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Mail 259 May 26 - June 1, 2003






BOOK Reviews

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

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Monday  May 26, 2005

Open with, well, something different.


For what it's worth, Holly Lisle (and/or her blog correspondents) came up with these two bizzare time-wasters and posted them on her blog ( ) ...   

They Fight Crime!  Generator for cheesy TV show pilots. Sample: "He's an otherworldly moralistic senator who hides his scarred face behind a mask. She's a time-traveling blonde vampire with the power to see death. They fight crime!"  <A HREF="">The Surrealist Compliment Generator</A> "Nuff said Sample: Your mucuous membranes glisten with the glow of forty-seven burning violins.

Jim Woosley

On a more serious note

A couple of retired teachers in Iowa have published this. It's getting good reviews and has caused quite a stir among teachers and administrators. My copy was barely finished when teacher friends were borrowing it. I've not seen it in 2 weeks and have no idea where it is now.

Their web site is:

Chuck Kuhlman

Another cat among the pigeons... 

"A democracy which allows education to fall into the hands of the enemies of the regime, which does not even try to preserve in education the quality of formation, not for politics, but for citizenship, is lost. Aristotle said it loud and clear."
                         ------------ Jacqueline de Romilly, Problemes de la Democratie Greque. 

   Which is indeed true, and since in the US education is in the hands of Union Leaders -- that is to say, people who would rather be in political offices than in classrooms, and who thus use political rather than educational skills to maintain themselves in their chosen careers in educationism -- we are already lost, if Aristotle was correct.

And see below.

How to increase public safety:

Subject: build a cruise missile for $5000 

I suspect this fella can actually do it....amazing

 Mark Huth Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. twain

So what do we do now?

On the X Prize:


Given your dedication to the SSTO concept, I'm mildly surprised that you'd acknowledge that Bert Rutan is the most probable winner of the X prize. Given Rutan's track record for successful innovation, your confidence is perfectly understandable. However; I'd also point out that Rutan is using a two stage vehicle that is remarkably similar to the essential two stage vehicles that were commonly used in the X-programs. As we've discussed earlier, a two stage vehicle will have a much lower, overall mass ratio than a two stage vehicle. Also, the first stage of Rurtan's vehicle uses turbojet engines that have a specific impulse at least an order of magnitude higher than any chemical rocket. Rutan's vehicle is unlikely to achieve orbit because the first stage is limited to subsonic velocities. However, it does give the second stage an initial velocity of about 300m/s and an altitude of perhaps 20km. Also, by getting the second stage above the densest layers of the atmosphere, the aerodynamic drag losses are dramaticly reduced and the engines can be optimized for a higher expansion ratio which would give them a higher specific impulse. Remember, because the mass ratio rises exponentially with Delta Vee, just a few hundred meters per second in additional initial velocity for the second stage will dramatically reduce the mass ratio. Now if we could just apply the same, 1960s vintage technologies that were used to build the Concorde, the B-70 and the SR-71 to develop a supersonic first stage to launch the orbital vehicle, then building an upper stage that can boost itself into orbit and survive reentry becomes very feasible. Granted, such a space launch system wouldn't have the operational simplicity of a common airliner. However, if it continued to use Rutan's approach of having second stage under the first stage instead of on its back, the operational complexity would be about the same as the old X-planes. While the operational cost would never drop to the dollar per pound levels that are driving the airlines into bankruptcy, we could reach the tens of dollars per pound levels that seem to be quite reasonable for operating business jets.

Also, I read the article in Space Daily that you posted a link too. It is gratifying to have such a distinguished rocket scientist echo my speculations about air and moisture infiltration of the external tank foam resulting in the formation of ice. A program of ultrasonic foam inspection combined with an effective method to seal the foam to prevent infiltration could offer a near term fix. However, I think they should develop an internal insulation for the external tanks.

James Crawford

Surely you confuse prediction with "selection"? Rutan's system cannot possibly go to orbit, but the X Prize does not require orbit. Rutan's system can't even be "upgraded" to an orbital system, but the X Prize doesn't require that one show a path from the winning system to orbital flight. The X Prize has nothing to do with orbit.

I am trying to get  Congress to establish a prize, say $1 billion, for the first American company to put the same ship (at least 93% of the same parts to be used on all flights) into low earth orbit ten times in six months with at least two flights to orbit and return within 5 days. The ship must carry at least one person who need not be the pilot; all passengers must return safely from every flight in order to win the prize.  The terms are debatable but the concept is clear enough. It need not be single stage, but the part that goes to orbit must return and be used again.

Prizes are a good way to get things going. I'd also set forth a prize of $10 billion to the first American company to keep 31 Americans alive and well on the Moon for three years and a day.  I don't care how they get them there,  and the prize doesn't say that they have to send only 31 people there.

The numbers are arbitrary but make sense to me.

Rutan will win the X prize and in doing so will learn a fair amount we have forgotten since X-15 days: he is essentially doing the X-15 only he had to build his own B-52 to carry it aloft. This is all valuable work.

I favor single stage to orbit because of the operational simplicity, but my son works for a company that wants to use two stages, one a winged flying vehicle, and that may well be the right approach. 

What we have to do is get some things flying again.


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

State of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and staff have decided to use old laws to have spam distributors convicted as felons. Details at,1283,58939,00.html  . It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch, and the last time I heard about New York prisons their ambience was terrible.


William L. Jones


Subject: Perhaps there's a solutions to spam after all!


Saw this on Wired's website. Looks like someone is taking spam seriously after all.,1283,58939,00.html 

Also some interesting comments about EULAs.


