THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 621 May 3 - 9, 2010
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May 3, 2010
I was awakened by KUSC's pledge drive. I keep KUSC on at night, because I tend to sleep better when there's background sound or music to help mask the tinnitus I've had since the radiation treatment. Tinnitus, for those fortunate enough not to know, is an internally generated note in your head. The amplitude varies, fortunately not at all frequently -- that is, sometimes it's louder than other times. The pitch can change, too. In my case it's easier to ignore it when there's something else to hear.
KUSC suspends pledge pitches at midnight, but resumes them at 0700. The pledge drive will continue until the end of the week, which means that it's subscriber drive time at Chaos Manor, which means that it's time to thank those of you who have subscribed or renewed subscriptions and bug everyone else. This site and Chaos Manor Reviews are operated on the 'public radio' model: access is free, but we encourage subscriptions. There are three grades of subscription. Pay what you think it's worth to keep this place open and me working on this stuff. Platinum subscribers enable me to work on what I think is important (meaning I can donate more time to finishing my books). Patron subscribers are sort of the backbone and can think of themselves as patrons of the arts. Regular subscribers very much help keep the place open. I love you all.
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Platinum subscribers enable me to work on what I think is important without worrying about economics. My thanks to all of you.
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And I remind you that I'm not after anyone's eating money, or rent money, or necessities. Mr. Heinlein used to say that we -- story tellers and free lance writers in general -- are after "Joe's beer money." Considering that many of his readers were women and he thought his wife was smarter than he was -- Ginny did, after all, have a degree in chemical engineering, and had a higher Navy rank than Robert (who was compulsorily retired on disability as a lunger while still a Lieutenant JG) -- the reason he didn't mention Jane is because that kind of correctness wasn't fashionable in those days.
And thus end's today's nag. There will be more but they'll be shorter.
While we're on commercial stuff, this next isn't so much a commercial as a complaint about lousy instruction sites. There is a sort of commercial in there, but it's not the point.
Amazon has a new Associates campaign to get us to advertise more products, particularly Kindle. Seems to me that it wouldn't be particularly intrusive to put in a link in case a reader wants to buy a Kindle itself, and I often review and recommend books. I already put in a link to the book, and if Amazon has an easy way to include the book cover or an illustration with a link and my Associate tag I don't see how that will harm the reader experience. I suppose I might be accused of reviewing something just to get people to follow the link, but I doubt anyone who reads this place will think that.
So I followed their link to learn how to do this. Big Mistake. This may be the most convoluted instructional I have ever seen, and nowhere does it actually lead to explicit instructions. Nearly every screen change requires me to log in, and that starts things over again. Paypal makes it fairly easy to build buttons with links, generating code that can be inserted into the web site. Amazon ought to do that, and perhaps they do, but after going through their circle four time, logging in each time I do, I never found the instructions nor a clear example. It may be that I have gotten really stupid in the last few years, but I suspect it's just the usual lousy instructions that seem to be ubiquitous nowadays. For those building instructionals: the most important thing is to have a clear example!
I never did learn how to do anything from Amazon's latest. I am trying this as an experiment: if you think it's time to order a Kindle, you can do it from this link. In theory that will get you to the order page and indicate to Amazon that I sent you. It ought to work, but I can't prove it from Amazon's instructional mailing. Perhaps Francis Hamit can figure it out. The illustration below ought to have the same link.
I'm doing this as a test. I do have a Kindle, and I do use the Kindle. I haven't tried the larger Kindle DX. If you want one of those, click here. I'll be happy to take the commission, assuming the link works. Let me know how it works out. At some point I expect I need to compare the Kindle DX and the iPad, but from everything I have heard, given the price, those who bought the iPad are happier: I haven't much enthusiastic mail from Kindle DX users, and I've got a lot of 'I love iPad' mail. On the other hand, Apple tends to get love letters from users. I hasten to add that I do have enthusiasts for the original Kindle, some dating back to its introduction but some recent. One the gripping hand, I'll be getting an iPad 3G and I can at least compare it to the Kindle, and have some basis for comparing it to the Kindle DX.
