THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 492 November 12 - 18, 2007
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November 12, 2007
The Veterans Day holiday. When I was growing up, it was Armistice Day, and fell on 11/11 just as the big parties at the Republic of China consulate fell on 10/10, and the only time I ever marched in a November 11 parade it was still Armistice day. Now it's Veterans Day and always comes on a Monday. Ah well.
I'm still catching up with stuff here. I most have only one eye to work with, so reading is a bit harder than it used to be. The right eye droops and wants to tear and be out of focus. That all sounds worse than it is; mostly it's annoying. But I have managed to get through the day without writing the essay I had intended.
What I wanted to look at was federalism. This morning's LA Times has a front page headlined article about the US Sentencing Commission in which a bunch of Washington people are going to decide whether the increased sentences for crack cocaine -- as opposed to powder cocaine -- are justified, or should be rolled back retroactively.
From the article
All of which got me wondering: how are the people of these United States better off for having sent this guy away for 20 years? A lot of money was spent catching him and convicting him, and keeping him in a no possible parole condition for 20 years undoubtedly costs more than sending him to Harvard and then giving him a pension to go live in Sao Paolo Brazil or in Tierra del Fuego as a remittance man would have cost. If the taxpayer and fans of Kansas City had been consulted, would they have preferred that he be sent up the river for 20 years? Would they want to pay for that?
Just who profited from that? Twenty years is a long and very expensive time.
Understand, I am not all that sure that the 27 months he'd have got if he'd been selling powder cocaine would have been all that useful to the people of these United States. I have never tried cocaine, and I think I have only once been at a party were there was any, at least out in the open -- I got out of there in a hurry largely because I was worried about being caught up in a bust -- but I have known several people who claim to be cocaine users. Of those I do not know a single one whose jailing would have benefitted the republic, and I think of several who were of far more service to us out of jail than they would have been inside the joint without possibility of parole.
It used to be that a federal crime was a serious matter. There was a sort of apologetic air about having to use tax evasion as the only way to bust Al Capone, as if that weren't quite fair, but after all, he was a notorious criminal, Illinois wasn't going to do anything, and this was all the feds could get him on.
Now it's 20 years for 63 grams (2.2 ounces of crack. Of course that provides employment to narc agents, prosecutors, court clerks, stenographers, prison guards, truck drivers who bring food to the prisons, contractors who sell food to the prisons, and lots of lawyers: but is the republic really better off with Willie Mays Aikens rotting in the joint and those people employed? Or would it be better if they had other lines of work and Willie was playing baseball? And whatever the answer, why is that a federal matter?
I don't believe in federal crimes for anything less than treason and terrorism. Perhaps really grand corruption, but even then it's more a state matter. Los Angeles isn't better off for federal monkeying around with local police. As to drugs, I think that ought to be left to the states. Sure, it's a federal matter to bring the stuff into the country, but once it's in here, that's another story. Let the states worry about how to allocate law enforcement resources. If the feds really have to play narcotic cops in the streets, then let them clean up the District of Columbia. When we see what a cleaned up city looks like, we can decide if it's worth the cost to have them clean up Kansas City or Los Angeles or Muscatine, Iowa, or Grand Rapids, or whatever; but the Framers never contemplated having narks and snitches play games in our city streets.
The whole federal prison system ought to be dismantled. Yes, there are federal crimes and there need to be federal prisons; but they ought to be real crimes that do real harm to the republic. There was a time when bank robbery and kidnapping warranted federal intervention, or at least Hoover convinced the Congress of it; but is that still true? Isn't California, which has more cops today than the feds had when they took over bank robbery and kidnapping, capable of handling such matters? Or perhaps we can have the feds called in as consultants when wanted; I can see how some major crimes are beyond the locals (although locals with state help are pretty competent compared to a lot of feds I know of). But giving the feds original jurisdiction, and making federal crimes with 20 years and no parole sentences seems a long way from what they were thinking of in that hot summer of 1787 in Philadelphia.
Get the feds out of our lives. Let them show us how good they are by cleaning up the District of Columbia. Then they can come tell us what they want to do for us out here.
That isn't really the essay I wanted to write, but I am out of time.
