All Hallows Eve


View 748 Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I’ve been a bit under the weather the last couple of days. Much of my family is on the east coast, and all came through Sandy unharmed. I have friends in Manhattan who still have no electric power, and I understand that the looting has begun – I saw pictures of people carrying huge flat screen TV monitors down the street, and other such matters. Our best wishes to all.


A long time correspondent sends this:

Screwy Polls


A lot of people seem to be stressing over the difference between the national polls that show a modest Romney lead, and the state-by-state polls that still point toward an Obama win in the Electoral College.

I’ve been following polls closely for months, particularly the electoral-vote map with state-by-state poll averages at RealClearPolitics, and one thing I’ve noticed is that some polling outfits have been playing pro-Dem games with their state polls – in at least one blatantly obvious case, temporarily dropping their ~5 point Dem skew earlier this month, then after a week or so readopting it. (In aid of some sort of "comeback kid" narrative? Because word came down "damn salvaging your credibility"? Who knows.)

It’s gotten bad enough that the people at RealClearPolitics have written a story about it,

They’re very diplomatic about it; they don’t ever actually state that some of the state polls in their averages are rigged (or to be charitable, merely a mix of incompetence and wishful thinking). But they do calculate that the nationwide average of the state-by-state polls is biased 2 to 2.5 points toward the Dems compared to the national polls. They go on to state that the correct answer is very unlikely to be an average of the two, and leave it at that.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s the national polls that are correct. I’ve come to apply about two points of Kentucky windage to the RCP averages in key swing states (or in some cases I just ignore the more blatant pro-Dem outliers) and the RCP piece reinforces my belief I have it about right.

Nobody should draw too much comfort from this. Even applying RCP’s Kentucky windage to the current swing state poll averages yields only the narrowest of Romney wins – and several key states, notably Ohio, Nevada, and Wisconsin, will be well within the margin of cheating that their regional Dem machines have demonstrated in the past. (Iowa is also razor-close, but less historically prone to ballot-box stuffing.)

My current take: Romney wins if he takes any two out of those four by greater than the margin of cheating. This assumes he also holds onto current narrow leads in Colorado, Virgina, and Florida. And in at least one case it assumes he also knocks off one electoral vote from Maine (as seems likely).

Bottom line: Absent a couple more points Romney pickup nationally (possible but nothing to count on) it’ll be a damned close-run thing.

sign me


Polls are subject to manipulation, and they are also vulnerable to mistaken assumptions. Few people are competent in both the mathematical complexities of statistical inference, and the subtleties of political thinking. In particular, there are powerful social forces at work that make it very difficult to factor in dishonesty in answering pollsters. When I was Managing Director of the Pepperdine research Institute we won contracts to study polling and results from both the FDA and the Department of Justice, and it was very clear that training pollsters is both difficult and expensive, and few polling companies can afford to do it right.

In the present situation we have a President who was elected not only to the Presidency, but to something greater than that. He was the bringer of Hope and Change, The One you’ve been waiting for. Not surprisingly he did not meet all those expectations. Those who believed he would can either denounce him, or retreat into silence, or react in other ways. There are numerous studies of what happens to Believers when their expectations are not met. None of them look to be too useful for pollsters.

My own view, not based on much evidence, is that there are a number of people disappointed in Mr. Obama who do not care to admit that, and that many of them will react to this by abandoning electoral politics – and by not voting. That’s not much more than a guess, but I would not be astonished if a week from today we find that the election wasn’t even close.


The technology march continues, and there’s a lot to write about. We have an embarrassment of riches in cell phones, iPads , Tablets, communications devices other than phones, desktops, laptops, and all of them at consumer prices. I’m trying to keep up with all of it. I note that I am not alone in being not quite overwhelmed with the latest development – not quite overwhelmed, but faced with a very great deal to write about.

But first it’s getting late and it will be dark in an hour or so. It should be a good Halloween. I rather enjoy seeing the spectacle.









View 748 Sunday, October 28, 2012

I’m aware of the rumors concerning General Ham and AFRICOM. They remain rumors and I have seen no corroboration.

You will find them at


But again let me emphasize that this is rumor.


