View 748 Wednesday, October 31, 2012
ALL HALLOWS EVE
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:
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, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/10/31/whats_behind_the_state-national_poll_divergence_115979.html.
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.
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 http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2012/10/has_general_ham_been_fired.html
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.
Mail 747 Saturday, October 27, 2012
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
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.
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:
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.
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,
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.
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.
Synopsis of the Wizard of Oz.
: 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.
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?
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.
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?"
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):
View 747 Friday, October 26, 2012
Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. Napoleon Bonaparte
I first used this quote sometime in the Genie era. I think I first saw it in one of the works of Ortega y Gasset, but it might have been told by de Jouvenal. The story is told that there was a problem in Paris while the Emperor was on campaign. When it was reported as treason, Bonaparte made that comment. I’ve known about this since undergraduate days, and it may be that I first learned it from George Mosse in his Western Civilization class. The Internet doesn’t seem to have caught up with that, which is why you can’t rely on the Internet, particularly when it comes to scholarship about the origin of aphorisms. There are too many claimants with partisans.
None of which is particularly relevant, but in my searches for when I first used this – certainly in View or Mail in 1998 but I suspect considerably earlier – I found a long forgotten Chaos Manor Report in which a reader made up a list of aphorisms he had learned from reading Chaos Manor. For those searching for useful phrases, I recommend Leadership Quotes.
Today’s news makes Napoleon’s quip more relevant each day. Indeed, the news strains the truth of his statement, and I have at least one reader who has long held that the Obama government is simply malicious, and I ought to admit it. My reply to him was that I suspected he had not spent much time in faculty lounges. Liberals do not believe they are evil. Indeed, the foundation of liberalism is that good intentions cannot be evil. Conservative intellectuals call that a negation of the importance of prudence. That is to say, in a classical education the primary virtues are Prudence, Temperance, Courage, and Justice. Prudence is a due regard for the possible consequences of your courageous actions in pursuit of justice. Liberalism in essence says that if your intentions are good, your actions are not evil. Perhaps incompetent, but then the world is complex, and there are always unintentional consequences to what you do. The important thing is to act. Do something, even if it’s wrong. And of course once one starts down a road, it is difficult to admit that you are going in the wrong direction, and it becomes important to defend what you are doing, so that the unintended consequences become acts you should defend even though, had you known that would happen – well, you get the idea.
But as we learn that the CIA operatives in Benghazi wanted to go to the aid of the consulate when the attack began, and were told from Washington that they could not go – ordered to stand down – it becomes even more difficult to ascribe the entire mess in Benghazi to simple incompetence.
Leon Panetta is nether evil nor incompetent, or at least he wasn’t when I knew him as a California Congressman very friendly to the space development movement. His statement that we do not send forces into unknown threat situations is a generality that is often true; but it does provide a clue as to the White House reasoning in the Benghazi crisis. I see a glimmering: they were terrified of another Black Hawk Down incident. If we sent in a helicopter team from Italy it would be a one-way mission, victory or die: they’d have bingo fuel when they got to Benghazi and there wasn’t any safe place to go other than the consulate grounds. And the political consequences of something like Black Hawk Down would be horrible. Political managers never make bets like that. Montrose’s toast is not for them.** And once one goes down that road, it is difficult to turn back. Don’t throw good money after bad. Cut your losses. Some hands you have to fold even if you had to make the first blind bet. Etc.
I don’t know. I do know that the more information we have of the Benghazi fiasco, the more strain that puts on applying Bonaparte’s aphorism to that situation.
As to Panetta’s generality, there are always exceptions to it. The Brits decided that they would cut their losses – and removed their consulate from Benghazi well in advance of September 11. That would be, in my judgment, the signal for a major decision: how badly do we want that consulate to stay open? What would it cost to make it secure? Because once we decide that we will keep it open, we need to arrange for its security, up to and including stationing resources capable of dealing with organized terrorist attacks with crew served weapons. If that turns out to be too expensive, then get out. The Brits made their decision.
The House of Representatives is the Grand inquest of the Nation. I would suppose that the death of an ambassador on duty followed by inadequate accounts from the Executive Department would warrant a Grand Inquest. I can understand that the House might be unwilling to open that inquest pending a national election.
Jacques Barzun, RIP
I never met Jacques Barzun, but he had more influence on my life than most people I knew. I read his Teacher in America when I was in high school, and periodically reread it, much of what I think I know about both the value and methods of education came from that book, and I recommend it to everyone. He was America’s best public intellectual, and he will be remembered for a very long time. His intellectual history From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present is one of those books that every aspirant to the intellectual life should read at leas once in his life.
Dragon set to splash down Sunday noon
First paying mission. Good Job SpaceX.
An important event in the development of commercial space. Hurrah for the Commercial Space Act.
My thanks to all those who have subscribed or renewed during the current pledge drive. The drive ends tomorrow – I run a pledge drive when KUSC has their pledge drives since this place operates on the Public Radio model. It’s free to all but it stays open only if we get enough subscriptions. My thanks to all those who responded.
If you have not subscribed, or if you haven’t renewed in a while, this would be a great time to do it! Subscribe now.
** “He either fears his fate too much, Or his desserts are small, Who dares not put it to the touch, To win or lose it all.” James Graham, Marquis of Montrose
View 747 Wednesday, October 24, 2012
An Anniversary of Note from the 70 years War
This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the Minuteman I being place on strategic alert.
Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE
"…The first operational Minuteman site was Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the first 10-missile ‘flight’ was rushed into activation on Oct. 27, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. U.S. President John F. Kennedy referred to the missiles as his "ace in the hole" during this historic standoff with the Soviet Union…"
I recall those times. I had some involvement in command and control systems of the time (all long obsolete). And I recall the Cuban Missile Crisis: we were in my back yard filling burlap bags with dirt. We then carried them into the basement. Seattle wasn’t a primary target but we were East of a naval target area. East and downwind…
Last night Greta van Sustern of Fox News showed a printed copy of an eMail from the State department delegation in Libya that apparently went to the situation rooms in both the White House and the State Department in Foggy Bottom. It stated quite clearly that the consulate in Benghazi was under attack by armed terrorists with AK-47 rifles and RPG’s. This was about two hours into the attack. There was no mention of any protests against any video.
The existence of the eMail is now confirmed by the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/email-state-department-told-white-house-militants-claimed-responsibility-for-libya-attack/2012/10/24/b4cd09b0-1def-11e2-8817-41b9a7aaabc7_story.html. There was no mention of this in today’s Wall Street Journal or the Los Angeles Times although Ms. Van Sustern was displaying the memo at 7PM Pacific Time last night. I saw it.
We do not usually do breaking news here, and we certainly do not have all the data; but it does seem to me that the President certainly knew by Wednesday morning 12 September that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was an organized attack by a terrorist organization – or at least that such an organization was claiming it.
We also have reason to believe that the White House was aware of the attack within two hours of its beginning. The attack continued for some seven hours, and at least two of those killed were killed in the last hours.
The United States maintains forces that could have reached Benghazi by helicopter within two hours from Italy. I do not have a list of other assets in the Mediterranean, but it does appear that we had some resources in the area. They were not sent.
From the first debate:
ROMNEY: And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading, or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, you have to ask yourself why didn’t we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration. How could we have not known?
But I find more troubling than this, that on — on the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador, the first time that’s happened since 1979, when — when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fund-raiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, other political event.
At that time the official US position was that the attack on our consulate was a demonstration against a U-Tube video defaming the Prophet Mohammed PBUH that got out of hand. That was still the official position of the United States Department of State – and one presumes the White House – as late as Sunday September 16 when the US Ambassador to the UN declared it on several Sunday news shows.
As of now there has been no statement from the White House in explanation.
As to what might have been done: we knew that conditions in Benghazi were deteriorating long before September 11, 2012, and also that 9-11 is a memorable anniversary. Benghazi is a seaport. The United States has ships called helicopter carriers. Helicopters land on them. Helicopters can carry Marines. Marines carry rifles in addition to bayonets and ammunition. Marines have been known to defend US diplomatic institutions against local attack, and their effectiveness is well known.
As to obtaining Libyan permission to allow a US helicopter carrier – say something like the late USS Tripoli – to berth in Benghazi, their refusal would itself be something worth knowing, and they certainly have no capability of preventing such a ship to stand off shore; and surely the Libyan provisional government would not refuse a US request to send in helicopters to rescue American diplomatic personnel. We could negotiate that in advance of 9-11, and doing that would be simple prudence.
It is not as if we have not gone through such things before. The United States has some experience in these matters. And we did have warning in advance.
Despite that warning, an American diplomatic institution was attacked, and four Americans including our Minister Plenipotentiary and Ambassador Extraordinary were killed. Clearly something went very wrong. Such matters should not happen, and if they do, precautions must be taken to see that they do not happen again.
Surely the White House owes us more of an explanation than continued references to a U-Tube movie trailer?
As it happens I have some experience in thinking about incidents of this sort. Back in the 1950’s I partnered with some senior officers of the US Navy to write papers on international security. Our conclusion, based in part on experiences of the British Royal Marines in Africa, was that ships capable of carrying about a battalion of Marines with helicopter transportation and air support would be capable of handling the vast majority of violent incidents taking place within 100 km. of deep water. Those papers are said to have been influential in the design and commissioning of the Iwo Jima class helicopter assault carriers including the USS Tripoli which served as President George H W Bush’s flagship when he visited Somalia. My son Phillip was an ensign on the Tripoli at that time. I don’t claim much credit in ship design, but I did have some small input in development of tactical use; count me as a fan of Iwo Jima class as a means of force projection. Alas, they are pretty well gone, and I am not all that impressed with what replaced them.
I still believe that the Navy needs the modern equivalent of the Iwo Jima class ships: a battalion of marines with transport and fire support. Their purpose is to deal with situation like the Benghazi incident – largely by deterring them. The threat of an avenging company of Marines not an hour away is a very effective deterrent to terrorists planning an armed attack. They can’t stop a suicide bomber, but they can sure stop a group with AK-47’s, RPG’s, LMG’s, and mortars.
Perhaps someone should explain that to the President. We know that he knows that we have ships that airplanes can land on. Given the results in Benghazi it may be that no one explained how the LPH ships worked, and why we need such assets in this dangerous world.
I have an appointment with a podiatrist, and no, there is nothing wrong with my feet; but since I am mildly diabetic Kaiser has decided that I should have a foot inspection and pedicure. That seems like a very good idea, and it happens this afternoon. On our Knights of Lazarus pilgrimage to Israel one of our companions was a podiatrist, and he is, so far as I know, the only one I have ever met, and I know little about the subject. Perhaps I will find out more.
