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Mail 582 August 3 - 9, 2009
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August 3, 2009
California public union OKs strike authorization | U.S. | Reuters
This sounds like something Crazy Eddie would do, right?
Comments on recent mail
Dear Mr. Pournelle,
I have a few comments and explanations on Friday's mail posts:
Regarding the costs of medical malpractice lawsuits:
At present, it is very expensive for lawyers to bring malpractice lawsuits - as must as $50,000, depending on jurisdiction. This means that tort lawyers who want to survive can only take cases whose expected payoff exceeds that amount. Thus, curtailing the recovery of successful malpractice plaintiffs could have the effect of preventing many malpractice victims from suing in the first place.
This goes back to a larger, fundamental question - who should bear the cost of medical mistakes? The doctors, or the accidental victims? At present, medical malpractice insurance distributes the costs of medical mistakes across the entire medical community.
Regarding the Tort system
There are also practical difficulties in adopting the British system unmodified. In its most basic form, it requires tort losers to compensate the winner. This would have the effect of discouraging frivolous lawsuits. It would also discourage poor, but deserving plaintiffs from filing suit at all.
Personally, I think it might be worthwhile to adopt a modifier version of the British system, where the court only forced the loser to pay the winner's costs if the winner's proof was so strong that the loser clearly did not have a leg to stand on. This would discourage frivolous lawsuits, while also encouraging plaintiffs will small but deserving claims.
David Carlson Davidcarlson AT gmail DOT com
Here's hoping what comes out of Washington in the end isn't baloney.
Endeavour makes it down--I pray for every flight now.
Altinium (Venice's predecessor) brought to life <http://tinyurl.com/kwoxav >
Minor Labour catfight between Brown and Mandelson <http://tinyurl.com/m3x4g8 >
European Working Time Directive may lead to NHS disruption <http://tinyurl.com/ktqy9x > <http://tinyurl.com/mv6ss2>. The UK Government usually finds it very difficult to predict the effects of new policies, and that often results in disruption. See, for example, see this story <http://tinyurl.com/l429wh >. We finally learned this week that we would be reimbursed for the Government-led regrading exercise that saw UK post-docs now being paid salaries at the same level as lecturers (assistant professors in America) receive. Only 60% of the necessary money was set aside by the government.
-- If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? (Albert Einstein) Harry Erwin PhD
and from a train in England
I'm on board a train headed (eventually) for Liege. Just a couple of news stories:
Labour quietly postpones a law intended to prevent foreigners from financing politics here. <http://tinyurl.com/l7tl7x> Apparently, the Tories are doing much better in fund-raising as we approach the next general election.
-- Harry Erwin
Tax burden of top 1% exceeds that of bottom 95%
Tax burden of top 1% exceeds that of bottom 95%
I'm sure you've heard this from many sources, but I just wanted to add a comment: If you look at the chart, you see a sharp bend starting in about 2003.
...which is smack in the middle of the supposedly "rich-Republican-friendly" Bush administration.
...and for all the noise about "repealing the Bush tax cuts", the top 1% were paying MORE at the end of the Bush administration than they were BEFORE THE CUTS.
-- Mike T. Powers
August 4, 2009
Jerry, an interesting analysis I read over at MSNBC (I think, maybe it was Edmunds, I'm getting scatterbrained again)
In any given month 60,000 to 70,000 vehicles are traded in that would qualify (and be worth less than $4500 trade value) under this program. And remember, ANY vehicle that is less than 25 years old and gets 18 mpg or less (per the EPA) qualifies. The question is whether it is worth more as a trade, or more under the .gov program.
So every month, consumers trade in 60-70,000 of these vehicles. Due to the press coverage, approximately 100,000 people postponed purchasing a new car until the program went into effect. Due to rumors of funds running out approximately 60-70,000 people accelerated their new car purchase by a month or two.
And that is how you sell 4 months worth of cars in one weekend. I suspect when this all shakes out, we will see that the vast majority of these purchases were simply time shifted by consumers to take advantage of the program. Then again, we can't expect our congresscritters to actually thing about the consequences of their actions now can we?
Moving on. Since you asked which cars qualify, Edmunds has a nice chart: http://www.edmunds.com/cash-for-clunkers/stimulus-bill.html
Thus if you were thinking of trading in your Explorer, you could get $3500 for it if you bought another Explorer that got 2 mpg better than your existing one, or $4500 if it got 5 mpg better. (again, it's the window sticker "combined" mileage that matters, not the true real-world mileage) If you wanted to trade it for a passenger car it would need to get 10 mpg better to qualify for the full payment. The Fusion is a very nice car that may qualify in this case.
Of course, any Explorer that is less than 10 years old is worth at least $4000 on the open market, so the only real point in trading it in under this program would be to avoid the hassle of selling it yourself. I use the Explorer as an example for two reasons, 1) I know you bought one after you rolled the Bronco II out in Death Valley, and 2) Ford dealers are reporting that the #1 vehicle turned in under this program are Explorers.
Oh, and the dealership is required to disclose to the customer the "scrap" value of the vehicle, and deduct the scrap value from the price of the new car as well.
But I do tend to see this whole thing as some sort of giant national exercise in potlatch. Destroying perfectly serviceable vehicles (most of them newer models that do not pollute much anyway) but just happen to be worth less than $4500 at trade in, is hardly an example of our finest hour.
As ever, best regards,
Mark E. Horning, Physicist, L-3 Communications Night Operations Center of Excellence Air Force Research Lab; AFRL/RHA
I just spent a fair amount on annual maintenance on my Explorer (and an exorbitant sum on getting some kind of smog sensor device replaced to get the "check engine" light turned off) and I'm not really in the market for a new car. I don't drive much any more. I used to drive to Las Vegas a couple of times a year for computer shows, but no more. I expect my Explorer will serve for a few more years.
I hadn't heard that the "scrap" value of the car gets deducted. I wonder how much that is? And who gets the scrap and who pays for it?
I think that the Clunkers program almost resembles the economic situation encountered by the character Dan Davis in Heinlein's Door into Summer -- working in a junkyard, Davis is required to crush new, but deliberately unserviceable vehicles in a government program that guarantees jobs to autoworkers. He's placed in the job because he's unable to find a fit place to stay in L.A.
