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Mail 252 April 7 - 13, 2003






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Monday  April 7, 2003

See the SETI Warning last weekend, and here is another urgent warning from Roland Dobbins. If you use SAMBA, READ THIS. Warning. It is LONG and unformatted: (to skip this mail, click here)

Please post ASAP, thanks!

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Erik Parker <>

> Date: Mon Apr 7, 2003 12:45:16 AM US/Pacific

> To:

> Subject: [DDI-1013] Buffer Overflow in Samba allows remote root

> compromise



> Hash: SHA1

> Digital Defense Inc. Security Advisory DDI-1013



> |----------------------------------------------------------------------

> --------|


> Synopsis : Buffer Overflow in Samba allows remote root

> compromise

> Package : Samba, Samba-TNG

> Type : Remote Root Compromise

> Issue date : 04-07-2003

> Versions Affected : < Samba 2.2.8a, <= Samba 2.0.10, < Samba-TNG 0.3.2

> Not Affected : Samba 3.0 Alpha Versions, CVS Versions of Samba-TNG

> CVE Id : CAN-2003-0201


> |----------------------------------------------------------------------

> o Product description:

> Samba is an Open Source/Free Software suite that provides seamless

> file and

> print services to SMB/CIFS clients. Samba-TNG was originally a fork

> off of

> the Samba source tree, and aims at being a substitute for a Windows

> NT domain

> controller.


> o Problem description:

> An anonymous user can gain remote root access due to a buffer

> overflow caused

> by a StrnCpy() into a char array (fname) using a non-constant length

> (namelen).


> StrnCpy(fname,pname,namelen); /* Line 252 of smbd/trans2.c */


> In the call_trans2open function in trans2.c, the Samba StrnCpy

> function

> copies pname into fname using namelen. The variable namelen is

> assigned the

> value of strlen(pname)+1, which causes the overflow.


> The variable 'fname' is a _typedef_ pstring, which is a char with a

> size of

> 1024. If pname is greater than 1024, you can overwrite almost

> anything you

> want past the 1024th byte that fits inside of sizeof(pname), or the

> value

> returned by SVAL(inbuf,smbd_tpscnt) in function reply_trans2(),

> which should

> be around 2000 bytes.


> The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) project has assigned

> the name

> CAN-2003-0201 to this issue. This is a candidate for inclusion in

> the CVE

> list (, which standardizes names for security

> problems.



> o Testing Environment:

> Tested against source compiles and binary packages of Samba from

> version

> 2.2.5 to 2.2.8 on the following x86 platforms:


> Redhat Linux 7.1, 7.3, 8.0

> Gentoo Linux 1.4-rc3

> SuSe Linux 7.3

> FreeBSD 4.6, 4.8, 5.0

> Solaris 9



> o Solutions and Workarounds:

> Upgrading to the latest version of Samba or Samba-TNG is the

> recommended

> solution to this vulnerability. Samba version 2.2.8a, and Samba-TNG

> version

> 0.3.2 are not vulnerable. There will be no new releases for the 2.0

> line of

> Samba code. The only fix for Samba 2.0 is to apply the patches that

> Samba is

> providing.


> A workaround in the current source code for this specific

> vulnerability

> would be to modify the StrnCpy line found at line 250 in

> smbd/trans2.c in the

> Samba 2.2.8 source code:


> -StrnCpy(fname,pname,namelen);

> +StrnCpy(fname,pname,MIN(namelen, sizeof(fname)-1));


> As a result of this vulnerability being identified at least three

> others

> have also been found by the Samba team after reviewing similar

> usages in the

> source tree. One is a static overflow and the other two are heap

> overflows.

> Applying the fix above will only protect against the specific

> problem

> identified in this advisory. To fully protect yourself, you must

> apply the

> patches from Samba, or upgrade to 2.2.8a.


> Samba is available for download from:

> Samba-TNG is available for download from:



> o Exploit:

> An exploit named has been posted on the Digital

> Defense, Inc.

> website. A quick udp based based scanner named has also

> been

> posted to assist you in identifying Samba servers on your network.

> Both are

> available for download from the following URL:




> o Forced Release:

> This vulnerability is being actively exploited in the wild. Digital

> Defense,

> Inc. discovered this bug by analyzing a packet capture of an attack

> against a

> host running Samba 2.2.8. The attack captured was performed on

> April 1st,

> 2003. Samba users are urged to check their Samba servers for signs

> of

> compromise. Samba and Digital Defense, Inc. decided to release their

> advisories before all vendors had a chance to update their packages

> due to

> this vulnerability being actively exploited.



> o Revision History:

> 04-07-2003 Initial public release


> Latest revision available at:




> o Vendor Contact Information:

> 04-03-2003 notified

> 04-03-2003 notified.

> 04-03-2003 Samba Team responds via telephone, acknowledges

> vulnerability

> 04-03-2003 Elrond of Samba-TNG responds and acknowledges

> vulnerability

> 04-04-2003 Samba Team notifies vendorsec mailing list

> 04-07-2003 Initial public release


> o Thanks to:

> Elrond of Samba-TNG, The Samba Security Team, and everyone on the

> Digital Defense Inc., SECOPS team.




Roland Dobbins 

As usual there was a lot of good stuff over the weekend. See last week's mail...

Subject: Life imitates a Falkenberg novel


This news from Basra struck me vividly:

"On the other side of the bridge over the Shatt al-Basra canal, Lieutenant William Colquhoun had unpacked his bagpipes and sat on the turret of his Warrior waiting for the order to advance. As the sun attempted to poke through smoke rolling lazily across desolate marshland stretching away on either side of the bridge, wading birds were picking their way among the long grasses.

"As he began to play, the sound of Scotland the Brave drifted across the bridge towards the city, competing with the clatter of rotor blades as four Cobra helicopters raced in to join the attack."

Eerie yet wonderful. It reminds me of the Covenanter soldiers in your Codominium stories, and of John Falkenberg. And it reminds me of Lee's dictum about why it's good that war is so terrible.







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Tuesday,  April 8, 2003

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Attached is a link from the Navy Times regarding a number of "discoveries" made by U.S. troops at one of Uday Hussein's villas. 

Regards, Mark Slover

Neat story. Thanks.

Subject: Madness.

Roland Dobbins

And very logical madness at that. The problem comes from trying to restrict access. I can sympathize with the goals, but I think they are unattainable.

What annoys me is that on the one hand we try to keep people from getting something they want, and on the other restrict local communities from forbidding offensive signs and displays that few if any in the community want, and on the gripping hand prevent local communities from displaying religious matter that most do want.

It all comes from the pursuit of the millennium instead of thinking that governments derive their just powers from consent of the governed. But we have lost that concept somewhere.

Subject: Implications.

From John Derbyshire's site - implications for public-key crypto, one should think:

Roland Dobbins

This will tell more about prime numbers than most people want to know, but yes, there are implications indeed.

Derbyshire is unique among general interest columnists in being a mathematician. I always find him interesting.

Subject: Lasers.

 Roland Dobbins

Good summary. Thanks.

And I can't disagree with a word of this:

Subject: Hydrogen Redux

Jerry :

Reading more in the popular press about the coming "hydrogen economy", I have a profound wish that some of the writers would at least take an undergraduate course in electrochemistry, present educated company excepted from that wish, of course. All of the good thoughts and wishes in the world will not change the basic principles of electrochemistry, but taking a course on the subject might just offer a few folks a touch of knowledge on the subject.

There are fundamental limitations on the amount of hydrogen that can be generated from an electrode of a fixed size. One cannot simply dunk a big wire in water and make all the hydrogen that one wants with increasing power. Simplifying a fair bit, there is a limiting current density (amperes/square centimeter) that can be brought to bear in electrolysis. Above that value for a given solution and electrode, one _can't_ make more hydrogen.

Simplifying again, electrode areas can be increased, banks of electrodes can be employed, and yet, certain characteristics of the solution will require more and more circulation to allow the electrolysis to take place. At a certain point, a given set of electrodes and solution will reach a limiting quantity for the evolution of hydrogen. While there are certain electrodes and solutions that offer greater opportunities for hydrogen evolution than others, limits for those cases still exist, driven by some pretty basic electrochemical interface issues.

