THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 659 January 24 - 30, 2011
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January 24, 2011
It's late, and I'm tired. I'll put up some mail and I'm for bed.
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|This week:||Tuesday, January
The January column, or much of it, or perhaps some of it, is posted at Chaos Manor Reviews. I say some of it because there are some observations that need to be made, and I didn't get to the Orchids and Onions Parade. I mentioned some of the private press receptions I attended but left out Lunch at Piero's, one of the longest running private press receptions starting early in COMDEX days, and Pat is an old friend. I had intended to feature a product I saw there but I don't actually have it yet. With luck I'll have it in time for the next column.
Chaos Manor Mailbag this weekend.
State of the Union tonight. It will be interesting to see how well Obama manages to emulate Bill Clinton and his triangulation after he lost the House in his second year. I don't look for any surprises.
On reflection I tend to agree. Others have pointed out that the Marine Hymn features the defeat of Mexico and Tunisia. Moreover we have the assertion of the performer that nothing was meant; it's merely a popular Chinese patriotic song. All of which illustrates one of the reasons I am not qualified to be a diplomat...
The latest copy of SCIENCE magazine showed up today's mail. It has an article about my daughter Jennifer's theories on the origin of cities in the Garden of Eden. I mentioned this last week.
January 26, 2010
That was not my reaction as I watched it. I thought that if the 2012 election were held this week after that speech, Obama would win in a walk. He didn't address the pressing problems, he didn't even mention the problem of entitlements, he danced around everything -- but he looked Presidential, he ended with a big note of approval for American exceptionalism, and he looked like the man the Independents thought they were voting for in 2008. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. He wanted to look like a President, and he did.
I do not think he can sustain that image when the hard decisions come, but he went a long way toward erasing the image of the petulant "Guess what, we won" Chicago politician he has resembled since he was elected.
The streets of Egypt are aflame. It's the security forces vs. the -- what? We can call them the mob, the protestors, the hearts yearning to be free, the Moslem Brotherhood, Islamic Jihadists -- actually all of those. I am minded of the French Revolution, only Hosni Mubarak is willing to use his security forces. Louis XVI wasn't, until it was too late. His troops vanished or joined the enemy until the only loyal troops he had left were the Swiss Guard.
It is odd that we have heard little from the White House on this, and there was nothing in the State of the Union address. There was nothing about Israel and the failure of the peace process. Nothing about WikiLeaks which affect both the US and Israel.
Over time the shallowness of subject matter in the speech will become apparent; but it remains that he looked Presidential, and it is my opinion that if the election were to be held today he'd win. He gave the speech the Independents had hoped for when they voted for him.
As time goes on and it is obvious that the speech was not real and there are no real policies the Independents will come back from their fascination. Perhaps it will not take so long this time.
January 27, 2011
We have had a day for the pundits to consider the State of the Union speech. There are nine and sixty ways to consider the speech, and I don't supposed that every single one of them is right, but of those I have seen, Daniel Henninger in today's Wall Street Journal sums it up best in "A Presidency to Nowhere," (link) and I recommend that you take the time to read it. Henninger says:
That echoes my feelings as I watched the speech. Of course it didn't last. When he got to the high speed rail and solar panels it was clear that it was speech, not a change of heart, and when he got to education it was even clearer that either we live in Lake Wobegon or Obama let the education establishment unions write that part of this speech. I am all for American exceptionalism, and I thoroughly believe that school systems which understand the differences between education and training, and apportion their resources accordingly can make help make America great again; but there was none of that in the speech.
Trying to give everyone a world class university prep education is equivalent to giving no one a world class university prep education while simultaneously denying those who need skills training don't get that either; it merely assures employment to education bureaucrats while burdening teachers with needless and boring "workshops" and silly "education" classes. As Jacques Barzun long ago observed, university departments of education "take a grain of truth, grind it exceeding fine, and puff each mote up into a course" which they then make compulsory. Barzun wrote that in the 1940's when there was still some debate over traditional vs. progressive education. Today it's different: they no longer start with the grain of truth. It's all dust and air, but the teachers are forced to sit through class after class of boring vapidity.
