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Mail 273 September 1 - 7, 2003






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Monday  September 1, 2003  Labor Day

Considerable mail last weekend.

> what happens to the left half of the Bell Curve?

This situation is simply addressed by by comprehensive Federal Social Security ie a stipend to which a citizen is entitled.

If such is available, local menial labour is not tied to being competitive with overseas menial labour. Also a labourer is not forced into dangerous working conditions.

(I hear the clink of swords and whicker of daggers already. As I run away I yell...

40% of mechanised society can do 100% of the work. DEAL WITH IT! David Shannon

Well, "DEAL WITH IT" no matter how loud you shout is not really much advice.

We did a long time ago have societies in which most of the work was done by slaves. Athenian gentlemen did not work. Instead they talked politics -- the Persians said the Greeks always had an open space in their cities in which they all got together to tell lies to each other -- and voted to ruin their wealthier neighbors, and started wars and the like.

Rome had bread and circuses and the dole. This is of course what you advocate under a different name.

The question is, what kind of democracy do you have when a large part of the population is useless, contributes nothing, knows it, and in essence votes for a living. Perhaps that will work. I don't know of places where it was tried, although Rome in Imperial days had something of the sort with free bread and circuses.


On Religion and Science

I go to church. I'm an ordained Presbyterian elder, the equivalent is in a number of other protestant denominations, and currently a Lay Administrant in the Church of England. That doesn't mean I care much for doctrine or theology, and the clergy tend to avoid asking me theological questions that relate to neuroscience. They usually find my answers uncomfortable, like: why are almost all neuroscientists monists? My answer: because dualism in any meaningful sense has been experimentally falsified (which it has).

My research centers around understanding what might be described as 'belief' in bats. Bats are wonderful research subjects for questions in a number of areas: audition, echolocation, flight control, and internal models of the world. "Internal models of the world?" you ask. The evidence for this was first reported by Möhres and Öttingen-Spielberg in 1949. * Erstorientierung—when bats first encounter a novel situation. * Wiederorientierung—when bats fly in a familiar space. Observed in the behavior of a bat that was accustomed to roosting in a cage in a room. The researchers rotated the cage and eventually removed it, and noted that the bat continued to behave as if the cage were in its normal position until forced to reorient. This is evidence that a bat may use and maintain a world model that is only modified if circumstances force it to. Rawson and Griffin investigated this further (see Griffin, Listening in the dark, the Acoustic Orientation of Bats and Men, Yale, 1958, and Griffin, “Cognitive aspects of echolocation,” in Nachtigall and Moore, ed., Animal Sonar: Processes and Performance, Plenum Press , 1988). They asked whether the bats even cried at all. Experiment involved placing and moving obstacles in a flight room. Answer: the bat still cried, but seemed to ignore the resulting returns. The point is that bats seem to use an internal model of the world to control their behavior, and the model is only updated when sensory input is markedly inconsistent with the model--very much like human religious belief. So by understanding how bats create and update their internal model, I might understand better how humans do the same.

My answer to the young intellectual is that you can be religious and a scientist, and you don't need to keep the two domains separate, but you may find that you make some religious people uncomfortable, especially the ones with strong (and hence experimentally testable) beliefs.

On the related question--how can an atheist be moral--I'd like to suggest that morality might be an emergent phenomenon.

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




Subject: robust AMD chips

John Citron wrote:

"Clearly, if AMD wants to aim their offerings at the general public, not just the PC enthusiast, then they should make their processors more robust."

Their new 64-bit processors are a great deal more robust. They have an integrated heat spreader, much like the one Intel put on the Pentium 4. Also, I'm pretty sure that thermal overload protection (shutting down when things get hot) is built into every motherboard for the new chips.

What I really want is an ATX motherboard with two or four Crusoe chips running SMP. Such a system would never feel slow, unless you managed to saturate all the processors at once, and each Crusoe would dissipate under 10 Watts peak. It would be just the thing for a typical home or office user.

If I ever build a dream house, I'm going to have a server room where all the high-heat computers will go. I'd like a gigabit Ethernet connection to a Linux server with a RAID array, rather than a hard disk, and I want that server far away from my ears so I can cool it aggressively.

Stay well. Keep writing. -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"


Subject: More on production export etc. 

Hi Jerry,

Thought you might find the following editorial interesting. More on the whole job export issue.

.............................................. Glenn Hunt



From: Stephen M. St. Onge                                        
Date: Sept. 1, 2003                                                                subject: oil prices and exports
Dear Jerry:
        Oliver Richter writes: "Another thing is that almost all the oil we produce in the western US (CA and Alaskan crude) is not sold in the US but is shipped to Japan and other countries in the Far East either refined (as is the oil in LA) or as crude (Alaskan crude) at a huge profit to the oil companies. It is not sold locally, at what could be a very low price to US consumers."
        IIRC, what happens is that Japan buys oil from S. American OPEC countries, and then swaps it barrel for barrel for Alaskan crude.  This lowers transportation costs for the U.S. and Japan, and also lets swap oil that doesn't meet environmental regulations cheaply for oil that does meet them cheaply.


Subject: On Parachutes and Shuttle 

Jerry, a very good article that I've not seen cited on your blog, er, website yet.. 

And John Carmack on parachute scalability, from the Google news archives.. 

-- Jonathan Abbey Austin, TX


I have no great enthusiasm for expendables as a solution to space access.

Subject: NASA talking about 'band-aid' for Shuttle, suitable for application when in orbit 


Doug Hayden










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With luck this will settle the matter:

This is in response to Geoff's letter.

I am not an engineer but a programmer who develops add-ons for a accurate space simulation called Orbiter Sim ( I done a lot of work modeling Gemini and had to do a lot of research into re-entry physics to get it "just right".

The basic problem of using a chute like Geoff is that it would work at first. But since you are in orbit your motion obeys the laws of orbital mechanics which means that your perigee is dropping (the lowest point of your orbit) causing your craft to go ever deeper into the atmosphere. Since the amount of force needed to lower (or raise) your perigee is not much you will find that are going much quicker into the atmosphere then you wanted too.

A solution is to generate lift. But lift causes drag so we are back to the heating problem again. Another solution would be to use thrusters to null your vertical velocity. But until we have a way of shipping fuel into orbit from somewhere this isn't practical as the amount of fuel needed is very large. Based on my work modeling space craft I would guess that you would need roughly the same amount of fuel you used taking off to come back in. Although the parachute idea will cut down on this amount.

I recommend anybody who is serious about spaceflight to take a look at Orbiter Sim. It not accurate enough to make a final design on a spacecraft because like Dr. Pournelle said the problems are in the fifth decimal place. But Orbiter Sim is accurate enough to see if a back of an envelope idea is worth pursuing, it is completely programmable and it free!

Robert Conley 

Physics always works. As for instance:

Jerry :

BIG parachutes, eh?

Hurm. Well, if one gets out some basic engineering texts, or harks back to engineering school, one could think about a few quite essential, dare I call them simple, issues. I know that you're _quite_ familiar with this Jerry, but I'll post a few leading comments, setting up the discussion as an examination exercise for the "online student".

PROBLEM : Develop a really, really big parachute for the Space Shuttle to use from LEO to ground level, providing engineering calculations using first principles.

NOTES : The larger the parachute and dragging action, the greater the tension on the attachments to the space vehicle. Materials of construction are such that one either has _really_ thick cables, or multiple cables, and then one still has to attach them to the vehicle, which then comes back to materials of construction again. Calculations on the increases needed for strength are left to the online student, but with a hint that the drag forces expressed as tensile forces on the cable attachments or attachment will need to be considered at elevated temperatures (not STP), which will adversely affect the strength, necessitating more cables or thicker cables. The online student _cannot_ assume that the cables or attachment point remains at orbital temperatures.

One could de-orbit with a massive delta-vee alteration to bring down the velocity to levels where a smaller parachute would work. Again, the thrust requirements for the required delta-vee are left to the online student, but with another hint regarding the solution of the differential equation for the space vehicle to shift velocity with a decreasing net mass - run an interation on a micro with an initial 5 second interval, and then re-test with a one second interval. Assume all initial drag forces through the initial de-orbit height change are identical for another (gross) simplification.

Lastly, the online student is left with exercise of lifting the increased mass of the enhanced parachute and additional fuel for the de-orbital burn into the initial orbit, along with the requirement that some basic payload for astronauts and life support (assume no scientific, commercial, or any other purpose to the flight that could add to the payload) . Students can try this with a simplified equation where the total load to be lifted is assumed have a linear loss of fuel mass for ascent and the net mass to drop by 50% at say, 60,000 feet, making a simplification of consumed propellant mass and dropping of one or more stages for their putative orbit capable rocket system. Another net 50% decrease could be assumed for 120,000 feet to allow for even simpler modeling equations.


