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Mail 175 October 15 - 21, 2001

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Monday  October 15, 2001


The various automotive & defense contractor fuel cell initiatives should give us relative freedom from dependence upon oil in the not too distant future. Ford expects the Th!nk project to cough up a commercially viable fuel cell within 1 year, and other manufacturers within a similar time frame.


There has to be a source of electricity. Fission, solar power, oil burned, natural gas burned, something: fuel cells are batteries.

Dr. Pournelle:

President Bush went badly off script when he offered a cease fire in exchange for custody of Mr. Bin Laden.

The enemy is the Taliban regime. Were Mr. Bin Laden to be served up tomorrow with the Taliban still governing Afghanistan, we will not have changed a thing.

The whole U.N. is based on the principle that once Hitler ruined it for everybody, the idea of one state just going out and conquering another state was declared to be tres uncool. 41st President Bush invoked that principle to throw Iraq out of Kuwait.

The Taliban War is base on the principle that permitting someone on your territory to conduct a 5% of Hiroshima level strike and then being smug about your privileges as a sovereign state is equally tres uncool.

Do we also need to go after Iraq, Iran, Syria, Palestinean Authority, Sudan, Lebanon, Libya? No, the Taliban will serve as the example ``pour les autres.'' Do we have to prosecute the war until the Taliban is driven from power? Yes. Our Arab friends (privately) will demand as much. What frightens them into appeasement is the prospect of stirring up the hornets' nest without driving off all the hornets. Can we negotiate an armistice with the Taliban? No. The notion that after Bin Laden favored them with the murder of the opposition leader in their civil war, that they would even consider handing Bin Laden over in trade for international recognition or talk about putting him on trial themselves indicates they are completely without honor. Is this action Empire building or Republican self defense? The overthrow of a completely dishonorable regime that maintains that serious of a nuisance on its land (Bin Laden's organization) is purely within the bounds of self defense.

Paul Milenkovic Madison, Wisconsin

I tend to agree about the Taliban. I think Iraq has to go as well: perhaps dismembered along its natural fission lines. It has been a 'country' only since 1920 and it's borders were drawn by the Brits with a pencil.

If Palestine ends up with a state, Jordan will be absorbed into that state. I am not sure this is in our interest.  Dominoes in the Middle East...

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I wonder whether this question has been addressed.

There has been no record, as far as I know, of any "fatwa" or disciplinary action of any sort denouncing the views of Osama bin Laden as heretical by any Muslim representative. Many "moderate Muslims" say that they abhor the terror of September 11 but you will never see them condemning or denunciating the views of bin Laden. This is an interesting question in itself.

So, if Bin Laden represents only the view of a tiny fraction of crazy fanatics, then why no Muslim clergy or organization dares to condemn or denounce his views?


Eduardo Sánchez

An excellent point. Indeed.

From Robert Rocansky:

In response to a Wall Street Journal article by Soviet bio-weapon developer Ken Alibek [ 13 Oct. 2001,  ], reader Reid Reynolds notes that if we follow the logic of the anti-SDI crowd, then "the stockpiling of vaccines or agents of nonspecific immunity is a provocative act that will simply invite our enemies to use their weapons against us before they are rendered impotent" [  ].



Off to write. Back later in the week.

Dear Dr. Pournelle: Why do you think that a fuel cell is only a battery? They produce ENERGY as long as fuel (eg: H2+O2 ) is supplied. True, it is a direct current, but then so is a photocell.

" Fuel Cells are electrochemical devices that convert a fuel's energy directly to electrical energy. Fuel cells operate much like continuous batteries when supplied with fuel to the anode (negative electrode) and oxidant (e.g. air) to the cathode (positive electrode). Fuel cells forego the traditional extraction of energy in the form of combustion heat, conversion of heat energy to mechanical energy (as with a turbine), and finally turning mechanical energy into electricity (e.g using a dynamo). Instead, fuel cells chemically combine the molecules of a fuel and oxidizer without burning, dispensing with the inefficiencies and pollution of traditional combustion. "

and here is the link to the site quoted above:  Really like your site, except for the odd mistake. hehehe. Bob.

Unfortunately I don't know where the hydrogen and oxygen wells are.   You have to make hydrogen and oxygen, at the cost of the energy of disassociation, and it will not be anything like a 100% efficient process. In the sense that you use the term, any battery "produces" energy. What is really happening is that you use the fuel cell to produce the energy from fuels you have previously made by some other process. I used "battery" as a shorthand; sorry if that wasn't clear.

You have to get the fuel to run fuel cells. And now I really am off to get some writing done.









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Friday, October 19, 2001

Well I come back to find a way to get rich and go to heaven too!

Subject: assist me

Dear brethren, Greetings in the name of the most high god, This may come to you as a surprise, but kindly give me this little attention, although I know how you may feel about this sudden disturbance. I am Stephen Abdullmuaminu Dansoki the son of Alhaji Ibrahim Dansoki the Emir of Zauzzaki of Zaki Islamic Emirate of Northern Nigeria. But by the infinite mercy of Christ Jesus I am now a born again Christian, working in the vineyard of the only living god through Jesus.

But due to my new found faith, because I am from the ruling Islamic family in the north, non of my family members like it and my father was so angry with me that, persecution arise against me and my people wanted me dead at all cost because before my conversion, I persuaded my father to give me my inheritance from the family asset and business, which he did, and the funds I was using is promoting the work of the lord till the new madness in the islamisation of Nigeria started in the north. This led to their burning of my cattle farm my tin ore and ammonium mining sites, which the fanatics burnt down and I was left with nothing and the worst part was they have declared my death by the code of Islamic conduct.

After the burning of the my investment, I sneak to the site it was a pathos site all my toil and labor gone because of my faith in the only true and living God, but fortunately enough the only thing left was my safe were I keep my money because if was a fire proof vault, but with the help of a brethren we took the fund and after converting it to united states of American bills it was defaced for identification and lodged in a security company for a possible claim by you and my subsequent re-location to your country, for I am now under hiding as I was declared the most wanted in the last Saturday 13th massacre of Christians in the northern Nigeria, as the news was also on CNN NEWS NETWORK and for more verification of the fact take your view to : http//, regarding the latest killing of Christians in the north. For I have declared to live and die in the vineyard of propagating Christianity for Islam is barbaric, unethical and uncompromising religion. May the name of the lord be praise?

Brethren I need your assistance to help me, claim this fund from the security company as yours as I am being hunted by the fanatic Islamic fundamentalists, who are in the ruling class that control all means of livelihood herein Nigeria, this amount totaling US$29,650.00,should be use in the propagation of Christ work on earth that the infidel Muslim may be converted to the only true way to eternal life through Christ Jesus, after you received the funds you will assist me come down to your country ,you shall be duly compensated for your assistance. For you will become the sole trustee of this fund but if I die before the consignment gets to you. This is my will. That you shall take 15% of the total fund, while 40%shall go to charity world wide, 30% shall be mapped out for the christinisation of the Muslim northern Nigeria by the missionary as you may deem fit, 5% to the missionary home in America the remaining 10%(for me if I am alive but if death goes for the alleviation of the plight of AIDS patients all over the world.)

I need you hear from you to enable me give you all the detail of the consignment immediate, for I live now against my own time.

Yours brother in Christ

Stephen Abdullmuaminu Dansoki

How can I resist? I mean how many total strangers offer an opportunity like that!


When I was in grad school in 1971 fuel cells were estimated to be 5 years away from commercial production. I decided to specialize in communications engineeering instead of power conversion.

Now I read estimates that fuel cells are one year away from commercial production. So we have managed to knock 4 years off the old estimates over the last 30 years. So perhaps we will really see them in about 2008 or so. But then the effects on project timelines of Augustine's Laws might extend it anyway.

I wrote to Mr. Cheney asking that we include space solar power satellites in the National Energy Policy, and I received a letter from a Mr. (Mumble)the Executive Director of the National Energy Policy Development Group thanking me for my insightful comments and recommendations.

Perhaps we could get some action if we put it about that Osama bin Laden is working on SSPS...jim dodd

I have a number of letters telling me that fuel cells aren't batteries, they produce power. Which is true, but then that is true of many rechargeable batteries. The point is that there are no hydrogen and oxygen wells, so you need a source of electrical power in order to produce the fuels for the fuel cells.   So far as I am concerned that is a storage device, transport device -- a battery.

Batteries are important. Fuel storage is one key part of using steady sources of power. Solar power, nuclear power, all work better if run at a constant output. But the most efficient means of storing power now is pumping water up and down in reservoirs. That is not only not very efficient (still best we have but not good) but it also produces lakes not very useful for recreation or scenic beauty.

Fuel cells can make solar power systems a lot more economical. In that sense they are very important. But they are not a lot of use without primary power generation sources.

And yes, I am aware that I can take methane and run that through a converter to get hydrogen and then convert that. The efficiency is lousy, and this is the kind of Mickey Mouse stuff that Greens seem to love because they hate central power systems; or so it seems to me.

Fuel cells are a good energy storage system. For some purposes they work well as an energy source from, say, methane; but if I have methane I can burn it a lot more efficiently in other ways and places.

