THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 574 June 8 - 14, 2009
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June 8, 2009
I spent the weekend playing grandfather and consequently fell even further behind. I am also having network connectivity problems with my ThinkPad. All this goes in the column which is overdue, along with results from the Javits Center in New York. I have to get to work.
Over the weekend there was a pointer to an interview with Freeman Dyson on Climate Change. It's important, and if you haven't seen it, you should. There is a bit more in mail. I'll try to catch up with everything tomorrow. Thanks for patience. I'm also doing today's mail.
One reason our schools are in ruins is our passion for equality. For those who have never read Kurt Vonnegut's splendid story on that subject, go read it here. If you haven't read it in a while, it may be worth your time to read it again. It's not long.
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|This week:||Tuesday, June
I have appointments this afternoon, and the column is still not done. I am way late, and it has to get done quickly. I really am dancing as fast as I can...
There is a lot of mail on the global warming discussion including CO2 and ocean acidity.
A history lesson from the first dot.com company...
June 10, 2009
I am still racing to catch up. I may make it today. Apologies.
Most RAND documents are available, although finding them is not always easy. There are also paper copies for sale, or there used to be; I don't know if on line has replaced that. For example, the best introduction to the art/science of systems analysis I have ever seen was a RAND document by Herman Kahn; it's better than most courses in the subject. Another was a study of the concept of "hostile trade" with examples from Japanese history. RAND did a number of studies of bureaucracy. All this is from memory.
Finding things on the web is difficult but it can be done. For example, I used Bing to look for RAND Documents, went to the indicated RAND site, searched for Kahn, and the 22nd item was a list of documents by Herman Kahn. About the ninth item on that was Techniques of Systems Analysis, and it is available free in pdf format. I note that his papers on Monte Carlo analysis are also available.
A search on the word Bureaucracy turns up several RAND documents including "A Theory of Bureaucracy". You can buy the document, or download free as pdf. I recall reading that in the 1960's and finding it interesting; it still is. Thanks for stimulating me to go spelunking in the RAND archives. There's some good stuff in there (along with a lot of material no longer of interest now that the Seventy Years War is over).
And now I need to get back to work.
June 11, 2009
I may be catching up. The International edition of the June column will be up tonight or tomorrow at Chaos Manor Reviews.
It's officially a swine flu epidemic. I am not sure what that means, but it can't be good news for the travel industry I have not seen any announcements of a vaccine, and I don't think there is one.
An aged lunatic with a long history of adherence to weird causes went into the lobby of the United States Holocaust Museum. He parked outside and carried a rifle into the lobby, where he shot a guard before being himself shot by other guards. He has long been a vehement loner, and apparently decided to commit suicide by cop. Alas he managed to kill a guard while surviving himself. The US will now go to enormous expense to keep him alive so that he can be executed at more expense. I suppose this makes sense.
One wonders: has he made a living will? Does he have a "Do Not Resuscitate" order on file? If so, will it be honored? Should it?
Obama says the single largest deficit problem is health care, and it's now or never for reforming it. One doesn't need to be an expert on health care policy and financing -- certainly I am not -- to know that whatever scheme is adopted, a great number of Congress people will be allowed to wet their beaks, and the final result is going to be a very expensive mess; and the odds are great that it will increase the deficit. Since the average American household now owes about a quarter of a million dollars -- $250,000 per household -- on the national debt, the health care 'reform' can only go up. I don't mean that it's impossible sensibly to restructure the greater than 15% of GDP that health care represents. I am sure there are plans and schemes that male a lot more sense than what we have. What I mean is that it won't happen. The "ravenous wolves" in Congressional power seats will insist on "contributing" to any plan, and their contributions will insert complexities which will either be costly on the face of them, or contain provisions that will turn out to be costly, or will insert hidden costs that start small and get larger. In any event the chances that there will be a healthy effect on the deficit is vanishingly small.
That's political reality. Given that every household in the US owes on average $250,000 to pay off the deficit, and given that this is an average so it will be larger for readers of this log, one needs to give some serious thought to how this can be paid off; for paid eventually it will be. What currency it's paid in isn't so clear; but do note that inflation is a sure and certain tax on savings and fixed incomes. Civil servants probably have cost of living -- inflation -- adjustments to their pension payments. Since pensions are one of the greatest components of the debt -- well, you can figure out what's next. Inflating the currency will ruin everyone who does not have a government guaranteed cost of living pension. Once all those private savers and pension plan owners are wiped out, there still won't be enough to pay off what we all owe. You can see what's coming next.
The remedy is to cut way back on those obligations and on spending in general. When one is in the bottom of a hole anc can't get out, stop digging. That isn't likely to happen either, given the political situation.