People who want to read and learn about this in more detail, including some _lovely_ derivations of the basic principles, can look to one of the definitive texts in the field, "Modern Electrochemistry", Vol. I and 2, by J. O'M. Bockris and A. K. N. Reddy, Plenum Press. There is a section _just_ on the topic of the hydrogen-evolution reaction that captures most of the topics, but it's a fairly high-order discussion requiring solid mathematics and an _excellent_ grasp of chemistry, and thus not for the casual reader.

The development of "hydrogen farms" where hydrogen would be developed from electricity provided from a nearby nuclear power plant is well within our technological capabilities, but setting up plants across the nation is a non-trivial problem with respect to capital costs and the physical resources necessary (think about which precious metals we want to use for electrodes as an example). We've already discussed the logistical issues of hydrogen distribution a week back, but one also has to look at the overhead energy costs associated with the eletrolysis, compression and storage of the hydrogen after electrolysis in developing the economic models.

None of this means that we should not be _actively_ exploring the use of hydrogen, but perhaps we could get one or two of the newspapers to look beyond either wild enthusiasm or outright disdain in their writings. Then again, it may be easier to just build the blasted things than to try and educate (some) newspaper writers on science and engineering.

John P.

This looks to me like a splendid candidate for X Projects. X Projects don't have to be just flying machines... And see below.

Subject: Journalists, the Palestine Hotel & Niven's Laws


Larry Niven's Laws:

1a) Never throw ____ at an armed man. 1b) Never stand next to someone who is throwing ____ at an armed man.

Guess this also applies to being in a building firing on a U.S. tank. I would think that journalists would know better...

Steve Hall Tampa Bay, Florida

Some people don't learn fast... And see below.

And JoAnne Dow on the subject:,3782,1292:300,00.ram 

This is an interesting discussion of news slanting around the world and how it colors opinions. Almost nobody gets raw coverage. This has been quite evident on the raw video uplinks that are converted to real media and broadcast on the web. (Mind the wrap) the sites


are the live Baghdad "webcams" for CBS News and Reuters NL, respectively. It is interesting that the Reuters site cuts away to show rah rah Iraqi images with nothing showing coalition activities except at a distance. Most of the time these are lined up on the Saddam statue in the traffic circle outside the Palestine hotel. It shows the statue, the park, and the 14th of something or other mosque, forever and ever achmed.

As it turns out I was watching and listening at the time the Palestine Hotel was hit. Just before it was hit I heard several series of small arms fire from rather close to the microphone. I say it was rather close not due to its level but rather its lack of "smearing" by echoes. Shortly after there was a massive kaboom and the small arms fire stopped.

It is interesting that nobody in the Hotel is reporting this. Of course, they are rigidly under control of the Information Ministry officials. I heard in some off the air chatter, audio gain turned all the way up, a stray remark to the effect that Baghdad Bobby er Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf had moved the Information Ministry operations to the Palestine Hotel, completely. CNN comes closest to noting this on coverage only today. So anything that gets said that the Information Ministry thinks might get on the air is heavily censored. And I am sure there is leverage applied to the media who may have been continuously recording the feeds to censor these captures in the interests of keeping their reporters safe.

Back to the subject of the slanted coverage I do note that there have been a lot of civilians damaged or killed in this event. I also note that our military at the Centcom briefings for reporters has repeatedly said, "We do not target civilians or the press." The twist that seems to go on the air is that this is supposed to mean our men will refrain from firing on civilians and reporters the same as mosques. Brigadier General Brookes has come out and declared that we WILL fire on these sacred objects IF THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. He is not stressing this lest the Iraqis pick up on it and carry this to an extreme. I do note that we ARE hitting civilians and press in so far as they are between our forces and legitimate targets. Doing anything else is foolish, at least as foolish as the press staying in the ad hoc Information Ministry building and expecting to never be targets. It is, however, clear from the repeated question Brookes faced that the reporters expected zero civilian casualties, furthermore they have no idea of the definition of casualty. The press also appear to consider themselves even more sacrosanct than Mosques and other civilians. I find this rather ingenuous on their part.

So the word comes out of Baghdad rather slanted to begin with because the reporters, regardless of their bravado when formally on screen are scared spitless. (I remember watching one young reporter straighten up a VERY worried expression on his face when it was time for the studio to put him on national TV live. He is still one scared young man, more scared now than he was then.) How can that fail to color their coverage in addition to any management of information they are allowed to display they have. (This same reporter was overheard asking for a feed of the REAL news. And he was not alone in making such requests. Even a goodly percentage of the reporters in that Hotel fail to believe Baghdad Bobby, it would appear.)

Yet, it is noted that much of the European media is carrying the anti war line stressing the civilian casualties and the American failures (like the tank that died on that first incursion into Baghdad.) I am rather convinced that one cannot get an accurate fix on this war from either European sources or the American sources. I get a smattering of the European coverage from the Baghdad Broadcasting Company and Sky News in England. (David Chater is a person in classic denial from hearing his news reporting from the Palestine Hotel. At times he seems to be as far out as Al Sahhaf. BBC seems to not have any of their own reporters actually on site anywhere important.) I note that Fox News appears to be the most jingoistic of the American crowd. It also seems to get it right more often than others once you look back on it from a day or two along the road of history. ABC was such a joke I gave up on it. CNN is "up and down" in their coverage. It is hard to gauge them as their video coverage requires a subscription I don't feel like paying for. Their text coverage is usually as pathetic as Fox's gets in the late evening through early morning hours. As a result the reports from the embeds on FOX and the live camera feeds from the Palestine Hotel are my favored information gathering tools. The former shows what we say our forces are doing. The latter seems to show a remarkable amount of Reuters preferred coverage on their feed as well as both being a goldmine of information from stray conversations that wander within range of the microphones.

Of course, Baghdad Bobby has figured this out, of late. At this moment the Reuters feed is 225kbps of black screen and silence. The CBS feed is showing night vision images of the Mosque across the circle with the sound turned off. I've lost one of my best information sources. Ah well. It was amazing how the audio tended to bolster what was seen from the embeds rather than what was seen from the lips of the esteemed Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf. (Esteemed mostly for his acting ability, I suspect. Is there an Emmy for keeping a straight face under such trying conditions?)


(Of course, Fox would look nicer without O'Riley gloating over the apparent fact that Fox gets it right in hindsight.)

Good observations.

More on Hydrogen

This ongoing discussion of Hydrogen Power is beginning to remind me of the Integratron. ( ) and makes about as much sense.

I think the best analogy I've read is where you compared getting hydrogen from water like getting iron from rust.

Isn't the planet Jupiter composed mostly of methane gas? If we build a really long pipe...

Stephen Borchert

One of these days Niven and I will drive out to The Integration. Thanks. I remind you that we DO get iron from rust. It just takes power. If we have enough electric power, we may well need hydrogen or something like it. Propane may be even more likely. We can make that, too.

Hydrogen may be useful, but as I keep trying to tell people, there are no hydrogen wells.

And see below.









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Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Tax Time: Short Shrift Mode

Dr. Pournelle: The TIS-1 is of course an X project ray gun, not a practical weapon. Just for fun, I ran the numbers and found that it delivers energy on target somewhat more than a .45 ACP, somewhat less than a .357 Magnum. Its recoil is about 50% greater than firing a .458 Winchester Magnum (elephant gun cartridge) in a similar weight rifle. The .458 WM delivers about 10X the energy on target.

Looks like we have quite a ways to go before we get directed-energy personal defense weapons. I'll keep my Colt 1991A1.

Frank D. Sauer 

 Ad Astra

Indeed. Power sources are always a problem with energy weapons, which are likely to be crew served for use against large targets for some time to come. Personal Ray guns and disintegrators are a ways out yet.


I'm no expert, but this sounds like a really good idea to me.

-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"


Hydrogen One more time

Subject: Hydrogen Redux Squared

Jerry :


Mr. Borchert and I are obviously discussing somewhat different issues <warm smile>. Perhaps I can clarify just a bit, although this may be another version of the comment, "Just one last time... Again."

