THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 671 April 18 - 24, 2011
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April 18, 2011
The True Finns won massively -- well, they went from 4% to 20%, and the other two parties hover at 20% . This gives a majority to Finns opposing international bailout, and Finland threatens to exercise her veto over bailing out Portugal and other banlrupt members of the European Union. There is fear that Greece will have to restructure its debts, but any talk of spending cuts sparks riots and public employee union strikes. "Restructure" is a polite term for default, which, given that Greece continues deficit spending while completely out of money, has everyone scared: not that anything will be done. Note the effect on the market. Meanwhile the US plays games with spending cuts -- they are far smaller than the insufficient $38 billion we were told of -- while assuring everyone we will raise the debt ceiling and borrow our way out for a while more. Unemployment continues. And the number of people who get money from government rather than pay taxes creeps upward.
And for irony:
So we will help the new governments in the Middle East and North Africa, although what we will help them with is not entirely clear. Perhaps someone will loan us the money so we can loan it to Greece and Portugal who can loan it to Egypt, who can loan it back to us with the Suez Canal as security.
And I am off to the Post Office to send in my tax returns.
Now for the good news: it is becoming apparent to everyone but the ivory tower intellectuals that things are bad, and the liberal dream is not working. It takes a while, but look at the last election. The machine still won in California, but it is strongest here. Of course California thinks it can continue to run enormous deficits which the harder working people in other states will have to bail us out of, while driving the last of the industries out of the state.
Studies show that the more you complain about pat downs at the airports, the more likely you are to get one. You think?
Last Thursday night at LASFS I had a few words about the return of the Ozone Hole: apparently it's not only back, but bigger and bigger than ever, and we'll have the Ozone Hole over Hyannisport again. The Ozone Hole panic caused us to phase out Freon and go to far more expensive fluids for our air conditioners. Oddly enough, Freon became a source of mortal danger just as the patents ran out on Freon and since it was pretty cheap, something else patentable became necessary for the chemical industry; accordingly Freon was pronounced the cause of the ozone holes and a threat to humanity.
It has been banned for some years now, but the Ozone Hole seems to be returning, bigger than ever. Perhaps I have misunderstood, but I thought we had solved that problem. I wonder that the patent status of the new stuff we replaced Freon with is?
If you did not see Sunday's disquisition on temperatures it might be worth your while. There was also mail.
I knew him, not well, but we did meet several times, including once in New York City when I went to a Philadelphia Society meeting with Russell Kirk. He was a man of importance and dignity, and he had an effect on the world.
The same WSJ editorial memorialized Igor Birman, the Soviet statistician and economist who after defecting to the United States held that the Soviet economy was much smaller and less robust than US experts including the CIA believed. Stefan Possony believed that also. It was important to understand that the USSR was not a second superpower, but a failing economy with missiles; and if the missiles were threatened, so was the power of the USSR to do evil in the world. As Larry Niven used to put it, don't we believe in capitalism? Reagan listened to this view, and it is one reason he stood up to the Soviets and would not back down on Strategic Defense. We live in a better world because of him.
There seems to be some furor over one or another joke about Obama as a chimp, and how anyone who does that should be barred from politics forever. Googling "Bush as a chimp" produces a lot of items including http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/images/blbushchimplookalikes.htm but I don't recall any furor over that. And I do recall that there were many who denounced Ape Lincoln in his day. If we had just evolved into a more polite society that has less tolerance for incivility I would probably be happier, but in fact that is not the case. Any stick to beat an opponent...
When Bush is depicted as a chimp it is a joke -- after all, he's stupid, isn't he? But if it is Obama, then it is racist, not that Obama is not as bright as he thinks he is? Now of course in the real world one does not become President of the United States by having the IQ of a chimp. You have to be at least as smart as -- but no, no, I mustn't continue that thought...
I would have thought that if there were any validity left to the notion of anti-trust, allowing AT&T to absorb T-Mobile and (at least from their history) close off some towers and generally reduce connectivity would be the last thing you would allow. Why in the world reduce the number of providers? I suppose because the notion is to increase the need for regulation and thus build up the power of government?
For heaven's sake.
I need to think on this. The Constitution is clear. This is an act of defiance by the President. He is defying them to impeach him.
Perhaps the Congress can order the arrest of any official who pays salaries to the Czars?
Control of the purse is the fundamental curb on monarchy, and is the oldest of the rights of Englishmen. We all need to think on this. Constitutional Crises are to be avoided but sometimes there is no choice.