The oil spill gets closer. I suggested the remedy decades ago when we were debating the desirability of offshore drilling in California. My proposal to then Governor Reagan was that a condition of licensing a drilling site would be a payment into a fund to do research and build equipment in preparation of the inevitable accidental oil spill. It's going to happen, and being prepared will make it a lot less serious an environmental threat. Part of the preparation would be a fleet of tugs capable of towing booms. The tugs and crews could be used for oceanography when they weren't needed (or doing practice exercises), but their primary purpose would be like firemen: to hope there is no disaster but be ready to deal with one.
"What if nothing ever happens?" the Governor asked me.
Of course nothing like that was ever done. Perhaps someone will consider it now. Everything has dangers, and being prepared for the possibility is simple prudence.
Sixty Minutes last night has a segment on drownings in the All American Canal. Most of them are illegal immigrants. The thrust was that it ought to be safer to swim the canal. We ought to facilitate that.
My solution would be to complete the doggone fence. Patrol the fence. Make it a lot harder to get into the canal in the first place. After all, if you don't try swimming across that very cold stream with 8 knot current, you won't drown in it. Everyone says that the first requirement for immigration reform is enforcement of existing laws, but no one means that.
Perhaps we could simply copy Mexico's immigration laws? They recently stopped jailing people for being there with an expired visa, but they still fine you a few hundred bucks. And they deport you. Fast.
When the Federal government won't enforce its own laws, and one of the states enacts laws that try to remedy that, the result is not renewed enforcement by the Feds; it's a study by the Attorney General to see how to stop Arizona from enforcing Federal immigration law. Now confusion doth work a masterpiece...
What I do not understand is why African Americans, who lose a lot of jobs to illegal immigrants, are not incensed at all this. The Republican Party freed the slaves, the Democratic Party kept the Solid South's Jim Crow laws, so 90% of the blacks vote Democrat. I never did understand that one.
We are now about to take Sable to the vet, where we will schedule an expensive operation to repair a torn ligament in her left rear knee. She injured it playing with another dog several months ago, and while it's not getting a lot worse, it's sure not getting better. She endures it well, but Huskies do not do well when they can't run and pull and play tug with a rope, so it will have to be fixed.
A distraction, and an expense. One endures.
We are back. She goes to see the surgeon tomorrow morning. Don't know when they will operate. This is not fun.
Not only is the Amazon Kindle link working but we have two orders, both from people who had long contemplated getting a Kindle and were reminded. Thanks. So we know it works, but I had to construct all that by hand. Amazon's instructional email was useless, except to remind me to do it. But I'm not turning this place into an Amazon store...
|This week:||Tuesday, May
In a few minutes we leave to take Sable to the surgeon where we think they'll do her knee operation today. I don't seem to be very good at getting much else done just now. I think I'm slowing down.
We'll have something of substance here later today, but there's no time this morning.
1145: Well, Sable gets her surgery today, and we don't get to pick her up until tomorrow, assuming all goes well. She is getting her left hind knee rebuilt to fix a torn ligament. Recovery is going to be difficult because we have to keep her from running and jumping for weeks, and she's not going to like that. This isn't going to be much fun, and that's assuming all goes well. It's also more expensive than I would have imagined, but that's not the primary concern.
We're back home and waiting.
I suppose I ought to remind you that this is pledge drive week at Chaos Manor. Just a reminder.
The oil spill crisis continues. Apparently not much was done in the early times when containing it would have been easier. Hardly surprising. Counting on Washington and FEMA to respond to everything, earthquakes, oil spills, hurricanes, floods, tornados, flu outbreaks, wildfires, riots, and any other disasters is not a reasonable policy: it's just too much for any single agency. What's needed is local Civil Defense, and nearly anyone who thinks about it knows that. Preparation for earthquake is different from preparation from tornado which is different from preparation for flooding. Preparation for oil spill is different depending on where the oil well is.
I remember when Herman Kahn used to say that his Hudson Institute had the top three experts on how to end a nuclear exchange. He couldn't tell you which one was the best: "We had three junior fellows spend a month thinking about the problem. As far as I know that's more than anyone else has ever spent on the problem."