Hydrogen, as you've pointed out severally, is not an intrinsically available energy source like coal or crude petroleum. It is instead a system for energy storage and/or transmission. The use of hydrogen is no more or no less effective than a number of other energy systems. It's important to understand that prior to the widespread introduction of alternating current systems, electrical power was transmitted by direct current with runinous transmission losses.

Hydrogen isn't a terribly inefficient source for energy in certain respects. We can create it from electrical generation with nuclear sources, thus cutting the putatively awful greenhouse gases of such concern to Kyoto signatories. Hydrogen combustion doesn't yield greenhouse gases, but instead, water. Hydrogen fuel cell systems allow for reconversion to electricity with a reasonably high efficiency level.

And what other methods do we have for storing electrical energy generated in non-peak periods? Conversion of the electricity to create an increased water head with reservoirs that is then reconverted to electricity with turbines has appreciable losses. Spinning up and then down flywheels has appreciable losses, not to mention the quite intriguing engineering associated with large masses in high-speed movement. Batteries have very limited capacities, certain inefficiencies (anyone who needs data on that should read yesterday's cited reference), and bulk batteries have a plethora of issues about heavy metals to address in fabrication, operation, and eventual disposal.

The development of effective methods of storing electricity from power plants from non-peak periods is the real X-Project here, Jerry. As you're well aware, we simply cannot economically build power plants that have large excess capacity for certain short peak demand periods. Building nuclear plants and using the developed electricity to create either storage energy or transportable energy (and they're not always the same) is the critical need. Hydrogen is just one option, albeit somewhat attractive. As you've pointed out, we have other alternatives...

As an aside, anyone who thinks that the gasoline in their car is just quickly and easily processed from crude oil needs to look with open eyes at modern refinery operations. The salts/metals removal, initial distillation, catalytic treatments, and all the subsequent distillations use a large amount of energy. An integrated refinery uses many "waste" streams as fuel for the overall operation, but also draws a substantial amount of electricity from the grid. There's a very good overview of this to be found on the OSHA website at :  . Most of the processes discussed run at enhanced temperatures and pressures, all of which require an energy input to develop. The energy efficiencies of modern refineries are much improved from days gone by, but making fuel products for the marketplace still uses a substantial amount of energy, even if that's reclaimed from burning some constituents of the crude feedstock.

In fact, there are precious few processes to "make" energy, or perhaps more accurately, transfer energy, that do not require a substantial energy input for their function. Holding aside the rather large energy input required for the manufacture of all of the components in purified metals and alloys, most systems require energy just to start. The coils for a turbine generator system require an initial energization to function, and thus "black starts" when an entire system goes down are exciting moments for those of us present to witness them. Sadly, we don't have Scotty handy in the engine room to transfer "auxiliary power" at those moments.

As for making iron from rust, aside from the issues of the relative energies of oxidation between hydrogen and iron, the temperature conditions for running that reaction are typically in the 900K - 2000K temperature range, depending on just what type of rust-to-iron reaction one wants to pursue. I'd personally prefer running a hydrogen evolution system at STP or close to that, but then I'm the kind of engineer and scientist who likes to run practical experiments in my shirtsleeves... and then use the computer models to refine and improve my designs.

John P.

It's always a good idea to check with people who do this sort of thing. Incidentally, I am finally arranging to bring out a new edition of A Step Farther Out. It will be a limited hardbound edition mostly the same as the old one -- not much seems to have changed -- but with some commentary.

And I have cobbled up Two Steps Farther Out from some other Galaxy columns. I have been greatly aided in this by readers, and I'll have some acknowledgments reasonably soon.

Hydrogen is an energy storage and distribution system, a lot more friendly than pumped storage (a lake that changes depth on a diurnal cycle is often neither pretty nor very good for fish) and with proper fuel cells a way to use electricity in mobile systems without batteries. But there aren't any hydrogen wells...

Mostly we need a series of X projects in energy. It's about time.


Subject: Privacy Watchdog Announces Winners of Competition to Find the World's Most Stupid Security Measure

Some of them are quite humorous and others quite scary: 

-- --- herb

A much needed prize...


Subject:  Due Process Vanishes in Thin Air

Dear Jerry,

The Tyranny of the Bureaucracy:,1848,58386,00.html 

And they want more databases, and more data mining, and longer lists...

...but where's the accountability?

The system our government is creating is a system for controlling people, for making it impossible to travel without government permission. As these systems spread, as they gather more and more data, I predict (based on past performance) more an more "choke-points", where our living of our lives can be stopped cold arbitrarily.

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


Subject: And So It Begins - 

I'm afraid that these are only the beginning....

Secret hearings, detention without due process, presumption of guilt.

Yet we can't use profiling to avoid searching 70 year old grandmothers, nor can we charge protestors disrupting military supply lines with treason.,1848,58386,00.html,2100,58382,00.html 

As you say, "But we were Born Free"

The questions is: Is it too late?

Doug Lhotka

Too late for what?  To restore the old republic? Probably. To build some safeguards into the New Republic before it becomes a straight empire? Probably not. Eternal Vigilance and all that.

Subject: Perhaps they have learned the lesson?


While there is much more to the article, this struck me immediately:

"If Washington merely suspects that terrorists may one day emerge from your land, or that you might in future threaten your neighbors, you have only two options: You change course and shape up, or you are finished as a governing regime. If you behave as Baghdad behaved, defying the new rules of the game, you suffer the same fate as Baghdad is suffering."

Vraiment, c'est pour encourager les autres.

BTW, thanks for the "104th Chariborne" tag -- folks here at work loved it! "Oh look, the 104th Chariborne is on again!"

Steve Howell

It is certainly the lesson we should be teaching. I wish I could claim to have originated the 104th Chairborne appellation, but I confess I saw it somewhere, I forget where. Oscar Wilde: "I wish I had said that." Friend "Don't worry, Oscar, within an hour you will have."


Joanne Dow's observations of the reporting of this war were quite interesting, and match the conclusions I've come to in my limited viewing of it.

One extremely interesting bit was pointed out by a Fox anchor Monday night, just after the Al Jazeera cameraman was killed. Most of the news programs have shown the footage from his camera showing the tanks on the bridge, then the explosion as the camera is knocked over.

What I haven't seen in the other reporting of this incident is what that camera shows in the moments just before that explosion: There is some smoke, and objects being thrown up into the air in front of the camera. I single-framed through it on my PVR, and the objects are very clearly shell casings. Big ones, seemed like maybe .50 BMG size. The Al Jazeera cameraman was apparantly just above and behind someone firing a machine gun at the tanks.

Like I said, the Fox anchor pointed this out. He had the production people remove that huge obnoxious banner from the bottom of the screen so it would be more visible when he replayed it.

The Oakland Fox affiliate reported on the deaths of the reporters and the accusations and denials about them being targeted. They showed the few seconds of footage with the shell casings popping up in front of the camera, and later, after some commentary that did not mention this evidence that this camera was positioned practially right on top of a machine gun, showed the camera being blown over.

But the local newsreader never mentioned this evidence that this cameraman, at least, was not just in the same building as someone shooting at our people, but was in fact right on top of the machine gun.

Mike van Pelt

-- The only meaningful memorial, the only one that will really count, will be when there are streets, tunnels, living and working quarters named after each of those astronauts--and those who will yet die in this effort--in permanently occupied stations on the moon, on Mars, in the asteroid belt, and beyond. -- Bruce F. Webster


Subject: 104th Chairborne

Dear Jerry,

You probably picked it up from your years associated with the military and military folks. It is (or at least was, in pre-PC times) in common usage, as were "Remington Raiders" (named for the brand of typewriter commonly used), etc.

I know that when I joined the Army in back in 1980 (*sigh*), we used the term "Chairborne Rangers" in some of our PT cadences to razz the admin troops. It was old then.

But your usage is nonetheless inspired and incisive, and I think effectively adapting and using a theme counts at for least nearly as much as originating it.

