THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 630 July 5 - 11, 2010
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July 5, 2010
.Still catching up. Ran across a paper copy of the Summer 1985 "paperback magazine" Far Frontiers (Jerry Pournelle and Jim Baen, editors) and, alas, my Step Farther Out column is still appropriate. Among other things I looked at Jimmy Carter's doomsaying Global 2000 Report to the President. The last sentence in my essay is "The only limit to man's vast future is nerve."
I still believe that. If I can figure out a way to get an electronic copy of that essay I'll post it here. If I have to type it in myself I doubt I'll ever get to it.
The whole volume is interesting.
I am on TWIT 255 http://twit.tv/twit which we recorded last Saturday.
There is already some evidence that the Rules of Engagement are changing even now on the first day General Patraeus took command. We will certainly hear more...
The "Military Order of Meritorious Restraint" was always a joke and there was no chance that any such decoration would actually be adopted. Now that will be obvious.
The purpose of the army is to break things and kill people, and apparently that understanding is being restored as of today.
It starts slow and seems dull at first, but it is worth your while to watch it. I was astonished at just how many atomic bombs have been detonated. I am told that the Russians used several to stop underwater oil leaks. Those few are lost in the noise...
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|This week:||Tuesday, July
The Attorney General has now filed suit against Arizona, saying that the law usurps Federal power. Since the law is nearly identical to one that has been in effect in California for a decade -- weaker, actually -- this is a very odd thing to do. It's also politically odd since the polls consistently show that a majority of the American people including quite a large number of those of minority status support Arizona and its law, and a vast majority of the American people are very unhappy with the lack of enforcement of any border control.
Note that even in California the race for governor's race will have border control as a strong issue.
Obama told everyone he would do this.
Is his motive vengeance? That is, Obama has done nothing about border control although he has been in office for more than a year. Arizona called attention to that. Arizona must pay for this act of lese majeste. One hesitates to accuse the President of the United States of petty jealousy, but it's hard to come up with a better reason for this action. It really is odd.
Now at great public expense we will invite the Supreme Court to get into the process. Meanwhile the borders are porous, and there are large sections of Arizona that American citizens are warned to stay out of. The fence has not been built. Over 600,000 people have left the work force because they don't think there's any chance of getting a job. Sopmewhat more than 5 million citizens of another nation have come illegally to the United States and remain here. Migrations smaller than that brought down the Roman Empire. And President Obama is suing the State of Arizona.
We sow the wind.
This morning's LA Times has a story about food stamps, and in the course of it tells of a single mother in her 40's who monthly gets about $245 in welfare benefits and $730 in Social Security Disability payments for her 9 year old son who has Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder.
The article is about her plight and how tough life is for her and others on disability. It's also about how California is doing it all wrong. What it isn't about is what is going on here.
We can all have great sympathy for the unfortunate among us, but from do these entitlements spring? And is this the right way to conduct public affairs? If you subsidize something you get more of it. If you pay people to have ADHD it is likely there will be more of it. I have no idea what ADHD is: it didn't exist when I was in graduate school in psychology. Now we have a lot of it, and it costs us $734/month for each case.
Who is obligated to take care of Maria Arroyo's ADHD son, and where did that person get the obligation? And is discussing this heartless?
It would seem to me a good time to make lists of things government does that we do not think we can afford, with a view to recommendation to the various authorities of jobs we don't want to pay for and therefore people they can fire -- those who do that. Start in California with those who painted out the American Flag on the Freeway. And those who filed the Federal lawsuit against Arizona. Surely if the Federal Government has money to do that, it can do some border enforcement?
Note that private citizens work 13.5 months to earn the pay and benefits of Federal workers. I don't know the ratio for state and city workers, but I imagine it's not a lot smaller. And of course lawyers are expensive.
You work to pay your masters; surely it's worth looking to see if we want what they are doing?
