THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 649 November 15 - 21, 2010
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November 15, 2010
I remain pretty well under the weather. I posted some matters of interest over the weekend, including some works by Stephen Vincent Benet that influenced me as a youngster. I also added another of his poems that has haunted me ever since I read it.
And if you have not seen it, I recommend my notes on the lost debates on Global Warming, and the shameful tactics that the Believers have resorted to in their attack on Freeman Dyson. Apparently it is now a consensus belief that Deniers are insane, and subject to psychological analysis. Actual questions of physics are ignored. That is settled. What's needed is research into why the Deniers or even the Skeptics have gone mad.
It is clear that Congress must demand an actual scientific debate on the whole AGW issue. There are billions of dollars at stake, and all attempts to conduct a cost/benefit analysis, or even to ask questions of the Believers are ignored in favor of speculation about the sanity of the questioners. The new House will be able to demand that debate, and it will be important that it be conducted properly, as a scientific debate rather than a series of set piece diatribes. This is a matter of importance, after all: if the Believers are right, there is a great deal at stake; but there is also a lot of money at stake and it is far from proved that the remedies proposed by the Believers will have the desired effect even assuming that the Believers are correct in their main hypotheses.
When I recover I'll try to address this issue; meanwhile I encourage suggestions. Again, we are not looking for diatribes; we are looking for science.
As I observed to Congressman Rohrabacher the other day, you can't predict the future, but you can invent it.
That phrase isn't original with me, of course. The first attribution of it I know is to Dandridge Cole. I have certainly written about it before. In any event it has resonance now, and with the incoming House. I am collecting notes and dicsussions of futures to invent. Inventing a future is an exercise in the Strategy of Technology, and requires describing a relatively clear path from where you are to where you want to be: the essential part is identifying technologies that must be developed to get there from here.
Incidentally, today's Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece by James Woolsey on a matter that is straight out of THE STRATEGY OF TECHNOLOGY by Possony, Pournelle, and Kane. (link to Woolsey op ed) It is worth your time. Arms Control is a serious matter, and it is not clear that the Obama White House is fully aware of the implications. Woolsey was one of the Clinton people I respected.
In any event, we have two issues to work on for the next couple of months before the new Congress is sworn in. One is how to conduct a meaningful scientific debate including cost/benefit analysis as well as confidence in the basic theories in the climate change discussions, and the second it looking at futures to invent and specific paths to get to them.
Here's a news article illustrating how many surprises lurk in the ocean depths ...
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|This week:||Tuesday, November
My head still isn't working properly, so I am not going to try any profundities. I hear a great stir about the new Congressional members-elect and the tons of advice being handed them. Rush Limbaugh is making fun of some of it, to wit, that incoming Congresscritters will be showered with attention from attractive women, some of them lobbyists, others just power freaks, and this will be a danger to all, but particularly to the unattractive incoming Congresscritters. I suppose it's easy to make fun of the notion, but it certainly is true, and it's not really a laughing matter. Power and fame are aphrodisiacs, and there will be professional lobbyists targeting the incoming Members and Senators. You never know how many friends you have until you are in Washington with power.
There is a strange malady that afflicts those who come to Washington. It is sometimes called Beltway Fever. The symptoms are a delusion that only what happens inside the Beltway -- the Freeway system that encircles the District -- matters. There may be a country out there beyond the Beltway, but what's important is that which happens inside. Everyone I know is subject to Beltway Fever, and it is surprising how quickly it can take hold and change behavior. The only long time resident of DC I know who resisted this disease was the late General Dan Graham, and even he was susceptible while he had his office suite on K Street, and some of his staff were definitely infected. It became easier to resist when they moved High Frontier out of K Street to a more suburban location.
We may be sure that some of the Tea Party members will be infected, and it will be interesting to chart the progress of the disease. Perhaps their constituents will keep reminding them of why they were elected.
The Republicans must always keep in mind that this wave election was not a validation of the Republican Party, just as the 2008 wave election was not a validation of the Democratic Party. Both were cries of anguish and demands for a change of course. The Republican establishment doesn't want to believe that, but they disbelieve at their peril. This election was an opportunity, not a validation. Validation will come with some dramatic changes. Those changes must be large, significant, and very visible.
One such change of course will be a real debate on the cost/effectiveness of "green" technologies and the entire Global Warming question. Is the Earth warming? (Probably.) Is this a disaster? (Probably not; depends on how much.) (Should we be concerned about rising CO2 levels? (Short term, probably not, but we should not ignore it. We ought to be looking for geo-engineering ways to reduce atmospheric CO2.) Should we reduce our CO2 output? (Depends on how we do it, and how much we have to spend to do it. Costs should include the cost of reduced energy available for economic growth. Note that nuclear power plants do not give off CO2 and do produce energy.)
