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Mail 235 December 9 - 15, 2002






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Monday  December 9, 2002

Subject: Please read the  articles that you talk about

Dr. Pournelle,

You have recently made a big deal about this case:

with statements like "The more I read of this, the more it looks to be petty tyranny, the kind of thing that only a small person -- a servant when he is master -- could have thought up. Everyone in "law enforcement" involved in this idiocy ought to be fired; why should we be paying people to do this?"

My question to you is, "Do you read what you comment about?" Let me quote from the article: "The couple are the 13th and 14th people to be indicted since October 2000 in a slew of smuggling schemes at the prison. Those indicted included four guards, two arrested for accepting bribes to smuggle the sperm kits; all four pleaded guilty."

Do you really believe that convicted felons have a right to break the law just because they wish to to have children while incarcerated?

Ken Jancaitis

I wouldn't call it a big deal; it's just another instance of the philosophy of "get the bad guys and to hell with law." When you have a society that looks to legal niceties, you need exceptions. Smuggling one's own sperm is not a crime. If there were criminal activities here, charge them with them; but this is something else again.

And I do read most of what I comment on; if I haven't read it I will generally post without comment.

Be careful who you call a "convicted felon"; unless things change that may apply to far more people than you think. You may even get there. As for instance:

For more, see below





This week:


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We begin with this matter...


Great columns in Byte, which I've been reading since 1980 or so. You are the only reason I paid to subscribe to the web site.

I know you have far more to worry about, but did you really spell "supersede" as "supercede", as appears on this week's installment "An Agile Acrobat"? It seems so unlikely.

In MS Word XP, I notice that the -cede spelling checks as "Non-standard word (consider revising)". I was taught that it is just plain wrong, and that supersede is the only word in the English language that ends in -sede. The -cede version does not appear in my copy of "The American Heritage College Dictionary Third Edition" copyrighted 1997.

Have we progressed to the point that if enough people do something wrong it becomes OK? Wait a minute - that sounds like a stupid question now that I've typed it.

Thanks for all you do "so we won't have to".

Mike Herlihy

Well, usage does count, but it depends on how long, I guess. I prefer distinctions, particularly in meanings such as infer vs. imply and  lesser vs. fewer, but I fear that marks me as rather archaic. Precision in language does help in getting meaning across, but not if no one notices.

I have to confess that was the way I wrote it in the original. Thanks for catching it.

And Dr. Hume says

It took me a long time to retrain, and I still make mistakes. I'm not sure why supersede should be preferred.


Which makes me feel a little better....

My copy of Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language has an entry for "supercede"

su.per.cede (soo per sed'), v.t., -ced.ed, supersede.

granted it's the 1996 copyright, and not that current, it brings to mind my failing grade in sixth grade spelling class...

I spelled "color" as "colour", my mistake!

If anachronisms are such dead weights on us all, let them fall!

Spelling errors can be fun somethymes......





And a serious question:

From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Date: Dec. 9th, 2002

subject: The Pournelle Policy, question rephrased

Dear Jerry:

In re to my Wens. letter, I was not saying: "By God! We have all this power! We must use it to right wrongs, and take to the world the benefits of Truth, Justice, and The American Way! If one innocent person is killed anywhere in this world, we must go out and Burn! Slay! Kill! Avenge the innocent! "Go! Bind your sons to exile! God Wills It!"

I was asking a question. I figured out that your policy on, e.g. Sudan, is "It's not our problem." I'm not sure where I'd draw the line, but I do think that yes, many things are not our problem. (Although we do have treaty obligations to suppress the slave trade, which currently flourishes in Sudan).

So, many evil situations worldwide should be ignored by the US govt. But free speech being what it is, some people will protest such situations. And some people will flee such hell holes and come here. Ms. Boof is such a person, and there is a distinct possibility terrorists complicit with the govt. of Sudan will murder her while she is on US soil. So I really want to know: What would you do about such actions?

Same question with Ms. Penner. Local Muslim clerics incited her murder, and somebody pulled the trigger. The local govt. will probably make no effort to find even the trigger man, and as for the clerics, they're immune. What is your policy towards such incitement-to-murder of US citizens abroad?

I am asking these questions because I really don't know what your answer will be, and I'm interested.

Best, Stephen


The only way you can prevent Moslem enslavement of Christians in Sedan and other parts of North Africa will be through conquest and colonialism. Periodic punitive expeditions might be emotionally satisfying but they won't work. You might be able to send in a small army of paid soldiers to guard a Christian government imposed on the country.

The slave trade exists, and we would certainly be justified in sending in an expeditionary force to suppress it; then what?

 And if you wish to right other wrongs, students are regularly raped by their teachers in South Africa; is that our business? Rwanda and Burundi have simmered down a bit, but there are plenty of riots and unjust punishments in Nigeria and Ghana, and all over West Africa the Christian Ibos for whom I have a lot of sympathy have been suppressed. Their attempts to form their own nation were put down in part by British intervention in the Nigerian Civil War: in that war a number of American "mercenaries" fought for the Christians against the British RAF, as British policy was to maintain the place as a single nation. Should we have intervened? Against whom?

Of course once someone reaches the United States and is declared legally here (an important distinction in my view) she is entitled to our protection, and if some terrorist outfit wants to kill our guests on our soil, it very much does become our business. At that point you'd get my support for policies and actions that discourage governments from trying it again: regime changes are not out of line. But do note that in 1938 and 1939 British agents murdered American citizens, and Russian agents murdered American citizens: the Brits were fighting their war with Germany, and there is evidence for the complicity of the US President in some of their actions here. See the book A Man Called Intrepid for some of the details.

The Russians were for a while operating under the Hitler/Stalin pact, so they weren't hunting Nazis. They were concerned with control of the left; Carlo Tresca, the Italian Anarchist leader, was almost certainly murdered by Russian agents. So were some Trotsky supporters, and of course Trotsky was murdered in Mexico.

Should we have bombarded London and Moscow in retaliation?

When you seek to right the wrongs of the world, you take on a formidable task, and one your fellow citizens may not be up to. Moreover, when you begin to run other places, you must appoint governors and proconsuls, and if those posts are lucrative you may find competition for them, and some of that may be corrupt. It certainly has happened in the past. Even the British Experiment in World Order up to the dissolution of the Empire was not entirely free of incompetence and corruption, and I put it that way because their colonial government was by and large remarkably good and free of that sort of thing.

If we seek to overthrow every government that fails to protect American citizens abroad, there will be no lack of places to send the armed forces. We will have to tailor some units for that kind of duty; those soldiers are likely to be different from the ones we want here at home. Perhaps a Foreign Legion, based in Puerto Rico and never allowed in the US itself? I ask seriously. What military units do you use to suppress the slave trade in the Sudan? And for that matter, there is slavery in Egypt, and there are rumored to be white slavery rings in Arabia. And Yemen. And God alone knows what goes on in Somalia now: it's not a lot more pleasant than it was before our last intervention, the difference now being that the celebrities aren't going over to there to draw attention to it; but you can still find the starving children without looking too hard for them: starving while not a hundred yards from stocks of food held for their value to power brokers.

Do we go back there, too?

If so, how do we go?  As Crusaders? If not, what motivated the troops? And when we have gone in to Somalia and Nigeria and the Sudan and Rwanda and Uganda, what do we leave behind when we leave? Or do we never leave?

And See Below

Dear Jerry,

Witness the modern American Businessman in action. No longer content to trade value for value in an open, honest manner -- now it's all about tricking people and "locking them in": 

Is it just me, or are all these shenanigans starting to become tiresome?

On a happier note, I'm delighted to read of your new writing projects. I hope you enjoy writing them as much as I enjoy reading them!


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

It's also easy to over-generalize from some spectacular examples. Not all businesses are Enron, just as after deregulation no all banks were corrupt. They didn't dergulate fraud.

We have an increasingly litigious society, and we make it nearly impossible to compete in the old fashioned way. In California we have laws that let lawyers sue (and keep any money they can get) in the name of the people for trivial breaches of regulations: one lawyer is bringing suit against thousands of nail salons on the grounds that they use the same bottle of nail polish for more than one customer; no one posits that's a health hazard, but it may be a violation of a regulation. Anyway, the lawyer wants tens of thousands from each in punitive damages but he will settle for a thousand or so if you don't fight him. Most of those he sued don't have the money to hire lawyers.

At one group meeting someone suggested hiring a Viet Namese gang to make the lawyer go to sleep.  Presumably that was a joke. Most of the nail parlors are owned by Viet Namese of course.

Or they can kick in some money for a lobbyist. What they can't do is just go about their business.  It's true with many others. Microsoft now realizes it was mad to try to operate without Washington lobbyist. Now they pay more than anyone else to bribe, oops, educate, government employees and Congressional staffers with information seminars at which there is free food and liquor and...  well, you get the idea.

Wonder what the fiduciary obligation to the stockholders is: if you have to pay what amounts to a bribe, or extortion, are you not required to get as much return as you can on investments?

So locking in customers is a mild practice.

So it goes. And once we have an overseas empire you will see a great deal more of it. So it goes. But see below.

To: Jerry Pournelle, Chaos Manor

 CC: Stephen M. St. Onge


The most basic thing you have to understand is that the United States has basically two energy economies, which are only weakly coupled.

One economy is a "stationary power economy." It uses nuclear power, and coal, and natural gas, and renewables, to provide power, increasingly in the form of electricity, to users who don't need to carry a supply of energy around with them. Heating and cooling is one of the largest uses, and practically, the cheapest way to save large quantities of stationary energy is to install geothermal heat pumps. The overwhelming majority of power-using devices are electrical, so there is a lot of internal flexibility in the system. The stationary power economy has a "global warming" issue, for what that is worth, but it does not have a very substantial "middle east/national security" issue.

The "transportation energy economy" is an entirely different kettle of fish. Here, the major petroleum products (gasoline, aviation kerosene, diesel oil) are preferentially employed, at premium prices, on account of the advantages of a liquid fuel. Particular vehicles are designed to run particular fuels, which tends to lock the fuels in. The transportation energy economy is the locus of the "middle east/national security" issue.

Southern California is an exceptional region, in the extent to which it has a "room-temperature-climate," and in the extent to which the two energy economies are locally interlinked. You don't have our kind of winters, or our kind of summers, which means you don't have to think as seriously as the rest of the country about heating and air conditioning bills. At the same time, Southern California's rapid population growth and NIMBY-ism has given a makeshift quality to its energy arrangements.

That said, if you want to think about energy and national security, you need to focus firmly on transportation, and more specifically on the automobile.

Here is an interesting study: 

The authors conducted a survey to profile different types of drivers, with a view to doing market research for advertising. However, what is significant is their finding that most driving is done by a minority of long-distance commuters, those who commute at a radius of about fifty miles, spending two hours a day in this fashion, or to put it another way, about twenty-five percent unpaid overtime. The authors do not address gasoline consumption per se, but, making some reasonable assumptions (disproportionate share of driving alone, disproportionate share of SUV's) it might well be that these "mega-milers" account for 80-90% of the gasoline consumption of the United States. There is a sizable fraction of the population who drive, but who aren't into long distance commuting, and therefore only drive their cars 37 miles a week.

Again, the authors do not sufficiently address who the "mega-milers" are, but reading between the lines, they are probably disproportionately in the kinds of employment suitable to telecommuting. Long-distance commuting implies specialization. People skills don't specialize very well. Thing skills do. To take an example, there are roughly comparable numbers of mostly male engineers and mostly female teachers. It is commonplace for an engineer to be a specialist in something like automobile engine ignition systems. That would be comparable to to a teacher specializing in teaching children the letter P and only the letter P (no other letters, no numbers, etc.), and teaching it only to second graders.

Of course there is no substitute for detailed studies, but it does seem likely that telecommuting could be ramped up very drastically in a short period of time, focusing on a small minority with the most to gain, and the greatest possible petroleum savings.

Andrew D. Todd 1249 Pineview Dr., Apt 4 Morgantown, WV 26505

It is certainly the case that finding fuel for transportation is quite a bit harder than finding enough fuel to take care of the stationary economy. 

But until the kilowatts are available, there's not going to be a lot of work on using them for transport. If all the cars and trucks became electrical tomorrow most of us would starve as the transport system broke apart.

But if we have electricity we can make power for transport. Methane or propane work fine. Hybrid cars work. Fuel cells work. Conversion from petrol will take a while but unless we start in that direction we will never get there...

Certainly we can do more with telecommuting: but we won't until we have to.


Andrew Todd was wondering in one of his emails to you who is it that commutes at a 50 mile radius to their work. While I don't commute 50 miles each way to my current job, I average somewhere between 25-32 miles each way to my work at Cox. 

This varies due to taking different routes to avoid freeway traffic jams (usually in the evening). That being said however, on average it takes me 45-60 minutes to get from my house to my work. Consequently, I listen to a lot of talk radio due to the amount of time I am on the road each day.

 Mr. Todd's leap to calculating what this would mean for an hourly worker in terms of unpaid overtime is pointless in my case however as I'm salaried so I get the shaft from the get go on any amount of time spent above and beyond the call to duty. If I could take alternate transportation to work I would, however due to where I live and where a large majority of people who work in that office are ridesharing is out of the question. 

This of course begs the question of why don't I find a job that is closer to where I live. For reasons not totally obvious to myself currently the job market for people with my skill set seems highly depressed here in the Los Angeles/Orange County areas. Until something better comes up I do what necessity dictates. 

The other side of the coin is I could move closer to my current employer, but that's a solution that isn't very amenable either since finding a decent neighborhood to rent in South Orange County is not very cheap due to the yuppies created by the extreme inflation of house values in the various counties down there. Just thought I'd let Andrew in on who some of those kinds of people are.

-Dan S.

It has long been contended by conservatives -- like me -- that a certain stability on one's life is necessary for the good life for most of us, and that nations of people without roots or neighbors or community life are unstable at best. Anomie is the enemy of the good society, or so many of us believe.

The end of the manufacturing economy in the US produced the end of blue collar stability, and the computer revolution hasn't made it easier for people like you to find a house and job near each other. I don't know where it all ends.

I do know we can solve some of the energy problems. 

A long time ago Walt Disney hired us at Pepperdine Research to design an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow: a place for intellectuals to work and live together. His notion was that it could support itself on theme park revenues. It was to be a kind of Bell Labs, supported by Disney World and by its own exhibits -- surely smart people could build a community other people might pay to come see? We did some design work and it might have worked. Mr. Disney wanted this to be a community, of people living together, scientists and road maintenance and police and firemen and theme part workers all in one community, mostly with "people mover" transportation so they wouldn't need many private cars. It was an interesting dream.

