THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 506 February 18 - 24, 2008
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February 18, 2008
Whatever is growing in my head, it hasn't slowed me too much. I can't talk very well, but I just did the column and the mailbag, and they'll be up this week. So no matter what they do I'll have those done. I am not sure what the side effects of being zapped will be. Monday I get my mask, and Tuesday things will begin.
So now it's bed time. There is mail here, some from the weekend; and the mailbag for Chaos Manor Reviews will be up sometime next week.
I've done a pretty good weekend's work.
I've had mail from an Obama supporter asking about space policy.
I can recommend two of my papers, How To Get To Space http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/gettospace.html which is policy wonking, and The SSX Concept http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/SSX.html which is more technical.
Back from my walk. It's time to get ready to go downtown for my face mask. I will have comments on the hideous errors we are making in becoming involved in the territorial disputes of Europe. We are making mortal enemies of the Russians who ought to be our natural allies. Russian pan-Slavism is integral to their history, and anyone with any sense of European history would know that.
Albright and Carter win big here, and Bush is cooperating. And we will regret this, big time, in the future. Mark my words.
|This week:||Tuesday, February
Yesterday I got my mask which will hold my head rigidly, and also another MRI or maybe it was a CAT scan; hard to tell them apart. It wasn't as loud as the MRI so I think it was a CAT scan.
I was dismayed to find that they didn't expect to start zapping my head until next Tuesday, a week from today. Indeed, that put me into a fit of black depression. I seem to have vast mood swings, from irrational anger to patches of being reasonable. It mostly happens when I try to talk. I think in coherent sentences, I write in coherent sentences and reasonable paragraphs, but when I try to talk it comes out like Demosthenes with a mouth full of rocks after three bowls of unwatered wine. That's so frustrating and depressing that I get angry and things go downhill from there.
Roberta thinks I am being a bit too candid here: people treat you different if they think you have cancer. And indeed, I find that a number of close friends seem reluctant to spend time with us now. I can understand that: it may be a fear of The Big C, but mostly it's memento mori, Ash Wednesday every time they see me, and quite understandable. However, I plan to be around a while.
Anyway, I was dismayed at the delay, but a few minutes ago Dr. Wang called. He is meeting with Dr. Chen, the neurosurgeon, to determine precisely what they are going to zap and when and how, and they hope to start Thursday. I think it hasn't hurt that several well known MD readers have called my doctors on my behalf; in any event, they seem to be moving with all deliberate speed.
I want to thank all of you who have sent messages of support and encouragement, and prayers. I can't possibly reply to all of them. I also want to thank those who have subscribed or renewed subscriptions; it's very good to know that being knocked off my fiction schedule hasn't resulted in increased financial pressures. I missed my self-imposed deadline of end of January for Mamelukes, and I may not make end of February, but I am making progress, a page or two a day, and it's darned good stuff if I do say so. Once that's done, we'll see what I do next. Clearly I can write, and maybe the thing to do is another Falkenberg, either Falkenberg on Kennecott where he meets and marries Grace and inherits the 42nd, or Spartan Hegemony, the story of Lysander after the collapse of the CoDominium. Either could be done in a year or so.
Of course Niven and I want to save the world, and our latest novel concept has a very good opening, and we believe it an excellent plot with some points to think about. Of course we thought that about Lucifer's Hammer as well, and now I find that a Famous Science Fiction Writer Who Also Teaches thinks it was all racist trash. I guess you can't win them all; fortunately a lot of people whose works I actually read and respect actually read Hammer and understood what we were trying to say about the rituals of unity in decivilization. They also thought it a good yarn, and about 25 million people have bought the book (or maybe fewer people bought several?) so I guess I can endure the criticism. In any event, I want to see what progress my treatments bring before I commit to a 3 year project with Niven. Larry writes better than me, but he can't plan this book by himself. On the other hand, I can write outlines and plans, and a couple of my sons have the requisite experience with the military and government bureaucracies, so if we do start the book it ought to get finished all right.
The way Niven and I work together can't really be described, but procedurally I do a lot of scene blocking and first drafts, and he goes through and rewrites. And there are certain characters that are his and I only indicate what I want them to do, and he has them do it. Niven is a master at deft short minimalist touches; I tend to write more than is needed, and with luck cut back, but never as far as he starts with. When we're done it makes for some fast pacing, which is what I like in novels. At least I hope so.