And I suspect I am rambling. I do hope to recover from this bug.
The new backscatter X-ray machines sound formidable, but as I understand it, any passenger on an hour or more flight is going to get more radiation from being at altitude than from the x-ray, and that by a factor of more than 2.
With a few exceptions by "radiation is bad for you, period" protestors, the hormesis argument -- a little radiation is better for you than none, but more is not better, and a lot is dangerous -- seems to be prevalent among those who have studied the matter. My friend Klaus Nordquist was formerly the medical colonel of the Swedish Life Guards regiment, and one of his studies involved conscripts from various areas of Sweden, some with high natural background radiation, some with none; his conclusion was that conscripts from the high background areas were actually healthier than those from other areas. Given that he had access to what amounts to the entire male population of Swedes of a certain age, this seems close to definitive. There are many other published studies of hormesis vs. the linear (all radiation causes damage) hypothesis, and the principle of hormesis seems to me to be established, but I note that Wikipedia and other pop science sources tend to be doubtful. There are many studies. (1) (2)
I have bold-faced two statements in the above. I believe they are true, and if true, are definitive; hormesis is not involved. The additional radiation from the x-ray is lost in the noise. Regarding the privacy concerns, I have no confidence in Wikipedia as a primary data source where there is any controversy at all, but I don't find the privacy concerns very important here.
I have long been of the opinion that TSA is not very effective and its major purpose is to convince the American Citizen that he/she is no longer a citizen, but a subject to be ordered about by "Federal Officers." I have long argued that in the normal course of events, "Federal Officers" ought never to be able to act without cooperation of the local sheriff; the Constitution did not contemplate routine law enforcement by Federal Agents in matters other than customs and immigration. The "Revenue Agents" created to enforce the Whiskey Tax were the first exception to this rule and in my judgment it was a mistake: they were exempted from having to work with local law enforcement because local law enforcement in those days was greatly in sympathy with the Whiskey Rebellion. The eventual result of that was the Waco Massacre, which would never have happened had the BATF -- the Revenoors -- had to work with the local sheriff. Same with Ruby Ridge and other such sporting events for Lon Horiuchi.
But if we assume that TSA is needed, then the backscatter X-ray is probably as non-intrusive a way to implement its primary mission of keeping passengers from carrying weapons or infernal machines. I suspect that if we abolish the TSA and go back to each airline implementing its own system we would be just as safe, but then I said that back when they were forming TSA. The 9/11 attacks can't happen now. Bringing down an airplane if you don't mind being killed in doing it has always been a possible option and seldom happens; and it's not all that likely that TSA is able to prevent it. The American public seems to have been convinced that TSA security (or security theater) is necessary. If so, the new system is probably as good as any.
I know that's not going to be a popular opinion with my readers. Today's mail will have a lot of alternate views.
But assuming that the ratio of radiation received on a normal flight to that received by a backscatter xray is really 0.5/0.01 = 50/1, it does not seem to be a health hazard, and is less offensive to me than the unctuous Uriah Heep "deference" of the TSA agents, who continue to make us understand that we are subjects, not citizens. And I suspect that many of them like that job.
November 17, 2010
I'm recovering but not as rapidly as I should. We went for a short walk this morning. Heard on the radio yesterday that my neighbor Bill Nye the Science Guy collapsed on stage last night. We walked past his house today and he was out in the front yard giving instructions to painters who are working on his house, and half a dozen other neighbors with dogs were standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, so we didn't stop except to wish him a good morning, but clearly he has recovered. I suspect he has something similar to what's got me, and just got overwhelmed trying to keep a previous engagement. This stuff is insidious. I'm getting over it, but I have to be careful not to take on too much.
I have a great deal of mail, particularly on the TSA "get a radiation dose or get groped or don't fly: choose one" policy. I don't disagree with most of it, but I have always said that TSA is Kabuki Theater, Security Theater -- I may not be the inventor of those phrases but I might be; I have been using them for a long time, and I don't know where I got them, they seemed obvious. I have never thought TSA did much for security compared to its enormous costs. I knew when it was instituted that it would be arrogant, intrusive, inefficient, and eternal. What other kind of people would take TSA jobs? There is a rule in science fiction fandom among those who run SF conventions: never allow anyone who volunteers to "work security" to have anything to do with security. They may not all be incipient petty tyrants but that's the way to bet it. Those who want the job of searching other people's underwear may in fact be dedicated to the security of the people of the United States, but it's far more probable that they just like to be in positions of authority and are unable to join real security forces. Or they just want jobs and will be timeservers, which induces boredom which -- well, you get the idea.
