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Mail 546 November 24 - 30, 2008
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November 24, 2008
an old scam, now at major retailers
A reminder about a scam that is still ongoingÖ Improperly labeled flash memory with intentionally faked partition tables. The scammers label and package a low capacity and slow speed memory card with the exact same labels and packaging as a genuine high speed, high capacity memory card. The card works fine (albeit slowly) until it hits the real capacity limit, which can be a fraction of the labeled capacity. These cards are all over ebay and are a real risk to travelers in less regulated countries, but they can also be found at major retailers. Selecting a known brand is no guarantee, since they can make near-perfect copies of the packaging used on genuine products.
I just got a fake 2gb card from newegg.com. The card was labeled A Data ďSuperĒ, 80x, 2gb and the packaging appeared legit. The partition table showed 2gb capacity, but both before and after formatting it always showed 1gb in use, 1gb free. Attempting to copy 1.5 gb to the card as a test resulted in a transfer rate significantly slower than the 80x rating (somewhere upwards of 10 minutes for a single unfragmented 500mb file using a fast USB 2.0 adaptor), and it ran out of space after approx 1gb was copied.
I donít have a windows utility that will take a look deep into the partition table and my linux box is not currently functional, so I canít do any more forensics. Still, itís clear that this card is not a 2gb card even though it came from a big retailer and had all the right packaging to appear legit.
The moral of the story is no matter what brand of flash memory you get, and no matter who you buy it from, you need to thoroughly check itís capacity before use because you simply canít tell if itís genuine until you actually try to fill it up. There must be millions of these things floating around, and many consumers will never know why their camera ďmalfunctionsĒ by saying there is room for more pictures but the card reports that there is no more room when itís only half full.
I sent this to my advisors (and to platinum subscribers) Saturday, with the comment From New Egg yet! I buy lots of stuff from them.
Chaos Manor Reviews Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey said
Betcha they were on the shelves at all the big box stores, too.
Well, it's all in the impossible-to-open packages, shipped direct from China. If the package is right, who's to know, until the customer tries to use it. This has happened with gear "labeled" Cisco, too, not just $50 media cards.
It is something to worry about. =====================
Value-added tax cuts proposed here: BBC story <http://tinyurl.com/63ynvr>
BBC survey of stories <http://tinyurl.com/5vbnlw>
Times story <http://tinyurl.com/64am3e> Telegraph stories <http://tinyurl.com/6z2fwz > <http://tinyurl.com/6xofew> <http://tinyurl.com/6kj527> Independent <http://tinyurl.com/6p38xh>. Related story on actions to deal with the exodus of businesses from Britain <http://tinyurl.com/6hgg8s>
A UK PhD represents a minimum of 6 years of "full-time" education and is seen by American universities to be a "strong masters". (An American PhD usually incorporates doctoral-level classes and experience teaching as a TA. The UK PhD is pure research starting from the foundation of a three-year honours bachelors degree.) The Bologna Accords will require the UK to increase that to 8 years by 2020, and this is producing problems already. Times Higher Education article <http://tinyurl.com/692vkn > This week's stories <http://tinyurl.com/5agopb>.
Stories leaking out on the new ID cards: Independent <http://tinyurl.com/5rdywd >. The Government is planning to notify people of their penalties and request payment via a web page by e-mail. Aside from the fact that e- mail does not promise reliable delivery, can you see the risks of that?
Yet another proposal by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary--this time on prostitution. <http://tinyurl.com/5temmv>. (I have heard the nickname "Wacky Jacqui" applied to her.)
Chris Patten on the Chinese threat to democracy <http://tinyurl.com/5hcmdm >
Problems with secondary student discipline aggravated by local educational authority policies. <http://tinyurl.com/6huprz>
Recycling schemes scrapped due to the current recession <http://tinyurl.com/633te4 >
--Harry Erwin, PhD
Beware Outside Context Problems
This sort of thing makes it hard to do long-term tax planning. Borrowing is well up, too.
WSJ story <http://tinyurl.com/6ea8yk>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)
Ocean Thermal Systems
I vaguely recall reading something like this a long time ago and I think it was from one of your books.
I hope this works out.
R, Rose Krueger
(I wrote about Ocean Thermal in A Step Farther Out)
The Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion process appears to be the same as or similar to the Kalina process which was piloted at the ETEC facility in the Santa Susana hills. This was a demonstration plant and would be a good thing to review as it recovers energy from low quality waste exhaust gases. The problem with all these processes is that they are relatively expensive initially and the capital costs need to be weighed against other systems for generating electricity. If you consider the same thermal systems can be used downstream from conventional power generating sites, then it would appear that existing systems retrofit would be preferable to the considerable uncertainties of an ocean-based system. By the way I would be curious about whether it is better to pump the cold water to the surface rather than pump the working fluid down to a cold sink.
Ocean Thermal Systems have the problem that they work best in tropical seas, so that the cost of shipping power to places where it is used is an added burden; one of the better ways is to use the electrical power to make propane or other liquid fuels.
The reason one wants to bring up cold water is that it is nutrient rich and the result is blooms and more fish. See A Step Farther Out for a start. My point in that book was that we aren't doomed: there are sustainable power sources. Enormous ones.
Heather Zichal; Obama Energy & Environment Wonk, ex of the House of Representin'
The appeal of "Change We Can Believe In" for citizen ideas briefly overcame my core cynicism about all Beltway processes. I was tempted to submit ideas about scanning and free download of all existing US Government owned technical publications and voc training materials.
Plus buying out a mid level CAD/CAM program and placing that in the public domain to encourage help small business manufacturing.
Cynicism swiftly returned.
Heather Zichal, now of BO's Energy & Environment transition team:
The banality reminded me of a 1st grade teacher working with left side pupils: "You all be good little serfs and serfettes and listen to the Principal." This is the same stuff pitched to middle schoolers. Heather's major campaign performance was a 100% defense of Bush's food burning policies, which BO has adopted unchanged.
This heading translates to "business as usual" with increased federal funding, plus the addition of bubble finance policies of the type that proved so successful in subprime real estate mortgages.
