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Mail 228 October 21 - 27, 2002






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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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Monday  October 21, 2002

Referring to last week:

Regarding your recent comments:

“And Mr. Thompson has found the book, and I have ordered a copy.

I also found a wonderful speech by The Lady Thatcher, very much worth the attention of those seriously concerned about statesmanship and leadership in this new world.

The Internet is a resource I never contemplated in my youth.”


I recently completed reading Dante’s Inferno and it triggered memories of a book I read several years ago, that is apparently no longer in my library. All I could remember was that it was loosely based on Dante’ Inferno and that I thought it had been written by a science fiction author. Searches on Barnes & Noble and the websites drew blanks, other than references to Dante’s writings, translations of them or comments on them. A broader search on the Internet was about the same, although there were, of course, many more references. By now I was committed; I wanted to read this book again. Particular segments kept popping into my mind, from the beginning, all the way to end, where a companion of the hero started the long climb back to the beginning, to start helping another soul through the inferno.

After about the third day of sporadic searches, it occurred to me to go to the Library of Congress website at and very quickly, in my first search, on the third page of results, the book was listed.

Imagine my surprise when I found the authors to be Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle!

Either I read way too much, or I’m getting old.


Well, I hope you like it as much the second time. It wasn't an easy book to write.

Joel Rosenberg on The Air War in Europe 1942-1945

My conclusion -- fwiw; I don't have claims to expertise -- is that the city bombing in Europe probably lengthened the war, rather than shortening it. Not out of any stiffening of resistance -- just that the bombers and crews and bombs, of which there were many used up, could have been better deployed during Overlord, and at the fringes of the advance.

Assuming I'm right -- always a dangerous assumption -- I'm not sure how useful an insight that is, though. Bomber Harris and the rest didn't share that opinion, after all, and were going on both their best available information, as well as their own righteous anger.


It's *starting* to look like the Fed have bagged the DC sniper, and his little buddy, although it's too soon to tell.

Have you been following Joel Mowbray's column at National Review? It seems clearer and clearer that State's "Visa Express" program in the Saudi entity was even more incompetent than raging anti-State fanatics like me have been saying. If we're going to have an Empire, the less incompetent it is, the better, and the nomination of Maura Harty for head of Consular Affairs is sort of like hiring Arthur Anderson to run an accounting reform program.

-- ------------------------------------------------------------ 

Alas they are no further toward catching the DC sniper than before. And I agree, if we must have empire, why can't it be done well?

Dear Dr Pournelle, 

"We should be so lucky". 

People go nuts trying to reconcile the obvious evils of the British Empire with the strangely wistful recollection that it was a comparatively benign institution. Prior to WWI, ordinary Britons felt they had a place in their country and the world. Not a particularly glamorous or healthful place perhaps, but a definite place in a society which for all its faults - and they were many - was making a better world. The Great War changed all that, but not beyond redemption. I don't know if anyone's interested, but it's possible to understand how such an apparently evil institution could be so fondly remembered.

Here is Orwell writing in 1936 on his time in purgatory (Burma);

"... I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British... I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty."

The point of Orwell's squib was that imperial administrators at best tended to wind up doing the right thing, at least according to written codes of conduct, for the meanest of motives. Was the US power structure inclined to the same view? You'd never see the mean motives in cultural icons of the time, like Lives of a Bengal Lancer, but I've seen an opinion that such movies were just preparing the good American people for an empire of their own.

Orwell felt as early as the first world war that the mistakes of the ruling class had doomed the country to third-rate status - that the British Empire was not only repugnant but moribund. But it took the second world war to really drive home to the British not that the Empire was as good as dead - it's likely that given the proper will it could have picked itself up again, wheezing and stuttering - but that they didn't really want it any more. Not only were they tired and poor, with tremendous local ideological disputes to resolve between the classes, but on the whole they had adopted the American view of proper and moral conduct between nations.

Certainly after WWI, something had been lost, specifically the sense of participation by all classes, but the blow was far from mortal. The Roman Empire recovered from much worse. In fact the British were still expanding their rule in areas where the alternatives were much, much worse - and oddly enough, one of those areas was very close to Orwell's station in Moulmein.

At around this time the young Chinese left over from the progressive nationalist revolution of 1911 were writing bitter criticisms of Kuomintang policy in areas close to the Burmese border where apparently the Brits so despised by Orwell were nonetheless winning the hearts and mind of the people in a way the Chinese found impossible to emulate. I have a copy of "Territoires et populations des confins du Yunnan", autographed in 1937 by J. Siguret, the French translater of these complaints by young mandarins, scandalised by the British irruption into territory they regarded as traditionally Chinese.

This work gives a vivid picture of the sort of duties Orwell would have been required to perform as a policeman, the obstacles he faced - one really has sympathy for the poor man - and the degree to which despite himself he was doing a pretty good job. Sample (p.113, "Frontière Sino-Birmane non-délimitée", my translation):

"b) Attitude of the administration toward the indigenous population. — One may say that the [British] Administration is benevolent to the general public. The Judiciary and the Police have given proof of great friendship to the people at large. Wherever they go, they bring thread, needles, and other objects which they distribute between clans of the people. They also give toys to children, to win the hearts and minds of the people [ pour concilier le coeur des habitants ]. By a rigorous system of punishment and reward they encourage people to do right and avoid evil...."

And so on. To the disgust of the Chinese the horrid English were not only making progress, they were - according to local Chinese officials - gaining territory. When these grumbles appeared in the press the English grinned under their whiskers and piously spurned the thought of further expansion - "Mr Chang Kia-Pin is not slow in grasping the advantages to China as a result of the British activities along the Burmese-Yunnan border, and quite openly declares that the influence imparted by the British is good and tends to establish friendship between everybody... it is hardly reasonable that the British would first enlighten and civilise their comparatively barbarous neighbours along the Sino-Burmese borders, and then suddenly turn enemy and wage warfare on a people whom they have taught hygiene and the essentials of life, not to mention the spirit of friendliness". Does any of this sound familiar to American ears, seventy years later?