The numbers from this exercise will show the online student quite clearly why a manned space vehicle launched and supplied solely from Earth doesn't use a parachute for de-orbital maneuvers.

Note that the simplifications listed above are provided solely to assist the online student in their calculations. Actual ground-to-orbit calculations are, as you are very well aware, far more complex and require some significant mathematical ability and insight. Just modelling the vehicle movement with a variable drag force altering with successive reductions in height is daunting...

John P.

Indeed. Thank you.




Subject: Microsoft Lock-In in Office 2003

I can't say its unexpected, but that doesn't make me feel any better:

Martin Dempsey


"fighting a fire with a flamethrower"

Andreas Reichl throws up an interesting line in her (?) discussion of fixing NASA culture. I have no objection to her substantive points, but am amused by her analogy.

My Canadian province (British Columbia) is in the middle of a severe drought and is having a disastrous forest fire summer. There are many news pictures of fire crews working to block the path of forest fires. Almost all of these photos show the firefighter with one of the standard tools of his trade. Either an ordinary shovel, or a "flamethrower". These "fire-drippers" are used to start small, controllable fires that will starve the main fire for easy fuel when it reaches that point.

Greg Goss


Over the last several weeks I've been reading all of the hullabaloo about the Saturn V, the "destruction of plans" myth, ad-nauseam. Truly, the Shuttle is a failure as an economical space vehicle and a new approach is needed.

However, lost in all this discussion is the Delta IV. I'm no rocket expert, but it seems to me that this platform would be sufficient for launching ISS supplies and people until a Shuttle replacement can be developed. It's better than sending our folks halfway around the world to get a ride into space, and I'm sure Boeing would love the extra business.

Ken McIntire Woodstock, GA

The point really is that expendables are cheaper than Shuttle but nearly anything is. And NASA spiked all research into truly reusable rocket ships in order to keep Shuttle going. The purpose of Shuttle is to employ about 21,000 NASA people and subcontractors. It achieves that goal. Que mas desea Usted?

Just in case you don't have enough to worry about right now, there's an asteroid out there screaming toward earth. The British government has some outfit called the Near Earth Object Centre. They say that this asteroid could smack us on March 21, 2014. That's eleven years away. It's not a sure thing ... more likely it will miss ... but let's all panic anyway.

Jim Woosley

I have notes on this from many readers. For the moment all we can do is watch. I could hope it's real, of course. The Air Force might then get off its duff and into space. The Navy appears to be brain dead regarding space. I don't know why. Maybe something like this would wake up the Admirals?




Hello, Jerry,

says, "...almost 10 American troops a day now being officially declared "wounded in action.""

And: "The number of those wounded in action, which totals 1,124 since the war began in March, has grown so large, and attacks have become so commonplace, that U.S. Central Command usually issues press releases listing injuries only when the attacks kill one or more troops."

[My son recently accompanied another soldier who need an MRI at 2am, because the MRI machines are devoted to returning wounded at normal hours. Dan listened to the wounded, mostly guys from non-combat MOS's now missing hands, feet, legs, and faces, all wounded in ambush. "I was in a convoy..."]

I hate this.

Most of the time, a sound American foreign policy has been to mind our own business, and to avoid the messianic temptation top believe that we can send in troops and solve the sins of the world. "Friends of liberty everywhere..."

Now we have taken possession of Iraq, though the Iraqis did not threaten us. Now what? I honestly don't know. Can't go back, can't go forward, and can't stay where we are.


John Welch


I was discussing this with Tom Clancy this morning. The problem is that once in, it's hard to just cut and run: that is costly in many ways. But there has to be an orderly way to do things and we are not doing them. Essay to follow, probably in view, but in fact I have written this several times. And on that score:

Iraq from the bottom up

You note that the only way we can rebuild Iraq is from the bottom up, starting with local governments, community groups, establishing a basis of law and local control (and experience with personal control of government) etc. The implication seems to be that nobody else has yet thought of this.

I think others have indeed thought of this. I invite your attention to .

Where it is documented how Bremmer&Co. have largely set up neighborhood governments, tasked with such things as thinking about how to get the garbage out of the streets; prioritzing where things need to be fixed; figuring out how to arrange to get things fixed if given the money to do so, etc. In general, learning to govern.

Where they seem to be building a larger government out of the remains of some of the ministries for two purposes. One, for the WPA-like purpose of keeping useful people employed in a time of what to all intents is a national economic depression. Two, to supply a second level of government to deal with the local community center groups and handle more regional things like getting the water mains repaired (or installed in the first place, where they never were).

This is a most interesting web site to peruse. Simply keeping track of the RFPs that are posted there is rather amazing. Rather than the typical Government contract that requires two years for a bid cycle and seems to have little requirement for results, most of these require a submission by email within 10 days, and product to be delivered in Iraq within 1 to 2 weeks after contract signing. Almost the way one might have imagined American businesses working before about 1940; before the Federal Government took over everything.

Indeed, the whole web site tends to read like an adventure in capitalism and self-reliance out of any American history up till the late 1930s. It would seem that is currently happening in Iraq, at least to some extent.

Now, could everything be as good as this site would seem to imply? Probably not. But is everything as bad as the "news" media universally paints it? I suspect that is almost certainly impossible. Even if it was, it seems not a lot worse that Compton or Detroit or Washington DC.


Things are never as bad or as good as they seem. 


Dr. Pournelle,

It seems that Bush is having more and more trouble living up to his campaign promises:,2933,96074,00.html 

He'd better be careful; Republicans haven't been as vindictive about this sort of thing as Democrats (can you say Green party?), but Bush is managing to do things to upset both the conservative and moderate elements of his party. The strangest part is that it's hard to see why. I understood why Clinton allowed himself to be talked into a compromise on gays in the military that was worse than either keeping the old policy or getting rid of it would have been, and I understood why Bush the Elder gave in and let taxes be raised ("Read my lips..."), but the emerging pattern where Bush the Younger makes a big deal about something and then quietly does something else ($15 billion for AIDS in Africa!...err, not exactly) has me completely at a loss. All politicians do it, of course, but there seems to be a pattern developing. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?


Joe Beaver

I have no idea. I have some friends in Congress, and some in the military, but few contacts in the White House just now. 


Parts of this next read as if he has been reading me.

Subject: Blood Money.

Roland Dobbins

Empire on the cheap never works.



Subject: The blob site

David Vesey

For those interested in an early Steve McQueen movie...


Subject: Reason Why Buffy Kicked ... The deep meaning of TV's favorite vampire slayer


Virginia Postrel on the subject of Buffy.
 <<Reason Why IBuffy-I Kicked Ass The deep meaning of TV's favorite vampire

Rod McFadden

Yeah. Indeed.




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Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Begin with this, which is interesting:

Dear Jerry:

You will find the following of interest. Your help is acknowledged with thanks. 


It is in fact a pretty good application of Steve's views to the Israeli situation. Good to see the old fox get some recognition. Incidentally, at the time we wrote Strategy of Technology, I hadn't written any science fiction, and I was a Professor of Political Science, former aerospace senior scientist, and deputy Mayor of Los Angeles. But "science fiction writer" will do.

And see below


Continue with this, which says a lot:

Adult Supervision 


----------- "The graveyards are full of indispensable men." deGaulle

Markets are a very good way to organize the application of capital for maximum return on investment. They are a good way to organize personnel SELECTION. They are not so hot on CLASSIFICATION AND ASSIGNMENT unless required to be so through external manipulation: adult supervision.

In the Selection model you take people and assign them where needed, until you don't need any more. It's fairly easy to do and a soluble problem with a number of optimum solutions. The Classification problem assumes you must use all the people in something: now assign them. There is no formula for a general optimum, and the most used algorithms are often quite sub-optimum. 

Markets often have local optimums which work because some of the costs (public order, that sort of thing) are not borne by the market and those who profit from it. Adult supervision again...