Perhaps someone artistically inclined could come up with a shoulder patch? :-)


Gordon Runkle

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



I am a Reactor Operator at a nuclear plant. It seems to me that there is only two sources of power that could be produce cheaply enough to support a Hydrogen economy, nuclear fission and Solar Power Satellites. The problem is that to make either practical would require a 180 degree change in political reality. SPS would require Space without NASA and Nukes would require reprocessing with out the current regulatory environment.

The NRC provides a vital function but without any construction they have ratcheted. down the regulations to such an extent that operating a plant has become an exercise in showmanship. Meanwhile the public hears stories of 'troubled' plants that are being operated better than anything anywhere has ever been. The capacity of the nukes was steadily increasing as they became better operated until recently. Now age and increasingly rigorous regulations are starting to reverse that trend.

With reprocessing running a modern plant would produce power at $.015 a kw/hr or less. Refueling cost would be like buying a $20 tank of gas and getting a $15 refund from your last tank.

It will never happen here.

The current distraction spent its clout. if any.

I daily see security guards with mini-14's and Glocks being pat searched as they enter for weapons????

Good luck with you books put a link to Amazon when they are out so I can pay you twice. :>)

Tom W

Thanks. I can't disagree...

Now for something Important:

This is a comment on the article submitted by Steve R. Hastings about the Permanent Fund in Alaska.

I live in Andrews, TX -- although you have probably never heard of it, Andrews produced more oil and gas than anywhere in the world early last century. Unfortunately, no Permanent Fund type provisions were made back then and every dollar of the enormous taxes collected were spent by state and local governments. Today Andrews is a sleepy little town subsisting on the left-overs of the oil boom. I hope the US will do something like the Permanent Fund for Iraq.

John Carmody 

Murphy was an optimist.

An extremely good point. But for now the need is to get oil flowing and some money into the Iraqi middle class.

Subject: War Poetry

Just found this -

You may have already seen it. If not, I urge you to read the poem,by Frederick Turner, you will find at the end of this link.

Turner is the Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities, University of Texas at Dallas who spoke out in opposition to the so-called 'poets against the war' some weeks ago. Tim

 tmorris@ tmorris@


Hello Dr Pournelle

I saw this in a Washington Post article and went to find the full version for myself.

The following is a portion of an opinion column in TheDailyStar (Lebanese) on line:

Much as most of us oppose this American policy, a realistic reading of the policy must conclude that the sacking of Baghdad is designed to send signals to all other Middle Eastern and Asian regimes that the US finds annoying, threatening, distasteful, worrisome, or even just a little strange. You don’t have to directly threaten the US to be attacked by the US, according to the new rules of the game now being explained to the world through the televised display of Mesopotamian show-and-tell. If Washington merely suspects that terrorists may one day emerge from your land, or that you might in future threaten your neighbors, you have only two options: You change course and shape up, or you are finished as a governing regime. If you behave as Baghdad behaved ­ defying the new rules of the game ­ you suffer the same fate as Baghdad is suffering. Allowing UN inspections means nothing any more, because Washington has sacked the UN and Baghdad at the same time.

Full article at

Perhaps not as clear as "Niven's Law" but the message is being heard!

Also, suppose Debkafile is right and Saddam or other senior officials of Iraq are in a hotel in Latakiya is there any reason that Bashar al-Asad shouldn't be awakened by the sound of Tomahawks coming to visit his friends? Bush said it quite plainly in his post 9-11 speech the time has come to choose your friends and if Bashar al-Asad wants to stand that close to his friend he should learn the wrath of an armed man.

Thanks Bob Oliver

Niven's Laws. Larry is here and adds that perhaps there's an intelligence test as well. Think of it as evolution in action...

Dear Doctor,

I was watching the news last night when footage of the Abrams tank shooting at the Palestine Hotel was aired, and noted that only cameramen were killed. It got me to thinking how much a shoulder mounted video camera must resemble a shoulder mounted RPG in the "fog of war".

Perhaps Larry Niven's Law should have the additional caveat:

Don't point a cylindrical object at a tank during a battle.

Jon Eveland

Think of that as evolution in action fur certain...


Joanne Dow referred to Fox as being the most jingoistic of the news sources available. I'm intrigued by the use of the word. Except for commentators with known biases (Sean Hannity, very conservative, and Bill O'Reilly with his "no one else's spin zone"), Fox news seems to be passing along news as they get it.

Is "jingoistic" perhaps a word meaning "more favorably slanted toward America than I feel like being"? If so, what would count as not "jingoistic"? Wall-to-wall coverage of the fourteen noncombatants who were killed when Saddam's dinner meeting was bombed, with color photos and lots of hand wringing? All told, the US armed forces have done an incredible amount, with a remarkably small number of casualties. Is reporting this somehow suspect?

...........Karl Lembke

"We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do,
we've got the men, we've got the guns, we've got the money too..."

Jingoism can be defined various ways, but that's the origin, from a previous time. You can think of it as an aggressive "Don't tread on me," although that isn't the way it's used by modern journalists.


I remember reading your comment about the problems of a republic with an all volunteer army. It was brought home to me yesterday by an interesting comment. I was having a conversation with my 81 year old mother concerning why there is no big hurray for our troops, just general good wishes. Then my mother states, "they (the troops)are really not like your father, (he had his service medals displayed in the den) they are professionals, that is their job." It turns out the only person she knows with someone in the service is an acquaintance from church, whose niece is in the Navy. Today I read about the funeral of a soldier where they played the El Salvadoran national anthem. I really don't know what to think about this. Once again Jerry, thanks for all the wonderful novels. Dan

Not sure what to think about all that either.








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From Sue Ferrara

To view the entire article, go to

Ruling Backs Anti-Spam Activist

By Jonathan Krim An Internet site that provides personal information about an alleged purveyor of mass e-mail is not harassment and does not need to be removed, a Maryland district court judge ruled yesterday.

Francis Uy, a tech specialist at Johns Hopkins University, posted the site to expose the activities of George A. Moore Jr., owner of Maryland Internet Marketing Inc. in Linthicum. Moore, whose company sells nutritional weight-loss products, such as Fat-N-Emy and Extreme Colon Cleanser, has been identified by spam-tracking organizations as a leading spammer.

Uy's site encourages people to sue spammers under Maryland's anti-spam law, and it includes Moore's address and telephone number, which Moore claimed led to harassment by anti-spam vigilantes. Threatening phone calls were left on his answering machine, and he received dozens of products in the mail that he never ordered, including about 200 unwanted magazines and catalogues, he charged.

Moore, who denies he is a spammer because he contracts with third parties to market his products, asked the court to force Uy to pull down the site.

Anne Arundel District Court Judge Robert C. Wilcox declined, saying there was no evidence that Uy had harassed Moore directly, which Moore also had alleged.

Moore said in an interview after the hearing that he simply wants the harassment to stop. He said that as a result of an article about the case in yesterday's Washington Post, he received eight more harassing phone calls, one of which was a death threat.

As Eric has often said, spam won't stop until something physically painful publicly happens to a number of spammers.

I note that the Direct Mail Association is still defending the right of spammers to spam our troops overseas even though they are choking up the narrow bandwidths. It was, after all, for spammer rights that the troops bled at Valley Forge...

Here is something to remember:

Subject: Re: historical parallel

Sand in the engines, and sand dust ingested in the engines while running, does degrade the engines over time. In fact, it coats the turbine blades with a layer of glass that causes them to operate less efficiently. But a month or two of ops won't kill off the fleet.

What happens is that we return from the war and the pentagon budget asks for money to repair and replace aircraft engines that are burnt out "ahead of schedule." Congress indicates it is tired of paying defense budget bills and, besides, the war is over so it is time to shovel some bucks at domestic spending. The next generation of pilots comes along and gets less flight time or flies cranky aircraft that fall out of the sky. Congress grounds the fleet of aircraft that "didn't live up to expectations" and buys either hideously expensive replacements (read: F-22) or buys so few cheap replacements that they become hideously expensive in the long run.

I'm now old enough in the system to have watched a few cycles of essentially that process.



And now a long screed on NASA and the Columbia and Challenger disasters, followed by some thoughts on what to do about NASA: (to skip click here.)


