THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 672 April 25 - May 1, 2011
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April 25, 2011
A STEP FARTHER OUT is now available on Kindle. Go buy one now!
For reasons I don't quite understand, I can't edit the "product description" of the Kindle edition of A STEP FARTHER OUT, but it's up and doing very well, having -- briefly I am sure -- become the #1 best seller on Kindle's economic policy sales list. The product description isn't an integral part of the book of course, but it does have a typo. I also need to add that the book is over 100,000 words, and there are illustrations and figures, so it's a fair chunk of reading for a few bucks. I am told it looks good on the Kindle App for an iPhone and I know it's readable on the Kindle App for iPad.
Now I am working on getting ANOTHER STEP FARTHER OUT in shape for Kindle publication. That is a new publication built out of columns and essays beginning in 1980 and continuing nearly to present. With luck we'll have that one in about a week. I'm also looking to see what else I can mine for low priced Kindle books.
Gold and silver prices are up again. There's a fairly
cool-headed analysis in the International Business Times
It's not so clear about food prices. Note that demand for wheat is rising in China and will slowly but steadily rise as long as the Chinese economic boom continues. As Chinese wealth trickles down, more Chinese want meat, and that increases demand for animal feed and -- All the same for India. So long as China, and increasingly India, have growing middle clases who want higher quality foods, the demands for wheat will grow. Meanwhile Arab Spring brings economic collapse in Egypt and other Middle East areas, but doesn't much lower food requirements for those populations. The oil kingdoms will simply bid against the Chinese. Egypt, the largest and hungriest of the Arab lands, can't do that. Economic freedom can produce economic booms, but that doesn't happen immediately, and isn't all that likely an outcome of the Arab Spring movements anyway.
The US could have some effect on food price futures by ending the alcohol as fuel subsidies and requirements. If you don't burn coal in your car, the price of masa will fall almost immediately.
We have an election coming up. We also have $5/gallon gasoline and $5/loaf bread coming up. I do not expect the real unemployment rate to fall, although there will be frantic attempts to make it look lower, largely through statistical manipulations based on the definition of unemployment: if you're not looking for work, you aren't unemployed even if you have no job and never again expect to find one. As more give up looking, the unemployment rate goes down. And since the unions do not intend to lower their wages and perks, and the states are out of money, there will be "furloughs" among public employees including teachers. You can manipulate those numbers so the "furloughed" are not unemployed. It promises to be an interesting summer, but it will end with $5/gallon gasoline and $5/loaf bread. Look for the price of a can of beans to get higher. Look for the price of Top Ramen to rise...
This will continue so long as the current economic and foreign policies continue.
Note that I'm not giving advice on metals and food futures investments. I'm just saying...
We have now put drones directed at killing a head of state into the Laws of War. I'm sure that wasn't the intention, but it seems to me the effect of our using drones in Libya: shortly after there were explosions in Qaddaffi's headquarters.
The prestige of the United States is on line. The President has said that Kadhafi's continued presence as head of state in Libya is unacceptable. We have meanwhile acted to be sure he will go all out to stay, since his only possible alternative is life imprisonment. Sun Tze tells us to build golden bridges for our enemies, but we have burned all of Khadiffi's escape routes. He can't even take an airliner to Venezuela or Uganda. He can't fly anywhere. He's stuck: for him it's victory or death or life imprisonment and that will include all his children and most of his friends. He still has gold, and as I noted earlier, he is hiring Taureg, the blue people of the desert. Tribal warfare continues. And the United States continues to borrow money to pour into Libya, but not to do anything decisive.
The Arab Spring continues.
And the beat goes on.
We'll just have to see. I heard last night on Coast to Coast from an engineer who says (1) that he's the only one in the world who understands gravity, and (2) there are no particles. If he's right then they can't have found it. If they've found it, boy is he wrong...
In case that's being too mysterious, what I mean is that when it gets to particle physics, I used to know some of the geniuses in that area pretty well, I have had Twistors explained to me by Penrose, and I've watched as String Theory gets more convoluted, and I anxiously await new results. My expectation is that this won't be unambiguous.
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April 26, 2011
We have medical appointments for the rest of the day, so this will be brief. I'll be back this evening.
If you want to see an amazing article, see "Safety First" or "How Safe is San Onofre?" (link) by Najmedin Meshkati in today's Los Angeles Times. The thrust of this editorial is that there's something mysteriously wrong at San Onofre; but you will read the article in vain if you are trying to find out what. It appears that there is something deficient about the "safety culture" as envisioned by Najmedin Meshkati, and to prove it, he cites:
In other words, they aren't doing things the way that the intellectuals, who don't themselves have much experience at operating power plants, want them to be done. There don't seem to be actual safety incidents, or rule violations, or anything of that sort; but the "safety culture" as envisioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists and others of that sort is deficient.