The President projected the image that the Independents who voted for him wanted to see but didn't get in his first two years. The speech may have won some of them back -- polls indicate so. But as time goes on and we understand that getting out of the hole we are in will be a great deal rougher than we imagine, one hopes that the Independents will recover from the dazzle and come back to reality.
Read it all. It's worth the effort.
I note that Government Motors is to be sold off. Of course fairness would indicate that the despoiled bond holders whose blue chip investments were confiscated so that Obama could reward the unions that forced the American auto industry into bankruptcy in the first place were not given any favorable seat at the sell-off table. This was a naked act of confiscation to reward political allies, and I am astonished that there is not more outrage. At the same time, the SEC regulators have made it impossible to have an American IPO, so that initial issue profits will go to foreign firms. Of course the American investment bankers will get their cut. Goldman Sachs will not suffer even though the rest of us will. So it goes.
(Note I am talking about bond holders. The stock holders got what was coming to them; but the bonds were supposed to be nearly as safe as Treasuries.
It has long been known that there is virtually no correlation between the effectiveness of schools and the amounts spent on them. Of course there is a minimum below which it is unwise to go, but that's rather low.** For the most part, spending more on schools, whether it's on teacher salaries (based on seniority and "credentials" provided by colleges of education) or on reducing class sizes, spending more money on schools does not get a proportionate rise in education results, and can often obtain an actual reduction.
Recent studies have shown that the single most effective move a school district can make would be to fire the 10% worst teachers. Simply get rid of them and disperse their students among the other teachers, (which of course increases class size while reducing the school's budget) will get surprising results, in some cases up to a 50% increase in efficiency as measured by reduction in dropout rate and performance of those graduating.
A second highly effective means for increasing education efficiency is simple enforcement of discipline. Get rid of the obstreperous students: reassign them to Siberian Salt Mine classes, send them to holding pens, expell them -- the point being that those who will not refrain from disrupting classes ought not be allowed to impose a lifelong tax on those who control themselves and try to learn. This is one of the secrets of private and religious school effectiveness: it's not that the teaching is better, it's that the environment is more tranquil since the distractive elements can be eliminated at will.
Finally, a public education system has to realize that this is not Lake Wobegon. Half the children are below average. Below average doesn't mean useless; but it does mean that half the children are not going to be college professors or even grade school teachers. Half are going to be waiters, masons, carpenters, lathe operators, mechanics, yes, and even burger flippers. I will leave it to the readers to sort out what jobs require above average "intelligence" (mostly meaning ability to manipulate abstract symbols) and which require "skills" meaning the ability to learn to do, and do, more repetitive tasks with efficiency and continue to do that long after the "intelligent" fail from lack of motivation. The point is that while everyone requires some education -- learning how to learn -- and everyone requires some ability to form efficient habits to get them through the routines of the day, there is a pretty sharp break between the productive life of intellectuals and the productive lives of everyone else.
Until that is widely admitted -- it's pretty obvious, but it's not politically correct -- the school systems are a hamper, not an advantage in the worldwide competition we now face. Even if the Green Jobs myth were true, those who get those Green Jobs will not all be intellectuals. An "educated" work force is not necessarily a highly skilled work force. So it goes.
Cheap energy and freedom create an economic environment in which all can thrive. A good education system can enable a high proportion of the population to do well indeed. What we have is an education system generated by the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Until it is dismantled, it will have high negative consequences. Those who can escape it can thrive. The rest will just have to endure.
** Note: I don't know the bare minimum facility and teacher requirements for a adequate grade school education, but from personal experience in both Catholic and a rural public grade school in Tennessee I can say that it can certainly get down to 2 grades to the room, and 20 and more pupils to the grade, with teachers who held 2-year associate of arts degrees from Normal schools, for grades 1 - 8. That was my elementary school education, and I do not feel deprived. I don't know the background of the nuns at St. Anne's, but at Capleville (grades 4 - 8) the teachers were all farmers' wives or unmarried middle age women. Some were more intellectually inclined than others, but I wouldn't call them intellectuals; I didn't meet real intellectuals until I got to Christian Brothers, which was a junior college with a high school attached, and was the university prep Catholic high school in Memphis. (There were others, including Catholic High which was run by Jesuits and was where you got sent if you didn't make it at CBC.) When I was at the University of Iowa I had friends who had attended a one-room consolidated (grades 4 - 8) and one of my friends was on a year's leave from being the teacher at a 1-8 one-room consolidated. He worked damned hard. I think he had 15 students overall, so the teacher student ratio was a lot better than mine had been with two grades to the room. After his young wife's untimely death, Art Robinson home schooled his kids with this curriculum http://www.robinsoncurriculum.com/ and claims that he spent very little time with the kids; they pretty well taught themselves from carefully chosen materials. Since they all seem to have done well -- his oldest son has a Ph.D. from Cal Tech -- that may be the minimum indeed, but of course that wasn't Lake Wobegon either.
