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Mail 239 January 6 - 12, 2003






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

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

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Monday  January 6, 2002

Old Christmas


I have been laid out by a cold or flu or something. Time to catch up, particularly with interesting tidbits from Roland. But it's also column time, meaning this is short shrift...

Subject: Is someone murdering Hollywood character actors?
---- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Tolkien's eleventy-first birthday
 -- - Roland Dobbins

Economic Espionage Act of 1996

 ---- Roland Dobbins

Subject: A drink from the Ohio.

At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!

All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.

As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

-- Abraham Lincoln

Address to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, IL, 27Jan1838

Which is clearly the inspiration of Daniel Webster's speech regarding the Habsburgs after the Kossuth incident. Thank you.


- Roland Dobbins

Subject: Perhaps our enemies will destroy one another.

 -------- Roland Dobbins

We can but hope. Thanks

Hi Jerry

Discussion about the gentleman who was charged with attempting to rape a non-existent child, has much potential to stir up dust and possibly to argue against some of the civil rights which Americans tend to hold as sacred.

Lets consider a through exercise:

A. An adult man having sex with a young child (say, 10, for example) is going to be bad no matter how you look at it. A 10 year old is not competent to give consent in such a circumstance. The child will generally receive severe psychological scars, and quite possibly some physical harm.

It is hard to find any sane person who would defend the adult man.

B. What about an Adult man planning to have sex with a child (as in A), but diligent carers prevent the crime from happening. Although no (possibly) physical harm was done to the child, the Man had a clear intention to cause harm.

Again, there is little room for moral ambiguity.

C. This time the man makes plans to have sex with somebody who turns about to be a 40 year old police officer, posing as a 10 year old. Although no (possibly) physical harm was done to the child, the Man had a clear intention to cause harm. A slight muddiness may occur if the police officer had encouraged the Man, verging on the principles of entraption.

However if the operation was carefully executed, guilt still remains clear.

D. Now how about a man who collects child pornography. He never makes any content with the children, and you might argue that he has no negative effect on the child. You might argue that, but you might equally argue that if nobody bought those pictures, they wouldn't be made - So the man is contributing to the harm of the child.

I'm still comfortable with this man being charged with a crime.

E. Now lets make it harder. A man collects pictures that are computer generated child porn. Although the pictures are just as disgusting as the "real ones", nobody was harmed in the creation of them - and the man knows this. Do we have criminal activity? We cannot accuse the man of harming anybody. I feel that watching such pictures reinforces a sickness of mind, and is likely to, in the future, encourage rape or some other unsavoury behaviour. But that is hard to establish legally. I think that, at this point, we've clearly crossed the line into the realm of censorship. Now I'm an Australian. Though I have a basic mistrust of censorship, I don't have the extreme "free speech" reaction to it. So I am able to say "OK, it's censorship, but for a good cause. As long as the man knows that he is being censored, and why, I can live with it - if I believe that society will be better for it.

It is here that the conflict will get hot. My position above, while reasonably logical, might also be the start of a slippery slope.

However a counter position: "Let the man have his fake child porn, because it is free speech" is also on very dangerous ground.

Unfortunately, I cannot end this by providing good answers to the problems I've raised. However I think that they are problems worth discussing.

Michael J Smith Non-disclaimer: Yes, my views *do* reflect those of the management of Emmenjay Consulting Pty Ltd.

And from Joel Rosenberg:

Bad cases make bad law. Hard to be sorry that a predator looking for his (next? first? latest?) child to molest is going to, err, be in the sort of structured environment that is more suitable to his needs (I think that sounds sensitive enough), but there was, after all, no child even theoretically about to be molested in this case.

Had the cops simply had their informant or one of their own do the typing for some real child, perhaps one totally unaware of what was going on -- maybe just watching some TV in the same room where they typing was going on -- used a pseudonym for the kid, and never permitted the perp within, say, a mile of the actual kid, the result could have been the same, without the disturbing-to-me notion of sending somebody to jail for attempting something impossible.

What's the difference? I dunno. The actual act would have been just about as impossible to complete, under those circumstances, but I'd feel better about jailing the guy.

And ditto about the virtual kiddie porn. The point of such laws isn't to prevent unwholesome-at-the-least ejaculations, but to prevent kids from being molested in the production of it.

For all I know -- and I don't know -- access to virtual kiddie porn *may* make it easier for those whose sexuality has been perverted (term used deliberately) to go about their lives without ever so much as approaching a real kid.

(As I understand it, roughly all child molesters were molested as children, but the vast majority of molestees don't become molesters. I'm assuming that, as in cases of other kinds of abuse, there are people out there who are have been wired wrongly, who know they're wired wrongly, but choose to control themselves. Making it easier for them seems to me to be a good thing, particularly if nothing but electrons are harmed in the process.)

Orthogonally, we had a professor at the U of M, over the last year or so, who got caught with some presumably non-virtual kiddie porn on his U computer. He was fired, and pleaded out -- I don't recall if he ended up serving time. The part of the story that got to me was that you couldn't have used his name in a novel for that sort of thing-- any editor would have looked at the name of this guy, and said, "Oh, come on -- Dick Pervo?"

(Yes, his name really is Richard Pervo.)

Hard cases make bad law, but there are always hard cases, and it's always well to think about them. Thanks to all those who wrote on this subject. And there is more.