-----Original Message----- From: A C Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2003 11:05 AM To: Jerry Weinberg (E-mail); Subject: Extrapolations and Communication Columbia Challenger & Richard Feynman -

Jerry & Jerry

It's Challenger all over again--hubris of the management. It's disheartening to see ADM Gehman's statement. At the very least the Boeing answer would have to have a very large uncertainty and be very imprecise. My professors at Harvey Mudd College would have failed me if I were to base a firm conclusion on extrapolated data from a data set. It would be like trying to plug in numbers outside the bounds of a curve fit. The answer is extremely suspect.

It saddens me to see that once again the problem is not technical but rather one of communication. This reaffirms that we need to embrace Virginia Satir's approach to communication and Jerry Weinberg's introduction of it into the engineering disciplines. The fundamental defect will be in the management decision process. That led to the technical flaw.

If I am not misstating his opinion, I agree with Jerry Pournelle that NASA has got to go. The "X" prizes approach that Jerry and former Congressman Gingrich suggest is to me a better approach for manned space flight.


Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE

Attachments: 1) MSNBC article & 2) Richard Feynman's observation on Challenger  Panel lists NASA's shuttle missteps <snip>

The analysis led by NASA contractor Boeing Co. during Columbia's mission reviewed whether significant damage was done to the left wing by a chunk of hardened foam that came off the fuel tank during liftoff. Its conclusion that little harm was done was a crucial element in the belief by NASA that the seven astronauts would return safely.

But the analytical model had never been used before during an actual shuttle flight, Ride said.

Gehman, a retired Navy admiral, described the model as a spreadsheet, not a computational design, and noted that it was based on testing of much smaller debris - not anything nearly as large as the 2-pound (1-kilogram) piece that hit Columbia 81 seconds after liftoff.

Gehman said that although hindsight has revealed the analysis to be wrong, it doesn't mean the decision-making based on it was wrong at the time.


Describing the miscommunication, Ride said it appeared that "one group was saying, 'Let's wait until the analysis is complete to see whether we need photos' and then that was interpreted as, 'There will be no photos.' In other cases, it was for different reasons. It's a pretty complex story. It's a real web of interpersonal communications."

Ride said this web apparently stretched even up to the astronauts aboard Columbia, who accepted the engineers' conclusion that they would be in no danger during their descent through the atmosphere on Feb. 1.

That conclusion by Boeing engineers, after just a week or so of analysis, was accepted by virtually everyone.

But other company engineers testified earlier Tuesday that the space shuttles' outer thermal protection layers were never meant to be struck by anything stronger than perhaps bugs or rain - certainly not a 2-foot-long (60-centimeter-long) piece of hardened foam.


Testimony by engineers and comments by board members seemed to reveal a culture in which problems became acceptable over time because no lives were lost.

NASA became accustomed to the more than 140 debris strikes that occurred on every flight. Such damage was viewed as a nuisance that called for more maintenance, these engineers told the board.

Recalling her own tenure as an astronaut unaware of the many life-threatening problems affecting a space shuttle, Ride said, "I'm not sure that it's an appropriate analogy, but I'd never heard about O-rings before the Challenger accident."

A member of the presidential commission that looked into the Challenger disaster, she added that NASA's same acceptance of routine hazards was evident then as well: "You survived it the first time, so suddenly it becomes more normal."


Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle, by R.P. Feynman Introduction

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"

We have also found that certification criteria used in Flight Readiness Reviews often develop a gradually decreasing strictness. The argument that the same risk was flown before without failure is often accepted as an argument for the safety of accepting it again. Because of this, obvious weaknesses are accepted again and again, sometimes without a sufficiently serious attempt to remedy them, or to delay a flight because of their continued presence.



If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).

Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.

In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of the true risk than NASA management would have us believe?

Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources. For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

I would not end NASA entirely, but I would close down all its operations, and take away from NASA the development of space access capabilities. I'd give those to the services where their missions require (which would mean they would fund X projects) and I would take competitive bids on launching NASA science projects.

NASA has some good science capabilities. Some of the NASA designed satellites have achieved wonders. JPL has often done far better than anyone expected in building science satellites. Yoji Kondo at Goddard built and operated science systems that lasted years after their design spec, and did them on time and in budget.

It's in operations that NASA falls short; and the turf wars have prevented design and construction of decent space suits, so we still don't have any on-orbit assembly capabilities.

When it comes to building and operating rocket ships, let NASA buy launch services on the open market. The result will be a great improvement in such services. And let the military being X projects to develop systems to meet their particular needs.

On Hydrogen Wells

Dr. Pournelle-


With the recent talk about hydrogen and how to produce it, it reminded me of a project I remember hearing about some time ago: The Integral Fast Reactor. This was what looked to be a wonderful new design for a nuclear reactor that solved many of the problems with current and proposed designs. It was able to fail safely, reprocessed the fuel on site and in such a way that the fuel itself was useless for producing fission weapons, and greatly reduced the amount of radioactive waste produced as a byproduct, and this waste supposedly had a much shorter half-life than existing waste products.


It seems that at Clinton’s urging congress terminated all funding in ’94, only four years before the project was set to be completed.


I seem to remember having heard somewhere that someone was trying to get this project going again, and I was wondering If you had heard anything about it.

Here are a couple of links about the project: 

This site has a better short overview of the design itself: 

Henry Lyles

I thought I knew about most such projects but I am unfamiliar with this one. Thanks.

Hi Jerry, 

Lies closer to your "needles from space" than the Goons' cardboard bombs!!!

Stay well,

Tony Brown

Indeed. The reference, incidentally, is to a Goon Show, "Neddy Seagoon tried to work his ticket."

Seagoon had a thousand cardboard tanks put at Charing Cross Road in World War II during the blitz. The show goes on, then "We interrupt with a special bulleting from the BBC. The German Air Force has just dropped thousands of cardboard bombs on Charing Cross Road..."

On the Plutonium Story


Read article in USA Today a few weeks ago noting that nuclear weapons with limited effectiveness can be built with as low as 20% enriched uranium.

From the report I saw on the Pu find in the secret facility, they apparently dragged all of their waste containers and left them near the entrances in order to set a trap for the troops and confuse the issue. I agree it's unlikely that they have weapons grade Pu; the background is probably too high to tell that without specialized equipment including PPE. I agree that the secret facility is big news independently of whether the Pu -- or enriched U -- is weapons grade or not.

And I suspect that they may need to check for a mass grave for the laborers who pulled all those waste containers into the open. (And also double check for explosive booby traps in the middle of that.)

Incidentally, my speculation is that the leadership attacks sufficiently disrupted the command structure to preclude the issuance of instructions to use CW, Though it's also possible that it could be used in the coming days of fighting near the production/storage sites suspected in Northern Iraq.

Jim Woosley

You can certainly build "dirty bombs" from chemical explosives and spent fuel cannisters.

I believe they have CW munitions, but my guess is that their field commanders have better sense than to use them, and the junior officers even more so.

Some Iraqi soldiers are patriots and will not want to see the destruction that would come from real use of BW/CW weapons against the Alliance.

Jerry: Forgive me for commenting on the possible Plutonium find when I don't have any good references handy, but I feel that my comments are still valid. As you along with a discouragingly small handful of people know, the radioactivity of any isotope is inversely proportional to its half-life. As I recall, U-238 has a half life measured in billions of years while U-235 has a half-life of a few hundred million years. This explains why the radioactivity of depleted Uranium is low enough to make it reasonable to use it for AP ammo.

Obviously, if you find yellow cake that is more radioactive than expected, one will reach the conclusion that it is highly enriched Uranium. However, due to the long half-life of U-235, even bomb grade Uranium isn't going to be "highly radioactive."

There are about a dozen, known isotopes of Plutonium, all of which have half-lives that are significantly shorter than the half-lives of the common Uranium isotopes. As I recall, the longest lived isotope of Plutonium is Pu-239, which has a half-life of about 24,000 years. While it is misleading to claim that Pu-239 is "highly radioactive," it is still thousands of times more radioactive than Uranium. If the yellow cake that has been found is very much more radioactive than one would expect bomb grade Uranium to be, then it isn't unreasonable to speculate that it might be Plutonium. As your comments suggest, the composition of any radioactive material can be conclusively determined by measuring the energy of the decay particles. However, I suspect that the Marines don't have the instruments to perform these measurements.

