
Examining the video has another tell -- it's too slow to have been a solid rocket. Liquid rockets start slow and go fast. Solids start fast and get faster. This one didn't. I paid insufficient attention to that when I first saw this video -- I wanted to believe is was something real, because otherwise there's no story to tell -- but when I went back and watched the video again it was harder to believe.
This had to be a large bird if it were a missile. That would have lit Catalina Island and Malibu Beach. Someone in Malibu or Palos Verdes or Santa Monica would have been watching that rather spectacular sunset. None of them saw anything -- or rather they saw an unremarkable contrail, not something to photograph. Ah well. It was a good story, and I am sure it will continue to be told on Coast to Coast for weeks to come, and someone will find a way to link it to Roswell and Area 51.
I have a lunch appointment with a Congressman. I'll have something to say on that when we get back. Mail is going to be late today.
Lunch went well.
There is still speculation about the "mystery missile" but the fact that no one in Avalon or Twin Harbor (on Catalina Island) nor in Malibu saw a thing, nor in Santa Monica, nor Venice, nor -- well you get the idea. You had to be just at the right angle to see it as extending to the horizon. Then it looks so real it fooled me. But I can't believe the government is keeping people in Malibu from reporting it... There are rangers on Santa Barbara Island and I suppose they could be suppressed, but there are fishing boats and yachts all over out there, and none of them saw it? I think it's pretty clear. The viewing angle had to be such that it looked as if it were rising from the horizon. Then it looks very real. But when no one else sees it, although they are closer, you have to wonder what was seen.
What was seen was a contrail, and from the proper angle that can look like something rising from the horizon; with the sun behind it you get that brilliant light, which ought to have lit up Catalina Island and Malibu, but didn't.
Pity. I'd love for it to have been a flying saucer or a US launch. Ah well.
On the other hand, why was Ambassador Ellsworth consulted? And we have
As if USAF ever launched anything east out of Vandenberg. Ballistic missiles -- Minuteman tests, including those used as targets for SDI tests -- go southwest out of Vandenberg, not east to west. And sometimes Vandenberg launches classified mission packages south. But when that happens everyone in the LA basin sees them, and they are seen very well in Malibu and Santa Barbara. No one watching the sunset from Malibu saw anything, or at least nothing unusual enough to report.
November 11, 2011
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.In Flanders FieldsIn Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.-- LtCol John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army May 3rd, 1915, Second Ypres
Taking that as a general principle, what kind of future do you want to invent? What would you like the future to be? That needs to be realistic, of course. We need to be able to see a series of steps, each doable, that get from here to there. A spacefaring civilization requires a series of technological developments that lead to reasonable cost access to orbit. There are steps beyond that, but once you're in orbit you are halfway to anywhere, at least to anywhere in the solar system.
There hasn't been a lot of thought given to questions like this. We use public money to fund a lot of research, much of it of the "as long as you're up, get me a grant" variety without much regard for where they lead or indeed if they lead anywhere worth going to. It is time for us to develop a strategy of technology for building a future.
I hope to have some notes toward this before the new Congress takes its seats. Suggestions welcomed.
Economic prosperity requires many things. We know that low regulation and cheap energy are sufficient conditions. They may not be necessary conditions. There may be alternate routes to rapid economic growth with widespread prosperity, but we have hard evidence that those do the trick.
November 12, 2010
Earmarks: there is a case for preserving earmarks. Not as they there are, but with a bit more openness about how they are adopted including an open discussion about how this particular project is useful to the general welfare. There needs to be a way to fund contrarian research, and that will never come from the bureaucracy or "peer review" controlled projects. There are national heritages that ought to be preserved but aren't widely known. I have made that case before, and I will make it again -- but sometime in future. For now, it's a key issue for the new Congress. No earmarks.
The new Congress needs to make some dramatic changes. Actually it will be more a matter of proposing changes which won't get through. The earmarks reform can be imposed by a simple House majority. All money bills have to originate in the House anyway. There are Republican Senators who want to keep earmarks, and they actually have some decent reasons for doing so. At another time I will be glad to defend resurrecting the practice as it was in older times; but for now, there needs to be a visible accomplishment of the New Congress. This is an easy one. There is a reasonable discussion of this under the title "GOP's Earmark No-Brainer" (link) in today's Wall Street Journal.
The deficit reduction "bi-partisan" report is in, and there was little not predictable in it. It does put the problem in stark terms: the United States is broke. We have not only spent too much money, we have committed ourselves to continue to spend. The money is going to run out -- it has run out -- and something has to be done.
The Wall Street Journal has found some pleasant surprises in the report, and says so in today's editorial "A deficit of nerve" (link).
