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Mail 188  January 14 - 20, 2002

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IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor. If you want a mail address other than the one from which you sent the mail to appear, PUT THAT AT THE END OF THE LETTER as a signature. In general, put the name you want at the end of the letter: if you put no address there none will be posted, but I do want some kind of name, or explicitly to say (name withheld).

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I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too...  I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail. 

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This week:



Monday  January 14, 2002

Henry Vandenberg says

But We Were Born Free

A US Airways pilot spent the night in jail for "inappropriate" comments at a Philadelphia International Airport security checkpoint. He's out on bail now; nobody will say what he said, beyond there being no immediate threat involved.

This is the same airport (and likely the same US Airways checkpoint) that shut down a terminal and had the National Guard search it for guns after a US Airways pilot responded to confiscation of his nail clippers by sarcastically pointing out he had a (legal with license in PA regardless of what Philly thinks) pistol locked away in an airport storage room.

Backtalk a petty bureaucrat and go to jail. And these people are going to be made Civil Service and essentially unfirable within the year? My "drive instead" radius is expanding by the day.

Henry Vanderbilt

My "drive instead" radius is nearly infinite: I just don't go. For the first time in many years I am not going to the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (Boston this year) because I just don't care to fly. I am not tolerant of arrogant idiots, and I suspect I could end up in handcuffs over a missed nail file or tooth pick. Easier not to go at all.

But we were born free.

Hi Jerry, I bet you won't see this on page one. It sure wasn't on the Nature home page:

"The Antarctic has cooled during the past 35 years despite the worldwide temperature rise, according to a study published today..."

This one contradicts a recent page one story, which proclaimed 2001 one of the warmest years ever. It hasn't even been in our papers:

"The 2001 calendar year was slightly warmer than "average," according to global climate data gathered by instruments aboard NOAA satellites..." >

Stay Cool! Rod Schaffter --

"Powder and artillery are the most efficacious, sure and infallible conciliatory measures we can adopt." - John Adams

We really have no idea what is happening with climate. What we do know is that it has been much warmer in historical times, and we not only survived but thrived. But airport security hasn't collected all the fools we have to suffer. It would be nice if some of the learned professors at least looked at the evidence and commented on it; but in general the environmentalists just ignore it.

The biggest threat to humanity and the Earth and its environment is another Dinosaur Killer, a Lucifer's Hammer. We're overdue for one, but we don't seem to have any great agitation to go to space and learn how to deal with the threat.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

This gives the term "Blue Screen of Death" a whole new meaning: 

 --- CES: Microsoft unveils Microsoft Car.NET Live from Las Vegas: Microsoft on Saturday unveiled Microsoft Car.NET, a set of next-generation technologies that the company says will revolutionize automobile-based computing and communications. Based on Windows CE for Automotive 3.0, Car.NET will bring wireless Internet access to automobiles through a variety of in-vehicle information systems that feature speech recognition capabilities for hands-off operation. Motorists will be able to listen to email, make purchases online, and access music online. Controls that require typing or reading text will only work when the car is not moving, a safety feature aimed at curtailing the problems already caused by clueless cell phone users, who are often a hazard to themselves and others on the road. ---

This came to my attention because my wife is researching the safety effects of intelligent transportation systems (meaning adaptive cruise control, lane keeping systems, systems for automatically imposing speed limitations but also navigation, communication and entertainment systems). There is much to say about the often neglected safety side effects of this stuff!

Jan-Pascal -- Jan-Pascal van Best Delft University of Technology,

-- Jan-Pascal van Best Delft University of Technology , 


I have been struggling with "electronic ignition" for at least ten years. Pilot lights work better. You are in a better position than I to find out if the elimination of the pilot light saves anything.

This is a serious problem in Chicago, where it is really cold in the morning if the furnace doesn't ignite. Remember our temperature range is -20 to +110. We have big furnaces and big air conditioners.

For the last two or three years we have had intermitent ignition. We have at great expense ($100-$200) replaced spark plug and transformer. I even had a creative type who wanted to replace the furnace--these all from serious reliable, hundred year old furnace companies--this was not a con, they had not seen this before.

I recently--because I am a computer person--discovered that it was a wire that was completing the circuit when in a certain position, and not when in another. The furnace guys would never figure this out, but they charge $100 every time.

If I could, I would change back to a constant pilot light which I still have in the water heater. I apparently can't.

If you can, do not change from pilot lights.

They work.


Actually the new system works just fine, and we have had two other floor furnaces converted from pilot lights to electronic ignition that have served us well for years.  Understand, in Los Angeles we won't freeze if the electricity goes off and that shuts down the floor furnaces. We'll still have the oven, and for that matter there's no condition here that's life threatening if you are inside and have sweaters and blankets. And I have fireplaces, for that matter. In other places I might think about it, but here electronic is reliable enough, and since my floor furnaces are nearly inaccessible, I feel much safer without flames down there.

And Roland reports that the Microsoft Store went off line: 

Which I suppose should not be surprising.