Californians on Strike
Let me get this straight. California can't afford to pay their grossly over-expanded public workforce, so they're forcing them to take unpaid days off. In response California's GOEPW has decided to respond by.... taking unpaid days off in the form of a strike. So, basically all California has to do is wait the number of days that they were going to force the GOEPW to take off, then say "okay, we give in, come back to work and we won't make you take unpaid days off"
This sounds like a brilliant plan on the side of the Californian State Government.
The following is the first "shoe" to drop:
-snip-Two of President Barack Obama's economic heavyweights said middle-class taxes might have to go up to pare budget deficits or to pay for the proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system.-snip-
The second "shoe" likely to be heard falling shortly: an admission by the Administration that they were "surprised" to discover that health care "reform" will require all of us to tighten our belts and do without while we "weather the crisis".
"Era if Limits", anyone?.
The well known ploy of eternal "crisis" is a primary tool of modern statecraft. In my personal "Devil's Dictionary of Government" it is:
"Crisis- Any social problem that has been present since time immemorial, has never been solved in the history of humanity, and for which there is an infinite line of Whiz Kids chanting "I have the Answer!" Rumored to be the power source for the only form of Perpetual Motion known to man: "Passing The Buck"
This "show" so has "One Term And Out" written all over it. I do look forward, however, to a good twenty year or so run of the "Road Show" version: "Statesmanship", the Feel Good hit with plenty of. finger pointing/wagging, useless meddling in international versions of "crisis" (see above) , not to mention half a dozen (at least!) books on "Why I was right!" and/or "I'm -still- smarter than the rest of you!"
The demand for a valuable free good is infinite. The demand for free health care---
I just saw this article on the Drudge Report. The word "Accellerated" in the title makes me wonder if this is a rocket boosted bomb similar to the missile that was used on the bunker at Stora Mines in "THE PRINCE". I'll have to do the calculations, but at some point putting a rocket motor on a bomb to boost impact velocity is a better way to increase its penatration than increasing its sectional desnity. While I'm also an advocate of low yield, shaped nuclear charges on suspected nuke sites, the non-nuclear alternative is less problematic politically.
Not everyone "should" go to university.
Dear Jerry Regards: Shop class as Soulcraft By Matthew B. Crawford Filled with anecdotes and examples of how the education elite is shutting down shop & trades classes for the left side of the bell curve.
I've just finished reading his book on the meaning of work and education. The conclusion, which is no surprise to you, Not every one should go to University and that the Computer Revolution has done to knowledge workers what Industrial Revolution did to manual workers. Namely taken the workers thought out of work activity and the satisfaction that comes from taking ownership of the task involved.
As a skilled tradesman I am keenly aware of the lack
of young people moving into this type of work. Our work force is an ever
smaller group of people that can build and fix things.
Very Best Regards
Douglas M. Colbary
I finally see addressed in mail, peripherally, a central point of the 'climate change" debate. I have mentioned this a couple of times in letters to you, and I have also read a good number amount of climate change literature, but nowhere have I seen these questions specifically addressed:
1. What is the ideal temperature of the earth?
Could you or your readers provide answers to any or all of the above?
I don't think anyone has a coherent position on the subject. Me, I prefer warm.
The best news I have read this year:
Asteroids may literally pave the way to building future structures in space. Examination of meteorites suggests that the average near-Earth asteroid has a higher concentration of precious metals, such as platinum, than the richest known ore on Earth. These raw materials may also be more accessible, since some asteroids are easier to reach and return from than the moon. Comets may be about 30 percent water ice, which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen - the most efficient form of rocket fuel."
It's raining soup, and NASA's throwing away their "bucket".
Say, remember "The Syndicate" in :"Destination Moon"? The ten richest guys in the USA all got together and built that big shiny "bucket"?
Why doesn't Bill Gates get with nine or so of his closest friends, and build a Big Bunch Of Big Shiny "Buckets"? "Hey Boone, Warren, Paul; come on over for dinner. I got something I want to talk about with you..."
I just don't get it. What's not to like about making the whole human race richer than Croesus ever dreamed? He was a piker: no indoor plumbing, a drafty palace without central HVAC, and his health care plan was throwing a couple of goats and maybe an ox on the altar every now and then.
Why is it ol' Bill can't think of anything better than funding yet ANOTHER foundation for the enrichment of Do Gooders who like to make headlines whilst making a mess of things under the rubric of Doing Good. mostly in service of those who neither notice nor much care they are having good done to them?
How many world class university prep educations can one fund if you were to bring home a few trillion dollars in raw materials? Not to mention that would also make it possible for China and India to have enough copper (we;;re running out, does anyone care?) to build transmission lines for all that clean power we'll also be beaming down from geosynch orbit, making themselves so rich they can give THEIR kids those world class university prep educations and thus raise two billion people from previously eternal poverty? All possible, if only we have the "Buckets"?
We need someone to be "Bucket Rogers", for Pete's sake!
If Gates has EVER read your "blog", I hope it is the day you post this. Do people lose IQ points when they get rich? Is it that they suddenly start LISTENING to all those (Not So) Wise Men, the ones who, when the Fabulously Rich Guy was on the way up, loudly advised the young entrepreneur NOT to do the very things that succeeded in making the Young Entrepreneur into Fabulously Rich Guy?
It's as if the young scientist ignores his girl friend, goes ahead and builds the Iron Man suit, and then uses it to walk little old ladies across busy intersections. Where's the vision suddenly gone to?
It is a puzzle.
To quote Wordsworth:
" Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"
If I were Bill Gates, and friends, I would think of the statues that might some day stand under alien suns, thanking them for building the damn "bucket"!
Biggest is like smallest,
"We are then caught in a vicious circle: to know the geometry of the universe we need to pin down dark energy. Yet to determine how much dark energy there is, we need to know the geometry."
Hmm. This means that at the biggest dimensions, we have something similar to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, where we cannot know both the momentum and the location of a particle.
Clunkers and cash
It appears that whenever Congress gets the idea that Something Must Be Done, the reaction by congresscritters is We've Got To Do Something!--followed by the secondary response of We've Got To Be SEEN Doing Something.
