THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 566 April 13 - 19, 2009
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April 13, 2009
Tax Time. Mine aren't very complex this year. I don't think it's right for them to tax income on which I have already paid taxes, but that issue has long been lost. Obviously our dividend and interest income is down. Last year when I should have been paying attention to my financial affairs, I was getting zapped with 50,000 rad of hard X-rays. They got rid of the brain cancer, but the treatment didn't leave a lot of mental capacity left over, so I didn't adjust stock positions in time to avoid the big whacks. Ah well. At least I'm still around, and thanks to subscribers, I'm not scrabbling just to stay alive.
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today on tax
philosophy. I confess I didn't take much notice of Ari Fleischer when he was
the Bush Press Secretary, but his article today
Four teenage kids held the United States of America hostage, dispatched warships, had all the world watching. Now three are dead, and one, apparently legally a juvenile, faces the American justice system.
I pointed out yesterday that the problem is extremely complex. Sure, there's a big attraction to piracy as a business plan -- less attractive today than last week -- and a certain romantic appeal to the life of the Jolly Roger -- less today than last week -- but for a teen age boy in Somalia, just what are the alternatives? At one time there were jobs on fishing boats and in fish processing -- an African version of Cannery Row, perhaps -- but that's all gone. Chinese high tech fishing boats have pretty well cleaned out the catch, and Somalia has no way of enforcing legitimate fishing rights along that coast -- nor is any other nation likely to take on China over Somali fishing rights. It's not likely that Somali will go high tech like the Irish; they start with too low a base.
We haven't seen the last of piracy out of Somali. It's no longer so attractive as a future, but there aren't too many alternatives, either.
April 14, 2009
More piracy. Now what?
Al Sharpton says they aren't pirates. They are a voluntary coast guard. China seems to have found new allies in combating the Somali Coast Guard Volunteers: Thousands of dolphins. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2009-04/14/content_7676526.htm
One does wonder: how have the Chinese dealt with the Somali pirates?
Suggestions run from convoying -- which would probably work, but have operations expenses at least as great as the ransom business model used at present -- to indiscriminate bombardment of Somali ports. There are suggestions for sinking anything that might be a mother ship, either systematically or on a random basis.
Patrolling the area and boarding suspected mother ships, then confiscating weapons and scuttling armed ships might work; the notion is to raise the cost of doing business as a pirate.
It is an interesting article. It says much that was said by Dewey quite a long time ago. What it does not do is look at the Bell Curve. Passing along the essentials of civilization is one very important goal of the schools; but it need not be done by teaching the same things to every child. We used to understand the difference between education and skill training. Most of those who read this web site have profited from education: learning the tools of intellectual analysis, learning to tools of learning. While everyone can benefit from some degree of that kind of education, more than half the population won't benefit from it very much; they need skill training.
Just about everyone can learn the addition and multiplication tables; just about everyone can learn to do arithmetic; just about everyone can learn to read. Not everyone can learn to think mathematically. On the other hand, I can do mathematical models of a spinning baseball, and I can (with a lot of catchup work) write programs to simulate a baseball pitch, but I could never play baseball, as a pitcher or in any other position, actually. One of my high school friends was a pretty good pitcher, and was also pretty smart. Another of my friends of that era was good at all sports but his ambition was to be an auto mechanic. I don't think he ever read a book.
Getting kids enthused about school doesn't change the Bell Curve; but with enthusiasm and some measure of discipline schools can do a lot of good. First, though, they have to decide what it is they need to do.
In the past the US has been somewhat protected from Professors of Education by local school boards and local control of school financing. That's no longer true, and Pournelle's Iron Law has pretty well taken over. The purpose of the school system has very little to do with teaching children, whether you think of teaching as education or skill training. That's no longer the purpose of the public school system.
April 15, 2009
My taxes are done and will shortly be off and filed. I paid lower taxes this time, but that's because income is way down. I expect that's true for everyone else.
A number of you have asked me about the Tea Parties. That is because I haven't thought it through, and I don't think I have much that's original to say. I do have two articles you may want to read, largely because of their contrast. The first is by Marc Cooper in today's LA Times, and I recommend it not because it will tell you anything you ought to know about the Tea Parties, but because it will explain what the established media think. Note that Cooper is one of the faculty of the USC journalism school, and has considerable influence on academics who teach communications; this is what future journalists have to sound like in order to get their "respectable" credentials.
The other article is by Glenn Reynolds, and is a much more reasoned and informative article. Perhaps I have not read it closely enough, but I find little to quarrel with in this piece.
Protest rallies can be important because they build morale. They also signal danger to the opposition, and provoke retaliation -- the Cooper article is an example.
