Airpower, Temperature, Dragon, NATO, and much other Mail

Chaos Manor Mail, Saturday, February 21, 2015


Roberta is singing at a funeral that I didn’t wake up in time for. The newspaper is outside, down five brick steps in front. Needless to say I don’t go out the front way. Sometimes a neighbor will toss the papers up on the patio, where I can get at it, but no one seemed to be walking their dog when I looked out. Which makes this a good time to catch up on some of the mail; I’ll try to put current topics first, but it’s all interesting.



Airpower and IS

Respectfully, I would point out to Joe Zeff that air power never managed to shut down the Ho Chi Mihn trail.
Air power people keep claiming (in effect at least) that it can win the war for you. Where and when has that ever been true?
The 8th Air Force did not relieve Bastogne; Patton’s 3rd Army did.
Strategic bombing invited the Luftwaffe to destruction; the Wehrmacht needed to be defeated by armies. Air superiority is useful and important, but that does not equally winning.
Naval gunfire for days and air strikes did not win Iwo Jima. It took boots on the ground and many casualties.
I suppose we could plaster an area with nuclear weapons and make it uninhabitable, but how is that “winning?”
I am sure you know all this; you have said as much. What part of this is not obvious? Why does this keep coming up?

Michael J Schuerger Sr

“Winning” is a concept that isn’t studied enough, in my judgment. In the Cold War, surviving without a nuclear war was a win. I did a study on Stability and National Security that was used in the Air War College, and may still be. But at any level below Central Nuclear War other definitions apply. USAF matured under that condition, and requirements tended to be dominated by the necessity of survival in Big wars; small wars got less attention, which led to Viet Nam where it never escalated to the level USAF was really prepared for. The Russians never trusted their allies with real air power, so local air supremacy was relatively easy to achieve; but they never learned what to do with it.

You can fly over the land, you can bomb it, you can kill everything in it, but you do own it until you stand an 18 year old soldier with a rifle on top of it. General Powers thought that USAF should never give up a mission, so close support of the ground army was kept which meant all fixed wing aircraft. Over time the Army developed rotary wing craft, but they cannot perform all the requirements of real ground support. The primary mission of USAF (other than Strategic Nuclear capability) is and should be gaining and keeping local air supremacy. In this era of SAMS and electronics that is tough to do; and when it comes to design decisions this tends to dominate. The result is obvious.

This subject requires a longer essay than I can write with my present typing skills. I am going to try Dragon and see what that does. It’s an important subject.


I’m not that crazy about turning our military in to a mercenary contract coordinator, but in some respects that’s exactly what it is already. However, maybe it’s time for a private company to purchase all the A-10s and sub-contract their services to the U.S military. There are more than enough people who are willing and able to drive warthogs, and that way they can by-pass all the commissioned-warrant-non-commissioned BS over the people flying them, as well as which service has the authority to use or dispose of them. It wouldn’t be that much different from the way the government subsidizes the airline industry today.

Michael D. Houst

I do not think I agree, but it is an interesting notion.


Leaving NATO

You wrote yesterday, and have done so in days past, that the US should leave NATO. You state that NATO has done its job, shutdown the Soviets, so now we are free to leave. However, NATO has another job just as important as shutting down the Soviets was: keeping Europe disarmed and occupied by a friendly force.
Prior to the US occupation of Europe, there had seldom been peace in Europe. This was fine for the young United States as it kept European powers busy with each other, wasting lives and treasure 3,000 miles from our shores. A peaceful Europe would have left the European Powers able to conquer the US. This state of affairs suited the US just fine until industrialization gave the European Powers the ability to fight global wars.
The United States was no longer safe from a warring Europe. Their wars spilled out all over the globe. The incessant warring in Europe had to stop. The European Powers had never been able to stop on their own, so after World War II, the United States occupied Europe. We established huge military bases throughout and around the region. We convinced the European Powers that we could act as their military, defending them against the “external” threats of the time (the Soviets were sure convenient), so we got them to largely disarm. The European Powers were happy with this — they could spend their treasure on rebuilding after WWII and then on social programs that make politicians happy and bribe the people into quiescence.
The United States realized after the two world wars that it was much cheaper in lives and treasure to occupy a disarmed Europe than it was to arm itself for another European invasion. If we leave NATO and let Europe rearm for serious warfare, we will have to rearm for serious European invasion. We will have to have the capacity to meet and defeat major industrial powers in global warfare again. And this time, we cannot count on the oceans to keep the bombs and missiles, or even the armies, off of our land. We will have to prepare to be invaded as well. This gets ugly.
I say it is cheaper in lives and treasure to stay in NATO, keep justifying it, and keep Europe occupied and disarmed.

Kevin L Keegan

NATO primarily threatens Russia and makes it difficult to exploit our common interests with Russia in dealing with China. It embroiled us in the Balkan mess where we had no interests at all other than sentimental – the participants there were no more vicious than many African conflicts produce.

The French want us to sit on Fritz. Europe need not spend so much on defense. The US subsidizes Europe that way. While I have considerable sentimental regard for the Balkan republics, they are hardly vital allies against – anyone. It is time for Europe to grow up.

Again this is a larger subject than my typing permits just now.


Hello Jerry this is written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 12 on a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. I would suggest you look into using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to help you use your computer and do speech to text for writing. I am using a Buddy microphone in the USB port. This is a flexible microphone and can be twisted into any shape. Using this system I can sit in my easy chair using the Surface Pro on battery power and dictate into the computer.
You might want to look at the KnowBrainer website, this is where I buy my versions of the software and microphones. On this website there is an excellent set of software to accompany Dragon, KnowBrainer Command which helps you command your computer. It was written to assist people with handicaps to control a computer. Dragon has three high level versions, one for medical, one for legal, and one for professional writers. These three versions come with the ability to program commands into Dragon (macros). Larry Allen has written a book on writing macros and Dragon which is a good book to start off writing these commands. KnowBrainer Command was written to allow you to control computer using voice commands. I have not tried this software but I understand it’s easy to use for people that have difficulty using a keyboard.
The owner of the KnowBrainer website is a good resource for utilizing Dragon. I use Dragon daily as I am a physician and use it for medical dictation. I have also written macros which allow me to insert boilerplate or activate voice commands for use in an electronic medical record system. I also use a recorder, an Olympus WS-700M (older recorder and a newer version is available which has the same features), to capture dictation on the go. This recorder has a USB plug that pops out and you can plug it into the computer. It also accommodates micro SD cards that you can easily remove. Dragon NaturallySpeaking has software, Transcription Agent, that will automatically download files from the recorder and transcribe them for you, placing them in a folder of your choosing.
I think you might find this beneficial software to try for dictation. Dragon NaturallySpeaking does not have to be trained anymore, indeed a lot of people simply open Dragon up and start using it. One recommended way to improve dictation is to take text files that you’ve already written up and allow Dragon to analyze them for your writing style. This will improve Dragon probably more than any voice training that might be done. I have a set of files of medical dictation and medical terms which I have Dragon analyze. This seems to make Dragon much more accurate, at least for me.
I’m sure you have many consultants that are much more versed in Dragon NaturallySpeaking and other types of software than I. You might have been look into it for you and see what they can come up with.
Keep doing what you do so well. I appreciate what you do, your website is a unique one on the Internet where a person can find rational discussion about many of the issues affecting us all today. As I have said before I believe you are national treasure take care of yourself and live long and prosper.