And that went well. Now to work on fiction. And the Pledge Drive continues. If you don’t know what that is, this place operates on the Public Radio model. It’s free, but it will not stay open without new and renewing subscribers. We get plenty of subscribers, but people sometimes need reminding. This is your reminder. If you have not subscribed, this would be a good time to do it. If you have not renewed your subscription in a while, this would be a great time to renew. Thanks to all who have. As usual the pledge drive corresponds with KUSC’s pledge drives. I don’t ask for anything like as much money as they do, but then I don’t have the expenses they have.
Subscribe now! Renew now!. There. I’m done shouting at you, and the drive ends at the end of the week.http://www.jerrypournelle.com/paying.html
Regarding the Italian trial of the scientists, I have this from another conference. It sums it up nicely:
According to Nature:
What happened outside the meeting room may haunt the scientists, and perhaps the world of risk assessment, for many years. Two members of the commission, Barberi and De Bernardinis, along with mayor Cialente and an official from Abruzzo’s civil-protection department, held a press conference to discuss the findings of the meeting. In press interviews before and after the meeting that were broadcast on Italian television, immortalized on YouTube and form detailed parts of the prosecution case, De Bernardinis said that the seismic situation in L’Aquila was “certainly normal” and posed “no danger”, adding that “the scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, i’s a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy”. When prompted by a journalist who said, “So we should have a nice glass of wine,” De Bernardinis replied “Absolutely”, and urged locals to have a glass of Montepulciano.
Oops. The New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/science/04quake.html?_r=2&> weighed in with an expert:
The statement by the official, who is not a seismologist, violated a cardinal rule of risk communication, which is that those involved should speak only to their expertise, said Dennis Mileti, an emeritus professor of behavioral science at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “This person should not have been speaking,” said Dr. Mileti, who has studied risk communication.
Yes, we often find officials keeping silent on important matters of the day. Anyway, the earthquake came and killed and after the funerals people remembered the wine quip. Fingers were pointed, collars were fingered, a trial was ordered. Guilty! The judge gave the six scientists who had the conclave with De Bernardinis six whopping years in prison.
But the trial was not, contrary to many discussions, because the scientists failed to predict the quake. The prosecutor, one Picuti, said (in Nature), “The basis of the charges is not that they didn’t predict the earthquake. As functionaries of the state, they had certain duties imposed by law: to evaluate and characterize the risks that were present in L’Aquila…They were obligated to evaluate the degree of risk given all these factors and they did not.”
“This isn’t a trial against science,” insists [surgeon and local resident] Vittorini, who is a civil party to the suit. But he says that a persistent message from authorities of “Be calm, don’t worry”, and a lack of specific advice, deprived him and others of an opportunity to make an informed decision about what to do on the night of the earthquake. “That’s why I feel betrayed by science,” he says. “Either they didn’t know certain things, which is a problem, or they didn’t know how to communicate what they did know, which is also a problem.”
The busted Italian forecast was of the Bobby “Don’t Worry Be Happy” McFerrin, there-is-no-reason-for-concern kind. And those fellows paid the price. But what of the opposite: endless end-of-the-world predictions.
The problem with coppering your risks against Type I Errors is the commission of more Type II Errors. That is, if RUN FOR THE HILLS! causes panic when no earthquake eventuates, DON’T WORRY BE HAPPY causes worse problems when an earthquake does happen. Apparently "We don’t know for sure and we need to study this for many more years" is not an acceptable public announcement. Run or stay put? Which? In law there is no space for random error. The product always has a "design flaw," the injustice is always intentional. But no matter how fine the decision rules are, there will always be an alpha-risk of running when nothing happens and a beta-risk of staying put when something does.
The only thing the scientists can say is that "In the past whenever we have seen tremors like this, there has been a major earthquake p% of the time." If p is small, folks relax and don’t worry. But there is a first time for everything, especially when there is no causal link between the prior condition and the event of interest. It’s like learning that no incumbent senator has ever won a presidential election… until one did (Harding). Correlation is not causation. Really.
I don’t know Italian law. I am glad I didn’t have to give a statement about how much to worry about an earthquake. I do recall people asking me about the danger of nuclear war, and how much they ought to spend on survival measures. But that was a long time ago. And all the nuclear survival preparations I wrote about when I was doing Survive columns did not turn out to be needed…
Mail 747 Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I was on TWIT this week:
: Link to latest TWiT.
West London Free: Is this the strictest state school in Britain
“Cicero said ‘a mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than a field, however fertile, without cultivation’. So it is perhaps fitting that his head is on pupils’ blazer badges at one of London’s newest and most audacious schools.”
“Young refuses to accept that children from low-income and single-parent households or ethnic minorities should set their sights any lower than those from white, middle-class homes.
‘Too often schools make excuses for children, particularly children on free school meals, children from low-income families. We don’t do that,’ he says. ‘Critics said if you include Latin and expect children to do at least eight academic GCSEs you won’t have a single Special Education Needs applicant, but that has proved to be wrong.
‘We were also told that because of the classical liberal curriculum we would only attract rich, white children with educated, middle-class parents. Actually, 50 per cent of our intake have English as an additional language, and 35 per cent are black, Asian or minority ethnic. A quarter of our pupils are eligible for free school dinners.”