But as Reynolds notes, rallies aren't going to change the nation. They won't take back your government. I'm not sure what will. First we need a leader and a party; and at the moment it's not clear that we have either. Meanwhile, Obama continues to campaign.
It is not a good thing to have more than half the people pay no income taxes. Obama says he is reducing taxes on working people, and wants a tax code that rewards work, but what he has done so far is "cut taxes" for many who do not pay the tax that was cut. To the extent that those not paying the taxes get benefits from government, is this not voting themselves largess from the public treasury? Few republics have ever survived once that begins.
Meanwhile, in California there are more teachers and fewer students than there were five years ago, and the taxes continue to rise. And my long time friend Congressman Dana Rohrabacher will be leading a tea party.
This was all over the news last night; part of the report talked about veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan being potential enemies of the people; this in an official DHS report. The report was apparently unsigned, and it's not clear who approved of it's being sent to law enforcement across the country. From what I have seen of it, it is clearly a speculative piece, not based on evidence or incidents, but more on "what if?" questions. I expect considerable furor, but little else; but it does point to what may be a future trend about the concerns of the security people.
Much of our security efforts go into security theater. Now that we have no War on Terror we need new villains for the dramas. We've pretty well run out of Nazi's, and it's hard to find bad guy who can't claim some kind of victim status. I doubt Veterans will be an acceptable substitute, and this trial balloon will crash.
April 16, 2009
Apparently the Tea Parties were a success: at least they seem to have upset Pelosi and Company. The media doesn't quite know what to make of all that. On the other hand it's easy for us to make too much of it; we still don't have an identifiable leader, and it's not clear that the Country Club Republicans have learned (or forgotten) anything. The next step is the California ballot propositions. Nothing can stop the wave of higher taxes, but defeating the propositions despite their adulation from both parties and all the media would establish that progress is possible. By progress I mean, of course, reducing the size and cost of government.
The way things are headed now, the best career is a government job. Use the time you have to put in to learn how to do something you want to do, then use your retirement time to do it. It's not spectacular, and having the best and the brightest become government time servers won't do much for the economy, but you won't have to work very hard and you can retire without having to scrabble for your next meal. At my age that seems far more attractive than it did thirty years ago. Given the economy and the war on business and success ushered in by the last election -- and the steps now being taken to make the new trend toward Europeanization of America permanent and irreversible -- young people ought to think hard about where they will be in twenty or thirty years. Live long and prosper. But do not take the government as an example. Save, be thrifty, and do all your paperwork. Your real life will begin when you retire.
From the liberal view, the Old America is gone, finished off in the last election, and the trend toward government control of everything is now on track and inevitable, and the rules can be changed so that nothing can be done about that. We have seen their justification in articles about how the US is far behind Europe in civilization, as well as here.
The latest memo from the Department of Homeland Security is an example; and the Tea Parties will not curb enthusiasm for these new measures.
Privateers and marque and reprisal were ended in the Declaration of Paris. The US did not participate and has not endorsed the Declaration, but we have several times said we would adhere to that provision. The result is that there is no mechanism for dealing with prizes: there haven't been Admiralty Courts that determine what goods are contraband and subject to seizure and sale for more than 100 years. While creating privateers as a means of piracy suppression might work, it wouldn't be as simple to accomplish as it first appears. What evidence is to be accepted when a privateer brings an accused pirate to court? The pirates claim to be fishermen whose boat has been seized by pirates, and the privateer ought to be arrested and made to pay compensation. What court tries this? Who pays the lawyers? (You may be sure there will be highly paid lawyers involved; that's more inevitable than piracy,)
Poul Anderson made use of the concept in The Star Fox and a whacking good story it was. It's unlikely to happen here. This is not a political environment that would encourage such actions.
Rep. Ron Paul has introduced a Marque and Reprisal bill into Congress to deal with air piracy. He has a similar effort regarding sea piracy. As I said, it's not likely; but it is one interesting path.
The means for piracy suppression exist. The question is the will. Clearly if there were no Somali mother ships there would be no Somali piracy. Of course that would destroy the living of the few Somali fishermen able to eke out an existence. Vigorous patrolling and inspection of mother ships for contraband (assault rifles, RPG's) and confiscation of such ships is one possibility. If there were a reasonable chance that any given mother ship would be inspected that would change the piracy business plan.
Just in case anyone believes that the story about the speeding ticket actually happened, it didn't. It's just a story.
April 17, 2009
As Eric notes, it's a sign that Mac is getting a significant market share. It's also a sign that Mac users cannot be quite so cavalier about what software they let run on their systems.