Anyway, God Willing they start zapping me on Thursday. Good luck wishes, prayers, good thoughts, and any other expressions of well wishing with a weangeance cheerfully accepted.
I see we rushed to recognize Kosovo. Understand that Kosovo was majority Serbian in World War I, and there has never been a legal Albanian immigrant into Kosovo. Now the Albanians have declared Kosovo independent. Russia, whom we need as an ally in our engagement with China, and China, are standing together against our recognition of Kosovo.
When San Antonio, Texas, declares independence, what will happen? We do live in interesting times.
Do I mean any of the above? Only to the extent that it's stuff to think about. But the facts are clear: illegal immigration was, in this case, indistinguishable from invasion.
It's mildly raining in Los Angeles. I didn't get a walk yesterday, and I really need to do that today. Not getting my walk probably contributed greatly to the rather sleepless night last night. I finally got to sleep, when of course the phone rang with a wrong number. Civilization and its discontents.
So today I'm a bit logy, and there are the bills to pay, and it's not a cheerful day, so it's time to count my blessings, which are in fact fairly large.
Obama got delirious with his victory speech last night and let the cat out of the bag.
(1) He doesn't understand the income and tax structure of these United States, or if he does, then he's willing to lie: that is, he's either ignorant or mendacious.
(2) Obama is a very conventional Left Wing Socialist, considerably to the left of Norman Thomas, not quite out to the Fabians. I don't think he wants to nationalize industries, although it's hard to deduce any reasons why he would not want to given what he says. Perhaps nationalize oil?
(I knew Norman Thomas, and liked him, and we spent several evenings drinking beer: he was the Grand Old Man lecturing at the University of Iowa, and I was an undergraduate, and I learned a lot from him. Thomas had not only good intentions, but some practical understanding of the effects of what he wanted to do. It has been said that Norman Thomas is the only candidate for President to have every single plank of his platform enacted into law even though he never won an election. That was true when I knew him; he had a considerably more radical program later in life, and while I respected him I didn't agree. Of course at that time my disagreement was that he wasn't radical enough, but that's another story for another time.)
Obama will save the nation by soaking the rich and giving to the poor, and making nice working conditions, and mandating vacations and time off and such like; vote for me and get a chicken in every pot without working. This is the pattern in Europe and elsewhere, and he intends to import that here. Of course that never works: capital flees, jobs are exported, people protect income. When tax rates go up, a larger proportion of intellectual activity in the US is devoted to activities with a vectorial sum of zero: the smartest young people go into the IRS and tax collection, get experience, then leave to become part of firms that seek to thwart the IRS and tax collectors. None of this contributes a darned thing to producing anything useful, and it is an internal brain drain we can't afford; but there it is.
I do not know if Obama understands this. He certainly does not seem to, just as he doesn't know how little income the US gets from "the poor". On the other hand he is said to be very smart.
(3) Transfer of resources from the young and productive to the elderly and no longer productive is now up there with the military budget and interest on the national debt as a consumer of national tax resources. Obama wants more of this. He will also keep raising the minimum wage, thus assuring ever increasing export of jobs, and making it more and more difficult to find an entry level job -- or forcing more and more entry level jobs into the black market. Neither is a Good Thing, and surely Obama knows this. Apparently he doesn't care.
The nation is headed for a train wreck, I fear, unless it comes to its senses. I don't see a lot of good sense out there.
And it doesn't look like they're going to let me be emperor.
Still awaiting appointment, but the last news I had is they will zap tomorrow.
Looks like Michelle Obama was born with a silver chip on her shoulder...
I have an appointment. They start zapping me tomorrow. And five days a week after that.
Comments on what I read in the morning papers used to be a regular feature of my BYTE columns. Of course in those days the columns were monthly, and took a week or more to prepare in between trips, speeches, appearances at BYTE editorial events at which I was often the speaker, and building a new computer every couple of months, and using the newspapers and mail as a stimulus to thought was one way to try to keep up.
This morning I see:
(1) Successful satellite intercept; to which I can only say, I told them we could do that. In 1980, when I was Chairman of the conference that wrote the transition team policy papers on space and defense for the incoming Reagan Administration, and was part of General Graham's team on developing the Strategic Defense Initiative.
From Reagan's "Star Wars" speech: "Would it not be better to defend against nuclear attacks than to avenge them?" That phrase is from our report. It was originally drafted by Jim Baen, my old friend and comrade who was publisher of Baen Books.