* Create the American Opportunity Tax Credit: Obama and Biden will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This universal and fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students. Recipients of the credit will be required to conduct 100 hours of community service. * Simplify the Application Process for Financial Aid: Obama and Biden will streamline the financial aid process by eliminating the current federal financial aid application and enabling families to apply simply by checking a box on their tax form, authorizing their tax information to be used, and eliminating the need for a separate application.
It looks we'll have a test of whether 100% porkbarrel spending can fuel a recovery.
For me, back to calculus. Integrals are much easier so far.
Public Works is ALWAYS pork barrel but it's not always wasted. Not always.
Lawrence Summers To Be Chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisors
"While there is a strong case for new fiscal stimulus measures which by definition increase the deficit in the short run, the long term Federal budget situation remains a matter of great concern. Excessive accumulation of Federal debt over the next decade threatens to reduce investment and slow growth, compromise financial stability, increase Americaís vulnerability and reduce its influence in the world..."
I can't describe the sinking feeling I got reading this and knowing this man will be filtering the economic advice offered to the most inexperienced President in modern times, and in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Summers' only idea, Keynesian stimulus, is one even he admits is probably not executable because of the decrepit state of federal finances. It reminds me most of British Chief of Staff Sir William Robertson's ultimate reason for urging cabinet approval of Haig's 1917 Flanders offensive at the Battle of Passchendaele. Robertson couldn't think of anything else besides sending British infantry on yet another frontal attack against barbed wire and machineguns. After gaining four miles at a cost of 500,000 casualties the offensive petered out.
It was only after this that a Strategy of Technology, the first massed tank offensive at the Battle of Cambrai, was finally tried. That is, after all other resources had been expended.
"The Democratic Congress has determined that the American automobile industry executives have not been sufficiently submissive and they must come grovel again."
Hmmm... We know that Social Security is failing. Known it for years. So, when Congress comes to the American people for more money to save it, will the American people treat Congress as Congress has treated all these industrial executives?
Unlikely. And see Belloc, The Servile State
APOD: 2008 November 22 - From Moonrise to Sunset,
This is cool. A panorama shot that includes simultaneous moonrise and sunset from Lisbon, Portugal:
SIP: Structural Insulated Panels
It's a small start. two panels of oriented strand board sandwiching expanded polystyrene foam. Next bring on board:
--- the architects to start designing to this standard. This is not a problem in Florida. Here anyone can go into business designing single family houses, provided a structural engineer designs and/or approves the roof plan.
--- The builders.
--- The regional building code conferences.
--- Overcome NEC and state licensed electrical contractor obstructionism over preinstalling wiring at the factory and just making connections at the section junctions.
--- Ditto for plumbing.
--- Factory preinstall exterior covering (siding or stucco), window/door units and interior sheet rock or other fire resistant surface.
--- Set up the most automated factories possible to manufacture entire houses in sections using standard materials and a decent selection of designs. Say 100 designs adapted to each area.
One has to spend several days on a jobsite to appreciate just how inefficient stick building methods are in labor time and material. Material waste is usually estimated at 20%, plus an additional cleanup fee to clear the waste from the finished home. During the late boom iIlegals at $7- $10 hour and no insurance were the only way to make it work as long as it did.
16th Century methods aside, I see nothing wrong with a social goal of building 4 million new housing units annually for a long time to come.
Automated House Construction
Iíve been in construction for over 20 years and residential for 6 years.
The reason you donít see modular units is that it isnít cost effective. All you would be lowering is labor cost. Labor is not that material, especially in residential construction. There isnít that much that you can do to automate MEPs. Labor is a tiny percentage of your finishes cost. About the only thing that can be prebuilt are the walls themselves and that is a small percentage of the total project.
Larger commercial projects are a different matter. Except for areas with extremely cheap labor many (most?) one-story buildings are tilt wall construction using prefabbed concrete panels. But youíve still got the labor of assembling the framing and attaching the panels. For these jobs it was cost effective and so the industry moved in that direction. For residential construction all it would do is raise the cost.
Last of all it wouldnít save any time. Construction overall usually moves quickly. But you canít just start working one day and work constantly until the end. To make any money at all you keep small crews of each trade and rotate them around the project(s). Even if you have a person pushing buttons instead of swinging a hammer if you are building 100 houses at once you are still only going to have one or two crews. You arenít going to go out and hire 100 button pushers. Then during construction itself there are phases in which everything must be complete in the prior phase before you can start the next one. Sometimes this is due to logistics, other times it is due to building inspection procedures.
And even with all of that the process is still pretty darn fast. A relatively small contractor can build a quarter million square foot residential project in less than a year. Assuming an average of 2500 sf per unit and that is 100 units in a year. 2 units a week on average. Manpower/unit is so low that there just isnít that much money there for automation/prefabrication to save.
That isn't what I recall from the days when I did a story on manufactured housing for American Legion Magazine a great many years ago, but I am also hazy on details, so I probably misremember.
Stop everything! The Security Council's threatening sanctions!
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on pirates, arms smugglers, and perpetrators of instability in Somalia in a fresh attempt to help end years of lawlessness in the Horn of Africa nation, 20 Nov reporting. The 15-nation council endorsed a British plan for a council panel to recommend people and entities whose financial assets would be frozen and who would face a travel ban. It also reaffirms an arms embargo.
Enforcing the sanctions poses steep challenges, however, as those responsible for much of the anarchy plaguing the country are well outside any traditional finance system. The council action was followed by discussion on the deteriorating situation in Somalia - both on land and at sea, which includes some of the world's most important shipping routes. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Raisuddin Zenenga said the multinational effort being mobilized to fight the pirates off Somalia - involving the European Union, NATO countries, Russia, India and others - should be replicated to mobilize an international force to tackle the security problems in Somalia itself. U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo called for immediate steps to stabilize the deteriorating security situation, which threatens political progress and an Oct. 26 cease-fire agreement between the Somali government and the insurgents. She stressed that
piracy is "a direct result of the lack of rule of law and desperate economic conditions on the ground." DiCarlo urged the international community strengthen the beleaguered 3,450-strong African Union force in Somalia to protect food shipments. The African Union also urged the U.N. to quickly send peacekeepers to Somalia
That will fix those pirates!