The EPA has decided that CO2 is bad for your health. This official ruling allows the Feds to take over more of the economy, and add regulations that will export even more jobs to China and India, where they don't care about CO2. The results are predictable.
I put the above in Comic Sans, an act of whim inspired by an article in today's Wall Street Journal.
We are apparently going to cure the problems of the world while recovering from the mini-Depression. Maybe Comic Sans is the right font for discussing such matters. Even if it were true that CO2 is a substantial danger to public health, killing the US coal industry is not going to change the total CO2 in the atmosphere; China has invested $2 trillion in new coal plants, and there's not an iota of evidence that they're going to cut back on CO2 emissions.
The climate may be warming. It may not be. Since it has been warming since 1800 or so it would hardly be astonishing if that trend were continuing, despite the Global Cooling -- Coming Ice Age -- scares that Sagan and Schneider and Margaret Meade warned us of in the 1970's. That said, the connection between CO2 and climate change is not well established -- but assuming that it is, wrecking the US economy by exporting jobs to China and India isn't going to change that. The resulting economic impact will lower the revenue from present taxes. Since government never gets much smaller -- see Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy -- this means another tax increase will be inevitable.
The only safe jobs under the current trends are government jobs. We'll still be "creating" government jobs. Those don't get exported. And we will continue down the road to catch up with Europe on being civilized.
I have for years thought that a government imposed monopoly on securities ratings, that allows the issuers of the securities to buy ratings -- indeed, mandates that the issuers pay fees to a rating agency to get the rating -- is a fatal flaw in the system.
Niven came over at noon and we went for a full hike. Five miles and 800 foot altitude climb. I haven't done that in weeks -- probably months. My morning walks with Roberta have been about 2 miles on the flats here. Going up the hill was tough, but we managed. Now the dog is flat, and I'm tired, but it's good to know I can still do it. I'd better arrange to do it once a week...
April 18, 2009
I will return to this next week, but here is the clearest refutation to CO2 as the engine of global warming that I have yet seen. First:
shows the best graphical presentation of the actual global warming I have yet seen. It is was posted by David Evans, who refers to another article he wrote:
This presents what appears to be a direct refutation of the IPCC model: that is, a direct comparison of predicted with observed results. The prediction is non-trivial; that is, according to Evans, if you believe in CO2 caused global warming there will be an observed result. There has to be. And it was not found.
I intend to come back to this, but I invite my more technical readers to look at these papers. In particular, I'd like to see an explanation from someone who believes in CO2 caused global warming: why do the models predict something crucial that is not found?
And is there any meaningful debate on the IPCC theories scheduled? There is a lot of money at stake here.
And see discussion
Which purports to tell an inside story about the piracy incident and Obama's performance. I have no way of verifying any of the statements made, and I don't see any source data. It's unlikely that those who do know will have much to say.
Reagan famously delegated control of this kind of event to the on the scene commanders. I have no evidence that Obama did not do much the same thing, although this purports that he did not.
Colonel Beckwith told me about the failed hostage rescue in Iran; I believed his story, so I have some evidence that Jimmy Carter did not delegate authority to local commanders, but in fact insisted on being involved all the way down the line. I have absolutely no evidence regarding the current situation. The pentagon scuttlebutt I have heard gives Obama good marks on this incident.
April 19, 2009
We went to Die Walkure and then to the Wagner Society cast party afterwards. This was the strangest Walkure anyone had ever seen, and the Wagner Society includes people who have seen a very great many performances of The Ring cycle. Achim Freyer directed, and Achim and Amanda Freyer designed the costumes; again, very different from anything you may have seen. There are some pictures at http://media.laopera.com/photox/?level=album&id=16 that may give you an idea. Or may not.
The music was superb. I thought the pace was a bit off in some of the scenes, but Conlon pretty well gets what he wants out of the LA Opera orchestra. I thought Brunhilde was very good, but some of my friends thought she was a bit off in some of her passages. It's a difficult part. Placido Domingo as Siegmund was about as old as anyone I can remember singing that part, but given the costumes and direction that was no problem. The way this production is presented few demands are made on athletics or appearance of the performers. If that seems to make no sense, you'd have to see it to understand. Which, by the way, I recommend you do if you live in the LA Area.
The party afterwards was fun.
Linda Watson, Brunhilde, at the Wagner Society party.
Margaret Thompson, Rossweisse (one of the nine Valkyries). Seated to her right is Dr. Sherwin Sloan, founder and president of the Wagner Society.
Sherwin Sloan presents an "Oscar" to Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow.
We don 't get out very much now, but we do enjoy the opera. Roberta perhaps more than me, but I found today enjoyable, and of course I learn a lot as a novelist; a lot of interesting people are opera fans or involved in opera production.
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