Of course the Chinese were livid. They felt the Brits were cheating in the Great Game. The British did not measure up to Orwell's standards, which were their own, but those standards vastly exceeded what peoples within the Empire had come to expect. And the Chinese and others are still livid, because the Empire dies hard. It has simply changed capitals and decentralised a bit.

Regards, TC

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

Subject: RE: The present danger

Date: Sat, 19 Oct 2002 00:21:03 -0700

     "In other words, you believe in leaders who do what they should, not in a republic or a democracy."

     By Definition, everyone ought to do what they should, including leaders. They should try to lead, not say, "The people don't want it, so we won't try to do it," when they know something is necessary.

     And while we're on the subject, last time I looked, the people's representatives in Congress had just authorized the President to remove Saddam's regime by force, and 67% in the last opinion poll I saw approved of the policy.  So perhaps I am not the side of this correspondence who doesn't believe in 'a republic or a democracy.'

     "It would have been impossible to win any kind of election in 1936 on a platform of 'Stop Germany'.  It was tried, so I am not speculating.

     "It is perfectly clear to you now that we ought to have gone in and killed a lot of Germans in 1936 so we didn’t have to do it in the 1940’s.  Churchill thought so too, but the fact is most of the English leadership and population did not believe it was clear; so when you say it was clear, clear to whom?"

     I was speaking of France and Britain, who should have gone into Germany and killed as many Germans as it took to stop Hitler.  Hell, they should have done it before the Rhineland, the day he first violated the Versailles treaty.

     If the United States Congress couldn't be persuaded to attack Germany (and I can see little hope of that), FDR should have beat on the preparedness drum relentlessly, and constantly urged France and Britain to stop Germany NOW!  It might not have worked, but it was what should have been done.

     Whom was it clear to?  The British and French leadership.  Anthony Eden's memo on the Rhineland was painfully clear: 'Hitler would violate any agreement he made, if he felt he could get away with it.'  Having written this, he proposed Britain make more agreements with Hitler, which presumably he wouldn't violate because ... that's where it breaks down.  There was no reason to believe any course lay open except surrender or war, but he, Baldwin, and the rest of them didn't want to make that choice, so they pretended it wasn't necessary.

     May I remind you of your own definition of insanity, "Doing the same thing again, and expecting different results?"  Prussia/Germany had been expansionist since its formation.  Hitler was preaching expansion, lebensraum, and the recovery of "German Honor," which had been lost at the surrender in 1918.

     I have read quite a bit of 1930s history, and I have never, once, come upon any plausible reason for believing that Hitler desired anything but war.  Lots of arguments about why he ought to desire peace, lots of wishful thinking about his desiring peace, but no reason to believe it was obtainable by anything except surrender.

     And when it was finally put to them in those terms, 'Surrender to Hitler's ambitions, or war,' the public chose war, even though it wouldn't be easy.   (Much of the leadership chose surrender).   So I believe the French and British might have gotten away with an immediate attack on Hitler in 1936, defended on the grounds 'He renounced diplomacy, its fight or surrender.'

     "As to living under an Islamist regime, where do you stand on immigration?"

     I'm quite willing to limit or end any immigration by Muslims, if that's what it takes to keep the Islamists out.

     "There is no country that could land a single soldier on American soil and keep him there for long.  No one is going to impose anything on us, and talk like that makes me wonder what in the world you can be thinking.

     "The USSR had 28,000 nuclear warheads aimed at us.  They had an army that could overrun Europe.  That was a danger."

     I'm sure, if you could go back and whisper in the ears of those who died Sept. 11th, just before the planes crash, that no one could land a soldier on our soil and keep it there long, they'd be very comforted.

     And I sorta wonder how Europe got into this.  What was it about the Soviets conquering Europe that made that an unacceptable danger, but makes Saddam's conquering the entire Mid-East oil supply acceptable?

     What do I think?  I think I live in a world in which the Islamists believe they defeated the Soviet Union, by the sheer moral power of their faith and their willingness to die for their beliefs.  The reason I believe this is because they say so, btw.

     I think I live in a world in which these same Islamists declared war on the United States in 1979, because we are powerful and are 'corrupting them' with our mass media, our movies, our rock videos.   (Insert cheap jokes to taste.)

     I think I live in a world in which the Islamists believe the West has no stomach for combat, that we can be intimidated into surrender through terror.

     I think they have much evidence for this, as the West has repeatedly backed down rather than confront them: the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, the bombing over Lockerbie, Somalia, the failure to finish off Saddam in 1991, the USS Cole, the African embassies, the towers in Saudi Arabia, and the use of Afghan warlord mercenaries in Afghanistan recently.

     I think I live in a world in which Saddam Hussein has been taking 'irrational' chances for revenge and 'face,' has solved all his political problems  with murder, has sought nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles since 1978, has invaded his oil rich neighbors whenever he thought he could get away with it, has cooperated with the Islamists in launching terror attacks on the West, thinks that he won the "second half of the Gulf War," and has made many other misjudgments in his dealings with the United States.

     I think I live in a world in which other Islamist states, such as Iran (and Libya), seek nukes and missiles, and still others still (like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia) turn a blind eye to Islamist terrorists as long as they direct their attacks outward.

     And I live in a world in which people like you think that somehow, someway, there has just got to be a way of making them leave us alone without making war on them. 

     I don't think so.  I think that if we attempt to follow your foreign policy prescription, Iraq or Iran will soon have nuclear armed missiles.  I think that once one of them has them, it will try to take over the entire Middle East, with no one to stop them (Europe can't, and you say we shouldn't).  I think that once they have these weapons, they will use them on the United States, or turn them over to terrorists to use on us.  I've never seen any reason why an Islamist, someone who really believes Allah is on his side, and commands that he conquer the infidels, would not sooner or later nuke a USAmerican city.

     "Arab hordes menace North Carolina? Cuba invaded Florida?"

     No, a world in which Islamist terrorists will continue to murder our fellow      citizens, and will sooner or later explode a fission or fusion bomb in one or more of our cities.

     And when I ask, "What's Jerry Pournelle's plan for dealing with terrorist attacks," I never get a straight answer.  Which leads me to suspect you have no answer, just a hope that the Islamists will leave us alone.  And leads me to conclude that, as with the politicians of the 1930s, you're lying to yourself about the choices we face, because you don't like them.