My point being that if there are locals, even volunteers, in Fresno or Bakersfield whose job is to think about disaster preparation, they will know a lot more about the next disaster in their local area than a FEMA official in the District of Columbia.
I've mentioned before that back when I was at Pepperdine and Reagan was Governor I did a briefing on a number of topics. One topic was energy. I was concerned back then with a coming energy crisis, and one of my proposals was renewed offshore oil drilling. California needed the energy and the income that an oil separation tax (state tax on oil pumped; Alaska does that) would allow a lot lower California income and sales tax levels. Part of my proposal was that some of the separation tax should be allocated to building and maintaining a disaster containment force. Not being an expert on oil spill containments I wasn't too specific about what that ought to be, but my example was a fleet of ocean going tugs, at least one tanker, and lots of containment booms kept in multiple places. It would not be cheap, but it would be ready, and time is important; and "cheap" is a relative term. It's a lot cheaper to apply something you have than to improvise after the disaster. It's easier to contain an oil slick than to clean up after it gets ashore.
What the "ocean disaster teams" should be doing other than training when there was (we hope) no emergency could be worked out: there was plenty of need for oceanography research, development of wildlife rescue techniques, and the like. There would be something for them to do, but their primary duty would be, like firemen, to be ready. The point was that some kind of spill is inevitable: wrecked tanker, leaking platform, oil well blowout, typhoon wrecking a platform -- something like that will eventually happen. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill demonstrated what I had in mind (I think my briefing was in 1967).
Today the looming energy crisis I have been writing about since the 1960's is still here. The need for more energy resources is still real. The need for separation taxes -- as they have in Alaska -- is still here. The probability of a disastrous event: shipwreck, platform blowout, typhoon or earthquake at one of the ocean platforms, sabotage, terrorist act, stupid operational error by a drilling team, etc., has not gone down by much and the terrorist act threat may have increased. The potential for disaster is still there and the need for a ready response team financed by separation taxes is still real.
Of course Civil Defense needs to be prepared for a lot more than an oil spill. Fortunately that doesn't cost as much as creating and keeping a fleet of oil spill containment equipment. Earthquake, for example, requires a local organization to educate, prepare, and assist local residents on what they need to do (much as Fire Prevention Week used to be a big deal although it doesn't seem to be so much so now). Same with hurricane and tornado, flooding, and other such potential disasters. Los Angeles need not spend a lot of resources preparing for twisters, just as Oklahoma doesn't have to prepare for tsunamis. The point is to be prepared for what is likely to happen to you, and FEMA isn't a useful way of doing that. Much of Civil Defense can be accomplished by volunteers, retired military and civil service workers, and so forth. We know that used to work: it needs to be tried again.
Centralizing in FEMA was silly. We had Civil Defense. Liberal Democrats didn't like Civil Defense. Civil Defense was attacked by liberals. One reason was that the Soviet Union, which had a very large and very compulsory Civil Defense organization throughout the USSR, pretended to believe that US Civil Defense was primarily a preparation for American aggressive war against communism, and made a big point of saying so often. CDO communications and rescue training, and the general volunteer CDO disaster preparation activities were ignored: the propaganda was that CDO was a Cold War organization. The USSR strategy seems to have worked. To this day it is hard to find accounts of CDO's efforts in local disaster preparation, rescue, and recovery, although many of us remember those times. When I was an Assistant Scoutmaster most Boy Scout troops had an Emergency Preparedness plan and cooperated with local civil defense until Carter abolished all that and created FEMA. CDO survived into the 1980's. I recall that when COMDEX was in Atlanta, in the early eighties there was a large Civil Defense headquarters in downtown Atlanta. The building, which resembled an antebellum home, later became a private club.
There was an attempt to revive Civil Defense as an organization during the Reagan era, but the opposition from those who claimed that it was largely a needless and "provocative" Cold War activity was too great.