We can generate a lot of scenarios from this. Depending on your age and circumstances, some require some just in case preparation. It's probably time to sit down with your family and think about them. As to the national debt, "We owe it to ourselves" was the magic formula when there was concern about the deficit during the Great Depression. It took the booming post-war economy to recover from that. Last year's deficit was the largest in history. This year's is four times that. These aren't number we like to think about.
The other way out of all this is through cheap energy and lots of human ingenuity: energy and freedom have saved nations in the past. It can happen again if the engines of creativity aren't chained down and destroyed.
The column that will be posted some time today or tomorrow looks a little at technology and economic growth.
There are notes in mail on measuring global temperature, Betelgeuse is exploding, and other such matters.
June 12, 2009
The June column has been posted at Chaos Manor Reviews.
I am neither a great fan nor an enemy of Rush Limbaugh, but I agree with him more often than not. My major criticism is his delivery, which is loud and insistent. I prefer a less strident atmosphere and what Possony used to call rational discussion. Clearly Limbaugh's method works --he has an enormously larger audience than I do, and many more dedicated fans and subscribers (although I don't mean to slight those who support this place. Thanks to all who subscribe and renew.)
He had two items today that I thought worth reflection. The first was purely pragmatic regarding health care reform: before we deliver another 15% of the GDP to Obama's management team, would it not be better to wait a bit to see how well his present policies work? It's not clear that the management team understands the economy, but they have certainly been given more power over it than any American government has ever had. Obama says that if we don't do his health care reform soon, we never will. I question that. If what the Obama team is doing works, Obama will surely not lose popularity, and there will be far more support for the notion of turning this knotty problems over to a team that has successfully managed economic recovery. What's the great hurry?
His second question was, given the great success of what he calls "our team" in 1980, and then again in 1994, how did we get into this situation in which the Republicans are at a low below anything since Watergate? Is conservatism dead? But of course it is not: the Republican Party, after Gingrich's departure, was anything but conservative. The fact is that about twice as many people describe themselves as conservative as call themselves liberal, even though there are far more Democrats than Republicans.
The failure, Limbaugh said, was ours: we didn't teach the conservative principles well enough. We did not persuade -- particularly we did not persuade the Republican leadership that the principles are true. There may be a need for compromises in some places and some cases. Government is after all the art of the possible. But that does not mean that one adopts disastrous policies simply to gain temporary popularity.
I have said it before: movements (I fail to come up with a better word; "philosophies" is pretentious, and ideologies is precisely the wrong word to describe the conservative movements) have the purpose of teaching. Parties have the purpose of capturing control of government; of winning elections. Party leadership is often subject to Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Successful political managers are hired to win, not to be true to philosophical principles. There have been exceptions; I was one of them as were some of Reagan's closer advisors like Lyn Nofziger. I can attest to the temptation to compromise principles to preserve a track record; fortunately I didn't make political management a career (wasn't even tempted, actually).
Given the overwhelming pervasiveness of liberalism in the public schools, colleges, universities, and the media, getting across the basic principles of conservatism -- I'd say getting across the basic principles of a realistic appreciation of the way the world works -- is difficult; more difficult than some of us understood it would be. I've been going back through some of A Step Farther Out, and I see that a lot. It seemed to me obvious that cheap energy plus freedom would soon result in a technology boom that would carry us to space, where both energy and material resources are abundant.
Twenty years after that, Charles Sheffield and I wrote Higher Education, which has a different view of the future, but is still optimistic.
Possony used to say "You either believe in rational discussion or you don't." I have to remind myself of that frequently.
I got this email today:
Actually, I find that if you go to the original link, it directs you to the one recommended, but I didn't note that and for some reason opened View 302. It was from March, 2003, and mostly commented on news from Gaza, and the failures in Iraq, and why "they" hate us. Not bad. It's interesting to see what we all thought in the early days of the Iraq war -- which I opposed. I sure wish I'd been more persuasive back in those days. Ah well.
June 13, 2009
Roberta,, Niven, and I had lunch with my editor, Bob Gleason of Tor Books. I took the rest of the day off.
June 14, 2009
Happy Birthday, Roberta
They may or may not be rioting in Iran. I don't really see many reliable sources of what's going on. It is an interesting test of what happens in the modern world with Internet, cell phones, texting, twitter, and the other flash crowd/instant communications technologies now available. I have often said that the best US policy for Iran would be to subsidize commercial quiz shows that give iPhones and iPods as prizes; I mean millions of prizes...
This afternoon will be the Lakers, and with luck will be the last basketball game of the season. But of course Orlando will be trying to see that it is not the last game of the season. That will eat the evening for me...
If you are interested in the future, and you have not read my Megamissions Paper, today would be a good time to do that.
The Lakers won. I get my wife back.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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