THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 627 June 14 - 20, 2010
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June 14, 2010
Happy Birthday, Roberta
Here's a game changer:
Of course we knew there was oil in Iraq, but we didn't do much about that. When we first went into Iraq I would have thought the strategy was to get the oil flowing. Pump oil, keep the price down to $20/bbl. The DOW would go to 14000 or more and stay there. It looked good for that -- and then they sent in Brenner, one of the most arrogantly incompetent proconsuls since Roman times, and that all ended.
One wonders if someone somewhere hasn't known about Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth for a long time? It's the first I have ever heard of it, although I can't say it's astonishing given the geology. Whether that can translate into actual wealth is another story.
We'll see. It's certainly a potential game changer. And pretty clearly the discoveries are relatively recent: I'd bet the Russians didn't know about them.
A gold rush to Afghanistan?
For a pretty good summary collection of views from here:
Item: Thirty one probation officers, with the status of peace officers, cannot be fired because the investigation took longer than a year, even though some of them have been convicted of child abuse (to their juvenile charges), one was living in sin with a parole, one was convicted of sex with a minor (one of her charges), etc. But the union demanded statute of limitations for peace officers automatically clears them if the investigation -- which drags on and on what with the way things are -- takes more than a year.
Item: LA cannot fire incompetent teachers no matter how incompetent. That appears to be pretty universal in these United States.
Item: read about the Mineral Management Service and the saga of the BP wells. Regulatory agencies are often captured by those they regulate. Astonishing.
Item: America's Municipal Debt Racket :
The story is not unusual, and variations can be found in many cities and states.
The usual condition of mankind is that most live at subsistence levels, while a small number enjoy wealth that is great compared to everyone else. Now in ancient times it was pretty hard to be all that much wealthier than anyone else: the wealthiest on Earth could not have good teeth after age fifty or so, or travel from London to Paris in a couple of hours, and only the very wealthy could enjoy ice in summer; while all that is pretty well available to anyone now. Or has been; the pinch is closing in. Subsistence level -- poverty -- is defined differently in the US than it is in Kenya. Or in Mexico. Only with enough open borders and spreading the wealth around, how long before we see real poverty here? Given enough mouths to feed, any place can find itself flooded with the homeless and the hungry. But the aristocrats will continue to enjoy their privileges.
Item: the purpose of public education, in theory, is to teach skills that will make the next generation productive. Productivity is the key to wealth. Does anyone seriously suppose that this is the purpose of public education now? Or that, if it were the purpose, that is being accomplished? The purpose of public education is to support the employees of the public education system. Anything else is a long way secondary to that.
I could continue, but surely the point is made? The purpose of government is to hire and support government workers. Anything else is a long way secondary to that.
Where is Madame Defarge now that we need her?
I have just heard the President's press statements about the Oil Gush. Apparently he is about to take inventory of the resources of the area, and ask the experts what ought to be done with them. His boot is still on BP's neck. I am not sure what arse he is kicking tonight.
I would have thought that taking inventory of resources and getting the views of experts would have been done long ago, but Washington Beltway Time is different.
Lamar Alexander: An energy strategy for grownups.
Query: I will shortly have to go somewhere that will not have high speed, so I will have to use dialup. I have an EarthLink account which I used for years, but that was on older machines. I have no idea how to set up a dialup connection in Windows 7. EarthLink shows a number of choices for dialup telephone numbers, but I have no way of knowing which is local to the phone I will be using. It used to be that you simply dialed O and a nice friendly person, generally a young lady, would tell you what you needed to know. I have the feeling that the telephone probably doesn't work that way any more. It has been a long time since I was stuck with dialup and I have forgotten how to do it.
I will be using the ThinkPad with 64-bit Windows 7 Professional. Any suggestions welcomed.
Apparently it was Thoreau who first used the phrase a trout in the milk. I would swear I first heard that in an opinion by Mr. Justice Holmes. Perhaps I did, and didn't notice that Holmes was quoting. In any event it's a good illustration of strong circumstantial evidence...