Of course it was abandoned about two days after Walt Disney died, and EPCOT as it exists today has nothing whatever to do with what Disney hoped to build. But it was a noble dream and something to think about.

On Energy Independence:

Robert Heinlein, of course, foresaw the technology described in the attached in "Let There Be Light" (Super Science Stories, May 1940, also collected in The Man Who Sold The Moon, 1950). Once again, so far ahead of his time--envisioning a solar cell using the full sprectrum of light, not just visible light.

I note parenthetically that if they are searching for a "method to grow very pure crystals," maybe they should be looking into space as a location for the industry. That would have a nice resonance.

Speaking of technology, I remain ready to give you a detailed presentation on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (something YOU envisioned) if we can ever find a favorable time.

Chris Christopher CAPT Chris Christopher, USNR Staff Director, Navy Marine Corps Intranet Office Deputy Director for Future Operations, Communications, & Business Initiatives 703-685-5510

NMCI Web Site: 

Solar cells aiming for full spectrum efficiency 10:15 08 December 02

 Jenny Hogan

 Solar power is set for a boost with the help of a material that can soak up energy from almost all of the Sun's spectrum. It should allow solar cells to jump in efficiency from today's best of 30 per cent to 50 per cent or higher.


Certainly ground based solar can be a very useful component in an energy strategy. I am pretty sure it will also take orbital component, but every new step in ground based helps a lot. The Solar Constant being what it is, there are limits to what you can get on the ground; and of course there are latitude,  weather, and the day/night cycle; none of which are of concern in orbit.

On Another Subject:

Global warming or cooling? Harsher Winters.

===== -- John E. Bartley, III - K7AAY telcom admin, Portland OR, USA - Views mine

A well done article. It is certainly the case that global warming could cause cooling -- it's in fact a feedback mechanism we should expect. No one really understands climate, and we don't really understand the Solar Constant or how Constant it is. There are also albedo changes: tiny changes in Earth's reflectivity will have massive consequences. We don't know how many particulates we eliminated with cleaning up smoke stacks, and what eliminating those did to albedo. And much more.

As I never seem to tire of saying, we ought to be spending a lot more on finding out what is going on, and a lot less on political crap like Kyoto as if we already knew what to do. The problem could be grave, but accepting Kyoto won't do anything but bankrupt a lot of people and cut the resources we have to deal with the problem.

But see Phil Chapman below.

Now for a major essay. Gregory Cochran is well known for taking evolution seriously: that is, for questioning how disorders that carry a heavy genetic burden (make having and raising children greatly more difficult) can possibly be "hereditary" in the usual sense. Schizophrenia is one example.

His hypothesis is that absent special reasons for selection for otherwise burdensome tendencies or afflictions, these are more likely to be contagious diseases rather than genetically transmitted.

In the following essay he looks at overclocking the human system and possible consequences. Everyone knows that Ashkenazi have the highest IQ scores on average of any of the breeds of man. There are many reasons postulated for this including "breeding" for smart in the same way that Jersey cattle are bred for milk production.

Might we learn how to get smarter without waiting generations? And can there be undesired side effects? 



Gregory Cochran


There is a good chance that an odd cluster of hereditary neurological diseases among the Ashkenazi Jews is a side-effect of strong selection for increased intelligence. The idea is not really new, but the evidence has gotten stronger with time, and I have recently found some intriguing supporting data.. Four of these syndromes - Tay-Sachs, Niemann-Pick, Gaucher's, and mucolipidosis type IV - are recessive lysosomal storage diseases. The first three of these are caused by deficient variants of enzymes that break down sphingolipids, which play a role in neuron membrane structure and also as signaling molecules. Homozygotes, who have no working copy of the breakdown enzymes, become ill. Tay-Sachs and Niemann-Pick cause retardation and death in childhood, but Gaucher's disease is milder and more variable. The form common in Ashkenazi Jews does not cause brain damage, although there can be other problems with the spleen and bones. . Mucolipidosis type IV probably involves a defect in endocytosis. It causes retardation and death in early life.

Canavan disease is caused by mutations in the aspartoacylase gene. It is the only known genetic disorder caused by a defect in the metabolism of a small metabolite, N-acetyl-L-aspartic acid, synthesized exclusively in the brain in a cell-specific manner. It too is fatal in early life.

Familial dysautonomia is a recessive disease that results in abnormalities of the sensory and autonomic nervous systems. It does not cause retardation, but greatly shortens life.

Torsion dystonia is caused by a dominant gene with low penetrance.. The symptoms involve inappropriate contractions of muscles. In a mild case, that might mean a tendency to writer's cramp: in a severe case, it means uncontrollable contractions that leave your limbs twisted and useless. About 30% of the individuals with this gene have some noticeable symptoms, about 10% have very serious symptoms that can leave them in a wheel chair. The problem is not in the muscles, but in areas of the brain that control muscles. Torsion dystonia does not cause retardation... not hardly.

Each of these hereditary neurological diseases is more common among the Ashkenazi than in any other group, and in several of these syndromes, the great majority of all cases are found among the Ashkenazi, who make up less than 0.2% of the human race. ~4% of the Ashkenazi are carriers for Tay-Sachs, about 1% are carriers for Niemann-Pick, ~5% carry a Gaucher mutation, ~1% carry a mutation for mucolipidosis type IV, ~2% carry a Canavan mutation, ~3% carry the familial dysautonomia gene, and about 0.03% have the dominant torsion dystonia mutation. Altogether about 16% of Ashkenazi Jews carry one of these mutations.

Rare genetic diseases can become common in a group by chance, especially if that group does not mix much with others and if it has recently expanded from a small founding population.. Both of those conditions existed among the Ashkenazi, but that explanation probably does not work in this case, because for most of these diseases, more than one mutation of the same gene has become common in this population. That is the case for Tay-Sachs, Niemann-Pick, Gaucher's disease, mucolipidosis type IV, and Canavan disease. Only torsion dystonia and familial dysautonomia are caused by lone mutations. It would be incredibly unlikely for chance to greatly elevate the frequency of two or more mutations of the same gene. 

It would be even less likely to do this repeatedly in genes involved in closely related metabolic pathways. So somehow, natural selection, rather than chance, must have favored these mutations. If mutations that affect a particular organ or function give a reproductive edge in some environment, they can become common, even if they cause disease in double dose. The most famous example of this is the sickle cell mutation, which gives heterozygotes good protection against falciparum malaria and causes very serious problems in homozygotes. We know of a number of other malaria-protective mutations besides sickle-cell affecting red cells; Hemoglobin C, Hemoglobin E, G6PD deficiency, alpha- and beta- thalassemia, and Melanesian ovalocytosis. The malaria resistance mutations involve multiple common mutations of the same gene, and multiple mutations of closely related genes that affect the same physiological system - in this case the red cell. Among the Ashkenazi we find the same pattern, only the system affected is the central nervous system. Jared Diamond and others have suggested that these Ashkenazi hereditary neurological diseases might have given protection against tuberculosis, but this seems unlikely. These mutations are not common in other adjacent ethnic groups, and they modify molecules whose primary function is in the central nervous system. In some cases, such as Canavan disease, they are only found in the brain.

So a change in brain function, as the source of the fitness advantage in heterozygotes carrying these mutations, is the way to bet. That notion is not just based on this genetic and biochemical evidence: we start out already knowing that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher average IQ than any other group, something like 110-115. What, other than natural selection, could cause this? We also know that for a long time they lived under very unusual conditions, conditions very favorable to this kind of evolutionary change. They had a very different job mix from their neighbors: none of them were farmers ('Scribe, banker, jeweler, shopkeeper'), and they almost never intermarried.

Some new evidence - new to me, anyhow - strengthens the case. It turns out that GM2-ganglioside, which accumulates in Tay-Sachs and Niemann-Pick patients, is a signal for dendrite growth. In homozygotes it causes inappropriate dendrite growth neurons. In heterozygotes, GM2-ganglioside levels would only be slightly elevated and might favor moderately increased dendrite growth - which might increase IQ. The build-up product in Gaucher's disease seems to caused increased axonal growth.

The story in torsion dystonia is more obvious. Unlike most genetic diseases, it is dominant. You only need one copy of the mutant gene to have problems. That also means that any benefit must be large. When a recessive mutation is rare, there are many more carriers than homozygotes, and even a small advantage among heterozygotes can balance serious bad effects in the rare homozygtes. A dominant has to give a hefty advantage, even more so if it has any costs, which the torsion dystonia gene surely does. So if torsion dystonia is part of this Ashkenazi pattern of hereditary neurological disease and pays off in IQ, it must make a big difference, and that difference will probably show up in patients. ( Note that in diseases like Tay-Sachs, nobody even studies carriers. Doctors are not geneticists.) Apparently it does. I found several reports of materially increased IQ among Ashkenazi torsion dystonia patients.

 The difference is apparently so striking that it is mentioned in the very first scientific article on the disease, by Flatau back in 1911. Many other physicians made the same observation. And if you think that being crippled makes you smarter, think again: nobody every said that about polio victims. Roswell Eldridge, in a small group of patients, found that the average IQ was 122, 10 points higher than their controls matched for age, sex, ethnic background, and school. 

 The same mutation has been seen elsewhere, but is very rare. In this group the payoff outweighed the trouble, while in every other human group it did not. We have found the gene (in 1997), which codes for an ATP-binding protein, but as yet I don't believe that we know exactly how it causes trouble or what it does normally. But I'll hazard a guess: the change accelerates some brain system tied to cognitive functioning - nearly redlines it, leaves it vulnerable to common insults in a way that can cause spectacular trouble. You might compare to overclocking a chip. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't.

More generally, if this is what I think it is, all these Ashkenazi neurological diseases are hints of ways in which one could supercharge intelligence. One, by increasing dendrite growth: two, by fooling with myelin: three, something else, whatever is happening in torsion dystonia. In some cases the difference is probably an aspect of development, not something you can turn on and off. In other cases, the effect might exist when the chemical influence is acting and disappear when the influence does. In either case, it seems likely that we could - if we wanted to - developed pharmaceutical agents that had similar effects. The first kind, those affecting development, would be something that might have to be administered early in life, maybe before birth. while the second kind would be 'smart pills' that one could pop as desired or as needed. Of course, we have to hope that we can find ways of improving safety. Would you take a pill that increased your IQ by 10 or 15 points that also had a 10% chance of putting you in a wheel chair?

Gregory Cochran

Greg has asked me, both here and in a conference we belong to, to comment on this. I'm still thinking about it. The arguments are compelling, and many of the details are outside any expertise I may have: of course they're outside almost everyone's field of expertise.

I want to think on this more. I have also copied this letter to its own page, and I will append interesting comments to that page.

Subject: 60th anniversary of pile #1 at U of Chicago - 12/10/42

Dear Jerry;

As the subject line says. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the first controlled release of atomic energy from a fission source. This took place under the West Stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. It was part of the Manhattan Project under the direction of Enrico Fermi, the "Italian Navigator" who landed in the New World and found the natives "very friendly".

Something to remember - Hal Frank - Chicago

Indeed. The Italian Navigator has Landed in the New World...

And continuing a discussion:

Hello Dr. Pournelle:

You were recently criticized for daring to question the rules, regarding the people arrested for sperm smuggling. Apparently, you don't realize that this is merely a first step. Like drug smuggling, smuggling sperm is just the start, and before you know it, you move on to the harder stuff (sorry, but I had to say it; the pun just leapt to mind). Seriously, though, here is a man with whom the imperialists are, no doubt, very happy. He has come to be indoctrinated into the belief that justice, right, liberty, and the protection of the innocent, not to mention common sense, are not important concepts, and are only incidental to the rule of law. Even the keeping of order, an important function of any government, whether or not it values the needs of it's citizens, is not the function here. Rather, it is the enforcement of rules.

The reason for this is simple: justice requires judgment and conscience, two things we are discouraged from developing and displaying these days. Rule enforcement, requires only blind obedience, a very desirable thing in a subject population, and so very easy for the rulers. Rule enforcement is also easy and even fun, for the enforcers. You get to order people around, get them to do things, and even get them into trouble sometimes. If you are taken to task for your behavior, told you are being silly, oppressive, or wrong, it is a simple matter to say that you were, as so many Germans said after the Second World War, "just following orders." It should be noted also, that the Nazis were very big believers in the idea of Zero Tolerance."

The fact that your reader either can not see this, or may actually agree with it, makes him a loyal, valuable, and pliable subject; what more could be asked for? I wonder how he might feel some day, if a valid disagreement with, or a misapplication of, some government policy lands him in jail? Well since he seems to belive that niether the rulers, or the rules, are ever wrong, I am a bit afraid, that he may actually be made to see the error of his ways, and admit his own wrongdoing. I seem to recall that the communist government of China operated in a similar fashion in the sixties, perhaps it still does.

Rules are rules, and fair is fair, may be a valid concept when dealing with the moral immaturity of young children, which is why most teachers actually do subject their students to this type of treatment, but adults should be presumed to have moral responsibility for their own lives. It is unfortunate that the schools seem to be teaching so little of either responsibility or morals, that we are growing a generation of what Richard Mitchell calls "clever children of all ages, rather than responsible, reasoning adults." A clever child, like any other child, will obey whatever it is that has power or authority over him, and do as he is compelled to do. The rightness, or justice of the situation is not a factor here.

I frankly don't care what happened to some mobster, and have little doubt that overall, he deserves much worse than what he is getting. My problem is that he got what was coming to a rule breaker, rather than what was coming to a dangerous, and destructive criminal. Regulations against smuggling are put into place to prevent drugs, and weapons from being brought in. Idiotic enforcement of a rule, in this manner, on the grounds that "rules are rules", makes us all servants of the law, instead of having the law act as servant of us. This is generally defended on the principle that this sort of treatment is fair, and impartial, because there is equal enforcement of the law. Every time we operate on the fiction that justice and equality are the same thing, we diminish justice. The law is, or should be, one of many tools that we use to establish justice. It should not serve as a replacement for justice.