November 25, 2008
Apart from the Federal Reserve, vast sums are being thrown around with little of it having actually been funded and spent. TARP + Obama's $700 billion brings it to at least $1.4 trillion, compared to a 2008 federal operating budget deficit of $250 billion.
Only part of Paulson's TARP 1.0 ($250 billion or so) has actually been funded via selling T bonds and notes. And this has been done at record low interest rates. The rest is still on the Second Life books. It's reasonable to conclude that federal tax receipts will be down and existing federal obligations up somewhat in 2009.
The question is what will happen when Geithner actually attempts to sell $1.4 trillion of federal bonds and notes next year just to cover Obama's spending, plus TARP 2.0, plus a 'routine' deficit that will probably exceed $300 billion, plus whatever one year of auto industry bailout runs. The current $25 billion was just to get them into Obama's 2d month. Out of this $1.5 trillion only $25 billion is recognizable so far as real economic investment. That's $25 billion in the DoE line for auto industry retooling to build hybrids.
Like Buffett said, when the tide goes out you see who's been skinny dipping.
1. The third largest holder of US Forex, Russia, was just revealed to have Oligarch owed overseas debt about equal to its sovereign Stabilization Fund.
2. Since this summer the IMF staff has been pointing out that EU banks' capital structures are far closer to Bear Stearns & Lehman in use of leverage and minimal capital. And speaking of that slender capital, 3x to 4x of it was loaned out to emerging markets in Latin America, eastern Europe, Africa and Central Asia. The EU therefore created an export form of subprime mortgages.
3. China has just announced its own $500 billion stimulus plan. That's about 25% of its own surplus of US Bonds and cash.
These are the previous major overseas funding sources. Somewhere out there is a last foreign buyer of US Government debt, at least in its present format. It doesn't matter whether the cause is apparent US debt junk status or because the buyer pool goes bankrupt because of their other rotten financial practices. There are domestic buyers around, assuming they cease buying stocks, US corporate bonds, state/local bond issues and mortgages to focus on US Treasuries.
This leaves the US Bureau of Printing and Engraving as a gap funding source.
I have a three pfennig stamp overprinted to 3 mird millionen marks...
How about instead of just handing the auto industry a check, the government agrees to buy 1,000,000 new cars over the next two years? It then sells national lottery tickets for a chance to win a voucher for $25,000 that can only be used to buy a new vehicle from GM, Ford, or Chrysler. They could give away roughly 40,000 a month. That amount might even buy some families 2 cars depending on which on model they get.
This would give the auto industry the cash it needs, keep jobs, and give a lot of Americans a new car which could help them get to and from a new job, assuming they could find one of course.
Braxton S. Cook
Thomas Jefferson raffled off Monticello to pay his debts. The winner gave it back to him, but didn't have to. Fortunately for Jefferson there were no income taxes in those days.
Houghton Miflin /
"According to GalleyCat, Houghton Mifflin has "temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts." Francis Hamit confirms"
Betcha a dollar this freeze doesn't apply to textbook edition updates, and even new manuscripts to replace existing subject textbooks in HM's line. That captive market is a lot less elastic than Amazon, B.Dalton and Books A Million. And Paulson just announced yet another $600 billion program to jump start student loan lending.
Clearly you and Francis need a program.
"The Federal Reserve just announced a new $30 billion repurchase agreement term lending facility: TWISTEM. TWISTEM is the Total Writers Income Stabilization Term Emergency Mediation facility. It is a one year renewable collateralized term lending facility. Eligible collateral assets are securitized credit card debt originally incurred in the purchase of new 2008 or later copyright fictional works in either printed or electronic formats...
Video of Fireball
Now that's a fireball! <http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap081125.html>
Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE
In the lively discussion in the Chaosmanor Reviews Mailbag, about USB device security, Rick Hellewell mentioned infected photo frames as one of the possible vectors for infection. I've just read on ISC that getting digital photos printed at kiosks is another danger.
The solution, burn the photos to a CD and use that in the kiosk. Unfortunately this isn't likely to be useful to me since I generally use online printers and I've only ever used kiosks when I need to get a picture printed quickly while I'm away from home.
Toshiba wants to give one away to remote Alaskan Indian village.
Okay, why does this sound like an appallingly bad idea to me?
US firm unveils plans for mini nuclear reactors
This nuclear reactor ó or "battery" as the firm calls it ó is not much larger than a hot-tub and could supply thermal energy at a rate of about 70 MW. That could be converted into about 27 MW of electricity, which would be enough to supply about 20,000 US households.
Unlike conventional nuclear power plants, Hyperion's reactor uses uranium hydride, which is essentially enriched uranium metal that has absorbed a large amount of hydrogen.
Okay, a small community gets tired of the lights going dim from California's rolling blackouts and buys 2 of these things. Presumably dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of other communities around the world do the same. Is transporting that much fissionable uranium to all of these sites even logistically possible without having some pretty awful consequences? Have these folks even heard of Murphy and his Laws?
The incidental radioactive waste (supplies used to handle the really hot stuff going into and out of the reactors) from a few of these things scattered about the country is somewhat manageable. Multiply that by the dozens or hundreds of mini reactors springing up and "somewhat manageable" goes out the window.
The folks at Homeland Security must be horrified at the idea they will be tasked with securing all this stuff while also rubbing their greedy little hands together while laughing at the HUGE influx of staff it is going to require if they are forced to do so.
[Hyperion] has already secured an order for six units from a group of investors in Eastern Europe, including the Czech engineering company TES, who have an option to buy a further 44.
Yeah, no problems with security in any of these Eastern European nations, none at all.
Now, I'll agree we need to get away from our current way of generating power, but do we really want to spread fissionable material out to the masses?
Braxton S. Cook
I have a lot of mail about these, but I know nothing about them. There are lots of ways to have radioactive materials that are less dangerous than, say, fertilizer and diesel fuel.
Fascinating lecture on Pirates and Piracy, by Oscar Herrman, from 1902.
