Neanderthals, Teachers and the Iron Law, photon propulsion, what can one man do, agriculture in North Africa, and other important matters.

Mail 762 Tuesday, February 12, 2013


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Hi Jerry,

In the linked article about recreating Neanderthals, Church, the idea’s exponent, is quoted saying, "You would certainly have to create a cohort, so they would have some sense of identity. They could maybe even create a new neo-Neanderthal culture and become a political force."

What a confused thought. Culture is not hardwired into anybody’s DNA. First-generation Neanderthals will only have the same material for creating culture as the homo sapiens who raise them.

And while it’s fine to speculate about bringing back Neanderthals, the reality of creating breeding stock and controlling them in any way to further the experiment is problematic. Does anyone doubt Neanderthals are people? The experiment would have to be throttled in the name of humanity.

–Mike Glyer

That’s an exceedingly old fashioned conservative view, isn’t it? Surely if it is created in the laboratory it belongs to its creator. Of course there are alternate views of who is the Creator. C.S. Lewis foresaw this kind of thing in “The Abolition of Man,” a book that few read now, alas.

As to how much culture is hardwired, surely that would be the point of the experiment?

And we have one reader’s question:

Every now and then someone comes up with a piece about using DNA and clone technology to re-create the Neanderthal species of humanity.


Why would we want to when we have Congress?


Teachers unions are worse that you thought


This article:

details how the teachers union in Portland Oregon is refusing to complete paperwork that would provide 1.5 Million in Federal Medicare reimbursements unless the teachers get extra pay for filling out the paperwork.

Mike Plaster

And yet would not most teachers be horrified? Pournelle’s Iron Law at work, to the detriment of the profession.


Your dog really does understand you… They’re more likely to

steal food if they think you can’t see, research reveals | Mail Online


I am amazed that anyone would suggest that dogs don’t consider the

risk of being caught. This is why only the bravest or most foolish will allow their dog to roam the kitchen unattended.–Theyre-likely-steal-food-think-research-reveals.html#axzz2KhXJNXbe

James Crawford=

You left out most indulgent

Jerry Pournelle

Chaos Manor

Guilty as charged.

I allow the Lap Labs to sit in my lap.

James Crawford

“Tether a beast at midnight, and by dawn it will know the length of its tether,” said Cotton Mather.  It’s true enough of dogs. Now that Sable has cancer and we know she will not be with us too much longer, we let her get away with more; and she certainly has noticed that her tether is longer. Our solution is to be extra careful about leaving things out. But just as dogs believe that things that hit the floor are legally theirs, they will consider themselves entitled to anything they get away with a few times and begin acting indignant if  berated for doing what they had always before known better.  Not much different from adolescent children. One can learn a lot from keeping dogs…


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

In your recent correspondence, you stated:

"It is an interesting study on just how much disruption one man can cause. I once had a student who did a term paper on that subject, and it frightened me: I persuaded him not to publish it and arranged for him to go to graduate school at the Center for Strategic Studies. He now works sometimes with my son in the Pentagon."

I do not wish to pry into this research, but I do want to ask two questions:

1) If one man can screw up the lives of so many people, is it also possible for one man to make the lives of other people better? In modern society, do humans have the same potential for good as they do for evil?

2) Without getting to the cases that would get back to the original research, do you have any suggestions for how #1 would be achieved?

I sometimes wonder how much we miss out on, for ourselves and for our fellow man, simply because we don’t know what’s possible.


Brian P.

But for most of mankind’s cultural history, literature was about how one man made the lives of other people – sometimes those just around him, sometimes many more, once, perhaps, all of mankind. In modern times many have that capability. Next month I will be publishing the California 1914 Sixth Grade Reader, with a few additional stories, one being Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates by Stephen Vincent Benet (who died in March, 1942); much of that book consists of poems and stories about one man who made a difference. Or one woman for that matter. The story of Florence Nightingale comes to mind.

Of course most of our schools no longer have such stories in their Sixth Grade Readers.