And from Jim Warren on our priorities:

Didn't expect to send more on this, but these are too good(?) to keep to myself -- feedback to my msg re protecting against loss of wallet or purse. --jim

1. Apparently a great service from the government -- >I highly suggest folks read the FTC web site at > >  

> >I was a victim of ident theft in August 2001 and my billfold was >also recently stolen. The folks here are some of the most helpful >I've ever dealt with and *much* more responsive than ANY Federal >Gov't agency I've needed to call as an individual. > >Here are more details about this innovative program and other useful numbers. > >Toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TDD:202-326-2502 > >By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse > Federal Trade Commission > 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW > Washington, DC 20580 > >Online: Online ID Theft Complaint Form

2. A good'n'bad story from a neighbor, about the massive mailbox theft that was going on locally, a coupla years ago --

>I had my credit card stolen from my mailbox a couple of years ago by >a team of Russian mafia. They were caught by a very alert and brave >lady on Old La Honda Rd. who saw them rifling thru mailboxes and >followed them down the hill with the Sheriffs Dept. on her cell >phone. She basically "pushed" them right into the arms of the law. > >I got a call from the DA's office inquiring if I wanted to make a >statement to be presented at their sentencing. I said I'd make it >in person. They were already on probation in SF for hit and run, >not making restitution, credit card theft, etc. I stood up and >suggested they be hung by their balls as they were not going to >benefit from rehabilitation or probation. They were going to >continue preying on trusting and naive Americans. The PD had found >an entire! house full of goods charged on stolen credit cards and >couldn't do anything about it due to some archaic law constructed to >protect the bad guys. > >They got 2 and 3 months jail time respectively. A mere slap on the > my humble opinion. They charged over $15,000 on a credit >card belonging to a resident on Grandview Dr.

(But at least we give long prison sentences to folks caught with 2 oz. of grass [unless of course, they can afford a good lawyer].) --jim

Which needs no comment.


I thought you might find this web site rather interesting. I stumbled on it while I was researching the Marine Corp Martial Arts system. 

Also, have you seen the new "digital" camoflage utilities and the tan "rough side out" combat boots being made standard issue for the USMC. 

It appears that the Legions are getting new and distinct new uniforms.

Ron Booker

I was an early subscriber to a newsletter entitled "hoplology" and I suspect this is an online version. I haven't seen it yet.


I have One Good Reason why people will never switch over to using Linux (or anything else) as a desktop OS ...

DirectX and OpenGL.

ie. Games .... the good ones - not just solitaire for KDE.

Also, I found KDE to be a sluggish. It's just like Windows 3.0 running on top of DOS. It's a program not part of the OS.

I do agree, however, that we need competition, that's why my heart is set on waiting for OpenBeOS.


Phil Greenway IT Manager

I am told that's changing, but so far you are of course correct. On the other hand, some very good games have been ported to Linux.


Hope you can find time to follow this debate on hydrogen fuel cells on 


I probably won't but someone will send me a good summary.

Hi Jerry,

I'm sure that you hear a million of these, but here is my own personal horror story.

I recently bought a P4 from Dell that comes with Word 2000 pre-installed. I noticed that no matter how I configured the program I was unable to send out a Word file as an e-mail attachment. I was able to send out the file in the body of the e-mail, but not as an attachment.

The good news is that Dell customer support was excellent and spent the required time to fix the problem. The bad news is that the required time translated into me spending close to four hours on the phone with them (two evening sessions) while they tried various things, including reinstalling Word. It turns out that the WIN.ini file needed editing, and once they knew the fix it was a matter of ten minutes work. The fix is in a file called Q290797, which can be located on the Microsoft site. The hard part is finding it. Fortunately Dell has great service; otherwise I'm not sure what I would have done. I'm not a computer techie although I have been using them since Apple II+/Franklin days. I've also enjoyed your column for many years. Of course it's a lot more fun reading about someone else's problems than having to deal with my own. Cheers.

Mark Friedman Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP

Please visit our web site at <>

I am pleased to hear that Dell took the trouble to do that. I suspect I have a similar ini problem: I can't get the photo editor in the Office 2000 suite to work properly on one of my machines. It's not a big enough problem that I have attacked it yet.

And an advertisement about a conference I often go to, and may get there this year:

CONTACT 2002 will be held at NASA/Ames and the Marriott Hotel in Santa Clara on March 1-3, 2002. Our keynote speaker will be Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart. The theme of Ames Day, organized by Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute and Michael Sims of NASA, will be "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life -- Is the Cosmos Rife with Life?." It is dedicated to CONTACT board member Poul Anderson, writer, friend, gentleman and starfarer.

Please take a moment to look over our highlights and stellar cast this year. Participants are listed at the end of the file. Join us at CONTACT 2002!

See and

Highlights of the program:

Keynote Speaker - Apollo 9 Astronaut Rusty Schweickart

Astronaut Rusty Schweickart set records on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969 by piloting the first manned flight of the lunar module in space and pioneering the portable life support backpack in an extended EVA. Rusty is the founder of the Association of Space Explorers, the international professional society of astronauts and cosmonauts. He has won numerous awards in appreciation of his service onworld and offworld.