July 7, 2010
The President has appointed health care policy guru Dr. Donald Berwick to lead the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid. He did so during a recess of Congress, which means that Berwick gets to serve without Senate approval -- or hearings in connection with approval -- until the end of this Congress, which is next January.
There are a number of reasons for this recess appointment. The most obvious is that President Obama doesn't want debates on his Obamacare in the months leading up to the election, and since Berwick is an unashamed advocate of single-payer (government) health insurance in general and the British national health care system in particular, his hearing confirmations would make it pretty clear that Obamacare moves us inexorably toward that. The latest reports from Massachusetts show that pretty clearly. Obama has said that his system is similar to the Massachusetts system, and that system is going broke. The premiums keep rising, and the private insurance companies can't stay in business the way things are. The Massachusetts health care experiment has been a train wreck.
Berwick is certainly qualified to head a national health care system (for a pro-Berwick piece see the Washington Post). He's also a realist about what that implies. A few years ago he said that sick people tend to be poorer, and poor people tend to be sicker, and if you want an excellent, humane, and rational health care system it is going to be redistributive. It has to be. An excellent national health care system requires redistributing the wealth.
Of course that's true. It's also the last thing Obama wants debated this summer and fall.
I am appalled at NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's announcement that the foremost mission of NASA is to build better relations with the Muslim world.
I suppose it's a good idea to raise Muslim self esteem, but I would think we could safely leave those objectives to the diplomats in the State Department?
As to their historic contribution to science and engineering, I am no expert, but I thought a good part of that contribution was the transmission of knowledge from classical times through the Dark Ages.
NASA's budget since Apollo has been big enough that we ought to be halfway to Alpha Centauri by now. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but we certainly had a budget that could have taken us to Mars and the asteroids. We certainly could have a Lunar Colony.
I am not sure what to say. It is hard to make that stuff up.
I love the iPad, sort of, but I wish someone other than Apple and AT&T were running them. I have just spent half an hour trying to install a free app: it insisted that I update my credit card first, and AT&T takes flipping forever to send anything because of the abysmal service AT&T gives here. Incidentally, the app I wanted -- free -- which required that I give my credit card information first -- is Mark the Spot, which is an AT&T app that lets me point to where I have lousy service, namely at my house. I managed eventually to download it and send the report but I do not really expect those mangy buzzards to do anything about it for me.
I suppose I am just grousing. I love the iPad but I sure wish I were not stuck with the egregious AT&T. I had good cellphone coverage at Chaos Manor back when it was Cingular, but then AT&T bought Cingular and now I have to go out on the balcony to get reliable connection. In my office I may be able to get a connection and I may not. In the kitchen never. In the back bedroom, maybe. It depends on the wind and whether I hold my mouth right I think.
5.4 or so in Borego Springs. It was felt quite well in Burbank. I did not feel a thing. There is no report of damage or injury.
July 8, 2010
Art Laffer, of Laffer Curve fame, has an important article in today's Wall Street Journal. It's available free on line.
I met Dr. Laffer decades ago when we were both speakers at a conference in Aspen. Another of the speakers was John Kenneth Galbraith. It made for an interesting weekend.
Much of economics isn't difficult, or rather, the difficulty is in cooking up arguments to "prove" that common sense conclusions are wrong. The fact is that many common sense conclusions are quite correct, and it takes a lot of education to get you to believe different. The Laffer Curve is one such: It is obvious that if you have a zero tax rate you will get no income. It is equally obvious that in any kind of free society if you nave a 100% tax rate on income you will get no revenue, because no one will work unless enslaved. There is clearly some kind of curve connecting the two zero points, and it is clear that there is a tax rate that produces optimum tax revenue. Determining the shape of that curve is a more empirical matter, but there are a lot of data out there, and all of them indicate that very high tax rates produce less revenue than lower tax rates. How high is "high" and how low is "lower" is worth attention, but the basic principle isn't debatable.
