Mail 744 Monday, October 01, 2012
I have got way behind on the mail, so I’m trying to catch up.
I always thought Mr. Niven’s A.R.M. technology restrictions were a joke… turns out otherwise. Sigh.
(From a Michael Z. Williamson Facebook post)
The United States was formed to protect liberty. It now has a major party that is afraid that someone, somewhere, is doing something without permission.
The airplane window story brought back USAF flying memories. All of the older Boeing airplanes had windows that open. (B-767 and older). While in the Air Force I flew KC-135 tankers, which is essentially a Boeing 707. We only had one air conditioning "pac" so there was almost no cooling in Louisiana while doing an hour of touch and goes at the end of a training mission.
I was not unusual to open the copilots window and let some cooler air into the cockpit. The trick though was to gently let it go to the aft stop or hold it partially open. I know a senior Stan-Eval crew who were doing touch and goes at Carswell AFB; Ft. Worth TX. The window was allowed to go all the way back and came off the track, falling to the floor. They had to do a full stop taxi back to get it back in.
Airplane windows DO open. You could do that today with a B-737 or B-757/ 767. I retired flying the A-330 an am sure you could open the window once you were depressurized. The B-747 window does not open but there is an escape hatch in the roof which could be opened if depressurized.
Come to think of it: The B-747 had a lengthy smoke elimination procedure that eventually led to depressurizing and cracking open an aft cabin door. That would suck the smoke out so there was a chance of getting on the ground.
Which should end that discussion. Thanks.
The Drug Enforcement Agency, Waging War Against the Citizens of the United Stated
Seldom does a day go by without reports of Drug violence in either the US or Mexico. This got me to thinking about the US Department of Justice, Fast and Furious, Branch Davidians (aka Waco) and other related matters.
It sort of looks like our Department of Justice is getting more and more out of control. Looking at the current Org Chart helps one to understand why.
The Attorney General has one direct report, the Deputy Attorney General. The Deputy Attorney General has THIRTY-EIGHT direct reports. This violates any rational understanding of effective span of control.
It would seem that a reorganization of the Department of Justice might have a positive effect. At the same time it might be wise to roll ATF&E and DEA into a new Agency called WWC, Waging War on the Citizenry.
Clearly something went wrong with Fast and Furious…
Illustrative fun with polls from the 2004 election
Courtesy of Steven Den Beste, whose permission I have to reinvoke this.
Money quote: "
I don’t believe that public opinion has been changing as much as these polls seem to suggest. The variation we see up through July looks like what engineers call "sample aliasing" or "jitter". Note that it falls well within the oft-claimed ±4 points of error. This is typical for data taken in noisy sampling environments; I’ve seen this kind of thing many times.
August and September are different. I’ve seen that kind of thing, too.
In my opinion, the polls were being deliberately gimmicked, in hopes of helping Kerry. In early August it looks as if there was an attempt to engineer a "post-convention bounce", but it failed and was abandoned after about two weeks. But I’m not absolutely certain about that.
The data for September, however, is clearly an anomaly. The data is much too consistent. Compare the amount of jitter present before September to the data during that month. There’s no period before that of comparable length where the data was so stable.
The September data is also drastically outside of previous trends, with distinct stairsteps both at the beginning and at the end. And the data before the anomaly and after it for both Kerry and Bush matches the long term trendlines.
If I saw something like that in scientific or engineering data, I’d be asking a lot of very tough questions. My first suspicion would be that the test equipment was broken, but in the case of opinion polls there is no such thing. My second suspicion would be fraud."
And of course the polls now have the problem of cell phones vs. landlines. No rest for the wicked…
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I thought you’d appreciate this article by the Guardian which dissects the growing dissatisfaction with a cult of personality which uses money from a nationalized economy to buy votes in the name of "helping the poor".
No, not the US. We’re talking about Venezuela.
Still, the title of this email is not ironic: If the people of Venezuela can eventually see the man behind the curtain, this gives us a playbook for disenchanting the American people with our own socialist flirtations. I only hope Americans don’t have to descend to the depths Venezuela did before they catch on.
I am not sure that any comment is needed here…
“I am sure the millions who died under Communism would not see the joy of celebrating the Russian revolution by a school 10 miles from Gettysburg.”
Ten Days That Shook The World. There was a time when it was fashionable to be a communist. Then we learned about the Harvest of Sorrow and the Gulag. But now those are forgotten and we are back to singing the old songs.