Cash for clunkers is a prime example. That it is inflationary is beyond dispute, although the inflationary impact is minimized by the current conditions in the car industry. This program takes often reliable older vehicles off the road, destroys them in the name of fuel efficiency and lower carbon footprint, and thereby reduces the number of otherwise affordable vehicles for students, lower-income households, or people who need a fairly robust vehicle for hauling equipment.
Given the number of dealerships cast loose recently, I doubt the CARS program will do much for employment, either, except for bureaucrats, vehicle crusher operators, and maybe junkyard dogs.
Older cars with good fuel economy don't get any free money at all, even when old enough for collector's license plates--yet the emissions systems, catalytic converters, PCV valves, etc., have probably been toast for years.
Old rustbuckets with bad brakes, oil dripping from various leaks, no mufflers, bald tires, loose body parts and missing glass replaced with cardboard or plastic bags stay on the road if their original EPA fuel economy estimate is 18.00001 miles per gallon. Yet a meticulously maintained, reliable vehicle with operable safety equipment, good brakes, and working pollution control devices will be taken in and crushed, for the terrible crime of an EPA fuel economy estimate of 17.999 mpg.
Which vehicle really should be retired? Or which congresscritters?
As I understand it the scrap goes to China so no jobs for junkyard dogs.
Is there hope for fusion power? -
I remember my dad thinking I was just a kid who read too much science fiction when he was assigned "Pro" for "Nuclear Energy is the Power Source of the Future." He was knee-jerk "Con" but did a very good study. He convinced himself of the "Pro" position and thought fission was important mostly as a steppping stone to fusion. I thought of him and hoped that SOMETHING works out in time to hold back the dark.
APOD presents an astronomical mystery concerning a triple sunrise over Gdansk Bay:
"How can the same Sun rise three times? Last month on Friday, 2009 July 10, a spectacular triple sunrise was photographed at about 4:30 am over Gdansk Bay in Gdansk, Poland. Clearly, our Sun rises only once. Some optical effect is creating at least two mirages of the Sun -- but which effect? In the vast majority of similarly reported cases, mirages of the brightest object in the frame can be traced to reflections internal to the camera taking the images. Still, the above image is intriguing because a sincere photographer claims the effect was visible to the unaided eye, and because the photographer took several other frames that show variants of the same effect. Therefore, polite readers are invited to debate whether the above image captures a particularly spectacular example of common reflections inside a standard digital camera, shows one of the most spectacular examples of atmospheric lensing yet recorded, or was caused by something completely different. If the discussion converges, the consensus will be posted here at a later date."
It looks like sunrise on Tatooine. The left image seems to be behind a cloud, so that an internal camera reflection seems unlikely to me. At least, it doesn't look like any internal reflection I've ever seen. Maybe someone has an idea?
First I have heard of it. I have known several Danzigers and none ever mentioned it to me.
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
August 5, 2009
Dear doctor P;
Yes, there are problems with the cash for clunkers program. But it does do some good. We had an ’89 Cadillac ElDorado that my brother-in-law gave my wife as a birthday present a couple of years ago. He wanted a new vehicle and he could not get anything in trade for the Caddy. We took it to a local Chevy dealer and started talking about a cash for clunkers trade. The ’89 Caddy had 360+ K miles on it. No radio. No air conditioning. The windows did not roll up or down properly. The seats did not adjust. The interior was shot. It has severe cosmetic damage. The engine had a heat problem no one could diagnose let alone fix; if you drove it and got it good and warmed up and then let it set for about 20 minutes it absolutely would not start. It would not even turn over. It would jump start, but it would not start on it’s own. It had to be left to cool completely down before it would start again. If you stopped at a convenience store and ran in for a soda and came right back out, it would start, but don’t ever leave it sit for 20 minutes. I got stuck one 100 degree day on the square waiting for it too cool off so I could go home. I had to wait an hour an a half!! It was a true clunker of a car. In some parts of the country they are referred to as gully cars. So the Chevy dealer told us we could get the full $4500 for it, since the HHR we wanted to trade for was considered a SUV. In addition, there was about $4000 in dealer and other incentives. Bottom line, we got a brand new 2009 $18000 vehicle for under $200 a month. It was the best deal we ever made, and we would not even have considered it if it had not been for the cash for clunkers program. Now my wife has a nice shiny new car to drive to and from work. One with air conditioning and a working radio. And seats that adjust. And she can be sure that it WILL start when she wants to go somewhere.
Oh I don't question that it's a good deal for many people, and it sure doesn't sound like anyone would want your clunker. My only real question is why someone else ought to pay to take it off your hands; I'm not sure where the taxpayers got that obligation. But congratulations!
My point is that I'm no sure there needs to be a "stimulus" program, but given that there has to be one (apparently those who won the last election are certain of it, and those who lost don't seem that opposed if at all) then the Cars for Clunkers program seems to be a better one than most of what was in that enormous bill. Of course it wasn't in the stimulus bill, and very little of what was in it seems to be working.
So my congratulations are not insincere. Someone has to benefit from these programs, and I'm glad it's you. (And I suppose I get some benefit from getting that horror off the road!)
Where The Clunkers Go
It appears that they destroy the engine and the rest of the car can be kept in a salvage yard for up to 180 days before being scrapped.
So not only might the program make used cars more expensive but it looks like it could make used parts more expensive as well. This isn't good news for people who can neither afford a new car nor a new used one; the parable of the broken engine block.
-- Mike Johns
It appears that the radio story I heard (not from Limbaugh it was a a more "populist center" show) about the scrap going to China was simply air. I never did find a proper source, and it hasn't been repeated. Of course if all the Clunkers are truly as clunky as the one in our previous letter, we should be thankful that the parts to fix it won't be available; let it go in peace! (And I'm getting reports that most of those turned in on this program are truly clunkers, although there are exceptions.)
I can think of a lot of fun stuff to do with this, even if it only has a two week lifespan. It’s within the reach of many organizations to put one of these up.