Now perhaps it is. I have not been to San Onofre in a dozen years, and perhaps things have degenerated there. Perhaps the Iron Law has taken over, and the whole place is a disaster waiting to happen. Perhaps. It certainly wasn't like that the last time I looked into it, but that was long ago.
What I do know is that the plant could disappear from the face of the Earth and the fact that it once existed would still make it unsatisfactory to the Union of Concerned Scientists, because, well, because it was nucular and don't you forget it! And it was like Chernobyl, which Dr. Meshkati has visited and which scared the devil out of him.
Alas, he doesn't tell us what it is that makes him so certain of this deterioration. He doesn't cite the public domain reports that scare him. Indeed, the only evidence I can find is
So a focus group of plant workers didn't satisfy the interviewers. Their culture is deficient.
Perhaps so. Perhaps so. But I have never seen a more vague indictment; and in looking for the San Onofre safety record I find dozens, hundreds of articles about "safety culture" but few actual incidents of safety problems. I find that the Union of Concerned Scientists has been concerned about San Onofre for a long time, and periodically warns the world of impending disasters. I am sure there is some basis for all this other than general opposition to nuclear power, but I'm not smart enough to find it: it's all drowned out in media reports about "safety culture" whatever that is.
I'd have more but I keep getting interrupted and time is short. If you find some actual incidents at San Onofre please let me know.
And we're off to medical appointments. Back later.
We're back. Roberta is all right. I'll catch up later.
Digging about in my older stuff looking for something else, I came across this. It still seems appropriate. It's from my old Intellectual Capital columns, and was written well before 9/11/2011... Breaking Things and Killing People.
April 27, 2011
Which leaves only the question of why the heck didn't this happen two years ago? The question was moot from the day he was inaugurated.
We may now be amused by the coming storms over who won what in this latest round. Perhaps there ought to be a pool on just how long it will go on, except that the likelihood is that it will never end. Can we now get on with the most open administration in the history of the nation?
I have no idea here. There was a time when I could legitimately claim to be well versed in the uses of high technology for various purposes, but it's been a while since I did that sort of thing: I have to rely on advisors and experts. At least I understand what they tell me, even if I don't spend so much time doing silly things so you don't have to.
I would have thought that the simplest solution to all this would be a photograph of the original document. Presumably a release on the web would require digitization, but that's a simple scan, or even a digital photograph. I know there are some problems with pdf software, but surely the simplest processes would not produce a complex multi-layered document. I can conceive of too clever by half "plots" to make things complex and thus suck more people into arguing over moot points, but I can't think that even the kids who hang around in the White House are not above that sort of nonsense.
Ye flipping gods. Barrack Obama was born before Macs existed. Clearly the source of this was some document that existed prior to the Mac. The notion is to get this silly discussion out of the news and let us get to something important? Of course a computer had to be be used to produce a pdf copy -- pdf didn't exist in the days that the document was created -- but release of a pdf isn't the release of the original document. Perhaps we've just got the story wrong, and the original is on display for examination by qualified journalists in Honolulu. Surely this is just another silliness brought about by the modern "journalism", yet another reason I don't like to get involved in breaking stories. Surely it will all come out in the wash, and someone will produce an undoctored, non-layered, certified copy of the original document and we can all get on with more important matters. We have many experts on these matters in this readership and I'll wait to hear from them. Until then I assume that this was a release in good faith, and the original will be available in Honolulu, where someone is photocopying it even as I write this.
Breaking Things and Killing People
A Canadian general, acting for NATO, presumably approved as legitimate targets: a civilian government building in Tripoli, said to be one of the residences of the Chief of State of Libya; and the national television station of Libya, also in Tripoli and also a civilian building.
I would presume that if attacks on such structures were taken by any national government against any other country, or by a civilian rebel group within a country, the presumption would be that this is an act of terrorism. Perhaps I am just too dense to understand?
The mission of NATO is to protect Libyan civilians against the government of Libya. It is explicitly not regime change nor the killing of Qadafi. Presumably, then, attacking Ghaddaffi's bedroom is an action in aid of saving civilians from the Wrath of Kadafi, as is blowing up the national television station, even though those actions taken by anyone else would be acts of terrorism?
We are breaking things and killing people in aid of a policy of saving Libyan civilians from being killed by Libyan government agents (presumably both military and civilian). Since our policy is essentially no different from battleships standing offshore out of range of shore based batteries and bombarding harbor areas and government palaces -- a practice used at various times by Great Powers against upstart regimes who had offended the Powers -- we may need to examine just what are our doctrines of Just War.
