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Mail 540 October 13 - 19, 2008
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October 11, 2008
It used to be Columbus Day, didn't it?
Looks like malware,
Looks like malware to me, especially since I received two copies of it. But there was no file attached.
I'm just lucky, I guess.
I am certain that no Microsoft Executive would have used grammar that bad. It's clearly phishing, but they forgot to attach the payload I guess.
Regarding the above, security expert Rick Hellewell adds:
That "Microsoft warning" (noted in your Sunday's mail) should have included an attached malware file. It may be that your correspondent had the malware attachment filtered by his anti-virus program. One discussion of this particular email is here:
It's more common, however, to get malware via a web page, rather than an attached file in an email. The trend seems to be for the malware business (it's not just your teenage hacker anymore) to work on infecting web pages wtih SQL injection attacks and other means. Many high-profile sites, especially those that rely on third-party advertising, have seen malware links appear on their pages.
Many times, users will see a pop-up message alerting them to some sort of 'detected malware', and offering a link to a 'free scan of your computer for viruses'. That act of scanning is what will deliver the malware to your computer. Some of the pop-up screens are quite realistic looking, like the "Anti-Virus 2010' versions making the rounds.
Prevention: never running software that pops up to 'help' you. And keeping your anti-virus and operating system current. (Related: Apple has released a bunch of updates last week, and tomorrow is the monthly Microsoft updates. And the software you use needs to be updated -- manually go to the software web site and check for updates.
Regards, Rick Hellewell
Current economic conditions here are worse than in America. After the failure of the Icelandic banks, colleagues were speculating that we wouldn't be paid this month. That's probably not the case, but there are a lot of people working for local governments, companies, and charities in that situation. A number of major UK companies now owe more in unfunded pension commitments than they are worth.
I spoke with my broker back in America and he recommended I just keep my head down until the current nonsense is over--try to avoid the elephant dung being generated by a herd that has diarrhoea due to toxic food they've ingested. The hedge funds are unwinding their positions, and that means they have to sell off all of their assets, good and bad. After this is over, you and I will be able to go out to pick up the stocks that have value and ignore the trash.
UK coverage of US politics
There are no silver bullets
Schneier's blog <http://tinyurl.com/5xcnwt>
You can't buy these lightbulbs in some common sizes (I tried today) Telegraph story <http://tinyurl.com/48nlrz>
Beware Outside Context Problems--Harry Erwin, PhD
The Sunday Observer <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/> --it's liberal, sometimes verging on libertarian--has a bunch of articles that might be worth a glance. Since it only comes out once a week, it has to take a longer view. The business <http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/businessandmedia > and comment <http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/news/comment> sections are particularly interesting this week. Note the story in the latter section about school teachers being used by the Government to spy on students.
-- Harry Erwin, PhD
Science Funding Freeze
Currently, only 15% of grant proposals are funded in America, and the average number of resubmittals is three--no one is having their grant proposals funded upon the first submittal. This is a new development over the last few years and has the American scientific community very upset. Although the percentage of the GNP going to research in the UK is about half that in America, about 30% of the grant proposals get funded despite a number of research councils not accepting resubmittals. (Good research groups average about double that percentage here). So this article is likely to drive most American researchers into the arms of the Democrats: Science story <http://tinyurl.com/3vfuke>
-- "an academic who listens to pleas of convenience before publishing his research risks calling into doubt the whole of his determination to find the truth." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin
Of course we have also funded some pretty ridiculous stuff. The difference between a good research project with a friend in Congress and a frivolous earmark isn't always easy to discern from a distance.
I’m a retired private sector chief financial officer. Regarding your comment about rating agencies: they’re a joke in the industry.
Basically, a rating downgrade tells you that the horse left the barn. Probably months ago.
Any fund manager who actually relied on ratings to make investment decisions would probably get laughed out of the club of his/her fellows. And should probably be fired, forthwith, before he or she burns up hard to replace capital.
"I'm a maverick, so my answers may not bear any relationship to your questions"
Unfortunately the government regulators take the ratings seriously. Apparently a proper rating is sufficient to protect you from fiduciary responsibility suits. And the capital has been burned...
Query & Answer
I've been trying to understand the forces turning our lives inside out and upside down. Naturally I revert to 10 years old small timer options traders experience.
Query: I don't know the current state of the fiduciary responsibility laws and decisions,
There are two drivers. The first is the Prudent Man test. As the 19th Century court decision said, prudent man behavior is defined by what all the other Prudent Men are doing. If 100 decide to jump off a cliff, then that describes contemporary Prudentialism.
but I can see how one might be seen as not doing the best for one's investors for getting out of higher yield default swaps for Treasury bonds...
"Market pressures" determine this long before courts can get involved. Everyone's chasing yield within an assumed risk tolerance band. And if Fund A shows a 7.25% annual return while Fund B only shows 7% then money will naturally gravitate to Fund A.