What is not rumor is that anyone with experience in the intelligence game would have understood that the Benghazi consulate was at high risk. Even the inexperienced would, one would suppose, have noticed that the Brits closed their consulate in Benghazi because they didn’t want to send in the resources needed to assure its security. Apparently someone in the Department of State chain of command, having received the assessment, decided to allow the risk.

As we used to say in another context, “I’d hate to have the guy who designed that work on anything else.” On the other hand, we don’t air that sort of conclusion in public hearings. Yet there was the loss of an ambassador in the line of duty, and such things are rare and ought to be a Big Deal. One would expect something more in the way of investigation and explanation than we have had. And the Congress remains the Grand Inquest of the Nation.


We continue to experiment with Windows 8, and my conclusion continues to be, “Not yet.” Windows 8 is designed to take advantage of hardware you don’t have yet. With what we have now, Windows 7 will do very well. As Alexander Pope advises, Be not the first by whom the New are try’d, Nor yet the last to lay the Old aside. Microsoft is betting that the old fashioned desktop computer – Bill Gates’ vision of a computer on every desk, and in every home, and in every classroom – will begin to fade, and all those devices will be replaced with other and more productive – and probably more specialized – equipment. Moore’s Law dictates that the computer revolution will continue to accelerate, that we are on the steeply rising portion of the S curve, and as our machines gain capability we will need to learn new ways to control them so that we can get the most out of them. Gestures, touch, all of that will come much faster than most suppose; but they aren’t here yet. They will be.


The pledge drive ended successfully. Thanks to all who subscribed or renewed their subscriptions. I’ll stop bugging you about that until the next drive.


I have a number of open tabs to remind me of things to write about, and I am running out of time. Here are some stories I would comment on if I had time. On the other hand, once you know them, perhaps one doesn’t need much comment.







A Mixed Mail Bag

Mail 747 Saturday, October 27, 2012


Publuis Speaks

Dr. Pournelle –

27. October 1787: The first of the Federalist Papers are published.

It’s a fascinating time to be studying the Federalist Papers.

However, looking at all that is going on, it would be worthwhile to also study the writings of the anti-federalists as well.


The anti-federalists were concerned that the Federal Government would become too powerful and suppress the liberties of the states and of the people…

Patrick Henry was one of their leaders. He would not go to the Convention of 1787 saying he smelt a rat. George Mason was another.


RFID for Public School Students

Dr. Pournelle,

I think we now have conclusive proof that these are the Crazy Years. Students in San Antonio public schools are being tracked by RFID. The administrators are unashamed to say they are trying to raise their take of state money by increasing attendance.

If this goes nationwide I expect more libertarians and conservatives will use private schools and homeschool. This would accentuate a bifurcation of society into Taxpayers and Citizens, to borrow your taxonomy.


Best wishes,

Nathan Raye

Given the uselessness of much of the public school system, and the terrible expense of the official credentials of education, there are few ways out. Go into debt in order to pay the absurd costs of our universities which teach what used to be taught free in high school; keep the debt for life.

The solution to much of the cost of ‘higher education’ is to return to competent high schools. But the teachers unions will insist – probably believing it – that this is impossible even if we once did it. They say they can’t do it now. They’re right of course. They can’t.

What we need is some kind of cheaper way to certify that you are educated.


Jacques Barzun, RIP.

Fitting that he outlasted Hobsbawm, if only by a hairsbreadth:




Roland Dobbins


Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Lena Dunham put out a Pro-Obama ad saying that "your first time should be with someone who cares".

If this actually puts him over the top, I won’t move to Australia because I have family obligations here. But I would really, really, really, wish I could.

Of course, it’s also possible that people will be offended by so unserious approach to such a fundamental question. I mean, if you REALLY want to compare voting for a president to a sex act, the comedic potential is unlimited, but I suspect you really don’t want to hear it. Even if my second thought involves the word "prison". My first thought is unprintable.


Brian P.

I am never surprised by what political operatives will say.


Like Niven says, Any damn fool can predict the past. Seems like there’s a lot of damn foolery going around on this topic.