Today's Wall Street Journal article is based on other such principles. One is that if you subsidize something you get more of it. If you pay people to be unemployed, more will choose unemployment. It is not true that if you pay zero unemployment compensation you will get zero unemployment, but it is certain that if you pay very high unemployment compensation you will get a lot of unemployment.
This doesn't mean that we shouldn't pay unemployment compensation, but it does say that paying it is not a "stimulus" program. You will not create jobs by paying people who are unemployed. This is a principle that should not be ignored. Laffer discusses that in detail.
Another often ignored truth is that minimum wages either have little effect or destroy jobs. Once again it's pretty obvious: if you make the minimum wage high enough, there won't be any jobs at all. Indeed, if you make it higher than the job can produce, there's no incentive to hire someone to do it. (Government is an exception of course: it often hires people at high wages to do things no sane person would want to have done, but that's another essay.)
Anyway, toward the end of today's article Laffer has a stunning proposal:
It's a valid point.
I have been saying for years -- so have many others of course -- that borrowing money to buy tools or training is fundamentally a different proposition from borrowing money just to go spend it on a vacation. Of course many "investments" are doomed. Borrowing money to go play the slots in Los Vegas is not a good investment for individuals and is worse for public investments. Borrowing money to improve the schools is a losing proposition. We have long known that the schools don't need more money to become better schools, and in fact throwing more money at them often makes them less effective. The Kansas City desegregation experiments weren't designed to prove that point, but they certainly did.
Laffer's notion, that we use the borrowed money we threw into the Stimulus Plans to pay everyone's taxes, then stand out of the way and see what happens is stunning. I'd add to it: suspend all regulations that get in the way of hiring people. If you want to hire someone and that someone wants to work, let it happen. They work, you pay, and if you don't think they're working hard enough, you can fire them. (Does that remind you of the German Economic Miracle?)
Of course that can't go on forever. Unregulated capitalism leads to the sale of human flesh in the market place, and perhaps we would not want that. It leads to unsafe working conditions, and relying on the tort bar to remedy that with lawsuits instead of relying on OSHA inspections might -- might -- not be the best way to make people safer. Relying on people to make intelligent decisions -- "I'm not taking that job!" in an economy where jobs are easy to get might not be the best way to make people safer, although it certainly makes them more free. ("You can't take that job, it's too dangerous, and I'm more competent to make that decision than you are.") ("Only a damn fool would take that job for that wage!" "It's a free country and the law don't make me have good sense!")
Liberty and regulation are always in competition. We've been coming down hard on the side of regulation for a long time, and regulation like taxes is almost always a ratchet: always more, almost never less. Perhaps it's time for a reset of both. Reset the taxes, reset the regulations, and let's rationally try to decide how many of each we need.
Just how big is the Gulf disaster? An interchange in mail.
July 9, 2010
Freeman Dyson blacklisted. My, oh my. Really makes the National Academy of Sciences look -- well -- uh -- like -- foolish?
To go with that:
I will be content if rational discussion replaces blacklists. Not likely, of course.
The Los Angeles Police Department cold case unit has arrested a man charged with being "the grim sleeper", a serial killer who has operated since 1985. They tracked him through DNA left at the crime scene.
The innovation is that they didn't find him through his own DNA because they didn't have any: the alleged perpetrator had never been convicted (or even charged) with any crimes, and thus no DNA was on file. However, his son had been convicted of something or another, and his DNA collected; and a search of the DNA data base for DNA similar to that found at the crime scenes turned that up. Given the relationship, and that the address of the father was right in the middle of the crime area, the police decided that Mr. Franklin was in fact their unsub, and began surveillance, eventually getting through ruse a discarded pizza crust which yielded enough DNA to allow analysis, and lo! the match was perfect. The arrest of Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 57 , followed.
The response of the community where the murder were still being committed was universal cheering, which was for the most part the same statewide, but there are those who raise constitutional questions. Is this guilt by association? Is this an unconstitutional technique?
