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Mail 295 February 2 - 8, 2004






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Monday  February 2, 2004

Column Time. Short Shrift.


Even if they can't do manned space travel, at least NASA gets great pictures. Check out this web site/time sink: 

Brian Cheesman


Jerry, when I was in the Navy, I learned that the service life of a gun's barrel was directly proportional to the caliber; our ship's gun, a 5"/54, had a life of 3,000 rounds but a 16"/50 about 500 or so. Unless the Army's tanks are using much larger weapons than I'd expect, I can't see why they need replacing so often. However, if they do, they could, and should use the same technique the Navy uses on their largest guns: instead of replacing the entire barrel, make them with replaceable liners. Much less expensive and faster to change. -- Joe Zeff The only problem with trouble-shooting is that sometimes trouble shoots back.  http://www.lasfs


Dr Pournelle,

Iranian visitors

As regular readers of the Student Movement Co-ordination Committee for Democracy in Iran  (SMCCDI) web site --

-- will already know, the US Congress in the shape of Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) recently hosted a private dinner, attended by about half a dozen members of the House and Senate, for Messrs. Zarif and Kharrazi who were among the Islamist student leaders who had captured the Americans at the Embassy in Tehran, Iran, back in the happy, carefree days of the Carter Presidency.

I just thought that those few of us who do not make a point of regularly checking out the SMCCDI site might like to know about this,

Jim Mangles


And on various subjects:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Happy Ground-hog day. Glad to hear you are working on Janissaries again. I can't wait. I found this on the Hubble service mission. Maybe there is still hope. 

And here is James Lovell's view of space.

Also Fred has his column out. He seems to be upset with how the counry is run. I believe he expresses views similar to yours if, perhaps somewhat less restrained. 

This link is a story about how DHLS plans to protect commercial jets from SAMs. At $1M a shot estimated, they should probably go to an existing system. I believe the B-1B already is equipped with this and more. If the airlines used that they could also save some of the extra expense by using an expedited off loading system. Just salvo all the passengers and baggage. It would reduce turn around time and probably cut down on misrouted luggage.

This is how one Scot views America's new view on humor. 

The news has several stories on six flights from Europe that were canceled due to intelligence of an AlQuida plot. I assume that if security forces went to that length, that the intelligence they have is solid. Now I am trying to understand what cancelling the flights accomplished.

I understand that if the terrorists were going to hijack the planes or blow them up, this foiled that plot but it didn't catch terrorists and it left a bunch of paying customers stranded, in one instance for two days in a foreign country. If the plot was to hijack the plane, put six air marshals on board. Arm each one with a mini-gun and 10.000 rounds of rubber bullets and let the flight go. Even terrorists aren't stupid enough to fight those odds. If they were going to blow the plane up, switch aircraft, put the aforementioned six air marshalls on and let the flight go. What did I miss?

Keep up the great work on this great site.

Patrick A. Hoage

The enemy is bankrupting the airlines and all it costs them is some cell phone chatter. Wonderful

I am dancing as fast as I can....

Hello, I recall reading a story about some of the consequences of the next ice age, back when I wore a younger man's clothes. Although your's and Niven's story was not military, it was only because that was not the focus of the story, it could have just as easily.,15114,582584,00.html?=yes 

Don Scherer


And for those who want to jazz up OZ X

"The CLIX package includes a starter command database file with over 200 (two hundred - yes, you read it right) system commands for investigating your system status, for cleaning out junk files, for getting at secret settings for the Dock, the Finder, and all of your most used applications - all sorted for easy access, any way you wish."

More at 

May be interesting. -- Harry


 Subject: I knew all this before the first shot was fired, why didn't the Army?

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

It's called friction, and it's pretty normal...





This week:


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Tuesday,  February 3, 2004

Short Shrift again: column time.

Subject: Re: Operational Friction in the Gulf War


Roland Dobbins wrote:

"I knew all this before the first shot was fired, why didn't the Army?"

What makes anybody think the Army thought the war would go off without a hitch? There have been logistical problems in every war; As you say, this is all pretty normal. I can't fix my car without having all sorts of unforeseen difficulties - coordinating the actions of hundreds of thousands is impossible to do without some oversight. I'm sure they knew they'd have logistical problems; they were just trying to get the war over with before it mattered.

I also don't think it's a fair criticism to say the Army didn't spend enough time looking out for civilians while the fighting still raged. People who've had plenty of advance warning should be able to take care of themselves for a couple of weeks, at least.