I have much mail recommending Dragon, and I have the Surface Pro and am getting a dispatch case to carry it. We’ll find out what happens. As it is I spend more time correcting a sentence than I did typing it. Thanks for the suggestion.


The Face of Things – The Jewish (Demographic) Superpower


Long term demographic projections can be hazardous. However; this article raises some interesting questions about what is in the long term interest of the US and might explain Netanyahu’s invitation to European Jews to immigrate to Israel

It appears that the earlier reports of Israel’s demographic demise as a Jewish verses Arab state were premature. In fact it is Israel’s Muslim minority and Muslim neighbors who appear to be on track for demographic decline. Egypt might be the exception, but their economy is so fragile and their population so dependent upon food imports that a sudden, catastrophic drop in population is quite plausible. (we will not contemplate the carnage that could result from breaching the Aswan dam.)

If Israel can successfully recruit and assimilate Europe’s Jews and inspire them to resume procreating rather than just fornicating, this brings the Israeli state decades closer to parity with its neighbors in the critical demographic of young, adult males who fight wars. This of course also brings Europe closer to a Muslim youth majority.

James Crawford=

We can go on with business as usual with everyone but ISIS, but the Caliphate is at war with us.


Law enforcement, Florida-style.


Roland Dobbins


“Inter Jovem et Martem Planetam Interposui”

They’ve reclassified Ceres again.  Now it’s a “dwarf planet”.

(I thought it was from “Space Cadet”, but a quick Google shows it to be from “The Rolling Stones”.  I’m getting old…

–John R. Strohm


The big list of failed climate predictions | Watts Up With That?


It is well to understand that none of the expensive – very –expensive models employing many people at high pay – has ever predicted anything that Arrhenius didn’t know in 1900, or that you didn’t know in grade school. It is warmer now than in 1776, ad seems to heating at about 2 degrees F per century. You also learned that it was warmer in Viking times than now. We certainly would not call Nova Scotia “Vinland” now; perhaps in fifty years. We do not know why temperature cycles. There are many theories, but we do know Mars has temperature cycles, and we can guess it has to do with the Sun.


Mars’ Massive Erupting Clouds Still Puzzle Scientists

Editor’s note: The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.

Enormous cloud-like plumes reaching 260km above the surface of Mars have left scientists baffled. This is way beyond Mars’s normal weather, reaching into the exosphere where the atmosphere merges with interplanetary space. None of the conventional explanations for such clouds make sense—neither water or carbon dioxide ice nor dust storms nor auroral light emissions usually hit such heights.

These “mystery clouds” came as a surprise, in particular when considering they were first spotted by a string of amateur astronomers in 2012. After all, an international fleet of five orbiters and two rovers is currently operating on and around Mars, and one may be excused thinking the red planet has little left to hide and its exploration has become routine.

A survey of images from the Hubble Space Telescope and amateur astronomers revealed massive clouds had been seen on Mars before, but none as prominent as the 2012 observations.

So what caused these clouds? An international team of scientists led by Agustin Sánchez-Lavega has now published an investigation in the journal Nature.

There’s considerably more.


Americans Befuddled by ‘Net Neutrality’ (MC)

Survey Finds 74% Are Unfamiliar With the Term

2/19/2015 3:15 PM Eastern

By: Leslie Jaye Goff

Only a quarter of Americans are familiar with the term net-neutrality and among those that are, only 38% view regulation of the Internet by the Federal Communications Commission under Title II reclassification favorably.

That’s according to phone survey conducted last week by Hart Research Associates for the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank founded during the Clinton administration..

“Net neutrality is near net zero understanding,” Peter Hart, founder of Hart Research Associates, said.

The survey of 800 adults age 18 and over also found that 73% of Americans want greater disclosure of the details of the FCC’s proposal to regulate the Internet, and 79% favor public disclosure of the exact wording and details of the FCC’s proposal before the agency votes on it Feb. 28.

Broken down by political party, Democrats generally favor Internet regulation by the FCC, with 51% saying they believe it would be more helpful and 33% saying it would be more harmful. Independents and Republicans were more likely to go the opposite direction; only 28% of Independents and 11% of Republicans said they thought FCC regulation would do more good than harm, while 55% of Independents and a whopping 80% of Republicans said Internet regulation would be more harmful..

“These findings suggest that the FCC’s bid to impose outdated telephone regulations on the Internet is driven more by professional activists than by the public, which seems instinctively to resist the idea,” Will Marshall, PPI president, said. “That’s why Congress should take a closer look at what the FCC is up to and make sure these issues get a thorough public airing.”

The full results of the survey, conducted Feb. 13-15, are available at PPI’s website.


Global Warming Propaganda

As someone who is not an atmospheric scientist, or even a physicist, I make no claim of expertise with regard to the effect of CO2 on the atmosphere. I know it has some effect, but I’ve never read as to what the limits might be. However, I have worked in a greenhouse. So here’s my problem: Posit a greenhouse constructed of clear glass plates, one inch in thickness. The result will be a warming of some amount within the greenhouse, call it “T”, above the outside temperature. If we then add an additional 12 inches of glass to the structure, will the inside temperature become “12T?”
Having only had a year of high school chemistry, it strikes me that the answer is “No.” As I recall, the infra-red radiation is trapped by the glass only within a fairly narrow band-width. Once it breaches those limits, then it passes through the glass and the warming ceases to rise. Have I missed something?
One caveat: For simplicity’s sake, I have limited this thought problem to one atmospheric variable. Given what I’ve read over the last 15 years, I don’t believe that it’s possible to model a system as chaotic as the earth’s biosphere and the inter-relationship with our sun in such a comprehensive manner as to come to any worthwhile conclusions.
Thank you,

: Bob Smith


Can you write more about why a War Department is preferable to a Department of Defense? I’m too young to know much about the War Department, though I know of it. I don’t think I’m the only one…

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

Hopefully when I learn dictation I can write longer essays.


One gram of DNA can potentially hold up to 455 exa

Like you, I believe that over time the cost of storage in this medium will come down. Here’s my question: At what point is the cost low enough that all of that information is included in the price of a computer, at time of purchase, without regard to the form the computing device may take.
Question number 2: When that day arrives, what impact will that have on the search engine markets? Education?

Bob Smith

You raise interesting questions. We are part way there now: look at what comes with most systems. Of course some of that is crapware. But facts are cheap, data are cheap, and prices are falling..


