THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 614 March 15 - 21, 2010
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March 15, 2010
Ides of March
Birthday of the late Stefan T. Possony
As noted yesterday, you do not need a Kindle in order to open a Kindle account and buy Kindle books for the Kindle PC program http://www.amazon.com/gp/kindle/pc/download . Note that the linked program will automatically start a download.
You will need to open a Kindle account if you don't already have one. Once you have a Kindle PC account you can read a great number of free Kindle books on your desktop, laptop, netbook, and I think some phones; certainly there will be a Kindle PC phone app fairly soon enough. A number of early Kindle enthusiasts find they are no longer using their Kindle to read books; they read Kindle books on their iPhone. The iPhone screen is a bit small for me, but some like reading books on the iPhone quite a lot. The iPhone screen is backlit, meaning that you don't need external light, and there are other advantages. I did read a couple of books on the iPhone screen, and while I prefer the Kindle itself, it works well enough.
As I said earlier, Kindle Books without requiring a Kindle is a potential game changer, and will likely have a serious effect on book publishing and the paperback market; or so I believe. It's all part of the Knowledge Delivery Revolution I referred to in the current column.
The threat of a Constitutional Crisis continues as the Democrats continue to threaten to use the Budget Reconciliation process to get their health care bill through Congress. If they have the votes they will first pass the Senate version, word for word, complete with the Corn Husker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, the Cadillac Health Care Plan Tax with the Union Ripoff, thus avoiding a second constitutional crisis by using the Slaughter Rule. The problem with this is that finding the votes is difficult because there are a number of Congresscritters who don't want to run for reelection with a record of having to vote for these logrolling measures. Not many in California like the health care plan so much they will cheer for giving Nebraska a special deal at California's expense. The same is true for most other states.
The Slaughter Solution to this is to pass the amended version sans Corn Husket etc., and then have Rules Committee Chairman Slaughter issue a Rule that says that in adopting an amended version of the Senate Bill the House may be deemed to have passed the original bill. The amended bill will then go to the Senate where they believe they have 51 votes (but not 60) for the new version; they will then use reconciliation rules which require only 51 votes to pass this amended version. We will then have ObamaCare, or at least the front-loaded taxes of ObamaCare; apparently there are no benefits for six more years.
One thing though, we will know what's in the bill, which is the only way, according to Speaker Pelosi, that we can be sure of what's in it.
If all this sounds bizarre and very much contrary to the history and traditions of this Republic, we are very much in agreement. It is one more step toward conversion of the nation into something like Venezuela. Venezuela adopted a Constitution very much modeled on that of the United States of America, but it was sometime in the early 1960's that for the first time a duly elected President succeeded his predecessor, ending the dictatorship of the caudillos that had prevailed since Independence. Existence of a Constitution doesn't guarantee that a Republic will continue.
At present we could still return to something like a Republic. We are unlikely to go back to the Old Republic but we might take a few steps back towards a time when it was more important to get a consensus than to wield power before making fundamental changes. America has largely forgotten the economic lessons of the Great Depression. So many have grown up in boom times that they don't understand there are limits to what government can do. There are a lot of people who think that if it's a nice thing to do, we should do it without regard for whether we can afford it. They need to rethink that position.
This is no time to increase entitlements and run up larger deficits, a sure result of ObamaCare. Apparently the Democratic Leadership is more concerned with wielding power.
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|This week:||Tuesday, March
. Today's essay begins with a letter
Using those tactics to pass something as significant as a government takeover of 15% of the national economy changes the entire constitutional structure of government. We have been moving in that direction for a long time. This pretty well completes it. "Guess what, I won, get used to it."
The United States was founded on a principle of liberty. The default was to let people handle their affairs themselves. "We believe that each man is the best judge of his own interest." Government was deliberately hampered from wielding power, whether for good or ill. The purpose of the Constitution was to limit the power of government, whether it was to be used for good or ill. "By any means necessary" is not a part of the Constitution and comes into play only in times of an existential threat to the nation.
Using the Slaughter Rule on a major issue like this changes the rules of the game and the structure of trust, and adds to the power of government. For good or ill.
I don't do breaking news, but this is the critical time on health care. The Democrats either have the votes or they don't, and they are apparently determined to change "consent of the governed" from its original meaning to "dictate of a majority. Guess what, we won, get used to it."
We will all regret that. It is a path that leads to familiar territory. See Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Pareto, Burnham.
I am off to Dallas for a couple of days for a conference. I'll try to keep this place up.