Cinnamon & Type 2 Diabetes
Dr. Pournelle -
Interesting study, FYI. If the results can be replicated this could help a lot of people.
Cinnamon helps fight type 2 diabetes mellitus http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/Supplements/herbs/cinnamon_type_2_diabetes_mellitus_0923121115.html
Considering all the different things people have used for food and medicine and all the things out there that can kill you, I’ve often wondered about the process early Man used in determining what’s good and what’s not. Cassava can be eaten but has to be processed properly and thoroughly. Why did they keep trying once the first tries made people sick? How did someone work out the method for making Datura a hallucinogen instead of a poison?
("Okay, Thag – I tried the Blueberries, you try the Monk’s Hood." Bad to be Thag.)
We have always used cinnamon on the theory that it seems to help moderate sugar rushes. But then I tend to various supplement fads on the theory that some do no harm and some seem to help, and it’s hard to tell which are useful and which make expensive urine. Cinnamon is a rather inexpensive one…
A (bacon) Tragedy
Better pork out now. LOL
Is it pork-ageddon? Britain’s National Pig Association has sounded the alarm that the world should brace for an "unavoidable" bacon and pork shortage next year.
The cause of the trouble is high pig-feed costs, caused by what it describes in a press release as "the global failure of maize and soya harvests."
The organization notes that new data shows that pig herds are declining at a significant rate, not just in Britain, but around the world.
The way out of this coming catastrophe is to subsidize pig farmers to stem the loss of their herds, says the industry group. The organization has also launched a "Save Our Bacon" campaign, which encourages consumers to buy British pork products.
It’s not just Europe that will be seeing shortages: The US will also face a bacon shortage. The Guardian reports that the cost of bacon has doubled since 2006, and record droughts are to blame. Consumption of bacon is falling as prices have been rising.
"It’s not that people don’t want to eat pork, it’s just that they increasingly can’t afford to," economist Steve Meyer told the publication. "We’ve been warning about this for years. Now that we are talking about bacon, we’ve really got everyone’s attention."
We expect food prices in general to rise, and the Feds still pay people to burn corn as fuel. It will only get worse.
This page from NASA is interesting:
It is indeed.
Polar sea ice could set ANOTHER record this year
As the arctic icecap shrinks, the Antarctic icecap grows:
You’d think it was homeostasis or something.
I go back to what we know: the Earth has been both warmer and colder at various historical times than it is now. Any theory that does not show that probably does not deserve billion dollar bets…
Effect of Greenland Temperature Rise
Jerry – You occasionally point out that rising temperatures can have benefits as well as drawbacks. Here’s an article describing what is going on in Greenland. Suggest you start a page where this sort of information can be collected.
- Robert Griswold
It is clear enough that Greenland was warmer in Viking times than it is now. Beyond that I have no certainties.
Events in the stratosphere can affect Earth’s entire climate:
“Events high in the upper atmosphere can cause massive shifts in the behaviour even of deep ocean currents, according to new research. "It is not new that the stratosphere impacts the troposphere," says Thomas Reichler, senior boffin on the team which discovered the effects. "It also is not new that the troposphere impacts the ocean. But now we actually demonstrated an entire link between the stratosphere, the troposphere and the ocean."
"We found evidence that what happens in the stratosphere matters for the ocean circulation and therefore for climate," says Reichler. It appears that current climate forecast models don’t allow for this effect, and will need to be adjusted for it as it can produce large, decade-long ups and downs in temperature "separate from climate change", according to Reichler. He and his team write: “Our analyses identify a previously unknown source for decadal climate variability and suggest that simulations of deep layers of the atmosphere and the ocean are needed for realistic predictions of climate.” Thus it could be that with the new stratospheric effect added to climate forecasts, periods of flat temperatures like the one seen over the past decade – or even of some cooling, perhaps – might be forecast accurately, presumably against a general long-term upward trend due to increased atmospheric carbon. We are told: “In the 1980s and 2000s, a series of stratospheric sudden warming events weakened polar vortex winds. During the 1990s, the polar vortex remained strong.” Temperature records showed noticeable warming in the 1990s, in contrast to the 2000s.
“Other recent research has also suggested that relatively minor stratospheric events could nonetheless have major climate effects. Researchers at the German GeoForschungsZentrums (GFZ) at Potsdam suggested  that such a stratospheric mechanism driven by a solar quiet spell may have caused a 200-year-long cold snap (the "Homeric Minimum") some 2800 years ago. Eminent physicists consider  that another such solar quiet period may be imminent, and noted that the most recent such occurrence in the 17th and 18th centuries was accompanied by a so-called "Little Ice Age". Nonetheless, mainstream climatologists who have longed warned of carbon-driven disaster have argued  that this would not have a powerful enough effect to significantly counteract carbon-driven warming.”