Paul Fieber Vancouver, Canada

(This has been copied to the spam discussion page)/

The Discussion continues

Subject: Burt and Howard

Dear Dr Pournelle,

The Sean Thomas article brought back memories. I even have in my hand a textbook written by Roger Brown and, heavens, Richard Herrnstein, for my Psychology Stage I class of 1981. The index records a segment (p517-520) on correlation of success with IQ.

It's axiomatic for me that the link between IQ and any aspect of human behaviour, including success, should be studied closely. Banning such studies is nonsensical. Newspaper articles of that time detailed how poor Eysenck, for example, was driven from the podium at Birmingham university by crowds shouting "No free speech for fascists".

Fundamentally I'm on Mr Thomas' side in this argument, if only because his final paragraph mentioned Flynn's observation that in a hundred years everyone will be smarter anyway.

But I have a bone or two to pick with his facts. I can still remember reading Gillies' paper on the nature of the statistical fraud committed by Burt; it brought to mind Samuel Johnson - there are some kinds of circumstantial evidence which are very strong, like a trout in the milk.

The really dodgy statement, though is this: " The Bell Curve.... ‘proving’ that, firstly, IQ tests were a great predictor of a person’s future prosperity and success...". If that's true, Herrnstein must have changed his mind. Quote from Brown & Herrnstein, p.519, Figure 10-9: "The shape of the shaded region reflects the common finding that a low IQ is a more reliable predictor of poor grades than a high IQ is of high grades".

Regards, TC

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

The proper statement about IQ and success is that it is the best single measure we have for predicting success in most endeavors; and that if you take a group of people in almost any job or profession from janitors to professors of physics, and have experts rank order them in order of success, the best single predictor of that ordering will be their IQ scores. This seems to hold true for many professions, including professional athletics. Understand this is not the same as saying that IQ is a good predictor of success in professional athletics. 

It is hardly surprising that smart people can be lazy and thus not "work to their potential." Jacques Barzun once observed that in college classes, a "B" student was "either a good man not working, or a C student working very hard."  Most college professors I have known will on reflection agree with that, or would have back before grade inflation made the whole thing moot.

There is no contradiction in saying that "IQ tests were a great predictor of a person’s future prosperity and success" and "a low IQ is a more reliable predictor of poor grades than a high IQ is of high grades". Both are true statements, but the second is more precise than the first.  

Long ago I took part in the Grade Prediction Program at the University of Washington. I left the UW before the project was complete, but I did work on some of the (IBM 650) matrix algebra programs that generated the multiple regression equations. The program was highly successful, but later abandoned by court order for reasons having to do with political correctness. It was designed to help incoming freshmen choose a major (it predicted grades in many areas) as well as decide whether there was any point in college at all. (In those days, when there were jobs in manufacturing and such, it was about 10 years after college that an aircraft worker who had a degree had finally earned as much money as a worker who went directly to Boeing from high school.)

As to the Flynn Effect, it's real but it doesn't seem to have changed the overall distributions.  

The real question is genetic engineering: can we, and should we, use modern gene therapy to have smarter kids? And if we do, and there is still a racial difference -- everyone got smarter but the differences remain, as with the Flynn Effect -- should we use gene therapy to make everyone equal? It may well be possible one day...

One of the better popular discussions of the issues involving heredity can be found in Cohen and Stewart, Evolving the Alien. There are at least two factors that influence development and mimic heredity, both coming under the rubric "maternal effects". The first is the network of protein interactions that the mother donates to the zygote. It is the existence of this inherited but not _genetically_ determined network that suggests that if you insert T rex genes into a frog egg, you're likely at best to get an overweight frog. The second is the maternal environment, both prior to birth and during infancy, consisting of the chemicals produced by the mother and the chemicals built up in the mother due to environmental exposure. There is currently a suspicion that this environment plays a role in sexual orientation, sexual development, and (recently) autism. Typical variation in IQ, of course, is less extreme than the variation in social intelligence seen in children with autism and asperger's syndrome relative to normal children.

The point is that separating maternal effects from genetics is extremely difficult. On the other hand, a better understanding of the causes of the epidemic of autism currently underway in California may provide some insight into the factors influencing IQ. -- 

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

And increased pre-natal health worldwide may well be at least a partial explanation of The Flynn Effect. As I observed in A Step Farther Out (which will shortly be back in print, hurrah!) in Africa a number of people are intellectually stunted by pre and post natal dietary deficiencies, which is one reason why the average IQ in Africa is very low indeed.

I suspect, though, that we will not learn much if we denounce everyone who studies the subject as a fascist and refuse them a platform from which to speak.

And for pure fun:


Here's the url I told you about at LASFS: 

You can see a picture of the Earth and Jupiter, as seen from Mars. The Moon and three of the Galilean Satellites are also in the picture, but it took a bit of processing to get everything to show. Hope you like it. -- 

Joe Zeff The Guy With the Sideburns If you can't play with words, what good are they?


From another discussion group:

For anybody who thinks that P.J. O'Rourke and Fred Reed would be funny if only they'd stopped pulling their punches, here's a sample from this writer I just discovered named Gary Brecher, a.k.a., the War Nerd. He writes for "The Exile," an English language alternative paper in Moscow. He claims to be a fat community college graduate who lives in Fresno.

Colombia: A Hundred Years of Slaughtertude By Gary Brecher ( war_nerd ) 8/23/02 

It's not pretty. 

Subject: Geography.

----- Roland Dobbins

The road to empire is always hard on the clients.

Subject: Private spacecraft news

Of course, we don't see anything on this in American news....