I am hearing reports that police dragged a heckler out of an Obama address, while telling the crowd that someone had fainted. Back when I was telling university audiences that we were not doomed and would still be here in 2020 (this was back in the Limits to Growth and Models of Doom era, see A Step Farther Out) no one dragged hecklers out of my speeches, and there were plenty of them, all insisting that the end of the world was near. But then I wasn't President of the United States, and I suppose the President should have some privileges -- although he gets to screen the attendees to his speeches, exclude people at will, and so forth.
We live in interesting times.
Stephen Reinhardt, the Liberal Lion of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, has for many years been married to Ramona Ripston, head of the Southern California ACLU and very much an activist. I have never heard any protests over that.
Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, is married to Ginni Thomas, a Tea Party leader. There seems to be protest that this is unseemly.
My general inclination is to disapprove of Mrs. Thomas' direct political activities on the grounds that the Supreme Court really ought to be far above politics -- or at least to seem so and do all it can to appear so. I guess I'd say it's a pretty strong inclination. Of course we have had activist Justices -- William O. Douglas comes to mind -- who did not hesitate to be involved in political activities. It's more a question of seemliness than anything else. But then I find a lot of modern political practice distasteful.
Rush Limbaugh says she is starting a web site to help save the country, and compares this to Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady. I fear I am in disagreement here: there is no comparison. We don't expect the First Lady to be neutral about American political affairs, and certainly haven't since Eleanor Roosevelt -- I would say since Dolly Madison. Abigail Adams wasn't spare about her views either.
Safely in Dallas. Conference tomorrow. All is well but this will be sparse until I get back home.
March 17, 2010
St. Patrick's Day
I am in Arlington Texas at a conference on innovation, and I will be part of a Sigma panel in a couple of hours. I've just heard Dr. Mihail Roco, "the leader of the nanotech revolution" (conference bio) on the future of the Nanotech Revolution.
I'm a bit cut off from the world. The TV here doesn't seem to have a directory. There isn't a printed directory either. Going through the channels hasn't got me any reliable news, so all that will have to wait. I've got a couple of hours before I'm on and the sessions for the rest of the day appear to be on how to innovate by doing business with government, which is likely to be of use to the attendees but isn't anything I need to make contacts with. The guest booklet for the Sheraton Arlington says that Internet access is free, but in fact it costs $12.50 a day, an unexpected expense. The front desk says "Oh it used to be but that's changed." No one seems to care about the guest advice book being way out of date. So it goes.
Airline travel is even more miserable than it used to be. I didn't find that out on my last trip because I used some miles to upgrade to first class. Upgrade costs lots of money as well as miles, of course, and since Burbank to Dallas is a short trip and they're not paying me a lot to come to this conference, so I didn't do that on this trip. Ye gods. I remember when flying, even in coach, was, if not fun, at least not active discomfort. Alas.
The local TV doesn't show what channel you are on during commercials and since there's no guide and when you change channels there's a box that doesn't tell you what channel you have reached, it takes a while to build a table telling you what you are watching. I have seen a bunch of commercials. I finally found Fox News as well as CNN but it took a while.
Apparently not much has happened today. LA is raising its energy prices (which you can't escape) but it's really so the city can continue its policy of overpaying pensions and salaries. The nation seems to be determined to invest a very large part of its capital in pensions for public employees. What the return on investment will be is not obvious. Just as when we put more money into the school system it almost inevitably means raising benefits for union members. We invest in those higher salaries and benefits and have been doing that for a long time, but the benefits of doing that have been elusve.
And that's probably enough bile for the day. I go home tomorrow. Texas is friendly and it has been nice to see my fellow Sigma members, but I'll be glad to get home.
March 18, 2010
Admirals Club lounge in Dallas at 0 dark thirty.
I managed to get up and get out to the shuttle. Rode out to the airport with my old friend Yoji Kondo. Foolishly did not invite him to join me in the Admirals Club, but his plane is a lot earlier than mine. I was advised to take the early shuttle in case of security delays. Weren't any, all went smoothly, and the Admirals Club still has the remnants of a time when it wasn't such a chore to fly.
My Lenovo W500 works fine but Outlook has decided to start showing my previews in html and not plaintext. I can't find the setting to change it back. I do not know why they have made those so hard to find, and as usual Microsoft Help is no help at all. I am sure if I knew how to do it I could find the help file that tells me how to do it.
