THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 679 June 13 - 19, 2011
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June 13, 2011
There was a minor crash -- not involving us -- on the freeway making our trip home take a lot longer than I expected, and we got home safe but late. I'll work on an essay tonight or tomorrow. There's a lot to write about. I'd have got something done today despite getting home late, but the switch on Emily, an Intel Extreme which usually works fine, had got itself displaced and she wouldn't turn on. It was a simple think to fix, except that the design of the front plate system on the machine is just plain awful. I'd hate to think that they let the guy who designed that work on anything else. It took an hour for what ought to have taken about two minutes. Then the phone calls, and then ==
Ah well. I'm exhausted, but I'm back and all is working again except that I had to use black gaffer's tape on Emily to get her front bezel back on. It looks all right because the case is black, and it's shiny tape, and actually the tape works better than the silly system they used. I had to take some of the parts off, and even that was designed so badly that it needed an offset screwdriver to get the parts off. An altogether awful system. Pete Conrad said that he'd hate to think the guy who designed the water system in Skylab ever got to work on anything else. I've remembered that for a long time.
Anyway it's getting on to dinner time. There's a lot going on, but most of it will wait. I do note that the President says his goal is to educate a lot of engineers. Given our education system and the credentialism of the Department of Education, and the rising incompetence paralleling the rising costs -- mostly salaries -- of our universities and teachers college (only they are teacher universities now, aren't they?) it is not likely that we will be able to satisfy our need for smart engineers except by importation. Our E schools aren't all that bad although they are deteriorating, but the general education system sets people back so far before they get to college that while the really bright ones manage, the average college-bound student -- say top 20% of the kids coming up through high school -- is stunted, set back so far that it takes forever to get through the remedial courses and get to where he ought to have been before he got to school in the first place. You have to select engineering fairly early in your college career since you have to learn calculus pretty fast. You can do statics with algebra, but that won't get you very far. And if you are taking bonehead English and bonehead Algebra as a college freshman, you aren't likely to get to, and learn, calculus by the time you start sophomore courses. And that --
Well, you get the idea. Abolishing the Department of Education and closing about half the teachers colleges, requiring that high school math teachers know some math before they try to teach it --
But I am rambling. I'll get back to this another day. But Obama will throw money at the problem. Get more engineers by paying more to engineering teachers. Also get more kids into engineering school, many of whom won't belong there/ And --
It's not hard to have a pretty good engineering instruction system. Learning journeyman competence as an engineer is hard, but it's not beyond ones who ought to be studying it. Alas, trying to pretend that every kid deserves a chance at engineering school is just going to result in wasting competent instructors. Fortunately Asia will continue to export engineers to the US...
Perhaps I am overstating. Perhaps.
Incidentally, calculus, like algebra, is just a form of low cunning. You have to be smart enough to get the idea of infinitesimals and limits, but that's not really all that hard. After that it's a matter of doing the exercises. And doing the exercises. And doing the exercises, until it becomes natural to use calculus, just as you had to spend a time learning the multiplication and addition tables, by rote, learn by heart, before you could really use arithmetic. But once you do that, arithmetic comes naturally. Similarly, get used to calculus, and the notion of integrating to find out the weight of a tapered cable that reaches orbit, or of a mechanism that can use centrifugal force to fling stuff off the moon, comes naturally, and is in fact easy. But that isn't easy to those who haven't worked at it, and in my case it least, work means work: do the exercises. It can take weeks to months before it becomes natural to use algebra and calculus as tools to solve problems; but that does happen. Do the exercises. But of course that's not the fun way to learn. I gather that many schools no longer required learning the times and addition tables to 15 by 15. Too hard, too much work. And we wonder why they never catch on later.
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Happy Birthday, Roberta
The Republican primary debate was downplayed by the media, but it was important in a number of ways. Despite CNN's best efforts with John King, Client Number Nine, Wolf Blitzer, and the others asking questions under rules that brought out sound bites rather than thoughtful answers, every one of the Republican candidates managed to give a good explication of reasonable conservative principles. They all came off well, None came across as kooks or nuts or "extremists" whatever those are.
Confession: I was in complete agreement with Goldwater's paraphrase of Cicero in his nomination acceptance: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." I still am. Thus I am probably not be best expert on acceptable limits to "extremism." That said, none of the candidates last night looked like extremists despite the best efforts of Client Number Nine and the other impartial mainstream media experts to make them appear so.