I liked this bit:
“Along the corridor, a group of children stood around a teacher singing What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor? before sitting down and playing individual keyboards.”
Maybe there will someday again be an England.
We can all hope so. I hate the thought that England will be something else from what I grew up with.
rumor circulates that Obama has secretly recognized Iran’s nuclear rights
I have no comment. The official Obama position is that Iran will not get nuclear weapons.
Elections and predictions
On listening to Minnesota Public Radio, I heard a couple of predictions of the electoral vote. One estimate was 7-1 in favor of Obama gaining enough electoral votes; the other put the odds in Obama’s favor at 9-1. Past performance (one of these guessers came within 1 electoral vote when predicting the 2008 elections) doesn’t guarantee future accuracy, but it’s enough to worry me.
On the other hand, I’ve seen few Romney lawn signs, and NO Obama signs.
And a comment about political correctness: Mankato, Minnesota, is a pleasant city, with a mix of light industry and educational institutions. The largest mass execution ever held in the US took place in Mankato. The executed men were 38 Dakota (Sioux, in some references) at the conclusion of the Dakota Uprising in 1862.The public library was built on the ground where the hangings had taken place. (This is where PC rears its ugly head.)
Some years ago, a local gun collector had donated his collection, which included many historic rifles and pistols. This collection was displayed in the library. This was a handsome and historically worthwhile collection, available for public view, but not an in-your-face display. PC types pressed the library to remove the guns, for the usual reasons, although I doubt many of the guns had killed, or even shot at, anything other than food, and so the decision was made to remove the collection, which had been housed in the library since the building was completed.
The guns were put on display elsewhere.
The guns were all stolen. From the new National Guard armory.
The theft took place a few years ago, and so far as I know, no item from the collection has ever been recovered. Apparently, gun thieves don’t visit libraries.
I don’t predict elections unless I have to. I have generally been right when I had to do it, but it’s a lot of work to do right. My first cut through the data I have available shows Romney winning, possibly by a lot, but I won’t bet on that because I don’t have all the tools I used to have nor access to all the data. But if I absolutely had to bet, I’d say Romney, Republican House, and pretty close in the Senate.
The last big prediction I did was for Gingrich just before he became Speaker. I was quite close on that election.
Robots pass the Final Frontier,
Robots pass the Final Frontier: they can Dance.
Video: Navy’s Humanoid Robot Dances Gangnam Style:
Well, there’s worse things they could be doing.
Uh – yeah, I suppose.
Mitt Romney jokes at the Alfred E. Smith dinner:
This is funny!
These were pretty good. I think both Romney and Obama are good actors, since they don’t really like each other, and neither is all that comfortable being among the Catholics….
Subject: Free Education is Illegal in Minnesota
Yes, the headline is correct. Stanford-based startup Coursera has been informed that they cannot provide free college classes online to Minnesota residents. This is because the government of Minnesota requires that colleges receive approval of the state before they can teach anyone anything. Pushing back the frontiers of ignorance one learner at a time?
No one knows how the state government will be able to tell if any of its residents are taking any of the free online classes.
I believe they fixed that once it came out. One advantage of a free press.
Janissaries 1V – Mamalukes
When can I expect this book to be for sale ? The previous three books of this series are "classics", and for the series not to be completed would be "failing your duty to your followers". (The ‘Act’ of a Republican).
I look forward to hearing some good news
I did a thousand words on Mamelukes last week. I hope to finish this cycle shortly. You do understand that Rick and his troops can never leave Tran, and the story will go on…
Doesn’t this essay describe the background of one your books? I think it was Exile to Glory.
Worth reading. I don’t know how to fix the system. I do believe it’s broken.
The way to ‘fix’ the system is to apply the Philadelphia Constitution of 1787 as amended through the 13th Amendment. Reconsider all the rest of them. And enact the Sherman Anti=-Trust Act and add “And this time we really mean it.”. Then do a new Amendment that says that no person shall be deprived of the equal protection of the laws for reasons of race and this time we really mean it.
Trahsparency and subsidiarity coupled with rule of law and a long tradition of liberty produces happiness and prosperity. And we actually all pretty well know it. As to the losers in society, the poor you will always have with you: they are your opportunity to do right. Don’t let government take that right to be charitable away from you.
Xkcd on precedents in Presidential elections:
From where I’m sitting, the latest trend in phishing appears to be emails offering protection from child predators.
I haven’t seen those. I have seen some very interesting phishing offers. Of course I only read mail after it is converted to plaintext and I only follow links when I am sure of what I am looking at. And I don’t believe the stories they send me. I have probably lost my chance to become king of some interesting place…
Florida Passes Plan For Racially-Based Academic Goals
I’m sure you have seen this by now — Florida Passes Plan For Racially-Based Academic Goals:
Read ‘em and weep.
And we will see more this until it falls of its own weight…
: Global warming stopped 16 years ago, reveals Met Office report quietly released… and here is the chart to prove it,
And I’m sure you have also seen this — Global warming stopped 16 years ago, reveals Met Office report quietly released… and here is the chart to prove it:
I wonder what this will do to the defenders of the faith? Probably nothing, as the religiously committed never let mere data dissuade them.
Yes it s becoming clear that we do not understand climate at all. If you can’t predict el nino you can’t predict glacier formation – and that has more to do with climate trends than CO2. So there it is.
The five second rule.
I received what follows in the mail.
