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Mail 245 February 17 - 23, 2003






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Monday  February 17, 2003

Subject: Unsettlers

This relates to complaints you have made in the past.

===== Tiomoid M. of Angle JD MBA 

 My commitment to bi-lingual education is unshakable. All children ought to learn both Latin AND Greek.

I am always concerned when the Times and I agree on anything.

Subject: Teachers and Mercedes

Interesting that the contributor of the drunk-teacher-in-a-Mercedes post is so fixated on the kind of automobile she was driving. I (and presumably you) can remember when a teacher caught DUI was quickly a former teacher. Nowadays we just worry about the kind of car she drives. This anecdote is insufficient to proving anything of the salary structure in the Harlem schools. Maybe the Harlem principals are paid enough to afford new Mercedes -- and maybe her husband makes enough to afford one for her.

Carrington Dixon


How to survive a terror attack:

We have run this one before but it's worth doing again, and if you have not read it recently, this might be a good time:

Jerry, you had the best grasp of this type of material of anyone I knew on the journalistic scene. What do you thin of this text, that arrived this morning from a friend that served in the US Army? Thanks, Jack Since the media has decided to scare everyone with predictions of chemical, biological, or nuclear warfare on our turf I decided to write a paper and keep things in their proper perspective. I am a retired military weapons, munitions, and training expert.

Lesson number one: In the mid 1990s there were a series of nerve gas attacks on crowded Japanese subway stations. Given perfect conditions for an attack less than 10% of the people there were injured (the injured were better in a few hours) and only one percent of the injured died. 60 Minutes once had a fellow telling us that one drop of nerve gas could kill a thousand people, well he didn't tell you the thousand dead people per drop was theoretical. Drill Sergeants exaggerate how terrible this stuff was to keep the recruits awake in class (I know this because I was a Drill Sergeant too). Forget everything you've ever seen on TV, in the movies, or read in a novel about this stuff, it was all a lie (read this sentence again out loud!).

These weapons are about terror, if you remain calm, you will probably not die. This is far less scary than the media and their "Experts," make it sound.

Chemical weapons are categorized as Nerve, Blood, Blister, and Incapacitating agents Contrary to the hype of reporters and politicians they are not weapons of mass destruction they are "Area denial," and terror weapons that don't destroy anything. When you leave the area you almost always leave the risk. That's the difference; you can leave the area and the risk; soldiers may have to stay put and sit through it and that's why they need all that spiffy gear.

These are not gasses, they are vapors and/or air borne particles. The agent must be delivered in sufficient quantity to kill/injure, and that defines when/how it's used. Every day we have a morning and evening inversion where "stuff," suspended in the air gets pushed down. This inversion is why allergies (pollen) and air pollution are worst at these times of the day.

So, a chemical attack will have it's best effect an hour of so either side of sunrise/sunset. Also, being vapors and airborne particles they are heavier than air so they will seek low places like ditches, basements and underground garages. This stuff won't work when it's freezing, it doesn't last when it's hot, and wind spreads it too thin too fast. They've got to get this stuff on you, or, get you to inhale it for it to work. They also have to get the concentration of chemicals high enough to kill or wound you. Too little and it's nothing, too much and it's wasted. What I hope you've gathered by this point is that a chemical weapons attack that kills a lot of people is incredibly hard to do with military grade agents and equipment so you can imagine how hard it will be for terrorists.

The more you know about this stuff the more you realize how hard it is to use.

We'll start by talking about nerve agents. You have these in your house, plain old bug killer (like Raid) is nerve agent. All nerve agents work the same way; they are cholinesterase inhibitors that mess up the signals your nervous system uses to make your body function. It can harm you if you get it on your skin but it works best if they can get you to inhale it. If you don't die in the first minute and you can leave the area you're probably gonna live. The military's antidote for all nerve agents is atropine and pralidoxime chloride. Neither one of these does anything to cure the nerve agent, they send your body into overdrive to keep you alive for five minutes, after that the agent is used up. Your best protection is fresh air and staying calm.

Listed below are the symptoms for nerve agent poisoning.

Sudden headache, Dimness of vision (someone you're looking at will have pinpointed pupils), Runny nose, Excessive saliva or drooling, Difficulty breathing, Tightness in chest, Nausea, Stomach cramps, Twitching of exposed skin where a liquid just got on you.

If you are in public and you start experiencing these symptoms, first ask yourself, did anything out of the ordinary just happen, a loud pop, did someone spray something on the crowd? Are other people getting sick too? Is there an odor of new mown hay, green corn, something fruity, or camphor where it shouldn't be?

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

Remember they have to do all the work, they have to get the concentration up and keep it up for several minutes while all you have to do is quit getting it on you/quit breathing it by putting space between you and the attack.

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

Fresh air is the your best individual chance Blister agents (distilled mustard) are so nasty that nobody wants to even handle it let alone use it. It's almost impossible to handle safely and may have delayed effect of up to 12 hours.

The attack scenario is also limited to the things you'd see from other chemicals. If you do get large, painful blisters for no apparent reason, don't pop them, if you must, don't let the liquid from the blister get on any other area, the stuff just keeps on spreading. It's just as likely to harm the user as the target. Soap, water, sunshine, and fresh air are this stuff's enemy.

Bottom line on chemical weapons (it's the same if they use industrial chemical spills); they are intended to make you panic, to terrorize you, to heard you like sheep to the wolves. If there is an attack, leave the area and go upwind, or to the sides of the wind stream. They have to get the stuff to you, and on you.

You're more likely to be hurt by a drunk driver on any given day than be hurt by one of these attacks. Your odds get better if you leave the area.

Soap, water, time, and fresh air really deal this stuff a knock-out-punch. Don't let fear of an isolated attack rule your life. The odds are really on your side.

Nuclear bombs. These are the only weapons of mass destruction on earth. The effects of a nuclear bomb are heat, blast, EMP, and radiation. If you see a bright flash of light like the sun, where the sun isn't, fall to the ground! The heat will be over a second. Then there will be two blast waves, one out going, and one on it's way back. Don't stand up to see what happened after the first wave; anything that's going to happen will have happened in two full minutes.

These will be low yield devices and will not level whole cities. If you live through the heat, blast, and initial burst of radiation, you'll probably live for a very very long time. Radiation will not create fifty foot tall women, or giant ants and grass hoppers the size of tanks. These will be at the most 1 kiloton bombs; that's the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT.

Here's the real deal, flying debris and radiation will kill a lot of exposed (not all)! people within a half mile of the blast. Under perfect conditions this is about a half mile circle of death and destruction, but, when it's done it's done. EMP stands for Electro Magnetic Pulse and it will fry every electronic device for a good distance, it's impossible to say what and how far but probably not over a couple of miles from ground zero is a good guess.

Cars, cell phones, computers, ATMs, you name it, all will be out of order. There are lots of kinds of radiation, you only need to worry about three, the others you have lived with for years. You need to worry about "Ionizing radiation," these are little sub atomic particles that go whizzing along at the speed of light. They hit individual cells in your body, kill the nucleus and keep on going. That's how you get radiation poisoning, you have so many dead cells in your body that the decaying cells poison you. It's the same as people getting radiation treatments for cancer, only a bigger area gets radiated.

The good news is you don't have to just sit there and take it, and there's lots you can do rather than panic. First; your skin will stop alpha particles, a page of a news paper or your clothing will stop beta particles, you just gotta try and avoid inhaling dust that's contaminated with atoms that are emitting these things and you'll be generally safe from them. Gamma rays are particles that travel like rays (quantum physics makes my brain hurt) and they create the same damage as alpha and beta particles only they keep going and kill lots of cells as they go all the way through your body. > > It takes a lot to stop these things, lots of dense material, on the other hand it takes a lot of this to kill you.

Your defense is as always to not panic. Basic hygiene and normal preparation are your friends. All canned or frozen food is safe to eat. The radiation poisoning will not effect plants so fruits and vegetables are OK if there's no dust on em (rinse em off if there is). If you don't have running water and you need to collect rain water or use water from wherever, just let it sit for thirty minutes and skim off the water gently from the top. The dust with the bad stuff in it will settle and the remaining water can be used for the toilet which will still work if you have a bucket of water to pour in the tank.

Finally there's biological warfare. There's not much to cover here. Basic personal hygiene and sanitation will take you further than a million doctors. Wash your hands often, don't share drinks, food, sloppy kisses, etc., ... with strangers. Keep your garbage can with a tight lid on it, don't have standing water (like old buckets, ditches, or kiddy pools) laying around to allow mosquitoes breeding room. This stuff is carried by vectors, that is bugs, rodents, and contaminated material. If biological warfare is as easy as the TV makes it sound, why has Saddam Hussein spent twenty years, millions, and millions of dollars trying to get it right? If you're clean of person and home you eat well and are active you're gonna live.

Overall preparation for any terrorist attack is the same as you'd take for a big storm. If you want a gas mask, fine, go get one. I know this stuff and I'm not getting one and I told my Mom not to bother with one either (how's that for confidence). We have a week's worth of cash, several days worth of canned goods and plenty of soap and water. We don't leave stuff out to attract bugs or rodents so we don't have them.

These people can't conceive a nation this big with this much resources. These weapons are made to cause panic, terror, and to demoralize. If we don't run around like sheep they won't use this stuff after they find out it's no fun. The government is going nuts over this stuff because they have to protect every inch of America. You've only gotta protect yourself, and by doing that, you help the country.