One need not be spectacular about making the world a little bit better. Some have many more resources than others, but anyone can do it. If you have a mind to, look up an Anglican hymn “I sing a song of the saints of God.”


21 Century contribution

Ian Macmillan wrote on 2.9.13:

"The problem is that roughly fifty percent of the population has an IQ < 100, and few of these people can make significant contributions to the creative opportunities of the 21st century."

I doubt those with IQs of <100 will invent a new calculus, but having worked with several tradesmen — a plumber, electrician, and carpenter — none of whom were intellectual giants, I can say they all make much more significant contributions to 21 Century society than Urban Studies majors. They were all pleasant, personable, and professional and I found them interesting and engaging.

Had my life taken a different path, I may have become a machinist instead of the editor of a magazine about machining. Those people, and the master tradesmen, are the people who keep the US running.

It has become a folly to suggest we should all be college bound.

I went to a technical high school back in the mid-’60s and about two percent of us were in college prep. The other boys were taking foundry, cabinet making, automotive, electrical, and other "hands-on" careers and could look forward to pretty good jobs upon graduation. The same for the girls who took secretarial, food service, bookkeeping, and "business."

The grads got jobs, got married, had kids, and contributed to society instead of burdening themselves with six-figure student loans to get graduate degrees in Art History and them moving back into their parents’ basements.

Pete Nofel

When I first went to work for Boeing we determined that we would be in our thirties before the average engineer would have cumulatively earned as much as a hard working mechanic, riveter, or other aircraft assembly worker joining up as an apprentice just out of high school would make if we factored in costs of education and the years spent earning nothing and not accumulating pension years as well as earning hourly pay. Now of course the average Boeing worker was probably IQ 95-105 while the college grad engineers would have been at a higher level of intelligence, but you get the idea. Intelligence – the ability to manipulate abstract symbols – is only important for some skills, and one has to be really smart to overcome bad and arrogant attitudes.

Half the population is below average, which hardly means they are useless; it does mean that it makes no sense to try to make them school teachers or civil engineers or lawyers. The arrogance of the intellectuals who assume that all those who aren’t intellectuals are benighted is often astounding.


Breadbasket of the Empire


I found Ed’s question interesting, so I had a look. Reliable statistics seem hard to come by, but:

"Annual grain production in Roman Africa [ie Tunisia+Algeria] has been estimated at more than a million tons"

"Caesar’s expanded province of Africa… was already shipping to the capital 50,000 tons of grain a year. One hundred years later, after the expansion of direct rule, the figure was 500,000 tons…"

"According to the biography of Septimius Severus, 30 million modii

(200,000 tonnes) were required to feed the population of the city of Rome each year, a substantial proportion of which came from Africa."

According to FAO data, wheat production for Tunisia+Algeria has in recent years varied from 1.6 million tons (2000) to 2 million tons (1995); for 2012, the USDA gives 4.85 million tons. For Tunisia alone, the figures are respectively 530,000 and 840,000.


So current production is of about the same order as Roman production, and probably a bit higher. That may not be a fair comparison, in that the Romans didn’t have modern chemical fertilisers or pesticides; but the yield the FAO gives for Algeria, 500-900 kg/ha, equates to about

7-14 bushels per acre, which fits well with the 11 bushels per acre cited as typical for North Africa since 1900 in .

Agriculturally, it appears that North Africa now is comparable to North Africa then.

The population of modern Tunisia+Algeria, however, is about the same as that of the entire Roman Empire under Augustus, so this production does not translate to any sort of surplus – to the contrary, both countries are large importers of wheat, although the FAO notes that "the prospects for expanding the rainfed wheat area are substantial."

Yours sincerely,

Lameen Souag

Thank you. You have found numbers which are far better data than my impressions.

Herman Kahn used to say that famine would end when the average Indian agricultural worker was as productive as the average Italian peasant in the 12th Century. He was in essence correct. But of course rain has a lot to do with it as well as productivity of workers. As I understand it, the colonial powers had the “goat theory” – that goats ate their way to dirt, dirt made the ground hotter, hot ground makes for hot air, rising hot air prevents rain – and set out to correct it. And then came the Green Revolution. And I can recall a lot of concern about halting desertification when I went to AAAS annual meetings.