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The Wall Street Journal today ran the intellectual defense of Obama's deficit reduction plan in today's editorial pages. It is "Paul Ryan's Reverse Robin Hood Budget " (link) by Princeton economist Alan Binder,. Ostensibly about the Ryan budget plan, it says in abstract terms about what President Obama said in his speech: we don't have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem. It does not start by listing its assumptions: apparently it is assumed that you know what they are, to wit, that Medicare and Medicaid and all the other entitlements we have now are necessary and proper, the only permissible cuts in those programs will be small and devoted to "eliminating fraud and abuse, and the only real problems we have are funding those necessary entitlements while not going broke. Nothing else matters. Fortunately we can do that: stop giving money to the rich. Don't cut taxes.
Then it summarizes:
There's another summary that lets us infer the assumptions under this:
That, I think, states the assumptions under which Blinder and the White House operate: All that growth in the Federal government since 1951 was necessary and proper, and we are much the better off for it. Of course it was the fear of that growth that caused Bill Buckley to found National Review in 1955, and state that its mission was to stand in the way of history shouting "Stop!" This has been the fundamental debate between conservatives and progressives ever since. It is made complex by another debate: there are those who believe that government has a positive role in doing good through "progressive" means, but that these are not the job of the federal government: they are the province of the states. And that was greatly complicated by the problems of civil rights: did states rights mean the right of the states to continue segregation? Were federal civil rights laws required in order to make the law color blind? Did not the cause of civil rights demand the enormous expansion of the power of the federal government and the creation of new bureaucracies? Because once the new bureaucracies were created, they would grow. Parkinson's Law and Pournelle's Iron Law would see to that.
But are all those bureaucracies needed? Do they do good or harm? Would education in the United States be better for a continued growth in the Department of Education, or would it be bettered by abolishing that Department entirely? Do we need Energy and Transportation as separate Departments or could their necessary functions be performed by Interior and Commerce? Are we really better off for their existence? It is surely worth debating, but Professor Blinder does not see that. To him it is self evident.
It is not self evident to me. The necessity of maintaining federal spending at 20% GDP and above seems to me the essence of what we ought to be discussing.
Regarding civil rights: when I was a young man in high school in the legally segregated South, I thought the law ought to be colorblind. I was thought a hopeless radical for thinking so. When the civil rights debates and freedom rides took place, I did not support them: I remain an advocate of states rights. The one federal law we needed was enforcement of the right to vote. That was clearly constitutional, and Congress clearly had the plain black letter law power to enforce it by appropriate legislation. In my judgment that was the proper course of events, and all the other federal interferences in state affairs like the various school takeovers were not merely needless but did great harm. I see no reason for changing that view now. But that is an aside and not a part of the current debate, which ought to be:
To how much of someone else's income and property is someone entitled by reason of existence? If you cannot see well, are you entitled to spectacles paid for by someone else? If you have no teeth, are you entitled to free dental work? If you have no kidneys, are you entitled to one from someone who has two and needs only one? If you are anemic, are you entitled to someone else's blood? If you are hungry, are you entitled to have someone buy you lunch? If you are poor and disabled, are you entitled to have someone pay you enough so that you enjoy a dignified and satisfying life? If you are poor and lazy (have ADHD) are you entitled to have someone pay you, and how much?
By entitled I mean a legal entitlement: you are owed money, and armed agents of the government will be sent to collect it for you. I do not mean some ethical or moral obligation based on religion laid against those who will pay: I mean that the public hangman threatens those who owe you if they resist paying.
Clearly these entitlements do not fall equally: some get them, and some do not. Equally clearly the obligations to pay them do not fall equally. Some have to pay, and many others do not. I am told that more than 40% of Americans do not pay any income taxes at all, and of that 40% a substantial number get "earned income credits" which is to say negative income tax: they get "refunds" from withholding taxes that were in fact not withheld. The question, then, is who takes and who pays?
This is the fundamental debate. The progressives say that the remedy to the deficit is to take more from the rich and give more to the poor. Share the wealth, and all will be well. The problem with this, as Lady Thatcher observed, is that after a while you run out of other people's money. Taking the investment wealth and distributing it results in less investment. The remedy to that is to take even more and invest some of it. See Clinton's campaign speeches for more detail. But that has been tried many times, and Central Planning does not seem to work well as a means of investment. The Five Year Plans never worked, and over time the USSR, empire and all, spiraled into insolvency even as West Germany became a great economic power.