Subject: They say that hash is a lot more potent now than it used to be.

'If the United States hopes to make Iraq a showcase of Western Democracy -- and that surely is the intent of many of Bush's advisors.'

Like the title says. The Fools at the Top must be a bunch of Renaissance idiots.

Gregory Cochran

But Enlightened. Surely Enlightened. And They Mean Well.


When the Iraq issue came up, I wrote my congresscritter and senators, emphasizing among other points that it would be critical for US public AND international support to provide full disclosure of the relevant intelligence, even if it means compromising sources in place (necessitating their extraction). The responses were not useful -- I got the congressman's form letter to opponents of an attack (NOT what I said at all) and the Senator's "we'll do what's necessary" form letter...

(One of my other major points was -- if you must do it, do it RIGHT assuming the worst case. We cannot afford tactical optimism in this case. And we've proven -- in both Bosnia and Afghanistan, now -- that the Air Force is not the right service to reliably extract prisoners or confirm that particular leaders have been incapacitated in either close combat or bombardment.)

On the department of pre-crime concern. The perpetrator was certainly guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime, and has demonstrated that he represents a clear danger to the general public. So that one doesn't bother me. I'm a bit more concerned that apparently he was captured as the result of a private citizen conducing a "sting" operation because she suspected him of pedophilia. Don't get me wrong -- I have no tolerance for that particular crime -- but the "report your neighbors on suspicion" aspect is much more potentially frightening than the conviction of conspiracy. (And does it work in reverse? Had the gentleman in question been a law-abiding citizen, and she told him that she could provide access to a child in this fashion, and he had reported her, could she have been found guilty of conspiracy under the same terms? Probably not, if she could convince authorities that she had in fact "made up" the child to try to catch the gentleman. But what if they were convinced that she "made up" the story about "making up" the child and could in fact have produced a child had he so requested? She was playing with fire there.)

I note in passing that the suicide bombers are back in Israel.

I also note that the administration is moving quickly away from appeasement in the North Korea case. Are we ready for a two-front war -- and is it necessary to conduct one? Only time will tell....

Jim Woosley

Good points. Thanks


What is globalization? Below is probably the best example of globalization.

Question: What is the height of globalization?

Answer: Princess Diana's death

Question: Why?


An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was high on Scottish whiskey, followed closely by Italian paparazzi, on Japanese motorcycles, treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines!

And this email was originally sent by a Canadian, using Bill Gates' technology which he got from the Japanese. And you are probably reading this on one of the IBM clones that use Philippine-made chips, and Korean made monitors, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by lorries driven by Indians, hijacked by Indonesians and finally sold to you by the Chinese!

That's globalization!!!

Ed Hume

No comment. None...






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From Mr. St. Onge:

I wrote: "Could you at least stop writing as if anyone who disagrees with you on this issue must be a fool who wishes to seek glory by building an empire, or a mush-headed do-gooder?

        You reply: "I have never implied what you say."

        Really?  Well perhaps I have misunderstood, but these are some of the things you've written on this subject:

        "I think the administration is determined to have its war, on the theory that it will be beneficial for everyone (including the people of Iraq)."

        "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."

        "So I am curious: how does Iraq pose any kind of threat to this Republic?"

        "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!"

        "Your remedy is a new American experiment in World Order.  I suspect you are about to get your wish.  I hope when the experiment is ended that we remain America, but I doubt we will.  We may not be able to preserve America without such adventures.

        "Imposing a New World Order on all the bad guys of the world carries a high price."

        "Which leaves open the question of whether the republic can recover from this experiment. 

        "It is certainly possible.  Republics are resilient.  We were able to survive our imperial experiments in the Philippines and China.  We have paid the price for Puerto Rico and will continue to pay it -- the damage there is not to Puerto Rico, but to us -- but it is an endurable price. . . The habit of governing others (as opposed to self government) is hard to break."

        "Iraq seems determined to test our resolve in this matter.  So be it.  Saddam will not be missed, and he may provide a lesson for others.  The question is, what will we do then?  Will we become even more entangled, even more determined to impose the New World Order all over the world?  I fear so."

        "If the United States is determined to be involved in the affairs of the Middle East, and absent a vigorous energy independence program I suppose we have little choice, then a change of regimes in Iraq is probably a good thing in the long run.  The danger to us is what may do with that victory.  The first fruits of empire are often very sweet, and lead to a lust for more."

        "I used to say I was conservative, but I don't have much in common with the people who are now the leaders of what calls itself the conservative movement.  I don't thirst for overseas adventures, I don't want vexillations of US legions scattered all over the globe, I don't want our pro-consuls governing people with our Special Forces enforcing their will . . .

        "Those who now claim the leadership of the conservatives rejoice at our lack of choices.  They long for the thrill of American parades in foreign capitals."

        "Understand that by Empire I mean precisely the vision that began the Roman adventure: To protect the weak, and make humble the arrogant.  That was Rome's vision of its role in the world.  What they actually accomplished was not quite that, but that was the vision that lured them onward after the collapse of Carthage."

        "I grew up in a time when there was a real  threat, culminating in 26,000 nuclear warheads aimed at the United States.  The USSR had an army capable of overrunning Europe in hours.  I see no such threats today no matter how hard I look for them.

        "As to teaching others not to muck with the United States, if that were the objective I would cheer; but it is not the objective, and the Weekly Standard Warriors don't even pretend that is the objective.  We are, despite the total failure in former Yugoslavia, going to try an experiment in nation building."