Of course the serious question is, what is our objective here? We have seen to it that Gadaffi has no place to go. There is no offer on the table. He has his choice of taking to a spider hole until he is discovered and hanged, or of fighting on to the last mercenary (or the last sack of gold, whichever comes first); he is betting his life that his will to live is stronger than NATO's will to kill him, and his stamina is greater than that of NATO and the US. He can continue to pay mercenaries -- or the salaries of his regular army and his police and security forces -- for longer than NATO can continue to borrow money to spend on killing him.
It's not all that dangerous for the NATO troops including the sharp edges. We'll eventually lose an air crew, and possible more -- air/sea operations are dangerous even when there is no active enemy -- but the loss rate won't be as great as it is in Afghanistan, and the costs are lower than Afghanistan. This can go on for a long time. Think of it as life training operations? But surely we have some other objective in mind?
Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the Mamelukes continue to consolidate their power. Things are a bit better for the Arab in the street, but food prices continues higher -- in the United States they are up 2% in 4 months as seen in the grocery stores, and the price rises are higher in the Middle East. The Moslem Brotherhood has pledged to run no more than 30% of the seats in Parliament. A deal is clearly in the offing.
In Syria the riots continue. Arab Spring isn't over yet. Do we have a policy?
Ah. I suspected as much. Now, surely, the original will be made available, and this nonsense will end.
I still see no signs of the release of the original document. I have seen a Mac produced pdf of a scan of a photograph of the document. Perhaps that is all that is needed, but why not simply make the document itself available and be done with it? Is this a game?
April 28, 2011
This refers to a disturbing story reported in mail last night. It raises points important enough that I have put it into View.
All important points. I am reminded of a case I studied, perhaps when an undergraduate, perhaps when I was teaching Constitutional Law: Federal authorities suspected a high school janitor of some heinous crime, but had insufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant. A postal inspector was induced to send the suspect a registered letter containing child pornography. An agent was then able to testify to a judge that he had good reason to believe that they would find child pornography and other incriminating materials in the man's house. A warrant was issued. Incriminating materials were found, some in plain sight. The porn sent in by the postal inspector was ignored, but the man was charged with possession of the other stuff. The question was, was this a legitimate search? It was paired with another in which a warrant specified a search for drugs in the trunk of a car, but what was discovered was a dead body,
It is all complicated by the ease with which truly damning evidence may be planted in full view of other detectives and investigators without anything suspicious being done. If I have a thumb drive -- one of two identical thumb drives -- which contains my hacking tool kit for getting into a suspect's laptop, it would be no great trick at all to let someone witness my entry into the suspect's computer, then during the examination, exchange for a thumb drive that has the tool kit and a kiddieporn file, transfer the file, and remove the thumb drive. Other similar scenarios come to mind. Of course no police officer would ever plant evidence, just as no police officer would ever abuse an innocent man in the heat of the moment, realize his mistake, and work to justify his behavior by getting the suspect to confess to something. And I have an unusual real estate offer just for you.
Incidentally, were I using someone else's network to download illicit files, would I be tempted to put one or another of those files on a computer in the penetrated network, just in case, so if the downloads were discovered they'd lead to the victim's network, not to me sitting next door?
Here is a case in which Federal agents so abused an innocent man that the Attorney General felt required to issue an apology. I doubt this is a political case in the sense that the agents involved are part of a particular Administration. It is a case for the Executive Authority of the United States acting for the good of the nation without regard to politics, but I suspect there isn't much of that any more.
As my correspondent notes, the problem is the nature of the crime: possession of information. In national security matters there is the real problem of possession and transmission of classified material, but there are no national security issues here even if the powers of Homeland Security largely derive from the Patriot Act. The justification for the Kiddie Porn laws is similar to the laws on the possession of ivory: the purpose is the protection of elephants from poachers. If they can't sell the ivory, and no one can own it, then it's not worth killing the elephant to get it. Whether any child was ever protected from an abuser by forbidding the possession of recordings of the acts of abuse can be debated; it's even less clear that any child was ever protected by forbidding the possession of cartoons and manga drawings of child sex acts.
This is not a long way from thoughtcrime. It is a difficult subject to debate because emotions run high; but perhaps it is time that debate took place.
This is a disturbing case, and I do not think that discussion should end with an apology from the Attorney General.
The birth certificate question is no longer important. There's something more important now.
How will we survive?