Finally, there are millions of caveats to everything I wrote here and you can think up specific scenarios where my advice isn't the best. This letter is supposed to help the greatest number of people under the greatest number of situations. If you don't like my work, don't nit pick, just sit down and explain chemical, nuclear, and biological warfare in a document around three pages long yourself. This is how we the people of the United States can rob these people of their most desired goal, your terror.

SFC Red Thomas (Ret) Armor Master Gunner Mesa, AZ

Reproduction and distribution is authorized and encouraged. Just give me credit for my work.

And also


I've been meaning to send this off to you, but haven't until now.

On the radio last week, I heard Hugh Hewitt discussing the art of living through terrorist attacks with one fellow who used to work for Israeli security. He gives the following advice on how to react when a bomb (car bomb, suicide bomber, etc) goes off nearby.

First, throw yourself on the ground. Give passing shrapnel as much room as you can. Remember, shrapnel has the right of way.

Second, once debris has stopped falling around you, lie or crouch against a solid object such as a car, a pillar, or a wall. Get on the side toward where the bomb blast was.

Third, wait for thirty seconds. Time it on your watch. Adrenalin will push you into overdrive, so counting "thirty jets" or reciting half of "jabberwocky" may not take as much time as you think.

At the end of thirty seconds, any additional bombs set to take out stampeding pedestrians will have either gone off, or will turn out not to exist.

The people to ask about security measures in the face of terror are the Israelis. They get training in these measures, including drills.

.........Karl Lembke

Good advice. I'd wait longer, myself.

'Twas brillig and the slithy toves...


Someone else sent that email on "how to survive a terror attack" to another email list I belong to...I had a different take on the matter:

Having read the email by SFC Thomas, I have some comments about his article. In fact, I will pull both rank and degree on SFC Thomas, since I am a Captain in the US Army Reserve Chemical Corps, have commanded units whose missions are to detect or decontaminate WMDs, and have a Ph.D. in chemistry.


SFC Thomas is correct that most chemical weapons are difficult to employ and that this fact saved many lives in Japan; however, he is a bit cavalier about their lethality in the event that they are correctly used. In particular, common nerve agents such as GB (Sarin) and VX are quite lethal. GB is an odorless, colorless volatile liquid and the skin lethal dose is approx. 1.7 grams; this is equivalent to about 30 small drops from a medicine dropper. The vapor is much more toxic, and GB is generally in this state, but vapors do blow away rapidly and dissipate if there is a decent wind... VX is an odorless liquid that looks like transmission fluid and is a lethal contact hazard. VX is not volatile, and can persist as a liquid for months in cold temperatures. VX is approx. 100 times more lethal than GB, i.e., 0.3 drops on your skin will kill you within 15 minutes. I hope I have made my point about the lethality. The good news is that the terrorist has to a) figure out how to disseminate the agent, including transporting large quantities, and b) survive long enough to do so, and this is very hard to do without making a spectacle - wearing a mask and protective suit in the subway is just a bit of a giveaway...

Your best bet if near an attack is to run like Hell and don't breathe any more than you have to while running. The symptoms Thomas lists are good to remember. Unfortunately, if you get even a tiny, noticeable amount of liquid nerve agent on you, you are probably dead, and if you get a noticeable amount of blister agent on you, you will wish you were dead within 4-6 hours.


Biological agents are much tougher to respond to, because you may not know you have been exposed to them until it's too late. For example, the fix for anthrax powder is the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, but you need to take it soon after exposure...and taking some every day as a preventative is very unhealthy for you, so that doesn't work. The nice thing about bio weapons is that while they are easy to make, they are really hard to weaponize (keep alive and stable in a form that allows you to easily expose people to them).

An excellent source to learn about biological weapons is found in the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases Medical Management of Biological Casualties Handbook, AKA the "Blue Book" 

There are versions for Palm, webpage, or printing out. These are far more serious than Thomas implies, but are not as bad as people imagine.


Dirty bombs - a common explosive designed to spread radioactive contamination. Radioactive particles are generally not a big deal unless you are very close to the explosion or you inhale them and they get stuck in your lungs - get out of the area as fast as possible and stay upwind. Radioactive particles on an individual are easily removed by brushing/washing with soapy water. Cleaning up an area contaminated by a dirty bomb (or other WMD) would be a nightmare, though; just think about how hard it would be to remove every single piece of dust in a city block affected by a dirty bomb...


In general, once an NBC weapon has been manufactured, the next, and very hard part, is disseminating it. Chemical weapons require relatively large quantities to affect even a city block or two, and biological weapons, while they require far smaller quantities, still have to be spread somehow. Thus, your terrorist should only be able to deliver enough agent to affect a relatively small area of town, even if his plan goes perfectly. This is where terrorists run into the most trouble, and it is why 95% of the people in the USA should not worry about WMD, unless you live and work in/near a major city or other juicy target. And duct tape and plastic sheets won't do spit for you if you do encounter a terrorist WMD attack - you still have to breathe and most of these agents are airborne to some extent. If a sufficient concentration of agent is close enough to worry about, it will get through your duct taped and plastic covered windows/doors, just more slowly. If you create a totally airtight safe room, which duct tape and plastic sheeting won't do, consider that you will have to have some source of oxygen...Leaving a contaminated area is the best, fastest, and simplest solution, although the most painful emotionally, because you won't be coming back for a long time.


Bill Egan

You and the sergeant aren't that far apart. And the important thing is, Don't Panic. 

To which point I just got:

While the information presented appears to be completely correct, I think it misses the point. From what I can tell, the recent Chicago nightclub incident resulted in 21 dead and 57 injured after some kind of chemical discharge. The panic and terror created were the weapon.

My biggest fear is that terrorists will start walking into supermarkets and sprinkling chemicals onto the open produce displays. If the Federal Government's reaction to the high jacking attack is any indication of how they will handle this scenario, I would predict that thousands will starve to death as a result of the new security measures that will be put in place at the checkout counters.

--- Alison (Al) Lipscomb AA4YU / arl AT Q7 dot net MCSE / Libertarian NRA / Certified Firearm Instructor

And I wish I thought you were joking.

For Greg Cochran see below.




This week:


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Tuesday,  February 18, 2003

And on that subject:

Subject: FAA Aversion Therapy


Another less frequent flyer chimes in:

.......Karl Lembke

They're really good at it, aren't they?

Subject: Republic vs Empire

The call to recruit foreign legionnaires has started. 

===== Tiomoid M. of Angle JD MBA

Subject: Republic vs Empire

More and more people seem to be discussing it.

===== Tiomoid M. of Angle JD MBA 

My commitment to bi-lingual education is unshakable. All children ought to learn both Latin AND Greek.

I doubt I was the first to think of the analogy, but I do seem to have been among the earliest ones to think hard about it.

On another subject:

An alternative to turning off Norton and preview, etc., would be use one the many freeware programs that allow you look at you email on the pop server before you even retrieve it. Assuming you can tell which message is causing the problem (you only get headers on most of these programs), you can delete it there and stop the cycle at the source. I found a program called QuickDelete on that is freeware and would fit the bill. Obviously, you need to know your pop server, your account name and password and the way your pop server expects you to log in, but this would be faster than your method.

I am glad it is for you. This morning Roberta had another mess from big at or some such that was blowing up Norton. Telnet sometimes works in this situation, but it's not always easy to get going, so I thought I'd install this QuickDelete on the theory that Roberta could use it in future.

It downloads easily enough, but installation is a nightmare. When you try to run it after installation up pops a window that tells you that you must go to a web site to get a key. The web site is of course not in a box that can be copied from, so you must try to write frantically. Frantically because the message goes away to be replaced by something that doesn't even have the web site.

Go to their German web site and you will be able, after some confusing work (probably easier if you could have copied the entire URL in the uncopyable message) to drill down to get a key. But now you find that the window demanding the key will not go away. Give it the key. It still won't close. But you can run QuickDelete and get rid of the bad message, although the terminology is a little odd; still, it can be set up and run and it does work just fine.

Only the message demanding the key still will not close and nothing you can do will close it. Attempting to LOG OFF fails because you can't log off because that program is open. Attempts to SHUT DOWN fail. Eventually it is hardware reset time. That did it.  But I guarantee you it is not faster than turning off Norton, resetting, running Outlook bare, then turning Norton back on. And of course after having an experience like that, I ran Norton and AdAware, which also took time (and found nothing wrong; yeti-soft which publishes QuickDelete isn't out to harm you, they just seem to want -- I can't imagine what they want.

It is nice of these people to make QuickDelete available as Freeware, but it's an odd way to do it.

On Prizes:

I've debated with some friends a few ideas that are similar to what you are thinking of. It seems ridiculous that at this date we are still driving petro-chemical cars & paying a fortune for electricity. Why not: 5 billion dollar prize to first company producing commercially feasible electricity with a "fusion" power plant (Cheap at ten times the price. And the company would be required to release the technology to the public domain.) 5 billion dollar prize to first company producing a 80mph - 500mile range automobile in a 2 ton class with AC, power, etc. (Same as above - technology has to go to the public domain.)

And there are so many more. Instead of the government frittering away trillions on useless regulation, why we can't have a government of "Leaders and Challengers" is beyond me. I'd love to see the president post challenges such as these to the world. I have no doubt it would change our world beyond description.

Keep up the great writing - I always enjoy your columns. You have a great way of stumbling on cool tech, my PC Power & Cooling boxes are the most rock-solid in our lab! By the way, Janissaries was one of my favorite series of yours. Any more in that "world"?

Bill Kennon Sr. SC Specialist, BMC Software

I have presented papers on both prizes and X projects at professional society meetings. Not much seems to have come of it. Ah well.

As to Janissaries I am dancing as fast as I can.

