THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
Monday, January 03, 2011
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December 27, 2010
It is the week between Christmas and New Year, when not much happens. In Cold War times it was a week of great concern for SAC and NORAD. Not so much now, which is a blessing.
It is also traditionally a time when journalists try to summarize the year, and predict the next one.
The most important event of 2010 was the election, when the country, having turned the Republicans out and confirmed that in the election of Obama, turned the Democrats out as well, and sent a number of newcomers to Washington in the hopes that they would not be captured by the system. Washington meanwhile made ready for them, planning to absorb them into the Iron Law mechanisms that have always been so successful.
The most important event 0f 2011 will be the response of the new Congress
to the manipulations of the Creeps and the Nuts, who remain with
considerable influence, and the argument that "this is the way things are
done" in Washington. So far we have an extension to unemployment
compensation. It was hardly a sterling moment for the Republicans: see
Budget Compromise Deserves the Left's Praise, Not Scorn
We'll know soon enough how this will go.
At some point there will have to be a debate on "taxing the rich". A crucial indicator of the future will be the nature of that debate: will it examine the fundamental premises of taxation and property? Will taxes be applied simply because inequalities are unfair, and it's a taxable offense to be rich? How rich is too rich? Note that this is not an artificial question: there is a good basis in the literature of freedom on just how large a disparity of wealth can a Republic tolerate and still remain stable; and how such disparities should be reduced without changing the fundamental nature of property. How shall the proceeds of soaking the rich be applied?
A parallel question: can government ever abolish a "program" that does not and cannot work? The alcohol subsidies and compulsory adding of alcohol to gasoline, and the whole complex of laws that this generated are now shown to be expensive and not accomplishing anything anyone wants (other than the people who directly benefit from all these laws). There is no reason not to eliminate the entire program other than that it's hard on those getting rich from it; there are no good environment reasons to keep it; it wears out engines and lowers gas mileage and generally lowers transportation efficiency. It can be eliminated, saving money all around. Whether or not it will be eliminated is another story. It was created by the friends of Al Gore riding the waves of "renewable resources" advocates. Of course there was considerable support for it from those who would get rich out of it. Now those getting rich out of it are about the only support it has. Can it be abolished? If it can, there is hope that some other federal programs that most transfer money from the Treasury to beneficiaries while doing great harm to the general welfare can be examined. There's hope for leaving a lot of these Iron Law agencies to the States, and getting them out of the Federal system. If the gasohol program can't be eliminated, can anything? It will be instructive to see.
It is a fine day in Los Angeles. We hear that the rains will return, but for the moment it's glorious.
Outies, a novel in the Mote in God's Eye universe, is available.
And I remind you that nominations for the annual Chaos Manor Onions and Orchids parade are now open. I have a number of them but I can use more. Put "Orchid" or "Onion" in the subject, please.
I find that I had a moment of mindlessness: I noted that I was to be on TWIT yesterday. That is not true. I do not think that TWIT was done yesterday and certainly I was not on it. I will be on TWIT next Sunday. I knew that and why I thought I was standing by yesterday afternoon to be on the show I do not know. It's not Leo's fault. Just absentmindedness on my part. Now I can go ask if I have had lunch yet. TWIT next Sunday.
|This week:||Tuesday, December
.Nominations for the annual Chaos Manor Onions and Orchids parade are now open. I have a number of them but I can use more. Put "Orchid" or "Onion" in the subject, please.
"You remind me of the man."
There is a letter to the editor on the Wall Street Journal editorial page today that is well worth your attention. It concerns the FDA, which is a nearly perfect example of the Iron Law in action. The FDA serves a core needed purpose, but it has gone far beyond that. It has expanded to the point of being an overall detriment to the public and public health.
Much of what the FDA does is probably best left to the states, or simply to the people. Much more of it could esaily be left to voluntary action plus strict enforcement of labeling and truth in advertising. "This drug has not been approved by the FDA. The FDA warns that this drug may cause heart attacks and chilblains. The FDA believes that anyone taking this stuff is probably out of his/her mind. Have a nice day." Can't you see a high cheekbone actress smiling as she says this in a sweet toned voice during an intermission of the Superbowl?