Tribute to Poul Anderson

CONTACT 2002 is dedicated to Poul Anderson, one of the greatest SF writers of all time. A tribute by scientists, writers and artists will celebrate his life and work. Speakers will include Marvin Minsky, Greg Bear, Jerry Pournelle and Vernor Vinge.

Ames Day - Is the Universe Rife with Life? Search for Life in the Universe.

Is biology an improbable accident, confined to a single, watery planet? Or could life be as common as chain motels, a regular happenstance on myriad worlds? Contact 2002 will present the latest news from the frontiers of astrobiology, space exploration, and SETI, and get you a little closer to the answer to these perennial, and profound questions. Major Subject Areas: What are the conditions on other worlds, how might life have arisen, and how could we find it? Organized by Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute and Michael Sims of NASA Ames, its speakers will include SETI originator Frank Drake, Mars activist Bob Zubrin and exotic life explorer Penny Boston.

Botball - Student-programmed robots play ball. Join in.

Botball is a national program where middle and high school students design, build and program AUTONOMOUS robots (no remote-control) to play in that year's game. Details about the Botball program can be found at Join in the game and learn to design robots. Developer Dave Miller will be head coach.

World Building Workshop

In honor of the event he created at CONTACT, we will inaugurate the Poul Anderson World Building Workshop, headed by geologist and writer, Steve Gillett. Come and build a world.


Our national award winning simulation will be demonstrating its operations on line. Students at colleges and university around the country build their colonies and interact within a virtual future community in space. Originator Reed Riner will host. Visit a city in space, walk on the moon, talk to Martians.


High School students create two planets and aliens and then play out ET contact. Our COTI scenario is the basis for an educational curriculum developed by Oroville High. See

Old-fashioned COTI -

Scientists and artists join attendees in designing a world and lifeform, then simulate contact with future human society.

Education for the Future

Latest techniques and programs for the next generation, innovative uses of imagination to teach science. Learn about virtual reality simulations of space communities, students building robots and designing star systems.

Art Galleries

Displays of works by noted artists will be organized by Joel Hagen.

.... plus symposia on exploring the future of humanity.

Expected participants: Karen Anderson, Lara Battles, Greg Bear, Barry Blumberg, Penny Boston, Chris Butler, Chris Chyba, Frank Drake, Rob Furey, Jim Funaro, Joel Hagen, Al Harrison, Mark Lupisella Michelle Merrill, Dave Miller, Marvin Minsky, Dave Moore, Chris McKay, Charles Ostman, Jerry Pournelle, Reed Riner, Don Scott, Seth Shostak, Michael Sims, Elizabeth Vaiu, Vernor Vinge, Richard Zimmer and Bob Zubrin.

CONTACT welcomes professionals, students and enthusiasts in the sciences, science fiction and the arts. Everyone's a participant! Limited registration provides opportunity for interaction. Come and be part of our eighteenth national gathering in an informal and synergistic atmosphere. This is the one you've been hearing about! For three days of hard work and hard play, join us...



This week:



Tuesday,  January 15, 2002

Dr. Pournelle:

I agree with you about airports: my 'drive instead' radius includes just about everywhere.

Years ago when they first installed metal detectors at airports, the approach was often to check all people going down the concourse, whether passenger or, like me, a relative helping cary baggage. The first time I passed through a metal detector I set it off; not surprising, as my job requires me to carry quite a few keys. I emptied my pockets, passed through the detector, was cleared, grabbed my keys and my relative's suitcases, and went to the gate.

Forewarned by this, the next time I approached a metal detector I asked for a tray for my keys BEFORE I passed through the detector. No. Just walk through the detector. The lights flashed, the warning buzzer sounded, and myriad strangers looked to see who the offender was. Then, of course, I had to empty my pockets and go through the detector again, delaying everyone behind me.

Maybe screeners have quotas. But bureaucratic protocol was satisfied.

In August 2001, the _Atlantic_ had an article on general aviation, quoting Dan Goldin, among others. NASA and others have studied commercial aviation and reached some very interesting conclusions: At that time, summer 2001, average speed, from your home to actual destination (not just arrival at the airport of destination) was 50 MILES PER HOUR.

The researchers concluded that it was FASTER to drive to any destination less than 500 miles from home than it was to fly on a commercial jetliner, simply because of the delays at both airports. I bet that radius is a lot longer now.

The article stated that because the hub-and-spoke architecture of modern airlines is not designed to move people to their destinations as rapidly as possible but to conserve airline resources, other approaches to rapid travel are being studied. One solution that NASA has examined is greater emphasis on small-aircraft general aviation, including intelligent autopilots and smaller aircraft, so that a person intending to make a direct flight from a small city to another small city can just fly between two smaller local airports.

Sounds great to me.

However, I suspect that anti-terrorism hysteria (and airline lobbyists) will put an end to that concept. There seems to be a bias toward eliminating general aviation entirely. Also, after the Congressman was strip-searched due to the metal in his artificial hip, I suspect that Senators and Representatives will exempt themselves, and other officials, from security screening. And, I suppose, it's just possible that an intelligent terrorist would realize that, and plant weaponry in a congressional aide's briefcase. An unarmed terrorist could be the aide's (or Representative's) seatmate, steal the briefcase, access the weapons . . .