On SSTO again:

I found an article on the site that said, among other things,

"A fully reusable singe-stage-to-orbit shuttle only makes sense if you're flying its several times a week," said John Pike, a space program analyst with"

The URL is
  . I suspect you disagree.


Mr. Pike -- he was Dr. Pike when he was spokesperson for the Federation of American Scientists in opposition to SDI -- is correct. It's also true of airplanes. 

It always was true. It doesn't take much skill with mathematics to discover it, either.

Once again: airlines operate at a small multiple of fuel costs. They have about 110 employees per airplane, and about half of those sell tickets. They don't throw the airplane away after each flight.

A Shuttle needs about 20,000 people to operate. Shuttle flights cost about $1 billion each to deliver about 50,000 pounds to orbit. This is about $20,000 a pound. Note that this is an operations cost; it doesn't include the sunk investment in building the Shuttles at all.

Space Station will need at least 8 Shuttle flights a year to keep it going.  That's $8 billion for 400,000 pounds to orbit.

Now suppose I can build a ship with 5,000 pounds of payload using 450,000 pounds of fuel at $2 per pound, and I can operate at 5 times fuel costs, or $4.5 million a flight, and my 400,000 pounds requires 80 flights, or $360 million dollars. That leaves me $7 billion for development and construction costs of my fleet of SSTO ships. These numbers are made up, but they are not unreasonable, and the billion a flight is the actual cost of Shuttle (take what's charged to Shuttle each year and divide by the number of flights). 

But there's more: if we have the cost of a flight down to a few million dollars, there are lots of things we might want to do. We might want to go to the Moon. That takes putting a ship in orbit, then fueling it. It will take 9 flights -- call it ten -- to put 5,000 pounds on the Moon. In fact we can do better than that, but at $45 million per moon trip the economics change a lot.

Again: airlines operate at a small multiple of fuel costs. Rockets are no less efficient than airplanes and there is no reason they can't operate at about the same economic efficiency -- provided you don't have to throw the rocket away, or completely rebuild it after each flight. 

Mr. Pike is correct, but apparently draws the wrong conclusions.

Incidentally, if Global Security means anything, then for the US it means continued US dominance; which requires that we be dominant in space, and that includes the ability to go there cheaply. If space access were cheap we could build Thor. If space access were cheap we could build Solar Power Satellites. If -- but you get the idea.

Note that the idea isn't to lock on to SSTO, it's to get space access down to reasonable costs. If that requires a "zero" stage, so be it. 

For those who came in late, go read up. And see below, where the discussion gets a bit technical.

And Greg Cochran has his usual gently expressed view, which is always worth attention:

Jerry, this retired Master Gunner doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to biological weapons. I don't think he's any too sound on nerve gas, either. If people are going to talk endlessly about weapons of mass destruction, it couldn't hurt to know some facts. Here are some illustrative examples from an OTA analysis:

This compares the effects of a missile with a one ton warhead in an attack against a large city with an average population density of 3000 per /KM2:


Warhead Type Dead Injured


Conventional (1 ton of high explosive) 6 13 Chemical (300kg sarin*) 200-3,000 200-3,000 Biological (30 kg anthrax) 20,000-80,000 Nuclear (20 kilotons) 40,000 40,000


* VX is more than 100 times more potent than sarin.




Weapon Type Agent Quantity Deaths


Chemical 1 ton sarin nerve gas* 3,000 to 8,000 Biological 100 kg anthrax spores* 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 Nuclear 1 Megaton H bomb 570,000 to 1,900,000


* Delivery by aircraft as line source.

What this means is Hitler, for example, could have won WWII with a few heavy bomber sarin raids on Moscow. Now for some other comparisons: nerve gases like Sarin or VX, although more deadly than high explosives, are not as potent as anthrax or nuclear weapons. They are easy to make, though: it is said that any third-year chemistry student could design a facility to make VX or Sarin - and that facility would not cost much and could be a modification of an existing chemical plant.. We struck at a facility in the Sudan that we thought was manufacturing nerve gas: That was probably not correct, but consider the (correct) implication: every country as competent or more competent than the Sudan is capable of this. In fact, sub-national groups like Aum Shinrikyo can manufacture nerve gas. You won't see terrorists use it to wipe out a city - takes too much. VX is the gas of choice because it is by the most potent ( has an LD50 of 0.1mg/KG ) and is persistent; get it on your skin even days later and you're a dead man.

Poison gases other than nerve agents are roughly as deadly as conventional high explosives - they aren't worth talking about here.

Biological agents such as anthrax are roughly as potent as nuclear weapons, but are much cheaper than nuclear weapons. They're also cheaper and lighter: remember, they replicate. Weapons that breed. They are easier to defend against, though - we could probably make anthrax almost ineffective by mass inoculation, and could greatly reduce casualties through incredibly rapid administration of antibiotics. We can inoculate people against smallpox. Their effectiveness depends on weather conditions, as well Note that vectors don't have a thing to do with these very effective biological agents.

Anthrax is easy to grow, and is of course found almost everywhere, but there are technical difficulties in producing a form that aerosolizes efficiently. According to the FBI, anyone who knows biomedicine can do this all by himself. US experts in weaponization of anthrax say otherwise: it would take such an expert, a properly furnished lab, a competent staff, and a year. Perhaps more difficult than the production of nerve gas, but certainly far easier than a nuclear weapon. The idea that basic personal hygiene and sanitation will protect you against aerosolized anthrax is ... not true. It won't help even a tiny bit. Try inoculation, lots of antibiotics, or better yet, be somewhere else.

Nuclear weapons are hard to make, since they require fissionable materials, either U-235 or Pu-239 (or U-233, for the cognoscenti). Every known production method is capital intensive. The costs are within the reach of many countries, but probably not for many sub-national groups other than Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. It may, however, be possible to buy nuclear weapons, although I know of no proven examples of such sales. Defense against nuclear weapons is not easy at all.


Gregory Cochran

If anyone has weapons grade fissionables to sell, the Agency will buy, or would back when I last had any knowledge on the subject. Delivery anywhere, payment in Zurich, no questions asked, no attempt to track you or identify you; and a darned go0d price, about $4 million for a bomb's worth. Again that's how it used to be anyway.

VX is reasonably easy to make, not quite so easy to set up and use as a weapon, particularly since you have to keep your own people safe. I once suggested seriously that we use VX on the Ho Chi Minh trail, and to make De Militarized Zones truly such: enter here and die.

Fortunately VX is degradable by sunlight and rain; but it is certainly nasty stuff.

I would not be so hard on the advice of the Gunner. Remember to whom he is speaking and for what purpose. But certainly the best way to survive this stuff is be somewhere else. I used say as an editor of SURVIVE magazine that the best way to survive a nuclear war is not to have one. That's why I did not go up to Oregon with Mel Tappan and some of the survivalists: I thought I could do more good promoting SDI and a strategy of technology.

And Woolsey comments:

(1) As he noted, the comparison is only appropriate if one considers the distribution time of the threat and the response time of the threat, and also consider that he's basing the estimate on completely unprotected populations.

(2) Energetic weapons (conventional and nuclear bombs) deliver their destructive energy effectively instantly. There is effectively zero response time once ignition occurs, and casualties are casualties.

(3) In the event of nerve (or mustard) agents, and in the event of a biological attack, the charge has the effect of dispersing the cloud. This is s finite process, not an infinitesimal process (if the agent is in the blast zone long enough for effectively instantaneous dispersal, it will be cooked to a small fraction of it's initial lethal capability). Dispersal charges are typically about 10% (or less) of the mass of the agent. While release of nerve agent in a civilian population will have some effect, as someone noted after the weekend's nightclub disaster in Chicago, most casualties to civilians will probably come from the panic itself rather than from the agent. I'll also note that a damp hankie would provide at least some protection; maybe not much, but any port in a storm. In any event, biological will not act instantaneously and will allow time for medical response which will significantly reduce the fatalities from MOST agents. In the case of chemical agents, the only chance in the short term -- and in the absence of atropine -- is to get away into a place of lower concentration by running upwind of the release. And as was noted earlier, atropine is a palliative rather than a cure, and the combination may contribute to more civilian casualties than the agent alone.

But let's not restrict concern to just chemical agents. There are any number of widely available commercial chemicals which, while much less toxic than nerve agents, are readily available in much larger quantities.

I'll also note that most readily weaponizeable biological agents are NOT that contagious outside the deliver vector and do not "breed" after release (smallpox being the most significant counterexample, hence the concern about smallpox).

All of the nerve agents are relatively easy to make but of great risk to the "kitchen chemist" who is not aware of the proper laboratory or industrial controls for its manufacture. As well as to the troops who have to handle and deploy it.

Incidentally -- What is probably the first fictionalized report of nerve agent terrorism?

I'm not sure if it's in the original 1933-era novella, but certainly when it was collected in "The History of Civilization" around 1950, Gray Roger's agent's use of "V-2" gas to incapacitate the Triplanetary spaceship in Triplanetary almost certainly qualifies....

And a reply by Greg Cochran. Greg, for those who tuned in late, takes Darwin and evolutionary biology seriously, and applies the theory to contemporary matters:

Certainly anthrax breeds - inside you. You inhale a few spores and then anthrax bacteria multiply inside you, which is why the lethal dose is so very, very, very small - around 10-8 gram. But it isn't efficiently transmitted from person to person.