However, I have this:

You noted that you don't know of any wells where we can get hydrogen and oxygen. That's true, but we don't need them: we now have fuel cells that can run off hydrocarbons.

A recent development in fuel cell technology is a membrane that can strip hydrogen off of natural gas, and operate a fuel cell with the hydrogen. The exhaust gases are no worse than running a generator with the natural gas, and efficiency is better. The membrane doesn't last forever but it does last a long time. Here are two useful URLs: 

I am really, really excited by the potential of the GE HomeGen systems. Using a natural-gas fuel cell to make power for your house means no transmission losses, and I believe the efficiency is thus actually better than even a very large central power plant. Future versions could have an integrated hot water heater that uses the waste heat from power generation to heat your water! If you use the waste heat for water heating, and perhaps heating your home in winter, the efficiency should be wonderful.

Cars are going to be built using this technology, too. Prototypes are already driving around. You can use natural gas for the cars, or methanol. It is even possible to use gasoline, but it isn't as good as natural gas or methanol. Electric cars haven't really caught on: the batteries are very heavy compared to their power output so the cars aren't peppy, they don't store enough power for a really long driving range, when they do run out of power they take hours to recharge, and you need to replace batteries every few years which is expensive. Cars based on fuel cells have none of these problems; these new fuel cells could possibly end up obsoleting the internal combustion engine for cars! Here is a link to a CNet page about fuel-cell cars: 

The armed forces are looking into this technology, too. Individual soldiers may have tiny methanol fuel cell units to power their electronic gadgets: 

I don't expect to see hydrogen in common use within the next decade, but the hydrocarbon-based fuel cells probably will be!

Stay well. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

I cannot imagine that the efficiency of methane without the carbon is higher than with it, but perhaps I have missed something. 

But so far as I can see, I will get a lot more electricity out of natural gas burned in a normal power plant than trying to strip it into hydrogen and then running it into a fuel cell.  I also wonder what happens to the carbon?

Batteries have been the great barrier to electric cars. Better and more efficient batteries with lower weight can change that. You still need the Kilowatts. 

Military systems do not have economic efficiency as a major goal. Nor should they.

I would have to look into the supply side for natural gas. The notion of every household generating its own electricity was part of the speculation about the Hydrogen Economy. Twenty years ago when I looked into that the problem was that we can't easily distribute hydrogen. Finding an efficient way to make a methane or propane economy might be interesting, provided that we have the supplies of methane and propane. I am not convinced there is enough to run the nation that way: which means we would have to make fuels.

There are certainly transmission losses to electricity, and they are fairly high compared to pipeline losses. Whether sending natural gas in pipes to individual homes where electricity is made in some kind of fuel cell unit (and I still don't know what happens to the carbon; I hope it's not a fine dust that has to be disposed of by householders) -- whether that is a more efficient process than using solar cells to generate power in space and transmitting that is another story. Obviously there are a lot of power losses from space to your house, but the question is what has it cost to get you the KW you need? Compared to other methods, which may include the cost of the military to get you oil.

I'll have to follow those links, but none of this is obvious to me. I fear I still regard fuels cells as interesting and important storage devices rather than a primary way to generate power.

Dr. Pournelle,

Yes, fuel cells are just "batteries" in the sense that they directly convert chemical potential energy into electrical energy without a mechanical intermediate step. However, your premise that you have to "charge" the battery is somewhat mistaken. Traditional fuel cells such as those used in the space program ran on O2 and H2, but the new generation cells do not need hydrogen gas to operate. Most of the cells under development can use hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane as their reducing source (cathode) and air for their oxidant (as opposed to pure oxygen gas). I have read that there are even some prototype cells that can use methanol. These are all potentially renewable resources. Also, the energy efficiency of fuel cells is not just how much of the potential energy is converted into electricity but electricity and useable heat (cogeneration). Since these plants can be small, relatively non-polluting, and safe it should be possible to place them in neighborhoods with savings in transmission costs and less lead time for expanding production. I think the car manufacturers are still planning on using H2 and air, but production, storage and transmission of hydrogen is a relatively easy engineering matter.

Sincerely, Doug Lewis

I still wonder where the carbon goes. But perhaps this works, and I have fallen behind the times. I'll have a look when I get a few hours.






From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Subject: error

Dear Jerry:

Mine, that is. After perusing , I've come to the conclusion you were right -- the security agencies messed up royal.

And for some interesting thoughts: 

Best, Stephen


Dr. Pournelle: Here is the expected buildup for solar, with the hangup being launch costs (as you predicted). 

Thanks.  Every study I have ever seen shows that space based solar becomes economical with low costs to orbit. Now before.

Of course there are other advantages to low cost to orbit.

I bet the pilots dodging AAA over Afghanistan were really favorably impressed by the House's decision to bug out this week.

Did the British Parliament hold sessions during the Blitz?

Wade Scholine

I would bet money Newt Gingrich would have been in the Speaker's chair. Or Sam Rayburn. The truth is you are more likely to die falling in your bathtub in Washington DC than from anthrax.

For some time, Jude Wanniski has been urging that we spend our country's energies working in our own hemisphere instead of developing an Empire so we can continue to suck oil from beneath Middle East deserts. His column today hits on that again. Below is the text from 

--Regards, Chuck ======= Polyconomics, Inc.

Memo on the Margin October 15, 2001 Relying on Middle East Oil

Memo To: NYTimes Sunday Business From: Jude Wanniski Re: Oil Supplies at Risk

The lead story in your Sunday “Money&Business” section by Neela Banerjee, “Fears, Again, of Oil Supplies at Risk,” suggests several scenarios where terrorism or war in the Middle East could drive the price of oil sky-high. This is because two-thirds of the world’s known reserves are there, 649 billion barrels, while the U.S. has only 3% of known reserves, 22 billion bbl.

< snip>.

Well it seems a more efficient use of resources to me...


Your simplistic definition of ownership:

Which, I should note, I share. I should be able to use my Office disks for third base if I want.

You wrote, regarding CD Anywhere:

"Clearly this can be used in violation of copyright and license agreements, so one needs to be careful. My view is that software should be like a book: only one licensed copy in use at any given time. That may or may not cover the legal situation but it seems ethical to me."

It isn't legal.

At the least, I believe WPA is contrived to subvert this particular method of copyright violation. For some interesting speculations in this line, see the Infoworld column at:

< >

where we find:

" . . .let me throw in a term one alert reader just spotted in the license for FrontPage 2002. 'You may not use the Software in connection with any site that disparages Microsoft, MSN, MSNBC, Expedia, or their products or services ... ' the license reads in part."

I seem to recall that you are a Frontpage user . . . . .

Paul J. Camp College of Computing Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, Georgia 30332 404-385-0159

The beauty of the universe consists not only of unity in variety but also of variety in unity.

--Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

I don't use FP 2002. I doubt I ever will.

Dear Jerry:

Good point about what air power can do for a ground force -- particularly with modern targeting capacity.

The way the Northern Alliance's fortunes have turned around in only a few days is an illustration; the Taliban's military is now paralyzed. They can't move or react, so their opponents can concentrate and destroy them in detail.

It should be emphasized that the Taliban is not a guerilla force; it's a conventional army that fights for territory. A rather primitive conventional army, but one nonetheless. Most of the ex-guerilla Mujahadeen are on the other side.

The move to bring back the Afghan king overthrown in 1973 (he has a grandson in his 20's, by the way) is also apparently gathering momentum. Most Afghans who can remember it consider the period before '73 to be something of a golden age.

To be sure, Afghanistan was a 3rd-World country then, but it was making steady progress. Yet another crime to be laid at the door of the USSR.

Yours, Steve Stirling

King and country...

Dear Jerry:

Apropos of your comment that the US needs a base in the area, Uzbekistan seems interested in a long-term relationship with the US, and it is extremely well placed strategically.

Of course, that assumes Russia is on-side as well, since it's landlocked.

I've seen speculation that Putin is becoming more friendly because he's worried about the long-term problem of China, as well as Islamicist terrorism and irredentism. Russia's population is shrinking at over 1% a year, after all, and the Far Eastern provinces are thinly populated to begin with and losing residents to Russia-in-Europe.

If Russia were to eventually join NATO -- and Putin has dropped his opposition to NATO expansion, even into the Baltic Republics -- it would put NATO's defense perimeter on the Amur River and the northern frontier of Kazakhstan, as well as offering other benefits. Even the drastically reduced level of military spending Russia is at now is a strain she can't afford.

All this would assume the Russians relinquished most of their ambitions in the 'near abroad', of course, or perhaps only in the European part of it.

Incidentally, the current war has illustrated that even with the bone-deep spending cuts post-1989, the US armed forces still have a unique global reach. It's only taken a month to have substantial force available quite literally on the other side of the globe, in the remotest part of Eurasia, and to sustain continuous operations.

Campaigning in Afghanistan and establishing bases in Central Asia is about as difficult a piece of power-projection as one could imagine, but the overworked American armed forces seem to have carried it off with smooth professionalism to date. No other country could even approach such a capacity. Very impressive.