Any fool ought to be able to see, that treating a man smuggling his sperm out of prison, in the same manner as a man smuggling drugs, or weapons in, is hardly equal treatment. Then again, I could be wrong. It seems that these same people, under the guise of Zero Tolerance, can not distinguish between a real gun, a toy gun, and a picture of a gun brought to school. Perhaps children who bring dolls or action figures to school should be treated as slave owners, and those who play with toy trucks should be charged with operating a vehicle without a license. Certainly, Zero Tolerance, makes any other treatment of these individuals unfair. It actually is considered it unfair, and improper to treat a traffic offender differently than a felon, when making traffic stops, or collecting overdue citations. This idea of rules, and fairness, is why you and I are subject to great inconvenience, and may even risk getting shot, in all of our dealings with law enforcement, even the most mundane ones. It is also why there is so much foolishness going on with what is being called "airport security."

In a nation of free and equal men, law is put in place for the protection of citizenry, through regulation of commerce, and the deterrence of crime. In a nation of servants and masters, law is a tool with which to keep the servants in their place, and assure that they obey the whims of the masters.

Neal Pritchett

Precisely and well said. Thanks.

I am going to give about one more view on this, and it's enough.

And, certainly enough to end a long day, there is this:

Fascinating! Well worth reading.

Frank G

-------- Forwarded message -------- Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2002 20:34:36 -0700 From: Reply-to: Leslie Fish < To: frank Gasperik < Subject: Fwd: The Six Lesson Schoolteacher

Goddess! This one is a genuine horror story.

---------- The Six Lesson Schoolteacher<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /

by John Taylor Gatto

from Whole Earth Review,

Fall 1991; reprinted with permission.

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn't what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.

Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:

The first lesson I teach is: "Stay in the class where you belong." I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of numbers he carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.

In any case, again, that's not my business. My job is to make the kids like it -- being locked in together, I mean -- or at the minimum, endure it. If things go well, the kids can't imagine themselves anywhere else; they envy and fear the better classes and have contempt for the dumber classes. So the class mostly keeps itself in good marching order. That's the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

Nevertheless, in spite of the overall blueprint, I make an effort to urge children to higher levels of test success, promising eventual transfer from the lower-level class as a reward. I insinuate that the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores, even though my own experience is that employers are (rightly) indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I've come to see that truth and school teaching are incompatible.

The lesson of numbered classes is that there is no way out of your class except by magic. Until that happens you must stay where you are put.

The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.

The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their argument is inexorable; bells destroy the past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom. Individuality is a curse to all systems of classification, a contradiction of class theory.

Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels; they trick me out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds that they need water. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in children angry, depressed or exhilarated by things outside my ken. Rights in such things cannot exist for schoolteachers; only privileges, which can be withdrawn, exist.

The fourth lesson I teach is that only _I_ determine what curriculum you will study (rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.

But kids fight against this, of course, trying openly or covertly to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn. How can we allow that and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are procedures to break the will of those who resist.

This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what would fall apart if kids weren't trained in the dependency lesson: The social-service businesses could hardly survive, including the fast-growing counseling industry; commercial entertainment of all sorts, along with television, would wither if people remembered how to make their own fun; the food services, restaurants and prepared-food warehouses would shrink if people returned to making their own meals rather than depending on strangers to cook for them. Much of modern law, medicine, and engineering would go, too -- the clothing business as well -- unless a guaranteed supply of helpless people poured out of our schools each year. We've built a way of life that depends on Self-evaluation -- the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet -- is never a factor in these things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.

In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child's waywardness, too.

I assign "homework" so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood.

The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency among certain influential thinkers; it was a central prescription set down by Calvin in the Institutes, by Plato in the Republic, by Hobbes, by Comte, by Francis Bacon. All these childless men discovered the same thing: Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control.

It is the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals.

It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for "basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which schools preempt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I've just taught you.

We've had a society increasingly under central control in the United States since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to coast are the products of this central control. So, too, I think, are the epidemics of drugs, suicide, divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening of class into caste in the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our lives, the lessening of individual and family importance that central control imposes.

Without a fully active role in community life you cannot develop into a complete human being. Aristotle taught that; surely he was right. Look around you or look into the mirror; that is the demonstration.

"School" is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows to a control point as it ascends. "School" is an artifice which makes such a pyramidal social order seem inevitable (although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution). In colonial days and through the period of the early Republic we had no schools to speak of. And yet the promise of democracy was beginning to be realized. We turned our backs on this promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of Egypt -- compulsory training in subordination for everybody. Compulsory schooling -- that was the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in the Republic when he laid down the plans for total state control of human life.

The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony -- we already have one, locked up in the six lessons I've told you about and a few more I've spared you. This curriculum produces moral and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its bad effects. What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.

None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to change. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people -- there is no one right way. There is no "international competition" that compels our existence, difficult as that is to even think about in the face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our nation is self-sufficient. If we gained a non-material philosophy that found meaning where it is genuinely located -- in families, friends, the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy -- then we would be truly self-sufficient.

How did these awful places, these "schools", come about? As we know them, they are a by-product of the two "Red Scares" of 1848 and 1919, when powerful interests feared a revolution among our industrial poor, and partly they are the result of the revulsion with which old-line families regarded the waves of Celtic, Slavic, and Latin immigration -- and the Catholic religion -- after 1845. And certainly a third contributing cause can be found in the revulsion with which these same families regarded the free movement of Africans through the society after the Civil War.

Look again at the six lessons of school. This is training for permanent underclasses, people who are to be deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And it is training shaken loose from even its own original logic -- to regulate the poor. Since the 1920s the growth of the well-article school bureaucracy, and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, have enlarged schooling's original grasp to seize the sons and daughters of the middle class.

Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take, preempting the teaching function that belongs to all in a healthy community; belongs, indeed, most clearly to yourself, since nobody else cares as much about your destiny. Professional teaching tends to another serious error. It makes things that are inherently easy to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, difficult -- by insisting they be taught by pedagogical procedures.

With lessons like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder we have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.

All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher.

"Critical thinking" is a term we hear frequently these days as a form of training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It certainly will, if it ever happens. No common school that actually dared teaching the use of dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free minds could last a year without being torn to pieces.

Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children's development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save money, even to help children.

At the pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home. Small, de-institutionalized schools are another. Some form of free-market system in public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers. But the near impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue.

After an adult lifetime spent in teaching school I believe the method of schooling is the only real content it has. Don't be fooled into thinking that good curricula or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son and daughter's schooltime. All the pathologies we've considered come about in large measure because the lessons of schooling prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self- reliance, courage, dignity and love -- and, of course, lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.

Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to do it in.

A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.

One can quarrel with much of this, but alas, it is getting more and more true as time goes on.

I did not find structured classes mind deadening: I am very grateful to the Christian Brothers (FSC) for my classical education. And learning some self discipline is useful. But there is some truth to the above as well.






This week:


read book now


Wednesday, December 11, 2002

> Witness the modern American Businessman in action. No longer content to trade value for value in an open, honest manner -- now it's all > about tricking people and "locking them in":

I don't understand your response to this. The article in question concerned Intuit's efforts to push its customers into a subscription and you responded by refering to Enron and talking about lobbying.

The problem for a software company is to keep revenue coming in. In the DOS days, each new version was demonstrably better than the previous and supported the latest hardware. After the huge success of Windows, there was great demand for a Windows version of all the software. Windows 95 brought a new demand for 32 bit version of software. But now, that is all gone. 5 year old software is good enough. Not that it was that easy to get customers to upgrade from DOS versions; my company had a hard time with it. It took Y2K to force some to upgrade despite radical improvements in speed and design.

Right now, many software companies have each the end of the design of their product; there is nothing they can do to improve it so that a great number of customers will upgrade. They are looking for a new business model. Even mighty Microsoft is faced with this situation. But it is not easy to find a solution. Windows and Office are the only products Microsoft make that make money. I predict that in 10 years, Microsoft will the a fraction of what it is today. They can no longer compete except by leveraging past successes.

Microsoft has forgotten the lessons that made them a huge success. Look at the original IBM PC. It was wildly popular mainly because it was an open system. When NASA bought computers, they bought an IBM PC/XT with an AST sixpack, Lotus 123, PFS:Write, CrossTalk, a Forte card with software. The PC was the only component that IBM received money for. Now compare that with the XBox. Very proprietary and Microsoft wants money for every software sold for it. And they expect it to succeed???

Greg Brewer

Well, my comment wasn't very responsive to the letter, I'll grant you. A bit early in the morning I guess. In any event I have no argument with what you are saying here.

So sorry to point out that while a prisoner, smuggling ANYTHING is a crime. It isn't the sperm that is at issue, but the SMUGGLING.

Double the prisoner's sentences, and give the same time to the guards. End of story. This is not a case of the law being an ass, but being treated as a joke by the mob.

Other'n that keep up the good work! Looking forward to BT.

B Grigg

So sorry? Why? 

So: rules are rules, and are to be enforced, and double the sentence here. Also put the mother in prison. Raise the kid in an orphanage -- no, we don't have those. In the social welfare system, which works so very well.

And the same people who think this is a great idea are likely to be the ones who worry that we will provoke the Islamic community and create people who hate us all over the world. But rules are rules, except when they aren't?

Actually it would probably be better for everyone here to simply shoot the father and the guards; a lot cheaper, and doubling the sentence is the same a a life sentence, which is expensive, particularly the heart transplants as prisoners get older; and all this to enforce RULES which are RULES and ZERO TOLERANCE.

Now if they had said that he gets 3 weeks in the hole for that stunt no one would have paid the slightest attention. But that is not what happens here: we are talking about imprisoning a man for life, and jailing his wife for the entirety of her child's childhood: in her case for the awful crime of having a baby by her husband. If she had an adulterous affair that resulted in a baby no one would care. This tells us a very great deal about the values of a society that wants to jail a mother for having a child by her husband, and raising the child in the social welfare system -- because they broke a rule.

Perhaps you see that as justice. I fear I see it as one more instance of a monstrous attitude that puts rules ahead of their purpose. It's of a piece with searching General Joe Foss and wanting to confiscate his Medal of Honor because his number came up. We know the search didn't make anyone safer, but rules are rules.

I fear I will never understand that attitude. Particularly since there are now so many rules and laws that not one of us can go a day without breaking one or another.

I have several letters like the next one:

The Greplaw site references a couple of links to an interesting story. Link here:

The Greplaw article states:


"A number of alternative online news outlets, namely 2600 Magazine, and more recently Declan McCullagh's Politech are carrying a story of a Denver photographer who was apparently arrested while taking pictures in Denver, during Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to the city. Denver resident Mike Maginnis reports being physically assaulted by Denver police, and then held for hours while being verbally assaulted by men who represented themselves as federal agents working for the Secret Service. The latter, Maginnis claims, threatened to charge him as a "terrorist" under the USA Patriot Act.

Maginnis apparently tried to phone a Denver area newspaper, only to have his phone call disconnected when authorities discovered who he was contacting. No doubt, this is only a small taste of what's to come from the USA Patriot act and other bang-up efforts at defending the U.S. against terrorism. "


I have not heard any reference to this from any other sources. But I thought you might be interested.


B. Smith

I have not seen this anywhere, and my guess is that if it were real, there would be a lot of press play. It's a stick to beat the Administration with, which ought to excite many opposition papers, and it's the kind of thing that conservatives get incensed about, so there's another group that would publicize it. My guess is that it's not real at all; and I don't know what or if that site has to do with Harvard University.

I'd appreciate any real information, but my guess is that this is not real at all.

Now see below.

From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Date: 12/10/02

subject: The Pournelle Policy clarified

Dear Jerry: Thanks for answering the questions. "If someone is here legally, and is murdered by foreigners, we treat it the way we would the murder of a US citizen, if someone is abroad they're on their own, usually" seems to be what you're saying, and that is what I wanted to know. Or have I misunderstood?

As for your reasons for not attempting to right all the wrongs in the world, mostly I agree with them. Prudent people may differ on individual cases, or where to draw the line as a matter of principle. Still, 'ought implies can,' and biting off more than one can chew is apt to choke one to death.

I think the main difference we have about Saddam and the Mid-East, generally, is not over principle. Instead, I believe we differ over specifics. You view their rulers as deterable, and their societies as unlikely to ever be a real threat to us (I think; possibly I'm mistaken about your views). I think their rulers and people are insane, and believe that in terms of threat, they're what the late Soviet Union was in 1921 or so.

If I shared what I take to be your view, I'd be opposed to invading Iraq too, though not as vehemently as you are -- I don't view the long term dangers to the Republic as seriously as you do. Since I believe they are a grave long term threat, I want them eliminated NOW, while the cost is low.

While it was probably politically impossible at the time, hindsight says _somebody_ should have strangled Lenin's regime in the cradle. Instead, the Great Powers ignored or even fostered it (aside: (re)read Richard Pipes's "Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime," and note how often the British, French, and Poles suddenly cut support to the Whites when they were on the verge of victory; perhaps I'm paranoid, but I think it strains coincidence past the breaking point). France and/or should have done for the Nazis. I don't want the same mistake made AGAIN.

Best, Stephen


If you allow me to make Poul Anderson's Time Patrol real, I can go back in time to make a number of beneficial changes to history. I could save Gustavus Adolphus and thus preserve The German Liberties and the Swedish Empire; the result may well be preferable to the continuation of the 30 Years War and the Westphalia Treaty. I could see that Adolf Hitler died a hero's death in World War I, and that Goering was shot down after a brilliant career as successor to The Red Baron. We could strangle Lenin and Stalin in their cradles. We could -- but there is no end to what we could do, given hindsight.

World War II probably would not have happened had not the hope of American intervention on the side of the Allies caused a rejection of the Kaisaer's "Peace Offensive"; peace on the basis of status quo ante would have ended the war much earlier, before the success of the Bolsheviks. Had it been clear that the US wasn't going to intervene despite the stories of the Belgian babies tossed on German bayonets, who knows when The Great War would have ended -- probably after enough horror to show that it shouldn't be tried again. Perhaps not. But without US involvement it couldn't have been a World War, and without the Treaty of Versailles the seeds of WW II might not have been planted. And so on, and so on. Speculations of this kind are rather cheap, and pointless.

Now for the particular instance: Saddam Hussein may escape this noose precisely because he has learned his lesson. He appears to be working overtime to convince the world that he is an ordinary tyrant who has no more territorial demands in the Middle East, and has no weapons of mass destruction and doesn't want any. And if, despite his appearing to be innocent of all charges, he gets invaded, perhaps that sends a salutary message to the other tyrants of the region -- and perhaps it sends a message of another kind. Deterrence works only if both sides are deterred, and if both sides are likely to keep promises.