Anthrax, like other living things, can be said to have a strategy. In short, that strategy is turning mammals into contaminated dirt, full of incredibly long-lasting anthrax spores. Paul Ewald calls this strategies 'sit and wait'. Most pathogens do better by letting the host live for some time, often a long time, in order to maximize transmission. But if transmission does not depend on host mobility, the most efficient strategy is to grab host resources as fast as possible, kill as fast as possible, and turn a maximal fraction of the host into more pathogen. There is a class of viruses that does similar things in insects, only with tremendous flair. Polyhedrosis virus kills every time and turns a huge fraction of the insect's mass into more virus. It adds insult to injury by manipulating the dying insect's behavior: The insect climbs to some high point such as a treetop and then bursts, scattering virus over a large area. Now if there were a biological agent that did this to humans - made you jump on top of the bar and explode after turning half of your body-weight into weapons-grade anthrax - we'd be in a spot of trouble.

Gregory Cochran









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Thursday, February 20, 2003

Jerry, I'd like to shed a little more light on the issue of Iraq's oil. Mr. Todd's otherwise excellent letter yesterday seems to reflect some common misunderstandings about how the oil industry functions, and how oil is really produced.

At the risk of quoting one of my own articles on the subject, "When the industry talks about reservoirs and pumps and expresses reserve life in terms of reserves-over-production (R/P), a layman could easily conclude that all that would be required to increase production would be turning a dial. Actual production rates from an oilfield are a function of geological conditions, available technology, and the characteristics of the oil in question, which can vary considerably... production from an individual field or aggregation of fields cannot be increased to any arbitrary level."1

Although it is true that a number of mature US oil fields are being operated under what is called "enhanced recovery", these techniques, such as steam, water or chemical injection, are not very practical for stimulating a reservoir that is still producing well under "natural flow." In addition, forcing high production can damage the reservoir structures and greatly reduce the ultimate quantity of oil that can be recovered from the field.

Iraq has the 2nd largest reserves in the world, after Saudi. These reserves contain 50 years worth of oil, even at twice Iraq's current production. The Iraqi fields include both Giants and Supergiants, of which there are only dozens in the world, out of tens of thousands of oil fields. The world will need all that oil, as areas like the North Sea mature and as demand continues to grow.

Finally, bringing these new fields onto production will require massive capital investments (think tens of billions here), on top of the billions required to fix the existing infrastructure, which from all accounts is in a parlous state. That kind of investment--and the expertise to make use of it--is only going to be deployed under conditions of political stability and rule of law. It will require participation by oil companies from many countries.

The notion that someone could seize such massive oil fields in an unfriendly country and somehow deplete them in a couple of years is not credible. The possibility of Turkey's gaining temporary control of the fields around Kirkuk is a different story. I wouldn't be surprised if some kind of custodial or production-sharing arrangement were part of the deal to get the Turks on board.

Regards, Geoff Styles

1. "Can the US Increase Its Energy Security?", Geoffrey S.W. Styles, Geopolitics of Energy, June 2002.

And then we have:

With regard to Geoff Styles's comments (Thursday, February 20, 2003), I was thinking more in terms of smart drilling, that is, fitting a drilling rig out with all the smarts of a modern guided missile, or perhaps the more applicable metaphor would be anti-submarine warfare. See, for example, Jonathan Rauch's "The New Old Economy: Oil, Computers, and the Reinvention of the Earth," The Atlantic Monthly, January 2001. As Rauch pointed out additional oil was being extracted at a marginal cost of about two dollars a barrel. Some of the methods would have to be modified for use in a war zone. For example, the geophones would have to be expendable, air-droppable, and fitted with booby traps, etc. so that they could double as land mines and discourage guerillas from getting too close. They would presumably be Wi-Fi networked, with cryptography, etc. Once you crank the costs of war into the equation, expendable high-tech is simply inevitable. The full cost of oil is about fifty dollars a barrel in a place where public order is not otherwise established. There's an amazing variety of stuff you can buy at Radio Shack for fifty dollars.

I don't know if you've seen the pictures of Spindletop, Texas, circa 1901. This was of course before the Texas Railroad Commission, the original prototype of OPEC. There were rows and rows of drilling rigs, each parked on the smallest parcel of land that could physically hold it, each drilling rig and each parcel of land owned by a different party. No one owned oil while it was still in the ground, and therefore, the incentive was to grab it as fast as possible, without worrying about the long-term health of the reservoir.

Suppose that you set out to systematically honeycomb a reservoir with drill holes. If the drill head is capable of steering itself, it does not necessarily need a rigid drillpipe. It can have a drillhose, which is paid out from a reel in, say two thousand foot lengths, and this would make it radically less expensive to drill a lot of collector branches, each five hundred or a thousand feet long. Unlike Spindletop, you don't have to have a lot of outlets from the reservoir as a whole, which would tend to reduce the wastage, but the honeycombing would radically increase the mobility of oil, gas, and water within the reservoir.

This sort of smart drilling has the same kinds of implications that radar had in 1940. Under modern conditions, war works out to engaging camels with guided missiles.

Andrew D. Todd

1249 Pineview Dr., Apt 4 Morgantown, WV 26505 

Although I once worked for and with Henry Salvatore who founded Western Oil Tools and invented a number of drilling techniques, I can't claim to have learned anything at all about the subject. Thank you.






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Friday, February 21, 2003

I have some correspondence on SSTO 


Dr. Pournelle

I have perused some of your writings with regard to SSTO.  I spent an hour of so with a spreadsheet and the solver function to create the list below following the stated ground rules.  I created three types of winged SSTO, all with liquid oxygen but fueled with Methane, Hydrogen, or RP.  The results are in the tables.  I didn't spend too much time on this little project.  I hope this follows the definition of doing one's homework.  I expect you meant homework and not dissertation.

The problem that I have is that SSTOs will just be huge.  Even something that has essentially no payload will be huge, that is the nature of the rocket equation and structures.  I also threw in a development cost.  I gave the development cost a SWAG of $60,000 per pound.  What all this tells me, is that SSTOs are doable, just not within economic reach.

If, on the other hand, there was some kind of market for lots and lots of stuff, then I could envision somebody forking over the development monies, until then I doubt it.  Now you may discount my weights and say that I am too conservative.  What can I say to that?  Anybody can make anything work if they rely on fantasy.  I have seen many a fine concept die an ugly death at the hands of the weights analyst.  I suggest that anybody taking a promising design to a CEO or Congress better have a reputable weight guy's approval or it and you will get booted out of the room.

Gigantism is, of course, no sin.  However the bigger the system gets, the more unwieldy if becomes.  Consider some huge rocket that suffers an engine failure on its way to orbit and aborts to Spain.  It lands there and then what becomes of it?  It can't go anywhere.  Are they going to build a rocket pad in Spain to get it home?  Then, of course, if the vehicle is small enough to be ferried home on a 747 like the shuttle, it can't any payload as the charts below show.  Thus, with a gigantic system, they must build in considerations like it can not land anywhere else on Earth but at its launch site.  Now, the system becomes more complex, more redundancies must be included in the design.  It costs more, masses more and eventually is killed like Venture Star.

I tell everyone I talk to that we shouldn't talk this design or that design when we consider space transportation, but that we should focus on providing the market and the design will create itself according to economics and not political pork.  Thank you.

Ground Rules:
All tanks oversized by volume 5%
Lox 71.2 lbm/cf
RP             48 lbm/cf MR 2.6 Engine SL T/W 85 ISP(vac) 340
Methane 26 lbm/cf MR 3.5 Engine SL T/W 80 ISP (vac)      375
LH2     4.2 lbm/cf MR 6. Engine SL T/W 50 ISP(vac) 450

· 30,000 feet per second required for MECO
· 8 per cent extra propellant mass for orbital maneuvering
· Propellant tanks are cylindrical with oblate hemispherical domes
· payload volumeà6 pounds per cubit foot. Payload placed between oxygen and fuel domes
· Liftoff T/W =1.2
· Entry reference wing loading 70 pounds per square foot
· Wing wetted area = 2.2* reference area
· Wing mass = 7.5 pounds * wing reference area
· Body mass = 10 pounds * body wetted area
· Body length to diameter ratio = 5.7

     Payload              GLOW empy mass diameter (ft)             dev cost
     250,000         13,966,419        828,124 45.12 $     49,687,455,247
     200,000         11,979,772        724,767 42.74 $     43,486,018,400
     150,000           9,908,666        614,890 39.96 $     36,893,393,498
     100,000           8,060,255        510,829 37.06 $     30,649,721,104
       75,000           6,539,521        429,812 34.47 $     25,788,720,419
       65,000           6,050,954        402,098 33.52 $     24,125,852,257
       55,000           5,547,714        373,250 32.50 $     22,395,026,102
       45,000           5,026,399        343,008 31.36 $     20,580,479,376
       35,000           4,482,000        310,984 30.10 $     18,659,019,815
       25,000           3,906,580        276,565 28.64 $     16,593,878,985
       15,000           3,286,059        238,664 26.90 $     14,319,849,167
       10,000           2,950,741        217,780 25.87 $     13,066,777,997
         5,000           2,590,218        194,949 24.67 $     11,696,963,252

Payload             GLOW   empty mass  diameter        develop cost
     250,000      12,201,648   1,175,064 55.23 $     70,503,828,370
     200,000      10,702,232   1,049,943 52.76 $     62,996,577,165
     150,000        9,132,970      916,665 49.91 $     54,999,872,103
     100,000        7,462,352      771,548 46.49 $     46,292,909,556
       75,000        6,570,811      692,423 44.45 $     41,545,377,339
       65,000        6,199,597      659,068 43.55 $     39,544,071,520
       55,000        5,818,011      624,501 42.58 $     37,470,084,784
       45,000        5,424,118      588,498 41.54 $     35,309,856,198
       35,000        5,015,281      550,748 40.40 $     33,044,906,262
       25,000        4,587,741      510,815 39.15 $     30,648,885,753
       15,000        4,135,796      468,031 37.73 $     28,081,852,949
       10,000        3,897,961      445,254 36.94 $     26,715,210,024
         5,000        3,650,015      421,295 36.09 $     25,277,715,602