I still never met any listed stock option traders in the 1990s who knowingly assumed the theoretically unlimited risk now being exposed in credit default swaps. Or would have kept carrying such risk once they spotted it. Everyone was hedged in fail safe ways. When I did a put my risk was limited to the premium paid, which was a time wasting asset. The option put market maker/writer was generally short the same amount of underlying stock shares. He was trading the bid/ask spread on the contract, not trying to outguess the stock's direction.
I only played the $5 dollar tables, but it did teach me the rules used in the high rollers' green room.
This insane CDS market is invisible, unregulated and transnational. Unlike organized exchanges no one anywhere can see any given player's portfolio to assess their total positions and margin. The transnational factor adds exchange rate risk given the duration of these contracts. And this "market" is several times the size of the underlying debt securities. In fact, the Bank for International Settlements says its several times the size of the underlying economies. Some rules still apply. How could I hedge myself? I've thought of two methods.
1. Try to trade a risk spread between the same contracts. That is, sell one with a higher premium payments stream than an identical contract that I buy. It's the Ancient Rule: buy low sell high. And hopefully the stupider party I bought low from has adequate financial strength to deliver on a default.
2. And there's the other time tested method of hedging. Same one the Chicago options market maker used. Short a related stock. If GM's corporate bonds should default we can confidently predict GM's common will be trading for pennies. Everyone is complaining about two post Y2K deregulations in the Stock Short Game. One is the elimination of the uptick trading rule. This was imposed after 1929. And the other was the allowance of purely naked shorting. This was also banned after 1929. You had to borrow the shares and settle the trade within 5 days. The unsophisticated peasants have complained and the authorities have been unresponsive. But these mud stained wretches don't understand the sophisticated considerations involved. Fact is, the entire world wide equity market had to be converted into a dumpster for CDS hedges to keep the game from exploding.
So far the CDS headlines have occurred in publicly listed companies. I don't think any of this is coincidental.
"Chrome should still not be used for "secure" browsing however, since it indexes all pages including pages that are encrypted during transport (https). That index is then fully searchable (terms like account number, balance, etc. may all show results if you use chrome to access online banking), PLUS chrome phones home with usage stats and might even send details on your index home if you opted to participate in the beta process by allowing Chrome to send back browser and browsing info. "
-- David Couvillon Colonel of Marines; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Collector of Hot Sauce; Avoider of Yard Work
de Borchgrave: 'There is an endless supply of Taliban fighters but not an endless supply of NATO troops.'
---- Roland Dobbins
If we had wanted to import tens of millions of Latin Americans with decent work ethics, blue collar skills, and IQs averaging about 90, we should have adopted a pro-manufacturing policy: put up tariffs against Chinese goods and emphasize our own factories in order to employ all these newcomers from south of the border. As Ron always says, the US in the early 20th Century took in a whole lot of Polish peasants, gave them jobs in steel mills, and they turned out fine.
Or, if we had wanted to outsource our manufacturing to China and move into being a solely knowledge economy-based country, then we should have kept out the tens of millions of would-be immigrants who aren't that interested in education.
Instead, we outsourced factory jobs and insourced the people who would have been good in those factory jobs. That didn't leave much for them to do other than services and, especially, construction. So, now we have zillions of McMansions in the middle of nowhere.
October 14, 2008
I think that characterizing Latin Immigrants as uninterested in education does not jibe with the facts. My observation is that the immigrants, both legal and illegal, value education for their children at least as highly as the native born. True, they are not seeking an education for themselves, they are too busy making a living.
Some do, some don't, I suppose, but my gardener hardly speaks English; his son (10 I'd guess) reads very well, and I saw some kind of book in his back pocket when he was helping out here the other day, so what little I know seems confirming. On the other hand, the numbers I have seen don't look good.
This question needs more data rather than casual observations; I do know that both black and Latino cultures seem to have anti-intellectual elements that punish those who work at intellectual tasks too hard; this can be quite serious. The Washington Post had a series on this with one article about a secret graduation ceremony because kids would be beaten up for winning academic honors.
The economy is weird. I think an economy based on building each other's houses is about as stable as an economy based on taking in each other's washing, or banking each other's money...
As to immigration, I think we may be over-filling the Melting Pot and the madness for diversity makes that worse. It might be a good idea to step back and let the Melting Pot do some melting....
I saw on a blog somewhere within the last week, a comment attributed to a European diplomat which said (paraphrased) " Americans think they live in a class-less society, but they are wrong. The lower classes are Democrat, the middle classes are Republicans, the intellectual upper class are communist."
That would apply to the 'educational industry'...
-- Please let me know if anything I say offends you. I may wish to offend you again in the future.
Tux says: "Be regular. Eat cron flakes."
Over The Top
This one was pointed out by someone on another list I read.
Would you believe Barack Obama's book touted as "literature" in an 8th grade textbook?
That town needs a new school board, right now. I don't know if that state has centralized textbook approval, like Texas has: if they do, they need a new State Board of Education, right now.
I have seen this elsewhere. This sort of thing is less usual now than when I grew up. In Tennessee in the 30's it was flat assumed that (1) the Republic would collapse without Roosevelt, and (2) no one in Shelby County voted Republican. I also learned Bonnie Blue Flag and Good Old Rebel in 6th grade at school...