I was looking up Art Robinson's obviously successful home schooling curriculum (obviously successful at least with his own children, given the results) when I saw that this gets a very high place in the Google search:
Digging a bit further I find that this is because one of the hundreds of items in the Robinson home schooling package is an eBook copy of G. E. Henty's By Sheer Pluck, a novel written in the 19th Century. In that book are the lines
The character is not an obvious monster. The horror! Including a book that has those lines is enough of course to label Art Robinson, a scientist of some reputation, as a racist and his home schooling program worthless. You need look no further.
Now this nonsense was part of a whole slurry of smears because Art was brave -- or foolish? -- enough to run for Congress against a liberal Democrat, so the attack machine turned out with full force. Spend a lot and call names; it's easier than rational discussion.
There only one reply, of course. Larry Niven made it best: a reader wrote to complain of the beliefs and actions of one of Niven's characters. Larry replied
"We in the writing profession have a technical term for people who believe that a writer necessarily holds the opinions of his characters. We call them idiots. None of my best friends are idiots. Merry Christmas."
I dealt with this smear last October. As I said then, I found in the 1940's that the Henty books had the approval of Jacques Barzun, and on his recommendation I went to the library to find them, and I enjoyed many of them.
Now, I am told, Art's education program is no longer politically correct because it continues to include this book along with many others. Perhaps we need a new National Education Program to determine which books ought forever to be banned. I suspect there would be little problem finding people who think they are wise enough to be part of that panel. The Catholic Church used to maintain an index of forbidden books, and we were taught that it was sinful to read books on the list; but I never thought the Brothers were very serious about it. Those books often were dreadful, as I found when I sought them out. Of course the juicy parts of Kraft-Ebbing were in Latin, but I took Latin in high school. And I note that most young Catholics don't even know there ever was an Index. So it goes.
In a perfect world, of course, no one would ever read a work of fiction in which a sympathetic character holds a politically incorrect opinion, and anyone who recommends such a book would be sent to reeducation camp. Welcome to the liberal ideal world, where everyone will be liberated from being exposed to the temptation to believe false opinions. March forward on the flywheel of history! Learn your Marxist theories, which are scientific and cannot be wrong, and -- oops. Sorry. Got carried away.
January 28, 2011
The dissection of the State of the Union speech continues. The smartest man in America, dealing with the economic crisis, tells us the remedy is Green Energy and high speed rails. Details are left as an exercise for the listeners.
California voted billions in bonds for high speed rails. So far the result has been a slick web site, and a plan to build one segment in the Central Valley from a place few want to be to a place no one can find, but no stations or trains; and of course to ask the Federal government for more money.
The devil is in the details on both high speed rail and Green Energy. Both may eventually become engineering projects and good investments, but there's no reason to believe the Ivy League theorists about construction details: all our practical experience would say "not yet", and certainly gives no indication that these are the remedies to the economic crisis.
Now if Green Energy meant a real campaign to build nuclear power plants -- even a Federal nuclear TVA rather than a reform of the red tape bureaucracy that prevents any actual construction -- we might be able to swallow the high speed rails as the Cold Warriors swallowed much of the Great Society as the price for being allowed to fight the USSR. That, however, doesn't seem to be the process. Green Energy will always end up meaning wind, bio, and solar, none of which are going to produce low cost energy to spark a new industrial revolution. So it goes.
"Cap and Trade Returns from the Grave" by Kimberly Strossell (link) in today's Wall Street Journal is worth your time.