     That's not good enough for me, or the rest of the 67%.

Delenda est Saudi Arabia!

I publish the above from Mr. St. Onge to be fair; much of it consists of charges I don't feel like answering.

 I don't really intend an analysis, but I will ramble on for a bit. My web site, my privilege. I have given my views often enough, and someone who can with a straight face say I am lying to myself isn't likely to pay much attention to the answers anyway, so most of this isn't directed at him.

I will say this at once. Disraeli warned against wars entered from passion and not from reason. I repeat that warning. Wars entered from passion may work out well, but even passionate wars ought to be fought reasonably -- and started for good reasons.

What we do will affect about a quarter of the religiously motivated people on this Earth. Religious motivations are strong motivations, and religious people are more likely to act on their beliefs -- true or false -- than more cynical people. If what we do convinces the Muslim world that no one is safe from us -- and God knows their leaders want to convince them of that anyway -- then I doubt it will make us safer. Convincing a volatile people that we are irrational, and may lash out at anyone for no visible or convincing reason other than that we have been hurt and want to hurt someone in return, seems to me a dangerous thing to do.

So. What would I do? I wouldn't start the war. But presume that's not an option, that the war is inevitable, what then?

 First, I would patiently make the case that Hussein was in fact involved in and condoned the 911 attacks; or at least that we sincerely believe that. Note that we had no such problems regarding the Taliban. Everyone agreed they'd been involved in the plot, and would do so again given the opportunity. I suggest that case hasn't been made against Iraq. It needs to be, lest we convince the world that the reason we find Saddam Hussein more dangerous than North Korea has to do with oil and the bounty to be gained from conquest.

Or, we need to make it clear that our motive is conquest, and that those who have nothing need not fear that we will come to steal their poverty: that most of the world is safe from us unless its leaders provoke us, (best case, consistent with republic), or unless they have something we want (not so good, but consistent with an empire of limited objectives).

Or, possibly, make the case that we really do intend to bring liberal democracy, market place economies, and free trade on the points of our bayonets. That might appeal to some, at least to the secularists. But in that case we need some thought about how to do it.

We also need to be concerned with the world as it is. Pakistan and India already have nuclear weapons. South Africa probably has a few. North Korea either has them or shortly will. Iran has been vigorously trying to buy fissionables from the former USSR, and certainly has the ability to build weapons given enriched uranium or plutonium. Given their money and their paranoia, I would be astonished if the House of Saud does not have a nuke or two stashed away somewhere.

Mr. St. Onge's fear that one day someone will bomb us is reasonable; his solutions to the problem seem to me not as well thought out: I do not myself want Pakistani generals to wonder if they're next.

The problem with empires is that it's hard to know where to stop.

Mr. St. Onge accuses me of being unwilling to pull the trigger when our enemy is in the crosshairs. I can only plead that it's not at all clear to me that things are so simple. The doctrine of just war means at least this: that after the war is done, you are safer than before. The doctrine of rational war means at least this: after the war is done, you are better off than you were before you began it. 

On either ground the Afghan War is justified. The Congress has been persuaded that an Iraqi War is similarly justified; and despite my misgivings, that decision seems to have been made, so now the question is what do we do once we have won?

But far from lying to myself about our alternatives, I think I see them all pretty clearly. I don't much like what I see. 

I do believe that if the US were to come home and make it clear to the world that we will send punitive expeditions against all who harm us; otherwise cease to be involved in territorial disputes; and spend what it takes to build defenses including better border defense as well as missile defense; and engage in the R&D to make us energy independent (ie develop sources of hydrogen such as nuclear electricity and space solar power): if we do that we will, in my judgment, be a lot safer than if we put armies all across the world. Incidentally, part of a good defense would be a far better intelligence system, or in fact multiple intelligence agencies. And all of that would be cheaper than war.

That may be an incorrect analysis, but it is hardly vague or "lying to myself." I may be wrong, but I don't think I am merely stupid, or blustering, or any of the other things I am accused of.

It is also unlikely we will do what I suggest. But years ago, when I formed one of the advisory councils I chair, we made this pledge: we will not self-censor our advice. We will tell the President and his national security advisor what we think ought to be done, and the fact that it is politically difficult or unlikely will not be sufficient reason to refrain from giving the best advice we can. In our case, the advice was Strategic Defense. Not the most popular thing Mr. Reagan ever proposed, but, I think, one of the most effective.

On the same score, until the war begins, I at least, will continue to think of alternatives to the war, and to advocate what I think would be best for the republic. I don't think I have much longer to do that, so this discussion is likely to end soon enough. Soon enough the question will be, now that we are in the war, what shall we do to win? And having won, how do we get back to a more normal world?

One final note on Europe in 1936: certainly the world would be a better place had someone stood up to Hitler in the Rhineland. I suppose I first wrote that in a high school history paper, and in a dozen places since, and I have never had any reason to believe differently. But the world would also be a better place had someone injected Hitler with cyanide, or given him polio, or had God Almighty struck him down with lightning. Alas, given the state of the world in 1936, any of those events was at least as probable as that France would fire the fifty cartridges it would probably have taken to have halted the march into the Rhineland. That is what I meant; perhaps I didn't make that clear.  To blame the US for the disaster that came about in 1938 is to ignore the historical realities of the time. Indeed, Roosevelt's actions during the Munich conference may have helped persuade the British that they had no option but to sell Czechoslovakia down the river; but that's another story for another time. The point is that to say "England and France should have stood up to Hitler" is likely true, but it is on a par with saying that Hitler ought to have kept his word that he had no more territorial ambitions in Europe. Yes the French and British should have known better, and Churchill in fact did know better; but if the eloquence of Churchill couldn't persuade in those times, it's no likely that anyone else could.

So: to summarize what I would do were I in charge:

Begin to develop the means of energy independence. That includes new nuclear power plants (which need no R&D), and a vigorous R&D program to make access to space dependable and cheap. Use space access to develop an ICBM defense proof against a dozen or so missiles fired at us without warning.

Build up the Border Patrol and get actual control of the borders. Build up the Customs Service to make smuggling mass weapons into the US more difficult. Build up the intelligence services.