(2) City to pass the bucks on sidewalks?
The City of LA, with an enormous budget, cannot provide police and fire services, nor fill the pot holes; nor can it repair 4500 miles of broken sidewalks. It can provide "lactation consultation" services to employees of the Department of Water and Power (yes, I know, a financial case can be made for that as an investment, but the symbolism is awful). It can provide "anti gang" services which had demonstrably done more harm than good. It can provide 600 civil service exempt political employees (when I was in City Hall we had 81 and I didn't know what half of them actually did for the city) with full health and retirement benefit. It can give enormous raises to some of the least productive people on the Earth, But it can't provide roads, fire and police protection, or the orderly administration of justice.
(3) Valet wins $318,190 from actor Omar Sharif.
At Masto's Steakhouse (a place I certainly will never go to again) Sharif offered a 20 Euro note to the parking valet. The valet would not accept it, and shouted at him, and there was an altercation in which Sharif apparently called the Valet a "stupid Mexican." The valet was from Salvador or somewhere else, and calling him a Mexican is a civil offense. It is even a criminal offense and Sharif was also fined $100 for his hate crime. Sharif is in Egypt and didn't go to the trial and is in fact unlikely to come back to the US. . . The immigration status of Juan Anderson, the valet, was not stated in the LA Times.
(4) California Schools gird for steep cuts.
In the body of the story it points out that the cuts never happen. School officials say they have trimmed the budget as far as they can, and you must not balance the budget on the backs of the kids. California schools spend more and get fewer results than all but 8 or so of the 50 states, but they intend to do better in future.
(5) The LA Unified school district has provided incorrect tax return data to thousands of LA teacher, causing a tax return nightmare.
LA Unified has been unable to pay the correct amounts for years. It has spent hundreds of millions on computer services and new software. The software that LA Unified bought was notoriously inaccurate according to web reports available before the district bought the stuff. No one apparently bothered to use Google to find that out.
(6) There was an attempt to make LA Downtown habitable again; a loft building was refurbished and rented, except for its ground floor. The tenants were hoping for upscale retail or coffee shops or something of the sort on the ground floor. Instead the city proposes to put a mental health clinic (yet another, there are plenty) to service skid row denizens and bring them into the neighborhood.
I don't know how to tell people this, but if you want to increase the tax base and make downtown areas inhabitable, you will not do so by importing skid row denizens and making it attractive for them to spread their boxes and use the area for relieving themselves. Blight is easier to spread than affluence and civility. And yes, I understand that the homeless have to have some place to be; but that is an entirely different question.
One can leave city planning to economic factors, or one can 'plan' politically. Political plans usually work this way: it is proposed to put 'affordable' housing -- read subsidized housing, read potential slum housing -- in middle class neighborhoods as a condition of providing basic city services or allowing housing development. There is then frantic political activity, accompanied by huge political costs, lots of money is contributed to campaigns, and there are usually compromises, or eventually the plan is abandoned for a shakedown scheme in another part of the city.
And all this just in today's paper.
Ten years ago, on the advice of Access to Energy (Box 1250 Cave City Junction, Oregon 97523) I bought some $14 oil futures. Alas, I didn't go for broke on that investment; I sure wish I had.
From the current issue:
"Subsequently, oil has had a high of $99 per barrel... Based on current prices our recommendation is up 1100%...
"Assuming combined federal, state, and local taxes of 25% [he lives in Oregon, remember] the rise is actually 850%...
"The inflation tax must also be considered."
The bottom line is that that spectacularly successful investment yielded a real return of about 10% annual; is it any wonder that Americans do not invest much? We fine them for saving money (tax interest); we fine them for making money (creeping growth of capital gains taxes); we encourage them to borrow money (artificially low interest rates); we bail out wild speculators (recall the Keating Five: and now we have the housing bubbles which are affecting England now; watch for what happens after the dollar tanks). We hand out low interest money in hopes that the speculators will borrow even more, speculate even more wildly, and stave off collapse until someone else is in public office.
The government is going to give you $500 (but quickly take that back).
By law we must now burn food, and the Edison light bulb will be outlawed.
Stark, Raving, Mad. Or is it? Our masters, those who have managed to get on the public payrolls and stay there, are doing just fine. The politicians are doing just fine. The Legions are underpaid and squeezed at every opportunity, their families reduced to food stamps, their on base housing services cut or handed over to speculators and contractors, but the politicians and administrators are doing just fine, thank you. If you doubt any of this, visit your local city hall, and go down to District Headquarters of your school district, and look at the cars, see the office conditions, and just observe.