        "The neo-cons will have their time of glory."

        I put it all together, and find it difficult to see it as anything but 'The people who want to invade Iraq are do-gooders and glory seekers who don't care how they undermine the Republic in the process.'  Try as I might, I can't make such words sum up to 'The people who want to invade Iraq are as devoted to maintaining the Republic as I am.  We differ in the threat that Iraq and the Islamic terrorists pose to the United States.'


Which leaves me in an awkward position, and not much time for explanations. Suffice it to say that I don't retract a word of what I said; but I don't conclude that those who don't agree are idiots or that they don't care about the nation. I don't think they care about the Republic I remember, because I don't think they know what a republic is. They have forgotten what Tocqueville said, or they never learned it; they have forgotten the Federalist Papers or they never read them; they have forgotten Cicero, or they never read him. They are true to their vision of national greatness, but splendid as it may be, it is not mine.


The Left wants to make petty warmongers of the President and his advisors; that or petty thieves who covet Iraq's wealth. While I make no doubt there are some among their number who merit those descriptions, I have never for a moment supposed that of most neo-conservatives, much less of Buckley and the old National Review group that Possony helped found.

No: I don't suppose them to be venal, I suppose them to be imperialists who have a vision of national greatness, and suppose the United States capable of miracles; and I suppose them to be wrong. I fear we will not be able to accomplish those miracles, and the price we will pay for trying will be significant parts of  our own freedom. Some we have paid already. There will be more. But it is no small thing, to wish to protect the weak and make humble the proud. That is no ignoble goal.

As to the threat of Iraq, the issue is  complex. Iraq wouldn't be a threat if we weren't a threat to its master, but it's a bit late to undo that now. Now the question is purely a practical one: will we be safer after defeating Iraq than we are now? And that will depend in part on what we do after we defeat Iraq. As I write this the radio announces that a Circuit Court has ruled that we are at war, and American citizens can be held and tried as enemy combatants. That's one price of war, and a necessary one. There will be others. There is talk of a return to conscription. There will be prices to pay when we seek to occupy Iraq and reconstruct the Middle East. Governing other people is never easy for a republic. It will be much more difficult in Iraq.

Understand something: we aren't going to go in, remove Saddam, and get out. We aren't going to go in, do our work, and come home to build a republic. We aren't going to invest in military operations and still make the needed investments in research, development, and construction of alternate energy sources. We won't gain energy independence. Once we go into the Middle East we will be there, an imperial power whether we like it or not. We will become part and parcel of the morass that is Palestine. We will be involved in conflicts and disputes and intrigues we barely understand among people who have been at them for a thousand years.

Once you begin social engineering, it is difficult to stop. But we will mean well. We will seek to accomplish great things. Eventually we may settle for a good deal less.

When the trumpet sounds, we will all be committed, I as much as anyone. The cause is noble, and we'll win the battle. It's what comes after that that I fear.

This discussion was generated by my exposition on American Policy. The thread begins here.

Now a most unusual letter:

The Perspective of a Pervert

I have been following the discussion about virtual kiddy porn with much interest. I have a vested interest in the outcome of such discussion in society as I am myself a pervert who consumes virtual pornography. While I am not at all interested in kiddy porn, the literal realization of my actual fetish would involve physical harm to another human being. As such as an ethical person, the only way I can ever find any sort of sexual release is virtual, either through fantasy and text stories (how I started out), hand drawn art (what I eventually evolved to), or photos and videos of hired models (what I now do for a living).

What I do is not technically illegal in the US. There are however a great many who would like it to be. Their perspective is that it does not matter that all the participants in the creation of my fetish material are consenting adults (my models really enjoy the work and their paychecks) or that no one is harmed. They believe that I am promoting violence and that the 'ideas' I express harm society. I honestly believe however that what I do helps society.

Going back to the example of virtual kiddy porn; Do we really believe that society is better off having pedophiles hiding in closets with no way to find sexual satisfaction other than actually raping a child? Or would there perhaps not be less such rape if pedophiles had access to virtual porn with which they could find some measure of solace?

The censors would argue that pornography causes rape, that images of such things would encourage people to act on their fantasies. The evidence however that pornography causes rape for instance is non existent. Certainly, rapists have been surveyed to discover that they consume pornography. So too however do dentists. Should we conclude that consumption of pornography leads to dentistry? If the logic applies to rapists, it must apply to dentists as well. I am sure that a survey of rapists and their consumption of ice cream would also discover a correlation.

Virtual or staged fetish pornography is not created for the general public. It is not out there on the news stands trying to mold people's sexuality. It is created for the fetishist who deliberately seeks it out. Only those for whom it is created gain access to it or use it. It does not create new fetishists, it placates those who have already been saddled with a fetish.

Understand that nobody 'decides' to have a fetish. Almost universally, fetishes are engendered in infancy when the child makes an inappropriate connection between their awakening sexual experience and some other stimuli unrelated. The child and the ensuing adult is not somehow made otherwise immoral or evil by this fetish. Indeed most fetishists are wracked with inexpressible guilt for their handicap, and a handicap it certainly is that impedes the establishment of normal relationships.