Make it clear that an attack on the US will bring retaliation against the ruling class of any country that encouraged it, or failed to discourage it. The Afghan example is clear enough.

Staring bringing our armies home, and minding our own business: the above program will be cheaper than a war, but it's not free and it will need considerable attention and management. But if we make it clear we are no threat to those who leave us in peace, we remove much of the incentive to those who would invest resources into destroying us -- and we give a lot less incentive to their potential allies in the US itself, and alas, there are many of them, all more likely to help the enemy if they think us immoral and dangerous.

Will that bring about perfect safety? I don't know. It seems as likely to work as would conquest, and it has the merit of being something justifiable on both moral and expedient grounds.

Will we do that? Not likely.

Will what we will actually do make us safer?  We can pray so. My analysis is that it will not; but I am hardly omniscient.








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Tuesday,  October 22, 2002

This letter is typical:

If I leave my gate open I may be responsible for an accident that still does not give you the right to drain the pool. Theft is theft. You cannot steal my car even if I leave the keys in it.

Which makes no sense at all. Clearly, if I steal your gun and kill someone with it, I am at far greater fault than you, but if you have made that easy for me, you may well find yourself liable; and if you leave your pool unfenced and unguarded, the local authorities in most places will certainly take some action to prevent the almost inevitable accident that is going to result.

I must have been exceedingly unclear in that column. My apologies. But the fact remains that life for all of us will be better if people close up the holes in their accounts so that pirates and spammers have more difficulties making trouble for the rest of us.

A complaint I have some sympathy for follows:

October 21, 2002 Column 267

"I have heard at least one literary lawyer speculate that a good action could lie against some user whose account was used for piratical acts ... If you have a swimming pool and leave the gate open, you can be liable if a child wanders in and drowns."

At this rate I can't leave the house without my lawyer, armed guard, and insurace broker, as well as leaving behind vicious guard dogs -- teeth removed and muzzled of course -- at my completely isolated off-the-grid home that has a 20' barbed wire topped fence around it ...oh yeah, barbed wire is illegal for private residences.

Why do I have to be liable for someone else's stupid or criminal actions?

How is it that we are no longer responsible for our own actions in this country?

We can spill hot coffee in our laps and sue Old McDonald. We can kill the Mayor and Deputy Mayor in broad daylight in front of witnesses and blame it on twinkies. Hell, we can even beat our children in parking-lots while surveillance cameras watch just because we had a tough day shopping.

As for a wandering child drowning in my pool... where are its parents and why aren't they watching they're own kids. If my kid goes to play on the freeway can I sue CalTrans and every driver present during rush hour?

The pool gate theory says that I am liable if someone hijacks my computer to hack, crack and cause DoS just because Microsoft makes a crappie product that needs to be patched every other day and I fell behind.

Based on the same theme, I guess if my car is stolen and used to commit a crime It's my fault for not getting new locks installed every week and upgrading unbreakable Lexan windows and a retina recognition ignition switch.

Why stop there? If terrorists come and sit in my coffee shop to plan their dastardly deeds while drinking my coffee, then I must be tried without a jury under the new terrorist act and sentenced to a public execution on the Nightly News because I didn't confiscate their nail-clippers and ask them to remove their shoes or tell me if they were carrying anyone else's luggage.

Where does the stupidity end?

Aunt Mimi doesn't know an attachment from craving or an anti-virus program from a cough drop. Does she have to know electrical theory to use a toaster or physics and internal combustion to drive her car? She shouldn't have to know that TCP/IP isn't a urinary disorder and SMTP is not a better toilet tissue either.

I'm sure the only patch Aunt Mimi ever applied was to cousin Johnny's jeans. Should her technical ignorance make her criminally liable?

The criminals are responsible for their own actions, not the victims and by-standers. Period.

But that's just my opinion.


But not that much. First, I don't recall talking about criminal liability for Aunt Mimi; I do think that life for all of us is better is her system isn't used for piracy or spamming, and that Aunt Mimi would agree. Nattering about individual responsibility while insisting on the right to be irresponsible may make good sense on some philosophical plane, but in most analyses with rights come responsibilities: ethical and moral if not legal.

My own pool is fenced with an automatic gate that small children would find difficult to operate. I also try to see that the neighbor children learn to swim under supervision.

And I don't recall anyone saying that one ought to be tried without a jury for anything. Perhaps I said things I don't remember? I fear I do get weary of being accused of actions springing from other people's nightmares.

And a comment for which I have even more sympathy:

Just a quick comment on your recent column.

First, I am a long time reader of your column (not quite back to the first issues of the printed Bytem but close)!

I am assuming that the user was using Windows, and that the Windows being used was preloaded by the vendor of the computer. I am concerned about your statement that "patches had been available for months; they just weren't installed," indicating that the user was at fault for this. I struggle with this for two reasons:

1) I have stopped upgrading my legal copy of Windows2000. The revised license agreements from Microsoft are unacceptable to me. I do not wish to grant permission for Microsoft to study the contents of my computer at will, changing things if they deem fit. I quote below:

"* The OS Product or OS Components contain components that enable and facilitate the use of certain Internet-based services. You acknowledge and agree that Microsoft may automatically check the version of the OS Product and/or its components that you are utilizing and may provide upgrades or fixes to the OS Product that will be automatically downloaded to your computer."

This clause is enough to stop me from installing Service Pack 3, or considering any future upgrade to XP. I hope the day does not come where I feel that I have no choices. In the meantime, I normally use Linux, with the Windows partition relegated to occasional brief usage when I need software that requires Windows. As Linux matures, these periods are increasingly rare. Usually, if "Windows" is required, the wine emulator will do. If the requirement is commercial in nature, I try to write the company and encourage them to use non-proprietary software, not products tied to a specific computer system.

While I have no strong legal objection, I also find the following silly:

"* You may not disclose the results of any benchmark test of the .NET Framework component of th eOS Components to any third part without Microsoft's prior written approval. "

I am sure that my protests will cause Microsoft no grief, but I feel better for having made them.