Fly Naked Airlines. Our handcuffs and leg irons have built-in biosensors, for easy, in-flight polygraph tests.

Mark Thompson

And the sheep look up. I will probably go to Contact in Santa Clara, and I will drive.

Dr. Pournelle, At we call this Mindless Link Propagation. But, since you've had stuff lately about fuel cells, car safety, the idiocy of CAFE, and airport security, here goes.

The Washington Post's car reviewer thinks that CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) is a crock, that Americans really want station wagons, but can't get them because of CAFE, and buy SUV's instead.

>From the Washington Post: Review of a hybrid gas/electric car

Hydrogen fuel cell cars 

The Ultimate SUV: The Army's SmarTruck, a concept vehicle demonstrating protection technologies. It's a Ford F350 diesel that is armored and has pepper spray nozzles, concussion bombs, and more! All at the low, low cost of $600,000! (Destination, tax, title not included.)


Dr. Dobb's Journal on the safety issues of a Wired Car. (I may have sent you this already. I sent it to all sorts of people.) 

>From, an airline pilot writes about airport security.

Kit Case

Well, it is getting a bit out of hand, but no one has to follow the links. OF COURSE most people want station wagons, but get SUV's because they aren't making them. And OF COURSE we are subjected to mindless regulations and restrictions for our own good: the business about no station wagons is of a piece with the airport security regulations.

The principle is this:

The purpose of government is to hire and pay government workers. Given that task has been accomplished other things may be done, but that is the primary purpose, and NOTHING will be allowed to interfere with it.

The purpose of self-government is to thwart those who want to earn their bread through giving the rest of us permission to go about our daily lives provided that we pay tribute to our masters, the government employees and officials.

Now we cannot get away from government. It is a way to organize efforts and can be used for conquest, and the only real way to prevent being conquered by a government is to have one of your own. The original notion of These United States understood that. Today of course Washington is the Imperial City, and its major purpose is to extract tribute from the rest of us. 

Note that when you think of good things government does, you almost inevitably think of the military, or local people like police and fire...

Understand that the purpose of welfare is not to help anyone: it is to pay the welfare workers.  (It has long been known that if you take what is spent fighting poverty and divide by the number of people in poverty you will find the number greater than the amount needed to not be in poverty. The conclusion is obvious.)

Some services are best provided by government. Most are not. But to make sure you do not think in those terms, you are distracted, invited to contemplate scandals (which cost far less than the "honest" costs of government: I'd rather have bribery and corruption if we could get rid of the education and welfare establishments and leave those to local self-government as problems for each community to deal with. Lord we would be better off if we could bribe each Congressman and Senator to just repeal all that stuff: think, for $550 million dollars, a million to each of those creatures, say $100 per head from those of us who could afford it, we might get some control over our schools and those officious people who-- but that's another matter.)

The primary business of government is to take from the productive and pay non-productive people, who think of ingenious ways to conceal this is what is happening. The important thing is that the sheep never look up.

The ruling class is getting more and more arrogant. Perhaps they will overstep with some of this nonsense. Note that they in general don't much care what it is  they do as long as we pay the bribes they call their salaries and retirement pay: most of the EPA people really don't care if you drive a station wagon. But they care a lot that they get to tell you what you can drive and that you pay them to rule you.

Dr. Pournelle:

There is all the debate that hydrogen is not really an energy source, it is only energy storage. But hydrogen can be made from natural gas, which is somewhat more abundant than oil, and there are nuclear-thermal schemes for making hydrogen.

My question is whether there is enough platinum to go around to run cars with fuel cells, or are we going to have to mine near-Earth asteroids for it. The story I heard is that a catalytic converter requires $100 of platinum/paladium/rhodium, an automotive fuel cell requires 100 time more or $10,000 of platinum. I suppose an extra $10,000 tacked on to a car won't stop some people, but the question is if there is enough from terrestial sources if everyone has a fuel cell car.

Paul Milenkovic, Madison, Wisconsin

Hydrogen is nasty stuff. When I wrote about the Hydrogen Economy 25 years ago I hadn't realized just how hard it is to keep it from leaking and getting loose.

If we really worry about CO2 buildups we can (1) build Space Solar power systems that produce no emissions at all,  (2) seed the oceans in ways to cause plankton booms; but first we need to look at the science, not just the blathering.

And the big threat to the environment remains Lucifer's Hammer. Space Solar Power systems require access to space, which means we would be working on that problem too if we build a real space Navy.

Some things are best left to government if government would only do them. Early space exploration through X projects is likely one of them, and a Space Navy makes sense. But those are precisely the things government is not doing. Instead, they are concentrating on turning air passengers into obedient sheep.


Henry Vandenberg says

But We Were Born Free

A US Airways pilot spent the night in jail for "inappropriate" comments at a Philadelphia International Airport security checkpoint. He's out on bail now; nobody will say what he said, beyond there being no immediate threat involved.