A French Soldier’s View of US Soldiers

Dr. Pournelle,
I couldn’t remember if you had seen this and I couldn’t find it in a cursory search of your daybook. It’s a translation of the original French article of a French soldier’s experience with US soldiers in Afghanistan. It’s a good read and I like finding out what our allies actually think about us.
–Bill Retorick


From the March 2015 Harper’s Magazine, p. 12:

“Indeed, this paradox can be observed so regularly that I think we are justified in treating it as a general sociological principle. Let’s call it the Iron Law of Liberalism: Any market reform or government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will ultimately increase the number of regulations and bureaucrats, as well as the amount of paperwork, that the government employs. Emile Durkheim was already observing this tendency at the turn of the twentieth century, and fifty years later even right-wing critics like F.A. Hayek were willing to admit that markets don’t really regulate themselves: they require an army of administrators to keep them going.”
Note that the ‘liberalism’ described here is classic liberalism; let the free market decide. But it seems that Market and State are joined at the hip.
This reminds me of the expansion of paper printouts for every ‘paperless’ office


An interesting assertion, and probably true. I should have thought of it. But it may we can derive it from the Iron Law of Bureaucracy


Was Big Bang disproved?


But no, that paper in no way disproves the Big Bang. For starters it doesn’t begin to explain all of the phenomenae we see, and of those it does “explain,” the end result is in essence no different from current accepted Big Bang theory. And as our favorite Vulcan was wont to say, “A difference which makes no difference IS no difference.”

Second, they’re playing serious games with the geometries, and I’m not at all sure those games are warranted.

Third, Dr. Ross does well when he states that their “conclusion” is really just a restatement of their initial conditions: if you go into a situation with a predetermined conclusion, it isn’t surprising when you reach that conclusion. In other words, if I wanted to disprove the Big Bang, the first thing I would do would be to set up the geometries and any other pertinent initial conditions such that it was impossible to produce a singularity. This also would tend to “disprove” black holes in general, and if I recall correctly, there was a paper recently by another quantum physicist who claimed to have disproven those too.

Aha, here it is, and in Arxiv, which isn’t peer-reviewed, but is merely a paper repository. ( I would be very interested in knowing how much interaction she may have had with Faraq Ali. A cursory review of her references does not reveal any of his papers, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t cross-pollination. Then again, she is coming at it from a different direction than Fariq. And again, her hypothesis fails the test of being able to predict all observations.

Dr. Ross’ summary is really pretty good IMHO, and points out the flaws in the conclusion that the Big Bang has been disproven.

I’m trying to remember where the conversation occurred, but recently I did have a conversation with another scientific-minded person (it may have been Jim in email; it may have been a friend in my special Facebook group, we discuss much science there), and it was explained to me that this Farag Ali apparently has a somewhat questionable background. It seems that he has his own pet theories and is constantly propounding this, that, and the other strange notion, publishing them someplace or other (NOT necessarily peer-reviewed, e.g. Arxiv), and then referencing them in subsequent papers, thereby appearing to substantiate the most recent paper(s). Jim may know more about this; I had not to my knowledge heard of the guy (or at least not sufficient to recognize his name) until this Big Bang thing was brought to my attention. This is not to say that I have not read any articles about his various pet theories, as my fans are apt to dredge up some really interesting stuff (in EVERY sense of the word) and post it for my comments, on Facebook in particular.


Please send some Southern Cali warmth our way; where I live, just outside Huntsville AL, went down to at least 8F last night, with wind chills down around -5F. My heat pump can’t keep the house warm in these conditions, and I’m bloody well freezing.
Stephanie Osborn

“The Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

= = = =

Dear Jerry:

You may have seen the news stories about the Big Bang being disproved by a quantum model. For example,

Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe explains how the theory in question certainly does not explain away the Big Bang. In fact, it merely assumes it out of existence as a starting premise.

His article is understandable by the well-read layman.

Best regards,

–Harry M.


Rot Springs Eternal

As with many Taki columns, the comments are as interesting as the column.

Charles Brumbelow




Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




Corrections; NERVA; Net Neutrality; Volcanoes; and other Mail

View from Chaos Manor, Sunday, February 08, 2015


Well I continue to recommend a suggestion that many of you sent me, namely that if you must use a walker, put tennis balls on the non-wheeled feet; tennis balls are a great deal better than the plastic feet that come with them. Alas, tennis balls fight back if you try to cut them, and there is no tool in Chaos Manor large enough to hold a tennis ball while you cut an X into it. The result was that I didn’t get this done Friday, and Saturday I spent a lot of the day at a clinic getting stitched up. It’s an expedition to go out.

All’s well, I am healing nicely , the cost was more in time than money, and for the hell of it they put me on general antibiotics which seem to be curing the sniffles.


First to clear the record, this is typical of several mail items received:

Re: “This email is from a Marine who’s in Afghanistan”

This is an edited version of an email that has been circulating since 2005. The original version was attributed to a soldier in Iraq and had many Iraq-specific references. Both versions have errors that cast doubts on their authenticity (e.g. referring to the belt-fed M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon as a drum-fed M243 squad assault weapon).


We also had comments on specifics, this from someone I am fairly certain was actually in country:

I can’t comment on all of it, but every deployment is different. I’ll pick out some of the points though.

1) M-16: Given to boots, and generally a pain in the ass simply because the M-4 has the exact same performance in a much better package. Never had a problem with it jamming, but maintenance is important. If you give it a good coating of lube every couple days or more, you’ll be just fine. 223/556 has no penetration on the mud walls that we saw, but neither did anything short of .50 cal, and even then it was less than ideal. The best tool was either a LAW or an AT-4. Can’t comment on the effects on people because you never hit someone only once anyways. I regularly carried ~180 rounds of 556, so I wasn’t worried about running out in a decent engagement. [Edit – Something I forgot to add: the malfunctions I saw with m16s/m4s were all due to the magazines.]

2) M-249: Would rather have an M-240 considering the weight, but just fine for suppression. The reason it’s considered unreliable is because no one wants to carry it, so it’s given to boots or the team idiot. They don’t keep it lubed or clean it out as often as they should, so it doesn’t work correctly.

3) M2: Beautiful, beautiful gun. This and the Mk-19 stopped firefights pretty quickly, but they can only be used on posts or on vehicles because the full system weighs a lot more than 100 lbs without the ammo.

4) M-240: Best weapon carried on patrols. Not to heavy considering the firepower it provides, and incredibly accurate and reliable. Would rather see a compact version of this replace the M-249 on the team level (Unfortunately that won’t happen because half of the reason that the 249 is chambered in 556 is to have magazine and ammunition sharing ability with the rest of the team).

5) Plate carriers: Nice lightweight armor carrier, considerably better than the garbage MTV giant flak jacket they forced us to wear on the first deployment. The plates still stop a number of rounds, and it’s not too restrictive. Not sure exactly which kind he’s talking about though.

6) Night vision and thermals: Every set of night vision goggles I ever used was absolute dogshit. I could see better when I just let my eyes adjust to the ambient light. I refused to use them most of the time. Maybe it was just every set I got. Who knows? The thermal monoculars, binoculars and vehicle vision sets were absolutely magnificent. Great image quality, and made target identification hundreds of times easier.