Yours, Steve Stirling

Oh we do this sort of thing well if we have to. But one wonders if we have to, and if we have the stomach for what else this kind of imperialism requires. We may have no choice of course.


I don't know if you've seen these columns in InfoWorld?



Brian Livingston, the author of the 1024-page "Windows 3.1 Secrets", "More Windows 3.1 Secrets", "Windows 95 Secrets", and so on, for every version of Windows since then, up to the current 1520 page "Windows ME Secrets", says that he will not be writing "Windows XP Secrets" and that he is recommending against anyone using Windows XP.

This is "Mr. Windows Guru", himself, the man who has the inside connections in Microsoft so he can tell us the secret registry switches, the secret keystroke combinations to fix Windows problems and make it work better. He has been earning his living for at least the past decade by writing columns and books about Windows, by giving talks and appearing on panels about Windows, by helping people use Windows.

He is clearly burning his bridges to Microsoft with this column and for him to repudiate Windows XP is a damning repudiation of Microsoft, itself.

Interesting and no I have not seen this.

Thought you'd like to know: 

--------- excerpt from article ----------------------- A NUMBER OF INTEL MOBOS jave recently shuffled off to spend their retirement in Madeira, unnoticed, unloved and now unavailable.

A whole batch of 815-based boards caught the senior citizen bus to the airport, including the catchily named BOXD815EEA2L, the BLKD815EEA2L, the BOXD815EEA2, the BLK815EEA2, the BOXD815EPEA2, the BLKD815EPEA2, the BOXD815EFVL, and the BLKD815EFVL.

And on the 1st of November, these venerable old boards will be joined in their retirement home by another batch of 815s. The last order date will be the 1st of December and the last delivery date will be the first of February next year.

So watch out if you're being sold any of the first lot, and be aware that this little lot are near to the end of their active working life.

Say farewell then to the BOXD815EPFVL, the BLKD815EPFVL, the BOXD815EPFV, and the BLK815EPFV.


Martin Dempsey


I thought you should be made aware of this information I saw at The Inquirer (  : 

Especially since you recommend these board frequently to your readers. I'm not sure what Intel's model to replace these are as of yet. I will have to go hunting in their product roadmap to see. Hope all is well with you!


Sigh. Good enough is good enough, and better is the enemy of good... article on space-based power: 

Robert Rocansky


It doesn't look like the FBI will be issuing letters of marque any time soon. Who does issue such letters, anyway? 

Oct. 15 —— A group of self-proclaimed hackers led by a wealthy and flamboyant German businessman says it is taking a vigilante approach to the war on terrorism by bringing together hackers worldwide to track down terrorist finances and resources online.

They claim to have 34 people in 10 countries who have hacked the computer systems of banks they say may be linked to accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. They also say they've shared information with the FBI.

But the FBI refuses to comment, the banks have not noted any disruption of their services, and other hackers say the team is really just a bunch of self-promoters.

Whether they've done any damage at all —— or whether they even exist —— they have touched off a debate online about the propriety of what the group's leader, Kim Schmitz, says it is trying to do.

YIHAT's Their Name

The group, which calls itself YIHAT, for Young Intelligent Hackers Against Terror, says that last week a team of U.K.-based members gained access to accounts at the Sudanese AlShamal Islamic Bank worth as much as $50 million belonging to bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization he heads. Schmitz said no harm was done to the accounts and said the group passed on the information to the FBI.

Tuesday, the group claimed to have hacked the Arab National Bank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but said that no information on suspected terrorists had been found. A hacker calling himself Splices told that he gained access to the bank's records and "had access to anything we wanted: corporate profiles, stock deals, financial statements, customer bank accounts."

Splices provided with copies of some of those files, which appeared to contain financial information associated with Arabic names, but could not be further verified as belonging to actual customers or even the bank.

When asked why he targeted the Arab National Bank, Splices replied, "It has been confirmed that terrorists had done banking there in the past. We don't just choose targets at random."

Splices would not say whether the names on any of the accounts appear on the recently released list of 22 terrorists most wanted by the FBI, but he did say the information he found had been turned over to U.S. law enforcement.

Neither bank is on a U.S. list of 27 groups whose assets have been frozen for alleged links to bin Laden.

An FBI spokesman refused to comment on whether it had received information from YIHAT, but did say the FBI would not condone efforts to acquire information related to terrorism that fall outside the law.

The strategy of announcing that you have hacked a specific target and told the FBI about it doesn't make sense to me. If the bank is guilty, the files will be purged before any authorized search can be made. If the bank is not guilty, then the hacker either didn't really hack or fabricated the evidence. That, in turn, leads me to be skeptical of the initial claim to have hacked into the bank(s?).

Carey Gage

Congress can issue letters of marque and reprisal. Whether or not they would do so it another story.

But I suspect if you can steal bin Laden's money the law would be the least of your problems.

It appears that a fatwa condemning the World Trade Center bombing was issued on Monday 17 Sep 2001. 

See also: 

and:  This one is significant. It clarifies a position from a previous fatwa, that was issued BEFORE the World Trade Center attack, that called for Muslims to support the Taliban. (However, I can't find the text of the previous fatwa, so take it with a grain of salt.)

There are a few fataawa (plural of fatwa, it says here) on the subject of suicide bombings, suicide, and hijacking. They all agree that these are very bad things for Muslims to do. Suicide, even in the course of a suicide bombing, condemns a Muslim to burn in Hell.

And look at the main site: 

Summary: There are fataawa that make it clear that Osama bin Laden's bully boys are not good Muslims, contrary to the belief of the Taliban and certain other individuals. They just don't get the press that the more extreme, pro-Taliban posturings do.

John Strohm

Interesting. Haven't been back long enough to look into it.

I wonder if in retrospect, whatever historians there are will see 1988-2001 as being something like 1931-39 or 1946-49, i.e. a period when a little would have done a lot, and a lot wasn't done.

It's reasonable to hope DoD has been offering Bush more options than are discussed in public. And it's still possible that they're using anthrax because that's what they've got -- of weaponizable diseases it's one of the easier lab preps, apparently. Certainly as a pure terror weapon a mass attack with the stuff would have been more effective -- blow the powdered form off a skyscraper roof with a fan at lunch hour, or something -- and far more likely to swamp the medical system, which means either they weren't out to kill a lot of people this time, or they couldn't (maybe they were successfully blocked from the crop dusters soon enough?)

But one place where I definitely agree with Tom is that their tactics are becoming gradually more inexplicable. Is it a simple mistake (like the way the Germans used gas, or the British used tanks, in WWI)? Is it a pre-panicker, as Tom suggests -- basically to get everyone's nerves rattled before doing something big? It seems unlikely that it's purely a directed attack -- simple letter bombs would do that more reliably, and after all it wouldn't be hard to shoot a couple of reporters, they go everywhere and they're not guarded. Anyone else feel like speculating morbidly?

John Barnes

I haven't been back long enough to figure anything. But I suspect we will do as little as possible until we have to do something big. And I think Iraq is next.

Greetings, There is some very interesting reading here. Basically a call to modern day Muslims to rethink their religion. I'm sure it wouldn't go over well with the 'proles', but perhaps an enlightenment for the more educated members would be in order and could 'trickle down'. 

Take care, Lee W. Plaisted Skeptical Maine-iac

Subj: view from an American Muslim

Dr. Pournelle,

Found a very interesting post from an American who converted to Islam about 15 years ago, mainly to practice Sufism. He discusses some ideas on how the the world ended up in the mess we're in WRT Afganistan, etc...


Yeah, it's a long URL - but it'll take you right to the specific posting in a rather long thread of messages :)

Best regards, 

 David P. Huff | "Giving money and power to government | is like giving whiskey and car keys | to teenage boys." -- P. J. O'Rourke


Direct Methanol Fuel Cells. These cells are similar to the PEM cells in that they both use a polymer membrane as the electrolyte. However, in the DMFC, the anode catalyst itself draws the hydrogen from the liquid methanol, eliminating the need for a fuel reformer. Efficiencies of about 40% are expected with this type of fuel cell, which would typically operate at a temperature between 120-190 degrees F. Higher efficiencies are achieved at higher temperatures. 

It's true there are more efficient ways to use methanol, but most of them have much higher emission levels. Methanol is certainly versatile tho, isn't it?



And we saw some of the idiocy over in View. Here is more:


'Harassment' at San Diego State 

The Daily Aztec, the student newspaper at San Diego State University, reports that an SDSU student was accused of "verbal harassment" after he criticized four Saudi students who were celebrating the Sept. 11 atrocity. Zewdalem Kebede, a native Ethiopian and naturalized American citizen, says he overheard the conversation in Arabic. "With that action they were very pleased," he says. "They were happy. And they were regretting of missing the 'Big House' "--presumably the White House.

Kebede says he approached the Saudis and said to them, in Arabic: "Guys, what you are talking is unfair. How do you feel happy when those 5,000 to 6,000 people are buried in two or three buildings? They are under the rubble or they became ash. And you are talking about the action of bin Laden and his group. You are proud of them. You should have to feel shame."

