THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 271 August 18 - 24, 2003
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August 18, 2003
Catching up after finishing a novel. Lot to do. I will try to do an essay on the current situation, in Iraq and elsewhere. Some of it can turn ugly with four Reserve MP's of unblemished record now being held to answer for abusing Iraqi prisoners, and a Master Sergeant apparently being told to clean toilets without any kind of conviction: about as stupid a policy as I can imagine, and this may be an error of reporting.
The American Spectator is a magazine that had its ups and downs during the dot boom/dot bust. For a while it became unreadable, at least to me, but it appears to have recovered. In particular, the August-September issue (which isn't on line yet or if it is I can't find it) has a splendid column by Tom Bethell. Bethell is a very astute observer as well as a good writer, and I can't think of anything he has written that didn't give me something to think about, even if to disagree. His column in the August-September issue on "How come Poppy lost to Bill Clinton" is particularly astute.
It happens that I was in Moscow in 1989 for a conference. Tom Bethell and I were both carrying the Atari Portfolio, a small pocket computer with considerable power. The only problem with the Portfolio for me was that the keyboard was just too small for a touch typist and I never did get it working. Bethell and I sat talking in the lounge of the International Hotel one night, and he pulled out his Portfolio, and using rapid two-finger typing, wrote his column. I envied his ability. I have since got the slightly larger NEC MobilePro, which has a keyboard I can manage, so I can do much the same thing, but the MobilePro is just too large to carry in a pocket. The Portfolio was small enough to carry easily.
Nowadays I carry a brief case and the Compaq Tablet PC, which is really more useful, but I do have to have a briefcase. And I don't have any solution to the problem of size other than "Don't learn to touch type", which is really bad advice since I can sit here and write this while looking at the screen rather than the keyboard. But I sure envied Tom the ability to do two-finger that night.
There was some interesting mail over the weekend.
And in response to a question I have some not well organized thoughts on energy and regulated utilities and libertarianism in mail this morning.
Still wondering if anyone here still plays Earth and Beyond?
And I was just looking at the LINKS page. Much obsolete, but some still worth the effort. Suggestions for revision will be considered.
Adelphia Report: My problem was clearly the router. The Hawking can't handle the Adelphia speeds. The D-Link can, and I now have very few failures, and those are brief.
I still have at least one incident a day in which Adelphia simply quits operating for from a few seconds to two or three minutes. This is inconvenience not disaster, although it can be really annoying when it happens during an on-line game. But it's not often, and it is probably to teach me not to waste time with those games anyway...
They frolic in front of the ruins of the mightiest machine ever made by mankind. And they're proud of turning a fully man rated Saturn into a roost for owls. That's NASA all right.
|This week:||Tuesday, August
I keep hoping there is more to this story and a reader will know it. It's frightening. And just who is Tornado, anyway?
I am printing out Burning Tower in Courier Double Spaced 12 point so that it will look like a typewriter did it, and sending it to the publisher. Progress in the publishing industry...
Both Roberta and I are getting a LOT of returned mail, much it returned because it had a virus attachment. We did NOT SEND ANY of this mail. Our addresses are being faked by someone.
I do not send mail with attachments of any kind. I am not likely to make an exception to this. The only way I send mail with attachments is to individuals who already know it is coming, and have been told in an unambiguous way to expect it. If you have no reason to expect mail with an attachment from me or from Roberta I DID NOT SEND IT.
DO NOT OPEN Unexpected MAIL ATTACHMENTS.
I have other reports from readers that someone is sending mail in their name with viruses attached, in one case a virus having to do with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. Once again. DO NOT OPEN unexpected MAIL ATTACHMENTS.
And do not expect mail attachments from me or from Mrs. Pournelle.
is one mail I just got:
***** This is an Automated Message, DO NOT REPLY ***** From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: Approved The UCLA External Affairs Email System Detected that the Email you are attempting to send is infected with a virus. Please scan you system and resend your email. Virus: Virus name: W32/Sobig-F
***** This is an Automated Message, DO NOT REPLY *****
Subject: Re: Approved
The UCLA External Affairs Email System Detected that the
Email you are attempting to send is infected with a virus.
Please scan you system and resend your email.
Virus name: W32/Sobig-F
Needless to say I did not send the above.
A new variant of the SoBig worm, SoBig.F@mm, is flooding the Internet. For details, see:
This worm appears to be particularly virulent. My main email account alone is now receiving infected messages at the rate of more than 100 per hour, up from 25 per hour an hour ago. This thing is spreading very fast.