But having said all that, I do have to insist that the danger of radiation from the backscatter X-ray machines is quite small compared to the radiation you will receive just by taking the flight. One engineer reader has a bit more to say on that -- see Mail. As to the privacy issue, I guess I'm in a minority, but I just don't care. The picture obtained in the X-ray looks a bit like the one in the Movie "Total Recall", and while I don't like the crazy procedure it's not a lot more obtrusive than what we have to put up with now. If this is the straw that breaks the TSA camel's back and gets us closer to real security, then I'm all for using it, but I do insist that we have the facts right. Having said that I sure would like to get rid of the TSA as presently constituted.
The problem is that "real security" is not a lot of fun either. I first ran into real security on a trip to South Africa in the 1970's, when the Bureau of State Security teams questioned us. They were not told that we were guests of the government -- at least I insisted that they not be told in advance and that our handler go through the security after we did, and I think I got my way -- and they were quite thorough. We were, after all, foreigners from a country officially rather hostile to the Republic of South Africa (that was in apartheid days), and journalists to boot. It wasn't really unpleasant because the agents, who were real professional career security officers, were very professional, but I can't say I enjoyed it.
We encountered "real security" again in our trip to Israel, where the Shin Bet agent at our dawn departure was about 21 years old, wore a somewhat soiled shirt, and acted like a stereotype of an arrogant wisecracking Jew with too much authority. It was only later that I realized that he was probably doing that intentionally to see what kind of reaction he would get. I didn't like him and I didn't like the disrespect he showed to several of the clergy who were part of our Israeli tour. It wasn't fun at all, but one supposes it was effective: the record shows that whatever Shin Bet does, it must be working. I don't know of any El Al planes that have been high jacked and this in an area there jihadists are not thin on the ground. It works. It's not cheap, and employs career security officers, not recruits from the TSA.
The security issue isn't anywhere near as simple as either side makes it. Of course it requires profiling: after all, every single major incident has involved Muslim males, and not one has involved blonde girls. On the other hand, if blondes get a guaranteed wave-through, you may be certain that plots involving recruiting blonde females or people who can be made to look like blonde females will begin. How successful the plotters will be isn't so clear. And legislating common sense isn't easy. Maybe I'll think of something profound when my head is working better, but most of what I have seen on this subject doesn't seem to have been thought through. There are a lot of airplane flights in the US. It only takes one success on the part of the terrorists to cost us billions and billions in "security" -- or security theater -- costs. But as the memory of those successes fades the enthusiasm for spending money on real security as opposed to security theater diminishes. And whatever solution you come up with must get past five or six committees plus get the approval or at least avoid the opposition of unions, airlines, vocal politicians, and a thousand ethnic and religious watchdog groups. It makes my headache worse just to think about it.
What is it we are trying to prevent? If it is preventing the highjacking of airliners and their subsequent use as cruise missiles to destroy buildings, that is rather easily accomplished, and could have been accomplished without creating the TSA at all. It only took making cabin doors secure and giving different instructions to passengers and flight crews. It took removing the threat of prosecution for passengers who refused to cooperate with the highjackers. Nothing else needed to be changed. Making it risky to bring firearms aboard aircraft could have been beefed up a bit, and we could actually have relaxed the searching for pocket knives, scissors, box cutters, screwdrivers, and other such weapons of non-mass destruction. We might even have experimented with my proposal of issuing ball peen hammers to adult male passengers as they boarded the airplane, or equipping each seat with a billy club. We certainly didn't need the TSA and the confiscation of a Medal of Honor from a retired general as the early TSA Gomer Gestapo thought fit to do.
But if we are trying to prevent the destruction of an airplane by someone who is willing to be killed by doing it, we have taken on a much more difficult project.
We are for the moment restricting devices, not people, from going aboard airplanes. That is a very difficult task. Perhaps we should rethink the mission. What we want to do is keep people willing to die crashing the airplane from getting aboard. Perhaps that would be easier.
It needs a thorough examination of the goals and the costs and effectiveness of actions, and none of that has been done. The TSA "just growed" from the early Gomer Gestapo of its beginning days to the -- well, to what we have now. Not much thought went into any of this. It needs a ground up examination of the goals, costs, and potential effectiveness of its activities. That won't happen. The TSA like a prison guards union has become a political player and will prevent any real reform. It might be abolished and replaced, but it is not likely to be reformed. Or perhaps I am just mud headed this morning.