Precisely. The end of this game is loss for the Republicans. Obama is hoping to rope in enough Republicans to give a national unity face to his plans for Green Energy and high speed trains; and Green Energy always means solar, bio, and wind, with perhaps a soupcon of tide, along with endless studies of nuclear. All told it will not produce enough energy to run a first world economy in your lifetime, but it will redistribute wealth, and not in any equalitarian way. The end result will be a new class structure, with enormously wealthy and powerful on top, civil servants in the middle, and everyone else much worse off. Equal, but not doing so well. Big central planning ventures always end that way.
But doesn't capitalism produce enormous discrepancies of wealth? Yes. And capitalism plus democracy generally ends in socialism, which drifts to a command economy, in which the discrepancy between the ruling class -- the nomenklatura with secure government positions and privileged supply chains -- and the rest may not be on paper as great, but the end result is worse. This isn't pure speculation, it's history. But first comes an era of good feelings. Look at the Moscow scenes just after the Revolution in Dr. Zhivago. Everyone looked to be better off. Vive Lenin!
Perhaps a better model would be Britain after World War II. Attlee and Bevin came in, the industries were nationalized, unions ruled, there was national health care. Everyone felt good. It feels good to take care of the destitute, to have a system of handouts for the poor, to see that no one is left out of the system. That man needs medical care! Let's give it to him. We'll make the rich pay for it! Everyone felt good. But as Margaret Thatcher observed, the trouble with socialism is that after a while you run out of other people's money and you have to start taxing yourself to pay for it. The productive pay and the unproductive do about as well as the productive, and after a while there's a lot less pie to divide. You don't need Atlas Shrugged. The producers don't need to quit and go on strike. That doesn't happen. What happens is that if you find that striving hard gets you about the same result as doing as little as possible while playing war games and reading novels, you don't need to make a conscious choice. I'm all right, Jack.
But I wander. My point is that Obama's goal is European style socialism, and he has not retreated from that. Miss Strossell goes into some of the details.
And wind, solar, and biofuels won't support a first world economy. Not even with massive government subsidies. As to high speed rail, see the California experiment.
I am reminded that I need to get A Step Farther Out into a Kindle format. I guess it's time to do some serious investigation of tools for doing that. I also have Two Steps Farther Out that needs doing also; it never was published. I have got to figure out how to get those done, I am probably losing money.
On Kindle editions: I have electronic copies of Step Farther Out (which was previously published), Two Steps Farther Out (Galaxy Columns from the 80's many still relevant, but never published), the California Sixth Grade Reader from long ago which is public domain and for which I need to write an introduction, a few comments here and there, and a conclusion. Those come to mind as pretty well ready to go out on Kindle at, say, $2.99 which is I think the minimum price you can have and get the Amazon 70% royalty, I'll make it lower if I can. Since Kindle is non-exclusive they can also be put on Nook and the Sony reader. Then there are collections, stuff from here -- Macauley's Lays of Ancient Rome, with my comments. That one is public domain. Available here on this web site now, but not in reader format. I suspect that more would read this if it were available for Nook and Kindle and iPhone at a low price.
There is other such stuff. I really need to get up the energy to get this going, which means first learning just what is involved and what software is needed. My daughter went through it to get Outies up. so I can find out from her, but I'm open to other suggestions. Once I get caught up with other stuff I'll turn my attention to getting a procedure that makes it easy to get books into the various eBook formats, and also to the process of actually getting it up. Our agents are handling some of our books to get them onto Kindle. What I have is stuff that wouldn't normally go to an agent, since it was never sold for publication to begin with, or as in the case of Step Farther Out, has long been out of print in print format. The California Sixth Grade Reader is ready to go once I do the introduction and commentary, which won't take long once I understand just what I need to do. The formatting of that one may be tricky.
Anyway I need not just one book done (although it would help to get Step out since it's pretty well in shape already and would make a good start). I really need a procedure and set of programs so I can get a dozen or more books into first Kindle, then Google and other formats. Mac or PC work; it's a matter of which is easier. Suggestions welcome. I prefer to learn how to do it myself, but I'd be willing to consider other alternatives.
I was going through A Step Farther Out to see how clean the copy is (very) and found this:
That was written in the Carter Administration.