Meanwhile we have the TSA conducting an armed raid on a whistleblower pilot who found many holes in the TSA's security system, thereby violating the First Law of Travel Safety: Never annoy anyone in the TSA, lest your days be long and miserable. This story is getting a bit of momentum as the Iron Law mission creep of the TSA goes forward. The TSA annually costs $8 billion; one wonders whether it would not be better to cut that in half and let the TSA make due. It doesn't seem to be all that effective, it is annoying in the extreme, and its employees seem not to be concerned about public contempt and yes, hatred; they aren't afraid of losing their jobs as "officers" of the US. So it goes.
I was recently told that those who question the consensus on global warming -- excuse me, it is apparently called 'climate change' now, since the warming trend isn't so clear any longer -- are extremists, in both their words and actions. I was also recently reminded of this:
December 29, 2010
.The rains are gone from Los Angeles for a few days, but the cold remains. The pundits are commenting on the wet winter, and there's conversation about whether this is an end to the California drought. Weather people are saying what they have always said, that over time the rainfall averages out, and there comes a very wet period that fills the reservoirs. Others are saying that you can't count on that, the drought will come back, we have to conserve water, and all this water use harms the environment.
I suspect that both sides are correct. Rainfall/snowfall does appear to average out over time, and frantic conservation in low rainfall times usually turns out to have left less room in the reservoirs for the big time rains that inevitably come. I can remember at least one period when it would have been better to keep pumping and wait for the storms in another year.
All of which is cocktail party discussion. I don't have all the numbers at hand. What I do know is that California was snookered into the Pat Brown big water projects that brought water from the Sacramento Delta to LA, through an open canal ("aqueduct") system running through the central valley, and routed through the Chandler family holdings in Mettler (scene of the Onion Fields murders). The Chandlers owned the Los Angeles Times, which had been a moderate Republican newspaper for most of its history, but became a Democratic paper as a result of the deal on the Aqueduct. Water from the Sacramento Delta then flowed through the central valley, greatly increasing agricultural yields (although generally not the tax revenues in proportion to the costs of the project) and enormously increasing the value of the lands through which the Aqueduct flowed.
At the time I pointed out that a better way would be to invest the enormous sums needed to build the "California Water Project" in reclamation of Los Angeles water: the Hyperion sewage treatment plant was already doing such a good job that the cleanest running stream in California was the Hyperion outfalls. Invest in expanding the reclamation plant, and build a nuclear power plant. Use the power from that plant to pump the reclaimed water up to the top of the local mountains and let it run through the streams and into the reservoirs, restore the ground water table and the artesian wells, and forget stealing water from northern California. The only way northern California was bullied into agreeing in the first place was that the US Supreme Court made California change its Senate from giving equal representation to the North and South to a strictly population (including illegal immigrants) based system, letting Southern California outvote the north in both houses of the state legislature, and thus steal the water while appropriating the enormous sums for the California Water Project.
If we had invested in nuclear power and water reclamation back in those days we wouldn't have a lot of the problems w have now. Cheaper power would make a lot of difference here. Of course none of that happened. Instead we build the Aqueduct, we drain water out of Sacramento, the smelt die, there are court cases on how much water we can take out of the north, and I get weary of discussing it having done this every decade for more than forty years.
We already treat the water. We already pump water over the mountains to get it here from the north, But we don't use reclaimed water. And it will go on that way for a long time. (You'll note that this topic was in Lucifer's Hammer, which we wrote in 1973; and it was an old story then.)
Anyway, there's lot of snow in the Sierra and in the local mountains. Whether the drought is over is not clear: I'm no expert on the Pacific Warm that seems to be the cause of our increased rainfall. I don't know what that trend is or will be, but I gather we're probably due for at least one more wet year. Beyond that we can't predict. Of course the modelers can tell us what the climate will be for the next fifty years, but they're not very confident about what will happen with our local rain.
December 30, 2010
For those interested in the Weimar inflation, the classic Adam Fergusson When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany (1975) is available after being years out of print. (B00k) (Kindle). There's a review in today's Wall Street Journal under the title "A Flock of Black Swans" (Link). The review title is misleading: it wasn't a flock of black swans that brought about the situation in which a 3 pfennig postage stamp was overprinted to 3 mird millionen marks. (In 1914 the mark was worth about 4 marks to the dollar, and of course in those times mail in the US was one cent for post cards, and 3 cents for first class mail. There were generally two mail deliveries per day to city households.)