If there were any real evidence that Saddam had any connection with 911 it would be different, but there is not. He may have been connected with the earlier truck bomb attempts on the World Trade Center, but that is unproven; and I am unaware of any shred of evidence that he had anything to do with 911.

How is Saddam Hussein to harm the United States? This isn't quite like the USSR, which held an enormous empire and population. The entire Arab world has commerce and manufacturing ability comparable to Spain. They have All That Oil, but so far they don't do anything dangerous or even interesting with All That Money.

So I am curious: how does Iraq pose any kind of threat to this Republic? True, if we continue to impose insane policies on ourselves, we are in trouble: but how is Iraq a threat? We can always close the borders to anyone from that region, and end infiltration. Are we worried about armed invasion? Naval blockade? Bombardment of our ports?

I expect we will have our war. Everyone seems ready now, and even the Middle East is becoming resigned to it. I truly hope that we will prefer the state of the world after the war to what prevailed before it.

Discussion continues below.

On the Edison Energy System (see view)

I looked over the web page listed and do wonder about the device. My only guess is (assuming this is not outright fraud) that there is some consumable portion of the device we are not being told about. The issue of electrical supply is interesting. While the fuel cell will generate DC current, the use of a solid-state inverter will convert the power to AC with no moving parts. The hydrogen gas supply should take care of the heating, hot water and cooking needs of the house. This would reduce the required capacity of the inverter. However, even a modest sine wave inverter, capable of say 1.5kw at 220 volts, is going to break the bank on the $3,000 price tag. Again, there may be more to the facts than we know. The price may be for a "base" unit with the required inverter capacity an additional cost.

The web page seems to indicate a product well beyond the "cold fusion" phase. They are indicating too many hard facts for this to be the result of a mistake in the calculation of energy output. Which leaves us with the possibility of something new and wonderful, or just someone's idea of a joke.

You have reached the same conclusions I did. Sine wave inverters of that power capacity are not at all cheap. Clearly there's one in every on-line UPS, but they don't do that much power.

This thing would be wonderful if it worked, but I have a suspicion that it's a joke. As you say, it's far beyond the simple arithmetical error stage: it's either real or a very elaborate hoax. If it's real, there's something new here I don't understand, because it sure looks like a violation of the second law of thermodynamics.

I sent this reply to Greg Cochran: "I have posted this; I confess I don’t know what to say. I find it fascinating. And compelling."

His comment:

Well, if I were a science fiction writer, I'd wonder where an application of this would lead. I can think of a number of possibilities - for some of them, the book or short story has already been written.

Let us assume that we really could make drugs that increased intelligence. I'm pretty sure it's actuallly possible, and the approach that makes it easy is looking to see what the results of natural selection for increased intelligence are, rather than trying to understand everything about human bioneurochemistry from the ground up. We didn't need to know everything about the biochemistry of lactation to get Jersey cows - indeed we didn't know anything.


A. The drugs could be too expensive for universal use.

A1. I doubt if they would be in the millionaire-only club - I don't think any other drug is, really, not if there are a lot of customers to spread the fixed costs over.

A2. But it would be easy for them to be too expensive for general use in non-first-world countries. Them that has, gets. Even if too expensive for general use in a poor country, the kakistocrats could probably afford them, making revolution harder. Dictators would, as a perk, get smarts as well as power. The gap between us and , say, Guinea Bissau would become awesome.

A3. There might be a medium-sized but significant time lapse between elite use and general use. Would our government disintegrate in the interim?.

A4. A cabal keeps the drugs secret and strives for world domination. Sounds like fun. See E.

B. There might be side effects.

B1. You die after a while. _Flowers for Algernon_.

B2. You are physically messed up but don't die, something like the kids with torsion dystonia. I doubt this though, because these mutations are very recent and have not been refined by natural selection. And most people with that torsion dystonia mutation never get sick. Since that is the case, it is probably easy to improve them, reduce side effects, etc. They are non-optimized and so can be optimized. If nothing else, take a break now and then from the drugs. Carriers can't do that. Hmm.. if there is a risk of physical problems, would people use them anyhow? Most would-be Olympians would take a drug that killed them in five years if it gave them a gold medal: are wannabe Nobelists that tough? Would we use it in a desperate situation, a war? Should we _force_ it on our researchers, for the greater good?

B3. The drugs change your personality in interesting and/or undesirable ways. This side effect too could probably be ameliorated, but it might be tricky.

C. They only work if taken in early life.. Then us geezers might be pushed aside by the rising generation in a new and spectacular way. In fact, the country might not even be run by middle-aged people at all.

C1. They work some, not as well, if you start late.

D. They increase intelligence a _lot_. Might be possible: if we're talking the Ashkenazi mutations, hardly anyone has more than one, just about nobody more than two. One in two thousand Ashkenazi, at most, carry a Tay-Sachs mutation and a Gaucher mutation, the two most common. But using drugs, we could in principle give you the torsion dystonia effect _and_ the Gaucher-carrier effect _and_ the Tay-Sachs - carrier effect _and the Canavan-carrier effect. _ and the familial dysautonomia carrier effect. As a rough guess, might give you considerably more than 20 pts - torsion dystonia gives about ten all by itself.

D1. Add even one standard deviation and society is transformed. Somehow I think that Poul Anderson''s _Brainwave_ missed the point.

D2. Real smart people become so much smarter as to be un-understandable by usuns. This is a lot like Vinge's Singularity, or his old short story _Bookworm, Run !_ .

D2a. They stop having children altogether. if you extrapolate, that is certainly the trend, at least among women. The higher the IQ, the lower the fertility.

D2b. The incomprehensibly smart all convert to Catholicism. Or to something else. To them it is obvious.

D2c. The incomprehensibly smart figure out ways to get even smarter. This story can't be told.

D3. We run similar genetic analysis on famously smart people, looking for strong IQ genes. Before we're done we dig up Newton, Gauss, Clerk Maxwell, and steal Einstein's brain

D4. We test it on chimps and overshoot. That could be bad.

E. The government bans it - the powers that be want to stay the powers that be. It'll only work if the powers that be have their own trump - say, real machine intelligence, or maybe people souped-up with a computer connection, as in _Starswarm_. Or, hydrogen bombs, coupled with a world technological inquisiton, especially biotechnology. See Niven's ARM stories, Poul Anderson's _Shield_, your CoDominium, Vinge's _The Peace War_. .

E1. Some countries ban it, while other countries, or other sub-national groups, try it. _Beyond This Horizon_, many others.

E2. Groups that currently have such genetic advantages wish to keep their edge and support the ban. Up to now, people could kill or oppress you but they couldn't _be_ you, couldn't steal your essence. That was then.

E3. The government bans it for everyone other than themselves, for good national-security reasons. We wouldn't want super-smart terrorists, would we? Shortly thereafter, hereditary rule is imposed. it now works because regression to the mean doesn't make the nephew stupid; intelligence is a perk of office.

E4. The government only allows use on the slow: only for leveling. Never work of course.


Just possibilities.. but I hope to make some them real.

Gregory Cochran

I am still digesting all that.

One additional subpoint to the other Greg's excellent list.

C2. Us geezers might be pushed aside by a smarter, but not wiser, upcoming generation. (Logan's Run - book version).

G. Goss


And Harry Erwin says

I've similarly speculated on an association between variant (less effective) GABA receptors in the cortex and high creativity, pointing at the prevalence of depression and bipolar illness among authors and writers. The problem is "how do you prove it?" We don't even understand the mechanisms underlying obligate homosexuality, which has an even greater fitness cost--how much is genetic, how much the womb environment, and how much is post-birth environmental--so we've got a long way to go before we will have some testable hypotheses about intelligence (and common sense and creativity).

Of course, bats and other mammals might be able to teach us something about common sense; and bower birds about creativity.

Cheers, -- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>

I haven't thought about this for a long time. What would it mean to have real smart pills? Especially if there were a price? It's important enough to give some real thought to.

Dear Mr. Pournelle,

I am writing in regard to the article by Gregory Cochran which you recently posted. I have issues with some of Mr. Cochran's basic assumptions, and I hope you will take the time to consider them.

First and foremost, Mr. Cochran seems to be saying that various types of genetic damage suffered by the Ashkenazi might be, in effect, worth it since they go hand in hand with increased intelligence. Right there is my first objection. I do not consider a statistically slight increase in intelligence alone, in and of itself, to necessarily be an advantage.

Intelligence is like any other personal characteristic. As the old saying goes, "It ain't what you got, it's what you can do with it". I will use the analogy of physical strength. A relatively weak man, who is trained and experienced, can often outperform a stronger rival when the rival has no clue about how to effectively apply his advantage. I am sure you and all of your readers have seen this in everything from schoolyard fights to manual labor. Knowing how to use what you have is what matters. The same thing holds true for intelligence. Intelligence alone is not the critical part. Please note that a very smart savage is still a savage.

With all due respect to Mr. Cochran, he states that:

So a change in brain function, as the source of the FITNESS ADVANTAGE (emphasis added) in heterozygotes carrying these mutations, is the way to bet.

He goes on to mention that the Ashkenazi spent much of their history genetically isolated and performing tasks that seem to favor high intelligence. I mean no disrespect, and I certainly have no wish to denigrate any ethnic group, but a population that has spent much of its history...

-Genetically isolated (i.e. Inbred) -Socially & politically quarantined from surrounding groups, and -Subject to periodic bouts of persecution

...does not seem (to me at least) to be pursuing the optimum strategy for survival. Mr. Cochran sounds like he believes that the Ashkenazi historical experience gave a survival advantage to the more intelligent members, and that this advantage outweighed the risks of being crippled, etc. I personally think it is more likely that steady inbreeding led to mutations, some of which might have favored intelligence but which overall caused a major genetic disadvantage.

I admit that people of any ethnicity who operate under hostile conditions tend to be smarter than average. This is because the stupid ones get killed off. But I fail to see any evidence offered that the (presumed) higher intelligence of the Ashkenazi has provided them with a significant edge in group survival. Mr. Cochran's article also does not address the inherent difficulty of accurately measuring intelligence. He states that:

"That notion is not just based on this genetic and biochemical evidence: we start out already knowing that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher average IQ than any other group, something like 110-115. What, other than natural selection, could cause this?"

I can offer at least one possible explanation. Perceived higher IQ might be the result of cultural effects. If, as Mr. Cochran states, the Ashkenazi have traditionally followed the intellectual trades, it stands to reason that their culture would place a premium on study and mental training.

Which emphasizes my key point. Without education, without training, without mental discipline, high intelligence is either irrelevant or, in some cases, an actual hindrance. Most of us are acquainted with at least one person who is educated beyond their intelligence. Many academics of my acquaintance seem to be afflicted with this problem. Those poor souls are so deeply indoctrinated that they are unable to think past the fog of their conditioning. I know several people who possess high intelligence. In some cases, extremely high intelligence. But they cannot use it effectively for anything outside of their particular specialty. One of my old professors was intimidatingly intelligent in the matter of Organic Chemistry. But the poor guy had trouble balancing a checkbook, and he could not have changed a flat tire, literally, to save his life. Do characteristics such as these promote survival? The tired old cliché about common sense versus book smarts comes to mind.

If the Ashkenazi exhibit higher than average IQ, then the first place to look for an explanation would most properly be in their cultural heritage. Do they encourage their children to study? Do they require youngsters to use disciplined application of information to the solution of real world problems? Do they hammer their offspring about doing their homework? These things are the way to train someone into performing well on an IQ test. An illiterate genius would perform very poorly on most IQ tests. Even someone with the raw intelligence of Einstein would not look very bright if they had never received training.

Mr. Cochran finishes up with:

"More generally, if this is what I think it is, all these Ashkenazi neurological diseases are hints of ways in which one could supercharge intelligence.....In either case, it seems likely that we could - if we wanted to - developed pharmaceutical agents that had similar effects. The first kind, those affecting development, would be something that might have to be administered early in life, maybe before birth. while the second kind would be 'smart pills' that one could pop as desired or as needed. Of course, we have to hope that we can find ways of improving safety. Would you take a pill that increased your IQ by 10 or 15 points that also had a 10% chance of putting you in a wheel chair?"

In a word, NO. Steroids are not worth the price for the strength the give. I cannot imagine any sensible reason for mucking about with brain chemistry in order to (possibly) achieve a (potential) increase in the undeveloped IQ of a child. Most especially when very few people bother to work on expanding the potential that they already have naturally. Do you know anyone who spends TOO MUCH TIME working on improving their mind? I don't.

We know far to little about the human body, particularly the human mind, to go tinkering with it at this stage in the game. First, maybe we should consider cultural and economic adjustments that allow and encourage individuals to actually use, and maybe even maximize, the physical and mental potential that they are born with. Then, sometime in the next few million years, it might be time to start trying to jumpstart our natural abilities. But tinkering with Mother Nature is a matter to be approached with fear and trembling. And you had better know exactly what you are doing before you even start.


Barry Smith

There Are Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. 

I have posted this because it is the expected commentary, and we may as well get some of the questions settled. First, regarding IQ: there is no real controversy among people familiar with the subject matter. IQ isn't a perfect measure or anything like it but it is still the best single predictor of success we have: and that means any kind of success.

Take a group of plumbers, or preachers, or mathematicians, or MacDonalds' employees; get a team of experts to rank order them on the variable "success" at what they do; now try to predict that rank order. You will find that IQ is the best single predictor. Moreover, it's the same if you gave the test before they chose their professions.

Now there is no question that skills count: a high IQ child never taught to read will have problems a lower IQ child taught to read at age 4 (as the English upper classes always did teach their children until recently) will not have. Those taught to read at an early age will have a very genuine Head Start, which is probably why the Head Start program forbids the use of Head Start money to teach reading: that would be far too effective a Head Start. But the fact is that Head Start and many other such programs have no demonstrated effectiveness. Their effects vanish after a few years. That might not be the case if they taught reading, but they are forbidden to DO that. Meanwhile, there are no programs that consistently raise IQ; and IQ remains the best single predictor of success we have. Many people wish that weren't so, but wishing doesn't change the matter.

The charge that IQ is cultural is often raised, but there is no good evidence for it, and a lot against it. This is disturbing to many, and for good reasons. Of course a culture that "breeds for intelligence" and rewards such success by encouraging bright people to have more children will produce a population quite different from a culture that punishes people for appearing to be bright; at least that's certain if you accept the premise that intelligence has any hereditary component at all. It's pretty clear that it does. How much nature and how much nurture isn't known, but it's at least 40% nature, and it now looks like about 60%. That leaves considerable room for skill, but over generations breeding counts.