Launch your own satellite for only eight grand
Tracy Walters, CISSP
A long time ago (after announcement of the Shuttle but well before any Shuttle ever flew) NASA had a $10,000 satellite program. (It was called fast getaway or some such). It was announced at a AAAS meeting, and that evening Poul Anderson and I came up with the notion of the Light Perpetual Institute which would offer eternal rest and light perpetual by lofting ashes into orbit where they would be ejected by a spring; the solar wind would carry at least some portion of the ashes out of the solar system, so that light perpetual would indeed shine on the remains, so long as you define light perpetual in a reasonable way. We made preliminary efforts to form the Institute, and NASA was of course horrified. NASA subsequently changed its regulations to forbid that or indeed any other purely commercial enterprise associated with the Getaway Specials, and of course, once the actual cost/flight of the Shuttle was determined, the entire program was abandoned.
I expect it could still be made to work given the cost of funerals now, but it would take a good bit of capital and a lot of ingenuity to get a private launch program allied with someone experienced in the funeral industry, plus regulatory specialists. Not something a couple of science fiction writers could throw together. Oh. Well.
Obama's top cybersecurity director resigns
Tracy Walters, CISSP
I note that running a health care system requires a great deal of computer security capability. But then running a country requires that, too.
Perhaps it is not pertinent to the endless campaign.
Royal Navy captain bans Brussels sprouts,
A Royal Navy captain has banned Brussels sprouts on the ship he commands:
Good on him, I say.
I actually like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, but yeah, good on him, just as I cheered when Bush I banned broccoli from the White House. The White House State Dinner is a holdover from the Royalist era, and I never thought Charles I had broccoli in his Banqueting Hall (outside of which Cromwell cut off his head...)
United Breaks Guitars
In case you hadn't seen it already, I thought you might appreciate the video linked to at the bottom of this page:
You don't have to read the text; all you really need to know before you watch the video is that the songwriter had a Taylor guitar badly damaged by the United airline baggage handlers during a stop in Chicago, and United refused to make it right.
I think I recall we've posted this before, but it was an amusing video and the lesson was in fact learned. In the Internet era big companies need to be aware...
Blue state decline
There's a long piece in AEI's "The American" titled "The Blue-State Meltdown and the Collapse of the Chicago Model". Well worth reading at
Briefly, the country is now being run by core Blue state types - most of the White House and key Congressional committee heads are now from core Blue urban constituencies - and run on the Blue state model of creating a middle class via public sector employment and paying for this via high taxes on a thin top layer of extremely productive "information economy" - finance, media, etc. This, alas, at a time when the Blue state model is conspicuously breaking down: Core blue state economies like California, New York, and Illinois lead the nation in economic hurt, as their non-public-sector middle classes are being destroyed or driven to flee. In part by the extreme environmental policies beloved of Blue elites...
The piece concludes that the Blue states need to mend their ways, making their economies more "Red", IE free-market capitalist. I don't disagree, but I think the facts this piece presents add up to something more ominous: If they can think of a politically salable way to do it, our Blue masters have every reason to try to loot Red states, and the non-public-sector middle class in general, to feed the Blue sectors. Most of what they've accomplished to date seems to fit this interpretation, and I think it's a useful filter to apply to whatever they try to do next.
cynically bemused (a majority voted for them, after all)
In the last election most of the country voted against the Republicans (with good reason) rather than for the Democrats. Of course the Democrats got their base, and a bonus of those who hoped that racial diversity in the White House would be a good thing for the republic, and I suppose there were some swing votes from people who really believed in change they could believe in, but much of the Democrat vote came from those who couldn't stomach the Republican Spree.
I rather miss the Clintons. I doubt they'd have tried to remake the county in 200 days.
What you call the Blue State model is of course Obama's model for the entire nation, and it probably leads to the bankruptcy that California now experiences.
And that reminds me how much I enjoyed that series. It was nice to keep the Saurons around, safely on just one little planet, so you could have all those great stories. I enjoyed these for the same reasons that I like the Man vs. Kzin series. The implacable nature of the foe and the resourcefulness of the humans is a great framework for good yarns.
I know you have many other things going on, but if there is more from War World, I'm a buyer....
I liked the War World series a lot. I provided the oversight and much of the series bible, but the hard work was done by John Carr, and without him I couldn't do it again (not and get much else done). The anthology market is in a lot of trouble as are all original paperback publications due to the collapse of the paperback distribution system.
Notes on Petronius' email of 8/4/09.
I see the problem he's trying as a form of the "If they can go to the moon why can't they cure the common cold?" The answer to that question, of course, is; The common cold is a MUCH LARGER problem.
Petronius seems to think that the heart of the problem is insufficient funds. So the whole thrust of his 'solution' is to recommend spending someone else's money. I'll play that game: I think that Bill Gates could better spend his money by buying the entire U.S. congress and then just pass laws to the same effect. My estimate of the total cost to Gates to do this project is half a billion (a million per member of congress). Petty cash for Gates. Of course, taxes would be used for the rest of the costs.
I've read someplace that all the water on Earth came to earth from falling asteroids. If true, that implies that the part of the asteroid that isn't water has the same basic content as that measured by NASA. So, wouldn't it be more efficient to 'mine' water from the oceans and platinum from the Earth's crust?
I see this problem (getting to the point where we 'mine' asteroids for some kinds of commodities) as multi-generational. That is, getting to that point would (will) take many (more than 2) generations. I can't think of any projects that survived from original thought to finished product over more than one generation. This, the politics of incentivising multiple generations towards the same goal, is the basic problem. Not lack of money.
To add to Wordsworth's poem:
" Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"
Our children's dreams, I feel Would chance to be more real.
Ephraim F. Moya
I have from 1965 advocated a Lunar Colony as the next step. It would not have cost anything like as much as the programs we actually did spend money on, and I am convinced that there would have been great economic benefits as we became a spacefaring nation. I have no reason to change that belief.
We know how to do a Lunar Colony, we can find volunteers to go there, and while there are many details the principle is the same: colonists need to be skillfull and hard working but they don't need to be all that smart: the world is only 1.5 seconds away. They will need a skillful surgeon but yeye need not be a great diagnostician (as an example).
Asteroid resources are out there. Getting them into the economy is beyond our current capabilities. Building a Lunar Colony is not beyond our current capabilities, whether technical or economic.