The Saudis, who aren't named because they are "victims," filed a police complaint for harassment, and Kebede was summoned to the Center for Student Rights  . After giving his side of the story, Kebede got a letter from the center warning him "that future involvement in 'confronting members of the campus community in a manner that is found to be aggressive or abusive' will result in severe disciplinary sanctions."

"What have I done to these Arab guys?" Kebede says. "I have done nothing. How can they be happy when innocent people just perished? Vanished by the cruel actions of their own brothers. It's sad, that's what I told them. Of this am I going to be charged and penalized with a warning or a probation or expelling from school? No, damn. No one would do that. I haven't committed any wrong."







This week:



Saturday, October 20, 2001

Apparently fuel cell conversion technology has grown by leaps and bounds while I was not looking:

Subj: Fuel Cells: Carbon Goes Where?

Found some academic papers from Argonne National Lab on reforming hydrocarbons -- i.e. separating the carbon from the hydrogen -- to generate hydrogen for use in fuel cells: 

>From skimming those, I gather that there is a potential coking problem in the conversion process -- i.e. some of the carbon comes out solid, or more precisely, goes solid and does _not_ come out, but instead clogs up the works -- but that it can be avoided by proper design -- including proper choice of catalyst -- and proper choice of operating temperature.

Here is a thermodynamic overview of the hydrogen fuel cell and the electrolysis of water: 

There has apparently been a laboratory demonstration, at Lawrence Livermore, of a fuel cell that converts carbon directly, not just the hydrogen from reformation: 

And that article makes some summary comments on efficiency, though without technical derivation:

"The thermodynamic efficiency of the direct carbon conversion cell exceeds the 70-percent requirement of the next-generation fuel cell envisioned by the Department of Energy. In contrast, conventional coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants are typically 35- and 40-percent efficient. Combined-cycle power plants that burn natural gas in multistage turbines now operate at 57-percent efficiency, based on the higher heating value of the fuel. (Higher heating value, or HHV, is the total amount of heat released when a fuel is burned completely and the products are returned to their natural, room-temperature states.) High-temperature fuel cell hybrid systems (fuel cells combined with turbines), such as a technology developed by Westinghouse, are expected to operate on natural gas at 60-percent HHV."

The article goes on to claim that pyrolysing -- thermally decomposing -- hydrocarbons into carbon blacks and hydrogen, followed by feeding the carbon blacks to carbon-conversion fuel cells and the hydrogen to hydrogen fuel cells, could get the efficiency up around 70-percent.

Rod Montgomery ==

My thanks. One thing about this place: if I have managed to overlook something (and while I pretend to know everything, I don't really believe I am omniscient) -- if I miss something a reader will find it. I sometimes suspect I have the best readership in the world.

Hello Dr. Pournelle: I miss your web ramblings, when you are gone, but truly love your books. What a dilemma! It's nice to know that another work is on the way. Regards

Neal Pritchett


I saw the photograph of Mr. Niven using the external LCD. Now it's obvious, to my eyes, there is a clear difference in intensity and sharpness between the display on my Powerbook and a CRT. But his notebook seems to have a display that is every bit as roomy as my notebook and that aspect is not improved unless jumping monitor sizes. I am interested in learning what advantages he finds using the external LCD. Thanks

Michael Akin

Display is bigger. Easier to see at our ages. And it's a bit hard to use the external keyboard and the laptop display at the same time. The monitor packs nicely into a box with the mouse and keyboard and all padding, and rides under the luggage in the Explorer...

Mr.. Pournelle,

I just read a news article in which National Security Advisor Rice was praising the cooperation of Russia in the latest crisis. This was no surprise to me. I have been waiting for the Co Dominion for ten years now. Unless someone discovers an anti-agapic I will have to wait until my next life to be a Co-Do Marine. Having spent twenty years of this life as an Army NCO I think I will opt for a commission next time.

Arch Ramsden 

It is not quite the scenario I had in mind for the creation of the CoDominium, but it may yet lead us there. Herman Kahn once said the natural state of mankind is Empire, and the natural size of an empire is to expand until it comes against another Empire. We will see.

From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Subject: Delende est Saudi Arabia?

Dear Jerry:

Funny how things gel suddenly. At of the National Post claims that wherever you look for the causes of the present sortawar (my phrase, not his), you find Saudi Arabia -- funding bin Laden, supporting the Islamic haters, encouraging terrorism.

No sooner do I read that then I come across the following links: 

all of which provide confirmation of Steyn's piece.

Maybe we should neutron-bomb Ridayh and tell the Palestinians "No, you can't have Jerusalem, but Mecca is yours for the taking ... "?

Best, Stephen

Well the Hashemites used to be the Protectors of Mecca until the Brits got in the act and put in the Saudi dynasty -- after which they created Jordan and Iraq to give the Hashemite brothers a place to rule. So much for British Imperial Wisdom after WW I.

And two observations from Eric Pobirs

All the trouble in the world:

A grand list of annoying people at large on the earth: 

And Dangerous Places

A comprehensive guide to the parts of the planet sane people should care to venture. 



And an interesting question:

Hi Jerry,

I just got annoyed by the fact that I got an enormous big context menu when right-clicking any folder or drive in Windows 9x Explorer.

After quite a while, loads of - more or less - useful tools add themselves to those context menus.

Some of them I need almost every day, such as the "send to any folder" extension by the Windows Power Toys.

Others I need maybe once in a year, but when I need them, I need them badly.

Now, some of those tools offer a choice if they should add themselves to these context menus, but how to decide? If I don't add them, I can't find them when I need them. If I DO add them, I don't need them for a year.

I wonder if one of your readers happens to know a tool that would allow to "collect" several of those context entries under a kind of "group" entry, the way SOME of those tools offer to have their options underneath a sub-menu or all "stand alone".

That way I could "group" those context entries, dividing them into logical groups, for example "compression tools", "image tools", etc.

Something like that could be really helpful. I'd guess that there's already a whole BUNCH of those tools, but I really don't know for what I should watch out, how this would be called, and I also would like to get a really GOOD one.

Would be nice if you could forward this question to your audience.

Best regards, Peter Heberer (  )

Some advice on what to do if attacked:

We'll start by talking about nerve agents. You have these in your house, plain old bug killer (like Raid) is nerve agent. All nerve agents work the same way; they are cholinesterase inhibitors that mess up the signals your nervous system uses to make your body function. It can harm you if you get it on your skin but it works best if they can get you to inhale it. If you don't die in the first minute and you can leave the area you're probably gonna live. The military's antidote for all nerve agents is atropine and pralidoxime chloride. Neither one of these does anything to cure the nerve agent, they send your body into overdrive to keep you alive for five minutes, after that the agent is used up. Your best protection is fresh air and staying calm. Listed below are the symptoms for nerve agent poisoning. Sudden headache, Dimness of vision (someone you're looking at will have pinpointed pupils), Runny nose, Excessive saliva or drooling, Difficulty breathing, Tightness in chest, Nausea, Stomach cramps, Twitching of exposed skin where a liquid just got on you.

If you are in public and you start experiencing these symptoms, first ask yourself, did anything out of the ordinary just happen, a loud pop, did someone spray something on the crowd? Are other people getting sick too?

Is there an odor of new mown hay, green corn, something fruity, or camphor where it shouldn't be?

If the answer is yes, then calmly (if you panic you breathe faster and inhale more air/poison) leave the area and head up wind, or, outside. Fresh air is the best "right now antidote". If you have a blob of liquid that looks like molasses or Kayro syrup on you; blot it or scrape it off and away from yourself with anything disposable. This stuff works based on your body weight, what a crop duster uses to kill bugs won't hurt you unless you stand there and breathe it in real deep, then lick the residue off the ground for while. Remember they have to do all the work, they have to get the concentration up and keep it up for several minutes while all you have to do is quit getting it on you/quit breathing it by putting space between you and the attack.

(From a former drill sergeant).

Blood agents are cyanide or arsine which effect your blood's ability to provide oxygen to your tissue. The scenario for attack would be the same as nerve agent. Look for a pop or someone splashing/spraying something and folks around there getting woozy/falling down. The telltale smells are bitter almonds or garlic where it shouldn't be. The symptoms are blue lips, blue under the fingernails rapid breathing. The military's antidote is amyl nitride and just like nerve agent antidote it just keeps your body working for five minutes till the toxins are used up. Fresh air is the your best individual chance

Blister agents (distilled mustard) are so nasty that nobody wants to even handle it let alone use it. It's almost impossible to handle safely and may have delayed effect of up to 12 hours. The attack scenario is also limited to the things you'd see from other chemicals. If you do get large, painful blisters for no apparent reason, don't pop them, if you must, don't let the liquid from the blister get on any other area, the stuff just keeps on spreading. It's just as likely to harm the user as the target. Soap, water, sunshine, and fresh air are this stuff's enemy.