Another isotope of Plutonium that should be of concern is Pu-240 which has a half-life of a few centuries (once again I apologize for speaking up when I don't have references at hand) and undergoes spontaneous fission to release neutrons. 

While weapons production reactors such as the one the French built for Saddam and the Israelis bombed, are designed and operated in a manner that minimizes the concentration of Pu-240 (the excessively high neutron flux makes it far more difficult to compress the fissile material into a supercritical mass) as well as Pu-238, the spent fuel from civilian nuclear reactors contains large concentrations of these isotopes. 

This is one reason why we shouldn't be concerned about terrorists making bombs out of reactor wastes. Given the differential decay rate between Pu-239 and Pu-240, burying the stuff for a few thousands years rather than burning it in power reactors is actually an excellent way to provide future terrorists with vast quantities of super pure, bomb grade plutonium.

 (I think I see an idea for a good Sci Fi story in this that would be educational) As you know, neutrons will penetrate far more shielding than either alpha, beta, or even gamma particles. Given the description on the news about how the radioactivity of this material was detectable through a concrete wall, I'm willing to speculate that it might be reactor waste grade Plutonium. If this is the case, Saddam was still a long way from having a nuclear bomb unless he has the technology to do isotope separation on Plutonium. If this is the case, he'd find it simpler and easier to extract pure U-235 from natural Uranium.

The bottom line is that the real story here is the fact that the UN inspectors failed to find such a significant facility.

[Emphasis added: JEP]

Thanks. This was my first thought as well. But it may have been mistaken: see below.

And on another subject:

Subject: Implementing VisiCalc.

Roland Dobbins

By Frankson...

And on energy:

In the May Discover magazine is an article about an industrial-scale process to turn waste into usable products, among them various carbon-chain molecules and recovered minerals which make good fertilizer. The products include a light oil (C-fraction 18 as I recall) nearly identical to the fuel oil used in homes. There are other possibilities.

It is also quite efficient (~85%), which is remarkable considering that its input is waste. The example used was "turkey byproduct" -- offal from a Tyson processing plant. The conversion takes ~2 hours in the demonstrator; the engineering does look feasible. A large plant is being built next to a turkey processing plant in Missouri.

A teaser version is online at the Discover magazine website, but for the full article you must buy the paper magazine.

I'd be interested in a critique from the energy engineers (readers, lurkers) here.

Annlee Hines


Dear Jerry,

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'd like to add my bit to the conversation on energy. Instead of hydrogen why not biodiesel? 

Hydrogen has some serious problems not the least of which is the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. That isn't that case with biodiesel as it can be used interchangeably in unmodified diesel engines. There is no rocket science here; people cook this stuff up in there garages for about the same cost as petroleum diesel using old fryer grease from the local restaurants. Large-scale manufacture ought to be able to do better than that even if they have to start with “fresh” vegetable oil.

Just a thought. I'm not against hydrogen but that seems to be a more long-term proposition. This is something we can do (and in fact are doing) right now.

Ric Frost

I wrote about biowaste as energy sources back in my Galaxy days and I expect there is an article in A Step Farther Out


I thought of Grant and Lee when I read John Keegan's piece. The thrust of his argument was "Saddam's correct strategy would have been to group his best forces in the south, to oppose the Anglo-Americans as far from the capital as possible, and then to conduct a fighting withdrawal up the valleys of the great rivers, leaving devastation behind." How wrong, how wrong.

Grant and Lee, in the US Civil War, never understood how a new technology - - the Minie ball - - had changed the battlefield. The Minie ball gave a soldier a rifle he could load as fast as a musket. The senior leaders never understood this. They never learned not to throw troops at prepared positions, and so many American soldiers died fruitlessly.

In the same way, Keegan doesn't get that the use of precision guided weapons in air attacks has changed the battlefield again. Iraqi Republican Guard tried to face American forces south of Baghdad, exactly as Keegan would have had them do in the far south. American air attacks destroyed these forces, leaving mere shells of divisions to face the US ground attacks. The only chance these forces had was to have stayed inside Baghdad and forced the coalition into urban warfare (note how tentative the Brits had to be at Basra, for example). Saddam, apparently better versed in modern warfare than Keegan, understood this and by all accounts planned to do this.

What went wrong for Saddam? Why did his troops come out to get killed? I suspect it was because he was out of communication - - injured, perhaps - - and his toadies were afraid not to make some showing of diligence. In any case, the fate of the Republican Guards on the battlefield shows the folly of the advice of people who haven't learned when technology has changed what works in battle.

Ed Hume

The US was fighting in real time. The Iraqis were turn based, and they didn't get many turns.

And it never troubles a wolf how many the sheep be.










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Friday, April 11, 2003


Working on fiction.








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Keegan's article didn't make one iota of sense, Jerry. It is as if he was completely unaware of the basic facts in Gulf War I. Before the war, I estimated that we'd lose fewer KIA than in the Ist Gulf War: I thought probably under 100, very likely under 200. So far, around 110.

As for ' underground nuclear complex", inspectors were quite aware of it. See the following article.Latest reports is that is nothing particularly interesting or unknown there.

As for WMD, I had thought, before the war, that most likely nothing other than gas would be found, but that we probably _would_ find some gas. . I thought that we would not find anything that would be considered a threat to the US by any reasonable person - not that there are many of those.

I may have been wrong. At this point there is a reasonable possibility that there no banned weapons at all. There certainly no Scuds fired.

So, I would have said before that the central claim of the US used to justify invasion was substantially false, but the possibility now exists that it is _completely_ false_.

And your extended "Empire" analogy is in my opinion not a good one: does not very well fit the facts or the likely course of events. When I have more time, I will have more to say on that.


Gregory Cochran

Either you read Keegan different from me, or I don't understand one of you. Keegan says the Iraqi war plan made no sense at all, which was quite true. Pulling everything back to the capital, so that the country falls before there are any battles fought, was not a good plan. Mining the ports and fighting a delaying action up the valleys would have made sense even if he couldn't achieve it: time was on the Iraqi side as "world opinion" began to chant "negotiate, negotiate,  for God's say negotiate" and "end the madness" and the rest. Three weeks of a war of attrition was not beyond the Iraqi capability, assuming he had any loyalty from his troops at all. That would at least have been a desperate chance; the war plan he used, assuming there was one at all, had no chance at all, and wasn't even a war plan.

Wars are a matter of luck. Von Moltke once observed that in the last analysis, luck generally aids only the well prepared: both sides get lucky breaks, but those not prepared to exploit them don't gain much. 

What part of Keegan makes no sense?

As to the Weapons of Mass Destruction, all I know is what I read on the newspapers or see on TV; it may well be that the UN knew about that compound. I didn't. But I never did think we would find any great number of weapons.

The purpose of the Iraqi war was to encourage others not to harbor enemies of the United States. The rest is rhetoric.

As to Empire, the key is the assertion of rights to govern other than in the name of consent of the governed. Once that cat is out of the bag it's hard to stuff back in. But I can hardly understand your objections, so I have no way to answer them.

Dear Jerry,

Another take on the Iraqi nuclear materials. UN IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) claims (through an "unmamed official") to have inspected the site, including the underground tunnels, on a regular basis, and that the materials found were low-grade and under IAEA seal.\

The issue of the claimed higher level of radioactivity is not mentioned, though the "official" seems quite ready to believe it was the Marines who broke the seals. I don't recall hearing anything about seals in the other stories...


Gordon Runkle

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

As I said above, all I know is what I see on TV and in the newspapers. Doubtless the story will sort itself out. I see the whole question of the present state of Iraqi weapons as meaningless. Perhaps I ought to do a full essay on that.

IF he could have got them, he would have; leaving him in power was always chancy, because deterring a madman is tricky. 