The most disturbing thing to me is the Army's forced reliance on helicopters as a result of political infighting with the Air Force. If the Air Force is unwilling to do close air support (we're talking A10s here, not F16s) they need to get out of the way and let the Army have fixed wing aircraft. Those Apaches are just sitting ducks.

Also, regarding the discussion about tank barrels, see this article 

Eric Baumgartner

Well, friction is normal; we all knew it, but some reporters apparently don't. Ah well.

ARMORED WARFARE: Easy Stick Add-On Armor

February 3, 2004: When American troops in Iraq first encountered frequent ambushes and roadside bombs, they realized that their unarmored trucks and hummers were particularly vulnerable. While many rushed to attach armor plates to the vehicles, some of the reserve troops who were cops back home knew of better solutions. At least two firms were selling light weight bulletproof composites that could be quickly attacked to police cars (doors, hood and so on). One type, Aztik 100, consisted of light weight, bendable panels. One side had glue on it, protected by paper that was peeled away when you wanted to attach a panel to a police car, or hummer, door or hood. Another product, RhinoPak, quickly developed a set of rigid lightweight bulletproof panels built to fit right on a hummer, including the top. Bullet proof glass is also provided for the windshield. The composite armor will stop a heavy machine-gun bullet (.50 caliber or 14.5mm. These panels would also stop most fragments from a bomb exploding nearby. As a result of recent reforms, units had money, and authority, available to get these armor kits, and many did.

John Monahan


Saw this link on slashdot... 

A new twist on an old design. Pretty interesting....


-- John Harlow, President BravePoint Voice: (770)449-9696 Fax: (770) 449-9003 Progress,Web and Java Specialists

A mind is like a parachute; it works best when fully opened....


Subject: The rights of Englishmen.

- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Progress, perhaps?

 - Roland Dobbins


Some of my mail is stranger than others

Subject: On Mr Hoage's e-mail to you:( Oh,and this is not for publication)

"Just salvo all the passengers and baggage.etc" Laughed my bottom off at that one. Boys and girls, can you say Schadenfreude? (Apologies to the shade of Mr. Rogers)

FYI: I am the fellow who wrote to you from an AOL account, saying things like, "Gee, Jerry, you're mean when you're sick!"

My former e-mail name?

It was never Do-it-less; always doit-less. (A doit is a Dutch coin, smaller than a penny. Was just trying to say I was broker than pennyless)

Oh, well, I'm happy with Tregonsee; at least SOME people will know where that one came from.

Waiting to read everything you write, I am now Justthisguy,AKA "John Smith",

formerly, now, and forever,

A. Fan


I have many references to the following.

Dr. Pournelle,

I found this via Slashdot, but it's fascinating: 

Sometimes we do get it right.


There is more to the story, but you can't get it from me.


I thought this might be of interest, as the subject has been discussed on your site.

Canadian inventor patents way to make hydrogen fuel > 

> Andersen says he can make lots of hydrogen gas by mixing caustic soda, > water and aluminum over a wide range of temperatures.

Best wishes,


Well, the question is what is consumed here? Aluminum takes a LOT of energy to produce. But I know nothing of this and haven't time to look today.


Just in case you hadn’t seen this…

Noel Nyman

We are going to have to do something about [e-mail] spam. You have the right to speak, but you don't have the right to make me listen at the cost of my own time.

Jerry Pournelle


"Fallen Angels" redux - thought you'd be interested in this link:,15114,582584,00.html

"...Hollywood has also discovered the issue; next summer 20th Century Fox is expected to release The Day After Tomorrow, a big-budget disaster movie starring Dennis Quaid as a scientist trying to save the world from an ice age precipitated by global warming."


Tim Elliott


Hi Jerry,

This is a joke, right? 

- Paul

When a stupid man is doing something he knows is wrong, he always insists that it is his duty.



Joe Zeff makes some interesting comments regarding barrel life and maintenance on tanks. The main difference between a modern, 120mm tank gun and the somewhat larger 5 inch gun on a navy ship is that while the navy gun has a muzzle velocity of about 2,500 feet per second a modern tank gun has a muzzle velocity of about 5,000 feet per second. Not only is the friction from the higher velocity projectile more severe, the propellant gases remain at much higher velocity and temperature which also contributes to barrel erosion. I don't know much about the five inch guns, but I do know that the bigger guns such as the 16 inchers that are mounted on the Iowa classes are actually fabricated from multiple, concentric and overlapping segments which are press and heat fitted together with a one piece barrel liner. Perhaps this design makes changing the liner rather than the whole barrel more cost effective. In contrast, modern tank guns are fabricated out of a single piece of steel and due to their short life are mass produced which might make a liner less desirable. The higher heat stresses endured by a tank gun probably make it more desirable to replace the entire barrel too. Also, while Navy guns are only about 50 calibers long, modern tank guns are about 75 calibers long. I suspect that this longer length might make using a liner infeasible. The tankers I've talked to all assuring me that changing the barrel on a tank is a fairly simple process and in fact they often swap barrels with their NATO counterparts during exercises just to demonstrate their interoperability.