Dr Tiomoid M. of Angle

Or not often anyway.

And it was like this a lot in the early days:

Hi, first time writer here. I came across this article on Columbia, by Gregg Easterbrook, written in 1980. I got chills reading this eerie prescience of the heat shield tile disaster. In 1980!

I really like this excerpt:

"Just after the engineers managed to get single engines to fire properly for the full duration, for instance, they tried to fire three simultaneously, as would be required during a launch. All three blew up; acoustic vibrations from one would destroy the next."

- Erik Mooney

Computer models simulate what you know about....

I post the following without comment:

I must say that the 9/11-Afghanistan road that the US govt. took to Baghdad was the spin doctoring of an absolute genius ! Suddenly, from being in pursuit of terrorists who do terrible things, the country is sitting pretty on immense oil reserves, contracts for whose exploitation are now falling into US firms' laps. Osama keeps talking on those what pal ? We got the oil !! I am writing this mail from a Middle East where US firms are reeling from an economic boycott and the Israelis are reeling from suicide attacks. Things are just going to get worse. You know why ? Because the world is figuring out that Mr. Money has the loudest voice in the US. And a 16 yr old Palestinian boy has already figured out that the next Israeli soldier who sees him may shoot him dead, so he might as well strap on that suicide belt. And through this all, Osama keeps talking on those tapes...... Yours, Chikomz






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Tuesday,  May 27, 2003

If you ever wondered about the significance of Freud, that old fraud, on people's lives, you might look at

If Biology Is Destiny, When Shouldn't It Be? NYT May 27, 2003 By BARRON H. LERNER, M.D.

What would you do if your baby was born intersex, with sex organs and external genitalia not clearly male or female? How would you choose whether to bring up your child as a boy or a girl and decide whether doctors should perform corrective genital surgery?


Subject: Can it be?

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

Subject: Damn metrics.

--------- Roland Dobbins

And for a good article on Hanson, who has become rather famously influential, see


And on another serious subject:

The rise of the Russian kleptoklatura has received less attention than it should what with 9/11 and all, but Russia's vast stocks of poorly-secured WMDs means this issue has to be on the long-term radar screen as a Class 2 strategic threat at the very least. Nor are these the only reasons Western countries should be concerned.

The Islamofascists may be the first group we engage seriously in global 4th-generation warfare; they will not be the last. 

-- Joe Katzman Winds of Change.NET "Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory."


Subject: NYT article on the retirement of the A-10 Warthog

I have to give you full credit for having predicted this sort of thing:


USAF will not give up the mission nor will they perform it. They do the same with space.

Abolish the Air Force and bring back the War Department and the Navy Department. Put the Marines firmly back with Navy, and restore the United States Army Air Force.  That's got to be better than this.

RE: Retiring the A-10

Dr. Pournelle, Reading that article and your ensuing remarks I am reminded of a quote that I am about to mangle. "You can shell a piece of ground. You can bomb it or you can irradiate it, but you do not own it until you stand an eighteen year old with a rifle on top of it." I don't even remember who said it, but it is the truth. USAF Security Police came about because the Army told the Air Force to guard it's own bases during the Viet Nam war. Now, will we see an expansion of the Army's air role due to the Air Force being unable to give close air support? Can you see Army purchasers at Air Force surplus sales?

Douglas Knapp

You are not alone in that thought:

If you give the A-10 Thunderbolt/Warthog to the Marines, or even to the Army, you could solve the close air support problem, at least in the short term.

I'd bet that if you gave Warthog pilots the choice, they'd change services, too.

Tim Pleasant

It doesn't solve the problem because USAF won't give up the mission of close support even though they will not perform it. Giving it to the Marines would work organizationally, perhaps, but it's the wrong way to go.

The  Marines have a purpose, and they with the Navy belong to the President. The Army has another and it belongs to the Congress.





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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I stumbled onto your site courtesy of John Derbyshire of 'National Review (Online)'.

Reading through your mail page (May 19 - 25, ), I ran across the following:

"Motorcycle helmets: are you willing to contract with the state that you will never accept state aid, and therefore, if you turn yourself into a vegetable by having an accident while riding without a helmet, you will not be assisted by any public facility? Operating room attendants have a name for people who ride motorcycles without helmets: organ donors. If it were only your business, then go ahead; but if you voluntarily assume risks that in fact the rest of us must pay for, then it becomes my business too."

I live in Texas where the mandatory motorcycle helmet law was repealed a couple of years ago. One of the arguments for repeal, made by a motorcycle-riding neurosurgeon, was based on the high probability of being permanently paralysed if involved in an accident while wearing a helmet as opposed to the almost certain fatality of those without a helmet. The surgeon also pointed out that most of the severe neck injuries experienced by motorcycle riders were caused by the helmet. The testimony of the neurosurgeon combined with a very effective bit of lobbying by motorcyclists (from the pictures I saw, large, leather-clad, tattooed motorcyclists make very effective and intimidating lobbyists) enabled the repeal of at least one small piece of the governmental security blanket.

Sincerely yours,


===== Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoset.

More unintended consequences I suppose.  The Nanny State continues.

And good news for Linux:

Novell just announced that they retain ownership of UNIX. As I understand it, SCO bought rights to sell licenses to UNIX, but Novell retains all copyright and patent rights. Novell further says that SCO ought to know that they don't have the rights they have been claiming.

And Novell has said that it likes Linux, and if SCO really can identify any code stolen from UNIX, that Novell will grant a free license to Linux to keep the code!