Payload             GLOW  empty mass diameter       develop cost
     250,000      21,164,156  1,015,062     48.32        60,903,743,570
     200,000      18,286,173     893,034     45.90        53,582,060,834
     150,000      15,280,673     763,384     43.08        45,803,047,771
     100,000      12,086,031     622,428     39.65        37,345,691,699
       75,000      10,380,508     545,483     37.56        32,728,953,595
       65,000        9,669,273     512,969     36.63        30,778,160,308
       55,000        8,936,837     479,189     35.61        28,751,331,335
       45,000        8,178,576     443,865     34.50        26,631,880,276
       35,000        7,387,843     406,600     33.27        24,395,972,987
       25,000        6,554,452     366,785     31.87        22,007,076,485
       15,000        5,661,257     323,395     30.24        19,403,697,758
       10,000        5,182,968     299,806     29.29        17,988,348,303
         5,000        4,674,735     274,427     28.22        16,465,605,363

(name withheld)

I pointed out that the total weights he comes up with are absurd: while we are not sure that a 600,000 pound GLOW will have a payload to orbit at all, it will certainly be close, and it may even have up to 6,000 pounds: it depends in large part on drag and engine efficiencies, and all those numbers are in the third decimal place. We need to FLY things to see. 

The late Max Hunter was willing to be that if you fly a 600,000 pound GLOW VTOL system he could "nickel and dime" it to orbit, and then design a better one that would have the 6,000 pound payload. I never say anyone win a rockets argument with Max, and that includes me, and I tried.

USAF/SDIO Project Have Region established that we know how to build structures that can achieve the mass ratios required to get a 600,000 pound VTOL ship to orbit, and they are strong enough.

I said as much to my correspondent who replied:

Dr.  Pournelle

I spent a brief time attached to an IRAD product development team.  We looked into different types of launch configurations.  Unfortunately money ran out after about a year and I went back to more mundane endeavors.  However, during that time, I was a great--in my opinion--creater of concepts.  Unfortunately, my bane and archnemisis was the weights guy.  I could show him my calculations on the mass per square foot of pressurized isogrid aluminum with matching FEA and he would show me his statistical database on weight trends in all kinds of vehicles going back to the Wright brothers.  I couldn't go into a meeting and tout my concept unless I got Mr. X's ok.  Hence, I learned to include a certain amount of conservatism.  Nobody wants to invest billions of dollars in a SSTO to discover late in the game that you've got weight growth.  As you know, a little bit of weight growth in a SSTO means that it comes out of payload.  Too much weight growth and you've got zero payload and money down the drain.  I was not involved in X-33, but I watched their oscillations and I knew they were adding mass and losing capability every time they did a loads/weight iteration.  I may be too conservative in my estimates, but that was just beaten into me by people who literally laughed in my face.  You may say a 5,000 pound payload with a 600,000 GLOW, but get someone to invest $50 million on a full up design study and see what kind of final GLOW comes out.


It's all your fault you know.  I was just a kid that liked to read science fiction until that issue of Galaxy came out crammed with rocket and orbital mechanics equations.  For me, it was a step farther out.  We will get to space eventually, but it will take a market for lots of launches, and whether that market is tourists, refueling laser ABMs or something completely different I don't know.

(name withheld)

To which I can only reply, we DID that. The result was DC/X because the big doubt in those days was whether you could control a VTOL ship at low speeds and altitudes (you can; we flew it); and HAVE REGION, which was intended to determine if structures that would meet the strength and weight requirements for SSTO were possible (they build them and they were).

The next step was the full 600,000 pound vehicle, which would have cost in the $1 billion range if that. The DC/X team thought they could do it for hundreds of millions at most. But the project was hijacked by Lockheed which promised the Moon and sixpence and substantial company investment in the winged abortion X-33 which had irregular shaped tanks, wings that required all kinds of dynamic flight adjustments because as fuel is consumed the CG changes and other things happen, and a linear aerospike engine that never worked properly.

The $50 million full up design study isn't the problem. Much of that was done in SDIO where they ended up with a 1.4 million pound GLOW vehicle to assure some 15,000 pound payload to meet some mission requirement. Dan Quayle wasn't able to get enough money to build anything that large, so the result was DC/X which was a 1/3 scale model of the SSX that Hunter, Graham, and I sold him. That story has been told here often enough.

The X-33 experience was expensive  but not instructive: nearly everything that happened was predictable and predicted at least by me.

You do not want wings on an experimental development X project space ship. You want pure rockets. You want VTOL. You want to fly.

You want

  • Savable
  • Reusable
  • Fly Early
  • Fly often
  • Fly higher and faster

And mostly you want to fly. From that we can learn things about optimum configurations. 

X-33 was none of the above.

As to the X-33 people laughing, if I had just taken all the money and eaten the dream to achieve nothing, I might have a slightly different emotion. They ought to be ashamed.

The problem is that we do not have enough flight data to establish what we need to have a savable and reusable ship. And everyone seems to have forgotten that SSX was an X SHIP, intended to help us learn how to build an orbiter that would be Savable, etc.  Along came X-33 to siphon off all the money on a final design and which was to an X ship as a rabbit hunter is to a rabbit.

Jim Woolsey replies


1. I see that the GLOW estimates are based on the not untypical 1.2 - 2% payload fractions which one might expect from many SSTO designs. Wasn't the Delta Clipper series anticipated to have a better payload fraction than that? From somewhere my backbrain has dredged up 3 - 4%.

2. The thing that scares me more is the estimated $60,000 /pound GVW (?) cost for development of the vehicle. Where on EARTH did that number come from -- is that what Lockheed was estimating to get the X33 into operation? Looking at his figure for RP-1 and 150,000 lb payload, that's 12 Mlb GLOW (70% more than the Saturn V) and an estimated development cost of $45.8 G to get a Saturn V class payload capacity back into operation. If that's not at least 5 dB high.....? Note that your correspondent's estimate (presumably in 2003 dollars) for the planned 15,000 lb payload capacity of the Delta Clipper is almost 15x the development cost you estimated. (Hum..take the $15 G estimated for (mid-'90's) R&D of the Boeing 777 (Business week article about Boeing last summer), divide by the empty weight (from OL sources) of 310,000 lb, and we get $50,000/lb. IS that the right ball park for R&D of new aerospace systems?)

That is REALLY the critical question. It looks like we get the $60,000/lb figure (plus/minus) if Boeing or Lockheed does the work. Why shouldn't it be $6,000/lb? Inquiring minds want to get to orbit without having to worry about high g's.

Jim Woosley

If Boeing or Lockheed does it, we may expect it to cost a lot more. In fact it will cost as much as you have. And the result will be little to nothing. X-33 was the demonstration of that. For all that money we got bupkis, zilcho, nothing flew, nothig worked. But it sure paid some expensive people for a couple of years.

Try prizes. That might work. My name withheld correspondent is one of the better people involved with Big Aerospace, and I welcomed his entry to the discussion for precisely that reason. 

Now you see what we face.

Try prizes. But of course Big Aerospace will fight that.

As witness:


Dr. Pournelle 

The most daunting criticism of my homework was that I had too much weight. I must tell you that's a first in my experience and quite refreshing. The HAVE REGION Program was brought forward as the talisman of a new era in structures. I admit I don't know much about HAVE REGION but let me throw in this little story. Several weeks ago they had the Joint Strike Fighter story on PBS. One of JSF's requirements was short field take off and vertical landing. The JSF program was a BIG DEAL for Lockheed and Boeing. Winning it would be worth tens maybe hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet there wasn't that much talk about advanced materials. Weight is critical on vertical takeoff airplanes. Boeing tried to make a wingskin out of thermoplastic material and failed. These weight critical birds represented the promise of a lot of money to the respective contractors. Yet they were built with the basic Aluminum, Titanium, and thermoset composite. Nobody said anything about metal matrix composites, exotic composites etc. I would have thought that the HAVE REGION materials would have percolated down to such important programs. Also, two rockets, the Delta IV and Atlas V have been developed since HAVE REGION. These vehicles are made from machined Aluminum. I can conclude that the promise of HAVE REGION remains a promise. Why hasn't the industry utilized these vundermaterials? I don't know. If anybody has an answer to this, it would be very interesting.

You talked about DCX. I must tell you that I have my reservations about VTOVL vehicles. I do like some concepts more than others. Kistler Aerospace demonstrated a vertical landing concept for a rocket without using one cent of government money. It is called a parachute. One could say that a thirteen-year-old kid with a model rocket demonstrates a larger flight envelope than DCX. Of course a single stage vehicle will be too big for a parachute and thus will need the exotic landing method. The exotic landing method makes the vehicle capable of being a single stage. Is this an example of a tautology? Kistler decided on two RP stages with parachute landing for both. And their web site doesn't talk about exotic materials either.

I never liked the Douglas X-33 version because it looked like it re-entered with its center of mass behind its center of pressure. In the world I know shuttlecocks don't fly backward. I know that they would work this problem with lots of exotic control authority, but that's just one more thing to go wrong. I've always liked the backwards re-entering versions with the plug nozzle engines like ROMBUS et al. The back end is hot on ascent, it might as well be the same on descent. Then we could have extra hydrogen in the tanks to run through the engine coolant lines on re-entry and we would get the classic "ablator in a tank." I think you guys were too hot on DCX to get something done when in reality you needed to develop the plug nozzle first.