So: once again, let me emphasize that local disasters need local preparation, and FEMA can never do all that from Washington. It's not Washington's job to put out local fires in the Los Angeles forests. We can appreciate federal help, but it would be stupid to rely on it. Relying on the Feds to dig you out after a twister is not smart. Had there been a New Orleans Civil Defense organization, you may be sure that there would have been an official -- probably a volunteer Major or Colonel -- whose job was to see that the local school bus fleet was ready to assist in evacuations, rather than sit in a parking lot until inundated. I can give other examples, but that one seems sufficient.
We need to revive Civil Defense. It should organize local volunteers: people to keep the Internet working; to keep communications open; to organize evacuations of homes for the disabled and elderly; to know that Shirley down the street lives alone (with the assistance of a paid care giver who doesn't live there) and will need to be taken care of if there's a power failure or general failure of transportation; and so forth. It's not simple, but it can be done, mostly with volunteers with a little professional assistance.
The time to do preparation is before there's a disaster. Thus was it ever until Jimmy Carter's people decided that could better be done from the District of Columbia. Note that DC isn't particularly well organized either -- the Congress doesn't even trust the Metropolitan Police and has its own elite police force. Such is liberal democracy.
We need to revive Civil Defense
My conclusion remains: we don't know enough about climate change or climate in general to justify enormous cost "solutions" to problems we don't understand. We probably are not spending enough on climate research, but we are probably spending too much on the consensus view: we need to fund some "denier" studies by careful people. I'd recommend a committee chaired by Freeman Dyson to allocate a few hundred million dollars in research grants. If Freeman doesn't want to do it, I am sure we can put together a committee of people committed to science, not to prejudged policies. NSF can supply the oversight mechanism, but I would not want them to direct the allocations of funds. They are too subject to political pressures now.
This isn't rocket science. It's far more complex than that. And harder. But we are up to it, once we shed the prejudices and look at data and evidence.
The Vet just called. Sable is fine, operation went well, her knee is restored, and we can bring her home tomorrow some time. Deo Gratia. Recovery is going to take weeks, and keeping an active dog like that inactive for that long is not going to be easy, but she should have full use of her leg by mid summer.
Maybe I can get to work now. I am astonished at how draining all this is. She is of course the empty nest dog...
May 5, 2010
Politics as farce continues. By the grace of God, Faisal Shazid's bomb
did not explode in crowded Times Square.
Apparently God continues -- sometimes -- to look out for fools, drunks, and the United States of America. It is the nature of grace that is is not earned.** Yesterday the President seemed to be claiming that his administration's security system was working just fine, and there were no systematic lessons to be learned from the Time Square incident. Of course, as I recall, we were told that the system worked after the Fruit of the Loom bomber incident, and that religion had no part in the Fort Hood Massacre. We were also warned that the Times Square Debacle was likely the work of a tea party American unhappy with health care; later when the authorities learned the name of the probable author of the event we were told the name would not be released because it's a common name, and people might make mistakes. I had not until now suspected that Faisal Shahzad was a common name in the United States, but I learn new things weekly.
Even so, there are a few matters that seem to me to be of concern. Apparently Faisal Shahzid made multiple -- I have heard 14 -- trips to Pakistan in the last couple of years. This by a man who could not pay his mortgage and lost his house to foreclosure. Now I know: there are over a hundred thousand round trips to Pakistan by Americans every year. Even so, one might wonder how many people take a dozen such trips in a year. Of those, many will quickly be eliminated as diplomats or employees of major companies with business in Pakistan. I would think that the number remaining would not be that large. It might be worth paying some attention to traffic to and from Pakistan. At least some attention. Perhaps the system needs adjustment, and perhaps the Secretary might want to make a few adjustments in the light of the Times Square Debacle.
After all, we are bombing Pakistan daily. With drones, so there's considerably less collateral damage, but it's still bombing people who can't fight back. People don't like having bombs dropped on them. Many Pakistani military people feel helpless -- they are supposed to defend their nation and citizens against harm from foreign powers, but they can't do so as the USAF and CIA rain death from the skies. Frustration can lead to rage. It can also lead to a search for ways to retaliate.