"What you do with what you got" is certainly a matter of character as well as IQ; but once again, every study we have shows that those with the higher IQ tend to do more with their talents. Not always, which is why the parable of the talents remains relevant after 2,000 years; but more often than not. And while there are a lot of anecdotes about street smarts vs. book smarts, they are usually told in the context of the book smarts person being more successful than the street smart commonsense character in the story who is usually a bumpkin. The fact is that book smart people generally write the books about how much better off the common sense street smart people are. 

In other words, kicking against the pricks is usual when discussing these matters, but not terribly relevant. All the real evidence shows that raising IQ is the real goal, and as Cochran says, raising an entire population by a full sigma or more will have a profound difference. Whether to some individuals the price will be too high is worth discussing; of course we also need to know what price is.

I fear make little out of the last paragraph other than a profound wish that the world were different from the way it is.

A different comment:

Cochran says the Ashkenazi "had a very different job mix from their neighbors: none of them were farmers ('Scribe, banker, jeweler, shopkeeper'), and they almost never intermarried." 

I suppose he means "they were almost never exogamous" (sometimes it's easy to get words turned around), but is the statement true for more than the last few centuries? 

For example, I believe the Jewish tendency to avoid evangelizing their neighbors was not as strict, earlier -- how many generations does it take for breeding to make an appreciable difference? I also wonder if it takes many more brains to be a banker, shopkeeper or peddlar, than it does to be a herdsman, hunter, fisherman or sailor -- or farmer, for that matter. Of course if I remember correctly, Arthur Koestler suggested that many of the Ashkenazi were descended from Central Asian horse tribes, in which case they would have much of their genetic background from there.

Koestler and others have been fascinated with the story of the Khazars, who were converted en masse to Judaism after a contest between Muslim, Christian, and Jewish spokespersons as to which religion was best. The story is often told, but it is told in so many different ways, and with so many different outcomes, that I never found it useful: whatever the origins of the Ashkenazim, they certainly formed a distinct genetic group.

As to the IQ requirements of various professions in medieval, renaissance, and modern times, I will leave that to others: the offhand impression is that the "intellectual" professions tend to attract smarter people.

And see Below

The Denver Photographer Story

Reference the story of the photographer who was arrested in Denver for taking pictures of VP Cheneys hotel, interrogated for hours, threatened, and released....

I've seen this in several places. If you really care, I can go track down the links (the story is several days old).

The key point here, however, is that the story is making a big deal about a "coverup". This "gentleman" who insists he was treated rudely by Federal agents and Denver policemen was, according to his story, released after a few hours.

When one or more journalist tried to confirm this story the authorities professed no knowledge of the incident. They say there is no record of his arrest, no record of his detention, no record of any property being seized from him, etc.

Based on my experience of more than a few years working with a major metropolitan police department, I can safely say that this is not possible.

I might stretch and be able to believe that someone could, under certain highly unusual circumstances, be taken into custody without any public record being created, and with an entire police department unanimously professing no knowledge of it. It might even be possible to cover that up for some small number of days. SO LONG AS THE SUSPECT REMAINED IN CUSTODY, or, God forbid, disappeared.

But there is absolutely no way on Gods Green Earth that any police department could possibly even consider trying to cover up an arrest of a person who is now out, walking around, TALKING ABOUT IT. There are too many people in ANY department with an axe to grind and and edge to be gained by secretly informing the media of what is going on.

And there is also no way that anyone (or their property) gets taken into custody without a record of that being created in the system. No officer is going to even try that because his very job, and possibly his freedom to walk the streets, is at risk from merely committing the act, regardless of the reasons why.

Finally, there is no reason for a police department to lie about arresting someone. If a lie needs to be told, much easier to lie about what the suspect did, especially in a case where no charges are being pressed. Just say he swung at an officer with the camera, but the department declined to charge him. That is an absolutely bulletproof excuse for both the arrest and the seizure of the camera, and without charges to fight against, our cameraman could never hope to prove it untrue.

The story in 2600 is bogus because it simply does not make sense. --

Gary R. Utter


And we have:

The Denver Police Department stating that they have no idea what this "photographer imprisoned for photographing vice president" is all about. It appears to be a hoax, perhaps one deliberately perpetrated by democrat party "activists". (I've attached a copy of their press release, just in case you wanted it). I know of this because I belong to the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, filled with a number of democrat party partisans, who just went nutso over the story - and are now finding it hard to believe that it was a hoax, despite no evidence to support it and significant evidence to the contrary.

Don't you just love politics these days? This is a good example of why I now belong to neither political party.


Tim Pleasant Colorado Springs

(p.s. Feel free to post this on your site)

I am hardly astonished. Thanks.

On Slavery

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

You commented that slavery in Arabia still exists. I offer a bit more from my Saudi Arabian stay in 1996.

The King of Saudi Arabia declared an end to slavery by royal proclamation in 1965. Anyone that thinks this ended the practice is invited to study US history since 1865.

There was a lot of discussion in the English language Arab News while I was resident about the virtual slavery of Philippino housemaids by the male heads of households. The head of the household would, as the maid's sponsor keep her passport for safekeeping. This is correct, proper, and according to Arabian law. He would also keep her resident ID card, making it illegal for her to travel outside the family compound. This practice is against the law. For explanation, all foreign residents in Saudi Arabia are issued an ID card. It is necessary for travel, medical treatment, and civil services. The purpose of the ID card is to prevent illegal immigration, mostly by holy pilgrims to Mecca while they are in the country. It was never meant to restrict the travel of legal immigrants, all of whom are sponsored and employed by Arabs.

The closed privacy of Arabian homes allowed the alleged problems of the maids to mushroom. Finally, a Philippine businessman came to Saudi Arabia and offered to pay airfare home for any Philippino maid that felt she was unjustly treated. The King made it bluntly clear he would not tolerate suppression of the maids. Thirty-one flew home. Anybody that thinks that this is all the maids kept in virtual slavery, or performing immoral services for their masters, is naive. The simple truth is that the remainder prefer things the way they are, and have no intention of returning to an unrewarding life of poverty at home. Master/slave is not always the one-sided relationship taught in school.

As for slavery elsewhere in the world, it exists, even in the United States. Any intelligent person can find examples.

regards, William L. Jones

What happens here is our business, and enforcement of criminal law in the United States is a matter of our concern. Slave trade on the high seas is our concern. And we can certainly influence others. Beyond that, we have a concern for what happens to our citizens... Anywhere.

And I had in mind cases of Rumanian girls who thought they were to be entertainers and ended up sold into prostitution, a practice that has become a bit more subtle than in the days that Stuart Cloete wrote about (see Rags of Glory among other excellent books) but in some respects remains unchanged. 

Policy discussion continues here.

Here is the last word on this subject:

Dr. Pournelle,

I probably shouldn't revisit this issue, but since I have been mischaracterized by another reader on your web site as "a man with whom the imperialists are, no doubt, very happy. He has come to be indoctrinated into the belief that justice, right, liberty, and the protection of the innocent, not to mention common sense, are not important concepts, and are only incidental to the rule of law.", I believe a few words clarifying my position are in order.

What I questioned in your comments of December 6th was an impression that I had upon reading them that you thought that the people involved should not be punished at all for 'breaking the rules', and that trying to enforce restrictions that inconvenienced incarcerated felons was idiotic. I saw that I was mistaken when you replied to another writer:

"Now if they had said that he gets 3 weeks in the hole for that stunt no one would have paid the slightest attention. But that is not what happens here: we are talking about imprisoning a man for life, and jailing his wife for the entirety of her child's childhood: in her case for the awful crime of having a baby by her husband."

So I think that we are in agreement that it is not absurd that the parties involved might be punished, but it would be absurd if the punishment did not fit the crime. In the article in question it states that:

"She could get up to six years in prison if convicted. Kevin Granato, whose current prison sentence runs until 2012, could get another 35 years. He is serving sentences for racketeering and murder at the jail, which is about 60 miles north of Harrisburg."

The key word in this paragraph is "could". So unless I am mistaken again, it appears that no draconian sentences have yet been issued. An indictment is not a conviction, and I suspect that a desire to press a case to its illogical legal limits is a disease that not only prosecutors but all lawyers are infected with.

The end of the CBS article describes the punishment that two other offenders received for a similar offense:

"Mob associate Antonio Parlavecchio and his wife, Maria, were indicted on similar charges in December 2000. Sperm being held in a doctor's office for Maria Parlavecchio was taken by the government as evidence and destroyed. She was on probation for a year. Her husband had six months tacked onto his racketeering sentence and is due for release in September 2004."

So there is a precedent which leads me to believe that "we are [NOT] talking about imprisoning a man for life, and jailing his wife for the entirety of her child's childhood: in her case for the awful crime of having a baby by her husband."

Finally, I do not consider myself to be "a loyal, valuable, and pliable subject" for having learned, and teaching my son, that we live in a nation built upon respect for the law. I may not like all of our laws (e.g. the DMCA) but I understand that if I break them I will have to accept the consequences of my actions.

Ken Jancaitis

P. S. Just for the record, I consider "Zero Tolerance" to be a bad idea, and live in a public school district that does not have a zero tolerance policy for its students.

But I do read what I comment on.



And a wonderful question:


I must confess to being rather perplexed by Mr St.Onge's position on these matters.

Salman Rushdie has been under fatwa for many years. The British government (and taxpayer) shoulders the burden of full-time security for him. The incident further damaged British-Iranian relations and led to the closing of embassies etc. But is it really appropriate to think we should have declared war over the matter? And as you point out - assuming we won - how would that have helped?

It all seems particularly ironic considering that so much of your discussion and mail in recent days has been about the injustices suffered by American citizens at the hands of their own state.

Here's a twist on the Rawls-ian POP question for you: given what you know about the world, but no knowledge what your endowments will be: ethnic background, sex, IQ, religion, physical prowess, special talents or special needs, etc. - which country would you choose to be born into?

Until fairly recently I would have said the USA, but I'm really not sure anymore. It's not what your enemies have done to you, but what you are doing to yourselves.


Craig Arnold

I haven't thought about this for years. Where would I prefer to be born now? I think the United States still, but it is no longer quite such an automatic answer. On reflection, though, it gets easier. Now, where in the USA, again assuming you have no idea of social class and such?

Policy thread continues.

Continuing the discussion of overclocking

Yes, the statement is true for more than the last few centuries. The estimates of exogamy, per-generation, are well under 1%. There have been important exceptions - the Yemeni Jews are probably mostly converts. In order to see interesting evolutionary change, per-generation admixture must be less than the fitness edge of the gene in questiom - otherwise dilution keeps it from increasing.

How many generations does it take for breeding to make an appreciable difference? If a given gene variant gave a 12% fitness edge, its freqeuncy would increase by about a factor of 100 in 40 generations, roughly a thousand years. A 6% edge would cause a hundredfold increase in 2000 years.

Today, considering the heritability of IQ and the distribution of fertility, IQ could drop by, say, half a point a generation. Easy to get a one-standard-deviation change , 15 pts - (up or down) in historical time, right?

Not much Ashkenazi ancestry is Khazar. People have looked at the genetics. Koestler was wrong. But on the maternal side, a fair amount look to be general European. On the paternal side, mostly Middle Eastern. Close to Palestinians.

As for how IQ influences success in the professions.. two points. First, a smart banker does better than a non-smart banker, and by a larger factor than a smart peasant outdoes a dumb peasant. A banker's wealth can go all the way to up. In the late middle ages, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, we know that rich Jews had much larger number of surviving children than poor Jews. Probably all population growth occurred among the prosperous. That is the genetic payoff. Second, in a lot of those jobs, it really, really pays to be smarter than your customers.

Gregory Cochran

Continued below; Gini Coefficient








This week:


read book now



Preppie joins Marines. What Went Wrong?

Proud father of a Marine wrote op-ed published in Wash. Post. 11/26/02. Speaks to a point you've made, of how the more upper classes have abandoned military service. This fellow at least is now questioning that development.... 

"It had been hard enough sending my two older children off to Georgetown and New York University. John's enlisting was unexpected, so deeply unsettling. I did not relish the prospect of answering the question "So where is John going to college?" from the parents who were itching to tell me all about how their son or daughter was going to Harvard. At the private high school John attended, no other students were going into the military. 

"But aren't the Marines terribly Southern?" asked one perplexed mother while standing next to me at the brunch following graduation. "What a waste, he was such a good student," said another parent. One parent (a professor at a nearby and rather famous university) spoke up at a school meeting and suggested that the school should "carefully evaluate what went wrong."

Mike Juergens

No wealthy republic that I know of has long sustained a large standing army without conscription. Machiavelli made that point long ago. The U.S. service academy appointments were set up to be political, and the officer corps not well paid for reasons that seemed clear at one time. Indeed, at West Point there was a social situation designed to marry graduating cadets into the Briarcliffe/Ladycliff social circles. We are trying a new experiment in politically correct military officers and troops now. It may work.

And see the 911 Memorial...(warning. large file)

Some general comments:

Greetings, Given your interest in things aeronautical, I thought that you'd like to know that yesterday (11 SEP 02) the US Navy successfully conducted its 100th at-sea launch of a Trident D-5 missile. The launch was from the recently overhauled USS Nevada. The crew now is eagerly trying to get rid of the various Senators and VIPs so they can get the heck home... 

My only regret is that the current administration is considering perverting this weapon system from its intended use of deterrence to one where it can be used to retaliate against non-nuclear weapons. 

With regard to the sperm smuggling (this sounds like a bad "Saturday Night Live skit...), no one has commented on the fact that the whole story might be made up. What if she had gotten pregnant in the traditional manner from someone else? I am not an expert, but casual reading tells me that transporting, storing, and using sperm (Hustler magazine jokes aside) is a fairly tricky business. My take is that once pregnant, she and her husband concocted the story to save face, OR she convinced him to smuggle out the sperm, which she then threw away. This made him feel good, saved her "honor", and made the child legitimate. 

As for overclocking the brain, I would tend to avoid it for the same reason I don't overclock my CPUs; there is a negligible increase in performance (is 10 IQ points -that- much?) in return for a lot more wear and tear. I intend to keep my body (AND computer parts) around for much longer than the manufacturer intended. Of course, on second thought, I don't really know how long that is, since I seemed to have lost my owner's manual, and tech support isn't as helpful as it could be...