There is a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal today that is proud of American public schools because they now accept all children, regardless of their initial conditions. "Today we have children with mental ages of one and a half, children who live in homeless shelters, children whose parents are incarcerated." This is our great moral strength, the writer says. Doubtless true although on what basis of morality I am not clear. Public morality isn't supposed to stem from religious bounds, and only on religious assumptions is a child with a mental age of one and a half an equal in a middle school. Leaving that, we can see that No Child Left Behind means no child gets ahead: in a classroom that has students of mental age one and a half, how are resources allocated?
The rational strategy for the teacher is triage: ignore the bright kids who will get above average scores. ignore the really poor students who will not pass no matter what you do. Concentrate on those who will fail now but can be made to pass. Is this a proper allocation of public school resources? Only on the assumption that education at someone else's expense is a right not an investment. From whence does that right spring? but perhaps it is too early in the morning for such thoughts.
Home safe. I must have left the "leave a copy of this on server" switch on on the Lenovo since I have two copies of almost everything since Tuesday. It will take a while to get them off of there.
The radio tells me that the health care brouhaha continues with redoubled confusion. They are said to be set for a vote on Sunday. There is apparently a ferment of support and opposition. A bill has been posted with the Slaughter Rule Amendments: this is what would be voted on with a rule that "deems" the original Senate version to have been passed.
This should make for some interesting times.
I have found the way to view my incoming mail in plaintext. It's complicate and not where you would expect to find it. It's tools / trust center / email security and there's no link in view or mail format or anything where you might logically expect to find it.
If anyone reading this has a way to the Microsoft Office team, you might suggest that they make this clearer in help so that if you search for preview in plaintext you can find it. Or something.
March 19, 2010
St. Joseph's Day
The Swallows are Back
The publishing industry continues to adjust -- or fail to adjust, depending on your views -- to the electronic delivery revolution. Note the importance Amazon, an enormous seller of conventionally printed books, gives to this.
None of this is settled, of course. But now that Amazon has made it possible to read Kindle format books (including the free ones) on PC, Linux WINE, Mac, iPhone, presumably iPad, and predictably every other possible system, they directly compete with paperback books however distributed (including by Amazon). That's a game changer in my judgment.
It revives questions about intellectual property and piracy, since I do not believe it will be all that long before there are programs that convert Kindle format books to something that can be redistributed on sites like scribd which use other people's works to draw a crowd to which they can display advertising. Whether anyone will have the incentive to buy a Kindle book, decode it, then repost it for everyone else is debated by many of those who say piracy isn't important in ebook markets; we do know that scanned versions of books have long been made available to pirates, then reposted. The entire oeuvre of the estates of several authors including Poul Anderson and Jack Chalker were available on scribd until the (now disbanded) SFWA copyright rights protection team intervened.
Anderson's works have been collected into relevant volumes, some with introductory matter by his widow Karen, and are being published by Baen Books. The entire Terran saga from the early League through the Empire and beyond. It begins with The Van Rijn Method, continues with David Falkayn Star Trader, and then the early Empire stories, after which comes the entire Flandry Saga beginning with Young Flandry (which Poul really wanted to give the title Mr. Midshipman Flandry; he wasn't shy about admitting his indebtedness to C. S. Forester) and continuing in a number of volumes. All those stories hold up pretty well. They're good space opera done by a master story teller. That fact that Baen Books is bringing these out in print editions (some appeared just this year, and there are still some to come) augurs well for the future of paper book competition with pirated editions of print editions.
Whether paid for e-Books can compete with pirated e-Books isn't quite so clear, and we'll have to see what happens. My own experience is that there isn't a lot of money in e-Books; on the other hand I've had significant royalties from Audible editions of many of my works, both mine solo and the collaborations with Niven. I haven't worried much about Kindle's text-to-speech capabilities; no one I know really wants to listen to those if they can possibly afford the Audible edition.
In any event this is another part of a long and continuing story. The outcome will be important. My guess is that over time the Information Delivery Revolution will win out in that a very great part of the publishing industry -- books, newspapers, magazines, music and music videos, movies -- will be through electronic delivery systems, and much of that will be to hand-held devices. How rapidly that happens is subject to debate, but I note that few of us predicted just how rapidly the Internet would influence commerce and buying habits.
The frantic search for enough votes to pass something that can be called health care continues, and no one know for sure what will happen. The Democrats claim they have enough votes or will shortly; other sources say the number of undecided remains at 30 or so, and there are not enough votes to pass a Slaughter Rule adoption of the Senate Bill, much less a straight up or down vote on the Senate Bill. I have few inside sources, and those I have are divided.
"Will Altmire Walk the Plank" poses the picture of Democratic waverers bound and driven out on a plank above the voters as circling sharks. It describes some of the measure the Democrat leadership is taking to get a bare majority.