The "money quote": (emphasis added)
."Piracy, by the law of nations, is punishable with death within the jurisdiction of any nation under whose flag the capture may have been made, for the pirate is the common enemy of mankind. /_*Although it has passed the zenith of its perverse glory, and modern naval development has made it impracticable and impossible, vestiges of piracy remain in the Malay Archipelago and the China Sea. As recently as 1864 five men were hanged in London on such a charge*_."
/As recently as 1864!
And yet today in 2008 we are told by "The Smartest People On The Planet" (Pat. Pend.) that we cannot eradicate piracy?
"What man has done, he can aspire to..."/ /
"There is hardly a person who, as a school-boy, had not received the fire of imagination and the stimulus for adventure and a roaming life through the stirring narratives concerning Captain Kidd and other well-known sea rovers. A certain ineffable glamour metamorphosed these robbers into heroes, and lent an inalienable license to their "calling," so that the songster and romancist found in them and their deeds prolific and genial themes, while the obscure suggestions of hidden treasures and mysterious eaves have inspired many expeditions in quest of buried fortunes which, like the Argo of old, have carried their Jasons to the mythical Colchis. The pens of Byron, Scott, Poe, Stevenson, Russell, and Stockton, and the musical genius of Wagner, were steeped in the productive inspiration of these lawless adventurers, and Kingsley found in Lundy Island, the erstwhile nest of the reckless tribe, a subject for his "Westward Ho!"
Byron, in "The Corsair," sings:
O'er the glad waters of the dark-blue sea, our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free, far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam, Survey our empire, and behold our home! These are our realms, no limits to their sway; our flag the scepter all who meet obey. Ours the wild life in tumult still to range from toil to rest, and joy in every change."
NASA's Black Hole Budgets
A column by a former NASA executive in charge of its science program
Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE
Dim Bulbs Finally Turning On
This is another last year's news piece at Chaos Manor. Still, it seems worth some time...
"Why Unemployment Could Be Worse This Time".
"But beyond the headline number is a growing unease among economists and job market watchers that, for the as many as 2.3 million people who will be asked to leave their cubicles and workspaces in the next year, it might be harder this time around for them to regain their piece of corporate America than in past recessions."
Yes. Now we reach the core of the problem:
"The underlying problem is something called misallocation of human capital. It's a fancy term for the idea that in the past few decades the U.S. may have been producing too many MBAs and not enough RNs. Economists used to talk about it as one of those long-term risks that most people shouldn't worry too much about. Now the problem, like the dangers of sub-prime lending, obscure financial instruments and so many of those other things we didn't worry about, seems to actually be a problem."
The article didn't discuss solutions because I think it's clear it's conceptually insoluble for the present elites. We need to define the full situation of this structurally unemployed and wrongly schooled MBA to appreciate the gravity of the current crisis.
1. MBA is probably still carrying $25k to $50k of government guaranteed (and securitized) student loan debt that can't even be discharged in bankruptcy. 2. MBA has progressively lost: credit rating, job, lost a foreclosed house and probably still owes negatively amortized principal, and doubtless has some nontrivial amount of credit card debt. Loss of medical insurance and unpaid medical bills are extra. 3. MBA may have one or more children to support. This can be directly or perhaps through court ordered child support that doesn't allow for unemployment as a defense to being jailed for non-payment..
The Times article implies this person requires retraining in a more useful hard skill technical field. I agree. The question is how this training can be paid for given the current cost structure of "accredited" higher education and MBA's own dire personal situation. To this we can add collapsing state budgets and resulting cuts in college support, plus massive college endowment investment losses. At very best MBA's six years of college credits will only yield about 30 - 35 credits that are transferable toward a four year B.S. as an RN. Under the existing system MBA needs three full years of college level retraining to qualify for an RN under the existing system. I think obtaining more student loans can also be reasonably ruled out.
This problem as presently stated has no solution. Therefore one or more parameters will have to be changed. This can only be in the costs and methods of educational delivery and "accreditation".
The article concludes with this quote from one of Washington's best and brightest wonk economists:
"My expectation is that we are going to be seeing an increase in manufacturing, and that is certainly a shift from where the economy has been headed," says Dean Baker, co-director of the Washington, D.C. liberal-leaning think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "Clearly you are going to have people moving down the pay scale."
Apparently he expects the "screw nut A on bolt B" assembly line jobs are returning from somewhere or another. They aren't. They migrated to Mexico and then onwards to China, where that type of unskilled worker is now being laid off. Again. The last large block of such jobs in the USA are soon returning to Washington to seek their own "Bailout". I refer to US based GM, Chrysler, Ford and the UAW. Ford Brazil doesn't use such primitive methods in its Camaceri plant.
Know how to use several CAD and CAM programs? How about wiring servo motors to drivers? Are you perhaps a highly skilled machinist able to do tool and die quality work? Perhaps you're a good combination millwright and electronics technician able to repair industrial robots and other automated equipment? If not I'm afraid your manufacturing employment prospects are even poorer than financial services.
MBA's (and ours) only hope for useful hard skill retraining is for the cost to drop by 90% and for the subject matter to be delivered to where ever MBA is presently located and can afford to live.
Alternately we can try Dean Baker's apparent solution. This is to leave a mass of millions of people in their 20s and 30s, of above average intelligence and education, crushed with debts they can never repay and facing forty years of a minimum wage future. I personally would expect either fascist blackshirts or a real American analog to a Nazi party to appear in short order. Best of all, a 1.5 million strong pool of war veterans has been conveniently accumulated to provide recruits for the sturmabteilungen wing of such a movement. They're also facing increasing difficulties finding and holding good paying jobs.
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
November 26, 2008
I personally would use a far simpler standard. Define all permanent injuries in an operational theater as "combat related" for disability purposes. Trying to differentiate between "direct combat", "combat related", "instrumentality of war" and "non-combat related" among Iraq, Afghanistan and WOT injured tells me the JAG branch is grossly overstaffed parsing neocon inspired regulations and laws.
If only the Bush Administration had extended that Ebeneezer Scrooge thrift mentality to the rest of its fiscal management and financial regulatory activities...