Cartoon: two economists dying in the desert. "When the price we're

willing to pay reaches the market clearing level, there will be




Dear Jerry:

Mr. Welch's commentary on the number of soldiers wounded in Iraq while on convoy duty has me wondering -- where are the MP's? In Vietnam we had convoys every week for heavy and bulk material but much more of it was flown in by C-130. No convoy moved without an MP escort. In fact the only guy wounded in my company the whole time I was there was one of our MPs who was detailed to a convoy and managed to single-handedly break the will of the attacking force by standing in the middle of the road and firing at them with an M-16 in one hand and a .45 in the other. No one likes to mess with crazy people. (He was a nice kid and a good friend of mine, but a touch mad). When I was on R&R in Kuala Lumpur, one of the other guys was the sergeant who ran the night convoy to Tay Nihn from Saigon. I asked him about it and how it was done and he said it was pretty much by the book...and there is a book. Or part of one. I recall the basic manuals I studied as a kid. The procedure involves having scouts out and a reaction force in reserve. Not just taking a drive through the countryside. So, I'm mystified. This should not be that hard, especially with helicopters available for scouting, even in a MOUT area. Why are we losing so many? Could it be because of the policy imposed on the Army to make the force "faster and lighter"? The lack of spare parts to repair vehicles, or even of enough weapons, might aggravate that situation.

Also, I regret to inform Mr. Welch that in the Army there is no such thing as a "non-combat MOS". Everyone gets nine weeks of basic training so that they can respond appropriately when attacked. There haven't been any safe rear areas in decades. Certainly not in Vietnam where I spent my time as a clerk and never fired a shot in anger. We still got mortars in two or three times a week. My father had a similar tale to tell about his time at the 1st MASH in Korea. Military service is inherently dangerous and if you are in a combat zone at all you are at risk. This is why every job requires a soldier to do it.

Going back to my company: As I said, one purple heart the whole year for the entire company. There were one or two days in that year when we suited up, charged weapons and prepared to fight like everyone else on the base. I didn't hear anyone say that they had a non combat MOS.

Sincerely, Francis Hamit

Are not most MP units Reserve units? 

  • Empire needs: combat legions who can defeat any organized resistance
  • Occupation forces there for the long haul

These are not the same, and sending in the Reserves for long term occupation duties is an imperial task most of them did not sign up for.

I see we are about to bribe the UN to do some of the client state tasks of occupation. That may make sense. I would have hoped the neo-cons had thought this stuff out earlier and decided on what clients would be used for the long haul, but apparently they never thought past the day of "victory". 

"We can win!"  But actually a number of us knew that, and worried about what happened after Saddam fell. Apparently few thought about that back in Washington. I suppose I should not be, but I am astonished to find out how little they thought through what happens when we win.

Clancy and I agreed yesterday: we're there now, and we have to think through what to do next. Just cut and run is not the answer. As to what we really should do, I'm still thinking. That may sound arrogant, but then I am not sure I know who else is doing it.

And see below



Subject: computer program teaches children to listen


I found this article in the current New Scientist. Apparently David Moore, at the University of Oxford, has developed a computer program to help children learn to distinguish between different phonemes. 

"A simple computer program that teaches children to distinguish between sounds can dramatically boost their listening skills. It can allow them to progress by the equivalent of two years in just a few weeks, the game's creator claims."

It's aimed at improving listening skills, but I wondered if it uses any of the same techniques as Roberta's reading program.


Paul Dove

Interesting. My wife's program does something similar but it teaches phonetics systematically. Dramatic improvements in reading I can certainly believe because I have seen her program accomplish them thousands of times.


In another place there was a discussion of the probable effects on our economy of variations in oil prices. One question was what might happen with a tax on oil:

A tax on oil would raise the U.S. saving's rate (caeteris paribus). Given that the U.S. has maintained its prosperity (as measured by consumption, GDP growth, employment) over the last few years by relentlessly ratcheting down its savings rate, an oil tax would be a BAD THING. However, with a current account deficit of 5% of GDP (and rising), the party will be over soon enough anyway.



Dr Pournelle,

A tax on oil would only raise the savings rate if the demand for the product is highly elastic. All previous evidence of oil price hikes, etc., is that demand is exceptionally inelastic, and so would lower the savings rate.

And anyway, the country that owns the world's reserve currency can run a trade deficit almost indefinitely so long as the world does not decide to change its reserve currency. The British did this for most of the 19th century.

For the US today the biggest danger is if the Japanese economy takes such a dive that they start to disinvest their $trillions in the US.

Jim Mangles

And assuming that the Congress doesn't just seize the assets claiming terrorism...

And see below


In 1970, Stefan Possony described the characteristics of people's war as follows:40

People's war is a long drawn-out or protracted revolution. Its unavoidable duration is exploited by guerillas to bankrupt their opponents politically, morally, and economically.41...The most practical objective of guerilla warfare is to create chaotic conditions in the target country and prevent effective, efficient, and good government.

(emphasis added)

Of course, Donald Rumsfeld thinks he knows more than Possony, and that what is going on in Iraq is not a guerrilla or "Peoples War"...

Kim Owen Smith


And for something else to worry about:

> There was an article in the news yesterday about new state > laws that forbid using DNA evidence to exonerate convicted > people who claim they are innocent.

I heard a report the other day that dealt with Chimera. A woman was tested to see if she was compatible to provide a kidney transplant for one of her sons, and the DNA results indicated that she wasn't even the boys mother--when she and everyone else, including the doctor, knew for a fact that she had carried him for 9 months and delivered him normally.

It turned out that she had two separate genetic codes. The code for her blood was different from the code for her skin (which did match her son's DNA). The theory is that she was originally destined to be fraternal twin sisters, but in the early stages of cell division the two eggs fused and developed into a single, though allophenic, individual.

Aside from the initial shock about the maternity question, the implication for DNA evidence was this: how many crime suspects dismissed on the basis of DNA results might be chimeras?



Subject: Dude, you're getting screwed.

Roland Dobbins

You just can't make this stuff up...  But see below.


Talk about taking advantage of an accident . . .

Sue Ferrara



I'm a time traveler stuck here in 2003. Upon arriving here my dimensional warp generator stopped working. I trusted a company here by the name of LLC Lasers to repair my Generation 3 52 4350A watch unit, and they fled on me. Since nobody in this timeline seems to be able to deliver what I need (safely here to me), I will have to build a simple time travel circuit to get where I need myself. While it might be hard to find parts in this time to build anything decent, I need easy to follow schematics from the future to build one which is safe and accurate that will not disrupt the time space continuum with both forward and backward capability accounting for temporal location settings (X, Y, Z, n), which can be built out of (readily available) parts here in 2003. Please email me any plans you have. I will pay good money for anything you send me I can use. Or if you have a dimensional warp generator available, and are 100% certain you have a (safe secure) means of delivering it to me please also reply with a secure way to contact you. Send a separate email to me at:

Do not reply back directly to this email as it will only be bounced back to you.

Thank You Brian Appel

I am afraid I am of no help here...

Subject: Gifted and Talented but Too Young for University

In the UK, minors (age<18) cannot go to university. The reason? Because the universities don't want to have to do background clearances on everyone who comes in contact with students, and those background clearances are legally mandated for people working with minors.

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

=But see below


Subject: For one of those really slow daze....

Ed Hume

You need to get out more.


So, last month I wrote a check to Verizon, but inadvertently put my JC Penney account number on it and mailed it to JC Penney.

And guess what; the company cashed it.

I called JC Penney today for an explanation. I wondered why the company hadn't sent the check back. I wondered how the heck a bank could (would?) cash it.

Well, after listening to all those telephone prompts I finally got: to reach a customer service representative press pound.

I was sent to an overseas location; I could tell by the connection. The woman sounded Indian.

We went through the whole discussion about the check. She seemed not to understand the issue, but assured me the amount had been posted to my account. "Oh and congratulations," she chirpped, "on being a privileged gold card member!"

When we finished our less than satisfactory conversation, she said, "Is there anything else I can help you with?"

I asked her where she was located. "I am in a country called India," she replied. Oh hello. Did she think I had no idea where India was located?!

In any event, since JC Penney has now shipped its customer service operations overseas, I am cutting up my card and closing my account.



Subject: Cows with guns (PG-12--mild language) 

Definitely have to get out more







This week:


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Dear Dr Pournelle,
    I read with interest the case of the Dell customers who sent back their computer because they couldn't read the software licence agreements without agreeing to them in advance (shrink-wrap licensing). In particular,  their note that:

"After all this, we *did* try to boot off a Linux install CD. That just took us to the same screen as before. So we had to go into the BIOS so that it would try to boot off the CD before the hard disk, but after we did that, Windows started to boot, without having displayed the "press a key to agree" screen. We quickly powered the machine down before Windows started. [Though now you no longer get the "press a key to agree" screen when you turn it on, even with the BIOS settings back the way they were.]"
    A couple of years ago, Netscape/AOL lost a case involving a click-through licence. (See for example, ). Click-through licences are for this purpose very similar to shrink-wrap licences. (See for example: ).