Net thrust measurement of propellantless microwave thrusteruut


I haven’t read the paper but I suspect that this "propellant less thrusters" is nothing more mysterious than a photon drive. While it uses no propellant, it does require an energy source. Unless you are using beamed energy such as a laser cannon to boost a light sail, the energy density of the power source is a crucial factor. Because of the extremely high energy density, the potential Specific Impulse of a photon drive powered by direct matter to energy conversion is Cee. However; the ISP of a fusion powered photon drive as you and Niven used in The Mote In Gods Eye is only 1/100 Cee because the energy density of the fuel is lower. In contrast, a fusion powered rocket would have a potential ISP of 1/10 Cee.

I haven’t calculated the energy density and ISP of a battery powered flashlight, but I suspect that you would get more Delta Vee by throwing it.

James Crawford

I am quite certain that you’d get more propulsion from throwing the flashlight. It’s a neat image. I fear you have found a small flaw in Mote…


Helicopter gunship vs. Corvette.


Roland Dobbins


Bill Gates is enamored of Scandinavian Eurosocialism & totally buys into the ‘climate change’ hoax.

See his answers to questions in an ‘Ask Me Anything’ forum on


Roland Dobbins


I’ve used GRC since about 2000; it’s great.   However, these instructions are slightly vague:


go to the Shields Up page, and do the test he indicates.


Normally, one would do the "all service ports test" — and readers should do this anyway.  But, the vulnerability you’re concerned about is Universal Plug & Play — something Steve Gibson has been warning us about for a long time and he wrote some freeware to address the issue more than a decade ago.  I’m glad he’s on top of this router issue, but I thought it would be important for you to indicate that they hit the large button with UNPNP test.  This was not clear from the post and I thought you might appreciate the feedback.  Thanx for the warning, my router is good.  =) 


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo


Horsemeat found in British supermarkets ‘may be donkey’ –


More on The Law of Unintended Consequences:

“A law banning horses from Romanian roads may be responsible for the surge in the fraudulent sale of horsemeat on the European beef market . . .” And some of it may be donkey meat.

Well, we knew that horse meat is better for you than beef, but donkey? Nay!


I confess I ate what we called critter when I was in graduate school. It was one way to afford meat. But I like horses, and I gave it up as soon as I could afford to. I never tried donkey – at least not knowingly. Obviously were I hungry enough it would be different. America has always been rich enough to afford scruples denied to less fortunate peoples.


‘But at some point the competent and conscientious teachers need to take a hand in the governing of their profession.’

The problem is that since most public school teachers are themselves products of this broken system, there are very few competent and conscientious teachers to be found.

Roland Dobbins

There may be more than you think, although not all the best teachers have teaching credentials.


Implementing "1984"…

"A multinational security firm has secretly developed software capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from social networking websites."

Charles Brumbelow


“How does it feel to be the most hated man in America?”


Roland Dobbins


‘What if today’s high rate of lung cancer among smokers is due in part to the suggestion (planted in every smoker’s mind) that smoking will lead inevitably to lung cancer?’


Roland Dobbins

I have often suspected that there is a strong “mind over matter” component to this , but there is no way to design an experiment to test the hypothesis. No ethical way, anyway. We know that the combination of smoking and exposure to asbestos is deadly and we know the mechanism. In the case of smoking without other irritants (and in the case of some asbestos exposure without smoking) the numbers get a little more ambiguous. Of course there are plenty of other reasons not to habitually breathe in the smoke of burning leaves. I doubt we evolved to do it.l




Teacher pay; A message from the security guy.

View 762 Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ultimate in breaking news. Someone believed to be Christopher Dormer had a shootout with police in the High Sierra. Two officers wounded. He may be in a cabin. There may or may not be hostages. The radio shows here know less than the TV. Schools shut down. Took two hostages but tied them up and drove off with their car. And St. George was seen descending from the sky with unknown intentions. Or that may be an alien. Or a lot of Scotch whiskey.