More as I know more. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"


I don't suppose this is any surprise to you. Just one more assault by the Politically Correct:

David L. Burkhead "May I be just half the person Advanced Surface Microscopy, Inc. My dog thinks I am." Space -- Japanese Animation -- History -- Science Fiction disclaimer: none of the opinions in this message are necessarily those of ASM, Inc.


And a warning from an old friend:

It has come to my attention from unclassified Russian-language sources that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), has attached devices to *all* ISPs in order to download and read e-mail, with special emphasis on e-mail going to and from foreign addresses. The purpose is to extract credit card numbers, bank account numbers and social security/identity numbers for the purposes of credit card fraud, bank fraud and identity theft, with the proceeds to be split between corrupt FSB officials and Russian organized crime entities. It is not known, but is suspected, that this is "semi-official" FSB policy, or at least higher-level authorities are looking the other way. FSB and other national level organizations are using their computer assets to break the encryption on e-mails to extract this information. More information as it becomes available.

Robert Glaub

I have no direct information, but Glaub is someone I have always taken seriously.









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Thursday, May 29. 2003

Interesting. The article has a bit of an anti-Republican spin, but I was intrigued by the news. 

-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

Actually, I find the article pretty silly, fairly standard fare for its source, and I'm curious as to what's interesting in it. Perhaps I did not read it closely enough.

Radioactive waste is of course a solved problem. One way: encase it in glass, which is nearly eternal, and drop it into a subduction zone. Or merely stack it in the Mojave. Build a superdome if you think you must cover it. You could put many decades worth of power reactor waste into the superdome.

Nuclear power is the key to energy independence. There are many who don't want to cut America's dependence on overseas oil, and others who don't want cheap energy from any source, and yet others in the various bureaucracies that enforce the status quo. All oppose cheap clean power.

Subject: incredible panoramic view from the top of everest

Bob Bailey


Subject: orchid for vmware is well deserved


I'm not sure if you still give out Orchids and Onions but a well deserved Orchid is in order for VMWare.

You've heard of it, I'm sure; but the reality is awesome. Any OS that can live on an Intel processor can live inside a vm. I've only tried several varieties of 'Windows 2000' and Solaris x86 but I've seen available for download other oddball OSs I've been meaning to try, including Plan 9.

In the Data Center we're moving servers to vm that need a dedicated box but _don't_ require massive resources; mostly print servers and software admin boxes. We've unracked 6 boxes (out of a herd of 40 servers) this week.


Plan 9 (link to download vm at the bottom)

Brian Dunbar System Administrator - Plexus ---------- Excellence is the invisible string that keeps us from barbarism. -Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco - The Register ----------


And on a dangerous note:

Subject: Decapitation averted by ABM.

 ----------- Roland Dobbins

Now we need them to protect Washington.

Stratfor is indicating that with the internal conflict between the military and the government that there may be a coup in the offing..





Featured On Stratfor Today, For Members Only:

* Turkey's Internal Fight 

* Afghanistan: Kabul Extends Its Reach? 


Today's Featured Analysis

Turkey's Internal Fight


Recent reports indicate growing tensions between the Turkish military and government officials in Ankara, one of whom claims that junior officers are growing weary of the pro-Islamist government. Both the government and the military deny the reports. However, while the government denies any problems between the military and Ankara, military leaders just deny the one report -- a signal that tension still exists.

The Turkish Army has the constitutional right to protect the secular state from a religious overthrow, and there is always tension between the Army and the Islamists.

Subject: Flynn Effect

I've always been tickled by the thought that people getting smarter is called the Flynn Effect.

Mike Flynn

I expect you have...

And on a note related to the Patriot Act:

Subject: Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases

Roland Dobbins

Which opens a very large can of worms indeed; and perhaps should become another major topic if there is enough interest.


Subject: Another view on RIAA

Jerry, The Register's published a really good letter on the RIAA at . It makes the point that if any private party tried to do what they're trying to do (Put out spyware that nukes all .mp3 files.) they'd be arrested as terrorists. Kind of puts it in perspective, doesn't it, considering that it's written by a disabled Marine.

 -- Joe Zeff 

The Guy With the Sideburns If you can't play with words, what good are they?

yea verily...






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Friday, May 30, 2003

Begin with a picture that may not be serious, but it's fun..

Subject: Polar bear vs. SSN.

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


And what caused me to find the link to my old article on this:

Dr. Pournelle:

Years ago I remember reading in one of the science fiction/fact book format magazines (title forgotten) of your doctoral thesis on the idea that political labelling or postioning should be described by a multi axis approach rather than something like the useless left/right labels. That concept stuck with me and I have often found myself asking where on the grid some politician or acquaintance would fit.

The other day reading National Review Online's Corner I checked the following link which took me to a quiz I had always wanted to take (albeit with less loaded questions). 

Reading the text on the site they seem to attribute this quiz to you if I remember your biography correctly without naming you explicitly.

After searching your site for mention of this I thought you might not have heard of it or would be curious to see what they had made of it.

Thanks for the stories and the articles.

Kenneth Grover Al Khobar KSA

Well, it's clearly somewhat derived from my work, and appeared after I published my dissertation, but that's all I can say. It reads well. Some of the questions are conditionals, and if you believe the conditional impossible then a false statement implies the universe, which is to say, some of the items aren't very predictive at all.

I seem to have come out right in the middle on their exam. I never thought of myself as a wishy washy middleton...

This is a VERY well-written piece, by Ted Turner, expressing opposition to the FCC's move to relax the rules about media cross-ownership.