    Till then, click-wrap agreements were usually enforceable, but the client had to perform some act showing agreement. The effect of this Federal decision was that parties in dispute didn't have to go to arbitration - the licence agreement was not enforceable. Had the Dell customers continued with their Windows install, they would have had a good legal basis for arguing that they did not have to abide by the terms of the shrink-wrap licences.

    If you've clicked on the agreement, a later decision (U.S. District Court) ruled that you're liable for the terms of the contract even if you failed to read the agreement - provided you were given a reasonable opportunity to inspect the terms, say by a hyperlink. This is analogous to old cases involving railway tickets. These are legally contracts for carriage and port - but the terms weren't on the tickets. Instead the traveller was directed to an extensive list of conditions of contract, pasted up near the stationmaster's office.

    But in the Dell case, no reasonable opportunity was given. All the options suggested by the Dell service centre  implicitly required breaking the seals to read them.

Regards, TC
Terry Cole	SA, OU Maths & Stats (
PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. Tel:64 3 4797739


Dr. Pournelle,

Harry Erwin is mistaken.

Or perhaps when he wrote "the UK" he meant "England".

My son went to Edinburgh University at the age of 17 and a half.

I've no idea if they did background checks on all their staff; it seems unlikely, and frankly I don't care, since he is well capable of looking after himself.

Best Regards,

Andrew Duffin

Perhaps he did mean "England"; people tend to forget that there are differences in English and Scottish law and administrative practices.

But in fact:

It's a new law. I'm an admitting officer for one of the undergraduate courses and was briefed on the age requirement (and why) last year. Our church only became aware of the clearance requirement in the last six months--it applies to volunteer organizations, too. It caused lots of problems for the primary and secondary schools last year when the agency responsible for doing the clearances turned out to be understaffed for the job.

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


Dear Dr Pournelle, An age ban on matriculation earlier than 17.5 years at English Universities wouldn't surprise me, but if true it's a sad development. ("Subject: Gifted and Talented but Too Young for University"). It's a popular subject for discussion at this department, as you might imagine. Harry Erwin's observation does seem to be correct - see for example

There have been several cases of brilliant young mathematicians entering University at an early age because it would be a criminal waste to have them wait five to seven years. The classic example to my mind is Ruth Lawrence, who I think graduated PhD at some astonishing age, 14 if memory serves.

Many of the recent applicants were Asian, including the youngest ever In recent times (1998) practically the entire Yusof family (Iskander, Zuleika, Noraisha and Sufiah) were high achievers along the same lines. Iskander, Noraisha and Sufiah went to Oxford and Warwick at age twelve or so. Like Ruth Lawrence, their Dad became a full-time educator.

Their sister Zuleika, at that time, was four - but was clearly headed in the same direction. What's going to happen to her now? It's my bet they will head to the US. There has already been speculation on this (see

Regards, TC

-- Terry Cole System Administrator Dept. of Maths and Stats, Otago University PO. Box 56, Dunedin tel:64-3-4797739 NEW ZEALAND fax:64-3-4798427




Dear Jerry:

I'm looking at the Congressional Budget Office letter to Senator Robert Byrd, dated September 3rd. It is 55 pages long, but on the very first page it puts the number of troops "in and around Iraq" at 180,000. Add to that the more than 20,000 positions which were formally military jobs but are now performed by civilian contractor Brown and Root (part of Haliburton) and you have 200,000, which was the very number that then Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki testified to before Congress and for which he was forced from his job and into retirement by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

Today, the reporting on the latest move by Powell to make up with the UN is careful to distinguish between the Joint Chiefs (who support it) and the "civilian leadership of the Pentagon". Anyone care to make book on how much longer Rumsfeld will be SecDef?

Sincerely, Francis Hamit

Interesting. It's pretty clear we need to rethink the needs of Empire. We certainly need an army capable of defeating anyone who can challenge us. That means an armored field army, heavy armor with air support, cumbersome, with a big tail and lots of artillery and support troops.

But that's probably not the optimum expeditionary force for such places as we are now involved with. We have to keep a heavy armored army in being lest someone else decide to challenge our lighter forces with something of that sort; but it need not be always at full strength.

We need the lighter combat forces. But good combat armies don't make for good occupation forces.

We need an occupation army, of lighter forces, more police than army. But how do you keep such a structure? How do you recruit such people? And except for the true warriors, what soldiers would prefer that kind of duty to endless training for full combat?  These are all matters that so far as I know have not been thought out.

There is a logic to empire. We do not seem to have studied that.

As for instance:

Nice War. Here's the Bill. By DONALD HEPBURN 

APPAN, N.Y. — In 1991, America's so-called Operation Tin Cup got enough money from its allies to cover the costs of the first Persian Gulf war. In contrast, what could be called "Operation Begging Bowl" after the latest war in Iraq has come up empty, leaving us stuck with the bill for the invasion and occupation — the full extent of which is only now becoming apparent.

The Bush administration's recent willingness to consider a greater United Nations role on the ground is the first sign that it is aware of how vastly mistaken its assertions about the occupation were. Contrary to the prewar view that Iraq's oil revenues would greatly offset American costs, we now know that Iraq — with its shattered economy, devastated oil industry and plundered national wealth — is incapable of making any significant reimbursement of the invasion and occupation costs. And the military expense is only a fraction of the total expense of making Iraq into a functioning country.


I do not entirely agree with this, but the numbers are suggestive. Iraq must pump oil, pump it fast, and pump it now, or this imperial adventure is going to end badly.

The neo-cons got us into this, and for a while it looked as if that were a better idea than I thought it would be; now comes the test. If Iraq can start producing oil, lots of and fast, then all may yet turn out all right...

Here is one analyst on the subject

He appears to be assuming a world price of oil no higher than $20/barrel (reasonable <grin>), but is not considering that a one-time "rebuild" can (and should) be financed by bonds backed by Iraqi oil revenues. The bonds would be senior to all other Iraqi debt and would be guaranteed by the U.S. government (and the oil revenues by the U.S. Military). The U.S. 30-year bond is currently yielding about 5.3%, and at that rate $20 billion/year would support north of $375 billion in debt.

There is much partisan yammer and little information in all this. All we can do is watch. But if oil prices aren't brought down the US is in trouble. If they are, it may yet turn out well.

Pump oil! Pump it now!

And see below




From Joanne Dow:

Subject: CDs may go the way of vinyl 





In your September 1st view you complained about Viagra spammers. I thought, since they and other spammers are trying to sell something, they have to go through some bank for credit card verification. If one wrote a program which repeatedly tries to order their stuff using a false credit card number, this program would jam the bank's system and hopefully the bank would be fed up and close their account. A few years ago one bank even charged for each card verification test, this would bankrupt the spammers.

Unfortunately the same program could be used to mess with legitimate companies like Amazon.


Attila Kozma


And I will admit this next one gets to me. Hard to believe indeed...

Subject: Checkerboard illusion

Very strange … if you move back about 10 feet from your monitor, you can see the shades in better perspective.

I guess people have taken this into Adobe Photoshop and compared the shades to prove they are the same.

Hard to believe, though.

Tracy Walters



Dear Dr. Pournelle: With respect to the need for more troops in Iraq, I think that we really have two problems, not one. 

First, the overall military is not large enough for the missions assigned to it. It's not just retiring Army generals making speeches about a ten-division Army and a twelve-division strategy, it's a Chief of Naval Operations openly admitting that he has 375 ships worth of requirements - but not enough money to operate a 300-ship Navy. And the Marines have wanted a third division for years. The simple fact is that the Armed Forces are operating at about 75% of the force levels they need. 

Second, I agree that there is a clear need to organize occupation/peacekeeping divisions separate from the battle force. Frankly, what the Army is learning is the lesson that Sir Julian Corbett worked out for the Royal Navy a century ago - that the forces required to win a pitched battle are not those required to exploit the victory. The Army is slowly getting parts of the idea, but hasn't quite gotten the point that a balance between heavy battle forces and light occupation forces must be struck.

 What scares me are the antics of both political parties. The situation is terrifyingly reminiscent of 1965 - a Government that has gotten the nation into a war, but which is too busy with domestic policies and programs to bother winning. It grates on me that a bunch of politicians who would never dream of sending their own kids off to college in a ten-year-old car will send someone else's kids to war in twenty-year-old tanks, thirty-year-old airplanes, and forty-year-old ships. And not enough even of those antiques.

 I supported the war, but we could use some sensible priorities awfully well right now.......

V/R: Mike McDaniel

I didn't think the war was a good idea, in large part because of such matters. Now that we are in it, and have Iraq, we must rethink these matters. 