Our masters are doing well. And if you manage to make a spectacularly successful investment -- say $12 oil futures in the 90's -- they will let you keep some of the money you made. Not a lot, though.
One wonders what Washington and his loyal subordinate Colonel Alexander Hamilton would have made of this? For this did the patriots bleed at Valley Forge?
Enough. They zap me this afternoon, so I thought I'd get some of that off my chest.
It never rains but it pours. They start to zap me this afternoon. I have no idea what that will do to my productivity. Meanwhile, my Henry Miller Aeron chair, about $800 bucks, needs replacement. There was a time when that was an annoying but unimportant expense. It may still be: the problem is what will happen to my upcoming works 0nce the treatments start?
But it must be replaced. I can't work with my chair slowly sinking me to the floor every few minutes. Attempts to inject oil into the piston have not been successful. Clearly there are seals failing, and if there's any way to work on it I don't know it. I suppose it is repairable, but that's a lot of bother: getting it taken to be repaired, or bringing someone in to do it, finding the parts -- easier to buy a new one and put this out where a visitor can use it.
One more damned thing to worry about.
February 22, 2008
They did my first zap yesterday. Uncomfortable, particularly with that mask, and I have trouble swallowing so lying on my back for half an hour in danger of choking was considerably less than fun. The long period was used in getting xrays to make sure all was positioned properly, getting them developed an examined, and so forth; the actual zap took less than five minutes. Kaiser has very competent and extremely pleasant young ladies doing most of the work, and I am astonished at the continual good humor and general cheer of the staff in the radiation therapy center.
After it was over I didn't feel a thing, but about bed time I noted I had horrid indigestion, which remains to this moment.
On the other hand, I can talk! I have always been able to think in complete sentences, but I couldn't say them; now, after one day, I can actually say ten consecutive words without hesitation and without sounding like a frog. Deo Gratia. Hope springs eternal.
It's time for breakfast. With luck I'll get over indigestion. Meanwhile, there's a lot to discuss. I'll open this way:
Which pretty well says it all. Does Obama not know? Milton Friedman once said that "Every economist knows that minimum wages either do nothing or cause inflation and unemployment. That's not a statement, it's a definition."
Obama seems to have adopted the fallacy of intentions to the core of his being: it is enough to mean well. But then our current president seems to have made the same error: he means well, and thinks 'compassionate conservatism' and 'big government conservatism' are distinguishable from well wishing liberalism.
The Republic is nearly gone, and not one of the currently viable candidates both knows and cares; perhaps none of them even know. And despair is a sin.
My thanks to all those who have told me that (1) Herman Miller chairs have a 12 year warrantee, (2) the cylinder is easily replaced by experts, (3) there is a place in Beverly Hills that sells them and may be willing to do repairs, and (4) they seem to be on sale for about $700 which is less than I paid for the one I have but appears to be the same chair.
My problems are logistical. I am not really up to manhandling that chair down the stairs and pushing it into the Explorer and taking it to Beverly Hills. Perhaps in a couple of months after all the zaps and my, God willing, recovery; but not now. And, alas, sinking 12 inches every half hour at random times is not good for concentration.
I expect what I must do is get another chair, get a neighbor to help get it up the stairs, assemble it, and put this one out in the Great Hall for guests where its propensity to sink won't be so critical an interruption. Or perhaps I should merely endure this until I can deal with it.
I expect someone would come out to fix it; that isn't likely to cost less than half the price of a new chair plus there are the arrangements.
And I suspect there is some betrayal of irrationality in my obsession with this matter...
I saw this before I went downstairs to breakfast. It was a front page item on my newspaper. The Burning City, right here in the 21st Century. Have we really come to this?
How is it different from Kosovo? Which we carefully engineered from 15,000 feet (destroying the economy of the lower Danube in the bargain)?
We have sown the wind. Now we reap.
I think I am changing my mind about movie piracy. I bought the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix DVD -- and I can't watch it. It has been ten minutes and I am watching advertisements and previews, but not the movie I paid for. There is apparently no way to skip past all this garbage.
Next time I will be sorely tempted to go to bit torrent and get the movie I want. I do NOT want to see trailers, advertisements for games, and other crap. I want to see the movie I PAID FOR. PAID FOR.