Ed Hume recommends:
Why Don't We Hang Pirates Anymore?
Interesting article in the Walt Street Journal. The section that captures the situation is as follows:
"Then there is the problem of what to do with captured pirates. No international body similar to the old Admiralty Courts is currently empowered to try pirates and imprison them. The British foreign office recently produced a legal opinion warning Royal Navy ships not to take pirates captive, lest they seek asylum in the U.K. or otherwise face repatriation in jurisdictions where they might be dealt with harshly, in violation of the British Human Rights Act."
-- Robert K. Kawaratani
Pirates seeking asylum. What a beautiful world we have built.
Subj: Nurse shortage: the indentured servitude solution
Your contributor Mark wonders how to finance retraining of surplus MBAs as RNs.
Right around ten years ago, I saw a sign in the lobby of a hospital that offered forgiveness for student loans for students enrolled in the hospital's nursing school who completed some number of years of employment at that hospital.
"The decline that we're seeing is unprecedented."
--- Roland Dobbins
Student Loans, MBAs and so on.
As an undergraduate, I never had a student loan myself. Neither did my father, who during the Great Depression, worked his way through a whole bunch of jobs, becoming a nurse and then a M.D., The last two years of that were during WW II. He and the rest of his NYU Medical School Class that were male were drafted and ordered to finish medical school because the Army was going to need doctors. He went from that to being Regimental Surgeon of the 12th Philippine Scouts. The Army paid for his last two years of medical school and paid him as a 2nd Lt as well. But that was their idea, not his. Of course, he was sweating how he was going to make it and hold a day job as well. So it all worked out, for him and the Army, which got a world class surgeon in the fullness of time.
In terms of allocating human capital, the system is seriously flawed. Back in the early 90s RNs like my ex-wife were being pressured to quit or retire because the bean counters thought we had too many. (Never mind what the patients thought.) Those guys were MBAs, of course or the public sector equivalent, MPAs. And, at that time, the received wisdom among business executives was that an MBA enhanced your career and your earning power and was a good investment. Lots of articles and career advice to that effect, and I started one myself. The accounting courses did make me a better business reporter because it is very hard to BS someone who can actually read a balance sheet and the footnotes.
But we now have a shortage of technical trades people and a surplus of people with college degrees. When I was a Guard Captain in the 70s my force included illiterates, but also a couple of guys with PhDs who couldn't find other work. They worried about their student loans, which were a crushing burden that limited their happiness. A few years later, I met a Guard Captain who worked two jobs, as did his wife. They were African-American and all four of their kids were going to college. That man was an ex-paratrooper who commanded our officers in the Chicago Housing Projects (We had five of them). He still counts among the people I've met in life that I admire the most. He had goals and did what he had to do to meet them.
California is going to limit college admissions at state universities next year because of budget constraints. I have an idea: Stop Federal guarantees of student loans and direct funding of education. Make the people who really want to be highly educated find the money on their own. If they can't or their families won't, that winnows the herd. At the same time, identify national technical occupations where we are short and award those students outright grants. Give 'em a full ride so we have more plumbers and other technicians. Revise the list every year or so to compensate for the flow of people to these well-paying but unglamorous occupations..
Some rich universities have started paying the full ride out of their endowments for students that they deem necessary to provide a full rich experience for the other students. I'd counter that by requiring community colleges that receive Federal funding (and they all do) to reverse the proportion of full-time faculty to adjuncts and giving them the funds needed to do this.
Absolutely no Federal loans for MBA students or Law students unless they do five years public service on graduation.
As for veterans, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen, had an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times today about our obligations. A week ago Saturday we had that benefit book signing at CalNational Bank in North Hollywood for Fisher House, the non-profit that provides residential facilities for the families of wounded veterans. We might have done better if there had not been three major wild fires that day, but we would have also done better if so many people had not turned their head and practically run by the table to the door to avoid talking to us. Our best donors were other veterans, one of whom is living in his vehicle. ("I'm houseless, not homeless" he said proudly.) And a week ago I was having the second-opinion exam for my peripheral neuropathy. It's been 40 years since I was in Vietnam and exposed to Agent Orange, but that particular turkey is coming home to roost. Admiral Mullen points out that the current generation of veterans is going to need life time care, but it's hard to get people to support that. The first thing that needs to happen is for people to stop trying to save the Government money by ignoring the problem(s) or just lying about the causes. I can't wait to see who Obama will appoint to run Veterans Affairs. I hope it's someone who can kick ass and take names.
It's really simple. The lower schools and high schools are so bad that we have convinced the population that more than half the people ought to go to college just to make a living. That's silly, but it creates an enormous demand for things that can call themselves "higher education". That lets them charge inflated prices.
More Global Warming Horsefeathers
Dear Dr. Pournelle;
I just encountered this on the BBC News:
So, here we have an article that talks about Arctic ice thickness a year ago. I see no mention of the recent reports that this season Arctic ice is thickening at a rate 30% above recent years. I can't help wondering, why is this article even news? They're still talking about the ice being totally gone by 2080. Are we really supposed to be that stupid?
A & B
I read your A & B story in Tues View, and it's clear that A is Germany and B is Eastern Europe. This indicates that Postwar European Socialism will not work forever, and we should not adopt it.
While there are arguments for and against protectionism. I myself would favor a revenue tariff up to a certain point if it matched by lowered income and capital gains taxes (thought ideally I'd favor gambling and Henry George's land value tax to fund the government) dramatically raising tariffs during a period of global "deleveraging" was a disastorous policy the last time it was tried.
Surely a man of your historical knowledge is aware of Smoot-Hawley's devastating effect on world trade (and that certainly made the depression worse). There's a reason why tariffs fell out of fashion in the US in the aftermath.
Of course I am aware of Smoot Hawley which was much higher than any need. My point was that if you want "fairness" for workers, then be prepared to compete with people who do not impose such on their manufacturers. To be competitive you must either impose a tariff, be more productive (and employ fewer workers and thus create fewer jobs) or cut the fairness requirements. Take your choice.