Finally, you did lose a rocket fight. You may not know it though. When it became obvious that the government was not going to fund the 600,000 GLOW test vehicle, did anyone approach Douglas with this proposal? "Let us built it ourselves. Sure it will cost us a Gigabuck, but if we do it ourselves, we own the technology and will be a step ahead of everybody. Once it rolls out the door, the government will feel obligated to fund the test program. The second version will give us a revenue stream. It will enable us to be first in space transportation."

If nobody made that presentation then you lost by default. If that presentation was made, you still lost because the flinty-eyed money men didn't believe you. Or maybe the corporate types were too addicted to NASA largesse to make that kind of brave decision. If the answer is the later, we need to get rid of NASA or find new corporations.

(name withheld)

In other words, if a small program like DC/X which was designed to show you guys were full of it when you told us it couldn't be controlled, gets built on time and in budget and does what it was supposed to do, it is useless because it didn't solve all the other problems.

As to the rest of that, ye gods. 

It's all my fault. I didn't talk Douglas into building it on their own, in competition with Lockheed which was getting subsidized to waste money on X-33. Ye gods man, OF COURSE the corporate types were too addicted to NASA largesse to make that kind of brave decision. Who in the world ever suspected otherwise? But it's my fault. Thanks.

What in the world does plug nozzles have to do with development of savable reusable ships? Other than the standard nonsense that if a project doesn't solve all problems and fix the problem of contamination in the mess kits and athlete's foot in desert troopers, then it's not worth doing?

The SSX program was intended to demonstrate some concepts and prove some technologies. The X-33 came along and said "spend a lot more and we'll solve all the problems at once, and that incremental approach is a waste of time and money."  So the SSX was abandoned and we got X-33, VENTURE STAR, and I wish everyone well of it.

And note that parachutes are now, somehow, the solution to landing problems, as if anyone would use them for routine operations.

As to us "losing a rocket fight," just who the heck do you think was on my team? The Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy is a volunteer organization that paid its own way to conferences, and was fed at them largely through the generosity of Larry Niven. We put up some of the participants at our house to help save on hotel expenses. General Graham's High Frontier was supported by voluntary contributions, and Dan Graham not only didn't take a salary but put some of his pension into the organization. We didn't have any big government organization or any NGO paying our bills, and the only way I participated in the "summit" in DC, and presented my case to the Congress, was if I paid for a ticket to DC on my own credit cards, and stayed with friends like Wayne Rash and Barbara Marx Hubbard when I was in DC; or sprang for grand accommodations in the Army/Navy club.

We did get the DC/X built and for a while there it looked like they might actually fund some real X projects, SSX among them. Had that been done, I suspect we would be a big ahead of where we are now.

But it wasn't done, and we got X-33, Big Aerospace's answer to the X programs.

So far have we come. So far have we come.

The first chart (methane, I believe)
 contains the following line:
Payload   GLOW      empy mass    diameter (ft) dev cost
25,000    3,906,580   276,565          28.64 $     16,593,878,985

Compare this to the Shuttle.
	Loren C Wilton

/Enter irony mode  
But of course that approach can't be tried. Too big and too heavy and we all know Shuttle is better because it employs the Standing Army. After all, 20,0000 jobs are at stake. 
/leave irony mode

Continued below:



Rod McFadden asks

Now why aren't there any pictures of Jerry Pournelle wearing a costume like this? 

To which I can only say Deo Gratia...

And we have

What Drudge doesn't discuss is the relative vulnerability of the US vs Iraq infrastructure to such weapons.


Pentagon Leaning Against Use Of E-Bomb Against Iraq Thu Feb 20 2003 10:16:46 ET

The U.S. military has developed a weapon that can permanently disable electrical and telecommunications systems and has debated the possibility of using it in any military assault against Baghdad, the WALL STREET JOURNAL reported on Thursday.


The new weapon -- known as the 'e-bomb,' for the high-velocity electromagnetic pulses it discharges -- hasn't yet been tested in battle. But some midlevel Air Force commanders have said that using such a weapon, which was long in development but veiled in secrecy, would give the U.S. a decisive initial advantage in a war with Iraq.

Top Pentagon and military-service officials are leaning against using the e-bomb, though.

They are concerned its use could alienate the Iraqi populace by crippling Baghdad's phone and electrical systems and, hence, the city's hospital and emergency-services infrastructure.


I would think the conclusion here is obvious.

Dan Spisak:

It's come to my attention recently that model rocketry, something I grew up with as a child, is now in danger of being a casualty of the Homeland Security Act. There is a bill embedded in the HSA called the Safe Explosives Act which would require transportation companies to license their employees under new regulations with the ATFE requiring more stringent background checks. The problem with this is employees currently working who don't pass would have to be reassigned or restricted to access to their companies shipping, storage, and receiving areas. Shipping companies simply do not want to take on the additional legal burden and so are dropping the cargo that is causing them problems. The first of these companies to do this is UPS, with rumors of FedEx considering doing the same. If other transportation carriers follow suit it would mean that all solid rocket motors would be nigh impossible to ship legally within the US. The would include even the very small Estes model rocket engines and motors under 62.5 grams of propellant. More information and detail can be found here at: 

It really gets me mad when I see stuff like this. Something like model rocketry has nothing to do with terrorism nor does it have any ability to truly threaten American's safety when they are used. I wish stuff like this wouldn't happen but I guess airline safety was just the precursor to far more stupid restrictions on our lives.

-Dan S.

The purpose of government is to hire and pay government employees; why are you astonished that they will think of ever more ingenious ways to show they are needed and need to hire their friends and relatives and increase the size of the payroll?

Freedom and liberty aren't Heaven and don't solve all problems. They're just freedom and liberty. And they don't pay government payrolls.

And Paul Walker

I could be wrong, but isn't this a little over the top? 

No comment needed.

....Niven's imagination made manifest.....

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: 


'DENIM' SOLAR PANELS TO CLOTHE FUTURE BUILDINGS By Jenny Hogan New Scientist February 15, 2003 

Buildings of the future could be "clothed" in a flexible, power-generating material that looks like denim. The Canadian company developing the material says it can be draped over just about any shape -- greatly expanding the number of places where solar power can be generated.

The inventors hope their power-generating material will enable architects to design complex, curvy buildings that can nevertheless carry solar cells. One day, consumer products such as personal stereos and cellphones might also harness "denim-power" to charge their batteries.

Unlike conventional solar cells, the new, cheap material has no rigid silicon base. Instead, it is made of thousands of inexpensive silicon beads sandwiched between two thin layers of aluminium foil and sealed on both sides with plastic. Each bead functions as a tiny solar cell, absorbing sunlight and converting it into electricity. The aluminium sheets give the material physical strength and act as electrical contacts.


Well, gee, I thought I had a hand in that book, in fact, I thought it was me who went down to my neighbor Ed Begley's house (which is covered with solar cells and even includes a two-axis steerable collector) to tell him we were naming the cloth after him. And it may even have been Steve Barnes who actually wrote in the roll-out cloth although the concept was pretty obvious from other technologies we had given Beowulf's Children...

But I'm used to this sort of thing....

Again no comment needed:

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Thank you, thank you, for your link to the NY Times Magazine article by Ms. Johnson. Never, EVER, have I had my outlook on life so shaken, my pre-conceived opinions held up to such a scathing light, or my prejudices laid out for my own uncomfortable re-examination. This article was absolutely brilliant. At once kind, scathing, non-judgmental, philosophical and open minded, it stands as a monument to rational thinking for all of us everywhere. Reading it made me ashamed of the thoughts and opinions that I have held regarding disabilities. Thank you, and all blessings upon Ms. Johnson.

Larry McGinn


Subject: Domestication

I was under the impression that there were a number of species that were still in the process of full domestication.

The one that comes to mind first is Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps), which are marsupials from Australia. In nature, they are gregarious, which means they have good potential for domestication, unfortunately, nobody has figured out how to litter-train them yet.

More info on Sugar Gliders:

I think the question of what purpose domestication of a given animal has is a much more compelling argument. Who WANTS a pet wolverine? For that matter, evidently skunks are good pets, but I don't know many people willing to keep one.

Anne Guglik

Gotta be a hard charger, 'cause life is smokin'.









This week:


read book now


Saturday, February 22, 2003

Because I got a bit behind on mail, I have gone back and posted various letters in the contexts they refer to rather than doing it sequentially. You may think you have read all about a subject when you haven't. Take a look at the Highlights, and you may see items you hadn't seen before.

And we have some older mail that should have got up earlier.

Dear Dr. Pournelle

There is a very salutary lesson to be learned from General Colin Powell’s speech to the UN. A lesson that Europe needs to learn, quickly.

Powell is not a “Hawk”, he has, in the past, been viewed as quite the opposite. As every soldier, he has no wish for war unless it is absolutely necessary. He was perhaps the man most responsible for holding back against Saddam in the Gulf War, the reason? The reason is that he believes in the international community, in the UN (personally I have my doubts about them), there was no mandate to remove Saddam (pity really). Powell believes that America should be part of the world community and that the UN should, ought to, work. He doesn’t want the US to return to the isolationist way it has been in the past. We in Europe and the rest of the world for that matter need the US. It is a shame then that France Germany China and Russia are putting there own countries financial interests ahead of the greater good that they continually espouse, somewhat hypocritical is it not? The very thing they accuse the US of.

Saddam has been in breach of every resolution against him since 1991, and a good few before that. The onus is on him to prove that he doesn’t have these weapons; he is cheating and lying, as he always has done. No one can doubt he had them, most assume he still has, all he has to do is prove he doesn’t. What is so difficult for “old Europe” to understand?