An excerpt:

"Why should the country care? When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can't compete by imitating the big guys; they have to innovate. So they are less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They're willing to take risks. When, on my initiative, Turner Communications (now Turner Broadcasting) bought its first TV station, which at the time was losing $50,000 a month, my board strongly objected. When TBS bought its second station, which was in even worse shape than the first, our accountant quit in protest.

Large media corporations are far more profit-focused and risk-averse. They sometimes confuse short-term profits and long-term value. They kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap -- even if it runs counter to local interests and community values. For a corporation to launch a new idea, you have to get the backing of executives who are obsessed with quarterly earnings and afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They often prefer to sit on the sidelines waiting to buy the businesses or imitate the models of the risk-takers who succeed. (Two large media corporations turned down my invitation to invest in the launch of CNN.)"

--John R. Strohm

I fear I don't much listen to Turner any more, but perhaps I should? Anyway, thanks.

Subject: Note from NYT article on the Shuttle Debris Experiment-- 


I don't think I heard this type of thinking about the foam impact when they just had the interpolation. sigh...

Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE

Mockup Wing Is Torn by Foam in Shuttle Test By JOHN SCHWARTZ with MATTHEW L. WALD 

Last paragraph

"A NASA engineer working with the investigators said the results were impressive but could not be conclusive until the tests were performed again using reinforced carbon-carbon. 'All of the analysis and investigating and theorizing in the world just goes right down the tubes as soon as you have experimental information,' he said. 'The hardware doesn't lie.'"


About the "It's Nucular" article: you said "I'm curious as to what's interesting in it."

I was interested in the technology of the fourth generation "HGTR" nuclear reactors. The author of the article was shocked, shocked, that the Bush administration wants to fund and build a whole bunch of nuke plants as part of the hydrogen economy. I was thinking that it makes sense.

A quote from the article:

-- cut here -- cut here -- cut here -- cut here -- unlike today's light-water reactors, HTGR reactors—which would be cooled by helium gas—should burn up their radioactive materials more efficiently. The new facilities would then retain their waste for up to 40 years before carting it off to Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Proponents of HTGR also boast that the reactors require none of the concrete and steel containment walls that keep radioactive material locked inside light-water reactors. The uranium and graphite pellets inside HTGR reactors—even if all of the coolant is lost—would heat up so slowly they're unlikely to melt down.

Officials at the Idaho lab hinted at a dramatic exhibit of its pilot reactor's safety. "We could even do a demonstration in which we dump the helium coolant," said James Lake, associate laboratory director. "That would be a way to show the public in a visible way how safe the technology is." -- cut here -- cut here -- cut here -- cut here --

It's easy for the so-called Greens to point fingers and moan about energy policy. I'd be happier to see a bunch of nuke plants get built, and happier still if those nuke plants were used to drive a hydrogen economy. And even happier still if solar power satellites were built, but that's another battle for another email.

Anyway, maybe you already knew about all this stuff, but it was news to me. I have to admit that when I first skimmed the article, I didn't even realize how anti-nuke it was; I was more interested in the technology, and my eyes slid right past the loaded phrases like "seemingly benign". 

-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

I guess I thought HTGR was pretty old stuff.  Anyway, thanks for the pointer to what the New Left is thinking...

Jerry :

I read the article cited by Steve Hastings with some interest. The Voice isn't known for great scientific accuracy, let alone engineering knowledge, but this article stands out from even the Voice's usual levels of mediocrity in understanding technology. One sentence in particular jumped out for me.

"Scientists have not yet designed a nuclear facility whose safety and efficiency trumps that of gas or coal."

Oh? And the basis for this determination is what, exactly?

Deaths? More people have died around gas and coal fired generating systems in North America than in any nuclear handling (and we'll carefully exempt certain other former USSR countries here - the records for boiler explosions there are _worse_). It's entirely arguable that the increased deaths in _one year_ due to particulates in the atmosphere generated by burning coal outweigh _all_ of the deaths for every nuclear disaster known (and note that these are, on the whole, unrelated to power generation).

Efficiency? Lovely argument, so long as the overall costs of the fuels are only compared at endpoint, and we don't ever allow enough nuclear reactor systems to be built to allow for any economy of scale in construction and operation. This also easily ignores the concept of cracking water at the reactor for hydrogen, which changes the net efficiency for production of the end products (i.e., electricity and hydrogen).

Once again, we have wholly unqualified people in the press commenting on safety with supercilious authority.

The only way to make a clear comparison of these alternatives is to carefully look at the entire power sequence, from raw material feeds through to power products, considering the total expected mortality for a given power level (e.g., 100 MW), and including environmental effects at all of the stages (i.e., mining of coal or uranium ore, refining of ore, transport of coal/ore, feed systems for coal ore, "burning" of coal/ore, disposal of wastes).

And as you've pointed out, the handling of nuclear wastes is actually a non-issue when it's considered in an objective fashion - just stack glassine-enclosed wastes within a containment area far from people. This is a non-trivial problem when looking at the control of particulate emissions from coal burning - that technology simply isn't comparable to what we have for the handling of big glass bricks !

Insofar as the risk levels go for coal facilities vs. nuclear, one needs to address the essential equation of risk :

Risk = Hazard Consequence x Likelihood of Consequence

Much to the chagrin of lawyers, this is usually expressed in terms of fatalities per annum. Most of the world (e.g., the Netherlands, Hong Kong) handles these issues through "acceptable risk criteria" with clear-cut levels of risk allowed for new and existing facilities, but we're handcuffed by liability concerns here in the United States, thus preventing objective discussions on this.