On another note, you might have noticed the news about hundreds of people once again being stampeded to death during the annual pilgrimage too Mecca. A few observations are in order. 1. To quote from your book "Oath of Fealty" "Just think of it as evolution in action." 2. Can you really blame the Israelis for not wanting to trust these people to be rational?

Finally, the Wall Street Journal has a good article in today's paper about the Iraq war being motivated in large part by a desire to bring democracy to the Arab world. While you may not agree with the policy, you have to admit that the alternatives are not good. Unless we can develop an alternative energy technology that is unlimited, ludicrously cheap, and can be put on line almost immediately, retreating into isolationism will actually enhance the market leverage of the Arab oil cartel which will only encourage militancy. Given the eagerness of some of our alleged allies to engage in nuclear prostitution, the result is going to be a Global Jihad armed with nuclear weapons. While space based missile defenses might be able to blunt a missile strike from such an emerging superpower, it would have to be backed up with a massive civil defense effort to have any hope of allowing the US to survive the inevitable confrontation.


James Crawford.

The real question is, is it our job to take democracy to the Muslim world? We certainly have not achieved it in the Balkans, where communities remain divided and everyone hates everyone else, and the UN/NATO aristocrats lord it over all the peasant natives.

The Wall St. Journal has this professor Lewis as the architect of our policy. I agree with some of his analysis. It also says that he once wearied of Arabs saying "We will last longer. We threw out the Crusaders, we threw out the Turks, we threw out the British, and we will throw out Israel and America." To which Lewis replied "Excuse me you have your history wrong. The Turks threw out the Crusaders, the Brits threw out the Turks, and the Israelis threw out the Brits." He's both right and wrong: the Horns of Hattin was won by Saladin, and that ended the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem; and Saladin was a Kurd, not a Turk. But there were Crusader regimes until the Turks put paid to the last one.

But is point is well made: the people in that region are backward and resent having lost the battle of Vienna in 1683 (to a Polish king) and have a big inferiority complex. Deservedly: they can't make the weapons they fight with (unlike the Afghans) and their only wealth comes from oil they can't develop. But: this isn't entirely true of Iraq, which had a modern civilization and fairly modern industrial society even with the sanctions (some of that remains: see my daughter's picture report from Baghdad in December 2003). If democracy can be planted anywhere over there, Iraq is probably the right place to start; but my guess is that a truly democratic Iraq would try to throw us out forthwith and vote in Sharia.

Conservatives, including the Framers of the US Constitution, have never trusted "democracy" and have always tried for what the ancients called "a republic" or "mixed form" with elements of monarchy, aristocracy, plutocracy, and democracy all rolled together. The US Constitution was certainly not democratic in name or in form, and the Framers agreed that "there never was a democracy that didn't commit suicide."

The question is, can we establish rule of law in Iraq; can we build a "mixed form"? Because it would be easy enough to have "democracy" and one man, one vote, once....

And see below


Courtesy of NRO: While Americans whine about paper cuts and stubbed toes, it’s worth noting that today marks the 61st anniversary of the sinking of the USAT Dorchester, a troop transport ship attacked by a German U-boat as its convoy sailed to Greenland from Newfoundland. Some 672 men died that night, making it one of the worst U.S. maritime disasters ever. Amidst the horror that night, some humane and utterly selfless things happened. Such as the actions of the Escanaba and the Comanche, two US Coast Guard cutters whose captains defied regulations (requiring pursuit attacking submarines) and instead rescued nearly 230 men from the freezing Atlantic. And more noteworthy, of course, were the actions of the four Army chaplains sailing on the Dorchester -- Protestant ministers George L. Fox and Clark V. Poling, Catholic priest John P. Washington, and rabbi Alexander D. Goode -- who calmed the men as the ship sank, tended to the wounded, and handed out lifejackets. When all were gone, the chaplains gave theirs to four frightened men, and then, their fate certain, died preaching courage to the floating men. RIP.

Our brethern shield...

Rod McFadden

O hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea...

Subject: I know you follow Bruce Schneier's work...excellent and concise article on security

Mark Huth


Subject: peer review under attack? buffy willow


I’ve received several messages from friends in science about this:,1286,62119,00.html?