2) No one notifies the user that patches are available. Checking for these patches is an active requirement. For many users of pre-configured computers, changing anything on the computer is a leap of faith. I am sure that my mother's computer has never had any software installed by anyone other than myself - I know that she would never dare install anything herself. To raise system maintenance to a legal responsibility is asking more than the average user can understand or support.

Craig Puetz Waterloo, IA puetz@

I have considerably sympathy in that I find the Microsoft announcements silly. But then I ignore them. Once again, I never meant to imply that I endorse the notion of making upgrades a legal responsibility, and I don't expect Aunt Minnie to know how to do it; but most of my readers do know how to plug security holes, and most of them maintain systems for naive relatives and friends: it was to them my remarks were addressed.




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Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Fiction today and opera tonight: SHORT SHRIFT time

Since I know you get bombarded with mail, I'll try to be concise - a difficult thing for me :-).

I've been reading your Chaos Manor column since roughly the time you started writing it. It's good to see you still around, supporting Byte, and doing your thing. Live long and prosper. Keep it up.

On your comments re: the user whose home machine got used for distributing pirated sci-fi warez: If the DSL providers gave people a "reasonable" modem that included a simple (software) firewall supporting NAT (Network Address Translation), then this sort of "piracy" would be just about impossible. There are many retail cable modems and DSL modems that include such features, but they cost more than the bare-bones units that most providers distribute.

Imagine a busybody that answers every phone call to your home with every personal detail of your life. That's your computer today. Imagine a receptionist that carefully screens every incoming call, but doesn't interfere with any outgoing call. That's your computer on a firewall...

I've seen them advertised (retail!) for $50. Go figure.


Larry Baker

Indeed. And

"I don't expect Aunt Minnie to know how to do it; but most of my readers do know how to plug security holes, and most of them maintain systems for naive relatives and friends: it was to them my remarks were addressed."

Even Aunt Minnie can probably buy a router, plug it in, and run the setup wizard. If she is such a computing whiz that she has broadband I'm inclined to say she should get her nephew or the tech to do that when she installs the service. Or the ISP should. Behind that, even the most insecure machine is safer than a naked Windows box running the latest updates.

Regards, Tim Herbst

Precisely. And on that score:


You wrote in your column:

> Incidentally, Gibson's Shields Up test (do a Google search on Shields > Up) says my new iDSL system is essentially invisible?

Gibson's Shields Up test is not particularly good. It does a very basic, very limited, port scan. Depending on how your Netwinder is setup, it is probably configured to simply "drop" packets for ports that have no server on them. This looks, to Gibson's Shields Up, as if your machine was not even there. If you really want assurance that your machine is "invisible", have Roland run a full nmap ( scan against it.

IMO, this is the way ALL machines on the Internet should be, BY DEFAULT. It may make a few things more difficult, but it will certainly make the crackers and script kiddies jobs a LOT harder. Some may consider it "anti-social", but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs. Are you listening Microsoft? Is your "trustworthy" computing initiative worth the ink it's printed with. I believe that Red Hat's default install is setup this way, but it may be more "social" in that it rejects these requests (which by itself gives the scanner/attacker information).

Pete Flugstad







You write:

"... a real republic would have no problem in dealing with the DC sniper. But that would require trusting the citizens to keep and bear arms, and that we dare not do."

My impression is that there is a very strong polarization in America. One side considers an argument like yours Neanderthal, and thinks that a real solution would be "gun control" (i.e., prohibiting gun ownership by anybody but government officials and criminals). The other agrees with you.

What's interesting (to me) is that the Web has given the second group a public soapbox that it hadn't had in decades. Most of the "concerned" pundits in newspapers, television, public radio, et al., are pretty much in the anti-gun ownership camp; most of "blogistan" consists of people like Eric Raymond, who write essays on self-defense and liberty much like yours. In the past, mainstream media could simply refuse to print their letters to the editor. Now some of them can get readers (and critics) worldwide, simply by having the technological moxie to run a Web server. Garry Trudeau's taking the time to ridicule this, which suggests that he and other liberals are actually rather unhappy about it.

What's also interesting is that the liberals who see no point in arming the citizenry are predominantly against the war in Iraq, while the pro-gun libertarians on the Web are largely for it. I think, to many people, the war in Iraq isn't about building an empire but about deterring future attacks on America -- by means radical enough that even the French will hesitate to sell weapons to a future Hussein. They may be wrong; but I certainly have seen very few bloggers who are both in favor of war with Iraq and in favor of a disarmed citizenry at home.

--Erich Schwarz


And some interesting and important data from Michael Flynn

A year or so ago I was in Vienna and was talking with some of the nuclear inspectors about an article I had read in the International Herald Tribune. Oh, yes, an inspector told me, we're pretty sure North Korea has enough plutonium for one bomb, maybe enough for two. That's why construction was halted on the power plant the Americans were building. (Oddly, the Americans had been reported as reluctant to halt construction.)

So why is it such a surprise? It's not like it was any big secret.

Regarding South Africa: the country once had seven nuclear bombs, but all of them were dismantled by the deKlerk regime under IAEA supervision. DeKlerk feared that the ANC would give a bomb to Arafat or Ghaddafy, who had long been supporters. (While deKlerk admired Mandela, he had no faith in his likely successors.)

An inspector also told me about his sojourn in Iraq. One day his team set off on a surprise inspection, only to be met at the site by armed guards with rifles leveled. Some very tense negotiations ensued and the inspectors withdrew. An agreement was finally reached that the inspectors could visit any of these special "palaces" (actually, compounds) but only on two weeks advance notice. Made the whole thing pointless, don't you think?

I asked about indirect methods, such as soil samples. Make a grid, I suggested -- I was drinking curry beer at the time and so was distracted in my mind -- and test the radiation at sample locations. The inspector smiled and said, That's what we did. Then, see if you get a gradient pointing toward a likely source. The inspector smiled and said, That's what we did. And did you find anything, I asked? The inspector smiled. I waited. He continued to smile. Then I got it. (That curry beer, again. It clouds the mind.)

All this is public record.

Indeed. Thanks.