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June 15, 2010
.Rush Limbaugh is back from his wedding. Sir Elton John sang at the wedding, which has upset a great number of people, and sparked a lot of bitter criticism from erstwhile Elton John admirers on the one hand, and from Rush Limbaugh fans on the other. Another lesson in the virtue of minding one's own business.
The latest scandal is the Perez Hilton photograph of Miley Cyrus in a short skirt without underwear. Whether the 17 year old actress was or was not wearing underwear -- i.e., was the photograph photoshopped -- isn't at present known. Once the storm broke, Hilton implied that the photograph wasn't real, and that if it had been he wouldn't have posted it. None of this is particularly interesting. See Kipling ...
What is interesting is whether or not Hilton committed a federal crime and is liable to a mandatory five years imprisonment for offering child pornography. Interestingly enough, it probably would not have been a federal crime had Hilton not, in the tweet that distributed the photo, warned people: "If you are easily offended, do NOT click here. Oh, Miley! Warning: truly not for the easily offended!"
It turns out that the federal law is oddly worded, making it an offense to offer child pornography, whether or not the pornography exists. This is probably because it is difficult to define child pornography, so the law doesn't leave room for you to assert that the actual photo isn't pornographic: it's the offer that's a crime. Had Perez Hilton simply sent out the photograph -- whether or not it was altered to remove the underwear and insert lady parts -- it probably would not have been a federal crime even though Cyrus is 17 and thus legally a child. At least it could be contended that a photograph of a 17 year old girl getting out of a convertible in public is not pornography at all. She's not behaving in a sexually excited manner, there's no hint of anything sexual going on; she's just a girl in a short skirt getting out of a car. With or without underwear. She isn't being abused. Of course some people might be sexually excited by the view of her privates (real or altered in this case), but then some people get excited by pictures of young men's feet, or the private parts of a sheep.
The interesting questions here are legal and constitutional. Clearly the Framers of the Constitution of 1789 did not contemplate prohibition of internet photographs, or for that matter photographs as all. I don't recall any discussion of the distribution of artist created pornography in pamphlets. My understanding of the original intent of the Framers would be that such matters ought to be left to the States, as they were well into the 20th Century, when "Banned in Boston" was a near certain route to having a best seller. (Recall Lady Chatterley's Lover, James Joyce's Ulysses, and such like.) When I was growing up in Memphis, there was the Binford Commission that censored movies: if we wanted to see Jane Russell in The Outlaw we had to cross the Harahan Bridge to West Memphis, Arkansas, pay the inevitable bribe to an Arkansas state trooper for driving in Arkansas with a Tennessee license, and go to the movies there.
Over time, the US Supreme Court in its wisdom has restricted the power of local communities to censor movies and books until not a lot remains. Child pornography including computer generated stuff in which there are no human actors is about the only exception. The justification for forbidding possession of child pornography that depicts real children is similar to forbidding the possession of ivory: just as the ivory is evidence of abuse of an elephant, the pornography is prima facie evidence of the abuse of a child. Thus it's not speech, precisely, and arguments can be made for the necessity or at least advisability of that prohibition.
It's a bit harder to see the justification for prohibiting the possession of computer generated child pornography. At the extreme, the same sequence is illegal if you say the participants -- who don't really exist -- are younger than 18. Of course that's false: we didn't have the ability to make that stuff 18 years ago. Then we can argue about whether the electronic images look to be younger than 18; at which point it may be time to take a step backwards and rethink the whole situation.
We have become accustomed to the notion that government can accomplish everything. There used to be a cartoon strip called "There Ought To Be A Law." I recall that it was in some of the papers I read when I was growing up. Alas, many of the nutty ideas it proposed for laws -- intended to be seen as absurd -- seem to have become laws. The notion that everything people do should be regulated, that the good intentions of a law should be justification for the validity of the law, seems to be ingrained into the modern world.
It fits well into the modern nanny state.
Obama will talk to the nation from the Oval Office tonight. Yesterday he held a conference on means and needs in the Gulf Torrent -- something he ought to have done no later than the end of the first week of the crisis when it was clear that this was a potential disaster.