April 29, 2011
My morning paper tells me that a "NATO" air strike killed 12 rebels in Libya. I haven't found an announcement of what aircraft were involved, or where they are based, or whether this is more Nevada-piloted drone activity. The war in Libya seems to be focused now on Misurata.
There's a sideshow of side attacks on Qadaffi's palace. Those latter have been condemned by the African Union. It's a sidesho because unless they manage to assassinate Qaddaffi they aren't going to be decisive. Off shore bombardment of palaces was a favorite tactic in the days of gunboat diplomacy, but in those days the objective was to bend the target sovereign's will and get acceptance of some Great Power demand, usually involving collecting money, sometimes involving kidnapping of citizens as in this government expects Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead. In this case the sovereign can't accept the demand that he step down because he and all his family are pretty well doomed to life imprisonment by the UN if he surrenders. He may as well fight on. Do note that he has supporters among the Libyan population. Some are nationalists who see this "rebellion" as the restoration of colonial rule, and some are Qadaffi clansmen who see it as a family feud.
Misurata is important mostly because it is the only important place west of Marble Arch -- the division line between the provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenicia -- still held by rebels. If Misurata falls to Khaddafi, there is no rational reason to continue the civil war: let Cyrenicia become a new and independent republic and end the war. A lot of Libyans would settle for that. A lot more wouldn't, because most of the oil is west of Marble Arch, but fighting for who gets the oil isn't all that popular in the United States. Meanwhile we fight on, breaking things and killing people in the name of saving the civilian population of Libya from its government.
I also found a link to this
USA Today tells us that "Climate Change Could Spawn More Tornadoes".
Of course global warming was to cause more droughts in Australia, then when there were floods those too were attributed to climate change. When one examines the global warming data the connections are a bit less clear, since we are dealing with fractions of a degree in average temperatures over wide areas. I don't expect that to have much impact. I haven't yet heard the President claim that we need more Green Energy to stop this widespread destruction, but I won't be astonished when that happens.
For a negative view about global warming and the tornadoes,
with quotes from (selected) experts of some note, see
It gives the arguments about as well as any other does. Believers will continue to insist that the tornadoes are due to CO2 and global warming. Deniers will insist they are not. Skeptics like me remember we had tornadoes when I was young and no one knew much about CO2. And some will point out that there may be better ways to reduce CO2 than to dismantle the economy.
Sable has decided to come up to my office and howl piteously. It's way past time for a walk, and she wants me to know. Back later.
April 30, 2011
Which gives me an idea for a project for those who have time: Government We Can Do Without Just Now
Specific people and offices doing things that perhaps need doing if we are rich, but which we can all pretty well agree are not necessary in an era of borrowed money. The more specific the better: a particular office, and even particular employees, doing things that it is pretty clear we don't need to be borrowing money to do.
May 1, 2011
.In the interests of protecting the civilians of Libya from the Libyan government, NATO air strikes have killed the youngest son and three grandchildren of Col. Qadaffi, the Libyan Chief of State and Chief of Government. This is said to be in accord with the UN mission of protecting Libyan civilians without going so far as to bring about a regimes changel regime change is not an authorized objective under the UN resolution.
Qadaffi was said to have offered a partition of the country, probably along provincial lines with Tripolotania beoming Libya with its capital in Tripoli, and the border at Marble Arch, the tradition division point between Tripolotainaia and Cyrenecia. to the east, with capital in Benghazi. The Colonel has been rejected as not serious, but he seems serious enough in his offer.
In the traditional laws of war and International Rules of conflict, direct actions against civilian officials is not a usual rule of engagement, German and Japanese bombing of open cities and financial areas within cities was condemned. The Germans were condemned for the bombing of Rotterdam in 1940.
The Obama administration has not announced its objectives in Libya. The mission given by the UN resolution is to protect Libyan civilians from slaughter. It is hard to see the direct effect of attacks on the civilian family homes of Gadaffi's children and grand children as a means of saving civilian lives, unless your hope is the death of the Colonel himself.
The effect of this action on Ghaddaffi's will to hang on to power is not predictable : it could go either way, With less to lose why not fight? or with less to live for, why fight? I doubt that anyone knows him that well.
I trust that the mission planners understand that they have made legitimate targets of war out of the families of the drone controllers at Chreech, most of who commute to Las Vegas, and many of whom have had their names and faces published in the papers. They directed the fire that killed the Colonels grandchildren; in a civilized society that accepted the laws of war as they have developed since Grotius that would not matter; but the culture of the Libyan tribesman does not follow that tradition. Bloods feud and weregeld are more traditional there. I trust that the Homeland Security authorities are aware of this.