When ‘Internet Addiction’ Turns Deadly.
-- Roland Dobbins
Pepsi vs. Coke Logo Evolution.
-- Roland Dobbins
Homeland Security get their man!
---- Roland Dobbins
"Students have been socialized to view the educational process as essentially passive."
--- Roland Dobbins
Education derives from the Latin "to lead out"; it cannot be a passive process. Teaching and drills take work. Understanding takes more. But this is opportunity for those who understand. Those who have a passive education will not in general thrive.
August 6, 2009
You published my list of questions re our reaction to 'Climate Change' and provided this:
First: I really need to pay more attention to my proofreading before I hit 'send'.
Second: Your comment makes my point exactly--and I'm with you on warm.
We are about to enact draconian laws to fight 'climate change' that will, if rigorously enforced, come close to returning us to a hunter-gatherer society with (obviously) a MUCH reduced population. Yet there is NO stated objective other than 'saving the planet by reducing our production of CO2'. Most tellingly, the project is open-ended; there is no test for success.
Maybe that (returning us to a hunter-gatherer society) is the intent. I say that not facetiously but based on another fact: My 16 year old grandson was required by his school in FL to read 'Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit' by Daniel Quinn this summer. The premise (I read the book after my grandson departed, just to see why the school thought it was so important that it had to be assigned by name.) is that societies can be categorized as 'Takers' (ours and all other technological societies) or 'Leavers' (Bushmen and their equivalents scattered in isolated parts of the world) and that a 'Taker' society is not, even in theory, sustainable. Inevitably, a Taker society will overpopulate its range and, in the process, destroy all competing species and species not immediately useful to the Takers. After humans had done just fine for a million years or so as 'Leavers', 'Takers' branched off from the 'Leavers' around 10k years ago, when agriculture, and the accompanying concept of property rights, was invented and humans for the first time could produce more than they consumed. Unless we give up our foolish ways and once again become 'Leavers' (hunter-gatherers), our end is as predictable and immutable as the trajectory of a cannon ball. The book ended with the admonishment (paraphrased) that our only hope, as a species, was for the readers of the book to 'go ye therefore into all the world and preach the gospel'. Not only preach it, but 'make it happen'. My conversations with bookstores and public librarians in VA while trying to locate the book for my grandson, indicated that this book is VERY widely recommended/assigned by the schools and, apparently, based on the madness proceeding apace in DC, provides the working principles by which we are about to be governed.
I confess being at a loss to understand the current madness. We have the Internet, we have universal communications, and really daft ideas seem dominant among enough people that we can't say with confidence that sanity will prevail. Cap and trade is a scheme to enrich some people at the expense of the economy. The result of a government bureaucracy that establishes a needless aristocracy was, in Russia, the Communist revolution. Read Dr. Zhivago. Or watch this excerpt from the movie to see what passions can be inspired. Of course the movie is but a pale shadow of the novel; and we no longer believe in political passions even as the drama plays out before our eyes.
I don't want to live like a Bushman. I like civilization, including the technology that lets me keep this log.
questions 5 and 6, and a solar theory
I agreed completely that your correspondent's list of
four climate change questions
5. Is there really anything that humans can do to
effect any change to establishing the ideal temperature?
I submit that we're probably in agreement that without the answer to all of these (and establishing the inherent assumptions as fact), action to implement any change is likely to be regarded at least as ill considered.
On the Danziger sunrise
Wikipedia tells me that sun dogs are parhelia, and that they occur more frequently at the horizon, but the pics they have aren't as good as those on APOD.
It's pretty certain that there are things we can do to change the climate if we work at it. I wouldn't myself care to go on increasing the CO2 levels without limit, and I'd look for ways to reduce them (I'd continue to look at ways to stimulate plankton blooms in the oceans).
Why bother with costs? We just do things now and don't worry about the costs. Our grandchildren will pay for it.
On Wednesday, you wrote "... The anthology market is in a lot of trouble as are all original paperback publications due to the collapse of the paperback distribution system."
In your view, could web based, pay-as-you-download publishing fill the niche formerly filled by paperbacks or pulps? Given that the column is no longer funded by Byte (and I assume the blog never was), how is your subscription-based system working for you as a business? Is your good spouse's software adequately marketed, published, and protected as it is distributed via the internet? You have stimulated and hosted some discussion on the subject, especially focused on copyright, but I'd like to read your opinion. Perhaps you've stated previously and I've missed it? I think that one of your contributors has made some claims to having published serially via the web. Seems a page or two on the subject might make a good appendix to the one on "how to get [your] job."
I get enough subscriptions to make it worth while keeping this place up, and I'm grateful for that. There have been fewer this year, no surprise given the economy, but both new subscriptions and renewals continue to come in. I do not believe it likely to be a replacement for traditional publishing. Roberta's program isn't well marketed, but that's largely my fault and has to do with energy levels and time. Those who want a copy should send me email.
Of course this would be a good time to renew your subscription if you haven't done so recently...
The real secret to success at writing is that you have to write.
RE: Clunkers and cash
It also occurs to me that many (most?) of these trade-ins are owned outright, so folks are trading in something they have paid off already and is a depreciated asset... but then going into debt on the remainder of the new car purchase. Although the new car is cheaper than it would have been otherwise, they're still spending money they have no real need to spend, going into debt, and paying out even more interest to the banks that made the mess in the first place.
A penny saved is a penny earned, of course... this is just tricking people into letting someone else (picked by the gov'mint) earn their money in a backdoor tax going right into the private pockets of a government selected "winner". How this is stimulating economic stability for the public escapes me.
I'd also imagine (I don't know for sure) that some might try to game the system by buying a junker eligible for trade in, getting the "discount" and then reselling? Did they think to put any protections in place against that?
And, of course, many like myself hold onto our older cars because we can't or don't wish to go further in debt. It runs fine, passes emissions inspection, and gets adequately decent mileage... without adding a car payment to my rent, credit card payments, student loan payments, ever increasing utility bills... et cetera.
Glad to know that our congress is full of "green" and "social justice" folks working for the good of the people... as long as they're the "right" people according to them...
As you say... we sow the wind.