But do note, I wasn't in favor of the war to begin with; and I never for one moment thought it was about "disarming" Saddam. It was a way to demonstrate the New World Order, and a step toward the new Imperial system. Which I would have thought obvious.


Subject: The News We Kept to Ourselves

Dr. Pournelle -

The news CNN kept to themselves.

Ray Rayburn

I don't think there has ever been a question about Saddam's character.

Jerry, I like to think I'm pretty cynical about the news media, but this truly makes my blood boil. Eason Jordan, the chief news executive at CNN, admitting that they covered up Iraqi atrocities to keep their Baghdad bureau open:

Shades of Walter Duranty. And why, then, should we trust anything CNN has to say about China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, or any other totalitarian regime?

"CNN! We let dictators spill the blood of innocents to bring you the news!"

Lawrence Person 


I'm incline to agree with Gregory Cochran that John Keegan is, for once, mistaken. Some years ago, Edward Luttwak made the interesting point that acceptable casualties are related to birthrates, and how many young men are their parents' only children-- and the developed countries have a very low birthrate. If the fighting gets down to hand-to-hand level, where our technology doesn't offer us a good solid hundred-to-one hedge, we can easily become outnumbered. The Iraqis were grossly inferior in heavy weapons, possibly at parity in small arms, and grossly superior in hand grenades. A soldier with one assault rifle and several hand grenades, can give his grenades to several little boys to use, and keep the rifle to use himself. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranians used these twelve-and-thirteen-year olds to clear mines-- which as you know is horrendously dangerous work. Kids of that age simply don't know enough to be afraid, in the sense that they don't have the intellectual capacity to realize that it's only a matter of time until a couple of pounds of TNT goes off in their face. The Iraqi little boys can wait on rooftops and toss their grenades down into the street below, without worrying about the likelihood of escaping afterwards. The downhill trajectory means that the little boy doesn't have to be a New-York-Yankees-class thrower. The American soldier has as many grenades suspended from his belt as the Iraqi soldier does, but if he even thinks about recruiting a cub scout troop for suicide operations, the mothers of America will literally tear him limb-from-limb, like so many maenads. The winning tactic for the Iraqis is somehow to entice the Americans to within hand grenade range. For example, let's take the failure to blow up the bridges. Bridges tend to go through towns. Suppose the Iraqis had blown up all their bridges. In that case, we would surely not have fought our way into the towns to use the riverbank when an open stretch of riverbank miles from anywhere would do equally well. That is the whole lesson of the Normandy landings. The United States Army, having a certain institutional memory of Market-Garden, has provided itself with a sufficiency of assault bridges. It is not customary to defend the road leading into an ambush site, for obvious reasons. Similarly, it was probably a good idea, from the Iraqi standpoint, to let the Americans get mentally fixated on going through towns. It takes a certain moral courage to admit a mistake and pull out of a town which has turned out to have teeth. The United States does not have a whole lot of this kind of moral courage. Frank Ezra Adcock pointed out in his book on Roman warfare that the Romans always made a point of building a fort just behind their army, so that in case of defeat, the troops would scurry into the fort and reform, rather than running for miles and eventually being ridden down by the enemy cavalry. In the present case, given that the Iraqi armor was foredoomed by overwhelming American air power, it was only sensible to position it where, upon the inevitable defeat, the troops could scurry into the back alleys of Baghdad. The war is far from over, just having gotten down to hand grenade range, and the outcome is still very much in doubt.

Andrew D. Todd 

Three points. First, if you don't double space between paragraphs, it looks like the above unless I go in and format by hand, and I'm about to stop doing that.

Second, I must be exceedingly dense, or else I have entirely misread what Keegan seems to be saying. I think Keegan is saying they didn't fight at all, and to the extent they tried, they did the wrong thing. No one believe the Iraqis had much of a chance -- no one outside the 104th Chairborne and a lot of journalists with a view -- but they could have used tactics that bought time and inflicted more casualties on the Allies, at costs not much higher than they endured to begin with. They didn't even try, possibly because the army was not loyal enough to trust with any kind of independent operations -- one thing you would KNOW would be that communications between your troops and HQ would fail, so you give the troops a fair amount of independence, and if you don't trust the army you can't do that. Possibly the Iraqis just didn't understand although I would have thought they would have learned something from the first Gulf War. But I better go back and read Keegan because this is beginning to be a concern.

Keegan says:

Saddam's war plan, if he had one, must be reckoned one of the most inept ever designed. It made no use of the country's natural defences. All advantages the defence enjoyed were thrown away even before they could be utilised.

I can't disagree with that.

Keegan says:

The key objectives are the cities, and most of them, Baghdad in particular, are protected by large water barriers. Saddam's correct strategy would have been to group his best forces in the south, to oppose the Anglo-Americans as far from the capital as possible, and then to conduct a fighting withdrawal up the valleys of the great rivers, leaving devastation behind.

That implies more command and control than Saddam had; it may be that the Iraqi high command understood they couldn't DO that because a fighting withdrawal requires some skill and coordination, and that wasn't likely to happen: there wouldn't be communications, and the generals have no skills. Even so, the objective, I would say, would be to SLOW DOWN the Allied advance and hope the UN pulls the Iraqi chestnut out of the fire. Nothing else could possibly work.

But the Iraqi forces were not deployed for delaying actions, or for extracting a price for reckless advances.

We are here dealing with the tactics of defeat: we're doomed unless there is outside political intervention. What can we do to make that more likely?

Keegan finally expresses disapproval of the media, who made minor incidents sound like major setbacks, squad actions sound like battles, and who in general denigrated the skill and achievements of the fighting forces. I find nothing about that to disagree with.

If this is some kind of argument that Iraq had any chance at all, then I don't know who is arguing. Cochran said he thought "under 200, probably under 100." I am more conservative in such estimates: I said under 500, in part because I didn't think Iraq would be able to bring off any kind of coherent defense; but I did think they would try.

Look: either you try to keep some kind of fighting line and retreat in good order inflicting casualties as you go -- not the easiest thing to do in war, but something the Arabs have some familiarity with -- or you invite the other guy to string out his lines while you hold back small mobile forces, well hidden, to strike at those lines. I can image some fast moving Long Range Desert Forces loose among maintenance companies strung out along 200 miles of desert: desert I know and the invader doesn't. That might not work, but again, that has a chance.

Chance of what?  Of inflicting enough -- and it might not take more than a thousand -- casualties on the US to cause a political reaction, get a negotiated cease fire, get the UN to intervene. Something. It may not work, but it has a better chance than what was done.

As I understand Keegan, he's looking at what someone else might have done with the forces Iraq had. They couldn't have won; but they could have done better than they did. Or perhaps not; but what they did try had no chance of working better than it did. I agree with that, and if he's saying more than that, I have missed it.

Finally, as to the war now entering the phase of hand grenades and scuttling along back alleys, few countries ever really fight to the last man. At some point the troops conclude the war is over and they have lost it. I suspect the number of people willing to fight to restore Saddam is low. The number willing to die to avenge him won't be all that much higher. The patriots will be split between those who want revenge bad enough to die for it, and those willing to wait and see if they might have a place in the New Iraq.

I think the war is over. It will take about 4 weeks to restore order.


No Iraqi plan could have worked.

Out in the open, under American attack, Iraqi divisions disappear on a time scale far shorter than the one implicitly assumed in your 'attrition' strategy. The mistake the Iraqis was in trying any field fighting at all: they weren't even up to slowing us down. The only way in which any of their units could have had somewhat more effect - not enough to make any real difference - would have been by huddling in cities, shielded by their civilians. You have to think about the tactical realities of Gulf War I, where a straight up battle between an American and Iraqi tank division at Medina Ridge destroyed all the Iraqi armored vehicles in two hours at the cost of 1 American KIA. Two hours. Then extrapolate to today, assume that JDAMS hit 70% of the time, with no real countermeasures availble to the other side. I ran this past my serious wargaming friends - it's obvious, they think. They worry about Keegan... Although this kind of analysis has never been his forte.

We have got the Maxim gun and they have not. There is good reason to believe that the particualr conditions leading to this situaiton will not persist, though; it requires pretty solid cooperation from every country that makes decent tactical weaponry ( first COCOM, then Wassenaar), and we aren't going to get that anymore.