This is the same airport (and likely the same US Airways checkpoint) that shut down a terminal and had the National Guard search it for guns after a US Airways pilot responded to confiscation of his nail clippers by sarcastically pointing out he had a (legal with license in PA regardless of what Philly thinks) pistol locked away in an airport storage room.


Next thing you know, they will stop allowing anyone with big hands, good physique, martial arts training or boxing experience to fly. I mean, after all, how hard is it to kill someone with your bare hands?? Especially if one is in good physical shape? Kind of reminds me of some George Carlin comedy:

(probably not an completely accurate quote as it's been a long time since I saw this on HBO)

"On the airplane, they actually give you a knife and fork. .... You could kill a pilot with a table knife....or how about a guy with big hands? He could probably strange two flight stewardesses, one with each hand."

This is getting ridiculously out of hand. I wonder when all the frustrated frequent flyers are going to start committing civil disobedience acts....or for that matter, like Henry notes, the pilots themselves?

I, for one, am going to commit a (small) act of civil disobedience; like you Jerry, I am quitting flying. Completely. It means I will not be able to spend as much time with my daughter as I'd like - she's quite a distance away - nor be able to attend any PC gaming conferences this year without taking more vacation time. A lot of people are doing the same. We are probably looking a government bailouts of airlines (again).

I also wonder why your site is one of the few I see with ongoing commentary and complaints about this insanity.


I don't fly anymore either. I am afraid to. I do not suffer fools gladly, or indeed much at all. This is my temperament, and I am very likely to say something more than rude to an arrogant fool with authority at an airport; and I do not want to find myself in jail. Best to stay away from them.

I don't know why no one else seems to note that we are no safer from determined attacks than we were on September 10; the kind of people who did 911 can easily devise ways around our new "security" measures, but meanwhile we pay people to lord it over us and submit to all this like the good Imperial subjects we have become.

"If you had tasted true freedom as we have, you would advise us to fight for it not with the sword only, but the battleax."  But that was long ago in another country.




This week:



Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Paul Craig Roberts weighs in on the corruption of science and education: 

Gordon Runkle -- "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." -- Theodore Roosevelt

We no longer seem to have institutions devoted to truth. Now there is a difference between devotion to truth and never being wrong: many scientists and sch0lars have been wrong, and some have stubbornly stuck to their interpretation of the facts -- but they do not make up their data.

It has long been my practice to send a copy of what I am about to say to the people affected. I include this phrase: "You may not quote from this prior to publication. I am amenable to comments: I will correct errors of fact, and I will listen to arguments regarding errors of judgment. I reserve the right to determine which is which." (Interestingly enough, many companies have wanted to argue with me; a couple have shown I was plain wrong and I fixed it before it went to print; a few have threatened to withdraw advertisements, and I am pleased to say that in 25 years I have not had an editor or publisher comment other than derisively on such threats. Also interestingly,  Microsoft has never responded to this opportunity beyond acknowledging receipt although some in both Microsoft PR and Waggoner-Edstrom are very old friends.)

My point is that you can prove anything if you make up your data, but the science model goes the other way: you must explain the data. In my long ago C P Snow Memorial lecture I made the point that novelists require only plausibility: I need to make you think it could have happened. Lawyers want evidence: what they present should be factual, but they need not dig up facts embarrassing to their case. Scientists need data, and good science takes all the data into account.

On those principles hang all the progress of science. But modern scholarship often seems more akin to legal argument than science, and in some of the cases cited in your reference, to novelists: "Given my conclusions, it could have happened the way I said, and therefore I will make up a scenario supporting my conclusions and lead you to believe I didn't make it up but found it in the records..."

For the consequences of that, see FALLEN ANGELS by Niven, Pournelle, and Flynn.

And for some unfortunate truths on the modern legal system:

Hi Jerry,

An interesting perspective on lawsuits from Brad Wardell. Worth a read. 

- Paul

Fair warning, it's in white on black which I rather dislike. But he is being as harsh as truth...

Following from a discussion group, by permission:

Jim C followed by Jim W wrote

>> I believe we should conquer Saudia Arabia and hand it back to the Hashemite dynasty.

>I agree, except that we should hand the Saudi oil fields back to their rightful owners--the international Oil Monopoly Corporations.

Let me elaborate Jim W's point. The technology for discovering oil and extracting it and the actual oil in Saudi Arabia was found by British and American corporations. The oil was extracted and marketed under contracts with the Saudi government, and these contracts made them very rich.

Under the influence of Third Worldism in the Third World and in the advanced countries the US and British governments did not object when the Saudis tore up the contracts and expropriated the oil and divided the loot among the members of the royal family and their friends. Had the expropriation been attempted 20 years earlier, troops would have been sent to prevent it. Soviet alliances with the assorted royalists and dictators reinforced the ideology.

The result in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere was the creation of a large class of very rich free loaders who had done nothing to develop the technology that extracted the oil from beneath the feet of their camels and continued to do very little if anything to further develop the technology or to conduct explorations.

In the West primitive religious restrictions had to be overcome in order to develop the economy. In Saudi Arabia the primitive religion rode on top of the oil wealth.

I'd still be surprised if Western Civilization developed the guts to reverse this in any significant way.

John McCarthy

This is not said very often.