Cosmic rays 'linked to clouds' BBC News | SCI/TECH | Sat, 19 October, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK

German scientists have found a significant piece of evidence linking cosmic rays to climate change. They have detected charged particle clusters in the lower atmosphere that were probably caused by the space radiation. They say the clusters can lead to the condensed nuclei which form into dense clouds. Clouds play a major, but as yet not fully understood, role in the dynamics of the climate, with some types acting to cool the planet and others warming it up. The amount of cosmic rays reaching Earth is largely controlled by the Sun, and many solar scientists believe the star's indirect influence on Earth's global climate has been underestimated. Some think a significant part of the global warming recorded in 20th Century may in fact have its origin in changes in solar activity - not just in the increase in fossil-fuel-produced greenhouse gases.


Sue Ferrara notes:

Many school related events in and around Washington, DC have been cancelled due to the sniper. Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher noted how one parent reacted when the administration of Sidwell Friends school cancelled homecoming:

"John Perazich, a District lawyer . . . took out an ad in the paper announcing that his son's school, Sidwell Friends, had canceled its homecoming 'Due to Paranoia and Bad Judgment.'

"I grew up here in the '50s, in the D.C. schools, and I remember our days of concern about air raid sirens and putting our heads under our desks," Perazich says. "The trauma to be suffered by these kids because their routines were dramatically altered is significant. Somebody had to say something."


And an important letter of direct observation:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I did read the letter by Mr. St. Onge. It is clear to me he does not understand the status of foreigners or their life style in Saudi Arabia. This is probably due to ignorance, and should not be taken as a slur on his intelligence or intellect. My brother and I could not explain South Korea to Mother, so she visited me on my last contract there, shopping, and seeing people, temples, parks, museums, offices, and my apartment neighborhood. She now knows a lot more than any nonvisitor.

I went to Saudi Arabia on a field service contract. The job was to install technically sophisticated equipment, maintain it, and teach the Saudi customer how to do his own maintenance. I was European and single status, with a nice apartment in a walled compound and a personal vehicle. Fuel and maintenance of the vehicle were included. My job did require long trips in Saudi Arabia, and the vehicle was essential to the job. I was clearly informed that association with members of the opposite sex and drinking alcoholic beverages were prohibited, even in the compound. These restrictions were violated by some, but the religious police had access to the compound at any time, and sinners could expect instant deportation if caught. Sophisticated alarm systems and sympathetic compound guards were standard. No person with even a trace of alcohol on his breath was allowed to leave the compound. The women mentioned were always foreigners, never Saudis, and risked extreme punishment if caught, including head shaving, public beating, and having their passport stamped "Prostitute". Pay for the educated and technically adept is quite good.

My supervisors differed in having family status. They lived in European compounds with their families, but still had to honor local customs and Islamic law in public. Women had a designated driver, a third world national, to bus them for shopping, business and government functions, and visits to other compounds. women were required to wear ankle length, modest clothing in public. Abayas, the long black robes, were strongly encouraged. Veils were not required, even for Saudi women, but all Saudi women and a few foreign Muslim women wore them anyway. It is startling to see a woman with a full face veil adjusting her glasses for a better view of the merchandise in stores. There is no tax in Saudi Arabia, and bargains are everywhere. The fur sales in Riyadh, the very hot capital, are very popular. One American woman told me that they had to be very careful on one point. Public restrooms for women are very rare, even in big cities. Men can always use the toilet in any of the many mosques, even if they are not Muslims, but only a very few mosques and some shopping centers have a facility for women. The European family compounds also have elaborate alarm systems.

Less technical equipment, such as electricity and plumbing, are handled on logistics contracts. The supervisors are Europeans, but have lower pay than the technical people. They are expected to teach third world nationals to do the work, then leave when they complete their contract. Site supervisors have full privileges and vehicles. Their employees travel by bus or van, and live in dormitory style housing. Pay for third world nationals is usually dismal, but far better than their wages at home.

The lowest class is the uneducated third world nationals hired for lawn care, street maintenance, and other outdoor work. They are all low single status, housed in cramped quarters, and ride school buses to work. These buses are not allowed to use paved roads on military bases, but must drive in the dirt alongside the roads. Water truck drivers are part of this group. Trucks work better than long pipelines in Saudi Arabia.

There is some crossover in classes, chiefly for supervisors and talented technicians. The most extreme case I remember was the Pakistani accountant that handled money for us at company headquarters. His education and talent earned him full married European status while his countrymen hoed weeds. All foreign nationals are hired as servants to the Saudi Arabians. Some military officers slow on the uptake were summoned to the Saudi commander's office and told politely that their services were no longer required. There was no appeal. They had to get orders cut and leave at once.

The Khobar Towers incident happened while I was in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis felt it was very rude of the USA to insist on interfering in what they saw as a local matter. The guilty parties were caught, questioned, tried, and beheaded on the first Friday not part of a holy month. They were part of a splinter group that thought the Saudi royal family was far too liberal, and they wanted to speed up the removal of corrupting influences.

The military forces enforcing sanctions against Iraq were a special case. They were confined to a fenced area on an air base and not allowed to leave. Although our contract people and associated military people could visit them, it was discouraged. One lady Major got a quick education when she visited the Royal Saudi Air Force school at the invitation of the commander. A US civilian had to escort her to a private bathroom at one time. There are no facilities for women on military bases.


William L. Jones 

Thanks. This is about as I had heard; I have never been there.

And observations from JoAnne Dow:

In Monday's letter from Mr. St. Onge he notes: "And while we're on the subject, last time I looked, the people's representatives in Congress had just authorized the President to remove Saddam's regime by force, and 67% in the last opinion poll I saw approved of the policy. So perhaps I am not the side of this correspondence who doesn't believe in 'a republic or a democracy.'"

Now, that is an argument that raises my hackles. I don't give a rotten fig whether we have a minority is for an asininity or a majority, it remains an asininity. This has been repeatedly brought to my attention from grade school days through the present. All I must do is watch the unintended consequences of innumerable majority or even very large majority decisions over the years both in government or in personal life. Majority no more guarantees one of being "right" than does having the greater force behind a bad idea.

Going into Iraq without knowing coldly and clearly precisely what we will do if (when) we succeed in eliminating Saddam or attaining whatever other goal we might have had is asinine. It would be just one more example of a 67% majority being a majority of asses who have not bothered to think about the consequences of their actions.