Study: Germs Trump ‘Five Second Rule’
San Diego State University researchers tested the myth that if something falls on the floor and one picks it up within five seconds, it is safe to consume. (My snide aside: This is cutting edge research?!)
Well, look at this paragraph:
The study, co-funded by Clorox and conducted by researchers at San Diego State University, found that germs do in fact attach themselves to edible items within that amount of time . . .
According to a survey conducted in tandem with the study by researchers at SDSU, a reported 65 percent of parents admitted to implementing the five second rule in their homes . . .
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta also warns against the dangers inherent in germs contaminating foods.
My correspondent went looking for the "study" and failed to find any published information, other than in the media. What I did find was the CV of Scott T. Kelley, Ph.D.
She found this:
Clorox Corporation Research Award 2011. Periodontal therapy using a diluted sodium hypochlorite mouth rinse. PI. $86,000
Clorox Corporation Research Award 2004-2009. Microbial diversity in the arena of public health. $160,000. PI.
Scientific Advisory Board Member
To which a friend replied:
I apply the five second rule so that I’ll eat what falls on the floor or rug. Introducing that known pathogen in small quantity allows me to develop antibodies and not suffer from an overly clean environment.
The film parallel is, of course, taking small doses of Iocane Powder in order to build immunity.
Clorox is good at killing germs. But I don’t want to live in a place that has killed EVERY germ.
I find Windex works pretty well. It also shoot flies and moths from the air with minimum collateral damage.
View 747 Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I was on TWIT this week. See http://twit.tv/show/this-week-in-tech/376
Here is a more complete account of the earthquake prediction story:
From a colleague in another conference:
From what I have seen so far, the actual case seems to be about scientific over-reach. The scientists were convicted not of failing to predict an earthquake, but of declaring that an earthquake was "very unlikely." If, as reported, the scientists correctly stated that it was impossible to predict an earthquake, why did they then qualify it with a statement that one was very unlikely? By implication, the statement predicted an earthquake was "very unlikely" to occur, and if we can’t predict earthquakes will happen, how can we predict one won’t happen? While there is a definite anti-science trend in some quarters, I think it is not entirely fed by ignorance. Instead, scientific over-reaching, pretending to knowledge we do not in fact have, has led to too many cases of "nothing can go wrong," "there’s nothing to worry about," "we understand all of the risks," and so on. I think that is what led to the convictions in Italy.
Given the state of earthquake prediction science – there isn’t any, and no one can reliably do it – it’s hard to understand how one might be convicted of manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake. Surely there is more to the story, and so far we have not seen trial transcripts. From the New Scientist article:
So what did the six seismologists that have been charged do?
They spoke at a meeting on 31 March 2009 – a week before the quake – organised by Italy’s Civil Protection Department. At the meeting, they said that while they could not rule out a major quake, and it was best to be prepared, there was no particularly good reason to think that one was coming.
Afterwards, the department’s deputy head Bernardo De Bernardinis told the media that the small shocks were reducing the seismic stresses, lowering the chances of a major quake. "That’s completely wrong," Musson says.
This statement, according to the prosecution, gave false confidence to the inhabitants of L’Aquila. This may be true. However, Musson says, "I haven’t been able to work out why the other six are being held responsible".
One thing we can expect from this is a great deal more care given to statements about upcoming disasters.
Now imagine what would happen if, instead of global warming, we get big glaciers? Or perhaps sociologists can be charged with crimes for spending money on various crime reduction schemes if they don’t work? Or perhaps the soothsayers can be changed with not giving true sooth. There is still much to learn from this.
The debate went about as I expected. Mr. Obama believes our Libya policy has been a success, and Mr. Romney was smart enough to let that stand without challenge. Given Mr. Obama’s reaction to comments on Benghazi in the debate before this one, that seems an intelligent thing to do: there is little Mr. Romney could tell the debate audience that it does not already know about the success or lack thereof of our Libya policy.
Mr. Romney’s best line: “Attacking me is not a foreign policy.” Mr. Obama’s: On being told that we have many fewer ships than we had in past times, “We also have fewer horses and bayonets.” He then added that we now have ships called aircraft carriers. Airplanes land on them.
The pledge drive continues. This place operates on the public radio model. It is free, but it will not continue unless people subscribe to it. My thanks to all those who have subscribed or renewed their subscriptions. Enough have come in that it is taking me a while to record them all. That’s a Good Thing. And thanks to all.
If you haven’t subscribed this would be a good time to do it. And if you can’t remember when you last subscribed, this would be a good time to renew your subscription. Thanks.
Mail is accumulating. I’ll get to a batch tonight, And I’m working on reviews.
View 747 Monday, October 22, 2012
I am beginning to catch up, and we’re preparing a reopening of Chaos Manor Reviews with bits on the new iPad, Kindle Fire, and Windows 7 vs Windows 8. I have new machines (elegant ones) for 7 and for 8 so the comparisons are fair.
Bottom line is that for most users you’ll find 7 good enough, and if you’re upgrading from XP or Vista 7 is probably where you want to go; but if you’re planning new hardware there are reasons you might consider 8. More on that when it’s done. I’ll also have book reviews, some like the new Home Lab books by Robert Bruce Thompson LONG overdue. If you’re home schooling and you are not familiar with Thompson’s home lab books from O’Reilly, you should go inform yourself. Full reviews coming up.