This week:


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Worked on Fiction







This week:



Friday, January 18, 2002

Dr. Pournelle:

My theory is that Social Security has nothing to do with supporting retired people. The main purpose of the Social Security program is to take the most reliable voting group in America and enslave it to the Federal Government. This is also the main purpose for Medicare and other programs to make the elderly dependent on the people they vote for, with prescription drug coverage rolling down the pike.

People are often puzzled as to why government programs persist when they are obviously not accomplishing their intended purpose very well. Granted, there is much to what you say about trying to keep bureaucrats and government workers on a permanent payroll, but I think it's more about sheer policital power.

Look at Social Security from the viewpoint, "does this provide a good retirement income for the elderly compared to alternatives?" and it looks like a failure. However, look at it from the viewpoint, "does this program help the government gain and keep power over its citizens?" and suddenly it reveals itself to be a fabulous success. The same altered viewpoint can be applied to other supposedly "failing" programs like Medicare, public education, welfare, immigration policy, etc. and each program shows itself to be tremendously effective in helping to enslave the citizen to the state.

I don't know an easy way out of this. Once redistribution of wealth became not only constitutional, but a virtue, our system of government has actively selected for people who seek power over every other goal. Those who don't play the game, and deliver the bread and circuses, are soon voted out.

I'll keep voting Republican or Libertarian, and hope for the best, but Libertarians are more or less irrelevant as a political party, and Republicans are largely totally ignorant of the classical liberal philosophical base that should be the hallmark of the Republican Party.

Tom Brosz

That's fairly close to my view. The only real remedies are eternal vigilance, which means citizen participation in the party system so that their views influence the parties themselves. This is pretty well left to the professionals now, much more so since the Convention system was replaced by primaries. Convention nominations required participation by precinct captains and up, and that meant concerted efforts to find precinct captains.

As near as 1960 I could say, truthfully, that the United States was pretty well governed by under 100,000 self-selected party workers (mostly precinct captains), mostly volunteers, and that anyone who wanted to and would devote the time to the work could be a part of that group. I think that is no longer true. The structure described in Heinlein's (unsalable when written, not well sold when finally published posthumously) TAKE BACK YOUR GOVERNMENT is pretty well gone, and I do not know if we can get it back.

Republican tend to be people who either didn't want the job of governing to begin with, or wanted it desperately, but because they needed the work. Liberal democrats tend to be people with a mission, noble in their own eyes, but they bec0me the enlightened helping the benighted. There may be no way back to self government. We have too many in the ruling class now who are paid to govern, and who are well organized to keep their jobs.

But do note Pareto's Circulation Of Elites.

See e.g. Neustadt Richard E. and Ernest R. May. Thinking In Time. The Uses Of History For Decision-Makers out of the Kennedy School where some researchers with very good access to people as well as documents make the point that the brain trust made Social Security a mess so that like the Gordian Knot it could never be undone. Whatever the merits of social security, it is a fine example of making decisions once and for all.

Clark E. Myers


From: Chris Morton To: Jerry Pournelle: Subject: Spam

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Is it just me, or has the volume of spam recently increased astronomically?

I seem to be getting a lot more of it, and from places Iíve never seen before, Korea in particular. I must get at least a couple of HTML email spams from the ROK every day. Some of them even look mildly interesting. Too bad my Hangukmal is pretty minimal these days.

I use Agent for half my mail and all of my usenet news, and itís a dream when it comes to killfiles. The other half of my mail is read with Netscape 6.2. Thatís a lot less pleasant. Itís a chore to set up killfiles, and takes way too many steps, unlike Agent which defaults to ďdelete all mail from <domain>Ē.

Any suggestions?

My suggestions involve violence and are at the moment illegal. A bounty on the ears of proven spammers would help. It need not be a very large bounty.

Until the ISP's and the backbone managers start setting their routers to null file this stuff we will have to endure it. It destroys commerce, and contributes to the bad economy, so perhaps one day our masters will realize it harms their revenues. Until then the Opt In legislation that the Congress in its wisdom gave to the Direct Mail Association and its lobbyists protects the spammers.

And a slick idea from Joanne Dow, Wizardess

So you're travelling. So you don't have access. You're down. There is a cure. Visit  for the tools needed for instant access. So what if it's American Airlines' airport network you use for downloading your email. Hm, I wonder what ELSE you can do.... That story is currently the second one on the NetStumbler page:,1199,NAV47_STO67344,00.html 

Enjoy! (Somebody on the Linux Kernel Mailing List touted this to Eric Raymond as Eric was off to ConFusion.)



I seem to remember a very notable science fiction author writing about thisÖ.. J

Tracy Walters



Some of the Linux kernel hackers are putting an auto-config module into the kernel build process (previously, you had to know what hardware you had so you could configure the kernel to load drivers for it). This is sparking a debate about Aunt Tillie and Linux (scroll down to "Should Aunt Tillie build her own kernels?" section):


Seems some in Linux, especially ESR, agree with you and understand that the elitism that surrounds Linux/Unix is detrimental to the entire community. Now, if we can just get the rest of them to figure it out.