Bottom line on chemical weapons (it's the same if they use industrial chemical spills); they are intended to make you panic, to terrorize you, to heard you like sheep to the wolves. If there is an attack, leave the area and go upwind, or to the sides of the wind stream. They have to get the stuff to you, and on you. You're more likely to be hurt by a drunk driver on any given day than be hurt by one of these attacks. Your odds get better if you leave the area. Soap, water, time, and fresh air really deal this stuff a knock-out-punch. Don't let fear of an isolated attack rule your life. The odds are really on your side.

All of which is good advice.  Pay attention. The great thing is not to lose your nerve.

On the other hand, smallpox is deadly and we have stopped vaccinations. If that gets out, we have some real problems. One does wonder who would want to release it, since his own country would get it too.

And Some Will Not Die; the title of a very good novel by Algis Budrys. It's 40 years old now and still worthwhile reading.

The following will probably get moved to the Black September pages:

The very concept of "Pakistan" was invented by Muslim college students after WWI. The name is an ancronym for this dreamt-of state's constituent nations.

Let's all sing along now:

"P" is for the Pashtuns Bold and brave "A" is for the Afridis Who dig the white man's grave

Or something like that ...

Anyway, there is much talk these days of the danger of Pakistan breaking up. Perhaps it's time to consider what might come after.

Much of the instability in the region stems from the warlike Pashtun-speakers (or "Pathans" in Kipling and Churchill's day) tribesmen inhabiting both sides of the Kyber Pass. The British Raj constantly worried about where to draw its northwest boundary: on the Indus in the heart of the populous plain was one idea. The other was a "Forward Strategy" that pushed the boundary all the way to the tops of the mountain range on either side of the Khyber Pass. As normally happened in the British Empire, the Forward strategists won, and a "scientific boundary" was drawn that today divides Pakistan from Afghanistan. Drawing boundaries along mountain ranges has worked well for the French and Spanish, but it has a severe weakness if a tribe of warlike mountain men inhabit both sides of the range. This is especially troublesome in South Asia, where few flatlanders, with the exception of the Sikhs, are warlike.

The British not only wanted to rule more people, they wanted to keep any Afghan regime from sweeping into the plains of India, with or without the Czar's army alongside. So, it made sense to extend British India all the way to the forts in the Khyber Pass. However, this split the Pashtuns up roughly 50-50 between Afghanistan and what's now Pakistan. The British had to fight innumerable skirmishes to keep the tribesmen on the border in line. Even today, Pakistan has a Tribal Area where big signs tell you that you enter at your own risk and don't look for a policeman if somebody knocks you on the head.

The Taliban evolved in Pashtun seminiaries in Pakistan, including in Afghan refugee camps.

Interestingly, because the Pashtun's don't have a state of their own, it turns out to be harder to punish them when they cause trouble. They can move back and forth across the border for refuge. Taliban-supporting Pashtun resources inside Pakistan can't be struck because Pakistan is Our Ally (right?).

In the long run, it would probably be better for the world if the Pashtun had their own country.

Steve Sailer

Which is interesting indeed. And may provide a clue as to what must be done...

And on Batteries:



You are correct that batteries are the missing piece in alot of the "alternative" energy options. Even that chronic under-achiever solar might be feasible with good batteries.

In 1984 The Dow Chemical Company in Freeport, Texas had a research project working on "graphite batteries". When the performance specs were presented to a room full of PhDs, chemists and engineers the response was a chorus of gasps; to which the presenter replied "Yes, I believe we're on to something" while displaying the grin of someone who is about to score a coup. The technology was far enough along that some of the prototypes were being placed in battery-powered applications around the Freeport complex. Alas, the project was killed by Dow because of some emotion-laden issues related to a very bad investment in a refinery right before the oil bust.

I know nothing of the construction or chemical composition of the battery other than what may be implied by the name. But I recall that the batteries were superior to lead acid by orders of magnitude in essentially every respect.

Unfortunately my Internet searches have turned up not a thing to indicate that such a project is being undertaken anywhere by anyone. I was hoping one of your readers might be in a position to resurrect such research (or even explain it away if appropriate).

(Please don't publish my name.)

I think fuel cells will in fact solve the battery problem. But perhaps not just yet:

Subj: Fuel Cells: Efficiency

Apparently the total system efficiency of fuel cell systems is not necessarily quite as good as theory might lead one to hope: 

This is an experimental study, done at University of Fairbanks and Sandia, that actually built some components and measured their performance, then alculated fuel-to-electrical-output total-system efficiency.

"...[S]system efficiency measurements have not been encouraging to date. The energy balance data collected show that the overall efficiency of the reformer is less than expected, in the range of 36% (LHV) of the energy leaving the system in the hydrogen stream. Much of the energy leaves the system in the combustion exhaust (about 43%), and additional losses occur due to radiation and convection from the reformer surfaces.

"Using the experimentally obtained values for reformer (36%), fuel cell (49%), and power conditioning (80% with inverter and batteries) and subtracting off the electrical parasitic losses for the reformer yields an overall systems efficiency of 12.8%. This is not a very satisfactory result, being considerably lower than what can be obtained by conventional technology."

But the reformer was only a prototype, and can clearly be improved, and ... .

This research is trying to develop a remote-locations power supply -- for Alaskan villages, actually -- based on diesel fuel. One of the study recommendations was to start a parallel development, based on an easier-to-reform fuel such as propane or methanol.

But the need for careful, experimental verification of the performance of the _whole_system_, rather than focusing on the theoretical efficiency of the fuel cell alone, makes it easier to understand why the long-threatened commercial fuel cell home-generator products are not yet on the market, e.g. 

Rod Montgomery ==

Which last statement is the important one: it is SYSTEM EFFICIENCY that we need to look at.

Dear Dr. Pournelle, More on fuel cells. I've spent a good part of the last several years studying fuel cells from the perspective of a large energy company that has invested in them, and you are quite right in the way you characterize them. Your battery analogy is apt, too, if you think of a car battery with a conveyer belt for fresh lead on one side and a feed line with fresh acid on the other.

The emerging hydrogen enriched economy holds great potential for changing the way we make and use energy, but unfortunately many advocates of hydrogen don't seem to understand that it is an energy carrier, just as electricity is, not an energy source. The vast majority of hydrogen used today (huge volumes in oil refining and ammonia-based fertilizer manufacture) is produced from natural gas and other hydrocarbons, and that will continue to be the case for some time. Electrolysis is not very energy-efficient, and unless the power grid providing the electricity is backed by hydroelectric dams, windmills, and gas turbines, it isn't very environmentally friendly.

Where hydrogen fuel cells can help, though, is by improving the efficiency of final energy conversion. A fuel cell is inherently 2-3 times more efficient than an internal combustion engine. That's enough to make up for the energy losses in making the hydrogen. But fueling conventional engines with hydrogen is a bad idea, because they provide no opportunity to to make up for conversion losses. Thus the highly-touted BMW 750H actually produces more pollution than its gasoline cousin, when you include power plant emissions and line losses (if running on electrolytic H2), or the losses associated with reforming natural gas to hydrogen.

Glad to hear you and Mr. Niven are hard at work writing, but I would look forward to more solo fiction from you, too. What about another story in the "High Justice" and "Consort" line? 

Regards, Geoff Styles

Precisely. And I am dancing as fast as I can...

Energy efficiency considerations definitely do not favor fuel-cell technology. The energy distribution system in this country can extract high percentages of the energy from the fuel in their systems tailored for maximum efficiencies at given loads. With the number of plants available to put online those that are actually online can run within their "Energy Efficiency Sweet Spot". The power drops in transmission are far less than the consultants the gas companies hired back when Edison and others were talking about wire distribution of electricity generated in centralized facilities. (They had a "maximum power transfer" model in mind. This model has half the power lost in the source resistances and half in the load resistance. This is "nice" for transmitters and receivers. It is bad for power distribution. Instead you keep the source and distribution resistances low and the load resistance comparatively high. Transmission line efficiencies should range in the 80% levels at least.)

If the fuel cells are as efficient as a turbine operating at high temperatures for best efficiency, (Tinlet - Toutlet)/Toutlet, then you indeed save on this distribution network loss. However, I have not heard of fuel cells, particularly methane capable cells, that can produce the electricity out at the efficiencies of a turbine operating at a rather high input level with its output feeding lower temperature turbines in a chain until the output temperature is not much hotter than ambient.

On the other paw one might note that for a given $1.00 worth of fuel the fuel cell might deliver more energy to the user since the user faces both the distribution losses and the costs for maintaining that distribution network.

Of course, this neglects such expenses as retrofitting ALL the gas piping in the country so that each home could draw as much gas as it needed for its power demands. And it neglects the small matter that the fuel cell is not free. And it neglects the cost for the fuel cell's down time or the expense of maintaining the power grid connection to your home as a "backup" or perhaps the expense of establishing a local area power network so that if one cell goes down others can pick up the slack. In that case the fuel costs and the like should be pooled among the members of the network. But gee, that involves hard feelings, management, and other co-op nonsense.

Now, it might be nice to have one for backup power while the main network is down. But how often does that happen these days? I suspect a little puttputt generator would do the job quite nicely.


(Joanne Dow)

Thanks for a lot of common sense. (Joanne is an old friend, engineer on various satellite projects, communications expert, and a knockout in her wizardess outfit...)