Subject: Maxtor hard drives
Jerry: Presumably this can be dealt with by formatting hard drives before use, but what happens when our chinese 'overlords' decide to put the trojan in the disk firmware?
-- Right now the Republicans and Democrats in Washington seem, from the outside, to be an elite colluding against the voter. Peggy Noonan
The best of British Luck to you. And all that.
|This week:||Tuesday, November
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However, there is good news:
Subject: Cheap hydrogen?
This sounds good, but with all the hype on the hydrogen front I wonder if this is real or just more hype.
-- James Early
Or perhaps good news. It's worth watching. I wrote about getting both hydrogen and methane from bio-waste back in the 1970's, with articles in Galaxy, American Legion (I did a series called "America's Looming Energy Crisis" for American Legion back in those times). Bio-waste is a possible energy source as well as a problem for disposal. In those days Southern California Edison wanted to take all the bio-waste including sewage from the city of Oceanside, CA, and see what kind of energy they could extract from it; but the Public Utilities Commission decided that this wouldn't be a good investment, and forbade the research project. Decisions like that led to deregulation. Alas, the deregulation was governed by politicians, crooks, and both, presided over by Jerry Brown, and the result was a disaster capped by Enron, but that's another matter.
One needs to be careful in putting together an energy budget when looking to unconventional energy sources. It needs to include the costs of collection and transportation. It also needs to subtract out costs of collection and disposal if it's truly waste, an economic "bad" as opposed to a "good". With modern spread sheet software this is a lot easier than it was in the 1970's.
I was more enamoured of hydrogen in those days than I am now; the difference is the DC/X experience. Hydrogen is a wonderful rocket fuel once you get it into the rocket engine; but collecting it and storing it is another matter. It's small, it's light, it's energetic at any temperature above deep cryogenic, and even at normal cryogenic temperatures it wants to get OUT. Once it is out it collects in the oddest places, and likes to burn or explode. The little 'pop' we used to get igniting a test tube of hydrogen derived from the electrolysis of water experiments we did in high school chemistry lab (back when there were high school chemistry labs) was fun, but you didn't want to try it with a bell jar full of the stuff. Well, some of us did want to try it; the result wasn't too damaging and there were no fatalities; alas, I didn't learn then that hydrogen is really mean stuff to work with when you have energy-useful quantities.
The late Max Hunter became disenchanted with hydrogen and died saying that we'd build single stage to orbit ships running on propane/LOX, not hydrogen/LOX; the operations difficulties of hydrogen were just too severe. Of course Max learned the same way I did, from the DC/X experience.
But: having said all that, if there were hydrogen wells, or a good source of hydrogen from stuff we have to dispose of anyway, it can be sent through pipelines (expensively: it really likes to get OUT) and it sure burns clean (no carbon; but it burns hot so you need to be careful about making NOX byproducts). So it is good news.
which says a lot. Most does not apply to me: I long ago found that computer book publishers use Hollywood accounting systems, and pay in the same way. The publishers I deal with pay a percentage of cover price.
On TWIT this week a couple of my colleagues noted that they get more from selling their books through Amazon and getting paid as Amazon Associates than they get from the publishers. I didn't say much at the time, but that isn't true for me. When you buy one of my books through Amazon by clicking the Amazon Buy A Book Now button you will see all over the place on this site, I get a percentage of what you paid. It is not trivial, and I am very grateful for it, but I also get about 10% of the cover price from the publishers, and that is considerably more than what Amazon pays. Apparently for computer book writers this isn't true.
When I first got into book writing I spent a lot of time out on the road. Thousands of miles, driving to any coffee pot radio station that would have me, and lots of time in New York City on the Long John Knebel and Candy Jones radio show from Midnight to 5 AM, and every TV show that would have me. That helped launch Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Hammer, and getting on best seller lists will change your life. Alas, as Mr. Heinlein warned me, we're professional gamblers. It doesn't last. But I still do better from the publishers than from Amazon, not that I disparage the Amazon income.
When you buy books, by all means use the little red button...