Every one in the nation -- well, all of us not part of the 1% that own 40% of the wealth -- has had to take some austerity measures, learn to live on a bit less. When I was growing up we first had the Great Depression then the shortages caused by war. I learned "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" in the second grade. Perhaps earlier. But some have had less austerity than others: government workers neither get laid off nor take salary cuts nor have their pension plans changed. The worse that happens is that they don't get raises, and some resent even that. I would think that an actual cut in salary and benefits across the board would be reasonable, given the economic distress of the nation. Of course the service employee unions will go mad on this, but perhaps that is a signal that these times of both union protection and civil service protection have to come to an end. Civil service was intended to insulate government workers from danger of unemployment, and also to prevent them from becoming involved in politics. Under the spoils system -- otherwise known as a system of political responsibility -- the winners of elections got to fire everyone and appoint their own. This resulted in a fair amount of nepotism, and even more of political pressure: work with the machine, because if you don't, you are out of a job when it loses.
Civil service was supposed to end that: you got a steady job at a known salary with known benefits, and you couldn't be arbitrarily fired. You couldn't be asked to donate to political campaigns, in fact you couldn't get involved in politics at all. Civil service protection was a substitute for unionism. Now, union membership is required, and the unions participate in politics. Boss Tweed would have loved this notion: a total legalization of Tammany Hall, and the Tammany people were protected! The goo goos couldn't ever fire them! All the benefits of both worlds.
That's one question the New Congress needs to address.
There's a more fundamental question that needs debating at some point: to what are people entitled simply because they live in the United States? How much of your neighbor's income are you entitled to for existing? If you are born crippled and stupid and incapable of making a living, does that entitle you to someone else's income? By entitle I mean that an armed tax collector takes the money from someone and gives it to you. I don't mean charity or "brother's keeper" or the various Christian and Jewish requirements to give to the poor ("Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away"). Indeed the courts have held often that the state has no obligation to enforce religious commandments.
We need a fundamentals debate on just what the productive owe to the non-productive. Is it a portion of their income? A portion of their possessions? Is there a limit? Can those in dire need compel you to donate blood? A kidney? Require you to do "community service" although you have done no crime other than not to be handicapped? How much of a handicap converts you from one entitled to receive when you were formerly among those required to give?
Is there anywhere an official discussion of these questions? Have they been debated in Congress? Should they be?
There are two questions here: to what are the needy entitled, and what must the able give? And second, what is the basis for the obligation of those who must give?
I was just sent this shot of me at the Niven Halloween Party. The costume theme was pirates. I went as a software pirate...
Everyone take down your flags. They offend the people of
Mexican origin in the United States. At least that seems to be the case in
one school district. Eventually they reversed the order.
American exceptionalism depends on assimilation, which is to say the Melting Pot. The notion that we must defer to "other cultures" and pay for it with public money is a bit bizarre. Apparently one entitlement is for any "culture" or any interpretation of it to be "respected", and that means "diversity." At one time the goal was "tolerance" of views well outside the general American culture; the law requires a degree of tolerance. That is not "respect" or agreement. As for example pacifism in time of war: yes, it is tolerated. There is even a degree of respect for it; but we do not stop honoring our fallen dead because that might offend pacifists.
Of course the liberal notion of diversity is different. Americans are exceptional, but it is an evil exceptionalism for which we ought to apologize. Our President said as much at G20. It is a view of America, and apparently one taught using public money in the public schools, and a view to which we are not merely entitled but required to accept. God save us.
I have found an online copy of Stephen Vincent Benet's short story "Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates," which I read a a child -- I was much taken by Benet, his stories and his poetry, when I was in grade school. I read everything of his I could find, and I do not regret a moment of it. His best known short story is of course "The Devil and Daniel Webster," but some of his others were well known in his time, and ought to be included in reading programs. This collection includes his "The Last of the Legions" which is a story everyone who wants to understand Roman Britain must read, and his post atomic war story written before anyone ever heard of the atomic bomb. Benet is not much read now, and that's a blasted shame. Patriot, poet, story teller. The formatting is off in both the items linked below but the story is readable. These are collections so you may have problems finding it, but it's in there; the story is worth finding and so are most of the others. Stephen Vincent Benet was one of America's better story tellers, and he consistently sold to the Saturday Evening Post when that was the highest paying market in the country (sort of like being able to sell scripts to the top TV shows). Of course that got him scorned by the literary critics who couldn't sell to the Post.
Incidentally on selling to the Post: Stuart Cloete, (Rags of Glory, Dove Hill) whom I met in South Africa and instantly hit it off with, told me that in 1948 he sold a story to the Post for enough money to let him take a year off to write a novel. It paid something like $4500, which in those days was a good bit of money.
Anyway, I recommend Benet and I suspect he will still appeal to bright kids in Grade School. His poetry is pretty darned good, too. Some of his "nightmares" have images that you'll remember for a long time.