The vast preponderance of fetishists are ethical people who would never harm another person. Only those who place their own orgasm above the well being of another person ever actually act on violent fetishes. I assert that any person who puts their own pleasure above the physical well being of another is a monster regardless of whether or not they possess a fetish, and will do monstrous things. It is not the possession of a fetish that makes monsters, it is the lack of conscience.

(I would appreciate it if you would withhold my name and Email address.)

And on a related subject:

Subject: Pre-crime from a detective's perspective


I am a police detective in California assigned to high tech crime investigations. This includes Internet solicitations of child molesters among other things. I have acted as a minor child on the Internet on several occasions. In some cases I have met people in chat rooms but in others I have information pointing to a particular person in advance.

For example, on one occasion I received information from an anonymous informant that a particular male was meeting boys on the Internet and then arranging to meet them in person for sex. I put him in a buddy list on his particular instant messaging system. Generally, when I am at my desk I am online. After a few days he went online while I was there. I engaged him in a chat that ultimately led to him suggesting to meet me for sex. When he went to the location I arrested him for attempting to have sex with a minor.

Now this may raise some questions in the eyes of you and your readers. How did I know that my informant was telling the truth and not out to get this man? Well I didn't know. However, if you and I had engaged in that chat would you have asked me to meet you for sex? Of course not. This is not entrapment. If he hadn't shown interest in the chat then I would have been done with the investigation. The other big question is how can he be guilty if there is no legitimate victim? He thought that he was chatting with a 13 year old boy. There was no ambiguity about the age of my assumed identity. He planned on having sex with the 13 year old boy. Again, there was no ambiguity. If I had truly been a 13 year old boy he would have had sex with me.

Some people might suggest that I should have involved a 13 year old boy in this investigation so that there would have been a "real victim." This is not a good idea. I cannot, in good conscience, expose a 13 year old to this type of case. We are left with two options, pursuing these suspects despite the fact that there is not a "real victim" in the particular case in question, or ignoring the problem.

I spent several years assigned to the full time investigation of sexual assaults and crimes against children. Trust me when I tell you that anyone who comes to meet the "child" has either done it before or would do it again if given the opportunity. This is essential to the protection of our children.

More often than not, I agree with your views on government and the world but this time I must respectfully disagree. I also believe that "virtual" child pornography should be illegal in some cases but that is another email.

Cliff Mathews

Actually I haven't expressed a view on the matter. As many have observed, hard cases make bad law. The problem here for me is that while the suspect conspires to commit a crime, he's conspiring with a law enforcement officer or someone acting as one, so the only proof of the conspiracy is accomplice testimony. Of course the accomplice didn't intend to commit an assault or allow one to be committed.

I don't have a lot of moral problems with letting a jury determine that someone was attempting to commit a heinous crime. I do think he has a right to the defense of "I wouldn't have gone through with it if he had really been underage; I expected to meet an adult posing as a child," and a jury has a right not to believe him. But I am concerned about thoughtcrimes and while the slippery slope argument has been overstrained, it's not entirely without merit.

In the case above I agree, you don't want to expose a real child to a real experience, but I do wonder how difficult would it have been to find an actual victim, since this chap had been operating for a while?

On virtual pornography I think we continue to disagree. I will pose a theoretical question: suppose someone thinks the virtual pornography is real, and buys it and watches it anyway? There's been no victim, but the purchaser believes there has been one. Of course we could say the same about snuff movies. A lot of people are sure those are real.









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Thursday, January 9, 2002

Alas this didn't make it into the column:

I sent the following excerpt to you in a November 26 e-mail on another subject. It may be too late for the O&O purpose, but it remains my Orchid of the Year recommendation:

A related subject that I have for months intended to note for you is "popup" management (not just popups, but viewing control). The only tool that gives you complete control is Proxomitron. I have been using it for about a year to eliminate obnoxious flashing and moving ads, as well as popups (it can do a lot more). I thought I had originally discovered it on your site, but a search for the word does not show it. Briefly, it is a text parser built into a proxy server. It looks at all HTMl entering your computer and eliminates bad stuff. Since it is programmable, you can determine what stuff is bad. Of course, most use the default configuration so no programming is actually required, but the ability is there ... as soon as I get a round toit. Some sites demand that you allow their ad-like displays, so it's easy to temporarily bypass Proxomitron. The inventor is Scott Lemmon, an amazing young man who exemplifies the volunteer spirit of the internet. He provides this completely free product to world-wide users and devotes what must be his entire non-working life to its support. I have received answers from him when asking questions of the membership of Prox-list, the Yahoo users group for Proximitron. As you say, Recommended. 

Bill Mackintosh

but I will look into it, and it may get into next month's column. One thing about columns, I need a lot of stuff to write about, and I prefer to write about good stuff, not things to avoid.


--------------- Roland Dobbins

But it's a local police matter. I am much inclined to let the local cops have a lot more slack, since there are obvious political remedies...

I may have posted this already, but it harms not to point to it again:

Eight pages, all worthwhile.

----- Roland Dobbins

And I agree, it's very much worth reading.

I am running way behind. Thanks to all who have sent me copies on this:


Yesterday's L.A. Times reports that the developer of the DECSS software has been cleared of piracy charges by a court in Oslo. 

The judge, ruling that "no one can be convicted of breaking into his own property" has apparently decided that people who buy DVDs actually own them.




 Roland Dobbins 


As Roland says, Victory.