They're filming Eddie Murphy's latest movie at Osula University down the street (Osula is the US campus of a Japanese finishing school, where bright young things come to study how to operate in the US; they bought the campus of what was Corvallis High School, a well known Catholic girls' high that failed to merge with Notre Dame and go Coed at the right time, and sort of vanished as the notion of girls schools became unfashionable).
The WGA has "informational pickets" at the site, meaning that they're not trying to stop the filming. Even so there are three LAPD police (off duty cops in uniform hired by the studios) and more than a dozen Executive Associate uniformed rent-a-cops. We got to talking with a couple of the writers carrying picket signs.
in which I learned that "When Tom Preston was fired from Viacom in 2006 he received $600 million in severance pay, more than all the DVD residuals paid to WGA members that year." Which suggests to me that if one company can afford to pay that to one failed CEO, perhaps they can afford to pay the writers a bit more in residuals. Viacom can manage with Tom Preston -- indeed has done so -- but it's pretty hard to be in the entertainment business without writers.
Of course "information wants to be free" and there are many in the Net 2.0 community who have different views.
But everywhere I look I see CEO's of entertainment companies telling their investors how much money they are going to make from digital rights -- and then telling the writers that the future is so uncertain they can't afford to give any part of digital rights -- and then collecting more in severance pay as the traditional companies come apart.
We do live in interesting times.
And we all have to learn from them.
In my case, on the TWIT show, I was told I ought to get a good camera and do a Facebook page, and probably other such pages, and update them regularly: I'll sell a lot more books that way, I am told. I suspect it is true. I'm getting the camera (recently sent back some older ones to JVC; I'll get the latest consumer grade from them, and if all this works out I suppose I'll invest in something better). Now I need some help on how to do this.
I suspect the first advice I'll get is "Get a Mac." That's certainly what Leo Laporte suggests. But I have a bunch of Windows machines, and I probably ought to start there.
And first I need to get Inferno II out the door, Inferno I out the door (they will reprint it at the same time as Inferno II), and then get Mamalukes out the door. And then I can start on something new. So I need to do the promotion videos in my copious free time...
It should make for some interesting columns as I try to learn how to make a better living through digital...
And my friend Fred Reed says Just got back from ten days in Cuba. If the
island is about to revolt when Fidel goes, I'm Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst. Poor, stable, don't hate Castro, do hate
the country that has blockaded them forever. How odd.
Just got back from ten days in Cuba. If the island is about to revolt when Fidel goes, I'm Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst.
Poor, stable, don't hate Castro, do hate the country that has blockaded them forever. How odd.
How odd indeed. You mean people don't like it when you blockade them? I suspect it's true when you drop bombs on them, and block all their river traffic along the lower Danube, too. How irrational of them.
If Sophia eludes you, try Catherine the Great.
For the man who has everything:
Well, here's a neat surprise:
Thanks. I hadn't known that.
Rush Limbaugh has a spiel on the writers strike today, but I can't figure out what he wants or what side he is on. My own view is that without writers there are no shows, and if they can afford $60 million severance packages for failed CEO' when the entire DVD residuals paid to WGA for that year was under $50 million, something is out of balance.
I am in complete agreement with Rush and Dr. Laura that talk shows don't need writers, and I do wonder about that. Jack Paar didn't have writers, and he had a wonderful late night show, a genuine conversation with people like Alexander King (May This House Be Safe From Tigers), and one night Jack Benny telling of his wedding night, and the telephone call George Burns made. "Do you know what that man said to my sweet innocent bride? Jack, you're not on late enough that I can tell you what he said."
But when it comes to residuals from DVD's, they can surely afford a few shekels more than they're paying.
There's a bit about Second Life in today's Weekly Standard. I haven't been over there in a long time (since the last thing on Second Life in the Standard), so I thought I'd go see if there is anything interesting happening, not that I have time for SL. I am watching this update: so far 30296K (i.e. 30 MB) so far, no estimate of how much there is to go, and the machine is tied up until it is finished. If you want to look in on Second Life, plan on taking an hour or so for updates and be sure there's a room on your hard drive.
I haven't found anything I am looking for over at SL, but I'll keep looking every now and then...