Glory Road on a Monday. . .
"What to do on a holiday? I could mow the yard. Or there WAS this ad in the paper. . ."
It appears to be a little out of my way, and I'm not too happy with the pay on return clause.
"Remember, ACORN got Indianapolis up to 105% registration."
Why would a Republic care about accurate voter registration? Oh wait, a Republic would...
Apparently Acorn registers anything that moves, and some that don't.
And we get to pay for it. Isn't ACORN in the fiscal recovery bill as an earmark?
Once upon a time, in a place overrun with monkeys, a man appeared and announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10 each.
The villagers, seeing that there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest, and started catching them.
The man bought thousands at $10 and as supply started to diminish, they became harder to catch, so the villagers stopped their effort.
The man then announced that he would now pay $20 for each one.
This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again.
But soon the supply diminished even further and they were ever harder to catch, so people started going back to their farms and forgot about monkey catching.
The man increased his price to $25 each and the supply of monkeys became so sparse that it was an effort to even see a monkey, much less catch one.
The man now announced that he would buy monkeys for $50!
However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now buy on his behalf.
While the man was away the assistant told the villagers, "Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has bought. I will sell them to you at $35 each and when the man returns from the city, you can sell them to him for $50 each."
The villagers rounded up all their savings and bought all the monkeys.
They never saw the man nor his assistant again, and once again there were monkeys everywhere.
Now you have a better understanding of how the stock market works.
Which is why until recently stock brokerages didn't gamble with their own money.
At least things are settling in again. One does wonder who trusts whom...
Actually, the stock market operates with pretty good information, most of the time; and when things go bust there aren't many winners. Just lots of losers....
Subject: Obama's Tax Increase
Hello, Dr Pournelle,
It is, as always, a pleasure to read your day book. I notice that one of your correspondents has claimed that Senator Obama will lift the Social Security cap. This was his original plan, but he backed off of it when it was pointed out that it violated his pledge not to raise taxes for those making under $250K. His current plan is to keep the tax the same for those making under $250K, and lift the cap for those making more. From his website:
"Obama does not support uncapping the full payroll tax of 12.4 percent rate. Instead, he and Joe Biden are considering plans that would ask those making over $250,000 to pay in the range of 2 to 4 percent more in total (combined employer and employee)."
This sort of "doughnut hole" approach -- everything up to the current cap, and above $250K, but nothing in between -- is a little bizarre, but does prevent a tax increase on those making under $250K. See more about his social security plan at:
There are a few other sources for this:
I'm glad to see you have recovered, and wish you many years of good health.
I do not trust the Democrats once they have majorities in both houses and the White House. That's unfortunate, but the Party has changed a great deal since Kennedy. Johnson's Great Society was a fundamental change from which we have never recovered.
Subj: New Nukes: Locations of projected new power reactors
Evac lifted, I'm home, house ok
The quick bits: The Marek Fire chased us out about 6A yesterday, but about 9A today they lifted the order. Dana went to work this AM, I had to wrangle the dogs and cats into the ark/Saturn VUE and get them home. The closures in our nabe are gone; the majority of the official attention has shifted to the Sesnon Fire, though there is a rehab crew working on the denuded hillside E of the KB Homes E of us.
Unlike most refugees, we knew almost exactly what we would find (and that we could come back). Channel 7 was broadcasting not 100' W from our house yesterday, and so we knew that any damage would be minor. I know there's a fire line cut in our gully, and the cover is off the hydrant, without venturing outside. (You may not get this level of coverage.)
There is a homemade "thank you" sign at the E end of the block, counterpoint to the burnt out horse barn and rental unit opposite. My neighbors are slowly trickling in, and life will resume for us. There are 35 destroyed single-wides not 3/4 mile from here, people on the bottom rung who will have a hard time of it. One homeless man, and his dog, burnt to death.
The house smells a little like smoke, though the outdoor air is sparkling blue and smells not at all. Assuming no outrageous fortune, the Marek Fire will no longer be our constant concern.
BEFORE: 5:30AM came early, and there was smoke coming up the ridge E of us, clear in the full moon. Within minutes it was clear we were next. By 6 there was active fire E and N of us, it having jumped the lines and hopscotched around on our hills. Dana was packing, I pounded on doors where no lights showed yelling "GET PACKED!" and making sure people were up. ("What?" said one sleep-sullen resident. "That!" I said, and pointed at the .25 mile line of flame rolling downhill. He packed.) Ten minutes more, the smoke started swirling, five more a County cop drove by with the sirens to add an official prod to the urgency. Then, by bullhorn, we knew it was time.
People were bugging out S and that road (McClay) was jammed. Panic was in the wings by this point, with stupid driving on display. We got the 2 cars stuffed with pets, pet food, and a few clothes and left W bound.
The sky--I have seen all of the tv footage of midnight at Noon from smoke, but it's even eerier when the pre-dawn sky is blue on one side and black a degree away. The bleary-eyed refugees, now semi-calmly convoying out, the packed cars, USFS brush trucks looking (we knew from later tv) for where to make a stand, the plume growing, and still no coffee.