Empire costs a lot. It may be made to pay for itself but that takes thought. US hegemony costs a lot. 

Self government that minds its own business and defends itself but not everything else doesn't cost so much.

We are the friends of liberty everywhere but the guardians only of our own. The question is, does guarding our own liberty require all this overseas involvement and imperial action? Many including many of the readers of this site, strongly believe so. They may be correct, but it has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction. What has been demonstrated is that it will be a very costly enterprise.

Dear Jerry:

I went through the CBO letter to Senator Byrd report after my last. It makes interesting if depressing reading and a good illustration as to why Economics is called the Dismal Science.

Every contingency seems to be explored here, including the formation of temporary constabulary units and the expansion of the Army. It is the Army which will bear most of the burden and even adding a couple of divisions cannot be done overnight. There is absolutely no way to simply put in more troops and honor our other commitments. Adding those new divisions would take as much as five years. If the rest of the world worried about our oversized military power, that problem is now solved. Iraq will keep us busy and increasingly less able to respond to crises for years to come. Combined with the tax cuts it may well bankrupt us.

I have the uneasy feeling that we were played for suckers here. That someone used the overweening ambition of the neocons to do us in, big time. The only way to fix this is radical action, but any way you cut it, we're very screwed. That includes mounting an effective campaign against the real terrorists. As for "empire"-- the gods laugh.

Yours, Francis Hamit

Well, historically, tax cuts have increased revenues, not deficits. I'd be astonished if this set of tax cuts doesn't increase revenue. It won't be nearly enough to cover war costs.

Pump oil. Pump oil. Pump oil.  I can't think of anything else that can bring in some revenue from that adventure.

And see below


On 9/4/2003 you wrote (in part)

"We need an occupation army, of lighter forces, more police than army. But how do you keep such a structure? How do you recruit such people? And except for the true warriors, what soldiers would prefer that kind of duty to endless training for full combat? These are all matters that so far as I know have not been thought out."

What you've described sounds a great deal like the job the Marine Corps was tasked with between 1898 and 1939; the era I've heard referred to as 'The Banana Wars'. Indeed, not a few Marines were tasked to constabulary duties - NCOs were given officers rank (and duties) leading native constabulary forces. When they came back to their regiment they reverted back to NCO.

We _have_ done this before, it's just been a few years.

Brian Dunbar USMC: 1985-1993 System Administrator - Plexus

Savage wars of peace; Max Boot; but interestingly he and his friends do not seem to have learned the lesson.


I put up the following:

It's perplexing, though perhaps it should not be, that we can spend so much money on our military and yet have it so undermanned and undersupplied for the missions we ask of it. It seems we're short on parts for the equipment, short on manpower, short on the right type of manpower for current missions, short on translators, and long on overseas mission requirements. I have a couple ideas and things to just complain at the cosmos or the government for all the good it will do.

A recent news item making the rounds of TV and print is that we are planning to lease, not buy, about a hundred tanker aircraft from Boeing, despite the fact that we will pay an extra 5.5 billion dollars for leasing, and in the end not have airplanes to show for it. This is a boondoggle for Boeing, who is having difficulty selling their 767 aircraft and have powerful friends in Congress. If we need more tanker aircraft, which I'm willing to believe we do, then we should use the cheaper way to fund them.

This seems to be part of a pattern; while we spend enormous sums of money for our military, much of it seems designed to enrich defense contractors rather than meet the mission.

Here's a gripe along these lines: Exactly what Air Force are we likely to face that has a chance in a stand-up fight for air superiority or supremacy? Everywhere I look, our potential adversaries are using vintage aircraft, usually of Soviet design, which are no match for what we have now. Saddam didn't dare lift one aircraft off the ground against us. Yet we're paying untold billions for the F22, the F35, and the Joint Strike Fighter, apparently to be ready for a fight we wont see in any time frame I can see. If we really do need another advanced fighter why don't they pick one and use the money from the others to get us some more translators and MP troops and such? Apparently those troops don't enrich the defense contractors enough.

Why are we phasing out the A-10 Warthog without replacing it? It seems to me it has been one of the best aircraft for the money we've ever had, but the Air Force doesn't want to do close air support but doesn't want the Army to do it either. I'll wager we could buy a lot of A-10's for the cost of one of those redundant advanced fighters.

Since we need peacekeeping troops but don't want to take the edge off our combat troops to fulfill this mission, and don't have the numbers of them to do it anyway, perhaps we need to start a new peacekeeping branch of the military. I'd suggest a 3 year enlistment in this branch, which would be seeded with veterans of the other service branches to begin with. One year training, one year deployment, one year helping train the next class, and in return we pay for college for US citizens, and for foreign troops we give them citizenship. Is this impractical, and if so what is the alternative?

Just some food for thought.

Norman Short

without immediate comment, and wait for replies.


On The Asteroid Strike: 

Note - since this is the front page at the moment, it is probably subject to change.

Reference is 2003 QQ47. 

<snip> As astronomers continue to monitor an asteroid and measure its position, more precise predictions can be made. On September 2, new measurements of QQ47's position allowed us to narrow our prediction of its path in 2014, and thus we could rule out any Earth impact possibilities for 2014. In our Impact Risk Page for 2003 QQ47, the entry for the year 2014 has now disappeared, although a number of potential impact events remain for later years. We expect that these too will be ruled out in the coming days as astronomers continue to track the object and we refine our orbit predictions.

Jim Woosley

And we are not doomed. Pity.


Hi there -

Just have to comment on the following:

>In another place there was a discussion of the probable effects >on our economy of variations in oil prices. One question was what >might happen with a tax on oil: > >A tax on oil would raise the U.S. saving's rate (caeteris paribus). >Given that the U.S. has maintained its prosperity (as measured by >consumption, GDP growth, employment) over the last few years by >relentlessly ratcheting down its savings rate, an oil tax would >be a BAD THING. However, with a current account deficit of 5% of >GDP (and rising), the party will be over soon enough anyway. > >Peter

First of all, increasing a tax on oil has limited direct effect on the US savings rate. The US savings rate is determined by taking the sum of all wages and salaries, adding to that transfers, then subtracting the cost of living, personal outlays for consumer durable goods and financial costs of all sorts until you get a residual value that represents that portion of total personal income that is not consumed, i.e. saved. In the world of economics, anything not consumed is considered to be saved, but we need to be careful of using the word "savings".

However, this does NOT represent what people are "saving", since investments such as 401k and the like are, of course, taken out of income before taxes and hence are not part of income that is available (i.e. income is considered to be not the sum of all monies paid to you, but rather disposable personal income, income that you have the right to dispose of as you desire: this way you discount liens against the income of bankrupt debtors, etc).

Given this aspect of the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA), exact descriptions of which are available on the Burea of Economic Analysis web site, changes in oil taxes can only **increase** consumption, since the consumer pays more for gas and has less left over, and not **decrease** it, as was suggested. Then the question becomes: "By how much does the tax increase, and what is the effect on consumption patterns?"

And ultimately GDP growth in the US - and anywhere else, for that matter - is determined by the growth of total productivity of the economy. As a matter of fact, this is sort of obvious when you realize that GDP is Gross Domestic Product, defined as the value added in the economy. Now, value added can increase based on changes in factor inputs, but ultimately it boils down to increasing productivity.

As a professional forecaster - nigh on 15 years of forecasting the supply side of the economy (it's relatively easy to do the demand side, i.e. where is the value added used, but much more difficult to do the supply side, i.e. where does the value added come from, since you need to know quite a bit about all sectors of the economy) - it's really hard to forecast productivity growth, since so much is dependent on technological development that comes out of the blue. When I forecast the electronics industry world-wide, I used to be a member of the IEEE just to get the technical journals dealing with improving chip manufacturing productivity and the like. But I disgress: GDP can be used only after it has been created, and this growth comes from productivity.

Getting back to the question: simply said, variations in oil prices change industrial prices, depending on the oil intensity of the industry involved, which change consumer prices depending on the oil and industrial intensity of the good being consumed. How much it changes can be determined by the elasticities of demand - increasing prices does no good when simple and easy alternatives exist - for the goods involved and the ability of industrial and consumer users to change their energy mix preferences. This can be determined by the intelligent use of input-output tables, including the energy satellite tables (nothing to do with satellites, but is a terminus technicus that describes adjunct tables to the I-O use/make tables) and some empirical work on energy supplies.

Anyone willing to pay me to do this is more than welcome to do so. It is a non-trivial task.

Best regards!