Now for something completely different:
Reminding us of Minsky's theory of consciousness and personality, The Society of Mind. Niven and I tried to imagine the ways of thinking of a herd animal in Footfall. And then there are the Moties...
One of the Deathly Hallows?
November 18, 2010
The Christian Science Monitor says:
The Federal Judge in the trial is proud:
The Christian Science Monitor coverage continues:
All of which ought to be disturbing. This is not the way a Republic acts. Our previous attempts to deal with people like Ghailani were not all that reassuring, but at least they did have the merit that when the detainees are no longer dangerous, they can be released. Ghaliani was acquitted of being a mastermind but was convicted of somehow being involved: now he faces twenty years to life, which I suspect is about the same result that would have been obtained had he been convicted on all counts.
The Administration seems determined to establish its control over everything according to policy, not to law. While making life difficult for the troops who have to fight the war, the Administration is determined to give more and more power to Federal Officers over American citizens, making certain these uppity citizens understand they are not subjects and all potential terrorists. The TSA says so.
The reaction to TSA's arrogance continues. There is a proposal for passive resistance: everyone refuses the new X-ray scan and insists that TSA molest them. As to the use of the term "molest": looking at the legal definition of molestation in this and other states, I cannot find a distinction between what the TSA is doing and what legislators have described as molestation. Of course the TSA has your "consent", more or less.
I find the recent furor a bit inexplicable: we agreed long ago to allow these collaborators to treat us as subjects, not citizens, and even when the insanity led to the attempted confiscation of a retired general's Medal of Honor as a possible dangerous weapon. We didn't abolish this Gomer Gestapo then. We didn't treat TSA agents -- all of them -- as we would treat collaborators with an occupying power. We accepted it as if this would somehow make us safer. We still accept TSA agents as patriots, not quislings. Of course Vidkung Quisling believed he was a patriot, and one supposes that Marshal Petain thought he was working for the good of France.
Of course there is no end to what powers the TSA needs in order to make us safe so long as it tries to intercept objects rather than terrorists. On the other hand, we haven't looked at all at the implications of installing "real security" of the kind used by Israel's Shin Bet and the former Bureau of State Security of the Republic of South Africa. Those are not without costs either.
All of which is to say: Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. But many of us have known this for a long time.
In another conference a well known female science fiction editor has proposed that all females insist on the pat down, and moan in ecstasy as it is being conducted. Watch Meg Ryan in the restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally for inspiration. I haven't seen a similar proposal for men, and after all, this is a Don't Ask, Don't Tell situation....
Some states attorneys are now proposing to arrest TSA agents performing their duties as collaborators. It is unlikely that they'll get away with that: they'll soon learn that the States no longer have the right of Interposition. I don't suppose that has much meaning to graduates of modern public schools, but it used to be part of State History in about 4th or 5th grade in Capleville unified (two grades to a room, about 25 pupils per grade, a school for farmer's children mostly). See the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.
Note that this was introduced by James Madison, who can be presumed to have some understanding of the intentions of the Framers of the Constitution. They were drafted in part by Thomas Jefferson, then the Vice President of the United States.
It is not likely that that the Democratic Party, which claims to be heir to Thomas Jefferson, will support this notion. I suspect that the result will be even less flexibility on the part of the Federal occupation force in our airports. The notion that the people of the United States are free citizens, not potential terrorists is considered bizarre today.
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.
Should we have everyone punch a TSA collaborator day?
Even Salon gets it sometimes:
We have had terrorists attacking airplanes for a long time. We endured without TSA.
This is old but amusing: http://tinyurl.com/2l3ag
November 19, 2010
As opposed to:
As for me, I think it's time to ask some basic questions. We are now spending $7 billion a year in tax money on TSA; some 60,000 employees who will doubtless be given large pensions on retirement. The budget can only rise.
Is is not time to have some kind of cost/effectiveness analysis of TSA contribution to public safety? And perhaps ask some hard questions.
I had this from a reader:
Is it likely the TSA officer, who is merely following "standard procedure", is increasing the security of the people of the United States? Or is she contributing to the making of another Timothy McVeigh? Of course the next step is to jail everyone whose child has been abused by a Federal Officer since they may harbor burning resentment, and perhaps the child ought to be raised in a crèche.
Are we getting $7 billion a year in increased security?
November 20, 2010
November 21, 2010
.I am still trying to shake this cold/flu and I am falling behind in work.740 There is mail posted for the day.
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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