Risk assessment is a mature and reproducible technology, although one will never find the Voice admitting this, and it produces results that allow for a rational discussion.

Novices to the field, as well as those who would like to swing the results, typically like to take the worst potential hazard consequence and then multiply that by the likelihood of the _least_ hazard consequence, thereby creating a nifty doomsday scenario. Developing the consequences in a reasonable manner, while taking a conservative (that word used in an engineering context) approach to likelihoods requires a thorough and deep understanding of the engineering of the systems, as well as a correspondingly expert understanding of how releases, explosions, and contamination effects propagate.

I spent time at the master's and doctoral levels studying this, applied these principles in the field for many years , authored papers on the subject, and continue to work with this every single day, so I feel I can hold a reasonably informed opinion. I would politely ask what the qualifications of the Voice writer are with respect to the subject of safety and acceptable risk.

The key to moving the very important discussions on energy forward in our country is getting the basic concepts in front of people, and then being able to get past the inevitable doomsayers for whom allowing even discussion of nuclear systems is tantamount to advocating the poisoning of babies. I can do the former, but the latter is still sadly outside my grasp.

For now.

John P.



Subject: The Norm of Minimum Effort

Roland Dobbins


Subject: I feel safer already!,3959,1104230,00.asp

----- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Overclocking The Ashkenazim

The Parkinson your previous correspondent had in mind is not the wonderful C Northcote but the turgid Michael, who interviews supposedly wonderful people on British television. Maybe the sense of intellectual complacency these people exude gives some viewers the impression that they actually are highly intelligent, but I wouldn't bet on it. I want to suggest that a consistently high level of endogamy combined with Talmudic study leads to a more intelligent gene pool. Talmudic logic is fantastic brain gymnastics, partly because it requires not just the use but also the selective misuse of what the apikoros (i.e. Epicureans, Rabbinic term for followers of Greek thought) would regard as "good logic".


Ah. Thanks


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

You've probably seen this report in the NYTimes (link requires registration): 

HOUSTON, May 29 -- A piece of insulating foam shot at a mocked-up shuttle wing opened a long slit in its leading edge, which may help to explain what caused the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, investigators said today.


Larry Weinstein

---------------- Lawrence Weinstein Associate Professor of Physics Old Dominion University Norfolk, VA 23529

I am shocked. Shocked.

Subject: Well, knock me over with a feather boa 

From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Date: May 30, 2003 subject: Well, knock me over with a feather boa

Dear Jerry:

I never knew the Village People were Republicans, but see 

Best, Stephen



Subject: FW: The geek test 

Heh .. I hesitate to tell you, but I qualified as an extreme geek…

Tracy Walters

What a surprise!

Subject: USB Watch

I just received mine from Airborne Express. I am once again moved to the "top geek" level in the software development company I work for. 

Nor do I have to carry around my USB Flash Drive any longer.


King of the Geeks!


Subject: Definitely iatrogenic (priority one).


I suppose these things happen...


Hi, I saw your note about your dissertation, which I checked out of the library at UW recently and read. I agree with you that it reads well and is remarkably up-to-date now, and must have been remarkably prescient about the implosion of the long ensconced left-right “continuum” in academic thinking on this subject.

For what it is worth, I kept it on my desk for a while (is your desk clean?) and I did get a note from the library that someone else wanted it, so a couple of folks are still reading the old typescript copy filed in the library.

Best wishes,

Michael D. Ward

Political Science, UW

Astonishing, but hurrah!

On an important subject:

Dear Jerry:

NBC News tonight had a segment which went into this whole thing in detail. Among the revelations were that Lynch's initial injuries came when the vehicle she was driving flipped over. She was captured unconscious or close too. Apparently some eager beaver in HQ thought it would be a good idea, in direct violation of Army Regulations, to lie to a reporter and make up a morale boosting story. Stupid, because the truth always comes out.

This takes nothing away from Lynch who will be a long time recovering and whose neighbors have prepared her parent's house to be handicap friendly. Her family is being very close-mouthed about all this, which speaks well of them. She'll still be decorated. POW Medal and maybe a Purple Heart because the injuries were a result of combat action. This kind of thing is exactly why the Army is so careful about awards of all kinds, especially those for combat action. Part of the reason is to prevent some grand-stander from handing out something on impulse. You will recall there was that kind of pressure.

The thing that civilians never seem to get is that there is a long logistics train and people who are not in the front ranks are equally or sometimes even more at risk. It should be remembered that a number of other people in the 507th Maintenance Company died in action. I am hoping that someone will be able to find out exactly what did happen.

Pray for Jessie.

Sincerely, Francis Hamit

I missed the story but I am not astonished. One doesn't expect maintenance company troops to fight like tigresses. She did her duty and has nothing whatever to be ashamed of.

Liberal Education in a nutshell

In an article titled "An Education in 404 Pages," by James Baccus, Vanderbilt Magazine, Spring 2003 issue, page 11, the author cites the following as the most significant recommended reading for someone interested in a liberal education but without the time to read the works in full.