We knew the fire had overrun the 210/118 near our house (in the event, it had jumped the entire freeway, yikes), so we stayed on streets the whole way to my parents'. With the wind so steady in direction (if not speed) I knew just how wide the front was, suddenly emerging again to cheery blue sky a few miles on. From there, it was just watch and wait for the all-clear.
THE LESSON: be prepared. It's not just for Boy Scouts anymore. If you're anywhere on the lee side of a fire, if you can see it, get the cars out of the garage and pointed out. The worse that happens is you find out what supplies you lack. Get your neighbors up. They really can sleep through Terminator-level helo onslaughts and two Type 1 strike teams (that's 10 engines) rolling Code 3 a quarter-mile away. If told to, or before, run like a deer. It's not worth it to stay.
Oh, and assume people will panic. Assume you will be at risk from cars when crossing the smallest street. Assume YOU might panic, unless you've been shot at, taken the Bar, or done something similarly stressful. We were ok, I'm glad to say, but I didn't know how much panic/stress/worry I'd packed away til I got home. You sure you'll be calm? Give it a think.
THE OTHER LESSON: California has the best wildland/urban interface firefighters in the world. We have to. We built in places that should never have had houses. The newest homes, the ones with the mandatory greenbelt, did ok, though if there had been about double the exposure, twice as much active fire, we would be counting burned houses by the dozens. That hasn't happened yet. Instead, they are planning, executing on plans, adapting. They just moved the Sesnon Command Post cuz it's bad when you can't see between the buildings. Strike teams are racing to knock down one spot fire, then buggin' out for the next. All--and this is the big part--under central planning/command. The Incident Command System, invented here, now practiced nationwide.
HELO PILOTS ARE INSANE: yesterday, over the Sesnon (Porter Ranch) fire, I watched one LA Firehawk down on the deck, maybe 200' up. There was another one maybe another 300' up, 10' behind him. The lower one was almost fully in the smoke, dropped water, and kept going straight. The upper one must have been guiding. How do you calmly train for that?
There were a thousand such moments, most not aired. Be glad for these men and women, for they make civilization possible, make it harder to kill, make us all safer.
Time to make sure I have the right supplies for the next one. You, too.
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
October 15, 2008
I'm glad to see that the fires have stayed safely away, and that they avoided Griffith Park this time as well.
I realize of course, that sons are not their fathers, but I must admit mild astonishment at Christopher Buckley's decision to endorse Barack Obama for president, and resign from the National Review. (Although I have never been a reader of the Review, I understood what it stood for at one time.) Nor can I really disagree with his loss of understanding what the modern conservative movement stands for.
'"Eight years of 'conservative' government has brought us a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance. As a sideshow, it brought us a truly obscene attempt at federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case," he also wrote.' http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/
Certainly, greed seems to have had something to do with the rise of the neocons at the expense of all that we hold dear. Not to mention the loss of sanity that comes with having so much power - I have this mental image of Karl Rove playing with Lego blocks while Washington burns. Regardless, I am mystified that one such as Mr. Buckley would think that a change to the antithesis of conservatism would be the best course of action. Someone must have drugged his coffee...
Warm Regards, Peter Czora
I knew Bill, not well: dinner a few times, and I never met his family. I am a bit astonished at this.
Incidentally I do not consider the intervention in the Schiavo case to be obscene. Ham handed perhaps, but I have never thought that life and death decisions should be made by force when the party making the decision for death has a large financial stake in that death. The state had a large financial incentive to see her dead; and of course the husband, who had committed adultery and started a new family, would have been divorced by Schiavo had anyone but him been her guardian. The next likely guardian would have been her parents, and we know what they wanted. I have no idea what Terry Schiavo wanted (when she was capable of decisions), and we only have the husband's testimony as to her wishes (and his testimony contradicted that of her parents). I also found it if not obscene then barbaric that a state policemen prevented Terry's mother from giving her an ice cube as she died of dehydration, all this on the order of a Florida probate judge. My father's experience with Florida probate court (long long ago) did not engender trust in that institution. I understand that experts paid by the state and by the husband said that she was brain dead and thus could be executed by starvation and dehydration; I am not entirely comfortable with giving the state that power over anyone who has not committed a crime warranting the death penalty; and I am convinced that the US Supreme Court would find death by starvation and dehydration cruel and unusual punishment. If they wanted to kill her, put a bullet through the rest of her brain. Don't let her die of thirst. That's the part I really find obscene. But if they were to take her out and shoot her, then they'd have to find police or soldiers willing to shoot a helpless innocent. They did find a cop willing to do something worse. I thought the police were supposed to protect the innocent, not deprive them of solace. Enough.
I entirely agree with Chris Buckley that since the departure of Newt Gingrich and the ascendancy of the neo-cons things went straight to hell; I am not convinced that we'd be a great deal better off if Gore had won in 2000, although a divided government (assuming the Republicans kept the Congress) might well have worked better; it all depends on what Gore and his team would have done about 9/11, and that's simply not predictable.