I note that King tried to bait Newt Gingrich on immigration, and that this morning Rush Limbaugh singled out Newt's answer -- that we need to control the borders, preferably by sending large numbers of Department of Homeland Security employees to the border to do that, and then we can start sorting out to who deport and what to do with those already here -- as excellent. Newt was more succinct this time and more emphatic on the getting the borders under control first, but in essence his position was the same this time as when his speculations about what to do about the 20 million illegals already here raised such a mess last time. I'd expect Limbaugh's imprimatur will settle a lot of that.
From the National Catholic Reporter:
As to how to control the borders, note that Newt didn't make using the National Guard the means for doing that: his remarks were a bit more complex than that, and he ended up saying that Homeland Security already has the people and the money to get the borders under control: DHS has to be told to get that job done. Once that happens, we can start to worry about what to do with those already here. The debate format encouraged very short answers, and this is a very complex question. Nor is Michael Sean Winters entirely correct about how "most undocumented workers" enter the country. It's not legal entrants who have made the Arizona border territory a war zone. I don't know the statistics on methods of entry for illegal aliens, but in California and the other southern borders states I suspect "most" do not enter legally and overstay visas. Actually I would doubt that it's true in general: but in the case of those entering legally, there are records, we know how long they have been here, and we know where they came from. That doesn't take the National Guard, but it does take some determination to do something about it. Of course determination to do something about it is the primary requirement everywhere.
Newt was strong on such items as defunding the NLRB for trying to keep Boeing from moving jobs to South Carolina. He was strong on the Tenth Amendment. And he's still a space advocate:
Nothing to disagree with there. I've been saying all that for thirty years, and indeed I have often said it to Newt.
Of course he's the only one I know well, but in my judgment, Newt comes off as the sharpest candidate, and the best informed on the issues. He doesn't come off as the strongest candidate. He's thoughtful, and considers a lot of factors others overlook. He sees complexities. He's an intellectual and it shows. He also knows that all things don't come from government. In a later comment to a remark by John King:
I don't mean this to be entirely about Newt Gingrich. He's been in the news lately because his staff -- none of them all that important so far as I am concerned -- quit en masse, and there have been other critical news items. I am glad to see that Newt is in this: that will insure some intellectual content to the discussions.
All of the candidates came off well. They looked like serious candidates, serious about the issues. There wasn't a teleprompter in sight. They all came off well. And it's a year before the actual campaigning season.
As Rush said today, any of the Republican candidates would be an order of magnitude better for the United States than what we have now. But then Rush is on record as preferring Elmer Fudd to what we have now.
Precisely. So far as I know, no one off site was injured by Fukushima. Yes, it was a mess, and a lot worse than Three Mile Island: but like TMI it was a terribly expensive test to destruction that demonstrated the comparative safety of nuclear power. More people are killed in coal mines and at railroad grade crossings for coal trains than by nuclear power generation. Per kilowatt it's safer than anything else I know.
June 15, 2011
I suppose it had to happen. Now Ginger Lee, a former exotic dancer, now a budding real estate agent although she also uses the title featured dancer, so she would probably accept a gig, has hired shock attorney Gloria Allred. Ginger Lee is one of the recipients of Weiner treat tweets. Ginger Lee corresponded with the Congressman, but it was always about politics and planned parenthood. She needs an attorney because she is embarrassed, and she didn't do sex texting, and she wishes this would all go away, so she brought in Gloria Allred, who immediately held a press conference. Clearly the way to make a controversy go away. She just wants to get back to her career, whatever it is. It is said that she has starred in at least one pornographic movie -- the term "former porn star" is used in several articles about her -- but none of that was mentioned in the press conference. She was referred to as a "feature dancer", which is why I infer that she would probably accept a gig. Perhaps Allred would act as her agent. As I said, it had to happen.
The local radio station is asking random high school kids questions like "Where is Pearl Harbor?" and "Who fought in the American Revolution?" and "What was the American Revolution about?" The answers they are getting are not encouraging. Spokespeople for the education profession are saying that this neglect of American history is due to the school district's concentration on reading and math and science. I haven't noted any evidence of learning about reading and math and science, but perhaps I missed it. Oh -- one of the questions that many of the kids could not answer was "Who fought in the Civil War?" But apparently all of them knew that the Civil War was about slavery. So was the American Revolution.