-- Robert Bruce Thompson email@example.com http://www.ttgnet.com/thisweek.html http://forums.ttgnet.com/ikonboard.cgi
I will be away for a day or so, so don't be alarmed if I don't get this place updated. I'll try to do some mail now to keep things going.
I may or may not be able to get email for the next couple of days.
Meanwhile, study these:
Official Homeland Defense Graphics with much improved interpretations.
For your soul's good...
August 21. 2003
On the road. Last night I tried to get my mail, and since I am at the end of a thin pipeline, I found that Outlook simply couldn't handle 495 messages of which 400 were spam or the sobig worm/virus. Bob Thompson kindly cleaned up this for me so that today I have my mail and I can operate even here, but this was really frustrating.
Eric has said that spam will continue until something very physical and very painful and very public happens to fifty or so spammers, terrifying the others. I think he's right. As to the sobig worm, I suspect we are being probed by an intelligence operation to determine just how vulnerable we are. Incidentally, much of the Pentagon email system was shut down and remains so due to spam, virus, and an incompetent contractor who never bothered to apply the patches Microsoft had already supplied in an urgent earlier memo.
Efficiency is the enemy of reliability. Redundancy is its friend.
The market is efficient. A market that is subject to continual interference (Gougers!) is not even that.
Some things like public utilities may be too important to be edfficient.
The Internet wasn't intended to be efficient, it was intended to be reliable. It also wasn't intended to become so widespread. It has done pretty well given that it is operating with about 10,000 times as many clients as it was designed for.
Markets are efficient. Is efficiency what we need in all cases? I haven't time to develop these thoughts further today but I make no doubt that some of you will supply remedies to my deficiencies of thought.
August 22, 2oo3
I have two problems with updating this page. One is the physical arrangement, and that's my fault. I don't have to be working on a kitchen counter with the keyboard too high, and in fact the COMPAQ Tablet PC keyboard and screen are good enough for most work, and the FrontPage editor is all right.
The other is the Crusoe Chip in the Tablet PC, and that's mostly an exercise in learning patience. Things DO work. But they take a long time and the progress reporting in Outlook is AWFUL, and when you are at the end of a thin pipe and there's a spam attack things can take an hour that you expect to be only a few minutes. I also found out how to use mail2web to delete a bunch of stuff before I have to suck it down this pipe. That makes it a lot easier. It's still an exercise in patience, but I am learning: even though Outlook is a pig and the Crusoe chip is slow and when Outlook is hauling stuff in it eats all the cycles, if you have faith and pay no attention to the progress messages, eventually it gets all your mail and sends what you wrote.
So have a book to read while you wait...
I see Israel has ended the Road Map. Now I am not fixing blame and don't shoot the messenger: but the Road Map is dead with the latest Israeli attacks on Palestinian political leaders. When you kill the people you are negotiating with, soon enough there will be no one willing to step forward and say they are in charge, and if you can't find anyone to talk to it is hard to make peace.
Which leaves the US in a dilemma since we put some American prestige into trying to settle the Israel problem. The difficulty is this: with Israel's more or less democracy, there are veto groups who have diametrically opposed goals. Some of those in Sharon's party won't be happy until the Palestinians are deported to Jordan and Syria, all of them, and all of the old Holy Land is Jewish. Some of those won't include pre-West Bank Arabs who are citizens of Israel in the deportations, but some will, and I don't know how much power those latter have; but there are enough in the faction that wants and Arab-free Holy Land to insist on massive retaliations -- Israel not only killed the Hamas leader but the Army demolished a number of Arab middle class businesses as a demonstration of what kind of reprisals they can take -- and the reprisals are pretty certain to open the terror attacks again. More, by casting middle class into poverty they send educated people into despair, and probably furnish a new generation of suicide bombers.
On the other side there are Israeli factions powerful enough to have a veto who will simply not stand for deportation of all the Palestinians. This leaves any government of Israel in a precarious position.
On the Palestinian side politics are not democratic, so it's harder to describe the political factions, but I know enough Christian Arabs to have some appreciation of their view, which is roughly "Because the Jews were treated horribly in Germany and elsewhere doesn't give them the right to come over here and take our land and keep us from having a country of our own." There was a time when Israel could have made real allies of the Christian Arabs and thus driven a wedge into the racial solidarity of the Arab world, but they worked hard at rejecting that possibility, treating the Christians as potential enemies rather than potential friends. Most Christian Arabs, at least those I know, now would reject alliance with Jews against Moslems even though this wasn't true 25 years ago.