I have been reading National Review since its first issue; I subscribed instantly on its publication although I could barely afford it. It hasn't been the same since Bill was the editor in chief, but then one expects that. And it too went through a neo-con phase although it appears to be recovering from that. At one time it empowered the egregious Frum to denounce Stephen Tonsor and other intellectual conservatives, and that astonished me more than young Buckley's defection. I can well understand young Buckley's contempt for much of the neocons and the Republican leadership. They deserve it. So do Pelosi and Reid and Barney Frank.
As to the war being ill-considered, I told National Review that at the time, but to no avail.
See also Lepanto.
Resisting the United Nations
"There is no love for the United Nations in Kosovo.
Kosovo is the fourth country I've visited where the UN has or has had a key role, and in only one of them – Lebanon – is the UN not despised by just about everyone. In Lebanon the UN has so little power to make a difference one way or the other that any anger at the institution would largely be pointless."
Recommended. It provides interesting information about Kosovo in particular, and UN operations in general, that fits my personal experience. Since I expect a lot more UN missions in the future, more of us really ought to have some idea what that entails. This leaves off the unsavory stuff, just talking about what to expect if all involved are honest people, but it is a starting point.
237,420 Preventable Deaths
Study: Five-Star Hospitals Might Not Kill You
That's just 237,420 preventable Medicare patients. How many other preventable deaths would have been possible if hospital conditions were to improve. We've spent over $1 trillion fighting a war in Iraq and anguish the loss of life there, but calmly accept this?
Braxton S. Cook
The dimwits forgot the dimmers...
In Harry Erwin's letter from England you have a statement: "You can't buy these lightbulbs in some common sizes (I tried today) Telegraph story <http://tinyurl.com/48nlrz> "
What this article does not mention is that these bulbs do not work with dimmers.
I use these bulbs throughout our house EXCEPT for certain rooms where we have dimmer-switches. The dining room and the bedroom, where one likes to drop the intensity for obvious reasons. If the legislative fatheads enforce usage of these bulbs, some folks are going to find all their expensive dimmers no longer work and bang goes the subtle lighting in their private apartments!
And what does "The Health Protection Agency warned consumers they should not stay close to open energy saving bulbs for more than an hour" mean? I have never seen this warning before. I have these bulbs by the piano where I sit for great lengths of time, on the wall lamps by the sofa, bedside lamps? It would be nice if they could provide ALL information instead of just hints of further doom and woe. Can I now blame dizzy spells and any accidents on these fluorescent bulbs?
Hello Dr. Pournelle:
A big smile came to my face last night, when I watched the latest episode of Modern Marvels on History last night, and saw your face. They were talking about the Minuteman Missile, and you had perhaps a minute or two to talk about the subject of the modern ICBM, and what it has done to military strategy. After visiting your page for years, and reading your books for years, I almost get the idea, sometimes, that I know you; but this was the first time I ever heard your voice. You looked good, by the way.
Looking forward to your next role
I missed that. I wonder who filmed it? Some interviews were done here, or at Niven's house; they also filmed some of my lectures at Maxwell AFB and other military war college appearances. Interesting. But I don't remember when that would be. Before The Lump and The Radiation, that's for sure.
"Interesting ceremony, too – it started with both the Iraqi and US national anthems, and I got a mild case of the startles when the AK-armed Iraqi security guy standing next to me transitioned from the Iraqi-style "Present Arms" during his anthem to a flawless US-style when ours was played. The DVs spoke in Arabic, which I couldn't follow very well, but there were translators aplenty sitting with the Coalition contingent. Which is where I *wasn't* -- I'd moved to keep the new Baby Class company in the bleachers. One of the kids nudged me when a DV started getting passionate in his address, and was interrupted by a standing ovation: "He is saying that for the first time in our history, we are not doing things for one man, but we are doing it for all the people of Iraq. He is saying the US has showed us how, and we must not forget when we thank God every day, we must also ask him to bless the US.""
This is an article about the graduation of the first post-Saddam class of pilots for the Iraqi Air Force. Notice it is now safe to include picturres of the graduates.
I also subscribed to 'National Review' for several years until it got to the point where I could barely distinguish it from 'The New Republic' without consulting the front cover. Whereupon I quit.
I assume (I do not know) that Master Buckley was influential at NR. If he was, and if it was his reasoned conclusion that the problems with conservatism would be rectified by electing a lifelong Marxist, who spent his spare time fanning the flames of racial hatred, as president, it would go a long way toward explaining 'Just what happened to NR?'.
Cancer of the Devil.
- Roland Dobbins
The transmission method is interesting. The author's picture has an interesting expression given her occupation.
Octrober 16, 2008
Oil Despots Hurting
It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of rascals...
Geopolitical Diary: Falling Oil Prices Drag Down High Hopes October 16, 2008
(From Stratfor). Speculation drives oil prices just as it drove housing prices.
MODIS picture of fire in the LA Basin
MODIS on the Aqua satellite has imaged the fires in the LA basin.
