THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 658 January 17 - 23, 2011
This site looks better if you set your default font to Georgia.
Highlights this week:
For boiler plate, search engine, and notes on what in the world this place is, see below.
For Previous Weeks of the View, SEE VIEW HOME PAGE
If you intend to send MAIL to me, see the INSTRUCTIONS.
This is a Day Book. Pages are in chronological, not blogological order.
January 17, 2010
The chatter continues about the Tucson shooting, but there's nothing new to be said. There are those who don't want to see a perfectly good crisis to go to waste: surely they can get something out of this shooting, what with a Member of Congress being shot and surviving by what the doctors are calling a miracle, her astronaut husband, a charming little girl, an elderly man who died trying to protect his wife -- this is the stuff from which epics are made. Surely we can get some gun control legislation, and a curb on Beck and Limbaugh and their sympathizers, and if we can't get a curb we can still give them a black eye. And so the chatter continues.
There is less discussion about madness, psychiatry, and the law. Forty years ago the public had a great deal more confidence in "science", and the medical and psychological sciences had a lot more confidence in their theories, and in England and the United States it was a great deal easier to get someone locked away in a madhouse. One classic case in England involved a nutty old man who lived in his own country house; he kept chickens, and apparently the chickens were happy. They were allowed free range. The free range included not only their chicken house but his own house, so that the sanitary conditions in his living room were a bit appalling. On the other hand he never invited anyone into his house, and his interactions with his neighbors and the local village were sparse: he mostly lived on eggs and boiled chicken and carrots he grew for himself. A local group called on him soliciting donations or something of the sort, saw the horrid conditions in his house, and reported him to the local authorities. Next thing he knew a police constable and a local doctor appeared with a warrant and took him before a local magistrate, and shortly thereafter his house was set afire as an unsanitary menace, and he was given a hearing presided over by the chief medical officer of the local madhouse. Testimony was given by the constable and the doctor.
He was found to be raving, shouting defiance and denouncing the government, and expressing the view that he was being persecuted. He was confined to the madhouse for treatment, but given that he was hostile there wasn't really any treatment. He stayed there for years until a local MP was told of the case by a distant relative, and the whole thing came to an actual court. He was found to be peculiar and perhaps weird, but not insane under any legal definition. Of course he was by then destitute, and homeless. He begged to be allowed to live on a tent on his property, but the property had been confiscated for taxes, and then sold to a developer who turned out to be related to the charity solicitors who reported the old man in the first instance.
This was not an entirely isolated case. We had many in the United States as well. One man was confined as a sex offender for urinating in public and thus exposing himself to some kids hiding in the bushes. The man was drunk at the time. The psychiatrists who examined him found that although he had never committed any other crime he was schizophrenic, and confined him to the state mental hospital until he could be cured, but since there was at the time no known cure for schizophrenia there was no treatment: he served what amounted to a life sentence for urinating against a wall at 2 in the morning. The case was found by a graduate student doing research on such matters and taken on by a law professor, and the man was eventually freed, but after twelve years of confinement he had no job or income. When last heard from he was living in a Mission in San Francisco.
I could cite a number of similar cases in England and the United States from the 1950's when I was in graduate school, and I suspect I could find some even today although the budget crunches were instrumental in emptying some of the mad houses. The emptying of the asylums was hailed by libertarians as an advance for freedom, but it also put some very crazy people on the streets. I recall one famous case about 1972 of a girl in New York City who liked living on the streets and begging for a living. She made for pathetic pictures, disheveled but smiling, sitting outside Sack's Fifth Avenue. I forget the final disposition of her case, but there were some very high powered lawyers on both sides, both claiming to want what was best for her: one side said freedom, the other side said she needed help even if she didn't think she did. As I said, we can find many cases in which it is not entirely clear who ought to be locked up and helped whether they like it or not.
But I don't hear much discussion of principles here. Should the Tucson shooter have been locked away after it became clear to many that he was deteriorating? On what grounds? That he asked weird questions and seemed obsessed with epistemological and semantic questions (although his education probably never included the definition of the words)? It turns out that he kept a form letter from the Congresswoman on which he had written 'Die Bitch' or something of the sort; but he kept that private, didn't show it to anyone. Still, if that had been found along with his Glock, should he have been taken in for questioning? If he were taken in for questioning would that have resulted in his involuntary confinement? Or in disarming him? And on what grounds might there have been a search of his belongings that would reveal the marked up letter and the Glock?