Tomorrow at dawn I catch a United flight which was supposed to be non-stop but now stops in Houston. Or maybe it always did and they didn’t tell me. In any event my life membership President’s Club for Continental gives me access to the United club rooms if I need it. But I will be all doggone day on an airplane. I’ll take my Kindle Fire and other reading material.

It is now being rumored that Dormer has stolen a police car and may be long gone off the mountains. St. George and the aliens have vanished. Rumors of drug lords heading up to Big Bear to recruit Dormer have not been verified. Radio reports that some of the emergency vehicles are now coming down off the mountains at high speed with red lights and sirens. Coming down the mountain.

1640: shootouts, and now black smoke coming from the vacation house that Dormer is said to be hiding in, but no one knows if there is anyone inside the cabin. Not much wind. Reporters frustrated because they aren’t allowed to get in there and the news helicopters have been forbidden, but they still have to be on the aid with no dead air so it’s astonishing how large a dinner they can make from a tiny scrap of news.  Still no one knows, but perhaps this all ends tonight. And another policeman dead. It’s a serious story even if some of the reporting is – a bit odd.


1952 (7:52 PM PST): The cabin Dormer was supposedly in has burned to the ground. They (San Bernardino Sheriff’s people) watched it burn not allowing the SB County Fire people in to put it out. LAPD is saying SB found Dormer’s body in there, but SB SD is not confirming this. Most are acting as if this is now all over. I doubt I’ll know before I catch an airplane.

2110 No, no one has entered the building, and they can’t because it’s too hot.  And they do not know if there is a body. Welcome to breaking news.

I’ll deal with a couple of mail items, and later this evening I’ll try to do a full mail bag. It’s not likely that I’ll be able to do much for the rest of the week.

Remember that this is pledge week. This site is free to all but it is kept open by subscribers. My thanks to all those who have subscribed or renewed during the current pledge drive. If you have never subscribed to this place, this would be a great time to do so. If you have subscribed but haven’t ever renewed, now’s the time. If you can’t remember if you have recently renewed, this would be good time to do it just to be sure. After all — Sorry. I hear KUSC’s pledge talks, but I am not really able to say that sort of thing here. I’ll keep trying. But subscribe now.



You write, "There are three million teachers in America. Most all of them are hard working and many are underpaid."

Being an "underpaid" employee is an emotional reaction to being in a state of illogical expectations.

Other than a law defining "minimum wage" I know of no other rationale to support being underpaid.

I submit that anyone who "freely" takes a job is paid what the job is worth to the employer in light of competition for workers.

Teachers who feel "undervalued" are at liberty to do something else for different compensation.

So, how do you "feel" about being "overpaid?"


That’s one attitude. Another is that for a century the main supply of teachers was women who could not earn much in industry or commerce, and thus could be paid rather less than men of similar education. Another is that there are vast differences in the quality of teacher training and the investment that has to be put into earning credentials. Given the idiocy of most of the credentials and the long boring times it takes to gain them, you’d have to pay me a lot to get me to take a teaching job. Indeed, I was one offered the job of President of a local community college, but I did not have an Administrative Credential; and on discovering just what I would have to do to get that I didn’t even consider taking the post. That was long ago. I doubt that the administrative credential has become more interesting or less boringly difficult to obtain.

I am all in favor of giving local elected school boards the full authority to hire anyone they want including a board member’s sister in law at any salary the taxpayers will pay and the teacher will accept; but I doubt that will ever happen. Under that scenario there would be underpaid teachers, but that would be a judgment, and some would almost certainly be overpaid. I’m willing to leave it to local taxpayers even so.

I do think that teachers should be as well educated as those in some other professions so that the job attracts people of a certain potential. Lower salaries will attract the very best teachers because they enter the profession because of a love of teaching. They will not attract the next level, who would prefer to teach but can be wooed away by higher salaries.

Many teachers are overpaid in that they are terrible at the job. Others are underpaid in that they are constantly attracted to other professions for more money.