Other than the plume and all it implies, it's quite a nice picture.
Regards, Charles Adams
A renewed anti-trust campaign is an excellent reminder. This is half of a perfect response to EU nomenklatura apparatchiki Sarkozy's call for a commissariat to regulate the world's 30 largest financial institutions.
Our strategic response should be to agree completely and then ensure no US institution is ever larger than #31
The mansions of Zurich
You wrote apropos ostentatious (American) wealth: > note that in Zurich there are very few mansions even though some > people are a lot richer than others. Today in the US the very rich > really aren't even as you and I, and some of them are very glad to > make that clear to all of us.
I visit Zurich fairly frequently and I'd say that example is only half right. Yes there is less in your face gratuitous display of wealth but on the so-called gold coast of the Zurichersee there are most certainly mansions and neighborhoods that remind me of the richer enclaves of Silicon Valley for example. The contrast between these places and the bits of Zurich where the poor (immigrants) live is not so different as the contrast between, say, Atherton or Los Gatos and the cruddier bits of San Jose.
The other things to recall are that 1) the really really rich seem to live in Zug not Zurich - the taxes are lower in Canton Zug and 2) many of the rich in Zurich have second and third homes on the French or Italian riveras and/or in the mountains. Those homes can be surprisingly flashy.
Still one good thing about the Swiss. They keep tight control over the government and most taxes are local with cantons not allowed to salt too much away in rainy day funds or to borrow heavily. Hence when the economy is rosy the governments spend more on luxuries but when times are hard those same luxuries get cut. All Swiss cantons are now looking at significant budget shortfalls in 2008 and 2009 and they will be reducing services, cutting investments, laying off workers etc. as a result. There has been quite discussion about it in the local press according to my boss (who lives there), it seems certain people had forgotten what the bad times meant and have had a rude awakening as their gravy train has run into the buffers.
I last visited Zurich to meet with Dr. Niklaus Wirth a good 25 years ago. At the time I was struck by the absence of ostentatious wealth, but of course I didn't go everywhere.
Obama and McCain both seem determined to make the federal government stronger at the expense of the states. This is not my view of how things should be.
Artillery: Magic Eyes <http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htart/articles/20080221.aspx>
October 17, 2008
Many of the Wall Street quants have taken to the blogs. And the present uproar has focused attention on some quants' 2-3 y/o ' blogs. For them taking to blogging was an unwise step in my view. It's never good when Toto pulls back the curtain on that little man in the rear booth in Oz' main audience chamber.
Harvard, Yale and Columbia predominate, naturally. What struck me is the large numbers of liberal arts undergrad degrees in art, history, sociology, anthropology and other non-quantitative, non-technical and non-scientific fields. The resume was typically shined up later with the all-purpose MBA.
It's the Fareed Zakeeria problem writ large, or writ tiny. And it seems most of these folks' larger worldview really is informed by Newsweek, the New York Times and the Financial Times in London. They have pretensions to cosmopolitanism but it's a very superficial type. It's circumscribed by perhaps 10 airport terminals, urban cores and resort conference centers.
Their view of Middle America and of real economic activity reminds me of mid-19th Century maps of Africa: an accurate map outline of the continent with pictures of elephants and lions drawn in the interior. Even the most progressive among them in anticipating the bubble pop are clueless about what's next. They have no idea about how to reconnect their paper chase numbers to real economic activity.
Businesses of the Mrs Fields' Cookies and Starbucks type get capital because these people really don't understand anything more complicated. Irrelevant is the ultimate impression they convey. A Green Energy bubble informed by James Hansen's globo-warming hysterics is probably how they'll lose their last chips.
All the more reason to consider keeping those companies smaller so there are more of them. It is certainly the case that consolidation generates efficiency -- until unwise policies cause complete collapse and take the rest of us down along with the smartest guys in the room.
I suspect that no one can manage huge companies, whether manufacturing or financial. If you have a couple of huge companies they concentrate on the bottom line and seek to serve the largest possible market: often neglecting smaller markets and niche markets. With more companies some will decide they can't fight for the least common denominator and look to service other markets.
My favorite example is outdoor shirts: Woolwich used to make a silver tan shirt. I wore them not only outdoors and on hikes into the Sierra with my Scouts, but for everyday. They were a niche market; then they were "discovered". Everyone made them. The fad faded. When the dust settled, no on was making them although there were some companies that made something similar. But the old line, which had been profitable but not huge, never returned. No one makes the old silver tan shirts even though the market is still there.
When companies consolidate, they eliminate the least profitable lines.
Monopoly busting queries
There are two kinds of monopolies - real monopolies and "coverage monopolies." A real monopoly is where you cannot buy the product from any other company. A coverage monopoly is where you can buy the product from another company but you don't want to and so the coverage monoply gets 90% of the business ( Aunt Minnie is perfectly free to buy Unix).
The justice department thinks a coverage monopoly is a real monopoly so has been eagerly breaking them up during my lifetime.