Understand: this is not a comment on the policy of using drones the Afghan war. Given that we intend to continue the Afghan adventure it's an effective tactic. We aren't discussing its strategic value because that has to be in the context of our Afghan strategy which has to be in the context of grand strategy and national goals in a place that has a history of uniting against armed foreigners on its soil since the Afghans turned back Alexander the Great. Nothing I know of unites Pushtan and non-Pushtan like the presence of armed foreigners; and indeed nothing else has ever united both Pushtan and non-Pushtan Afghan resistance to the Shah (now Mayor calling himself President) of Kabul.
My concern at this point is simple logic. If we are going to bomb people who can't fight back, should we not be concerned that some of them will seek ways to do us harm? Is it not reasonable to assume that some in this country may sympathize with the Pakistani who seek to do us harm? Of course if we make that assumption we have to think who in the United States might be Pakistani sympathizers. That leads to a stop in the mind, an inability to think further, that seems built into the system.
The President and his advisors have retreated a bit from their assertion that "the system worked" in previous attacks against the United States. Perhaps they will rethink the system that allowed Faisal Shazad to build and deploy his bomb, and contemplate ways to look for others of similar persuasion.
The rest of us can pray.
On the other hand, apparently it was no great secret that he resented our bombings in Pakistan.
The rain, it falleth everywhere,
According to the vet, Sable is doing fine although she has to wear the cone of shame, which I gather she hates. We'll go pick her up about noon. Deo Gratia.
1530 Sable is home. She's not comfortable, and she hates the cone. She has to be assisted when she goes outside the house, and she's confined to the house for at least a couple of weeks, possibly a good bit longer. Neither one of us is getting any work done. Not a great situation, but not much we can do about it. The operation was a complete success, but recovery is going to depend on how well we can keep her "quiet" for about six weeks. Looks like it will be a LONG six weeks.
My plan at the moment is to do as much as I can get done, and I'll probably be operating from downstairs with laptops for some of the time just so I can be around if she needs me.
Now I have a medical appointment. It's been a busy day.
Sable is resting uncomfortably, but resting. I'll have to sleep in the back room tonight just in case. I don't think I am going to get much done for the next day or so.
May 6, 2010
Roberta went out to a Bible study group this morning, so I stayed downstairs with Sable, and didn't get started here until after noon. Sable continues to recover. I am going to experiment to see if there's some alternative to the cone of shame -- a soft collar perhaps -- but I don't know if anything will work. She hates that thing, and she wasn't interested in her breakfast, and that was really worrying. But I offered her a bit of ham, which she liked a lot, so I used more to wrap her antibiotics and pain pills in, and she liked that, so I put a bit of the ham into her Max dry dog food in her bowl, and she decided it was time to eat and finished it all off with gusto. She still wants to follow us around the house and to go outside, and we may have to get a crate to keep her in since she's suppose to stay quiet for weeks more. I'll see.
After Sable had her breakfast and Roberta went out I took a short nap on the back bedroom couch, and in that brief hour the DOW plummeted. Down nearly a thousand in minutes. It seems to be back up to down "only" 400 for the day. It all fell when it was suddenly realized that there is no solution to the Greek problem; that even if the German people will permit what amounts to an German financed IMF loan to Greece it won't be enough to prevent defaults and what amounts to bankruptcy in Greece, and meanwhile Portugal, Spain, and Italy are in similar trouble, and there's just not enough money in Euro countries to keep things afloat.
Meanwhile, the Greek public service unions have a remedy to the problem. The government must keep paying them high wages, big bonuses, free health care, and retirement at 55, and if that doesn't happen, burn down the Ministry of Finance and set fire to banks. Roast bank employees alive. Strike, shut down the country; that should fix things. We will make someone bail us out or we'll cut our own throats. It will do wonders for the Greek economy, and keep those stupid tourists out of Greek cities. Take that, Germans!