Regards, J. Scott Cardinal
My gripe about the Cash-for-clunkers program
I solved a number of problems stating in 2007. Gas prices were up, we had two ancient clunkers between my wife and I, and I was chubby and increasingly out of shape. So I told myself "Hey, you are driving ten miles to work every day. That's stupid. Bike to work and then you'll get the exercise you haven't been getting."
The bike paid for itself in not having to pay for gas. It's also cheaper to maintain. And I'm skinnier and much healthier.
Meanwhile, the remaining clunker (other one got rear-ended and replaced) sits there staring at me. It's useless, except as a hedge against problems with the good car. I'm not going to get $4500 for it.
However, it doesn't have the requisite low mileage for me to be able to declare it a clunker and get a nice new car. My father-in-law was smarter than that when he bought it, realizing that he doesn't go offroad and if he needs a truck, he could rent one.
If I add up the miles I can't get out of driving, I'm burning less gas than I would were I to have a hybrid.
So, in other words, instead of being rewarded from doing the right thing, I see my tax dollars going to bail out a bunch of people who should have known better.
August 7. 2009
I do agree with you that drug patents have been successful in developing new and useful drugs, and they should continue to be the way things are developed. I do have a problem with drug reps having direct access to physicians. My sister is in PA school and has told stories of drug reps coming to the hospital and buying lunch for entire departments. Granted, it was just fast food, but it still seems fishy to me. Apparently the drug reps have since been instructed not to do this.
If a new drug works significantly better than an old one, then people will use it, probably regardless of the cost. If a new drug works a little bit better than an old one, people might use it if the premium isn't too high. If a new drug works the same as an old one people will probably buy the old one because it's cheaper.
Usually new drugs cost hundreds of times more than an old one. A customer would usually not willingly pay $300 for a prescription when the $4 one at Walmart works just as well. However, customers don't get to choose what drugs they take; the doctor's prescription slip does. If a doctor prescribes "some drug or the generic," all well and good. However, if the doctor prescribes "some new drug" then that's what the customer gets. A doctor who is constantly bought stuff by drug reps is much more likely to "forget" to put the generic on there. I've experienced this one first hand. I could either pay $300 a month for several months worth of a pill (that apparently would have done a number on my liver) or pay $5 for a topical non prescription treatment which has turned out to work quite well. The doctor never mentioned the topical treatment.
A few other observations. Drugs are usually sold by the pill, not by the milligram. That is 30 50mg pills will usually cost the same as 30 100mg pills. For many drugs a customer could simply buy the 30 100mg pills and split them in two and have two months of some medicine for the same price as one. A patient who works with his doctor (and pays attention) can potentially save a lot of money in situations like these. Alternatively, drugs could simply be sold based on the amount of the active ingredient, with some added percentage for profit, instead of with the current pricing scheme.
I have no quarrel with regulating pharmaceutical marketing, although I think that is best left to the states.
Robot Suits, Sci-Fi Flicks and E-Books
Powered robot suits make debut on Tokyo streets
No appearance by giant dinos, moths as yet
5th August 2009 10:46 GMT
Vid Japanese scientists developing a powered exoskeletal suit intended for "heavy labour", "rescue support at disaster sites" and use by the disabled or elderly - not to mention applications in "the entertainment field" - have taken their equipment out for a test drive on the streets of Tokyo.
Blade Runner tops sci-fi movie poll
Yes, but which cut?
, 5th August 2009 13:26 GMT
Blade Runner has clinched the top spot in a poll on the greatest sci-fi film of all time.
The 1982 cult classic, directed by Ridley Scott and based on a novel by Philip K Dick, won the top plaudit in a poll run by Totalscifionline.com. Blade Runner flopped commercially on its initial release and received only lukewarm reviews, but has grown in reputation over the intervening years.
Sony widens its e-bookshelf
Two more electronic books, with wireless to follow
5th August 2009 10:42 GMT
Sony has launched two more e-ink-based electronic books. The cheapest sports a 5 inch screen and is priced at $200, while an inch-larger touch screen brings the price up to $300. But neither features wireless - at least not yet.
Tracy Walters, CISSP
August 8, 2009
I spent the day in bed with swine flu.
|This week:||Sunday, August
It would appear that the celebration for the early demise of healthcare reform may be premature. I just read that big pharma is going to pump $150M-$200M of support for expanding healthcare during the congressional recess. It seems the plan is to counter the scare-tactics of the out-of-power party.
Capitalism rears its ugly head again; expanded healthcare to some 50 million non-covered Americans will result in increasing the number of prescriptions being written for drugs. Talk about instant sales growth!
It's a win-win for big pharma. Better duck.
Apparently some insurance companies are planning to put a good bit or money into a campaign for compulsory health insurance, since lots of young people don't see the need for it. I recall when I first went to work at Boeing, back in the 1950's, I was a young man who didn't need much in the way of health insurance; I bought catastrophe insurance, but nothing else. Of course I worked with the Boeing flight surgeon (my first job as as Aviation Psychologist/Human Factors Engineer) so I had a colleague to give me advice on minor problems. Lots of younger people are doing much the same, which means they aren't paying into the pool. And of course will all the pressure to accept everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions, the proper strategy is not to buy insurance until you're sick. (Don't do that yet; they can still exclude you! But the pressure is on from government.) The insurance companies see that coming so they want to make everyone pay -- which is about the only way they can stay in business.
We haven't seen the end of all this.
07 Daybook Posting
I believe that I detect a bit of bitterness in some of your postings these days. While I can understand that feeling, I also find it a little bit uncomfortable to see it from you, without your usual bit of panache to leaven it.
While of course you are right about profit being the driving motive behind the development of new medical technology, most especially including drugs, what in the world justifies the same companies selling the same drugs outside the U.S. at drastically reduced costs? A pill that may cost $30 here is sold elsewhere for $3. Or less. Why? Surely basic economics would allow that a more modest price universally applied would result in as much ultimate profit as the unequal pricing scale now in effect.
As to the argument "the U.S. can afford it" - often expressed by congresscritters - well perhaps they can. Rank and file members of the House and Senate draw a salary of $174K per year, with the leadership members salary being a bit higher, from $193K for majority party leaders to about a quarter of a million for the Speaker. They also have available to them a wide selection of health plans, and a great pension plan that can provide up to 80% of their salary (based on the three highest earning years.)