Meanwhile, from a G.W. Bush-era former CIA analyst:

And, from the archives, a piece on "creeping determinism":

Key quote from the piece, explaining the phrase:

"None of these postmortems, however, answer the question raised by the Yom Kippur War: Was this pattern obvious *before* the attack? This question–whether we revise our judgment of events after the fact–is something that psychologists have paid a great deal of attention to.

For example, on the eve of Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, the psychologist Baruch Fischhoff asked a group of people to estimate the probability of a series of possible outcomes of the trip. What were the chances that the trip would lead to permanent diplomatic relations between China and the United States? That Nixon would meet with the leader of China, Mao Tse-tung, at least once? That Nixon would call the trip a success? As it turned out, the trip was a diplomatic triumph, and Fischhoff then went back to the same people and asked them to recall what their estimates of the different outcomes of the visit had been. He found that the subjects now, overwhelmingly, "remembered" being more optimistic than they had actually been. If you originally thought that it was unlikely that Nixon would meet with Mao, afterward, when the press was full of accounts of Nixon’s meeting with Mao, you’d "remember" that you had thought the chances of a meeting were pretty good. Fischhoff calls this phenomenon "creeping determinism"–the sense that grows on us, in retrospect, that what has happened was actually inevitable–and the chief effect of creeping determinism, he points out, is that it turns unexpected events into expected events. As he writes, "The occurrence of an event increases its reconstructed probability and makes it less surprising than it would have been had the original probability been remembered.""

Hoping this finds you well,

– Hal


This is all I know though I have heard part of this from other sources. This is commentary /analysis, so…

This is my first look at that web site and I know nothing about it or its staff. Nor do I know much about the relationship of the Clintons in these times.


Five-second Rule

As I recall, the Mythbusters’ examination of the rule found that a handful of seconds didn’t really make any difference. Moist, flat, food picks up bacteria immediately. Food that is dry and doesn’t present a broad contact surface doesn’t really do any worse in 6 seconds than 2. This doesn’t seem surprising to me.

Mike Johns

Ah well.


Synopsis of the Wizard of Oz.


Roland Dobbins


: Occasional virus double-checks

While online virus scans are convenient, I think a better choice for an occasional double-check would be a Linux-based Rescue CD. You know how adept today’s rootkits are at hiding themselves from the OS itself. The boot CD completely bypasses those tricks.

Obviously, it’s less convenient. But if you run it overnight then it’s not that big of a deal. Or, you can try to find useful work to do on a nearby machine while it’s running.

Drake Christensen

Agreed, and I actually have done this.


APOD: 2012 October 22 – A Space Shuttle on the Streets of Los Angeles, a video:

I want one of those transporters. Looks perfect for parallel parking.


It was quite a sight.


Subject: Italian court convicts 7 scientists for failing to predict earthquake

I wonder if it’s too much of a stretch to wonder when they will start convicting scientists for not agreeing with Global Warming alarmism:


I wondered that too. But we still do not know the entire story about the case in Italy. Just wh said what, and when…


Louisiana Mushroom Cloud – Rods from God?

Hi Jerry;

Really iffy source but you got a call on a conspiracy web site. The speculation is that a recent Louisiana mushroom cloud that the government blames on a ammo bunker explosion is really a test of the Project Thor Rods from God concept you developed in the 1950s at Boeing. They were even delivered from the X37 space plane that was recently relaunched.

Bill Baggott

First I have heard of this. The whole point of Thor is that there wouldn’t be a mushroom cloud…


novels and quality

One of the problems with the “revolution in publishing” we are seeing is the proliferation of really bad books that are available. Finding good books is more difficult than it used to be or maybe I’m just getting old and irascible.

The problem even extends to publications in medicine.


When I wrote about information utilities and using them for self publication in A Step Farther Out, I did point out that this would make necessary some new ways to sort out the gold from the dross. That seems to be happening.

But one man’s drech is another’s pleasure, and it’s astonishing how many individual authors now have their niche readerships. I expect to see more of that.


Air + Water = Gasoline

* * *

"Mad Science" means never asking, "What’s the worst that could happen?"

–Schlock mercenary

I’d have to see a lot more evidence before investing in this…


Sanitary towel firm’s ‘CEO’ sets traumatised man straight (don’t be drinking coffee when you watch the video):