The US went through the UN after 9-11, a restraint that a few of us here in Britain would not have shown, and again the UN in the case of Saddam. Again if France et al think that the US are “cowboys”, why go through the hassle of the UN? Because the US are a responsible nation, they want to be part of the world community and not to return to the isolationist ways of the 30’s. And we need the US, an isolationist US condemns the rest of us to an economic and security nightmare. France’s ego should just have to grow up and live with the fact that they have never been really important since Napoleon, and he lost, ok WW1, but WW2 undid any kudos they earned then.

The real cowboys are France et al. If they continue to insist on appeasement, presumably for favours they think Saddam or his chums may bestow (more arms sales, or precursors to chem./bio weapons?) then what incentive does Saddam or his cronies have to change their behaviour. The west is weak, divided, we just sit tight and they will give up, it happened before, they’ll run away again; I can just hear them laughing.

These “old Europe” cowboys though just haven’t thought it through; if the UN, the world community that Powell believes in, doesn’t act on it’s own resolutions; the US and a few allies will go it alone (and win), the UN will cease to be a credible body (in darker moments i sometimes I wonder if it ever was). As a result the US will return to its isolationist status of the 30’s, who will lose? Us, the Europeans, Russia, and the developing countries worldwide that are aided UN money, so much of which comes from the worlds richest nation.

It is funny, in a sad way, that these “appeasers” accuse the US of endangering the UN, when that is exactly what their own sycophantic tendencies are doing.

So much for enlightened self interest,,,,, just blind self interest.


Ian Innes

Scotland UK.


Hello Dr. Pournelle,

I'm an engineering grad student at the University of Washington in Seattle, specializing in aerospace structures, and I have a particular interest in low-cost resuable launchers. After reading about project HAVE REGION on your Mail page, I've been trying to find information on what work was done and what sort of structural performance was obtained. Unfortunately, I've pretty much drawn a blank; a Google search only showed that such a project existed and had to do with structures, and there seems to be no information in the Aerospace & High Technology Database or the NASA Technical Report Server (no surprise there, since it wasn't a NASA project).

Are the results from this work still classified? If not, do you have any pointers to where I might learn more?

Thank you,

--Grady Lemoine

P.S. I'm looking forward to your next book. _Fallen Angels_ was one of the things that inspired me to become an aerospace engineer.

-------------------- Grady Lemoine Graduate student Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics University of Washington --------------------

I only got briefings from the study, so some parts were unclassified but the study itself at one time was classified. I don't know the status now.

We have been having a reasonably "vigorous" (hee hee) discussion of the Shuttle crash at the Analog board.  (Maybe you lurk there--I started a thread "dedicated" to your Chaos Manor site.)

I'm glad to see that my initial reaction to the Shuttle crash was (independently) similar to yours. I'm not an aviation expert, but I've spent time on nuclear subs. There are some interesting analogies between the US nuclear sub program and the NASA shuttle program. Based on my training and experience, I had two basic reactions to the incident:

A. NASA lacks the type of "stare the facts in the face" culture of accountability that NR has. This caused several faults which led to the crash.

B. The proper analogy for the Space Shuttle or Space Station is NOT a fighter plane. It is a submarine (or more broadly a ship). Humans have great capacity to fix things underway (either with normal repair/replacement materials, with damage control equipment, or with innovative at-the-moment fixes). We need to design, train, and operate with a damage control/"operate in space" mind-set. Crews should not be as inexperienced as the Columbia crew (and as politically comprised). We need to continuously learn how to operate in space.


In addition, I would recommend all your readers go back and re-read Dick Feynman's account of his investigation of the Challenger incident in SO WHAT DO YOU CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK. Some of the problems that he found appear to still be here. That should make sense as there is an easy tendency to allow group-think and politics to erode accountability and integrity. Dick Feynman had never worked with Rickover, but he had experience with a complex technical project during the Manhattan Project. It is probably MORE difficult to drive thoughtfulness and accountability than the reverse. So we need to be much more diligent in doing so. And much more harsh in our strictures.

And Henry Vanderbilt on SSTO and unexamined assumptions:

Jerry, I can appreciate the irritation you must feel over your anonymous mainstream aerospace correspondent; he is to a considerable extent a prisoner of unexamined assumptions, and he seems to be taking you (us) to task for failing to treat these assumptions as laws of physics.

To sum up, it's not news that an SSTO requires that *everything* aside from propellant - structure, payload, engines, orbital maneuvering reserves, reentry and landing provisions, the pilot's lunch - fit into something ranging from roughly one-eighth to one-sixteenth of the gross liftoff mass, depending on propellant choice and engine performance. All else, 88% to 94% of liftoff mass, must be propellant. Payload, if any, must fit into the remaining 6% to 12% of GLOW. [And in early models that is likely to be around 1% of GLOW. JEP]

Nobody I know says that engineering such a system to carry a useful payload with a useful vehicle life in a practical vehicle size at an affordable cost is easy. Indeed, NASA has provided us with multiple demonstrations that under its habitual space-launch system development model (contractor-in-every-district mass-assault engineering with a major extraneous-agenda burden) weights and costs will reliably grow to impractical levels, whether the goal is SSTO or not.

Your correspondent bases his modeling on assumptions derived from historical experience with this system, produces a spreadsheet that shows impractical weights and costs, and asserts this proves SSTO impractical.

In fact, what he proves is something we knew back in 1988 when we steered what became DC-X away from NASA: SSTO (indeed, cheap space transportation in general) is impractical *within the existing NASA-Industrial complex*.

I can't blame a fish for not realizing there are environments other than the water it swims in, but your correspondent really ought to be able to think things through a bit further than the average fish. Other better space-launch development environments are possible. Easy to achieve, no, no more than radically-cheaper reusable space launch systems are easy to engineer. But neither is impossible. And (plug time) anyone who wants to learn more about the possibilities should come to our next conference, April 24-26 in Scottsdale AZ. ( )

Henry Vanderbilt Executive Director, Space Access Society

Precisely. It's not so much irritation as dismay: I feel the way Max Hunter must have felt when Arthur Clarke began his campaign against SDI with incorrect assumptions. I think you were not there the day that Arthur came into a council meeting to see Max ready to oppose him, and exclaimed "But Max, I learned everything I know about celestial mechanics from you!" Whereupon Max said, gently, "I didn't teach you enough, Arthur."

That's how I feel: I didn't teach enough in Step Farther OUT and Strategy of Technology.

Or, I have become entirely senile; but if so, then all the other signers of the 1988 SSX report including Max Hunter and Gordon Woodcock and Chuck Lindley and the rest had become senile too...

Our briefing to Quayle had a chart on potential problems. The first item on that chart was "Capture by NASA." Had NASA been put in charge of DC/X it would not have been built, nor ever flown. When NASA did get control of SSTO development the result was X-33. NASA simply cannot do X projects. It has forgotten how, or even what X Projects are.

NASA can do, and sometimes does, space science. Not space technology development. Space science. But the glory days of expanding space technology are gone, and NASA will never regain them.

I have recently been dismayed to learn that we probably have no aerospace team left in the US that would be capable of building a 600,000 GLOW multi-engine savable SSX for flight testing. No one. If we wish to revive the X projects we will have to start smaller and build new teams that relearn lessons we once knew.

I hate that, and I would love to be proven wrong; but my advisors estimate that a more modest system with the goal of savable, reusable, and capable of Mach 12 for 1 minute as a Thermal Protection System testbed would be about right now; useful, within our capabilities, and leading to teams able to do more ambitious projects. 

I would still like to see a 600,000 pound GLOW SSX, but I would be satisfied with the Mach 12 savable and reusable TPS test system as a preliminary step. But we better get to that or we may lose that capability too.

None of this is expensive compared to the cost of a war; the whole thing would cost less than was wasted on X-33. It is cheap compared with continued reliance on Shuttle.

"did anyone approach Douglas with this proposal?"

Having worked for McDonnell Douglas for 13 years during which I watched their airliner business go from 48% of the market to 0% (bought out by Boeing), I couldn't let this comment go by without comment.

The whole reason there is no longer a company called McDonnell Douglas is that our management completely lacked any tolerance whatsoever for risk. We built excellent vehicles, but management turned down each and every opportunity in the late 80s and throughout the 90s to drive forward into the future. This, in the aerospace business, is pure death.

Sure, there were lots of other problems with the company but it was risk-aversion that guaranteed that McD-D would eventually die in its sleep.

Owen Strawn

Indeed. Thanks.







This week:


read book now


Sunday, February 23, 2003

Subject: Macauley Essays

I have a 1854 book, it has a leather bound cover and inside it is written in hand : T. W. C. Master from his affectionate friend, Mrs Ridley Harrow July 1860

Critical and Historical Essays, contributed to the Edinburgh Review. by Thomas Babington Macaulay This is Vol. 1

London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1854 Do you know if this is worth anything of value and where might I find out?

Thanks Michaele Atkins

Michaele Atkins []


I post this letter because it is typical and illustrates many things.

 First, it is typical of the age of the Internet. Even a dozen years ago this letter would not have been sent. My correspondent wouldn't have found me, to begin with. I am guessing, but I would imagine she did a Google search on Macauley and found my site because I have posted The Lays of Ancient Rome here. I did that because at the time I posted the Lays (there are four, the most famous of which is Horatius at the Bridge) were not easily found, and I think are unduly neglected and ought to be more widely read. That in itself is worth an essay on communications in the modern age. Jacques Barzun pointed out in the first edition of Teacher In America that sharing a common cultural heritage makes communication not only quicker, but in many cases possible. But that's another subject.