Education is now an entitlement, not an investment. You are to pay taxes to support the education establishment because the kids are entitled to an education. This really means that you must pay their teachers and administrators and other education workers no matter what they teach, or if they teach anything at all. The alternate notion, that we pay for this enormously expensive -- and steadily increasingly expensive -- education system because it is an investment in the future, making for better citizens and a better educated work force -- is clearly no longer put forward: look at the results? Now it is a useful thing for a Republic to have its citizens be familiar with the national saga, and have well a developed sense of patriotism, but it is also hard to see that this is the result of all the money poured into the education system. I could develop that theme further, but it's so depressing that I need to work myself up to it.
One thing is clear: we would lose nothing by abolishing the Federal Department of Education. Zero it out of the budget. We are not getting any return on that investment, and I don't see how the kids are entitled to Federal money. Let the States handle this. Most won't do it well, but perhaps one or two will. What we have now isn't doing anything we would rationally want. Some of the States will do it worse -- although it's hard to figure out what could be worse than a system that is indistinguishable from an act of war against America -- but some won't do as bad, and heck, some might do things well.
For those who don't know what that last paragraph refers to, a National Commission on Education done under Reagan concluded, in the words of Glen T. Seaborg (although drafted by Mrs. Annette Kirk who was on the commission) that "If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would consider it an act of war." That was when things were a lot better than now.
Our increasingly undereducated work force is precisely what we don't need in these economic times. Not only is technical knowledge down, but the knowledge of the way the Republic works, the way the world works, which can only come from history, is becoming non-existent. An uneducated electorate is far more likely to vote for entitlements and benefits from the government -- which is of course what the unionized education establishment wants. Individual teachers want to teach. Educating the young is a rewarding experience. But Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy sees to it that the establishment is controlled by different goals.
And it's lunch time.
June 16, 2011
Things are a bit disordered here, and there's a reason: my long time Internet Service Provider was run by two friends, Greg Lincoln and Brian Bilbrey. It was a botique service, ideal for me, but maintaining that has become enough work that they have decided to get out of the ISP business, and I have to move to a new host. Fortunately Greg, and Brian (who is also Managing Editor of Chaos Manor Reviews) are assisting, and I have other highly competent friends who are carrying the main burden. More on that and acknowledgements when it is accomplished.
We've already moved a good bit of my operation to the new host. We are now about to move Chaos Manor over there. I have long known that I can't continue to run this place with Front Page. Microsoft stopped supporting that a long time ago. I never tried their replacement WYSIWYG web site tools; about the time I should have made that shift I ended up with my head fastened to a steel table while they burned The Lump out of my head, and between that and recovery I sort of missed the opportunity to go to a more modern -- and supported -- web tool system. And since none of my friends and advisors use those tools now, I have been reluctant to take it up. I suppose I could. I can still learn things. But I haven't been eager to.
And over the years people have urged me to use Word Press, which is a modern system used by a great many web sites. Given that we have to make a lot of changes anyway, this seemed like the time. So sometime in the next few days or week, this place will change. The old stuff will remain, and be accessible and browseable, and can be linked to; or so I am told. The new one won't look all that different, but we'll see. Changes are inevitable.
The Feed system will work better now. Some of the arcane features I developed back when I first got started -- this is the original blog after all -- were pretty clumsy and ought to have been changed long ago. I'll probably do some reorganizations. I will also try my best to see that nothing is lost, and there isn't that much change. I do know some of it is going to be easier. Some of it. But then
there is always the unexpected.
The Word Press system also makes it easy to Tweet and Facebook, as well as making the Feed systems work. I have mixed emotions about Facebook -- see today's mail -- and Twitter, but we'll see. Anyway, things are going to change, and that has discombobulated things here, so that the chaos levels have increased, but it all should be over soon, and I am assured that my only regrets will be that I didn't do it earlier.
I note that they're rioting in Greece: the Germans won't continue to support the Greek life style, and the Greeks are taking to the streets to defend their entitlements. Meanwhile the governor has vetoed the budget, and the governor is making noises about "open primaries." The clear threat is that the unions will get involved to make sure there is never a clear election on taxation by making sure that both candidates in most elections are Democrats no matter what party label they run on. It makes for an interesting situation. California is setting itself up like Greece with debts it can't pay and entitlements it can't deliver. The notion is that the rest of the country will have to pay.
The European Union experiment may tell us something. California is doomed, of course. Everyone who can will flee, and certainly it is no place to start a new business in. The only new jobs are expanding state hiring to be financed by more taxes. It is an interesting death spiral. And since there is no ID required to vote...