I personally pay around $600/month in health insurance premiums, over and on top of what the company pays, which is around $460/month. Even with these premiums, I still have some medications come up with a $50 copay per month, $35/per visit copays, and $10,000/year deductible costs for hospitalization and tests. A MRI for example, costs me around $1500 out of my pocket. And I have pretty good health insurance, at least in the Austin market.
While I can afford that, I sure don't like it. And there are a lot of people who find the cost of medical insurance backbreaking. This is before you get into the constant battle most insurance companies will present when asked to actually pay for a hospital stay.
I might be totally wrong, but I think you are a couple or three years older than I am, which would make you eligible for Medicare. I am assuming that medical services (prescriptions, radiation, etc.) were at least partially covered by Medicare for you. If I am wrong I sincerely apologize - however, I don't see how medicare, which all in all works pretty well, is much different from the Obama sponsored health care initiative. People still carry "supplemental" insurance to cover the costs that medicare does not cover. People must do so, or risk bankruptcy. Or perhaps avoidable death; neither option is desirable.
Honestly, if a government run health care plan would run even as smoothly as medicare, and allow supplemental coverage, then why would anyone object to it? We are going to pay and pay and pay in every case, so why not try to get the best value for the tax money, insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and such we are going to pay *in any case?*
Given the size of the deficits and the Congressional Budget Office's estimates of costs, "we can afford it" seems at best debatable. My Kaiser dues are covered by Medicare (with various copayments). When I turned 65, my dues (for both me and my wife) went from about $400/month to $1750 a month; or I could accept Medicare and let you pay for it. I couldn't afford the option, but why my dues changed by more than a factor of 3 in one month was not clear. (Actually it was clear: the Medicare law didn't really leave anyone any choice in the matter.) And yes, Medicare works very well. I am told that it will go broke in a few years, but it hasn't yet. And I almost certainly would be here to write this without it. The copayments for my radiation treatments were nominal, and the (fairly frequent) laboratory fees were always under $50. Between medicare and subscribers like you I managed to get past it.
I'm no enemy of health insurance. I do believe we ought to look at various models to see which works best and whether those would work here. We need to examine VA, which has both supporters and detractors; all the stories I have are anecdotal, but the horrors in Walter Reed a few years ago were pretty grim and obvious. What I do know is that we don't know so much that we can rush in to putting more than 15% of the Gross National Product under the tender care of a new bureaucracy without considerable thought and care: rushing to get it done before the end of the year seems reckless and if we do it I am sure we will regret it.
And some of the discussions of rationing care under "quality of life" decisions by "ethicists" are a bit terrifying. Going on one's knees before a board of ethicists doesn't much appeal: prove that you have quality of life! "It's a good day to die." Lester Thurow, many years ago, in lecturing on bringing down health care costs, pointed out that among the Inuit and some other people there is an allocation of resources; and some great portion of the costs of health care come in the last year of life, so if those could be cut (and understand, they probably should be, but who decides?)...
provide some background. The question is serious, the consequences are important, and doing it in an all-fired hurray with 1000 page bills that no one has read does not seem an optimum way to go about it.
Subject: President Obama's Health Care Bill
Jerry, I've been thinking about the Health Care Bill, the timing of it, and the President's attempt to get it forced through before anybody has time to read it. Right now, with our economy still reeling from the Toxic Mortgage Mess doesn't look at all like the right time to institute a new, highly expensive National Health Care Plan. What we need is for the government to restore order and confidence to the housing and lending markets, but that's not what the president is doing. Instead, he's doing what is probably the worst thing he could do (try to spend his way out of a recession) for the best of reasons, just like Crazy Eddie would do. I hope I'm wrong. I really, really hope so, but I'm not exactly optimistic.
-- Joe Zeff
Health care in Sweden and France
Richard White here. You may remember me from your trip to the 1990 World Media Conference in Moscow, or from a couple of emails after we moved to Kirkland in 1994. Anyway, I'm in Austin now. Oldest son (21) in the Navy's Nuclear Power Training Command. Tomorrow he gets an automatic promotion and will be the same rank and rate I was when I got out in 1974. Youngest (16) is aiming at the Naval Academy. Daughter (19) acting all grown up -- part time job, saving for a car and an apartment.
Anyway, FWIW, Jeff Schreiber, who runs www.americasright.com, relates a conversation he had with a couple of Swedes in an airport lounge. The subject of health care came up. The Swedes said that, while they liked theirs, they didn't think it would be a good model for us. Find it here under "Drinking With Swedes":
Another friend sent me this article on France's system from the Boston Globe of two years ago (almost to the day):
As the Swedes pointed out, their system serves about nine (9) million people. To model our system on theirs, Canada's, France's or any other such country would be folly.
Best regards, Richard __
"If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." --Thomas Paine, (December 19, 1776)
Paine's view is not the modern view, which will incur deficits that our grandchildren probably will be unable to pay. We spent the surpluses. Both parties got in on that. We expected it of the Democrats. After Newt left, the Republicans decided to go them one better.
A fair summary, I think. The matter is far too important to rush into with bills no one has read that contain provisions put in by the rapacious wolves... Terrifying is not too strong a word.
Not missing the 60's
'That is, I hope that the cast of corrupt opportunists -- gurus, prophets and messiahs -- who profited from others' naiive belief is indeed a unique '60s phenomenon, safely encapsulated in those glossy anniversary books.'
--- Roland Dobbins
Well, encapsulated in the books, but there are residual hippies...
AARP Town Hall refuses to listen at a listen session -
Here is a link to a video (it was obviously edited by someone biased against the leaders of the meeting) of part of an attempted "Listening" session sponsored by the AARP. At the beginning an AARP volunteer was at the podium trying to explain why they were advocating Health Care Reform. When the meeting audience tried to ask questions and challenge the statements being made, the volunteer took the microphone and left. While taking the microphone she tried to say the AARP was not advocating health care legislation.
The audience wasn't violent or anything, however, they clearly weren't buying what they were being told. So the volunteers ran.