This is entirely independent of whether or not there is a good reason to modify the population or landscape of Iraq in any particular way say through the removal of Saddam or weapons of mass destruction (such a nebulous term that is.) Recent experience in Vietnam and even Iraq itself have shown that you cannot set a simpleminded goal, attain it, and walk away. We WON in Vietnam and then walked away from the victory giving it back to the enemy. We walked away from any victory in Iraq and gave it back to Saddam. Both have come back to haunt us. If we step in we are in for the entire game or the initial step is meaningless. If we step in we must know the ENTIRE game plan, what constitutes winning and what do we do AFTER we win? Of late we seem to be quite shy on both answers. Bush The Younger does not seem to be any closer to this concept than was Bush The Elder or Clinton or Carter or virtually any other resident in the White House since perhaps Truman. (I have acquired doubts about Ike of late. Maybe they are even justified.)

I happen to believe we need to go into Iraq. I'm not sure my reasons are the same as the President's or Congress. Nor am I sure they have their reasons straight, even. I also realize that if we do go in we're in Iraq for a VERY long time as an empire. We bloody well better start becoming a very competent empire and make sure we understand that Empire's goal and character. We will have to live with it for the rest of OUR lives. Our children will have to live with it the rest of their lives. And so forth. It will likely live, as an Empire, a very long time compared to a puny human life. Our first steps into Empire should be considered very carefully for their inevitable consequences. And holding a war because it seems like "a fun and nifty thing to do today" is NOT a good reason. But it seems to be the tenor of the times. (Or, my cynical side asks, "Is it time to feed the newspapers a nice war to pump up circulation?")


My kind of lady. And I agree: until we know what we want to accomplish, it's pretty hard to have success.

And on another subject:

Dear Jerry,

I'm a big supporter of your non-political correct opinions about PCs. And I also share your political opinions about hesitating to go to war with Iraq. As an German expatriate in the US the History of WW2 is still something I experience today, even it is something that I wasn't part of at all as part of the babyboomer generation born in 1958.

I also wrote a "thank you" letter to Daniel Brewer and this was one of the best hints ever for Winproxy. It's a great program and I had very few issues with it. Highly recommended from my side. I also shared your problems with VIA based Athlon boards and I'm sick and tired of it for video. Everything else worked just fine. I ended up building an 2.0A Pentium with an Intel 850MV board, used my All-in-Wonder 128 Pro card and loaded WIN2000 Pro. Still the best as I'm doing no games. Rocking. Super stable. THE video platform. Your column and my experience with a former DELL PC did lead me to it. DELL is using Intel mainboards for years and that's just part (big time!) of their success. Rock solid!

Forget the kid's stuff with overclocking etc. Please continue to be as non-political correct as possible. This is also not something against AMD. I'm sure their products just work fine and as good as Intel's, but- the chipsets. Other people also mention this (PC Mag's Extremetech). No one's chipsets are stressed and debugged that much as Intel's. Again. If somebody needs a rock solid product when video takes for hours a non-resolvable configuration issue or hardware failure message is not an option. Just to mention - never had a problem with Office programs on the Athlon 1000 with the VIA chipset. Some people never might see any issue at all if they don't do video. That's where the discrepancy starts with all those AMD / Intel never ending story discussions....

Best Regards,


Thanks. As I have observed before, Intel has more test engineers than most companies have engineers...

I have a new 3.08 GHz motherboard and chip from Intel. With Hyper-Threading. See upcoming column...

On The Sniper:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

"By all accounts, this lone gunman has nearly shut down the east coast." You have made the (all too common, unfortunately) mistake of getting your news from cable TV. Which is, at best, heavily distorting the reaction. The TV news, especially the national cable TV networks, are overcovering the story and are taking the reactions of an extremely small number and saying that everyone is reacting with fear and panic.

Tom Shales (a Washington Post TV critic) makes some good points along those lines in his  commentary in today's Washington Post.

"In general, Washington's local stations have been more cautious and arguably more responsible in covering the sniper story than have the cable news networks, which are hotly competitive and not above sensationalizing the story in the pursuit of a ratings advantage."

Stephen Hunter, a Washington Post movie critic who is also an experienced and trained shooter,  analyzed the sniper's skills on Saturday two weeks ago.

"none of these skills compute to the heavily trained operative or a terrorist. They are Shooting 101 techniques, easily learnable in an afternoon by anyone, man, woman or teenager, with routine coordination. They are accessible on the Internet or in any issue of a gun magazine. So far, in my judgment at least, he has not shown any extraordinary shooting skill."

"He has not shown any extraordinary shooting skill."

Precisely. Anyone who has made it through Army or Marines basic training could make those shots. I could have taken those shots when I was in the Army, and I wasn't particularly skilled. If I went to a range for a couple of hours a day for a week I could take those shots today. Many of my friends are former (or current) military. Veterans are thick on the ground here in the DC area. We aren't panicking. People we know aren't panicking. You aren't the first person to compare the risk of driving in traffic to the risk of getting shot by the sniper. And you aren't the only one who has reached the same conclusion as to the relative sniper/traffic dangers. In the past 14 months more locals have been killed by terrorist hijackers than by the sniper.

All of which is well known in the crowd I run with. We still hang out in front of Starbucks, don't hide while gassing up our cars, go to restaurants to eat, and do all the other normal stuff. We don't worry about the sniper.

Not that the cable news channels will report that: "Sniper kills again! Residents complain about traffic" won't do much for the ratings.

Kit Case Reston, VA

I am glad to hear that the reports are exaggerated. 


I hadn't really gotten a handle on how the media is misrepresenting the mood of sniperville until recently.

I am 70 miles southeast of the Ashland shooting but I have several friends in the DC / Baltimore area. Last weekend I went up to DC, met a few friends and we went to the Australian embassy to sign the Condolences book re. the Bali bombing. On the way I stopped at three gas stations right next to 95 north of Fredricksburg. I did this out of spite assuming that the stations were seeing a big drop in business. They were full of people with the same idea.

I saw NO ONE zigzagging. The shopping centers were full.