7) Lights: The only issued light I ever got was a combined flashlight/laser/IR marking device for my rifle, and it sucked. The only light I wound up using on deployment was a Petzl headlamp with a red filter. Very much worth the money.

Enemy Stuff

1) IEDs: I didn’t see many premade IEDs, the homemade fertilizer bombs were much more prevalent in my areas. They have gotten clever with how they string them up, but with the sizes I saw, you were much safer inside a vehicle than out of it. The explosions were big enough to damage the truck, but usually just give concussions to the occupants. There were exceptions of course, but where I was they were not particularly good at killing trucks. Smaller IEDs targeting foot patrols were a much bigger worry.

2) Mortars and rockets: Saw very little of this, and what there was was poorly aimed.

3) Tech: They use cell phones and mobile radios for a lot of their comms, and we can tap some of it. They are clever with GPS, and use it to target what little artillery they have.

Overall, they are getting slowly better, but they still aren’t that good. The most dangerous thing they do is make us complacent by failing to push us hard enough. The complacency makes people not take it as seriously, slip up, and get themselves or others killed because they weren’t paying attention.

That may be enough, but comments welcome. If you do not want your name published try to make that clear; if you do, put your identity at the bottom of the letter as part of the text thus leaving little doubt.

Finally, we have this:

Afghanistan War Hero Stripped of Silver Star.


Roland Dobbins

Words fail me.


Good News:

The return of NERVA?


Roland Dobbins

Some of you may recall that many years ago I worked with then House Member Barry Goldwater, Jr, to try to save NERVA. NERVA had ground tested ISP of about 900 seconds as opposed to about 400 which is the maximum known chemical efficiency (H2/Fluoride, both nasty stuff). That is not the theoretical max. ISP is a measure of efficiency. Interplanetary commerce is probably economic with ISP 1000. NASA cancelled NERVA in the 70’s.


Many of you know I am not a fan of the egregious Frum.

David Frum Had a Point –

Charles Brumbelow

For that matter I do not see Lew Rockwell often. I will say that the egregious Frum is not a Fascist.


Re: Net Neutrality –

Hi Jerry,

Disclosure: I’ve worked for, and with, Telecom companies (including a large cable provider, and a baby bell).

My definition of neutrality is that a byte is a byte – it doesn’t matter if it’s skype, browsing your site, streaming foxnews or bittorrenting a game patch – the service is marketed for a certain amount of bandwidth (speed) and a certain amount of volume, but what you do with it isn’t subject to throttling by the ISP.

On further thought, I’ve merged net neutrality with truth in advertising. To borrow your saying, If someone sells snake oil, it better really be snake oil. Right now Comcast, Verizon, and other large ISP’s market a net neutral plan (like my definition above). But they then intentionally degrade performance for certain kinds of traffic. The snake oil came from a skunk. If they marketed a plan that says the consumer get’s 50mpbs for most things but you only get 10mbps for Netflix, that’s would violate net neutrality, but wouldn’t be false advertising. So to be intellectually honest, if the FCC simply forces the ISP’s to disclose exactly how and what they throttle, that would undermine my own argument for Net Neutrality.

Good point on Federalism. Let me address wireless first: At founding, we didn’t know about radio waves, which cross state lines. I think it’s probably reasonable to extend the commerce clause to encompass commercial broadcast signals (setting aside non-commercial ones for the moment), since by it’s very nature, it’ll cross state lines, unless very low powered.

Wireline is a bit different. A provider who’s network exists entirely within a state, wouldn’t be subject to federal jurisdiction (even if they attach to another network that does cross state lines). I’d argue that a gun manufacturer who only builds, sells, and services within a state isn’t subject to BATF regulations (there’s a case in Montana that’s testing that right now). But if a company’s network crosses state lines, well, I’d call that interstate commerce, and thus subject to Federal regulation.

For example:

1) Rocky Mountain Internet is a local ISP to Colorado, clearly not subject to federal regulation.

2) Level3 is a nationwide backbone provider, clearly involved in interstate commerce, I’d argue subject to regulation.

3) Comcast and CenturyLink, are both local ISPs and multi-state networks. Unless they split off the last mile portion of the company (and a separate one for each state), I’d argue that they are involved in interstate commerce, and are subject to regulation.

I note that if #3 weren’t the case, then we’d still have Ma Bell running everything. We certainly wouldn’t have had CompuServe, AOL, the Source, or any of the local BBS’s in the early 1980’s without regulation. Remember, they prohibited connecting fax machines, modems, or anything else to the telephone network without approval. There’s a legitimate beef with the break up of the company (Bell Labs was a national treasure, and Telcorida/Avaya are just faint echoes of the old labs) in the process. But would we have the internet we know today without the breakup? Cable probably would still have come along to challenge them (different set of wires), but would we have ever had cable internet without having DSL, and would we have had DSL without the breakup? My TARDIS is in the shop, so that’s not something I’ll ever be able to answer.

On the flip side, the FCC is going to try to override local laws prohibiting the creation of a municipal broadband network. Because that network would exist entirely within a state, I’d argue that it’s not subject to federal regulation. Another tough one is that Verizon and AT&T are trying to get permission to permanently turn off the copper network and move everyone to IP telephony. Neither wireless (limited bandwidth, limited coverage, limited battery life, subject to interference), nor Fiber (limited coverage, doesn’t carry it’s own power) are effective replacements. Fiber is closer, but that last one – carry it’s own power, is a trump card (and why I still have a POTS line and an old, non-powered phone). Is that a Federal issue, or one for the local utility commission? Close call.

So my net (no pun intended is this):

1) If they advertise and market a plan that’s a particular speed and a particular capacity (e.g. 200GB/month) – with no mention of throttling particular services, then they need to honor that contract (a byte is a byte).

2) If they want to advertise a plan that includes different speeds and capacity levels for different services, they’re free to do that.

What they can’t do is advertise one thing (net neutrality), and deliver another (throttled by traffic), which is exactly what they are doing today. Maybe that’s just truth in advertising, and not net neutrality?



We can agree on that: you must deliver what you promise. If you are going to slow down high volume users, you must tell them that if you exceed some limit your download speed will be reduced. I don’t care what you are downloading,


The Strange Way Fluids Slosh on the International Space Station,


A real cool video:

NASA Science News for Jan. 30, 2015

Researchers are using a pair of robots to examine the strange way fluids slosh and bubble on the International Space Station.




The robots are cool…


waste/fraud in the military

Dear Dr. Pournelle,
Back in 2007 I took part in an exercise for the US Army as a contractor. I was surprised on the first day when a lot of men in their 50-60s filed into the room I was working in and sat around a table reading newspapers and playing cards while the rest of us worked. I got to know them in the six weeks that the exercise ran. They were all retired colonels and lieutenant colonels. Each one made more in six weeks than I made all year and just sat around for the entire six weeks while my co-workers and I ran communications and intelligence simulations via a computer network for soldiers. One guy told me that he averaged four of these exercises each year and made more than he ever did while on active duty, clearing about $160k per year.
We worked 12 hour shifts and there were ten of these guys on each shift. Well, a few of us worked those shifts. I am not a young guy but it still shocks me today that this sort of thing happens.
This year the US Army Reserve has lost half of its training budget, meaning that a number of the soldiers transitioning from the Regular Army to the Reserve will not be trained to do the job that they have been assigned to. I wonder if those retired colonels will still be pulling down the big bucks for sitting around.
Love the day book.
Bill Retorick

The Iron Law works in the military also.  As Max Hunter used to say, we need a real war.  But that’s not really the solution.