Respectfully, David Langdon

"For every problem, there is a solution which is simple, neat, and wrong." --H. L. Mencken

Under the Common Law at least all children born in wedlock are legitimate unless challenged; sometimes, as in the case of returning military personnel, that led to presumptions of miraculously short periods of human gestation, or even outright impossibilities, but if there was no challenge, the child was presumed to be the child of the married parents. 

In our litigious society that may have changed.

On a more technical matter:

While looking around for some information on heat pipes today I ran across a mention of something called a "heat lane". It seems to work on principles similar to a heat pipe, but seems more efficent at removing the heat and is more flexible in what kinds of orientations is can be used in. The company in Japan that is patenting the technology has a very descriptive page going over their tech here:

After reading over the research abstracts available on their site it looks like their design challenege was to cool aircraft avionics of increasing power densities that force-air solutions were starting to reach the limits of their cool capability. Interestingly enough, the technology looks well suited to a CPU heatsink solution and is being used by company in Japan already, Soldam. They are using them in their small form factor PC cases now as you can see here:

If you are interested in the heatlane technology I recommend reading this particular research paper on the TS Heatronics site:

I'll let all of you know more about this soon as I can get more information. Perhaps this will turn out to be a good low noise solution to cooling hot fast CPUs.

-Dan S.

I simply don't know where to even begin with this:

I can still remember being 9 years old. The only drugs that were in my life at that time were for my asthma and allergies. What the heck is going on in the world today that this happens?

-Dan S.

Nor I. And a large proportion of people in prison are there due to drug laws. Of course that can never change now: the Prison Guards Union is one of the most powerful lobby organizations in most states, and keeping prisons filled is very much in their interest.

And while it is clear that we have lost the War On Drugs, it's not entirely clear that we should stop fighting it; certainly that isn't anything like agreed. But even if we give up the War On Drugs for adults, there is no chance that we won't continue to fight it in schools and among children. 

It's pretty clear that our present strategies are wrong. What we ought to do about drugs is another story. The libertarian position is that it's no one else's business what drugs you take, although you should be held responsible for any damage you cause while in a drugged (or drunken) state. That is closely related to the conservative view that drugs ought to be regulated, but much like alcohol or tobacco. Legalize them, then tax the sales at a rate high enough to discourage use (and raise revenue), low enough that there is no substantial black market. Jail illicit sellers as you do bootleggers, but it's a tax matter.

The chances that we could get such legislation are very low; too many elements would combine to fight it. 

I once asked Speaker Gingrich this question: if it required the 18th Article of Amendment to give Congress authority to forbid alcohol on a federal level, and that Article was repealed, which Article gives Congress authority over marijuana and hashish and cocaine and opium (all of which certainly existed at the time the Constitution was adopted)? The Whiskey Rebellion established that Congress could tax alcohol, so one presumes it has a federal authority to tax marijuana and cocaine and such like; but not prohibition. The States have authority to criminalize drug taking, and most might do so; but surely this is a matter for the States, not Congress.

I got no answer other than "Things are different now."

I have been trying to find out something: when we launch a Shuttle, a fleet goes down range to pick up the solid booster rockets that drop away. I have never thought this a very good idea.


What happens to them?  Where are they? Have any ever been re-used? Is it worth the effort to recover them?  If anyone knows, please tell me: I have have been unable to find this information.

I know the claim is often made that they CAN be used again; my question is, has any one of those segments ever been used again; if so, on which flights?


SRB reuse


Your question about the solid rocket boosters being reused gave me a chance to go hunting on my lunch break, here is what I found. All information came from:

"The SRBs are the largest solid- propellant motors ever flown and the first designed for reuse. Each is 149.16 feet long and 12.17 feet in diameter."


"The SRB nose caps and nozzle extensions are not recovered.

The recovery crew retrieves the SRBs, frustum/ drogue chutes, and main parachutes. The nozzles are plugged, the solid rocket motors are dewatered, and the SRBs are towed back to the launch site. Each booster is removed from the water, and its components are disassembled and washed with fresh and deionized water to limit salt water corrosion. The motor segments, igniter and nozzle are shipped back to Thiokol for refurbishment.

Each SRB incorporates a range safety system that includes a battery power source, receiver/ decoder, antennas and ordnance."

So it would seem Thiokol does the refurbishment of the SRBs after each launch. I'm guessing there are two pairs of SRBs so at the minimum we can have SRBs on the pad while the last missions SRBs are refurbished/repaired.

Interestingly enough, the SRB's generate 3.3 million pounds of thrust each. What is to stop the US from taking two SRB's and mating then together akin to how Russia did their Engeria rockets (I might be misquoting here I apologize, not my field) and using that as a reliable launch platform for satellites?

Or does this make too much sense and therefore there is no way we could do this because it doesn't require a small army of NASA constituents to run?

-Dan S.

I know they say all that. I know they are recovered. But where are they stored, and have any EVER been used again?

The solids, once bolted together, are far too large to go by rail; thus "segments". This is a particularly stupid way to design solid rockets, incidentally. Solid rocket cases are big sewer pipes packed with guncotton leached with nitroglycerine and you do not want them in segments: but to get Utah Senator support for Shuttle there had to be agreement to make some of it in Utah. Since there was no way to ship that large a solid to Florida from Utah, they were made in segments.

It was leakage between segments that killed the Challenger and its crew.

The sane way to do that would have been to open the Michoud plant in Louisiana and ship unsegmented solids to Florida on barges; but that wasn't the right political solution.

My question remains: has any recovered SRB ever been reused? Or are they all new ones, and thus a rather expensively recovered expendable? I have yet to find an answer to that.

"The Solid Rocket Boosters are recovered and disassembled and the motors are returned to Thiokol. At Thiokol, the cases are cleaned, inspected and reassembled for propellant casting, and a new nozzle and igniter are installed. The motor's steel case components can be used as many as 20 times." 

Spencer K. Whetstone

Can be. Do we know that any HAVE been used again. On which flights? I know the claim is often made. I don't know which flights made use of refurbished components.


This article I found in Aviation Week & Space Technology talks about a Shuttle mission that got delayed in the past due to potential wiring faults in the SRBs due to that wiring bundle being a "highly reused cable":

"Some of the wiring in the overall SRB assessments involves reusable cabling that has flown up to 10 flights during 15-16 years of use in highly robust packaging. In the future, however, much of this cabling will fly only one or two missions instead of being reused."

and then we have this,

"But Dittemore said "one deficiency we found in the SRB project is that we did not have a 'fleet leader' program for the SRB wiring where we take the oldest and high-flight-time cables through extensive bench and destructive testing to find deficiencies that can occur over time. That is also being corrected," he said."

But finding anything more concrete then this would probably require you to talk to someone at NASA I am guessing?

-Dan S.

Reading that certainly implies that the wiring harnesses are recovered and used again; which makes VERY little sense. Good grief, cables and wiring can't be expensive enough to make it worth going out to the Atlantic to pick them up!

They cannot be using SRB casings refurbished intact unless those are refurbished in Florida, and there's no indication that it's done there; just the opposite. But if the SRB is broken into segments, then the wiring must be broken into segments also, unless the wiring harness and shrouds are bolted on in one long piece? Is that recovered and reused?

And I still have nothing definitive on whether any SRB segment has ever flown twice; while of all the things I would want to use again a wiring harness would be a long way down my list, or I would have thought so.

But I don't know the design. Is this a long tube bolted onto the SRB after it is assembled? Or is it segmented with cable connectors?


Another NASA page albeit, but this one has some photos of the recovery and refurbishment process: 

and at this site they have a diagram schematic (not horribly detailed) of the SRB itself, of which it appears there is a long single piece bolt on wiring tube assembly: 

Of course, still no data I can find or see that tells me which SRBs were used/reused and on what missions.

Would this be something the GAO would know?

-Dan S.

A small correction after going over those links I gave you. Not all of the SRB gets refurbished in Utah, specifically:

the frustum, forward skirt, and aft skirt are refurbished at USBI Assembly and Refurbishment Facility at KSC

parachutes are refurbished at the Parachute Refurbishment Facility also at KSC

motors are returned to Utah for final cleaning, inspection, and propellant reloading

However this line is rather interesting:

"recovery ships tow the boosters back to Cape Canaveral for disassembly and recycling"

Does this mean they disassemble the SRB into its sections and send those to Utah for refurbishment...or do they mean the sections gets actually recycled into raw materials that make new SRB crosssections?

This gets more confusing as I look into it.

Thiokol would have SRB reuse data for certain, followed by GAO, then folks who works at KSC (I would hope), followed by general NASA admin staff. That is speculation on my part however.

-Dan S.

The interesting part is that there doesn't seem to be any place where you can find out just what got reused and when. My suspicion is that it is all a boondoggle: that we recover the stuff, refurbish it, pay for doing all that -- and stack all or most of it in a corner somewhere.

That it is all a big waste of money and a subsidy to Thiokol and NASA, and the people get nothing for it but the illusion of recycling. I would be pleased to find out different. It's odd that it's so hard to find out, isn't it?

Hi Dr. Pournelle

I tended to take NASA's claims about SRB reuse at face value...however, after reading your comments and the letters sent in reply I did some research and found this: 

Check it out. They can't be refurbishing very damn many of those things!

Susan Paxton

They keep telling us how they CAN be reused, but I have yet to find a single story of how one WAS reused. When? What flights? Flight? 

It's becoming annoying, being unable to pin down any one of those. Thiokol will "produce and refurbish" another 35 sets of the things. I presume that is 70 new birds plus "refurbishment". The story certainly isn't clear, and although it rings the praises of reusability, it never tells us if any were reused.

I am fairly certain none were reused before Challenger. I asked if the Challenger one was refurbished at the time and was told flat out that it was not; it was out of round, slightly, and the O ring was hard because of cold, but if that had been a reused segment there would have been a lot more investigation aimed at it, and more publicity. Anyway they told me it was NOT.

And now I want to know which if any flights reused SRB segments.

AH: At last something, uh, solid:

Dr. Pournelle: I couldn't find anything detailed on SRB reuse either. But I found a few facts in a short search:

A NASA press release describes NASA ordering 70 flight boosters (35 sets) from Thiokol in August of 1999. The release says this brings the total number boosters purchased from Thiokol to 230 flight motors. This means that up until this order in 1999, Thiokol had produced 160 flight motors, or enough for 80 Shuttle flights. The 80th Shuttle mission actually flew sometime in 1996, so one assumes that they had to reuse at least a few motors. But one can see that they don't have to reuse them very much. This certainly seems like a lot of boosters if one was going to reuse them the advertised 20 times.

Information on the Shuttle flights in this Acrobat document indicates the first reuse of SRBs to have been STS-4 (page 5).

Tom Brosz

SO I need to look up STS-4 and see; and which flight did the one used then fly on? And how many since?

From every calculation I have made, it's cheaper to splash them and build new than to operate the fleet to recover them, but perhaps I have something wrong. I am willing to believe that is wrong, but it is odd how little analysis anyone has published about this famous money saving venture.

Reusing solids always did seem like a bad idea. But then segmenting solids was so incredibly stupid that anything else they do pales in comparison. You do NOT want segmented solid rocket motors. Unless you need Utah's support.


SRB Reusable

According to NASA's web site, they do reuse the boosters. Here's a link with some info 

and another one with a large amount of detail about the design and operation.

and last a link with pictures including the recovery operation and refurbishment activity. 

Henry Bernstein

Well I see a lot of detail all right, but nothing about the actual reuse. I know they recover the things. I know there is money paid to refurbish them. What I don't know is if they are actually reused, and if so how many are or have been, and how many are stacked off in a corner somewhere.

If they use a lot of them again, why don't they SAY SO instead of talking about the potential? You'd think they would be proud of it, and of the money saved. So fine: what does a refurbished SRB cost as opposed to a new one? What is the cost of recovery? And HOW MANY HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN REUSED, and on which specific flights?

For the end of the matter, see below


The US Tax system explained:

The US tax system -- explained for dummies (Democrats)

I was having lunch with one of my favorite friends last week and the conversation turned to the government's recent round of tax cuts. "I'm opposed to those tax cuts," the retired West coast college instructor declared, "because they benefit the rich. The rich get much more money back than ordinary taxpayers like you and me and that's not fair."

"But the rich pay more in the first place," I argued, "so it stands to reason that they'd get more money back." I could tell that my friend was unimpressed by this meager argument.

So I said to him, let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day 10 men go to a restaurant for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If it was paid the way we pay our taxes, the first four men would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1; the sixth would pay $3; the seventh $7; the eighth $12; the ninth $18. The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

The 10 men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement until the owner threw them a curve. Since you are all such good customers, he said, I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20. Now dinner for the 10 only costs $80.

The first four are unaffected. They still eat for free. Can you figure out how to divvy up the $20 savings among the remaining six so that everyone gets his fair share? The men realize that $20 divided by 6 is $3.33, but if they subtract that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being paid to eat their meal.

The restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same percentage, being sure to give each a break, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so now the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of $59.

Outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20," complained the sixth man, pointing to the tenth, "and he got $7!" "Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!"

"That's true," shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!" "Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor."

The nine men surrounded the tenth man and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They were $52 short! And that, boys, girls and college instructors, is how America's tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes should get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table any more.


Heh. Well, send the police to make him come back to dinner, of course.

But I am not sure the taxes are apportioned that way any longer. There is an increasing concentration of wealth in this country, and that is probably not a healthy sign. Taxation as a redistribution system may be more dangerous since the result is likely to be that the restaurant hires about 30 people to do the work that 20 did, because they can afford it (see college tuition for more examples). Distributism: actually dividing some of the wealth among the poor by giving them money to waste as they see fit -- has the merit of not building a big group of people whose job is to spend money for other people's own good. (Adams: We in the United States consider that each man is the best judge of his own interest.)

Free markets produce the most wealth, but may not be all that stable. I tend to follow Roepke rather than the laissez faire absolutists.

In any event, thanks. An amusing story.

Getting the Gini out of the Test Tube


Quoting Mr Cochran: 'In the late middle ages, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, we know that rich Jews had much larger number of surviving children than poor Jews. Probably all population growth occurred among the prosperous. That is the genetic payoff.'

I have often wondered whether a rising Gini coefficient (another) was partially linked with lower fertility among hi-IQ couples compared to the general population. For hundreds of thousands of years high-IQ has had a significant genetic payoff, but in recent times - perhaps we have witnessed something of a reversal. High IQ is no longer a significant determinant in surviving in the modern world.