He was supposed to be competent.
June 16, 2010
The Speech from the Oval Office didn't plug the hole. Apparently the teleprompter wasn't up to the job. The boot on the neck is still in place, and BP will put $20 billion into a kitty to be administered by Obama's cronies. There will be another commission of people who have no experience in oil production engineering. Months will go past. More oil will flow into the Gulf.
It's not the end of the world. It's a terrible oil spill, a financial disaster for the people of the Gulf Coast, and the harbinger of several bad years for the wildlife in parts of the Gulf. It's a good illustration of the limits of government power. It's a good illustration of the inevitable problems of electing a president who has no executive experience. It's not the end of the world.
If you want the end of the world, here's a more likely alternative.
Interesting that the liberals will turn so quickly to tear their own. Obama may rescue Carter from being the worst President since the Civil War (or ever).
Regarding the big "escrow fund" from BP: it is to be administered by a "czar". That is an office unknown to the law. Surely dispersing $20 billion is no small thing?
I do not recall that the Congress has created any office to disperse the BP funds. Perhaps that happened when I wasn't looking, but I doubt it, since I suspect the Republicans would have objected loudly in the Senate. The lowliest second lieutenant and ensign gets Senate confirmation: surely the dispersal of a $20 billion slush fund cannot simply be handed over to a Presidential crony? Or has Chicago style politics entirely taken over? I'm waiting for the Congressional outcry.
The Congress is the Grand Inquest of the Nation. If there's to be a commission to investigate the causes of the runaway oil gusher with a view to preventing them in future (and to aiding in development of cleanup technology) - and there should be such a commission -- it should be given the usual investigatory powers, and should be technically competent, not a partisan witch hunt. I suspect the best comment here is 'Good luck with that.'
June 17, 2010
BP will put $20 billion into a slush fund to be administered "impartially", which is to say by Obama's appointees, probably with the usual smaller siphon for aisle crossing "opponents" willing to be fig leaves. There is also another "foundation" slush fund to compensate oil workers whose jobs have vanished due to the six month moratorium on all undersea drilling (shallow as well as deep). Note that the moratorium, which was not among the measures approved by the National Academy of Engineering technical specialists who approved the original draft of safety measures, doesn't just apply to new licenses: it halts work already in process and already has had severe effects on employment. Why BP is responsible for those jobs killed by Presidential decree is not specified. We may reasonably assume that the money will be dispersed through Obama's agents, just as the General Motors takeover ended up with huge payments to unions and union officials at the expense of legitimate bond holders.
If this reminds you of the actions of Tiberius Caesar in his confiscations of estates and enterprises, it should: Tiberius's actions were pretty well unknown to the Roman Law of the times, and certainly these extortions are unknown to American law. In the time of Tiberius the mechanisms of confiscation were clothed with criminal charges usually resulting in the death of the person whose property was confiscated -- one Senator, charged with treason, said "I knew my estate in Apulia would be my death" -- and so far it hasn't come to that, but at last count the Attorney General was in the South looking for arses to kick and people to file criminal charges against, so that story may not be over either. We don't strangle people in the dungeons of the Mamertine prison, but we do put them away for what amounts to life sentences. The BP executives were given an offer they couldn't refuse.
That would be my opinion as well.
Note that Saddam's act of spite was the biggest oil spill ever recorded. He dumped the output of the Kuwait oil fields and set fire to those he couldn't pour into the Gulf.
Earth abides. There is always an ecology. Sometimes we don't much like the ecology and we change it, converting plains and forests to farms and fields, scrub hills to pastures, Malibu beaches to expensive housing, and the San Fernando Valley orchards and bean fields into -- well, the Valley. Until recently the hills were alive with the sound of construction.
We try to leave behind a few marshes and wetlands and forests to remind us of what it was like before we converted everything to housing and streets and marinas, and when something threatens those remnants we become concerned.