Clash of the titans.,,t269-s2128216,00.html 

Roland Dobbins









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Friday, January 11, 2002

Something Interesting to Do:

This provides an interesting experience: 

Takes a bit to load, but is very cool. In the “Enter a word” box, type in something like “Greek deity”, push the red button associated with the work, then just watch it fill in.

You can spin the display around, look at it from all angles, then pick a thread to follow.

Very fun.

Tracy Walters

What good are words if you can't play with them? Great!

And a follow up to a previous story:

A few days ago, I e-mailed you about what appeared to be some out-of-control law enforcement people in Tennessee.

An official investigation ( By the Tennessee Police ) showed that there was no wrongdoing. Surprise, Surprise.

Well, the video of the incident is at

Bouquets - to the Tennessee police for releasing the video - to the police "on the spot" for conducting what appeared to them to be a dangerous arrest, with an appropriate mixture of courtesy and caution. They acted (with one conspicuous exception) like professionals.

Brickbats - to the Brain-dead Orificer who blew a yapping dog barely ankle-high into pieces. A dog described by said individual as a "Pit Bull", but which was actually a very small bulldog cross. It happened quickly, he panicked. Understandable. But I'm of the opinion that people entrusted with riot guns shouldn't be prone to panic when confronted with a dog not a lot bigger than a Chihuahua, and certainly not so utterly stupid as to then try to cover up by calling it a "Pit Bull" when the whole thing's on video.

Alan Brain, Canberra, Australia

Certainly the police on the spot didn't know what they were facing. None of this increases our confidence in the way the world works. But then not much does, lately, or am I being too pessimistic?

Article discusses some of the issues surrounding a national ID system in the UK (all the same arguments apply to the US).

< >

I'm typically against any type of national ID on privacy and other grounds, but this one article is very well written and makes me seriously think about the issue more, and even consider changing my opinions on the matter. A must read, and it's fairly short too boot.

Pete Flugstad

Thanks. I have mixed emotions about national ID. There are good arguments in favor of it, but the whole notion seems repugnant. Perhaps it's Heinlein's dictum that when a planet gets universal ID it's time to find a new frontier. That may not make as much intellectual as emotional sense, but it does make emotional sense.








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Saturday, January 11, 2003

On National ID

I will put some comments about National ID here.


On Web Logs AKA Blogs:

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

I was oddly melancholy when a few weeks ago you mentioned that you are certainly not a blogger. Sad because I was considering writing you mail about blogs in general and the high quality of your site.

Now, I agree with you that blog is an ugly word, it sounds like a combination of block (I'm thinking block-headed) and a five year old saying "ooga booga". Ironically, the things those words connote are the exact opposite of how I perceive blogs when compared to, say, Slashdot.

Here's how I see it: Your site is like a succession of interesting dinner parties. Various people attend, and attendees express a wide range of opinions. But it's very clear that if a guest misbehaves, they'll be out on their ass.

Slashdot is like a pub. It's frequently entertaining, and intelligent people go there, but intelligence isn't really expected in the banter. The appeal is catching the latest gossip and connection with the masses (masses of techie people, not exactly the same people as the denizens of your average pub, but analogies don't have to be perfect, do they?). The dominant mode of interaction is juvenile humor.

In the physical world, both the dinner party and the pub have their place. The key to the dinner part is that, when all is said and done, it's being held at your house, and you make the rules.

My definition of a blog is a site fairly strongly controlled by an individual, generally characterized by frequent updates, so they seem more like a place and less like a reference. Blogs are very personal. People who have interesting acquaintances and make good rules have a chance to shine without having hooligans take over. In my eyes, Chaos Manner is a blog par excellence.

In my opinion, the best references in any medium are those that make good honest summaries of the issues they approach. The best blogs do this and more, by selectively including and discussing correspondence these summaries elicit in a timely fashion, generally within a few days.

Days, in my opinion, is vastly better than discussion on TV which, at least when I watched it, which I haven't for many years, rarely leaves room for a deliberative process; there's no time. Print, but print that can be delivered as fast and more flexibly than television, is dramatically more attractive than television. At least for those of us interested in thoughtful and nuanced analysis, it is.

Just in case you didn't already know this, blog is a contraction of web and log. The uncontracted form, "weblog", is slightly more euphonious to my ears.

Thank you for putting your passion for a republic I never knew into words!

Sincerely, Jeffrey Harris

Thank you. I suppose I may as well get used to the appellation, since many seem to use it to refer to this place. A series of dinner parties.  Hmm. Perhaps I could title it "The Autocrat at the Dinner Table" or would that be too presumptuous? Thanks again.


On having your own server:


having had ADSL recently, I think many like me are tempted to run their own in-house server, this allows for example to run cheap Java based applications (J2EE) and other niceties from home. Renting from an ISP is too expensive and limits you to ASP, PHP and static html.

Such an in-house server needs to be - cheap - silent ( because it would run permanently from my living room) - small

in other words, you want it to work and forget that it is there in a tiny London flat.

I hope you would find this subject interesting and write about it in your columns. The closest I found was: Shuttle SS51G P4 Mini Aluminium Barebone system. But it still costs £500 or so to set-up, they claim it is quiet but I never saw it anywhere on demo. It is described here


Arnaud Louët,

one of your readers.

I don't have real DSL yet, so this is a moot discussion. We had contemplated setting up a test web sit here when as and if I get true broadband. This site gets too many visitors for a small DSL or cable modem setup, but I might put up an experimental web site for subscribers. Not yet, though.