It is true that Germany was hit with a series of unfortunate events. To begin with they lost the war, but when they sued for peace and agreed to the armistice instead of Wilson's 14 points they got something else, with the British blockade of all shipping, neutral or belligerent, continuing until the Treaty of Versailles was accepted. The war had been financed by deficit financing to begin with; and the consequences of losing it were severe, leading to even more deficits including the Reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. Keynes book on the Economic Consequences of the Peace details some of those consequences. One ought also to be aware of a book by Étienne Mantoux which criticised the impact of Keynes. The Carthaginian Peace: or the Economic Consequences of Mr. Keynes argues that many of the Versailles Reparations were not paid and the enforcement was sporadic and timid. One telling line in Mantoux's book: when the Parisians saw the German troops marching in to occupy Paris, their reaction was "and we were told they were starving".)
The point is that many of the Black Swans that caused the disasters of German currency collapse were in fact predictable and predicted. Financing a country by running the printing presses ruins the middle classes, wipes out all those who live on pensions and fixed incomes, wipes out savings accounts, and brings about desperate conditions among the very people we usually rely on to preserve law and order. In China there was enormous inflation and currency collapse that greatly aided Mao in his takeover from the Guo Min Dang of Generalissimo Chiang. Once again this was predictable and predicted.
If there is one thing predictable from the deficit financing and the swelling pension burdens of US government, it is that there must be considerable inflation. Whether it will reach the mad levels of Weimar is doubtful, but we are regulating ourselves to death while financing the unemployment with deficit financing. That can't continue, and as Herb Stein (Ben Stein's father) once observed, if something can't go on forever it will stop. When the crunch comes I suppose we will call it a flock of black swans. Meanwhile, we finance unemployment with deficit spending, and the Republicans would like us to think that the compromises with the Lame Duck Congress were somehow victories for sanity. One hopes there are a few in the Tea Party who know better. Perhaps it is time for more primary challenges. Eventually the Creeps will catch on. If something can't go on forever, it will stop.
One of the great ironies of life is that Israel got the only part of the Middle East that is not sitting on oil. They conquered Sinai which might, but gave it back in a swap of land for peace. They certainly lost the land; how much peace that bought is still under discussion.
They have, however, found a lot of natural gas off their Mediterranean coast. Technically there ought to be some off the coast of Gaza, which would finance a lot of recovery for Gaza; but one suspects that if Gaza is able to develop those fields, they will use it to buy rockets to aim at Israel and the Israeli natural gas drilling platforms. The old story of Jacob and Benjy who hate each other, so when the angel offers Jacob one wish, anything he wants on the condition that Benjy will get twice as much, Jacob wishes to be blind in one eye comes to mind.
And Europe is showing us the delightful benefits of diversity: the Danish secret police arrested a group planning an Mumbai style attack on a Danish newspaper office to avenge the five year old insult of publishing cartoons of Muhammad. Perhaps the Danes can retaliate by strip searching everyone in Copenhagen including little girls and grandmothers.
December 31, 2010
Happy New Year
The December Mailbag is up as Chaos Manor Reviews. I have sent copies to Platinum subscribers. Now it's time for my walk. Back in a bit.
Records cold in Los Angeles and Florida, and other places. Of course climate is not weather. But there are indications that we are headed for another cooling period, while government power over the economy in the name of saving the Earth from global warming, oops, Climate Change, oops, uh, Global Climate Disruption, by bankrupting the West while watching India and China forge ahead with fossil fuel plants augmented with nuclear power augmented with a devil may care pollution attitude -- have you seen the great brown cloud? -- all that grows. During 2010 we set up even more government hampers to building the Western economy, and while we continue to fund regulations to control AGW, oops, oh to hell with it -- while we continue to fund regulations to control AGW, we don't fund any studies to look into the reliability of the data collection and massaging that goes into the models, and the models don't seem to get any better at making actual predictions.
