Diversity, Depression, Computer glasses, carbolic acid, killer koalas, and other weighty matters


Mail 760 Friday, February 01, 2013


USS Dorchester and the Immortal Chaplains

This Sunday is the 70th anniversary of the sinking of USS Dorchester. Most famous for the loss of the Immortal Chaplains, the sinking claimed almost 700 others.

The Chaplains:

Reverend George Fox
Rabbi Alexander Goode
Reverend Clark Poling
Father John Washington

A prayer for those lost at sea:

FATHER of all Love, we pray Thee that those who are safe on land may ever remember the many who go down to the sea in ships, and that those in peril may contact with something of comfort. We ask these petitions knowing that Thy Love faileth never. Amen.




Antigua copyright free?

Now this should be interesting. Antigua is planning on hosting a pirate warez site in order to punish the US for killing their gambling business.


I wonder if eBooks will be in the mix as well as video/audio stuff?

E.C. "Stan" Field

Heh. Well, if they annoy Hollywood enough then the President will send the Marines in to show them the salmon of correction, whap! I doubt the publishing industry has that much influence. Certainly authors won’t.



I saw, and thought to share, a grotesque example of doublethink in the mainstream media.  The Associated Press wrote an article on the U.S. jobs data:


The mostly encouraging jobs report Friday included one negative sign: The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in December. The rate is calculated from a survey of households, and more people in that survey said they were unemployed.



Did you laugh at "The mostly encouraging jobs report"?  Does this really work with people?  If it does, I’ll just have to use that.  "Well, Sir, the data on your investments is mostly encouraging with only one negative sign:  the value of your portfolio dropped by nine percentage points this quarter".  Or how about, "Yes, Sir, we have great news for you with only one cloud in an otherwise blue sky, we’re going to have to begin foreclosing on your home".  Or, hear this from your doctor, "Sir, your health is impeccable with only one exception.  You have a terminal illness and you have three months to live".  Come on!    What sort of idiot actually falls for this other than the eternal, unjustified optimist?


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

We seem to be in a Depression although that is not what the economists say. Unemployment is not way up only because the number of people looking for work has fallen, and if you have given up seeking work and now seek benefits from government, you are not unemployed. There are radio and TV ads exhorting people to seek Food Stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); in California it’s a debit card called Cal Fresh); and it is counted as success if more take them. The number of people using food stamps rises monthly. This is not the way to economic recovery, nor is increasing government employment. I don’t say that government employees do not do useful things, and sometimes help create wealth, but with the present structure we have more than enough government employees; adding more isn’t going to increase wealth creation.

As to your question, someone must be falling for it.


microorganisms and carbonic acid

When I was a boy I was fascinated by "Ripley’s Believe It or Not!" and recall quite clearly reading one snip-it which claimed that scientists had found microorganisms which not only were immune to carbolic acid, but actually thrived in it. Reading your blog entry on the subject brought that to mind and a quick Google search turned up a number of such, including some which actually excrete carbolic acid (no doubt as a weapon in that species war on the rest of the microbial universe!). In fact, there are mention of microorganisms documented to survive the entire Ph spectrum from 0 to 13, and others who’s preferred environs include the interior of nuclear reactors.

Not that I’m suggesting that any of those extremophiles are "germs" which are also causing deadly diseases in humans – only pointing out that it’s far from impossible for a "germ" to develop an immunity to phenol. Nor am I passing myself as an expert on the subject, but for many years I’ve worked at a major metropolitan hospital and have been privileged to hear, first hand, the opinions, hopes, and fears of those who are. That in mind, I will caution you not to underestimate the little guys. To paraphrase Stephen Jay Gould: You can talk all you like about "the Age of Man" or "the Age of the Dinosaurs", but this planet is in "the Age of the Bacteria". Always has been and probably always will be…

Thank you for your time,

Carl E Campbell

IT Manager – Corporate Systems

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

Yes, to some extent I was teasing. I know carbolic isn’t universally deadly, but it is pretty effective. We used it a lot in the old lab I worked in.