Go back to the Virginia Tech massacre.
Cho was known to be disturbed and in fact received publicly paid-for treatment from mental health professionals. They certainly had more opportunity to predict his action than anyone had regarding Jared Loughner. Should Cho have been locked away? Disarmed? On what specific grounds, and through what procedures?
Considering the Loughner case separate from the Cho case seems futile.
Liberty is not free. It is also not limitless. There must be some limits. Rational self government requires a degree of rationality. But depriving a citizen of freedom should be a very serious action, and the result of specific procedures, not just at the whim of someone who says "he's nuts." Note that no one wants to jail the Tucson survivor who made quite a public threat against the local Tea Party leader.
And that is a sufficient rant for the day.
Did you subscribe and never hear from me? Click here!.
|This week:||Tuesday, January
I am way behind but catching up. Sort of.
I continue to be amazed that there is still debate and discussion about the motives of the Tucson shooter, and whose fault it was that he was able to carry out his attack. There wasn't anything like that much discussion of the Fort Hood Massacre, where the motive was clear -- he was shouting his jihidist sentiments even as he fired -- and his affiliations with Muslim jihadists were easily discovered. His behavior had disturbed many of his colleagues and superiors. Because we simply refuse to believe that Muslim jihadists can recruit agents within our armed forces, or that we are allowed to do anything about them lest we be accused of profiling and discrimination and mopery and dopery, we are not supposed to talk about remedies to an obvious threat; but we are supposed to think of ways to profile the mad and lock them away.
I find that I am not making myself as clear on this issue as I might be:
Which is disturbing. Of course I was choosing examples of maximum ambiguity. That was the point. It's clear enough that if someone stands about waving a gun and shouting that he's going to kill the Mayor because the Mayor kidnapped his son, we have good reason to act. It's the hard cases that make bad law, and I have been inviting those who think it's simple to contemplate that.
Regarding the possibility of jailing -- or executing for that matter -- an innocent man, I thought that was my point: we don't do that after a closed hearing before experts. It takes a judge and jury. Involuntary commitment without that safeguard was, I thought, what we were discussing. Jailing a felon requires a charge, a specification, indictment or preliminary hearing, and conviction involving a judge and the option of a jury. Locking someone away for "observation" requires a lot less than indictment: and unless there are rules, extending the "protection" of the society by locking away a madman is a fairly simple matter. Of course I chose the cases intended to make the point. Why shouldn't I/
As to the obligations of a free society, I thought that this was the point of the discussion. A free society may have the "obligation" to protect people from madmen who have not yet committed a crime, but doing so on the basis of the findings of an expert who can find a correspondence between the individual's behavior and a "disorder" in the DSM is probably not a good idea.
I had no idea that anyone was aware of "direct death threats" made by the Tucson madman. I find no evidence that this is the case. And I do not think he had done anything that would warrant a search warrant that would have found the ravings on his copy of the letter that the Congresswoman had sent him.
I would hope that your statement "No one I am aware of wants to round up the mentally ill and put them in indiscriminately in institutions," is true, but I fear I do know of such people, some in the mental health professions; and when you have a board consisting of a policeman, a police psychiatrist, and the chief medical officer of a mental institution given the power to send people for involuntary treatment I would contend that you have conflicts of interest.
It's very easy to say that letting people out to harm themselves or others is not rational. At what probability will you set this? If there is a 99% probability that someone will go berserk the decision is easy. Suppose the probability is only 60%? What about 10%? At some point there is a probability that anyone you meet might go berserk and harm himself or others, or take drugs that will induce that state. Leaving aside the difficulty of measuring the probabilities (who does it, and how? By comparing behavior to DSM disorders?) can we not at least discuss the levels of probability? At what level is preventive detention both rational and courageous?
But surely the trick is to find a reliable way to determine who can and who cannot monitor his own behavior, and at what point is someone obviously so disturbed? Is it walking down the street talking loudly to no one? (Once we determine it's not a cell phone...) Or pretending to have a cell phone conversation with God or the Devil? Now I know: sometimes people are just acting nuts; we can't define it but we know it when we see it. We have laws against being drunk and dirty in public, and those can often be used to get someone off the streets even when they aren't really drunk.