The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine. Thanks.

Now hydrogen, from someone with experience.


The current talk of the hydrogen economy  is missing a few vital details. I work for a company that is in the Hydrogen business, as it exists today. There are several sources of hydrogen in viable quantities for industrial use. The two most common are catalytic reforming and electrolysis. I would also say that we do not "make" hydrogen but rather release it for use. Both methods require energy input so the concept of "storage" has merit.

Catalytic reforming strips hydrogen from hydrocarbons (CxHy - Methane CH4 or higher) in the presence of water (H20). Hydrogen (H) is freed from the grip of the carbon (C) and the oxygen (O). Quite often we produce carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H). The CO is sold to someone making plastics and the H is sold to a variety of applications (including filling balloons). However, we still vent a significant amount of CO2. This process occurs at 2000 F over an expensive catalyst. It requires alot of energy to heat everthing to that temperature. If a major premise, for the use of hydrogen, is to reduce the use of fossil fuel, using fossil fuel as the source for hydrogen does not really make sense. The C's in the hydrocarbon have to go somewhere and in a hydrogen plant (the extreme case - no CO produced) they all get vented to atmosphere as CO2. The market for plastic, dry ice and pop fizz will not support the total sequestering of the amount of CO2 vented to produce enough motor fuel CO2. Using hydrogen as a vehicle fuel does save some other emissions and the unburned hydrocarbon emissions from vehicles would almost be eliminated. The CO2, CO and NOx emissions are just shifted in location.

Electrolysis is of course cleaner in one way, as the Hydrogen (H) is stripped off of water (H20) by running an electric current through the water. H bubbles up off of one electrode and O bubles up off of the other. However, if the electricity source is burning fossil fuels, again we are not really solving the problem only shifting the location of the emissions. If the source of the electricity is nuclear power the emissions would be greatly reduced.

This last item brings to mind where the "hydrogen economy" was first mentioned. As I remember when hydrogen powered rockets and cars were first thought up (wizz bang of the 40's thru the 60's) and the words "hydrogen economy" were first attached to the concept, the energy source was always nuclear energy. Somehow in recent times the nuclear energy part got swept under the rug.

As someone experienced with hydrogen I can say: It is difficult to keep contained but its done successfully every day; It is flammable (The tricky part is that the flame is invisible in the day time) but no more or less dangerous than gasoline or natural gas. In my opinion the hydrogen economy is pointless, if fossil fuels/feedstock are the source of the energy stored as hydrogen. If fossil fuel or feedstock is involved, the carbon has to go somewhere.

Regards, WD Lindberg

Well, it's done every day, but it's still dangerous stuff to play with: it gets loose a lot. But as I have always said, there are no hydrogen wells: hydrogen can be a very good way to distribute nuclear or space solar generated power. One of many, but with fuel cells it may be a key to mobile power.

What we need is some X projects in both power generation and distribution. And we need access to space.

I don't know if I've recommended it to you before, but  is worth a look every so often.

William Harris

We have more lawyers in LA County than they have in all of Japan.

Last Wednesday, our missionary meeting had one of our folks who was born and raised in India, come to the front to speak.

This person's daughter came up to give her impressions of a recent visit back home. She said "I'm glad I was brought up here in the US, because of the education system! Over there, there were children in third grade studying stuff that she didn't have to study till 8th grade!

I don't know how this problem will be fixed, since the Unions have power with teachers because the (very underpaid and overworked) teachers see the administration as the enemy (They are beaurocrats too, after all), and so feel they need a Union to protect them. As we've seen in all of human endeavor, when two sides are polarized, you side with the side that isn't shooting at YOU, since neither middle ground nor the other side is safe, otherwise.

The administration, which has all these things that need money, and not enough money to fix them AND pay administrator's salaries, see the teacher's, their Unions, and the taxpayers as the enemy.

The taxpayers see teachers and administration as the enemy.

The problem with this is that the "enemy" complex takes over ANY rational discussion. If it didn't, we'd have peace in Israel/Palistine, and Ireland, right now. Hate and mistrust run deep, and the only thing that can make a dent in it, is to give all these groups somebody else to hate much more.

Two solutions I see are, open competition, which won't work since revenue from attendance will be more important to the administration than education (the way stock price was more important to Enron than their business model), or an elected assembly/congress, who is willing to make ALL these groups really angry at THEM, by doing a radical overhaul of the system that will:

1.) Cost money and schooling time, as the system is deconstructed and reconstructed.

2.)Break the Union or limit its power, and throw out the entire current teacher population, to be rehired as merit dictates, with people who can teach, whether they have a degree in "Education" or not. Preferably not.

3.) Tear out the current school administration system, and replace it with direct Parent/Teacher control. Give the PTA some teeth!

The problem is, what Elected official is going to run on this platform?

So there you have my rational argument on why rational debate won't work on this problem. :)

-- David Bierbaum.

One can only try. "My taxes are too high and my kid can't read." 

It is the usual problem: those who like the status quo are paid to like it and passionate about defending it. Those who understand that the education system is not working have other things to do with their lives, and do not feel that this is the most important thing in the world. To those whose living comes from the system there is no choice. They have to fight. After all, they can send THEIR kids to private schools -- but only if they continue to be paid by the public.


