The Light of Rutupaie Going Out

Rutupaie, the modern Richborough Castle, in Kent, England – was once the site of a notable Roman military garrison graced by an enormous marble triumphal arch visible to ships arriving in the port, a tall lighthouse, and a thriving civilian town with an amphitheater. The lighthouse and the triumphal arch are long gone, but a large portion of the circuit of twenty-five-foot-high walls still remain visible above ground. This was the terminus of Watling Streat, a keystone in the network of carefully engineered roads which covered Britain like a net. It was most likely the site of the original Roman bridgehead in the time of the Emperor Claudius, which would in large part become the province of Britannia. Rutupaie became the major port of entry all throughout the four centuries that Roman power held sway over that far and misty isle, their ships and galleys guided into safe harbor after dark by the fire atop the lighthouse.

In one of the opening chapters of the novel The Lantern Bearers, a young Roman-British soldier makes his decision to remain in Britain when the legions are finally and officially withdrawn by order of the Emperor. Having deserted his unit as they are on the point of departure for the last time, he lights the great fire atop the lighthouse, as the galleys row away on the evening tide; a last defiant fire, as darkness descends. Peter Grant, who blogs at Bayou Renaissance Man noted this week that Rosemary Sutcliff’s series of novels about the Romans in Britain and the long, slow, painful dying of Roman civilization there were being republished at a reasonable price in eBook. This reminded me again of my very favorite historical author; The finest and most evocative historical novel ever in English is either the Rider of the White Horse or her retelling of the Arthurian epic, Sword at Sunset. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s version, The Mists of Avalon, is overwrought trash in comparison.

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Nancy Pelosi and I Have Something in Common

…both of us will benefit from increases in the price of Nvidia stock.

Paul Pelosi acquired 20,000 shares of NVDA (via a call option exercise) in June of this year.  I’ve been an NVDA shareholder for several years, and sold part of the position at prices considerably more favorable than today’s price of $178/share.

Given that the CHIPS act, which is intended to benefit the US semiconductor industry, is now before Congress, concerns have been raised about whether Paul Pelosi’s purchase might have been influenced by insider information related by his wife.

I note that Nvidia is not thrilled with the bill as currently drafted: it provides benefits for semiconductor manufacturing companies, and Nvidia is not a manufacturer…it is a  ‘fabless semiconductor company’, ie, a design, software, and marketing house.  The actual manufacturing is done by contract manufacturers, especially Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.  Some market participants do,  however, have hopes that in the final version of the bill the subsides will be expanded to encompass chip-design companies.

The bill would include ‘guardrails’ to prohibit recipients of the subsidies from making investments to expand chip manufacturing capacity in countries of concern, namely China. There may be an exemption for countries-of-concern whether that chips being made are at >28nm notes, ie, a long way from high-end.  But one industry analyst said:

The guardrail doesn’t change that most of Intel’s or Texas Instruments’ test and packaging is done in China and will continue to be done in China. What use are new fabs for national security if they have to go to China for test and packaging anyways?

I think there are a couple of issues here.  First is the issue of Congresspeople potentially profiting from inside information.  The Pelosi buy does look very bad from this standpoint, especially when there are headlines associating Nancy Pelosi’s support for the CHIPS bill with increases in certain stocks–which include NVDA.  It’s quite possible that this particular transaction is an innocent one, given that the bill as it stands is not one that Nvidia would have preferred, and also that NVDA price is now low enough, in the context of recent history and the general excellence and positioning of the company, that one could develop an entirely reasonable ‘buy’ case without benefit of any inside information.  But the issue of officeholders profiting from inside information is a serious one, and becomes more serious with every further entwinement of government into the details of the economy.

But there is an even more important issue: Do we really want the level of investment in particular industries to be largely controlled by government?  It is true that the semiconductor industry is vital to the US economy and to US national defense…but this is true of a lot of other industries as well.  How about pharmaceuticals and their precursor materials, for example?…I seem to remember threats from Chinese sources to let American burn in the fire of Covid by withholding pharmaceuticals.  What about large transformers, which are vital to the electrical grid and take a long time to manufacture?  What about key minerals, many of which are in fact present in the United States but are mostly sourced from elsewhere because of legal and cultural hostility toward mining?  What about machine tools?

I have low confidence in the ability of Congress, or of government in general, to determine what industries and what specific segments of those industries are truly vital.  There are many complex interconnections which are not easily understood.  I remember that during the pandemic, GE Healthcare was asked to produce a large number of ventilators in an accelerated timeframe. It turned out that they were using a very small contractor…a 3D printing shop, IIRC…which had been shut down as ‘nonessential’.