“But one does wonder why the three million teachers allow themselves to be represented by someone who says that you can’t fire teachers because that would have a negative effect on the quality of that teacher’s life.”


That is not hard to answer. It is because firing teachers won’t be based upon how good at teaching they are. It will be based upon how obsessivly they follow the (idiot) rules.

I can tell you from my experience, if someone personally saved a department from catastrophe, but broke a rule in doing so, they would be in more trouble than if they did something incredibly stupid, but did it within the rules.

You have already posted examples of this. Remember the student who was suspended for maybe saving his girlfriends life by sharing asthma medication? There are other examples you are well aware of.

I think the really good teachers get beaten down and become mindless drones, or leave the system to pursue other careers.



Francis Hamit remarks

Coming Home From "Nam was cancelled.

Dear Jerry:

I suppose I should have sent you something about "Coming Home From "Nam" being cancelled. The reason was simply. No contributions. None on the IndieGoGo appeal to finance it and only one editorial contribution when we wanted a hundred and would have settled for fifty or so. I guess my peers still don’t want to talk about it — and who can blame them? The one contribution, from a retired Marine Colonel who made a career there after the war, mirrored an experience of my own. He was thrown out of his local VFW by one of the "Greatest Generation" for losing the war. The same thing happened to me in Iowa City in 1971, on the same day that the Managing Editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen (A Gannet newspaper) called me a "baby-burning sonofabitch" as he terminated my interview for a reporting job. I will write about that. In my memoir, "Out Of Step" which I plan to start soon.


Francis Hamit

I have never met anyone who had that attitude toward the Viet Nam war. I was never part of that war other than as an analyst of air power tactics, but my experience with Viet Nam vets among my colleagues in aerospace was positive, my nephew who became a master sergeant in Viet Nam does not have that memory, nor does my career sergeant brother in law. The View Nam vet LASFS members do not make it seem that anything of the sort happened to them, and they are currently being well treated by the VA. You know some of the people I mean here. I haven’t been to Iowa City since about 1954 when I left my undergraduate studies at what was then known as SUI.

I haven’t had much to do with American Legion or VFW for forty years, but it would be my guess that at some point Viet Nam veterans were a majority of the members.


if you have not seen the Triangulation interview I did with Leo on TWIT, it’s and apparently is getting good reviews.



Router Security Issues

Dr. Pournelle:

In regards to the ‘router security issue’ warning that you issued this week: I’ve looked into this, and the reports that I have read indicate the following.

1) A ‘router’ is a device that sits betwen your Internet connection and your computers, whether they are wired or wireless connections. You could also connect other network devices, like a networkable printer.

2) The issue only affects LinkSys routers model WTR54. It’s in a blue case, resting horizontally (usually). It is a common router used mostly in homes, and perhaps in small businesses. (Cisco owns the LinkSys brand.)

3) Most reports indicate that only the WRT54GL model are affected.

4) It appears that the vulnerability only exists in two cases:

- if the exploit comes from a device physically or wirelessly connected to the router. In most cases, this would be a desktop or laptop computer.

- only the Linux-based version (the "GL") is affected.

5) Of those two conditions, the first is a concern. It appears that *if* the malware was somehow installed on a computer (via a link in a browser, or a link in an email), then the malware could use that exploit for some sort of harm.

So, the recommendation to use the "ShieldsUp" program is a good one.

It is probable, however, that the exploit risk is a bit over-hyped/ That said, it is important for your readers to practice "safe computing":

- always install all updates (MS and applications).

- use the Secunia Personal Software Inspector to ensure your non-MS programs are kept current (like Java and Adobe and Flash) ( ).

- have a current anti-virus program, and do full scans monthly (use Microsoft Security Essentials – which is free) .( )

- be careful of clicking on links, especially when they ask you to ‘install this helper program’ (just don’t’ do that!).

Regards, Rick Hellewell, Security Guy

Thanks. And now I’m off for Boston, so I’ll be even more wary of the various nets I’ll have to attach to.