John F. Opie Senior Economist Feri Research GmbH Haus am Park Rathausplatz 8-10 61348 Bad Homburg tel: +49 (0)6172 916 3216 fax: +49 (0)6172 916 1216


Neil Schulman sends this:

Subject: Fwd: Cold Fusion Isn't Dead...,,SB106270936017252700,00.html




Cold Fusion Isn't Dead,
It's Just Withering
From Scientific Neglect

"Well, we're here," said physicist Peter Hagelstein to the 150 scientists at the 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion in Cambridge, Mass., last week. "Many people in the scientific community feel we should be shot."

That, actually, would be a big step up for the beleaguered community of cold fusioneers.

It has been 14 years since two little-known electrochemists announced, at an infamous news conference on March 23, 1989, what sounded like the biggest physics breakthrough since Enrico Fermi produced a nuclear chain reaction on a squash court in Chicago. Using a tabletop setup, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, of the University of Utah, said they had induced deuterium nuclei to fuse inside metal electrodes, producing measurable quantities of heat. (Deuterium, a.k.a. heavy hydrogen, has one proton and one neutron in its nucleus.)

Although nuclear fusion is supposed to be impossible at temperatures much below those in the sun or a hydrogen bomb, the Utah duo said they had managed the feat at room temperature.

That was the opening bell for one of the craziest periods in science. Cold fusion, if real, promised to solve the world's energy problems forever. (There is enough deuterium in seawater to provide electricity for millennia). Scientists around the world dropped what they were doing to try to replicate the astounding claim.

Some did, most didn't. When a U.S. Department of Energy investigation concluded in November 1989 that cold fusion was a mirage born of bungled measurements and wishful thinking, the field became a pariah.

Yet the cold fusioneers persist. In paper after paper last week, scientists reported that when a metal, usually palladium, absorbs huge amounts of deuterium into its atomic lattice, the result is more heat than plain old electrochemistry can explain, as well as particles thought to be by-products of nuclear fusion.

Some of the most extensive work has been at the Naval Research Laboratory, whose scientists found both excess heat and a telltale sign of fusion, particles of helium-4, in dozens of experiments. And Michael McKubre of SRI International, Menlo Park, Calif., is still, after hundreds of thousands of experiment-hours and $4 million, getting more heat from his cold-fusion cells than can be explained conventionally.






This week:


read book now


Friday, September 5, 2003


I think some folks need to do a bit more research (such as reading the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report) before smugly proclaiming (more or less) that environmentalism killed Columbia.

The large slab of foam which tore off and impacted Columbia's leading edge RCC is thought to have come from the left hand bipod ramp. Each bipod ramp is a large, thick (much thicker than the bulk of the foam coat) piece of foam sprayed over hardware linking the External Tank (ET) to the two bipod struts which support the Shuttle's nose. The bipod ramps are carved into a wedge shape to present a relatively aerodynamic profile.

It turns out there is a big (small if measuring by surface area) caveat to the fact that NASA stopped using CFC-11 as a blowing agent for environmental reasons. The new HCFC-141b blowing agent is used only for machine applied foam. Hand applied foam is still sprayed using good old ozone-unfriendly CFC-11. It so happens that the bipod ramps are sprayed (and carved) by hand...

For fairness in coverage, the changeover did have its problems. "Popcorning", a syndrome in which small popcorn sized bits of foam tear off from ET panels and damage tiles, has been present in virtually every Shuttle flight. After the change in blowing agents, popcorning began to occur earlier during ascent, which caused more tile damage since the exposure period was longer. According to the CAIB report, NASA was able to solve this problem and reduce popcorning to the pre-HCFC severity.

(Which brings up a real problem: NASA did not try to eliminate popcorning entirely. They'd flown for years with popcorning, so once they found some tricks to make the new foam perform as well as the old, they were satisfied. The formal design requirements for the ET prohibited it from shedding debris at all, since the requirements for the Orbiter TPS assumed no more than trivial debris impacts. The CAIB report has much to say about the institutional mentality at NASA which equates getting away with something outside design parameters most of the time with the ability to get away with it forever. They did not learn the most important lesson from Challenger.)


The devil is in the details. The flaw in Shuttle was that NASA didn't work hard at replacing it with an operations driven design once it was found just how costly it was to operate Shuttle. Had they learned from Shuttle and gone on from there we'd have much better ships now. But NASA likes having a system that employs 22,000 people. 


From: Stephen M. St. Onge                                                  
Date: Sept. 5th, 2003                                                    subject: Iraq and the armed forces
Dear Jerry:
        If you haven't seen it yet, you might find this WSJ piece interesting (full article here).  In a new book, one of bin Laden's people lays out the cause of Islam as he sees it.  I don't see much room for optimism here.
        I have to agree with you about the need for 'lighter' forces for most deployments.  In fact, Rumsfeld has been championing that very idea, while many generals resist.  The Army does not do such things quickly.  Is this a surprise to anyone?
        I suspect the mindset that wants to cling entirely to the force structure of the past also wants to cling to the missions of the past.  This is the real crux of the matter, imao.  We need to disengage most of our troops in Europe, Japan, and S. Korea.  Time for them to defend themselves.  We may need to expand the armed forces overall, as Mike Daniel says, but in any case withdraw most troops from areas they aren't needed any longer.
        As for Mr. Hepburn, who says Iraq is going to cost so much, I notice he expects the new regime to pay the debts Saddam incurred.  I find it difficult to see any reason why they should.
        About the 767 tankers: the official line is that we need to replace the aging KC-135s, who spend 40% of their time in repair; the 767s will make the best replacements;  there's no money in the budget to buy them immediately; therefore, lease and get them now.  Buy later, when we have the cash.  I have no information to base an opinion on, personally.
        As for the A-10, Mr. Short answers himself.  The Air Force doesn't want the plane, so they are trying to get rid of it.  We the people shouldn't let them, unless we first arrange for the Army or Marines to take over the close support job.
        What I want to know about 'cold fusion' is: does anyone yet have a consistently repeatable experiment?
P.S.: I, too, had trouble believing the checkerboard shadow illusion, but I printed it out and cut it apart.  It's true!  As the author notes elsewhere on his site, it shows the eye is not evolved to be a light meter.

The question remains, do we need overseas adventures at all?


Dear Jerry:

I went through the CBO report again because there is one ray of hope near the end of it, at least in terms of getting forces into Iraq. The idea is to recruit recently separated and retired members of all services, offering them a signing bonus for playing target, train them six months and deploy them for a year at a time. There are plenty of people in the category and I can see how a passed-over Lt. Col. who graduated from West Point would grab a chance to lead such a unit and revive a dead career.. Of course, the probability is that such units would be extended beyond a year and that several brigades would be needed. It does have several virtues, including maintaining the all-volunteer nature of the US military. Constabulary units, unlike regular forces, can be put under UN control without much discomfort. It's a temporary expedient, not a permanent change to the force structure.

I would imagine that someone would finally wake up and start recruiting Arabic speakers from Detroit and other places where they are plentiful with the usual promise of accelerated citizenship and there are other sources as well. Illegal immigrants could be given a choice. Volunteer and you get your Green Card. Serve for three years and you become a citizen. It would be a fresh way to handle that problem. Two of the three years would be in Iraq. Or possibly Afghanistan.

It will cost money, yes, but it would get us out of this mess. We're already in so deep financially that the additional costs are marginal.

Just another one of my crazy ideas.

Yours, Francis Hamit

That actually looks like a good idea, at least at first cut. Work beyond retirement, all voluntary, and yet experienced.

But the devil is always in the details.

Government from the bottom up

You have oft commented that Iraq has no experience with representative government, and that the appropriate solution would be to start with small town councils and mayors and the like, and let the individual people have a hand in govenrning themselves. From that work up to a national government of some sort. (I hope that is close to a reasonable summary of your statements and views.)

The following paragraphs are excerpeted from a statement by Jerry Bremmer at a media roundtable in Iraq yesterday. The subject under discussion was a media comment that there is "no news" in Iraq except in Bagdad and Tikrit where people are being regularly killed. Jerry holds the opinion that there is news in the rest of the country, and that news is good.

"There are very good stories, and one of the stories that isn't also written about much is that 85 percent of the towns in this country now have elected town councils. Every major city has a town council. We met the elected Governor and Vice Governor of Mosul today. If you went to Basra you could meet the Governor. In Baghdad on July 9th we stood up a city council for the first time in history, elected council. Starting at the neighborhoods, there are 89 neighborhoods in Baghdad. They elected district councils, there are nine, and those people then elected 37 representatives, men and women, Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, from all over Baghdad." "Democracy is on the march in this country. And it's on the march at the grassroots level where it really matters."