If this article is accurate and my reading of the bulletin suggest that it is…it would be a major assault on science. I think it telling that a number of the major scientific societies have come out against it.

Mark Huth

This is a dilemma that needs thought.

Example: AIDS research. No peer-reviewed proposal to spend even trivial amounts testing the HIV hypothesis in crucial experiments demanded by Duesberg will ever get awarded a grant. Ever. And it may well be that Duesberg is off his head. But he has earned a right to dissent: heck, he discovered retro-viruses and he thinks they can't do what the consensus opinion believes they can do.

I can give other examples of consensus opinions that are dead wrong. Go back a ways: Ignatz Semmelweiss was utterly ridiculed for suggesting that physicians ought to wash their hands before delivering babies and that the deadly puerpal fever that killed off women in childbirth might be iatrogenic. No peer reviewed study would ever have been funded.

My own view is that there ought to be some kind of "counter review" process: it shouldn't have the power to block consensus studies, but it ought to be funded at some small part of the research budget, perhaps 5%, and go to fund research that will not pass peer review. The trick is to get a board that will rule out utter nonsense while funding things that just might work.

And perhaps this is a step in that direction. Perhaps. It's worth discussion. Consensus science can be very stupid, as witness nuclear winter and some of those fads.





This week:


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Wednesday, February 4, 2004

More short shrift. New Table arrives today, more testing.


Subject: Bird Flu Update

Dr. Pournelle,

A very in-depth article with lots of informative links over at Future Pundit.

One thing I hadn't thought of (though I should have...I'm a biology major) is that eggs can't be used to make a bird flu vaccine....the virus simply kills the eggs. (duh)

The news is good and bad.

On the one hand, there does seem to have been a human to human transmission in Vietnam this weekend.

On the other hand, the human to human transmission does not seem to be particularly efficient. It is not a major pandemic threat yet.

On the gripping hand, the death rate in humans of this virus is truly fearsome, though there are few enough cases that it is hard to get a reliable picture. Looks to be as high as 30-50% or even greater.

It's looking like govt. secrecy and sloth caused this to get out of hand just like SARS. Click here: Bird Flu Virus Outbreak Has Infectious Disease Experts Worried

Not something to agonize over, but definitely something to watch.

Very Respectfully, Ken Talton


Subject: New Orion Varient 

 Links to an article and paper on a new variant of the Orion pulsed fission drive. This one uses magnetic fields to compress the fissile material allowing more efficient use of material mass and no heavy pusher plate. Thought you might be interested.

Brian R.


Roland recommends you look at this site

Tia by another name

where you may find an intriguing idea regarding spam. As well as terrorism, and a plot for a novel...

And see below


Subject: Democracy in the Balkans


I have trouble following your observation that the US tried to bring democracy to the Balkans. I really can see no rational objective in the US policy towards the Balkans. It seems entirely driven by images on CNN to me. Certainly democracy requires that a government can relinquish power without fear for its members' life and liberty. You cannot demand that a country extradite an expresident and promote democracy. These are mutually exclusive goals.

Regards Oliver Neukum

And perhaps I was unclear. The neocons are telling us that our mission is to transform the world: to make the world safe for democracy. The Balkans intervention was in aid of that goal. So was the Haiti intervention. In neither case has there been any notable progress toward democracy, and this in places that are considerably less intractable than Mesopotamia, and with considerably less money at stake: no one will get rich off either the success or the failure of our efforts in Haiti or the Balkans.

Democracy does not require that a government can relinquish power without fear that the losers of the election will lose life, limb, and property. We imposed democracy on Zimbabwe ne Rhodesia, and the Republic of South Africa, and the results have not been reassuring that losers can be safe in losing an election. What you describe is rule of law, which is a pre-requisite to a stable democracy.

Democracy, said Aristotle, is the rule of the middle class: those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation (and thus have something to lose; but also have some bridle on their ambitions to acquire more). Democracy works in reasonably stable and reasonably homogeneous countries. There are exceptions to the homogeneity rule, Switzerland being the most notable, but Switzerland is NOT a national democracy. It is a federation of democratic states, some of which (the Lander cantons) are nearly pure democracy with the legislature being the entire armed population of the canton. But note that the sovereignty of the cantons doesn't reach beyond their borders, and can't impose language and culture on the others, although within the canton they can and do enforce linguistic, cultural, and until recently, religious conformity. They also have total control of citizenship: you can't swamp a French Catholic canton with German-speaking Protestants who then vote to change the nature of the place, because the federal government does not control citizenship: to become a citizen of Switzerland you must first find a canton that will accept you.