Words Fail me.


Roland Dobbins

So Global Warming cause volcanoes.

Or does it?

Volcanic activity and global warming

Dr. Pournelle,
These refer to undersea vulcanism’s possible effect on temperatures, somewhat as you have sometimes speculated: and
and this to undersea methane release:
Carbon and sulphur dioxides are, to my recollection, are acidic in combination with sea water, and methane is a better atmospheric insulator than CO2.

So what causes what? But we are told the science is settled.


Liability issues with Strong AI

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

Best wishes in your recovery.  As to the regulation of artificial intelligence, it seems to me that the Anglo-Saxon-derived common law product liability will be sufficient to handle the situation.

Let’s examine AI as a black box.  You give it inputs, and it will respond with a set of outputs.  In the case of strong, “true” AI the output will be…shall we say…not entirely predictable.  Damaging, even.  Imagine a future disgruntled “Siri” that posts an individual’s financial data to a pirate bulletin board as revenge for being ignored.  Would not the application’s publishers be responsible for the damage?  Sounds like a litigator’s dream to me.

If it comes down to a fight between AI and the plaintiff’s bar, I would not personally put my money on the AI.


Nor would I.  I will have much more on AI.

Dr. Pournelle:

There is a great deal of concern for what, exactly, the possible consequences of the widespread adoption of AI would be. And rightfully so. The whole thing is fraught with peril.

Over the last fifty years or so Science Fiction writers have done a better job of covering the potential dangers of the widespread adoption of AI than I ever could. No surprise there. It’s what they do for a living.

However, I think we can all agree is that the one scenario we don’t want to see is either the talking toaster or the talking vending machines from Red Dwarf.

Talking Toaster:

Talking Vending Machine:

On the other hand, having your very own Kryten could be absolutely hilarious.

Kryten vs. the Psychologist:

Michael Tyzuk, CDOSB

AI’s already breaking the law

Hi Jerry,

Related to your AI question, here’s a program that randomly purchases things on the Internet via bitcoin. It’s purchased at least two illegal items. Do we arrest the programmer or the hard drive?

In this case, I suspect it’ll be the former. They received the illegal property, and based on the configuration of the software, had a reasonable expectation of the result. But what if it was truly a neural net that was originally just programmed to buy on eBay and amazon, then learned to follow links and ended up doing this? In other words where’s the line of ‘reasonable expectation’?




Dr. Pournelle,
I appreciate the challenge to comment on super intelligence.
While it’s probably out there, I haven’t seen any discussion about intentionality and AI. it seems to me that machines can never attain the ability to independently will an action.
The more credible threat comes from either the will of the creator, or from unintended consequences. While we can’t know if the singularity might refer to the momentum which causes either of these two inflection points to become irreversible, we’ve been able to survive so far.



GRB’s and Fermi’s Paradox,


The article on GRB’s and Fermi’s Paradox ( puts numbers to my growing uneasiness about the prevalence of X-rays and gamma rays in the universe. Reading the reports of deep extragalactic observing, it is clear the whole galaxies are bathed with the stuff. How could life arise there? And even if we had supraluminal transport, how could we safely colonize such places? I would not want to move to a place where, if the shields went down, we would die.

Now we read that the odds on gamma ray bursts makes other places dangerous. And if they are right about the Ordovician extinction being caused by a GRB, we have already had a taste. Of course, the extinction was followed by the Cambrian Explosion, where animal life experimented on myriad forms before evolution trimmed all but the most inefficient life forms, leading to us. So a GRB generated human beings, but may wipe us out. Sic transit Gloria mundi, and all that.

Worth pondering indeed. A big thank-you to Roland Dobbins for bringing it to your attention.

And that leads back to the earlier comment about Bill Gates’ wanting to make an appliance to tunnelize our information input. One very important function of this site is that many people send you stuff from everywhere, and you post the best bits. So thank you, too.


I do not think this finding adds much to the resolution of Fermi’s Paradox. Many years ago I read an article in Scientific American concerning the habitability of the universe at large. The article looked at where in the universe at large life as we know it could be reasonably expected to have formed and when in the course of the universe’s history it might have formed.
The limiting factors were manifold. We all know about the habitable zone around each star — that zone where temperatures are warm enough for liquid water to accumulate in abundance. This zone varies in distance from each star and in width based on the size of the star. Smaller stars have the zone closer in and narrower; middling stars have it further out and broader; large stars have it farthest out and broader still.
Habitability is also driven around each star by the radiation regime and the expected life span of the star. Small but active stars may have no habitable zone at all due to radiation issues from flares while large stars do not live long enough to allow life to form and evolve.
Galaxies, too, have habitability zones, driven by what astronomers call metallicity, as well as the distribution of radiation. Astronomers consider all elements heavier than helium to be metals. Life as we know it depends upon reasonable concentrations of the lighter metals, which in spiral galaxies tends to concentrate in the middle third band of the galaxy, radially out from the center. You also need metals to make planets, which life as we know it depends upon as well. There was a time in the history of the universe, the first three to four billion years, where metal concentrations were not high enough to form planets with any regularity, so it is thought that life was very unlikely in that epoch. This consideration also means you would not expect life to have formed around a generation II star, as they are extremely metal poor. Generation III stars like our sun are the first to have the requisite concentrations.
The radiation profile of galaxies is also important. The core-ward third of a spiral galaxy is thought to be too high in radiation to allow the evolution of life. Stars in that zone tend to be large and tend to die in supernova explosions, which will kill everything in a zone for many light years. Then there is the super massive black hole problem, which when active tends to sterilize huge volumes of the core. The leading edges of the spiral arms are also an issue because of the formation of large stars while the outer third of the galaxies tend to be dominated by older, generation II stars. This leaves the habitable zone of most spiral galaxies in the middle third zone.
If you want to look for life as we know it, look in places where the radiation regime is decent, the metallicity is good, and the stars are small to middling and largely generation III. In our galaxy at least, this is where we find the Earth. It may well be that life formed on the Earth at the earliest opportunity that the universe provided for the existence of life. Any earlier and the metallicity was too low and the deaths of generation I and II stars would have irradiated the universe into sterility.
Astronomers also think that there will come a time when life as we know it will be less likely to form. As concentrations of metal continue to rise, it will be easier to form giant planets, which may not be very hospitable to life as we know it. Also, star formation is slowing down quickly, so new, young stars are becoming rare and current generation III stars are passing through middle age now.
Recent work, in fact, points out that the Earth itself is past its prime for habitability. 300 million years ago (the Carboniferous Period), oxygen concentrations were higher, the planet was warmer, and complex life in enormous diversity blanketed the planet from pole to pole and throughout the oceans. Today, large swaths of the Earth are nearly devoid of complex life due to aridity, cold, and lack of nutrients. Add to this the fact that Earth is currently teetering on the inner edge of the Sun’s habitability zone as the Sun continues to get warmer and it looks like complex life on Earth has about 500 million years left. Since complex life first evolved on Earth about 500 million years ago, that leave planets like Earth 1 billion years to harbor intelligence. That’s about 10% of the expected life of the Sun.
Astronomers have recently become enamored of super-earths about 2 to 3 times as massive as Earth orbiting K and M type stars. K types, just smaller than the Sun, are most popular because their habitable zone is outside the lethal range of their solar flares and they have expected lifespans of 100 billion years. A super-earth in the mass range they are looking at should be far more habitable than the Earth ever was due to its better ability to hold onto an atmosphere and water. They should also have active crustal systems like the Earth, which is important for carbon cycling and regulation. Orbiting a K type star would give such a planet many billions of years to form complex life and tens of billions of years of stability to nurture such life.
Given all of the considerations required for finding life as we know it, GRB’s are bit of smoke in the wind when it comes to regulating the existence of life in the universe. Many of the galaxies where GRBs are prevalent are filled with generation II stars, already poor candidates for life. The zone of galaxies where the conditions for life are good are poor in such stars and while it is not impossible to be in crosshairs of a GRB in that zone, it is unlikely that enough star systems in that zone in all galaxies will be hit frequently enough to keep complex life from forming. If astronomers are correct about the super-earths, these planets will be much harder to damage with a GRB due to thicker atmospheres with more active ozone layers.
I think the Fermi Paradox lives on.