It seems to me that the problems with representative democracy, or lack thereof, and with the ubergovernment trampling on the rights of the people, is indeed alive and well -- here in the US.

It seems to me though, that there are people at the reasonably highest levels of our government that recognize that there are other ways to do things. More "American" ways of doing things, if you will. And, given a situation where the goal is to quickly develop a self-reliant and self-supporting populace with a reasonable government, they can do so. Quickly and with dispatch.

Indeed; I've said it before and will doubtless say it again. Reading the *actual* news from Iraq is very much like reading one of the more optimistic History of the United States books from the 1960s or earlier. One of the ones that touted the benefits to the world of American Independence and Free Enterprise and Representative Government. At this point it reads amazingly like a condensed history of the US from the founding, well into the Industrial Revolution. And this is over a period of five months. I'm going to be quite interested to see just how far along the path of American History Iraq gets in another three or four months.

And I'm quite interested in seeing where their history will diverge from ours, if it does. And what the county will be like after the divergence, if it occurs.

It is perhaps worth considering that Japan had minimal natural assets other than the people after WW II. And yet they now lead in electronics, mechanical design, and even steel production. Despite having no iron mines, and importing the raw materials and exporting the products. All, one might say, as a result of losing the war to us. And all within two decades or so of that event.

Iraq is reputed to have an intellegent populace and reasonable past experience with education, science, and machinery. They also have a lot of land that isn't much good for farming but might be good for factories. And they do have one national resource, which is dollar bill wells. Japan didn't have that, and is now a world leader. Iraq lost the war to us five months ago. Where will they be economically in twenty years? Or even ten?

Loren Wilton

And the following is from another discussion group, and is published here with permission. It was in response to a number of suggestions, which I won't summarize because it's pretty obvious what John was responding to.

1. The security threat to the US from an increase in oil prices is not great enough to justify any kind of aggression. If the Hubbertists are right, world oil production will peak around 2005 and Iraq can make only a couple of years delay in that peak. Prices will then go up.

2. The US can afford much higher oil prices than can other countries.

3. Thorium-based nuclear reactors might be good, but reactors of the present type are good enough and should be built promptly.

4. Small legions of materials scientists are studying photovoltaic material, but I doubt that the cost barrier to large scale solar energy would disappear even if the cost of the materials went to zero. I think the big cost comes from the intermittent nature of sunshine and the need to store large amounts of energy overnight and over the year.

5. Canadian oil sands are competitive even when oil is $12 per barrel and large investments are being made to expand production.

6. There's plenty of oil shale in Colorado, but oil from shale expensive, although affordable. We'd still be driving SUVs if our oil had to come from shale. Our economy has chosen, and I think correctly, to use petroleum as long as it is available so cheaply.

7. Getting CO2 from the air is very expensive. I once calculated that to take the CO2 out of the air produced by burning 500 million tons of oil per year would require an intake a kilometer on a side and sucking in air at 100 meters per second. Plants do it better. I wonder how many square kilometers of leaf there are in the US. Under optimal conditions of light and water some tropical plant fixes CO2 at a rate that corresponds to an air flow of 1 cm/sec perpendicular to the leaf.

John McCarthy

All of which is sane and sensible.


Fred did it again (here: ).

It rang a bell: Cyril Kornbluth's The Marching Morons (a don't-miss book that should be required reading, I believe)(hmm; a little repetitive, that).

But then, try to look the book up on Amazon. No paper form is offered for sale, but there is an unabridged audio download available for $3.96. I'll just let the fact stand as its own comment.


Marching Morons is included in the Share of Glory anthology of Kornbluth's works.







This week:


read book now


Saturday, September 6, 2003

I was reminded of what Harry Payne said a couple of weeks ago about the MS Blaster worm and electricity control systems, when I ran across a couple of articles.

HTTP://  and HTTP:// 

The first one is from the Inquirer and has a couple of quotes from a transcript of conversations between power company employees, with one operator flying blind because his system was acting up. The second link if from the NY Times which hints at a computer type problem being partially responsible.

Of course, they came out rather quickly to say it wasn't the blaster worm that caused the blackout. Now that seems like NASA saying it wasn't the foam that caused the Columbia disaster.

===== :q :q! :wq :w :w! :wq! :quit :quit! :help help helpquit quit quithelp :quitplease :quitnow :leave :shit ^X^C ^C ^D ^Z ^Q QUITDAMMIT ^[:wq



Jerry :

Saw your question from last night, and thought I'd drop you a quick line, as I've spent some time in the MidEast around oil and gas. 

>> Does anyone know why we cannot immediately increase Iraqi oil production? What are the bottlenecks if we decide to go all out to do that? <<

Hurm. There are a number of factors from what I've read and seen, but not having been there in these wartime conditions, I'll speculate from other background knowledge.

Already existing oil wells don't just produce on demand, especially if they're shut-in for some time. Restarting and ramping up production requires a skilled set of operators, and careful monitoring. If the well is drawn on too quickly, there's potential to permanently damage the formations around the production zone in the well, essentially cutting the production on that well to nil, or requiring long and tedious rework to bring the well back into production.

Wells can't be turned "off" and "on" without _significant_ consequences. Wells can be effectively shut-in with some preparation, but it's very poor practice to try and cycle them like a light switch. If production can't be readily exported from the well, it's better to leave the well appropriately shut-in until the materials can be moved successfully, which then brings...

Oil wells have to produce either through small/medium intermediate storage to a pipeline, or to larger longer term storage to later ship. If the pipeline system isn't in a condition to ship, storage can be a _major_ problem. If the storage has a problem, the wells shouldn't produce.

Pipelines have pretty specific conditions to transport oil within, and the supply has to be continuous, or the pipeline stops. In some circumstances with older less capable equipment, it becomes a problem to leave a pipeline stagnant, especially with the initial energy needed to overcome the shear forces from stagnant conditions to full pipeline flow conditions (and we don't have to consider the oil "gelling up" with heavy paraffins as it does in colder environments here).

All of these tasks require a trained and experienced workforce available to perform the effort, with tools and diagnostics to allow for the inevitable "normal" production issues. Training up personnel to do these tasks takes months at the least, and real hands at this need years of experience to handle issues as they arise. If one doesn't have the workforce available, again, production shouldn't be ramped up.

There are safety and environmental issues laced throughout all of the production issues. Spectacular accidents generally occur in this business when people are in a hurry for faster larger production. Spectacular accidents also put a big hole in production, not to mention handily disposing of that necessary trained workforce a few or more at a time.

Put it this way... Offered a bonus of a million dollars cash-in-hand, _I_ would seriously hesitate to ramp up production dramatically given many of the current circumstances.

There's also very much a chicken and egg situation here, Jerry.

If the country was stable, it would be possible to ramp up many elements of oil production with some assurance that the long term effects on the wells and transportation system wouldn't be terrible. But without significant oil production, it's extremely hard to stabilize the country economically, _especially_ with respect to LPG production, which is the major source of heating and cooking energy for the people of the country. The more disrupted the oil production and related refining remains, the harder it is to create a stable Iraq.

You can be certain that the various terrorist forces operating in Iraq know all of this in their bones' marrow, and are planning further disruptions.

Getting locals who are familiar with the systems and structures to work in these circumstances has to be challenging, what with the current violent climate and the potential for families to be threatened. Without a local trained workforce to run and manage the oil production, the process is severely hampered with respect to even short term results, let along the medium and longer term issues.

On top of all that, the overall maintenance on the Iraqi oil production and refining infrastructure had more than a decade of restriction and scarcity due to the UN sanctions. I'm not questioning the need or the act of the sanctions, but simply commenting on the reality of the results. The maintenance condition of the wells, pipeline, and supporting equipment is a non-trivial issue, as an oil production, transportation, and refining infrastructure requires more or less constant maintenance, and in that, replacement of various elements as required. Ramping up production to high levels without an even somewhat sound system is another recipe for disaster.

Can production in Iraq be increased? Yes. Can it be increased quickly and in a way that allows for continuing production over the next few years? No. If we decide to punch out oil production quickly, without the necessary upgrades and maintenance, it's likely that the oil production infrastructure would collapse, perhaps fatally economically and catastrophically for the people in Iraq.

John P.

I know little of oil production but this sounds reasonable. Thanks.


I consider the predicted "death of the CD" to be an overly simplistic view of the situation. People actually like CDs and I don't see them dying soon.