Tonight is the foreign policy debate between President Obama and Candidate Romney. You will not forget which is the candidate and which is President; the President will make certain of that.
The Democrat strategy will be that this is a sensitive matter of national security, there are Things You Do Not Know, there are Things We Can’t Tell You, and there are Delicate Issues at Stake. And Mr. Obama will try to show that Mr. Romney is being disrespectful to the President, and that is a dangerous thing to do, and lessens the prestige of these United States, and How Dare You accuse me of making politics out of foreign policy matters? Politics used to stop at the water’s edge. What’s wrong with you people?
Mr. Romney’s strategy should be to avoid looking unpresidential and to avoid looking disrespectful. That will mean that he will not go hard after Mr. Obama, but Mr. Obama is correct: he is the President of these United States, and dissing him will not be good for the country. Since it is obvious to everyone in this country that the Administration’s policy in Libya was not optimum, it will not really be necessary for Mr. Romney to make that point. The voters will see that one for themselves. Mr. Romney can emphasize what he plans to do that is widely different from what we are doing now, but again he needs to be careful not to commit the nation to more adventures.
This will be a tightrope across Niagara for Romney. He is more than up to doing it well. Those who want to see him show up the President as an incompetent will be disappointed; or at least I hope for that outcome.
Regarding Benghazi, it is now clear that the President should have seen the attack coming, and ought to have had some Marines ready to go in to defend the Consulate – or else he ought to have closed that diplomatic post. The Brits had already pulled out of there.
Once the attack happened it was obvious to everyone but the White House that it was a terrorist attack. There may or may not have been good reason to pretend that we were prepared to accept the “disgusting movie” explanation, and for the President to send out spokespeople to say that we would accept that explanation. We really don’t want relations with what passes for government in Libya to get any worse than they are now. And of course the President can’t say anything like that.
This is why Mr. Romney should be careful.
It appears that the Administration was clueless. It’s pretty certain that they didn’t pay enough attention to the warning signs. It should have been preventable – a helicopter sent in to evacuate all the American citizens should have been possible without diplomatic consequences, and I expect we have enough Marines in Tripoli who could have been sent to Benghazi in time for that matter – but we didn’t do that. It may even be that the White House didn’t understand the situation by dawn of 12 September although that seems less likely. I think it more likely that someone, possibly at State and possibly in the White House, understood as soon as the reports on the severity and organization of the attack came in that this was an organized act of war in the continuing War on Civilization; but a policy decision was made to pretend otherwise for reasons of state. It has since become clear that no one can possibly believe that.
My thanks to all those who have responded to the Pledge Drive and sent in new subscriptions or renewals. This place operates on the public radio model: it’s free, but it stays open because of its subscribers. You can find out more on that at http://www.jerrypournelle.com/paying.html
This would be a great time to subscribe.
A minor inquiry:
We use Windows Security Essentials and have done so since it came into existence, and it has been Good Enough. Today I had a problem with a main system (this one in fact) seeming to run slowly. I reset it and it came up slowly. But that, it turned 0ut, was because somehow some update I allowed installed The Weather Channel, which can really slow things down. I got rid of that and as I sometimes do decided it would be no bad thing to do an outside scan. Made use of the ESET on line scanner. And that wouldn’t work. It began to download the updated scanning package and stopped. That was a bit of a concern – some attacks do try to disable protective packages – so I tried it on another machine that hasn’t been subject to any problems and the same thing happened. I then ran the McAfee online scan, which found nothing wrong with either system. And checked Windows Security Essentials, which doesn’t believe anything is wrong. And consulted Rick Hellewell my expert security advisor.
We all agree there’s nothing to be concerned about but I wondered if anyone out there had noticed a problem with the ESET on-line scanner. (I sometimes use ESET mostly because they are a long time sponsor of Leo Laporte. As it happens I did a TWIT show with Leo and John Dvorak and Dwight Silverman yesterday.) Has anyone heard of some kind of problem with their on-line scan system? Overloaded perhaps although since the download stalled out at the same percentage on each machine at different times of day, that seems highly unlikely. More likely a glitch in their profile file.
I just got a notice to upgrade Java. Since the ESET scanner uses a Java script, it’s pretty clear. Once I get Java updated I’ll try this again.
Of course that opens up another topic.
The debate is done, and it is possible to award it on points to Mr. Obama, or perhaps it was a tie. However, all Mr. Romney had to do was to continue to be presidential, and he did that. Mr. Obama had to make the case that Mr. Romney is not fit to be President, and Mr. Obama did not do that. Mr. Romney remained Presidential, he presented his case, and he showed that he is familiar with foreign policy and the foreign policy issues; he showed that he could be President.
This is a big win for Mr. Romney, particularly since the President tried his best to goad Mr. Romney into some kind of explosion, or a statement that could be construed as disrespectful for the office or the nation; and that didn’t happen. Thus no matter how one scores the debate on technical points, the big winner was Mr. Romney – and indeed for most of the debate, if you had not known who was President and who aspired to the job, you might have thought that Mr. Obama was the candidate running up from behind in hopes of catching the leader.
We will of course see huge spins tomorrow.
Subject: A possible tie
Jerry, I’ve been hearing speculation on the radio about the possibility that the votes in the Electoral College could end up as a tie. This would throw the election into the House of Representatives. And, as it would be decided by the current, Republican controlled House, that would give the presidency to Romney. (I’m not sure how correct that is, as each state has only one vote instead of the members voting separately, but that’s what I heard.)