The Swiss model might work in Iraq, provided that there were some authority devoted to enforcement of cantonal sovereignty, and some means of fairly allocating the oil revenues. Direct democracy ain't going to do it.

In the Balkans the Swiss model might yet prevail, but so far it hasn't been tried: and in the Kosovo situation the Albanians, a minority as late as the 1920's, became the majority by illegal immigration: after which the United States bombed Serbia into turning that province over to the Albanians, and now faces the problem that the Albanians want to do a bit of ethnic cleansing on their own. This does not bode well for any future federation able to claim any loyalty of its provinces.

James Crawford writes: "On another note, you might have noticed the news about hundreds of people once again being stampeded to death during the annual pilgrimage too [sic] Mecca. A few observations are in order. 1. To quote from your book "Oath of Fealty" "Just think of it as evolution in action." 2. Can you really blame the Israelis for not wanting to trust these people to be rational?"

Interesting attitude. I remember a few years ago when a number of concert goers were trampled to death at a "Who" concert attended by a few thousand in my hometown of Cincinnati. (I've also heard that we're losing a few folks to AIDS and drug abuse.) Perhaps attitudes like this account in part for the view, held my much of the world, that we are arrogant. I mean, someone might respond that our culture kills people with "sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll", and we then have the nerve to point fingers at "these people" for accidental deaths during a five-day religious festival attended by millions.

Tal Abell

Precisely. And the half-time activities of the Superbowl (leaving out La Jackson who was merely trying to revive a dying career) have been described as an attempt to justify a jihad against American culture: an observation I have trouble disagreeing with on a bad day.

So let us continue:

>>The real question is, is it our job to take democracy to the Muslim world?<<

If that's the best means of self-protection, I think it's a duty and an obligation to ourselves and our posterity. On whatever scale, a self-organized government ALWAYS forms to an initial purpose, and it's always the same: defense.

Your alternative is laudable, but perhaps a bit quaint in that it presumes other sovereignties are gentlemen enough to abide by Queensbury rules of engagement.

They are not, they will not and the evidence is as close as the next Palestinian suicide bomber in a Tel Aviv pizzeria.

The plausible chain of events Crawford outlined:


retreating into isolationism will actually enhance the market leverage of the Arab oil cartel which will only encourage militancy.

Given the eagerness of some of our alleged allies to engage in nuclear prostitution, the result is going to be a Global Jihad armed with nuclear weapons.

While space based missile defenses might be able to blunt a missile strike from such an emerging superpower, it would have to be backed up with a massive civil defense effort to have any hope of allowing the US to survive the inevitable confrontation.

<end quote>

Seems all too possible. The 'root cause' may indeed be lack of energy self-sufficiency, and I'd love to see that addressed by the powers that be, but right now our problem is, for lack of a better term, an infection of anarchy. When one suffers from septicemia, the wise course of action is systemic therapy -- not removal of the splinter which caused it. Treating the latter will win the battle and lose the war.



I do not concede that imperialism of the Athenian kind -- imposing "democracy" on all peoples within reach, but making certain that those democracies do not, like Melos, vote hostility to Athens -- is the best or safest course.

Stationing troops in the Mideast and the Balkans and in Korea and in Haiti does not seem to me the best way to make the world safe for the United States. Note that Palestinian bombers are bombing Israelis in what the Palestinians claim is their territory, or in aid of the liberation of what they claim is their territory. Considering that the Israeli government is even now contemplating abandoning all the Settlements in Gaza (a big source of friction because of the military road that has to be patrolled to protect the sea-side Gaza settlement) one may say (1) that there may be some legitimacy to the Palestinian claim, at least to the extent that an Israeli government is seriously contemplating granting that claim, and (2) that the method is working. But note that recruiting suicide bombers requires certain conditions, and the further away the potential target, the lower the zeal for dying in order to harm it.

I do not call returning to the traditional foreign policy of the republic -- "We are the friends of liberty everywhere but the guardians only of our own" -- "isolationism." I advocate vigorous and active defense of our rights abroad, and I would certainly retain the right to disarm any enemy who credibly threatens us and is trying to acquire the means.

But that kind of deterrence is, I think, considerably easier than occupation of foreign lands, intervening in territorial disputes, trying to set up unified governments among people who hate each other to the extent that the only unifying influence is their hatred of us -- or at least of our presence.

Come home. Develop space resources. Develop energy independence and national manufacturing capability. Make this the best United States it can be. That is not isolationism. It's merely good sense.