I do wish such things were as obvious to me as they are to you.
Meanwhile, I would think it more important to look into ways to prevent another Fort Hood massacre, or Times Square Bombing. It seems to me odd that there is more concerned with involuntary commitment of madmen than in detecting and disarming conspirators. And yes, I know very well that this is an even larger can of worms, and those familiar with my writings will not suspect that I am arguing for new empowerments for the secret police. It does seem odd that there is more national concern and debate about Tucson than Fort Hood -- or Waco.
A note: I am aware of the "modern" psychiatric terminology with its various DSM "disorders." I don't find them either more or less useful than the older designations of psychotic behavior. They (the new labels of 'disorders') aren't more predictive (than the older diagnoses of schizophrenia and manic-depressive psycholsis), and they don't seem to be based on any superior theories. I do not find the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual particularly useful, and I am not pleased by the insurance companies' reliance on this expert system data base, which allows us to apply the term "disorder" to many behaviors that previously would simply have been thought odd or eccentric, or even (in the case of adolescent boys) rather typical. Psychology theory is in a mess nowadays. We have made progress in showing the unscientific nature of the great integrative theories of Freud, Jung. Horney, Hubbard, and the like; but we haven't got much to replace them with, and the DSM isn't in my judgment a particularly good substitute. At least Freud and Hubbard offered explanations even when they weren't particularly useful for prediction.
January 19, 2011
For years the Global Warming Believers have been warning Australia they were in increasing danger of drought, not flooding, and as a consequence a number of building codes forbidding construction in flood plains have been repealed. Other flood control measures were scrapped in favor of drought prevention.
Of course they are now saying that Global Warming has caused
I often hear Believers say that Global Warming causes drought. They point to receding glaciers, and the lack of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro as confirmation of the danger of AGW. I do not know how the various models from which AGW is inferred deal with rainfall as a result of Global Warming. I do know that at one time some theorists said that they'd expect more cooling than warming from atmospheric warming by CO2, but those were cocktail party theories: it's clear that if you are going to have glacial ice in the high latitudes, something has to transport that water to the places where it falls as snow. That will take energy. Adding energy to the atmosphere may cause more evaporation and thus larger rainfalls. In fact, though, the models don't seem to deal with this very well.
Since El Nino and La Nina affect our weather, and probably our climate, a lot more than CO2 levels do, one would expect to see more concentration on those phenomena, but so far as I know, little of the enormous funding of "Climate Change" research is devoted to those, and predictions of ocean conditions do not seem to be any part of the objectives of those studies.
As I have said before, Bayesian analysis would indicate that we ought to spend more money on resolving the prediction uncertainties -- or determining that those uncertainties cannot be lowered -- rather than choosing an outcome and spending large sums on that. Apparently Australia chose to prepare for drought and cut way back on flood control.
Ideas have consequences. Australia took AGW Believer predictions seriously. We see the results.
And yes: I know, the correct term now is "climate change", and that the Climate Change Believers are now saying that warming doesn't inevitably cause drought, at least the ones who really understand, and they can't help it if some of their supporters are uninformed and continue to show us drought areas depicted as resulting from Global Warming, and it isn't worth setting that record straight because It's Really Serious and even if people are scared for the wrong reason....
I am tempted to try to determine the temperature at Chaos Manor. That turns out not to be too simple. I could just put up a recording thermometer, but where? What do I measure, air temperature in the shade? Globe temperature exposed to the sky? I have been mulling this over, and it's not really likely I will do this, but someone ought to: get three recording thermometers. Set one up according to whatever standard is used for taking a temperature for the climate data base. That will be air temperature in the shade as I understand it. Now set up two more, both globe temperature measures: that is take a copper ball about 4 inches in diameter, paint it black, and put the recording air temperature thermometer inside that. This will measure both air and radiant temperatures. Have two of those. Put one in the shade, and expose the other to the sky. Now build a data base of hourly measurements (day and night, of course) from all three, and compare the differences. We can then try to work out a system of weights to allow us to average all three measures to get daily, weekly, monthly, and annual average temperatures from one particular place. It would be interesting to see the results.
I haven't looked at the cost of recording thermometers recently, or for that matter where I would find copper globes, and I suspect I'll never do this: but it would make a very good 8th grade science project for schools.