Now this is just plain Bad News for Mr. Obama. Not the probability that the House would, in effect, reject him, but the fact that the possibility is even being discussed. Just the fact that people are publicly considering a tie shows that the very best he can hope for is just barely squeaking by, and for him, that’s not good.
The Republicans hold a majority in the House, but if the House decides the presidency, each state has one vote, decided by its delegation. I don’t know the actual makeup of the House state by state. Probably there are a majority of Republicans but I am not sure.
But at the moment it appears that the election will be decided by the ground game. Who can get the most votes out. Those who feel strongly about the outcome should take heed.
View 746 Saturday, October 20, 2012
I’ve been recovering from stuff including having my nose chopped on. The good news is that the cancer on the tip of my nose wasn’t the kind that metastasizes, and after two MOHS job operations they have apparently got it all. They also got all the other little stuff, so once again I am cancer free.
This leaves me free to start Chaos Manor Reviews up again. There’s a lot going on in the high tech world – Newsweek folds, Apple iPhone 5 and a new iPad, Windows 8, silicon drives that you can afford as your boot drive making new systems screaming fast, Sprint is being bought by Japanese capital that looks to me as if it’s a capital export from Japan to the US, which is an interesting prediction about the relative economies (and possibly of the election). And more.
The bad news, such as it is, is that this is the week of the KUSC pledge drive, which means that it’s pledge drive week here at Chaos Manor. I confess that I ignored the Spring pledge drive because I wasn’t too sure just how much work I’d be able to do, but we’re back.
For those who don’t know, this place and Chaos Manor Reviews operate together on the ‘public radio’ model, which is to say they are broadcast free, but I won’t keep them up unless I get enough subscriptions to make it worth while. As I get older what I consider ‘enough’ changes a bit as does how much I am able to do, but I am the first to say I haven’t done as much in the past few months as I think I should do. That changes now. I’m catching up on fiction – I’ve done a few hundred words a day for the past week – and that takes time, but I also have more energy. It’s the energy factor that’s the true limiter (although I will say that I have not been enjoying the election; but then I never wanted this place to be a political commentary site to begin with. Yes, the election is important, particularly to the future of high tech, and yes I’m supposed to know something about politics having managed several winning campaigns and having been science/tech advisor to a number of officials including a Speaker of the House; but I find the interaction of high tech and politics more interesting than politics itself.
All of which brings us to pledge week, and Paying for This Place. I don’t bug you about that very often, but I will during pledge week. I time my pledge drives to correspond with KUSC’s since I got the idea of running this like public radio from listening to them. So there you have it. And my hearty thanks to all those who continued to subscribe and to renew their subscriptions – we have a pretty high renewal rate – even through this year when there has been no pledge drive.
We have a new and very fast Windows 8 machine here, and I’ll have a preliminary review presently in Chaos Manor Reviews. I have some complaints, but they may be due to my ignorance: as usual the Microsoft HELP system is ghastly and unhelpful, and since Windows 8 does things much differently from Windows 7 (which works very well but very differently) knowing Windows 7 won’t help you with 8.
Windows 8 has drivers for a lot of stuff, and for the most part they work: but when it comes time to disconnect something, like an external USB drive, when you go to the “Safely remove hardware” icon (which still hides in the hidden icons thingy at the lower right of what used to be the task bar) and click on that, often as not it will tell you that the device is in use, and you have to close the app that’s using it before you can remove it. The problem is that there is no way I know of to get a list of running applications. Task Manager doesn’t work the way it used to, and there’s really no way to know what is and isn’t running. I think I have closed down ALL applications, but I still get the same error message when trying to remove an external drive. Removing it anyway can cause Windows 8 to go into what amounts to paralysis, requiring a hardware reset to recover from it.
As I have said, there are a lot of things to like about Windows 8, but that isn’t one of them, and so far I have no source of information on what to do about it. Perhaps one of you knows? Otherwise I’ll keep looking. And yes, I have a bunch of top flight advisors who usually know this sort of stuff, but none of us are experts on Windows 8, and I’m putting it to them at the same time I’m asking you…)
I understand that the UN wants to monitor the US elections to be sure they are fair. This should be interesting.
The debates worked as planned. The Republican strategy is to make the Democrats run on their record. “You know what President Obama will do for the next four years because you see what he has done in the last four.”
The Democratic strategy is to change the subject and show that Romney is unfit to be President. “He doesn’t have a five point plan, he has a one point plan” to tax the middle class and let the rich get richer. And the ads show grandma going over a cliff in her wheelchair, and feature the man whose wife died of cancer because her health care benefits weren’t good enough, and so forth. Romney, they say, doesn’t care about you, and in fact he’s a bit of a monster.
The Republican counter to that is to show Romney as Presidential with plenty of dignitas and gravitas.
The debates are of course the epitome of those strategies, and they have worked that way. And absent videos of Romney pulling the wings off flies or torturing puppies, we’ll hear complaints about putting women in binders – whatever that means, sound like something from a John Norman novel – and other stories about Romney’s evil intentions, countered by Romney keeping his temper and looking Presidential as he chides – gently – the President of the United States. A tough job, of course. So far Romney has done it well.