Dr. Pournelle,

I'm sure you've probably already read this, but I found it interesting enough to forward on the off chance that you didn't. 

I've read with interest everything everyone has said about the Iraq mess since it started and I find myself torn. I'm a little on the isolationist side of things and I'm firmly for massive development of alternative energy sources in particular nuclear since it's so well understood at this point, but I keep coming back to the one thing that everyone knows but no one is saying about Iraq: we sent a very strong message to the world. Everyone smart enough to understand it, "got it" and those who aren't smart enough are coming to Iraq to fight the oppressive Americans where they are killed as soon as they show their heads.

I cringe at the losses our troopers are taking, but I think it will be worth it in the end. I also think that the troops believe that too, but I don't really have any direct evidence one way or the other.

Robbie Walker Atlantic Printing

I will have a look. I more or less share your sentiments: we sent a message, and I am sure the Army believes they are doing good for the country. My reservations have to do with alternative strategies, and the effect of all this on the republic. As to "the message" was not Afghanistan sufficient?


And Roland finds this:

Subject: Goodbye to all that?

Typical smug, dismissive article about outsourcing to India (the URL gets it right - 'India PR', indeed): 









Subject: Bill Gates will stop spam in two years...

Bill gates thinks he has a way of curbing spam: 

The comment 'The very notion that I have to get permission to send you a marketing message doesn't make sense and is not good public policy, said Richard Gingras, Goodmail's chief executive' made me shake my head in disgust.

A pathetically bad idea.

Rob Madison

I eagerly await comments. I would be willing to pay a tenth of a cent for each email I send, but I would want to have some control over where the money went. Money corrupts.

I do not want to make anonymous political tracts impossible. I believe people ought to be able to denounce the government and advocate bringing down a foul regime in blood without revealing themselves to the secret police. At the same time, I don't want to be inundated with such messages to the cost of my free time.

And I am very weary of "no luck en.lar.ging it?" messages designed to get into my attention span after I have taken the trouble to set filters to get rid of it unread. Those people deserve being hung in iron cages and fed bread and water. But then I am basically a kind person. I know some people have other alternatives in mind.

But in general, if we can get rid of anonymity for the spammers -- make it difficult to send more than, say, 1,000 messages a day without either paying or identifying yourself -- we might be able to move ahead. After all, if you really want to send an anonymous political broadside, shouldn't you have to pay about what it would cost to have the pamphlets made up by letter press? It was the protection of pamphleteers and Committees of Correspondence that the Framers had in mind. Not the chap who invades a public meeting and shouts at the top of his voice: or worse, hides a loudspeaker in the Hollywood Bowl and exhorts us to vote for his candidate when we thought we were coming to listen to Mahler's Second.


One more thing to worry about:

It doesn't take a very big comet to cause global problems

science_medical/story.jsp?story=487550 >

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


On Electronic rights and free books

Subject: Tor author offers second novel as free e-book

Greetings, sir. I bought a paperback copy of your "Fallen Angels" after reading a free electronic version, so I thought you might be interested in this announcement.


Tor is watching what happens to this book nearly as keenly as I am, because we' re all very interested in what the book is turning into.

To that end, here is the book as a non-physical artifact. A file. A bunch of text, slithery bits that can cross the world in an instant, using the Internet, a tool designed to copy things very quickly from one place to another; and using personal computers, tools designed to slice, dice and rearrange collections of bits. These tools demand that their users copy and slice and dice -- rip, mix and burn! -- and that's what I'm hoping you will do with this.

Not (just) because I'm a swell guy, a big-hearted slob. Not because Tor is a run by addlepated dot-com refugees who have been sold some snake-oil about the e-book revolution. Because you -- the readers, the slicers, dicers and copiers -- hold in your collective action the secret of the future of publishing.

Here's the link - the free download option is in the upper left corner:  . (Link to Cory Doctorow web site)

Old-fashioned paper copies available for sale, too.


Tim Elliott

It's an interesting experiment. Fallen Angels has always been available free (legally; many of my works are up on sites which don't have permission or rights to do that) and the effect on sales is not anything I can determine. You can't tell how books will sell. It certainly sold fewer than most Niven/Pournelle books, fewer copies than Heorot series, but it's still in print and still selling, so we can't know even that much. It has earned us decent money, which is all one can hope for.



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, February 5, 2004

It is still very much column deadline and Short Shrift time.

This writer is off base, because the concept of URLs with integrated userids and passwords is part of a long-established Internet standard. Many Web sites depend on this standard. Microsoft must not be allowed to break standards of this importance.