The egregious Frum continues to get major space from the mainstream media. Why?
January 20, 2010
I commend this to your attention:
The quote pretty well expresses my view of this war. I don't think we ought to be in it: we can't afford it, it is not a good thing for the health of the Legions to spend a large part of their active service in a place that has been a graveyard of empires since Alexander the Great, and building a liberal democracy ruled from Kabul will require commitments that our soldiers cannot give because they are beyond the commitment of the American people. But so long as we are in that war, we have no choice but to give our Centurions whatever we can manage; and crazy "ethics" rules that prevent a small town in Ohio from sending a sewing machine to the company commander of their local Guard unit stationed at Fire Base Forsaken in the midst of the Hindu Kush for distribution to the local headman's wife are an insane restriction on the abilities of the Legions to accomplish the mission we have assigned them.
It's not likely that anything will change with the current Commander in Chief.
The unhealthy attention being paid to the odd thinking processes of the sheriff of Pima County continue even as the story has gone beyond the bizarre. The sheriff has repeatedly stated that he has no evidence to show that the Tucson madman had ever listened to political radio commentators of any opinion, nor did he read political editorials, nor does the sheriff have any claim to expertise on discerning the motives of the mad, but he has his weeks in the sun, and the media continue to interview him as if anything he has to say has national relevance.
Meanwhile, the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has thrown a state dinner for the man who has imprisoned the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Another previous Nobel Peace Prize winner was in attendance at this honor. Except for Rush Limbaugh I have heard no comments on this curious anomaly from the media. I suspect that when there is media attention it will be in denigration of Limbaugh for pointing it out. So it goes.
Rational US policies would study the measures that put the United States into "Number One" in the first place, and what changes in those policies have resulted in the current worry that we will no longer remain there. After all, we have not been defeated in war. We have not suffered widespread destruction from natural disasters. We have had hurricanes, floods, oil spills, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, but all of them added together didn't have that much effect or show that we could not deal with them. China, after all, is not without its disasters.
Rational US policies would look to our capabilities. We know what brings prosperity: freedom and low cost energy. We also need to reform education. Transparency and Subsidiarity. I wrote about that many years ago, and I have no reason to change that view.
January 21, 2011
This morning's LA Times has an article on page 13 "Warming effect of melting ice fields stronger than predicted, report finds." This link is to the article in another place. It certainly makes sense, and indeed I am a bit surprised that this effect wasn't in the original models. It's also a clue as to where we ought to be doing more research. Certainly as the ice and snow is replaced by water and tundra the radiation reflected will be less. Ice is shiner than water. It also in the polar regions, which get less sunlight and always at a low angle of incidence. What effect this has isn't clear: intuitively that ought to make it warmer, and that's certainly the prediction to make. The next step is to measure it: how much? At a minimum I'd hope they would put more air and globe temperature measuring instruments into the area to see just what happens. How much warmer, and does that correlate with temperatures in more temperate regions? It's the sort of activity that probably ought to be sponsored by government, but it's also the kind of thing amateurs used to do in the age of exploration.
It is, of course, the effect on atmospheric water and clouds that we ought to be measuring. We know it was warmer in those regions in Viking times -- well, 'know' may be a bit strong, but it's a very fair inference. If there were dairy farms in Greenland it's safe to assume there was a lot of melting all across the Northwest Passage area -- but we don't really know what effect that had on global temperatures. Certainly the warming in the Viking period was not caused by CO2 in the atmosphere (but it undoubtedly released some additional CO2 by warming the seas). It would be very valuable to know what did cause that warming, and, perhaps more importantly, what stopped and reversed it so that we had the Little Ice Age. This is the kind of climatology study that we ought to be doing, and we have the instruments to do it with. Access to those areas is much easier now than it was in the last century. Instruments like recording thermometers are much cheaper as is wireless transmission of the data. A program of direct measurement of air and globe temperatures in those areas coupled with satellite observations (thus giving the satellite observations a calibration means) would not cost much compared to, say, California's carbon control regulations. If we have to endure the economic costs of CO2 reduction it would be well to have good evidence that the Earth is actually warming and the warming is going to cost more than the cost of abating it. So far the costs of warming are more speculative than based on evidence or even careful analysis.