It's hard to see how it's unconstitutional. The California Constitution is so complicated that it's nearly impossible to determine what is and is not unconstitutional -- constitutional amendments passed by big majorities in state initiatives have been ruled unconstitutional by California courts -- but I know of nothing forbidding it. As to the Federal Constitution, objections would probably have to rest with the privacy doctrine, which exists in the Federal Courts although the word never appears in the Constitution of any of its amendments.
We will, of course, see lawsuits brought in both State and Federal courts alleging that this "guilt by association" exceeds the powers of government and violates Mr. Franklin's civil rights. This will provide a lot of work for the lawyers, more than half of it paid for by taxpayers, and be more work for the courts which are already far behind in trying real cases, but I wouldn't think the issue to be in much doubt. Moreover, now that the police have good reason to concentrate on Mr. Franklin, they are likely to find some other clues pointing to him. His lawyers (probably paid by the people of California) will argue that all the new evidence ought to be thrown out as fruit of the poisoned tree, but given the heinous nature of the crimes there will be a lot of pressure on the courts to reject that defense.
The question is, is there anything to the defense? We know that this 'guilt by association' is hard on Mr. Franklin, but so is being denounced by an anonymous tip, or for that matter being caught in the act. We know that the accuracy of DNA evidence has been well and repeatedly tested, and so far seems pretty conclusive -- so much so that many long ago convicted people have been released when DNA evidence indicated that someone else -- known or unknown -- did it. The question is, do we have some expectation of privacy when we father children? That is, by bequeathing our DNA to a future generation, we inevitably expose ourselves to being suspected if DNA similar to ours turns up in a crime scene. Is that scary?
Given the procedures used by LAPD -- there was no hint that they had identified the unsub until they had obtained Mr. Franklin's DNA and matched it to that found at the crime scene -- the precedents set are pretty sound. The scary part comes if this guilt by association is abused, as it inevitably will be in some future cases. "City Councilman Has DNA Similar to Serial Killer, Attorney General Announces", followed by a retraction on page 32 three days later when it is found that the similarity was very slight and might be a 4th cousin twice removed, is not beyond the realm of possibility.
The new technique poses some danger to the freedom of the innocent, but it certainly increases the freedom of Mr. Franklin's future victims not to be murdered.
Most will see this as an artificial dilemma, and be cheering with the majority in their congratulations to LAPD. I'm one of them. Technology may limit some freedoms, but it sure expands others. I'm alive because of new high technology. The richest man in the world in 1945 did not have some of the real freedoms we all, including the poorest, now have. Hurrah.
In Bishop California they are going to have a referendum on whether residents of this isolated Owens Valley town can keep chickens as pets. The City Council can't decide because most of them either have chickens or did have some.
In Studio City where I live the businesses in a small strip mall not far from the first (and former) LASFS clubhouse must remove their business signs, since they violate some city code or other. Tom Huerta, Senior City Inspector, and Joe Brenek, City Inspector, are doing their jobs, getting those businesses to tear down their signs or go to jail. If this something the people of Los Angeles want to pay Huerta and Brenek to do, they should be commended; but perhaps there are some who think there are other things to be done with public money, and here are two jobs that could be eliminated in our quest to balance the city's budget?
Meanwhile we pay a lot of Federal employees to threaten airlines with fines of $27,000 per passenger if they are kept on the tarmac for more than three hours. Now none of us likes being on one of those flights from hell -- somewhere on this site is my account of it happening to me once after a PC Expo in New York -- but really, does anyone think the airlines want this to happen? Or that if they don't compensate the passengers in some way they risk losing the business? Do we really need highly paid civil servants going about concerning themselves with matters that are adequately managed by the market?
And in California the State is paying $20 million in compensation to a kidnap victim because parole agents interviewed her and one of her children (fathered by her kidnapper) without doing anything to end her 18 years of captivity. None of the parole agents is named, none has been fired or removed from office, but the state would have been a lot better off if they'd slept through their term of office.