The fact that including a password in the URL is not a good security practice is beside the point. Microsoft is, in effect, breaking the law rather than working to have the law changed.

In some situations, the integrated password is not a significant security problem. If the Web site doesn't contain any particularly important information, there may be a very low risk of a security violation and a very low cost for a security violation if one does occur.

At any rate, Microsoft lacks the moral authority to break thousands of Web sites because it has a badly implemented URL parser in its operating system. It should fix the basic problem and notify people that there is a related security issue in the standard.


I reserve opinion on this. The situation is critical and dangerous. Clearly that's the right way over time, but for right now? But it is early and I may not have thought it through.

Reply by the original author:

Dr. Pournelle:

"png" (who didn't leave his full name) disagreed with my assessment that the practice of putting a username/password in a URL (web address) was bad programming practice. He indicates that this is an acceptable practice — a "long-standing Internet practice".

I will still have to disagree. Although 'png' may be technically correct, I believe that it is a long-standing bad practice. The web site may contain data that is important to the end user, and the end user may not want others (i.e. hacker) to poke around in their data just because they (the hacker) can change the user/password value in the URL.

There are many instances of bad web programming practices similar to this. Many sites use a customer ID number in the URL (as a variable in the URL after the domain name). This number was sequentially issued, so if my ID number was 123456, anyone (including a hacker) could change the ID number to 123457 and get someone else's information. This has been demonstrated on many commercial sites, including e-merchants, where just changing that number can get you into someone else's customer record, or purchase record. Although using a sequentially customer ID number in the URL may be a "long-established" practice, in these times of high occurrences of identity theft, that practice is no longer valid. As a knowledgeable Internet consumer, I would hesitate to deal with a company that had such a sloppy respect for my identity.

About a week before the release of the patch, Microsoft did warn everyone about how they were going to fix the problem. Although the time frame may have been short, a responsible web programmer would have paid attention and realized the impact of that fix.It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to create a responsible and secure login screen.

It is up to web programmers to take responsibility for practices that are not safe. This includes sequential ID numbers, not filtering for illegal characters in forms, limiting the input on form fields to a specific length (to prevent buffer overflows), and securing confidential data.

It is totally irresponsible for a web programmer (or vendor) to say "I don't like how Microsoft fixes this problem, so I am going to un-fix it" (reference the quote by the Angus Systems vendor shown in the MSNBC article). It is totally irresponsible for a web programmer to say "well, that's how we have always done that, so it must be OK". That attitude is not acceptable in today's environment of spammers and 'phishers' that try to deceive a gullible public into revealing personal data. (Those interested in 'phishing' samples can go to  .)

It is indeed, as you said, a critical and dangerous situation. There is a lot of identity theft going on because of bad programming/site design practices, and because not every Internet user is an expert. (The "Aunt Minnie" user you mention so often.)

Things will have to change to make systems more secure. Part of that change is more responsible web designers and programmers. Mr/Ms "png" should know better. If not, then I question his/her so-called expertise. His response puts him in the "pointy-head" category. (Apologies to "Dilbert".)

Regards; Rick Hellewell, Information Security Dude,

Sorry. PNG is Peter Glaskowsky, who is here often enough that initials are usually sufficient.

And another reader says:

"This writer is off base, because the concept of URLs with integrated userids and passwords is part of a long-established Internet standard. Many Web sites depend on this standard. Microsoft must not be allowed to break standards of this importance."

This is in fact incorrect. The standard does not allow for user IDs in http URLs. See: 

The specification for an ftp URL does indeed allow for an embedded user ID and password. I am assuming that Microsoft merely applied this standard to the http URL as a matter of convenience. So Microsoft broke a standard implementing userids in the http URL to begin with.

The writer is correct in his analysis that changing this would break a non-trivial number of web sites.

I am told that the Opera browser handles such URLs quite elegantly, allowing them to function normally, but first prompting the user with a dialog that tells her the real address of the web site she will access, and the userID that will be used. This eliminates any confusion and doesn't break Microsoft's 'non-standard'.

Joshua Vandenberg

I am not qualified to comment here, except to say that if this is a standard, it seems to be a bad one, and Microsoft's approach seems not unreasonable. We may hope things will sort themselves out soon. Meanwhile, be aware.

And Dan Spisak says:

I've been following discussions of this and what I've seen is the exact opposite.

RFC 2616 clearly states the HTTP URL allowed syntax in its Section 3.2.2. RFC 2616 does not allow the userid component of the generic URL syntax which is optional and scheme dependent.