Georgists are not known for their advocacy of "fairness" regulations. The point of the Single Tax is that it is a Single tax.
I am politically more to the left than you are - yet I read carefully what you have to say, even though it often annoys me. I do this because what I seek is real understanding, and open discourse is still the best way I know to achieve it - if one keeps an open mind and examines all positions.
I feel that capitalism has been good to us, but I do think it needs *some* regulation. The system of checks and balances originally part of our constitution I consider a good model. I fully trust no one, especially with other people's money.
If I do not trust the loudest of conservatives, it is because I've not seen a real conservative government in my lifetime. Those who want small government and balanced budgets do not seem to ever be the ones in power. I have great respect for real conservatism, but if I am a liberal, it is because of what I see as the excesses of the recent past, rather than an attraction to any free lunch.
I really seek out intelligent conservative discussion, but what I usually find is the highly-biased extremism so common in this last decade. As a positive example, I usually like how Andrew Sullivan expresses himself.
I believe in a strong military, practicing real family values, and dealing honestly with others. I believe in hard work and self-sufficiency. I think we should not make radical changes without careful thought and discussion. I'm not sure how that makes me a liberal, but it certainly does not describe any use of government power I've observed in the last few years.
I fear that the short-term focus on return to investors in business has hurt us greatly. If there is one economic idea I subscribe to, it is that we are all in the same boat - we cannot hurt either working people nor businesses nor investors and expect great long term results. I see our problems as being caused by too much attention to a short-term bottom line. If people do not have jobs, they will not be buying goods, and the company that makes those goods will not be paying investors.
There was a rather excellent article in Newsweek regarding successful sub-prime mortgage companies. They all had in common that they kept rather than resold their loans, were measuring about 3% bad loans or less, and they did not buy into the CDS or large sales force game. The goal could have been served, but it instead became pigs at the trough.
I believe the sub-prime mess was caused not only by people taking loans they could not pay, but also by a real lack of integrity in selling such loans. Many people I know were told that they could expect to refinance before the ARMs kicked in - that the jump in rates was to get them to move up to more normal loans after a few years. When that became impossible, many people who were successfully paying their loans could no longer pay the higher rates - all sub-prime borrowers are not at the extreme bad end of the spectrum.
That having been said, I also recognize the abuses. But I certainly see abuses in the top end of that food chain as well.
When I was a kid, I had the (naive) view that the right and the left respected each other's viewpoints, but differed mainly in the priorities they assigned. The right worried about Communism, and the left about civil rights. Both were valid concerns. The most extreme views of either side were respected by very few. I wish it had been that way, and I can only try to practice this myself and teach my children to do so.
Thanks for your blog, columns, and novels. I'll continue to be a subscriber regardless of our differences of opinion, and I'll be a better man for trying to understand those differences.
I find little to argue with here.
November 27, 2008
Student loans and the like
I've found the discussion about retraining MBAs to be RNs amusing, to say the least. Being naive as I am, I have always found it difficult to regard managers, lawyers, politicians and government bureaucrats as anything other than barnacles on the hull of civilization.
Of course, all of these professions do perform essential services. But since they do not produce anything directly, the services they perform are in the category of necessary evils. The hull should be scraped at regular intervals, to keep the barnacles to a manageable minimum.
The problem is: the managers and bureaucrats are the ones in a position to do the scraping, and they are not terribly motivated to declare themselves redundant (a corollary to Pournelle's Iron Law?). They would far rather lighten the ship by removing bits of the hull itself.
I have recently had the "privilege" of being an external observer to a multinational undergoing an internal reorganization. Many internal services have been outsourced and the internal jobs eliminated. This may have reduced the ability of the "worker bees" in the company to do their jobs, but the top-level managers can point with pride to the money they have saved.
In time, of course, the reduced productivity will force the local services to be rebuilt. But by then the current managers will have moved on, along with their bonuses, and a new crop of managers will earn their bonuses by eliminating the outsourcing.
The truth is that managers are like secretaries: they are the grease that make the wheels go round. In the long run, the people designing and manufacturing products are far more important to the company's success than the seventeen departmental vice presidents.
All of which is a long way of responding to Francis Hamit's comments about student loans. If the government must be involved in such a program, then it should direct the loans to fields that directly benefit society's productiveness. That includes fields such as engineering, manufacturing and medicine - and excludes fields such as management, law, the soft sciences and all those make-work degrees in XXX studies, art history and other such nonsense.
Of course, I am naÔve - either that, or hopelessly cynical...
Well, since the managers who control organizations think they are the organization, Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy says pretty clearly that the managers will act to save themselves. Note, for instance, Parkinson's Law (Organizations grow without regard to their mission; one form of the Iron Law). His example was the Colonial Office, which continues to grow as Britain shed colonies. There are those who doubt the premise of decolonization -- "Good government is no substitute for self-government", as for instance in Zimbabwe, but in any event as England decolonized there were more administrators in Whitehall. I think you will find a lot of that in crumbling corporations, and always in government which does not neet to persuade anyone to accept their services.
We used to understand that government cannot give you anything it does not first take away from someone, generally you. It's still true, but many are now persuaded they don't actually pay taxes.
I hate viral marketing. I've already commented on that attractive nuisance television ad from Garmin. Now I'm hearing lyrics when another store (Walmart in this case) uses the Carol of the Bells in their ads.
File as: sourly amused social commentary
Now now, 'tis not a day for hate. Besides, have you heard this version of the Carol of the Bells?
Or for something more traditional try this:
Events are moving quickly at Bricks N Mortar towards Downsizing. They all know that Distance Education is possible. Most of them are already entering via the Graduate door. The reason for resistance was often Revenue. i.e. Cal State would have lost of 22% student paid tuition plus another 78% state general budget funding per undergraduate student.
The pressure is increasing to expand Distance Ed opportunities.
It seems to me the Schwerpunkt will be over student credentialing. Bricks N Mortar will want to preserve the idea that physical attendance and their diploma is more elite than distance ed. Their real twin motivations are preserving Revenue and the Maoist indoctrination.