Outies: For those who don't know, OUTIES is a novel set in the Mote in God's Eye.universe. It was written by my daughter, Dr. Jennifer R Pournelle. (Buy it here.) It's published electronically in a variety of formats including Amazon and Nook and will eventually be in every format she can manage. She's also making arrangements to do it in print on demand for those who want a paper copy. It is not so much a sequel as a novel set in that universe and bringing in some of the characters. I have mostly good reports from those who have read it, so I have no trouble recommending it. It is science fiction, and it's by my daughter, not by me.
January 29, 2011
I am working to get the January Chaos Manor Reviews Mailbag done and out the door so it will have a January date. I will then get the February column out with a few more notes from CES but mostly the annual review and the Orchids and Onions Parade.
The weekend news is and will be dominated by events in Egypt. Those are important in themselves. They will also have a profound effect on the rest of the Middle East, from Jordan to Saudi Arabia to the Emirates like Bahrain and Qatar to Yemen. I point out that if in 1992 we had refrained from invading Iraq and instead invested that money in developing US energy resources, most especially including nuclear power, we would have enough domestic energy to be more sanguine about the results. As it is, our economy depends on Middle East oil, and that supply depends on stability in the Arabian peninsula. Stability can include a White Revolution, a slow transition from autocratic rule to a more parliamentary model, such as the Shah, at the urging of the United States, was trying to build in Iran. His fall shows the hazards of this course.
The eventual course of events in Egypt -- and in Tunisia, for that matter -- depend, I think, on the Army: to whom will it be loyal? In Tunisia, according to the reports I have, the secret police and other security forces were willing to fire on the insurrection, but when they did so, the Army informed the police that if the police continued to shoot the populace, the Army would fire on the police. The security forces withdrew and the President and much of the government fled. As of this morning there is no definitive indication of what the Army in Egypt will do.
In Jordan the Army is likely to be loyal to the dynasty. It certainly was in the last real crisis (Black September, 1970) when the King expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Bedouins were entirely loyal to the Hashemites -- who, after all, are the hereditary protectors of Mecca -- and they prevailed. The monarchy is unlikely to have forgotten this, and certainly has taken measures to insure a loyal core of Bedouins as Janissaries. We will see what happens next.
Incidentally, this may test the thesis of Jose Ortega y Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, one of the important books of the 20th Century).
Which, if read carefully, portrays the end of Republics. Ortega was premature in this pronouncement. He thought that the revolt of the masses, the deification of the masses, would end simple tyrannies in favor of those thrown up by the masses. He even stated that one can no longer rule by Janissaries. One must pay attention to the wants and needs of the soldiers. I wrote about all this some time ago in Intellectual Capital. For the entire Intellectual Capital essay series, click here.
Cuba fell to Castro when the Army refused to fire. Regimes fall for lack of defenders.
A handful of cartridges will disperse most mobs. Visionaries like Napoleon cheerfully use cannon. Saddam was safe so long as the Republican Guard stayed loyal. Again one supposes that this lesson was not ignored by Mubarik (who may have to be sent into exile by the Chief of Staff; he has already sent his family to England). It certainly was not ignored by the King of Jordan.
It is a matter of great concern for the United States. If the Muslim Brotherhood ends up in power in Egypt, and invites their al Qaeda friends to help them finish their work, the implications for the Legions in Iraq and Afghanistan are clear and frightening.
Empire has a large price. Incompetent Empire has never worked.
In digging through the Intellectual Capital essays I came on this one: the most important event of the 2oth Century. On reflection I have no reason to change my view.
My conclusion after analysis. I repeat that as he was making it I thought the speech effective. It takes analysis to realize it was not serious. Will the Independent voters realize that as they watch Washington get down to squabbles?
January 30, 2011
The January Chaos Manor Review Mailbag is posted.
The situation in Egypt continues murky. It is not at all clear what the Army will do. The Army remains the key institution in controlling Egypt. As conditions deteriorate into anarchy and looting the Army will act. Precisely for whom will be debated, but neither the generals nor the troops will put up with anarchy. Soldiers never do except when sacking an enemy establishment and that is not what will happen here.
Egypt for centuries was ruled by the Mamelukes, a slave army which owned itself, and which bought more Circassian slaves to be brought to Egypt, trained, and inducted into the Mameluke ranks. Egypt is no stranger to military rule.
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