I have heard radio reports that the German people are beginning to protest. That's hardly astonishing. Why should Germans work to support retired Greek civil service workers? One wonders, though, if that sort of sentiment might spread. In California the response to a school district faced with bankruptcy was a 10% across the board budget cut. The teacher's union response to that was a strike. Being American teachers they didn't burn the schools down, and insisted that it was all to benefit the students. The strike was called off when the budget cut was labeled "temporary" and the board promised to restore pay, pensions, and benefit as soon as it could afford them. All this was done in the name of what's best for the students. Note that the teachers union didn't make any promises about adjusting rules so that the worst teachers could be sent off to find other jobs, which would be the simplest way to improve their education. Cutting the 10% worst teachers in the district would save a lot of money, and all serious studies of education show that getting lousy teachers out of the system improves the education results something wonderful, but that will not seriously be considered.
We seem, in other words, to have a very strange economy. It looks to be headed for what happened to India after independence, when for much of the population the goal was to find a government job with a big pension and retirement at 55. There was a great multiplication of government jobs, most of which involved issuing permits, and the economy went from "British Raj" to "Permit Raj." For decades a good description of India was "a modern industrial nation surrounded by a vast sea of indescribable poverty and inefficiency with occasional famine.***" India seems to have recovered from much of that but it took a long time, and they're not out of those woods yet. California, on the other hand, is heading deeper and deeper into that situation. The City of Los Angeles hasn't any chance whatever of continuing as it does, with a big and recently expanded civil service force that gets huge retirement benefits and an early age of retirement. The State of California has $500 billion in unfunded pension and benefit obligations, and a low retirement age. Both City and State continue the fiction that they will get 8% or more growth from the pension fund investments, which covers up the crisis, but that can't last. They won't get that return, and the funds will have to pay out capital until they're gone after which the benefits will be paid from the California general fund and annual appropriations, only there won't be revenue to cover those. At some point it's all going to collapse.
I would think that well before that those who work will decide they don't intend to keep on working and paying taxes to continue paying for teacher and civil service pensions and health care benefits. So far that hasn't happened yet. The Public Employees Unions continue to collect dues which are used to make campaign contributions to school board candidates and city councilmen and state legislators who will approve continued pay raises and adamantly oppose anything like a cut in pay, pensions, and benefits even though public employees face no layoffs, in general can't be fired for poor performance, and get to retire at a much earlier age than those who have to work to pay the taxes. Those who approve those contracts show no sign of understanding that it can't continue. The beat goes on.
The situation is unstable. It sustained itself during the Bubbles, but it was a giant Ponzi scheme. It cannot continue. There will be adjustments. The question is what kind of adjustments. The prediction of what happens when an aristocracy that doesn't have to work feeds off a populace that must work to support it is generally revolution.
The results of that are never very good: it used to be that a good part of US education was on contrasting the American Revolution which built a solid constitutional government with the French Revolution which went through half a dozen regimes ending with Napoleon and after his fall with the return of the Bourbons, the July Revolution, The Second Republic, Napoleon III, the Third Republic, Vichy -- well, you get the idea. We used to study the Revolutions south of the border. Mexico (described in the 1940 Britannica as a nation similar to "a beggar sitting on a bag of gold") with its republics and empires and technocracies and revolutions and the Institutional Revolutionary Party; Venezuela which copied the US Constitution but wasn't able to have any orderly transformations of power in over a hundred years. We used to study to see what we did right, and thank God that we were fortunate enough to survive a Revolution without the decades of chaos that follow most of them.
I don't think we study those things in our public schools now. Most teachers I talk to don't seem aware of them, and American Exceptionalism is rejected by our public intellectuals.
We are, thus, rather unprepared for the reality that will come when it is finally realized that the Bubble in Public Service is over and cannot continue. In Greece it is the Public Servants who riot and burn banks and the Ministry of Finance. In San Juan Capistrano it is the teacher's unions that strike and shout slogans. The people paying for all this are expected to dig in deep and make more sacrifices, and of course they will never become resentful.