When I have some experience on the subject I'll write about it. Thanks for asking.

On The Skeptical Environmentalist:


Talk about bias. That site (Tech Central Station) is full of foam-lipped right wing and biased people leaping to the defense of Bjorn Lomborg. Can you really take that kind of thing seriously? What a shame.

Well, on a happier note, I just read your book of stories from Analog in the 70s, "High Justice," and I want to express my admiration for some really superb storytelling. Thank you! I was impressed especially by the fact that those stories were hardly dated in the least, and still had a lot to say to people today. I am extremely, extremely impressed. (And those were some of the stories I was reading in Analog in high school, which made me an Analog fan then and ever after... )

-Pierre Mihok

I hadn't noticed any foam about the lips, and the "refutations" of Lomborg seem curiously empty of actual data. The facts of the matter are that computer models predict one thing, but they haven't accounted for the past; while actual data and trends seem somewhat different from the picture you'd get if you read all the catastrophe alarms. 

I presume you have read Lomborg's book? It's curious how many denounce it without having read it.

As to Scientific American, not allowing Lomborg to reply in the issue which was put together to attack him, and threatening to sue him for putting up what was said along with his reply on his web site, do not seem to be absolute models of scientific fairness and regard for the truth.

The matter of environmental health is important; it is not served by partisan tactics of that sort. Of course there are many grants at stake here.

And See Below







This week:


read book now


Sunday, January 12, 2oo2

I have other exchanges of views on The Skeptical Environmentalist. 

Many amount to discussions of the ethics or backgrounds of the participants, without one word of the actual science; mutual accusations; people who have not read the book, but are sure they are promoting "debate". It seems rather odd.

Hi Jerry,

>I hadn't noticed any foam about the lips, and the "refutations" of Lomborg seem curiously empty of actual data.

I guess it's a matter of perception. My perception was that there was a very emotional backlash ON BOTH SIDES and so my natural tendency is to look at who is saying what and where they come from. That is to say, if I can't make out who is right, I *CAN* make out who is saying what, and ask myself, "How do they benefit?" A cynical response, I agree, but can you suggest anything better for someone who has a life to live and not a lot of time to research something like this?

And what I come up with is that the people who support Lomborg (aside from the fanatics) appear to be people allied with the energy industry, or with some other similar fish to fry (eg. people who are more concerned about making their money while they can, than about the general welfare); the people who oppose him appear (again aside from the fanatics) to be mostly scientists who (aside from having grants in the balance, if what you say below is true) cannot benefit in any perceptible fashion from favouring one conclusion over the other; but being the people most intimate with their data, may be presumed to know its limitations and be the best people to judge it.

>The facts of the matter are that computer models predict one thing, but they haven't accounted for the past; while actual data and trends seem somewhat different from the picture you'd get if you read all the catastrophe alarms.

Well, as you have said, the computer models are inadequate and do not account for actual observations. However, given that weather is a chaotic system, I don't see how we are going to be very successful in modeling it except in a very coarse grained fashion (ie. long time scales and ignoring small details.) The actual data appears to confirm global warming, though as you have said it does not confirm that it's human caused.

The question becomes, then, is there enough information to suggest there is a real risk? A chaotic weather system could easily be tipped over into greenhouse runaway, or so I'm led to believe; such a danger is one that is very much worth avoiding in my opinion, though I'm not qualified to judge its actual numerical likelihood.

>I presume you have read Lomborg's book? It's curious how many denounce it without having read it.

I shamefacedly confess I have not. No time to read it, no money to buy it; am judging it from third hand from many other peoples' reactions to it and quotations from it. Thus, I am eminently unqualified to denounce it, and admit as much. Sigh. My only qualification is as someone who's read as much on both sides as he had time for.

>As to Scientific American, not allowing Lomborg to reply in the issue which was put together to attack him, and threatening to sue him for putting up what was said along with his reply on his web site, do not seem to be absolute models of scientific fairness and regard for the truth.

Yikes. This is the first I've heard of this. If that's what happened, and your information is better than mine, I'm **extremely** disappointed. I know you've put down S.A. many a time, but as it is one of my few lifelines to the scientific world, I was skeptical. If the above has occurred, I can only clasp my brow in agony and wonder WHERE can I get real information in this world, in the little time I have to obtain it?

>The matter of environmental health is important; it is not served by partisan tactics of that sort.

Agreed - of any sort....

>Of course there are many grants at stake here.

I can only say again, if your information is better than mine...

Thanks once more for a reasoned response to a letter I regretted sending as soon as I hit SEND!


>If you think there is less dependency on grants by scientists than there is on energy by industrial society I have bridge for sale.

True, but are those grants really dependent on the existence/support of a theory of global warming that blames humans for it?

I was just thinking about it some more and my opinion is now that the debate is the most important thing; it's essential that the debate continue, because both sides have very valid questions to ask.

And I also became skeptical about the notion that runaway greenhouse warming might in fact occur. As I have written elsewhere,

"And I also realized that there's one big argument AGAINST the danger of global warming: there is no precedent for it. The theory that we might be heading towards a runaway greenhouse effect (becoming like Venus in the end) seems pretty specious when you think about it. After all, even though the weather on Earth is chaotic and can tip one way or another, a chaotic system often has one or two "attractors" or semi stable areas where it can spend most of its time. And based upon Earth's climate history, our "attractors" are the current status quo and the ice age."