I believe that there is a rising Gini Coefficient in most industrialized societies, which is worrying to anyone who's visited societies with very high differences in income distribution - like South Africa for example.

High Gini makes for a very unstable society, and democracy is no help; if the majority increasingly falls behind then it may indeed be a destabilizing factor - leading to the 'democratization' of assets - with catastrophic consequences - arguably Zimbabwe is such a case.

Of course this trend has been explored extensively in Science Fiction, and the projections are worrying. Which makes the prospect of overclocking all that much more interesting. The British writer Peter F. Hamilton has been exploring the issue of raising population IQ in his most recent book "Fallen Dragon".

I think it worth making the point that Mr Smith seems to have misunderstood - which is that IQ is not the same as intelligence, but it is the most reliable *indicator* of intelligence. What we actually want to do is raise intelligence not IQ, but of course we say 'raise IQ' as if it were the same thing. And as you point out - IQ is the best predictor of success, precisely because it is the best predictor of intelligence - in whatever field is chosen.

There is another measure which is less precise but also works - conversation. As you have said previously - it's pretty clear when you meet someone who's really bright, after talking to them for 30 minutes you just know. I don't know if you get the BBC Parkinson interviews - but the thing that strikes me again and again about these famous people, the ones who have been successful over many years, is how intelligent they are. This transcends their profession - be it actor, musician or whatever.

What would raising intelligence be worth in terms of the reduced cost to society? All the indicators suggest that crime, divorce, drug addiction, etc. would all fall very significantly if we could boost the whole population's IQ by one standard deviation. Not to mention the scientific breakthroughs that might occur if we could boost the top 1%'s intelligence by a similar amount.

The two most exciting prospects that will emerge from genomics are solving the ageing process and boosting intelligence, with some interesting consequences as the two interact. Consider Gregory Cochran's points in combination with a 500 year lifespan.


Craig Arnold

P.S. Your site this week must surely be the most one of the most interesting places on the internet. Tremendous stuff.

I do not know about the Parkinson interviews. I know that the late C. Northcote Parkinson did a book of biographies of outstanding but overlooked men once. Parkinson was one of those I knew was bright within five minutes of meeting him.

I have added a couple of links explaining the Gini Coefficient for those not familiar with the concept.

It is very much worth making the point that IQ is what is measured by IQ tests; it is not intelligence, but a measure of intelligence. It correlates highly with judgmental reaction times and other measures, some of which cannot possibly be "cultural" (press the left button if one light goes on, the right button if two lights go on; do this as quickly as you can, but make no mistakes). IQ is an imperfect measure of intelligence, but the best one we have for statistical purposes.

The really interesting questions are, if we have IQ boosters -- overclocking -- with significant cost, what happens to those who don't get the overclocking treatment? And what if it is very expensive?

Back in the 1950's Kornbluth wrote two stories, The Marching Morons, and The Little Black Bag, about a future in which the stupid had children and the intelligent didn't; and after a while there were not many intelligent people.

Since that time things have changed: there's even more negative incentive for the intelligent to have children, while we haven't much decreased the incentives for for anyone else. It is an interesting experiment, but political correctness forbids anyone to talk about it. Kornbluth thought we would have PhD's in card filing as degrees were worth less, but we had to pretend that everyone who got a degree was smart. Again it would be politically incorrect to continue that discussion.

Perhaps overclocking would solve some of those problems?

I once heard Walt Freeman suggest that the only three substances known to increase IQ are caffeine, thiophylline, and thiobromine. I have a PhD student who has developed some experimental evidence that Walt might be onto something. 

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>










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Your "mail" discussion about solar power raised the question "Why don't we see solar and hydro mentioned together more often"?

I live in a place where almost all of the power comes from hydro power on large mountain rivers. Most of the time that my car radio is on after dark, I listen to a station from a place where there is a major water shortage, but there are lots of sunlit deserts. The money still owed to us by bankrupt California power utilities proves that it is practical to send power from us to them, and presumably vice versa.

On that California station, a frequent topic is the viability of solar power. The host typically responds by sarcastically asking about what happens at night or on cloudy days. I never hear anyone mention that hydro and solar fill in each others gaps almost perfectly.

Solar produces lots of power but on an unknown schedule. Hydro can be turned on or off on a few minutes notice, but the amount available per year is limited. (In the current drought, that annual limit is lower than normal).

The flexibility in scheduling hydro seems to me to be its strongest point. It seems wasteful when we use hydro for baseline power. Two years ago, we used this flexibility by buying power overnight from Alberta for our own baseline use, then selling the equivalent power the next day at peak prices. So there is a pricing scheme that would push this "paired" concept, once people think of it. We should be buying our daytime power from California deserts and only filling in with a much more valuable "spot power" resource.

My co-citizens have become accustomed to some "socialist" addictions. Our government owns the biggest power corp in our province, and political processes rule the price of electricity. We pay somewhere between a third and a half of what retail electricity "should" be. As a result, supply suffers. My sister has a mountain stream running through her property. Her downstream neighbor has suggested investigating a shared microhydro project, but at our cost of power, there is little incentive. Market forces have less sway on us than I think they should. The night/day swap described above raised howls of protest. "Why are we selling our power to Americans, when we have to buy it right back again from Alberta?" Sigh.

Greg Goss 

Hadn't thought of that before, but of course it makes good sense. We used pumped storage hydro for much the same purpose, so it's not as if it were a radical change. Thanks.

I guess we know all we need to about the SRB situation now:

I just took the AIAA's Economics of Space Transportation class a couple of months ago. One thing that the instructor, William R. Claybaugh, mentioned was that at current launch rates it is almost certainly not economically justifiable to recover the Space Shuttle's SRBs, but that if NASA didn't reuse them then it wouldn't be a reusable system... and one of the big selling points, of course, was high reusability. NASA would look bad if they paid for reusability (because of overly optimistic launch rate assumptions ) and then didn't use it. So we do recover and reuse the SRBs, but for political not economic reasons. I'll try to find my class notes tonight and see if I can give you a more complete answer. Perhaps O'Keefe will put an end to such nonsense, but I'm not holding my breath.

As for where in the U.S. to be born... West Tennessee is still a nice place (I'll be going back there for Christmas), but Memphis specifically would not be high on my list these days.

Chris Y. Taylor

P.S. The way the SRBs are recovered and reused is not just dangerous to the flight crews, until recently (and perhaps even still, I'm not sure what the current procedure is) it was also very dangerous to some of the recovery team members.
NASA.News.Releases/Previous.News.Release s/97.News.Releases/97-08.News.Releases/

Leave it to NASA to have a URL I cannot manage to put onto this page no matter what I tried because I can't manage a line that long. Why not? It's par for their course.



Dr. Pournelle, I work for ATK Thiokol the company that makes the Solid Rocket Motors for the space shuttle. The metal cases do get refurbished and reused in several flights. Before each flight the communications department will publish (internally) a list of the metal parts and what flight they have been used on. Contact and she should be able to get this for you.

In regards to Dan S. who asked "What is to stop the US from taking two SRB's and mating then together akin to how Russia did their Engeria rockets (I might be misquoting here I apologize, not my field) and using that as a reliable launch platform for satellites?" I remember a project called SRB-X that was supposed to do this. A google search turned up the following  (or translated from German at)
Den%26lr%3D%26ie%3 DUTF-8%26oe%3DUTF-8 

(I make no attempt to turn that into a URL you can use; JEP)

There was an effort at one time to produce a solid rocket motor that was a monolithic design instead of four segments. This was going to be built at Yellow Creek Mississippi and shipped to Florida on a barge. I don't remember all of the details but it seems like Yellow Creek Mississippi was part of the district of the then head of the Senate appropriations committee. At some point this work was cancelled. Whether this was due to funding changes, or some other political battle I don't remember.

Since I do work for ATK Thiokol, and am not a Rocket Scientist, I can't provide an unbiased expert opinion but there are I hope non-political reasons why the booster are solid fuel and are built in Utah.

Sincerely a long time fan. John Weidman 



_Challenger_ 51-L most definitely flew with SRB segments re-used from earlier flights. See page 220 of the "Report of the Presidential Commission of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident", which states:

"There are 11 separate case components in each Solid Rocket Booster. Only two of the 22 components in the 51-L stack were new. The remaining 20 components had been used a combined total of 29 times previously, in ground tests and in flight."

This document is dated June 6th, 1986 and bears no publication number I can locate. It's a 256 page paperbound book which I ordered from the GPO shortly after its publication.

I don't know if refurbishment policy changed after the accident; obviously the pre-accident segments could not be used without incorporating the joint redesign.

Recovering and reusing the SRB segments is almost certainly economic folly, but so are many other things NASA does.

-- John Walker

So that is I suppose the end of that matter. Thanks.

On another interesting subject:

Dr. Pournelle,

There's an interesting article on Physics Today about how the necessity of attracting and maintaining funding can adversely affect scientific research:

Truth, Ownership, and Scientific Tradition 

A quote from the article:

The recent events are nonetheless extremely important because they force us to confront a fundamental flaw in modern beliefs about science: Research linked to property has a built-in conflict of interest toward the truth. For a research investment to be justified, it must produce value equal to or greater than that of the investment.

The article may be good food for thought, although I don't profess to have a better mechanism for paying for scientific research. The major problem occurs when promising research fails to produce tangible (profitable) results.

JA -- John Alexander

Thanks. I have found by and large that NSF has done a reasonable job of funding general science. The military had other ways, particularly X projects, that I wish we would get back to.

I'd like to see a lot more science funding through the X project system: what's learned is licensed at low to no cost to American companies, and at what the traffic will bear to everyone else...

And on a similar subject (similar in some ways)

Have you seen this article?

As a book author, what are your thoughts and reaction?


--------------------------------------------- Kip A. Boyle

Tim O'Reilly is always worth listening to on the subject of publishing, for obvious reasons. Not sure I agree with him, but perhaps. The superstar system in publishing is not healthy; but progressive taxation isn't in my judgment automatically fair.

And from Jim Warren

Give it a 10 seconds or so, and it gets more and more interesting! --jim


This is well worth your time. 

This isn't, really, but it's worth seeing what silliness people can try in the name of saving the kids.

Hello Dr. Pournelle: Why do they waste our time with this stuff?

Neal Pritceitt

Nothing better to do? Desperation?






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Saturday, December 14, 2002


You wrote:

> Leave it to NASA to have a URL I cannot manage to put onto this page no matter > what I tried because I can't manage a line that long. Why not? It's par for > their course.

I suspect the trouble you had with the referenced URL is that the sender managed (somehow) to include spurious carriage returns and/or linefeeds at the end of the lines (possibly via his/her e-mail client enforcing a 72-character line wrap).

You might remind folks sending you e-mail with long URLs that the proper way to encode them is to enclose them in angle brackets thusly:


When I cut and paste between my browser's address bar and an e-mail message, I always type the two angle brackets, then re-position the insertion cursor in between in order to paste the URL (no matter what length). Works for me.

The use of angle brackets as the delimiters for URLs is defined (by Tim Berners-Lee no less!) in RFC 1738.

Open nets... -- Norman Ferguson | Dir. of Technology Services | Tekgnosys Member, Apple Consultants Network | Microsoft Certified Professional Office: 540-387-4422 | Cell: 540-819-4014 | Email: 1917 Maylin Drive; Suite 103 | Salem, VA 24153

Well that works, but in general URL's longer than 256 characters are very difficult to work with, and I decline to spend too much time working on them.

Hello Dr. Pournelle: Why do they waste our time with this stuff?

Neal Pritceitt

Nothing better to do? Desperation?

Desperation! I grew up in Sheldon which is next door to North Shore. On the local news, they interviewed a parent that claimed this was the first she had heard of a problem and she didn't find out about it until 11pm the previous night. These students seem to be very good at intercepting phone calls and letters. Issuing citations is a novel and effective method for getting the parents attention.


Greg Brewer

Well, it's a local matter for local people.

SUBJECT: Global Warming and Cooling

Phil Chapman


Despite Robert Gagosian’s credentials (he is the President of Woods Hole), I do not believe his claim that global warming might trigger another Little Ice Age (LIA). The mechanism he proposes is plausible (fresh water from melting ice in Greenland and Canada deflects the Gulf Stream southward), and I am sure he is correct that salinity is decreasing in the North Atlantic, but his theory is not supported by the historical data.

Problem #1: It makes no sense.

When this mechanism was first proposed by global warming alarmists, the idea was that the countries of the North Atlantic rim would cool while the rest of the world warmed. In other words, the shutoff of the North Atlantic conveyor would alter the distribution of temperature, while the average worldwide temperature increased. However, proxy measurements from Antarctica, China and South Africa (see, for example, ) show that the climate was cooler everywhere during the LIA (which lasted from about 1250 to 1850). Most probably, the global average temperature was lower by nearly 1 deg C.

The claim that the LIA was a phenomenon of global warming thus amounts to the NewSpeak proposition that an increase in the average global temperature constitutes a decrease. Perhaps this is not surprising, since the apparent objective of the global warming propaganda is to persuade us all to accept Big Brother as our savior.

It appears to be true that the climate is bistable (or perhaps multistable), switching abruptly from one stable state to another – but what exactly is the mechanism by which warming could trigger a transition to a colder climate, worldwide? What has meltwater in the North Atlantic to do with the overall energy balance of the planet?

Problem #2: Why did it take so long last time?

In the period from 900AD to 1200AD, the average global temperature was about 1 deg C higher than now. Glaciers retreated in Switzerland, the tree line in Canada was much farther north, and Greenland was so much warmer than now that the Vikings could establish farms there. (Incidentally, I insist on calling this period the Medieval Climatic Optimum (MCO), which was its name among climatologists until it became politically incorrect to imply that a warmer climate was better than the present one.)

Since the end of the LIA, about 150 years ago, the climate has warmed by less than 1 deg C (mostly before 1940). In other words, we are less than half way from the temperatures of the LIA to those of the MCO. Moreover, the MCO lasted 300 years. If the current alleged global warming is about to trigger another LIA, why did it take the MCO, with twice the temperature increase, twice as long to do it?

Problem #3: Who cares?

Gagosian paints a scary picture of the terrors of the LIA, saying that the the cooler climate would be “enough to send mountain glaciers advancing down from the Alps. To freeze rivers and harbors and bind North Atlantic shipping lanes in ice. To disrupt the operation of ground and air transportation. To cause energy needs to soar exponentially. To force wholesale changes in agricultural practices and fisheries.”