I think Standardized Testing is the way to overcome this. That means require EVERYONE take the College Board subject matter tests irrespective of learning process. Truth and Justice are on our side if we have the wit.
On to Turkey this evening.
Indeed. The bloated bureaucracy that "higher education" has become is due for some serious downsizing, hich should benefit us all. The Internet changes worlds...
November 28, 2008
Another surprise has been the interesting similarities and the differences between our own current financial difficulties, and the somewhat analogous problems of Weimar Russia about ten years ago. In that situation, the government went bankrupt and as a consequence, the entire national wealth was looted by the Oligarchs.
However, in America's case, it's actually the Oligarchs who've gone bankrupt...but are nonetheless still using the opportunity to loot the entire national wealth of our country!
Another similarity is that Obama has put his economic policy in the hands of the Rubin/Summers circle, which also controlled Russia's economic policy during the Yeltsin/Oligarch period.
I somehow get the feeling there's some other similarity out there as well...but I just can't quite put my finger on it...
What we do not have is a foreign policy team that understands that Russia has legitimate national and regional interests, and they are no business of ours. If they conflict with Europe let Europe take care of its own affairs. NATO is a collection of countries built around a common interest that no longer exists. We do NOT have the same interests as most of the nations of NATO, and we have no real interest at all in trying to encircle and humiliate Russia. Those chickens will come home to roost, possibly carrying nuclear eggs.
Subject: Democratic sweep
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2008 7:37 PM
As Will Rogers said: "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat".
I think that the big mistake that the Republican party made between 2000-2006 was marching in lock-step to a small central command. This reduced the amount of available brain power, and made for bad decisions.
Although we are likely to see a Democratic sweep this fall, the fact that the Democrats tend to be disorganized may be a good thing. As a result of this disorganization, the amount of brain power and internal competition for ideas may be substantially larger, hopefully leading to better decisions.
Hopefully the Republicans will learn something from all this...
Jerry Pournelle wrote:
Hope you're right
I think that I am! See: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/
New battle brews on Capitol Hill: Dems vs. Dems
WASHINGTON (CNN) ó Congressional Democrats have a bigger majority than they've enjoyed in decades, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be unity on Capitol Hill.
A new battle may be brewing as Democrats fighting Democrats show evidence of a party divide.
The growing Democratic majority could be in deadlock from within on issues ranging from climate change and energy to health care and social security.
"We're not just talking ideology here. The broader your majority, the more you've got different regions of the country that have different economic and social interests that you have to take into account," said Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute
On Anonymous extra-territorial messaging:
It is an important question. For an advanced and stable technical civilization probably it would be feasible to send an automatic interstellar probe to a distant stellar system with the task to send omnidirectional beacon signals (or messages) using the energy of the star for millions of years. The communication link with the launching "home" civilization would be slow, but a few decades or centuries delay is not critical. Feasible, yes, but why? The motivation of such an off-planet source might be that they know already about the existence of threatening alien civilizations. Consequently if we discover such an obviously off-planet beacon on the sky, than we should be cautious and stop METI from Earth. On the other hand, the main argument in favour of METI is that "if everybody is silent, there will be no communication at all"; if such automatic far-away beacons exist, then this argument is flawed and communication can be realized without disclosing the position of the "home planet".
But if they are not too far away they will already be enjoying I Love Lucy, Howdy Doody, and Buffalo Bob. Perhaps they will let us live just for those?
Herding goats or hoeing potatoes?
It's been a truism for the last few decades that at any given moment, about two-thirds of the world's population are farming, fornicating, or field-stripping their AK-47s.
--- Roland Dobbins
There are actually several different disability programs going on just now. There's the "Medically Retired" pay that comes directly from the DoD due to not being medically fit for duty, combat related or not (paid for out of the Defense Budget); and at less than 30% there is a lump sum, one time check (unless due to combat injuries). There's disability pay for retirees (those with over 20 years of service) that is due to combat related injuries (CRSC-Combat Related Special Compensation, paid out of the Defense Budget as well). And there is the normal VA disability that is paid to sick or injured veterans, retired or otherwise (paid for out of the VA budget). Retirees who receive a disability rating of over 50% from the VA get both their retired pay and their disability pay and free VA medical care for as long as they have the 50%+ rating. And, yes, it can go down. I retired after 23 years in Army SF with more than my fair share of injuries mostly due to a fractured spine from an "airborne operation" gone bad. For these injuries and some other stuff I received a 90% disability rating from the VA. But under the "old" rules of combat injuries (injuries received training for war or from the instrumentalities of war as well as direct combat) I was also qualified to receive the CRSC (paid by the DoD) in lieu of the normal VA disability (paid by the VA). It was folks like me at whom the recent changes were aimed. Since my major injury happened jumping out of an airplane, it falls into the instrumentality of war category. I never applied for CRSC because it's considerably less than the disability pay I receive from the VA and no one can get both. The big deal to the DoD regarding the CRSC is that it is paid "in addition" to retired pay for those over 20 years of service and it is for *any* level of disability, not just 50%+ which is the minimum for the VA disability to kick in and pay in addition to retired pay instead of the dollar for dollar offset that less than 50% provides.
In my experience, the VA is a truly difficult system to navigate and it's generally difficult to "get over" on it contra to what your Sgt Bilko reference would indicate . Most injured or sick veterans get considerably less in compensation from the VA than you would think their injuries or illnesses would require. A good friend of mine lost his spleen, a kidney and one lung in Viet Nam and still only received 30% as a rating. As your Iron Law would suggest, the employees are really only interested in the best interests of the VA which means saving money at every turn. We are constantly treated like dishonest malingerers and parasites despite having some pretty heinous things wrong with some of us. The purpose of VA disability pay system seems to have been lost over the last few decades. It's there not only to replace lost earnings due to disability, but also to compensate veterans for lost quality of life due to service that was given to their country. Unlike welfare or Medicaid, this truly is an entitlement "earned" and paid for in the service of others. There are plenty of folks receiving a 100% rating that still work full time. When people learn I am rated at 90% they are stunned because I still work and "look" fine. My only comment to them is that it's amazing what a human can learn to work around or live with and still function relatively well.