Democracies endure until the voters understand that they can vote themselves largess -- entitlements if you will -- from the public treasury. Eventually they run out of other people's money. The usual next step is a dictatorship. The dictator generally comes in as Friend of the People, although some of them, like Caesar, were not simply power hungry tyrants. Some patriots become tyrannical -- Lincoln certainly had the view that his cause was more important than the means he used -- without becoming power mad tyrants whose only goal is to stay in power. Some. But usually when democracies collapse, the result is Chaos and Old Night. The Republic is not dead, but these are critical times.
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.
June 17, 2011
Move-on has a lecture by Robert Reich that will explain all our problems for you in under two minutes. It's not a productivity problem. It's all those super rich people. They don't pay enough taxes. They have too much money. That leaves no money for the schools or the roads or government services, and causes social disunion and civil unrest. It's those super rich who don't pay enough taxes that is destroying the middle class, and thus the country.
Perhaps. But my problem doesn't seem to be that Bill Gates is too rich, and it doesn't seem to be that we are not spending enough money on education and government. The money is being spent. We are paying for good schools. We are paying for good roads. We are paying a lot more now than we were when we had good schools and good roads. Moreover, there are a lot more government workers now, most of them better paid than the average middle class American. Surely there are enough to give us good schools? And we have known how to fix roads for a long time, and did so for decades with fewer workers at a time when our technology wasn't as good.
All of which leads me to suspect that throwing more money into government services -- which always means paying more to government workers and hiring more government workers and in general expanding government -- won't get me better schools or better roads. I note that when it comes time to look at budgets there are more in Congress willing to cut the Navy back than to eliminate the armed SWAT teams of the Inspector General of the Department of Education. I wonder if we are better protected by another destroyer, or by an Education Department SWAT team? I could list a lot more things the government does that don't seem to be doing us much good, and which would not be eliminated by expanding the government.
If it were left up to me, I'd insist that the government do what it already has the funds to do -- give us better schools, fix the roads, do the things that governments have long been supposed to do -- before asking for money to do more. If that means it has to get rid of Education SWAT teams, and some of the TSA, and a lot of the regulators, and people who make certain that stage magicians have a Federal license to keep a rabbit (I wish I were making that up, but that program costs about a million dollars a year) -- if it means that the government has to be less sensitive to the rights of the teachers and more sensitive to the effectiveness of the teachers -- if it means getting rid of a lot of government programs that might be useful but certainly are not as necessary as defense and roads that work -- well, you get the idea. If you double the taxes on Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet but put the money into hiring more inspectors to check the licenses of teenagers who sell rabbits for pets, I don't see how that will do me any good. I suspect I'd be better off if Bill Gates had more money for his Foundation than I would be if the Department of Agriculture had more pet rabbit license inspectors, or the Education Department had more armed SWAT agents, or even if the TSA had more airport officers to pat down travelers.
When the government starts doing the basic things right and then applies for more money to do more for us, I'll be glad to listen' but given what we're getting for what we already give them, do we really want to give them more?
Professor Reich makes is all very clear. He says so. But somehow what I see is a speech to stir up envy. As to making life better for the middle class, we all know what the government will do if it gets more money. And it won't help the middle class much.
They're rioting in Greece because Germany doesn't want to give Greece more money. Greece has debts and unfunded obligations even greater -- alas not that much greater -- than California. There is no possibility that Greece can repay. Today's Wall Street Journal has an editorial page article on just who owes what to whom in the Greece situation ("Europe's Greek Stress Test") .
Of course no one questions the sanity or morality of those who loaned Greece that much money, or the people who got rich on commissions pushing those loans; but then that could be said of California's debts, too. All kinds of people got rich on California bond sales commissions as we raised $3 billion for Stem Cell Research (at a cost of $6 billion!) for which we have, so far, got nothing, and for which, I suspect, we will never get anything. All kinds of people get rich rolling California's debts around. They got rich losing a good half of the money put into the California pensions funds -- the managers didn't get hurt when they made terrible investments. How many of those commissioners -- well paid commissioners -- had brothers in law in the broker business isn't known. I'd be astonished if there weren't a few. When you get to manage billions, you will generally make a lot of friends.
But Greece is broke, and if they try to get out of this by austerity I can understand the temptation to riot. People get used to a standard of living and when told they have to cut that in half they panic. Then they take to the streets. The usual remedy for hunger in the city is to set fire to the bakeries. So it goes. Setting fires in Athens and scaring the tourists out of the country probably will not help the Greek finances, and one suspects that the union leaders calling those strikes and riots may even know that. What they are hoping for isn't clear. They just want things to go on and on.