The funny thing is they don't break them up into non-monopolies but into smaller monopolies. The baby bells were still monopolies in their regions. They were going to break Microsoft up into an OS monopoly and an ap monopoly.
Your point is well made. I was not in favor of breaking up Microsoft beck when the government was moving into the computer revolution, precisely because there were alternatives to Microsoft. Had they proposed to make Microsoft into two competing companies without restrictions I might have had different views; don't take that as Gospel, I haven't thought it out to the point of deciding. There is the question of compatibilities and standards (it used to be that Microsoft was largely a standards setting company). There is also the hardware factor: it is already nearly irrelevant what operating system a machine runs since the hardware is capable of doing any OS as an application in any other, and yes, I know that is not an exact statement.
I am also concerned that many other industries have concentrated to the point where a disastrous decision would have serious effects. Prior to WW II Boeing literally bet the company on development of the Flying Fortress. It turned out to be a good bet; but had Boeing collapsed there were many other airplane companies.
My particular concern, though, hasn't been so concerned with producing companies: it's the financial world that concerns me. The over concentration meant that failure was universal. That affected us all. Had those banks been smaller one or another might have resisted the government pressure to make bad loans -- loans so bad that no one in their right mind would have made them.
Subject: Stress Levels
Alex wrote: "Assume YOU might panic, unless you've been shot at, taken the Bar, or done something similarly stressful."
Gotta add: Taking the Bar wasn't that stressful...but my first court appearance as an articling student (think: intern/first year associate) before a Judge on a file I knew nothing about, when the first words were "Why are YOU here?"....Now THAT is stress!
And it turned out that *I* was not supposed to be there...It was an application that an articling student was not allowed to handle.
talian archaeologists have discovered the tomb of the ancient Roman hero said to have inspired the character played by Russell Crowe in the film "Gladiator."
Daniela Rossi, an archaeologist based in Rome, said the discovery of the monumental marble tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, including a large inscription bearing his name, was "an exceptional find."
Links to longer story at
Commander of the Second Legion under Aurelius. The chaos following Aurelius' death ended when Septimius Severus became the first Emperor who was not a Roman noble -- and indeed his predecessor was the last Roman to become Emperor. The movie ends with a popular Senator becoming Emperor -- the way "it should have been." In the actual world the Senator who became Emperor after Aurelius's son(s) was a martinet whom the Legions overthrew. Then they auctioned off the empire to the highest bidder. At which point Septimius Severus marched his legions to Rome...
US Air Force outlines combat raygun safety,
Your old friends at the USAF have published guidelines for developers of ray guns:
So I guess directed energy weapons are definitely on their way to a conflict zone near you.
I can just see the lads down in South Central playing with their new toys.
A follow-up comment to the comments about the lack of ostentatious wealth in Switzerland: One of the features of the society here that most impresses me are the wages: although there is no minimum wage, the bottom end of the wage-scale is relatively high. You cannot hire anyone for anything for less than Fr. 15/hour (not so far off of $15, with the current exchange rates). Your housekeeper, your burger-flipper in McDonalds, your trash collector - all of the lowest paid jobs are paid more than Fr. 15/hour - and really, most of them are likely to be Fr. 20/hour or more.
On the other end of the scale, excepting the top managers (more on them below), the upper-end salaries tend to be lower than elsewhere. The result is a fairly tight range of earnings for most of the population.
This has some fundamental effects on the local economy, some negative, but most positive. To name a negative effect: restaurant service is lousy and the prices expensive. When the waitress gets $20/hour off the top, and even the dishwasher $15/hour, the restaurants hire as little staff as possible.
The huge positive is an amazingly egalitarian society. If we ignore the managers and their millions, the rest of Switzerland is nearly all middle class. This has all the effects you might wish.
As for the managers: I expect they will have to go elsewhere after this financial debacle. The Swiss are profoundly embarrassed that one of their banks has also had to be rescued (and do note: it was only one - the other several dozen are doing just fine, thank-you-very-much). Although no one says so publicly, it's clear to all of us that this was the result of following trends from abroad, hiring international managers (many Americans amongst them), etc, etc. I expect Swiss companies, especially the banks will become rather more insular after this. And the salaries and bonuses will likely be a lot more in line with Swiss egalitarianism...
What an infantilized society we've become.
- Roland Dobbins
JTAS magic eyes
I don’t know how long the Army has been pursuing that magic eyes project but the USAF has for a long time been working on equivalent “wish them dead” systems. Similar concept, except that the necessary weapons are carried by the guy who has eyes on the target and the system weight is a huge issue because a smart reticle must be mounted in a helmet carried by a person who may have to pull 9 Gs (or eject) with all that extra weight in the helmet. Look at a target, push a few buttons, and wish it dead. Precision attack planning reduced from a matter of hours to a matter of seconds, and that’s really important to the guys on the ground that we’re supporting. We’ve had the tech AND the system integration issues worked out for a while, but they’re not terribly high on the budget priority list. Done properly, that magic eyes system could be integrated into the tactical datalink network and the coordinates could be passed to ANY system able to achieve the desired effects. That would be a perfect implementation of a joint system that is platform-agnostic… Why does it HAVE to be artillery (or a fighter or a bomber or a UAV) if it could be something else that happens to be available and has the required capability?