It is certainly true that warmer is better than colder – but our ancestors survived, with nothing like the technology we now possess. In 1816, which was probably the coldest year during the LIA, people managed to live in tolerable comfort in places like Montreal and Minneapolis. Even if the connections between anthropogenic CO2, global warming and the onset of a new LIA were proven, the cost of adaptation to the cooler climate would be minuscule compared to the economic burden resulting from curbing CO2 emissions.

In my opinion, there is a good reason we are hearing so much about the North Atlantic Conveyor. In the early Eighties, climate alarmists warned us of the coming Ice Age, but it was hard for them to make a plausible case that socialism could prevent it happening, or that Big Brother could help us much when our homes and businesses were buried under a mile of ice. The very same people then switched to claims of global warming, which let them argue that the world was doomed unless individual liberty were curtailed and capitalist societies were subjected to draconian penalties. The problem they now face is that they cannot convince rational people that moderate warming is anything to worry about. (For example, a dike consisting of a single row of sandbags is enough to protect a low-lying area from the most extreme rise in sealevel that they project for the next century.)

The embarrassing fact is that higher atmospheric CO2 and moderate warming are both unequivocally beneficial to the planet as a whole. More CO2 means greater agricultural productivity everywhere, because it is the fundamental food of plants. A warmer climate means milder northern winters, extension of the growing season, and expansion of arable land in Canada, Europe and Siberia. Global warming = ample food for everybody.

The solution the ideologues have adopted, ridiculous as it may be, is this new campaign to convince us that we have to curtail warming in order to avoid freezing. If you believe this, I have a bridge I would love to sell you.

The really scary prospect is that the ideologues were right about a return to the Ice Age conditions that have been normal on Earth for the past several million years. The current interglacial, which has encompassed all of recorded human history, is a transitory anomaly. It has lasted 11,000 years, and reversion to normal is overdue. The transition could have begun already, or it might be delayed a thousand years. Once it begins, it will be less than twenty years before most of Europe and North America is buried, so that most of the advanced countries have ceased to exist as functioning societies.

Nobody understands what triggers the transition to an Ice Age, but most of the factors are probably beyond our control (such as fluctuations in the brightness of the sun). In particular, CO2 is probably not important. The Antarctic and Greenland ice cores show that CO2 has always increased after previous warming episodes; in other words, the increase is a consequence and not a cause of the warming. Nevertheless, we should do whatever little we can to make sure that the trend is toward warming rather than cooling. Pending a much better understanding of the climate, we should thus encourage and not curb anthropogenic emissions of CO2.

Phil Chapman

I probably ought to collect these onto a single page, since the subject is important.

Thanks. And this reminds me, there's a new printing of FALLEN ANGELS by Niven, Pournelle, and Flynn; this is a novel that deals with this theme.

And see later.

And keep your spirits up...

Subject: Some promising new technologies

Dear Jerry,

Recently you've published some "snake oil" inventions. As an alternate I've recently come across what I believe to be some legitimate and very promising research projects by a Dr. Holtzapple, a professor of Chemical Engineering, of Texas A&M University which I think would be of great interest to you and your readers.

First and foremost is an engine design he has developed which is based on the Brayton cycle. It promises significantly higher fuel efficiencies, air cleanliness and low maintenance costs as compared to the internal combustion engine. I know this sounds like snake oil, but see for yourself at: 

Second is his list of current research activities which is described at:

and which includes not only several environmentally helpful projects, but also a way to *decrease cost of lifting payload into orbit*

I would be interested in seeing reader response. I am an alumni of the Texas A&M chemical engineering department. Dr. Holtzapple arrived after I left, but people whom I trust speak well of him, if that counts for anything.

Best regards,

Mike Cheek Department of Environmental Protection Tallahassee, Florida

Well it doesn't appear to violate the laws of thermodynamics...






This week:


read book now


Sunday, December 15, 2002

Subject: Bursts of Brilliance (a short history of the smart bomb from 

Since we appear to be poised to use large quantities of them on Saddam, here's an interesting short history of the development of the smart bomb. I didn't realize there were so many used in the latter days of Viet Nam. Jim Riticher Bursts of Brilliance How a string of discoveries by unheralded engineers and airmen helped bring America to the pinnacle of modern military power

Seventy miles south of Hanoi, the Thanh Hoa Bridge spanned the Song Ma River, seemingly invincible. The North Vietnamese called it the Dragon's Jaw, for good reason. Over the years, American fighter jets had flown 869 bombing raids on the bridge, losing 11 aircraft. After each mission, the smoke cleared, and the bridge still stood, a monument to the futility of aerial bombardment. Seven years of futility. One morning in May 1972, the jets came again: F-4 Phantoms racing through the sky. Below their stubby wings: an experiment, a new bomb cooked up at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's panhandle, rigged to follow a beam of laser light flashed from above. One by one, 10 jets rolled in and let their bombs go. The bombs locked on to the laser beam illuminating the target and hit dead on, engulfing the bridge in flames. This time, when the smoke cleared, the pilots saw the bridge had been knocked clean off its 40-foot concrete abutment. The Thanh Hoa Bridge had fallen. Smart bombs had made their mark. War would never be the same.

We had fairly smart weapons toward the end of Viet Nam; it is the main reason why in 1972 we stopped an invasion from the North every bit as large as the 1975 invasion, and did so with US air support and lots of munitions to ARVN. We took only a few hundred casualties and defeated an enemy army of 150,000 or so that had more tanks than the Wehrmach ever had in World War II. Few in the US know about this battlefield victory. Why should they?

And in 1975 the Democrat controlled Congress voted no supplies for ARVN and forbade us to give air support to South Viet Nam. Again the North sent in a conventional army with as much armor as Russia had employed at Kursk. The results were predictable and predicted: South Viet Nam fell.

Had we been permitted to use the smart weapons in support of Viet Nam in 1975, South Viet Nam would never have fallen. Fortunately, by 1975 the economic damage to the USSR of that long campaign of attrition had been done. Cynically, it was time for a new strategy, and we employed one, abandoning our Viet Namese allies.

Three from Harry Erwin:


On Booster Reuse:

About 15 years ago, I saw a risk analysis at the SRA Conference of the use of segmented boosters and other problems with the Shuttle. The loss of the Challenger was a few shots _after_ the expected number of launches to lose one. NASA would never have been able to sustain the launch rate they wanted, which is why they cut back so much. -- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. < >

No surprises there.

On ending Slavery:

The economic disadvantage of slavery and similar systems is that the slaves are not consumers--i.e., sources of demand for the cash economy--and hence unmotivated to generate labor to support their consumption. Their owners are consumers, but there are far fewer owners, and they tend to demand elite goods. The countries that abolished slavery peacefully (e.g., Russia) compensated the owners. That resulted in an increase in taxation at the same time that the ex-slaves were not ready to move into the consumer base, so producing a medium-term economic depression. In the long term, of course, these systems recovered, and with a larger consumer sector, came out ahead.

That was one reason why the Northern lower middle class (mechanics and farmers, mostly) were antislavery (since competition from slave production drove their wages down) but were also opposed to owner compensation. And that policy won. It didn't make much difference for the ex-slaves, but it substituted blood for money for the North.

The error for the South was a post-bellum reluctance to bring the ex-slaves into the cash economy. In the North, public policy opposed entailment of debts and provided basic education so that children entered the work-force ready to learn a skilled trade. This meant that debts were forgiven after one generation, and new workers could move into new industries easily, maintaining the cash economy.

For the Northern economy, not having to pay for the slaves was key to the economic development of the late 19th century. 

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>

Well a good free public education is one means of economic redistribution, and a good one: but of course we no longer provide that. The purpose of the school system is now to keep the various education pressure groups happy: not the same as giving all the kids a good free public education at all.

Were we to get the feds out of education entirely, we might have a few good school systems. Were we to break education down to local districts, we would have many awful school systems -- and more than a few good ones.  But now we have what amounts to one universally bad system with a few exceptions that Washington will stamp out when it gets around to them. If the kids are getting a good education, then clearly the guilty district isn't doing something mandated in the areas of discipline, mainstreaming the handicapped, not expelling the troublemakers -- it must be doing SOMETHING wrong.

On English politics:

There are a number of reports in today's Observer < > that suggest Labour is in trouble. Take a look at the railway, pension, MoD, and mental health stories. The pressure is on to hike taxes, and the UK is already in a position where 40% of the GDP is (rather inefficient) government programs. 

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>

It's that old image you had, of only the old surviving . . .

-----Original Message-----

From: Sue

Sent: Saturday, December 14, 2002 8:33 PM


Subject: A article from: Sue


To view the entire article, go to

Kids Low in Smallpox Vaccine Priority

By Laura MecklerWASHINGTON

For decades, the vast majority of smallpox inoculations were delivered to children, but in the new vaccination program now under way, children won't qualify absent a bioterror attack, federal officials said.

Ethical and safety concerns bar children from clinical trials being conducted now, meaning the vaccine cannot be licensed for them, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, who oversees vaccine development and bioterrorism programs at the National Institutes of Health.

"If Mom comes up to one of the local and state health officials and says, 'I want vaccine for my 5-year-old,' currently there doesn't appear to be a mechanism for them to get it," Fauci said Saturday.

Adults will soon have access to the vaccine, although it is not being recommended for the general public. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s and, while experts fear that terrorists or hostile nations could unleash it in an act of bioterrorism, President Bush said Friday there is no imminent threat.

The government is recommending inoculations for about 10.5 million people on smallpox response teams, hospital emergency rooms, other health care jobs, police, fire and other emergency personnel. Those shots are likely to begin in late January.

Bush also ordered vaccinations for some half-million military personnel in high-risk parts of the world.

In the civilian world, vaccinations are voluntary, and health officials worry that people may not fully understand the risks. In the coming week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans a one-hour program for people being offered the vaccine, with detailed information about benefits, risks and details about how to reduce the chances of side effects.

Polls suggest most people would want the vaccine. But in CDC-sponsored focus groups now under way, interest dropped considerably after people were told of the risks, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director.

Based on studies from the 1960s, about 15 people out of every million being vaccinated for the first time will face life-threatening side effects, and one or two will die.


On the Net: Government smallpox information:

Novelists only have to be plausible. I don't have to make real decisions....

And on information and the web:


Your search for hard information on the SRBs - and a recent local newspaper's review of Google - has caused me to think again about the process of finding and qualifying information. The benefits of the www and broadband are huge. Two challenges remain.

An important part of engineering school in the 60's was about how to find information. It was made obvious that your half-life was going to be insignificant, unless you refreshed yourself.

For years, I accumulated reference books & papers and then beat a path to libraries for the rest.

It's been a while since I've needed to drive to a library.

It's also been a while since I pre-judged that anything was too arcane or difficult to extract from our global bath of data.

After reading your first SRB questions, I used Copernic's search tool to look for "srb reuse" and turned up enough stuff to convince me that you were very likely wrong in your suspicion that it was all a NASA hoax. Eg: <
> Not wrong (I hasten to add) in your belief that it was politically motivated and/or perpetuated.

I didn't find proof, but I did find suggestive evidence - from sources that ought to be be reputable. It remains possible that the agency & its supplier have gone to great trouble to mount a fairly elaborate cover-up. Possible, but...Occam's Razor. By the way, I saluted you as I used Copernic - one of many useful ideas you've introduced me to in the last 25 years.

The development of search engines and their 'bots' intrigues me. I always admired Mike (the 'dinkum thinkum' in Heinlein's TMIAHM) as one of his noblest inventions. The advantages Mike gave the revolutionary cabal were legion; but one of them was wide retrieval and critical assessment of information.

Finding any information from the web's almost limitless data is a challenge. Librarians used to be trained on key-word extraction and search techniques - now we (largely) struggle on our own. As yet, the big-name search engines / tools / assistants / librarians (we don't seem to have coined a good term yet, how about eSearchers ?) are purely reactive - they don't collaborate in building queries, or make suggestions in the search process - and they don't treat 'words' with any great intelligence. A fertile field for improvement.

Although librarians were subject to political & social 'pressures', I don't believe anyone ever tried commercial corruption. The editors of publications were obviously more exposed to this leverage.

Commercial & political pressures to filter - ie: to enhance or suppress - particular results of the eSearchers may simply cancel themselves out. At the moment, enhancement seems to be easier than suppression. If one uses multiple agents - as Copernic does - all agents must conspire to hide something, for it not to be found. It must be easier (and more palatable ?) to elevate a certain target's profile - thereby burying its competitors under a snow-drift. This will become harder as eSearchers become more intelligent.

Having found relevant information on the web, it is another challenge to assess its truthfulness. Lies, propaganda, puffery and one-eyed opinions have long been with us and have been more or less successfully countered by peer-group revue, journalistic integrity, consumer agencies and open debate.

The complete isolation of each web site, with its low cost of presenting polished misinformation or heart-felt nonsense, invite new approaches for eSearchers attempting to validate the content.

Any process of such 'ranking' will surely be much harder to keep 'pure' than the simple suppression of information. It is so open to pressure-group distortion or to 'flooding' attacks. (eg: Amazon's author-reviewed books, etc).

It may be that a model based on central, respected, 'authority' will work - or it may be that a de-centralised web of authority will emerge. Sort of Napster crossed with peer-revue. Some of this exists in the newsgroups, of course, but it's tedious to winnow the data for the grains of truth.

It will require ingenuity to harness the community of the internet - painlessly allowing it to weigh the information content of a web page, using a scale graduated from 'Bullshit' to 'Gospel'. This may need to await a direct cortical connection to the browser, or just vastly improved speech recognition <grin> - but it would be jolly nice.

Best Regards Paul Hayward, Auckland, New Zealand

A thoughtful essay. Thanks

At lunch today I was discussing truth and the web with a young lady who does PBS documentaries.

My advice is, first make certain a site cares. If it posts misinformation and never corrects it, then you can ignore everything else. It is one thing to make mistakes: no one is infallible. It is another to leave them because you don't care.

Regarding the SRB I kept finding places that talked about how they COULD be reused, but remarkably few on what was reused, and on what flights, and when. And I still have no definitive date. It's pretty clear that having segmented solids is a major compromise with safety. Reusing segments is reuse is a marginal compromise with safety. Neither would be done in a operations/cost driven agency.

Finding out what's real in a sea of information will be the next important step.






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