Obama and his intellectuals have made it clear even as they try to obscure what the debate is about.
Which, on analysis, parses out to: the entitlements are necessary and proper, and cannot be cut. Since we can't cut the entitlements we must raise taxes.
The President has said we cannot continue to spend more than we take in. No one questions that. How that will be accomplished is the real debate for the 2012 election. That election is crucial: it will determine whether, finally, those who have stood in the path of history shouting Stop! since the 1950's will finally get the attention they deserve without the horrible distractions of the Cold War. It will determine the future of this republic.
Indeed. I went to University on the Korean GI Bill, and of course much of the great expansion of the US University system came from the GI Bill of Rights of 1945 and after. I do not know the extent of Professor Blinder's knowledge of the times, but he certainly has much of that wrong. His point seems to be that the entitlements are indispensable, and we do not have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem which must be solved by taxing the rich. That is the official line of the current administration. No cuts. More spending. And balance the budget, not by cutting back but by taxing more.
Trumpets! If you have not heard this, go listen. You'll be glad of it!
April 20, 2011
It's all right to do cartoons of presidents as chimps, unless that president is Obama, in which case you must commit ritual suicide if you find such a cartoon funny and forward it to anyone. The cartoon itself has vanished (although I saw a copy of it yesterday), although cartoons of Bush as a chimpanzee have not. The radio talk shows are boiling with comment on the horrid racism of it all. I find all that interesting: it is not racist to imply that Bush or Reagan are chimpanzees in disguise, but it is racist to imply that about Obama. Of course it is not clear what "racist' means in the first place.
What is pretty clear is that no one has been harmed by an email forwarding of a cartoon, and all the furor over this non-incident is absurd. At least we haven't -- at least not yet -- burned buildings and killed people over cartoons, although I wonder sometimes if that is where we are heading. Maybe we need some rules. Is it all right to photoshop a picture making a President a rat? A tarantula? Perhaps a rattlesnake? A cuddly panda? Is it permitted to put a President in a wheel chair? Perhaps any President but Roosevelt?
We seem to be a nation of people who not only take umbrage, but go about cultivating umbrage, or mining umbrage, or pretending umbrage. Would self immolation be sufficient atonement?
And the unction of the radio commentators would be amusing if it were not so pretentious.
Niven is here and we are about to go up the hill. Sable took the opportunity to remind Larry of how much he likes her. Sable grew up not allowed to get on the furniture, but when she had her knee rebuilt we let her get up on the couch with us while she was recovering. Now that she's completely recovered she continues to claim the privilege. I couldn't resist getting the picture.
We had a good hike and lunch.
April 21, 2011
From time to time I try to analyze my critical mail. I find it fascinating:
Actually, I know better in more ways than you think. If there are no racial differences then there can be no unique racial insults. There is no more truth to the assertion that Obama is closely related to chimpanzees than there is to the same assertion about Bush. I would have thought that fairly obvious to anyone who considered the matter. Are you asserting otherwise?
As to offensiveness, what has that to do with anything? Political rhetoric is intended to be offensive. There is no lack of offensive rhetoric. Most of it is openly said, not merely forwarded in an email to people supposed to be friends. If we are looking for political statements that offended their targets, we will have no problem finding them. Being the target of offensive rhetoric -- and cartoons -- is one of the burdens of seeking and holding public office.
As to making cases, you have made mine for me. The next step in this affair is to excuse rioting and violence because someone drew a cartoon. I doubt that will be long coming.
I am more interested in the term "allowable". What do we mean by that? Who determines what political advocacy is allowable? What is the penalty for saying that which is not allowed? Is it to be enforced by federal authorities? Shall we add that task to the duties of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax, Firearms, and Explosives?
One presumes that is allowable since it was certainly allowed. Presumably it would not have been allowable had Senator Kennedy privately shown a copy of a letter he received from a correspondent who called Judge Bork a rat?
Ah well. Taking umbrage is allowable. A free society will give anyone ample access to vast quantities of umbrage. There's even some here for the rest of us. The incident makes me angry -- not with the elderly party volunteer official who forwarded an email to a few people on a private list because she thought it was funny and it was easy to do with a few clicks -- but at the supposed friend who decided he had to let the press know about this offensive cartoon, and how he got it, and from whom, and how he thought it offensive, and how virtuous he is for doing all this. That's the guy I want to avoid.
There is a serious discussion in all this.