We really don't want to pay civil servants for doing nothing. That's a waste, But then some of the things they do "for" us may cost even more than we'd have to pay for them to lean on their shovels or watch Internet porn at their desks. We're told that government can't be cut because all the jobs are important. Perhaps we ought to be collecting examples of people whose services we might be better off without?
July 10, 2010
Correction: I previously stated that the President had not suspended the Jones Act and this prevented use of foreign owned and foreign crewed oil recovery vessels in cleaning up the oil spill. This is untrue. I have learned that the Jones Act has exceptions built into the Act, and oil spill cleanups are among those; and foreign owned and operated ships are already at work in the oil spill cleanup.
There are a number of articles comparing the BP spill with past oil spills. One of the best for presenting data is by Fast Company, which concludes that this is the worst of all if you combine both the amounts released and the location of the spill. Another comparison is from Science Blog.
There are at least three aspects to the oil spill disaster. Obviously the highest priority has to be to stopping the contamination, either by plugging the hole or capturing at the source a high percentage of the flow. I have no way to judge the government's performance in that task; it's not obvious that anything important has been neglected. BP has the technological experts and they appear to be doing what they think must be done. I do suspect that having a boot on their neck while being threatened with having their arse kicked has not improved their performance, but I could be wrong, and those statements create the best atmosphere for getting the best work done. It's not what I would have chosen.
The second highest priority would be containing the spill: keep it at sea and away from the marshes and beaches. Oil evaporates and dissolves, and while the amounts of oil are large, the Gulf is larger. The planet has survived far worse insults; indeed, while the amounts flowing from the BP spill are now larger than the amounts released by the Exxon Valdez, in the worst case they appear to be no greater than those of the Ixtoc Gulf oil spill and are probably smaller. The Gulf can recover from the oil. The real danger is to beaches and marshes. It's a lot harder to clean up land, marshes, and estuaries. Keeping the oil out of your back yard will of course increase the danger of it ending in someone else's back yard. This raises issues of states rights, and state competence. Regarding competence, I note that one of the inducements Florida had over Ohio and New Jersey in persuading LeBron James to play for the Heat is that Florida has no state income tax. James like all athletes has limited time of high income; he saves a lot of money playing for Florida. This does not mean that a Federal Agency ought to get involved. That's the way the system is supposed to work. It's a bit different in this case, but the principle is the same: Louisiana has the right to try to defend itself, and there's no reason to suppose that adding Federal bureaucrats to the mix with EPA rules and long debates on what containment measures do what to whom are doing much to contain the spread.
The third priority is cleaning up and paying for the cleanup, including compensation to those whose lives and incomes were substantially reduced by the spill. This won't be settled for a long time, and the result is going to be influenced by a number of political and bureaucratic factors. It will certain employ a lot of lawyers both in civil service (as administrative judges, special masters, etc.) and in private practice, and one suspects that a substantial part of the costs of this recovery will be because of legal salaries and fees. BP is advertising its intention to do the right thing. The President is looking for asses to kick, and at last count still had the Attorney General's boot on their neck. This will play out for years to decades. Some decisions have to be made quickly since irreparable harm is being done to some. Some decisions can and will be delayed. Upcoming elections will change the rules. It's a matter for discussion: what can be done to make things right? What ought to be done?
In addition we have Federal decisions to make regarding energy policy. One reason for ultra-deep water drilling is that it's one of the few places oil companies are allowed to drill. I have mail challenging this: saying that it isn't regulation that keeps companies from drilling on land or in relatively shallow water, it's because there isn't any oil there. I doubt that's the case but it's easy to find out: sell leases with permission to drill in various places and see if there are any takers. It can't cost that much to conduct the auctions. We might find out there's more available oil than we think.
July 11, 2010
.I took the day off. Trying to install the AT&T MicroCell. Everything is fine except my iPhone doesn't believe it exists (and yes of course I have registered the MicroCell and given it the iPhone's number). I'm trying to straighten that out. No luck so far.
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 COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 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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