Golly. Yet another complication in studying out atmosphere. No wonder the weather man (or often these days, the blonde weather woman) has such trouble predicting what will happen in the next few days.
Keep studying, guys.
I do not think we yet understand climate. We are getting better at predicting next week’s weather.
An old comrade in arms?
I saw this:-
It rang a bell and I wondered if his story was the basis for one of Falkenberg’s skirmishes? I can’t immediately lay my hands on your books to verify but it sounds very like the siege at the fort in the first book. I seem to remember you acknowledging an Ethiopian officer in the foreword to the book. Was it Captain Habtewold?
If you want to hear the podcast and have any trouble downloading it (the BBC sometimes restricts downloads to the UK only but as it was broadcast on the World Service it should be available to you) let me know and I’ll get you access to the copy I’ve downloaded.
All the best to you and Roberta
SLA Marshall told the story in Pork Chop Hill, and I admit incorporating it into the stories that became The Mercenary and later The Prince. Marshall mentions Lt. Zeneke Asfaw, Kagnew Bn., Imperial Guard of Ethiopia. They were impressive soldiers. I never met Lt. Asfaw or Captain Habtewold.
Mohamed Morsi of Egypt said… (as quoted in)
"Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region," he said, by backing dictatorial governments over popular opposition and supporting Israel over the Palestinians.
Speaking personally, if this is what the United States has bought with its many years of "foreign aid", I think we now have more dislike from Middle Eastern Muslims than we will ever need and should quit buying it.
On the other hand, there was peace between Egypt and Israel for decades. That would open a discussion we don’t have time for now.
“Swedes can be heard to say that no one shall rob them of their birthright to quarrel about Charles XII.”
Dear Mr. Pournelle,
I’m afraid that de Camp’s claims about classical Chinese reflect some serious misunderstandings – basically, he’s mixing up time periods.
If you want more detail, read DeFrancis’ "The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy"; but here’s the short version.
At the time of Confucius or Lao-zi, Classical Chinese had far more possible syllables than the 2000 or so (not 1280) which 20th century Mandarin allows, because the structure of the syllable has been simplified and the number of distinct sounds (phonemes) reduced; for example, "way", originally something like drog, was reduced to dao.
Even among modern Chinese "dialects", Cantonese or Hakka have far more possible syllables than that, because Mandarin lost syllable-final stops, so that tap, tak, tat, and ta all ended up being pronounced alike. The reason for de Camp’s confusion on this point is probably that Chinese scholars normally read Classical Chinese using the pronunciation of their own dialect (much as English speakers pronounce knight "nite", but still write it with a k and a gh that stopped being pronounced centuries ago); many Chinese aren’t even aware of the change, any more than most English speakers know how different the language of Beowulf was. Modern Chinese dialects have compensated for this by developing a lot more polysyllabic words – in fact, most Mandarin words are two syllables rather than one. But even Classical Chinese had a few clear-cut disyllabic words in which neither syllable meant anything on its own (for example, galep "butterfly"). In any case, Classical Chinese hasn’t been the official language since the early 20th century. He’s correct in noting that compounding is very commonly used to form new terms; but he seems to miss the point that that’s also how most new scientific terms are formed in English (though usually Greek or Latin elements are substituted for originally English ones).
As for "the widespread use of phonetic writing", it has always been the case that most Chinese characters combine a phonetic element with a semantic one; the sound changes mentioned have often obscured the phonetic element, but you can still often make a pretty good guess at the pronunciation of an unfamiliar character without knowing its meaning. However, unlike Japanese, Chinese makes almost no use of purely phonetic characters in normal texts (there are a few exceptions, mainly for writing foreign names.) Of course this makes it a lot harder to become literate, character simplification notwithstanding.
I think the short version will do, but thank you very much. I am a rank amateur at understanding Chinese history or culture, although at one time I was expected to have opinions on the subject. I found that many experts knew less than I did, which was humbling.
I am convinced that becoming literate in Chinese is much more difficult than becming literate in English, and that this has to have affected the culture and politics of America and China.
Chinese language and literacy
Your writings about the Chinese ideographic language versus the ‘Western’ phonetic, languages reminded me of an old half-formed theory I had about the same subject.