After all, Americans never take to the streets. We just keep on paying. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out when it's just not possible to keep on paying. We'll see that in Greece first, as its tourist economy collapses. And we'll see what happens in Germany when the German people decide they don't want higher taxes to bribe Greek public servants not to riot. With luck that will all play out over there before anyone realizes that California, which is much larger than Greece, is approaching the point when it can't borrow any more money to keep the bubble going.
One supposes that Washington's answer will be a European VAT coupled with continuing unemployment compensation. There's still some juice in the American orange. We can live with 10% systemic unemployment. Just raise taxes. Squeeze the American Orange until the pips squeak. Salve, Sclave!
***In 1960 Herman Kahn observed that "If Indian peasants manage to achieve the productivity of Italian peasants in the 12th Century, India's famine problems would be ended." The Green Revolution seems to have achieved that. When I was growing up, famines happened fairly often throughout the world.
Sable continues her recovery, but it's pretty hard on us. We'll manage.
I should remind you that this is pledge week, and if you like this place and have not subscribed, this is a very good time to do it.
Have you visited http://reason.com/blog/2010/04/23/first-annual-everybody-draw-mo
May 7, 2010
The market recovered a bit more yesterday, but finished down 350 for the day after dipping almost 1,000. There are many speculations as to why the sudden dip, including a mistake by a broker who in effect sold a bear into the market by offering to sell billions of share of Proctor and Gamble when he meant millions. Of course the cascade effect of computerized cut loss orders -- sell if this goes below x, where x is some number set by the manager -- created the full dip.
Then we have the sentiments expressed in this mail. It opens with a quote from yesterday's view:
My correspondent has more faith in his views than I have in mine; but I am fairly certain that new rules regarding computer watchdog programs will be a cure worse than the disease -- unless, of course, you also set up regulations to prevent individual brokers from acting under panic. All that has been tried before.
The facts remain: no government has any money, and all governments have enormous obligations they cannot meet. Government pension funds engaged in wild speculations back before 2008, seeking the 8% return rates they typically predicted when it came time for the pension plans to report future taxpayer burdens to the legislature. The state legislatures are generally required to have "balanced" budgets, and not operate by deficit financing. Of course they all run ever increasing deficits, but they can technically get around them by, for example, spending everything rather than setting aside anything to meet future obligations, ransacking any special funds they can find, deferring payments, and in general kicking the financial can down the road.
The obligations remain, of course. The pension funds, having engaged in speculation in derivatives, have larger obligations than they used to have to be paid for by greatly decreased capital funds. Nothing has changed about that. Most of them, now running scared, have tried to get into blue chips and set their stop loss sell points in the hopes of preventing future losses. A few, I suppose, may be trying to double down and win back their losses by more speculation.
If by government fiat they are required to "turn off the Fing computers" what will happen?
The notion that there are simple rules that governments can impose to prevent Black Swan events is a persistent delusion, and maybe one day it will work, but "this time for sure", while attractive, isn't often a successful strategy.
Talking heads may speak as they wish. The facts remain: Greece continues its slide with the amusing punctuation of riots to scare off the tourist business. That may improve but the financial situation won't. Europe is broke. Spain and Italy and Portugal are not yet as far gone in debt as Greece, but the trend is there. Greece is draining the Euro and for some reason German workers aren't thrilled with the prospect of higher taxes to support Greek civil servants' right to retire at 55. Los Angeles is broke and in deep debt, and when it looks to California it will find that California is also broke with declining economy and growing obligations, enormous deficits, and no real way out, because when it turns to Washington it will find that the federal government is just as broke.
This doesn't change, and the market is fragile because everyone can see there is very little reason for optimism. Economies are not growing. There is real fear in the market -- a thousand point plunge was triggered by a broker inadvertently selling a bear -- and those fears aren't going away. Turning off the computers will not help restore confidence.
But of course I'm just another talking head, and I don't claim any great financial abilities. Back when I was in the operations research business we often had to attack problems in which we had no experience, yet something had to be done. My approach was what I called 'the relentless application of logic' meaning to pay attention to everything we did know and see the logical relations; look at what used to work and see if that can apply this time. I don't claim to have done anything like that in looking at the financial situation; but I do think that just turning off the computers probably can't prevent crashes such as the one in 1929 when there were no computers.