I was recently told that anyone who thinks that the climate models ought to be able to take 1950 initial conditions and predict the climate patterns leading to the present shows a lack of understanding of the purpose of the models. I expect that's a true statement, but it does raise the question of why tax money ought to fund the models. It may well be that we ought to fund them, but that ought to be explained if it turns out their purpose is not to provide predictions of just what is going on in climate modeling. What I see, though, is increasing petulance among the Believers. Given that it was freezing in Florida and the San Fernando Valley last night, and we continue to get higher and higher heating bills, surely something other than smug assurances is forthcoming? Ah well. And now it is time for my walk. It's cold outside.
Does anyone here actually know much about genetic engineering? It's something that happened well after my time. I know something about hybrids and plant breeding, but my last studies in genetics were before the engineering revolutions. I do know that we have developed gene therapy for immune disorders -- there are now "bubble kids" raised in isolation because of their deficient immune systems that now lead normal lives -- and those procedures don't seem to be under attack by "environmentalists." I also know that many "environmentalists" are ignoramuses, like the head of the major California environmental movement who boasted that "the only physics I ever took was EX-LAX" as he led protests against nuclear power plants that would have brought actual clean energy to California back in the days when we worried about smog. And then there is the environmentalist leader Jeremy Rifkin. I found this about him on Wikipedia:
I'm no great fan of Stephen Jay Gould, but if he can say that about Rifkin I suspect my friends would have even more to say in that vein.
None of which is decisive evidence about the value and safety of genetic engineering. In particular we have the cost of sugar rising. Sugar is protected by heavy tariffs and subsidies to begin with. Now we have an upcoming shortage and higher prices. See today's Wall Street Journal article "A Spoonful of Sugar Will Soon Cost More" (link). It appears that we have environmentalism of the Jeremy Rifkin kind run riot. My question is, is this a matter of science or just more politics? Are we being protected from Frankenfoods, or is the whole mess a scam to keep prices higher and make more money for those who finance the sugar lobby? It's one thing to protect people from some future disaster, and quite another to use the bureaucratic system to protect the profits of a group of lobby association members.
My suspicion is that genetic engineering of sugar plants isn't harmful, although I have residual doubts about the effects of the herbicide that the genetic engineering enables the plant to resist. One would think that a genuine environmentalist might be more concerned about the use of glyphosate than about genetically engineered plants that resist its effects. I infer that the use of herbicides for weeding sugar beet fields (and alfalfa) is widespread. I have no idea what the effect of that may be, but my first instinct is to think that the glyphosate residuals might pose a greater health risk than the genes in the Frankenfoods.
The late Arthur Kantrowitz spent a good part of his later life trying to get the US to create a "science court" in which scientific questions such as this might be decided, rather than trust them to uneducated juries' abilities to sort out the claims of competing "experts" as we do now. He had in mind issues like the Dow Corning breast implant court battles:
There have been a lot of other issues like this, in which the "science" was settled by juries listening to "experts" hired by the various lawyers, with judges who have no concept of the science involved presiding over legal stuntwork and competing presentations about the expertise of their experts vs. the other side's experts. The whole mess is disgusting, but the legal profession has one of the most powerful lobbies ever conceived, so nothing is ever done.
There being no science courts, is there any way we as the people who have to pay for all this brouhaha about genetic engineering of alfalfa and sugar beets can get a handle on the realities of the science involved? At one time that wouldn't have been so hard, but after Climategate the presumption that scientists are being frank and open and scientific has suffered some hard blows -- and the way that the AGW crowd treats Freeman Dyson doesn't help restore our confidence. Of course genetic scientists are not the same as climate scientists.
On the gripping hand, I remember a AAAS meeting in San Francisco in which the students in the genetics department at Stanford, egged on by faculty, stormed a AAAS panel chanting "Hook and Page, Put them in a cage", and wearing football helmets stormed past the ushers demanding the right to attend sessions without badges. That was long enough ago that those same students are likely professors of genetics now. (There was a third panelist with Sidney Hook and Professor Page; he was from the University of Connecticut and he walked out of the panel in disgust after the AAAS failed to enforce its own rules; alas, I forget his name although I did a short interview with him as he left the room; I published the account long ago, but I can't find anything about now. This was in the days of Selectric Typewriters and carbon paper, so I don't have any copies, alas. I may have pictures of the incident but they'd be on slides without labels and I'm not likely to go through years of slides looking for them. So it goes.) My point is that once political fervor trumps scientific dedication, "expert" testimony can no longer automatically be accepted. Those familiar with the long career of Sidney Hook may find a certain irony in the demand that he be put in a cage for his views on genetics and heredity.