As far as I can see, there are Palestinian factions that won't be happy until Isreal is pushed into the sea, even though the vast majority of Arabs Christian and Muslim would be satisfied with a state of their own and defined boundaries. The extremists won't make peace, and the moderates are more afraid of them than they are of the Israelis. Unfortunately, Israel's attempts to reverse this fear preference loses Israel all hope of attracting moderates, and loses support for Israel in the Western world.
John McCarthy, who knows the situation at least as well as I do, thinks the only hope is for Israel to hang on, try for less but hold on, and hope things change over time. I agree that's probably the only thing that can work, if anything can. I once thought that a stable border defensible would moderate the attacks, but the settlers have made such a border impossible: you can't build a fence that includes most of the settlements and defines a defensible border, and the fence itself will generate more suicide bombers who are deprived of hope.
I expect Israel will hang on, with more and more severe actions, as the Palestinians get increasingly desperate; and I the end game doesn't look to be in sight.
On Iraq: we need more soldiers with more skills and we don't have them other than reservists, and the reservists don't want to go and have political friends. Sending in a volunteer army is one thing. Getting the volunteers to re-enlist is another. Extending their enlistments without asking them is yet one more. And sending in Reservists who thought they were to be part of defense of the realm is political dynamite.
Winning wars is glamorous. Occupation duty with a trooper a day fed to a meat grinder is less so. As things stand, Bush won't win re-election and the incoming President will bring the army home. Of course if it's Gephart he will also double the budget and spend so much on domestic stuff, and raise taxes so high, that a foreign war may be the only way to bail him out of trouble. The old axiom was that the Republicans are the party of Depression, the Democrats are the party of War, and the Republicans are the tax collectors for Democrat spending schemes: the Democrats buy votes with public money and the Republicans come in to clean up the economic mess and pay for it, whereupon the Democrats reap the benefits.
Bush needs 4 million bbl/day of oil out of Iraq, and fast, and he may not get it. He also needs to cut back on the casualties. A trooper a day isn't all that many -- Marines in Iraq are probably safer than on the highways around Camp Pendleton and a black infantryman is definitely safer in Iraq than a lad his age would be in Central LA -- but we don't think that way in the US. And the troops are muttering about not re-enlisting, and enlistments were way up but that trend seems to be slowing and may have halted.
Pacification of Iraq will take client states. It may be the UN can be talked into providing some. But that's dangerous too since the UN and its bureaucrats are terribly expensive, and their record of nation building is very poor.
Welcome to the world of empire on the cheap, empire backed into with good republican intentions.
How long until we have Elagabulus?
I have said this elsewhere and often but it bears saying again. Efficiency is the enemy of reliability.
Optimizing for efficiency always discounts the effects of infrequent events and improbable events. Unfortunately some events are really uncertain: assassinations, terrorist attacks on the power grid, that sort of thing. You can't factor those events into the market because you don't have any estimate of their probability.
Multiple redundancies are the only defense against improbable events. Those are redundant and cannot be done by the market because the only way to make money from preparing for an improbable event is to "gouge" and "exploit" when the disaster happens, and any company that tries that will be out of business and its investment lost.
Preparing for disaster is a matter of insurance, and that means as wide a base as possible for contributions. Which mean everyone, usually, which means the public purse. Of course the incentive then is to prepare for everything and build enormous bureaucracies that themselves cause disasters. So it goes.
When it comes to energy the regulated public utility model isn't wonderful, but if you don't build in imbecilities like the old Federal preference for "public owned utilities" over "Private (but still regulated) utilities" it can work pretty well. Better than the patchwork system with periodic interference to punish "gouging" that we seem to have now. Or so I am inclined to believe. I am willing to listen to arguments.
I have no way to test the authenticity of this:
Subject: Inside the resistance?
August 23, 2003
Still on the road. One phone line doesn't work. This one does.
August 24, 2003
The end of this trip is in sight.
Mail on probability theory and I'll see if I have a chance to add a few words.
The papers are full of "what shall we do about Iraq?" and of course the answer depends on the long term objectives of the US. I didn't think we should be there, but we are there, and to cut and run is probably not the optimum policy now.
There's also what we do in the Israeli situation and that has a lot of interaction with what we do in Iraq and the Middle East in general. It gets complicated. But let me point out that putting in more soldiers means having more soldiers to put in. Think on the implications of that for a while.
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