More regulation and turning off the computers is not likely to induce more confidence in the market and attract more investors. It may frighten some away.
And the obligations remain. The debts remain. And in California the teacher strike when threatened with a 10% pay cut and no layoffs. Their remedy is that the districts must raise taxes. Public Employee unions seem to have the same remedy. That isn't likely to stimulate economic recovery.
Unemployment and underemployment continue to go up. There are spins on that, of course. Today we celebrate people out of work beginning to look again after giving up.
The remedy to economic problems is energy and freedom. Recall the German Economic Miracle.
And despair is a sin.
Sable had a good night. I didn't, but it's getting better.
1310: The Internet was down in our area from 11:30 until a few minutes ago. It's back to working now. Something happened to Time-Warner; they had a message saying there were problems in my area and I need not report anything to them. It all came back to life as simply as it vanished.
When the net connections through Time Warner Cable failed here I thought about other tests. I tried the iPhone to see if 3G connections worked, but iPhone is AT&T and after AT&T bought Cingular they closed some of the towers so that at best I get three bars of service. Still it was worth a try so I turned off my connection to my local internal Wi-Fi and tried connecting to the Internet. Of course this being AT&T I wasn't getting any bars at all, and attempts to use Safari got the message that I wasn't connected to the Internet. I don't know if that had any relationship to the failure of the local cable service but it seems suspicious, because I now have three bars again, and Safari works just fine with or without being connected to Wi-Fi.
iPhone is great if and only if you have AT&T connectivity. If you have any kind of AT&T problems you probably don't want an iPhone and iPad may or may not be useful -- we'll see when I get one, which is Real Soon Now. But for two hours I wasn't connected to the outside world except by landline telephone. It seemed like a week.
It makes one think about how dependent we have become on connectivity.
Google invests in futurism. See mail.
This is supposed to be the last day of the pledge drive. I'm probably as weary of it as you are, but this place can't stay open without subscriptions. Unlike KUSC (I time my pledge drives by then they hold theirs) I don't ask for monthly donations. Once a year will do it. If you haven't subscribed, this would be a great time to do it, and if you haven't renewed now is a great time...
May 8, 2010
We are taking care of Sable, and I have sort of taken the weekend off. Back Monday
May 9 2010
50th Anniversary of FDA approval of the birth control pill
I have pretty well taken the day off. Sable is fine, with appointment tomorrow morning for her post op exam. She's doing very well, and our only real problem is keeping her confined since she really wants to go for a walk and she's suppose to be mostly bed ridden. Not easy with a big, healthy, eager, very intelligent Husky. But we are managing and thanks to a kind neighbor she has a large pen to sleep in at night, outside by her cave where she usually sleeps. That all works. She's also got an appetite and a cold nose.
I took the afternoon to hike up to the top of the hill. I had intended to go just to the flat, but I went alone up to the summit. There are almost no blue bonnets on the hill. A few years ago the hill was alive with them. There were two kinds, a perennial (with about four of the bushes) and thousands of the annuals. This year there were precisely three, or at least that is all I could find. When I was younger I used to collect the bean like seeds and distribute them to parts of the hill where there weren't any. I fear it will take more than that to get them back now. I don't know what happened to them.
Instead there are thickets of thistles. Thistles used to be fairly rare, and confined to the lower parts of the hill. Now they are at all levels and in thickets, thick enough to be a problem in some places for the Cucamonga Manroot, a very odd plant that appears after a rain and lasts long enough to generate its spiky fruit, then dies away.
I confess to thinking about getting some lupine seeds and planting some in various places on the hill in the hopes of bring back the blue bonnets.
Anyway, it was a good hike. I had intended to do this last night, but there were so many subscriptions -- new and renewals -- that recording them took up some of the time I'd intended. Not that I am complaining! It doesn't take long to record subscriptions and renewals. I ought to automate them, but I like to see who's renewing and I read all the suggestions and comments. This pledge drive was particularly successful, and my thanks to all of you.
I'm doing the Monday essay now. We're catching up.
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