Some of us were concerned about fossil fuels a long time ago. I have always thought that oil is too valuable simply to set a match to it: we'd have been better off building more nuclear power plants and converting more of our establishment to electric power. (That. by the way, would have made it a lot simpler to add rooftop solar as my neighbor Ed Begley. Jr. has done.) It's still time to be concerned about such things, but the transition isn't going to be instant. We'll need oil and coal for decades.
The oil torrent is a disaster, of national importance, and it must be dealt with. Oil in the water is no horror. Oil that comes ashore is far worse. We did little to stop that for a precious month; now it's too late for some exposed sectors that might have been saved by decisive action that wasn't taken.
The economic consequences will be with us for a decade, and there is much that can be done to mitigate them. It is my understanding that much of the work of mitigation is still being slowed due to bureaucratic procedures. That's not likely to change with the continuing conversion of the Republic to a Principate. That's been going on for a long time.
We have sown the wind. Now we reap.
Representative Barney Franks isn't my favorite Congressman, but he has managed to get Senator Dodd to agree to a change in the privileged status of the ratings agencies. Whether that will last -- odd things happen to legislation as it moves through the Congress, and amendments, provisions, even whole new sections magically appear, inserted by anonymous staffers. Some provisions of the DMCA are so repugnant that you cannot find a single Congressman who will admit to knowing they were in the bill as passed; they were inserted by a staffer who later went to work for the entertainment industry, and not one Congresscritter will take responsibility for having that done. It's still law. That's the way things work in our system now.
But assuming this get through, there might actually be some financial reform that makes sense. I am not holding my breath.
It was a good day. I got several pages of Mamelukes done and I know the next scene to write. The Lakers won. And so far all the happy people have not burned the city down. Not yet, anyway.
June 18, 2010
I don't think there's much doubt about the objectives of President Obama and the intellectuals who generate his philosophical principles. They were all pretty clear during the campaign. Obama sat in Wright's church for nearly twenty years, he worked for Acorn and is proud of it, and he made it pretty clear that he considered spreading the wealth around a good idea. His foreign policy is derived from liberal left principles, his policies come straight out of academic socialist theory, and he has never made any secret of his distaste for federalism and states rights. Some of this was obscured by campaign rhetoric, but none of it was hidden.
It's probably true that most of those who voted for him didn't see it that way. After all, Obama was part of the Chicago machine, and that's politics. It's all politics, politicians don't really mean what they say anyway, and he was the candidate of Hope and Change. Besides, did you expect us to vote for the Creeps who spent like drunken sailors, expanded government in all fields except regulation, gave us TSA which may or may not have made us safer (surely there were better ways?) but certainly made us understand that we are subjects, not citizens, brought us Abramoff, and presided over the Great Recession. Obama may at bottom have been a hard socialist masking his views in clouds of rhetoric, but that wasn't really obvious, and what a great way to rid the country of the residual guilt of slavery! Obama was clean and articulate and didn't have an accent unless he wanted to, he could make a great speech, and --
In the cold light of the months after the inauguration it became apparent that Obama meant every word and implication of his remark about spreading the wealth around, and he intended to use his office, and the super majority the election of Al Franken gave him, to implement as much of the Acorn program as possible. He gave press conferences, then discontinued them for political reasons. He made speech after speech, continuing the campaign, and the speeches were more and more dictated by the academic leftists of which he has always been a part. It wasn't so much that a mask of centrism slipped, as that it became clear that it was never all that firmly affixed in the first place. Obama is a liberal socialist and always has been.
So the question becomes, is liberal socialist democracy evil or incompetent, or just plain wrong?
Are political opponents evil or wrongheaded? Are Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, both Liberal Democrats, part of a malicious conspiracy? Their objectives are pretty clear and plain. If Liberal Democracy is a conspiracy, it hasn't done much of a job of hiding its objectives. They've been clear since the days of Beatrice and Sydney Webb. So have their tactics: there is no enemy to the left. Solidarity forever. The union makes us strong. George Bernard Shaw was aware of Stalin's starvation tactics and the Ukraine famine, but chose not to say anything about it because Solidarity was a guiding principle. So were many others, for the same reasons. Being a communist fellow traveler was quite fashionable among intellectuals. It took the Hitler Stalin Pact to break the subservience of American intellectuals to the Popular Front, and even then many stayed with the communists. Recall Fred Pohl: An intellectual friend, well known in science fiction circles of 1940, brought the news of the Fall of Paris to the Germans to Fred and other editors.