According to a number of web sites on Constitutional law, Letters of Marque and Reprisal are no longer legal. The US signed a treaty that outlawed them early in the 20th Century, well after the major naval powers had renounced them in 1856. The CSA made use of them during the American Civil War. As to whether you could license hackers to go after Bin Laden's assets overseas under that law, the only way to get a good answer is by formally polling the 9 members of the Supreme Court. (A lawyer I respect quite a bit told me once: "The difference between a scientist and a lawyer like me is that I won't concede 2+2=4 until the Supreme Court has ruled on it.")

See  for a summary. There are also sample letters on that web site.

Edmund Hack

It is true enough that the Vienna Convention and other such appear to make Marque and Reprisal unavailable, but it is only a treaty: the US could, for instance, repudiate it. We could also issue a formal declaration that it does not apply in certain instances. Whether we would do that is another matter.

Marque and reprisal was a means of allowing what amounted to private warships which could not be taken as pirates by neutral nations. They were known as "privateers" and the US made extensive use of them in the Revolution and the War of 1812. By the Civil War there was a US Navy; the CSA had no navy so had little choice but to issue letters of marque.

Privateers could make war only on ships of the enemy merchant fleet (and navy but few privateers wanted to fight a real man of war) and if they could capture a ship or a cargo belonging to an enemy with which the issuing nation was at war, they got to keep all or part of the proceeds. If taken by a neutral nation they couldn't be treated as pirates, as they would be if they didn't have valid letters of marque and reprisal...

The Constitution provides for them to be issued by Congress, and in the early days of the US that was done fairly often.  Now Federal law likes to restrict the ownership of assault rifles; in those days private citizens could and did own cannon and warships...

Now for something a bit different...

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

"Much of the instability in the region stems from the warlike Pashtun-speakers (or "Pathans" in Kipling and Churchill's day) tribesmen inhabiting both sides of the Kyber Pass."

British officers, civil and military, admired these hill-country warriors a lot.  If you want to understand how the Brits finally found and kept a peace in the region, remember Kipling's "The ballad of East and West";

"'Twas only by favour of mine," quoth he, "ye rode so long alive:
There was not a rock for twenty mile, there was not a clump of tree,
But covered a man of my own men with his rifle cocked on his knee.
If I had raised my bridle-hand, as I have held it low,
The little jackals that flee so fast were feasting all in a row:
If I had bowed my head on my breast, as I have held it high,
The kite that whistles above us now were gorged till she could not fly."
Lightly answered the Colonel's son:  "Do good to bird and beast,
But count who come for the broken meats before thou makest a feast.
If there should follow a thousand swords to carry my bones away,
Belike the price of a jackal's meal were more than a thief could pay.
They will feed their horse on the standing crop,
  their men on the garnered grain,
The thatch of the byres will serve their fires when all the cattle are slain..."

There is a strong resemblance in both verse and fact to the border between Scotland and England before the rapprochement leading to the Act of Union. The best light cavalry in the world raided either side sowing terror at the end of a Liddesdale lance.

"The British Raj constantly worried about where to draw its northwest boundary: on the Indus in the heart of the populous plain was one idea."

Modern Indians/Pakistanis, surprisingly enough, have quite nice things to say about the Raj, even when ticking off the Brits for failure to meet nationalist aspirations. For example, at  we find this:

"1. The North-West Problem - From very ancient times the various Indian governments had to deal with these hardy fanatical freedom-loving tribesmen inhabiting the North-West. Frontier of India, represented by mountain tract lying between Afghanistan and the Indus. Because of the poverty and the infertility of the land these tribesmen were always forced to raid the inhabitants of their territory. After the annexation of Sind in 1843 and of the Punjab in 1859 the English Government had also to deal with these tribal people because now the British Empire began to touch their land. It was the policy of the British Government to protect the life and property of their subjects from the inroads of these tribal people and to keep the passage between India and Afghanistan quite safe. In the beginning, the British Government tried to pacify these tribesmen with the help of money but when thus policy proved a failure they tried to suppress them with force. In 1897, during the viceroyalty of Lord Elgin II, the various tribes of these turbulent Afghans raised a  standard of revolt and blocked the various passages leading from India to Afghanistan. Thus forced by circumstances the British had to use military force to curb them. They were no doubt defeated but they were not fully subdued."

"The other was a "Forward Strategy" that pushed the boundary all the way to the tops of the mountain range on either side of the Khyber Pass ... a "scientific boundary" was drawn that today divides Pakistan from Afghanistan. ... they wanted to keep any Afghan regime from sweeping into the plains of India, with or without the Czar's army alongside."

A good analysis, though the Russian empire was always the major worry at that point. The Afghans were a problem and remain a problem, but the viceroy Lord Curzon showed they had the resources to handle them. The final form of the containment policy needed regimental forts linked by rail, a difficult task in the winding hills. This is what the Indians say about Curzon's ideas:
"While in England Lord Curzon had greatly supported the ‘Forward Policy’, of Lord Elgin, in the House of Commons, but when he himself became the viceroy he realised that the forward policy would not pay. He, therefore, adopted the `Middle Way’. ...  "one of withdrawal and concentration’’ ...  the "withdrawal of British forces from advance positions, employment of tribal country, concentration of British forces in British territory behind them as a safe-guard and a support; and improvement of communications in the area".
In pursuance of this policy Lord Curzon took various important steps...

" So, it made sense to extend British India all the way to the forts in the Khyber Pass. However, this split the Pashtuns up roughly 50-50 between Afghanistan and what's now Pakistan."

True enough. The Pathans were a problem before the Raj annexed the Sindh and Punjab in the middle of the nineteenth century, though. These borders were to some extent inherited by the Raj.
"The British had to fight innumerable skirmishes to keep the tribesmen on the border in line ... "

They were able to reduce this to police actions:

 (1) Slowly and slowly the British troops were withdrawn from the frontier posts and in their place tribal soldiers trained and commanded by British Officers were raised. As a result of this measure the problem of livelihood of the various tribesmen was solved and they became more faithful to the English.

 (2) British forces were increased and concentrated behind the tribal area so that turbulent Afghans dared not enter India.

 (3) Behind the tribal area a ring f strong forts was built within the Indian lines and garrisoned by the British and Indian soldiers. These troops were always kept ready to march at a moment’s notice to the relief of the tribal forces.

 (4) Railway lines were constructed up to various strategic places in the tribal areas such as Durgai, Jamrud, Thal, etc., so that British armies could be sent there if and when required.

 (5) Again, the various cantonments and forts built within the British lines were linked with roads and railway lines so that in case of emergency, troops and other equipments could be called without the least delay.
 (8) Another aspect of Lord Curzon’s frontier policy appears in his granting of allowance at regular intervals to the Important tribal chiefs of the frontier tribes for keeping open the roads and passes, for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity and for the punishment of crime.

... Criticism - There is no doubt that Load Curzon’s North-West Frontier policy failed as a final solution of the frontier problems because after his time there occurred several revolts of the tribal people. It is also right that different tribes inhabiting the tribal area could not be brought under full control but still it will have to be admitted that because of Lord Curzon’s settlement of the issue, the British Government was saved of much of its worries and there was a great saving in the military expenditure."

At that stage it looked as though the British Empire would last forever. No-one dreamed that they would have to spend every bit of their capital, prestige, and a lot of their blood stemming the advance of European dictatorships over the next sixty years.  They had achieved a sort of peace in their time, which is really all one could reasonably ask of them.

"...because the Pashtun's don't have a state of their own, it turns out to be harder to punish them when they cause trouble. They can move back and forth across the border for refuge. Taliban-supporting Pashtun resources inside Pakistan can't be struck because Pakistan is Our Ally (right?)."

Remember what stopped the Scots/English borderers. It wasn't a military victory by either side, nor did they get their own state, and if they had they would have squabbled at once. It was the political will of the Scottish and British Kingdoms. The border lords would come to heel or be hanged. If the Afghans become really intolerable the US need not get directly involved. Leave it to the Russians, Chinese, and Indians.

Regards, TC

Terry Cole BA/BSc/BE/BA(hons) (
System Administrator, Dept. of Maths. & Stats., Otago Uni.
PO Box 56, Dunedin, NZ.








This week:


read book now


Sunday, October 21, 2001

On to politics . . .

I'm for Empire. Not because I think it's a good choice, but because I think it's the less bad choice for Americans. We've just had yet another reminder that you can't let malicious kids juggle sharp knives in the lifeboat, and there's more sharp knives all the time -- like the Islamic Bomb that Pakistan has, say -- and more people who are far worse than clumsy, malicious kids. Solution Unsatisfactory? Sure. But only by comparison.

Speech for George W. (not that he'll make it):

"My fellow Americans, it's time for some plain truths. 'Security procedures' won't make us secure. We're not going to hire a couple of hundred thousand new Air Marshalls to put a pair on every domestic airline flight; we're not going to hire millions of new Border Patrolmen to link arms from the Augusta, Maine, to Olympia, Washington, from San Diego to Matamoros, and then increase the Coast Guard by a couple of orders of magnitude to guard our shores. We can't get safety by packing our airports with National Guard MPs, or continuing to restrict the rights of Americans to go about their lives withour government interference, and we're not going to play that game, not any more.