I remember an old after dinner joke. At the end of an international science conference cruise, passengers in the first class dining room came up to the podium to say “Auf Wiedersehen! That’s goodbye in German.” Others came up, same thing. When it was the biologist’s turn he didn’t know any foreign languages, so he said “Carbolic acid. That’s goodbye in anybody’s language.” I heard that some time in the 40’s, and there was a science fiction story about an intelligent virus – sort of – in I think Adventures in Time and Space in which a biologist out of habit reaches for the carbolic acid when he fears contamination.

It’s still a pretty effective and fairly cheap disinfectant. If I have to go to hospital I think I’ll take some with me just in case…


Boffins slip ‘KILLER KOALA’ satnav study into journal


“A confession: when Australians meet tourists worried their holidays will be disturbed by dangerous animals – sharks, spiders, snakes, crocodiles and jellyfish are all prevalent here in Vulture South – they often slip in a mention of a little-known but very menacing marsupial: the drop bear. The drop bear is, according to this Australian Museum page, “a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.” The beast lurks high in trees, waits until it spots prey below – including humans – before allowing gravity and its sharp fangs do the rest.”

This article reports on a paper, “Indirect Tracking of Drop Bears Using GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) Technology”. The paper explains that drop bears cannot be fitted with satellite trackers, as they are aggressive and knock the trackers off when rubbing themselves against trees. Alternate methods are proposed:


Another mystery from the land of Oz.


I think this is the first I have ever heard of killer koalas…


Walter Russell Mead and "The Seven Trolls"


Well worth your time if you have not seen it.


An interesting essay. Of course there is hope for intelligent members of the middle class, and despair is a sin. Well worth your time. Thanks.



I miss the content as it was a few years ago. Interesting letters about damn near everything and the various answers and comments. Correspondents from around the world and subjects that were all over the place.

Now it appears (to me anyway) that the site is pretty well always focused on politics. Us V them stuff.

Or am I missing a part of the site that still does that.


Peter Durand

Sort of my fault. I have slowed down a bit, especially in the last few weeks. But I am catching up and thanks for the feedback. I will try to do better.


Nails it!

Bingo! …


A talk by a legal immigrant citizen with some common sense observations on gun control.


‘Democracy, then, in the centralizing, pattern-making, absolutist shape which we have given to it is, it is clear, the time of tyranny’s incubation.’


Roland Dobbins

The modern affection for ‘democracy’ is fairly new, and most political philosophers believed that democracy was suitable only for rather small and homogenous states, such as the Swiss Lander cantons, and city states. Cicero observed that under democracy the exceptional could not thrive properly and are tempted to use their talents for their own ends, not those of the general good. Of course Cicero is one of the more eloquent proponents of “the Republic”, the form of government that mixes monarchy, aristocracy, and a democratic element; and it is explicitly this that the Framers of the Convention of 1789 hoped to establish.

The problem with democracy has ever been envy. Voting to distribute the goods of fortune among the voters is a strong temptation. It seldom works to the permanent interest of those who use government to despoil the rich, or limit the rewards of the very able. Sometimes the aristocracy finds more in common with those of similar rank in a foreign country than they do in their own. (See the La Grande Illusion for a more dramatic presentation.) Sometimes the wealthy simply hire a ‘friend of the people’ to look out for their interests – you will remember that the First Triumvirate consisted of Pompey, Caesar, and the richest man in Rome. And despite all the protestations about the origin of the maxim that democracies do not long survive the discovery by the masses that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury, it is a valid hypothesis, often confirmed. “There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.”


‘The new general has all the problems of an empire, without any of the power and freedom of action of an empire.’


Roland Dobbins

The ultimate question of any polity is who does the army obey? That is not a trivial question. Why men fight – now I suppose we are to say why men and women fight – is the ultimate question of political power. For two centuries the United States has been served by an officer corps that put Duty, Honor, Country first, and was able to win the loyalty of the troops. This has been so effective for so long that no one wonders why, or whether our egalitarian insistence will have an effect on the motives of the officer corps. Other nations have discarded the principles to their detriment. We of course are the great exception and our political leaders are, or are convinced they are, exempt from these kinds of questions.


The Amazing Amazon

Somewhat terrifying. I like Amazon a lot, but.