Now, there is ALSO no precedent for the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases being dumped into the atmosphere by human activity, along with deforestation and so on, so pursuit of the true answer is absolutely essential...


First, the CO2 levels are not likely to be as large a driving force as was originally feared, but no one can be sure where they will drive us in any event. Warmer climates in the higher latitudes plus more CO2 can result in longer growing seasons and a great deal more food, as well as lower fuel costs. Moreover, as I have noted many times, the Earth has been both warmer and cooler than it is now, and this in historical times. Few of the theories that predict disaster take account of this. Second, the best data don't actually indicate warming trends of the kind postulated. They keep looking for them and periodically "discovering" the trends, but then the excitement dies out. The Earth is nothing like as much warmer as the catastrophe models predict.

But mostly, spending money on the silly remedies proposed before we understand the problem is what is really driving the argument. The people who want to spend the money have an agenda. The real scientists don't have one: they just want to understand.

Now I have a remedy: let us develop space industries, including solar power satellites, and get much of the power generation off the Earth and out of the equation. Then if it turns out that there is a real warming trend we have ways to adjust for it, and meanwhile we will have the energy resources to help the undeveloped lands build an industrial civilization without burning so many fossil fuels. 

Oil is a valuable resource: too valuable just to put a match to it. It's better used as chemical feed stock. Cheap electric power would let us burn less oil in internal combustion engines as we develop fuel cell powered vehicles. We'll still need fossil fuels, but not as much.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I should acknowledge first that I am what most would describe as an environmentalist. I am also someone who believes that the most honorable (and effective) method of changing the world is by demonstrating myself the viability of a thing. Coercion, whether by force of arms, taxation, or by telling others they should do something I myself do not do, does not seem like a legitimate tool to further my vision of the world.

The storm of opinion surrounding Dr. Lomberg is certainly hot tempered. Because I haven't seen many environmentalists say so, I'd like to say I think Scientific American's treatment of Lomberg was very sketchy, I might go so far as to say deplorable. Either Lomberg's book is serious scholarship, or it isn't. The SciAm editors seem to have decided it isn't. Thus it's pretty odd that they chose to spend so much space attacking his book. A one page editorial I could understand.

SciAm's editors weren't just rebutting his work, they were arguing his book was not reputable science, and thus wouldn't meet their criteria for publishing him. It seems absurd to me that they printed so many pages just to argue that Lomberg didn't practice good science, it certainly damaged their credibility.

Saying that SciAm blundered does not validate Lomberg's scholarship. It just muddies the waters. I'm not sure printing Lomberg's response would've salvaged their credibility.

On to Lomberg's actual book. I haven't read it. My understanding is that it aims at being three things, 1) a review of the current scientific literature on the cost/benefit of various environmental remedies, 2) an analysis of the coverage given to environmental issues by activist organizations and the popular press, and 3) A comparison of 1) and 2).

Having read the initial criticism from SciAm, and Lomberg's response on his website, my synopsis of the main thrust is that critics think Lomberg's literature review was poor. A literature review is supposed to highlight the major theories that currently hold currency. Lomberg apparently didn't do a very even handed job of this. Lomberg's retort amounts to, "Many scientists agree with my review of the literature". Knowing exactly who agrees with your analysis doesn't really seem to address the point of the criticism. Accurate data is good, but a scholarly literature review shouldn't just summarize some of the data available then give a non-expert analysis of this data.

The criticisms of the book from SciAm certainly don't come off as scholastic, they don't make references to papers when rebutting Lomberg, much of the criticism amounts to argument from authority, mixed in with personal attacks and shrill jabs about irrelevant omissions in the book.

All in all, as social commentary, I think Lomberg's dead on that many environmental organizations play fast and loose with the truth, and the media tends to give coverage to sensational doom and gloom messages. I hope environmentalists who care about science at least agree with this part of the analysis. I certainly find ridiculous press releases from environmental organizations to be counter-productive to most environmental goals.

I'm not convinced that the book is much use as a primer on current thinking in the scientific community on environmental issues. However, I don't know that anyone is suggesting it should be used in that fashion, so I wish scientists would spend more time engaging Lomberg in constructive dialog. Well referenced and civil criticisms would be a good place to start.

Sincerely, Jeffrey Harris

P.S. To SciAm's credit, they did ultimately post a civil and better argued criticism of Lomberg's book on their website, here

Are you seriously saying that this is a civil discussion of Lomborg's arguments?

As to his review of the literature: First, the "environmentalists" talk out of both sides of their mouths. Hanson goes to Congress and rolls huge red dice. The talk about ozone holes becomes shrill. There is everywhere you look stories of how "scientists claim" everything up to the sky is falling. When they are charged with saying these things and the claims refuted, they say "But we didn't really say all that! Not as scientists!  We publish science in science journals. All that shouting and hysteria was just us being citizens, not scientists!" Although in fact they went to Congress in hysteria mode and still do, and their grants largely depend on public hysteria.

Not long ago the terror was THE COMING ICE AGE. I recall that well. Leading "environmental scientists" were talking about "The Genesis Strategy" in which we ought to be saving food for the coming bad years, etc. It was an entirely different disaster they wanted us to spend a lot of money on -- much of which they would be able to control. Now it's a different kind of disaster and they want the money quick for a new agenda. As well as for tickets to all those international conferences in Kyoto and Rio de Janeiro.