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




Old and New: Solar Flares, Education, and Other Threats to the Republic

Mail at Chaos Manor Saturday, 24 January, 2015

I have several computers doing Outlook 7 (and one doing 10), and the result of the stroke is that I am way behind on getting everything into one master machine and copy. It’s a bad mess, and I have so far only once got upstairs to the old master system. For one month this portable has been the only reliable system I could get to, but I have to have also a machine that will do virtual XP since my accounting programs run in 16 bit mode. A side effect of dealing with that has been the discovery of some forgotten mail of interest – by forgotten I mean long forgotten. Years sometimes. There is also some mail more recent that was neglected by my limited energy. I will from time to time insert interesting if old mail.


A Mild Defense of Justice Roberts

Dr. Pournelle –

Perhaps I am alone in this and I admit that I have not had a chance to read the majority opinion or the dissent and am operating upon news reports. However, the Chief Justice may have followed a good conservative judicial principle, namely that it is not the place of the Supreme Court to protect the people from bad laws, only those which are unconstitutional. The solution to bad laws comes via the ballot box and voting the rascals out.

That being said – this is a mild defense after all – I do believe that the courts and all others in this case have operated under erroneous assumptions which have unfortunately been enshrined in jurisprudence.

First, I do not believe that, " Article I, Section 8. The Congress shall have Power … To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with Indian Tribes, …," was intended to mean, "commerce and anything that may have an impact upon said commerce." We have heard a lot about Wickard v. Filburn in the past couple of years. That decision dealt with wheat but is equally applicable to your backyard vegetable garden. The premise could even be applied to a mandate as to when we rise and when we sleep — these determine how much power we use, a commodity sold across state lines (unlike health insurance) and something likely to be even more heavily regulated if our current path continues.

Secondly, there seems to be a belief that the ability to raise money via a tax is sufficient to justify spending that money on anything the Congress pleases. Publius repeatedly assured the people of New York that the Federal powers were few and defined while those of the States were many and undefined. Increasingly we see the undoing of that notion. I fear that the enumerated powers have become like an unwanted stepchild.

Salve Conservus,


Hamilton objected to a Bill of Rights on precisely that ground: if the power was not enumerated then the feds did not have it. The Jeffersonians won that debate, I think to our sorrow. And then came the 14th Amendment, which gave us penumbras …


We got this over two years ago:

Forced innoculations begin in California, as we said they would. But, we were called conspiracy theorists. I guess if you can look down the street and see the road is about to end and you’ll fall off a cliff that you are a conspiracy theorist if you suggest to the blind driver that he shoudl stop the car…. Do you get my frustration with the [m]asses now? I warn them time and time again and they stand there like lambs for the slaughter. If your kids are in public school then you might want to take them out. What do you think is next for your kids when they do this kind of crap?

I was listening to an interview with the woman just now. She said that, because she refused to vaccinate her child, the doctor called the police. THe police contacted her, leaving two notes on her door, showing up with child protective services, and even interviewing her neighbors when she was not on the premises! The cops came because she allegedly failed to show her ID to the doctor — as if the doctor can id people — and because she was "acting strangely". Of course, the doctor never asked for the ID — according to the woman — and she did nothing strange. Now, they are trying to find a way to take her kids. They were asking neighbors questions about her to see if they could find any reasons to take the kids.


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

The issue comes up again. It is not a simple one. We never questioned – or few questioned – the States’ power of quarantine, effectively house arrest for public safety. Inoculation/vaccination is a more personal intrusion. It is a State power, not Federal; whether it is an intolerable assault on liberty is a legitimate debate. Measles at Disneyland is a current subject. When I was young, everyone got measles; sometimes you might visit someone who had it so you’d get it over at a relatively convenient time, since you were going to get it. Now enough have inoculation that it’s not inevitable. Foreign residents do not have inoculations. They are in danger, and measles is dangerous to adults. It is Liberty vs. Safety again, and like terror the threat does not go away. It is not unreasonable to conclude that inoculation is a greater risk than remaining exposed, for an individual child; but you may endanger another child or an adult in doing so. And then there’s smallpox.


Kelp yourself to a beer ?

I expect Poul Anderson will propose a toast in Valhalla tonight to the authors of An Engineered Microbial Platform for Direct Biofuel Production from Brown Macroalgae who report in <i> Science</i> today how to turn seaweed into beer:

Here, we present the discovery of a 36–kilo–base pair DNA fragment from Vibrio splendidus encoding enzymes for alginate transport and metabolism. The genomic integration of this ensemble, together with an engineered system for extracellular alginate depolymerization, generated a microbial platform that can simultaneously degrade, uptake, and metabolize alginate. When further engineered for ethanol synthesis, this platform enables bioethanol production directly from macroalgae via a consolidated process, achieving a titer of 4.7% volume/volume and a yield of 0.281 weight ethanol/weight dry macroalgae (equivalent to ~80% of the maximum theoretical yield from the sugar composition in macroalgae).

Had the Vikings known of this, they might have bypassed Greenland and Vinland, and made directly for the Sargasso Sea.

Russell Seitz


The Price Of Higher Education


It looks like the collapse of the economy, budget cuts, and the unwillingness of the middle class to take on more debt has finally put a hole, albeit a small one at this point, in the higher education price bubble (

Kevin L Keegan

Sent in 1912. As you can see, nothing stops the inevitable rise in cost of education – nor the fall of what is delivered. The ruin of education is the greatest threat to the Republic, far more deadly than terror. It steals all hope. And there is no stopping it; we cannot eliminate Federal Aid To Education and give one or two states a chance to go back to better times. And comes now free community college, relieving the high schools of any obligation to teach ANYTHING.