I recall when the standing joke among computer columnists was “next year Amazon will make a profit”. For a long time Amazon invested in structure and organization. Then suddenly they made their move, and the publishing industry was changed forever. And meanwhile Amazon went on to use their book selling mechanisms to sell other things, many other things, until they challenge the whole retail marketing establishment.

Now they are investing again in organization and structure. Think about it.


BSR Review New Music Concert

A review of a concert devoted to chamber music by a young Philadelphia composer, Michael Djupstrom.




…and the PULP–O-MIZER link (!)


Roger G. Smith


BBC News – Phantom comics reissue keeps early masked hero alive


Thought you might enjoy!

John Harlow

I have long been a fan of The Phantom. I even liked (not wildly) the movie they made about him. The Ghost Who Walks will never die…


Substitute Teacher – YouTube


Speaking things we cannot talk about, there is this:


I don’t expect you’ll be posting a link to it, even if it appears to have been a sketch on TV.

That may be the most racist thing I have ever seen. What is the story on this? It’s intended to be infuriating isn’t it?

Jerry Pournelle

Chaos Manor

Substitute Teacher – YouTube,

It is billed as Comedy Central. So perhaps Hollywood types can get away with this. After all, it is hitting the culture, not the race. I work with Africans from Africa. Their names are not what this piece is satirizing.

It may be another example of "If a conservative said it, it would be hate speech."

On the gripping hand, when I was searching for this (I deleted the link the first time it was sent to me) I found a comment by an African American woman who felt these names had gone too far. I was discussing this at lunch and a dietician recalled that at her former job, a mother was incensed when the dietician did not know how to pronounce her daughter’s name, La-a. It was "ladasha" of course.

On another level, it may be that the perpetrators of this were turning the tables on white folk, showing how their white names can be mispronounced by someone who does not share pronunciation conventions with the name-holder.

Hence "ehrun" becomes "ay-ay-ronn," etc. I particularly loved O-shag-hennessey. That one is choice.

I dunno, though. Could be all of the above.

It may be as informative as it is – interesting. I suppose it is a different view I had not considered.

I will note that the United States has thrived under the Melting Pot model, and just as we were beginning to assimilate the freedmen after a long period of segregation, the goal changed to ‘diversity.’ Diverity has not historically been a winning strategy. The early Roman Republic flourished by allowing conquered people to become Romans; it wasn’t conquest, they were taken into the firm, as Fletcher Pratt put it in The Battles That Changed History (one of the books I think everyone ought to have read). Recall Paul of Tarsus. “I am a Citizen of Rome.” “You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you shall go.”

Diversity does not build successful Republics, or at least has not on my view of history.


Computer glasses and myopia

Thank you for the comments from January 24th about "computer glasses".

I recall your comments about correction to screen-distance from the original BYTE column but regrettably didn’t give them proper attention as I was still sufficiently young I had sufficient accommodation to read a screen with infinity-corrected glasses.

Anyway, my experience over the last 10 years has persuaded me that wearing glasses corrected for one’s primary distance of work not only reduces eye strain but, at least in my own anecdotal case, (documented in):


actually reduces the correction required for myopia–my experience was a full diopter in each eye over 10 years, and I think I’ve gone a bit further down since the last examination in 2010 based on pushing my glasses down my nose to focus in dim light conditions.

My experience is based on wearing the "reading/computer" glasses almost all the time: using the infinity-corrected or progressive glasses only for driving, taking walks outside, or other activities where such correction is appropriate. Since I published this report, I’ve heard from around a dozen people who have experienced the same improvement in myopia prescriptions by wearing "reading glasses" most of the time, and none reporting contrary results (but of course this may be due to a selection effect).

If this exists, it is a slow effect. One should expect it to manifest itself only over several years. But simply getting off the life-long treadmill of every-stronger prescriptions is worth it to me.

John Walker               | If it’s settled

kelvin@fourmilab.ch    | it isn’t science.

I find my computer glasses (they are bi-focal) more comfortable around the house than my regular tri-focals, although I certainly don’t wear them outside and it would be a disaster to wear them for driving. I sure wish I had patented the concept. Probably wasn’t patentable. But I think that old BYTE column was the first place to talk about compouter glasses. Certainly I don’t remember any source for the concept, and I think I invented it.




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