1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance."
2. Alexis de Tocqueville, "The Principle of Interest Rightly Understood," from Democracy in America.
3. Thycydides, "the Melian Dialogue," from the History of the Peloponnesian War.
4. James Madison, Federalist 10 and 51.
5. Adam Smith, "On the Division of Labor," from The Wealth of Nations
6. Voltaire, Letter 15, "On the System of Gravitation."
7. Richard Feynman, "The Uncertainty of Science," from The Meaning of It All.
8. Plato, "The Cave," from The Republic.
9. Michel de Montaigne, "Of Cannibals," from The Essays.
10. John Stuart Mill, "Of the Libety of Thought and Discussion," from On Liberty.
11. Karl Popper, Chapter 10, The Open Society and Its Enemies
12. Fyodor Dostoevsky, "The Grand Inquisitor," from The Brothers Kaqramazov.
13. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail.
14. Virginia Woolf, Chapter 6, A Room of One's Own.
15. Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address."
16. Suetonius, "Agustus, Afterward Deified," from The Twelve Caesars.
17. George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language."
18. Edmon Burke, "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol."
19. Samuel Johnson, Number 21, The Rambler.
20. Immaual Kant, "On Perpetual Peace."
21. Henry David Thoreau, "On Seeing," from his Journal.
22. Plutarch, "On Contentment."
23. Soren Kierkegaard, "The Story of Abraham," from Fear and Trembling.
24. William Hazelitt, "On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth."

Jim Woosley

I might quibble here and there, and I think some of those entries are less important than some that were left out, but there's nothing wrong with that list. I'd certainly include a couple of Plutarch's lives in addition to the essay; they're fun anyway. And Cicero on how to make a speech isn't fun but is very much worth slogging through.

And see below for more discussion on an important subject.

Subject: A triumph of sense over reflex, for once.

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

You can see it that way. I see idiots managing to become morons. The federal law is stupid, the no exceptions rules are imbecilic, and the whole notion that we are safer as a result of this kind of happy horse crap is idiotic.







This week:


read book now


Saturday, May 31, 2003

"A NASA engineer working with the investigators said the results were impressive but could not be conclusive until the tests were performed again using reinforced carbon-carbon. 'All of the analysis and investigating and theorizing in the world just goes right down the tubes as soon as you have experimental information,' he said. 'The hardware doesn't lie.'"

Amen. I think of similar comments whenever the animal rights community proposes abolishing the use of experimental animals in favor of computer modeling...

What happened to the WMD?

I don't know. It probably cost too much to maintain a reasonable capability, but Saddam Hussein would never have admitted that Iraq had to take economics into consideration in decisions of that type. Loss of face. People at the NCA level frequently live in cloud-cookoo-land.

We're seeing that in the UK. The current government has all these goals and targets, but there's no there there. I'm currently module leader for four different classes: Advanced Object Oriented Design (core, final year), E-commerce (I do the security lectures, final year), Cognitive Neuroscience (for engineers, MSc), and Intelligent Systems Programming (MSc), but I'm only allocated half the resources needed to teach these classes to an internationally-acceptable level. I do my best, but I get very tired of the unpaid overtime. My tutors went on strike this year when I asked them to mark four assignments in AOOD. The class is _designed_ for four assignments, and that's how it is taught in America, but the tutors are only allocated enough hours to mark two. Lesson for managers: be careful who you hire if you come from a different country. Their qualifications may be paper thin.

And so it goes. Face is everything. Politics proposes, and economics disposes. I suspect that's what Hussein ran into. It probably killed him. Couldn't happen to a more deserving person.

When I teach firewall technology, I discuss the origin of the word "firewall" and point out a firewall doesn't protect the engineer--just the passengers. Sometimes the people running the train forget that they're right next to a furnace that could blow up in their faces.


 -- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <> Anything worth doing is worth doing for money. (Tell that to the UK Govt!)

Face has certainly killed many.


Whether he had weapons of mass destruction or not, Saddam scored points with the Arab community by standing up to the big guys.

Lloyd Arnold Winterville, North Carolina

But that is not entirely obvious: he stood up and was beaten, in a campaign unequalled in military history. Saddam's place in the history books is as the man who let the US demonstrate its enormous superiority. Recall before?  "Afghanistan was one thing, but Iraq has a real army, the US will win but we'll take lots of casualties, etc."

But we didn't. We won with one division tied behind us. And Saddam doesn't come off as a strong man at all.

And Roland points to another view:

Subject: Boar in Badghdad.

Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and semi-snide oh-so-superior-liberal attitude aside, this is worth reading (as much as for what the author didn't intend to convey as for his own views):

Roland Dobbins




You wrote:

"It's going to be a long road, building liberal democracy in a place that has absolutely no democratic traditions, in a "nation" that was formed out of lines on a map with no thought to ethnic and religious divisions, among a people who may not have made the blood feud quite as high an art form as they have in the Balkans, but who still have traditions of the Avenger of Blood, particularly among the Shiite majority."

If I may, this sounds like what we started with in America.

Jim Dodd San Diego

ps. Glad you got your cable modem installed. I am using the Linksys Etherfast Cable/DSL Router downstream of mine for my small home system.

Hardly. In America we started with English legal traditions and a habit of the Rule of Law, and a fear of revolutions after the Cromwell experiment, but also a fear of royal tyranny.  And well developed institutions and courts.

And see below




For something completely different:

Subject: Jerry, lets all go in together on this...we could rename it the Chaos Cruiser!

Mark Huth Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. twain

Wow. Yeah, how many of us will it take?

And an important pointer:

Please access the SpaceDaily article with the URL shown below. You will be treated to the best, most timely and most succinct definition of the NASA problem and its solution that I have ever read. It is far too late for my generation, and probably the one that follows, but you GenXers can have hope if his plan implemented. Bill

- The Failure of NASA: And A Way Out

Phil Chapman 

William E. Haynes

 Discussion continues next week.


RE: A Liberal Education

Dr. Pournelle, While reading your page I came across the reading list for a liberal education. Am I to take the word Liberal to mean politically liberal as we see in the United States today, or are we talking about a classical education? I am interested to understand. If you truly do recommend some of these books I will hunt them down.