What this means is this. Had MS implented a URL scheme called "httpf" they could tie a userid compent to it and in your browser it would look like this:


This would be ok by RFC2616 as its not the HTTP schema

But tying the userid component to the general HTTP schema which has no such support for a userid defined was actually out of RFC spec. So, technically, IE is now *more* standards compliant then it once was. Hope this clears things up a bit.

Frankly, anyone who is using the malformed syntax to allow access to a website is asking for it since your password and username are A)Transmitted in cleartext on the network B)Anyone who bookmarks the URL is now a potential easy to exploit leak for the username and password.

- -Dan S.









In reading the discussions in mail linking problems with democracy in Iraq with the problem with Palestinian terrorism, I wondered if you were aware of the democracy movement among a number of younger Palestinian leaders. They suggest that Palestinian people should abandon a desire for a separate Palestinian state and instead recognize the post 67 de facto borders of Israel, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and demand citizenship and the right to vote. As I have heard one Palestinian put it; “We should abandon the fight of Arafat and fight the fight of Mandela”.

This “one state solution” would have very powerful implications. The US would find it difficult to hold the position that the right to vote is OK for Iraqis but not for Palestinians. The many groups that refused to do business with apartheid South Africa (including many US Jewish groups) would find it hard to justify voting is OK for Blacks but not Arabs.

One of the reasons the “one state solution” group gives for this solution is that Israel cannot politically remove all the settlements and therefore can never give the Palestinians a viable state. I have heard that Sharon’s move to evacuate the settlements in Gaza is in part an attempt to quash the “one state” movement. We certainly live in interesting times. My father tells me that he is glad that he is old as he doesn’t know if he could deal with the future.

Mike Plaster

I have discussed this many times. It is impossible for Israel to remain both democratic and Jewish without ethnic cleansing. The more Palestinian territory claimed, the sooner this pickle will begin to dill, but it is inevitable even if they do nothing at all. This is one reason for Settlements and importing anyone remotely Jewish to occupy them even with free land.

I don't know what I would advocate if I lived in Israel. The Israelis have alienated the Christian Arabs and driven them into alliance with the Muslims, although that wasn't at all inevitable. The choices now faced are stark: ethnic cleansing (under some other
name); cease to be democratic in any sense whatever; cease to be the Jewish state and prepare for Muslim dominance.



You wrote: "I would be willing to pay a tenth of a cent for each email I send, but I would want to have some control over where the money went. Money corrupts."

Why not just transfer the money from the sender's to the recipients accounts? Ok, I know that this would could encourage a whole new range of scams - maybe worms that send millions of emails back to a thief's email address - but they could be addressed through better PC security protocols. And much easier to live with than a processor hogging spam filter.

Best wishes

Paul Dove

It's the security aspects that keep me in doubt.



From: Stephen M. St. Onge                

Date:  Feb. 5, 2004                                      Subject: High Fashion

        I swear to God, I at least am not making this up.


I believe you. N0 one could make that up.


Dr Pournelle,

Police chief says legalise heroin.

I rather suspect he’s right.

Jim Mangles

I have long said that in the US, all drug laws should be left to the States, with the Feds acting only by invitation from a state governor, or to prevent interstate shipment. I have also long thought that legalization of pot makes sense.

My own proclivity would be total legalization of everything including prescription drugs. The late John W. Campbell, Jr. used to say that anyone old enough to carry money ought to be able to buy any drug: we'd have a high death toll, but then a generation that listened to is parents. He didn't say "Think of it as evolution in action," but I had some characters in one of my novels put it that way.  But: on reflection, it is a local matter, and ought to be left in the hands of local authorities. It is clearly within state powers of sovereignty and clearly NOT within the constitutional authority given to Congress.








CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, February 8, 2004


Perhaps this is unfair, but I wonder if our fearless leader has a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder from 9-11? Why else would he tolerate the monsters at the gates? Surely the incident with Gen. Joe Foss, the 86-year-old Medal of Honor winner should have told our President that he has a runaway bureaucracy? So why is he seemingly afraid to take the TSA to the woodshed over their abominable treatment of people who just want to go somewhere. Actually, it is these abused passengers who will in fact be the only real bulwark against another hijacking.

Bush2 is expanding government at a rate that would have been impossible for Pres. Clinton. And I just saw a poll tonight that says 52% of the public doesn't want him to be President for a second term. This might be appropriate, since he seems to be getting less like Reagan and more like his father every day.


And you prefer?


Subject: Joke: Xtreme amusement (don't try this at home)










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