"What we are going to do is take responsibility, assign blame, and punish. It's going to be dangerous for people to commit violence against the US, and it's going to be dangerous for states to not do their level best to be damn sure that it doesn't happen from their territory. We have the weapons, and we have the will to do that. You could ask the Taliban about that now, and you'll be able to ask others shortly.

"As of now, nuclear weapons are prohibited to any country that doesn't already have them -- me, I'd like to see the Russians and the Chinese give them up, but I'm not holding my breath -- unless it's a stable democracy. We decide which is which, and we're going to enforce it. I'm not going to lose an American city to a nuclear attack if there's something I can do about it, so I want a missile defense, too.

"We're not going to let people like Saddam Hussein have nuclear or bioweapons to use against us, directly or through cut-outs -- on that, more in a moment.

"But it doesn't stop there. We need to take responsibility, as individuals, for our own personal safety, and that of our neighbors and families. Just as we need to respect the other rights embodied -- not granted, but acknowledged -- in rest of the Bill of Rights, we need to respect the 2nd Amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms for their own and their common defense.

"Which is why I'm submitting to Congress a bill that will establish a national handgun carry permit, using the same strict standards of qualification and training that we use in Texas, and will be valid nationwide, most particularly including Washington DC. Frankly, I don't think we're going to have to use guns to defend ourselves against foreign terrorists -- but I'm not going to hide behind my Secret Service protection and tell other Americans that they're denied the means to defend themselves from attackers -- domestic or foreign.

"In the interim -- until Congress passes that bill -- the Office of Homeland Defense will be accepting pardon petitions for any adult, nonfelon -- save for those who have been adjudged to be mentally incompetent -- who is accused of the crime of carrying a handgun, and those pardons will be issued by me, as a matter of course, until either I leave office, or until the national carry bill is passed. I encourage those who think that mandatory training and a permitting process will make life safer than it now is in Vermont -- which requires neither -- to call their Congressman and support the National Carry Bill.

"I know that that won't mean that the streets will run with blood any more in Los Angeles than they have in Houston, and I do want to remind American citizens who choose to carry handguns for their own protection that they are not immune from prosecution for misuse of firearms. You have the right to defend yourself; you have the responsibility to do so responsibly.

"But there are those who have used power irresponsibly, and against the US and its people. We can't be the world's policeman, although we can and will defend both our trustworthy allies, and ourselves, and we can certainly punish those who have chosen to be our enemies. We're finishing with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, but that was the easy part. The battle agains terrorism goes on. The governments that have looked the other way while their financial systems were used to fund bin Laden and the Taliban had best sit up and take notice how we deal with Iraq, because Iraq is next.

"Now, there's some real question as to whether Saddam Hussein's Iraq was involved in Black Tuesday, but no real question that they were involved in the previous World Trade Center bombing, as well as many other attacks against the US.

"We're done with that. Iraq, just to take that example, will not have the nuclear weapons that they're developing, or the chemical weapons that they have developed and used -- against Iraqi people, and which we have no doubt that they will use against us. The state of Iraq has forty-eight hours to open every square inch of their territory to US -- not UN -- inspectors, or we will solve their weapons problem for them by dropping tactical nuclear weapons on every site that we believe is or may be a weapons development facility. I encourage the Iraqi people to move out of the way, because I don't think that their leaders are going to believe me . . .

" . . . and because the clock started ticking the moment I started this speech."

------------------------------------- There's a widow in sleepy Chester Who weeps for her only son; There's a grave on the Pabeng River, A grave that the Burmans shun; And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri Who tells how the work was done.

I doubt we will ever hear that speech. I doubt in fact that America has the stomach for Empire. Or that we will recruit and deploy the Legions that will be required.

If we do, I hope the Legions never learn the dread secret, that Emperors can be made in places other than Rome.

In the war effort department:

First thing this morning, the Dallas Boring News informed me that Experts Play Down Threat of Large Anthrax Attack. Evidently "The complexity of mounting a biological weapons attack was demonstrated by Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that killed 12 people and injured hundreds in a 1995 Tokyo subway gassing. Despite a sophisticated, well-funded scientific effort, Aum Shinrikyo was unable to engineer a successful biological attack with anthrax or botulinum..." Also, "Few if any non-state sponsered groups are thought to be capable of pulling off a high-casualty bioweapons attack, experts say." That was the sum total of actual information contained in the story.

Therefore, we can conclude that since no has pulled off such an attack, no one can. And besides, experts doubt they can. Gosh. One supposes the Feds are acting all nervous on account they're too busy to take the time to go to the bathroom. Or maybe it's bad jock itch!

I remember the time during the Gulf War when they said they had got all of the enemy scuds. "Nope," I told my mom, "they just buried the things, or hid them in caves. So our guys are lying or stupid." And a day or two later, there was the boom of a non-existent scud. They had buried them, or hid them in caves, like any other person with a brain would. Of course, the experts said that Saddam would be gone just a few weeks after the war.

Well, Rumsfield did say that it was a war with no recognizable enemy entities, secret victories (and presumably public defeats). Perfect for getting re-elected, forever!

I went to the Texas State Fair this evening and everyone was happy to cooperate with being searched and metal detected because, after all, terrorists might try and hijack the Fair and FLY IT INTO A BUILDING! And we can't have that.

I also discovered that after just a little touch of rain everybody would go home. Tough and relentless, you betcha, cobber!

Perhaps tomorrow the DMN will reward me with a truly helpful headline such as 'Researchers Announce Americans Basically Stupid'.

ash ['At least then it would be public information!']

"Try to say sumpin' funny, Joe."

I can't get no lower, Willy. Me buttons is in the way.


Now we know where all those Earthlink complaints went! 

Paul Stratton


Ok, so I finally put my money where my mouth is. :)

I recall reading "Strategy of Technology" over 10 years ago in the Miami University (Miami of Ohio) after doing a search of books available under your name. Little did I realize it was NOT the same stuff that you wrote for Galaxy or Byte! <chuckle> Still, very interesting stuff. I suppose they call it "competitive strategies" these days.

Speaking of which, I think I can authoritatively speak about (at least) one college campus, being a returning student (as of last fall); I would be very surprised to find the sentiments described by the US News article referred to by Mr. John Leo at Miami, except by a very small minority.

The University put up a very large sheet of paper on the wall in the Shriver Center (actually, 2 sheets, each about 3'x18', one above the other) to allow the students to express their feelings.

Some of the statements were banal (sarcastic remarks about "thought police"), others somewhat silly (John Lennon quotes, things along the lines of "why can't we call just get along?"). Most of them were what you would expect of a group of 19-22 year olds who haven't had that much hard experience of the world as yet; not surprising that they're college students. A lot of well-intentioned stuff, quite a bit in the idealistic side, but certainly very little along the lines of "American are Facists" as you see in the article.

I saw one young lady write something I found very touching: as I watched she pulled out a marker & wrote: "remember those that died that day..."

I'm not worried about those kids one bit.



And for a different view:


There is a passage in the book 'A Vietcong Memoir' by Truong Nhu Tang I thought you might find interesting: "The continuing B-52 strikes were another Ally in the effort. To the Cambodian villagers, these bombings brought an incomprehensible terror, precipitating the more militant into the ranks of the Khmer Rouge and leaving the rest increasingly sympathetic toward the Americans' enemies".

Can you see the point coming here? If Bush wishes to end terrorism in the world he is going about it exactly the wrong way. Bombing poor and frightened people who lack both food and the equipment to listen to media other than that of the Taliban is only going to increase support for Bin Laden and the Taliban. It might also interest you to note that the average ration in the Vietcong and Khmer Rouge was 20 kilos of rice a month, whereas those living in their villages and towns continued to lead almost normal lives, and certainly were better fed. In Afghanistan the reverse is true, the Taliban own the food stores, while the population starve. How many will join the army merely to survive the winter?

Tang also has another point to make about waging war on American troops. This concerns the peculiar blindness Americans have when it comes to seeing war as an exercise in out fighting your opponents not merely militarily, but also in the diplomatic and propaganda fields. The Vietcong and PRG by all accounts ran rings around Henry Kissenger on the diplomatic front, and you only need to watch the archive footage of the demonstrations on American soil against the war to see how well they did at propaganda. But it seems they have not learnt from past mistakes, and instead of attempting to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans, you have decided to bomb them. Did it not occur to you that invading with troops first might be more effective? True, this approach would undoubtedly lead to more casualties, but a troop on the ground is far more capable when it comes to addressing the needs of the non combatants he should meet than a pilot at 20,000 feet. The population of Afghanistan by and large did not like the Taliban, but you have failed to capitalise on that fact.