Indeed, the music industry would like nothing better than to kill CDs completely! When CDs were first introduced, the average person had no way of making a perfect copy; now a very affordable computer can pull bit-perfect copies of any song or the whole disk, and a very affordable CD burner can create bit-perfect copies to give away. Or the user can take the bit-perfect copies, crunch them down into MP3 format or some such, and send them out on the Internet.

The music industry would like to move everyone onto a DRM-enabled platform, which CDs definitely are not!

I'm not sure how inevitable DRM is, though. Most customers hate hassle, and DRM's whole purpose is to keep you from being able to do things.

But changes of some sort are inevitable. The cost of making CDs has fallen dramatically, and with the Internet new distribution models are possible, yet the mainstream music companies have fought hard to continue to sell CDs at the same prices. They cannot succeed forever. As the costs have fallen, the price the consumer pays for music will fall too. It must. An essay I read noted that in many cases, the CD with the sound track for a movie costs *more* than the movie itself on DVD, and the movie comes with many extras (such as director commentary, movie trailers, etc.). How long is that sustainable?

The music industry has tried out downloadable music in the past, but they have charged $4 or even more for a single song, and that song wrapped tightly in DRM junk. Customers didn't buy. Now Apple has their music download service, with songs a buck each; this could be the start of something big. (Note that the music industry pretty much stopped selling singles; if you want the latest hot song, you need to buy the whole CD! Download services like Apple's may bring back the importance of the CD.)

Something I would like to see: separation of the distribution platform of the music, and the rights. What I really want is a license for a song, and then I can download a copy from anywhere. It could also work the other way: after I download a song and listen to it, I could delete the song or buy the license. If the licenses are really cheap and convenient, I might not even mind if they are non-transferable. (Baen Books currently sells ebooks for a low price, and I don't see any provision there for transferring the license.) The music industry would love to sell you multiple CDs (one for home, one for your car, one for your office at work, one for your beach house, etc.) but people are treating the purchase of a CD as a de-facto lifetime license to listen to the music anywhere and make unlimited copies, which is one reason the music industry has managed to keep the price of CDs high. People are getting more out of a CD than they used to.

If the music industry could go back in time and change history, they would probably wipe out CDs in favor of some DRM-enabled format. Now that consumers have a high-quality format that is completely free of DRM, they are unlikely to let go of it easily. CDs are far from dead. 

-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"


OpenOffice Writer is a word processor that is often considered to be a free clone of Microsoft Word. Here is an article that claims it is actually better.

OpenOffice Writer is availble from, and is thus sometimes abbreviated "OOo Writer". The OpenOffice suite includes Writer, Calc (a spreadsheet), Impress (a presentation program), and a few other pieces.

All OOo software is always free, and Windows versions are available as well as Linux. 

-- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"


Dr Pournelle,

This ignoramus was until fairly recently the British government minister responsible for environmental matters. Now today he has come out with a lulu of an interview: 

Blair sacked him earlier this year, but not before he had betrayed colossal ignorance of the elemental facts of global warming and especially el Niño, which he managed to conflate with global warming in an interview published in the London Times--

QUOTE: Environment Minister Michael Meacher berated the American attitude toward global warming for causing higher seas and the increasing cyclical violence of that Atlantic hurricane named after (quote) "some Spanish child."


Of course as we know, in reality El Niño is a shifting Pacific current, not Atlantic hurricane, which is neither violent nor increasing in frequency. But then Meacher was never famous for letting awkward little facts get in the way of his grand visions.

Another example of his methodology when still in office; government by panic--,3604,895217,00.html 

Jim Mangles

There'll always be an England...


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I agree with you on a philosophical level regarding SSTO. Shuttle was neat, but it is too expensive and dangerous. Single use systems should be ramped up for both LEO payloads, geosynchronous payloads, and interplanetary research, both manned and unmanned. I am not in favor of going to Mars as I fear that too would be a stunt.

My main thought on this whole space issue is the method of propulsion. It seems to me that except for more efficient fuels and nozzles, we are still using the same method of propulsion the Chinese discovered some 4,000 years ago.

Your explanation of the orbit equations made the point to me that we are limited by the nozzle velocity using hydrogen and other fuels. I know this sounds 'star trek'ish', but what are we doing about other methods of propulsion? Impulse is great, but when are we going to 'warp'?

When I was a graduate student at Colorado State University in the early 1980's there was a group there doing research on ion propulsion. I don't even know what ion propulsion is, but it sure sounds different than controlled chemical explosions in an efficient nozzle.

Your thoughts and insights into the status of other methods of propulsion would be appreciated.

Rod Wittler

Newton's Third Law and the rocket equation are the cold equations that govern. Ion propulsion (see my stories in HIGH JUSTICE) gives very great efficiency but low thrust. NERVA gave high efficiency with a nuclear rocket. ORION uses nuclear weapons to thwap us up into orbit. None of those are a very good way for routine space flight.

I'd love to sing Hot Jets! and just roar up into the skies, but I fear that the universe conspires to keep things a bit more difficult. BUT you can use reusable rockets that work at costs of a small multiple of fuel costs. You just have to develop them.


Subject: Operating systems

China, Japan, and Korea have decided to work on their own open source operating system. Microsoft is not amused, and says the governments are not playing fair. See the details at  . Microsoft is complaining about government competition. The governments are saying that they do not trust Microsoft. I think this line of debate was best described by Yogi Berra's comment, "Deja vu all over again".


William L. Jones

Now that is fascinating



In all this breast beating about NASA needing to "change its culture" in order to safely operate the Shuttle people are missing the real issue that will take down the Shuttle. That issue is flight rated spare parts. There are too few spares and Columbia destroyed the best set of spares because the best set is the one that was flying, by definition. This means the next Shuttle loss will happen much sooner than the gap between the Challenger and Columbia losses.

NASA had 2-3 sets of its most critical flight rated spares for a fleet of four shuttles. It now has a fleet of three shuttles with 1-2 sets of flight critical spares. It has been over 10 years since the Endeavor was built to replace Challenger. The newest any set of flight critical system spares can be is 10 years. How many Shuttle specific reaction control systems, APUs etc. are there and how will they perform after repeated overhauls to support, for the components in question, a much higher flight rate ?

Even if you can support those components and replace the electronics and light structure in the Shuttle system, Shuttle contractors cannot build any major new structural components, without a major government financial investment, because the tools, die and jigs to make them have been disposed of over five years ago. This means that major structural problems on any orbiter cannot be repaired, if detected.

Columbia may have been the oldest shuttle, but it was not the Shuttle with the most flights. I have heard rumors to the effect that investigations of Columbia debris has found brittle cracking in major structural fasteners for the wing.

Sure Columbia was the heaviest shuttle and the one most likely to show such failures. The question is how many "Columbia equivalent" stress cycles have the other, lighter, orbiters been through?

The Shuttle is in the last third of an aerospace system's life span that means its operational costs are going to spike regardless. The lesser number of spares after the Columbia break up guarantees that no matter what the NASA PR guys say to the press or NASA officials brief to Congress or other government agencies.

Given the political reality that there will not be a replacement for the Columbia, and a new set of spares for the rest of the Shuttle fleet. I think it will take less than half the number of missions (~25 vice ~50) for the next Shuttle to go down.

Trent Telenko

=Trent also sends this:

Jerry Pournelle's Thor looks set to enter research and development with the USAF, if this article is to be believed. 

=========== Possible space weapons of the future

Monday, July 28, 2003

By Jack Kelly, Post-Gazette National Security Writer

Snapshots of U.S. space weapons envisioned or under development:

'Rods from God'

In April, within 15 minutes of receiving a report that Saddam Hussein had entered a restaurant in Baghdad, a B-1B bomber dropped four 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs on the place.

It now appears Saddam slipped out of the building by a secret exit. But if one space-based weapon now being researched had been orbiting above Iraq -- and had worked as envisioned -- Saddam almost certainly wouldn't have got away.

Colloquially called "Rods from God," this weapon would consist of orbiting platforms stocked with tungsten rods perhaps 20 feet long and one foot in diameter that could be satellite-guided to targets anywhere on Earth within minutes. Accurate within about 25 feet, they would strike at speeds upwards of 12,000 feet per second, enough to destroy even hardened bunkers several stories underground.

No explosives would be needed. The speed and weight of the rods would lend them all the force they need.

This principle was applied in Iraq to destroy tanks that Saddam's forces shielded near mosques, schools or hospitals. U.S. aviators used concrete practice bombs.

Jerry Pournelle, a science writer and chairman of the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy, came up with the idea, which he originally named "Thor" after the Norse god of thunder. The Pentagon won't say how far along the project, or variants of the idea, may be in development.












This week:


read book now


Sunday, September 7, 2003

Deadline day for column.





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