I use the word pictographic rather than ideographic when describing these languages, which also include the ancient Egyptian, Mayan etc languages. Phonetic of course derives itself from Phonecian, and I think that sort of written language was revolutionary in it’s time. No evidence to support my theory of course, it is all my own limited thought experiment.
I figured the development of a pictographic language was a natural development from ‘cave art’ or sculpture, that the ancients who painted cave walls, and made statuettes were trying to communicate someting to posterity and not merely vandals (in the sense that they wanted to paint something on a wall), that it was all an attempt at communication, after all there is supposed to be evidence of burial, which most people relate to the idea of an afterlife or some sort of continuation after death. Anyhow, my badly written thought here is that a pictographic language is the next logical step up from cave painting, and is a fairly common occurrence witness Mayan, Aztec, Egyptian, Chinese etc. I suppose that you could continue that progression from pictograph to ideograph if you want, a pictograph is rather obvious a picture of a house has the meaning ‘house,’ a picture of a house gaining the meaning ‘home’ and idea would represent that development.
Anyhow, there ends, in my opinion, the ‘evolution’ of the pictographic language. One either expands the definition of the finite set of written characters, or invents a new pictogram that then develops into an ideogram. Which leads to an abundance of characters for the written language, which means that people who communicate in that method must have excellent memory, something I think would limit the amount of written discourse which might appear (not many people can remember all the symbols) which limits the ability to communicate to posterity all the great ideas.
In my mind this stagnates social progression, scientific progression and all sorts of progression. And it also lends itself to ‘inside the box’ thinking, i.e. restricts innovation, you have to truly come up with a new idea and make up a new symbol for the thing that is self-evident, and be able to explain this new idea with existing ideas/symbols effectively enough that someone unfamiliar can follow what you are attempting to say. Witness the apparent inablity or at least the great difficulty modern anthropologists have in deciphering the ‘dead’ languages of the Egyptians, Mayans, etc. I think it is far easier for those folks to deal with the ancient "dead" phonetic languages than it is for them to figure out the ancient "dead" pictographic languages.
Enter the first Phonetic languages, as I recall most of them were concerned with keeping track of taxes, and who owed the king what. Imagine a pictographic language having discreet symbols for each number and you approach the idea of infinity, or a need for infinite memory capacity. At some point instead of using 6 ticks to represent the number 6, someone had the brilliant idea of a Line and one Tick where the Line represented 5 and a tick still represented 1. (Lines, circles, the letter V, it doesn’t matter to my arguement what the specific symbol is, just that it was invented). This makes mathematics profoundly easier, addition and subtraction for starters. What is VI plus III? VIIII. What is VIII minus V? III.
To do the same thing in a pictographic language (before they develop the idea of a similar number system, which they generally did) You have to know that the picture of a House equals the number 6, and the picture of a Horse equals the number 3, and that those two things added together equal a picture of a Boat which equals the number 9. And so forth. I grant you, the pictographic languages did all develop a roughly phonetic mathematical language, and without evidence I say that they do this at a later date in the development of the written language than do the languages that began as phonetic. To me that would lend a dichotomy in the ability to think about different concepts, for your literary spiritual ideas you have one written language, and for the mundane mechanical concrete things another.
A phonetic written language then, in my lowly opinion, lends itself better to the communication between your spiritual (priest) and you laborer type (farmer). The farmer knows that he must plant X rows of grain to give to his priest Y in tithes/taxes and both share a written language where it is evident how X leads to Y. Sprinkle in some creative thought, innovation and a common language between the two types and you rapidly develop an ability to communicate between the classes.
Here I fall apart a bit, as how does the idea of a noise having an equivalent symbol? Donkey in a pictographic language has one symbol, but in a phonetic language it has at least two symbols; DON and KEY at first and probably develops into four symbols D, ON, K, & E. My view is that the priest got sick of telling every peasant that he owed the king 1 Donkey for each 4 rows of Barley and wrote it down in some sort of short hand that was common, put it on a durable material and handed it to his tax collector and sent the man out to collect. Now you have a document (clay tablet) with the symbol for number 1, the syllable DONK the syllable E on one line and the symbol for 4, the syllable BARL, and the syllable E. With a common language, and a bit of intellect this new form of communication opens itself up to everyone. Now in order to write something that about anyone can read you only need less than 50 discrete symbols for sounds and number ideas. Whereas in your pictographic languages you need 50+.