Nightmare With Angels
November 13, 2010
Kenneth Brower, son of Sierra Club transformer David Brower, and onetime friend of Freeman Dyson, has been writing about Dyson and climate change. As is usual with books by writers who are not scientists, the scientific issues are not addressed. Those are settled. Instead the purpose of the article is to find out why Dyson, so brilliant, has gone so wrong.
Much of the article is like that. The assumption is that Deniers are off their heads, and the only question here is how someone as bright as Dyson could be so wrong.
Regarding absentmindedness, of course it's true -- less so for Freeman Dyson than some, such as John McCarthy who has famously wandered off from a conversation because he was lost in a new thought -- but it's also irrelevant. There's a difference between being abstracted and being unable to finish a problem or publish a good essay. Minsky and McCarthy are great examples. There's no requirement for being focused on what interests the other guy in a conversation or even an interview if there's a better use for your powers of concentration. What matters is the ability to finish the thought, and to use that concentration to think through things before publishing them. And, of course, to ask questions, which Freeman Dyson and other "Deniers" do frequently, and which are ignored by the Believers.
Once again, there is no discussion of the questions Dyson has asked.
Looking at some of the details of the above:
This is proof by repeated assertion. Few deny that there has been warming from 1885 to present; there is disagreement as to how much (how many tenths of a degree) and a lot of disagreement about the "enormously consequential" given that there was a lot more warming from 1776 to 1885. Indeed the consequences are what the debate is about. Assuming "enormously consequential" assumes the desired conclusion, which is standard "consensus" reasoning among Believers.
True of course, but irrelevant. Climate scientists do not understand the mechanisms of El Nino, which has
far more to do with rainfall than average global temperature. For most of
us, warmer temperatures cause more evaporation, which leads to more water
vapor in the atmosphere, which would seem to make rain and snow more likely.
If this is not true, one would expect to see some undergraduate level
discussions of the relationship between temperature and rainfall, and some kind of chart
analogous to the world average temperatures from 1885 to present. Perhaps
they are out there but I can't find them. I do see
Thus Brower's statement Plants grow better with increased CO2, but not when they are dead snags. is undoubtedly true, and one suspects that Dyson is aware of that as are most sane people. The relevance is doubtful absent strong negative coupling between local temperature and rainfall, and that is not evident at all. I have seen no convincing coupling between AGW and desertification. We do know that there are manmade deserts: the goat has done a great job of spreading the Sahara into areas that were once the breadbasket of the Roman Empire; but that has long been known (I learned it in high school) and not related to CO2 production. (1)
I could continue, but it would be pointless. Brower's article, attacking Dyson's sanity, is typical of the desperation of the Climate Believers. They refuse to answer obvious questions, referring questioners to enormous reports that turn out not to contain those answers; and since they assume that anyone who doubts their conclusions must be mad, they wax eloquently about the reasons why such smart people have gone mad.
Meanwhile I come back to "Globally there has been no statistically significant overall trend in precipitation over the past century" from Wikipedia. It may or may not be true, but I would suppose that if it were not true someone would have disputed it. If it be true, then the obvious question is, why not? Rainfall is far more important to people than a degree or so of temperature rise. Shifting patterns of rainfall have driven migrations for tens of thousands of years. If the average temperature goes up by a degree it may be less comfortable, but if that brings with it more rainfall the overall livability of an area may be improved, not degraded; while if an area cools but becomes a desert, that would be a different result.
At some point there needs to be a national debate on "climate change". When that takes place, I will myself place far more weight on the reasoned views of Freeman Dyson than on those of David Brower's son.
I put these here rather than mail because it is relevant to the discussion. It is time to frame the coming debate that Congress will require before funding any more green subsidies. Cost benefit analysis....
November 14, 2010
Last week Roberta was laid low by some kind of upper respiratory viral infection. It kept her from singing in the concert on 6 November and pretty well laid her out for the rest of the week. Last night I started coming down with the same symptoms and I've been feeling worse by the minute, so I don't expect to be very productive for the next few days. I'll try to keep up with the mail, but I doubt I will be writing much in the way of original analysis or essays.
Several readers sent me this:
I recommend it. It has some startling statements -- such as that the $600 million purchase of Treasury Bonds by the Fed will not be direct purchase but done through Goldman Sachs, which presumably means paying some sort of commission to Goldman Sachs. That sounds odd, since you and I can buy Treasury Bonds direct from the Treasury. My head isn't working as well as it might be -- see first paragraph above -- so I make no comments here beyond saying that I found this a bit long but quite interesting, and that it presented "facts" I hadn't quite seen in that light. I welcome critiques of what was said.
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/10/eveningnews/main7042324.shtml> Perhaps the end of the matter.
Earlier this week I posted Stephen Vincent Benet's Nightmare with Angels and a link to his short story Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates. Here is another of his poems. I have remembered this since I encountered it in the Memphis Public Library sometime in the 1940's.
Nightmare Number 3
Stephen Vincent Benet
We had expected everything but revolt
I guess they were tired of being ridden in
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