In any event I did post Macauley here in hopes that someone would read and appreciate him, and in due season I received a message inquiring about the possible value of a rare book. Incidentally, the answer to the two questions asked are "no" and "no": I have no idea of the value of the book, nor any special expertise in finding out what that value should be. Moreover, I have no reason to think I have ever encouraged anyone to think I would know such things: surely it is possible to recommend the works of a well known 19th Century essayist without being an expert on the value of 19th Century books in general?


So: as I said, even a dozen years ago it would be unlikely that I would ever get this inquiry. While it is true enough that in my BYTE columns I have always recommended works of general cultural interest, anyone who is a regular reader wouldn’t expect me to be an expert on rare book pricing, and likely would not write to ask, although I did get a few similar letters, all answered by the excellent BYTE staff in Peterborough before being passed along to me in batches. It was and is my conceit to read all mail sent to me, although I have never pretended to answer it all. Now, though, if it is going to be answered, it will have to be answered by me. There’s no one else to do it, although I will sometimes forward a letter to someone who knows more than I do about a subject.

 But in general, people didn’t send paper mail letters to strangers, because there weren’t so many convenient ways to get their paper mail addresses, and sending paper mail took effort and cost money. I’d never have got this letter in those days.


Now, though, a quick Internet inquiry turns up the fact that I once read Macauley, and 30 seconds time sends me an inquiry. It’s not an unreasonable question. After all, I might know even if there’s no indication on my web site that I do or don’t. And, after all, it won’t take up much of my time: a second or two to open the mail, ten or fifteen seconds to read it, a few seconds to decide I can’t help. A few more seconds to open a mail reply, a few seconds to think of a polite way to say I can’t help, and it’s off. The whole thing shouldn’t take more than half a minute. Not a terrible imposition.


Except of course that it is a typical letter, and I get a dozen like it each day, many of them much longer and requiring a lot more time: in that sense this one isn’t typical because it is so easily dealt with. But fifty of them in a week is half an hour, sometimes more, and it’s a half hour of distraction, of not thinking about things that are worth thinking about.


Isaac and the Internet


My late friend and colleague Isaac Asimov never had an unlisted telephone number. He said “Anyone who pretends to know everything should at least be available for questions and challenges.” And sure enough, Janet tells me, Isaac would get half a dozen calls in a month, mostly from school children whose teachers had put them up to calling, and sometimes from readers who wanted to argue points, because Isaac really did pretend to know everything, and sometimes he was dead wrong (as he would, not often, admit privately to friends). Once in a while he’d even change his views as a result of a challenge from a reader.

 But that was telephone calls and snail mail. Isaac died before the Internet got well established. I can just imagine him trying to answer all his email; like H. P. Lovecraft, who slowly starved to death trying to keep up with all his fan mail. Lovecraft wasn’t a fast writer, even when answering mail, so even keeping up with paper mail took so much time that he couldn’t write pay copy. Isaac was the fastest writer I ever knew, and also one of the few writers I know who liked to write. Most writers hate to write. We love  to have written, but we don’t much enjoy the physical act of writing (although I admit it has got a lot better since small computers and word processors came along and we don’t have to fight with typewriter ribbons, correction tape, vintage years of White-Out, carbon paper, etc.). Isaac, though, really liked to write, and apparently was never so happy as when he was pounding on the keys. It’s interesting to speculate on what he would have made of the Internet.

Perhaps he would have, as I have, gone to subscriptions. (And I made certain that the inquirer here is not a subscriber; not that I encourage needless chatter from subscribers, but I certainly think they have earned some indulgences. Fortunately most subscribers also value my time.)

 No Real Point

 I don’t suppose I have a real point to all this. I’m hardly angry with the lady for asking a reasonable question, and I suppose I ought to be grateful to her for getting the engine started: she did get me thinking on a subject worth a few minutes thought and comment.


We really do need to evolve some new set of Internet Manners. The Internet is a great resource; but it is also a great waster of resources. Mr. Heinlein so believed in answering all his mail that as he got older he accumulated a bin of “unopened letters,” which he once explained to me was a little less impolite than having them opened and unread, and a lot less impolite than having them opened, read, and unanswered. C. S. Lewis thought it elementary courtesy to answer all mail sent to him. 

Aside: Poul Anderson was fond of quoting Ogden Nash. 
"Why is it no one ever says, 'wheee!
The next round of unanswered letters is on me!'"


I was brought up to believe that one ought to answer all mail, too, but I can’t do it. I can still, barely, read most mail sent to me, although I confess I don’t read ALL of EVERY letter: some start off so badly that I don’t bother to finish them. In particular I rarely finish letters that begin with inquiries that could have been answered by a minutes’ look on my web site. I also find less than compelling mail that begins by informing me not that I am wrong – that happens often, and more often than I like the reader has a very good point – but that I am stupid, willfully blind, intentionally ignorant, and so forth. I see little point in reading the rest of that kind of mail, because who would write it? Someone convinced I cannot or will not understand an argument is not well advised to continue for another two thousand words making that argument. What’s the point?


Anyway, I have certainly put more into this than the letter deserved, and please, my intent was not to belittle the writer who has a good question of some importance; alas it is importance only to her, and I can’t help her.

I would advise her in future that it is usually considered polite to employ a salutation in these letters.

I received a nice letter along with a renewal:

Hi Jerry,

I'm happy to get my renewal to you.  I dropped a check into today's mail.  I appreciate what you are doing with the ChaosManor site.  I find that there is always something interesting going on when I stop by.  I start with an interest in computers and computing, but there is a lot going on in our world, and it is good to follow the discussions that lead us far from the simple workings of these electronic tools.  In the computing world the questions have answers, in the larger world the answers are not always evident.  I'm glad to support a place where the easy questions and the hard ones both get our attention.

Which is pretty close to what I am trying to do. Thanks.

On another subject:


Subject: that good 'ol boy Chirac

Dear Dr Pournelle,
    Did you see this note by a couple with French names (ELEANOR and MICHEL LEVIEUX) on the New York Times website (at <

"Did President Jacques Chirac of France actually tell half of Europe to shut up last week? Was he scolding a bunch of unruly children?

Not exactly. Translating the nuances of the "language of diplomacy," as French was once known, can be très difficile.

Although France and Germany have stood at the forefront of European resistance to the Bush administration's position on Iraq, 13 East European countries have expressed support for the United States. They include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, already accepted by the European Union as future members, and 10 others, most of them candidates for membership."

    Hm. Translating any language to another is very difficult, but I spent a considerable amount of time in France and a dozen years learning the language and literature, along with a strong dose of the French approach to logic and mathematics. At that time, I was also aware of a demagogue called Jacques Chirac whose chauvinism was exceeded only by his ambition. An outburst of that nature would have been entirely in character, but the Times correspondents seemed to be saying that he really had not told those bolshie Baltics to keep quiet.


    The reason French was the language of diplomacy had a lot to do with geography ("c'est le pays le plus vaste de l'Europe"), location, military power, and population (20 million people at a time the UK had only five million). But the biggest reason was that there was an academy regulating the use of the language and a national determination to keep it comprehensible, even to Eastern barbarians. Antoine Rivarol could assert that "Tout ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français" - If it's not clear, it's not French.

    When I first heard in the media about Chirac's undiplomatic outburst, I imagined that he used se taire, literally "to keep quiet". It did occur to me that street slang for "shut up!" would be something like "Ta gueule!", ie. "[Shut] your animal mouth!". But reason instantly rejected street slang as unlikely from a president of the French republic, even such a one as Chirac.  So what did Chirac actually say? According to the Times correspondents,
    "Mr. Chirac said that these countries "ont manqué une bonne occasion de se taire," rendered in part of the American and British press as "missed a good opportunity to shut up."

But Mr. Chirac's words were a significant notch above that level of discourse. To be sure, he could have been quite formal and said "ont manqué une bonne occasion de s'absentir de tout commentaire" ("refrain from making any comment"), or "garder le silence" or "se garder de s'exprimer" ("keep silent" or "say nothing"). And of course, he also could have taken a much lower road and said "ont manqué une bonne occasion de fermer leur gueule" or "de la fermer"), which would indeed mean "to shut up." The verb Mr. Chirac chose, "se taire," was neither elegant nor rude, simply neutral."

    All I can say is, you could have fooled me. I have heard or overheard more times than I care to count the words taisez-vous! or tais-toi! from a parent to an unruly child, a lecturer to a student, or a CRS flic to a protester. It is precisely the word to use if one wishes to communicate a sense of impatience from one in charge to others who are not. I'd write to the editors of the Times if I could figure out how from their website. Not that it would do any good. Clear language or not, people will hear what they want to hear.

Regards, TC

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


Dear Jerry,

I was interested to read your note about Isaac Asimov answering telephone calls from fans.

I grew up in Waltham, MA where he lived one time years ago, in the early 50s.

A friend of mine, also a fan of Asimov, pointed out the house one day (Lowell Street, I think it was.) A few weeks later I saw him on the street near that house, but wouldn't dare approach him to even say hello. It was unthinkable to violate the privacy of such a renowned person unless invited. I would have been twelve or thirteen years old then.

Times change, and customs with them.

Translating from or into French can be a problem. Cartoon character Homer Simpson calls the French "a bunch of cheese-eating surrender-monkeys."

The phrase has caught on in some quarters of the United States lately, given the diplomatic situation.

I understand that French newspapers are having a terrible time translating that delightful English into their language.

Larry May Cambridge, MA


We have a letter from Owen Strawn on SSTO, and I have put it up with the actual thread.












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