My theory is that anyone can think critically, no matter how dumb/smart they are. And it is easier to communicate via writing your bad idea if you don’t have to go to a school to learn 50,000 words and all the 50,000 symbols with them. Maybe the local priest can hold an impromptu class on the meaning of the 26 sound symbols, and the 10 number symbols (0-9) and you can on your own, do something (or nothing) with that idea.
Seems that as a local king/priest using a phonetic language it would be easier to send out a tax document(bill) that you could reasonably expect most folks to understand, threatening a visit from the army should you fail to comply, than it would to send out an army to visit individually everyone because not only do you have to explain the reason for your visit, you need lots of people to protect the explainer while he ‘convinces’ you that you’d better pay up (my view of what happened in the pictographic society). As a plus, an easily understandable (from the common folk) phonetic document would allay any fears of unfair treatment, you know your neighbor is paying exactly what you do, whereas a pictographic document, if you don’t understand the 50,000 symbols because it is too expensive to teach everyone that language, you must rely on the word of the guy (tax collector) extracting funds from you.
All of this thought came from the observation that pictographic societies tended to be less successful than phoenetic societies in my mind, and I wanted to find a reasonable (to my mind) explanation why. What I came up with was that the phonetic languages facilitated somehow critical thought (out side the box) while the pictographic languages fostered inside the box thinking.
That a phoneme, or syllable was roughly equivalent to an atom, and together with other phonemes could create a word or a molecule. Leads one to chemisty I suppose instead of the four elements (which I think all early societies had in one form or another) but it was easier for the phonetic societies to develop the idea into a more modern idea of chemistry, than it was for the pictographic societies to do the same thing.
I think I have rambled enough, and like I said, it was all a vague idea to begin with, and I perhaps have put more thought into it as I wrote all above, than I did when I first had the idea… Whether I am write or rong (heh) I still think there is something there in whatever the idea is that I originally had, which is probably best reflected in that last Paragragph about phonemes and atoms and chemistry than in anything I wrote earlier about it…
Subj: Cow and Bull: a seminal essay on examsmanship and epistemology
Personally, I think the same questions apply to this essay as apply to Richard Feynman’s CalTech commencement address on Cargo Cult Science, to
Should this sort of thing be taught? If so, then to whom? Graduate students? College students? High school students?
"cow (pure): data, however relevant, without relevancies.
bull (pure): relevancies, however relevant, without data."
"When the pure concepts are translated into verbs, their complexities become apparent in the assumptions and purposes of the students as they
To cow (v. intrans.) or the act of cowing:
To list data (or perform operations) without awareness of, or comment upon, the contexts, frames of reference, or points of observation which determine the origin, nature, and meaning of the data *(or procedures).
To write on the assumption that "a fact is a fact." To present evidence of hard work as a substitute for understanding, without any intent to deceive.
To bull (v. intrans.) or the act of bulling:
To discourse upon the contexts, frames of reference and points of observation which would determine the origin, nature, and meaning of data if one had any. To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content."
"We too often think of the bullster as cynical. He can be, and not always in a light-hearted way. We have failed to observe that there can lie behind cow the potential of a deeper and more dangerous despair. The moralism of sheer work and obedience can be an ethic that, unwilling to face a despair of its ends, glorifies its means. The implicit refusal to consider the relativity of both ends and means leaves the operator in an unconsidered proprietary absolutism, History bears witness that in the pinches this moral superiority has no recourse to negotiation, only to force."
But please do read the whole thing, and think about it.
I have read it, but thinking about it makes my head hurt. I don’t regret considering this but I am not sure I have anything sensible to add.
Washington, DC public schools resolve problem
The Washington, DC public school system spends more per student than any other system in the United States, and gets some of the worst test scores in the United States. They have "discovered" a way in which to resolve the low test scores. The standard test levels for white and Asian students will be much higher than those for African American and Latino students (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/student-achievement-targets-vary-by-race-income-in-dc-and-many-states/2012/09/18/3b306568-fd13-11e1-8adc-499661afe377_story.html). Of course a few years ago this would have been characterized as the worst kind of discrimination. So rather than improving the schools and educating the juvenile citizens of the District of Columbia, they are manipulating the standards so that they get a passing "grade".
See Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy for further explanations. The Constitution gives Congress control over the District. If Congress were to direct the Department of Education to set up schools that actually work in the District, we would have far better results with control over what we are doing; but of course we don’t do that. We build larger bureaucracies and the students learn whatever they are lucky enough to learn. And the beat goes on…
© 2012, jerrypournelle. All rights reserved.