As regards "Bombing them back to the stone age", I think the cartoon in the guardian a while back where generals discuss "Bombing them forward into the renaissance" adequately sums up the foolishness of this stratagem. In just under a week, you have destroyed the whole of the county's infrastructure, who is going to rebuild it afterwards? Or is it a case that you are just going to leave a country full of starving people, seething with resentment over their treatment by an unjust imperialist power? This would not surprise me. Ah, and while we are on the subject, exactly who is going to rule Afghanistan after the Taliban are deposed? The Northern Alliance, who stand accused of as many massacres as the Taliban? Or some unknown puppet government under the charge of the US, as happened in South Vietnam after they threw out the French colonialists. Either sound like extremely bad plans to me, perhaps you might suggest something better, because Bush sure has no plans.

Those are my views on your government's plans which you seem to endorse, but you don't seem to have considered the wider consequences of your actions. By forcing Pakistan into an uneasy alliance under threat of violence, you have effectively destabalised a Nuclear power. If they are forced to accept a regime in Afghanistan that is pro-India (as the Northern Alliance are) there will be a revolution, and the government that emerges on the other side will be nowhere near as moderate as the one we have today. Perhaps something to chew on when you consider advocating further military action.

I have read your column in Byte for a long time, but you never before struck me as a fool. Over this war issue it seems you can see no further than the end of your own nose. The choice of anyone who thinks rationally is to rethink the whole concept of aid to the developing world, no more handouts and no more loans to carry out major infrastucture projects. Aid should be given freely to those who need it, to conduct work that will make the people profitable and educated in their own right, not as a supply of labour to a western country. Once there is a thriving middle class in a country, they will make up their own minds as to who should rule them. Military action is for those with limited imagination.

I beg you to reconsider what you say as regards the war, and indeed about the morality of empire. Thanks, C.Davies.

"High moral standards are an evil plot by the coal industry to sell more units at Christmas" -C.Davies

[Homepage] [e-mail] [e-mail, urgent] [IRC, ICQ] cdavies[dot]org

If you want to aid people you have the opportunity. You apparently want others to do so whether they want to or not.

My own views don't seem to have got across to you. I don't want an Empire. As I said the first week, I want to establish monuments that will make it clear that it is not in the interest of ANY ruling elite to allow people under their jurisdiction to attack the United States. I am willing to add to my monuments some solar power receptors so there is a carrot as well as a very ugly stick, but I want that ugly stick: I want people to realize that it costs to attack the US.

Beyond that I want OUT of those areas. This is not likely to happen. We are not likely to choose Republic. We are likely to choose Empire.

But Empire has its logic and its prices. You don't seem to like that, but there is little to be done.  

I am willing to be the friend of liberty everywhere but the guardian only of our own.  I do not see that happening. 

If recognizing the reality of the requirements of empire makes me a fool, add me to the list. Add Machiavelli as well, and Mosca, and Parkinson, and Burnham, and for that matter Cicero...

On this score:

Four names came to my mind Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. US is not the only place that has suffered something unpleasant. In fact compared to these cities you have had a marginal number of dead and suffering.

These mostly facts do not take anything away from the sorrow of people who lost relatives or friends or the terrorism of killing 6000 people.

It takes away from the common american attitude that something unique has happened in New York. Killing (in this respect) innocent civilians happened so often in the last century that the fast demolishing of the twin towers is a minor mishap although a spectacular one.

It were Americans that started the chain of events leading to The Taleban. Human interactive phenomena seem to be so complicated that you had better not to meddle there too much. In the case of Americans it often (maybe more so than elsewhere) seems to be a case of: "If you even don't know that you don't know, you are in very deep trouble". To be truthful I don't see other politicians in other countries doing much better. There might be a small anomaly to that rule in areas where city culture is very old but seldom and only slightly above noise level.

To put it coldly it was fortunate that it happened in USA. At the moment I don't see any other country capable and willing to do something about an incident like Black September. And something has to be done about Bin-Laden, the sooner the better.

He might have gambled on the idea that "they" win and can that way bring down western civilization. He might have thought to polarize the conflict between 'Islam' and 'Others' up to a level where a world war like situation could be created. So far world wars have been won by industrial power and I wonder how B-L hasn't realized what the total western war industrial capability is or if he saw that maybe he counted on the will not to fight, maybe we'll see.

Hopefully we wouldn't have to live in these interesting times.

Tapio Manner Vantaa Finland

It is a view not likely to be popular here...


From Roland, subject The Big Lie: 

And a new subscriber on an old subject:

I am one of those pseudo-dyslexics I guess. I really do swap letters a lot (it just happened with e-mial) and when I am tired my eights turn into infinity. I absolutely love that little red wiggle underline in Word. In any previous generation I would have been considered unlettered, but in this one the problem didn’t stop me from getting a MS in Physics and working for 16 years in the space business. I did once meet a young woman who had a severe form of the problem. Her dyslexia was accompanied by several other problems, but it still hadn’t stopped her from attending college or being a wonderful cook. Life isn’t about what we can’t do because we have a problem, but what we can do in spite of them.


At the Tae Kwon Do school where I teach, we enroll many children with diagnosed or suspected ADD. Their parents are hoping that a dose of old fashioned martial arts discipline will fix things. I’m sure we do help, but it may not be any more than giving the kids a chance to play hard at something. When I was growing up I had a good bit of the wiggles, but we got an hour of playtime everyday. The teacher would march us to the playground and we would play softball, basketball, or football (soccer hadn’t been invented yet I guess). At school my son now gets 15 minutes and that is often taken away. It is the only punishment the teacher is allowed to use.

In Tae Kwon Do we do use a physical punishment, push-ups. We say that push-ups are good for your brain. All that blood pumping through your arms helps you remember not to do whatever it was next time.

I have to agree with your analysis of the numbers. When 25% (some of the local pre-schools claim 50%) of the kids have a problem then it is no longer a disease. It is a normal human condition and drugs cannot be the answer. Those slightly dyslexic wiggle prone children grow up to be slightly dyslexic wiggle prone adults who occasionally have creative ideas, do good work, and keep the wolf from the door for the rest of the human race.

Ad Astra,

Jack B. Lyle


Dear Doctor Pournelle:

One thing that has not come up much in the fuel cell discussion is the use of fuel cells as a storage medium for things such as hydro, wind, solar etc.. power sources that are "use it or lose it" in nature. I know that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has spent millions on pumping stations that lift water at night to the tops of mountain reservoirs and drain them during peak usage in the day and generate power by turning the night time pumps into daytime turbines. It sounds like existing fuel fuel cell technology is "good enough" to be useful for this right now.

On a related note, I think that it may well be a good thing to decentralize the power grid through home co-generation. Forget terrorism, just think about power outages caused by natural disaster or other problems. I suspect the economic losses caused by the West Coast power problems could have been averted by such a plan.

Rick Cartwright, Esq.

If things work as advertised. California got into the terrible mess it is in -- we will be paying for power bought and used in 2001 through 2011 and probably beyond -- because of the "Conserve your way to prosperity" people and their prejudices against central power systems.

The co-generation didn't tend to happen, and the fuel cells have to be made before they can use them. Pumped storage is never an elegant solution to a problem, and if fuel cells offer an alternative to that, hurrah. But I don't know enough to be sure.

My own preference would be for space solar power satellites with appropriate technology to store the power generated at times it is not needed. But it is clear to me that economic progress and efficiency is highly dependent on cheap electricity.


And a late birthday greeting from an old friend from times past:


Your posting of the passage from Twain's Mysterious Stranger had particular significance for me, since it was that book shoved into my 12-year-old hands by an old pensioner in the Seattle Public Library 50 odd years ago -- I say it was that book that shoved me through a door through which I knew I could never return.

I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with the book in my hands, thinking, "Oh my God, Oh my God...."

Twain's thoughts are, well, universal, doncha know....

I thank you for posting them in these times. As to whether things have changed as you commented, that is less important than the question of whether WE have changed, or whether we even WANT to change. Or do we want to just go back to our good, safe, American childhood?

But in the challenge to make America safe for OUR CHILDREN, we have no choice but to look at both the world as it is, and the world as we wish it to be, and act accordingly.

The bottom line is "Physician, Heal Thyself."

Until we can pacify the Crips and the Bloods in L.A. (with all their little sub-turf squabbles), we really will have no standing in the process of nation-building.

And until we provide treatment on demand for all our heroin addicts, thereby cutting the demand for the opium crop in Afghanistan and the coca crop in Columbia, we will only kill more and more American boys (not to mention Baptist missionaries in small planes).

As for our incursions into Afghanistan, I suspect that we are into an even bigger disaster than Vietnam. I hope not, but the signs are all there. And we risk bringing the whole area into a Taliban-like autocracy. Already we have cut a deal with the "President" of Uzbekistan to keep him in power in order to base some of our troops there....

Yesterday was the fortieth day after 911. Panichida were said in all Orthodox churches for the repose of the 6000. I remember that the Rabbi in the Yankee Stadium service said something like, "It was not 6000 people who were killed; it was one person who was killed 6000 times."

Kyrie Elieson....


Seems to me that your birthday is sometime around now. Happy Birthday, old soldier, and my best to Roberta, Alex and the rest of the Pournelle brood. And I cross myself in church when the priest asks for the blessing of our armed forces, knowing that yours are, if not in immediate harms way, then tending to be close to it.

Christie Eleison









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