I see I am rambling again. I have some undergraduate books on modern biology, and I have spent some time with gene therapy MD's learning what is apparently possible in the field of genetic engineering applied to medicine, but I know little about the reality of the "Frankenfood" threat. I'd appreciate enlightenment from those who know more than I do about all this.
I presume that readers will understand that you never do an update on anything from anywhere but the actual site of the actual publisher, and don't do third party updates of critical applications unless you absolutely know what you are doing. We'll amend the column to reflect this.
It's still important to keep Acrobat up to date. Just be sure to do it from the Adobe web site, not from somebody offering to be helpful.
January 1, 2011
Happy New Year
.We had a good evening at Larry Niven's New Years party.
And here's your present from Obama Care: You can't use your medical savings account as intended. Happy New Year to the Tree of Liberty.
Class warfare run riot. We now have set things so that unless your family can afford to pay for your college education, it's pretty hard to work your way through: the result is that the entire middle class will graduate as bondsmen with a lifetime debt to the government, and more and more of their income spent on compulsory items. Welcome to hope and change, and Happy New Year.
Now one can come up with a number of principled arguments for limiting the enormous spread of wealth that results in a handful of people able to dominate elections and buy Legions, as it was in the last days of the Roman Republic. Note I said it can be rationally argued; I have not endorsed the distributist principle; but socking it to the middle and upper middle class just to be doing that is an entirely different thing. In Europe if you are not born rich, or have great talent as an author or sports or entertainment figure, your chances of getting rich are very low and get lower every year. That has not been true in America -- indeed, it has usually been the other way, as many great fortunes get dissipated. It is only recently that we have seen the phenomenon of the really super rich and the enormous disparities between the middle class and the super rich. We have not had a national and rational debate on this. I note that Bill Gates was among the first to recognize that super rich families passing fortunes along was not a good thing, and who has pledged to leave his children a few millions of dollars, not billions.
This is different. This is class resentment of a particularly malicious and game changing kind. It it one thing to wonder if it is healthy to have multi-billionaires. It is quite another to be maliciously envious of those who make twice as much as you do.
I hate it that this was the first letter I encountered this morning...
What the Republicans must do is scour the Obama Care law and all the other Democratic bills from last year to find things like this, and repeal them. If the Democrats won't allow them to be repealed -- filibuster in Senate, or veto from Obama -- that at least establishes their ownership of these matters. I do not believe that the American voters are so sunk into class warfare as to allow this.
This is the kind of law that breeds all kinds of abuses, as it turns neighbors against neighbors and alters the entire picture of a career path. The destruction of the middle class is the destruction of the republic. Rule by the middle class -- those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation -- is the essence of maintaining a republic. Naked class warfare always ends in dictatorship and tyranny. Or always has. Perhaps this generation is wiser? I would not bet that way.
We can debate the merits of limiting institutions including family fortunes that have become so large that they endanger the republic, either by concentrating too much power in too few hands, or by becoming too big to fail and thus allowing speculation with public bailouts of failure. We have seen all too well what happens when financial institutions become too big to fail, and the collapse of industries due to incompetence is a threat to economic stability. There ought to be a not-so-big fifty banking institutions rather than a Big Five. But that is another matter. What we cannot have is this kind of naked class warfare.
And still, Happy New Year!
Greg Benford, Larry Niven, Steve Barnes, John De Chancie
Foreground, Greg Benford and Steve Barnes. Background, left to right, Serena and Tim Powers, Mike Donahue, Barry Workman, Craig Miller, Noel and Marv Wolfman.
Happy New Year!
From the Halloween party:
Jackie Freas (I forget her married name; apologies. Kelly's daughter.)
The theme was come as a pirate. That's me as a software pirate.
Steve Barnes, Larry Niven, and Wendy All
January 2, 2101
.I more or less took the day off. Packing for Las Vegas and CES. I did a TWIT today.
http://twit.tv/282 With Leo, John Dvorak, and Larry Magid
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