This could be one more major step away from the old school platform-specific-mission mindset if the Army doesn’t use it just for artillery spotting. Junior USAF officers nowadays have no delusions about any particular platform being tied to a specific mission, so this ought to be one more step down the road towards effects based ops. Aim magic eyes at target, push a couple of buttons, and a short while later the target blows up, and who cares where the weapon came from. An extension of the concept – a software tool hanging on the network at the AOC could compare the target coordinates against the do not strike or high value target list, so an abort command could come down in time if there is a reason to not destroy that target.
Well worth the read when you get a minute.
[I have been unable to find a valid source for the following, so consider it an anonymous letter rather than a quotation from the SF Chronicle. JEP]
I don't know the source of the above, but I have no evidence that what it says is not true.
The following is one of many such letters I have received:
Dear Dr Pournelle, Regarding 'a letter from Colonel Haynes' by searching the phrase "But with whom should Americans be furious" I found what appears to be the original article at the following link:
Hope that's helpful. And of course my best wishes on your continuing recovery.
Marc Heller Edison, NJ.
Subj: Spaceship troopers?
U.S. Eyes Reaction Force That Rockets Into Space
Marine Operations Using Space Transportation
October 18, 2008
Bruce Schneier and Jeffrey Goldberg prove that TSA is worse than useless.
I have said for years that TSA is security theater. Alas, once a bureaucracy is established, it will remain in place forever. We will be plagued with TSA for my lifetime and probably yours. Of course TSA does serve a purpose: it demonstrates to the people of the United States that they are subjects and no longer citizens. It does that job very well.
New York City's Metropolitan Opera
Thought you might be interested in this article on ArsTechnica:
“Next week, New York City's Metropolitan Opera will launch a service that allows opera buffs to stream performances to any computer with a broadband connection and enough horsepower to handle the HD.”
LTC (R) David A. Kickbusch
helpful digital tv changeover video
The coming digital tv changeover will leave a lot of people wondering why their tv doesn’t work. Fortunately several helpful videos and websites have appeared to clear up the confusion. Here is one of the best:
… and hilarity ensues.
It certainly does...
Big Government and the New Battleground
I noticed one of your readers lambasting the Republican party for increasing the size of the federal government. They overlooked an important fact: as a whole, Americans want big government. If America didn't want it, we wouldn't have it. Conservatives ought to recognize that we are no longer fighting for limited federal government; we lost that battle. Instead, the battleground has shifted: having achieved cultural acceptance of the centralization of power in the federal government, the Left is now making the case to subordinate that power, and thus our sovereignty, to global government. I do not know if America as a whole yet desires that, but I do know that Obama will do as much of that as he can; McCain won't.
For myself, that is enough; I will vote for McCain. To sit out the battle for US sovereignty because we lost the battle for limited federal government is shortsighted and foolish. The fall of liberty in America may be inevitable, but if we can at least lengthen our tranquility for a season, I think that is a worthwhile end.
I confess my inclination is to wish a pox on both Republicans and Democrats, but someone always wins, and I'd rather have a Republican maverick who has made some promises to the conservatives than a Chicago liberal. Particularly since the Democrats will have Congress.
An audio clip (R-rated, but...) you won't believe
An audio clip you won't (want to, at least) believe:
This is amazing,. From Howard Stern's show on October 1. (Warning - R-rated language)
Verified at http://www.howardstern.com/ ; check the archives for October 1. (Warning -- more than R-rated language elsewhere on the page)
Howard started off the show playing a few clips of Sal <http://www.horsetoothjackass.com/> asking black people if they were voting for Obama, and attributed all of McCain’s political policies to Obama to see if they would still vote for him. All the interviewees readily agreed with Obama when Sal lied to them about his pro-life, anti-stem-cell research and pro-war policies. Howard said the clips were revealing, and Sal came in to say he thought the election had become less about ideas and, instead, some kind of race war.
And you are astonished?
The article sent to you in Friday's mail by Bill
Haynes does not come from the San Francisco Chronicle. It originated in a
Blog called ChronWatch which is editorially 180 degrees opposed to the
Chronicle, and it was written by Barbara J. Stock. Here's the link:
--Paul "Thomas" Miller
That's what comes of being in a hurry. Clearly Colonel Haynes got the source wrong. Apologies to the SF Chronicle, but I am not really surprised; it did seem very much out of character for that paper.
The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley corrects Sen. McCain on Global Warming --
Hello Dr. Pournelle,
In today's American Thinker, the esteemed Viscount Monckton of Brenchley offered his advice to Sen. McCain, which is basically that man-caused global warming is scientifically unsound. The article is found at
It begins with
and continues for four very long web pages, with Monckton's usual thorough and extremely well-documented but eminently readable prose. This letter is a systematic demolition job on the whole of the premises underlying the AGW political-religious movement and well worth reading in its entirety.
|This week:||Sunday, October
This day was devoured by locusts
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