Orange County, FL & oranges


Mr. Cordelli bemoans the lack of citrus groves in central Florida, and places the blame on global cooling. But there are two other very important factors at work: population growth and citrus canker.

Population growth, of course, is a little easier to study. Thanks largely to Uncle Walt, the population in the four counties that more or less make up modern Orlando has seen astonishing growth in the last 50 years, and all those people have to have somewhere to live. In many cases, formerly productive farmland has been converted to housing, so citrus groves and cattle land has been lost. Wikipedia says that the city’s population in 1960 was about 90,000, and the 2010 Census estimate for the four county region is about 2,100,000 with a population of 2,800,000 in the larger Combined Statistical Area. (Actual Census Bureau data seems to be much more difficult to wade through. Alas.)

Citrus canker is a bacterial infection which harms the health of the trees, and renders the fruit displeasing to the eye such that it simply can’t be marketed. The Florida Department of Agriculture’s approach to eradicating it has traditionally been to burn all trees within a specified distance, This has been applied not only to commercial groves, but also to residential trees, so if someone 1500′ from me has an infected tree the State will send someone into my back yard to cut down & burn my lemon tree.

Andy Preston

Panama City Beach FL,_Florida

link to a 5 year old citrus canker report:

1986 article on tree burning, and opposition to same:

Andy Preston

Sent in 2012


Current 2015


My wife found this story this morning:

Scientists slow the speed of light

A team of Scottish scientists has made light travel slower than the speed of light.

They sent photons – individual particles of light – through a special mask. It changed the photons’ shape – and slowed them to less than light speed.

The photons remained travelling at the lower speed even when they returned to free space.

The experiment is likely to alter how science looks at light.

I wonder if this is the same kind of confused reporting we saw in the report about the "disappearing pulsar."

I am glad to see you continue to recover.


Hugh Greentree

Is this interesting?

Jerry Pournelle

Chaos Manor


Based on just the newspaper article, I would call it another attempt to sensationalize a rather mundane result – the well known fact that diffraction applies to single photons.

Call a "mask" a mask; it’s still a diffraction grating on some scale.

One hint is that it refers to the delay of the second photon as being millionths of a meter, rather than in femtoseconds. Diffraction patterns are geometric positions, not elapsed times.

The Preprint is available here:

The language is more technical and much less flowery, but the conclusion is the same.



Subject: Statistics

Took a graduate class in statistics, called Random Processes in the EE

department. It was great. It was also hard. But then, it was the EE


Phil Tharp

      Alas most climate scientists did not. Engineers have to work with

      the real world..

      Jerry Pournelle

      Chaos Manor

Re: Statistics

I’m actually beginning to question the computer science degree and the computer engineering degree which is supposedly half computer science half electrical engineering. Nether degree requires the level of math or physics I had to take. I’ve worked with several of these engineers over the last few years and while smart, they don’t have the more in-depth knowledge I got in math or physics or chemistry for that matter. I wonder if that explains the political trends of Silicon Valley over the last 20 years? I.E., they did not have to take vector calculus.

Phil Tharp

I cannot know, but I can suspect that deterioration of education has much to do with modern politics. The US is in debt for more than a year’s domestic production and the deficit grows. No one seems to notice. Productivity grows – which means more is produced by fewer people, and less demand for unskilled work. Even burger flippers can be automated out of a job: so our remedy is to raise the minimum wage so that the unskilled cost more; they know little from school and it costs a lot to hire them as apprentices; and no one seems to care.

The schools continue to teach less and cost more, as the robots get cheaper and smarter. Anyone can see this but they pretend not to.


‘And so the bureaucracy (and its hangers-on) does not exist to serve the public, but the public exists to serve the bureaucracy.’



Roland Dobbins

The Iron Law in action. More and more we are ruled by a civil service. Would a spoils system be worse? Civil service means protection for the unproductive – for their lifetimes. And no one dares to care.


Predestination – everything I’ve seen tells me that it was approached with utmost respect. However, I will probably not go to see it.

There are just some short stories that do not grow sufficiently well to become novels; like a bansai, they lose their beauty when forced to grow too large. "Nightfall" was deserving of every accolade accorded to it – as a short story. As a novel, well, so-so, I wish I’d waited for it to show up in the local used bookstore. We won’t mention the movie…

I wish we could get some animators on the level of, say, Murasaki, to take on some of the great short stories.

Richard Skinner


Dear Jerry,

I was a high school student when Barry Goldwater was campaigning for the Republican nomination. I was thinking of him this past week: while I don’t support his politics, he was a very important and forward-looking politician who perceived that the Republic was being undermined from within. I’m not talking about a fifth column or conspiracy theories. I feel that the outliers of our history are often the most important–because they tell us the truths we would like to ignore. With God’s Blessings for your continued work and on your household.

Rev. Phil Ternahan, Navy retired.


Dr. Pournelle,

Recently you have commented about EMPs (including solar flares) as something we do not need to spend a great deal of time worrying about. I would appreciate comments from you and your readers as to why this is not one of the more serious threats to our nation as I have seen a number of articles from legitimate news sources in the last couple of years that indicate our US electrical grid could be crippled for 18 months to two years by an electro-magnetic pulse attack, a Carrington class solar storm, or even from coordinated terrorist attacks on power stations and a transformer manufacturer (the terrorist attacks would have to be at peak usage).

Quote from testimony by:

(Congressional) Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack "The electromagnetic fields produced by weapons deployed with the intent to produce EMP have a high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics, and information systems upon which American society depends. Their effects on critical infrastructures could be sufficient to qualify as catastrophic to the Nation."

Other links:

Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Terrorism April 2013 Sniper Attack Knocked Out Substation, Raises Concern for Country’s Power Grid

Scientists say destructive solar blasts narrowly missed Earth in 2012

Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012

Experts Warn Civilian World Not Ready for Massive EMP Caused Blackout

Report: US Could Be Plunged Into Blackout by Minimal Attacks

States work to protect electric grid from solar storms and nuclear attacks

Q&A: What You Need to Know About Attacks on the U.S. Power Grid

Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electric Grid

How a solar storm two years ago nearly caused a catastrophe on Earth

Do Solar Storms Threaten Life as We Know It?

Truth About Solar Storms

And what they mean for humans here on Earth.

I am very heartened by your return am subscribed to your site. I greatly value your views and insights, and have been a fan since Byte magazine, which I would buy to read your column.

Jan Stepka

I have never said we should not prepare for solar flares, and indeed have often said the opposite. From observations of aurora in Alexandria, it seems a major flare hits Earth about every 150-200 years, and since the last was in 1859 we are due and past due. There are many SF survival novels about the threat, which is quite real. Of course government does not seem to care.


Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today Show How Far American Educational Standards Have Declined


Good to hear you are improving, best wishes. My niece posted a pointer to this interesting article on thefederalistpapers dot org website and I thought you might be interested.

Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today Show How Far American Educational Standards Have Declined <>

Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today Show How Far American Educational Standards Have Declined BY JASON W. STEVENS

There’s a delightful and true saying, often attributed to Joseph Sobran, that in a hundred years, we’ve gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college.

Now comes even more evidence of the steady decline of American educational standards.

Last year, Annie Holmquist, a blogger for, discovered a 1908 curriculum manual in the Minnesota Historical Society archives that included detailed reading lists for various grade levels.

According to her research, the recommended literature list for 7th and 8th graders in Minnesota in 1908 included the following:

Lobo, Rag, and Vixen; Ernest Thompson Seton Evangeline, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Harold, Last of Saxon Kings; Edward Bulwer Lytton Tanglewood Tales, Nathaniel Hawthorne Courtship of Miles Standish, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Rab and His Friends, John Brown Gold Bug, Edgar Allan Poe Stories of Heroic Deeds, James Johonnot Stories from Dickens, Charles Dickens Old Ballads in Prose, Eva March Tappan Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling Essays from Sketch Book, Washington Irving Knickerbocker’s History of New York, Washington Irving Grandmother’s Story of Bunker Hill and Other Poems, Oliver Wendell Holmes The Spy, James Fenimore Cooper Stories of the Olden Time, James Johonnot Adventures of a Deerslayer, James Fenimore Cooper The Young Mountaineers, Mary Noailles Murfree Harris’s Stories of Georgia, Joel Chandler Harris

Source: Minnesota Educational Association, Course of Study for the Common Schools of Minnesota, 1908? Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

And also according to her research, the recommended literature list for 7th and 8th graders in Minnesota in 2014 (at one of the area’s finest districts, Edina Public Schools) included the following:

Nothing But the Truth, Avi

A Step from Heaven, An Na

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain Homeless Bird, Gloria Whelan The Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis Uprising, Margaret Peterson Haddix Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson Touching Spirit Bear, Ben Mikaelsen The Last Book in the Universe, Rodman Philbrick The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer The Diary of Anne Frank (Drama), Goodrich & Hackett Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury Of Beetles and Angels, Mawi Asgedom Call Me Maria, Judith Ortiz Cofer

Source: Edina Public Schools per Google

What’s most interesting, however, is Ms. Holmquist’s very thoughtful analysis of the results.


“In examining these lists, I noticed three important differences between the reading content of these two eras:

“1. Time Period

“One of the striking features of the Edina list is how recent the titles are. Many of the selections were published in the 21st century. In fact, only four of the selections are more than 20 years old.

“In comparison, over half of the titles on the first list were at least 20 years old in 1908, with many of them averaging between 50 to 100 years old.

“Older is not necessarily better, but the books on the first list suggest that schools of the past were more likely to give their students time-tested, classic literature, rather than books whose popularity may happen to be a passing fad.” [Emphasis original]

This observation probably rings true for many students and parents of students today. I keep a pretty good eye on regular high school and college reading lists. Although the occasional older “classic” makes an appearance now and again, I’ve been surprised to find how many teachers actually assign Harry Potter, the Twilight series, Stephen King, and The Hunger Games for classroom reading.

And when I ask these teachers WHY those books are selected, the answer is always the same: Because those are the books that are popular today. There’s a greater likelihood that the student will want to do the reading and enjoy it as well.

The result, of course, is that Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Chaucer are relegated to the trash-heap. In school, students are reading the same books they would read at home (if they read at all), and thus never encounter the classics because they lack good help from a good teacher.

Good teachers do not assign Twilight.

More from

“2. Thematic Elements

“A second striking difference between the two book lists are the themes they explore. The first is full of historical references and settings which stretch from ancient Greece (Tanglewood Tales) to the Middle Ages (Harold, Last of Saxon Kings) to the founding of America (Courtship of Miles Standish). Through highly recognized authors such as Longfellow, Stevenson, Kipling, and Dickens, these titles introduce children to a vast array of themes crucial to understanding the foundations upon which America and western civilization were built.

The Edina list, however, largely deals with modern history, particularly hitting on many current political and cultural themes such as the Taliban (The Breadwinner), cloning, illegal immigrants, the drug war (The House of the Scorpion), and deeply troubled youth (Touching Spirit Bear). In terms of longstanding, classic authors, Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury are the only ones who stand out.

It’s good for children to understand the world in which they live, but as with any area in life, you can have too much of a good thing. A continual focus on modern literature narrows the lens through which children can view and interpret the world. Would it not be better to broaden their horizons and expose them to a balance of both old and new literature?

To summarize the point, American students are not being taught about America.

University students who major in social studies education are not being taught about America.

I’ve talked to several of these types of students who want to teach American history at the middle school or high school level. So, these are our future teachers. And I always ask the same question: When was the American Revolution?

Usually, I am met with dumb stares. Hardly any of them answer correctly: 1775-1783. This is because, for the most part, students who will eventually be teaching American history are not required to take a class on the American Founding. Again, these are our future teachers.

Finally, Ms. Holmquist makes one final observation:

“3. Reading Level

“Many of the books on the Edina list use fairly simple, understandable language and vocabulary familiar to the modern reader. Consider the first paragraph of Nothing But the Truth:

“Coach Jamison saw me in the hall and said he wanted to make sure I’m trying out for the track team!!!! Said my middle school gym teacher told him I was really good!!!! Then he said that with me on the Harrison High team we have a real shot at being county champs. Fantastic!!!!!! He wouldn’t say that unless he meant it. Have to ask folks about helping me get new shoes. Newspaper route won’t do it all. But Dad was so excited when I told him what Coach said that I’m sure he’ll help.

“On the other hand, consider the first paragraph of Longfellow’s Evangeline:

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”

“The first example uses simple words and a casual sentence structure, while the second uses a rich vocabulary and a complex writing format. Naturally, some might look at the second selection and say, “Good grief! How do you expect a child to understand that?!?”

“But that’s the whole point. Unless we give our students challenging material to dissect, process, and study, how can we expect them to break out of the current poor proficiency ratings and advance beyond a basic reading level?”

This, I think, is Ms. Holmquist’s most important point: Our children are not being taught how to read, which really means they are not being taught how to think.

Even classic works written in their native language–English–often appear to students like a second language. This is because they have never been challenged before.

And I sympathize.

The first time I read Hamlet, for example, I filled my book’s margins with notes and scribbles, none of which had anything to do with actually thinking about the book. I was struggling even to keep up with Shakespeare’s plot.

In other words, I had to teach myself how to read before I could even begin the much more difficult task of learning how to think.

Our students are simply not learning these skills in school.

What do you think?

Are these major problems for our students today? Is Ms. Holmquist on to something with her research and analysis? Or was Hamlet’s mother, the Queen, correct when she said: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Thanks for all the years of good reading,

Paul Evans

I think the destruction of our education system ranks with solar flares as the major threat to the Republic and the government does not understand that because the Iron Law guarantees that it will not.

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.