Was that incompetence or malice? Was it incompetence or malice to drink the lousy wine and brood?
I do believe that socialism is entirely antithetical to the Constitution of 1789 as Amended. For a very long time the Supreme Court of the United States believed that as well. Now the Court is divided on the subject. A majority of the Congress is held by a party that doesn't purport to believe in socialism, but which elects a leadership that enacts laws based on the socialist philosophy. Government ought to take care of people. Government should spread the wealth around. You are entitled to benefits not because of your virtues, and the wealthy are obligated to pay for your entitlements. It's their duty and your right.
Is it malice to believe that? I would say a great many of the academics in these United States believe it, and many more do not dare dispute it because those who do believe it make it dangerous for anyone in academia to dispute the consensus. Are they all malicious? They certainly believe that those who oppose them are malicious.
And of course it's not all that clear cut to begin with. Most of those who voted for Obama didn't believe that he believed all the tenets of academic Liberal Socialist Democracy. Are all those who voted for him malicious? Is it malice to be seduced into hoping that Hope and Change were real, especially given the past history of the Creeps who were in charge?
Liberal Socialism is wrongheaded. I think its end results are terrible. It's also seductive. Most Liberals I know believe they have good intentions, and that so long as they have good intentions they cannot be called malicious or evil.
I believe that the upcoming election is the most important election in decades, and that its effects will be felt for decades to come. What's at stake are the very principles of this nation. Surely that's clear enough? Clearly I believe that those who voted in this government were mistaken. I want those people back on our side.
June 19, 2010
We don't really disagree. I was thinking more about the long term consequences: there's just a lot more water out there, and we know that a lot of oil is released into it; over time it is accommodated. To those directly affected I don't suppose 'horror' is too strong a word. My point was that we don't know how to plug the hole, and the best prospect now seems to be relief wells. Understand I don't claim any expertise here; I'm merely repeating what people who do have some claims to know have said. There are plenty of speculative approaches to plugging the hole, but it's not a task that can involve great numbers of people, and competing methods tend to get in each other's way.
Keeping the stuff off the beaches and out of the marshes is a different story. There are many approaches to that, and most of them are complementary. The worst methods seem to concentrate the oil, keep it off the beach, and present the problem of what to do with oil-soaked hair and wood shavings and old cotton shirts, but in the worst cases it can be put in a barren place and burned and that will be better than having it soak into the cypress swamps. At worst a confined area is sacrificed to oil fire residues; or so it would seem to me. I'm glad that I don't hold some position that puts me in charge of making those decisions. No one wants that responsibility, but for some it comes with the job.
Given the history of oil spills, we don't know precisely what effects the oil will have on the marine ecosystem, but we do know that many marine ecosystems have recovered from worse than has happened so far. Hardly means we want more of the stuff, but I don't have any new ideas on magic ways to plug the hole.
The Coast Guard has its orders. No barges out in the Gulf without life jackets and fire extinguishers, and apparently it needed contact with whomever made the barges. Of course the notion of Not Invented Here couldn't possibly have been at work. In any event there are now a couple of hundred thousand gallons of oil sloshing around the Gulf that would have been picked up had there been any kind of local Civil Defense organization in place.
Transparency and subsidiarity. Not an opaque central bureaucracy. Sometimes one needs unity of command, but generally that's not the way to bet it when it comes to local disasters.
June 20, 2010
I used most of the day getting caught up, sort of, on the column -- it should be up in Chaos Manor Reviews tomorrow, possible tonight -- and going to dinner with my oldest son. A good day all around. I am trying to catch up. I am dancing as fast as I can...
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