November 15, 2007
I think we are done with Inferno II. I'm waiting to hear from the editors, but we've done all we can. I am still fiddling with maps, and I have Dante extracts to do for about 10 chapters of Inferno I (which will be reprinted when Inferno II comes out), but I am pretty well freed up to go back to Mamelukes for about the 4th time this year. This time for sure. Or so I hope. I intend to get that sucker out the door, after which I am bugged by a novel that takes place about 50 years from now in a world much like that Charles Sheffield and I used in Higher Education.
Onward and upward!
I've been saying more or less the same thing for several years. In particular, I am in complete agreement with Dvorak: they ought to concentrate on Vista Ultimate, and sell that for a reasonable price. This multiplicity of versions is insane. And as Dvorak says, Microsoft used to sell code. Maybe they ought to try that again.
Monologs do need writers; but Paar's interviews were spontaneous. Your observations are not mine, but given the language I doubt you spend a lot of time listening to either. It's an interesting commentary on the American people: that people as incompetent as you describe should be so popular. We are indeed lost, apparently. Which commentators do you believe are not fools?
So one mall won't allow Santas to say "Ho! Ho! Ho!" lest they offend black women. Interesting.
I would be interested in confirmation of this story; it has most of the earmarks of an urban legend. On the other hand, in this strange PC world of the Nanny State, little astonishes me.
November 16, 2007
Both Inferno I (to be reissued) and Inferno II are done, finished, out the door. Of course our editors could still have new requirements. I rather hope there won't be any. We have dealt with as many of the suggestions as we could. There were some suggestions that would have made Inferno II a difference book from the one we wanted to write (although that wasn't obvious), and we can't do those. For the rest, it's all in there.
Next is Mamelukes. I have created a situation and wound many clocks; it is time to let the story resolve those problems. I'll start in today. Then I have to pay the bills.
I am accumulating equipment and software for doing both audio and video podcasts. I don't intend to be in the podcast business; but I have become convinced that doing a Facebook page, and doing some video and audio podcasts, can promote book sales as well as subscriptions to this site and Chaos Manor Reviews (one subscription takes care of both).
We are spending another half trillion dollars -- that's $1,000,000,000,000/2 or $500,000,000,000 -- on the war in the Middle East. The theory is to plant democracy over there. That will assure oil supplies to the US.
What could we do with that money if it were invested in developing domestic oil resources, building nuclear power plants, developing more efficient ways to use electricity in transportation, and development of Space Solar Power Satellites? Instead we intend to conserve our way to prosperity, and pay the money to the Middle East, Mexico, Hugo Chavez, and other lovers of democracy and peace and freedom.
Cuba and China are drilling for oil off our shores; but as a matter of public policy we can't drill out there in the Gulf on our side of the resources border. This makes no sense, but apparently our masters like the idea. Better to send our Legions to Iraq than to drill in the Gulf, and pay money to everyone with oil instead of to ourselves.
Just what has happened to this country? Have we all lost our minds?
But, we are told, our schools are getting better and are certainly no worse than they were twenty years ago. Perhaps there are those who are uninterested as well as disinterested?
|This week:||Saturday, November
Roberta is singing tonight. The St. Francis de Sales choir (Sherman Oaks; Jeanine Wagner, director) will be doing the Durafle Requiem. There's an orchestra. Today is pretty well used up getting ready. The choir director is the daughter of the late Roger Wagner of the Roger Wagner Chorale.
The Vista Death Watch
This morning I found my Vista system asking me to log in. Apparently Microsoft reset it last night. I guess that's what happened. It was working fine when I went to bed.
It took two minutes to come back on line, during which time I was looking at a blank black screen. Eventually it came back up with no messages. My moonscape screen is gone. I can reinstall it, but why bother? Vista throws it away fairly often, and I weary of reinstalling.
At least the system appears to be working all right.
|This week:||Sunday, November
A bit debilitated; apparently the worst of Bell's Palsy is not over.
Peter Glaskowsky, one of the panel of advisors I rely on, was down for the Auto Show and came over for the afternoon and dinner. He had a couple of new toys, and has ordered the "One Laptop per Child" special. Learn about that here.
And I have bills to pay, and the letter column to put together.
So I haven't quite taken the day off, but close enough.
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