Of course the real danger is runaway warming or cooling. If all that is happening is cycling among historic temperature levels -- and there isn't any real evidence is that's not what is happening -- then we needn't be so alarmed. If CO2 levels really do threaten a runaway process, we need to face that. Retarding development in the United States while China and India add more coal fired plants (as well as nuclear plants) isn't going to have much effect on CO2. Preventing China and India from belching out CO2 may be beyond our ability. Shaming the Chinese and Indians into cutting back their economic development may also be a commission impossible of fulfillment. Now what?
It would certainly be prudent to fund research into engineering methods for extracting CO2 from the atmosphere in carload lots. The first cut at doing it by seeding the seas with iron didn't come out as well as we could hope: but it did produce the predicted blooms. Now it's a matter of controlling that plankton growth so that it's sustainable. I suspect that's not as difficult as persuading the Chinese not to build more coal fired power plants...
Note that the new study only shows that melting ice in the polar regions has more local effect than theory had supposed; it does not tell us more about the rate of planetary warming or cooling. Note also, though, that this is not relevant to the desirability of more research into measurement, and into engineering ways to reduce CO2 if that turns out to be required.
I know no more about the following link. It is interesting if true, but I tend to be skeptical of these things, as I am of the various Dean Drive experiments people call my attention to. I always wait for confirmation, and alas, I never find it.
In addition to writing OUTIES:
If you have any interest in the subject the rest of the SCIENCE article is worth reading. Causing archeologists/anthropologists/historians to rethink their theories of how Mesopotamian civilization -- the Garden of Eden -- began is no mean feat.
For those who missed this:
OUTIES: A novel by Dr. Jennifer Pournelle. For those
who don't know, she's my daughter, an anthropologist/archeologist,
university publications editor, former Army Intelligence officer, and a
generally good writer.
The direct link to Amazon sales is here. It can be read with Kindle application software on all machines that will run Kindle apps. Note that the Amazon subtitle is "Mote in God's Eye" and that isn't correct: this is set in the Mote universe, but it takes place off in the boonies.
OUTIES is "authorized" and boasts blurbs by Niven and me. It makes use of the Mote universe and some of the Mote characters with our permission. Good reading.
January 22, 2011
I have work to do, so this will be brief.
was interesting, and I was looking at the links before commenting. I will publish it again with comments; but I bring it up today because the second link
leads to a very interesting UCSD course. To get there I
followed the links back to the introduction and syllabus
Most of the course is in this vein. Part One of the course concludes:
I suspect that Prof. Wolfgang H. Berger, the course instructor, and I do not agree on what US policy ought to be in the face of these facts, but that's only a suspicion: his lectures are good examples of reasoned discussion, and leave open the possibility that rational persons can and will disagree on these matters.
This isn't a highly technical course: it's a general introduction. Most readers can go through the entire syllabus of both parts in a couple of hours, and many will learn something from it. Next week I'll get to the letter itself, but I did want to call attention to Professor Berger's course.
A more technical example of Professor Berger's work on
climate change theory can be found here:
(I found that link by a Google search on Berger Climate Change Policy in an attempt to find anyplace he has been involved in climate change policy debates. I didn't find much; apparently he is more interested in science than policy wonking. Commendable. It's an interesting book; the indicated section is a discussion of positive feedback mechanisms and the search for evidence thereof.)
It's allergy season again, and I'm using my nose pump again. I find I haven't recommended this in a long time:
The link leads to a nose irrigation pump: it's the ultimate way to clear your head when your nasal passages and sinuses are full of allergens and junk. It works better than anything I know, and if you need it you really need it. I use it with the stuff the company sells, although others make up their own concoctions. I haven't been using it lately, and I should: I was reminded by friends who still do. If you have sinus problems, you need this.
Digging about in the archives I found this explication on Emergency Room economics including the costs of illegal immigrants. Nothing has changed for the better since an emergency room physician sent it in 2005. The conditions described are real, and the situation deteriorates.
I have long said that the mail section of this site is the best mail section on the Internet. There is a great deal of wisdom in those archives.
January 23, 2011
I am trying to catch up. I seem to have a lot to do lately.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
If you have no idea what you are doing here, see the What is this place?, which tries to make order of chaos.
For platinum subscription:
If you subscribed:
If you didn't and haven't, why not?
Strategy of Technology in pdf format:
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
For the BYTE story, click here.
Search: type in string and press return.
The freefind search remains:
Entire Site Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.