I’d prefer to see legislative solutions which improve the US business climate for manufacturers in general and for ‘thing’ businesses in general, to the crafting of specific ‘solutions’ for specific industries.  Legislation should deal with the general case as much as possible, rather than functioning as a Reverse Bill of Attainder.  But developing such legislation requires ability to think in abstract terms, and is not a comfortable to politicians who think mainly in terms of interest groups to be used or placated.

Here is the text of the CHIPS bill.

There is also a proposed broader US competitiveness bill, the United States Innovation and Competition Act.

Here’s a WSJ Opinion piece on the CHIPS bill and its proposed galactic expansions.

And here’s Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger and Ford CEO Jim Farley arguing the case for semiconductor subsidization.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

Starvation and Centralization

It’s now well-known that the nation of Sri Lanka has been reduced to poverty, hunger, and chaos by top-down policies requiring organic farming and forbidding the use of artificial fertilizers.  Western ‘experts’ who encouraged them onto this path are nowhere to be seen, and some of their historical posts/tweets have been deleted.

I’m reminded of a passage in Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon.  The protagonist, Rubashov, is an Old Bolshevik who has been arrested by the Stalinist regime, and the book represents his musings while awaiting trial and likely execution.

A short time ago, our leading agriculturalist, B., was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a nationally centralized agriculture, the alternative of nitrate or potash is of enormous importance : it can decide the issue of the next war. If No. 1 was in the right, history will absolve him … If he was wrong … 

Note that phrase in a nationally centralized agriculture.  When things are centralized, decisions become overwhelmingly important. There will be strong pressure against allowing dissidents to ‘interfere with’ what has been determined to be the One Best Way.

Of course, it is theoretically possible for a maker of centralized decisions to decide that parallel and differing paths must be pursued.  This even sometimes happens in practice.  In the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, designs were developed for use of two different types of fissionables (Plutonium and U-235) and three or four different methods for the separation of Uranium isotopes were pursued.

But the multiple-paths approach rarely seems to happen in practice.  The kind of people who rise to become key decision-makers in government rarely possess a great depth of nuance, and they are greatly influenced by confirmation bias, motivate reasoning, and political marketing considerations.

And even the most brilliant and thoughtful individuals can be wrong in a big way.  Vannevar Bush, who was FDR’s science advisor during WWII, was an unquestionably brilliant and creative man who, along with his many other contributions,  invented the mechanical analog computer and envisaged the concept of hypertext, long before the Internet and the World Wide Web.  Yet, regarding the prospect of intercontinental ballistic missiles, he wrote in 1945:

The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3,000-mile, high-angle rocket, shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb, and so directed as to be a precise weapon, which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city. I say, technically I don’t think anybody in the world knows how to do such a thing, and 1 feel confident it will not be done for a very long period of time to come. I wish the American public would leave that out of their thinking.

If Dr Bush had had complete control over American defense and aerospace research, it is likely that the US would have been much later in ICBM deployment than it in fact was.  We cannot know what the consequences of such lateness would have been, but it’s safe to say that they would not have been good.

And how likely is it that any significant number of our current experts in economics, social sciences, and various other sciences–and their political sponsors and makers of relevant decisions in various countries–are anywhere near as perceptive and forward thinking as Dr Bush was?…let alone more nearly infallible?

Want to bet your and your family’s food supply on it?

Advanced Incompetence

The grim and cynical judgment is that advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from deliberate malice. I am certain that grimmer and more cynical commenters than me have long since concluded that the advanced and mind-boggling incompetence of the Biden Administration is indeed indistinguishable from deliberate malice, at least as far as results are concerned. The staggering increase in the price of gas at the pump is the one thing that almost everyone, save the impossibly-out-of-sight-rich are feeling. When the price leapfrogs twenty cents a gallon from one day to the next, it excites notice from ordinary people, who need to drive to the jobs that they still have. And what is the barely sentient vegetable in the White House, or the individuals who are manipulating his strings doing about all that? Essentially nothing, save lip service and pointless gestures.

They want gas prices to go sky-high. No, that’s the take-away. In their fantasy-world, having the price at the pump be equivalent to prices at European pumps will move us all gently, painlessly, and inexorably towards driving electric cars, (and living in high-rise prole cubes in big cities, and eating protein derived from bugs) never mind that the tech and infrastructure to support that kind of thing isn’t even remotely possible, now or ever.

Nope – the Biden administration wants us unbiddable red-state, fly-over proles to suffer, to grind us all into the dirt. They want this, they are panting for it, orgasmically. Mostly because we don’t and won’t do what they order us to do, and so we must be punished for disobedience.

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