I searched for RAH's "Take Back Your Government" ; here is what returned:

Heinlein, Robert A. a.. Take back your government! Pournelle, Jerry a.. Take Back Your Government: A Practical Handbook for the Private Citizen Clicking on the link returns a not ic stokc. Is this new?...


jim dodd

I wrote the introduction to the book, and a few comments, but it was Heinlein's book, written early on and not published until after his death.









This week:





I took the day off





This week:


read book now


Sunday, January 20, 2001

Thought you might find this item (from more than a little amusing, given all the MS security holes you've mentioned recently on your site:


Decision Keeps Redmond from Monopolizing Massive Microsoft Patch Industry

Redmond, Wash. ( : In a surprise settlement today with nine U.S. states, Microsoft agreed to be split into two independent companies : one that will continue to make Microsoft operating systems, browsers, and server software, and another, potentially larger company that will make patches for Microsoft operating systems, browsers, and server software.

Critics immediately charged that the settlement : which overrides a previous agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice : does nothing to diminish Microsoft's standing as the world's most powerful software company. But industry analysts argued that providing patches for security holes in Microsoft programs is a major, untapped growth industry, and applauded the states for not allowing Redmond to control it. ---

Remainder of article at <>

----------------------------------------------------------------- Walter W. Giesbrecht


This from Roland, 

And on the same subject>

Someone's likely already sent you this link, but perhaps not. Amazing what we do in the name of security, and how many people approve. 

---- Robert Brown "Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin

I try not to think about it any more. It's too depressing.

While the proximate trigger for this Richard Forno essay on Microsoft's approach to security vulnerabilities as problems in public relations was the UPnP hole, about which you have probably heard enough, it deals extensively with Forno's view of the root cause:

Scott Miller

And another view of law and lawyers in Japan

Something remembered from my Japanese Politics texts... Japan made a conscious choice to restrict its number of lawyers; they do this through a hellaciously difficult bar exam (average failure rate is something over ninety-five percent; most applicants try for many years and either squeak by or give up). Sure, the questions are generally picky memorization of things with only peripheral use to the legal profession, but since the point isn't really qualification, it seems to suffice.

On the other hand, a lot of things we insist on lawyers to do are done by miscellaneous legal professionals over there. Most basic legal paperwork such as wills can be filed with what I've seen translated as "court scriviners", or "notary publics" except that they do so much more than our equivalent of that term.

Additionally, a lot of "corporate law" is actually done by non-lawyers. Virtually everybody taking that bar exam is a law school graduate; with so many of them failing, well, they all end up somewhere. Sure, they can't litigate, but most company lawyers don't spend all their time in the courtroom anyway (especially in Japan, of course).

The text ("Japanese Law: An Economic Approach", by Ramseyer and Nakazato, unfortunately on loan to the company lawyer and thus unavailable for direct citation) asserted that the per capita total of legal professionals in Japan is actually slightly higher than in the US. Interestingly, the fact that most of them aren't courtroom lawyers wasn't cited as a reason for the low number of lawsuits; they point out the consistent and predictable monetary judgments, making it easy for parties to come to a settlement.

As an aside, a comment on the education system... I cannot believe that there is a school that is so poor that an education cannot be obtained there. Yes, there are bad teachers, but there are good ones; it takes few good teachers to fire a student's love of learning, and once it is there a bad teacher cannot stop a student from learning, only prevent them from doing so for an hour a day or so.

However, while we can rely on the school to provide information, we obviously can't rely on it to make the student want to learn... it will work sometimes, even quite often, and damn near every time in an excellent school, but that's "sometimes" and "quite" and "damn near", not "always". I suspect you had the added impetus of parental discipline to help out, and the safety valve of jobs for unskilled labor that would soak up the educational dregs. The former isn't happening lately (though I can't say I experienced this personally... my folks would have had to use a crowbar to keep me away from books, and they never felt so inclined) and the latter is rapidly being globalized out of existence. The results are predictable.

Andy Kent

There needs to be more cost to failed lawsuits. There needs to be a downside to starting litigation. That said, it's not simple. Perhaps there need to be two verdicts in a civil suit: if the jury finds for the defendant then it needs to decide whether the defendant was at fault at all. If not, then the plaintiff AND his attorney need to be charged with making the defendant whole.

And here's why there's more spam:


If I am not the first one to tell you this, I apologize for wasting space in your mailbox.

One possible reason for the increased amount of SPAM since last year is due to the decision of MAPS, the Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC ( to no longer provide their services for free to ISPs and other larger entities. Even if your own ISP is a MAPS subscriber, if the mail was sent using an ISP that isn't, chances are it will get through.

On another note, I just sent you payment via PAYPAL. Chaos Manor deserves to live forever! And while doing that, I noticed what you wrote about the 'hoohaw' PAYPAL gives you about a security certificate. I think it's because you use a deprecated '' URL instead of ''.


I need to adjust my Paypals account. I'll get there, but meanwhile it works, and I have fixed a couple of problems.







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