If you think Rennie's self serving editorial is good science I have a bridge for sale. Rennie never addresses the hysteria that motivated Lomborg in the first place, and spends most of his time playing with minor points such as forestation and the difference between the way the FAO views the situation from how Rennie wants it viewed.

What is really upsetting, though, is that Rennie pretends that there is scientific unanimity among "environmentalists" when in fact there is not. People with every whit as good a credential as Stephen Schneider do not agree with the "consensus" about what is happening. The fact is that the modelers are alarmed, because their models show coming disasters; and the people who deal with data are not finding confirmation of  those trends.

The truth is that NO ONE CAN BE SURE what is happening with the climate. It is certain that the rising CO2 levels will have an effect. It is not certain whether that effect will be large in comparison to natural trends and forces that we do not understand. We also have no real idea of what the CO2 effect will be: there is at least as good an argument that it will be beneficial as that it will be a disaster. Do understand: I am not all that happy about running an uncontrolled experiment of increasing CO2 to very high levels; but I also understand the enormous costs of doing something about it. Before we spend that kind of money we might want to see if it's necessary.

And I am certainly not arguing for cutting the budgets for real environmental science. It's premature translation of theory into policy that I deplore.


It is absolutely certain that variations in the Solar Constant can have far far larger effects than all our industries put together -- and we know very little about solar variability, and a lot of the funds that ought to go to studying it have been drained off to hold big conferences on what to do about CO2.

It is absolutely certain that people will not voluntarily impoverish themselves in order to restore the earth to some pristine condition arbitrarily determined as more desirable than what we have now. If we want to "clean up the Earth" we will need lots of cheap energy, and lots of cheap resources; we'll have to buy our way to much of this.

I do not take Lomborg's book as gospel. It was a pretty good effort to get scientists to stop yammering in public about disaster and be more careful to be scientific. If the scientists didn't mean for their public policy statements to be challenged, why did they make them? Or is everyone going to pretend that there wasn't the hysteria that impelled Lomborg to do his investigation in the first place?

Scientific American acted shamefully on the question of Strategic Defense, shamefully on the question of the environment, and this current attempt to sound a bit less shrill is not convincing to me.

Note that Rennie denigrates an article in Science, a far more "scientific" publication than Scientific American ever pretended to be, as "done by the news staff". Scientific American has not in the past hesitated to use news articles in support of its positions, particularly regarding Strategic Defense, and Nuclear Winter, both of those being subjects I was involved in at the time. And in reading Rennie I am still looking for a scientific argument about the validity of the predictions and projections he takes for granted.

Regarding whether or not Lomborg's review of the literature is adequate: surely the best way to argue here is to show what significant publications he overlooked and demonstrate why they are so significant?

But really, the discussion should not be about Lomborg at all. It ought to be about where we should be spending our money on environmental matters: on remedies, or on better understanding of what it is we need to remedy? And I contend that since we aren't certain whether we are headed for an Ice Age or a warmup with rising seas, perhaps we ought to find that out before we spend all the money? Particularly since the proposed remedies are extremely expensive?

And then:

Jerry P: 

I found this which supports one of my contentions that CO2 is not the major cause of a greenhouse effect, assuming that there is one. I do not know the author or his qualifications. However, I do know something about the topic and the tendency of government supported scientists to make statements which support the government's current position, whether or not the statement should be made at that time. That is at some point, you should shut up until you can make a definite statement, but if you do you will not get funding, so you make a statement which does allow you to keep up your research. This is the link:

Charles Simkins

Yes: the site emphasizes that water vapor is more of a greenhouse gas than CO2, which is not usually mentioned in these discussions. 

Continued next week...


Now for another crisis:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Dallas/ Fort Worth had a security breach earlier this week. A man had his hand baggage checked twice. After being cleared a second time, he picked up the bag and left. Then the explosive detecton alarm went off. The security guard could not locate the man, and set off another alarm indicating an uncleared passenger had bypassed security.

The incident was in an American Airlines terminal There are three of these at DFW, all connected by internal passageways. Air Transport Security emptied all three while they searched for the man with the bag. Television reporters from several local stations interviewed anyone they could buttonhole, including the head of DFW ATS. By sheer good luck, weather was excellent.

For about two hours all passengers were kept outside the terminals. No aircraft could take off. Incoming aircraft lined up on taxiways to await open gates, which were filled with aircraft that could not depart. An airline employee told a reporter that the airplane passengers were decidedly inconvenienced, and that water and toilets would both be unavailable shortly.

The head of ATS finally allowed things to start up again. They had not found the man with the bag, but did find that he was probably unaware that he had set off an alarm. He just picked up his bag from the detector exit shelf, then left to catch his plane before the alarm sounded. However, there were several security cameras monitoring the area, and the tapes would be checked to determine the identity of the man, and what went wrong.

These are enough consequences for one mishap, but more followed. The nest day the television news reported that the security cameras in the area had not been loaded, and there was no camera record of the incident available for review. ATS still wanted to interview the man with the bag, not yet found. No mention was made of what happened, if anything, to the guard in question or the various levels of ATS supervisors involved.

I will not comment on passenger security. I couldn't do better commentary than the ATS actions if I tried.


William L. Jones

Don't we all feel safer now?





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