Douglas Knapp

When I was a lad, a "liberal education" meant broad, with philosophy, an education in "the liberal arts," as opposed to narrow and more technical education such as one got in a music conservatory or an architectural school. The St. John's College "Great Books" program was sort of the epitome of liberal arts education.

In those days most college graduates were Republicans (about 75%) so "liberal" didn't mean politically liberal in the modern sense, but for that matter, a political liberal in those days wasn't automatically an anti-anti-Communist supporter of welfare and of relaxing or ending discipline in schools. But in those days the Democratic Party was the party of "tariff for revenue only" and the Republicans were for protective tariffs, Democrats were for states rights and the Republicans had most of the black vote.

There are no items on the list given above that one should not have read, but it would be impossible to agree with everything there since there are mutual contradictions. And as I said, I would add some items, and if doing that required taking some off the list, I'd do that: not all the ones listed are the highest priority. 

The real problem is trying to get an education of the old variety on the cheap. It's far better to have read Federalist #10 than no Federalist Papers at all. It's far better to have read some of Tocqueville than none, and it's far better to have read some of Mill's On Liberty than none of it, and part of one of Plato's works than none of them, and -- well, you get the idea. For those starting late and trying to see what this liberal education stuff is all about, that's no bad list.

But I would seriously add a few summary works. Barzun's Dawn to Decadence, Pratt's Battles That Changed History, and Paul Johnson's Modern Times are among them probably longer than the entire list given above, but they contain a great deal of understanding of our era.

Anyway, you will do yourself considerable good by finding those works and reading them.

You may find one problem: most of these works sort of refer to each other. Clearly the earlier ones don't refer to the later, which is why many Great Books programs take works in chronological order, but there are difficulties with that approach too. The result is that you may not fully understand any of those works until you have read them all.

Classics are not always works one is glad to have read or wishes one had read, but one doesn't want to read (although that can often enough). Some are a delight, and more so the second time you read them after you get that understanding that comes with familiarity with what was once the world of civilized discourse.

And we have

Hello, Jerry,

In addition you the rest of your reading, consider the newly-reprinted _A Stroll With William James_, by Jacques Barzun (U Chicago Press).

Someone on the William James discussion list called it "delightful", and they were right. All-around good book.

[Incidentally, I would add some part of Locke's Second Treatise and the Declaration of Independence to the great essays subset of the Great Books. Also, bits of Adam Smith. And...]


John Welch

Which I can certainly agree to.



And an interesting theory:

Saddam acted the way he did because he *thought* he had WMD, but really didn't. Ten years of sanctions and palace building gutted his program, but he still kept getting glowing reports of success from his underlings (since he was known to literally shoot the messanger at times). Possibly some of the money for his WMD program wound up in numbered offshore accounts instead of in nerve gas. Occasionally, he would get a Potemkin village tour.

Lying to the boss is, after all, the fundamental flaw of totalitarian dictatorships.

steve van sickle

and Greg Cochran says


Of course it's a ridiculous comparison, one that could only have been made by someone with no feel for or knowledge of American history, but at least Jim Dodd didn't originate it. It's from Donald Rumsfeld, on the WSJ last week:

 "The years after our war of independence involved a good deal of chaos and confusion. There were uprisings such as Shays' Rebellion, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There was rampant inflation caused by the lack of a stable currency and the issue of competing paper monies by the various states. There were regional tensions between mercantile New England and the agrarian South. There was looting and crime and a lack of an organized police force. There were supporters of the former regime whose fate had to be determined. Our first effort at a governing charter -- the Articles of Confederation -- failed miserably, and it took eight years of contentious debate before we finally adopted our Constitution and inaugurated our first president. And, unlike the people of Iraq, we did not face the added challenge of recovering from the trauma of decades of brutal rule by a dictator like Saddam Hussein. "

Gregory Cochran

And that is a bit frightening, that Rumsfeld would say that, and his staff wouldn't realize that it's well, sort of all wrong.





This week:


read book now


Sunday, June 1, 2003

It might be that we have been overlooking the obvious here.

We clearly went into Iraq with no clear plan of what the hell to do after we put Saddam out of the way. S0..

I'm sure you are familiar with Col. david Hunt (ret.) as seen frequently on the Fox News Network. Lets make HIM the Military Governor (ok, Legate... if we are going to do this, let's do it the right way) of Iraq, with the 3rd* and 4th Divisions to back him. He looks to me to be the right man for the job.

I mean...can't you just SEE him as John C. Falkenberg at 60? If he turned out to be John Christian's illegitimate great-grand-dad, I wouldn't be at all surprised.

I suspect we may be stuck with Empire, whether we really want it or not. This country has always been called "The Great Experiment". Perhaps the experiment is now to see if it is possible to have Republic AND Empire.

It may be our best option... who can say?

*My old outfit.."Rock of the Marne!..Hoo-ahh!"..HHT 3/7 CAV.."Garry Owen!"

Best Regards, 30 year fan, ||||||||||

Gregory D. Grider, Lemon Grove, CA

Indeed. But the proper terminology is Proconsul. A Legate is the equivalent of a Major General: he commanded a Legion. As to Republic and Empire, clearly we are going to have a shot at trying. We are a long way from government that derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Incidentally, I note that we aren't getting enough citizen volunteers into the Army, so they not only recruit non-citizens but offer them citizenship. This is not a bad idea, indeed it's only justice, but it does mean that as we have more adventures we will need to recruit more soldiers...

Subject: Go tell it to the Spartans.

--------- Roland Dobbins








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