I parked at Pentagon City and met my friends at the National Zoo. Those with kids had brought their kids. At the zoo we blundered into another friend, a Paleontologist who was taking his grad students to the zoo for research of some sort. (not hiding under the desk as educators are supposed to be)

After the zoo we divided into the take the grumpy kids home group and the go sign the book group. We wandered up and down embassy row (lost) until we found the Aussie embassy (the Indonesian embassy seemed to be closed) signed the book and went to eat. Again out of spite, we sat on the patio of a Greek restaurant (and in downtown DC gorged ourselves for under $10.00 )

Pentagon City was busy, the metro was being used, on the way home Sunday I learned that sniperville had moved south, to Ashland, but the strip malls were still being patronized and I had to wait in line at a Wawa (gas station) right next to the interstate.

There is a greater chance of dying in a car wreck or being struck by lightning. If someone with a concealed carry permit finds this ghoul they will be half a million dollars richer. Talking to fellow UPS drivers in Fredricksburg I learned that they plan to ram the white van if they see him and either wreck it or leave a big, brown, easily identifiable stripe down it.

To watch the news, is to think that the inhabitants are hysterical, they are not. They are angry and concerned about their kids.

The media is, well, wrong.

But that's a dog bites man story.

Ken Talton Newport News VA

Which is encouraging. My papers and TV are still full of stories of fear and trembling. Glad to hear they are probably introspective from reporters.

And the ultimate in something...


I was on my way to the post office to pick up my case of free M&M's, sent to me because I forwarded their e-mail to five other people, celebrating the fact that the year 2000 is "MM" in Roman numerals)... when I ran into a friend whose neighbor, a young man, was home recovering from having been served a rat in his bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken - which is predictable, since as everyone knows, there's no actual chicken in Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is why the government made them change their name to KFC.


Anyway, one day this guy went to sleep and when he awoke he was in his bathtub and it was full of ice and he was sore all over and when he got

Out of the tub he realized that HIS KIDNEYS HAD BEEN STOLEN. He saw a note on his mirror that said "Call 911!" . . . but he was afraid to use his phone because it was connected to his computer, and there was a virus on his computer that would destroy his hard drive if he opened e-mail entitled "Join the crew!" He knew it wasn't a hoax because he himself was a computer programmer who was working on software to prevent a global disaster in which all the computers get together and distribute the $250.00 Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe under the leadership of Bill Gates. (It's true - I read it all last week in a mass e-mail from BILL GATES HIMSELF, who was also promising me a free Disney World vacation and $5,000 if I would forward the e-mail to everyone I know.)


The poor man then tried to call 911 from a pay phone to report his missing kidneys, but a voice on the line first asked him to press #90, which unwittingly gave the bandit full access to the phone line at the guy's expense. Then reaching into the coin-return slot he got jabbed with an HIV-infected needle around which was wrapped around a note that said, "Welcome to the world of AIDS." Luckily he was only a few blocks from the hospital - the one where that little boy who is dying of cancer is, the one whose last wish is for everyone in the world to send him an e-mail and the American Cancer Society has agreed to pay him a nickel for every e-mail he receives. I sent him two e-mails... And one of them was a bunch of x's and o's in the shape of an angel (if you get it and forward it to more than 10 people, you will have good luck but for 10 people you will only have OK luck and if you send it to fewer than 10 people you will have BAD LUCK FOR SEVEN YEARS).


So anyway the poor guy tried to drive himself to the hospital, but on the way he noticed another car driving without its lights on. To be helpful, he flashed his lights at him and was promptly shot as part of a gang initiation. Send THIS to all the friends who send you their junk mail and you will receive 4 green M&Ms, but if you don't the owner of Proctor and Gamble will report you to his Satanist friends and you will have more bad luck: you will get cancer from the Sodium Laureth Sulfate in your shampoo, your wife will develop breast cancer from using the antiperspirant which clogs the pores under your arms, and the government will put a tax on your e-mails forever.


I know this is all true 'cause I read it on the Internet.

Oh. Bad luck!










This week:


read book now




This day was devoured by locusts.







This week:


read book now


Friday, October 25, 2002

We have a ton of things to do including medical appointments. The following is important:


Beg your pardon if this has been noted already. I've been furiously busy, and may have missed it. Apparently a congressmaggot with the ironic moniker of Adam Smith has introduced legislation (link below) to outlaw the GPL for a host of reasons that seem to be either untrue, or outside the pervue of reasonable regulation (does that compare with "military intelligence" in the oxymoron wars;?) Since Mr. Smith, Mr. Berman, and their ilk seem to be unbashed about selling their asses to the highest bidders, I'd like to suggest that they take a seat on the neatest Hormel slicer, set to thinnest, so as to maximize the per pound price:-{  Scott Miller

Go read the article and act accordingly. There seems to be no end of mischief in Washington.

The purpose of government is to hire and pay government workers.

And from Paul Chisholm, one of Those Who Know:

Your latest (October 21, 2002) Byte column talks about your intent to set up "transparent caching," as if that was optimal. It's not, necessarily.

The goal is to have your HTTP traffic (web browsers and such) go through a caching proxy, so when some software on your LAN tries to access, for example: you won't need to go out over your iDSL line to retrive it, if your proxy has already seen and cached it.

There are two ways to do this. Either way, you set up a caching proxy. Then, either you tell all the systems on your LAN to use the proxy, or you tell your router to redirect all HTTP requests to the ("transparent") proxy.

The disadvantage of a transparent proxy is, browsers work better with a proxy when they know they're working with a proxy. O'Reilly has a whole book on this general subject (Duane Wessels, WEB CACHING):

and a whole chapter, posted online, about transparent proxies in particular: 

The advantage of a transparent proxy is, everything on the LAN is forced to use it. You can still work towards that: set your router so *only* the proxy can get out on port 80. That way, you'll still have to administer all your browsers, but at least none of them will bypass the proxy.

Hope this helps. --PSRC










This week:


read book now



A busy day






This week:


read book now


Sunday, October 26, 2002

Hi Jerry,

Speaks for itself.

If I remember correctly, you did not see this coming at all. Nope. No way. Came out of left field it did.

PS: Yes, I am being facetious.

Paul S. Walker

One major effect of that suit. Sure does the world a lot of good, putting that money into lobbying rather than engineering.





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