But then it happens in Los Angeles. So far they've mostly blocked traffic, and the mobs set more fire in celebration of the Lakers championship (back when the Lakers won NBA championships) than they have in some of the more recent demonstrations, but it is clear that the state has to raise taxes to satisfy the unions, or there will be trouble. We are not, in California, quite so badly off as they are in Greece, but it's pretty grim. I wonder who in the US will get to pay for us? Massachusetts? Virginia? Carolina? Iowa? Illinois? Well, it hardly matters. Someone must bail us out. Let the Feds borrow the money and take care of the California unions. Only -- suppose no one wants to loan money to the Federal Government? Suppose China stops buying US Treasury Bonds? Well, we can print the money.
And I get out my old postage stamp books and look at the overprinted stamps. And my hundred million bill from my trip to Brazil.
Watch Greece to see what happens next when a country goes broke. Greece has Germany to fall back on. If you make us default we'll drag you with us! You go work harder, so we can have our 5 five week vacations and early retirements... Wonder who we Californians can say that to?
Most readers will remember that Joel and I had posted dialogues on US Middle East policy on this site.
It is late. I have been experimenting with the WordPress thing off in a secret place. I find that many of my gif animations don't work. Maybe they never did? So the next stuff is test and experiment and pay no attention
June 18, 2011
The flu or whatever it is seems to be back. Not getting much done.
June 19, 2011
.Experimenting with Word Press. The bookmark system doesn't seem to work well. If trying to write in Word while in the BLOG mode, there is no way to insert a bookmark, although there does seem to be a way to link to a bookmark. But to link to a previous post that has a bookmark appears to be possible but it only goes to the page, not the book mark. I am probably wrong on that,
My system requires linkages back and forth (such as see previous with bookmark) and the like and Front Page does that well, It also lets me link to an internal copy, and translates that into the actual on-line address, all rather automatically. But now it does not seem to be working that way, but perhaps it's because I haven't enough experience with it. It seems that the proper way to use WordPress is to construct the document in regular Word mode, then go to File Publish Blog and publish it as a blog. That creates a new entry, and they come up in blogological order. I suppose I could make a master that would have a week's worth of entries on one page with more or less the layout used here, with bookmarks, and have it look a bit like this -- providing that I can make the bookmarks work. But to insert a new bookmark requires that I cut and paste back and forth between Blog Mode for Word and a regular Word page. That will take some changes in habits. It will also take more experience to learn just what is going on. I probably do more internal linking here than most daybook web sites (note that I keep trying to avoid the use of the word 'blog' which I still find ugly even if it has become unavoidable). I will have to work on making the linkages work properly on WordPress.
Anyone with WordPress experience on bookmarks is invited to tell me more.
I also have been unable to get gif files to work. I am used to using gif images like
and and and I have been unable to get any of them to actually do any animation. Indeed I don't see how to insert any kind of moving image or audio file or anything like that in WordPress. I presume there is a way to upload a pile of such things to some kind of folder on my new host and linking to those. It's pretty clear that using WordPress very nearly requires that, except for the simplest stuff, I be linked on line with the WordPress site while I am composing new entries for it. That will be fine except when I am off to a place that has dialup connection only. I managed to get by for a weekend with dialup but the prospect of a couple of weeks like that is daunting to say the least. But we'll manage. After all, the main thing I do here is essays, and those can be composed off line and published when done. But linking isn't as simple as it was, and the bookmarks don't seem to work the way I thought they did. And of course linking backwards to things like The Iron Law and How to Pay for This Place is a lot more complicated if I have to either type in the entire URL or copy and paste from an online instance. The remedy for that, I expect, is to make a "frequently linked to" file in notepad, add to it periodically, and refer to that when I need to paste in a URL.
As to the animations and gifs and stuff, I suppose I can live without them, as I guess I am going to have to live without my blimp as my email link and some of the other stuff. Oh Well. I am not sure how one will get to go back and browse the previous years of this site once the transfer it made and we start using WordPress to create it all in future. I presume it will all go to the new ISP and have the same URL addresses as always. I just hope that bookmarks work properly. It's still experimental time. And I am rambling.
I wanted to write about the loss of cash in Iraq and Pakistan as an enemy, but Alex is over for Father's Day and I have to go.
I will have more comments, but Greg's comment deserves thought. Pakistan cheaper as an enemy....
However, we need to add:
More on this next week. It's late.
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