This is monstrous. And it goes on and on and on, and there seems no way out. I am not even sure the movie I PAID FOR is even on the disk. How dare they charge me money for this?
Now they roll the credits, in black and white. I am no longer in the mood to watch the movie. I can't return it. I wish I had not bought it. This is not the way to build customer relations.
Of course I don't really intend to turn to the dark side, but it's another instance of what all too often happens. When there is no competition -- in this case because of copyright -- then the customer is gouged. When there is unlimited competition, there are other dire consequences. Alas.
|This week:||Saturday, February
Got my third zap at 1300 today. I have to commend the young ladies at Kaiser Radiation Treatment Center. They are compassionate, friendly, and clearly professional.
Symptomwise there's not a lot of change. Indigestion is the main effect. I have this pulse pounding in my right ear and it seems to be getting a little worse, not better. On the other hand I am often able to speak reasonably well for an hour or two after I get up before fatigue or swelling or something turns me back into an inarticulate frog. Since I am typing this as fast as I can, and it seems coherent, you may imaging my frustration when I .. try to .. speak in complete ... sentences ... but can only get ... out a few words at a time. God willing, that will change. But I can still write.
We went to the opera this afternoon. The new LA Opera Music Director James Conlon is enthusiastic -- some would say obsessed -- with his "Recovered Voices" program, reviving works suppressed by the Nazi's during their brief regime. The problem is that just because the Nazi's didn't like something does not make it good. Case in point, The Broken Jug, which opened today's pair of one-act performances. I say performances, because The Broken Jug was neither opera nor operetta, but an attempt at a farcical musical comedy in Dutch. If it had started with Gogol's Inspector General (there are similarities in the plots) it might have gone off well, but it didn't, and at the intermission there was polite applause, but much of the audience sat in stony silence. That very much included me. Intermission talk in the Founder's Room was artificially cheerful, but no one I met was enthusiastic.
The second performance was a one-act opera by Alexander Zemlinsky called "The Dwarf", inspired by an Oscar Wilde story. It wasn't suppressed: it premiered in 1922 with Klemperer as conductor and was fairly popular. Zemlinsky was sent to the camps as a Jew and his works were not performed after the Nazi regime, but they were not lost, and one should probably think of this as a revival rather than some kind of affirmative action for stuff the Nazi's didn't like.
The opera is very good, and the performance was magnificent. I wasn't in a mood to enjoy it. Indeed, after getting radiation therapy all I really wanted to do was hang around the house doing nothing, so I hadn't wanted to get dressed and go downtown to the LA Opera House to begin with. Then The Jug made me regret coming.
But from the opening of The Dwarf to the end I was fascinated and enraptured. Susan Anthony was charming as Ghita, the companion to the Infanta Clara. It's the Infanta's 18th Birthday and of course there is an official and royal party. Mary Dunleavy is a charmingly vapid Infanta with a few complexities -- think Paris Hilton with a few more brains and a playful streak -- and the LA Opera Chorus, always excellent, was great in both performance and costumes. The set is grand, and the costumes appropriate. I was sucked in from the first few moments.
Then they brought on Robert Dixon as the Dwarf, a present from the Sultan. The joke is that the Dwarf has never seen a mirror, and believes he is a knight. He has always won duels, and he believes he is handsome. I kept wondering how they would pull this off.
They did. The direction was excellent. The staging would have been hard to improve. The music is very appropriate for the 1920 period in which it was written, a bit more modern than Richard Strauss but not goofy modern for the sake of disharmony; and the libretto worked. And Robert Dixon gives a remarkable performance, both vocally and as an actor. I expect a lot from him in future.
It's clear from the beginning that this story isn't going to end well for the Dwarf, and the sense of foreboding is very real.
And they do bring it off. I cheered my head off.
February 24, 2008
No treatments today. It hasn't been a bad day, and we got our 2 mile walk on the flats in a break between rainstorms. I got the column and mailbag done, and several subscriptions came in. Thanks.
The Oscars ceremonies were tame, not quite to say lame. There were few surprises. There were three nominations for best song from Enchanted, but what won was a ballad from a picture I had never heard of. The winners seemed nice enough, and it may have been a good movie, but I sure preferred any of the nominated songs from Enchanted.
Of course in my view Enchanted was a better movie than the ones nominated for Best Picture, but that's just my view.
I'm almost caught up...
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