That may change with the foreign policy debate, since it is now clear that the CIA station chief reported that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was not a demonstration but a planned attack, and did so well before the US ambassador to the UN told everyone that it was something else. Why did the President not know this? But I do not think Mr. Romney will press this hard, nor should he. He is the President of the United States, and as Mr. Clinton reminded us, he’s the only president we’ve got. And debating foreign policy is a tricky matter. I would guess that Romney will come out of this debate unharmed and possibly a little ahead. The President will try to make any criticism of his policies a criticism of the United States; Romney must be careful about all that.
It promises to be an interesting evening. And we are closer and closer to the election.
This would be a good time to renew your subscription!
View 746 Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The Strategy of Technology
A123 Systems filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This is the company that has received $250 million or more in Federal grants; it was hoped that it would become the beginning focal point for an electric car industry in America, and was part of the administration’s support of Green Energy and the quest for the currently rare high paying Green Energy jobs mentioned in many of the President’s speeches.
This follows the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra LLC, which couldn’t compete with Chinese made solar panels. While A123 will sell most of its assets and may continue to operate.
The intentions of the Administration were good: although the high paying permanent Green Energy jobs haven’t materialized, the search for sustainable energy technology is no bad thing; and development of high efficiency batteries for electric cars can be important.
The government should not be investing in companies. It should not be picking winners and losers. We do, however, as a people have a high interest in developing key technologies..
As Possony, Kane, and I showed in The Strategy of Technology, technologies can be created on demand through proper strategies. That is vital to military capabilities.
"A gigantic technological race is in progress between interception and penetration and each time capacity for interception makes progress it is answered by a new advance in capacity for penetration. Thus a new form of strategy is developing in peacetime, a strategy of which the phrase ‘arms race’ used prior to the old great conflicts is hardly more than a faint reflection.
There are no battles in this strategy; each side is merely trying to outdo in performance the equipment of the other. It has been termed ‘logistic strategy’. Its tactics are industrial, technical, and financial. It is a form of indirect attrition; instead of destroying enemy resources, its object is to make them obsolete, thereby forcing on him an enormous expenditure….
A silent and apparently peaceful war is therefore in progress, but it could well be a war which of itself could be decisive."
–General d’Armee Andre Beaufre
This can be true in the development of critical national capabilities as well.
One such capability is access to space. Yes, the aeronautical business was developed by private enterprise – but much of its technology was done in partnership between industry and government. The same can be true for space. I wrote most of this in “How to Get to Space” http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/gettospace.html. Sometimes government action is needed. The problem is that government isn’t very good at picking and choosing winners: funding companies is not a good way to build an industry.
Fortunately there are ways of developing technology without betting on winners and losers. This is all describe in my Getting to Space presentation. We used X Projects to develop the aerospace industry, and we can do that for Green Energy and other national resources. The best developers of new technology are not always the best at commercial exploitation – as was proved in the growth of the aviation industry. It is true in many other cases.
Government can develop technologies without investing in companies.
I have explained X Projects many times. The basic idea is simple: the government puts out a contract for competitive bids. The contract will be to build, with the best technology available as of now (or in the very near future) working models of something that illustrates the best we have in the technology we are developing. One example was flying higher and faster. No one expected the X projects to come up with prototypes of commercial – or even military – aircraft. Instead you build the best thing you can and learn from it. An example was the Douglas X-3 Stiletto. It was the first airplane to take off from a runway and go faster than sound. That’s what it did – and while the Stiletto wasn’t a useful prototype of anything, we learned from it, and from that came the F-104 which dominated military airspace for more than a decade. What the X Project did was develop technologies. After that the aerospace industry could develop actual fighters.
The same principle can apply in other areas of technology. About twenty years ago Dr. Rolfe Sinclair of the National Science Foundation and I co-chaired a panel at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the applicability of the X Project concept to development of non-military technologies. It’s hardly a new idea; but it would work.
If much of the TARP money had been given out as funding for high technology X Projects, not in subsidies to technology companies, we would have learned a lot from that; and the “stimulus” effect would have been pretty well the same. The money would have been spent.
More on this another time; but I do invite you to think of technology demonstration/development projects that would make sense for public funding in your areas of expertise. Note that an X Project is not a prototype for a commercial project: it’s a step in technology development, and the company that does the X-project is not necessarily the winner of any production contracts.
For the kinds of money we already spend on “stimulus” projects we could have taken giant steps in a number of vital technologies. It’s still not too late.
The consensus appears to be that the debate was a tie, as we observed last night. The more important question is which candidate helped his election prospects most? Opinion is divided on that, but given the strategies of the two parties, I’d say that Gov. Romney clearly came out ahead. The President can’t run on his record, and has to paint a picture of Romney as less able than he is; and he didn’t do that. President Obama did show that he can be more dynamic than he was at the first debate, but we always knew that. What he didn’t show was that he can be the heroic savior who was elected President in 2008. He didn’t even come close to that.
Mr. Romney has to show that he is capable of being President and can be trusted with the office. He has done that. The President then says that Romney hasn’t presented a believable plan and can’t prove he can bring the country out of its slump; he hasn’t done that, and it’s self-evident that President Obama hasn’t any way out. A President who cannot ask “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” has a problem impossible to solve, and can only hope that the people will reject his opponent as incompetent or dishonest or just plain unlikable.
The Romney strategy is to continue to demonstrate that he is competent, likable, and honest; claims which so far as I can see have the great merit of being true. And he continues to demonstrate that.
Farewell to George McGovern.