As for your ideas about the likely course of events in Iraq - care for any side bets?

Gregory Cochran

I am having a problem finding the disagreements here. OF COURSE the place to fight was in the cities. The cities are along the river valley pathways.

And of course nothing would have "worked', but that's not quite the same as what happened.

He could have surrendered. Pure and simple, issue a cease fire order to take effect at a time certain and vanish. Or he could have tried to user his troops in some manner that might have a glimmer of a chance. Instead he did nothing. What did Keegan say that is different? Did I read something wrong?

If you can be more specific I can decide what I might bet on, but so far I am having real problems understanding you.







And some interesting news:


Dare we hope? Alfred Eynon 

New Fusion Method Offers Hope of New Energy Source

April 8, 2003 By KENNETH CHANG

Scientists from Sandia National Laboratories have reported that they achieved thermonuclear fusion, in essence detonating a tiny hydrogen bomb.

Sandia has always been at the forefront of inertial confinement pulsed pellet fusion; I remember writing about them 25 years ago at least, and I was one of the seminar speakers in the days when there was money for symposia and that sort of thing.

I'm glad to hear they haven't given up. The path to magnetic confinement continuous fusion seems to lead nowhere: it can be done, but the brute force ways to do it are expensive and don't yield the results we had hoped for. Triggering pellets has a number of really good benefits...


Dear Jerry:

I have a simpler thesis as to why the iraqi Army turned in such a miserable performance. Saddam depended upon the idea that "it is better to be feared than to be loved". He was wrong. You can't scare people into being loyal and laying their lives on the line. Everyone was so fearful that they were afraid to tell him the truth, and while his strategy of imposing an urban battle might have been a good one and they were well prepared for the task in terms of weapons and supplies, , the ultimate truth was that no one liked the S.O.B. and no one was willing to die for him, except people who were so identified with him that they had no other choice. If he fell so did they.

Looking at all those palaces with all those goods stacked up gives us a clue to his true character. A modern day "Great Gatsby" so out of control that he had nothing left of any real value.

Overall our planning for this thing has had more luck than management. You would think, especially after our recent experiences elsewhere, we would have called up a brigade or two of Military Police and Civil Affairs units to pick up the slack. And they have to be called up. All of those units are now in the Reserve and the National Guard.

They have called up a nine person Public Affairs detachment from Montana. This is when you know we've won; they send in the flacks.

Regards, Francis Hamit










This week:


read book now


Sunday, April 13, 2003

Joanne Dow says

These automated anti-spam tools are too hair trigger to use.

Anyway - "Of Sable and things..." --8<-- ....

That was too much. A dog! Looking in at the gate! A wolf! He barked and snarled. But the wolf with with people he knew. Dilemma. He came up to the gate, bared his teeth and snarled.

Sable grinned and licked his bare teeth. Dash stood his ground but he was chagrinned.

Today he looked up from his porch, which is a good ways from the gate, saw it was us, wagged his tail at us, and ostentatiously lay back down on his rug. "I can defend my door, and I am damned if I am going to go snarl at a wolf who kisses me!" He sure looked frustrated... --8<--

All I could think of is the Arabs and how they will react to our rather stunning victory in Iraq and our subsequent actions. We are the utterly fearless and fearsome wolf that licks your teeth in would be friendship.

Talk about confusing signals.... I'm not sure anyone in the rest of the world can really comprehend such a thing other than another American.


I hadn't thought of that analogy. Thanks.

Subject:     The Effects of Peanut Butter on the Rotation of the Earth

 Tracy Walters


And a serious question:

Dr. Pournelle, in your View for April 10, 2003, you wrote, "[T]he Republic was probably doomed by our silly immigration policies to begin with."

Huh? What on earth are you talking about? I'm sure you are much too intelligent to take seriously racially and culturally bigoted arguments like those advanced by Pat Buchanan in The Death of the West (which I have read, and very carefully). At previous stages of American history, the presence of significant numbers of immigrants in America never seriously threatened the existence of the Republic, even though many people feared it would. How, exactly, does the presence of signficant numbers of immigrants in America threaten the existence of the Republic now?

-- Jay Bohren

Not race, culture. A Republic can hold together if and only if the important political units have enough common cultural heritage to make them cohesive and coherent. A Federal Republic can tolerate a bit more diversity, so long as the main power is devolved to the states -- Switzerland has managed despite major cultural divisions, but it has done so by not being a "nation"; not one Swiss in five could name the President of the country, and there are no Swiss foreign adventures.

The US foundered once on cultural differences. It may again. We had just got over that division, and then the Civil Rights revolution, and came through those trials stronger than ever. After all, it was hard to argue that segregation and legal inequality fit any part of what it meant to be an American, and those who advocated legal inequalities and "separation" knew they were arguing against what united us all. But that was in another century.

We have now imported diversities way beyond those that divide many nations. We have less and less in the way of national cultural unity. A score of years ago you could still "study to learn to be an American" and many did. The melting pot worked and worked well.

I think that is no longer true; and I know it will not be true if we continue. With no common cultural heritage, what holds us together as the mightiest military power in the history of the world? What do we have in common, other than the ability to defeat all comers? You can say truth, justice, and the American Way, but those are generally snarled at now. Law and the rule of Law? Freedom? But what we call freedom now is pretty constrained compared to what I grew up with. 

More and more we rely on power, law, and coercion to hold together what used to hold together because we never thought otherwise. It is all very well to speak of our Muslim brothers in Brooklyn's Al-Farooq Mosque, but they don't talk that way.

I can very much hope I am wrong, but I think we have imported quite enough diversity; it is time to let the melting pot work again. And I am certain that importing people who will work for low wages diminishes the working class people born here, and gives them less to be loyal for while bringing in people who, many of them, had no reason to be loyal at all. Whole families of people were brought in to go directly on Social Security because there wasn't any such thing in Russia; an admirable act of charity, perhaps, but each aged person of retirement age added what to our cultural and economic strength?

Race isn't the problem. The American culture can be and has been assimilated by every race known to mankind. Religion isn't even the problem, although this is a Judao-Christian nation and cultural wars on the symbols of what used to be a unifying factor cannot be good. When I was young there was no civic event, from a High School graduation to the dedication of a new public building, that did not have as part of the ceremony a Roman Priest and a Protestant Minister, and depending on the event, often a Jewish Rabbi. Now such would be anathema, and that is our loss: a unifying force has been rejected in favor of divisiveness. I could name a dozen more such signs.

The theory that any random group of people can become a culture and a nation is dead wrong: there is no instance of it working. (Rome came close once, taking in Sabines and Etruscans and anyone else from the hills around Rome, but note that Rome was heavy in unifying symbols and a public religion -- and even with all that, ended with Emperor worship and obedience as the only unifying force that could hold both the people and the army in check.) We can scarce teach the national saga in our schools now for fear of offending someone.

I can hope I am wrong; but I think we have diluted the American culture to the point where it is so thin it may no longer prevail. And that is not racial at all. It is purely cultural. If I were asked to choose neighbors: two families of half a dozen people of many ages, one a Baptist family of blacks who grew up here, the other an atheist family of recent Russian immigrants, I think I would have no difficulty at all in making that choice.

Our schools no longer teach what it is or was to be American. Where will it be learned?

One place it will be learned is in the Army. But armies have a logic of their own, and nations that depend on that kind of unity may find they have lost another kind.

We are the mightiest power the world has ever seen. As Madeleine Albright said to Colin Powell: "What is the use of this splendid army if we can't use it?" But on what principle will we limit that use?

Subject: maybe there's hope

Dr. Pournelle:

Earlier today I was half-listening to NPR--a guest speaker talking about building a post-war government. He was middle-eastern by accent, possibly an Iraqi expatriate, and he stated flatly that the best book for creating a government was written by James Madison et al.--The Federalist Papers.

Maybe there's hope.

Mark Thompson

I would feel much better if I thought the average high school student had read any part of The Federalist -- or that the average high school civics teacher had done so.

And see mail.







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