Limbaugh thinks that if they do get a Slaughter Rule adoption, the Democrats will take the Senate Bill directly to the White House and get it signed. Then they'll worry about changes later. This means that the Nebraska Corn Husker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, SEIU sweep, and all the other stuff will be law. That will make the November Election even more interesting. Of course I don't know that Limbaugh has any better sources than the rest of us, but it's certainly possible.
There's little point in speculation on all this because it's not settled.. We'll know soon enough.
According to the Wall Street Journal "Why Canada Avoided a Mortgage Meltdown" by Alex Pollock,
Canada has no Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, and wasn't bitten by a horrible housing bubble and subsequent collapse. The US has not yet paid for the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and we've just barely paid off the savings and loan collapse of a generation ago. Will we continue with government actions injecting money into the housing market and then pretending to be astonished when prices rise?
If you inject more money into a market, prices will rise. Economics isn't all that scientific, but this one "law" isn't hard to understand.
When things change in November, this is one of the things we have to fix. We really do not need to allow Barney Frank's empire to continue.
Indeed. When you inject money into a market -- as in "making it possible for the poor to have that service" -- you will inevitably raise the cost of the goods in that market. Subsidies always raise prices. Over a long enough run there will be, in a free economy, more of the good manufactured, and prices will go back down, but if you continue to inject money into the system it's never likely to stabilize.
Education is a perfect example of this. If you are going to make something available to everyone you will have to provide more of it; when you can't instantly expand the supply, while the demand is rising, the result is an increase in price. This is of course an elementary fact of the first principle of economics, and is intuitive when thought about, but alas, many don't think about it.
Of course America seems to believe that a really good investment is higher pay and much higher pensions for unionized education employees. It is not entirely clear what the return on that investment will be. Something of that sort was tried back in the Depression under the name Townsend Plan. The State of Washington pretty well went broke on the Townsend Plan without getting the economic benefits it had hoped for. (I simplify, but it's a reasonable summary.)
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/03/hacker-bricks-cars/ May be interesting...
March 20, 2010
Happy first day of spring. The frantic ferment over the health care bill continues. Understand that this is not about insurance, it's about entitlement: the notion is that a majority can require someone else to either pay, or at least make a substantial contribution toward, the cost of one's medial care -- and specify what including Disabilities and Conditions -- others must pay for.
It is said to save money, but when you insure more people and allow them to enroll without regard to Preexisting Conditions or even whether they have had their accident yet, it is sure to cost more and by a lot.
The debate consists of one side presenting "needs", and the other saying we can't afford it. We hear the horror stories of what happens to people who don't have health care insurance and have a catastrophic medical bill. They are touching stories, and one has compassion for those people; but the bottom line is that they need to have someone else pay their bills, and if they can't find someone to do it voluntarily it must be done by forcibly taking the money from those who have it to pay the bills of those who don't. I realize that's a pretty harsh way of putting it, but it's accurate.
Insurance operates when a group of people pay into a pool, and if they then have medical bills those bills are paid from the pool. Neither the Senate nor the House bill nor any of the modifications operate this way: they say that everyone must pay -- if they can -- and everyone gets his bills paid whether he was able to pay into the pool or not. Moreover, the only differences in payments are from ability to pay: you can't buy a "Cadillac" health plan that gives you more, unless you pay extra taxes to benefit those who didn't get that plan. Well, of course, there are exceptions, and if you're a union member you don't have to pay the "Cadillac" tax, and there are other exceptions: after all, the purpose of this plan is to extract money by force for distribution to those who aren't paying into the pool. And union membership is as good a way to get an exception as inability to pay...
We'll know soon enough what the result is. Then comes the Constitutional Crisis, the court cases, and we are headed for November. And before November we will have an Amnesty Bill. Change You Can Believe In.
March 21, 2010
.The book collectors convention, an annual event in LA, was today and Niven and I signed books. We were scheduled for an hour and we went on for two, but finally gave up while there was still a line. I guess we're still popular.
Afterwards we went to Outback for dinner, with Tim and Serena Powers, Michelle Pincus from LASFS, John Dechancey, and Roberta came out (she hadn't come to the signing). It was a good dinner, and lasted longer than we thought it would. A good time was had by all.
I'll catch up another time. I am being called for a Lakers game...
Well, they did it. The drama is not over; but for the moment we have a naked demonstration of the power of ideology; all Democrats were required to be liberal democrats, either by bribes or by coercion. The Nuts forced the entire party to go along; it reminds me of when the Creeps were in charge in the Republican era. It will take a while to recover from this.
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