It's my opinion that the recent changes to the CRSC on the part of the DoD is to try to offload costs from the defense budget to the VA budget. Not surprising in light of the unexpected costs to the DoD that all the injured have incurred due to Iraq and Afghanistan. Obviously, some of the unintended consequences entail denying all injuries in a combat zone that aren't direct results of flying hot metal. Or maybe they were intended after all. It's my understanding that if the injuries are combat related the DoD will be paying the former service members for the rest of their lives regardless of whether the rating is 10% or 100%. If the injuries are not combat related, they only have to pay if the rating if over 30%. Over 90% of the medical retirees from the military are said to be rated at 20% or less. That 90% of medical retirees at 10%-20% of their base pay (due to CRSC) adds up quick. And now there is talk of legislation to force the DoD to not only pay for CRSC, but to give a full 20 year retirement to anyone medically retired due to combat injuries in addition to the CRSC pay. The assumption is that they all would have done 20 years if they hadn't been injured. Talk about the costs adding up. And don't forget that anyone medically retired from the military gets guaranteed healthcare (from the DoD, not the VA) for life as well as all the normal perks that any 20 year retiree gets. I think the redefining away from the legislative intent is a pre-emptive strike by the DoD.
Unfortunately, the Legions don't really understand the systems in place. At least not until they are long out of a uniform and it's too late to voice and opinion that may be listened to by the chain of command or the Legislature.
US Army Special Forces
I absolutely agree. I have a friend who gets disability because a pre-existing condition was exacerbated by service so that's a non starter for the DoD. As I said, I think that the DoD is just trying to lay off the injuries on the VA. It's the old thing about everyone trying to protect their own "rice bowl".
Re: Bilko Versus Racism
"A martinet approach to the cause of genuine [injuries] can't save us much money compared to the harm done."
Well, but there it is; the minute you try to show compassion or leniency, some bastard will jam a stick in it sideways. And in modern times, we can't just tell these people to get stuffed; because it's always, ALWAYS assumed that everyone is biased and racist and that this is what informs their actions. You must have an Impartial Procedure to follow, because there's really no way to respond to an argument of "you're just doing this because I'm black!" except by saying "sorry, it's not me, it's the Procedure".
For the same reason we cannot use IQ tests for employment. Relief from employment regulations -- leaving most of that to the market -- might even compensate for Free Trade. But we will probably never find out. Ideology is more important than results, witness No Child Left Behind -- a legacy from George W. Bush that may be his worst accomplishment including incompetent Imperialism.
Subject: Another scam for the weary and unwary
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
While checking Chaos Manor, a small pop-up window advised me that I needed additional firmware to enable some computer functions. No name, no details, no explanation about how the firmware chip was to be delivered or installed. Maybe they intend to flash one of my working chips. My answer to such people is not for your fine publication, although I do recommend castor oil for the sender.
William L. Jones
wljonespe [at] verizon [dot] net
NASA developing brain-monitor hats for airline pilots
Pilot! You are suffering from brain overload!
How is that supposed to help?
The barbarians are at the gates again, Jerry.
I don't know about anybody else, but right now I'm feeling like the collapse of the British Empire may be among the worst things to have come out of the 20th century, and if not that, then most certainly the Partition of India.
-- Aaron Clausen
In response to M, as a retired and service connected disabled soldier, I have a few comments to make. VA disability payments are for service connected issues. ""direct combat", "combat related", "instrumentality of war" and "non-combat related"" have to do with arcane Congressional legislation dealing with phasing out the requirement that Retired Military pay their own disability payments by (essentially) deducting VA disability payments from the service man's retired pay check.
Congress decided that "combat related" deserved a bit quicker relief than other service related disabilities. Notice, "Congress decided." In most cases the difference in the amount of money that the service member receives is not significant. In my case, although my disability is "combat related" and is due to an "instrumentality of war," I still don't get the better deal because of arcane details about my retirement from the National Guard. Still the money difference in my case boils down to a tax break.
To sum up, neither the military or the VA wrote the rules. Congress wrote the rules.
November 30, 2008
Subject: Same Old New Deal?
George Will has a good editorial on the New Deal and hoping that Mr. Obama will not try to revive it. Inventing jobs where no need exists sure sounds good, especially if you or your brother is without a job. That practice, however, only increases inefficiency and makes products more expensive than necessary, and makes a company lose its competitive edge, which makes the company go out of business, er I mean ask the government for a bailout.
-- Dwayne Phillips
I really wish someone would get Obama to read Amity Schlaes The Forgotten Man, and Frederick Lewis Allen Only Yesterday. Those who do not learn history...
Somali pirates hijack ship, British guards escape,
Y'know, something you said - about the US not bothering with non-US ships.
This ship was guarded by three /unarmed/ guards (what on earth good are unarmed guards?):
I noted that it is a Liberian flagged vessel. That got me thinking. Employment is down in the US. Maybe some guys would like to work as sailors. Pirates like these might make it more attractive to reflag one's ships to nations that can actually provide some protection . . .
|This week:||Sunday, November
"No more. No more."
-- Roland Dobbins
--- Roland Dobbins
Gravitational anomaly reported on Luna farside.
- Roland Dobbins
Are Planetary Systems Filled to Capacity?
- Roland Dobbins
Dole did considerable work on this, and Sagan had articles on the theory.
Subj: Obama's economists - maybe not so bad after all?
>>What would you call a group of economists who are skeptical of regulating mortgage markets, who think unemployment insurance and unions increase unemployment, who say that tax hikes retard economic growth, and who believe that the recovery from the Great Depression was a monetary phenomenon rather than the result of New Deal fiscal policy?
No, it is not a right-wing cabal. It's Team Obama.<<
Followed by evidence, in the form of a quotation from each of the economists in question.
We can all hope that Barrack Obama is paying attention to economic fundamentals and not ideology. We already owe over $50,000 per American to paying off the National Debt. And it sounds as if some of them read Schlaes or her source materials. Let's hope so. Mightily.
From Dave Barry, the list of things NOT to buy:
Appropriate Holiday Greetings, Alex
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