Many statements are offensive, some peculiarly to certain people. I hadn't thought about buck-tooth jokes about the Japanese in a long time, although every now and then I'll run across a Hollywood cartoon from the World War II era, in which buck-toothed Japanese are depicted in comic ineptness. I am of the "sticks and stones" view on most such matters in any event, and I find many of the "that was hurtful" operations to be cynical shakedowns to the benefit of professional umbrage takers. Perhaps I grew up in more tolerant times, but I heard most of my stock of Jewish jokes from the late Elmar Lanczos who delighted in collecting Jewish and Hungarian ethnic jokes, most of them in the poorest possible taste, which he only told to his friends, most of whom were gentiles. He would have considered it bad taste to tell such stories to friends he thought would be offended.
Bad taste is timeless, and most of us are guilty of lapses once in a while. If repeating a joke which is likely to be offensive to someone, somewhere, is immediate disqualification for public life, then we are doomed.
The serious point is this: what about hurtful statements that are true? As an example: it is simply true that there are retarded children in this world. It is simply true that mainstreaming them -- placing them in classrooms with children of normal intelligence -- can make education for the normal and bright kids much more difficult. It may be true that these difficulties can be overcome by proper teacher training. What is certainly true is that it's impossible to discuss the subject without making statements that will be considered offensive and hurtful, if not by the retarded, then by their parents or guardians, and said to be offensive by advocates whose motives may not be entirely altruistic. Discussion of entitlements to education cannot avoid this dilemma: are the normal and bright kids in a classroom entitled to the teacher's attention? Are they entitled to classrooms without distractions and disruptions? But again, the very mention of such things is hurtful.
But serious discussions of serious problems must take a back seat to the pretended horror of a forwarded email containing a cartoon of the President as a baby chimpanzee. We even have new photographs of the President, stony-faced, viewing the cartoon. I can think of more pressing matters for his attention. And I can think of more pressing matters for ours.
See "Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts" (link) in today's Wall Street Journal marketing section.
April 22, 2011
I do not observe Earth Day, but I note it because this is the day of publication of the 2011 Edition of A Step Farther Out, a book on saving civilization I first published in the 1970's. It was largely drawn from the columns I wrote as Science Columnist at Galaxy Science Fiction. While some of it is dated, much of the book is still relevant.
I don't know how long it will take for Amazon to get this up for sale, but it should not be long. This edition is much better than
April 23, 2011
It is Easter weekend, and I've been busy.
I do recommend Peggy Noonan's Saturday WSJ column "What the World Sees in America" (link).
Her conclusion is the position I started from before we went into Iraq. I had no problem supporting the punitive expedition into Afghanistan with the goal of teaching the Afghanis not to harbor our enemies, but I was horrified when we set up camp and tried to build a new government there. Mesopotamia is known as a graveyard of empires, but Afghanistan even more so; and as Miss Noonan observes, we're not even renting the love of the Afghani. For every one there who wants us to stay forever, there is at least one who can't wait for us to get out.
Perhaps, with more resources to pour into desert sand and scatter to Afghan winds we could do more, but we don't have more resources. We're broke and bleeding, and we are building neither an empire nor an ally, not in Afghanistan and not in Iraq. We need to come home and rebuild America.
The rest of her column is thought provoking.
I also recommend "Why I Still Support Nuclear Power, Even After Fukushima" by William Tucker (link).
I do not agree that this is "not quite Chernobyl". We're a long way from Chernobyl, and I can't think of a scenario that gets us to where a major portion of Fukushima's fuel inventory goes into the atmosphere and contaminates surrounding territories. The amount of actual damage to anyone off site from Fukushima is minimal, and while there remains some danger -- say even the inevitability -- of further radioactive contamination, it will be neither widespread nor persistent compared to Chernobyl. The amount of contaminated territory will certainly be small compared to, say, the annual tailings piles from producing and burning enough coal to produce a similar amount of electric power.
We cannot build a great world civilization without energy, and we can't get to that civilization without a period of dependence on nuclear fission power. I said all this in A Step Farther Out some forty years ago, and it remains true today.
April 24, 2011
You can now buy A STEP FARTHER OUT for your Kindle. It's $2.99. It's not a lot different from the older editions; this isn't a big revision. The book is very much relevant to the 21st Century. I got a few things wrong, but I got a lot right as well. I recommend this book for anyone concerned about the future -- but then I wrote it for people concerned about the future. Go find it on Amazon.
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