There is certainly a difference between not listening and chanting to disrupt the meetings. As I have said, I no longer give political tactical advice (or at least I don't often). My preference is for rational dialog; I recall the 1970's when student organizations would pay to have me come speak, and junior faculty would chant to keep me from talking -- even though a student organization had paid (or in a couple of cases the University itself). I held my own, but I found it distasteful, and no way to reach a rational conclusion.
Disrupting other people's meetings was a common tactic for both communists and fascists; I don't recall it doing much good for the forces of reason. On the other hand AARP needs to know that its policies aren't those of its members.
Observatory - An Aesop’s Fable Might Just Be True - NYTimes.com
Crows are very smart, and flocks are smarter than a single crow. (And I know that the "proper" collective noun is a murder of crows and an unkindness of ravens; but I don't know who made the "proper" nor do I know anyone who uses them.)
Temperature of the Earth
Hi Dr. Pournelle,
If I may follow up to the question "What is the ideal temperature of the earth?": I have to say that this is a bit of a red herring question. I would ask "ideal for what?"
Our current societies and infrastructure were designed and built for the temperatures in effect at the time. We can look at cultures that live at more extreme temperatures than we do, and see how they have adapted. Or, to put it another way: we humans stand to suffer the worst inconveniences as a result of a major climate change. We in technological societies can easily adapt to e.g. a yard or two or sea level increase that takes a century to occur. "Waterworld" is not on the horizon, and if there are changes coming, I think we can deal with them. The primary thing that concerns me, about climate change (whatever the cause) is an increase in violent weather, which has the potential to disrupt economies and industries, but experience has shown that we can get used to anything.
I would personally find it difficult to mourn the submersion of much of Bangladesh, if it wasn't for the millions of people who would need to move - but, again, this would not occur overnight, and should not be a humanitarian disaster with a bit of planning. I have to question the wisdom of building a large population in an area so vulnerable to typhoons, but I understand this is my Western ego talking. Not everyone shares my perspective, the idea that we should control what we can control, and plan how to deal with that which we can't control.
I live in Dublin, Ireland, the epitome of a moderate Atlantic climate, but I am currently near Houston, Texas, enjoying temperatures in the 90s F, for most of August. I would find it miserable if I lived outside all the time, but I am spending almost all my time in an air-conditioned house or an air-conditioned car. Thank goodness for cheap energy, eh? The Houston lifestyle depends on it, and when it's not there (as was the case after Hurricane Ike), my friends learned how to conserve what they had.
(About the only time I spend outside here is when I take my friends' Siberian Husky, Aspin, for a walk/run around the landscaped lake in their gated community - and she understandably spends about half the walk IN the lake. I think my friends need to read about Sable, to understand the amount of work they've taken on!)
All the best - brian thomson, in Houston TX (temporarily)
Your friends have an unusual Husky: all of ours have hated the water. If you live in the ice, you don't want to get wet...
Control what we can control, and generate as much cheap energy as possible. Yes, look for sustainable sources, and invest in them to help them develop; but low cost energy plus freedom equals growth and choices. We enjoy "real rights" that our ancestors could but dream of. We have the right to cross the country on a moment's notice for a few hundred dollars. We have the right to have teeth well into our 70's. We have the right to communicate with nearly anyone in the world. And so forth.
Those rights are available to nearly anyone in the West. The "developing countries" want the same things.
The Blackest of Black Markets
Between the Niven reference and the obvious link to
your comments about the ultimate result of an unrestrained market being
commerce in human flesh, I had to forward this to you:
It starts: "In the1970s, science fiction author Larry Niven envisioned a world where the rich were so anxious to procure organs for transplantation that the death penalty was expanded from murder to traffic infractions
(1). The liberal application of the death penalty and the likely unconsented harvesting of organs from the condemned in China is a variant of the world that Niven envisioned
(2). Multiple sources report that the timing of executions in China, as well as the way they are carried out (a single bullet into the back of the head of the condemned) is intended to optimize organ recovery."
It then goes on to cover the recent news about the New Jersey Rabbi accused of "organlegging" kidneys, and asks why now, 30 years after Niven's story.
Surprise. Now see if this gets into the health care bill.
Searching for Washington crossing Hudson River date, I found this tale.
In December 1776 cannon from Ticonderoga were taken to General Washington in Harlem Heights by bringing them across the frozen Hudson. I don't think the Hudson has frozen that solid since 1800, certainly not since 1840. It was COLD back then; but that was the tail end of the Little Ice Age.
And we all know it was warmer in Viking times when Nova Scotia was known as Vinland, and there were dairy farms in Greenland (and no, the Gulf Stream had nothing to do with that; see the map). This doesn't mean that there is no Global Warming but the cooling and warming trends of those times were not due to industry.
The Earth warms and cools, and humans may affect that; but it's clear that natural variations have been larger over history than we are observing now.
EPA Supresses Climate Study
Washington, D.C., June 26, 2009—The Competitive Enterprise Institute is today making public an internal study on climate science which was suppressed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Internal EPA email messages, released by CEI earlier in the week, indicate that the report was kept under wraps and its author silenced because of pressure to support the Administration’s agenda of regulating carbon dioxide.
The report finds that EPA, by adopting the United Nations’ 2007 “Fourth Assessment” report, is relying on outdated research and is ignoring major new developments. Those developments include a continued decline in global temperatures, a new consensus that future hurricanes will not be more frequent or intense, and new findings that water vapor will moderate, rather than exacerbate, temperature.
Here's more on the EPA CO2 report...
And on that subject:
"The crime which Chandrasiri Bandara committed was publishing an astrological column which was adverse to the government."
- Roland Dobbins
Can't happen here, of course.
'In Bezos's mind, the Kindle is the logical evolution of a 500-year- old analog technology, and this frightens those in the $24 billion book-publishing industry already skittish about Amazon's growing clout.'
-- Roland Dobbins
Friedman: Treason or Murder?
--- Roland Dobbins
'The Air Force said it will train 240 pilots to fly Predator and Reaper drones compared with 214 fighter and bomber pilots for fiscal year 2009 ending Sept. 30.'
-- Roland Dobbins
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