As to what this will accomplish I have not yet discerned. It will make Khaddafi take greater pains for the security of himself and his family, but surely given him even less incentive to surrender.
Some to think about, Time for bed.
Hang in there. God bless you.
The humanitarian bombing of Libya by NATO -- probably meaning US forces -- continues. There was celebration in Benghazi. Now there is skepticism over who was killed and when and by whom. I don't see the teddy bears yet.
Now the opposition in Benghazi now says no one was killed. The Libyan government consists that Qadaffi's youngest son and some young grandchildren were killed. Of course the Benghazi government announced that Saif al-arab Qaddafi, who commended an elite and well equipped brigade in the Benghazi area, had defected with his troops to the rebel movement. Nothing seems to have come of that, but some modern equipment appeared in rebel hands. Since Khadafi had pre-positioned ammunition and some forces in Cyrenicia, and those storehouses fell to the rebels, so that was inevitable. The rumor of Saif's defection died slowly away, but I have been unable to find any confirmed appearances of Saif either among the rebels nor anywhere in Tripolotania, nor do there seem to be many references to the elite brigade which he supposedly commanded and which supposedly defected with him.
In other words, he may have been dead for weeks; he may have defected and been interrogated to death; he may have defected and has been kept in safe houses; he may never have defected, and have been part of Gadaffi's general staff; or -- well, you can make up your own story. There doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence. Libyan spokespeople showed a shrouded dead body, but without identification -- indeed from what was shown there is not definitive evidence that it was a human body at all. The bottom line is that no one can say with certainty what is going on. One possible hypothesis: Saif was killed in early fighting, possibly in a way that makes certain identification impossible, and Qaddafi is using this opportunity.
NATO has made big promises but isn't accomplishing much. If they really want to take out Ghaddaffi, it would take a full coordinated strike on a number of his palaces and headquarters done all at once, each considerably more vigorous than whatever happened last night. In other words, it would take determination and a cull operation. In military operations, "efficiency" and "surgical strike" are not goals. In general, in a military operation, if it requires a company you send a regiment and if possible a division, the point being that defeat takes place in the minds of the enemy's troops: they are defeated when they think they are defeated, and visibly overwhelming force is the best way to convince troops that they are defeated. Troops seldom fight to the last man. It has happened. We have tales from classical times -- see Xenophon, or accounts of Alexander the Great, or the Roman war ending at Masada -- but it's not the usual ending of a battle or a war. The usual end of a battle comes when the loser is convinced that he has lost.
Troops do not become convinced that they have lost until they are certain the the enemy intends to win.
NATO has so far done little to convince Libyan loyalists that they have no chance and it's time to quit. A
Regarding attacks on the chief of state: the goal of the NATO operation is supposed to be the protection of Libyan civilians from being slaughtered by their government. The operational means is described as establishing a no-fly zone, but includes air strikes by both manned aircraft and drones. We are now testing just what can be accomplished through limited air operations.
We may be there a while.
What would it take to end the war in Libya? Decisive action that conveys in no uncertain terms that the objective is to send Ghaddaffi into a spider hole, and anyone who gets in the way is very much at risk. I don't see how to accomplish that with no-fly zones and limited air operations. Could it be done with a regiment of Marines and some helicopters? Possibly. And possibly expensive. Do not forget Black Hawk Down. In general, decisive actions are cheaper than long drawn out operations -- but failed attempts are more expensive than both. Since we don't even know who we killed in the air raids, it's hard to believe we know what opposition we actually face in Tripoli, or what it would take to convince the Libyan Loyalists that they are defeated.
I am forced to rethink my views on Grotius and the Laws of War and Peace; just what do we mean by International Law in a world in which many of the combatants do not belong to a nation, and many of the national participants are declared no longer to be a nation? In which there is no sovereignty and nations are not allowed to defend themselves against rebels?
Is anyone who denounces the government a legitimate belligerent entitled to the protection of the Laws of War? If one rebel does not make a rebellion, how many does it take? Is a large group occupying the public square a legitimate government?
Easy enough questions to ask. Not so simple to answer. And what is "realism" in these circumstances?
For those curious about African affairs, this 1994 Atlantic article might have been written a few weeks ago, just before Ivory Coast collapsed.
"Who seeks to plant democracy in my country plows the sea." Simon Bolivar, whose last words were "There have been three great fools in history, Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and I." Tonight on 60 Minutes we will learn more about what burns in the hearts of rebels camped in public squares. Perhaps I am unduly cynical. Or perhaps good government really is rare, we would do better to apply our resources to developing our own assets rather than to exporting our wisdom with missiles and smart bombs.
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